Star Trek: Voyager: The Swarm   Rewatch 
June 8, 2017 4:20 AM - Season 3, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Lt. Torres learns one of the more obscure Laws of Robotics: it takes an arrogant hologram to fix an arrogant hologram.

Program Loss of Memory Alpha 1 initiated. Enter when ready.

- Prior to the writing of this episode, actor Robert Picardo suggested a story idea that was similar to how this episode turned out, as both involved a holographic depiction of Lewis Zimmerman. Shortly after completing work on Star Trek: Voyager's second season, Picardo explained, "I would like an exploration of the man that developed my program. I have suggested a story idea to them about this Doc Zimmerman character, and what would make him design the emergency medical hologram program. Specifically, I've suggested that he no longer practices medicine. In doing volunteer work in the most upsetting medical emergency situations, he witnessed something that has rendered him unable to practice anymore, so he creates the holographic doctor program to complete him as a doctor. He doesn't have it anymore to interact directly with patients. In other words, he is a very frightened, and uncommunicative, an unentitled, shy, pathetic man, versus his creation. We would meet them both on the Holodeck. He would be in the ship's memory banks."

- This is the only episode of Star Trek: Voyager's third season that Michael Sussman worked on. The writing of the first draft script was credited, in that teleplay, to Sussman and Jeri Taylor. In fact, the episode's script was written by Taylor, without receiving an on-screen credit for it. Ultimately, this became the only episode of Voyager that Sussman was credited (on-screen) with writing alone. Having previously contributed the story for the second season installment "Meld", Sussman – following his work here – later went on to co-write nine subsequent episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and twenty-two of Enterprise [in its two best seasons --ed.].

- This episode may have been partly conceived as an analogy to Alzheimer's Disease. "When I sold it," Sussman commented about the plot, "it was kind of a quiet story about The Doctor coming down with sort of an Alzheimer's type condition."

- This outing was significantly altered while it was in development. "I think there was pressure from the network to kinda make the show more exciting and sexy, and so it became this whole alien element," recalled Sussman. "And the story really [...] changed, and Jeri Taylor did a lot of writing on it."

- It was Picardo himself who originally came up with the idea of having The Doctor become a fan of opera. Shortly after completing work on the episode, Picardo explained, "On a humorous level, I suggested to Jeri Taylor [...] that The Doctor develop an interest in opera. That just seemed so wildly inappropriate." Picardo made the suggestion over a year prior to the making of this outing. Much to his surprise, this concept, despite seeming "wild" to him, was taken seriously. In the interim between the second and third seasons, he received a phone call from Jeri Taylor in which she asked him the particulars of his vocal range. The call clued him into the realization that the creative staff were probably working on how to implement his recommendations concerning The Doctor's involvement in opera.

- Picardo was also instrumental in deciding how The Doctor should relate to the diva near the start of this episode. Picardo noted, "I suggested the joke that The Doctor was immediately distraught the moment the soprano began to sing, as if she had made an error instantly."

- The song that the Doctor sings is "O, soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Bohème.

- Picardo found that playing both The Doctor and the holographic Dr. Zimmerman in this episode was "interesting." He jokingly added, "I was the guest star. Now I can complain and bitch about what a jerk the co-star was." The fact that Picardo plays two characters that look virtually identical thrilled his two young daughters. "They particularly liked 'The Swarm'," Picardo commented, "because there were two Daddies, talking to myself."

- Picardo provided The Doctor's singing voice for this episode. He remarked, "I was particularly proud of that because I did my own singing. I asked to do [it], and I worked very hard on that." Picardo additionally remarked, "'The Swarm' was quite a challenging episode. I've never worked so long on something so brief as that 27 seconds of opera!" In fact, the motive for Picardo suggesting that The Doctor might become immediately distraught with the soprano when she started to sing actually related to his own performance. "The reason I suggested that joke," Picardo explained, "was a way of getting me out of singing the highest note in the piece!"

- Torres actress Roxann Dawson enjoyed her character's scenes with The Doctor in this episode. "That was a great opportunity to work with Bob Picardo and to explore B'Elanna's relationship with The Doctor," the actress enthused. "I liked the fact that he's a character who's starting to affect me for the first time. I loved the fact that, to B'Elanna, he had always been just a computer, and in this episode she got to see he had this... humanity." She also said of their relationship, "I love the fact that The Doctor can tick me off so much at one moment, but at other moments there is an element of respect, when he does something that impresses me. For example, when I thought we were losing him and his memory [i.e., in this episode], I suddenly realize that I need him, that he has grown on me."

- Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres begin a flirtation in the teaser of this episode. While explaining that this episode was fun for him, Robert Duncan McNeill referred to the scene wherein his character and Torres engage in flirtatious banter as "my first little flirting scene with B'Elanna". He continued by saying, "I see that they're going to develop that somehow. They're going to do it slow and steady, I think. I'm looking forward to seeing how that develops."

- Sussman cited this as one of two episodes (the other being the seventh season installment "Prophecy") that, in his own words, "didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped." Firstly regarding how the writing staff reacted to this installment, Sussman noted, "I hadn't really impressed them. They weren't really blown away by my work on it, which, um... You know, I get it. It was not a great [episode]. I like the parts with The Doctor, and Doc Zimmerman and Kes were kinda sweet, but the rest of it I didn't quite [...] nail."

- Picardo initially thought that the predicament in which The Doctor is left at the end of this episode would affect future episodes. While he was under this impression, he stated, "I think that the audience has a sense, when they see me, of what I am and what I'm likely to mean to the weekly story. It's a nice feeling that my character seems defined. So, of course, we're throwing a monkey wrench into all of that." Again referring to this episode, he observed, "At the very end [...] everything is very up in the air. It's a great concept and it presents an interesting challenge to me as an actor, because I may have to start the character over from scratch." About a year later (during production on Voyager's fourth season), Picardo commented, "There's a tremendous desire among the makers of our show to keep things self-contained. They don't like to serialize that much and, if they do, it's only as a two-parter. They tend not to carry arcs through a number of episodes. So, we really had to throw out the whole notion of The Doctor losing all of his memory, being rebooted and having to redevelop his personality. We couldn't really follow through with that in a way that I would have hoped we would. It was still a strong episode and an acting challenge for me, but I do regret somewhat that we couldn't have carried the aftermath of that experience through a number of episodes."


"Next time I'll take my chances with Maria Callas! Computer, delete the diva."

- The Doctor


"Look at all this useless information floating around your buffer: friendships with the crew, relationships with... women? Do they find you attractive?"

- Dr. Zimmerman, to The Doctor


"lt was only during my off hours."
"You're supposed to be off during your off hours!"

- Dr. Zimmerman and The Doctor


"He's a sick man. This is where sick people come."

- The Doctor, referring to a patient and sickbay


"I'm a diagnostic tool, not an engineer!"

- Dr. Zimmerman


"I can see where you get your charming personality."
"Not to mention my hairline."

- B'Elanna Torres and The Doctor


Personal Log:
This is another one of those where the lower-key ostensible B-story is much more involving than the effects-heavy, titular A-story. (This happened in TNG too, didn't it?) Hardly surprising in this case, since the swarm stuff was (according to Sussman, above) tacked on following the network's insistence. It helps, of course, that said B-story involves not one but two roles for Picardo, the better to double your Doctor pleasure. I suppose the swarm stuff does also add a little frisson of urgency to the Doctor story.

Also, the Doctor's cascade failure is a nice example of the show remembering the ramifications of its premise; it makes enough technological and narrative sense to provide a sturdy foundation for this episode. It seems we have Sussman to thank for that, as is often the case when Sussman is involved.

Personal Log, Supplemental:
Is it just me, or was it pretty bold to take away a big chunk of a major character's memories? Even in spite of the little stinger where he starts singing again, it's a bit of a surprising resolution to the story. If I were feeling uncharitable, I might hypothesize that it shows how the writers treat the character as little more than a tool just like the characters often have—but I don't actually think that's the case, due to the clearly intentional and effective pathos here (and in a few previous episodes already, like the first Denara Pel one). In fact, I found this story genuinely affecting, though I couldn't say whether that's due to the strength of the writing and performances, or to my own experience with watching a loved one's mind slip away; likely a bit of both. (Jennifer Lien had some great, real-seeming reactions in this one, for instance. Has she had a single acting misstep in this whole show so far?) Too bad they were never gonna revisit the whole gaps-in-his-memory thing, as Picardo noted above.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd say that the A-story was hardly an A-story at all, given that it takes a premise that, like the last episode, has already been done multiple times on the show (Voyager is helpless against boarders) and doesn't do a whole bunch with it (they figure out how to drive them off pretty easily). In a way, I admire the head fake, although I wonder how other viewers reacted after watching the show's promo back in the day and then watching the episode and finding out that it was about cyber-Alzheimer's.

And, of course, I loved the quote-endquote B story, because it was a big Doctor story, because I could relate having myself experienced a loved one with dementia, and because Picardo and Lien absolutely sell it. Hopefully without spoiling anything, the idea of possibly losing an AI by virtue of the equivalent of having to reformat the hard drive and reinstall the OS has shown up in a Pixar film, another installment of the Trek franchise, and a recent space opera book. There's something very compelling, and very science-fictiony, about the threat of losing your memories and identity despite still being technically alive. I suspect that anyone who has had to perform the above operation on a heavily-customized computer can relate. I chose to interpret the ending as that the Doctor may not have lost the memories at all, and simply took some time to reintegrate them into his program.

The addition of opera as an emotional and cultural touchstone for the Doctor works, especially because it works on two levels: comic and serious. Opera is to some extent self-parodying because of its outsize emotions and plots, aided by cultural preloading such as its use in Looney Tunes and even, heaven help us, Adam Sandler's Opera Man. But at least some of the impulse to make fun of it is in part a defense against the power and the rawness of the emotional content, I think, and while there are times when the Doctor's opera obsession is obviously being played for laughs ("Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"), there are also times when he's deadly serious about his music ("Virtuoso", maybe my favorite Voyager episode ever, although there are other types of music in there, and the climactic song isn't opera). Part of the Doctor's arc is that, even though he's "fully grown" when he is first booted up, he still doesn't have a lot of the filters and defenses that people have, yet, and that amplifies the pathos; you also see those in this episode, as they start to break down. There's also a nice contrast between the Doctor's vulnerable state and Lewis Zimmerman's burnt-out cynicism, as well as between Zimmerman's irascibility and B'Elanna's.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Tachyons, which now disrupt the sensors?
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The enemies reminded me of nothing so much as video game sprites, blinking in unopposed and vanishing when they were defeated.

Ongoing Counts: Still rolled forward.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 24.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 47 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 7
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

Notes:
* The B-plot is pretty good.

Also, the Doctor's cascade failure is a nice example of the show remembering the ramifications of its premise; it makes enough technological and narrative sense to provide a sturdy foundation for this episode. It seems we have Sussman to thank for that, as is often the case when Sussman is involved.

Yeah, that really struck me here. Often, technobabble in these stories bothers me. Here? I actually like the problem: the EMH is designed with certain limitations in mind and has just run out of resources. It rang true for once. I loved the portrayal of it, his interactions with Kes and Picardo's performance as Zimmerman. That all clicked really well.

(Jennifer Lien had some great, real-seeming reactions in this one, for instance. Has she had a single acting misstep in this whole show so far?)

Lien has been an unexpected pleasure on the rewatch - she was far better than I remembered.

And I agree with you both about it being a shame they didn't at least continuity-lite the Doctor's memory loss. I wouldn't have minded him play catch up for a while, relearning and having memories pop back up. Shame the show was forced to drop the plot point.

It also interests me that this idea came from one of the actors - that continues to be something that I really like hearing about backstage, actors having an influence on how their characters are written. I really wouldn't have expected things to work that way.

* The A-plot is absolutely terrible.

It makes sense it was grafted on, because I actually laughed at the scene where they're fighting on the bridge and the guys are just popping in, getting shot and popping out. That *literally* reminded me of gameplay in the MMO. Also, the promo was hilarious, Jack. :)

I will note that I literally couldn't remember what happened in this one from the title, and it makes sense why - those bad guys didn't stick with me at all.

A couple of additional points bothered me about this, too:

1) So, the Swarm's space would take 15 months to go around, but a few days to cut straight through? How the hell does that work? Is it a giant *slice*? How do they even know the boundaries?

2) Janeway sure is quick to drop protocol when it suits her. Entering Swarm territory and firing on them probably constituted an act of war. As with a lot of Bad Janeway Decisions, this might have been fine if they'd had a meeting to discuss the ramifications of it or something instead of just having her go off half-cocked. This is particularly galling in the wake of Janeway's big talk about 'that's not how we do things' in The Chute.

So... good marks overall, but docked for external interference, basically. If they'd been allowed to do just a little more - play it the way they wanted to originally - this would probably stand as one of my favorite stories on the show. As it is, it was surprisingly good despite the A-story being so unbelievably weak.
posted by mordax at 6:35 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, looking forward to the next episode, "False Profits", it's a sequel of sorts to the TNG episode, "The Price." I don't think that it's strictly necessary to have seen "The Price" before "False Profits"--I don't remember having ever seen the former, and I may not have seen the latter, making it one of the very few VOY episodes that I haven't already seen--and you can probably get the gist of it from the Memory Alpha summary that I've linked, but I will be discussing it along with the VOY episode. (It will be interesting, I think, given that the studio really wanted to duplicate the success of TNG with VOY, although we know that that wouldn't really happen.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:29 PM on June 9


I don't think that it's strictly necessary to have seen "The Price" before "False Profits"--I don't remember having ever seen the former, and I may not have seen the latter, making it one of the very few VOY episodes that I haven't already seen

I'd concur that it's not necessary, but "The Price" pretty good for relatively-early TNG, and worth a watch. I do think having seen it makes "False Profits" more fun.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:04 PM on June 9


Oh, good point. I'll go ahead and check it out ahead of time, thanks. :)
posted by mordax at 8:02 PM on June 9


Most of what I felt about the episode has already been said in regards to the doctor and Kes' side of it. Lien indeed seems to remain amazingly on top of her character despite getting so few chances to really do anything much. She's great. Picardo too of course, and the doctor's relationship with Kes is really well handled by both parties, suggesting more depth to it than we've been able to see given the little attention paid to Kes most of the time.

I would differ a little on the idea that they should have worked more about the memory loss issue into a longer continuity. Not because the idea is bad on its face exactly, just that seems unlikely to me to pay off much more than it already has in this episode and it would make the doctor less effective as a character perhaps while that was going on in a way that provides minimal benefit overall. It's too early for them to effectively commit to the idea of it being an ongoing analogy of Alzheimers, that would have been a killer idea to go with in the final season, and the doctor hasn't yet developed enough I think to make the loss of memory as an ongoing thing any more effective than it was here. More likely it would become a somewhat annoying character tic and just hamper his development along other lines. None of that is anything like a certainty though, so I could be wrong, I just think it was fine leaving it as a one off since they all did such a good job with it this episode that returning to it repeatedly make sap some of the meaning here.

My other disagreement was over the Swarm plot, which I actually kind of liked and found the threat more interesting and singularly menacing than usual for the show. I agree that the episode is far too truncated to handle them entirely effectively in such a small dose, with the method of their being driven off in the end being entirely underwhelming, but they are one of the few new alien races I wished they would have used more and explored more deeply rather than the usual humanesque analogs they favor.

The way the show handled the decisions by Janeway here are completely perplexing as they clearly signaled, through Tuvok, that what she is doing is reckless and against Starfleet policy, but don't really explore much more about that in sufficient detail for it to be better understood. The repetition of this kind of action coming early on in this season suggests they intended Janeway to be undergoing some sort of perspective shift since she lost Voyager to the Kazon, with both the last two episodes gently pointing in that direction, but it doesn't gel into anything more concrete than hints, which is flat out weird and understandably led Mulgrew to seeing her character as having something of a dual personality.

I'm not sure how to read this as Mulgrew isn't playing Janeway as acting all that differently in terms of her general demeanor, something I'd think we'd see were it a more total shift in perspective. Her decision making tone is more or less the same as before in terms of how its being communicated by her character, so there isn't some new "darkness" she's exhibiting, just an unclear shift in tactics and moral concern. If the writers wanted to emphasize something more, then they needed a clearer manner of connecting the idea to Mulgrew and the audience than they used, either through simply talking more with Mulgrew about their idea of a perspective change, or by being clearer about it in the dialogue. It feels like they wanted to work towards something that I don't recall them actually fulfilling once again, but we'll see if that memory is valid or if I just forgot some elements from my earlier viewing of the show. Whatever the case, it's jarring, unusual and, so far, more damaging to the character then effectively suggesting deeper intentional change. I have to wonder how Piller leaving might have played into all this too.

I feel like I'm ignoring a lot of really fine little moments in this one, including some really nice work by Dawson with B'Elanna, but I'm sure most of it was apparent to everyone so it's no real loss, I just hate to not give positive credit when its due so as to keep a better accounting of the real positives of the show along with the more distressing elements. I'll let it suffice to say I found this to be a quite good episode overall, with some quality character work in the doctor's part of the story and the other part of the story solidly intriguing even if a little too light in some detail to be entirely effective.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:32 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


I would differ a little on the idea that they should have worked more about the memory loss issue into a longer continuity. Not because the idea is bad on its face exactly, just that seems unlikely to me to pay off much more than it already has in this episode and it would make the doctor less effective as a character perhaps while that was going on in a way that provides minimal benefit overall. […] More likely it would become a somewhat annoying character tic and just hamper his development along other lines.

That's all likely true. When I stop to think about how bringing it back later could have been used effectively, not much comes to mind. Except this: if somebody told me I'd lost most of my conscious memories of the last two years, then every time something came up that reminded people around me of events that I was involved in, I would be filled with anguished panic—and we know Picardo does anguished panic well. But from the network's perspective (not that I want to take their side), that kind of thing would just threaten to confuse people.

they are one of the few new alien races I wished they would have used more and explored more deeply rather than the usual humanesque analogs they favor.

Yeah, they were different, ya gotta give 'em that. This same thing is probably a large part of what I liked about the Hirogen.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:54 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The Swarm would likely start to encroach on territory Voyager will look into with the Borg when they show up, since I'd have to speculate that Swarm individuality wouldn't be handled all that differently, so in that sense it's not a huge loss. I just liked that they created something Delta new that looked and sounded different than we've seen before. Their attitude and methods were at least potentially intriguing, only stunning Paris and Torres then leaving them, the thousands of individual ships covering their enemies hulls, the beam in attack and vanish approach to combat and just general look all hinted there might be something worth continued examination here, especially since they were given the "dire unknown" history treatment by Neelix, but it wasn't to be.

My thoughts about the doctor are that you guys are right in a more artistic sense were Voyager more of a long storyline show where they could really look into the idea without rendering the character useless too quickly, I just can't see Voyager doing that well and it being a great idea for keeping the doctor interesting given the arc being a fairly predictable linear decline, and it would rob the show of Picardo's other possible uses in somewhat short order. I would have loved to have had them go with the idea in the final season and play it out to the bitter end, as that would have been a kick in the guts after six plus seasons of following him. Needless to say, there was little chance Voyager would ever go that route given their structure preferences.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:04 PM on June 10


I wonder if the Swarm were inspired by the original idea that the TNG showrunners had for the Borg--that they would be more insectile in nature, and would basically just be like a huge swarm of locusts--that they came up with after the brainstem-worm parasites of "Conspiracy" didn't pan out as a big bad.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:23 PM on June 10


And, of course, I loved the quote-endquote B story, because it was a big Doctor story, because I could relate having myself experienced a loved one with dementia, and because Picardo and Lien absolutely sell it.

Lien is outstanding in this episode. Truly outstanding. B'ellana, too. We don't often get to see her in "engineer mode" beyond lines of technobabble or brief explanations to other crewmembers. Her interactions with the diagnostic hologram (Alpha-11) were exceptionally well played. She's an engineer. This is her expertise. And it was nice to see her shine.

This is one of several episodes that aired during the third season in which The Doctor gave a spectacular performance and eventually became my favorite character on the show. In fine Trek tradition, he's a non-human crewmember that is a more deeply realized, better reflection of humanity than some of the other characters. I forgot that I was watching one actor play two roles, and I mean that as high praise. I get the same feeling watching Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black. It's a rare thrill, realizing that an actor has done such a good a job at inhabiting two different characters that they became them both. Or in Maslany's case, more than two. :)

The maximum operating time for the EMH was originally intended for around 1,500 hours. He's been running for three years. This is a believable problem, and the way it is handled is equally believable. As Halloween Jack notes, everyone who has ever dealt with someone who has Alzheimers would recognize the Doctor's behavior. A sad pit developed in the bottom of my stomach when he said, "This is where sick people come."

An excellent, stand-out episode for the season.
posted by zarq at 3:17 PM on June 12


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