Saturday, December 15, 2012

Robert Picardo Leaves His Mark, As A Director, When Star Trek: Voyager Takes “One Small Step!”

The Good: Good direction, Decent narrative structure, Interesting guest character and decent guest performance by Phil Morris
The Bad: Seven Of Nine’s character digression, No superlative main-cast performances
The Basics: “One Small Step” alternates between Voyager discovering an old Mars exploring ship and the Ares 4 mission.

Sometimes, it is obvious when a new director is trying to leave their mark. Robert Picardo, who was saddled with the mediocre (no fault of his!) episode “Alter Ego” (reviewed here!), had a second chance to direct Star Trek: Voyager and with “One Small Step,” he had the chance to make a vastly better episode. Fortunately for Picardo and the fans, he succeeded. “One Small Step” is an engaging episode, despite having a character arc for Seven Of Nine that is more mediocre than in any way extraordinary.

Like “The Omega Directive” (reviewed here!), “One Small Step” is, ultimately, a “Seven Of Nine learns an obvious lesson” type episode. Early on, the premise is established – in this case, Seven Of Nine’s lack of appreciation of history – but as the episode progresses, the scientific problem and the “historical data” portions of the episode quickly become more engaging than the Seven Of Nine plotline. In fact, trying to keep the focus on Seven Of Nine and trying to revive the character of Chakotay diminish the episode for those who care about continuity. That said, “One Small Step” looks and feels fresh and beyond fundamental problems with the script, it remains one of the most intriguing episodes of the series.

In October of 2032, a ship exploring Mars suddenly encounters an anomaly and is engulfed. In the Delta Quadrant, four hundred years later, Chakotay’s nightly reading is interrupted by his door sensor malfunctioning and a subsequent comm signal issue. The issues come from Seven Of Nine making unauthorized alterations to the computer core. When Chakotay confronts her, the ship experiences an unrelated difficulty: the appearance of a graviton ellipse. Seven Of Nine helps save the ship by using her Borg knowledge of the phenomenon to keep the anomaly from colliding with the ship. Following that, Voyager’s scans reveal the presence of the Ares 4, the Mars exploratory vessel, inside the graviton ellipse.

Tom Paris, Chakotay, and a reluctant Seven Of Nine take the Delta Flyer into the graviton ellipse to attempt to find the wreckage of the Ares 4 and they are surprised by how much of the vessel they discover intact. When Chakotay is wounded and the graviton ellipse begins to react negatively to the presence of the shuttle, Seven Of Nine must save what she can of the Ares 4 and help Paris get the ship out before they are all destroyed!

As so often is the case, the devil is in the details and “One Small Step” gets several of them very wrong. On the character front, Seven Of Nine has not been nearly as antagonistic the past season as she begins in “One Small Step.” Going behind Torres’s back to make the computer modifications is hardly where she is at this point in her development. Moreover, it speaks badly of Harry Kim’s command abilities that she would be able to make the modifications without his consent from the bridge. As far as franchise issues, Chakotay notes that metal-based life-forms have long been theorized, but never found before now. While silicon-based life forms in the Star Trek universe would not be metal-based, established entities like the Nanites or the Exocomms would. Janeway also references the archaeologists who discovered the Shroud Of Kahless. The real shroud, seen in “The Sword Of Kahless” (reviewed here!) was found after Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant and given how it came through less-official sources and had to be authenticated by Dax (and, if memory serves, came from a Vulcan scientist) hardly made the archaeologist who found it famous. And hey, since when is Seven Of Nine considered a "senior Officer?!" (When Janeway calls Senior Officers to the Bridge, Seven is right behing Chakotay.)

On the character front, Chakotay suddenly takes on Paris’s character traits and is deeply interested in the Ares 4 mission. Chakotay, who has never before indicated any interest with early space exploration, is suddenly an expert on the Ares 4 mission, the way Paris – early in the series – sprouted an interest in archaic vehicles. That feels forced and leads to the worst acting moment in the episode – when Robert Duncan McNeill is forced to parrot his appreciation for astronaut John Kelly after Chakotay calls him a personal hero, it falls very flat.

For all those issues, Robert Beltran gives a decent performance as Chakotay, especially after he is wounded. His character’s abrupt change may not quite fit, but the performance of it holds up well. Similarly, Jeri Ryan makes Seven Of Nine’s character arc seem plausible, if not compelling. Robert Duncan McNeill does a great job infusing Paris’s voice with in-character enthusiasm when Seven Of Nine visits the Ares 4 cockpit.

Phil Morris, however, steals the episode. Every moment he is in he steals the scene. Even making banal chatter about baseball interesting, Morris makes John Kelly into a complete and viable character in the few scenes he is in.

And the direction is decent. Robert Picardo makes the scenes of John Kelly floating around his cockpit look entirely real. The special effects are good and, outside the one instant with the poor delivery, he gets great performances out of his actors. Ultimately, he makes the best possible use out of the second chance he was given to direct and “One Small Step” remains one of the better bottle episodes of Star Trek: Voyager!

[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 works with Phil Morris, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“Miri” - Star Trek
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
“Looking For Par’Mach In All The Wrong Places” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Rocks And Shoals” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


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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