Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Take 2: Bad Follows Bad When Star Trek: Voyager Engages In "Parturition"

The Good: Moments of character elements, Robert Duncan McNeill's performance
The Bad: Rehashed plot and character elements, Terrible make-up special effects
The Basics: Even Robert Duncan McNeill's performance and a food fight are not enough to sell an episode so predictable in its plot and character elements as to bore all.

Ever have a review you were happy with and your modem fails and it gets lost in the ether? There's nothing worse to me than when that happens when I write a review of something that does not engage me. That happened today when I tried to upload my review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Parturition" that I had stupidly not saved before attempting to upload. Let this be a lesson to all. Sigh.

The U.S.S. Voyager, getting low on food as it ambles home, decides to make a one-day detour from their beeline to the Alpha Quadrant to stop at a nearby Class-M planet nicknamed "Planet Hell" because of its conditions. Following a food fight over Kes, Neelix and Paris journey to Planet Hell in search of food. Once there, they discover eggs that belong to the aliens that arrive to shoot up Voyager. Unable to depend on the ship, Paris and Neelix must work together to survive and keep the hatchling alive as well.

This is one of those episodes that the viewer of Star Trek is likely to sit, watch and say, "Haven't we seen this before?" Indeed, we have. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the awkward relationship between Julian Bashir and Miles O'Brien took a left turn into friendship when they were forced to depend on another for survival in "Armageddon Game" (reviewed here!). The difference here is that in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, the stakes were literally life and death as the characters were hunted. Here, the stakes seem less high.

In fact, "Parturition" is entirely contrived in its sense of menace and sense of storytelling. You don't get much more formulaic than what we see here: Paris almost kisses Kes, Neelix and Paris fight, they are forced together for an assignment to a planet that they have to take a shuttlecraft to, there they find adversity to overcome only by working together and they must bring a baby into the world to cement their new bond. Wow, it could have been written by a drunk high school student it's so obvious and follows along such clean lines of predictable storytelling.

This whole episode is dumbed down, in this way. When the most memorable aspect of the episode is a food fight between Paris and Neelix that is more appropriate to a National Lampoon Vacation movie than anything in the Star Trek franchise, you know you're in trouble. It's almost like to win back the audience the show might have lost using a highfalutin' word for "childbirth" as the title of the episode, the producers said, "We'll need to do something to appeal to the lowest common denominator!"

So, Neelix and Paris bond through a predictable series of plot encounters on an unforgiving planet they find themselves stranded on. While this is certainly uninspired enough, it is nowhere near as bad as the make-up for the alien-of-the-week that is menacing Voyager to protect the eggs Paris and Neelix run into. This prosthetic alien is one of the most obvious and poorly made pieces since the lizard suited Gorn from the first season of Star Trek ("Arena," in case you were wondering). The alien of the week is clearly "man in reptile suit," which is as unfortunate as it is pathetic. Whenever an episode is low on plot and the character elements are obvious, crappy special effects can only sink it lower, which is what happens in "Parturition."

That's not to say the episode is an entire loss. No, Robert Duncan McNeill rises to perform pretty astonishingly as Tom Paris in "Parturition." McNeill gives his best performance since "Ex Post Facto" (reviewed here!) and he illustrates his range and depth with a secure presentation of body language, voice and movement. McNeill convinces us of the tension in the moment where Paris almost kisses Kes and he plays off Jennifer Lein wonderfully. McNeill is able to present Paris as romantic, agitated, desperate and efficient, alternately, without the viewer ever feeling like he is performing or not in character.

Ethan Phillips is given less to work with and the result is his performance is somewhat shakier than McNeill's. On the planet surface, Phillips delivers his lines awkwardly and this is not one of his better presentations. Sadly, he hits his high note during the food fight, as far as the acting goes.

What does work out well is Neelix's assertions to Paris which result in Paris actually growing. I like that the mission Neelix and Paris go on is essentially a failure; they do not find food on Planet Hell. That's not giving anything real away; the food side trip is the excuse for the plot, viewers know this is part of the Star Trek pantheon and unlikely the crew will begin to starve and resort to cannibalism. No, the failure to find food on the planet is completely glossed over for the realization that Paris cannot simply have any woman in the galaxy (score one for monogamy!). While the Trek pantheon has always championed a woman's right to choose and do her own thing, it's still remarkably reassuring to see Neelix put Paris in his place and for Paris to back off.

That said, there's not genuinely enough in this episode to bring viewers back to it. Even fans of the series and the franchise are likely to feel the plot was contrived and obvious. We can all do with less of that.

[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 episodes and movie reviews, check out my Star Trek Review Index page!

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