Friday, May 7, 2021

Voyager, Season 7: Author, Author


Voyager, Season 7
"Author, Author"
Airdate: April 18, 2001
164 of 168 produced
163 of 168 aired

Introduction

The Doctor writes a holonovel loosely based on his shipmates, but discovers that his rights as an author may not be what they're cracked  up to be.

I wonder if Braga taught him this move...

 


Writing

Matthew: It should be obvious from a synopsis that this episode bears similarities to TNG "The Measure of a Man." So the question becomes, does this story justify its existence when placed next to the former? I think it largely does. For one thing, there is a lot of valuable "Piller Filler" in the side stories, fleshing out various characters' family stories in their communiques home. I particularly enjoyed B'Elanna's reconciliation with her father, which is a nice callback to VOY "Lineage." It was a realistic take on reconciliation that didn't lean too hard into histrionics and melodrama (I'm looking at you, Discovery...) but showed real growth for B'Elanna's character. Seven of Nine's mini-story was slightly less successful, but still enjoyable. Harry got some nice comic relief. I liked the vignette of Barclay showing them a live feed of Earth, too. It's these little touches that make a crew feel real and help us care about them in the more dramatic moments (again, I'm looking in your direction, Discovery...).

Kevin: As flavor text goes, this is some great stuff, I agree. The awkward but not hostile reunion with B'Elanna's father was a nice piece. I would have liked to see something with Janeway and Mark. My only counter to the general critique that this is good Piller Filler is that the filler fills best the space between beats of a good story. It's not the substitute for one. It's the breathing space that gives the audience a chance to catch their breath and infuses some of the heightened narrative with some subtler stakes. This is, as always, a lovely side dish, but outside of an episode like Data's Day, it's not really a main course.

Matthew: The A-story has elements to recommend it. The best parts are the interactions between the Doctor and the crew. They were understandably concerned about defamation, but both Janeway and Paris had good line readings in which they show that that sort of harm isn't foremost in their minds, rather the idea that the Doctor views them in this way is what concerns them. With that said, the Doctor's portrayal of events is so over the top that it blunts the story's effectiveness to some degree. I fail to see how showing Janeway shoot a patient illustrates the prejudice the Doctor faces. I think a much better tack to have taken would be almost like a clip show, distilling real moments of microaggression or maltreatment. As it is here, it makes the Doctor's "freedom of expression" seem silly and out of proportion. As outlandish as it is, though, I quite enjoyed the comedy elements of both the Doctor's and Tom's take on the genre.

Kevin: In the end, I think the show took the wrong tack making it a legal drama about the Doctor's rights. That's ground well covered both in and outside of Voyager. The better and juicier story is how the Doctor views himself and his relationships. The line about how the mobile emitter can feel like a restraint even as it gives him more freedom is an interesting one. The Doctor fundamentally lacks a freedom of movement his closest friends take for granted on a level so deep, it's hard imagine them even examining it. That inherently impacts the power dynamics of a relationship. In a way, you could argue that the crew's treatment of the Doctor at times feels like that of a favorite pet or farm animal. They acknowledge his skill and intelligence and usefulness, and genuinely feel affection for him, but that's not quite the same as respecting his independent personhood, and the bite in the Doctor's satire hints at that. That's way more fun ground than a retread, and a tepid one at that. Going even deeper, there's an interesting parable-ready story to be told here about being the only member of a minority group in your larger community. Even though the crew is (generally) nice to the Doctor, that doesn't solve the underlying problem of him essentially having to repeatedly ask permission to live his life in a way others do not. That's a real source of friction regardless of how the crew views their own treatment of the Doctor. There's the interesting extrapolation of Measure of a Man.

And I feel like a meaningful portion of our Voyager reviews are knocking their inconsistent and ill-defined take on the mechanics of hologram sentience, so I will not rehash them here.

Matthew: Now the courtroom scenes. They did not possess the human drama of "Measure of a Man," with detached arms and such. But the testimonials to the Doctor's personhood were well done and referenced continuity nicely. I liked the character of the arbitrator, and the Bolian publisher represented an interesting perspective on AI - does an AI's creation count as a work of art that deserves protection? I do think that the question was again punted on to some degree. All of the repurposed Doctors at the end really raised the question of whether leaving holograms on results invariably in their gaining sentience. If it does, wouldn't someone in the Alpha Quadrant have noticed this? Why would they not alter the programming enough to either A. prevent sentience, or B. make them enjoy their new jobs? It seems unnecessarily cruel to not make provisions for this eventuality.

Kevin: This is where the episode really falters for me, on a couple of levels. First, it really feels like we've answered the question in Measure of a Man on the sentience of artificial life forms, and it doesn't even really get mentioned. I understand that's more an IP thing and not wanting to have to pay Melinda Snodgrass royalties, but honestly, they should have just done that. The other issue for me is the gaping logic hole in having the hearing. If the Doctor is not a sentient being with the rights to own his work, then you know what else he lacks? The capacity to form a contract. And I'm not just overlaying the American legal system on the episode, as I know that's a fool's errand. This is a more basic philosophical problem. If the Doctor lacks the ability to say what happens to his work, he lacks the ability to sell it in the first place. However the judge decides, this Bolian guy doesn't get to market this story. It makes the courtroom drama somewhat inert.

Matthew: To be fair to the episode, Tuvok mentions just that notion as a possible line of defense, and rejected because they did not want to establish that the Doctor was not a person. But it is not brought up in the hearing at all, which I agree is an oversight on the parts of the legal eagles present.

Acting
 

Matthew: Whether or not his position made sense to us, Robert Picardo delivered it well. I believed that he felt aggrieved, and that he had genuine remorse when he finally saw how hurt his friends were. I aslo enjoyed his comic line readings as the narrator, and as the "Evil Doctor." He and Robert Duncan McNeill played well off of each other in their scenes, too. Kate Mulgrew turned in her typically excellent Janeway, though her "Dark Janeway" was a bit one note, and seemed like a pale imitation of her turn in "Living Witness."

Kevin: Yeah, I have no complaints. I think the Doctor's frustration actually plays well, even when it was being staged in the slightly ridiculous packaging, no mean feat of acting.

Matthew: Roxann Dawson and Juan Garcia had a wonderful scene together, which is even more impressive because they were surely filmed separately. I wonder if Dawson was present off camera for Garcia's scene? Both of the actors totally nailed it.

Kevin: I agree the pair of actors and the pair of production assistants reading copies of the script really collectively brought it. I always like when secondary characters don't act like they are secondary characters, since of course from their perspective, they aren't.  

Matthew: As far as other guest actors, I liked both the Bolian Mr. Broht (Barry Gordon) and the Arbitrator (Joseph Campanella). Broht read as an impatient shyster businessman, and the Arbitrator was almost a dead ringer for Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the first Baseball Commissioner. Robert Ito and Irene Tsu also gave serious "Helicopter Parent" energy as Harry Kim's parents.

Production Values

Matthew: It looks like they had some sets left over from Pathfinder, and the set designers did a fine job with various "Earth living rooms" during the communique scenes. Beyond that there wasn't much going on, it was mostly a bottle show with some makeup and hair changes. Chakotay's ridiculous Bajoran tattoo and earring was suitably comic. Harry's slick "villain" 'do was... not good, and neither was Janeway's Dark Bob.

Kevin: I think they made a mistake in trying to comically exaggerate the crew. I know it probably would have been cost prohibitive, but I think the better, subtler play would be cast similar, but still different actual actors for the parts. Like call everyone who got passed over for the part seven years ago and give them a swing. That would have been fun and would have better manifested the idea that the story was inspired by, but not literally a roman a clef for the Voyager crew. 

Conclusion

Matthew: I think this episode is less than the sum of its parts, but the parts are generally enjoyable, some some nice scenes and solid acting. The story punts on some big questions, and this is the fourth quarter, to extend the metaphor. So I can't go above a pleasant but mildly disappointing 3.

Kevin: I get your position, but I think this is a 'high 2' rather than a 'low 3' for me. The lack of real stakes and the lack of a clear point of view about what we were actually doing philosophically renders the viewing experience a little inert for me. The fact that the episode kind of forces you to remember not just an episode about the exact same thing, but one rightfully treated as some of the best Star Trek can do, only makes the vague feeling of wasting our time more acute. That makes for a total of 5.

2 comments:

  1. This episode does a Simpsons-esque thing, where it starts out as one story, and then at some point along the way turns into a different (and usually more dramatic or stake-sy) story. Simpsons usually does it well, but here the second part felt a little rushed.

    I suppose it makes sense to feel that way, what with the constraints of communication, but then add Measure of a Man... Yeah, feels like something didn't quiet gel.

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