Saturday, June 2, 2012

Encountering The Same Plots As Star Trek: The Next Generation Is Star Trek: Voyager's "Parallax."

The Good: Nice character development, Good acting, Good effects
The Bad: Extremely derivative plot
The Basics: When the U.S.S. Voyager becomes trapped in a Spatial-Phenomenon-Of-The-Week, Captain Janeway is given the chance to test the candidates for Chief Engineer.

Early on in any of the post Star Trek series' in the Star Trek franchise, the budding series (whichever it is) will borrow plots from earlier incarnations of Trek because it's just easier than coming up with original material, I suppose. Honestly, it's hard for the writers and producers to conceive entirely new characters and crew formations, start working with a whole new bunch of untested actors, build sets and write completely new material all at the same time. As a result, some of the early episodes of Star Trek: Voyager bear a striking resemblance to other episodes of other series'. With its first post-pilot episode, Star Trek: Voyager steals a page from Star Trek: The Next Generation by essentially remaking the second season episodes "Time Squared" (reviewed here!) and "Where Silence Has Lease" (reviewed here!). The episode is "Parallax" and what makes it worthwhile is that it is one of the last episodes of Star Trek: Voyager where the Maquis/StarFleet conflict is alive, real and expressed in a way that is not forced.

All is not well aboard the U.S.S. Voyager as it limps towards home with little in the way of supplies, little in the way of hope and no clear Chief Engineer. While Janeway struggles to decide who will become the new chief, B'Elanna Torres - the half-Klingon Maquis officer - has a fight with the StarFleet contender for the post, Joe Carrey. This makes it very hard for Maquis First Officer Chakotay to lobby for Torres to Janeway, but soon all the politics is set aside when the starship becomes trapped in a collapsed star. Working to get out, the officers detect another ship caught in the spatial phenomenon and Torres soon deduces that the other ship is simply a reflection of Voyager. Using that information, Torres and Janeway pilot a shuttlecraft together to find a way out for the starship.

"Parallax" works because despite the amount of time spent and data shared on the spatial phenomenon, the episode retains a strong focus on the characters involved. The spatial anomaly that has trapped the U.S.S. Voyager is somewhat bland and unsurprising by any standards of science fiction. So, it falls upon the character work done in this episode to pull the episode up and make it watchable and interesting.

It certainly succeeds with that. Focusing on B'Elanna Torres and creating a relationship between Torres and Janeway is wonderful and here we see a Chief Engineer who is a realist, a pragmatist and a hard worker. Torres does not inflate her repair estimates and when the Captain contradicts her time estimates, Torres realistically puts her in her place, declaring that the time she estimates is the time it will take. That's a refreshing change and interesting bit of characterization because it creates an atmosphere of realism; the Captain is told right off the bat in Torres's candidacy that she cannot expect miracles. Unlike Scotty, Geordi LaForge or Miles O'Brien, Torres is going to call it as she sees it (if only they stuck with that!).

Moreover, Torres is one of the most intrinsically interesting characters on Star Trek: Voyager. She is half-human, half-Klingon, a combination only seen before in the very popular Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes featuring K'Ehleyr, Worf's former love (she first pops up in "The Emissary," reviewed here!). Torres is the same combination and she has rejected her Klingon heritage. It comes from her mother, who abandoned her and her father and she constantly resents her mother for that, blaming Klingons in general. In short, she seeks to distance herself as much as possible from her Klingon heritage, making her a distinctly different character than the Klingon Pride posterchild Worf (on Star Trek: The Next Generation).

"Parallax" sets up the idea that Torres is a good and reasonable choice to take over as Chief Engineer (the StarFleet Chief Engineer having been killed in the pilot, "Caretaker" - reviewed here!). It also works hard to establish Chakotay as a man of principle. He goes so far as to tell Janeway that he will not be her token Maquis First Officer and that if she wants him to serve, she must actually listen to him at times. It's a nice moment of realistic assertiveness and the viewer wishes that the producers had gone back to that concept more often. After "Parallax," much of the first season lacks any real conflict between Maquis and StarFleet officers, which is utterly unrealistic and defeats the premise of the series.

Part of what sells the viewer on the force of Chakotay's character in dealing with Janeway here is the performance by Robert Beltran. Beltran plays Chakotay as a man of integrity and character who has been fighting a principled battle and, in the case of leading a cell of Maquis, lost. But in defeat, Chakotay is reborn to service, vowing to serve Janeway and get the crew home as a joint crew, integrating his officers with hers. Of course a leader like him would not want his crew simply subjugated to Janeway's! Beltran makes it possible to believe that even from the disadvantageous position of no longer having his own ship, Chakotay would make demands on the captain of Voyager.

Janeway here is proven to be a woman of integrity and vision, wisely listening to Chakotay and judging for herself. Janeway is played by Kate Mulgrew and here she gives a commanding performance that sets her in the philosopher king tradition of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Mulgrew connotes patience with her body language, makes her speech patterns contemplative and embodies a public figure listening while making her decision about Torres. She also illustrates the she can act commanding by taking control of the bridge and delivering orders in a way that seems realistic and . . . well, commanding.

Much of the episode rests on the performance of Roxann Biggs-Dawson as B'Elanna Torres. Dawson instantly embodies a conflicted character who is both professional and broken. In "Parallax," she is given the opportunity to express more than simply her character's mission and she softens the character to make her vulnerable and interesting with alterations from her stiff body language to something softer. Dawson sets Torres up as one of the characters to watch and the viewer is filled with hope that she might be highlighted quite a bit.

This episode also starts the process of attempting to get The Doctor out of sickbay, in this case resulting in a miniaturized doctor. It starts the episode with some humor and that works well. In all, though "Parallax" is a character study from when Star Trek: Voyager still had character and its pretty nice to see that.

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season on DVD, which provides the full opening to the series. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


Check out how this episode compares to other episodes in the Star Trek franchise by visiting my Star Trek Best To Worst Page!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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