Monday, June 8, 2020

Voyager, Season 7: Critical Care, Season 7
Airdate: November 1, 2000
148 of 168 produced
149 of 168 aired


The Doctor is abducted and made to serve within an alien health care system. What he finds there present challenges to his personal ethics.

"Well, your health care system is grotesquely unjust and murderous to its patients. But it's still better than Allstate."


Matthew: Star Trek knows allegories. Some are subtle, some are quite obvious. This one is certainly in the latter category. I find that it elucidates two stories about health care that don't always perfectly sync up with each other - the idea of rationing based on a patient's value to society (e.g. "death panels), and the idea of a class system within a health care service. In our system, the latter is the major problem, while in some state run systems, the former is. So which is the story here? I found the questions interesting, though neither was explored to the degree I think it could have been. The major problem for me is that we never left the hospital ship (can't a race capable of solving antigravity also solve resource distribution). Had we gone down to the planet to see the conditions which led to this rationing regime, it might have presented a better argument for it. The arguments we get are only in a line or two of dialogue. We're just supposed to take it as evil, I guess.  

Kevin: I agree this is pretty allegory-heavy episode, more in line with a TOS episode, really. The problem for me is that it never really gets the life it needs to have any real impact. There's the two related stories about how to ethically apportion limited resources and social stratification, but I never get the sense of the stakes. The best Trek stories give the purported bad guys at least a little genuine support for their position to make it, if not sympathetic, at least understandable, and that just didn't happen here. I think the fact that people are dying of a treatable infection to essential let rich people live forever guts the moral exploration a little.

Matthew: The other aspect of the Doctor's story is his creative solution to provide care to the underclass of patients. Initially, this involves misappropriating supplies. Did he really think this would succeed? I like that the episode shows one of his patients dying as a result of "using up his allocation" too quickly. But when the administrator stops this Robin-Hood-medicine, the Doctor then infects him with a pathogen to teach him empathy or something. How did this seem like a long term solution? Once the hostage is released, how could the entire planet's medical system do anything but revert to its prior state? And this sets aside questions of the Doctor's ethics. Triage is one thing, but this is actively harming one in order to save many. Didn't we have a whole episode about this sort of thing in which he almost lost his sanity? At least he asks Seven about this at the end, but the theme is not explored sufficiently.

Kevin: This is an interesting idea. What does this say about the Doctor's ethics? Is it actually justified? As we discuss in the podcast, I think Latent Image did a much better job exploring the moral morass of the decisions you make when you can't treat everyone. The Doctor tortured himself because he apparently let his friendship with Harry decide the coin toss in a triage situation. That's a far cry from the Doctor intentionally harming someone to try to affect social change.

Matthew: The culprit, as Kevin identifies int he podcast, is the B story of tracking the Doctor's thief. Although not wholly unenjoyable, tracking down Gar is pretty pro forma Trek, and takes time away from the deeper allegorical story. 

Kevin: It's also just not that entertaining. I can tell they wanted me to be tickled by Janeway pretending to be married to Tuvok, but it just landed at kind of boring.


Matthew: Picardo turns in a pretty typically good performance. His sarcasm is on point, and his concern for his patients is tangible. I wish the script had given him a really good argument with a proponent of the TC system. Ah, well.

Kevin: Agreed. Picardo is definitely in the stable of actors who can wring the most out of any material but sadly there just isn't a lot of meat on the bone.

Matthew:  For the supporting cast, I would say that Larry Drake's Chellick was probably the standout. He presented an interesting spin on the officious bureaucrat, with a dark edge to him. Otherwise, there was the guy who looked a lot like Sean Astin (who was fine), and the guy who looked a lot like Sean Astin's brother. They really could have cast the two level red roles a bit better. 

Kevin: Gregory Itzin was perfectly serviceable as the officious official, a role he has brought to Trek several times. He also played Tandro in the DS9 episode Dax and he nailed that vibe of slightly smug.

Production Values

Matthew: Sets and effects-wise, this show was pretty top rate. The hospital had lots of visual interest, the digital matte of the world and hospital ship was good, and there were some truly beautiful planet shots for Voyager in orbit.  

Kevin: It's always hard for me to separate out a modern assessment from what I would have thought at the time. CGI has just advanced so much that rather than age with charm like the practical effects of the 70s and 80s, these just look like, and I hate to sound like a broken record, video game cut scenes. I will balance that critique by acknowledging, technical issues aside, the layouts themselves were good.


Matthew: This was probably two edits away from being really good. As it is, it's mildly entertaining and thoroughly inoffensive. It rates a mediocre 3 for me.

Kevin: I just can never lock into gear with this episode. I never quite get to caring enough about what is happening to really engage the episode. This is one of those times where the allegory is an elephant in the room with the story rather than the means for getting the audience to engage a complex issue. Moreover, I find this was pretty boring. Picardo is a great actor, but even he cannot save this episode from a 2 for me, for a total of 5.


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