Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When You Run Out Of Ideas, Fall Back On Past Successes: “Pathfinder” Is Entirely Derivative!

The Good: Decent plot, Good use of guest characters, Furthers the overall plot of Star Trek: Voyager
The Bad: Guest characters entirely outshine the main cast, Troi’s character elements make no sense, Entirely predictable, Continuity
The Basics: The Star Trek: Voyager episode “Pathfinder” brings two Star Trek: The Next Generation characters back in order to progress the series’s plot and remind fans of when Star Trek was good.

It’s always sad when a series that is part of a franchise begins to falter. Usually, in those cases, the writers or producers do whatever they can to remind fans of what they enjoyed about the franchise to begin with. The two primary ways this occurs is by the series reusing plots from more successful series’ in the franchise . . . or bringing over characters from the more successful series into the floundering series. For all my love of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!), the fourth season of the show delayed the main plot for a whole season as the show worked to integrate Worf into the character mix, though they did it exceptionally well and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did not suddenly become “The Worf Show,” even for the fourth season.

With Star Trek: Voyager, the moment the series mortgaged any attempt to stand on its own was in “Pathfinder.” While not nearly as extreme a slap in the face to the creative forces behind Star Trek: Voyager as the series finale to Star Trek: Enterprise, which basically made the crew of that series into peripheral characters in a “lost episode” of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Pathfinder” nevertheless relies upon Star Trek: The Next Generation’s popularity by bringing back two popular characters from that series to further the plot of Star Trek: Voyager. While “Timeless” (reviewed here!) used an alternate universe version of Geordi LaForge as part of its celebratory episode, “Pathfinder” focuses on the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters at the expense of the Voyager crew.

On Earth, Lieutenant Reginald Barclay is visited by Counselor Deanna Troi when the Enterprise is on layover. Troi meets with the frustrated Barclay, who has left the Pathfinder Project under troubling circumstances. Barclay describes to Troi how he became obsessed with finding and communicating with Voyager using new technology, the MIDAS Array, and a temporary spatial phenomenon (a pulsar). Barclay wants to open an artificial wormhole to communicate with Voyager and after his superior officer denies him the privilege of making an attempt, Barclay makes an appeal directly to Admiral Paris.

Relieved of duty, when visited by Troi, Barclay goes rogue to break into the MIDAS Array to try to make the attempt on his own. After visiting his holodeck program of Voyager, he puts his concept to the test and makes a desperate communication attempt with the real Voyager.

“Pathfinder” has Barclay relapse into a pre-“Hollow Pursuits” (reviewed here!) state of Lieutenant Barclay. Barclay, who was last seen as part of the Enterprise crew in Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) – thus his appearance as a holographic representation of himself working on the project that created the EMH in “Projections” (reviewed here!) precedes that and makes his character’s reason for being lost, much like Worf’s, utterly invalid, gives no satisfactory reason for why he would have ever left the Enterprise. Geordi, who seems big on teambuilding in his engineering, would have needed a good reason to let him go.

But more than that, no compelling reason is given in “Pathfinder” for why Barclay would have created a holographic U.S.S. Voyager. While there might have been a decent reason for him to recreate the ship, there is no reason for him to make the crew. The crew of Barclay’s holographic Voyager fawn over him the way the holographic Enterprise crew fawned over him. Despite Barclay’s assertions, this is a huge relapse for the character and despite his tirades about the Voyager crew being lonely, there is nothing in the episode that indicates how Barclay fell into such a lonely place again.

Equally disturbing in the episode is how fast Troi abandons the Enterprise to stay on as Barclay’s personal therapist. No sufficient reason is given for her sudden willingness to abandon her hundreds of patients on the Enterprise for one former patient who, all evidence suggests, is not curable without prolonged therapy.

As far as the episode goes on its own, “Pathfinder” is obsessed with the guest characters and the brief time Voyager’s actual crew is on screen makes one wonder why one of the actors-turned-director from the main cast didn’t direct this one. The actual Voyager actors present nothing special in their performances and their “alter ego” versions are pretty obvious variations, not requiring any real talent to execute.

Dwight Schultz and Marina Sirtis fall easily back into their familiar roles of Barclay and Troi, but their performances in “Pathfinder” do not stretch them in any ways that viewers have not seen from them before. Ultimately, “Pathfinder” is a novelty episode that attempts to lure fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation who had abandoned Star Trek: Voyager back. But, it is not enough. Such a strategy would require attention to detail that the writers and producers lack and a constant presence of one of these two characters (or a long arc), which Star Trek: Voyager was not willing to commit to. So, just as “The Voyager Conspiracy” (reviewed here!), which preceded this episode and makes the fact that the Pathfinder project could find Voyager (it jumped three years closer to home in “The Voyager Conspiracy” and thus would not have been anywhere near where Barclay was aiming the MIDAS Array!) a detail that “Pathfinder” should have accounted for, did not lure back Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, the episode that followed “Pathfinder” would not to that either. On its own, “Pathfinder” is a novelty, but nothing more.

[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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