Star Trek: Voyager: Scientific Method   Rewatch 
September 18, 2017 7:29 AM - Season 4, Episode 7 - Subscribe

I always feel like somebody's watching me/And I have no privacy/ Whoa, I always feel like somebody's watching me/Who's playing tricks on me?

Memory Alpha is here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and it's all out of replicator rations:

- Apparently, Robert Picardo enjoyed the chance that this episode of Star Trek: Voyager gave him to show off his physique. Midway through the fourth season, he said of the episode, "Of course, you got to see me wear tights for the first time [....] The wonderful thing about working with Jeri Ryan when I was also wearing the Spandex was that Jeri thought it was completely OK to treat me as a sex object, and it was. It was something I had been begging for for years. I've always felt I had the nicest butt in the company, but I'm sure there are eight other butts that would care to differ." In a more serious demeanor, Picardo also recollected, "The day that I wore those tights, Jeri pinched me on the butt about five times. She was just so delighted that someone else had to wear tights on the show!"

- Shortly prior to performing in this installment, Torres actress Roxann Dawson and Paris actor Robert Duncan McNeill talked for a long time about how the episode explores the relationship between their characters. Dawson told McNeill that, in her interpretation of the episode, the reason why their romance was heated to an unusual degree was because it was like the characters were tipsy from having had a couple of drinks that the aliens were supplying, so that the romantic feelings between Paris and B'Elanna were real but were simply being accentuated by the aliens' influence.

- This episode is similar to TNG: "Schisms" in that the respective crews are unknowingly being experimented on by aliens.

"You are security chief. Don't thirteen department heads report to you every day?"
"Well, straighten them out."
"Shall I flog them as well?"

- Captain Janeway and Tuvok

"Sorry, these lab rats are fighting back."

- Janeway, to Alzen

"I know what you're going to say, doctor, but I can't neglect my responsibilities."
"Actually, I was going to suggest a change of outfit."

- The Doctor and Captain Janeway, as an overstressed Janeway begins to leave for the bridge, wearing only a towel

"Do you think he'll say anything to the captain?"
"I don't know."
"Well, how did he sound? Annoyed? Amused?"
"Sounded Vulcan – what more can I tell you?"

- B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris

Poster's Log:

A mostly-enjoyable episode, marred by the ten-percent rule, and specifically the general attitude and expectations of the Srivani. (Neither the species nor the individuals are named in the episode, but they are in the script and therefore in the MA entry.) First, the good points, though: there's some really good dialogue and scenes in this episode. The teaser is fairly long, setting up Tom and B'Elanna as they're trying to sneak away to make out, but it's got a good pay-off with the unexplained X-ray image. That's how most of the episode goes, alternating funny bits (Chakotay and Neelix exchanging complaints; speaking of Chakotay, I thought that his makeup was less old-man and more Threshold-amphibian-becoming, but that works even better) with that growing sense of dread, especially when we get into the They Live-esque part. I'm not a claustrophobe, but I could feel my skin crawl in the scene where Seven has to keep her cool while the alien who doesn't know that Seven can see her is taking some sort of sample while they're both in the elevator. I also thought that it was clever that Seven was the only one who could set up the energy pulse, when the crew obviously doesn't quite trust her yet.

The weakness is after the reveal of the Srivani, and they do the exposition to Janeway... and holy crap, are they dumb for a bunch of people who believe that their scientific advancement depends on surreptitious experimentation on aliens without their knowledge or permission. That whole "well, we'll try to keep casualties to a minimum, but we're going to go ahead with our tortureexperiments whether you like it or not" thing--given that the crew has already exposed them, how much sense does that make? Their "the needs of the many outweigh those of the few" argument may hold some water, but the way that they go about it is utterly fucked. I was hoping that Janeway & Co. would pull a TOS move and broadcast the Srivani's methods to the whole sector--see how you like that, assholes. Instead, Janeway plays chicken with the pulsars and ends up killing probably half of them. Welp.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Not only is this similar to "Schisms", but I thought that there was some of the feel of the TOS episode "Wink of an Eye", in which the hyperaccelerated aliens are likewise invisible to the crew. I also noted Janeway's insistence that the Federation would never do something like that, when the events of Star Trek: Insurrection prove otherwise.
posted by Halloween Jack (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I also noted Janeway's insistence that the Federation would never do something like that, when the events of Star Trek: Insurrection prove otherwise.

In Janeway's defense, she was out of town the Alpha Quadrant when that went down.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:02 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yet another episode where I stare blankly at a screen and try and fail to stifle the urge to yell, "DNA DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT! GENETICS DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT!"

A mostly-enjoyable episode


We had two episodes (Threshold and "Favorite Son") where the writers contrived to rewrite the crew's DNA to make them entirely different species. This one also has them rewriting DNA and performing other biological experiments with results that also make no scientific sense. Hyperstimulated DNA?

Science fiction as a genre likes to push the envelope. I get it. And I also get that we're talking about a constructed universe in which Vulcans, Talaxians and Borg exist. But Star Trek writers usually at least try to make the technobabble and scientific stuff make some sort of loose sense. For heaven's sake, make an effort not to pass total garbage off as scientific. At least "Schisms" was entertaining.

Okay, I admit it. "Shall I flog them as well?" was hilarious.


While the EMH speaks to Seven through her implants to urge her to leave the bridge and go to the Da Vinci simulation in holodeck 2 you can clearly hear Harry say there's a backup of the Doctor's program available. When did that happen?
posted by zarq at 9:09 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Honestly, some of the scientific WTFery is just background radiation at this point. Barcodes on individual molecules? Whatever. Does the Doctor have a backup? Depends on what the episode needs, I guess. The last episode I wrote up, they forgot about their backup warp core, as one does.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:16 AM on September 18, 2017

there's a backup of the Doctor's program available. When did that happen?

The Doctor's backup module comes up again in "Living Witness"; the story couldn't work without it. Then we never hear about it again (because it was stolen in that story) and it's left unanswered as to whether or not Voyager launched with this module. Memory Alpha goes into more detail:
The existence of a backup module would seem to contradict "Message in a Bottle", in which Tom Paris and Harry Kim tried and failed to create another version of The Doctor. However, since no date or stardate was given in "Living Witness", the only things that date when the module was stolen is Seven of Nine and the state of Voyager's distance from home being 60,000 light-years, placing the episode sometime after "The Gift" but before "Timeless". This means that the module could have been stolen before the events in "Message in a Bottle", or it could have been created afterward and then stolen. The determinative question never directly answered by any episode of the series is whether Voyager launched with this technology on board.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:27 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

MA episode link :)

I'm willing to handwave much of the DNA/Doctor-backup WTFery because they aren't, I think, essential to the episode. What IS essential is the whole phase variance thing, which has been used before to good effect on TNG. I consider this ep to be one of those that's fun enough if you don't think about it too much, and elevated by good performances all around, as is so often the case with this show that I'm sure somebody said the same thing in the "Caretaker" thread.

The stuff with Seven having to not let on that she saw the aliens was a great, solid thrill, though one wonders if she's still too new to the emotion of fear to be so good at not flipping the hell out like I would in those circumstances. But then, her collectedness is a pretty consistent character trait IIRC.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:20 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Particle of the Week: Srivani nanotech medical tags.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The Srivani do not appear in Star Trek Online, but the beings behind the events in Schisms do, as a major part of the metaplot. The table where Worf is experimented on even shows up in a mission where Michael Dorn guest stars.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 17.
* Shuttles: Down 8.
* Crew: 141. Losing the unnamed woman who died to hypertensive shock precipitates Janeway's final gambit.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken. This definitely counted as an aborted self-destruct attempt, but I feel it's worth noting that she didn't rely on the self-destruct mechanism itself. (In this case, that feels logical because the Srivani would almost certainly have compromised it.)

* In addition to Schisms...

The gonzo test imagery reminded me of Data's bizarre dreams in Phantasms, which also featured a single crew member able to perceive out-of-phase aliens.

* This worked for me until they actually spoke to the Srivani.

This episode is basically Voyager's take on Schisms, as noted above. It worked great for me right up until Seven took a hostage and they had someone to talk to, then it immediately fizzled.

I ran tabletop RPGs for many years, and one of my favorite sets of books had an essay in it about the nature of horror: it posited that good horror is best constructed by creating an atmosphere of isolation and uncertainty. Fear initially comes from not knowing what's going on, and is sustained by having no one to turn to about the situation. Once one of those pillars collapses, you get a call to action instead, and are left with anger or revulsion.

The Srivani work until they open their mouths and begin moral justifications for what they're doing - fear is replaced with, in my case, annoyance at how stupid everything gets. Having a moral debate was ridiculous. Pointing out they will most definitely kill some of the crew instead of lying about it is ridiculous.

It also calls out the insanity of a race that advanced needing to experiment on other races to produce cures for diseases. These guys have superior tech - they could be running something like The Island instead, testing shit on clones. They don't need to tangle with randos like Voyager who aren't even their species and have weapons. Like zarq, I was thinking about Favorite Son when I watched this, but more because the logistics of their method just do not check. (I'd also compare it to Nemesis, which also relies on aliens just conveniently landing into a race's high tech trap in ways that don't scale well.)

Nothing about their plan makes a lick of sense: it relies on coincidence, it doesn't scale and they should've cleared out when Seven revealed them rather than bet that they could counter any resistance. Oh, and they definitely shouldn't have picked the captain to make super aggro - Janeway lampshading this just made it that much worse.

It's so close to being a great episode, but they completely flub the landing.

* Everything before that works okay.

I was also puzzled by the assertion they had a backup for the Doctor, (and weren't more freaked out to lose him during a medical crisis, frankly). I dislike Trek's Lego Genetics stuff too.

That said, the stuff with Chakotay and Neelix was funny, Seven's They Live stuff was atmospheric and the Doctor hiding in the holodeck made a sufficient amount of narrative sense to overlook its WTFery for me. I really did like the X-Ray special effects.

I also agree with the actors about Tom and B'Ellana - the attraction was real, but their behavior about it was affected by the scenario.

If the writers hadn't lost momentum talking to the Srivani and had just figured out a way to banish them or something, this episode would probably rate up there with The Thaw for me as a good horror outing for such a bloodless, low stakes show. As it is, it's more of a 'meh' for being derivative but turning away from success rather than toward it.
posted by mordax at 11:34 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Well, it seems pretty clear someone involved isn't a big fan of animal research since that's evidently the analogy here, either Klink or more likely the story creators, Klein and Kloor.

I've really grown to like Klink's writing for the show for the most part, even as she's involved with a couple episodes I really don't like overall. Here she makes good use of the entire crew, shows them exhibiting reasonable competence, builds in a few added metaphoric touches and creates another episode that resonates beyond its viewing. The questionable science around the DNA aside, there's nothing I really dislike about the episode, even once the Srivani are revealed, save perhaps for the meeting where no Srivani were present near the end.

The conversations and interactions among the crew were all well-handled, Tom and B'Elanna's relationship dealt with compellingly, allowing that the newness of their relationship may have been feeding their desire, as is common, but that it could be Srivani intervention affecting it as well. The conversation between the two at the end about that very possibility itself was charming.

Janeway's headaches likewise manage to be both somewhat metaphorical in her position and the pain in the ass stuff she has to deal with, where her gripes could be seen as reasonable on a more authoritarian ship, but where she obviously fights those impulses to treat the crew and ship more befitting her ideals. That she goes super-destructo at the end isn't off for her character or her ideals either, which is still what makes her a fascinating character overall, even with the inconsistencies in the writing.

Tuvok was shown in a good light both as security chief and as someone Janeway relies on, which is really nice to see drawn out once again. Tom and Harry get some nice interaction and Neelix and Chakotay are amusing, though seeing more of them might not have been bad. The use of Seven here balances the hyper-competence of the Borg with some difficulties interacting with the crew in a way that pushes neither concept too far and she was an excellent choice as "hero" since her demeanor works so well for what she is required to do and her lack of reaction in extreme circumstance. I'm also pleased they showed the doctor doctoring in a useful manner central to the story rather than just using him for comic relief, that too gives the episode some added strength for being about the crew doing their jobs, and sometimes not doing them as with Tom and B'Elanna.

I found the discussion with the Srivani scientist to be an amusingly chilling sort of analogy for what a human scientist might say to one of their "lower life form" creatures experimented upon without getting hyperbolic. The tone of the discussion from the Srivani side was what made it work for me as much as anything. Patient condescension, not entirely without sympathy, but with the perspective skewed to their own needs overall. It makes their menace a different sort than a unexplained horror in a way I found appealing enough, mostly because that lends it an added resonance that the wholly inexplicable may not have, even as it might be more frightening. I don't mean that makes this better than doing it the other way, it may not, but it works in a different sense that I also found appealing.

If memory serves, they've bandied about backing up the doctor before, but them actually having a backup wasn't explicit. It's a bit unfortunate perhaps that they weren't more consistent with how the doctor actually works in regards to the ship since there are surely other interesting stories they could have done with that, like having the doctor and his back up(s) suss out the nature of their "individual" existences, how he is or isn't separate from the computer system and so on, instead they went with whether holograms can have literary rights of authorship? I think they missed out on the variety of concepts a sentient hologram might raise and settled too readily for a narrow few instead that already had some echo with Data in TNG.

Anyway, this was all to the good for me, which was welcome after last time. I should also give some notice to David Livingstone's direction here as it was well handled throughout and not drooling like Burton's last time.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:57 AM on September 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Actually, upon reflection, I'd change my notion of the show being about animal research in its initial concept, and say that's more how it comes out filmed with the various experiments done on the crew echoing the look of those done on animals, but the initial idea may have been more along the lines of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment or those done on prisoners or the poor without their knowledge since that might fit better with the work on the DNA sequences. There may have been some alteration between the story/teleplay and filming, or not, but I'd leave that idea open as well.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:02 AM on September 19, 2017

That's a decent defense of the episode, gusottertrout, but I'm still sticking with "doesn't really work." If your experiment depends on the subjects not knowing that you're there, and they find out that you're there, then the experiment is over. That's why I added the "observer effect" tags. I also added one for "anviliciousness" because the denouement of the episode was not only not thought through very well, but it was delivered as bluntly as possible in case there's someone out there who might not get the point if it isn't put in after-school special terms. We've observed that Voyager tends to do TOS-type stories, and this anvilicious attempt to make socially relevant points is reminiscent of the third season of TOS, when they just sort of chucked subtlety out the window.

(Also, I'm pretty sure that there was never a Data episode like "Author, Author", but we can save that for the episode discussion itself.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:39 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, sure, they're definitely asking the audience to stretch the suspension of disbelief some with the Srivani staying on board once they've been discovered, and I don't blame anyone for sort of balking at that. Ideally, they could have kept the resolution to one longer scene where Janeway gets reckless at least without adding the intervening meeting. The discussion with the captured Srivani is too good to drop, I personally loved the "we'll share our research with you" bit as if that'd be adquate justification, but they could have arranged the timing and placement of the discussion to be more fluid so it could segue right into the mad dash. I'm just willing to overlook that bit of clumsiness since the rest was good enough to forgive it.

You're right about Author, Author, as a specific odd little episode, one I kinda liked, I was thinking more generally about the search for humanity bit instead of going more for the oddity of hologramness angle. But, as you say, there'll be plenty of opportunity to discuss that later as it's definitely a thing they'll be returning to.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:03 AM on September 19, 2017

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