Friday, January 10, 2020

Voyager, Season 6: Life Line, Season 6
"Life Line"
Airdate: May 10, 2000
141 of 168 produced
142 of 168 aired


When a two-way line of communication is established between the Pathfinder project and Voyager, the Doctor requests to be sent to the Alpha Quadrant in order to treat his creator for a terminal condition.

 It's two, two, TWO Doctors for the price of one!

Matthew: Bringing back fan favorites from an older show always runs the risk of seeming like pandering or "fan service" as the kids say these days. Writers and show runners should always be asking: Does this story need to exist? Does it accomplish anything besides making fans think "Hey, I recognize that!" Star Trek has, to this point, been pretty good at answering both of those questions in the affirmative. Roddenberry famously (and wisely) prohibited Vulcans from being portrayed on TNG (Dr. Selar notwithstanding) for several seasons.  But things are going to change. I won't argue that this episode marks some sort of turning point, but it definitely skirts the line on these questions. "Pathfinder" most certainly accomplished something outside of making fans happy to see Barclay - it introduced the means by which Voyager would communicate with and eventually return home to the Alpha quadrant. This episode seems to try to hang its hat on emotional development for the Doctor... but was it necessary development? The emotional weight is carried mainly by the Doctor pleading with Janeway to allow him to use a month's worth of transmission bandwidth. I didn't really buy her acquiescence. It might have been helped by the Doctor ever having mentioned his parentage in the past.

Kevin: I agree this one felt the most reverse engineered to allow the episode we got, not the organic result of a story idea. Maybe if they hadn't already done Message in a Bottle, it would have felt less like a retread of sending the Doctor home. Having Barclay with Zimmerman was a little too neat a coincidence, but for me, getting Troi involved felt the most like a reach. It's not that I don't love her or enjoy seeing her, but it felt like a producer said "Hey, these two did it before. Let's do it again!" Also, I think we are a little long in the tooth for a "Doctor asserts his basic personhood episode."

Matthew: Another low-key theme in this one is holographic sentience and moral value, but I can't say it's particularly well developed. We get the Haley character, who Zimmerman has created and apparently has affection for. Completely unexplored is the obvious "are they doing it?" question. The Doctor asserts his independence and value as an individual against Zimmerman's attempts to "fix" him, but this scene doesn't last very long, and is undercut by Barclay and Troi sabotaging his program to get the Doctor and Zimmerman working together.

Kevin: Haley is a fairly egregious oversight in terms of plot development. Is she sentient? A pet? A very smart pet? It really drives home that the writing staff has no clear conception of what holograms are, even in an episode focused on them. As much as I enjoy Barclay and Troi, I think they ultimately distracted from the key interaction between Zimmerman and the Doctor. A tighter, two person episode could have yielded something a little more interesting, plot-wise.

Matthew: The Zimmerman character is strange. It seems to me that he represents a genius on a par with Noonien Soong or Ira Graves. He has created an artificial person on a par with Data, and with everyday equipment to boot. It seems like this is an obvious thing that others in the world would recognize - but he is toiling in a backwater and is the butt of jokes. I'm OK with his being irascible and idiosyncratic (though I long for a televised scientific genius who is just a nice person for once), but overall I think this story failed to recognize and explore some obvious story beats, in favor of comedy. Was the comedy pretty good? Sure. I loved "Extremely Marginal Housecalls" and "Emergency Medical Hotheads." But I can't help but think the story could have been broken in a more satisfying way. Maybe the Doctor, who is a part of the discarded EMH Mark 1 series, actually represents the breakthrough, and is special, and his appearance resurrects Zimmerman's career, but carries with it ethical questions. I'm just spitballing here.

Kevin: The genius misanthrope is a tired cliche, but at least for Zimmerman, it's consistent. He is the person he was in his DS9 appearance. Each individual scene with him worked fine. As you say, the humor is spot on, but I can't help but find the cumulative effect a little less than scintillating. The stakes definitely needed to be tightened up a little.


Matthew: Well, it seems clear why Robert Picardo suggested this story to the writers (he received a Story By credit). It's a Robert Picardo cavalcade. His comic acting chops are not in dispute, and he is also more than capable of bringing emotional depth to a perofrmance. I think Zimmerman verged into shouty territory a bit too much for likability.

Kevin: The other episode this calls to mind is Brothers, as I think it comes from the same place as TNG's love of using Brent Spiner as often as possible. Picardo did a great job created two distinct but related characters and acting with himself. Both of his character's comic timing are definitely what keeps the episode moving.

Matthew: This was not Dwight Schultz's bert turn as Barclay. In part this is the script not giving him a ton to do, but he did not really elevate the material, either. Marina Sirtis was fine. Kate Mulgrew did the best she could in her argument with the Doctor over whether he should go. But all told, no performances really stand out.

Kevin: I think it's more the writing than the acting. There was just nothing for them to latch onto in the main story. The more I think about it, the more I feel their presence was tacked on. I think as crazy as it may sound, turning the plot into ongoing correspondence between the Doctor and Zimmerman may have elevated the episode.

Production Values

Matthew: I liked the Jupiter station sets. They looked lived in but also had that sort of "cookie cutter installation" vibe that added verisimilitude. Why would a holographic computer scientists live on a station orbiting Jupiter? Who knows. But the set was nicely decorated.  The exterior CGI was also on the happy side of par. The split screen effects were the best so far in the franchise (as they should be).

Kevin: Yeah, I agree by and large. The design for Jupiter Station itself was good, a riff on the mushroom cap spacedock design. My only complaint is Zimmerman's wig, which looks a little like it came out of a mad scientist costume bag you get at one of those Halloween stores that appear in empty storefronts in late September every year.


Matthew:I think this is a 3. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. But it fails to surmount mediocrity in terms of injecting deep themes or significant emotional stakes or growth for the characters. This is also the first time a guest star on Voyager has felt like "fan service" for me.

Kevin: We've spent a lot of time nitpicking the episode, but I can't bring myself to a two. I agree with three for a total of six. The acting and comic timing make this an enjoyable if not legendary episode.

No comments:

Post a Comment