Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Voyager, Season 6: Virtuoso

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 6
Airdate: January 26, 2000
132 of 168 produced
131 of 168 aired


The Doctor comes close to realizing a long-held desire for fame and approval when an alien race becomes fascinated by his singing.

That's one dapper hologram!


Kevin: Hmm. We are getting another episode of exploring the Doctor's personality via a foible. It's fine for what it is, but the pieces don't quite come together for me. It lightly strains credulity, even by Star Trek standards to ponder a species that uses verbal communication but have no concept of music. It's the height of customizing a species for the plot. That's not to say it's not a largely enjoyable trip, but ultimately it's not entire satisfying. I suppose there is a story about the dangers of fandom, but without the Qomar being a fully realized people, that half of the story doesn't quite resolve either. Maybe a more serious story could have explored the Prime Directive-adjacent ramifications of the Doctor's stardom.

Matthew: Well, we will get that episode next season, won't we, with "Author, Author." My beef with Doctor episodes, while stipulating to Robert Picardo's general delightfulness (and he never really wore out his welcome in the way that Brent Spiner kind of had by "Descent" for me) is that the writers keep punting on the big questions with relation to his personhood. Data is sort of just baldly asserted to be "sentient" (setting aside the misuse of that term for now, when it should rather be "sapient"). No one challenges it after "The Measure of a Man," and then his story becomes about his continuing exploration of personhood. The Doctor, on the other hand, is a piece of artificial intelligence programmed into a computer. In some ways, his story and whether he "counts" as a person is much more interesting than Data, who is a science fictional construct. The Doctor has immediate counterparts in our lives today. What would make an AI qualify as a sapient person?The Doctor seems to have feelings, for instance in this episode: his desire for approval, pride, envy, and shame. Are these simulacra, or does he possess the qualia of feeling that biological beings do? What is the dividing line between these two categories?  I liked when this episode at least nudged towards these questions, especially during his argument with Janeway in the Ready Room. But it never went all the way.

Kevin: Don't get me wrong. It's fun watching the Doctor duet with himself. It's kind of pompous that Picardo excels at, but as the meat of the story, it stays a little wanting. I want to stress that the pieces all work alone. The writing and comic timing is there. It's just that in a way, it feels like this is a season two not a season six story. If I had to draw a parallel, it would be about the same point in TNG when you had cowboy Data or multiple personality Data. I get that Picardo is a gem and you want to use him, but it feels like they reverse engineered an episode from a fun idea on the back of a napkin. I mean, even Worf leaving at the end of season 4 wasn't real and we knew it, but it carried more heft because it was a little more integrated into the character's arc than here, where it was just feels like him throwing a hissy fit. That all said, the moment when Tincoo dropped him like a hot potato when the hot new hologram came along, I did chuckle pretty hard.

Matthew:  I think there was a lot of fun stuff here with the music, and with the idea of music being fascinating to an alien race. With that said, I think the Qomar were left a bit undeveloped. Were they just dicks, or did they possess a different emotional makeup? That actually would have been a nice entree into the Doctor's emotions by comparison - if he has more emotional response than other biological beings, then how can his own emotions be denied? Does feeling emotion qualify one for sapience and personhood? Also, why the hell were the Qomar so preoccupied with the Doctor in particular, as well as vocal music? I would think orchestral music, with its potential for a hundred individual musical lines, would provide much more mathematical complexity than a vocal solo.

Kevin: And we discussed this seasons ago the last time it came up, but Janeway splitting the baby here feels artificial. The ship has sailed long ago on whether the Doctor is a sentient being independent of his EMH role. There was a much more interesting exploration of this in "Latent Image."

Matthew: I think there was some potential to show growth for the Doctor here, as there was in "Latent Image." Where there it was acknowledging his fallibility, here is would be acknowledging remorse and shame.  When it comes down to it, the Doctor was going to abandon his entire friend group for fame, and he didn't back down because of second thoughts - he only backed down because they Qomar were fickle shitheads. So the hurt should be just as fresh for the crew, and his shame and guilt should not be diminished by his staying. I think Seven should have stayed mad at him, with lasting repercussions for his character. She forgave quite quickly for her character, I think.


Kevin: Picardo is obviously great. No two ways about it. This episode, even with its problems is still pretty fun, and that's on the back of Picardo's master class in comedy. While it was clear he was lip syncing a few of the arias, that was more likely for filming convenience rather than talent. He can sing, and it's nice when they let him exercise that. And again, even without what I feel are sufficient narrative underpinning, the goodbyes were emotionally resonant, Seven's in particular.

Matthew: Yeah, there is nothing to fault here in Picardo's performance. He absolutely has nailed smug and self-inflated ego, but vulnerability as well. It's a neat trick to be both insufferable and endearing at once, and Picardo has mastered it. I liked the singing quite a lot, especially his duet, which featured very good harmony. His emotional final song was very effective, whether he recorded the vocal or not.

Kevin: The rest of the main crew was largely fine to good. Mulgrew and Ryan turn in some very good moments with the Doctor. The button with the fan letter was nice, no two ways about it. The guest crew fell flat for me, but I feel that was as much direction as acting ability. Olivier would sound stilted if asked to deliver all his dialogue in...well... an intentionally stilted manner.

Matthew: Actually, for me, Kamala-Lopez-Dawson's Tincoo really worked for me. I think she really pulled out the "not totally a dick, but still emotionally alien" aspect that the Qomar needed. Martin Scorsese Guy and the prime minister were not able to accomplish this. Tincoo felt like someone who was not horrible, but just didn't quite get why the Doctor would be devastated by his being replaced by a better model. 

Kevin: In this essay, I will praise each and every line that Roxann Dawson delivered in this episode. She so perfectly nailed each and every bitchy comment that I can't help but stan, as the kids say. And she managed the one of the few genuinely emotionally resonant for me when she pointed out the Doctor cannot splice his musical abilities from his personality.

Matthew: Yup. She definitely had the most laugh lines outside of Picardo.

Production Values

Kevin: A few choices elude me here. Why are all the Qomar short? Why were they asked to deliver all their dialogue in that manner? The robot in the Captain Proton novels has more elegant diction. They just chose to render the Qomar uniformly as jerks, and unlike say, Kolrami or Dokachin, it's not humorous and somehow charming. It's a matter of shading, but when the Zakdorn are jerks, they elevate it to an art.

Matthew:  The short actors were certainly noticeable, but it didn't distract for me. I liked very much the Opera Hall that was created for the Doctor, as well as the stage and costumes. There were a lot of extras in this episode, and they helped flesh out the world a great deal. Even on the ship, we got the Mess Hall scene with Harry and the Kimtones.

Kevin: And I know it was as much a concession to modern American copyright law, the choice of music as American folk and Italian opera felt a little forced. It might just be than neither is in my wheelhouse per se, but it was hard to connect the emotion of the discovery of music to music that doesn't connect with me as much as other genres.

Matthew: Yeah. There must have been some Baroque classical music that would have better fit the story. 


Kevin: I know I've criticized this pretty hard, but I'm still landing at a 3. I have problems with the story, but they are more than carried by Picardo's acting. It's a not a great, or even I would argue a complete episode, but I can't deny that it was entertaining while it was on screen.

Matthew: I'm with you on a 3 for a total of 6. This episode is always entertaining for the music and the comedic acting and emotional story, and I never skip it on a rewatch - but it always leaves me wanting more. I guess There hasn't yet been an AI story in Trek (or the Orville) that has been satisfying for me on the levels I mention above. So I can't judge too harshly. But the lack of ambitious follow-through keeps this from scoring higher.

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