07:13:22 on February 08 2001
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By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Voyager
Reviews Ex Deus
Written for TrekWeb by 'O. Deus'
Summary: An uninspired patchwork episode composed of weak gags and an unfocused plot that goes nowhere and serves mainly as an excuse to show off some Klingon costumes in time for sweeps. The diagnosis is now clear, 7th season syndrome.
The saddest words ever said are, what might have been. And at times what might have been begins to look like it might become Voyager's eulogy. The post-Repentance watching party consisting of sour bread and chlorine water is definitely one of those times. It's not that Star Trek in general doesn't screw up their payoffs more often than not. Certainly every Star Trek fan can name half a dozen two parters in which the first part was far superior to the concluding second part. But Voyager just seems to have a special talent for it and a talent for doing it in the clumsiest way possible.
Voyager's entire premise has rested on it being lost in the Delta Quadrant and completely cut off from Starfleet and the Alpha Quadrant species. So when it came time for the big sweeps episode in which Voyager contacts Starfleet that all the fans and viewers were looking forwards to; Voyager's writers of course gave us a comedy routine co-starring Andy Dick that featured two EMH's trying to figure out where the controls are. Now in retrospect Message in a Bottle had some funny bits in it, but with that episode Voyager's writers turned their entire premise into a joke. If you're expected to take Voyager's plight seriously and their struggle to reach Earth at the centerpiece of the whole platter; then a payoff episode that takes this into account would have helped shore up Voyager's already rickety premise.
But when all is said and done it's a whole lot easier to justify Message in a Bottle than it is to justify the horrendously dreary Prophecy whose plot has about exactly 5 seconds worth of sense and even less time devoted to material that can actually hold your interest. It is as if the writers put some old Klingon episode videotapes into the VCR, took notes on what happened in those episode, tore off those notes and put them into a hat, picked them randomly out of a hat and turned that into an episode. And indeed the story and script credits for Prophecy, which feature more writers than the average UPN show has on staff, seems to bear that out. There's the obligatory Klingon drinking scene, the obligatory duel, the obligatory nasty Klingon, the obligatory Klingons sitting in shadows and plotting scene. It's like a Klingon clip show and like a clip show, Prophecy has no purpose except to kill 40 minutes without actually coming up with original material.
It's always tough to come up with sweeps episodes and since Voyager has never featured real Klingons, the producers decided that since it's the 7th season they can cash in their Klingon chit and do a Klingon episode. Unfortunately their attempt fell into the "overdrawn story check" category-- this is when Star Trek writers churn out an uninteresting story which they think will work if it stars an important Trek alien. Essentially, they believe that an awful script will be liked by the viewers if instead of the Alien of the Week, it features Romulans, Vulcans, Borg or Klingons. And worst of all, the writers think that viewers are entertained just by having Klingons come on screen and do Klingon things, which avoids the need for actually having real drama or conflict in the episode. Just toss off some Klingon words, show Klingons getting drunk, talk vaguely about honor and show some Klingons getting into a fight.
The only flaw in the "overdrawn story check" is that it really is overdrawn. What turned the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans and Co. into epic Star Trek aliens were the actors who played them and the stories they were featured in. Putting pointy ears on some guy and sending him out to talk tonelessly about logic or putting another guy into a Klingon costume and have him bellow about honor is great for conventions. It's a cute touch to put in an episode or two but it never substitutes for a real story. It certainly won't save an episode that doesn't have a good story to begin with. And so when the writers attempt to cash an "overdrawn story check", it bounces and the result is a weak episode. Worse, overuse of the same aliens in this same way will eventually lead to the point where no one wants to see any of these aliens again because they've become associated with some very bad material. And if there is one single Star Trek species that has been endlessly abused in this way, it's the Klingons.
So of course when it comes time for sweeps, the producers note that they've never featured real Klingons and so they decide, with network prompting, to do an episode featuring real Klingons. Of course there's only so much money to go around, a Klingon episode would be perfect. But it has to take place on Voyager because shooting Klingon interiors could get expensive very quickly. It can't involve battles because special effects are expensive, so we limit it to a short cheap battle at the beginning. So now that the story has to be on Voyager, we have to find a reason for the Klingons to be on Voyager all the time. What if they're refugees? But why would refugees travel all the way to the Delta Quadrant and still keep going. Let's say they're dissatisfied with the current Klingon way of life and they're on a quest for something. Maybe it's religious. Something Voyager has what they want. This introduces the motivation and the reason for them to be on Voyager. But what does Voyager have that they want? Technology is too simple and easy. No it has to be something Voyager can't give up or replicate. Say what about tying B'Elanna and her pregnancy into this. Remember that old episode idea pitch we were kicking around about aliens who listen to Chakotay's teaching and think he's like Jesus and remember that Dragon's Teeth episode and we just combine the two. Let's say the Klingons think the baby is their golden child and there are debates over faith and eventually some of them try and take over Voyager while B'Elanna reinforces her connection to her Klingon heritage. Perfect, it's a winner. And let's have a B story about Kim being sexually harassed by a Klingon woman and Neelix and Tuvok bunking together just like in college. It'll be completely hysterical...and they say we don't know Star Trek!
And so we take a story that no one would have paid attention to twice if it had involved the aliens of the week, add some Klingon uniforms and presto, a sweeps episode. But best of all, a cheap sweeps episode. Best of all a confused and unfocused episode pasted together from half a dozen story ideas that lumbers around from scene to scene like one of the photonic drunks from Fair Haven never having the faintest idea where it's going. As a script Prophecy is at best a first draft, a script version that still doesn't come together, where the stitching is obvious and a lot of work still needs to be done. Unfortunately if there's one thing all the Star Trek series spin-offs 7th seasons have in common, is the dreaded 7th season syndrome. Prophecy may feature the Klingons suffering from a fatal disease, but the episode and the season itself suffers from a much more fatal disease. TNG had it, DS9 had it and now Voyager has it. The symptoms involve poorly thought out scripts, episodes that look like fanfic somebody accidentally filmed, episodes where everyone is completely out of character and episodes that have no point whatsoever. Basically this comes down to writer's fatigue.
In a normal working day, you get up and go to work. In the early portions of your day, you're still getting settled in, midway through you get comfortable and do your best work and towards the end you're tried and just want to get out of here and do whatever it is you plan to do after hours. Now imagine that you still have to work after that until about midnight without any real supervision or quality control. Now that is essentially what Star Trek's 7th seasons tend to look like. Shoddy work done by tired people who just want to get it over with. In this state of mind Lineage, Prophecy and driving your car off a cliff can seem like good ideas. In this state of mind a script doesn't have to have any coherency, one scene doesn't have to lead into another and symmetry is the first thing to go out the window. The key theme is just to get things done quickly with the first idea that comes to mind. It doesn't have to be good. It doesn't have to make sense. It just has to fill the void. And so this is where an episode that features Dr. Crusher being haunted by an erotic alien ghost that sucks away her energy, or the episodes that feature Dukat rampaging around with glowing red eyes or some of this season's Voyager episodes come from.
And so this week Klingons stumble into Voyager. They announce that they're searching for their messiah who will rebuild the empire, yet their goal appears to be to meet and greet the messiah's mommy and then go settle a planet decades away from the Empire while twice abandoning their only means of returning back home to the Empire and abandoning their messiah as well. Then it turns out they have a lethal virus gets past Voyager's biofilters and the Doctor pronounces incurable and which the Doctor is then able to cure completely in a few hours. But of course they're really here to serve as source material for gags and funny Klingon moments. Remember that joke about Kim being unlucky with women, well it gets even funnier when a Klingon woman pursues him. Remember that same joke on TNG, well it's even funnier here. Oh and of course the always hysterical Neelix gets into the act. You haven't lost all desire for food until you've seen Neelix making out with a Klingon woman three times his size. And the jokes just keep on coming. Too bad they even manage to make Message in a Bottle look like a comedic masterpiece.
But back to the plot, what is the plot again? Oh that's right these Klingons think Torres's unborn 3/4rs human fetus is the Messiah so naturally they blow up their ship and board Voyager for a short trip to a planet they can settle in the Delta Quadrant. Despite believing that the Federation is their sworn enemy, the Captain in no time at all risks all his crew's lives on the assumption that Janeway will save them and once on Voyager puts his lives and their lives in her hands. Even the TNG Klingons wouldn't trust Picard a fraction of that much. But on Voyager, the Klingons, like Q and the Borg bow before the self-importance of Janeway and humble themselves before her.
Then it turns out they have a virus for no particular reason. Then Paris agrees to fight a Klingon in a battle to the death, even though there's no reason to believe he would be so stupid. Then Paris with a few days training turns out to be able to handle a trained Klingon warrior. Then that same warrior takes over the transporter room and nearly takes over Voyager by beaming its entire crew to the surface. If it was this easy to take over Voyager, why didn't Neelix do it last week? Of course it all gets settled and the Klingons settle down on a planet decades away from home to which they can now never return. Of course this all means we won't see them next week, which indeed is what really drives this plot. Sure actually having consequences to actions that occur in an episode and having some logic to it might be a nice idea. But hey who needs plot logic when you have Klingons. And next week there's a spatial anomaly, I can't wait. Can you?
Next week: There's a spatial anomaly and ships firing on Voyager. Are they indeed up to no good? Will Voyager escape the anomaly or stay in there for the last 10 remaining episodes of the series. No one knows.