Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oh, Michael Jan Friedman, How Did You Go So Far Wrong With "Resistance?"

The Good: Guest acting . . . I wish there was more.
The Bad: Principle acting, Character, Plot, Predictability
The Basics: Michael Jan Friedman pens a Star Trek: Voyager episode that finds Janeway in the company of a crazy guy we don't care about.

For those not familiar with my reviews, the Star Trek franchise is something I care a great deal about. At its best, Star Trek has been an embodiment of a dream, a vision of a positive future and a compelling quest for human understanding. Not everyone is able to write in that universe and growing up, my mother fostered my love of reading by providing me with all the Star Trek books on the market (strange that she begrudges me becoming a novelist as opposed to a marine biologist, considering). If I had a wish list of authors from the books who I would want to write episodes of Star Trek, at the top of the list would be Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, authors of Federation (reviewed here!) - who got their chance in the fourth season of Enterprise - and Michael Jan Friedman. The Reeves-Stevens's are experts in Trek and Michael Jan Friedman is easily one of the best writers to be wooed by the franchise. (For those wondering, Peter David, the master who wrote Imzadi - reviewed here! - did not make this list because so much of the quality of his writing and storytelling is in the asides he interjects, much like Douglas Adams.) Michael Jan Friedman managed to get a script made into an episode as Star Trek Voyager's outing "Resistance." To this day, I wish it had been better and Friedman had been given the opportunity to write more.

While the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager is making a deal with a corrupt world government for a supply necessary to the warp engines, Janeway, Tuvok and Torres are attacked. Janeway is rescued by a crazy old man named Caylem, who believes that Janeway is his daughter. While she works to locate Tuvok and Torres and keep herself safe, Chakotay launches rescue attempts with mixed results. While Tuvok is tortured, Janeway is occupied by the crazy old man . . .

. . . and the viewer waits it out.

This might well be one of the worst episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and, despite other poor episodes, it is definitely the low point of the second season. Michael Jan Friedman managed to write an episode that lacks any real sense of character, populate it with an archetypal oppressive government and a generic crazy old man ally for Janeway. Moreover, he somehow managed to write a story that was so canned that the plot feels stale from some of the opening moments.

In order to discuss this episode well, the comparison ought to be drawn to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Second Skin" (reviewed here!). In "Second Skin," there is the Cardassian Tehkeny Ghemor, a Legate and dissident who believes beyond all reason that Kira - surgically altered to appear as a Cardassian - is his long-lost daughter. What makes "Second Skin" work is that the political machinations involved serve the character brilliantly and the struggle to reconcile the reality of the situation with the risks Ghemor is willing to take become quite compelling.

In "Resistance," the viewer has nothing so compelling. Caylem is not interesting, he has no real larger agenda he is advancing. He feels like "Generic Crazy Guy #5" and his interactions with Janeway are dull and kill any sense of pacing this episode might have had. The viewer does not care that Caylem thinks Janeway might be his daughter and we are in no way invested in his desire to see his daughter again.

But more importantly, the plot struggle to retrieve the lost officers is tied down with a meaningless character interaction that does not challenge or change our protagonist. Janeway does not need Caylem so much after her initial rescue and her actions at the climax of the episode do not so much add to her character as they simply reinforce the idea that at the end of the day, Janeway is a nice person with a great deal of humanity and compassion. That's not new to us.

What is is what happens to Tuvok. Michael Jan Friedman is a wonderful writer and he has a strong sense of character. Tuvok is beaten and takes the torture with Vulcan stoicism. Until he does not. The idea of Tuvok breaking is troubling because he is a Vulcan. The big character stretch many viewers had to make with the character of Tuvok was not that he was a black Vulcan, but rather that he was a Vulcan security chief. The combination ought to have made his resistance to torment significantly higher than what is revealed in this episode.

So, in addition to nothing stellar on the character front, and some to be disappointed about (though this might be the birth of the Paris rescue), "Resistance" is lacking in anything remotely resembling a decent acting performance. This is a poor outing for the actors, as if they all know they've been given a bum script and are acting accordingly.

Roxanne Biggs-Dawson is unusually stiff as Torres, never truly convincing the viewer of her character's sense of peril. Tim Russ is similarly out of sorts as Tuvok, though many of his problems might be what was asked of his character. None of the guest actors shine with anything convincing for their performances. However, Joel Grey does well-enough as Caylem, but not quite well-enough to make the viewer truly care about his fate. Similarly, Alan Scarfe presents a different type of villain from his usual Trek villain (he has played several Romulans before this), but unfortunately, he is given less to do in the role and the role of Augris does not give him much to do.

But Kate Mulgrew, who has the ability to perform along a wide range of the emotive spectrum is awkward, stiff and bland in "Resistance." Mulgrew does not seem to care what happens to Caylem and she brings her indifference to Janeway. There is no chemistry on screen between the two that makes the viewer feel like he is anything but an annoying distraction.

In short, there is nothing to offer fans of Star Trek in "Resistance." It's a lemon. Fans of hostage dramas will be able to call this episode well before its resolution and fans of Michael Jan Friedman are likely to just shake their head, finish the episode and never turn it back on again. Sorry, Michael!

[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 Alan Scarfe, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
“The Birthright, Part II”
“Data’s Day”


Check out my reviews of other Star Trek episodes by visiting my Index Page on the subject!

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