Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Setting Up Much Of The Rest Of The Season Makes "Maneuvers" An Average Voyage.

The Good: Decent acting, plot, character elements
The Bad: While the elements are all good, there's nothing superlative
The Basics: In a fairly average episode, Voyager is attacked by Seska and Chakotay must risk his life to prevent the Kazon from changing the balance of power in the Quadrant.

It's almost like the writers and producers of Star Trek: Voyager could hear fans like me kvetching constantly when they wrote the episode "Maneuvers." People like me (and me!) had been complaining since the beginning of the series that Star Trek: Voyager was not serialized enough. What's the point of having a ship lost in space for years on end if there are no consequences to that? Honestly, who cares what happens to the U.S.S. Voyager if next week everything essentially begins again? The crew isn't starving, they aren't limping home, there are no serious staff shortages despite taking casualties virtually every episode, the series continues to lack the punch that comes from a story of a people living desperately day to day. "Maneuvers" seems to want to address that by revisiting some of the elements set up in prior episodes. Just like the previous episode, "Cold Fire" (reviewed here!) sought to tie up a loose end created in an earlier episode, this episode picks up the story of Seska.

Last seen in "State Of Flux" (reviewed here!), Ensign Seska, Bajoran Maquis engineering officer on Voyager and former consort of first officer Chakotay, was revealed in fact to be a Cardassian spy and agitator. Desperate to return home by any means necessary, Seska allied herself with the wussy villains the Kazon, hoping to gain power and influence by providing them with superior StarFleet technology. She escaped Voyager before Janeway could punish her and as a result, Seska was at large out in the galaxy.

When the U.S.S. Voyager encounters a Federation buoy signal, the ship reroutes to investigate. It finds a beacon near a gas cloud and while retrieving it, the ship is attacked by the Kazon. The small Kazon ship rams Voyager and a boarding party steals Federation technology and is transported away [Kazon do not have transporter technology, this is an advantage Seska has given them]. Analyzing the strategy employed, Tuvok and Janeway realize the Kazon's precision must have come from Seska and first officer Chakotay takes a shuttlecraft to stop Seska and destroy or recover the pirated technology. Chakotay soon finds himself under the less than tender hand of his former lover and Janeway must find a way to rescue him or give up her first officer to almost certain death.

"Maneuvers" is both the necessary beginning of a serialized arc which leads up to the season finale and the beginning of the exploration of what makes Star Trek: Voyager truly weak as a television series. In prior episodes, Voyager has been characterized as faster than Kazon ships, though possibly less armed and about equally shielded. Voyager has, presumably, been speeding toward home with the slower Kazon ships in pursuit. The evidence the viewer has is that Voyager will stop for virtually anything on the way home and as a result, "Maneuvers" becomes plausible only when one understands that the Kazon (with Seska) that Voyager ran away from in prior episodes have now not only overtaken Voyager but gotten far enough ahead to lay an elaborate trap for the crew.

That works fine in "Maneuvers." As the season progresses, though, the avid viewer is likely to become stymied with the implausibility and (dare I say?) stupidity of the premise of the show. After all, how can the viewer respect Captain Janeway for stopping at the newest insignificant spatial phenomenon when the result is almost assuredly the obvious ability of the Kazon to overtake the ship and attack again (which is what invariably happens)? "Maneuvers" works because it is the beginning of this trend and it is plausible at this juncture. That plausibility wanes as the season progresses.

But more importantly, the Kazon have never been decent villains and it's hard for non-fans to get excited about them. If nothing else, "Maneuvers" illustrates that the lame Kazon, an alien-of-the-week whose distinguishing characteristic is an Afro hairstyle that resembles a boulder on top of the character's head, are so pathetic that the only thing that gives them a chance at having any effect on Voyager is the help of a conniving Cardassian.

Seska, sadly, was characterized as a malcontent while on Voyager, is now characterized as bratty and petty. Her Kazon consort, Maje Culluh, is responsive to her pathetic whining and the viewer wonders why he bothers. Seska's appearance is now subtly Cardassian, as if her surgery to remove her Bajoran disguise is only half-finished. The make-up is good.

Martha Hackett, who plays Seska, gives a fairly uninspired performance. On the page, Seska is ruled by ambition and anger over being lost in the Delta Quadrant. Seska's relationship with Chakotay is treated as a contrivance of her cover, her infiltration of his Maquis cell. Hackett does nothing to bring the character to life beyond what is written on the page and her character suffers as someone whose motivations seem more contrived than real. Hackett does not convince the viewer with her performance that she has any idea of what Seska's thought processes truly are. The result is a somewhat stale villain who seems to be a villain for the purpose of villainy.

On the flip side, Robert Beltran does a decent job as Chakotay. Chakotay is one of the characters who pretty much becomes a nonentity after the second season, so "Maneuvers" represents the beginning of the peak for the character and Beltran works hard to live up to that. While Seska tortures Chakotay, Beltran perfectly embodies a man in pain, manipulated by a woman he cares for and expressions of agony are utterly convincing.

But even Beltran's performance and Chakotay's decent character elements are not enough to pull this episode out of average territory. It's a good episode of Star Trek: Voyager, but it's very much one for the fans of the series. This is not terribly dramatic for those not already invested in the characters and as a result, it's unlikely that this will be accessible or enjoyable for anyone but fans. But for those who like Star Trek and Star Trek: Voyager, this is a necessary set up to upcoming episodes that frame the remainder of the season. As such, it becomes worth watching, even if only once.

[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.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment