Monday, September 24, 2012

A Ridiculously Typical Metaphor Episode Does Not Entirely Hold Up As More Than “Random Thoughts!”

The Good: Interesting concept, Moments of performance
The Bad: Character aspects are jumbled, Metaphor is obvious, Too much filler
The Basics: “Random Thoughts” is a disturbingly average episode of Star Trek: Voyager that does not rise above its limitations.

The Star Trek franchise is famous for creating episodes that are social commentaries by disguising the issue they are addressing beneath a veil of another issue. Star Trek began the tradition in the original series when writers disguised episodes that were actually about the Vietnam war and ethnic issues. In the spinoff series’, writers created episodes, like “The Outcast” (reviewed here!) that addressed gay rights and gender identification issues by creating an androgynous alien race. One of the more mediocre attempts to make social commentary that was not a complete loss was the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Random Thoughts.”

“Random Thoughts” eventually makes explicit that it is a commentary on Blue Laws, laws that make behavior deemed “immoral” by a community illegal. The explicit thesis of the episode is that just because something is illegal does not mean it will not be done; it will only be done in private and make criminals of those who wish to explore that behavior. While this is an interesting concept and one that is honorable for the producers of Star Trek: Voyager to attempt to explore, writer Kenneth Biller simply does not land it. This is too simple a concept and as a result, “Random Thoughts” is fleshed out with pointless scenes with awkward characterizations that feel like exactly what they are: filler.

The U.S.S. Voyager arrives at Mari Homeworld where they are trading for hardware B’Elanna needs for the ship and food that Neelix wants to acquire. The Mari are a highly telepathic race who have virtually eliminated crime and have managed to regulate violent thoughts to the point where they are illegal. But when a stranger bumps into Torres, she has the mental image of throttling the interloper, which causes the man to go and beat another person to a bloody pulp. When Chief Examiner Nimira determines that the cause of the death was the violent thought from Torres, B’Elanna is incarcerated pending a medical procedure that will eliminate the violent thought from her mind!

As Torres waits for the brain alteration, Paris attempts to enlist Chakotay in a jailbreak and Janeway looks for a legal solution to their predicament. Tuvok’s investigation of the incident points to the merchant, Guill, who seems to be in possession of the same violent imagery that Nimira found in the killer. In interrogating Guill, Tuvok makes a disturbing discovery about Mari society.

I usually like complicated, serialized episodes, but “Random Thoughts” is not that. Instead of an episode that explores the ramifications to each crewmember of either possessing violent thoughts or B’Elanna’s incarceration and pending mental alteration, “Random Thoughts” is a very limited idea that is stretched into a full episode. Unfortunately, Kenneth Biller and director Alexander Singer seem to be at a loss to make the additional scenes feel organic and “Random Thoughts” ends up as an erratic mess that has an obvious message and ends earlier than the running time.

So, for example, Paris – who now has a very serious romantic relationship with Torres – reasonably wants to mount an escape attempt. He witlessly approaches Chakotay on the bridge (in front of other officers) about going behind Janeway’s back to make a jailbreak. Chakotay’s response treats Paris like a five year-old, as he allows Paris to sit in Janeway’s seat (big deal to an adult who is fixated on saving the life and brain of the woman he loves!) and even when he has Paris concoct a jailbreak plan, the idea goes nowhere. At least Paris is smart enough and well-written enough to acknowledge that he is being given busy work by Chakotay!

In a similar vein, Seven Of Nine appears in the episode in one of the most pointless exchanges between her and Janeway of the entire series. It is almost like Biller and Singer realized they had gotten through almost an entire episode with Seven having only a single scene and they said, “We’d best get our money’s worth out of those bre . . . that actress!” So, Seven Of Nine pretty pointlessly closes the episode with Janeway in a scene that mostly kills time and repeats a theme already presented in other episodes since Seven Of Nine came aboard.

Star Trek (franchise) veteran Gwynyth Walsh appears as Nimiri and the role is a distinctly different one from her portrayal of the Klingon B’Etor, which is nice. But it is Tim Russ who is given the most work to do in “Random Thoughts.” He rises to the occasion as Tuvok, but unfortunately, Tuvok is terribly mischaracterized in the episode. While Vulcans have passions and violent impulses, Tuvok is essentially characterized as a psychopath who keeps himself in check in “Random Thoughts” and the level of violence the character wrestles with apparently makes him on the level of Lon Suder from the prior seasons! Russ manages to play the part convincingly enough that most fans might not even notice how extreme his character’s sudden twist is!

Ultimately, “Random Thoughts” is a good idea, but too simple of an idea to sustain the full hour episode and what is put in to get it up to the needed time, alas, does not benefit the episode.

For other works with Gwynyth Walsh, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Tin Man
Star Trek: Generations
“Firstborn” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
“Past Prologue” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Redemption II” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
“Redemption” - Star Trek: The Next Generation

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


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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

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