"I won't play these games with a trick of light!"
This is an episode of two halves, in which one half is brilliant and the other features a cave monster.
In the really good half of the episode, the Doctor, Suder and Paris work together to take back the ship from the Kazon. Paris, flying around the Delta Quadrant in a shuttle, works to bring in some allies while the Doctor and Suder sabotage the ship from within.
What makes it brilliant is Suder's struggle with killing. While we can all agree killing is bad and only to be done when absolutely necessary, Star Trek rarely explores the emotional ramifications of it - since the series is set in the military, killing is part of everyone's job and something they're generally prepared for. Not only is it great to see the subject explored, but Suder's struggles with killing are extremely unusual. Suder is a serial killer who actively enjoys killing, but who has been trying very hard to conquer those urges for months. In order to take back the ship, he has to kill again, to help his crew rather than for personal satisfaction, and the toll it takes on him is severe. I never thought I'd feel such sympathy for a serial killer - and certainly not on a show that often tends towards the morally black and white like Star Trek (though it does explore morally grey areas sometimes, as in 'Tuvix').
The other half of the episode follows the mis-adventures of the crew on the planet where they have been stranded. Hogan gets eaten by a cave monster, Chakotay tries out diplomacy without a shared language, Tuvok shows off his Vulcan archery skills, Janeway sacrifices some of her hair to start a fire. None of it is terribly interesting.
The biggest problem with this episode is the giant cop-out on Seska's baby. Oh look, it wasn't Chakotay's after all! It's Cullah's son, so we can - indeed, probably should - just leave the baby with him and the Kazon and forget it ever existed. I can understand why they did it - evidently, they didn't want most of Chakotay's stories for the foreseeable future to revolve around caring for a baby, and a newborn is a lot harder to work around than, say, Wesley Crusher. But if they knew all that, they should never have introduced the idea in the first place. This feels like the original intention was to introduce the baby for season 3, then over the summer everyone decided that would be too difficult and they dropped the idea, which smacks of slightly lazy writing and takes you out of the show a bit.
Mind you, that revelation occurs immediately after the Doctor and Seska have a conversation about his ability to lie. His personal log makes it clear he's not lying, but wouldn't that have been interesting...
By the end of the episode, two lingering plot threads from season 2 have been tied up in the deaths of Seska and Suder. One feels a little perfunctory but necessary. With Seska dead and the baby out of the way, the show can finally move on from the Kazon plot arc - the Kazon were never really that successful as recurring enemies and their continued appearances made less and less sense because Voyager is supposed to be constantly moving, and should have left their space ages ago. Seska's death is touching enough, reaching for her baby, and Cullah will lose interest in Voyager now, allowing the show to move on to new and more interesting things.
Suder's death also ties up a lingering thread - he has been on house arrest in his quarters since 'Meld' and, while he could have stayed there unseen for the entire journey, it makes sense to give him a proper exit and send-off as well. But while Seska's end is decent but a little workmanlike, Suder's final story stands by itself as a moving and complete conclusion to his character's arc that feels natural and earned, lifted by Brad Dourif and Tim Russ's performances. Perhaps only Star Trek could give a serial killer a heroic ending and make it feel real and earned - and that is what makes it special.
Bits and pieces
- We see more of Ensign Wildman and her (still unnamed) baby on the planet, so we've hung on to one of the two babies born in season 2.
- Poor Lt. Hogan appeared frequently throughout season 2 and was even involved in the occasional plotline, only to be unceremoniously killed off by a cave monster not five minutes into season 3. Voyager occasionally made commendable efforts to avoid Redshirt Syndrome and make sure none of their ensigns felt too expendable by giving them names and featuring them in a few episodes before killing them off - especially important on a show in which, theoretically, there is no back-up or replacement crew available and every ensign expended should reduce the size of the remaining ship's population. It never really worked though, largely because poor Hogan and the other occasionally recurring faces tended to blend into each other in an unmemorable mass, so they might as well have put them all in Original Series red shirts and lined them up as phaser fodder anyway.
- This is the second episode in which the Doctor and one or two other crew-members have to save the ship. These episodes tend to be pretty good, largely because Robert Picardo in controlled panic mode is just so brilliantly watchable.
- Paris looks really sexy all messed up, flying a shuttle around yelling "I don't have time for this!" I'm just sayin'.
- Janeway flirting watch: "Huddle together in groups. That'll preserve body heat. This is no time to be shy. Tuvok!"
- Luckily for everyone, Seska is in too much of a hurry to disable or decompile the Doctor's program and just shoots out the holo-emitters instead - much easier to fix.
- The shot of the ship landing at the end and heroic music kicking in is pretty cool.
Janeway: Hogan was a fine officer and a good man. And our job is to make sure his death is the last one for a long time. Good luck with that.
Chakotay (trying to start a fire): Trapped on a barren planet and you're stuck with the only Indian in the universe who can't start a fire by rubbing two sticks together!
Paris: Don't worry - I have a plan.
Paxim: Very well. We'll rendezvous in an hour. Paxim out.
Paris: One hour. I should be able to come up with some kind of plan in one hour.
Neelix: The other two seem to be trying to figure out what to make of us. In a manner of speaking, not in a culinary sense, I hope.
Tuvok: I offer you a Vulcan prayer, Mister Suder. May your death bring you the peace you never found in life.
One half of a brilliant episode so... two and half out of four cave monsters? Make it three for tying up season 2's threads and giving us a fresh slate of sorts for season 3.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.