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'Voyager' Takes Issue With Managed-Health Morality Play: "Critical Care"

Posted: 07:08:54 on November 02 2000
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Voyager

Reviews Ex Deus
"Critical Care"

Written for TrekWeeb.COM by 'O. Deus'

Summary: The EMH battles an alien HMO.

This season has been plauged by an array of episodes that are technically well made, with excellent direction, spectacular production values, good concepts and good acting but seem to end up amounting to very little in the end anyway. Critical Care is such an episode in that it hits all the right notes but ends up having very little content and nothing that really stays with you once the show is over and the ten o'clock evening news comes on. Critical Care is a fairly good episode on its own terms. The problem is that its terms aren't particularly wide or ambitious. It is not much more than meets the eye. In a word, the episode is obvious, its crisis, its moral dillema and its resolution are obvious and ultimately not very interesting or convincing.

Critical Care makes the right choice by instantly leaping into the story from the first second. Rather than featuring scenes of the Doctor's abduction, CC reconstructs pieces of it for us as the crew works to trace back the EMH and the thief who stole him. But then, it doesn't have much choice as this is an episode pressed for time. As with last week's installment, there are minor holes in the plot that can be traced back to the extra minutes UPN cuts out of Voyager to allow for more commercials. With that said, the addition of the "Voyager deals with amusing con artists" bit--which stops being funny about halfway through--is completely unecessary and more than a little inexplicable. Not only does this feel like a faded retread of Live Fast & Prosper from last season but the humor of the piece skews the dark tone of the episode so that neither the comedy nor the drama work very well.

Certainly the rest of the cast needs their screen time but if they really wanted a smuggler comedy episode so badly another one could have been written while the crew could have been tasked with a more serious storyline than Tuvok\Neelix routines (the Neelix food\big routine is also borrowed from Live Fast & Prosper) or better yet, the screen time could have been given to the main storyline. The absence of an active Voyager search for him might have made his isolation and his conflict a whole lot more plausible, while the current version makes it clear to the audience that he will be rescued as soon as Voyager untangles the MIB rejects cluttering its viewscreen.

Far worse, though, is the fact that CC wastes the two strong actors it hired to play the hospital administrators in favor of the two weak and virtually indistinguishable actors playing the doctor and the patient. While in medical melodramas the drama may come from doctors lingering over their patients, in Star Trek the drama comes from confronting villains and alternate points of view. But in CC we hear little from the administrators except some vauge references to famine and ecological problems and get nothing in the way of background for the society and culture. There is very little plausible explanation for the second administrator's shift to supporting the EMH in a conspiracy to assault and nearly murder his superior. His dialog suggests that there may have been a scene or two with him that was cut in favor of more scenes of the EMH with the dying young man, scenes that have all the dramatic impact of pizza commercials.

This is a big mistake and demonstrates the failure of post-Roddenberry Trek to discuss moral issues in any real way. And so CC feels that it has accomplished all the moral dialog it needs just by showing suffering people and a scene or two of callous administrators. It never deals with the core choices being made here. Are the admninistrators and the entire system really completely callous and corrupt or is there some practical basis for such a viscious triage system. By never dealing with the issue, the episode essentially bases its entire moral code on suffering people and the need to cure them. This may be enough for the Doctor and his oath but it does not satisfactorily address the issue.

Finally, the Doctor's "solution" is manufactured and depends on asking the audience to swallow the premise that his actions have caused 3 out of 4 members of this system to rebel against it and that by the time he's departed, a solution is already in place. To swallow the idea that this really is a solution we need to shut down our minds and go with the episode's unstated idea that the only reason the administratior was denying treatment was because of a lack of empathy and that once he experiences being a patient, he'll change his ways. This would be ridiculously idealistic even by TOS or Earth Final Conflict standards; on Voyager it's completely implausible. In this way CC is reminiscent of David Gerrold's TOS episode, The Cloud Minders which has Kirk forcing the elite to work in the mines at phaser point. CC's only real superiority to Cloud Minders is that Kirk's actions occured under the influence of toxic gases, while the EMH has the episode's most powerful and effective scene back on Voyager in which he ponders the morality of his actions.

Unfortunately the fact that the episode's most effective scene takes place not in the episode's expensive alien setting but back on Voyager speaks quite clearly to certain essential failures in the episode. It's nice that Voyager is addressing contemporary moral issues, it would be nicer if they put some more thought into it next time.


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McCain / Feingold
By R.I.P.T. () at 23:09:25 on March 22
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I'm almost hoping the McCain / Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill will be passed by Congress and signed into law. It will make it illegal to broadcast 40 minute long political "issue advocacy" advertisements - like Critical Care - within 60 days of an election, and that will be 60 days every two years when we'll be free of rubbish like this.

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Kinder Than I
By Morbius () at 22:47:59 on November 04
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I thought the episode's quality to be fair at best. It was just another vehicle for the doctor to display his hippocratic histrionics. I also found the search for the thief by Voyager to be tiresome. This was one of those "filler" episodes to keep the faithful occupied until better stories arrive.

Actually, Andromeda's Double Helix was a better story. So Soon?!

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Speaking as a Canadian...
By Anonymous Coward (anon@ym.ous) at 01:40:06 on November 04
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...staring down the barrel of an election that is supposedly a duel between a party that wants to destroy our socialized medicare system and one that already has, and as a candidate for the only party that has any moral authority left in claiming that we care about medicare and believe as most Canadians do that we want to make it work, I have to say that this episode had amazing ethical resonance for me. Maybe an excess of politics has made me mawkish, but it's not often an episode comes along and sums up what I'm thinking about right at the moment. I don't think this reviewer gave the episode a chance, and I think a Canadian would have reviewed it">link differently.

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By Anonymous Coward (anon@ym.ous) at 19:53:21 on November 03
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This review is crap. O.K I admit thats harsh and take it back but is suffers from instint hate syndrom. Anyone looking and paying attention would have seen that this was a good episode. The biggest fault of this review was of supposing that the Doctor was supposed to save the entire planet from its own bureacacy. Give me a break this eposides plot had nothing to do with changing the ways of anyone. The plot itself was on the smaller scale of having the Doctor save a few patients. If he had changed the ways of the entire government you would be complaining about how unplausible it was. The episode was simply tring to make a point about HMOs not about how to stop them forever.
Why did the director or whatever switch sides? Maybe its for the same reason he gives in the dilog. It seems posible that he could have relized how screwed up the system was once he actully figured out how it worked.
As for the focus of the story being on the wrong charicters I would disagree. I found the Doctor on code red to be a man who wanted to help his patients but is unable to do so under the system that he must work under if he wants to save anyone. The young patient on code red served to personify the all of the people there and how many brillint minds are lost through the system.
The reason for why they have the system was made painfully clear. They have a limited number of supplys. Thier philoiphy is why waste those on someone who might become a brillint scienist or docotor when you can use them on people who already are those things.
The only purpose of Voyger's search for the doctor was so we could know how he disapered in the first place. It hardly even took any time out of the episode and only served to string the episode together.
I am sadly disapointed in this review witch only mentioned what the reviewer beleived to be faults and not a single thing it did right. The end while short was realy quite buetiful alowing for thought on wether or not what the doctor did was ethnical. Anyone who thought it was shallow obviously didn't take the time to understand or think about the real world issues this episode put out.


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I see a pattern here
By Anonymous Coward (anon@ym.ous) at 20:16:13 on November 02
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What is this deal with the "wrap the whole episode up in 5 minutes " episodes. I mean i was interested in the plot just like with the past 3 episodes but in all of them i would look at the clock and it would be 6 minutes till the show was supposed to end. Then all the sudden every thing ended. Its like the writers say "well thats about 40 minutes of episode we've written, so lets just get the ending over with" AGHHHH! Well it bothers me. and of COURSE we had to get our 5 minutes of 7 of 9 time that Bragga always gives us. Oh the things they would do to get her in an episode. Poor Harry Kim, that boy gets to say "the scans show blah blah blah" "rerouting power from the whats it called" and then i guess its like "ok. enough of Kim, go home now Garrett." I feel sorry for him. The "wesley junior" Icheb has gotten more lines in one episode than Harrys had all season so far.
Well my last little rant is DID ANY ONE SEE THE TEASER FOR NXT WEEK!!!!!!!!!!
Oh my God! the ferangies lookin at 7
" I bet she gives great........" Sorry dont remember word.
Oh Oh the things UPN will put on a teaser for ratings.

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Here's how I would've written it
By Steve Krutzler ( at 08:49:42 on November 02
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From the very beginning, this episode moved from the indisputable premise that the hierarchical triage and the HMO are wrong and curing people selflessly is correct. Then the rest of the episode becomes not much more than the Doc trying to impart his wisdom on the aliens.

But it is from this indisputability that the premise should've drawn its focus. As this review points out, this episode made no effort whatsoever to explore the culture or any possible reasons for why their healthcare has come to this point. The entire episode is based around "HMO bad; Doctor good." This rings false and reeks of wasted opportunity.

The episode needed to explore the reasoning behind the alien system. That is, exploring strange new worlds instead of espousing American, Democratic, Humanitarian, Elightened ideals on strange new worlds. The Doctor, a holographic program, is constantly faced with whether he is more than the sum of his programming or not. This is the perfect opportunity to bring the Doctor face to face with the Federation/American/Democratic ideals that he and the show promote.

Have the Doc take entire Blue Level hostage and infect them. The Doctor, surrounded by the HMO, has taken measures so extreme in order to enforce his own notions of medical ethics and democratic ideals. Have the Doc become so obsessed with his "leverage factor" by using the Level Blue people that finally when he is overcome by the HMO that refuses to change, only then does he realize as patients he was using as leverage die and he is rescued by beaming-in-Voyagerites that he has been as bad as the HMO. The hospital and the alien culture remain unchanged instead of happy-human-Americanized.

When the Doctor is back home, he cannot reconcile what he did. He searches endlessly for a flaw in his program. The aliens had a REASON for doing what they did; but he had none other than the selfish goal of asserting his notions of right and wrong--and at the expense of lives that could've been saved by the longevity of the HMO's program. The Doc doesn't know if his actions were the result of his program being so hard-lined into its Federation/human/blah ideals of saving people at all costs, or if he went beyond his program as a sentient--human-like being. If the latter is true, then the conclusion is that he is as capable of as much evil as any other being...

The wrong shouldn't have been the alien culture. The episode should've explored all aspects and brought up serious issues instead of just presenting us with a black and white "good vs. bad" premise.

That all said, the ep still gets a B in my eyes because its attempt was more than many Voyager episodes... but the writers either didn't try very hard or worse--just couldn't grasp the larger issues in light of a desire to put out a political episode. TOS explored contemporary issues; Critical Care goes to the stump for its message and results in an unimpressively one-sided discussion.


-Steve Krutzler
==V/-/== Rocks.

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ENTERPRISE has been revealed this week and we'd like to know how you would rate the show so far based on the new Enterprise NX-01, the interior set design, the new costumes, and any other info that you may already possess!
(A) Spectacular! The first looks offered this week reveal a series with immense potential and more excitement for Star Trek than I've felt since the days of TNG!
(B) Impressive, but cautiously so! What I've seen so far has promise and most of it is in the right direction, but I will restrain my jubilation for after the premiere!
(C) Uninteresting! The photos I've seen so far reveal a series that lacks serious originality in artistic design and I am open-minded yet skeptical of its potential!
(D) Horrifying! What we've been shown so far is unoriginal and unexciting, revealing a series unexcuseably violative of continuity and poorly developed; Paramount will be lucky if I tune in!
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