Sunday, July 15, 2012

Former Slaves Do Not Make For The Best Of "Alliances" On Star Trek: Voyager

The Good: Interesting cultural development for the Kazon, Acting, Special effects
The Bad: Very predictable and canned plot, No real character development
The Basics: When Neelix is captured by the Kazon while Janeway is trying to negotiate with them, he brings back a character who radically alters a fairly simple plot.

Star Trek: Voyager was hamstrung from its inception by a lack of interesting villains and an ability to reasonably keep them around in the storyline. The show's primary recurring adversaries in the first and second season were the Kazon, basically the Klingons of the Delta Quadrant with big hair, no sense of honor and a nomadic series of cells throughout the Quadrant. They were never impressive or compelling and how the U.S.S. Voyager, which was trying to get home at a speed greater than the Kazon ships could travel at, remained in their territory, running into the same Kazon sect over and over again was somewhat baffling. An attempt to make the Kazon more than generic villains who existed only to try to thwart Captain Janeway and her crew came in "Alliances."

The U.S.S. Voyager, dogged by yet another inconvenient attack by the Kazon, who want their superior technology, decides that it might be time to do something about the pesky Kazon and they follow Chakotay's lead to try to make friends out of their enemies. Janeway contacts Seska and her allies with the Kazon-Nistrum and dispatches Neelix to make contact with the smaller group, the Kazon-Pomar. Neelix is captured in the process and he finds himself cloistered with other captives from the Trabe, a race being victimized by the Kazon. After breaking out to the prison, Neelix and his new Trabe allies, led by Mabus, rendezvous with Voyager and Janeway's options increase.

Of course, nothing is quite what it seems and as a simple plot point, Mabus's ambitions to make peace between the Trabe and the Kazon ring somewhat hollow and dull. Chakotay's idea is honorable in principle, but pointless in execution. After all, Voyager certainly benefits from not having the Kazon shooting at it every other week, but what do the Kazon get from a treaty with Voyager if it doesn't involve getting some of Voyager's technology? After all, all the Kazon have to do is work together a little bit to destroy Voyager and take its technology. Or, come to think of it, why do they even need to do that? The Kazon-Nistrum has Seska, an engineer. Moreover, a Cardassian engineer. She ought to recall all sorts of schematics and help the Kazon advance technologically regardless of how fast Voyager is speeding out of their territory.

This gets into the problem with the plot. "Alliances" is a plot-intensive episode with almost no character development, but not much of a plot either. This episode rapidly transmutes from a "let's make friends with our enemy" episode into a "the enemy of my enemy might be my friend." Mabus becomes a cheap tool to radically alter the direction of the plot when he appears in the episode and while it makes a great deal of sense for the Trabe and Voyager to ally, it seems strange how powerful and clever the Trabe are given their past and their present abilities.

This is where the episode does something right. In fleshing out the Kazon, the writers give them an interesting backstory. It seems the Kazon were once slaves . . . of the Trabe. The Kazon overthrew the Trabe – which was referenced earlier in the season - took their technology and achieved dominance over the little corner of the Delta Quadrant Voyager found itself in. So, technically, the vessels that have been attacking Voyager are not Kazon, but rather, Trabe. The problem is, in order for the reversals at the end to work, the plot has to be respected and understood and Mabus has to appear to be a reasonably convincing guy.

The problem here is twofold, then. The episode is plot heavy and it relies on Mabus to convince the viewer and Janeway that he is trustworthy and a victim who wants peace between his people and the Kazon. He doesn't. But then, why Janeway both believes him and thinks that a treaty between Voyager, the Kazon and the Trabe is all possible is somewhat problematic, more in its execution than the ideology.

This episode also marks the pointlessness of Neelix. Neelix is very easily captured and when he meets the Trabe, it makes the viewer wonder why he didn't know more about the Trabe sooner. After all, he is supposed to be an expert in the Delta Quadrant (he does not become an admittedly pointless character until mid-third season), this seems like the kind of information he ought to have had at his fingertips to help Janeway make decent decisions.

What knocks this otherwise average episode up into the territory where it is worth recommending is the acting. All of the principle actors give performances that are convincing, even when their characters are not entirely sensible. Robert Beltran opens the episode with a performance that allows him to delve into his character's humanism and reason. Sadly, it's one of the last times Beltran is given a significant chunk of dialogue, but he makes it through it perfectly.

Kate Mulgrew gives a wonderful performances as Captain Janeway as well. In "Alliances," she is authoritarian, smart and completely in command. Mulgrew must sell the audience on much of what happens and her final scenes in the episode are some of her best work as far as illustrating the competence and cleverness of her character.

Even recurring guest star Martha Hackett is great as Seska. Seen too briefly in the episode, Hackett is distinctive as the duplicitous Seska and here she plays off her costar Anthony De Longis wonderfully and for the first time, the viewer can see a genuine connection between them.

This episode marks the first appearance of Michael Jonas, a Maquis officer who will have a plot thread in several subsequent episodes. His debut is decent and sets up the first truly serialized arc that Star Trek: Voyager will attempt.

In all, this is a decent episode, though definitely more for fans of Star Trek and Star Trek: Voyager than fans of general science fiction or of political thrillers. It's a fun diversion and one worth coming back to to understand the Kazon, but it's not stellar television at the end of the day.

[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 works with Raphael Sbarge, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Once Upon A Time - Season 1
ID4: Independence Day


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment