Star Trek: Voyager: Alter Ego   Rewatch 
July 13, 2017 3:06 AM - Season 3, Episode 14 - Subscribe

Or: "Harry and Tuvok Get Catfished"

Memory Alpha is about finding the seeds of order even in the midst of profound chaos:

- This episode was originally to primarily feature the characters of Tom Paris and Harry Kim, before its focus was changed to Tuvok and Kim.

- Prior to this episode being written, Tuvok actor Tim Russ expressed concerns to writer Joe Menosky about the nature of Tuvok's attraction to Marayna. Russ told Menosky, "It has to be right on the line of not looking as though he is romantically attracted to this woman, but that he is interested in her intellectually. He wouldn't be involved with anybody at all. He sticks to his wife."

- Writer Joe Menosky considered this installment to be an opportunity to explore the way in which Vulcans suppress their emotions. "The actual mental details of it are not really that specified," Menosky related. "Instead of imagining that Vulcans sort of bludgeon emotion, there is something a little more sophisticated going on. They understand the patterns and see them in a profound intellectual sense, that in some way robs them of their power, before they even add the will to suppress. It's an opportunity to add a layer of texture to how Vulcans work."

- Tim Russ later listed this episode, midway through the fourth season, as one of five episodes that he characterized as "the defining moments for Tuvok".

- According to Robert Picardo (who directed the episode), Garrett Wang was suffering from flu while this episode was produced. Picardo noted, "I had to whip him into a frenzy of energy before every take, because he was so under the weather!" In certain scenes (particularly the Vulcan meditation scene in Kim's quarters before the Lu'au), Wang is quite clearly struggling to deliver his lines through his nasal congestion.

- Both Robert Picardo and Joe Menosky were highly satisfied with the performances that Garrett Wang and Tim Russ delivered for this episode. "Tim and Garrett did very good work in the show," Picardo remarked. Menosky likewise raved, "I loved the scenes between Tim and Garrett, and I think they were really, really funny. Part of it was Tim's delivery, this dry, almost straight-man delivery."

- Robert Picardo discovered the episode's production to be challenging though rewarding. He later said, "I certainly enjoyed it [....] When you finally [direct for the first time] yourself, there's many sink-or-swim moments. I did as much homework as I could. I was well prepared. I stayed on schedule and on budget which are all important things to the front office, but it took me five-fold the time to plan something that it would have taken an experienced director. I had to put in a lot of extra hours of homework and coming in on the weekend, rolling with the punches as those rewrite pages came flooding in as I was shooting [....] At the end of the first day I said 'I never want to do this again.' By the middle of the third day, I was going, 'Well, maybe.' And by the fifth day I definitely wanted to do it again."

- Robert Picardo encountered a problem of another sort, however. "[Sandra Nelson] appeared in a bathing suit, and the set was too cold," Picardo recalled, "so we had to line the inside of her bathing suit. I don't know if you know this, but in television the networks [in this case, UPN] issue what we call 'nipple memos' [....] Too many nipples in 43 minutes of television and you get a memo. Anyway, we were afraid of getting a nipple memo so we closed down for 40 minutes waiting for the lining to be sewn in. That was the most interesting delay I had."

- Voyager's transporters are used while the shields are engaged. After Tuvok dematerializes, a plasma stream detonates near the ship and Chakotay reports "Shields are down to 47%;" Tuvok then rematerializes on the space station.

"You're in love with a computer sub-routine?"
"That's the problem."

- Tuvok and Harry Kim

"Are you two friends?"

- Marayna, with Harry Kim and Tuvok answering her simultaneously

"I have already taken the liberty of reserving a table, Lieutenant, with a view of the lakeside. You did express a fondness for that particular vista."
"I did?"
"Five days ago, in a conversation we had in Engineering regarding holodeck programs."
"I guess, maybe I did."

- Vorik and B'Elanna Torres

"Mr. Kim, I value our working relationship. I would not allow a holodeck character to disrupt that."

- Tuvok, to Kim

Poster's Log:
Here's another one that feels pretty TNG but manages to not be completely boring. As a Tuvok fan, I found his relationship with Harry, and the "will-they-won't-they" with Marayna, to be interesting enough. As for the attention to Vulcan emotional practices, while I was glad they found a way to go into that stuff, something about it felt just a bit fan fiction-y. Maybe it was all the shon-ha'lock and t'san s'at and mum'bo-jum'bo terminology that is purportedly central to Vulcan life but that we have never heard before. OTOH, they all concern areas of their culture that Vulcans have never exactly been forthcoming about previously in the franchise, so it's not like it's inexplicable. Really, one could even go so far as to say that Voyager being stranded has inspired Tuvok to be a little more of a proselyte than is usual, for the benefit of his crewmates of course. (In that respect, the original intent for the Tuvok character as spelled out in the "Voyager Bible" is reflected well here.)

But the only truly striking/impressive thing, I thought, was Tuvok's reaction right as he beams away from Marayna's station. Probably his strongest acting moment in the episode.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Marayna actress Sandra Nelson previously played Tavana, engineering officer on the IKS Rotarran, in the DS9 episode "Soldiers of the Empire." Yeah, I didn't recognize her either. Maybe I would have if they'd given Marayna a Klingon battle song to sing.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I thought that this episode was quite good on a number of levels, although it edges up to some very dark territory. The MA article has some of the cast and crew comparing it to Fatal Attraction, but even as problematic as that movie was, Alex Forrest doesn't threaten to murder over a hundred people to get back the object of her affection/obsession. I came back around to feeling sympathy for Marayna because it seemed like she had viewed the ship and crew more in the abstract; this is justified by the fact that she seems to prefer to interact with Tuvok via the holodeck program, and doesn't seem to have really thought through the whole question of what the rest of the crew was supposed to do trapped in the inversion nebula while she hung out with their security officer, playing kal-toh in Space Club Med.

Part of the charm of the episode, then, is that it seems to start off as an episode about Harry's own personal Minuet, only to find out that "Minuet" was not only real, but looked on the real crew as NPCs, and eventually wasn't that interested in Harry. It's connected to previous TNG episodes such as "11001001" and the Moriarty episodes, and arguably even to the Barclay and La Forge episodes in which those characters create holodeck versions of real people and end up being confronted by those people about it, but it's also very much its own thing, and probably informed by its being produced some three years after Eternal September, although there were some concerns and awareness of the authenticity, or lack thereof, of online-versus-meatspace life even before then, of course. (And after, as this particularly notorious thread on the blue, and many, many others, attests.)

And, of course, we get lots of good character development for the crew: Tuvok, obviously, and Harry, dealing with his jealousy of someone who (he thinks) doesn't really exist, but also Tom and B'Elanna, with the former maybe experiencing a bit of jealousy of his own.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 AM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I really didn't like this episode when it first aired. Turning a story with an interesting beginning into a tale of a jealous, lonely, stalker woman who wants to permanently kidnap Tuvok struck me as pretty sexist.

Worf: We were like warriors from the ancient sagas. There was nothing we could not do.
O'Brien: Except keep the holodecks working right.
This is a quote from DS9's Way of the Warrior. It refers to TNG.
Alter Ego feels like a TNG episode. The plot feels forced. Kim's lines feel overwrought. The premise is Yet Another Holodeck Crisis -- and lord, haven't we had way more than enough of those yet? This is familiar territory, which feels like a bit of a letdown after "Fair Trade." What happened to the Nekrit Expanse? Neelix is once again the ship's morale officer/cruise director.

And yet....

This exchange was excellent:
Marayna: You're the only one here not wearing a garland.
Tuvok: Given the decor, it seems somehow excessive.
Marayna: I don't believe you.
Tuvok: I beg your pardon.
Marayna: I think you're tying to isolate yourself and make a public protest at the same time.
Tuvok: Explain.
Marayna: You didn't want to be here in the first place. Being the only one without a lei sets you apart from the others, allowing you to symbolically maintain your solitude. And since everybody can see that you're the only one without a lei, you're letting them know that you'd rather be somewhere else.
Tuvok: Your logic is impeccable.

So was Tuvok's apology to Harry at the end, and him thanking the Holodeck character. A shift from his previous, derisive description of Marayna as a "computer subroutine."

I think this would have been a better story without the Marayna/Kim romance angle. Heck, it might have been better without the Marayna/Tuvok romance angle. But the latter does serve an important purpose for the viewers: giving us a glimpse of how lonely Tuvok must be. Much of which is probably the result of his deliberate self-isolation from the rest of the crew. The solution he offers to Marayna: "Why don't you call for a replacement? Let another occupy this task. Attempt for a time to live among your own kind. " is one he can't take advantage of.

Which is why he offers to teach Harry Kal-Toh at the end of the episode. He's learned something about himself, and is attempting to mingle with his crewmates.
posted by zarq at 9:11 AM on July 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Particle of the Week: Skipped in favor of the wacky nebula.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: As I've mentioned in the past, autonomous sapient holograms are a staple of life in the Star Trek Online timeline. One thing that's never made clear is if the tech was developed independently or reverse engineered from the Doctor's mobile emitter. Personally though, I'm inclined to think it's the latter - it feels like a pretty big leap, and his device was just laying around, getting scanned and repaired and whatnot. Scenes like the one where Marayna steals it make it obvious why they would want to have the capability to replace it if it were ever fried, (although I don't believe Voyager ever develops a replacement, that being a problem later in the run).

Ongoing Counts: Rolled forward again.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 23.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

* The central conflict was mishandled.

Apart from how gross the whole 'I will destroy the ship to have you!' plot is generally, the thing about Alter Ego is that Marayna's characterization up until that point is solid enough that it's legitimately out of character. She's enjoyed the company of both Harry and Kes by this point, and interacted personally with a bunch of the crew. She's also shown a great deal of insight into Tuvok, (her read on him is the best we've ever seen, and even he admits that).

Everything leading up to this shows that she should know better than to threaten the whole ship, and probably be a better person than that in general. If her plea had been more personal - more like their conversation at the end, minus the threat of violence - it probably would've worked. Stuff like, 'you probably won't make it home anyway and we have a connection, stay here where it's safe!' I would've bought that.

I didn't buy this at all, once she started escalating. As you guys have already mentioned, it felt straight out of the TNG playbook, and not one of the good chapters.

* Stuff up until the episode goes off the rails was actually pretty good.

I have mixed feelings about the entire discussion of emotions in this episode. On the one hand, it's a clear retcon. Time and time again, Tuvok is shown to not have this deep understanding of emotion - Meld comes to mind in particular. He also purports not to have emotions at all, such as in the scene in Innocence where he tries to rationalize away actually loving his children in favor of Vulcan jibber-jabber.

At the same time, I actually really like the discussion of stuff like shon-ha'lock and t'san s'at. Despite the fanfic-ish names, (and I do have to concede that, Cheeses), the underlying principles sound like things I've heard from actual therapists - a key technique in resisting unwanted emotions is dissecting them, sitting with them and otherwise approaching them in ways that sound plausibly like what Tuvok proposes to Harry here. I also really enjoyed the exchange zarq quoted above, and was going to bring that up myself: Marayna sees right through Tuvok there, and it's excellent.

I have often said Voyager doesn't do deep very well, but those exchanges in Alter Ego are unexpectedly insightful, IMO. I'm even giving them extra points for not knowing much about psychology - the Doctor routinely conflates unrelated disorders, so I strongly doubt anybody got this stuff from a pro. (Self help book at best.)

* More Earth-centrism.

A luau? It checks with how all the humans on board only want Golden Age Earth entertainment, but it really is pretty dull. I do wish that the crew were interested in weird alien celebrations or customs. I also found Janeway peer pressuring Tuvok into showing up pretty disrespectful, especially given how close they are. Believable, but disrespectful.

* Other stuff:
Which is why he offers to teach Harry Kal-Toh at the end of the episode. He's learned something about himself, and is attempting to mingle with his crewmates.

Agreed. I did like how subtle that was, along with Tuvok thanking the holographic woman for offering to hang out. Him gaining more understanding of the value of navigating the emotions of others was actually pretty cool, because it probably is new to his time being stranded on Voyager. Up until then, everyone just seeking their own space would've worked fine.

but also Tom and B'Elanna, with the former maybe experiencing a bit of jealousy of his own.

Yeah, more continuity-lite there. In a good way.

Really, one could even go so far as to say that Voyager being stranded has inspired Tuvok to be a little more of a proselyte than is usual, for the benefit of his crewmates of course. (In that respect, the original intent for the Tuvok character as spelled out in the "Voyager Bible" is reflected well here.)

Yeah. I think so - a lot of the avoidance most people could use in that situation isn't present, and it would probably make more sense to Tuvok to try and help them than he might otherwise.

So yeah. Mixed bag. I think they lost me when she stole the mobile emitter, (as alluded to in my STO notes), but I was enjoying this more than I expected until then, and the final scene was pretty good. This was almost a classic for me, and if they'd removed the whole 'ship in peril' thing and just had something a little quieter, I think they could've pulled it off.
posted by mordax at 10:44 AM on July 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

This was almost a classic for me, and if they'd removed the whole 'ship in peril' thing and just had something a little quieter, I think they could've pulled it off.

They could have done the ship in peril thing (to keep viewers in suspense) and removed the Marayna /Tuvok romance bit and it would have been a nicer episode.

She's hiding in the nebula. Her dampener is affecting the ship. Tuvok figures this out. Confronts her. She confesses to being an alien playing voyeur, but didn't realize she was putting them in danger. Stops. Better writers could have created the same character development in Tuvok without pushing the romance angle.
posted by zarq at 11:02 AM on July 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Good point! That totally could've worked too.
posted by mordax at 11:30 AM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mixed feelings again for me. One the one hand, it's Star Trek episode 183 of the ongoing series "Vulcans are Full of Shit and Everyone Knows It", where Tuvok is as transparent as Harry in his usual bluff about emotions. While on the other hand, at least some of the dialogue around the subject was better than usual, despite the rather insipid "crisis" involved. (Which everyone else has dealt with in detail, so I won't belabor the point.)

I admit to being something of a sucker for ongoing gags/plot points like Harry falling in love with the wrong people all the time, so that amused somewhat, and you have to feel for him being basically dumped for Tuvok, even in these circumstances, so there's some interest there.

I would have preferred, perhaps, a little more self-awareness on Tuvok's part from the start to avoid the conflict between Tuvok and Harry, and had the situation between Tuvok and Marayna handled more forthrightly where both characters understand their mutual interest in each other's company, but rely more on their own knowledge of self and belief to resolve the problem rather than it being yet another "learning experience" of the sort that should by now be wholly unnecessary for either of them if one actually believes they've spent any time reflecting on such things.

I get that Vulcans are meant to be more stalking horses for speaking to the audience about emotional states, but there is a banality in the message that annoys, with it often feeling more like an after school special about the importance of friends, or pleasure, or whatever the topic du jour might be than an examination of difference in perspective that still might have some emotional validity without having to follow the exact same moral program as the other characters in a lock step fashion. Just as an example, the idea of fidelity isn't inherently logical as they seem to have Tuvok valuing it, there are perfectly logical alternative values that don't necessarily involve a character in any less moral actions, just different ones, but of course that isn't possible in the show as the values preached are so completely anodyne so as not to challenge the audience except into further agreement should they doubt.

Still, as I mentioned, as far as these things go, they handled it better than they often do, so this specific episode wasn't overly bothersome in that area and the minor character interactions were fairly solid as well, with some interesting ideas sort of existing on a more implicit or completely unintended level as has been mentioned here in regards to the holodeck and how Marayna viewed it and the other Voyager crew and so on. It's also something that has some ongoing interest for the show, where they'll return to the romance of holocharacters again. So this episode helps set some foundation for that and gives some further contour to the discussion, which is a positive as it's an interesting subject. It's also, somewhat unfortunately, one they can't be very forthright about themselves as the parameters of the show simply don't allow for very deep or clear discussions of sex, those issues can only be hinted at. That isn't always a bad thing, but with the narrow moral code of the show the direction it takes can be too limited to be as meaningful as it could be.

Oh well, could have been worse, could have been better, kinda forgettable in the long run.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:27 AM on July 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I like that Vorik was used as a subtle contrast to Tuvok here: Vorik wears a Hawaiian shirt and lei and yes, even mingles at the luau, which shows us that Tuvok's reluctance to socialize is specific to Tuvok and not just a Vulcan thing, even if Tuvok would have people believe otherwise.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:11 PM on January 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

That's a nice catch DevilsAdvocate, I don't think I even noticed that.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:38 PM on January 24, 2018

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