Monday, April 28, 2014

Voyager, Season 2: Lifesigns

Voyager, Season 2
Airdate: February 19, 1996
35 of 168 produced
34 of 168 aired


Voyager answers the distress call of a lone Vidiian. The Doctor changes her life when he creates a healthy holographic avatar for her consciousness to live in during her body's treatment.

Fun fact: All those CO2-spewing machines eventually get shipped to Mars for the purposes of terraforming.


Matthew: So, let's talk about the Doctor. The character as originally construed seems to be a bit of a Data retread. But everyone seems to like him. Why is this? Is it just on the strength of the actor? Perhaps. I can imagine two other explanations: his holographic nature gives his character interesting and unique problems to overcome; and the nature of his AI is just different than Data's, and thus makes his personal/emotional development interesting in its own right. Here I think we have to go with the latter - the Doctor is clearly capable of realistic emotional output consistent with his function as a healer. I think this could have been more explicit in the story we're given, and I wish that the question of whether he is actually experiencing feelings had been asked, if not answered.

Kevin: I think his holographic nature lends itself to some unique questions. We tend to interpret Data's emotional awareness, such as it is, as somehow innately genuine, and the result of the same emergent quality of a complex nervous system that gives us emotions. The Doctor is designed to mimic them, and of course the question becomes when is the simulation so real, the distinction becomes meaningless. I think they breezed through how the doctor can feel romantic love a bit, but the scenes themselves were great. The blunt declaration had me laughing and cringing at the same time.

Matthew: I'm a fan of the Paris B plot. It's a nice stab at continuing storytelling, and it rewards patient viewers who see little hints in prior shows. This is still an interstitial installment of the tale, but I found the character interactions diverting. It was nice to see Paris butt heads with Chakotay (injecting a bit of much needed tension into that character), to see Harry be disappointed in Tom, but to see Tom still being a friend to the Doctor. I also enjoyed watching Janeway play the matter close to the vest. Did anything fantastic occur? No. But it's fun character building that pays dividends throughout the run of the show.

Kevin: I remember being genuinely surprised by Paris' behavior, which I suppose is good since that was the point. I was intrigued by the idea of him just not being invested anymore. It didn't really occur to me until the episode where he leaves that there might be something else going on. I also enjoyed the minimal work at serialized storytelling. A story where Paris has a bad day but learns his lesson by the end of the same day would have been boring, so I liked that it didn't get resolved in this episode.

Matthew: I think the sci-fi idea of creating a technological avatar for a person is prescient and interesting. I do have questions about actually syncing someone's consciousness with it - the dialogue veered uncomfortably close to "I put her consciousness in the holo-buffer," which would be a totally game-changing technological leap (similar to Ira Graves' in "The Schizoid Man"). Either way, the emotional story for Danara is inherently interesting - a diseased person being given back health and beauty through the avatar. Do I think they did everything that could be done with the story? Maybe not. It might have raised the stakes to actually have her commit suicide by choosing her beautiful avatar. But then I guess that would be two suicide stories in a row. And we still get only the slightest hint in dialogue of the Vidiian experience (which apparently includes preteen girl birthday parties or some such).

Kevin: Yeah, even more than an android body, I think I would want a holographic body. "Today, I feel like being a dolphin." Assuming there was a way to prevent whatever tension building countdown the show used, it seems like it would be awesome in every way. I also would have liked maybe a bit of comparison between Denara and the Doctor's experience as holograms. Denara is unquestionably a "real" consciousness manifesting in the form of a hologram. Does that look or function differently than the Doctor's artifical program. Maybe we could have really learned something about the essence of the Doctor, using Denara as a template.


Matthew: Susan Diol did a Really nice acting job as Danara. She ticked all the boxes we like in terms of "fitting the universe," but she also brought a really good emotional quality to the role. It was hard not to be swept up in her feelings when she saw her new body, and that totally sold the rest of the episode. She was totally involving and believable. She also had good chemistry with Robert Picardo. He shows yet again how versatile he is. Now, it's true that he has less of a "shield" to act through than, say, Tim Russ. But his comic timing is impeccable and he never overdoes his character's "emotional" scenes.

Kevin: She had a lot to cover, and she did well. Her remembering the trauma of being infected, the nascent courtship with the doctor, and the world's most bizarre attempt at suicide is a long list, especially for a guest star, and she nailed it. Especially for a character designed as a love interest, the episode can easily fail if the guest star is not up to it, and she absolutely is. It makes sense, despite the sci-fi trappings, that characters would fall for each other, and I would even go so far as to say I think the idea of the relationship sustains itself even outside the idea of it just being standard doctor/patient hero worship, and I think that largely on the strength of the pair's acting.

Matthew: Robert Duncan McNeill got some juicy scenes as "Bad Boy Tom." He's been really good in that vein before, and he continues it here. The nice thing is that, even when he's being a jerk to Chakotay, you still kind of like him, or at least empathize with him. Robert Beltran did a god job of looking like he wanted to clock Paris in the jaw. Kate Mulgrew had some nice, restrained scenes, keeping a "secret" from both us and the characters.

Kevin: I want to single out Roxann Dawson for a little praise. I really liked the scene with the Doctor objecting to helping. Much like Worf and the Romulan in The Enemy, I buy her hesitance, even outrage at being asked. It was a good scene for Denara as well, and both actresses nailed the emotional core of the scene.

Production Values

Matthew: We got some really nice CGI with the creation of Pel's holo-body. I thought the different layers were really well done. Her makeup was also good, and better than some Vidiian makeup we've seen. The Mars vista was competent but unspectacular. So all in all, visual effects were a moderate plus in this otherwise "bottle" show.

Kevin: The CGI construction was really good, and I liked getting to see a healthy Vidiian. The makeup for healthy Vidiian is a little simple, but not in a bad way for me. It certainly flattered the actress. I also like the clothes. They walked that line well of different enough to be sci-fi without looking like something no one would ever, ever wear.


Matthew: I can see an argument for a 3, but this is a 4 for me. The love story just works, the guest character inspires my interest and care, and there is enough sci-fi to make me happy. After a pretty rough patch, Voyager Season 2 is starting to hit its stride.

Kevin: I'm going to make the argument for a three. The romance and characterization is very good, and Robert Picardo has the rare gift of making surly seem charming, but I think the fact that the episode dodges some of the larger philosophical questions keeps this out of higher territory. It's a good episode, and one I very much enjoy watching, but that's most of the episodes I give a three to as well. That makes a total of 7.

If you enjoyed this episode, why not  relive it in dinner plate form? Nothing says "Vidiian" like "Liver and Onions."

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