Thursday, October 25, 2012

Abandoning A Tight Character Piece For A Bland Plot, “Extreme Risk” Introduces The Delta Flyer!

The Good: Moments of character, Plot continuity
The Bad: Continues with the lame Malon, Plot becomes a predictable story that negates the early character work.
The Basics: When Torres starts abusing herself in reaction to the news from Earth, Star Trek: Voyager abandons an interesting character study for a disappointing competition plotline.

Perhaps one of the more disappointing aspects of Star Trek: Voyager was the way it would occasionally, momentarily, commit to an interesting, audacious premise, and then almost without fail, abandon it for something that was predictable, obvious and (usually) done by another show within the Star Trek franchise. Equally as problematic is when episodes of Star Trek: Voyager starts with an intriguing character struggle that actually appreciates the larger context of the series and then abandons that struggle for a predictable plot, spatial anomaly, alien parasite, or (very frequently) an amazing technology that will conveniently fail by the end of the episode. “Extreme Risk” is one such episode, yet still makes it into the essential Star Trek: Voyager as it introduces the new shuttlecraft alluded to in “Drone” (reviewed here!), the Delta Flyer.

“Extreme Risk” could have been one of the great B’Elanna Torres episodes, but it becomes overly bogged down in the underwhelming “space race” story that brings the Malon from “Night” (reviewed here!) back. The creation of the Delta Flyer is done with a story that seems like a reasonable idea, but given that the stakes are a probe and probes have been arguably the most disposable Federation material, it seems like a lot of work for no real payoff. But, at least, the Delta Flyer’s introduction leads to a greater sense of serialization.

When Torres is called out of the Holodeck, where she is performing orbital skydiving without the Holodeck safeties on, she dismissively lets Seven Of Nine take an assignment geared toward her. A probe from Voyager falls into Malon hands and to keep the probe from ending up with them, Janeway sends the probe into a gas giant. Voyager begins to design and build a new, bigger, more resilient shuttlecraft, called the Delta Flyer.

In the process of building the Delta Flyer, it becomes clear that Torres’s heart is not in the project. This leads Chakotay and Paris to investigate what is going on in her life. Spending time on the Holodeck with the safeties off, Torres is abusing herself simply to feel something. Exposed, Torres becomes part of the race for the probe, in the process recovering her interest in living once more.

“Extreme Risk” has a decent initial premise, on both plots. Torres is reacting to the news that all of her (and Chakotay’s) friends have been killed by the Dominion, which she learned in “Hunters” (reviewed here!). Now, Torres is self-abusing because she feels she does not have anything to live for. This is a decent character trait and it is initially well-presented. Unfortunately, the complex character concept is quickly undone by the ridiculously simple act of revealing it. Once Chakotay figures out what Torres’s problem is, the problem simply evaporates for the rest of the episode and that is utterly insulting to people with serious trauma issues.

In the process of exploring Torres’s character, Roxann Dawson is given a few choice moments to perform. As Torres heals herself after one of her Holodeck exercises, she looks in the mirror, not quite recognizing herself. That moment is actually exceptionally well-acted and following it up with a quieter scene where she and Ethan Philips (Neelix) play off one another is exceptionally well-done. Had the episode been maintained with such impressive intimacy for both the character and the performance, “Extreme Risk” would have been a much better episode.

Come to think of it, that Neelix does not become more of a confidant to Torres, based on his experience in “Mortal Coil” (reviewed here!), seems to be an exceptional oversight on the part of writer Kenneth Biller.

Instead, “Extreme Risk” becomes a monotonous conflict with the Malon, arguably the least impressive adversaries in the Star Trek universe since the Pakleds. When Seven Of Nine discovers the Malon are building their own ship, it becomes an excuse to tie the two plots together as microfractures lead Torres to a simulation that helps her continue her self abuse.

Ultimately, one of the only real character aspects that is remarkable and well-executed consistently throughout “Extreme Risk” is Tom Paris’s desire to use knobs and levers for the controls in the Delta Flyer. It makes a lot of sense that people would get sick of flat panels and desire something real to manipulate and that is a smarter note from Biller.

It is, however, not at all enough to save the episode, which falls much flatter than either good idea ought to have on their own.

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