Monday, October 29, 2012

Minimizing The Character Conflicts, Star Trek: Voyager’s “Once Upon A Time” Is Star Trek: Voyager For The Kids!

The Good: Moments of character conflict for Neelix and character struggle for Samantha Wildman, Decent direction
The Bad: Oddly simple plot set-up, Oversimplifies both character aspects within the episode
The Basics: “Once Upon A Time” starts as an appropriately complicated episode of Star Trek: Voyager, but too neatly resolves all of the character aspects it explores.

One of the coolest things about going through the Star Trek franchise to review all of the episodes is catching the episodes I did not in the first-run. Actually, when I sat down to “Once Upon A Time,” I realized that this was the very first episode of Star Trek: Voyager that aired after I gave up on the show. By this point, Star Trek: Voyager had disappointed me to the extent that I came to believe that I was watching it more for continuing my reputation as an Alpha Geek (and to be able to win trivia contests at Star Trek conventions) than because I was actually enjoying the show. In fact, by this point, I had reached the conclusion that the series was never going to truly surprise or impress me. Watching “Once Upon A Time” for the first and second times for review, I realized that I gave up the show at the right time.

“Once Upon A Time” is another example of a good set-up for an episode in the Star Trek franchise that fails on the follow-through. The episode sets up two important and potentially compelling character struggles or conflicts, but then wimps out on both of them. Unlike many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager that simply steals from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Once Upon A Time” is essentially a combination of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “The Ship” (reviewed here!) and Star Trek: Voyager’s own “Jetrel” (reviewed here!).

Neelix pulls Naomi Wildman out of her children’s holodeck program, The Adventures Of Flotter to get a message from her mother, Samantha. After talking with her daughter, Samantha reveals to Neelix that the Delta Flyer has encountered an ion storm that is unusually severe and they are having difficulties. The Delta Flyer crashes on a planet where is sinks exceptionally deep. With Samantha Wildman wounded and the air in the Delta Flyer running out, Voyager works to find the lost shuttle.

Also on Voyager, Naomi continues visiting her holodeck program, one which takes a dark turn as the water elemental, Flotter, is vaporized by the Ogre Of Fire. Neelix becomes very protective of Naomi, fearing that the girl is too sensitive to deal with real life death when the loss of the fictional character hits her hard. Projecting his own insecurities and fears onto Naomi, Neelix begins to unspool, leaving Janeway questioning his decisions as her guardian.

“Once Upon A Time” has a decent character idea and could have been another worthwhile episode for Neelix that followed in the tradition of “Mortal Coil” (reviewed here!). But instead of delving beyond the simple exposition of Neelix’s issue – that his experience of watching his family and people die, especially his younger sister has led him to shelter Naomi Wildman – the episode fills with scenes like Neelix replicating a stuffed Flotter for Naomi (surprisingly, this was a merchandising ploy that was never followed up on aggressively!). In fact, for fans of Star Trek: Voyager, “Once Upon A Time” is particularly disappointing. The loyal viewer gets Neelix’s character conflict almost immediately. A far more interesting turn for the episode might have been the exact opposite; Neelix scaring the hell out of Naomi by speaking to her too graphically about death (which should be something Naomi should have some experience with, considering she has been through so many space battles and alien invasions!).

Similarly, when the crash occurs, Samantha Wildman’s prognosis is remarkably poor. Tom Paris gives the Ensign a stimulant and her condition is hardly presented is as mortal a wound as it initially was. Star Trek Voyager cops out in a way that even Star Trek: The Next Generation seldom did. Instead of keeping with a darker tone, like “The Ship,” and saddling Neelix with the continued care of Naomi Wildman, much like Worf was with Alexander in “New Ground” (reviewed here!), “Once Upon A Time” opts for a safe, easy way out for the peril of Samantha Wildman.

Outside that, the only real issue with “Once Upon A Time” comes with the characterization of Tuvok and Paris on the Delta Flyer and the strength of the Delta Flyer itself. The Delta Flyer was built as a powerful replacement shuttlecraft and that it is so easily knocked about by a simple ion storm minimizes the significance of the new vessel. Tuvok explaining that he will not record a message for his wife, favoring writing instead, is utterly illogical. After all, it is entirely logical that a Vulcan security officer would have a recorded message for his family on Voyager and would not need a supplemental one for the specific circumstances that led to his loss (i.e. the sentiments he wants to express have been expressed in a recorded message on Voyager, freeing him up to actually work until the very last possible moment on a solution to any problem he encounters.

Samantha Wildman accents the rather lame idea in the Star Trek franchise that only the main crewmembers whom we see on the bridge are the only really competent people on the ship.

Ethan Philips does fine as Neelix, though too much of his dialogue forces the actor to tread into the realm of melodrama, as opposed to presenting the character with a realistic sense of balance. “Once Upon A Time” marks the first appearance of Scarlett Pomers as Naomi Wildman and she is the actress who sticks for the role. She is an adequate child actor in the role and when she plays the character with literal wide-eyed surprise it is as close to real as such things actually are.

In the end, “Once Upon A Time” is a tightly average episode of Star Trek Voyager that skimps on the depth of the original conflicts the episode establishes, making it far less compelling for adults than it could have been. That said, for those when young Trekkers progress beyond Star Trek: The Animated Series this episode makes a decent entre into the live-action Trek for children.

[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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