Thursday, July 26, 2012

Distance Does Not Help The "Deadlock" On Star Trek: Voyager

The Good: Decent acting, Moments where the story is interesting, Effects
The Bad: Predictable plot, Ruined by advertisements, No character development, Does not hold up well
The Basics: In a shockingly typical episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the ship and crew are replicated so the writers may have the fun of killing off one crew.

A good advertisement may sell someone on a product, service or experience that they might not ordinarily enjoy. The best advertisements stick with us, even after years. Sadly, too often, the worst advertisements linger with us as well and when it comes to Star Trek: Voyager, whoever made the preview for "Deadlock" ought to be fired. Or shot, I don't care which. "Deadlock" is another Brannon Braga Star Trek: Voyager episode, which means that it hinges on a reversal at the end. So, when the previews announced "You'll never guess which Voyager survives!" the week before it premiered, there was absolutely no surprise. Even years later, watching "Deadlock," all I hear is the announcer's voice goading me.

The U.S.S. Voyager is ambling home, waiting for Ensign Wildman to have her baby (longest pregnancy ever!) when it detects a fleet of villainous Vidiian ships. Wisely, Janeway opts to evade the enemy and in the process, Voyager passes through a spatial anomaly. Soon, the U.S.S. Voyager is feeling the effects of an attack; ruptured power conduits, a loss of power, casualties, and even a hull breach. The ship's antimatter supply is gone and Ensign Kim is blown out into space, Wildman's baby dies and Kes disappears while fleeing an explosion before the crew of Voyager figure out what is going on. It turns out that while fleeing the Vidiians, Voyager passed through a duplication field which basically made a copy of Voyager on top of itself. Janeway meets with her alternate Janeway and learns that on their Voyager, everything is fine, save a minor power drain. Fortunes soon change, however and the Vidiians assault the healthy Voyager, leaving the Janeways with some difficult, if preposterous, choices to make.

"Deadlock" is one of the last times the Vidiians appear on Star Trek: Voyager and here the viewer is treated to an all-out attack by the organ-harvesting villains who were first introduced in "Phage" (reviewed here!). The effect is a revelation of one of the most terrifying sequences produced in the Star Trek franchise. There are casualties, people having their organs ripped out. It's wonderfully grotesque and scary, just as it's supposed to be.

Sadly, the attack comes rather late in the episode at a plot convenient moment to provide the reversal that seasoned viewers of Star Trek: Voyager have come to anticipate and not exactly cherish. "Deadlock" is the first of several episodes that mark a shocking cowardice in the writers of Star Trek: Voyager. This ship and its crew will be duplicated at least one more time and its crew killed off; sadly, there are no real consequences to either episode. "Deadlock" offers a glimpse into what Star Trek: Voyager could be like if the writers were ballsy and willing to take risks; the Vidiians are terrifying enemies and the idea of a spatial anomaly of the week that leaves the ship almost destroyed is not a bad idea. The cowardice comes in with the resolution, where virtually all is set right and there are no lasting consequences of the episode. By next week, everything is fine and dandy again. It's well beyond too hard to swallow.

The point here is that the writers seem to have a death wish for the characters on Star Trek: Voyager, but they lack the courage to make the show into a dark, gritty and ultimately deadly series. Everything must be resolved neatly by the end, no harm, no foul. It's irritating and it's too clean for pleasant consumption.

Primarily, the result of "Deadlock" is a plot-heavy episode that is ultimately predictable for fans of science fiction (and certainly anyone who sees the preview for the episode, so avoid it, if you can!). The plot is not all that clever, either: Voyager is mystically replicated by a convenient spatial anomaly that can rather incredibly duplicate matter and energy (but not antimatter). Lost completely is any element of character development. Apologists for the episode may note that Janeway has a tough choice to make in "Deadlock," but that's her character; she makes tough choices all the time.

There is nothing terribly new here. In fact, it feels old, it feels done. While not quite as cowardly as the resolution to the fourth season two-parter "Year of Hell," "Deadlock" pretty much wusses out on the plot and character front. So, what even knocks this episode up into the "average" range?

First, it is well acted. The whole ensemble gives it their all lend the tone one of genuine menace, both from the spatial phenomenon and the Vidiian invasion. Actors like Garrett Wang are given the chance to rise and shine and sell the viewer on the demise of their characters. Nancy Hower returns as Samantha Wildman and she gives a strong guest starring performance opposite Robert Picardo and Jennifer Lein who work some decently emotive scenes for all they are worth.

Second, this is a well-directed episode. "Deadlock" looks good and it moves at a wonderful pace. When the problems begin, there is a genuine sense of menace and horror to it that effectively entertains over the massive script problems. The sense of timing is good and the director has a decent sense of movement and scope for the episode.

But it's still just not enough. Even after years, watching this episode is ultimately a disappointment and viewing it leaves the viewer wishing for more. But there isn't. It is what it is and while it might entertain die-hard fans, it is likely to do little for those who are not already invested in Star Trek: Voyager or the Star Trek franchise.

[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, be sure to 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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