Thursday, August 2, 2012

How Silly The Kazon No Longer Appear As They Conquer In "Basics!"

The Good: Decent effects, Engaging plot, Good acting
The Bad: Hinges on one ridiculously simply character fault after another.
The Basics: In a special effects rich season finale that sacrifices character for a cliffhanger, Voyager is defeated by the Kazon.

Star Trek Voyager tried hard not to be a serialized television show. This was silly for a series about a starship that was lost in space with two opposing crews living aboard it. Yet, the producers did not want a serialized show and they did not want conflict among the characters. This ridiculous combination of elements made for a surprisingly weak series and was a bit of a disappointment as it progressed. Sure, I may be the only one bummed out that we never saw the StarFleet crew resorting to the desperations of cannibalism, but there could have been lights that burned out that weren't replaced to make the series more believable. I mention this because in the second season of the series, the show attempted a little more in the way of serialization, in the form of a plot with the witless enemies, the Kazon. This culminated in the second season finale, entitled "Basics."

Seska, the villainous Cardassian spy who fled Voyager and joined with the Kazon-Nistrum, sends a distress call to Chakotay informing him that their baby is in danger from the leader of the Kazon-Nistrum, Maje Culluh. Voyager moves to rescue the baby, based on intelligence from a captured Kazon. Soon, the starship comes under repeated attacks that leave the ship crippled and unable to fend off an invasion by the Kazon. And once their tactic becomes obvious enough for the protagonists to realize what the Kazon strategy is, it is too late and Voyager falls to the Kazon.

First off, "Basics" is dependent upon at least two other episodes of Star Trek Voyager. Seska's pregnancy is revealed at the end of "Maneuvers" (reviewed here!) where she robs Chakotay of some of his DNA to create the child in what seems at the time like a weird plot device. In "Basics," it seems even more that way and the obviousness of it is disturbing, even more than how dim the heroes seem for not picking up the Kazon plan sooner. The other episode heavily referenced is "Meld" (reviewed here!).

"Meld" introduced Lon Suder, a psychopathic Betazoid Maquis officer who came to reform under the guidance of Tuvok. In "Basics," Suder returns as a more-or-less healthy individual whose mental problems are well under control. As the Kazon attacks progress, Suder finds his pacifism a liability and his desire to retain his mental health jeopardized.

But the episode works mostly because it remains focused on the characters, like Suder, who are instantly likable and worth caring about. Chakotay ceases his usual moralizing to acknowledge the baby the ship is headed to rescue is barely even his and that admission is smart and worthwhile. Indeed, when the ship's mission becomes rescuing a child from a life of slavery, as opposed to some dimly linked paternity suit gone awry, "Basics" works well. The ethics of the crew are solid and admirable as they seek to keep the baby from a life that will almost certainly be short and painful.

This, of course, makes it difficult to believe that such an ethical and wise crew could be so dumb as to fall so completely into the Kazon trap. That Tuvok does not see the strategy that the Kazon are employing a mile away is disappointing and utterly beneath his character. Where "Basics" fails, then, is servicing a plot through a complete failure of the characters to live up to their potential and abilities. The only way the plot of "Basics" is advanced is because the writers and producers force the characters to sacrifice their individuality and cleverness to bring about the desired cliffhanger.

In other terms, the measure of great heroes is relative to the level of evil they are able to thwart. Janeway and crew are defeated by one of the lamest group of villains in the Star Trek pantheon and they do it by acting like complete morons. Arguably, this is the death knell of the series.

If one is able to suspend one's disbelief through all of that, "Basics" is exciting with its big explosions and special effects shots that dazzle successfully.

The only other worthwhile aspect of "Basics" comes in the form of the acting. The characters may have been transformed quietly into idiots who are not able to anticipate the next move of the Kazon, but the actors perform some of their best work in "Basics." Robert Beltran speaks passionately about the need to protect Voyager, Kate Mulgrew takes a hardline ethical stance and sells it as completely plausible, and Robert Duncan McNeill does an excellent job of providing an out for the second part in a believable way.

But even on the acting front, "Basics" does not live up to everything it could be because of the writing. Guest actor Brad Douriff steals every scene he is in as Lon Suder. Robert Picardo - the Doctor - is underused in the episode and guest star Martha Hackett (Seska) does not seem as menacing within her role as she once did.

All of that said, "Basics" squeaks by as entertaining, even if not all that sensible. But it's virtually the last of Star Trek Voyager worth watching.

[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 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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