Sunday, August 19, 2012

Science Fiction That Doesn't Believe In Anything Else Is Star Trek: Voyager's "Coda."

The Good: Excellent acting, Moments of character development, Fits into larger universe well
The Bad: Mortgages genuine growth for science fiction premise, Plot dull, "Alien-of-the-week" is familiar.
The Basics: In a remarkably simple episode, Janeway experiences near-death only to realize her dead father is not who he claims to be.

There is an episode of Family Guy called "The Griffin Family History" in "Volume 4" on DVD (reviewed here!) wherein Peter Griffin confesses that he does not like The GodFather because "it insists upon itself." One of the other characters says, "What does that even mean?!" I mention this to open my review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Coda" because it insists upon itself. What does that mean? "Coda" refuses to be a decent dramatic story, instead degenerating into an obvious and pretty lame science fiction piece. It insists on being science fiction as opposed to the character-driven drama it begins as. When I reviewed "Flashback" (reviewed here!) a few weeks ago, I mentioned that the story degenerated into an alien-of-the-week which would seem to become the pretty generic "out" for several third season plots. Well, "Coda" utilizes a remarkably similar parasite and it's beyond disappointing in its resolution.

Captain Kathryn Janeway has died in a shuttle crash and as she watches her memorial service, she is visited by the ghost of her long-dead father. He attempts to convince Janeway that her time is up and she can let go. Janeway still feels connected to her crew and thus remains, watching them, haunting the ship in her own immaterial way. As the ghost of her father becomes more insistent, Janeway begins to suspect that something more is going on.

Naturally, this is another memory parasite, this one feeding on its victims at the moment of their death. "Coda" degenerates from a character story into pure science fiction and the worst kind at that; science fiction that treads where the series has already tread, just a few episodes before! Sadly, this is almost inexcusable as the writer of the episode, Jeri Taylor, wrote her hardcover Star Trek: Voyager novel Mosaic right around the same time. "Coda" and Mosaic weave together as the novel tells the story of Janeway and her father and their relationship and his death. It's a pretty tight character work and it's vastly superior to "Coda," which robs the viewer of a decent character story in favor of a preposterous science fiction twist.

Outside "Coda's" pretty bad twist of plot and use of an alien-of-the-week instead of simply executing a decent near-death experience story where Janeway learns something about herself or her past, Jeri Taylor teases the audience with hints of what Mosaic makes explicit and it's unfortunate that the show did not attempt to create a more direct tie in. After all, anything that gets people reading cannot be all bad!

"Coda" is a pretty intense episode focused almost completely on Janeway and her predicament as she exists near-death. Until the moment that it turns into an alien-of-the-week story, "Coda" is engrossing and interesting and it leaves the audience wondering why they bothered to make the turn as opposed to making this a straightforward character narrative.

As a result, most of the acting burden is put on Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway. Mulgrew provides a decent performance, illustrating the Captain in quiet defeat, contemplative about her own death than combative. It's an excellent choice because it implies the inner strength of Janeway as opposed to making a big show of it. This works very well with Mulgrew as she is able to infuse a number of subtleties with her body language; slightly slumped shoulders, eyes widened with a sense of loss and a quieter demeanor that she is not usually able to explore in her role as the ship's authoritarian presence. Mulgrew makes the episode worth watching.

But even on the acting front, "Coda" cheats its lead. Robert Beltran gives a truly mournful performance that is shocking for its rawness when he discovers Janeway's dead body. His ability to emote is brought through incredibly and he is allowed to act as the usually stoic first officer is not able to. Beltran steals the scene with his emotional performance, even if it is brief.

But overall, the episode falls down. It's not character-oriented enough to lure in fans of drama and it's not smart enough in its science fiction elements to be enjoyable to genre fans. In the end, it is truly mediocre and for an episode that was set up to be more, this is a true disappointment.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!


Check out how this episode stacks up against others at my Star Trek Review Index Page where the episodes are organized best to worst!

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

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