Saturday, October 27, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Undermines Yet Another One Of Its Villains With “In The Flesh”

The Good: Good idea, Fair execution of idea
The Bad: No character development, No extraordinary performances, Odd use of the alien race, Lack of attention to important details
The Basics: Species 8472 returns “In The Flesh” when the Voyager crew discovers StarFleet Headquarters in the Delta Quadrant.

When Star Trek conventions were big enough that there was one every weekend somewhere in the Eastern Time Zone and I was on the road a lot, one of the discussions I enjoyed getting into with people was on the quality of the Star Trek villains. Whenever Species 8472 was broached, I would wince. Usually, people would notice this and I would have the opportunity to expound on my sense of outrage and offense. The alien, seen in only four episodes, makes its final appearance in the episode “In The Flesh,” and it becomes, in my arguing, the worst of the bunch.

It all has to do with names. “Species 8472” is the Borg designation for the invaders from fluidic space. This alien life form, presented as an entirely computer generated creature, is referred to solely as “Species 8472.” Using the Borg designation, even to the entity’s face, is like referring to a person by their rape case number. While this might initially be respectful (to respect the anonymity of the victim), it becomes offensive when speaking directly to the person, especially as they make the journey from victim to survivor. While there is no direct analogy for the latter part of this concept, it does seem like an alien race that has genocidal plans to cure the galaxy of impure creatures could be more respectfully referred to than by the conquest number by the Borg. The fact that by the end of “In The Flesh” the loyal fans of Star Trek: Voyager do not have something better to call the fluidic space creatures than “Species 8472” is intellectually lazy and, in context, offensive.

Sadly, this is not the only problem stemming from Nick Sagan’s script. The invaders from fluidic space, despite not being the initial aggressors in their war with the Borg, were presented as having a philosophy of their own. “The weak will perish” is what Kes was told (telepathically) by them and Tuvok parrots in “In The Flesh.” But in “In The Flesh,” the aliens are characterized as being entirely on the defensive and with no expansionist wishes or genetic purity ideals of their own. That further weakens the aliens, much the way the Borg were undermined by how they were presented in “Descent, Part 1” (reviewed here!). It seems the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager did not know how to explore the villains they created without significantly weakening them and making them far less interesting.

Chakotay is wandering around StarFleet Academy, taking holographic images, when he is confronted by the groundskeeper, Boothby. While conversing with Commander Valerie Archer, Chakotay witnesses another person in the bar rippling and she refers to “reverting,” making it clear that while she appears human she and her compatriots at the base are not human. Escaping the facility, Chakotay and Tuvok return to Voyager with one of the beings.

When the officer kills himself aboard Voyager, the Doctor reveals him to be from the invaders from fluidic space. While Voyager prepares to stop the aliens, Chakotay returns to the simulation of Earth where he tries to learn what the invaders are up to. Discovered to be truly human, Chakotay tries to convince Archer and Boothby that StarFleet is benevolent.

“In The Flesh” makes a passing attempt to recreate the invaders from fluidic space as having their own philosophy, at least for a moment. When the captured individual kills himself, he refers to the humans as being diseased. That concept is almost completely undermined when “Boothby” starts discussing the training ground with Janeway and he presents himself as a more liberal element, relative to his compatriots.

I like smart science fiction and the idea of the training ground is a good one, even if it seems more often than not like a cheap opportunity to bring back Ray Walston from “The First Duty” (reviewed here!). While the invaders from fluidic space are originally characterized as vicious and fanatical, as well as almost impossible to kill, learning more about them did not need to mean that they would lose all of that. Sadly, though, “In The Flesh” does mortgage that. The Borg nanoprobes are prevalent enough to destroy the aliens, the philosophy is gone and the fact they seem all too willing to be talked out of an invasion. Perhaps because Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was doing episodes with Changeling infiltrators, “In The Flesh” rather quickly abandons the question of how the aliens gained enough information to recreate StarFleet headquarters.

That said, it is refreshing to see an episode where diplomacy prevails and the solution to the problems raised in the episode is reached through communications, not weaponry.

Sadly, “In The Flesh” has no character development and no superlative performances. Robert Beltran, who dominates the episode, shows nothing that he has not before. However, director David Livingston makes some ridiculous mistakes on the details. Beltran, who wanders through the episode as Chakotay without any real passion, is seen wearing his Maquis rank insignia throughout the episode. The Maquis rank insignia is unique to Voyager; no one else in the Federation would wear one, much less have seen one. The moment the invaders from fluidic space saw Chakotay, they should have known something was amiss!

But such nitpicking is not the real problem with “In The Flesh.” “In The Flesh” gets the broad strokes – save the basic concept and the ultimate resolution – wrong and that makes it far less satisfying, especially upon rewatching.

For the other episodes that feature the invaders from fluidic space, check out my reviews of:
“Scorpion, Part 2”

[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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