Star Trek: Voyager: In the Flesh   Rewatch 
December 4, 2017 6:53 AM - Season 5, Episode 4 - Subscribe

So ya/ Thought ya/ Might like to catch up on the show/ To feel the warm thrill of confusion/ That Academy cadet glow/ Tell me is something eluding you, Starfleet?/ Is Boothby not what you expected to see?/ If you want to find out what's behind these odd eyes/ You'll just have to scan your way through this disguise!

Is Memory Alpha in the theater tonight? Put it up against the wall:

- Writer and story editor Nick Sagan commented that the original idea for this episode was much different from how the installment turned out. "It was an idea that they found a picture in some database of an 8472 in an ancient Earth culture, and it was that some of our legends of demons and devils were from 8472. That was sort of the initial way we got into it. It was kind of tricky, having Voyager on the opposite side of the galaxy from home. What are those guys doing with Earth? How does that fit together?"

- Developing the episode's narrative was challenging. Nick Sagan reflected, "We went at it hammer and tongs for a while and we couldn't find anything that we all liked, so I was able to try and reinvent it [....] I took the idea of paranoia, and that these things don't understand what it is to be Human." According to the unauthorized reference books Delta Quadrant (p. 259) and Beyond the Final Frontier (p. 322), Nick Sagan wanted the disguised Species 8472 habitat in this episode to be an allegory for the "sleeper" villages that, according to myth, were used as training camps by the KGB to infiltrate agents into the West during the Cold War. In a 2003 interview, Sagan confirmed the Cold War influence. "I took the idea of Cold War fears, especially the way my dad tried to play a role in d├ętente."

- Actor Tucker Smallwood portrayed Admiral Bullock in this episode while suffering from the paralyzing condition known as Bell's palsy. "People would say, you looked so stern and so implacable," Smallwood recalled, "and I said that's the only expression I had, if I tried to do anything else only one side of my face would work so I had this one expression and it was very rigid and stiff and arbitrary.

- Chakotay mentions that his last visit to the real Starfleet HQ was on March 3, 2368, in order to resign his commission and fight with the Maquis. The Maquis did not actually come into being until after the formation of the DMZ in 2370, as shown in DS9: "The Maquis, Part I". Furthermore, Ro Laren (in TNG: "Preemptive Strike") describes a lieutenant commander who was in Advanced Tactical Training with her and resigned to join the Maquis; this was supposedly a reference to Chakotay.

"Targ manure! 'United Federation of Planets'... 'tolerance for all species'... the 'Prime Directive'... targ manure, every word of it!"

- Boothby

"Just be home before midnight."
- Captain Janeway to Chakotay (an allusion to Cinderella)

"I've always wondered what it would be like to date an alien."
"I'll take notes."

- Harry Kim and Chakotay

Poster's Log:

I'm of two minds about this episode. While I'm kind of glad that they decided to follow up/resolve things with Species 8472 (the show will fail to do so with some other dangling plotlines, and in at least one other episode--"Fury"--it might have been best if they hadn't tried), they do so by pretty much ignoring every other established aspect of the species. S8472 turn into shapeshifters, although apparently not without the aid of regular shots and occasionally spontaneously reverting, which basically makes them standard SF changelings, and the Founders already have that part of the franchise sewn up. There's adapting to a threat, and then there's evolving an entirely new power set. (The bits at the Academy were unavoidably reminiscent of DS9's "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost".) As with "Prey", there's no explanation for how they've caught up to Voyager, although there's some indication near the end that they can return directly to fluidic space from where they're at, and if they can simply appear anywhere in our dimension that they please, then there's no particular need for subterfuge--they could simply appear above Earth and blow the place up, as they did with the Borg planet in "Scorpion." (Unless they're trying to infiltrate Starfleet in order to get the secret of the nanoprobe torpedoes, which wasn't directly stated in the episode.) Not simply zerg-rushing the Federation makes them seem a lot weaker than they were shown to be in "Scorpion." And, in general, they're just too different: more individualistic, using tech that's a lot more like Starfleet than the organic tech shown in "Scorpion", and, for a race that's supposed to be really paranoid of humans, didn't have an awful lot of security precautions in place if someone could just literally walk into their training camp and start taking pictures.

I'm still giving the episode some credit, despite the numerous retcons, because talking things through is supposed to be what Starfleet and the Federation does instead of going for the straight-up fight first. I was reminded of this recently at a relative's house where the TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver" was on, and it's also true of two of my other favorite space opera franchises: Mass Effect lets you talk squad members down from shooting someone and even lets you negotiate a peace treaty between implacable enemies with centuries-long feuds, and the Starfinder RPG has a class called the "envoy" who's not only the face of the group but has sufficient persuasive skills to potentially avoid a fight altogether. Also, of course, Ray Walston.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Valerie Archer, hmm? In fact, "According to Nick Sagan, 'I really wanted to name the character Archer as a homage to Dave Bowman of 2001 and to my father's character Ellie Arroway [from Contact]. You put bow and arrow together and you get Archer.'"
posted by Halloween Jack (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
GAINST
THAH
ooooooooooooooooohhhhhhh

(The bits at the Academy were unavoidably reminiscent of DS9's "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost".)

In a good way, I'd say.

And, in general, they're just too different: more individualistic, using tech that's a lot more like Starfleet than the organic tech shown in "Scorpion", and, for a race that's supposed to be really paranoid of humans, didn't have an awful lot of security precautions in place if someone could just literally walk into their training camp and start taking pictures.

Yeah, this I feel is a very valid criticism. It feels like completely different writers doing this one, and they didn't quite do enough homework.

I'm still giving the episode some credit, despite the numerous retcons, because talking things through is supposed to be what Starfleet and the Federation does instead of going for the straight-up fight first. I was reminded of this recently at a relative's house where the TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver" was on

Indeed! I love "Corbomite" and I…well, greatly enjoy this episode. To me it's one of VOY's most TOS moments, and most successfully TOS. And all the guest 8472 actors really bring it, especially Mrs. Tigh and Ray Walston. As has been mentioned earlier, it does too tidily wrap up 8472 as a threat, but for my part, I'm able to enjoy it in spite of that.

the Starfinder RPG has a class called the "envoy" who's not only the face of the group but has sufficient persuasive skills to potentially avoid a fight altogether.

*begins pondering a new D&D setting where such an archetype might make a lick of sense*
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:43 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


This is one of those episodes that doesn't bear too much close scrutiny but is fun to watch and as Cheeses notes, feels very much like classic Trek. It's also a good vehicle for Chakotay, which is nice to see.

The problem is, it also completely nerfs 8472 from a Species that wanted to destroy all life in the galaxy to a good kisser, a gruff military type and a lovable curmudgeonly gardener. Which may be the most mind-bending, whiplash shift in the history of the entire franchise. They were a threat so dangerous that Captain Janeway was willing to ally the ship with the Borg, the Federation's greatest enemy. In this episode, they're nothing of the sort and that hurts both the story and the show's continuity.

It also has one of the greatest / stupidest sentences ever uttered in a Star Trek episode:

"It's Pon Farr night at the Vulcan nightclub."

I could write reams and reams about this.

Okay, I could write reams and reams of fanfic about it.

Was pleasantly surprised to see Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh in BSG) show up in this episode. She plays Admiral Archer.
posted by zarq at 9:17 AM on December 4 [6 favorites]


Speaking of TOS, one thing I neglected to mention above is the episode "By Any Other Name", which likewise had a group of aliens who started picking up the characteristics of the humans that they were imitating, albeit for a different reason.

Here's the page for the envoy. In addition to the awesome Diplomacy/Bluff/Intimidate checks, they also get a lot of skill points and the "envoy improvisations" are some pretty decent buffs/debuffs.

Oh, yeah, "Pon Farr night."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:22 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Particle of the Week: Borg nanoprobes again.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: In the timeline presented in Star Trek Online, nobody listened to Boothby. Species 8472 went ahead with their plans to infiltrate the Federation and basically every other major Alpha Quadrant power on the basis of paranoia and ginned up attacks by an interested third party.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 4.
* Crew: 135.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* You guys have covered most of my thoughts.

On the one hand, great message about peace and understanding and disarmament. Really, this is why I watch Trek - to see them stand down and hash stuff out at least as often as they shoot. We've talked about it and talked about it. Janeway's clearly in the right here. Chakotay gets stuff to do. It's a good story.

On the other hand, it ruins a perfectly good cosmic horror. 8472 was a Lovecraftian race from a legitimate nightmare realm, able to destroy planets with their fighter craft and tear through starship hulls with their bare claws, and now they're just... well, just some guys.

I wish they'd picked a different alien race to use. Also, 'too many shape shifters' really was a serious problem here, as mentioned above. My SO plays Star Trek Online with me sometimes but hasn't finished a Trek spinoff since TNG, and she was very confused by how many different kinds of undetectable doppelgangers popped up in the metaplot.

* Voyager should've asked for a ride home.

I understand they couldn't get a ride home as it wrecks the show's premise, but this would've been a good moment for Janeway to ask to hitch a ride back to the Alpha Quadrant to start peace talks. Just a nod to 'hey these guys could take us back, let's bring it up' would've been cool.

So... yeah. Hm. Honestly, not tons to say here.
posted by mordax at 11:58 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Chakotay makes out with a three metre tall insect, and they both know they're crossing species. Ah, Voyager, you really wish you'd been airing on Star.

I am well into season five thanks to two weeks of viral flu and these fantastic recaps, and wanted to thank all the mefites contributing to them, especially Halloween Jack.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:35 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


I haven't finished the rewatch yet, but, dang it's good to see Beltran busting out his bag of grins again. The first three seasons had him showing an ever increasing variety, but since then, nothing much at all. He's definitely on point with the chemistry thing with Kate Vernon, who is quite enjoyable herself. I liked this episode, not withstanding the odd use of species 8472 as the would be threat, on first viewing and I'm enjoying it again so far this time around.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:45 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Chakotay makes out with a three metre tall insect, and they both know they're crossing species. Ah, Voyager, you really wish you'd been airing on Star.

Right? Every so often, I guess someone's gotta Kirk a situation.

I haven't finished the rewatch yet, but, dang it's good to see Beltran busting out his bag of grins again.

Yeah. I really wish they'd used Beltran more. He's very talented. (Per the usual: Voyager's casting is fantastic, both for regulars and guest stars.)
posted by mordax at 9:00 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Heh. Okay, still not done, but I just got to the scene where Janeway is telling Seven of the first contact/first battle protocols and it's hilarious. Mulgrew plays the scene as if she's ramped up on enough coke for a long weekend at Studio 54, while Ryan as Seven of course barely registers any emotion beyond the usual Borg contempt. Fun!

What's the dealio with yet another caretaker/farmer/gardener/agrarian aged type, to all appearances harmless but in reality the one with most of the power? Boothby is another in Trek's weird fetish for soil tilling as platonic ideal of existence.

Okay, since this turned into a quasi-live watch post anyway, I had to chuckle at Ross's take when Neelix asks "Lieutenant Kinis" for his impressions of Vulcans. Kinis himself looks like he snuck out of a hospital bed to be on the show, but I guess he is only a facsimile so there's some excuse.

My figuring is that Voyager realized they couldn't really make much use of species 8472 with their limited budgets and lacked other aliens that could pose any reasonable long range threat except for the Voth, so they might as well get some additional use out of them rather than waste the species entirely. It's short sighted from a franchise point of view, and it makes the threat sort of weird since they're much more formidable in their own form and the new tech version doesn't really fit with what we've seen from them before, but in the end it didn't really bother me much since I like the episode and had little expectation they'd make better use of them in other circumstances.

They leave the door open a bit for them to be brought back as threats or otherwise, which wouldn't necessarily be bad in some future series, perhaps one that deals more with other fluidic space entities so the 8472s needn't be seen exclusively as enemy or friend, but something more complex. Whatever the case, I was pleased enough to take it as is and go with it for the diplomacy and Chakarcher chemistry. As is, I really don't have anything bad to say about the episode since the objections are more paths not taken/opportunities lost than anything else and, really I'm not so sure the series doesn't benefit more from a good diplomacy episode than another major threat to humanity one.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:43 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


What's the dealio with yet another caretaker/farmer/gardener/agrarian aged type, to all appearances harmless but in reality the one with most of the power? Boothby is another in Trek's weird fetish for soil tilling as platonic ideal of existence.

Oh, I have a notion about that. We normally think of Trek as progressive, and in a lot of very important ways it sincerely is: see the diverse cast of TOS, the message of peace and understanding and so on. (Basically, everything that I love about Star Trek, and separates it from bog-standard military SF.)

However, it also holds a strong message of 'humanity is fine the way it is.' Like... attempts for us to reach for more are always suspect. This is a topic I could yammer about for literally hours, but offhand:

* Wielding godlike power is too big of a temptation for anyone.

* Paradise is always a lie because struggle is critical for human development.

* Tampering with our genetic code must lead to increased ambition and war.

* Installing cybernetics except for the most basic of prosthetics is a real Pandora's Box situation.

* Just popping back to our last discussion about Extreme Risk: psychopharmacology is never considered for B'Ellana, only talk therapy/bootstraps even though it's one of the very first things we'd do today.

* In many of the (terrifyingly racist) flashbacks for Chakotay, nobody blinks at people living as hunter-gatherers on a post-scarcity Earth.

The whole fetish for the Farming Guy is all about this - it's shorthand for what people should be like and should be doing: close to the earth, still human, working hard for what they have.

It's... hm. Honestly, it's one of a number of spots where I take issue with Roddenberry's ideals even though I'm suspicious of technological development in the absence of ethical and philosophical considerations.
posted by mordax at 12:33 PM on December 5 [3 favorites]


Oh, I'd also argue this attitude is behind the 20th century nostalgia and human-centric viewpoints espoused by the greater Trek narrative. Aliens are always learning from us, not the other way around, you know?
posted by mordax at 12:41 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Aliens are always learning from us, not the other way around, you know?

This bugs the hell out of me, too, but in response, the following occurs to me:

1- Starship crew members spending enough time immersed in Alien-of-the-Week cultures to learn from them might have been great, but also expensive; and

2- Sisko and some of his subordinates did arguably seem to learn something sometimes from Bajorans. I.e., the DS9 series concept allowed for some of this kind of actual pluralism.

Re: #1, my hope had been that Discovery's higher budget would free them up to get bolder philosophically. But then I heard about All Access and, well, I'll just nip that tangent in the bud myself.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:39 AM on December 6 [3 favorites]


* Paradise is always a lie because struggle is critical for human development.

I'd say that this was basically Roddenberry's central thesis; progress is not only possible but necessary, but anything that smacks of a short cut is a cheat and won't work in the long run, whether it's genetic engineering, strong AI, some kind of stable utopia, getting super-psychic powers from alien intervention or running into the edge of the galaxy, etc. This gets turned up to eleven in TNG, with Q repeatedly taunting Picard to give up and go home to the 24C's replicator-and-holodeck post-scarcity utopia, and even hastening first contact with the Borg to shake them out of their complacency.

Of course, the flip side of that "gotta do it the hard way" worldview is that Roddenberry never really goes into any detail as to how the Federation managed it: they don't use money, but their overall economic system is never described in detail, such as, for example, how they deal with real estate as a nonreplicable commodity; ditto for their medicine (the "dermal regenerator" is in effect a Wand of Cure Light Wounds), etc. Roddenberry absolutely handwaved all that stuff away as details that other people would eventually work out. It makes a lot of sense in the context of the mid-sixties, and in particular the optimism regarding the potential of science to solve a lot of problems; I've talked to an elderly doctor who worked with polio patients back in the day and he still felt wonder at how the formerly-crowded polio wards just emptied out following the roll-out of the vaccine. But Roddenberry also pushed back at the whole idea of a Singularity (long before that term came into vogue in SF), and who's to say that he was entirely wrong? Big changes have big unintended consequences. Maybe it's all about incrementalism; the Doctor is the Federation's introduction to pervasive AI by way of a particularly useful app, and Bashir proves that genetically-enhanced people aren't inevitably megalomaniacal monsters.

psychopharmacology is never considered for B'Ellana, only talk therapy/bootstraps even though it's one of the very first things we'd do today.

AFAIK the only time that psychotropics are mentioned in a positive way in the franchise is when Bashir prescribes something for O'Brien at the end of "Hard Time." Otherwise, it adopts a drugs-r-bad-mmkay-kids attitude, mostly via different metaphors, i.e. "The Game", Barclay's holoaddiction, even DS9's "The Wire", aka "Garak Goes Cold Turkey." There is some implication that mental illness is almost completely cured by the 23rd century; there is some implication that the fifteen inmates of the asylum in "Whom Gods Destroy" are the only ones left in the entire Federation. So, there's some distinction between talk-it-out-with-the-nice-ship's-counselor problems, and ones of an organic nature that can be dealt with by space-magic medicine, with rare exceptions. (Presumably the Jack Pack would be another such group.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:55 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


how they deal with real estate as a nonreplicable commodity

Now THERE's a Star Trek show I would watch if given the chance: Star Trek: Realtors of the Federation. Or at least a short story explaining how the hell that would work.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:49 AM on December 6 [2 favorites]


I'd say that this was basically Roddenberry's central thesis; progress is not only possible but necessary, but anything that smacks of a short cut is a cheat and won't work in the long run, whether it's genetic engineering, strong AI, some kind of stable utopia, getting super-psychic powers from alien intervention or running into the edge of the galaxy, etc.

Well, that is the central tension or paradox that animates interest in the franchise I think, the value is progressive, but the view conservative. It's an almost untenable concept on its face, which is why describing it in detail is so difficult. Emphasizing tradition and championing change in the same moment tends towards conflicting ideals that have no clear resolution save for "magic", whether by engineering or ingenuity, coming at the last minute. It's the tension that makes the best episodes as good as they are for finding a way to dramatize the contradictions, but it's also makes makes some of the lesser episodes so damned annoying for papering over the very same with wishful thinking or ignoring the deeper problems all together.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:21 AM on December 6 [4 favorites]


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