Star Trek: Voyager: Gravity   Rewatch 
January 4, 2018 3:02 AM - Season 5, Episode 13 - Subscribe

Or: "The One Where Voyager Finally, Actually, Really Runs Out of Shuttlecraft (J/K, Not Really)"

The higher Memory Alpha goes, the longer it falls:

- The development of this episode began simply, with a phrase. Story and teleplay co-writer Nick Sagan recalled, "The genesis of 'Gravity' was the phrase, 'emotion creates its own logic.' We just chucked that around, saying, 'What does that mean? What could that be?' And out of it came that episode." Sagan also implied that he found the phrase to be "just something that really tantalizes." Kenneth Biller offered, "'Gravity' changed a lot from the original conception, to what it ultimately became, which was this exploration of a man who couldn't love."

- The mind meld wherein Tuvok communicates, to Noss, his unspoken feelings for her was suggested by Tuvok actor Tim Russ himself. He later remembered the thought process: "Whereas this character is not going to give her a hug and kiss, why don't we just do a mind meld here? And let's just make it silent [....] So, we decided, 'Well, let's put a mind meld here, at the very end, and then she'll be able to see what was going on, what I felt, and what I could and could not express, and why. She'd get that all in one, you know, one snap.'"

- Joseph Ruskin had earlier appeared in TOS episode "The Gamesters of Triskelion" as Galt, and has appeared onscreen in four different Star Trek series, the same as Jonathan Frakes.

- Given Tuvok's birth year of 2264, his flashbacks are likely set in the late 2270s, between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.


"First day in town and I've already been mugged!"

- Tom Paris


"More spiders?"
"Oh, no. Three is my limit."

- Noss and Tom Paris


"I'm a doctor, not a battery."

- The Doctor


"Tuvok, everyone feels a little insane when they fall in love, but it's worth the risk."
"For you, perhaps. But I am Vulcan. My natural emotions are erratic, volatile. If I don't control them, they will control me."

- Tom Paris and Tuvok


"You know something? I always thought that beneath that cold, Vulcan exterior lay a... even colder, Vulcan interior. But now, I'm convinced you're a hopeless romantic."
"There is no need to insult me, Mister Paris."

- Tom Paris and Tuvok


Poster's Log:
I think the first time I saw this one, I tuned out a significant portion of it, because I'd been trained by previous seasons to look for episodes that echoed DS9 or TNG too closely (of course, ENT would later show me the true meaning of "too closely"), and this one reminded me at first of the TNG episode where the alien disguised as a human tries to manipulate Picard into loving her (except wasn't it actually a dude?) while they're stranded on a desolate planet. Of course, this doesn't have much in common with that at all, but I had already started off with it on the wrong foot.

I enjoyed this more on rewatch, in part because I noticed just how much Lori Petty brings the acting. Tim Russ too, of course; they had good chemistry. There've been enough seasons of VOY at this point to allow a story like this, whose main thrust all comes from one domain of one character (Tuvok's love life), to feel earned.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The different-rates-of-flowing-time gimmick will be used again, and to far better effect, in "Blink of an Eye."

My gravity pun up above is a veiled reference to the fact that one of the most disappointing VOY episodes IMO is coming up before too long.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Particle of the Week: I would've said 'gravitons' or 'chronitons,' but neither fictional particle gets name checked in discussions of the anomaly that I caught.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The Class-D planet in Gravity should be pretty familiar to anybody who's played Star Trek Online: boring terrain that's clearly hard to path through and has exactly two types of hostile mob (one of which is spiders) Really, Gravity could be a ground mission in that game - Noss and Tom both even some time collecting mob drops.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 2.
* Crew: 134, although Tuvok pegs the number at 152 in this episode, (presumably Voyager's base compliment of 150 plus Neelix and Seven - I'm counting Naomi because she's a warm body, but Tuvok might classify her as a passenger.)
* 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:
* I never saw this one before.

I've quit Voyager at least once every time I've tried it. I guess Gravity slipped through the cracks, because through the whole thing, I kept going, "I don't remember this at all!"

So this was a weird experience: effectively a 'new' TNG-era episode of Star Trek to watch.

* I love Lori Petty.

I noticed just how much Lori Petty brings the acting.

Right?

Seriously, if I ever somehow become famous and get to make a movie, I want her in it just to see her do her thing live. Usual big praise to Voyager's casting selection. She's always fun, no matter how silly the subject matter.

* The story itself is pretty dull to me.

and this one reminded me at first of the TNG episode where the alien disguised as a human tries to manipulate Picard into loving her (except wasn't it actually a dude?) while they're stranded on a desolate planet.

Was that Liaisons, maybe?

The first place my head went was actually all the way back to TOS, and Spock falling in love in the time of cave-Vulcans.

Admittedly, this episode doesn't really follow that track, but I'm not sure what it has to say that we didn't already know: Tuvok isn't going to fall for a random alien lady, Tuvok won't be too big of a jerk about it because he understands (and is capable of deep friendship) with emotionally unrestricted beings. The only real source of dramatic tension here was 'is Noss going to die,' and I was pretty sure the answer was 'no' because it would've left Tuvok in the position of letting her die sad.

The only real surprise was the ending: I liked that Noss apologized too, because she did take a liberty kissing him without permission. Their resolution was healthier than it could've been. The mind-meld was nice too: Tuvok meeting her halfway, and explaining in the best way that he had available.

* I sometimes wonder if I need a 'Times Vulcans are full of crap' counter in my review header.

In the past, I've talked about the reason why: this isn't a Voyager-specific problem the way a lot of their stuff is. We've all talked a lot about how Vulcans are the subject of a lot of fuzziness and inconsistency behind the scenes across the franchise.

Gravity is definitely another episode that paints them in a poor light. This is another instance of Tuvok lying about how he works to someone who could stand to hear the truth: he keeps claiming that he doesn't have emotions when the truth is that he can't permit himself to feel them. The kind thing to do in his situation would've been to point out he's married and that he's still bound by that. Noss understood Tom's situation, she would've probably understood his too.

Brief rehash of my position for lurkers:
- Romulans prove Vulcans can survive without Surakian discipline. Though they've diverged over time, Romulans were the Vulcans who refused to go that route, and they're psychologically fine.

- Vulcan discipline isn't logical, it's repressed. Healthy emotional management doesn't look like this.

We can dig deeper on the whole thing if anybody wants, or pass if we've been over it enough times.

* Tom gives up pretty fast.

One of the big laughs I had was how after Tom was all, 'they're gone, just make out with Noss already!' they cut back to Voyager and the crew there were all, 'well, the shuttle's been gone an hour.'

The time dilation thing mitigates that a bit, of course, but "the differential ratio is point four seven four four seconds per minute," which means that the ratio is 1:126.6 or so. Tom gave up after a little over 5 days, which still comes across as pretty fast to expect Tuvok to drop a marriage that's older than Tom is.

* The hardheaded aliens of the week are especially hardheaded this time.

From a narrative perspective, the lizard guys shut the swirly thing down early to generate tension in a script that was sorely lacking in it, but there was no clear motivation for them to be jerks, so it felt transparent to me.

Overall: Gravity's... okay? It's a competently told tale, but it didn't grab me.
posted by mordax at 9:40 AM on January 4


I'd file this one under the "fine, but familiar" tab, because of the similarity to "All Our Yesterdays." I think that younger Trekkies may not realize how popular that episode was in early fandom; Mariette Hartley had her own Trek fan club, and there were two novels written about Spock and Zarabeth's non-canonical son, with more novels planned but unwritten because of the novelist's death. (The second book resulted in this sublimely hilarious cover.) There's no real potential here for that sort of sexual drama, simply because we know that, as mordax notes, Tuvok just isn't that sort of guy. I think that it might have been more interesting if Tuvok had initiated the mind meld with Noss before they leave the planet, so that she could have understood what it was like for him, and we would have seen if that would have changed her mind, or his.

As it was, the mind-meld scene that we got was very sweet; I like to imagine that the flashback scenes were some of what Tuvok conveyed to Noss. A couple of other things: I've always thought that Romulans kept their shit together because they substitute societal repression for personal discipline. And I guessed that the lizard dudes shut the subspace vortex thingy down early because they'd lost a number of ships to it already; that most of the alien raiders were lizard dudes, probably.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:33 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


I think that younger Trekkies may not realize how popular that episode was in early fandom

Hehe. I read as many Star Trek novels as I could get my hands on as a kid, but I never saw those ones. Now I totally need to find them as white elephant presents for someone, (anyone, doesn't matter who), next Christmas. Goddamn.

A couple of other things: I've always thought that Romulans kept their shit together because they substitute societal repression for personal discipline.

Hm. That's certainly possible, but it still demonstrates that there are alternate avenues of emotional management to take. The Vulcan official stance of 'Surak or bust' is classic binary thinking, which is itself highly illogical.

(IMO, Vulcan repression makes their situation worse in those times that they're not able to exercise it because they develop no alternate strategies for emotional management.)

And I guessed that the lizard dudes shut the subspace vortex thingy down early because they'd lost a number of ships to it already; that most of the alien raiders were lizard dudes, probably.

I suppose my problem with it is: nobody's going to fall into the vortex during Voyager's rescue attempt except maybe Voyager. If any other ships happen upon them in the remaining six hours, they can simply be warned off or - worst case - permitted to just fall into the hole if they're rude.

Attempting to seal it early risks Janeway firing on them, which could result in anything from mission failure to their ship kerploding. Giving her an additional two hours doesn't really cost them anything - if she's successful, they might even be able to get their own people back. (Almost all the raiders were indeed visibly more lizard-dudes.)

The lizard officer didn't bother to frame this as 'yo, this is for your own good' or 'actually this is a penal colony and we can't risk letting the wrong people out' or... dunno, just something to justify his interference in Voyager's rescue effort. Even just 'our bosses will pay us triple if we come in under time.'

It makes him come across as weirdly unreasonable, especially the part where he's not interested in rescuing his own people, which would've been fairly straightforward given a joint operation. (Six hours was almost a week inside the anomaly - plenty of time to retrieve his own people too, and still seal it off within the original timetable.)
posted by mordax at 11:49 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Oh, and this:

I think that it might have been more interesting if Tuvok had initiated the mind meld with Noss before they leave the planet, so that she could have understood what it was like for him, and we would have seen if that would have changed her mind, or his.

Agreed. That really could've made for a more interesting story.
posted by mordax at 11:50 AM on January 4


That is a great book cover, Jack. Spock looks like he's saying "Ooooooo…kay."

Was that Liaisons, maybe?

Yup, definitely. I didn't have a clue how to search for it, given my dim memory of it.

I've always thought that Romulans kept their shit together because they substitute societal repression for personal discipline.

Was gonna say something similar. Romulans as a culture are, I would argue, far from "psychologically fine." We've met individual Romulans who seemed psychologically… not un-fine, anyway, but Romulans as a whole? *thoughtful emoji* This is something I've actually had to delve into; in one of my Trek RPG campaigns, I DMed a major "good" Romulan NPC. I remember trying to edge my way around the Planet of Hats tendency at work with Romulans—that, in other words, following their initial use as a Big Reveal about Vulcans, the franchise has seemed content to use them as the other extreme compared w/Vulcans (where individual emotional volatility maps, arguably too tidily and too Planet-of-Hattily, to societal awfulness) when it's not using them as straight-up heavies—yet their paranoid culture, combined with their roots, suggests (to me anyway) some really cool richness waiting to be explored. Cretak from DS9, and the TNG "Reunification" episodes, were about the closest we ever came canonically to that. (IIRC I ran the NPC in question kind of like Mirror Garak if he'd been counseled and reformed.)

On preview:
IMO, Vulcan repression makes their situation worse in those times that they're not able to exercise it because they develop no alternate strategies for emotional management.

That would indeed be logical. I mean, pharmaceuticals at least. (But they'd be all "that would broadcast our snowflakey internal lives to other species NOOO" about that, probably.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:54 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Yup, definitely. I didn't have a clue how to search for it, given my dim memory of it.

Oh, that was easy, haha.

Was gonna say something similar. Romulans as a culture are, I would argue, far from "psychologically fine." We've met individual Romulans who seemed psychologically… not un-fine, anyway, but Romulans as a whole?

My counterpoint - offered in the spirit of fun - is simple:

Being a under a totalitarian government doesn't imply that individual members of the society need it or want it. Indeed, we've seen plenty of Romulans buck their system - on Voyager, I'd point to Telek R'mor off the top of my head. Indeed, 'Romulan follows their conscience' is basically a Trek cliche at this point. Cretak getting screwed by Section 31 for being a decent person was their actual plan. Romulans had nuanced and sympathetic portrayals long before Klingons got them. I don't recall ever seeing one go ballistic the way unfettered Vulcans do.

There is very little evidence to support that the average Romulan benefits from their society's overall philosophy, or that it's anything but an accident of history that's difficult for anybody to push against given the military edge the government possesses in the timeframe. (See also: Cardassia. Romulus and Cardassia are like peas in a pod.)

By contrast, the stuff they did to Tuvok in this episode on Vulcan is pretty heartbreaking if you think about it: he was kicked out of his own home for a limerance. He is required to conform to mainstream Vulcan culture, or he will literally be homeless in a monster riddled desert. There are some unfortunate shades of parents kicking out gay kids there, and this is completely consistent with everything that we know about Vulcan culture. They're unforgiving and they're petty. Voyager has all these details exactly right with prior canon: young Tuvok's experiences are perfectly consistent with what else we know about that place.

The result is that he can't even admit he loves his children, something Romulans are free to do.
posted by mordax at 1:45 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


(Basically, the average Romulan isn't free in their personal life, while the average Vulcan isn't free in their soul.)
posted by mordax at 1:48 PM on January 4


My assumption is that Romulus went through Kzinti-style rapid evolution via mass murder. That is, every couple generations or so the proto-Romulans would go through a spasm of mass war that killed off 90% of their race. After a few thousand years the only Romulans alive would be the descendants of the ones with diminished or controllable violent emotions.

Of course this is Niven levels of rubber biology, so...perfect fit for Trek, come to think about it.
posted by happyroach at 2:24 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Being a under a totalitarian government doesn't imply that individual members of the society need it or want it. Indeed, we've seen plenty of Romulans buck their system - on Voyager, I'd point to Telek R'mor off the top of my head. Indeed, 'Romulan follows their conscience' is basically a Trek cliche at this point. Cretak getting screwed by Section 31 for being a decent person was their actual plan. Romulans had nuanced and sympathetic portrayals long before Klingons got them. I don't recall ever seeing one go ballistic the way unfettered Vulcans do.

All true, when viewed through retrospect—even the very first Romulan we saw (Mark Lenard) fell into that category!—but my feeling (and maybe this is really what I was getting at (forgive any muddiness, I've had wine)) is that most of the franchise's writers seemed to be operating from a baseline of "Romulans are at least as fucked-up as Vulcans are, if not more so," using their regime as their emblematic planetary Hat, which then gives them a foundation from which to give us those Surprising Heroic Romulans. Thus, I perceive an intentional and foundational link between the regime they happen to exist under right now and what we're supposed to think of them as a culture. (Which is of course crappy and reductive, but hardly unique in the genre. We can probably blame Roddenberry.) But either way, you're right that the franchise treats Vulcans worse in a way. Really makes me wonder where they're going with Michael "Caught Between Two Worlds" Burnham.

There is very little evidence to support that the average Romulan benefits from their society's overall philosophy, or that it's anything but an accident of history that's difficult for anybody to push against given the military edge the government possesses in the timeframe.

Yes, though what's funny is I'm not all that sure how many average, civilian Vulcans we've seen! (And TNG and ENT did both give us Vulcan dissident movements, though each one was written to be, like, evil somehow. Kind of undercuts IDIC, that.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:49 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Took my time getting to this one since you all seemed to have it covered. I remembered it well from the first viewing and the rewatch didn't change my feelings much, which are roughly the same as everyone else's it appears.

Glad to see we're in agreement over Lori Petty, a sadly underused actress. She does most of the heavy lifting here in terms of establishing there being any meaning to the relationship between Noss and Tuvok since the show skimps on developing it much, even by the comparative standards of In the Flesh, where Kate Vernon had the Noss equivalent role. That Petty has to make believable the emotional connection when her interest can't show much emotional attachment just makes the trick all the more difficult. She does well as can be expected and the show relies on the heroic savior trope to set the stage for the rest. There's nothing really new or notable about the concept, but they carry it off reasonably enough for the episode to be enjoyable.

Good to see it was Paris stranded with Tuvok instead of Neelix this time, but why the doctor was involved is a mystery. He wasn't really needed for the episode to work, the translation thing could have been elided, and having him seems a bit odd, not to mention being bad practice for Voyager to be sending their, seeming, only two crew members with medical knowledge on the same shuttle.

The anomaly was only 600 meters wide? Yet everyone keeps running into it? I don't get their concepts of size and scale at all.

I won't say much about the Vulcan's are full of crap thing this time since everyone else has that covered and knows way more about the Romulan side of it than I do. I always felt the Romulans seemed under used after TOS given their relative fame in the franchise, but that could just be me not knowing the extent of their use. With the this episode and Vulcans, my gripe is that I can't even tell whether this is a good use or not anymore since I'm not sure at all how I'm supposed to see them anymore, or what the base for development is given all the niggling inconsistencies in their treatment across the franchise. The flashbacks work well enough for what they are and there's nothing too out of line with them to be completely objectionable, but all just ends up feeling a bit like another go on the Vulcan seesaw, no emotions down, emotional restraint up, less human down, more human up. Russ does a fine job with it all of course, and his handling of the character keeps things in line enough to skip over the deeper questions.

Once again in recent episodes, the show added an unnecessary secondary alien encounter to the mix that added nothing and left more questions than answers. They weren't needed to move the plot along on the surface or around Voyager even as story elements. The gravity well collapsing could have provided the time constraints and the fights could have been other non-combat perils or something other. It took time away from either developing the relationships on the planet better or giving more time to Voyager working out the nature of the problem. It felt a bit like a cheat, but it wasn't significant enough to get worked up about beyond slight disappointment for opportunities missed and lack of effort.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:48 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


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