Monday, July 23, 2012

The Enemy Becomes The Lover In "Lifesigns"

The Good: Good serialization, Good story, Excellent character development, Good acting
The Bad: Predictable resolution
The Basics: An all-around worthwhile romantic episode involving the EMH and a Vidiian doctor whose life he saves.

There are few villains in the Star Trek pantheon that were not gutted by further exploring their culture or abilities. The Borg, which were menacing and frightening in how they were monolithic and uncaring were dumbed down for Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) and then gutted of any menace when they became recurring villains late in the third season of Star Trek: Voyager. The Q-Continuum suffered a similar fate when Q made appearances on Star Trek: Voyager. While the Dominion on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was powerful and impressive, the resolution to the Dominion War was somewhat less than satisfying (they should have continued the series a year or two more before ending it!). The villains that never were dumbed down on Star Trek: Voyager and maintained their menace were the Vidiians and the closest they ever came to be reduced to something empathetic was in "Lifesigns." And even in this episode, the menace that is underlying the discovery of a lone, wounded Vidiian is present throughout.

When the U.S.S. Voyager diverts from its trip home to answer a distress call, the victim turns out to be a Vidiian who is near death from the Phage. As she lays in critical condition, the Emergency Medical Hologram uses one of her stopgaps to the Phage - a neuro-cortical stimulator - to save her life and begin regenerating her brain. The result is that the patient, Dr. Danara Pel, is recreated as a hologram while her body is regenerating. The Doctor begins to feel affection for her and she begins to reciprocate, in the process loathing her degenerated, hideous body. The Doctor works to convince her that he sees her for who she is while trying to convince Lieutenant Torres to help save her life.

Torres is brought into the episode as a result of her experiences in the first season episode "Faces" (reviewed here!), wherein a Vidiian scientist learned that Klingon DNA appeared resistant to the Phage. Tom Paris aids the Doctor in his quest to romance Dr. Pel, but otherwise pops up to set up the next episode. Paris begins to act erratically, going so far as to square off with first officer Chakotay and getting sentenced to the brig. Refreshingly, this is one of the few examples of serialization in Star Trek: Voyager and it sets up the next episode well.

Other than that, "Lifesigns" borrows heavily from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "I, Borg," (reviewed here!). Sadly, the writers of this episode included almost all of the essential elements of that episode; finding the wounded enemy, bringing it aboard to save its life, empathizing with it, and convincing a crewmember who was once abused by the enemy to aid it. Smartly, most of the episode redirects and focuses on the Doctor and his love of Dr. Pel.

The Emergency Medical Hologram has occasionally dabbled in finding a name and in "Lifesigns," that essential character search is recalled and explored. The EMH takes a name for Dr. Pel and the scenes where he shares his feelings with her are actually quite touching and quite real. It's a shame that the writers decided to end the story in the most predictable of ways. The relationship between the Doctor and Dr. Pel added some spice and humanity to the character who has been largely gruff and sarcastic. In "Lifesigns," he truly opens up and it's a wonderful chance for his character to go behind the simple delivery of snappy lines and facetious mannerisms.

The EMH is played by Robert Picardo who consistently delivers great performances as the Doctor. In "Lifesigns," he is given the real chance to emote and express his character's budding emotional awareness and he does it wonderfully. Picardo adds a whole new level to his expressiveness as he plays the Doctor with a sense of loss and confusion as he is forced to face feelings of actually caring for someone else. Until this point in the series, the Doctor has been guided by a sense of duty and programming; in "Lifesigns," Picardo infuses genuine humanity, developing the character into one who actually cares deeply for another living being.

Susan Diol guest stars as Dr. Pel and she is wonderful. It is hard to remember the last time a guest star popped onto Star Trek: Voyager and left such a distinct impression. Diol, encased in various prosthetics to create Pel is wonderfully emotive. She has a great voice that modulates well; convincing the viewer completely of her wounded status and her wonder when she is reborn as a hologram. Diol is memorable as Pel and she plays off Picardo quite well.

This is easily one of the better bottle romance episodes in the Star Trek pantheon and it's one that is quite accessible to fans of science fiction and fans of general drama. The show illustrates well two characters who are forming a common bond and Dr. Pel's dilemma is compelling and interesting to watch. This is easily accessible to anyone who likes romantic dramas, even with the serialized elements involving Tom Paris.

[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 franchise 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.
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