Star Trek Voyager: Dreadnought

"What can be done in forty-one minutes?!"

A weapon B'Elanna programmed to attack Cardassians unexpectedly shows up in the Delta Quadrant and starts attacking non-Cardassians all over the place.

This is another one of those episodes where B'Elanna fights technobabble. Roxann Dawson is excellent as ever, but it suffers, as all these episodes do, from a lack of a really compelling problem. It's certainly a difficult problem for B'Elanna, and we root for her to succeed in whatever it is she's doing, but she's solving a technobabble problem with a technobabble solution, and that will never be as compelling as more character-based drama.

The basic theme of the episode is that B'Elanna is too clever for her own good. It's rather like she's playing chess against herself, with the weapon assuming that she's being coerced and refusing to believe her because her own tactical subroutines have prepared it for such as possibility (plus it refuses to believe it's in the Delta Quadrant because that is so improbable). That ought to sustain the interest, pitting an intelligent character against herself, but the specifics are so meaningless it's hard to remember to pay attention.

Part of the problem is that the plot makes no sense. B'Elanna and Chakotay nicked the weapon from the Cardassians in the first place and re-programmed it, but then the Caretaker nabbed it because... why? Why would the Caretaker take it? He was looking for organic beings, not intelligent weapons. This story really just doesn't work. It's a nice idea, to have B'Elanna's earlier mistake from a different time in her life catch up to her, but it doesn't really work in the specific context of Voyager's setting.

Meanwhile, a couple of subplots are bubbling along in the background. Voyager disappointed many fans with its lack of major story arcs, but those who accuse it of always pressing the reset button are ignoring the smaller plot and relationship arcs that progressed slowly over a period of time until dealt with in episodes of their own. I really like this approach, as it means viewers can dip in and out of the show and appreciate most of it, while long-term and regular viewers can follow the gradual progression of small, understated but nevertheless important story arcs.

In this case, the episode touches on a couple of these long-term plot developments. Ensign Wildman is still pregnant and it's established her husband is not human (which is necessary, considering how long she seems to have been pregnant at this point. I'm sure it feels like forever when it's happening, but this is ridiculous). Meanwhile Paris' subplot, in which he has been acting out in various small ways, continues to bubble along. He shows up late and improperly dressed (oo-er missus) for a meeting and Chakotay tells him off, and he feels like he doesn't fit in. General disarray is indicated by Paris' hair being slightly messy.

On the subject of Paris, it's perhaps notable that B'Elanna confides in him after Chakotay covers up the fact that appropriating the weapon was all her idea to the captain. Paris, Kim and B'Elanna are becoming an increasingly close group of friends, especially now that Seska has left and Chakotay and B'Elanna don't seem to be spending so much time together.

The episode really gets interesting right at the end when Janeway starts to play with the self-destruct (all Starfleet captains like to play with the self-destruct every now and again). Paris tells her "thanks for everything" in a lovely and very sincere moment, and Tuvok refuses to leave, insisting it's 'logical' to keep a second in command nearby (who, 'logically', would surely be Chakotay, but he's long gone!). These are real human moments (and Janeway and Tuvok's friendship is one of my favourite relationships on the show anyway) and they're great, though they do act as a potent reminder of why the technobabble-based main plot isn't quite working.

One of the biggest problems with this episode may also be placing. The previous four episodes of Voyager have been 'Meld' (the first really good episode in ages), before that 'Threshold' (so bad it was later written out of Star Trek canon), 'Alliances' (deathly dull), and before that 'Prototype', in which... B'Elanna messes about with some alien technology she should have left well alone and accidentally puts people in danger. It's simply too soon for another of these B'Elanna/technology episodes. Perhaps if this episode had been held off until season three, it might have worked better.

Bits 'n' pieces

 - B'Elanna gave the weapon her own voice because she didn't like the Cardassian one, which saves money on actresses, and gives Roxann Dawson another nice opportunity to play multiple roles.

 - The doctor is still trying to choose a name but has a problem - his memory banks can hold data from all over the place and every name has bad associations somewhere.

 - Jonas is still feeding information to the Kazon, but even they are bored with him. Maje Cullah and Seska aren't even talking to him.

 - Janeway has to tell some random alien that they've accidentally aimed a weapon at his planet. This goes about as well as you'd expect.

 - B'Elanna programmes the weapon to call her 'B'Elanna', which makes me feel slightly less guilty about my habit of referring to her by her first name and everyone else by their last name.

Quotes

Paris: When a bomb starts talking about itself in the third person, I get worried.

Kellan: You would sacrifice yourselves to save a people you didn't know two days ago?
Janeway: To save two million lives? That's not a hard decision.
Kellan: Your reputation in this quadrant isn't deserved, captain. For what it's worth, you have made a friend here.

Janeway: Doctor, I forgot about you.
Doctor: How flattering.

Honestly, this suffers from the same problem as a lot of Voyager's second season episodes, which is simple general dullness. For most shows, the second season is the best - luckily that wasn't the case for Voyager. One and a half out of four scruffy hair days.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

2 comments:

percysowner said...

Just to relieve your guilt, in Deep Space Nine and TNG, it is made clear that Bajorans use the last name (family name) first, first name last convention. So you have not been calling Belana by her first name. Ensign Ro was Ro Laren and Major Kira's full name on DS9 was Kira Nerys. So you've been good all along.

Juliette said...

Oooh, good point - B'Elanna's Klingon/Human, so I was assuming she goes by human conventions, but Worf only had the one name (plus 'son of Mogh' iirc) so I guess it makes sense if she's going by Klingong conventions she'd use that - plus she had a better relationship with her Klingon mother than her human father. I feel better now! :)