Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Voyager, Season 7: Repentance

 Voyager, Season 7
Airdate: January 31, 2001
156 of 168 produced
156 of 168 aired


Voyager rescues the crew of a disabled ship and finds it was a prison ship full of condemned prisoners on their way to execution, forcing the crew the reconcile their personal beliefs about capital punishment with their obligation to not interfere.

 Leola Root Stew claims yet another victim...




Kevin: This is a pretty standard Star Trek episode, all things considered. It's certainly a bit less heavy handed than TOS' Dagger of the Mind, but we still get a solid helping of Star Trek and Rodenberry's view that crime is the result of structural or psychological problems that can be solved. The precise mechanism of that in practice remains a little muddied, but it's enough to say that Star Trek rejects the idea that some people are irredeemably bad, and that's always a nice thought. My only complaint is that I don't think it ever really gets out of the set up stage. We have the issue of the week and with the exception of Tom Paris, I don't think anyone really said anything that felt out of character, but beyond that, there's not a lot of actual wrestling with the issue. Even to the extent we grapple with the morality, it's more of a "Should we interfere?" rather than "Is capital punishment morally okay?" The revelation that Iko literally has a brain defect that largely precludes culpability is a little too neat. It elides the morality of the death penalty by demonstrating pointing out it can't work as a deterrent to people not fully in control of their actions, and that's a bit of a cop out to me. They seem to acknowledge that when the other prisoner attempts to manipulate Neelix, but it still falls flat.

Matthew: It should be stipulated at the outset that this is a quintessential Star Trek political allegory, and I'm always down for that. What other show is going to investigate, via sci-fi means, the roots of criminality, the morality of punishment generally, racial inequality in sentencing, and the efficacy of the death penalty? The question is how effective these investigations are. I think, in the Iko character, they did a pretty great job of plumbing the depths of genetic defects which might lead to criminality. When this was written, some of the first research was being done into human MAOA and CDH13 genes, mutations of which exists in statistically significant percentages of the prison population. I cared about Iko and wanted him to achieve some sort of peace. I think they did a good job of not giving him a fairy tale ending and having those around him act believably. Now, as far as the racial justics story, I kind of don't know what point they were trying to arrive at. I think the ultimate end point was that, although this racial minority does get sentenced and prosecuted in unsupportable numbers, this particular guy was still a criminal douchebag. Umm, OK? I can see how you wouldn't want to have two exonerations in the episode, as if no criminals should ever be guilty, but it kind of muddles the point to the extent which I just wonder whether it shouldn't be a separate episode.

Kevin: Beyond that, the character work is all there. The Doctor and Seven exchanges are pretty solid. My only two complaints is Paris' comments in the Mess Hall and the focus on Seven relating this to her time with the Borg. Paris is literally the beneficiary of the Federation's touchy-feely justice system, so I think it felt to quick for him to dismiss the possibility of redemption. My other issue is it's not that I can't see why Seven would analyze her guilt through this lens, it's that I think there were other more fertile characters to have this debate, and we've gone to the Seven well so often. The Maquis also committed crimes, and you can't argue they all had defective pineal glands. Neelix even points out the apparent racial bias in Nygean justice, so I think there was a more nuanced debate to had about crime being as much who decides what crime is or how marginalized people interact with their society. The end result just felt a little underdeveloped for me.

Matthew: I liked that Seven of Nine was initially in favor of the death penalty, but evolved to the point that she could invest a personal stake in someone's innocence. The dialogue scenes with Janeway did a very nice job of bringing out this point. Seven can understand not being morally culpable for bad acts, as well as the guilt that accompanies them. I am also very happy that they did not add a romantic angle to the story.


Kevin: I think everyone did a pretty solid job, both main and guest cast. Jeff Kober's Iko had a lot of range, with the menace not hitting cartoonish nor the guilt hitting melodrama. FJ Rio, DS9's Muniz, returns as Joleg and he felt like a more "real" prisoner, rather than the thought experiment Iko's character became. Even Tim de Zarn's Yediq had enough shading to make him just a guy doing his job rather than some sneering Javert-type.

Matthew: I absolutely loved Jeff Kober's performance as Iko. I totally agree on his believable range. His invocation of the warden's children was chilling but not ridiculous, and the way he lost his violent edge but remained the same person generally was involving and believable. So I didn't see him as a thought experiment only. FJ Rio and Tim de Zarn were quite good, too, I agree. Jeri Ryan yet again does fantastic emotional work. It's so sad to see the one note garbage she was given in "STP," when you see what she can do with a script that gives her something other than ANGER and REVENGE to chew on.

Production Values

Kevin: Nothing to really write home about here. The aliens are standard Westmore foreheads. The prison set up in the cargo bay was pretty well done I have to say, but beyond that, this was a bit of a bottle show but not the worse for it.

Matthew: Yep, total bottle show. One spaceship, some Westmoreheads, but I liked the cargo bay detention center and the little touches. The bowls, the food, the little hole for putting the food through, the mesh that Iko did pull ups on. Why did the prison uniforms have LED lights? Because it's the future!!!


Kevin: This is a solid three for me. It's not bad, certainly, it's just that it never quite gets anywhere past its interesting set up for me. The positions the crew takes are fairly expected overall, and the physiological solution feels a little too pat for me. Still this is right down the center line of allegorical Star Trek, so even if it's one I don't return to that often, it's still a solid outing.

Matthew: I think this is a 4, and could have been a 5 with a bit of tightening in the racial justice storyline. I was totally on board with the death penalty allegory and this episode really hit the Trek Center in my brain with lots of happy endorphins. That makes our total a 7.

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