Star Trek: Voyager: Vis à Vis   Rewatch 
October 30, 2017 7:09 AM - Season 4, Episode 20 - Subscribe

Sometimes a guy just wants to kick back and work on his imaginary bitchin' Camaro without being hassled, but Tom Paris is about to have a freaky Friday...

Memory Alpha wants a face to face:

- Strangely, Captain Janeway makes a log entry despite the fact she was inhabited by Steth at the time. Also strange is that Steth and Janeway swapped positions when he attacked her while in Paris's body. When Tom (actually Janeway in Tom's body) is shot, his hands are wrapped around Janeway's neck (actually Steth in Janeway's body). This implies that somehow Steth had ended up in a sitting position and Janeway was winning the fight when she was stunned.

- Actor Dan Butler likened this episode to a certain film. "It's sort of [an] homage to Face/Off," Butler reckoned, "the movie with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta."

- The songs playing at the beginning and end of the episode in the holodeck are "Night Rider" and "Let's Go Trippin'" by Dick Dale. Ronald B. Moore – this installment's visual effects supervisor – was influential in selecting this music, particularly the former composition. "Since it was a '60s kind of thing I was able to get them to use music from Dick Dale," Moore recalled. "Dick came down, and I was able to give him a tour of the set." The song that plays in the episode's final scene was a result of a recommendation from Dennis McCarthy, who had once been a member of Dick Dale's backing band and was now the composer of this episode. Moore offered, "I was told that he heard the music and said, 'I used to be a Deltone.' This is a small world. He suggested that they close the show with another Dick Dale song. They got to [do that]."

- The design of Steth's ship was re-used in a number of subsequent Voyager episodes ("The Voyager Conspiracy", "Drive", "Workforce", and "Workforce, Part II"). Interestingly, it also appeared in an episode of Joss Whedon's Firefly.

"Somebody call for a driver?"

- Tom Paris, when entering the bridge wearing an oil stained "grease monkey" suit from his holodeck program

"How can you be so sure?"
"Advanced subspace geometry. It's the one course at the Academy where I actually paid attention."

- Chakotay and Tom Paris

TVTropes entry

Poster's Log:

Another episode that I liked a lot more on rewatch. Of course, the whole shapeshifter identity theft/body swap thing has been done plenty of times in the franchise, with plenty of permutations; in fact, the first broadcast episode of TOS ("The Man Trap") and the last ("Turnabout Intruder"), with the last being rather problematic. This is a cleaner and more sensible take on the trope, with the premise slotting neatly into Tom Paris' character arc; Tom is dealing with increased responsibilities (although I wish that they'd drop the medic thing already; it makes less sense the longer that the show goes on) and seems to be chafing at them, and here comes this alien dude who just joyrides from one stolen life to the next. I wish that they'd done at least a little bit of a thing where Tom-as-Steth is just a tiny bit tempted to take his new identity and ship and see where they lead him, at least until the interstellar po-po show up. I also think that they could have clarified a bit about the shapeshifter's impetus for hopping to a new body; they seem unable to hold the form indefinitely, but they also seem driven to steal a new identity and exploit it for its possibilities (including, we note, sexual assault by deception) before skating to a new "host." That would have been reason enough, although it wouldn't have given them as much of an excuse to have morphing special effects. (The best alien sociopath body thief story that I'm aware of is probably still The Hidden, a vastly underappreciated 1987 film starring Kyle MacLachlan.)

Poster's Log, supplemental: "Bitchin' Camaro", Dead Milkmen
posted by Halloween Jack (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Particle of the Week: Steth's DNA.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: A number of references from this episode made it to the game. Offhand, I'm actually really fond of the polaric modulator.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 17.
* Shuttles: Down 8.
* Crew: 139.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

* Not really feeling the story.

To me, this feels like another case of characters behaving any old way to serve the story. At last check, Tom seemed cool. Here, it appears he's been really stressed for some time.

I also felt like this part was a cheat:

Strangely, Captain Janeway makes a log entry despite the fact she was inhabited by Steth at the time. Also strange is that Steth and Janeway swapped positions when he attacked her while in Paris's body.

Like... they didn't really seem to be playing by the rules of their own story.

Apart from that, watch Steth was more skeevy than entertaining. I didn't like watching him creep on B'Ellana or Seven.

* Scale problems again.

I know I do go on about these, but I know they had encyclopedias in the 90s.
PARIS: In theory, a coaxial drive explosion could collapse space within a radius of a billion kilometres. In theory.
One billion km is approximately 6.68 AU. For reference, Jupiter's average distance from the Sun is about 5.2 AU, meaning that a catastrophic coaxial warp drive failure would be enough to destroy a good sized chunk of the Solar System.

On the one hand, this is consistent with events in Future's End, where the destruction of Braxton's ship actually did something like that. (It's unclear if he had coaxial warp, but if he doesn't, presumably his drive was even more advanced and therefore more explosive.)

On the other hand, it means that it's comparatively easy for individual members of an advanced civilization to make WMDs that can trivially destroy entire planets. You don't need a proper ship, and you don't even need a particularly good coaxial warp drive, just something that can go a short range and then reliably go critical. (Minus the range, if you're comfy with suicide bombing.) Toss on a cloaking device, and you could devastate basically anybody who still operates in normal space - Borg, Klingons, the Dominion, whomever.

It puts destroying planets in the reach of non-state actors.

I guess none of that's necessarily important, but it's a window into the annoyance that I feel almost any time someone uses a number on a show like this. Also, I was doubly annoyed because IIRC, I'll need to complain about similar problems in the next thread too.

Anyway... yeah. This wasn't enraging the way Retrospect was because the ugliness we see is coming from the villain, but I was still not entertained by it. Basically, the concept needed to be tighter or the action needed to be swifter - like I also often go on about, pacing is important to audience buy-in. Vis à Vis is slow, which gave me a lot of time to think about details like the kilometer thing or Steth attempting to gaslight Seven. (I suppose it's good that gaslighting is irrelevant.) I found the whole thing forgettable at best.
posted by mordax at 10:45 AM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

At last check, Tom seemed cool. Here, it appears he's been really stressed for some time.

I took it as things just sort of catching up with him. Probably, just before he took Janeway's offer to try to help them find the Maquis in the Badlands, Tom had resigned himself to having the sort of sad loner life that we saw him having in the alternate timeline in "Non Sequitur", and suddenly not only is he the chief helm officer and relief medic, but he also has a girlfriend who seems miles away from the holo-girlfriend that he used to hang out with in Sandrine's. I got the feeling that it was a big deal for him to invite B'Elanna into his man cave.

Speaking of Paris, DAE notice the similarities between his initial chilly reception on the ship and Michael Burnham's on DSC? Complete with naive but good-hearted instant friend?
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:40 PM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I took it as things just sort of catching up with him.

That's completely plausible, but it would've been nice to have a nod toward it. The conversation with Chakotay would've been a good spot.

Speaking of Paris, DAE notice the similarities between his initial chilly reception on the ship and Michael Burnham's on DSC?

I hadn't, but now I can't unsee it. Good observation.
posted by mordax at 1:06 PM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Paris, DAE notice the similarities between his initial chilly reception on the ship and Michael Burnham's on DSC?

I hadn't thought of Paris but Ensign Ro's reception did come to mind for me when we were first introduced to her in "Ensign Ro".
posted by juiceCake at 9:03 PM on October 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Not much to say about this one. It's so bluntly clear that there isn't much to say about it that isn't painfully obvious really. Exploring Tom's anxieties wasn't a bad choice for an episode, and the old switcherooey between him and Steth could work well enough to dramatize that, it's just the conflicts were so exaggerated that none of the relationships really seemed rooted in anything other than dramatic want.

Klink could write Tom and B'Elanna decently enough since she spent time establishing the warmth in their relationship, but the other writers tend to jump right to the conflicts between them taking it for granted the audience accepts their relationship as a working one, for reasons that aren't really made very clear. Their fights arise out of nothing at a high level of contention rather than seem to build from anything we're given which makes it feel like there is little compatibility between them for any reason. That each character has their own issues may explain some of the disagreements, but it doesn't provide enough of a basis for their finding need to continue to pester each other in the first place.

Tom's relationship with the others is also sketchy here for much the same reason. Aside from Harry, the writers haven't built up much in the way of relationships for the conflicts to come from. It feels like they're reaching back for ideas they never developed in hopes they can suddenly make them relevant again four seasons on. It might have worked if there was some subtlety involved, but this episode didn't have much of that.

It isn't terrible I suppose since explicating Paris' issues has some use and gives the character a bit more depth, it just wasn't handled in a way that provided enough texture or nuance to the issues to seem anything more than the dilemma of the week, soon enough to be forgotten until next time they feel the crunch to write something for MacNeill. A more balanced approach would do wonders for the show with these elements, but we already know that was never in the cards.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:49 AM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and giving Seven more time in this episode than Harry just shows how much they've changed the show since Ryan arrived. There was absolutely no reason for Seven to figure in this episode at all and it would have been better had she not. More time with Harry and Chakotay instead, or even Neelix would have made more sense than Seven.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:53 AM on October 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Apart from the fact that it was a nice change of pace to get a Paris episode, the only thing that kept my attention in this one was the fact that Steth is played by Dan Butler, who was also Bulldog on Frasier. It reminded me of this excellent old publicity photo (from TV Guide IIRC), which inspired me to use it in one of my Star Trek RPG campaigns to represent a couple of Captain Bateson's senior staff following his arrival in the 24th century. Now I'm mad I didn't bring Steth in from the Delta Quadrant as some sort of attache or morale officer or something.

But yeah, this one's kind of a dud, in no small part because its ground is so well-tread. The Criminal Alien Bodysnatcher was done at least once on DS9, and better—and better still in TNG: "Power Play."

Also, realizing that Steth is Bulldog made it harder to take his character seriously :)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:52 AM on October 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

When I started catching up on Voyager in re-runs, what broke my immersion was femSteth's voice, which drove me nuts trying to place until I figured out she was Major Kusanagi from the Ghost in the Shell TV series.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 4:18 PM on October 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Recognizing voice actors as face actors, and vice versa, can be fun. I just finished the last season of Community (#AndAMovie), and part of the enjoyment was Keith David, who, even though I'd seen him in The Thing, Platoon, Requiem for a Dream, and probably a few other things, I associated mostly with his doing the VA for David Anderson in the first three Mass Effect games. To bring it back to VOY, Raphael Sbarge, aka Jonas, has decades' worth of credits in all sorts of media, including as Kaidan Alenko in Mass Effect. (Also just realized that I forgot the Memory Alpha link, again. Haul me off to the knackers', folks.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2017

Was it just me, or did anyone else feel like the writers were very sloppy with the identity thief's powers? At times they treat it like a shape-shifter, at other times as a body-swapper.

At first, the alien is in Steth's body, and we see him struggling to keep from reverting to his previous DNA into the Lady-Alien. Now, why exactly this would be a problem is unclear. Yeah, it would have made for awkward conversation with the Voyager crew, but otherwise it doesn't seem like this would really be an issue. It also isn't clear why this is happening -- I guess he/she/it can only keep a particular appearance for a while? Was the Steth-alien's DNA not totally compatible with the Lady-Alien's DNA? If they can only hold a particular shape temporarily, why would they revert to an older DNA pattern? Wouldn't that pattern itself have degraded/reverted to an even earlier pattern & appearance?

Then, when Not-Steth "swaps" with Tom, Tom's body changes to appear like Steth's and vice versa. In other words, both the alien & Tom shape-shift, rather than their consciousness's switching places. They are still wearing their original clothing, so presumably Not-Steth-now-looks-like-Tom switches their clothes before dumping Tom-now-looks-like-Steth in his coaxial warp ship ("coaxial" warp? I had no idea cable companies were getting into the warp game). But when Not-Steth-looks-like-Tom attacks Janeway and swaps with her, security finds them in their own clothing, so unless Not-Steth-looks-like-Tom-now-looks-like-Janeway took the time to swap their clothes and then stage them in a fight, all of a sudden the alien is a body-swapper rather than a shape-shifter.

Speaking of which, having Not-Steth-looked-like-Tom-now-looks-like-Janeway make a log entry was a really wack fake-out by the writers. My immediate thought when she called for security was that the alien had swapped with her, because it's the obvious plot point. The log-entry was clearly meant to fool us, but It makes no sense that the alien would make a log entry unless they were trying to fool the audience.

Anyway, then Tom-looks-like-Steth is captured by Original-Steth-but-looks-like-Lady-Alien, and they go back to Voyager so they can get their original bodies back, but this only makes sense if the alien Identity Thief is a body-swapper, not a shape-shifter. If Identity-Thief-Alien was going to revert from Steth-from to Lady-Alien form, why wouldn't Original-Steth-looks-like-Lady-Alien eventually revert back to her(his) form? Or Tom-looks-like-Steth back to his? And if Not-Steth had reverted back to the Lady-Alien form, would that mean that there'd be two people running around who looked like that -- both Not-Steth & Original-Steth? And once Janeway, Tom, and Steth are restored to their original bodies/shapes, Identity-Thief-Alien is in Lady-Alien form (or in Lady-Alien's body?!), but again, why wouldn't it just degenerate again? Sloppy, damn sloppy, I say.

*Halloween Jack: Keith David also did the voice-over for the "Pillows & Blankets" episode of Community, before he ever appeared on the show!
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:57 PM on October 11, 2021

Am I the only one who noticed that Steth at least made out with and was heavily implied to have had sex with B'Elanna while being Tom? Which is rapey and gross and completely ignored forever?
posted by Vigilant at 2:45 PM on August 19, 2023

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