Star Trek: Voyager: Deadlock   Rewatch 
May 8, 2017 8:01 AM - Season 2, Episode 21 - Subscribe

Have you ever just had a really, really crappy day, and wished that you could step into the version of the day where everything went OK? Would it make a difference if there was a chance that you might get your organs stolen?

Memory Alpha is sick of pushing:

- Brannon Braga's initial idea for this episode involved toying with narrative structure. The writer and supervising producer explained, "I just thought it would be really bizarre if you told a story for an act or two and suddenly you found yourself in the middle of a different story on a different Voyager, but they're occupying the same point of time and space." Executive producer Jeri Taylor said of the outing, "It was one of those intricate little puzzles that Brannon loves to do."

- Previous episodes featuring duplicates – particularly, unsuccessful development of one such story for Star Trek: The Next Generation – influenced the writing team's approach to this installment. Jeri Taylor clarified that, as a result of the difficulties pertaining to the aforementioned TNG plot, Voyager's writing staff approached the idea for this episode "with some trepidation."

- The references to Kent State University in this episode constitute an in-joke, as Brannon Braga studied Theater Arts and Filmmaking there.

- This episode shares some common bonds with the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Visionary". Both show the destruction of the space station/starship and both Miles O'Brien and Harry Kim die and are replaced by alternative versions of themselves, with the characters then voicing reservations about their place in this timeline.

- This episode marks the second of three times that Harry Kim "dies" during Voyager's seven-year trip. This episode also includes one of 17 times that Janeway "dies" during the series. Additionally, this episode is the second time that Janeway initiates Voyager's self-destruct, and is the only time in a television episode where it is not cancelled, with this episode being the first of many wherein Voyager is destroyed.

- (This is also the first appearance of Naomi Wildman, although I don't believe that she is named during the episode.)

"This is ridiculous. It's been seven hours. How long does take to deliver a baby?"
"As long as it takes Mr. Paris."
"Indeed. During the birth of our third child my wife was in labor for 96 hours."
"Four days?"
"I have learned that pregnancy and patience go hand-in-hand."

- Paris, Janeway, Tuvok, and Kim

"Push, ensign."
"You push! Dammit! I'm sick of pushing!"

- The Doctor and Samantha Wildman, while Wildman was in labor

"This isn't really my ship and you're not really my captain and yet you are and there's no difference. But I know there's a difference. Or is there? It's all a little weird."
"Mr. Kim, we're Starfleet officers. Weird is part of the job."

- Kim and Janeway

Poster's Log:

I thought that this was a pretty good episode, given that the basic premise makes no freaking sense. Two ships occupying the same space at the same time? Huh? The weird thing is that Janeway at first comes up with the better explanation (parallel universes)*, and there's no real reason why that couldn't have been used in the plot; the disappearing antimatter could have been explained in a different fashion, or not at all--the ship loses power every time someone looks at the EPS conduits funny. Of course, this being Voyager, the fact that Harry Kim and Naomi Wildman are from Other-Voyager, or that Other-Voyager ever existed, is never, ever mentioned again.

That aside, there are a whole bunch of tremendously effective aspects to the episode. The way things go to hell so quickly, with casualties overwhelming sickbay as they're trying to save Naomi. The growing desperation of the Doctor, including the moment when he realizes that the power disruption might actually make him disappear at literally the worst possible moment. Kes having flashbacks to Naomi's death as she's listening to the people in the other ship coo over Other-Naomi. The steely confrontation/discussion between the two Janeways. The whole head fake where it seems like the undamaged Voyager is the one that will survive, only to have the Vidiians pop in. The business-like attitude of the Vidiians themselves as they swarm through the ship, harvesting organs. (In particular, seeing them harvest from Samantha Wildman--the only time AFAIK when the camera doesn't cut away from the process in progress--is the nightmare fuel that I've mentioned previously. If Danara Pel in "Lifesigns" is just about the best face that could be put on the Vidiians--pardon the expression--then this is the reality of the business-as-usual status quo.) Other-Harry's big damn hero moment. It all works, shaky premise aside. I wasn't really crazy about Janeway's treating the whole thing casually in the epilogue; I think that there might have been more grave contemplation of what they'd just been through. Ditto for Samantha Wildman's acceptance of Other-Naomi; the Doctor probably has Naomi's deceased doppelganger in whatever the ship uses for a morgue. (Apparently, there's a story-line in Star Trek Online that deals with Harry Kim's corpse floating through space.)

*The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics goes well beyond the Mirror Universe version seen in various incarnations of Trek.

Poster's Log, supplemental: I don't think that I literally had any nightmares regarding the scene above, although I have had Trek-related nightmares about "The Man Trap" and "Miri" from TOS. Also, it's interesting that they decided to go with the armband being the thing that let Janeway go from one ship to the other, as a similar device helped O'Brien travel forward and back in time in "Visionary."
posted by Halloween Jack (33 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
This episode shares some common bonds with the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Visionary". Both show the destruction of the space station/starship and both Miles O'Brien and Harry Kim die and are replaced by alternative versions of themselves, with the characters then voicing reservations about their place in this timeline.

Whoa! Just wait a minute there pal! Let's get this straight, Harry Kim does not get replaced by an alternate, the rest of the Voyager crew does! It's the original Harry and Naomi that move to the newly created alternate Voyager, not the other way around! I think there might be a throw down on this episode if people are gonna be talkin' alternate Harrys.

(This one is a favorite of mine, and a welcome relief after the last episode. I'll make a fuller post, as usual, after a rewatch.)
posted by gusottertrout at 8:11 AM on May 8, 2017


Two ships occupying the same space at the same time? Huh?

And yet the film Timecop makes it Rule Number One that this is impossible.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:41 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


I wasn't really crazy about Janeway's treating the whole thing casually in the epilogue; I think that there might have been more grave contemplation of what they'd just been through.

I'm torn here, because I friggin' love the line "we're Starfleet officers. Weird is part of the job." I think I would accept the casualness wholeheartedly if they had actually gone the many-worlds route—like, just a short dialogue reference to the same overall phenomenon from TNG: "Parallels". I.e., if there are an infinite number of Voyagers, then the disastrous fate of one random Voyager should not be terribly disturbing, should even be expected. That they were not clearer about this does, I suppose, end the episode on a slightly too-flippant ending, but nowhere near as badly as the closing scene of "Threshold."

I think there might be a throw down on this episode if people are gonna be talkin' alternate Harrys.

Hey, c'mon, give peace a chance. Infinite Harrys in infinite combinations.
…Wait, no, don't combine them. I don't wanna see a Cronenberg of Harrys. Infinite diversity in infinite Harrys. There, that's better.

Anyway, yeah, I like this one too in spite of its shaky elements. Rewatching this episode made me conclude that one of the things Voyager does really, really well—consistently IIRC, and maybe even better than any other Trek series did—is When the Shit Hits the Fan episodes. Chalk it up to editing, directing, and camerawork, I suppose, but episodes like this can still elicit the occasional "whoah!" and "yikes!" even on a third rewatch. And it's not just because there's no starbase nearby to put into; this is effective style and technique, not just worldbuilding that you have to be a devoted viewer to track. I.e., the show can pull off, in a word, urgency.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:39 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Generic antimatter. (Pretty sure the core uses anti-deuterium?)
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: In the timeline of Star Trek Online, Harry Kim's corpse from Deadlock is later found and revived by an alien race three decades later - a version no one was looking for because Harry was rescued here. (Like Thomas Riker, but with some added wrinkles I'll discuss in the episode where his rescuers are introduced.) Despite Harry Kim's usual aplomb with bizarre situations, he takes this very poorly. I'm having a little trouble finding a clip of it, but the entire sequence where Harry is lost to explosive decompression is recreated in STO game engine machinima for a cut scene.

Bonus STO note: the little roll Kim does in this scene is referred to as a 'Kirk roll,' and is a double-tap action to dodge in game. I love those.

Ongoing Equipment Tally:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 27
* Shuttles: Down 3
* Crew: 147, at a net gain of one Naomi Wildman.
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: Holding at 7.

Notes:
* Man, Neelix in the opening.

Just when the Neelix Show makes a person feel like he can't sink lower, forcing the entire crew to watch his insipid gossip, he is seen talking a very pregnant woman into fixing his freaking kitchen. (Her response goes back to my 'wow they're nonconfrontational' theory.)

* Episode's fun, but doesn't make much sense.

For me, this episode is a classic case of 'if things are moving fast, I'm going to let dumb stuff slide.' The story is gibberish, the technobabble is terrible, the Kent State jokes really stood out instead of being a subtle in-gag, I don't understand why a race with transporters has docking clamps, no they can't be in the same place at once without the explosions ripping both ships apart at the end, pretty sure antimatter does not work that way, *breathes* -

But you know what? The general juxtaposition between the ships, their attempts to solve the problem together, Janeway vs. Janeway and the calculating horror of the Vidiians are enough to make me go, 'eh, let them have this one.' It's a decent adventure story. There feel like there are real stakes even though they cheat them away at the end - I feel like Jennifer Lien's performance sells the horror of the first baby's death pretty well, even if they're glib about it at the end. I like that the Doctor gets to be a hero. Harry Kim rises to the occasion, like he did the last time he died - Garrett Wang sells the 'everyman in a bad spot' thing pretty well when he has to, IMO.

I think my favorite bit was actually how well the two Janeways worked together, read each other and so on.

* This wasn't a many-worlds episode, but it might as well have been.

The weird thing is that Janeway at first comes up with the better explanation (parallel universes)*, and there's no real reason why that couldn't have been used in the plot

I think psychologically they were reacting to it the way they would parallel Voyagers, even though that wasn't really what happened. The physical reality of the situation was almost identical, and it's a reference point they're all familiar with. So this was a rare case of me being willing to give them the glib ending based on prior stuff, like Cheeses mentioned.

On a better show, I might have expected someone to make a goatee joke or two at Harry's expense in a future season though.

So... yeah. Probably lots more to dig at here, but my general impression is that this episode is reasonably successful, and it's even successful in the specific way Brannon Braga desired, with the puzzle of slipping from one story to the other without immediate explanation. So I'll chalk this one up as a win for them unless someone steps into the thread with some fire later. ;)
posted by mordax at 2:04 PM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Man, sometimes this show can be crazy inconsistent. Just one episode after Investigations, where, by my reckoning, we got to see the worst from the crew, we get this episode which uniformly shows them all at their best. Well, maybe other than Orko, oops, I mean Neelix anyway. (I think that's going to be a permanent connection in my mind now that it was mentioned. So true!)

When Braga is inspired he writes hella tight scripts. He not only found space to give the crew their moments with some really top notch plot beats for emphasis, but also fit it all to the right scale of budget, time, and abilities of the production. It'd be hard to believe it's the same guy who wrote the screenplay for The 37's if he hadn't also written some of the other best scripts for Voyager and TNG too. (Not sure that fully excuses The 37's, but Deadlock at least goes a ways towards making amends.)

I have nothing to complain about at all for this episode, which I'm sure is a relief after last time. Deadlock is right up there with my favorite Trek episodes for any of the series I've seen. It has such a nice easy build up, showing the crew relaxing, waiting for news of ensign Wildman's delivery, which provides something of a symbolic hook for the rest of the episode, where the question of success of failure of the delivery is too a matter of life or death and one which can be seen as something of an analog for the idea of things existing in a balance between two states until the moment the delivery is successfully accomplished.

With that, and since I see no really good reason to find it any harder to accept two entities occupying the same space and time, yet out of phase with each other compared to parallel universes, different time lines, or whatever other quasi-sciency covering they want to give for the story, I have no difficulties at all with the story conceptually and found instead using Wildman's delivery of the soon to be Naomi a rather inspired link to the events.

The easygoing build up makes the transition to the catastrophic events more shocking, especially given the scale of the destruction and how well the episode plays with the viewer in first delaying clear revelation of the cause of the calamity while still making it plain enough to understand once things are brought into focus, and by providing a number of nice twists in the story to keep viewers guessing right up until the end by adding an additional catastrophe on top of the first one, also telegraphed from the beginning, but still unexpected in how it played out.

The character work is particularly strong with the doctor and Janeway, but also has some good use of B'Elanna and harkens back to the B'Elanna/Janeway connection over science established by Braga in the second episode of the series, this time in a more dramatic vein, but where their method of communicating seems to have continued to develop to an easily shared understanding. It's great too for dramatizing Janeway's knowledge of the ship and the science without making an overstrong point of it. It's played off as simply her command style and expectation, which B'Elanna is completely in sync with.

Alt-Harry gets to show off his own science props and go-getter attitude in volunteering he's been working on a portable force field stabilizer/emitter thingy, while real Harry gets to be an action hero and baby saver.

Kes gets to be useful as both medic and link between the two Voyagers. Tuvok seems in control and even gets a couple nice personal moments that flow naturally with the story. Paris and Chakotay get less to do, but each still has a little time to be both personal and useful in the right measure to add connection to the crew as a working group and as comrades.

Like Janeway, the doctor is shown at his best working under extreme circumstances, while not ignoring his more, um, would be human qualities. He has some moments being overly pleased with himself and some where he is a bit silly and concerned.

To be fair to the show I should probably list all the good things about this episode in detail just as I listed all the bad last time, but to be fair to everyone reading this, and since i don't have the time, I'll merely state that there is as much good this time as bad last time, both as an episode and for the best elements of the series. If episodes like Investigation sometimes dampened my enthusiasm for finishing the series, episodes like Deadlock always managed to rekindle my interest in the show.

I agree completely with Cheeses, Voyager does great with the "when the shit hits the fan" episodes, but I might even expand that to Voyager does weird well. My favorite episodes tend to be those where they really push things the furthest. I, of course, can see the appeal behind the idea that Voyager as a kind of BSG like series would have been a winner, but, for me, the show actually works best as more the TOS at its most outlandish, or, as I've mentioned, The Outer Limits in Space, where things are inexplicable, destruction likely, and nothing works like it's supposed to or makes much sense, but the crew will get through it anyway, because that's what they do.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


With that, and since I see no really good reason to find it any harder to accept two entities occupying the same space and time, yet out of phase with each other compared to parallel universes, different time lines, or whatever other quasi-sciency covering they want to give for the story

Oh, that one's easy:
a) It violates Occam's Razor needlessly - we already know several different ways this could work within prior lore, so there's no reason to invent something new except for a self-indulgent joke about where one of the writers went to school. It's faster to just go 'parallel universe' and move on.

b) It raises questions at the end about why the destruction of the Vidiian ship right beside Voyager doesn't also destroy Voyager. Up until that point, the effect could reasonably be assumed to mimic a phased cloaking device, (like in Pegasus), but nothing pulls Voyager back into phase, so that can't be right.

Basically, it leaves a moment of head-scratching at the end that didn't need to be there because the writers were being cute. This is a minor complaint - as a viewer, I'm perfectly willing to just shrug it off. If I were their instructor at a school of writing or Star Trekkin', it'd definitely cost them a few points off the script.

To be fair to the show I should probably list all the good things about this episode in detail just as I listed all the bad last time

Eh, I'm sure it's fine. It seems like we all already agree this is a good episode, and we seem to agree about why. Less need to go over it in detail. :)

I agree completely with Cheeses, Voyager does great with the "when the shit hits the fan" episodes, but I might even expand that to Voyager does weird well.

I think the common thread is clarity. A lot of times, Voyager has a really muddled idea of what to do behind the scenes - authors are arguing, management is giving them really stupid notes, they're trying to shoehorn in an homage to another genre, they hired a proto-Rachel-Dolezal for consulation, etc.

They can't really handle 'muddled.' The show doesn't have enough internal cohesion for them to coast, I think - DS9 had a lot of arc stuff and continuity to fall back on when they were having a bad week, while Voyager... well, didn't. So if they screwed up, they tended to screw up harder, and people were more critical because they weren't going, 'well at least it advanced the arc.' I honestly never knew if I should tune in for Voyager or not, when it was airing.

That said, they did fine when they knew what they were doing and kept it tight, and Voyager understands action episodes reasonably well. Like, Dreadnought stands as one of my favorites Voyager stories, and I think it works because they really just understood what needed to happen - it's nothing fancy, not a lot of new elements in play, just the MacGuffin. Deadlock is similar - they have a really good idea of what they want and it's not overly ambitious. It's just trying to do one really neat thing, and they're mostly just working with the crew that we all already know.

High concept stuff is hit or miss for me: Living Witness and Timeless are another two of my favorite Voyager stories, (Living Witness used to make my top 5 for all of Star Trek - be curious how it holds up now).

But Threshold is high concept too, and now that I think about it, it has the same trouble as could have messed up Deadlock, just a lot worse: they can't stick the landing. Something really weird happens and the crew should be reacting to it pretty strongly, but instead they just shrug it off and go, 'Nope, we haven't learned a thing. Warp us outta here!' (Threshold also suffers more, IMO, for them not having a really clear picture of what story they were trying to tell, while Deadlock seems like Braga blocked it all out in his head pretty well.)
posted by mordax at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why a race with transporters has docking clamps,

Engineering redundancy. Also, transporters are notoriously finicky.
posted by zarq at 11:15 AM on May 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Engineering redundancy. Also, transporters are notoriously finicky.

That's fair, although Vidiians transporter tech is substantially better than Starfleet issue - while it makes sense to have the ability to dock, I'm not sure it makes sense as the go-to option instead of as a backup. I mean, they're using handheld transporters to perform ad hoc surgery - this is clearly kid stuff to them.

(Now that we're talking about it, I might have expected Vidiians attacking planets to just scoop up victims by the dozen with vehicular transporter weapons, the way the Wraith do in Stargate Atlantis.)
posted by mordax at 11:23 AM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


They can't really handle 'muddled.' The show doesn't have enough internal cohesion for them to coast, I think - DS9 had a lot of arc stuff and continuity to fall back on when they were having a bad week, while Voyager... well, didn't. So if they screwed up, they tended to screw up harder, and people were more critical because they weren't going, 'well at least it advanced the arc.' I honestly never knew if I should tune in for Voyager or not, when it was airing.

This is kind of the Rosetta Stone for the entire show, and corresponds with what's generally been my take on the show since the original watching. There are still some episodes from the later seasons that I haven't seen--the second half of the one where they all get kidnapped and brainwashed into having jobs on some planet, and the one where Seven uses the holodeck to cosplay being a regular Starfleet person, and maybe a few others. I was going through a difficult period in my life at the time (separation and divorce) and what should have been a welcome escape seemed more like a chore.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


a) It violates Occam's Razor needlessly - we already know several different ways this could work within prior lore, so there's no reason to invent something new except for a self-indulgent joke about where one of the writers went to school. It's faster to just go 'parallel universe' and move on.

I disagree, at least in this instance. It's, to my mind, important to the episode theme that these events happen to exactly the same people on both Voyagers and that their decisions will directly effect them and not an "alternate crew". (My joking about the "real" Harry aside.) I mean I'm not really sure Occam's razor should apply to the choice between alternative universes and spatial scissions or subspace divergence fields or whatnot, but since it's already been established that alternative universes can have alternative histories, there would be some notable difference in how one views the relationship between the two Voyagers. So, to me, the choice here worked better than falling back on something they've tackled before.

They can't really handle 'muddled.' The show doesn't have enough internal cohesion for them to coast, I think - DS9 had a lot of arc stuff and continuity to fall back on when they were having a bad week, while Voyager... well, didn't. So if they screwed up, they tended to screw up harder, and people were more critical because they weren't going, 'well at least it advanced the arc.'

Yeah that's pretty true. They seemed to really want to universe build too much when they didn't have the budget or the approval of the producers to do so, but wrote episodes sort of nodding in that direction ineffectively anyway. Clarity is the key, and more in how they handle the characters, I think, than the action, or at least action in the sense of violent activity. It's more characters reacting to a difficult or unusual event than a need for physical activity that is the hallmark of their best work I think. Though I liked Threshhold, so my feelings on this may differ from others. Though episodes like Threshhold, The 37's, and so on do offer some explanation as to how they can shrug off other odd events happening since they've seen weird before.

I just assumed the Viidians docked the ship simply to secure it in place to prevent undo extra risk of the two ships becoming separated while most of the Viidians were on their organ raid on the captured craft.

Oh, and I was only joking about the point by point take. I'm not a complete sadist for goodness sakes!
posted by gusottertrout at 12:31 PM on May 9, 2017


So, to me, the choice here worked better than falling back on something they've tackled before.

Many-worlds theory posits universes split at every possible decision path, so in this show, the ships would've only gone parallel right when the antimatter supplies got linked together. No big alternate history, no need for one.

Down side: they'd know which ship was in danger from the Vidiians immediately as that would occur in only one universe, so you'd lose or adjust a brief moment of dramatic tension.

Up side: no qualms about 'why doesn't the destruction of the Vidiian ship destroy both Voyagers?' (It's fair to handwave Voyager B's self-destruct not blowing up Voyager A, since they're out of phase with each other, but there's no reason given in the episode for why Voyager A is out of phase with anything else.)

I mean I'm not really sure Occam's razor should apply to the choice

... actually, I am pretty firm that it applies to any choice like this in genre fiction. There are two reasons why:

1) Explaining a new phenomenon takes up time, incurring an opportunity cost to the story. Every second explaining about a technobbable thing is a second not spent blowing something up, saying something cool or otherwise entertaining the audience.

2) Every new technobabble thing is one more thing to keep straight - a risk of creating a plot hole in a story, an added piece of lore to keep straight in the series bible, (at least on shows that actually bother to use them).

Added complexity in genre fiction should only occur if it adds to the story. 'Spatial thingy' and 'parallel worlds' are virtually interchangeable from a narrative point of view, therefor 'spatial thingy' is strictly - if only minutely- inferior.

In this episode, it's a tiny, tiny quibble. Deadlock's good TV. However, this is a spot where Voyager can be sloppy, and I do think this is a tiny example of the sort of excess that got them into trouble in episodes that didn't have premises that were as fully thought out.

Though I liked Threshhold, so my feelings on this may differ from others.

What's funny about Threshold is that I actually loved 3/4ths of it upon rewatch. If they had skipped the lizard babies, it would've been pretty great - Voyager's single Lovecraft homage.

Star Trek Voyager: a study in narrowly missed opportunities, or at least that's how I'm coming to think of it now that I'm watching it again.
posted by mordax at 6:47 PM on May 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Star Trek Voyager: a study in narrowly missed opportunities

And that can be worse than your Plan 9 From Outer Space fiascos, because they came so close.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:49 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Many-worlds theory posits universes split at every possible decision path, so in this show, the ships would've only gone parallel right when the antimatter supplies got linked together. No big alternate history, no need for one.

Right, and, for me, this is just another way to reach that end.

As I see it, there are good reasons for adding new phenomena like the spatial scission in some instances like this one. It's in part due to the history of Trek lore and viewer familiarity with it that adding a new twist to a previously visited general concept can make for better story telling. It's a little like magic in this regard, where getting the audience to focus on what the new thing might be and the effect its having allows the writers to keep the audience on their toes rather than letting them feel secure in connecting the idea to past events and holding them in comparison, losing focus on the specifics of these events.

When done well, and of course these things often can be done poorly where I'd completely agree about the waste, the technobabble also acts as character development, showing the characters coming to grips with and overcoming the new phenomena, which is aided by making it something different than the franchise has faced before so as once again to avoid direct comparison or weaken focus and intensity. The new event shouldn't directly contradict or violate continuity, but developing more paths to examine roughly similar general notions can allow for more interesting variation in specific detail suited to particular themes being examined, which is or should be the real point behind this along with good storytelling.

I do agree though that this is a minor quibble for this episode. It's just something I'm interested in for how shows tell their stories and why. I don't think there is really one right way to do it, or that things like this can be easily categorized as being better or worse methods aside from just judging them on their use and effect in the show. So I'm perfectly happy to accept we have a slight difference of opinion on this as it too goes to better understanding the effect on different viewers which is something one can never fully grok on one's own.

Star Trek Voyager: a study in narrowly missed opportunities

Yeah, that's a pretty apt tagline for the show. It's probably a bit better than its reputation seems to have it, but definitely not as good as it so often hints it could be.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:38 AM on May 10, 2017


When done well, and of course these things often can be done poorly where I'd completely agree about the waste, the technobabble also acts as character development, showing the characters coming to grips with and overcoming the new phenomena, which is aided by making it something different than the franchise has faced before so as once again to avoid direct comparison or weaken focus and intensity. [...] I do agree though that this is a minor quibble for this episode. It's just something I'm interested in for how shows tell their stories and why.

This reimagining / recycling (where the former term is more apt for the cases where it's done well) has been a pattern in Trek since the beginning. I can't think of one off the top of my head, but I'm sure there was a later TOS episode whose plot was just a tweak of an earlier one. Then TNG season 1 came along—possibly the nadir of the whole franchise on the recycling end of the spectrum. Since then, the franchise has rarely if ever straight-up rehashed an episode—there may be one or two Enterprises that did, but my memory there is not as clear (and, as always, we are not factoring in J. J. Trek).

Which, now that we are talking about it in this light, makes me glad they didn't straight-up borrow the TNG: "Parallels" hook. In addition to potentially making everything a lot more complicated, it would've landed too far on the recycling end. It's one thing for a Trek game (of any sort: MMO, shooter, strategy, tabletop campaign) to completely recycle a Trek plot—even for a licensed, noncanon novel or comic to do it—but canon has to hold itself to a higher standard.

On that score, at least, I've been pleased so far on this rewatch that VOY has resisted the recycling urge as much as it has ("Ex Post Facto" notwithstanding). But now that I think of it, I can recall a vague dissatisfaction with much of the Borg stuff later in the show, and, well, I guess we'll find out if this is a part of why…but now I'm creeping beyond the technobabble aspect of the discussion.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:58 AM on May 10, 2017


That's a good point. It's gotta be tough writing for a series like Trek, having to both fulfill certain viewer expectations and provide call backs and work with lots of similar situations as both the previous shows and episodes of the show you're writing for. I mean there has to be a lot of odd little decisions made over use of tropes or ideas, say for example, someone wants to write an arena planey episode because they think they can do something new with the idea. It's something fans would accept as workable since they've had a version of it before and it connects generally with some sports/game show like notions of our own time, but it's an idea you can pretty much only use once in a series run as after wards it would feel like a tired rehash and much less believable or acceptable. I'd imagine there may be a sort of checklist for ideas used in order to prevent redoing old ideas unless there is a purposeful call back involved where the baggage might be seen as a plus.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:22 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


Star Trek Voyager: a study in narrowly missed opportunities, or at least that's how I'm coming to think of it now that I'm watching it again.

This was most apparent in the first two seasons. I do think things improved over time.

There were episodes of this series that I felt were some of the finest ever produced in the Star Trek universe. Year of Hell. Living Witness. Scorpion. Timeless. But the show was inconsistent. In quality and characterizations.

But the writing team always swung for the fences and it showed. The show explored a lot of interesting concepts and storylines, even when they struck out.
posted by zarq at 6:23 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


Of course, (and I've commented about this on Mefi and possibly Fanfare before,) some of Voyager's most highly rated episodes were those that took place in alternate timelines -- where the crew were either not themselves or were acting out of character. Timeless, Killing Game, and Year of Hell are the most obvious examples. On one hand, this is normal. Mirror universe episodes in TOS, DS9 and ENT were very popular with audiences. On the other hand, it says a lot about the show that the characters were more interesting to watch when they were out of character. Even when the writers had to create Deus ex Machina reset buttons in order to put things back to normal.
posted by zarq at 6:42 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


But the writing team always swung for the fences and it showed. The show explored a lot of interesting concepts and storylines, even when they struck out.

Really good point. I wouldn't say VOY's writers always swung for the fences, but much more often than not, yes. Say what you like about VOY, but IIRC they played it safe only rarely, which contrasts with ENT only rarely not playing it safe.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:24 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


But the show was inconsistent. In quality and characterizations.

In retrospect, if I could clean up one thing on Voyager it would probably be the characterizations. Quality was always kinda flopsy on Star Trek - If I'm being completely fair, I agree with Cheeses that TNG S1 is probably the low point of Star Trek in aggregate. But I feel like TNG has fared better in popular memory because the characters were solid and consistent overall.

Voyager has some good character work: Tuvok, B'Ellana and Kim are all pretty great from day one. But Janeway, Chakotay and Neelix get tons more screen time, and they're all murky as fuck. So people don't latch onto them as much. Like... I want to love Captain Janeway. Kate Mulgrew makes me want to be invested in the character because she's great, but the wildly varying characterization sinks her for me.

I bet if Janeway and Chakotay were clearer and Neelix were simply vaporized in the pilot, the show would've had vastly superior cultural currency, even if they didn't improve even one other thing.

I do think things improved over time.

Fair. I'd also be willing to concede S2 is a visible step up from S1 - they've done a number of stories this season that I would consider 'must see' for any real Star Trek fan. (I'm actually really looking forward to at least one moment in The Thaw.)

On the other hand, it says a lot about the show that the characters were more interesting to watch when they were out of character

I think that's common to every show, not just Voyager. Like, as a kid, my favorite Simpsons episodes where mostly Treehouse of Horror ones. For me, it was a combination of 'it's cool to see an alternate take on characters,' but it was also, 'everybody can die today.' So... I knew the writers were going to do something special each time because the story wouldn't really count toward the big picture.

However, if they'd overused the device, I suspect I would've hated it - see Big Two comics, where DC famously started printing 'this is not an imaginary story!' on covers after running that gag into the dirt.

I wouldn't say VOY's writers always swung for the fences, but much more often than not, yes. Say what you like about VOY, but IIRC they played it safe only rarely, which contrasts with ENT only rarely not playing it safe.

I think this is where I'm at too: Voyager had plenty of episodes that were pretty normal in scope and decision making, some of which were pretty cool. I'm really fond of Initiations and Dreadnought, and they're both very 'normal' stories, the kind of thing I've seen on lots of shows, just done really well.

However, I also agree that Voyager swung for the fences a lot comparatively - especially compared to Enterprise - and I do agree with the prevailing sentiment here that an ambitious failure can be better than a lukewarm success. Taking it back to Threshold: at least it was memorable. Sub Rosa (TNG) is actively worse, but nobody ever talks about Sub Rosa. Threshold is more like the Spock's Brain of the TNG-era, and... you know, if we're still talking about it, they did something right.

(I mean, Spock's Brain got a musical! Maybe Threshold deserves one too.)
posted by mordax at 9:07 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also: I agree that a pretty high ratio of Voyager's wilder stories were excellent - they did have a flair for high concept stuff. I feel like it was because those stories really grabbed them, pushing them to rise above the formulaic writing that plagues most weekly television.

(I do remember hating Year of Hell though, so it'll be neat to come back to that and see if anything's changed for me. I like all the other ones on your list, zarq.)
posted by mordax at 9:11 AM on May 10, 2017


I bet if Janeway and Chakotay were clearer and Neelix were simply vaporized in the pilot, the show would've had vastly superior cultural currency, even if they didn't improve even one other thing.

Yeah, they really screwed up big with Chakotay. Not doing anything with Kes was bad, but not having even a vaguely reasonable grip on Chakotay's character was deadly to the show since he really should have been the linchpin that brought the two crew element together and provided some needed balance to Janeway so her character could have been a little bit easier to read as a leader. (I'm mostly okay with her inconsistencies as I've mentioned, but if there were some clearer lines of give and take between her and Chakotay, then the inconsistencies would have read better as necessary choices or paired options around ambiguous circumstances.)

And if they had just left Neelix like he was in the pilot, a mix of knowing insincerity, bluster, excessive optimism, and a desire to be involved; a character of weird excess and more unlike the Voyager crew not trying to fit in to their customs and beliefs so much, then he would have read better and could have provided some nice contrast and genuine non-cringe worthy amusement at the crew's expense at times.

I think that's common to every show, not just Voyager.

Yes, it's the pleasure of variation on known themes. It's something that happens with plot twists and the like at times, but it's particularly effective with characters, where you get to know them and how they behave them change the dynamic a bit to provide a new look at who they might be in other circumstances. It definitely isn't something that can be done constantly as then there would be nothing serving as a base from which to run variations.

Voyager did push the concept pretty well at times, even with their cosmic resets, but I have to still wonder if they could have slowly pushed it even farther in a show with more emphasis on intra-episode reflection. Not necessarily long continuing story lines, but just showing more awareness and reflection on what has happened to them in past episodes. It's something Buffy did really well and could have added a additional layer of meaning here too, especially in dealing with all the wonky time and duplication stuff.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:38 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


which contrasts with ENT only rarely not playing it safe

I really can't fathom how one could consider Enterprise as "playing it safe." Especially within the scope of Star Trek, and compared to Voyager. The entire 3rd season completely ignores the Star Trek storytelling mold, and breaks further away from the format than even DS9 managed. (Ironically, the third season is when they added the Star Trek moniker to the title.)

You could argue that it's not a great series, or that it isn't "Trek", but it rarely "plays it safe."
posted by 2ht at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


(I do remember hating Year of Hell though, so it'll be neat to come back to that and see if anything's changed for me. I like all the other ones on your list, zarq.)

I'll have a lot to say about it when we get there!
posted by zarq at 1:39 PM on May 10, 2017


You could argue that it's not a great series, or that it isn't "Trek", but it rarely "plays it safe."

Darnit. Now I want to start on that. Definitely want to do Enterprise next. I only watched it the once, but my impressions of the whole thing are pretty complicated, and I'm looking forward to reevaluating it.

I'll have a lot to say about it when we get there!

Awesome. :)
posted by mordax at 2:19 PM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


I can't think of one off the top of my head, but I'm sure there was a later TOS episode whose plot was just a tweak of an earlier one.

I am more familiar with TOS than any of the other series and it is telling that a half-dozen candidates for this spring to mind. I would point out, though, that you don't have to go all that much later to find this. If you had been a TV viewer in 1966 with a mild curiosity about this new Star Trek show, you might have tuned in for the fifth episode and seen a show where the captain gets duplicated by a transporter accident and then returned two weeks later for an episode where the captain gets duplicated as an android. And these episodes were not scrawled off by hacks: Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch were the screenwriters behind their respective episodes. Still, with the best will in the world and the Genes Roddenberry and Coon steering, the series managed to be about one-third about William Shatner playing scenes against himself.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:03 PM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


I really can't fathom how one could consider Enterprise as "playing it safe." Especially within the scope of Star Trek, and compared to Voyager. The entire 3rd season completely ignores the Star Trek storytelling mold, and breaks further away from the format than even DS9 managed.

That's true, I literally forgot about that. For some reason, ENT's first season is where my mind goes when I think ENT. I think I've only ever watched it all the way through once, so yeah, I'd absolutely be up for a rewatch.

If you had been a TV viewer in 1966 with a mild curiosity about this new Star Trek show, you might have tuned in for the fifth episode and seen a show where the captain gets duplicated by a transporter accident and then returned two weeks later for an episode where the captain gets duplicated as an android. And these episodes were not scrawled off by hacks: Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch were the screenwriters behind their respective episodes. Still, with the best will in the world and the Genes Roddenberry and Coon steering, the series managed to be about one-third about William Shatner playing scenes against himself.

Wow. I wonder if this is mainly due to Roddenberry being in total control. He seems to have been big on concept recycling. (No doubt part of it was budgetary; it's much more cost-effective if writers base an episode's story on stuff actors do, rather than stuff you have to show as a prop or set or whatever—hence the existence of sitcoms.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:11 AM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


That's true, I literally forgot about that

This is part of why I personally think it's a fair assessment, even though it's a point where very strong counterarguments could be offered. I gave up on Enterprise really quickly when it first aired, a lot of it because it was boring and samey.

I came back ages after and was honestly impressed with S3, but the damage had really been done by then.
posted by mordax at 9:12 AM on May 11, 2017


It's so weird that they keep having problems launching Trek series. They all seem to start off pretty poorly, and only find their way during or after the second season. It isn't like it should be that tough, I mean the foundation of the franchise is already set and much of the framing has already been done, they just have to hang the facade and fill it in.

Given the crazy hold the franchise has on popular consciousness, you'd think there'd be no shortage of ideas for workable designs they could use that would be more ready to go from the start. It's one of the mysteries of US network TV that so many shows seem to only exist as vague outlines until they are actually being filmed rather than having a more fully realized design from the start. Maybe that's changing with the rise of cable and internet shows that are more fully formed, but the stories that leak out about Discovery sure don't make it sound like that's the case.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:57 AM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's so weird that they keep having problems launching Trek series. They all seem to start off pretty poorly, and only find their way during or after the second season. It isn't like it should be that tough, I mean the foundation of the franchise is already set and much of the framing has already been done, they just have to hang the facade and fill it in.

I think that it's a bit more complex than that, though. Each show had its unique problems and challenges:

- TOS: nothing quite like it had ever been done before, although there was some prior art in Forbidden Planet. (Gene Roddenberry's oft-cited elevator pitch, "Wagon Train to the stars," really doesn't have much to do with that show. You've got a science fiction program that combines a quasi-military structure and traditions with the sort of progressivism that was starting to supplant the conservatism of the early Cold War. It was as strange and unprecedented for its time as Twin Peaks was for its, and is still the shortest-lived of the series (except for TAS, which I'm not really counting).

- TNG: Run at first by Gene Roddenberry, whose health was starting to go and who had suffered the humiliations of failed series pilots in the seventies and TMP being not that successful (and further, having its sequel being vastly more popular and well-regarded, even though it was by someone who had never watched TOS), it wasn't just Roddenberry's swan song but to no small extent his intended vindication. It didn't really work out that way--supposedly because of the influence of his lawyer, Leonard Maizlish--and the show didn't really take off until Roddenberry's hands were pried off the controls.

- DS9: Had to deal both with the heightened expectations created by TNG, which had become the most successful syndicated show ever, and with other SF shows starting to appear, including Babylon 5, whose creator, J. Michael Straczynski, would vociferously and endlessly claim that DS9 was stealing from his show.

- VOY: Was competing with both DS9 and the TNG movies, not to mention the other space operas; its network, UPN, was depending on it not only to pull in TNG audience numbers, but also to draw that audience to other UPN shows.

- ENT: Many of the same problems as VOY (although it did not have another active show competing against it, the last TNG movie notwithstanding), and also repeated some of that show's less-great tropes: the fanservicey female character, the alien comic relief character, the reliance on stand-alone episodes while largely ignoring the overarching premise of the show.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:03 PM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Given the crazy hold the franchise has on popular consciousness, you'd think there'd be no shortage of ideas for workable designs they could use that would be more ready to go from the start.

There were indeed many such ideas, but one factor that a lot of them had in common (e.g. Federation, Final Frontier) was that they leaned more heavily on Trek lore than even VOY was willing to.

For instance, Michael Dorn proposed a Worf Chronicles show focused on the Klingon Empire. Who among US would not watch the shit out of that? But studio suits would take one look at the concept, scratch their heads at the necessarily elaborate series backstory, and respond "You'll never bring in the kids with this." This might just be part of the holdup with Discovery.

Maybe what we have here is a paradox: for a Trek series concept to satisfy its creators and the die-hard Trek fans, it has to Boldly Go in new directions and expand the setting—but to do that, it has to assume viewers are willing to track all this new information, an assumption too bold for studio suits to accept, so they don't. And then, either your Trek concept doesn't get picked up, or you water it down so that you basically are ONLY "hanging the facade," as I would argue ENT (at least initially) did…which displeases the diehards and might also drive away talented show creators (e.g. Fuller, Moore?).

In light of all this, it's a miracle DS9 didn't get pulled after the first season. Sure, the core concept is an easy enough sell: "The Rifleman in space" (and how sad is it that the elevator pitch always has to be relatable to old white guys BUT ANYWAY), but look where they immediately went with it: kooky alien mystics, a crew that seems kind of dysfunctional, elaborate politics involving two alien species that AREN'T the only two that most people have heard of (Klingons and Borg), and hazy space gods. Really, why wasn't DS9 immediately shuttered? Was it that the goodwill earned by TNG was enough to coast on? I suppose the franchise was pretty much at its peak right about then.

It's one of the mysteries of US network TV that so many shows seem to only exist as vague outlines until they are actually being filmed rather than having a more fully realized design from the start.

Interesting point. Everything I've heard about B5 suggests it WAS fully formed from the start, but that it was also anomalous in that way (and others). You do seem to have pointed out a structural flaw in the industry.

Maybe that's changing with the rise of cable and internet shows that are more fully formed, but the stories that leak out about Discovery sure don't make it sound like that's the case.

Yeah, despite Discovery being developed contemporaneously with this new environment, we probably shouldn't presume that it's being developed using a very similar approach to other "prestige" cable shows, since (A) Fuller, we now know, basically totally left DSC—to develop one of those "prestige" shows; and (B) this is CBS we're talking about.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:47 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


- ENT: Many of the same problems as VOY (although it did not have another active show competing against it, the last TNG movie notwithstanding), and also repeated some of that show's less-great tropes: the fanservicey female character, the alien comic relief character, the reliance on stand-alone episodes while largely ignoring the overarching premise of the show.

Regarding stand-alone episodes, there were many story arcs. There were also multiple three episode arcs within various seasons.

Off the top of my head:
Risa Storyline: Three episode arc in the first season.
Xindi Arc: Last episode of season two, entire third season and first few eps of season four.
The Temporal Cold War was a multi-season arc that had relevant episodes in all four seasons.
Augments Arc: Three eps in fourth season.
The Vulcan / Andoria conflict was a multi-season arc that had relevant episodes in all four seasons.
Aenar Arc was three eps in the fourth season.
Section 31 Arc was several episodes in the fourth season, but I can't remember how many.

There are probably others I'm forgetting.

I'm not entirely sure what Enterprise' premise was supposed to be, to be honest. They were exploring, seeking and boldly going, sure. But in hindsight, the show's ultimate goal was to show Archer's pivotal role in helping to form the Federation.
posted by zarq at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was thinking mostly of the Temporal Cold War, which was supposed to be the main underlying arc of the series, and one that intrigued me quite a lot, since it implied that one of the perceived weaknesses of a prequel series--that we knew that nothing really bad would happen, since we knew that there would ultimately be a Federation and Starfleet and so forth--was moot, since interference from whomever was behind the Suliban could end up rewriting continuity either partially or completely. In other words, they could have done what the Abrams reboot eventually did: keep the parts of Trek that they wanted and redone the rest. Instead, the TCW was sporadically addressed and mostly ignored until Daniels says, at the beginning of the fourth season, "OK, we won and you won't be seeing me again." I was not terribly surprised to find out that B&B never really liked the idea.

As for the rest of it, I should have been more clear: the problems that I listed were the ones that each show faced at the beginning, not necessarily throughout their respective runs. Roddenberry was eventually nudged out of a decision-making role in TNG, DS9 found its groove (and in the process assembling the best writing staff of any of the iterations), etc. The Xindi arc was a major change-up for the series, and one that was done largely out of desperation; the series did another change-up with the fourth season, involving the convergence of the interests of the nascent Federation races and the involvement of the Romulans, and probably could have ridden that through the last three seasons if they'd been allowed to have them. I'll grant you the Vulcan-Andoria conflict, which was very well done (and probably would have had some sort of resolution with the likely addition of Shran to the main cast), but the Risa thing was only one episode.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:24 AM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was thinking mostly of the Temporal Cold War, which was supposed to be the main underlying arc of the series, and one that intrigued me quite a lot,

OK.

Having thought about this for a couple of days, one nice thing about those stand-alone Enterprise episodes was that the writers made sure to include continuity call-backs and plot points which would further larger arcs or at least nudge the viewers to keep them in mind. Sometimes they did this so subtly that viewers might not even notice except on re-watch.

What I found personally interesting were topics that foreshadowed the founding of the Federation. For example: it was clear throughout Enterprise's run that the writers had the Prime Directive very much in mind. The series begins with Archer expressing resentment that the Vulcans have not only refused to share technology and knowledge, but that they have in fact actively interfered with Earth's development in terms of spaceflight and exploration. There are other episodes that overtly focus on the crew's interference vs. non-interference with less developed civilizations. Or that of the aliens they encounter toward the crew. There are side conversations about the topic in many episodes, too. We can't reasonably call that a 'story arc'. And there were times where the interaction that happened between characters about it were barely a blip in a given episode. But the concept was a part of the overall Enterprise story and continuity just as much as anything else we saw on screen.

Anyway. About Risa: it took Enterprise three episodes to get there. They start in Fallen Hero, but get sidetracked with a request from Earth to transport a Vulcan ambassador home. They start once again to travel to Risa in the following episode: Desert Crossing. But their trip is cut short when they receive a distress call from Clancy Brown. They finally get to Risa in Two Days and Two Nights. All three episodes can be considered stand-alone stories, but the scenes and dialogue about Risa in the first two piece them together. Someone watching the show in order would see the continuity. Memory Alpha lists them as an arc for that reason.

Now, this is a really, really minor point, and I can totally understand why the average viewer wouldn't think of the three as an arc. But that sort of tiny continuity trail is also something Voyager tended to do. Much better than TNG, at any rate. Minor concerns mentioned in episode 21 could turn into a big deal in episode 28. Of course, Voyager also completely ignored continuity whenever it became convenient to a given story. (How many shuttlecraft did the ship have?) But personally, I did appreciate the effort when I saw it made. It gave the show greater realism for me.

It's also why I loved Stargate Universe. The show hired Mefi's Own John Scalzi specifically to have someone who would keep an eye on resource continuity and spaceflight realism. And it paid off. They showed what happened when the air filters died, or the crew ran out of water. (Or what happens when the water they bring back to the ship turns out to be contaminated with microorganisms.) We see caffeine addicts get headaches from lack of coffee. Even what the crew was doing about their dwindling supply of bullets. So when a prominent cast member breaks his glasses in one episode, he doesn't show up with a brand new pair the following week. We see that he's used wire to make himself an earpiece. The captain is shown darning his own socks in a scene, and even asks another member of his crew if they know how to sew in a different episode.

That realism made it a much better show than it would have been otherwise.

As for the rest of it, I should have been more clear: the problems that I listed were the ones that each show faced at the beginning, not necessarily throughout their respective runs.

That makes perfect sense.

The Xindi arc was a major change-up for the series, and one that was done largely out of desperation; the series did another change-up with the fourth season, involving the convergence of the interests of the nascent Federation races and the involvement of the Romulans, and probably could have ridden that through the last three seasons if they'd been allowed to have them.

I would be willing to bet that uber-TOS/TNG/DS9 fan Manny Coto singlehandedly moved the show during the fourth season towards examining conflicts with races that would eventually form the Federation.
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2017


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