Monday, November 12, 2012

Did Voyager Get Home? We Know Better Than To Be Suckered By “Bliss!”

The Good: Surprisingly smart, Great acting, Special effects
The Bad: A bit light on character development, Obvious
The Basics: “Bliss” presents Voyager with an apparent way to get home, though Seven Of Nine and the viewers are not fooled.

The big tease in Star Trek: Voyager was the “will they or won’t they” question of getting home. While there are any number of shows that could do a midstream course correction, the Star Trek franchise seems to be especially unwilling to redefine itself unless there is a ratings-based need. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took a detour in its fourth season (reviewed here!) in order to plausibly have Worf join the crew. Similarly, Star Trek: Enterprise abandoned its aimless journey and consistent disregard for Star Trek history to attempt an audacious season-long plot and then a season that tried to align the show with known Star Trek history. Star Trek: Voyager’s only real course correction was to add Seven Of Nine to try to lure would-be fans back with the simple joy of a large-breasted woman in a skin-tight catsuit.

But, for those looking for substance over style, as Star Trek: Voyager became more and more “The Seven Of Nine Show,” there were few truly disturbing elements like those that messed with the fans as to whether or not Voyager would make it home. In other words, the times that, following Seven Of Nine joining the crew, the writers played with the idea that Voyager would actually make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, they seemed especially flimsy. “Bliss” was one where the viewers almost universally know that this is not the episode where Voyager gets home. Unfortunately, that makes the episode seem more tedious than audacious. Even so, the show is not wrong for trying an episode like “Bliss.”

Opening with an alien, muttering to himself and launching his ship at a giant nebula-like formation in space, Voyager abruptly detects a wormhole that leads directly to Earth (Sector 001). Suspicious of the find and the fact that they detect bioplasmic energy coming from the wormhole, the crew begins investigating the spatial phenomenon when Paris, Naomi Wildman, and Seven Of Nine return from an away mission in the Delta Flyer. Seven Of Nine and Janeway begin butting heads about the apparent risk with utilizing the wormhole.

Seven Of Nine’s suspicions soon seem reasonable when telemetry from the probe reveals that StarFleet is sending messages to everyone aboard the ship. Those messages offer everyone exactly what they want: Chakotay is offered amnesty, Janeway’s ex-fiancé hints that their engagement may be back on, and Neelix is offered an ambassadorial position by StarFleet. When Seven Of Nine enlists the help of The Doctor, the EMH is taken off line and soon, the command staff turns against Seven Of Nine and Naomi Wildman (the only other person not affected by the threat emanating from the Wormhole. Working together, Seven Of Nine, Naomi, and the alien from the beginning (Qatai) team up to thwart the organism that is clearly not a wormhole back to Earth!

The nice thing about “Bliss” is that it does not insult the intelligence of even the most simpleminded viewer. This is not going to be an episode where Voyager makes it home and it is made pretty clear from the outset. In fact, the set-up with Seven Of Nine returning to the ship sets the episode completely as a Seven Of Nine saves the ship episode!

Given that, the latter half of the episode works well. Qatai is an interesting guest alien. Like Ahab or some demented Noah, the alien understands the nature of the creature that is ensnaring Voyager and he works, quite suspiciously, with Seven Of Nine and Naomi Wildman. Played by W. Morgan Sheppard, Qatai is an old salt that provides most of the episode’s exposition in a convincing way. Moreover, the writing is sharp enough that Qatai is given a reasonable way to understand that Seven Of Nine and Voyager is real and not part of his imagination. In classic “death dream” philosophy, Qatai can only be assured of reality by experiencing information that he did not have before and could not imagine. Wildman actually provides that.

In fact, the only problem with the writing is that there is no sufficient explanation for why Seven Of Nine’s resistance, especially shooting Torres and two others in Engineering, did not free them from the creature’s clutches. After all, if the entity makes everyone feel bliss to ensnare them, the conflict with Seven Of Nine should have been powerful enough to break someone of the trance. After all, it is contrary to the creature’s influence and does not feel good.

The acting in “Bliss” is excellent. Robert Picardo plays the Doctor as calm and efficient, Seven Of Nine is portrayed with reasonable skepticism by Jeri Ryan and Naomi Wildman actually does a fine job of playing a young alien with a curious mind. Roxanne Dawson uses her brief time in the episode to play Torres with delightful realism as a hallucinating Torres. In fact, one of the only real weak links in the episode is Tim Russ as Tuvok. He plays Tuvok with such perfect dispassion in his exchange with Ryan’s Seven Of Nine, that it makes it impossible to believe that he would not be swayed by the logic of Seven Of Nine’s argument!

The effects in “Bliss” are really cool, too. For a change, the CG monster looks pretty awesome and the episode works well as a result.

Ultimately, “Bliss” might be the best “Seven Of Nine saves Voyager” episode and it is well worth watching for those who like science fiction.

[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 works with William Morgan Sheppard, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Star Trek
The Prestige
Gargoyles - Season 1
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
“The Schizoid Man” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


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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