Monday, June 25, 2012

Oh, Indistinct Voyager! "The 37's" Opens The Second Season Bland!

The Good: The ship lands! The presence of Sharon Lawrence
The Bad: Another lame, recycled plot featuring obvious "villains of the week."
The Basics: When the U.S.S. Voyager finds -snicker- a truck floating in space, they follow it to a planet with a cryogenically frozen Amelia Earhart. I wish I were kidding.

Returning for its second season with four first season episodes that were simply held back by the producers (I don't know, maybe they thought ripping off Star Trek: The Next Generation for nineteen episodes was somehow fundamentally worse than taking it for only fifteen), Star Trek: Voyager tried to overcome the blase first season finale "Learning Curve" (reviewed here!) with the disappointing "The 37's." Wow, did they fail. More than ever, Star Trek: Voyager comes across as derivative, desperate and clinging to the coattails of better Star Trek series'. "The 37's" opens the season on a low note.

The U.S.S. Voyager is soaring along through space when it detects, of all things, a 1937 truck floating in the middle of nowhere. Naturally curious, and in no real hurry to get home, Janeway follows a distress call on antiquated equipment to a planet where the crew discovers a group of humans in suspended animation. Having landed the ship on the alien planet, Janeway and her people revive the humans, one of whom is none other than Amelia Earhart. It turns out, in 1937 hundreds of people including Earhart were abducted by an alien race - the Briori - to be used as slaves, but plucky as they were, they overthrew their slavers and started a culture on this remote world. Janeway offers to let any of her crew stay on the planet with Earhart and this leads to some serious moralizing among the crew.

Where do we start when an episode is so bad? It's times like this that I wish I weren't so facetious and full of loathing for everyone and everything. Star Trek: Voyager had some serious potential when it began. I remember being excited by the pilot, but rewatching episodes like "The 37's" just reminds me how quickly the show went downhill. This is a series that did not even give its second season a fighting chance with a decent premiere. And the thing is, the second season is arguably better than the first, so when it begins on a downbeat like this, the viewer just wonders what the producers were thinking.

So, we'll start with the basic idea. "The 37's" is an obvious recasting (that's my polite way of saying "rip off") of "Star Trek's" "Space Seed" (reviewed here!) and its Star Trek: The Next Generation recast "The Neutral Zone" (reviewed here!). The whole idea of humans who have been cryogenically frozen and whisked away in space is a rather "done" concept in Star Trek. We get it, it's cool to think that people from our past might be hanging out frozen around the galaxy, ready to illustrate to us how far we've come when we finally find them. Been there, done that, we get it. "The 37's" adds nothing significant to this idea.

Moreover, the resulting dilemma becomes something of a cheap shot. Janeway implicitly makes staying behind on the planet of liberated humans a loyalty test and the idea is never truly explored that many of the crew will not survive the trip back to Federation space. I mean, given how crewmembers have already been killed by the trip into the Delta Quadrant, the Vidiians and spatial anomalies, why wouldn't one decide to relocate to a safe planet in the Delta Quadrant? I mean, how is it there is no one living on the U.S.S. Voyager that is running away from the law, an ex-wife and a paternity suit or who is just sick of living on the ship at this point? I mean, it's not like half the crew is composed of people who (believably) will be thrown in a Federation prison once the ship gets back anyway.

The problem here is that the producers are making a point and an episode instead of making the characters seem real and vibrant. Of course there's no discussion of how many people are likely to die on the trip home from this point on because they all blindly follow Janeway. Just ask poor Lieutenant Durst . . . By not exploring this realistically, though, the producers set up a season that is more bland than adventurous. Because there is no discussion of potential upcoming carnage, the reaction to it when it happens is equally uninspired.

Which brings us to what "The 37's" does right. The Star Trek franchise tries now and again to answer some of the questions that have plagued science fiction and history for ages. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the mystery of the Roswell Incident is solved in "Little Green Men" (reviewed here!). Here, the mystery of whatever happened to Amelia Earhart is answered by detailing how she and her copilot were abducted by aliens. It's a good enough answer as any and in that regard the episode is fine.

From the earliest conceptions of Star Trek: Voyager, fans like yours truly who went to conventions and were excited about the new series were told and eagerly awaited the idea that the U.S.S. Voyager was going to be able to land. This was a starship that would have the ability to set down on planets. Why? Who cares! It's an excuse to have fun with special effects and to have a blue sky outside Captain Janeway's ready room. In "The 37's" Voyager has a "blue alert" that allows it to make ready to set down on the surface of the planet and it does. This is one of those judiciously used techniques, like the way the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D would occasionally separate its saucer section from the main drive.

Is it enough to sell this episode? No. Not by a long shot. Apparently, Class L planets mean that Voyager is going to land as opposed to beam down (I think there was some form of radiation that explained the need). Regardless, the net effect is that Voyager sets down on a planet, fans feel like they've received what they were promised at conventions and the episode plods on in a remarkably dull way.

"The 37's" makes use of Sharon Lawrence, of NYPD Blue fame as Amelia Earhart. How does she do? She's fine, but it's not a stellar role. Actually, while the writing for Earhart is fine and Lawrence's performance is adequate, the problem here is that Earhart is - rather conveniently - Janeway's idol and inspiration. That just seems far too convenient and formulaic. I mean, in all the universe, Janeway happens to get lost in the exact place where her childhood idol ended up?! C'mon! Janeway doesn't seriously consider staying on the planet with her? C'mon! Lawrence is up for the part, but it's not much of a part.

And that's the kicker of "The 37's" on the acting front. We are beginning a new season of Star Trek: Voyager and the opportunity comes for anyone to disembark and remain on this strange new world and . . . the audience knows none of the primaries are going to leave. It's like how the audience knew in any of the early episodes that the U.S.S. Voyager was not going to get home using the spatial anomaly of the week. It's too early in the series. The simple conventions of television gut the sense of reality in this series.

Even worse, though, is that the actors seem to know this as well. None of them give a performance that seems to indicate that their character might seriously stay or that there is any form of internal debate going on. Not one.

So, the question I always try to answer is who will enjoy this? I don't know. It's old hat for fans of science fiction, the questions asked are not compelling enough or interestingly enough resolved for fans of drama, and it's simply not original enough to do anything new. It's hard even to recommend to fans of Sharon Lawrence as her part is - reviewing the episode - surprisingly small. The novelty of seeing Lawrence next to Janeway wears off quick and the viewer is left with the disappointment that comes from a novelty episode that lacks novelty. As it is, I'm off to clean my palate with a listen to Heather Nova's amazing track "I Miss My Sky (Amelia Earhart's Last Days)" from her c.d. Redbird (reviewed here!). I'll spend the rest of my life enjoying that song (it's worth checking out!); I'll not watch this episode again.

[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!


For other Star Trek reviews, visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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