Sunday, October 7, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager’s Take On Casablanca Is The Mixed Bag That Is “The Killing Game!”

The Good: Decent performances, Good special effects, Interesting concept
The Bad: Poor execution of concept, No character development
The Basics: When the Hirogen take Voyager, they begin a series of simulations that initially seem sensible, but upon closer inspection are somewhat ridiculous.

Long before The Hunger Games (reviewed here!) hit theaters, Star Trek: Voyager did a simulated bloodsport episode with “The Killing Game.” “The Killing Game” is a fan favorite of Star Trek: Voyager, arguably for the way many of the Mirror Universe episodes are fan favorite; the episode features the familiar characters with a twist. “The Killing Game” is initially intriguing, but it is one of the episodes that holds up increasingly less well under scrutiny.

In fact, while “The Killing Game” features the sheer joy of Jeri Ryan showing off her pipes instead of her breasts and there are some initially clever aspects – Janeway is first seen with a scar on her right eye that mirrors a scar on the face of the Alpha Hirogen providing an instant visual clue as to his status – the entire concept of the episode is actually preposterous. Moreover, this is the first of two parts and the only reason that, sensibly, the producers might not have shown the first part (nineteen days prior to the episode’s beginning) was that they essentially did that episode with “Basics” (reviewed here!). That and they would have to explain satisfactorily how Harry Kim ended up as the expert on the Holodeck that the Hirogens would keep outside the wargames.

Janeway, disguised and talking like a Klingon, is fighting on the Holodeck when she is almost killed by a Hirogen. Controlled by a neural interface, the Hirogens decide to put her back on the Holodeck in a simulation of World War II Nazi-occupied France. There, Janeway is the proprietor of a club that appears neutral to the Nazis in St. Claire. Neelix supplies the club with ciphers from the Resistance that allow them to get commands from Allied High Command. Seven Of Nine sings at the club and Tuvok is the bartender as Janeway prepares the Resistance to pave the way for the Americans in two day’s time.

When Torres infiltrates Nazi headquarters to find the radio transmitter, Neelix and Seven Of Nine end up in a gunfight that leaves Neelix (in the simulation) killed and Seven Of Nine wounded. The Doctor uses Seven Of Nine as an instrument to help liberate the crew on the Holodeck, while Ensign Kim slaves away at expanding the Holodecks. As the Hirogen second in command questions the Alpha’s determination to stay and fight in the simulations, Seven Of Nine works to free Janeway from the Hirogen’s mental control as she falls under suspicion of the allies!

“The Killing Game” is fun in that it seems initially like an intriguing Star Trek recasting of Casablanca (reviewed here!). But the Holodeck simulation has no bearing on the characters as we know them. So while, for example, the mirror universe version of Kira Nerys serves to highlight how virtually asexual our universe’s Kira is, the Hirogen-controlled Seven Of Nine, Neelix, Tuvok, and Janeway have no character insights to share with the viewer.

Unfortunately, “The Killing Game” is riddled with conceptual problems and executions that make the episode appear utterly preposterous. Starting with the first shots, “The Killing Game” prioritizes spectacle over substance. Janeway appears as a Klingon – with Klingon hair and headridge – and the only reason for that would be the “surprise” of the revelation that the Klingon is Janeway. It’s not a surprise because, let’s face it, Kate Mulgrew has a very distinctive voice. But this is ridiculous in-context because: 1. Holodecks recognize characters based upon the character they play, not the actor (i.e. a human playing a Klingon character is treated and “seen” by the computer as a Klingon), 2. That principle is in play by the fact that the Hirogens in simulation are treated as Klingons and humans, as appropriate, and Torres is treated as human, and 3. This is executed inconsistently in the episode: Janeway appears as a human in the Klingon simulation, but Neelix, Torres, and Seven Of Nine are not altered to look human in the human simulation.

The ridiculousness follows in little details and the major conceit. The Hirogen Alpha decides that the next battle the Hirogen will fight is the Battle Of Wolf 359, which was a space battle against the Borg (and one that the Federation lost), not one that would allow the Hirogen to learn anything about humans. But the big conceit in “The Killing Game” makes absolutely no sense.

The members of Voyager’s crew are used as puppets using Hirogen neuroprocessors. In this fashion, Janeway thinks and acts as a Klingon and Neelix and Seven Of Nine act entirely human. But use of the devices makes utterly no sense for the stated goal of the Alpha Hirogen. The Alpha Hirogen wants to learn about other cultures in order to help enhance Hirogen culture. But Janeway, for example, is not a Klingon. Therefore, she is playing the computer’s perception of a Klingon on the Holodeck. Given that the research is either completely useless (the Hirogen could just as easily read a book on Klingons and get the same information) or he already has the information – i.e. in order to program Janeway to be a Klingon, the Hirogen device needs parameters to define a “Klingon.” For the Alpha Hirogen’s stated goals, all he needed was Voyager’s computer database to program the neural interfaces and then he could kill the crew of Voyager and program his own people for the simulations.

In equal measure, Harry Kim’s presence outside the Holodeck makes no sense either. Harry is kept unaltered in order to essentially keep building holodecks into the corridors and rooms adjacent to the existing holodecks. There is no reason for this as the holodeck technology does not require more physical space in our world to create larger-appearing or larger functional spaces inside the holodeck. So, Kim is simply outside as a conceit to execute the escape plan.

“The Killing Game”’s other big fault is where is goes on the plot front. While this is the first of two parts, it is essentially the second part in a three part arc (the first part is not a part of the series, it is the battle nineteen days prior that Voyager lost when the Hirogen took the ship). The second part is a protracted battle that is more obvious than at all necessary. The episode arc could just as easily have been executed as a single episode based on how much ground “The Killing Game” covered.

For all its faults, the episode is entertaining. In fact, it is so entertaining that most fans do not even notice the glaring problems with the episode (it truly is more than just nitpicking). But it is not much more than entertaining. The performances in “The Killing Game” are universally good and it is fun to see things like Kate Mulgrew acting as a Klingon and Roxann Dawson forced to acknowledge her off-screen (until now) pregnancy. There are no bad performances – from primary actors and guest actors – in “The Killing Game.”

Even so, the acting is not enough to sell the episode. It is sloppy in its assembly and in the number of conceits it forces the viewer to accept. As one of the final real Hirogen episodes, “The Killing Game” caps the alien culture off in a remarkably unsatisfying way.

[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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