Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Makes A Compelling Character Study With The Doctor In “Latent Image!”

The Good: Keeps the character work tight, Great acting, Interesting idea
The Bad: Janeway’s sense of anger, Resolution.
The Basics: When the Doctor encounters a mystery, he fights to integrate memories that traumatized him.

For those who do not follow my many Star Trek reviews, I tend to argue that Star Trek: Voyager never quite reached a perfect episode. It came closest with “Resolutions” (reviewed here!) and one of the other episodes that was tightly in the running was “Latent Image.” “Latent Image” is an excellent idea for an episode that has two fundamental problems. Even so, it comes very close, despite having an initial structure that makes viewers feel like it might be a cheap knock-off of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Clues” (reviewed here!).

Fortunately for “Latent Image,” the episode that initially appears to be a conspiracy that centers around the memories of the crew , quickly turns into an episode that tightly focuses on the Emergency Medical Hologram. The Doctor is the subject of “Latent Image,” with Seven Of Nine serving as his trusty sidekick and the episode has a perfect idea that is poorly executed on two fronts.

The Doctor is including microcellular holo-imaging as part of his annual physicals for the crew. In doing so, he discovers an anomaly on Harry Kim; evidence of microsurgery performed to the back of the Ensign’s neck. The microsurgery uses a technique the Doctor himself developed, which proves to him that his memories have been tampered with. After requesting aid from the Captain and, separately, Seven Of Nine, the EMH is rebooted with no memory of having discovered the anomaly. Seven Of Nine discovers that the Doctor and his holo-imager have files from eighteen months prior that have been tampered with.

The Doctor’s lost memories center around Ensign Jetal, a crewwoman that no one else seems to recognize or know anything about. Feeling paranoid, the Doctor creates a backup of his memories and orders the computer to restore them if his memories are again tampered with and he sets his holo-imager to take pictures if movement is detected in Sickbay. When his failsafes are activated, the Doctor discovers Captain Janeway is behind his memory deletion and he finds her unusually reticent to discuss why she altered his memories.

“Latent Image” is a wonderful idea and outside how Janeway acts and the ultimate resolution to the story, it would be perfect. Janeway, who is usually very patient and reasonable, comes across throughout “Latent Image” as angry and (until her last scene with the Doctor) heartless where the Doctor is concerned. While there are moments where Janeway is within command prerogative with defining the Doctor’s accident as life-threatening and expressing a fear that discussing it might cause the problem again, she is impatient throughout. In fact, a pretty easy solution to much of the problem seems like it would be to tell the Doctor that he was caught in a programming loop because he encountered a choice that his programming could not resolve and that it resulted in the death of Ensign Jetal. With that information, it seems reasonable that the Doctor would stop his quest to look into the incident. And yet, Janeway and Paris keep the Doctor’s accident entirely obscured from him.

While usually, I am in favor of “spoiler alerts” even for older material like “Latent Image,” it ruins nothing for the viewer to know that the Doctor’s repressed memory involves him saving the life of Ensign Kim at the expense of the other ensign when both had an equal chance of survival. The other serious issue with “Latent Image” comes from its resolution, which is essentially a “wait it out” result. While that makes sense for people, it is a bit of a leap for a computer program. But worse than that – and I say that whenever I instantly see a solution that the characters in a work (and the writers) fail to see – there is a vastly easier solution to the Doctor’s problem. The Doctor cannot find any records of Ensign Jetal in the computer, despite the fact that she was a normal, viable, crewmember. The Doctor’s internal conflict comes from the fact that both Jetal and Kim had an equal chance of survival when he operated and he saved Harry Kim, ostensibly, because Kim was the Doctor’s friend. The instant, obvious, solution to the Doctor’s problem of getting stuck in a loop is to alter the odds. Providing the EMH with any new information that would indicate that Jetal did not have an equal chance of survival would resolve the conflict. Just like that. And while the Doctor’s visual memories of scans and such cannot be altered, it seems reasonable that if Tuvok and Janeway provided the Doctor with Jetal’s medical records indicating that she had, say, a heart condition, the Doctor would realize that he made the right medical decision in choosing Kim. That resolution, brought in at the very end, would not have robbed the episode of any of the emotional conflict or character work that the rest of the episode has and it would have prevented the Doctor’s life from being risked a second time. Rewatching the episode, it also does not make sense that they could not have delayed the problem in one of the two characters by putting them in the transporter buffer while the Doctor worked on the other one. C’est la vie.

That aside, “Latent Image” is a compelling story that keeps it tight. The Doctor is emotionally damaged by the feeling that his friends are out to get him. His program is troublingly affected by wrestling with the consequences of his actions and that makes for wonderful television.

The episode would not be what it is were it not for Robert Picardo as The Doctor. Picardo makes an incredible acting transition in one of his recovered memory scenes (opposite Ethan Philips) from lighthearted to utterly demented. He becomes angry and frustrated in a way that he never exhibited on the show before, making the performance resonate and truly sparkle for the fans!

Ultimately, “Latent Image” is well worth watching and remains one of the better episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, even if it is not at all flawless.

[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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