Star Trek: Voyager: Think Tank   Rewatch 
January 25, 2018 3:28 AM - Season 5, Episode 20 - Subscribe

Yes, I did hire bounty hunters to kidnap Seven of Nine. Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I'm sorry, I'm gonna have to plead ignorance on this thing, because if I had known that sort of thing was frowned upon…

The question is… is Memory Alpha still master of our domain?:

- Although this episode's story is credited to Executive Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, Supervising Producer Joe Menosky referred to it as having proceeded from a concept devised by only Braga. "That was an idea Brannon came up with," Menosky stated. He added, "[Michael] Taylor did a really wonderful first draft." Taylor himself said of the episode, "This is an intellectual puzzle, a game, which I hope we carry off well."

- Kurros actor Jason Alexander was previously a main cast member of Seinfeld, a series that Alexander comically referenced upon struggling with some of his dialogue. Michael Taylor offered, "At one point, he had trouble with some of the technical dialogue, and he started screaming, 'Jerry!'"

- An admittedly avid Star Trek fan since childhood, Alexander is such an expert on Star Trek: The Original Series that he passed a Star Trek knowledge test on the Howard Stern program. Alexander portrayed a parody of Captain James T. Kirk in a television special entitled Ultimate Trek: Star Trek's Greatest Moments. He went on to act with the man who originated the role of Kirk, William Shatner, in an episode of Bob Patterson (on which Alexander starred in the title role). He also hosted The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner.

- Alexander always wanted to perform on a Star Trek series but was always offered parts as a Human when what he really wanted was to play an alien. It was only when the Voyager role arose that he decided to accept. Of his playing Kurros, he stated in a 2011 interview, "They gave me everything – an alien guise, great intellect and evil. The trifecta. What more could you ask for?" With regard to his makeup, Alexander comments, "My older son was about 10 when I did the show and when I finished getting the makeup on, I called my wife and said to "Bring Gabe over." I thought he'd be either frightened or intrigued. He came up, took one look and nonchalantly said, "Dad, you look like snot."

- Coincidentally, one Seinfeld episode featured Alexander's character George Costanza contemplating naming his future child Seven (after Mickey Mantle's jersey number).

- Christopher Darga and Christopher Shea both appeared on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They played Kaybok (in "The Way of the Warrior") and Keevan (in "Rocks and Shoals" and "The Magnificent Ferengi"), respectively.

- Kurros claims that the Think Tank eliminated the phage, a few months prior to this episode.

- Joe Menosky was delighted with this episode, describing it as "very quirky, very great, really interesting characters." He also imagined it would appeal to children of about nine years old and fit "the perfection of a really good, stand-alone episode." "'Think Tank' is very much in that realm," Menosky declared, "this idea of a quirky group of extremely talented aliens who hire themselves out to people for strange payments in order to solve their problems. If I was nine or ten years old I would think, that's really cool, and I wish I was on that ship."

"There is nothing like a good problem to spark the synapses, is there?"

- Kurros

"Should I have The Doctor prepare a hypospray?"
"Excuse me?"
"So you can absorb the caffeine more directly. Save time."

- Neelix and Janeway, regarding her coffee

"Cheating is often more efficient."

- Seven of Nine

"Acquiring knowledge is a worthy objective, but its pursuit has obviously not elevated you."

- Seven of Nine, to Kurros

Poster's Log:
I've done two full Seinfeld rewatches since the last time I saw "Think Tank," so on this rewatch, one thing I focused on was if I could detect any hints of George-ness about Kurros. It is a testament to Jason Alexander's acting (and in part to the writing) that I did not, even when Kurros's scheme is beginning to unravel and ruin him, which is a George situation if ever there was one.

Despite some corny moments from Janeway, I like this episode a lot. In particular, the teaser just somehow feels right—when you think about it, this show (given its premise) should have had lots more teasers like this, throwing us into an exotic alien situation and not even hinting at how our heroes will get involved. It feels somehow '70s to me, in a good way. I also felt like the story concept was interestingly unique, and the Janeway-Seven stuff here was handled better than average. And of course, George was always my favorite Seinfeld character—I may have been one of only a dozen or so people who actually went to the theater to see his obscure 1995 vehicle For Better or Worse, and I was definitely one of only two people in that particular theater on that particular day.

I find it strange that Menosky said if he was a kid, he'd want to be on the Think Tank's ship—because the Think Tank are basically a little mafia running a protection racket. (If I have a gripe, it's that; the dialogue seems so focused on the Think aspect, as if they're itinerant scholars, when the story makes them just seem like well-informed con artists.) Then again, as far back as Henry Hill could remember, he always wanted to be a gangster, so.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
One final word from Kurros
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (4 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Confession: I've never been into Seinfeld, which is not to say that I disliked it; the few episodes that I did catch were pretty good. I feel about it much the way I feel about the Austin Powers movies; they seem like the sort of thing that I should like, but I didn't make a point of seeing them, and they got so thoroughly memeified that I feel like I have seen them. I've never seen the "master of my domain" episode, for example, but I immediately got the reference.

Anyway, I liked this ep a lot as well. I had a slightly different take on it than Cheeses; I don't think that it's a protection racket so much as that it's a consultancy that may have once actually been about exploring the universe of knowledge in the way that Kurros so breathlessly describes, but is now just as much if not more about protecting and projecting its brand around the Delta Quadrant. Being really smart didn't protect them from being really arrogant, and thus walking right into a trap that could have been avoided simply by being a little bit nicer to Seven a little bit longer. We already know from "Bliss" that she's got serious doubts about going back to the Alpha Quadrant, and even though her social circle would be severely limited, she'd be doing some really interesting stuff; who knows, if they'd gotten the quantum slipstream plans, Seven might have caught up with them in a few months and said, hey, folks, guess what? (They must already have some sort of transwarp drive if they cured the Vidiians; by the way, I loved the casual way that they dropped that into conversation. Although I shudder to think of what they got from the Vidiians in return...) But they had to be all yeah-we'll-get-what-we-want-anyway about it, all "fuck your conventional morality" like the people that /r/iamverysmart makes fun of, and boom. The thing about smart people is that they aren't inevitably smart; take, for example, William Shockley and Kary Mullis. I'd also propose that the figure behind the big plot in Watchmen falls into this category; the criticism of the book that says that the plot wouldn't work misses the point that that is the point that Alan Moore is making.

Other things: Totally missed that it's Christopher Shea, aka Keevan, as the alien in the teaser. (That was a nifty design; too bad it's a one-off.) Also neat that one of the Think Tank was an alien whose language was beyond the universal translator, not even able to put out a "Shaka, when the walls fell."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:55 AM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Particle of the Week: Skipped.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Several things come to mind:
- Metreon gas works exactly this way: it reduces you to thrusters and explodes on contact with phasers.
- Hazari ships are available from horrible lockboxes, and work about as advertised too, with the whole 'fly in pairs' gimmick.
- I'd forgotten that these doofuses cured the Phage, offering a very good in-universe reason for the Vidiians to be out of the picture by the era of Star Trek Online.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -1. I'm counting the offscreen volley as 2 shots, even though 3+ seem likelier. If I missed anything else, do correct me in the notes. (I watched this while distracted.) I am surprised that it took this long to run out, even slanting notes in Voyager's favor.
* Crew: 134, despite Kurros' generous invitation to let Seven come participate in Space Festivus.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 10.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

* This is okay.

The dialogue is especially cheesy, even for Voyager. I thought that was a bit self-indulgent. However, the bones of the plot work okay, and the whole thing has a decent message.

Mostly, I agree with Jack's take that this is a story about hubris: the Think Tank lost because they underestimated Voyager, and Voyager was able to defeat them through the stock Federation value of teamwork and compromise with the Hazari. It's a little after school special, but the visuals are good, the details hang together fairly well, and the pacing is decent.

Bonus points for the casting, like I usually go on about - I loved Jason Alexander here, and the behind the scenes stuff is hilarious, especially that he was a TOS buff. Also, I totally missed Keevan too.

Other stuff:

They must already have some sort of transwarp drive if they cured the Vidiians

There are all sorts of transwarp solutions available - presumably, quantum slipstream offers some principle they think they can use. (If it's less efficient than their standard transit, it may be valuable to sell to others so that they can provide transwarp without giving potentially unhappy customers the means to catch them in a proper chase.)

I find it strange that Menosky said if he was a kid, he'd want to be on the Think Tank's ship—because the Think Tank are basically a little mafia running a protection racket.

They remind me of a stock tabletop RP adventuring party, personally - quirky, selfish, overpowered, due for a comeuppance, not quite as clever as they think...

That said, I probably would've signed on with them too as a kid. I mean, that's sort of the point: they're a child's conception of what it looks to be powerful, down to Kurros' posturing. (I about died when he offered Seven the soup they got for that one job.)

Anyway... yeah. I could go off about depictions of super intelligence on TV, but I think Voyager mostly got the feel right.
posted by mordax at 2:23 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

An enjoyable enough filler or one off episode, nothing fancy, but nothing wrong with that either. The think tank is a cute idea and, yeah, I imagine I might have taken to the idea as a youngster had I been one able to sit through Voyager up to this point to see the idea anyway. I'm not sure Voyager would generally have been all that interesting to me as that same imagined youngster up to this point.

Starting the episode with the think tank being ruthless in demand for payment is a little bit interesting in that it primes the viewer to see them as a specific threat in a way that could have been mitigated by waiting to introduce them until after the first Hazari attack. That option would have still left the viewer likely to not to trust them completely given the nature of the show and the circumstance, but it would have left more possibilities open. Instead they chose to emphasize where the hazard was going to be from the beginning, minimizing what suspense there might have been for putting more weight on why Voyager and Seven's inevitable decision was going to be made and on how they were going to figure out the think tank's plans and thwart them. It was probably the right choice, just not the only one they could have made.

Never was a Seinfeld fan, to put it mildly, but I do like Alexander (and Dreyfuss too for that matter) so seeing him here was a nice little touch and he and Mulgrew proved a good match in their low intensity conflict. I appreciated them taking that tone with the episode to give it a different flavor than the more usual high stakes high emotion route their conflicts often have. It provided something of a breather for the series and made for a nice change after the heightened expressionistic style of the last episode. It's nice to see them change things up like they have been doing this season. They've heavily emphasized crew psychology with a number of intense or would be intense episodes, but kept things from bogging down by varying the tone and approach of the different episodes to generally good series effect, even when some of those individual episodes misfired badly. I'll give them credit for not succumbing to routine or becoming static in their storytelling after five seasons.

I was disappointed that Seven didn't try the soup. How do you pass up a rare chance like that? But I might be even more disappointed that Voyager's final send off of the think tank didn't send Kurros into a rage yelling "There'll be no soup for you!" as his isomorphic projection faded away at the end. (not really.)
posted by gusottertrout at 9:44 PM on January 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love that Jason Alexander referred to his alien disguise, intellect, and evil nature as "the trifecta" -- for George, the trifecta was food, sex, and TV.

"At one point, he had trouble with some of the technical dialogue, and he started screaming, 'Jerry!'"

I wish there were some outtakes of that. It'd be great if someone edited them into the actual scenes, like what was done with the TNG outtakes.

I think the choice to make the conflict between Janeway and Kurros "low intensity" (as gusottertrout mentions) was smart -- an angry Kurros would have been way too George-like. It would have been cool if Janeway had said that they were going to do the opposite of what their instincts told them in order to beat Kurros (another Costanza reference).

Cheeses: Love the above-the-fold description!

One minor thing that bothers me about all Trek: Why do they have so many little electronic notepads? In the montage brainstorming sequence, everyone has their own little Federation brand Kindle or whatever; in other episodes, we see people treating each one as its own separate book -- Seven gives Naomi Wildman a whole carton of pads to study. Can't they just use one and download a ton of info into it? Seems pretty damn wasteful.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2021

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