07:09:24 on January 25 2001
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By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Voyager
Reviews Ex Deus
Written for TrekWeb by 'O. Deus'
Summary: B'Elanna is infected with a parasitic lifeform, namely a baby and learns to overcome feelings of Klingon inadequacy. Nothing much else happens until next week.
There are Voyager episodes that are criticized for poor writing and weak acting, but Lineage certainly won't be one of them. It's a well written and finely acted episode that knows what it wants to say and gets it across with no problems. Dawson, Picardo and McNeil do their usual nice work and even the minor moments with Tuvok, Chakotay and Neelix are nice sentimental touches. There are major errors or gaping flaws here that need to be addressed and if you love those marriage episodes and couldn't get enough of O'Brien's baby problem arc on DS9, you'll love this episode. But all in all it feels less like a Star Trek episode and more like an episode of Providence or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.
That is to say it's a Voyager episode that really doesn't involve "Voyager the Starship" or Voyager's mission but "Voyager the close knit family" that Captain Janeway every now and then sings hymns to. And it focuses claustrophobically on the relationship of two people who aren't all that interesting of a couple to begin with, dealing with a problem that felt uninvolving and ultimately trivial. This may just be a matter of personal opinion since after all I'm the kind of person who avoids medical dramas like the plague. I'm probably the only living American who's never watched a complete episode of ER and I just can't summon up much interest in these emotional melodramas over medical problems.
And Lineage has little innate complexity to recommend itself. Essentially 10 minutes into the show we know that B'Elanna is wrong and Paris is right. There's no collision of ideas or struggle over ethics as the promos suggested but a "What's bugging B'Elanna Torres" psychological production ensues. So the rest of the time then is inevitably dedicated to Paris struggling to prove to her that she's wrong and to understand why she's trying to do what she's trying to do. And the resulting answer is based around childhood neurosis making it look pretty childish and making Voyager's chief engineer look pretty childish by extension.
Like Far Beyond the Stars or Ties of Blood and Water, Lineage plays out like a stage play but unlike these episodes there's little drama or real darkness here or useable character development. Even tonight's Voyager rerun of Extreme Risk, a commonly overlooked major Torres character development episode, has the genuine edge and character growth that gives us a new understanding of Torres. But ultimately what does Lineage tell us about her, that she's afraid humans are going to leave her because she's half Klingon? This does little for the character and is a character development worthy of Wesley Crusher and not of one of Voyager's strongest personalities who's actually shown a strong set of values and understanding of responsibility.
So much of this episode ultimately comes down to responsibility and the lack of any real sense of responsibility on the part of most of the players in this little melodrama. Torres drives half the crew nuts with her obsession over the welfare of her child but her real focus is predictably enough on her own problems, for which she's willing to alter her child's genes so she can feel better. Worse the ending combined with her last camping trip flashback can lead to the sexist and offensive interpretation that she was trying to edit her child's genes in order to keep her man. More bizarrely she tampers with the EMH's program, subverts Voyager's security and violates orders and all is forgotten and forgiven. Her biology may have unhinged her mental state a bit but it's not much of a defense. Certainly there should have been some sort of restriction to quarters, demotion or at least a note in the official file, but then responsibility is obviously not the theme of the episode. Emotional healing is. Self-validation, self-esteem and just plain feeling good about yourself, responsibility be damned.
Paris and Torres decide to start a family which is cute and heartwarming as heck but not very smart. After all Naomi Wildman was conceived aboard Deep Space Nine while Voyager was still in the Alpha Quadrant. This is the Delta Quadrant, an unpredictable place where Voyager, a starship shorthanded on crew, constantly faced danger and menace. And Paris is its chief engineer, Paris is its helmsman and chief medic. Together they comprise three crucial jobs Voyager can't go without. Ensign Wildman's job is pretty minor and no one would really miss her if she took plenty of time off, on the other hand what happens when the warp core is overloading, a dozen hostile alien warships are firing on Voyager and casualties are filling up the triage center in the mess hall...but the new parents are unavailable. Sure there are replacements but they're substitutes and not as good as the people whose full time job this is supposed to be.
In the past Paris and Torres were so overworked they barely saw each other. Under this state of affairs something is going to have to give, family or work. So we either end up with Paris and Torres taking a leave of absence which is impossible or the baby being raised by Neelix which isn't particularly wonderful parenting. It would made a lot more sense to wait till they were back home on earth to start a family and to take precautions until then, so they didn't accidentally start one prematurely. It would have also demonstrated a lot more responsibility to their child and their jobs as Starfleet Officers. Furthermore it's odd that no one in this episode from Janeway to Chakotay to Tuvok raise this simple objection. As heartless as it may seem, Voyager is a quasi-military vessel and the middle of a constant struggle to survive is a poor time and place for two of the people without whom this starship might not survive to be setting up a family circle.
But then this episode doesn't allow anything to interfere with its theme of "Voyager, Happy Family" even it makes little realistic sense. And being a happy family, everyone must be assimilated into the happy family so it's fitting that Lineage hinges on the linked and equally trivial and saccharine theme of having Torres learn to accept being accepted. It's almost like a Hallmark Gold Crown store threw up on Ken Biller's I-Mac. Consider how the far superior Jeri Taylor episode "One" handled the same material with 7 of 9 by showing the horrors and madness of isolation and the need to rely on other people for inner strength. Lineage meanwhile torments us with horrifying scenes from the family picnic that look like drunken outtakes from Lassie the Movie. And then there are the twelve minutes of Dawson looking worriedly at the camera while sitting in a darkened room. God knows its impossible to get enough of that. I can't wait for the DVD edition for bonus footage of more staring. If only UPN could give back Voyager that extra three minutes, we could have had 180 more seconds of Dawson anxiously contemplating a wall.
As much as I usually object to irrelevant or annoying B stories, this is one episode that could have used them. A contrast with some member of an alien civilization or even more of the brief Tuvok moment we had. A relief from the claustrophobic focus of "What's bothering B'Elanna." Indeed some outside perspective on this whole psychological mess might have made this seem more like a Star Trek episode and less like a Lifetime movie of the week. Instead in order to produce this week's required dose of UPN action, we have the artificial crisis scene in sickbay that completely clashes with everything the rest of the episode is doing. It's a shame too because the concept of genetic alterations of fetuses had no shortage of potential for moral controversy and the ethical questions to be debated could have really made this a standout episode. But that would have been thinking big and using science fiction to explore ideas instead of domestic problems. That would have been Star Trek, instead we got a well written, well acted episode of Providence in Space.
Next week: Voyager does Con Air. Unfortunately it looks like John Malkovich will sit this one out.