Star Trek: Voyager: Warhead   Rewatch 
February 12, 2018 7:16 AM - Season 5, Episode 25 - Subscribe

"What is my purpose in life?" "To blow up real good." "B-but I wanted to do so much more than that! I want to travel, a-and take some online classes, and--" "But what about the earth-shattering kaboom?" "Oh, OK, then."

Memory Alpha wishes that I'd saved the "they have set us up the bomb" joke for this episode:

- Real weapons inspired Executive Producer Brannon Braga to think up this episode's plot. "It's a post-Cold War analogy in some ways," he remarked. "I was watching Frontline on PBS, and they did this story on the Russian arsenal of nuclear warheads, and how they are basically up for grabs. Anything could happen to these damn things. They could be launched accidentally, they could be sold on the black market, and that's what spawned the idea."

- The Doctor (and the warhead personality occupying his body) wears his mobile emitter during the whole episode. Despite this fact, he's affected when the holographic emitters in sickbay are being destabilized.

- "Assemble the staff. We're going to find a way to outsmart a smart bomb."

- Captain Janeway, to Chakotay

"Do well on this mission, Neelix, and maybe the captain will promote you to Senior Beautician."

- Tom Paris

"I have no intention of proceeding to my target. I will stop them."
"How?"
"I am a weapon of mass destruction."

- The Doctor/Warhead and Harry Kim

Poster's Log:

So... we get an episode that's basically the same premise as "Dreadnought", which itself was somewhat similar to another episode not long before it, and this one came not long after "Juggernaut"--looks like one of their go-to tropes is "Speed IN SPAAAAACE." But it's different enough to make it worth watching, as Warhead has more of a personality than the Cardassian bomb and yet still has a dreadful drive to fulfill its purpose for existence. Having Picardo be the mouthpiece for the bomb was a smart choice; he dials his usual scenery-chewing back quite a bit, and the effect is to make the device a credible threat. Despite the Doctor/Warhead getting a lot of the dialogue, though, it's still really a Harry episode, with Kim working through both his self-doubts and engaging Warhead in philosophical debate. (B'Elanna has surprisingly little to do, given that she's trapped in sickbay along with Harry, but she's already had her ticking time-bomb episode.) There are also some nice bits with the failed endeavors of both the scheming arms dealer and Seven's trick.

Poster's Log, supplemental: The concept of a "smart bomb" goes back at least to WWII, although the term itself really only came into public consciousness around the time of the Gulf War. I'm fairly sure that the idea of an intelligent weapon that seeks its own destruction has been around for a while, but the only specific example that I can think of from SF literature is Neal Stephenson's "Jipi and the Paranoid Chip", which was published a few years before this episode. Trek, of course, has plenty of examples of rampant AIs, notably "The Ultimate Computer", and sentient weapons which had outlived their creators ("The Arsenal of Freedom"); you could even draw a comparison with the Jem'Hadar, as they felt driven to fight even as they realized that their self-destruction would accomplish nothing, as in "Rocks and Shoals".
posted by Halloween Jack (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Particle of the Week: Skipped this week.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: I like using paratrinic shielding on lowbie characters due to its absurdly high capacity and guaranteed availability as a mission replay reward.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -1.
* Crew: 134.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 10.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 2 games of chicken, 1 ramming speed. (Janeway does risk the warhead detonating in this episode, counting as a game of chicken and incrementing the count upward.)

Notes:
* Had no idea this one existed.

This is another hole in my prior Voyager viewing, except that until this rewatch, I'd never even heard of this episode.

* History may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme.

So... we get an episode that's basically the same premise as "Dreadnought", which itself was somewhat similar to another episode not long before it, and this one came not long after "Juggernaut"--looks like one of their go-to tropes is "Speed IN SPAAAAACE." But it's different enough to make it worth watching, as Warhead has more of a personality than the Cardassian bomb and yet still has a dreadful drive to fulfill its purpose for existence.

This is basically my take as well: this is a case of Voyager recycling an episode concept pretty hard, but doing a mostly passable job with it. When I was watching, I was most struck by two major differences between this episode and Dreadnought:

1) It's cheaper. This has the feel of a bottle episode, using just a single TOS-style prop instead of building a new set for the weapon. This worked okay, because Picardo gets a chance to do something different.

2) While B'Ellana wants to solve this problem the same way she dealt with her own AI weapon, Harry wants to talk it down. This represents a sufficient change in the plot to warrant a repeat, especially because Harry's solution is rooted in the finest principles of Star Trek: space-diplomacy over space-violence.

So while I am often pretty irritated by such blatant repetition, I don't really mind them trying this out. That said...

* This is too tidy.

The thing that bothered me the most about this episode is probably the ending: there's no reason the other 32 warheads should've been drifting around for three years. There's no reason they should trust Harry's weapon after he attempts to get them to stand down. Also, from a narrative standpoint, killing off Harry's weapon at the end wraps a bow on this: Harry's approach was completely successful, inspiring a heroic sacrifice, and we don't have to take any time to figure out what to do with the weapon afterward.

I was annoyed by all of this, and would've enjoyed a more hopeful message in the last few minutes, like the warhead getting a new body and leaving as a friend.

* In 'mordax overthinks Star Trek this week:'

Lack of AI weaponry is a place where Star Trek's worldbuilding falls down a bit for me.

This is a Roddenberry-ism: part of the underlying philosophy of Star Trek is that people should make decisions, not computers. The Ultimate Computer goes ahead and just says this, and that point comes up repeatedly across the franchise. Time and again, we see self-directed weapons, (per other episodes Jack also pointed out already: Warhead, Prototype, Dreadnought, The Arsenal of Freedom), kick way more ass than living crews, but without the judgment to stand down when the conflict is over.

It makes sense the Federation would eschew that kind of research, and I could see it in at least some other major Alpha Quadrant players - Klingons would definitely have a problem with soulless weapons stealing their thunder. However, I can't see races like the Cardassians or Romulans leaving options like that entirely on the table, and any race using AI that could operate faster and more efficiently than everybody else would tend to dominate warfare.

So this one always bugs me in the Trek-verse, especially in the TNG-era where you can just ask a Starfleet main computer core to spin up a fully sapient AI for something as frivolous as a game of pool.

This is not a deal breaker. I understand why they do it. However, every time a story like this comes up, it tugs at my willing suspension of disbelief in a small way. (Coming back to my long-running thoughts about it in these threads: I don't mind when people take liberties with science. Dragons? Wizards? FTL travel? Laser guns? Sure. I'm down. But when I see a breakthrough and nobody chooses to exploit it in a way I find obvious, I'm given pause.)

Anyway, this isn't really a complaint, more of me noodling aloud. It doesn't detract from this episode in particular - I was only actually bothered by the ending.
posted by mordax at 9:16 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


This episode (and Dreadnought) reminded me a bit of the plot of the book Redemption Ark, by Welsh author Alastair Reynolds, in which a number of devastatingly powerful "Hell Class" sentient weapons are stored on a ship called "Nostalgia for Infinity." Ark was the second book in Reynolds' Revelation Space trilogy. Good reads.

I agree with mordax. The ending to this one seemed too tidy.
posted by zarq at 10:05 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


See also that one TNG where they wake up the Klingons who refuse to believe that the war with the Federation is over.

I share the overall assessment: it's well-worn ground, but they found a sufficiently different twist for it. I'll add that Wang's acting was on point here, perhaps in a less flashy way than in "Timeless" (which IIRC was his most recent big episode), but noticeably nonetheless.

It makes sense the Federation would eschew that kind of research, and I could see it in at least some other major Alpha Quadrant players - Klingons would definitely have a problem with soulless weapons stealing their thunder. However, I can't see races like the Cardassians or Romulans leaving options like that entirely on the table, and any race using AI that could operate faster and more efficiently than everybody else would tend to dominate warfare.

To VOY's credit, this was the basic premise of "Prototype" unless I remember incorrectly. And as for the specific species you mentioned, we could assume a degree of biological chauvinism at work with them—"[our species] should make decisions, not computers." But you're right, it would've made sense for this to appear in Alpha Quadrant history as a major factor. Hell, the Dominion seems utilitarian enough to go this route. Sure seems less resource-intensive than the whole Vorta/Jem'Hadar/ketracel-white rigamarole.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:40 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


To VOY's credit, this was the basic premise of "Prototype" unless I remember incorrectly.

Only through the lens of 'this is a terrible idea why God why did we do this?' because the APUs destroyed their creators. Both sides, even.

We never see this work out, and it seems pretty obvious it could. An AI as advanced as the Doctor could certainly govern an automated defense grid more responsibly than most of the AIs that we've seen, and do it with response times vastly superior to any organic.

Hell, the Dominion seems utilitarian enough to go this route. Sure seems less resource-intensive than the whole Vorta/Jem'Hadar/ketracel-white rigamarole.

Weirdly, I buy some of this out of the Dominion because of the perspective of the Founders: the Founders don't want the solids gone, they want the solids to worship them. Validate them. Provide them a place to exercise their natural abilities.

I sort of think of the Dominion as being the Founders' selfish dystopian playground.
posted by mordax at 1:11 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Wow. I've seen every episode of Voyager at least twice, probably more, and this one doesn't sound at all familiar to me. That feels... odd. It's like a reverse Mandela effect, where everybody else is acting like something happened and I'm drawing a blank.

I'm probably more familiar with the early seasons. Late in the show's original run one of the local affiliate stations was also running reruns every night, so some nights you'd get a new episode and then at 11 there'd be a season 3 episode. I saw the first 4 or 5 seasons a lot but I don't think the later seasons were re-run as much. (Trek used to be so ubiquitous that I have vague memories of nights when there would be TWO new series episodes and then a TNG rerun at 11... and I wasn't complaining! I couldn't watch anything that much now, but back then it was a Trekkie paradise.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:22 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Wow. I've seen every episode of Voyager at least twice, probably more, and this one doesn't sound at all familiar to me. That feels... odd. It's like a reverse Mandela effect, where everybody else is acting like something happened and I'm drawing a blank.

That is exactly how I would describe my feeling upon viewing this yesterday. Seriously, I had no idea this story existed. (Not like 'The Fight' or the like, where I dimly recalled it but just couldn't have told you any details.)
posted by mordax at 6:24 PM on February 12


I didn't remember this episode super-well either, in part because of the aforementioned plot recycling and in part because the wheels were starting to come off my marriage, although it took me a little while to realize how bad things were becoming. (I think that there are still a couple of last-season episodes that I never did get around to watching.) My original memory of this episode was something like "an intelligent warhead takes over the Doctor and he gets a bit shouty", which is correct but not really complete.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:05 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Reading the longer summary now, the bit about the weapon wondering where its arms and legs are does sound a bit familiar. It seems kind of strange that its memory being damaged would lead it to believe it had once been an organic being with arms and legs. I guess, since it had no memory of itself, it assumed it was a creature like its creators.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:31 PM on February 12


The weapon's computer relied on bio-neural circuitry, which means it might have been based on a humanoid brain originally, too. That's a creepy thought. :)

(Also, you might check this out if you want more than summaries. I use it to double check spellings/obscure references/etc.)
posted by mordax at 1:03 PM on February 13


mordax, I just realized that there's an "add recap" button on the side. Maybe worth going back to do so retroactively?
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:30 PM on February 13


... d'oh, that's probably true. I'll see about that when I have some time, probably going backwards? You and Cheeses already do an absolute ton around here.
posted by mordax at 6:21 PM on February 13


And on that note: I think I'm done. I clicked through on all of them to verify the links. Hopefully I didn't mismatch any.
posted by mordax at 9:30 PM on February 13


Ohhhhh, THAT's what that button does. Cool. Bookmarking that link!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:39 AM on February 14


Fell behind this week due to the joy of a root canal and finding I need a wisdom tooth removed. So I haven't rewatched this episode yet, but didn't want to miss out on some comment before the next one comes up.

I remembered this one better than Dreadnought, which I'd almost completely forgotten until the rewatch and what I did remember I mixed up with this one. The story of this episode almost seems better suited to something like a small aside in Hitchhiker's Guide given the ridiculous literalness of the pun involved in a smart bomb actually being, you know, smart, and in people trying to talk it out of its mission. It really just needed the bomb to accept their terms and decide to stay as a regular character unable to move, act, or do anything except gripe philosophically and threaten to explode when things are unpleasant.

I would have enjoyed that; having the warhead stuck in the corner of the mess hall, say, where the other characters occasionally interact with it while they're eating and there would be a lot of scenes with Neelix and the warhead arguing while Neelix cooks or dusts off the warhead's casing. Or maybe store it on the bridge where Janeway could lecture it about adjusting to life among humans in the Federation, and ask it for advice in encounters with dangerous adversaries. Maybe Seven could find some deeper sympathy with warhead and try to develop her relationship skills with him. It'd be better than how they tried to force her interest in Chakotay later...
posted by gusottertrout at 2:03 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


The story of this episode almost seems better suited to something like a small aside in Hitchhiker's Guide given the ridiculous literalness of the pun involved in a smart bomb actually being, you know, smart, and in people trying to talk it out of its mission.

Dark Star did pretty great, darkly comedic things with the premise.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:03 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, I'd almost forgotten about Dark Star! I haven't seen it since the eighties. Very good catch!
posted by gusottertrout at 5:39 AM on February 15


I want the episode where Warhead gets read a Flotter and Treevis bedtime story by Naomi Wildman and tucked into bed.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:27 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I liked the opening to the episode a good deal, with it being something of a "normal day to day life" on Voyager take, with Paris, Neelix, and Harry all getting a little development time in the build up to the story proper. It's something they seemed to be doing more often a while ago but had slacked off from a somewhat recently at least when Seven and or Janeway wasn't involved.

The way the show segued into the dilemma was also pretty well done, with the doctor's quick empathy with Warhead being an interesting angle to take and the realization of it, or rather him I guess, being a bomb handled in fine fashion and the distress Warhead also being rather effecting before his consciousness took over the doctor and Picardo's shift in personality was quite well handled. Wang was an interesting adversary for him being such a different kind of actor than Picardo. The tactical discussions involving the whole crew was another nice touch, making them all seem at least somewhat necessary and useful this time around, even if they did go back to the nanoprobes pool once again for a possible solution.

The Warhead's change of metallic heart was rather abrupt, but otherwise sketched out fairly well also a little simplistically by removing the impetus for its initial mission as a major part of the cause of that change, which makes it less about any philosophical dispute and more a simple recognition of fact, but the argument itself, in its shortened form, wasn't bad as it did seem to come from Harry and Dr. Warhead naturally enough.

As a Harry episode it wasn't bad, and I'm somewhat surprised to find I did enjoy this one about as much as I did B'Elanna's missile mix up back in Dreadnought even as they were much the same. The comparison doesn't really hurt either show, other than in the measure of the unlikelihood of either encounter much less two of them being so alike, since the repetition of some major themes is both oddly comforting and allows for more attention to the variations in a pleasing enough way.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:10 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


The comparison doesn't really hurt either show, other than in the measure of the unlikelihood of either encounter much less two of them being so alike

I can just see B'Ellana's memoirs:

'For anyone else, it was a chance encounter with a rare AI WMD that could make a person question the nature of sapience, the lengths we should go to in order to protect constructed life. But for me? It was Tuesday.'
posted by mordax at 9:15 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


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