Saturday, August 4, 2012

Witlessness Becomes Pointlessness As Star Trek: Voyager Begins Season Three With "Basics, Part II"

The Good: Finally ends the Kazon storyline, Moments of character
The Bad: Disappointing planetbound story, Generally unimpressive acting, Pacing, Special effects
The Basics: While the Kazon run Voyager (poorly), Janeway's crew tries to survive on a boring planet loaded with problems for them to try to interest the viewers.

Following the climactic events of any season finale, the hope is always to suck the viewer back in to catch the resolution at the beginning of the new season. Many shows hit their stride in their third season and whatever events got them to that point usually put them in good stead for viewer enthusiasm. Enter Star Trek: Voyager, starting a meandering third season with the follow-up to the second season finale, "Basics" (reviewed here!). While my review of the first part worked hard to not explicitly state the cliffhanger, it's impossible to discuss "Part II" without understanding where the first part ended. So, for those who want to watch it and enjoy, now's the time to stop reading.

The U.S.S. Voyager has been abducted by the Kazon, the crew of the ship have been marooned on an inhospitable world with sun and volcanoes, and Tom Paris is MIA, searching for reinforcements to take back the ship. Aboard Voyager, Seska finds the Kazon fairly ineffective at actually taking control of the ship and victims of sabotage from the Doctor and his hidden ally, Lon Suder. On Hanon IV, the crew of Voyager finds themselves suffering from heat stroke, being eaten by a land eel, and in conflict with the neighboring tribe of Neanderthal-type humanoids. Rather than leave Kes and Neelix to their own devices among the savages, Janeway and Chakotay set to rescuing them while protecting the others.

This is one of those episodes that, as it progresses along, the viewer sits to wait just long enough for The Point. The Point in "Basics, Part II" is when one realizes that everything will, in fact be resolved within the course of this episode and will not be drawn out into a third part. Mercifully, that point comes right around the middle of the episode and I encourage those who have suffered through the opening, waiting for the episode to go somewhere interesting, to shut it off at the point where the resolution becomes obvious; it is exactly as obvious as it seems like it might be and the episode plays out without any surprises after a point.

More than that, the episode is barely interesting and not at all engaging for the bulk of the episode. The crew's plight on Hanon IV is dull, so much so there have to be three conflicts instead of just one attempt to survive. The result is a feeling that the writers did not know what they wanted to do with the stranded crew, so they threw a number of things at them including: indigenous life forms, a giant land eel, volcanic disturbances and realistic survival problems (the last one being the only one that seemed necessary and with enough potential to sucker in anyone who was watching the episode for real drama as opposed to science fiction).

Far more interesting is the plight of the Doctor and Lon Suder. Aboard Voyager, the two engage in an interesting character struggle. Suder, a psychopath from the second season episode "Meld" (reviewed here!) has reformed into a model citizen and has managed to survive undetected on Voyager following its capture. The Doctor, then, asks something difficult of Suder, for him to revert to his nature to save the ship and stop the Kazon. The Doctor is placed in the unenviable position of asking a mentally ill man who is largely healed to kill Kazon to cripple the ship and allow the ship to be retaken by loyal forces.

It's the only portion of the episode worth watching.

Then there's the Tom Paris plot. It's tacked on just enough to let the viewer know how everything will resolve itself and Paris fills a fairly generic role as liberator here.

Outside the plot involving the Doctor and Lon Suder, the episode is devoid of character work or notable performances. While the crew stranded on the surface works to survive, they do not so much grow or learn anything as they run or die. The characters plod through survival like people who are indifferent to their plight, as if they know they will be rescued by the end of the forty-three minutes.

Aboard Voyager, though, there is a decent character story being told. The Doctor and Lon Suder play off one another well and the ethical dilemma their story explores is interesting and engaging. Robert Picardo gives a performance that is wonderfully infused with subtlety and compassion as opposed to the sarcasm his character usually vocalizes.

It is Brad Dourif who brings an otherwise terrible episode up into territory where it is almost watchable. As Suder, Dourif is able to convey a masterful amount of emotion and expressiveness for a character who is torn apart with a very real conflict. Dourif makes that conflict realistic, vibrant and difficult to watch.

Sadly, Dourif and Picardo are not on screen nearly enough to save this episode. Instead, the viewer is assaulted for the majority of the time with lackluster performances from the rest of the main and guest casts. They are condemned to a dull plot with listless acting, characters who are set into motion and follow the most predictable of tracks and special effects that are astonishingly bad.

At some point, early CG work will be viewed as kitsch the way we now view the special effects of the serialized science fiction movies of the 40s. Those movies have effects that are so terrible and laughable that one has to love them for the entertainment value that comes from mocking the efforts of those who who once so very far out of their league. In a similar sense, the effects department on "Basics, Part II" is out of their league with the effects rendering the Hanonan land eel. This effect is so bad one imagines they can see the binary codes that created it. I'm not to the point where I'm finding it kitsch or amusing, though. The land eel is a great example of a special effect where those creating the effect had no idea how to put it into a real context. As a result the computer-generated monster is lit (poorly) from all angles and looks like it came from a computer, as opposed to a cave.

The poor cg is just the proverbial icing on the cake for an episode so dull and obvious in the way it resolves the conflicts from the first part that it's astonishing I've mustered up enough interest to write as much as I have about it. This episode is only for die-hard fans obsessed with seeing all Trek and who will sit through anything. For those more discriminating, the Suder/Doctor plot is worthwhile but not enough as far as the airtime goes to recommend the episode.

[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 all of the others in the Star Trek franchise by visiting my specialized Index Page!

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