Thursday, November 22, 2012

Not Every Problem Is A Paradox . . . But You Wouldn’t Know That From “Think Tank!”

The Good: Cool concept, Decent dilemma
The Bad: Predictable plot, Ridiculous characters, Moments of performance
The Basics: “Think Tank” gives Voyager a pretty predictable moral dilemma that is entirely underwhelming upon closer examination.

Usually, I can tell when a television series is getting into trouble by the moment it shifts from creating decent stories (or, in the case of comedies, telling good jokes) or developing the characters one has invested in and instead the show starts focusing on the guest stars that they can bring in. With Star Trek: Voyager, that shift came in the show’s fifth season. The week after the series finally aired “The Fight” (reviewed here!) that capitalized on the guest star talents of Ray Walston, the show made a huge deal of the fact that actor Jason Alexander was guest starring. The episode Alexander appears in is “Think Tank.”

“Think Tank” is one of those weird, seductive episodes that might initially seem wonderful, but it becomes steadily worse with each viewing. In fact, after watching it three times, I became frustrated by the writers. Michael Taylor, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga created a story and are writing about super-smart aliens (who apparently do not know the correct usage of the word “paradox”) and yet the conflict in the episode “Think Tank” is obvious and troublingly unintelligent. To wit; the reason something like The Big Bang Theory works is because the series strives for more than just intelligent diction. The characters are sufficiently complex to warrant the belief in many of their best, most zany circumstances. It does not surprise me that Michael Taylor has not written for The Big Bang Theory.

After his planet is rescued from complete destruction by the assorted denizens of an alien ship, an alien is extorted for a metal his planet hoarded in order to try to rebuild their economy after the disaster. As Voyager moves into the space claimed by Hazari hunters, Janeway is visited by the alien, Kurros. Kurros is the leader of the alien ship, a think tank of diverse creatures who pool their resources to solve problems in the Delta Quadrant. Kurros offers Janeway the solution to the Hazari problem, but at a price.

Impressed by Seven Of Nine, Kurros wants the ex-Borg to join the think tank in order to expand their numbers and utilize her unique abilities. Janeway brings Kurros’s offer to Seven Of Nine, but Seven Of Nine is wary of leaving Voyager. Feeling that the appearance of the think tank and the Hazari is more than a coincidence, Janeway and the Voyager crew try to think their way out of the impending destruction of the ship without losing Seven Of Nine.

Of all the opportunities to shift the plot paradigm of Star Trek: Voyager, “Think Tank” may well have been the biggest wasted opportunity. Kurros and the think tank become generic, somewhat ridiculous villains as opposed to being the most cunning and interesting character conflict that Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek ever presented. One of the reasons that The Dominon on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine worked so exceptionally well as an adversary was that the Dominion mirrored the Federation in many ways and the leaders of the Dominion had an understandable motivation. Kurros and the think tank lack anything so well-developed. Instead, they are essentially exceptionally smart Ferengi, dressed as aliens, robots, jellyfish and leviathans.

In other words, the big fix to almost all of the problems with “Think Tank” would have come at the script level and they involve changing the motivation and tenor of the villains. “Think Tank” would have been vastly more compelling had the think tank not engineered a shallow, temporary, problem to try to lure Seven Of Nine to join them. The idea of tempting a genius with a life of intellectual stimulation is an exceptional one. “Think Tank” could have been a smarter mirror of “Dark Frontier;” in “Dark Frontier,” the Borg Queen sought to tempt Seven Of Nine into rejoining the Collective, asking her for advice and coercing her with threats to Voyager’s safety. “Think Tank” could have been far more compelling by having Kurros present Seven Of Nine with challenges that made her feel more useful as part of the Think Tank and his crew. It’s not like Star Trek: Voyager was lacking in unsolved puzzles. If Kurros wanted Seven Of Nine, he and the think tank could have helped Seven Of Nine integrate the quantum slipstream drive with Voyager or generated an artificial wormhole that would get the ship home . . . with the price being the former Borg stay with him and continue to solve other problems the think tank encounters. In fact, had Kurros and his crew been an unselfish group of super-geniuses who saw the potential in Seven Of Nine, who could convince her that she was wasting her potential on Voyager, the episode would have been far more compelling. It gives me tingles to think of Janeway being forced to admit that it would be selfish for her to stifle Seven Of Nine’s growth . . .


“Think Tank” just is not that smart.

Instead, it is a feeble attempt to cash in on the celebrity of Jason Alexander, an enthusiastic guest to the Star Trek universe. Alexander plays Kurros and his performance is initially stiff, which makes the episode somewhat less accessible from the outset. Even so, he quickly overcomes the stiffness to make Kurros charismatic enough to be a viable adversary.

Unfortunately, the plot is obvious. The Hazari have never been mentioned before, yet suddenly pop up as the top dog bounty hunters of the Delta Quadrant, so conveniently at the moment the think tank arrives that it is surprising Janeway and Paris (Paris because of his interest in 20th Century science fiction serials) do not catch how formulaic the conflict is. “Think Tank” also marks the end – albeit off-camera – of the Vidiians. Kurros and his people cured them, we are told, and it’s an interesting end to the plagued race. It’s also a huge missed opportunity. The Vidiians are some 30,000 light years behind Voyager. How Kurros and his think tank cured the Vidiians a year ago and ended up on the other side of Borg space, well in front of Voyager to lay this trap hints at a propulsion method beyond Voyager. And yet . . . it never dawns on Janeway and she does not try to acquire that propulsion.

The initial stiffness from Jason Alexander’s performance aside, “Think Tank” is a mess at the script level and no amount of guest star power was going to fix it.

[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 Jason Alexander, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Farce Of The Penguins
Shallow Hal
Jacob’s Ladder


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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