Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Creates A Legitimately Good Episode That's Anything But A "State Of Flux!"

The Good: Decent story, Good acting, Nice resolution/serialization
The Bad: The Kazon are still crappy villains, Predictable character arcs
The Basics: When the U.S.S. Voyager discovers that technology from the ship has ended up in the hands of the Kazon-Nistrum, Chakotay and Tuvok begin an investigation that points, alternatively, to Seska and Lieutenant Carey.

Star Trek: Voyager, in its brief run up to "State Of Flux" has illustrated a terrible lack of originality. Outside the pilot episode, "Caretaker" (reviewed here!) and the introduction of the villainous Vidiians in "Phage" (reviewed here!), each episode has been more or less a compilation of other episodes from earlier in the Star Trek franchise. As a result, Star Trek: Voyager is often seen by fans of the franchise as remarkably derivative and more or less disappointing. With "State Of Flux," the show utilizes elements from previous outings in the franchise, yet still makes the elements feel new and different, making it one of the better episodes of season one.

When the U.S.S. Voyager encounters a disaster in the form of a Kazon ship that includes crewmembers fused into bulkheads, Janeway and Chakotay soon realize there is a traitor on board the starship. The Kazon do not have transporter technology, yet it appears they have a crude version of it which killed a whole bunch of Kazon. Chakotay and Tuvok begin to investigate the Engineering crew to find who might have exported StarFleet technology to the Kazon and their search soon points in the direction of Seska, who also happens to be Chakotay's former lover. The pair set a trap for Seska, which sets off a chain of events that threaten the starship Voyager on its way home . . .

Introduced in "Caretaker" as a thirty group of water-poor, technologically backwards pirates with bad hygiene and an unstable government, the Kazon are easily one of the bottom three recurring villains in the Star Trek franchise. The Kazon are, quite simply, lame in the popular sense and their make-up is less than inspired. What makes the alien race known as the Kazon? Giant hair. Seriously. Viewed on the DVDs in beautiful digital clarity, it is never more clear that the gigantic, rocky mass atop the heads of the Kazon is just big hair. While this might be original in the Star Trek franchise, it's just silly and pathetic to define an alien race.

Equally frustrating for fans of the Star Trek franchise is the plot. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead" (reviewed here!) begins almost identically to "State Of Flux" and the resolution is straight out of "Data's Day" (reviewed here!). Sadly, the writers and producers seem to not have much originality and the espionage aspect with a recurring character is handled much better on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the twist involving Michael Eddington in "For The Cause" (reviewed here!). The important difference here is that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took the time to develop a character and the betrayal became a very big, important psych-out to the audience that was rather effective. With the potential duplicity of Seska, the audience is less surprised. She has only popped up a few times and she's been mean and angry every time she has.

Beyond that, the only real problem with "State Of Flux" is that it marks the beginning of the dumbing down of Commander Chakotay. Chakotay is a decent officer and a leader of men up until this point. Early in the series, he stands up to Captain Janeway and declares that he will not be a token. He will not be a token Maquis and he will not simply be her symbolic first officer. The problem here is that with the character of Seska being introduced as a potential traitor and former love-interest of Chakotay's, the decline of Chakotay's strength of character begins to decline. While this is a gradual process, by the end of the second season, the writers will be virtually tapped out on where to go with Chakotay and the astute scholar of Trek will trace the degradation back to this episode.

That said, in this episode, Chakotay is vigorous and engaging. Teamed with Tuvok, he becomes both a leader determined to keep a clean house and a vigilant detective keen to prevent the U.S.S. Voyager from coming to harm. His insight and determination to make a fair exploration of how Voyager's technology ended up in the hands of the Kazon is a compelling character choice and it makes for entertaining viewing. Tuvok is simply Tuvok, doing what any security officer in his place should do.

Seska here begins a multi-episode arc that is interesting and engaging enough. From earlier episodes, she has distinguished herself as a particularly angry Bajoran who wants nothing more than to return to the Alpha Quadrant to go back to fighting the Maquis fight in the demilitarized zone. Here she expands that anger with a sense of desperation that is fairly compelling.

Seska is played by actress Martha Hackett and she plays the role well. Hackett has a very physical sense to her that connotes anger and eyes that are wonderfully snakelike in this piece. In tender moments with Chakotay, she softens beautifully and the viewer is very able to see why he might have been attracted to her. Hackett makes the role.

This is also one of the best performances Robert Beltran gives as Chakotay. Sure, that's not saying much because the actor soon becomes terribly neglected, but it does speak to his acting ability that when he is given a script, he's able to rise to the occasion.

"State Of Flux" may well be a better episode for non-fans of the Star Trek franchise than for those who are familiar with the other incarnations of Star Trek. Indeed, if one is only watching Star Trek: Voyager, the show probably seems terribly original and "State Of Flux" is a good espionage story. In fact, all a non-fan would need to know to get right into this episode is that the Federation refuses to sell or give technology to races that do not have technology that could potentially alter the balance of power in any given area. Therefore, the fact that transporter technology has found its way to one sect of the Kazon represents a dangerous betrayal to Captain Janeway and a very real threat to the U.S.S. Voyager.

Regardless, the episode is all about tracking down who in the crew had access, motive, and ability to sell out the secrets of the starship to an enemy that is arguably lame, but made more of a threat by it. Too bad Janeway did not offer to give them hairbrushes. But then, I suppose that would be wrong, too.

[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 stacks up against others in the Star Trek franchise by visiting my specialized Star Trek Review Index Page!

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