Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Simple Idea Barely Sustains Star Trek: Voyager’s “Virtuoso.”

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting concept
The Bad: Very simple idea that does not compellingly sustain the episode, Mediocre direction, Terrible romantic subplot
The Basics: The Emergency Medical Hologram becomes a celebrity on an alien world where the inhabitants had not previously heard music.

Every now and then, Star Trek: Voyager had a remarkably simple idea for an episode that the writers clearly did not know how to flesh out to meet the minimum time requirements. Those episodes usually include a scene or two that is easily noticed to be filler; incongruent moments that have no real connection to the rest of the main plot or even other serialized elements outside the episode. “Virtuoso” is not one of those episodes. Instead, “Virtuoso” is a very simple idea, a direct idea that does not include extraneous scenes.

“Virtuoso” is the second episode in the “holographic rights” arc of The Doctor. Following up on the principles introduced in “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” (reviewed here!), the Emergency Medical Hologram finds he has cause to want his rights acknowledged again. What starts as a pretty basic episode that plays off a personality flaw with the Doctor quickly turns into an episode that continues to raise the level of debate over what the Doctor’s rights as a holographic life form should be.

Voyager rescues a Qomar ship that breaks down and has to deal with the arrogant individuals they rescue. While humming to himself, the annoying Qomar are shocked. While they view the universe through mathematical equations, they have never heard music before. The Doctor, in the interest of diplomacy, performs for the visiting Qomar. In fact, when Harry Kim’s jazz trio tries to play, they are essentially booed off the stage in favor of the Doctor returning.

But after an impressive performance on the Qomar homeworld, the Doctor becomes a celebrity. A factory begins making holographic collectibles of the Doctor and Janeway fights with him to get him to pay attention to his duties once again. A visit from Tincoo convinces the Doctor that his celebrity on Qomar could endure and he makes the argument with Janeway that he should have the right to leave Voyager. After saying a difficult goodbye to Seven Of Nine, the Doctor departs Voyager to become a musician on the Qomar planet . . . until his celebrity fades.

“Virtuoso” develops well with the Doctor going through a quick arc to being a somewhat jerkish celebrity. After that quick peak, the episode smartly focuses on the emotional ramifications of the Doctor leaving and the effect his ego has on his need to return to Voyager when Tincoo creates an upgraded version of the EMH intended to stay with the Qomar. The character arc is smart and well-developed.

Unfortunately, the direction for the episode is not nearly as clever. While the Qomar are emotionally stunted, that problem pales in comparison to the obvious differences between when actor Robert Picardo is actually singing in a take and when he is lip synching. Director Les Landau captures one of the best performances from Jeri Ryan when the Doctor tells Seven Of Nine he is leaving the ship.

Also problematic in “Virtuoso” is the romantic subplot involving Tincoo and the Doctor. Tincoo and the Doctor have no on-screen chemistry and the story between them is not developed sufficiently before she suddenly tells the Doctor he is meaningful to her. That problem is complicated by how the Doctor equally suddenly seems to reciprocate her affections.

The romantic subplot is a script problem; the actors who execute it do fine with the material they are given. Kate Mulgrew is decent as Janeway in “Virtuoso,” even if the character’s arguments are ill-defined. Most of the episode hinges on the performance of Robert Picardo. Picardo takes the EMH through an extensive emotional range in the episode. In fact, near the climax of the episode, Picardo is given the difficult task of playing a suddenly one-dimensional character separate from that of the Doctor. He manages, in just a few notes, to do just that.

“Virtuoso” is a simple episode that has enough going for it to adequately sell the episode. As a fan of the Star Trek franchise, it is hard not to feel a little stung by the way fans are treated in dialogue between Janeway and Seven Of Nine in the episode, but the episode pulls out at the end with a nice moment that redeems it and keeps it from being a disappointment, at the very least.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate 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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