The Good: Great acting by Robert Picardo, Fun
The Bad: No genuine character development, Plot requires suspension of disbelief beyond reason.
The Basics: “Life Line” returns the Emergency Medical Hologram to the Alpha Quadrant, this time to save the life of the engineer who programmed his template.
There is a lot that I am willing to grant when it comes to television I enjoy, though I am someone who likes things to make sense. It seems like lately, when I contemplate Star Trek: Voyager, I find myself contemplating more and more how preposterous the plots are. I have a sense of fun, an imagination, and a sense of whimsy for the fantastic. Moreover, I am not one of those fans who doesn’t know that Star Trek is not real. I get it; Star Trek is entertainment. But, sadly, many of the episodes as the series goes on, are not particularly smart entertainment.
Take, for example, “Life Line.” “Life Line” is one of those episodes with a fundamental flaw that the episode never quite recovers from, despite the fact that it is an emotionally satisfying episode that has surprisingly good continuity with the rest of the series. A direct follow-up to “Pathfinder” (reviewed here!), “Life Line” finds the Emergency Medical Hologram once more going back to the Alpha Quadrant. The reason this time? His creator is dying. The thing is, the moment the Emergency Medical Hologram gets Dr. Zimmerman’s medical records, the EMH postulates that the reason no one in the Alpha Quadrant can help Zimmerman is because the illness he has resembles something they have not been exposed to in the Alpha Quadrant, namely the Vidiian phage. The EMH then reasons that Borg nanoprobe therapy might be able to treat Zimmerman. The thing is, the Doctor isn’t going to be transporting nanoprobes to the Alpha Quadrant. So . . . why doesn’t the EMH just send Zimmerman and StarFleet Medical his research on the Phage and Borg Nanoprobes? That solution would have allowed the Voyager crew to make no sacrifices, take no risks (of losing the EMH) and given Zimmerman an equal chance of survival. The ONLY reason not to do that is there would be no episode if they took that ridiculously simple, entirely logical, approach.
That, sadly, is not a satisfying answer at all. But, given that incredibly preposterous conceit, “Life Line” actually manages to be enough fun to be watchable, if not at all reasonable.
The Pathfinder Project has figured out how to use a pulsar and the MIDAS Array to get regular messages to Voyager. As a result, every thirty-two days, Voyager will get messages from the Alpha Quadrant and have a few hours to respond via the same wave. In their first upload of information from StarFleet, the Emergency Medical Hologram is surprised to learn that there is actually a letter for him in the batch. The message is from Lieutenant Barclay and it lets the EMH know that Dr. Lewis Zimmerman is dying on Jupiter Station. After an impassioned plea to Janeway, the Doctor is allowed to travel along the carrier wave back to the Alpha Quadrant, as Tom takes over in Sick Bay.
While the Doctor discovers Lewis Zimmerman to be an unwilling patient, Janeway wrestles with a message from Admiral Hayes where she realizes StarFleet still considers her Maquis crewmembers to be criminals. Barclay calls for help from Counselor Troi and Lewis Zimmerman slowly overcomes his prejudice against the EMH (Mark 1) and his attempts to save his human counterpart’s life.
“Life Line” is emotionally enjoyable, if for no other reason than to see Robert Picardo flawlessly performing opposite himself. Picardo, who has incredible emotional range, interacts amazingly with himself, which is impressive considering how flawlessly he gets the pacing and eyelines needed to sell the idea that he is actually two different characters. Picardo steals the show from guest stars Marina Sirtis, Dwight Schultz and (especially) Tamara Craig Thomas (who plays Zimmerman’s assistant, Haley).
“Life Line” does not actually result in any real character development for any of the regular characters; this is another “taking stock” episode where the viewer realizes just how much the Doctor, Janeway and Chakotay have changed and evolved over the years. The episode is interesting, but in no way superlative.
[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!
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© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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