Friday, June 22, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Strikes Out By Falling Below The "Learning Curve"

The Good: Basic premise is fine
The Bad: Terrible execution of idea, Stiff acting, Dull characters/development, Uninspired ending
The Basics: When Tuvok works to train Maquis soldiers in the ways of StarFleet, Voyager comes under attack by Neelix's cheese and this is how the first season ends. Sigh.

Star Trek, as a franchise, has a weird track record with endings. Star Trek ended abruptly with "Turnabout Intruder" (reviewed here!), a mediocre-at-best episode that did not acknowledge the cessation of the series. Star Trek: The Next Generation ended quietly its first season with a downbeat with "The Neutral Zone" (reviewed here!) and in the second season with equally uninspired clipshow episode called "Shades Of Gray" (reviewed here!). Following that, Star Trek: The Next Generation began to do cliffhangers and they all ended with a note that kept the fans guessing as to how the show would return the next year, usually energizing fans and captivating a new audience. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended its seasons with episodes that always framed the way the next season would begin, lending great continuity to the series. Sadly, Star Trek: Voyager, already deeply embedded in the Star Trek: The Next Generation model, seemed determined to emulate it's weak spot by providing a stupidly weak season finale to its first season with "Learning Curve."

As most of the season neglected any form of conflict between the StarFleet and Maquis crews, "Learning Curve" begins on the shaky premise (which should have made it the second or third episode to be believable) that there are Maquis crewmembers who are having a difficult time integrating to StarFleet standards. This is a very weak premise to begin an episode on and as the episode works itself through, scholars of Star Trek: Voyager will become increasingly miffed that the producers opted to finish the season with this episode, as opposed to one of the other four episodes that were in the can (finished) that they decided to hold over until the second season.

The U.S.S. Voyager is wandering home in its fashion when Janeway and Chakotay come up with an assignment for Security Chief Tuvok; he is going to train four Maquis crewmen to make them into StarFleet officers who can function on the ship. While Tuvok is working these four people who would rather be fighting elsewhere into a sweat, the ship begins to break down. It seems that the technological marvel that keeps the computers working on Voyager, bio-neural gel packs, have become infected with a bacteria. Yes, Neelix's cooking finally begins to destroy the ship and some of his cheese inexplicably gets into sealed panels in the ship where the gel packs are and the ship begins to break down. Naturally, the two plot threads come together in a way that teaches the crew Tuvok is working with a valuable lesson about working together.

The only thing that "Learning Curve" gets right is the basic premise. It's a good idea to have conflict between the Maquis and the StarFleet crews; they are philosophically opposed in how they achieve their goals. That's great for conflict! As well, the idea that if the ship is using bio-neural gel packs for the computer that it could become infected with a disease is clever and worthy in theory.

The problem is, the execution of both ideas is terrible. That Tuvok is tapped for this task makes little or no sense. He is a security specialist. Certainly, he knows what the rules and regulations are. However, as an educator and someone whose primary responsibilities involve discipline, there are at least three other main characters whose responsibilities more directly deal with that. You know why? They are in the command branch! Command is responsible for dictating and teaching the rules and regulations. Security is responsible for keeping the crew safe. This is a cheap misuse of a character.

Even more pathetic is the use of the ship breaking down to cheese. The computer on Voyager runs on an organic system that thinks and stores memory like a biological organism. Fine, we get that. Should it get an infection? Certainly, it's a ripe plot point. In "Learning Curve," the ship becomes infected with a bacterial infection from Neelix's cheese. Sigh. The excuse ostensibly is that bacteria from the cheese went up a vent and led to the computer core. This boggles the mind as all of the bio-neural gel packs are in walls and there's no need to ventilate them, so how would they get from the ventilation system into a sealed system? This is like saying that if you have dirt on the bottom of your foot, it will be found later in your lung. I don't buy it.

There are a number of structural similarities in "Learning Curve" to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Ensign Ro" (reviewed here!), including the presence of the Bajoran crewman Gerron. Far less believable than "Ensign Ro," "Learning Curve" basically creates a situation whereby three of the crewmen learn to fall in line with Tuvok's teachings . . . by disobeying him. The thing is, that would be fine if by disobeying him there was a drastic consequence that provided them with an example of why his way was right and they ought to do it. But no, they act with impunity, get what they want and then fall in line with Tuvok's demand for order. This is like a kid whining for a cookie for hours while a parent advocates a salad, the kid eating a cookie behind the parent's back and then coming back for salad. I don't think that happens too frequently.

Part of the problem certainly is that "Learning Curve" does not present any interesting characters. None of the four Maquis officers are interesting or compelling or anything other than "types." They are generic Maquis, none of whom seem to have enough passion within them to be believable freedom fighters (which is what the Maquis were). This might be why only Chell, the Bolian officer, recurs and he only pops back up once more, in the final season. Gerron, Henley, and Dalby were all so uninspired that after this episode, they never reappear. They are not missed.

The final problem within this episode is that all of the acting is flat. The script by Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias is dull and the dialogue is all bland. None of the characters, including the regulars, have any zest or sense of their personality. Tuvok is not written in a way that sounds terribly like Tuvok and as a result, Tim Russ's performance falls flat. The performances are all as dead as the words on the script page.

This is a terrible way to end the season. Who cares about returning to the adventures of the U.S.S. Voyager when their big enemy at the end of the first season is moldy cheese?! This might have been passable as the third episode, but this late in a season, the viewer expects characters to sound right and the performances to be more comfortable and natural than they were in the pilot. These are not.

There is nothing here to recommend to fans or non-fans. Anyone who likes television will find something in this episode to be disappointed by. There's not a single thing I can say to recommend this. It's disappointing, start to finish and one of the worst episodes Star Trek: Voyager ever subjected its audience to.

[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 works with Thomas Dekker, be sure to check out my reviews of:
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Heroes - Season 1
Star Trek: Generations


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing of all that I have reviewed!

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