Friday, June 29, 2012

Kes Gets A Bit Randy From Giant Space Slugs In "Elogium"

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of acting
The Bad: Plot is overdone, Special effects are mediocre, Overall tone of episode
The Basics: When Kes's natural mating cycle is induced by giant flying space worms, Neelix must decide whether or not he's ready to be a dad in an uninspired episode.

Star Trek, as a franchise, has long had a "thing" for mating. Back in the 60s, Star Trek became one of the first science fiction series' to try to deal with sex when it created the concept of the Vulcan mating drive for Mr. Spock in "Amok Time" (reviewed here!). Ahh, pon farr, the idea that Vulcans mate once every seven years and a Star Trek inconsistency that has never been well-dealt with since. Sure, it's great for a joke on The Simpsons, but the idea of talking frankly about sex and sexuality was audacious when "Amok Time" first aired. With Star Trek: Voyager, there comes something much less audacious and more plot-driven with "Elogium."

Kes is going about her daily routine on the U.S.S. Voyager, as the starship ambles toward home, which now includes gardening in a garden set up in one of the cargo bays, when she decides to eat a big bug. This, apparently, is the first of several symptoms of her Elogium - the Ocampa mating drive - which Kes was not scheduled to endure for at least another year. Soon, the Voyager finds itself swarmed by giant space worms that flock to the ship like children and the ship is in greater danger than one horny Ocampa. Of course, the two phenomenon are related and when the dominant space worm shows up, Janeway must figure out how to save her ship while Neelix tries to save his relationship with Kes.

"Elogium" is a highly plot-driven episode that serves little purpose in the overall scheme of the story of the U.S.S. Voyager. The main reason this episode fails in the long run is because Kes gets ditched before a reprise could happen. Moreover, the Elogium is a remarkably plot-intensive condition that the viewer finds difficult to accept as it stands. It is explored with much exposition and the only good that truly comes of it is the character conflict that results.

The Elogium makes Kes - and, I suppose, all Ocampa - into a tree frog biologically as she has a limited window in which to mate and the Elogium only happens once in a lifetime. Symptoms include Kes going (literally) into heat and developing an adhesive on her hands which will allow her to cling on to her mate (pun intended). This rather intensive concept drives what little character development occurs in "Elogium," when Kes basically pressures Neelix to settle down and have a family with her.

The best moments here are when Kes and Neelix are talking about the ramifications of having a family. The problem with "Elogium" is that there's been nothing in the prior year - wherein Neelix risked life, limb and the U.S.S. Voyager for Kes - that would suggest that Neelix is not ready to settle down with Kes. Indeed, the level of character bonding between Kes and Neelix in episodes like "Phage" (reviewed here!) and "Jetrel" (reviewed here!), where Kes gives up much to save Neelix's life and where Neelix relies on Kes for spiritual guidance, suggest that their relationship is deep, meaningful and lasting. "Elogium" cheapens that quite a bit by belaboring the point and giving Neelix cold feet about the idea of having a family with Neelix.

Which brings me to the troubling aspect of "Elogium." The Star Trek franchise has any number of episodes that may be viewed in a metaphorical context. In the original Star Trek, episodes like "A Private Little War" (reviewed here!) resonated with viewers because they provided allegories to the Vietnam War which allowed criticisms of escalation to slip by the censors. "Elogium," then, provides a particularly twisted metaphorical interpretation that is never explored in enough detail to be considered edgy. Allow me to explain to the non-fans:

Kes is an Ocampa, a new race created specifically for Star Trek: Voyager. All the viewer truly knows about Kes at this point is that her race has an average life expectancy of approximately 8 years. When the series began, this clued fans into the idea that by the series finale, either the Doctor would find a way to prolong Kes's life of part of the finale would deal with the death of this character. This means, in analogous terms, that Kes is less than twenty Earth years old (in equivalent terms) - in a few episodes, Kes turns 2. If you follow my logic here that 8 Ocampa years is about equivalent to the 80 average year lifespan of humans, that at less than 2, Kes is less than 20 by human standards. What this means, in the metaphorical interpretation of the episode is that "Elogium" is about a late-teen who has one chance to have a baby before losing her fertility and she tries to rope her older boyfriend into it. This interpretation of the episode is inadequately explored, as the plot centers around reminding the viewer that Kes is going out of her head with the mating drive and minimizing Neelix's feelings for her. But it also doesn't feel edgy enough to me; going on the assumption that Kes is almost 2, in equivalent terms, she's in her late teens (probably 19 in equivalent terms). This episode is basically asking the viewer to consider the desperate situation of a 19 year-old who has one chance to get pregnant before losing her ability to have children.

My response? Meh. Who cares? She has a long potential life before her, in the analogous terms, the argument comes up that there's adoption, surrogate motherhood, extra-vaginal fertilization, etc. Historically, and in contemporary terms, we know that people much younger could be having children and as a normal function of societies in the past, did. So, there's little edgy about asking a man who has already illustrated a love and devotion to his 19 year-old girlfriend to knock her up and start a family. There's no punch to the metaphorical issue here and as a result, the episode becomes mired in a somewhat pointless plot.

This is not to mention that it does not take the viewer any time at all to realize that Kes's Elogium and the appearance of the worms in space are related, so the menace of Kes potentially losing her mating drive is gutted. This is very much an "alien influence of the week" story and it feels like it. Moreover, the creative department did not go out on any real limbs here. The giant space worms look remarkably similar (almost identical in coloring) to the giant space worms in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Galaxy's Child" (reviewed here!).

The acting here varies greatly. Jennifer Lein shines as Kes, giving one of her best performances. Her role in "Elogium" forces her to go through quite a bit of range from confused to fevered to horny to angry and Lein handles the task wonderfully with a great sense of body language and control over her vocal presentation. This is one of her best performances.

Sadly, she stands out in an episode populated by performances that are either typical or poorly scripted. For example, The Doctor - played by Robert Picardo - gives Kes a foot massage and Picardo plays the part as a beaming physician that is fairly obvious. Ethan Phillips is unable to give anything sterling as Neelix as the episode provides him with a somewhat pointless emotional debate that is easily resolved. Moreover, after seeing Phillips's acting gravitas in "Jetrel," his role here pales.

This is a very plot-driven episode that is truly only accessible to fans of science fiction and/or Star Trek and only for the die-hard fans there. It does not raise any genuine larger questions or ideas and as a result, it ends up feeling like a chance for the special effects department to shine and while they do, it's not enough for those looking for satisfying television.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


Check out how this episode stacks up against others in the Star Trek franchise by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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