Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wrapping Up The Loose End On Star Trek: Voyager With "Investigations" Yields A Dud!

The Good: Elements of plot and acting
The Bad: Too late in the big picture, Too simple a resolution, Poor character development
The Basics: In a disappointing, plot-heavy episode with a weak plot and terrible characterizations of the primary characters, "Investigations" is not worth your time.

Tom Paris was one of the characters on Star Trek: Voyager who had so much potential when the series began. He was a rogue, a wild card, loyal neither to Janeway and StarFleet, nor to Chakotay and his Maquis half of the crew. He had the potential to shake things up in a serious and interesting way, especially considering he was the best pilot the ship had. Too bad by the second episode, he was domesticated. Throughout the first season, he reforms fully into a bland, StarFleet character who had little or no spark of the original character. This is not an insult to actor Robert Duncan McNeill, but rather an indictment of the writers and producers of Star Trek: Voyager who bastardized and domesticated most of the characters so early on as to rob the show of any genuine sense of identity. So, by the time "Investigations" comes along, any storyline where Tom Paris was treated as a rogue character was pretty much bound to fail.

Neelix has begun a morning talk show on the U.S.S. Voyager as it ambles toward the Alpha Quadrant. On his first episode, he sadly notes that Tom Paris, who has had a tough run of things lately, has left Voyager to go seek his own way home. Taking up with the Talaxians, it does not take long for Paris to run into trouble, trouble in the form of getting abducted by the Kazon-Nistrum, with Seska pulling the strings of the Maje. Janeway writes Paris off, as he is no longer a member of the crew. Neelix, disappointed, begins to honor Michael Jonas as a hero when he is wounded in Engineering.

Things, of course, are not quite what they seem. Paris is going rogue apparently in response to being disciplined in "Lifesigns" (reviewed here!) and anyone watching the show since "Alliances" (reviewed here!) knows that Michael Jonas has been communicating with Seska and he is essentially a traitor. The plot, then, of this episode, is not quite what it seems and the audience is treated like Chakotay.

Chakotay is a tool.

From this point on in the series, Chakotay begins a rapid descent into oblivion. He participates wonderfully in the best episode of the series, but beyond that, he's First Officer Token and it feels like it. In "Investigations," Chakotay is treated like a tool and it's hard not to empathize with him. Chakotay, for those keeping score, was betrayed by Tuvok in "Caretaker," betrayed by Seska in "State Of Flux," and here he is pretty much betrayed by Janeway who uses him to execute her will without her doing the dirty work.

For the three people reading this who cannot tell what is going on in the real plot of the episode, I'll let it surprise you. For those able to read between the lines, the story truly is that predictable. Paris leaving the ship is as pretentious as it appears to the observant viewer and it rings false. Completely false. As a result, the "reversal" is a huge let down and is not only not surprising, but not realistic.

In fact, the more I consider "Investigations," the harder it is for me to remember anything genuinely good about it. The problem here is that it's a plot intensive episode and the plot is pretty terrible based on where the show is. As a factor of character development, "Investigations" fails utterly because Paris has been so thoroughly reformed that his sudden slovenliness does not ring true. It's a hard sell to watch Paris and believe that he truly is slipping. And Star Trek: Voyager is not daring enough to have Paris really degenerate; like spend episodes making him into a drunk or a drug addict or start cutting himself. Something that would sell the audience on the idea that he is seriously and truly messed up and in need of real help. Instead, the producers ask the viewer to swallow Paris as a rogue because he shows up to work late and mouths off to Chakotay. Whoo . . . scary. Chakotay is such a wussy tool by this point in the series, it's surprising Tuvok hasn't made him his bitch!

Moreover, the whole Michael Jonas plotline was poorly handled from the beginning. Overhearing an officer suggesting contacting Seska as a reasonable solution to a problem, Jonas essentially defects and does just that. But what we see him pass along to the Kazon-Nistrum is not terribly useful and there's not much motivating him to do what he is doing, nor to do anything in the future for the Kazon. Star Trek: Voyager should be commended for trying to pick up a serialized arc, but the problem with the Jonas storyline was that he was always a footnote threading together a few random bottle episodes. The producers missed a real opportunity here, like to create something Seska could extort Jonas with to bend him to her will (she is a Cardassian, after all).

And the acting in "Investigations" is largely unconvincing as well. Robert Duncan McNeill, who was wonderful in the pilot episode at creating the character of Paris as a badass rogue portrays Paris with a stiffness that is not organic. He is not convincing to the viewer as a delinquent and it's somewhat insulting how the whole bridge crew buys his juvenile behavior and mannerisms.

Ethan Phillips, who is one of the surprise actors on Star Trek: Voyager who can usually be counted on to rise to the occasion and blow away the viewer with a shocking display of acting ability phones in his performance on "Investigations." Similarly, Martha Hackett's brief appearance as Seska and the portrayal of Jonas are both dull and give the viewer nothing new, nothing beyond what we've seen in the characters before.

"Investigations" is something of a necessary evil episode; it's required to clean up the messy Michael Jonas plotline that has been developing for weeks and the viewer has minimal interest in. The casual viewer will find nothing to enjoy about this episode and it is unlikely even they would be surprised or challenged by the storyline. In fact, this episode insults the intelligence of anyone who enjoys a good espionage episode.

No, there's truly no good reason for anyone to pick up "Investigations," even if you've enjoyed prior episodes that have involved Michael Jonas. You can just assume the plotline went nowhere; even with "Investigations," that remains true.

[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, check out my Index Page for an organized listing!

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

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