Star Trek Voyager: Alter Ego

"Hi. My name's Harry Read-Me-Like-A-Book Kim."

Tuvok and Harry fight over a woman. Yes, really.

On paper, the plot of this episode sounds absurd – Harry falls in love with a holodeck character and asks Tuvok for help, but the supposed holodeck character and Tuvok end up developing feelings for each other (as much as Vulcans ever develop feelings of any kind) and it turns out she's not a holodeck character after all, but an alien using a holographic avatar to hang out with the Voyager crew. But as odd as it sounds, it actually works – I really like this episode, it's one I've always enjoyed returning to.

Partly this is because it's a Tuvok episode and I don't think there's a single Tuvok episode throughout the show's run that I don't like. I love him. But it's also well done in general. Tuvok and Harry are a pretty uncommon pairing for a major storyline – Tuvok is usually paired with Neelix or Kes, and occasionally Paris (Neelix and Paris for contrast, Kes because the characters are close and both telepathic) while Harry is usually paired with Paris or sent out on his own to pick up an alien disease of some kind. But the two together is a really nice pair of opposites. For all that Kes, Paris and Neelix are highly emotional characters, young and (relatively) inexperienced Harry Kim is probably the most emotional character on the show, and having him and Tuvok the Vulcan play off against each other works well.

This episode also works because Marayna is a compelling and interesting character with plausible, relatable motivations. She's clearly intelligent as well as beautiful enough to attract multiple men – she absolutely nails Tuvok when she points out his refusal to wear a lei is a silent protest at not wanting to be at the party. There's a lot of this episode that reads differently once you know the reveal – the way Marayna questions Tuvok about Vulcans' lack of friendship (in the way humans express it) becomes more meaningful once you know that she is a very lonely person, reaching out for companionship. It also makes Tuvok calling her a non-sentient computer subroutine to her face a bit harsh!

The writing on this episode is sharp, too. I had to resist the urge to fill the whole 'Quotes' section with half the script! And it hangs together well – as the show progressed, Voyager got better at tying together the A and B plots into a more coherent whole, and in this case, the Spatial Anomaly of the Week turns out to be the thing keeping Marayna alone on an isolated space station. It's a good story overall, and as it twists and turns following the reveal, the holodeck characters attacking and trying to strangle Torres with a lei is genuinely, properly creepy.

This is basically just a nice little character piece for Tuvok and for Harry, with some gratuitous swimsuits thrown in. Tuvok telling Harry he values their working relationship and deleting Marayna to try to repair it is rather sweet, and his peace offering, teaching Kim kal-to is lovely – it's something they will continue to do every now and then for the rest of the series. Another one that, while not spectacular enough to trouble any top ten lists, is one I'm extremely fond of.

Bits and pieces

 - Vulcans have a wonderful set of vocabulary for elements of romantic infatuation, including specific words for infatuation at first sight, annoyance at third parties who don't appreciate the object of affection, and so on.

 - The shipping news: Paris is very admiring of how B'Elanna looks in her luau dress. But Vorik seems to have put a lot of thought into taking her to dinner alone, despite being Vulcan...

 - Janeway flirting watch: She does her usual leaning-over-Paris thing while talking about how tantalizing beauty and mystery are. She also insists everyone attend the luau, which causes Chakotay and Paris to give each other a Look, and cozies up to Chakotay at the party, hanging onto his arm in a way that I, a fervent Janeway/Chakotay shipper, find adorable.

 - I mentioned a few reviews back that Janeway's decision to keep the holodecks running despite limited resources is sometimes questioned by the fandom. Writing this review in early May 2020, I think it's safe to say that decision is unlikely to be questioned for a while. Voyager is a small ship housing over 100 people, who aside from occasional planet leave are stuck together for an unknown duration of time with only Neelix's cooking in the mess hall and their quarters available for R&R. For the sake of everybody's mental health, it's worth keeping the holodeck running, as all of us currently staying home for just a few weeks can understand.

 - Students at Starfleet Academy now study the Moriarty hologram in class, which is a nice touch.

Me at the Voyager convention in 2001.
I was with three of my best friends,
but figured they might not want this
20-year old picture of them on the internet
so have cropped them out!
 - For some reason all my Star Trek cosplay comes from this season of Voyager. Way back in 2001, when I went to a big UK convention marking the series finale of Voyager, there was a fancy dress party with a 'holodeck' theme. Being broke and unimaginative, I improvised - I had a lei I'd had to wear for work (I was a conference and banqueting waitress, and we'd had to wear leis and grass skirts for a Hawaiian evening) so I just wore that over my regular summer clothes and ta-daa! Holodeck costume!

Quotes

Janeway: Beauty and mystery... a tantalizing combination.

Marayna: Are you two friends?
Tuvok: No.
Kim: Yes.

Tuvok: Logic dictates a single course of action. Retreat.

Torres: You're pretty confident about your powers of persuasion.
Paris: Yes I am.

Paris: We've all fallen for a holodeck character, it happens.

A gorgeous little character study. Three and a half out of four silent protests against wearing leis.

Juliette Harrisson is a storyteller, freelance writer, Classicist and Trekkie. She runs the podcast Creepy Classics, re-telling and discussing ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories. She tweets @ClassicalJG

3 comments:

Mark Greig said...

I think part of the reason the holodecks got used more on Voyager than Next Gen or DS9 is because the ship lacked a fixed recreational area. There was no Ten Forward or Quark's where the crew could just relax and hang out. All they had was the mess hall so the writers had to create various holodeck hang outs for crew to use, which would change every few years, usually when a new showrunner took over.

Juliette said...

I like the way they use the holodeck as a hang-out area - it allows for some really nice changes of scene! Especially since the constant movement means they can't pop over to Risa or somewhere else familiar for some R&R

Trousers said...

In one of the rare instances of the Voyager writers being forward thinking, they mention in one of the very early episodes that the Holodeck power source is utterly incompatible with everything else on the ship.

Would be a nice workaround to make sure they could continue to tell Holodeck stories if it weren't for the fact that they manage to interface with all sorts of alien and ancient tech on the regular!