Friday, November 24, 2017

Voyager, Season 5: Nothing Human

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 5
"Nothing Human"
Airdate: December 2, 1998
99 of 168 produced
101 of 168 aired

Introduction

B'Elanna will die unless the Doctor can devise a treatment, but doing so may force him to seek the assistance of a monster.


 "Incidentally, Crell, once we finish here, we're going to murder you, too."









Writing

Kevin: This episode in many ways is a protypical Star Trek story. It uses two sci-fi ideas, aliens and holograms, to reframe a familiar human problem. What are the ethics of using knowledge unethically acquired? I think the episode basically succeeds because, as we have discussed before in what we like in Star Trek, the drama and progression flows from the characters' established traits and how they conflict rather than the dictates of the plot. The Doctor's priority is to save B'Elanna, but obviously he can't condone Moset's actions. Janeway as a Starfleet captain is obviously repulsed by Moset's actions, but acknowledges that their situation may not afford them the luxury of their morals. Tom wants to save B'Elanna regardless of the ethical issues. Chakotay credibly argues that B'Elanna would choose to die rather than benefit from his research. And to top it all off, there's not really a 'right' answer and watching the crew jump through a pretty solid iteration of the trolley problem is fun.

Matthew: You know I'm all for an ethical debate dramatized in a Star Trek episode. There are a few problems with this one, though. For one thing, the episode starts out being a debate over how the creature should be treated. It is obviously intelligent, given that it's been piloting a warp-capable starship. How much should others (namely B'Elanna) be expected to sacrifice for its well-being, especially when they have not consented to the symbiotic grafting? Well, if you got interested in that story (which I was), sorry, we've now shifted to "do the preferences of some outweigh the preservation of life? This is interesting, too, don't get me wrong, but it was a bit less organic, in my eyes. First of all, we have Random Bajoran Guy (Tabor) showing up simply to cause problems. This is inherently less interesting than, say, Tom wanting B'Elanna  to suck it up and choose life even if her racism (another interesting but essentially dropped story thread) has her wanting to avoid being treated by a (holographic) Cardassian.

Kevin: I have some quibbles. I get they were clearly referencing Josef Mengele with the Moset character, but I think they wasted time on the Nazi reveal subplot. I find it hard to believe that the computer would have enough information to create Moset without having the information on how he did the things he did. It's also not like everyone is not aware of the Occupation and its horrors by this point, so the Doctor's initial shock seemed...weird...as if he were saying "but he's a humanitarian Nazi." It was also time that could have been better spent on the central ethical question.

Matthew: I found the computer's ability to simulate Moset, his personality, his laboratory (?), but also preserve the secret of his occupation activity (which it knew in part at least) to really strain my credulity. The obvious precedent here is TNG's "Booby Trap," which simulates Dr. Leah Brahms by using both a Starfleet profile as well as correspondence and conference appearances. If we accept that this is reasonable, it seems like Moset should be less than this, given the tensions between the Federation and the Cardassians. And then, if the research itself was secret, how can the fruits of that research be in the ship's computer (but not the Doctor, whatever)? It's just kind of a mess.

Kevin: I liked the final scene between Janeway and B'Elanna, but I wish it had a little more room to breathe, and maybe even a lasting impact on their relationship. I initially thought Janeway was being overly harsh on B'Elanna, whose point of view I largely agree with, though I don't know for certain how I'd act given the same choice. I think I see it now more as her explicitly being a bit of a bitch to crystallize B'Elanna blaming her for it, as if getting her to to focus her anger on her will help her stop feeling culpable herself. I also would have liked a scene with Tom to see how they would react to each other's position. I also liked Moset calling out the Doctor for his apparent hypocrisy. All in all, the episode ended on a complicated note, which is appropriate given the subject matter.

Matthew: Yeah, the Janeway/B'Elanna scene had a really interesting emotional tone, and then it sort of abruptly ended, with Janeway basically saying "Talk to the hand, 'cause the face ain't listening." There should have been a more in depth discussion of Janeway's obligations to the whole crew, not just the preferences of one person, or a small group of people, within it. So as it stood, the episode suggests loads of interesting ethical questions, but doesn't dramatize their impacts on individual characters. Because of this relative lack of focus, I felt that some of the characters' decisions lacked a bit of impact, such as the Doctor's ultimate decision to deactivate Moset and erase the data that went into creating him. The whole ultimate message is muddled. So B'Elanna was saved by the data (which shouldn't have been there). Janeway forced this decision for the greater good of the crew (makes sense). But then she allows the Doctor to choose deletion? What if they need this data again, for the greater good of the crew? It's a "have your cake and eat it too" solution. One or the other has to be correct. A further ethical dilemma was left completely untreated - the deletion of the Moset hologram seems to verge dangerously close to the destruction of a person. If Moset is meaningfully close to the Doctor in terms of personhood, it seems wrong to effectively kill him as punishment for the actual being he is merely a simulacrum of.

Acting

Kevin: Picardo and Mulgrew were the stars of the episode and they turn in some top notch work. I completely buy all of their moral wrestling. Dawson only had to lie there with a rubber alien on her for most of the episode, but when she had to deliver the scene at the end, boy howdy did she. Her anger is real and deep, and like I said, I only wish we had seen fallout in her interactions with Captain Janeway later in the season.

Matthew: Roxann Dawson is the franchise expert in angry acting. She has so many shades, and never goed too far with it. It's truly exceptional. I agree that she had great chemistry with Mulgrew, and that Picardo really delivered, too. Picardo in particular went from "wide eyed optimist" to "offended moralist" quite effectively.

Kevin: David Clennon did good work as Moset as well. He had that kid of narcissistic regard for their own righteousness that Dukat or Garak had. I also liked the way he treated both B'Elanna's condition and the moral sturm und drang about the decision with a kind of bemusement, as if everything were merely a temporarily diverting puzzle. It underscored how unsettling he was.

Matthew: I loved David Clennon. Whatever problems the story had, his completely realized performance of Moset really papered over a lot of them. Wait, how does this hologram know what to say and what to argue in favor of a position it can't possibly know? Eh, who cares? The actor just NAILED the delivery. I wanted a longer scene between him and Picardo debating the issues. HEck, a trial scene would have been tolerable.

Production Values

Kevin: The labwork is good, and looks like they raided some DS9 warehouse to do it. My only real complaint here is that the alien straight up looked like a rubber prop you would get at Halloween. I appreciate we are a few years away from really seamless CGI on television, but still...it's a rare misfire for the props guys.

Matthew: The alien was hit and miss. The dissection scenes were pretty good, in my book, with organs and viscera that looked pretty convincing. But yeah, the overall look on B'Elanna was pretty hokey.

Conclusion

Kevin: This lands solidly, enthusiastically in 4 territory. I think what keeps this from a 5 is the bit of time wasted on the 'reveal' elements and a sense that as soon as we know who Moset is, the episode is a bit done at that point. Everyone adopts the position you expect, and of course B'Elanna is not going to die, so it becomes a bit of marking time through the rest of the episode. I think had the episode either found some insight into the problem or let it alter the relationships in a meaningful way, this would easily be a 5. Still, a 4 is nothing to sneeze at. This is a very interesting problem that gets a very good workout in this episode.

Matthew: I was a bit less enthused. I enjoyed the acting quite a bit and appreciated the suggestions of ethical questions, but found the overall treatment and resolution of those questions to be an unsatisfying mess. So I'm at a 3 overall for a total of 7.


1 comment:

  1. The problem for me in this episode is that Moset is entirely too likable and reasonable, unlike the Doctor who, in my opinion, was unreasonable and acted like an ass most of the time, including his refusal to hurt a parasite that was sucking the lifeline out of B'Elanna, for me to share the Mengele analogy. Casting this actor as Moset and the way they portrayed him really did a lot of damage to the credibility of him being just another Mengele. Im not saying that looks determine whether someone is good or bad, but just the same, I didnt get evil-monster-who-has-no-regard-for-life-and-tortures-people-in-bizarre-experiments-for-posterity from Moset, so i had a hard time sympathizing with either B'elanna, Tabor or any of the people who had these vehement objections to him.

    I also found it supremely short sighted and just right out stupid for them to erase Moset in the end AND all his research and knowledge. You guys are stranded in the fucking Delta quadrant, who knows what ailments and diseases may face you, there is no homebase you can phone to to get reinforcements or find out about the newest scientific and medical breakthroughs, so why the hell would you destroy this database that not just saved B'elanna's life (ungrateful brat) but could save the lives of the very crew you have sworn to bring home in one piece, even if it is the last thing you do?

    You have to be strategic here, everything else is just reckless and stupid. Have Starfleet command debate the merits of using tainted research when you get back; IF you get back.

    I dont wanna sway too off topic but it reminds me of the Democrats these days who act like they are the fucking Boyscouts out there in DC whose job it is to set a good example for the GOP that's peddling a rapist POTUS and pedophile senator; to that end they self cannibalize and shoot themselves in the foot by forcing out Democrat Senators we direly need to thwart off the fascism the GOP is unleashing on us. You can play nice later, right now we need every man and woman we can get (yes, everything is a Trump administration metaphor for me these days)

    Similarly, seeing Voyager just obliterate all of Moset's research in a time they can least afford it out of some misplaced sense of morality. Give me a fucking break. That was just irresponsible. The research is already there, the people died long ago, USE IT now and save lives, dont waste it. How does that help?

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