Star Trek: Voyager: Real Life   Rewatch 
August 10, 2017 5:22 AM - Season 3, Episode 22 - Subscribe

This is the true story… of three holograms… programmed to live in a house… to be a holographic doctor's family… to find out what happens… when people stop being characters… and start getting real.

Memory Alpha—when you're here, you're family:

- The name that The Doctor takes in his holographic family program, Kenneth, is an in-joke reference to Voyager co-producer Kenneth Biller.

- Stage directions in the shooting script of this episode describe the holographic appearances and disappearances of The Doctor by saying that he "Zimmers in" and "Zimmers out," adding a new term to the Star Trek lexicon. This is in reference to long-time Star Trek production designer Herman Zimmerman (who worked on other Star Trek productions but not on Star Trek: Voyager). This in-joke is similar to the facts that The Doctor's creator is called Lewis Zimmerman and that the unnamed Doctor himself is referred to as "Zimmerman" in all the scripts that were written for Voyager's first season.

- Actor Robert Picardo recognized that a variety of styles are explored in The Doctor's plot thread of this episode. "The first act of that script is like a '70s sitcom. It's like The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch [....] Everything about it is like an old sitcom," Picardo observed. "Then the second act – after The Doctor's family program has been randomized, so that everybody's not so perfect in their behavior – became like a '90s sitcom, where everybody's dissing dad. Then, suddenly, it took this odd turn and became very dramatic. And the last part of the show is like an ER episode, where a child is going to die [....] It starts out so silly and so ridiculous, then becomes quite touching by the end."

- Robert Picardo felt that the episode's changes in dramatic style equated to an acting challenge for himself. "It was an amazing exercise in managing different tones of material," he related, "from quite comic to quite dramatic, in a very brief period of time."

- Paris actor Robert Duncan McNeill thought highly of this episode's conclusion. "When Star Trek doesn't emotionally back-off from a story, and doesn't necessarily have a clean, happy ending, I think it's so strong," McNeill remarked. "That's what they did with the doctor story [in this episode]. It ultimately ended on a really sad and tragic note, and didn't give you any simple answers."

- This episode marks the only appearance of Torres' asymmetrical-braided hairstyle.

- Torres' desire to check The Doctor's systems after his recent "tinkering" is likely due to the events of the earlier third season episode "Darkling", when similar tinkering to better his personality gives him a psychopathic alter ego.


"You're in fine physical shape, Mr. Paris. You may go ahead and engage in this reckless activity."

- The Doctor, to Tom Paris


"What's this mean about no Klingon friends?"
"Exactly that. They're a bad influence on you. They're prone to violence, they keep you out 'til all hours... Why don't you find some nice Vulcan friends?"

- Jeffrey and The Doctor


"You created that program so you could experience what it's like to have a family. The good times and the bad. You can't have one without the other."
"I fail to see why not."
"Think about what's happened to us here aboard Voyager. Everyone left people behind, and everyone suffered a loss. But look how it's brought us all closer together. We found support here, and friendship, and we've become a family, in part because of the pain we share. If you turn your back on this program, you'll always be stuck at this point. You'll never have the chance to say goodbye to your daughter. Or to be there for your wife and son when they need you. And you'll be cheating yourself out of their love and support. In the long run, you'll miss the whole point of what it means to have a family."

- Paris and The Doctor


Poster's Log:
In a meta sense, VOY needed episodes like this to induce the viewers to start caring about holograms (even single-episode holograms), since a main cast member IS a hologram and is obviously going to have a different POV (from that of matter-based Starfleet crew) about holo-people—irrespective, perhaps, of the question "are his holo-family 'people' in the same way that the Doctor is?", which we touched on a bit in our discussion of "Heroes and Demons," the first Doctor-with-other-holograms episode. In his look at "Real Life," Bernd over at Ex Astris Scientia brings up the Doctor's POV on holograms as well. This is a topic the show will revisit.

I sort of adore the Klingon punks. The fact that B'Elanna is apparently responsible for their creation provides some intriguing depth for her character if you think about it.

In terms of development, this is a good episode for Paris as well as the Doctor. He gets a flirting scene, a Hotshot Shuttlejock Badassery scene, and a Kirk speech! (Too bad about the utterly disposable Anomaly-of-the-Week, but at least it functions as a vehicle for some Paris stuff.)

So, while it's not all that FUN of an episode on rewatch, it stays solid IMO. Given its concept, it could have been an utter disaster. I'd even say it's more watchable, and re-watchable, than the similar TNG episode where Data dates.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The Doctor's "daughter" has been on VOY before, as the Burleigh girl in the Janeway Eyre program. It seems holodecks also reuse face meshes for NPCs in different cells.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (8 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This episode really clicked on a whole number of levels; I'd say that the Anomaly-of-the-Week is about the only thing that isn't much of a much, which really is a shame, as it not only looks neat (it reminded me of this artist's concept of the black hole Cygnus X-1) but could have been tied into the upcoming Borg appearance, either due to them or Species 8472. One of the first things that I noticed about the episode is that it co-stars Wendy Schaal, who's worked with Robert Picardo on a number of Joe Dante's films, which often focus on people living mundane lives who have those lives upset by weird shit coming from left field. The episode also reminded me of Pleasantville, about a sitcom that becomes darker and more realistic when real people end up in it. (This episode came first, but only by about a year and a half; I didn't remember when I saw Pleasantville, and thought that it was much more recent.)

But these connections/similarities aren't really necessary to appreciate the episode, which is very well modulated (at least as far as the A story goes) and ties in very closely with the Doctor's characterization, and supports his having an actual character arc, as opposed to some of the other characters on the show, who have episodes which feature them but sometimes it's just weird shit that could have happened to any other random crew member. The initial version of the family is precisely the sort that the Doctor would create; there are no x-factors in them, which suits a man who declared his outrage at unexpected circumstances literally from the minute that he was booted up. And of course he'd bring B'Elanna and Kes, the two most important people in his life, to meet them, and their reactions are likewise spot-on. As are his when the changed versions appear. He sort-of brags about having had relationships earlier in the episode, by which I assume he mostly means Danara Pel, but he's startled when Charlene 2.0 isn't the happy little homemaker. Ditto for the kids having lives and opinions and feelings of their own that aren't centered around what a great guy he is. There's a bit of space racism when he suggests that his son should hang around Vulcans rather than Klingons--and from the son saying that the family meeting "is a vulky idea"--but the idea still has some merit, not only because of the cultural appropriation inherent in the son's adopting Klingon dress and rituals, but the fact that Klingons are more physically resilient and able to handle whatever this knife-featuring ritual is all about. It's really about the same as if Jeffrey had started hanging out with skaters who were trying to get him to try some complex and dangerous stunts without the requisite experience. Of course, it wasn't Jeffrey that he should have been more worried about... and, of course, the Doctor would know that there were types of trauma that even Federation medical magic can't cure.

And the most startling thing about the episode--the fact that the Doctor is willing to simply walk away from the family because it isn't progressing the way he'd like--ties into the sort of metatext of the story, with the idea that sometimes you should see a story out even if it's bringing up uncomfortable feelings and reactions, maybe even because it does. I think that we've all probably come across stories that made us want to throw the book (or, more expensively, the tablet) across the room, and sometimes it's just because the story is that badly written or the author makes a creative decision that jars badly with what's already taken place. But sometimes it's because the story is too engaging; I have sometimes stopped reading or watching or playing something because I did not want the story to end. The story gains another layer by the fact that the Doctor is still developing his emotional toolbox (per "Darkling", it's not necessarily an automatic or easy process), and he may simply not be equipped to handle a loss that personal. But in the end, he does, and is presumably a better person because of it.

Picardo does very good work here, as does McNeil; speaking of character development, Paris' being the one to suggest that the Doctor should see this through also serves his character development. After all, Paris was the one who tried to walk away from responsibility for a disaster that he created, and much of his character arc is about his growing out of his no-commitment, who-gives-a-shit attitude.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:15 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


This is the first time I've watched an episode of Voyager that brought me to tears. The actress who played Belle was a young woman named Lindsay Haun, and (i did the math) she was 12 when it was filmed. I had remembered that she dies during the ep. I do not remember it being so moving and difficult to sit through.

But then.... the last time I saw it, I wasn't the father of a nine year old girl. The scene where the Doc explains to her that she's dying.... damn.

--

So, last week we had a glimpse of the Voyager we were promised at the start of this show. A ship stranded at the other end of the galaxy with no lifeline to home, and a crew struggling to deal with the ramifications.

This week, the theme continued in smaller beats.

In a scene, Paris shows up at the mess hall and looks unhappy with what's available. He's run out of replicator rations (presumably he used them all on the French toast?). Neelix gives him a large helping of homemade food (pleeka roots and grub meal casserole, Yummy!) which Paris was not at all happy with. Their interaction isn't antagonistic, but Neelix has a bit of an edge to him. We haven't heard much about the crew's supply problems this season, and food insecurity (especially for a crew that should literally be able to order anything they want) is a nice way to highlight that.

The scene closes with Paris flirting with Torres, which has been an ongoing story arc this season. Romance within the crew is going to be a necessary part of their voyage.

Since day 1, we've seen that Holodoc has a horrible bedside manner. Under normal circumstances we'd never, ever see an emergency medical hologram be given the latitude to do anything like this. This is part of the Doctor's overall character arc throughout the series, as he moves even further from being a thinly sketched caricature who is treated like an appliance by the crew to a three-dimensional person and valued crewmate.

The scene between him and Belle after he changes the family's schedule rang very true to me as a parent of a young girl. She forgives him for screwing up, tells him she loves him and acquiesces to his request... and it turns out that Torres gave him a truly precious gift when she screwed up his Pleasantville family: a daughter's love.

Who (of course) is very promptly ripped away from him. This episode was manipulative as hell.

The friggin' SHUTTLE survives. The CUTE, LOVING KID ATHLETE does not.

*grumble*

Doc's experienced a very different, far more personal kind of loss than having someone die in sickbay. They touch upon this a bit in the episode in the conversation where Paris urges him to go back and finish the program, because everyone on the crew has lost their families and friends. It's going to help him develop into a better doctor. Last week, we were reminded that the crew can't afford to be without him. This week, we got another bit of his development. It's nice to see.
posted by zarq at 10:45 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Skipped in lieu of the visually stunning spatial anomaly.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: It isn't possible to actually play a holographic character in Star Trek Online, but they're readily available as bridge officers by the timeframe, suggesting that activities the Doctor undertakes now are historically significant in the march of his 'people' toward (mostly) freedom(?).

Ongoing Counts: No changes, as they were able to recover Paris' shuttle.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 22.
* Shuttles: Down 4.
* Crew: 142.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

Notes:
* Interesting attention to detail.

Props to the episode for some good canon references: the Doctor prepares Paris for the ordeal with hyronalin, and the Doctor's holographic son is preparing for the Rite of Ascension, although the details the Doctor presents for that are wrong. It's hard to say if that's because the writers were mistaken or if the Doctor just hasn't boned up on Klingon lore after all, which leads me to...

* Casual racism on the Doctor's part.

The whole 'you can't have Klingon friends, get some Vulcan ones' thing is believable, but always jarring in light of the whole 'humanity has evolved' thing that Roddenberry espoused. (Same franchise where Kirk talked about how he'd never trusted a Klingon, but still.)

* I laughed at B'Ellana's reading material.

That sounds hilarious, and if nobody's written it yet, they should. Were I a fanfic author, Klingon romance would be my subgenre of choice now.

* B-plot is good.

I liked their B-plot about a mysterious spatial anomaly. Lots of good details there, too: I like this version of Neelix well enough. Really, everybody's great here, and the dilemma is believable, (although I also wanted this obliquely tied into Species 8472).

* Like everybody's already said, the main story is heartbreaking and good.

Usually, Star Trek is very pro-humanity. Humans are special, humans will one day walk the stars with the Q, humans are enlightened, etc. etc. etc.

Real Life has a non-human asking a variation of the cliched question 'what is this thing you humans call love?' The Doctor does this experiment attempting to understand family, and when B'Ellana corrects him, she makes a point of showing how hard having a family is. That might have come across as cynical, (particularly given B'Ellana's own interpersonal relationships), but they addressed that beautifully with his conversation with Tom about it. The talk Cheeses quoted above is fantastic, and one line stands out as my favorite bit of Voyager dialogue in the rewatch so far:
If you turn your back on this program, you'll always be stuck at this point.
That's... a whole lot of truth right there.

Between that and how well the death of the Doctor's daughter is handled, this is a genuinely beautiful episode of Voyager, if a tough one to go back to. (I remembered the broad strokes, including that his daughter's death was pretty hard to watch the first time too.)

I'd even say it's more watchable, and re-watchable, than the similar TNG episode where Data dates.

Yeah. Data's episode has some great stuff in it, but I'd definitely say this is a better rewatch. It's even a little more hopeful because it posits the Doctor is already perfectly capable of being as human as the rest of the crew, while Data's focuses on the inevitability of his alienation from everyone around him.

Anyway, yeah. Like zarq, I feel like this was a strong foray into what I wanted from Voyager in the first place.
posted by mordax at 10:34 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Skipped in lieu of the visually stunning spatial anomaly.

Photons!
posted by zarq at 10:48 AM on August 11


Hahaha. Fair enough!
posted by mordax at 11:06 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


It's nice to have two episodes in a row that explore the kinds of ideas that should be at the heart of a Trek series, themes built around looking at what it means to be human by positing conjectures of alien or other templates that illuminate the idea by comparison. The sciency stuff in both episodes too were enjoyable for occurring without motive and being explored a bit more as concepts than directed threats.

I really enjoyed how they linked the A and B stories between the doctor and Paris in this one in formal terms. Paris as an adult stand in for the doctor's children, able to shed some perspective on events from that side, was a clever touch given what he know of his history, and one I wouldn't have thought of had it not been shown. It's another good episode for Paris, with whom they're doing a fine job of providing a sense of continuity and growth, something that sometimes eludes some of the other characters a bit, who change more in fits and starts with attributes forgotten when they don't fit the writers' interests.

Dawson and Lien are both good, as usual, in support, but Dawson really seems to be improving in that area, with the writers providing her better material for it perhaps being the spur. The rest of the cast were all in sync for the anomaly side of the episode, and the writing balanced their roles well, though Tuvok's first request of Harry seemed a bit off, more like a chastisement than order in a way, and, as usual, Tuvok and Harry's roles on the bridge remain a bit foggy regarding some of the duties and commands involved.

I really like Cheeses thought about the Klingon teens and B'Elanna, that gives their appearance an added interest, but there really is something still a little worrying about how they echo ideas of racial divides in "real life" media of the sort the doctor's family life is somewhat based on. In holo/media terms, it's difficult to fault the doctor for his anger or concern over his son engaging in ritual violence, at least in the vague parameters that it is placed in for the conflict. The mention then of it being acceptable as cultural difference is a bit troubling because of that. It suggests that there is some analogy between reasonably unacceptable behaviors in the real world being enacted due to cultural difference.

It's something that reminds me a bit of the Kazon/gang analogy the show used previously. Trying to use Klingons, or Kazon, as both aliens with their own culture that has differing values and as analogs for real racial differences where similar difference in values carries different weight is problematic on the face of it. It's really something the franchise needs to think more clearly about since it such uses may appear benign on the surface but hide some potential malignancy deeper down under closer inspection.

Another bit of vagueness regarding the doctor and his status that reoccurs fairly often is in how the show treats his "personhood" as being a mix of holographic and computer based in origin. While it's obviously true, in show terms, the doctor is both, locating his being as a hologram in some instances and as a computer program in others sort of mixes the problem or meaning of his identity, particularly when he interacts with other holograms. It isn't a big issue in this episode, but it's something they'll return to often, and carries some odd conceptual problems with it if one tries to think about it very long. In this episode it works well enough, but the lack of clarity can lead to inconsistency in how they deal with the doctor's character and some of the issues he faces. At least that's how I saw it the first time, we'll see how it comes across this go around.

All in all, I pretty much agree with what everyone else has posted, those are just some additional thoughts to add to what's already been said.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:42 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I really like Cheeses thought about the Klingon teens and B'Elanna, that gives their appearance an added interest, but there really is something still a little worrying about how they echo ideas of racial divides in "real life" media of the sort the doctor's family life is somewhat based on. [...] It's really something the franchise needs to think more clearly about since it such uses may appear benign on the surface but hide some potential malignancy deeper down under closer inspection.

I think that's true on the whole, though in this instance, one could rationalize it as being more of manifestation of a hangup of B'Elanna's (owing to her obvious internal cultural conflict) than one of Starfleet itself. Of course, even using that rationalization, the fact that the Doctor obviously takes it and runs with it is, yeah, worrying. In his case, you could sort of look at it from two completely opposite angles; either:
A- the fact that he's a hologram makes him less attuned to the consequences of casual racism, and so his Klingon/Vulcan remarks here can be read as another example of him amusingly downplaying something that biological persons take more seriously (see also "You're in fine physical shape, Mr. Paris. You may go ahead and engage in this reckless activity");
or
B- the fact that he's already been engaging in a struggle for recognition of his own personhood should make him MORE sensitive to reducing people to categories.

OTOH, he IS using his holodeck time recreationally, so maybe his crewmates wouldn't really judge. IIRC we previously discussed the morality of slaughtering scores of holocharacters in war simulations (probably in a DS9 thread). Certainly, had the Doctor made those remarks in front of any of his crewmates, it'd be a much bigger deal.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:53 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


It's something that reminds me a bit of the Kazon/gang analogy the show used previously. Trying to use Klingons, or Kazon, as both aliens with their own culture that has differing values and as analogs for real racial differences where similar difference in values carries different weight is problematic on the face of it. It's really something the franchise needs to think more clearly about since it such uses may appear benign on the surface but hide some potential malignancy deeper down under closer inspection.

Yeah, this is a good way of articulating what makes me uncomfortable about them going to this well. (And to be fair to Voyager, this goes back to TOS.)
posted by mordax at 12:31 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


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