Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Special Effects Tell All In "Ex Post Facto!"

The Good: Decent acting, story, character development, Good special effects
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot resolution
The Basics: When Tom Paris is convicted of a crime on an alien world, Tuvok begins to investigate and he comes to suspect there is something more serious going on.

The Star Trek franchise has a history of doing murder mysteries and espionage tales going all the way back to the original Star Trek. Within the franchise, some of the best episodes are either about espionage, like Star Trek's "The Enterprise Incident (reviewed here!), or crime and punishment, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Hard Time" (reviewed here!). Star Trek: Voyager taps into this somewhat "done" concept early on with the episode "Ex Post Facto" and it resonates as one of the best episodes Star Trek: Voyager puts out.

As unlikely as it might seem for the newly reformed Tom Paris, helmsman of the U.S.S. Voyager, it appears he has had an affair on an alien world and killed his mistress’s husband. Terrible as that may be, what is worse is the punishment; every fourteen hours Paris must relive the experience of being killed, as is the custom of the Baneans. When Tuvok begins to investigate, however, he discovers some discrepancies and it becomes a race against time for Tuvok to find the real killer before the punishment kills Paris.

What works rather well in "Ex Post Facto" is that the idea of the punishment is clever enough to make the viewer suspend disbelief long enough to accept that the solution to the mystery would elude others for as long as it does. Smartly, this episode capitalizes on the crew's ignorance of life in the Delta Quadrant and it plays off the viewer's acceptance of that as well. The episode works because it is a clever concept, that is well executed.

First off, they could not have picked a better character to do this with than Tom Paris. Paris at this point is still edgy enough to be remembered for his rogue initial characterization (in "Caretaker," reviewed here!, he was a prisoner serving time in a Federation labor camp) and reformed enough that we feel compelled to believe the distraught officer when he declares himself innocent of this particular crime. Also, Paris does seem like the kind of guy who would not have a problem having an affair with a married woman. Then again, it's debatable here, but the choice works where others, say Harry Kim, could not pull it off.

Second, this allows Tuvok to have a chance to stretch his investigative muscles and succeed. So far in this series, Tuvok has had limited success as a security chief, getting lost with the Maquis in the Delta Quadrant and being relegated to a science officer in the previous episode. Here, he follows in the tradition of prior security chiefs, like Worf and Odo and he assembles evidence and does honorable detective work. Tuvok earns his pay here.

Third, "Ex Post Facto" establishes a new and different enough alien culture with refreshing simplicity and distinction. The Baneans have a strong sense of right and wrong and punishment and their enemy, the Numiri is presented as a formidable enough opponent. Their style of justice, having the guilty party relive the memory of the victim is clever conceptually and well-executed in the plot here.

Part of what makes the episode work so well, beyond the characterization, is the acting. Tim Russ here establishes himself as a serious, emotionless full-Vulcan, achieving the archetype Spock always strove for. Russ carries himself with a rigid posture and humorless guise that makes him ideal for portraying a Vulcan and here he carries out the role with quiet strength and dignity.

It is Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris who rules this episode, though. McNeill has the chance to act as more than a young smartass in this episode and he lives up to his abilities as an actor. Through the flashback sequences, McNeill is forced to play Paris as confident, amorous, angry and utterly broken, alternately. McNeill makes flawless transitions through the various emotions establishing - never breaking - character wonderfully and with a reality that makes the viewer empathize immediately with his character's predicament.

And it all comes together rather well. "Ex Post Facto" holds up well over multiple viewings and remains one of Star Trek Voyager's better outings. It's a pleasant episode for more than just fans of science fiction or the Star Trek franchises. This is a fine episode for anyone who likes a good mystery, espionage or courtroom drama and can tolerate a dramatically different setting.

It's enough to give a viewer of the series hope that the writers can create something truly original and worthwhile . . .

[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!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, check out 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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