The Good: Acting, A decent chance to explore two characters, Plot is not a bad idea, Good beginning
The Bad: Idea is very simple, leading to an equally simple resolution, Does not advance characters, Poor latter half
The Basics: "Alter Ego," a dull little quasi-romance on Star Trek: Voyager seems to suffer most from its stunning averageness rather than any truly bad qualities.
There are some nice things about Star Trek, the original 1960's Star Trek, that almost no self-respecting Trekker will actually admit. For example, most fans of Trek are historical revisionists who are convinced that Star Trek was an ensemble show about the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, instead of a show about the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, occasionally with Dr. McCoy. No, Star Trek was pretty unpretentious and simple in a lot of ways and while the supporting cast was wonderfully diverse, most episodes had them simply sitting there for wallpaper (it took until Star Trek VI, for example, for Sulu to get a first name!). Subsequent Star Trek spin-offs attempted to avoid that same pitfall by actually utilizing the whole cast, though Star Trek: Voyager found itself floundering to hold its audience whenever it strayed away from stories about Captain Janeway or The Doctor. Nowhere is the difficulty more pronounced for Voyager to capture the viewer's attention with supplemental characters than in the third season episode "Alter Ego."
While the U.S.S. Voyager's lackadaisical quest home continues to meander along, Harry Kim finds himself depressed and moping about a holographic woman. Tuvok, expressing concern in his decline in job performance, steps up to help young Harry Kim by exploring the ridiculous notion of Kim becoming infatuated with a character from Neelix's Polynesian resort program on the holodeck. There he meets Marayna, a holographic character he soon suspects is not native to the program and may be dangerous to him and Voyager.
Or not, it could be she's just real lonely and kind of pathetic, an alien of the week who is only mentioned again in passing to remind the viewer how pathetic Harry Kim is when it comes to picking up women. "Alter Ego" is one of those unmemorable episodes of the series that makes the viewer wonder why the writers and producers thought the story was worth making.
Don't get me wrong, the basic idea behind "Alter Ego," a seductive hologram that represents something manipulating crewmembers out of loneliness, is not a bad idea. I like that aspect of it. But it's not a 43-minute episode idea. Indeed, it is almost hard to write more for a review because the plot is so simple and so overrides the episode as to minimize most of the rest of the concerns of the piece.
Indeed, when Star Trek: The Next Generation attempted something similar years before with the memorable episode "Future Imperfect" (reviewed here!), the "catch" was that the subversive character was revealed late in the episode. The episode heads in one direction only to radically alter midway through. "Alter Ego," in striking out in a more original and direct fashion, manages to flounder because it takes the less significant kernel of an already done plot and attempts to expand that into a full episode.
The truth is, Marayna is not a terribly interesting character. She is Hollywood beautiful and flirts with Tuvok in a way that makes it instantly easy to see why Harry Kim would be intrigued by her. But Marayna is not a compelling villain - and part of the episode attempt to interpret her as one - and while she is sympathetic for her loneliness, it is hard to find real empathy for her in her inability to move on.
It is Tuvok whose character suffers the most in "Alter Ego." No, he does not find himself pining for the holographic woman the way Kim did, but he expressed a kindness for Marayna that is . . . un-Vulcan. Tuvok's dispassion falls away as he learns more and more about her and while that sympathy-based attraction might have worked well for Mike Farrell on M*A*S*H, it simply does not fit the behavior of Vulcans. It feels canned. Sadly, Tuvok begins to fall into the rather annoying category that Spock and Data tread to death before him, which is to say that Tuvok's character precepts are told to the audience in the first episode. He is an unemotional Vulcan and that's that. Spock repeated that mantra for years and Data went with the "I am an android, I feel nothing" line over and over again, but while they were saying it virtually every episode contained a moment that contradicted it. Spock had almost as many emotional outbursts over the course of Star Trek as he did moments where his Vulcan calm and logic won out. Tuvok seems to be continually shoved in that niche and as his first episode where he is truly spotlit since "Flashback" (reviewed here!), another episode where he was plagued with a pretty emotional sense, the trend is disappointing.
And for as ridiculous as Harry Kim might seem falling in love with a hologram, at least it reads true to his character. Kim is a young man who illustrates a clear lack of experience from the first episode onward. This is another step in his growing up.
The performances by Garrett Wang and Tim Russ are fine, though they do little or nothing they have not already done in past episodes. Russ and Wang play Tuvok and Kim, respectively and it's clear they have the routines down pat. Wang offers the viewer a more mellow performance, but ultimately, it's one the viewer has seen before. And Russ is good, but his performance forces him to play the character with the same affect as prior episodes, but with dialogue from the character that seems uncharacteristic.
In short, there's not enough to come to this episode for. It's simple, the performances are adequate but unmemorable and none of the characters truly advance. Fans of science fiction are likely to be disappointed by how blase it is and fans of drama are likely to be bored by how it does not adequately explore the human condition in a meaningful way. It's a shame, too, because it would have been nice to see an episode of Star Trek: Voyager that allowed its supplemental characters to truly shine, rather than end up as tokens.
[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!
For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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