Star Trek: Voyager: Alice   Rewatch 
March 5, 2018 7:37 AM - Season 6, Episode 5 - Subscribe

We all float down here, Harry!--uh, wait [shuffles index cards] all work and no play makes Kathryn a dull girl--no, that's not right [shuffles them some more] the man in black fled across the quadrant, and the starship followed--damnit [starts looking through them one by one] ah, here we go... [looks up] do we have a "Larry Gene Blanton" here?

Memory Alpha figures that there's no finer smell than a new shuttle, except maybe for leola root stew:

- According to Brannon Braga, this episode shows parallels to Stephen King's 1983 horror novel Christine, as both feature a character becoming obsessed with the restoration of a vehicle that eventually develops a hold on him as it repairs itself.

- Among John Fleck's other Star Trek appearances is as Koval in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges". He later played Silik in seven episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. This is his only Voyager appearance.

- During the teaser, Harry Kim and Tom Paris are attempting to guess Tuvok's age. Their guesses (162 and 133) were both incorrect. Tuvok's age at the time was 111 or 112.

"Its a junkyard. Congratulations, Tuvok, you just saved us from a flotilla of hostile trash."

- Tom Paris, to Tuvok

"The Ferengi call it the five stages of acquisition: infatuation, justification, appropriation, obsession, and resale. Seems like you've only got one stage left before he loses interest in that ship... then he's all yours again!"
"Until the next infatuation!"

- Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres, discussing Tom Paris

"From now on, I promise no more affairs with strange ships."
"What about the Delta Flyer?"
"We're just friends."

- Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres

Poster's Log:

If I wasn't anvilicious enough in the header, let's be clear: yes, this is Christine IN SPAAAAACE. "Parallels" my hew-mon ass, Braga--there are several direct steals from the novel and movie; just off the top of my head, Tom/Arnie falling in love with the shuttle/car literally at first sight, B'Elanna/Leigh nearly dying inside the vehicle, the vehicle's lights turning on by themselves when no one's around, Tom/Arnie changing his appearance, even the former owner who had his own connection with the vehicle. The story wasn't a complete find-and-replace; [SPOILERS for a thirty-five-year-old book ahead] Tom doesn't die at the end (of course), Alice is seen by Tom as a person who speaks (not as effective as Christine's mute fury, IMO, although it was a nice bit when she manifested for Abaddon in the conference room as a member of his species), Alice doesn't roam around murdering Tom's enemies (he doesn't have any, and it would have been difficult to do in this setting), and Abaddon (interesting name choice!) is nicer, or at least way less repulsive, than Roland LeBay. (I'm not familiar with John Fleck's non-Trek work, but I've found his work in the franchise to be effective and distinctive.)

Mostly, though, I think that the story doesn't work as well here as it does in either the book or the movie. For all B'Elanna's complaining of Tom getting lost in his latest obsession, there's the implication that he doesn't stick with one for that long, which corresponds with his history on the show: he doesn't hang around Sandrine's any more, we only saw his garage once, and this is probably the last time that he even planned to visit the Captain Proton holoadventure. The Delta Flyer gets mentioned as a joke (as quoted above), but it's probably the most lasting of all of Tom's projects, as it's something that he designed and built himself, to his exacting specifications. He's also got a lot of other things on his plate. Christine's Arnie Cunningham, on the other hand, is a loser who has nothing much else going for him, and the book and movie play off the idea that Arnie falls so hard for the car not just because it's haunted or cursed or whatever but because he's got so little else in his life; it's a metaphor for anyone who truly gives themselves over to an obsession. Reginald Barclay would have made a much more plausible plaything for Alice, but he's not a semi-regular here (yet).

A few other notes: nice acknowledgement of Neelix's junk dealing past, although I raised my eyebrow at the alleged value of the beryllium crystal. As Memory Alpha notes, beryl is indeed a very valuable gem, but it's also composed of standard periodic-table elements, shouldn't they be able to simply replicate literal tons of the stuff? Maybe that's how they got a full complement of shuttles. And I thought that they missed a bit when Tom is waxing rhapsodic to Seven about the fusion of man and machine; she just sort of looks at him, and I was thinking that she could have said, look who you're talking to here.

Poster's Log, supplemental: So, I'm a pretty big Stephen King fan, and while the book still has its good points, I think that it also suffers from what I called King's Later Drugs period--the point during much of the eighties, before he got clean and sober, that he started making questionable choices in some of his work. Christine starts out in the first person (Arnie's friend), switches to the third person for about the middle third of the book, then back to the first person again for the end. There's also a lot of meandering observations about toxic parents. The version that I much prefer is John Carpenter's adaptation, which pares the story down to its essence (nerd meets car, nerd falls in love with car, car runs down nerd's bully enemies by itself), and, as hinted in the header for this post, features a performance by the inimitable Harry Dean Stanton.

King hasn't done much in SF, although aspects of the Dark Tower saga are pretty science-fictiony; he did do a short story once called "The Jaunt" that featured a teleportation system for which you have to be unconscious in order to survive the trip, and eventually you find out what happens if you go through it wide awake. Kind of puts the "do transporters kill their transportees" questions to shame.
posted by Halloween Jack (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Particle of the Week: Whatever particles were in the fountain.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: It's possible to pick up custom, non-Federation small craft in Star Trek Online in the fashion they got Alice, although Alice herself is unavailable. Personally, I stick with the Delta Flyer though - it has, bar none, the best small craft stats in the game.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -6.
* Crew: 137.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 12.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 2 games of chicken, 1 ramming speed.
* Special Shuttle Refresher: as Jack noted above, I leapt on the 'we have a full compliment of shuttles' line, especially from Chakotay (who crashed like half of their shuttles personally).

* Yeah, this is mostly just Christine in space.

So, I'm a pretty big Stephen King fan

Me too, although I stopped following him as editors started shying away from trimming his stuff down - the last new story I picked up from him was probably Insomnia, which was a lot of fun but felt twice as long as it had to be. (I wish he'd put out more short stories - The Jaunt was indeed pretty great.)

This is totally a ripoff, and a very silly one at that.

Mostly, though, I think that the story doesn't work as well here as it does in either the book or the movie.

Same. I once read a neat essay about the proper construction of horror in a tabletop RPG book that has stuck with me for literally decades: the authors posited that the two key elements that make a story scary are isolation and uncertainty, the idea being that lack of knowledge and support is what makes scenarios properly horrifying (instead of making people angry or sad or some other emotion). I think they were really onto something.

With that in mind, personal horror stories don't work very well on Starfleet vessels without additional prep, especially not ones like Voyager. Alice's tech is explicitly superior to Voyager's in numerous ways (metaphasic shielding, direct neural interface), but it's still within bounds of what they can analyze - Alice herself notes that a simple medical scan would've revealed her interference. Tom not receiving that care when working with an alien brain interface is basically down to the writers making everybody act like idiots. He's also surrounded by a crew of over a hundred people who know him and can help him.

Making a scary story in that environment needs to either threaten the entire crew or separate the protagonists from the ship in some fashion. Alice just has him going about his business, and it's not very credible on a number of levels.

* I did like some minor touches.

"The Ferengi call it the five stages of acquisition: infatuation, justification, appropriation, obsession, and resale. Seems like you've only got one stage left before he loses interest in that ship... then he's all yours again!"

I need to start using that bit. Despite the truly icky undercurrent, some Ferengi stuff is hilarious. I once owned a physical copy of The Rules of Acquisition over that.

Anyway... yeah. This felt pretty weaksauce to me. People letting Tom interface brain-to-computer without routine checkups was dumb, I have no idea why Alice wanted to dive into the particle fountain, I agree that Tom's not a sad enough sack for this kind of obsession to not raise red flags with his close contacts, etc.

Literally the nicest thing I have to say about it is that it's not as bad as TNG's foray into this kind of horror episode, Sub Rosa, which was basically Anne Rice in SPAAAACE. Alice comes out good by comparison, as I maintain Sub Rosa is the worst episode of live action Trek ever made. (It, no kidding, contains the line "I did fall asleep reading a particularly erotic chapter in my grandmother's journal. She wrote very detailed descriptions of her experiences with Ronin.")

When all I've got is 'it's not as bad as the worst episode of Star Trek to ever exist,' well...

posted by mordax at 9:50 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ah, GURPS Horror. Good shit.

This? More the other kind. I've read only a little King (really liked his recent JFK time-travel book), and knew so little about Christine that, well, it's a good thing it wasn't my turn to post. But yes, there's a lot of sloppy, hasty-seeming writing in here, and Tom's interface getup was dorky. I also thought the performance of Alice was…somehow not quite there. She needed to be scary, but she came off petulant and only mildly creepy. The very '90s hairstyle probably doesn't help.

Can I just take a moment to point out how astonishing it is that this show seems to forget, like, almost all the time that Neelix's ship is berthed aboard Voyager, ssssssomewhere?

Borrowed Star Wars Name Tally: 7 (Gree, Botha, B'omar, Quarren, Akrit'tar, Ord Mirit, Abaddon—which I'm counting even though Star Wars also borrowed it, because it appeared in the original script for Return of the Jedi)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:12 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Can I just take a moment to point out how astonishing it is that this show seems to forget, like, almost all the time that Neelix's ship is berthed aboard Voyager, ssssssomewhere?

It's made out of leola roots. He's been slowly dismantling it for years to feed the crew.
posted by zarq at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'd never have really thought about the Christine comparison if it hadn't been mentioned, though once it was it's impossible to ignore. I never really read much of King, other than first chapters of his books since a friend of mine was a big fan, as I didn't care much for how he wrote dialogue/characters. I liked some of his essays and short stories though and saw the movies based on his books, which is all I know of Christine.

Not much else to add about this episode. It, again, seems a bit out of place, making more sense perhaps last season than now as the dynamic might have worked better as Paris was thinking about getting more involved with B'Elanna rather than once he made a deeper commitment, which is what I've taken as having occurred by this point. That he might still have some doubts or concerns that he invests in his tinkering instead of the relationship is fine I guess, so it isn't entirely off for being placed where it is, it just seems like it would have fit better sooner. That is if it needed to be made at all given it isn't really that great as is.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:59 PM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Minor point here, but it caught my attention when they first discover Alice is heading towards a particle fountain... and Janeway notes that Starfleet lost over a dozen ships exploring something similar in the Alpha Quadrant.

Over a dozen???? Even if we imagine they're just some very small science vessels with a handful of crew each, and not the usual starships we see with crews in the hundreds, that just seems careless. One, maybe, although what we see on screen doesn't seem that dangerous if you just keep an appropriate distance. Two, just barely possible, if you have something wildly unpredictable. But WTF were they doing to lose 13+ ships there???

And as, mordax noted, it's unsatisfying that we never get a reason why Alice wants to get to the particle fountain, other than some vague notion of "home." Why would a computer, which seems to be built for (and presumably by) humanoids, consider that home?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:33 PM on June 5, 2019

Having no knowledge of Christine, I was thinking that this episode had basically the same plot as the It's Me, I'm the PS5 tiktok video.
It's me, boy, I'm the PS5,
Speaking to you inside your brain,
Listen to me, boy,
Leave the girl, we don't need her!
Come with me and play my games,
We'll have cowboy times in space,
Doo-doo-doo-doo, yeah,
You need me, boy, your free will is an illusio-
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:26 PM on April 29

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