Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Star Trek: Voyager Remembers What Franchise It Is A Part Of For “Critical Care!”

The Good: Great social message, Decent acting
The Bad: Painfully obvious set redressing, No real character development, Very predictable plot progression.
The Basics: “Critical Care” find the Doctor reluctantly treating patients on a planet where medical treatment is based on the patient’s benefit to society.

By the time the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager came around, the show had gone through a number of phases, but the predominate one was a phase where, desperate to regain the audience that had waned and to get new people watching, the producers had sold out for the lowest common denominator. In other words, unfortunately, Star Trek: Voyager became a series that traded more on sex appeal and special effects than it did on substance. There was about one episode per season after the fourth season began (and the show brought Seven Of Nine on for the gawk factor) that focused on a pressing social or historical issue and sometimes, like the sixth season’s “Memorial” (reviewed here!), it was a simple retread of an earlier Star Trek: Voyager social episode’s theme. For the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager, the first social commentary episode was “Critical Care.”

“Critical Care” is the health care episode of Star Trek: Voyager and it is a rousing commentary on the social problems of our day, much the way Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Past Tense, Part 2” (reviewed here!) was a treatise on homelessness and unemployment in the United States. “Critical Care” subtly pokes at privatized health care and less subtly argues that basic health care is an essential human right. Unfortunately, in order to pull off the social message, the crew of Voyager is once more made to look utterly incompetent. Had this episode preceded “Live Fast And Prosper” (reviewed here!), the crew might have seemed less doltish, but it is a problematic conceit now. At least to get to the social message, Voyager did not have to encounter a random spatial anomaly.

The Doctor finds himself activated by an alien on a floating medical ward on a planet he has never heard of. Stuffed in an overcrowded facility with patients who are suffering around him, the Emergency Medical Hologram stops worrying about his own escape and begins treating suffering patients. The understaffed medical facility is managed by Chellick and the computer Allocator. The Allocator assigns each patient a TC (Technical Coefficient) to determine which level they are treated (or die) on. The Doctor is rather abruptly reassigned from Red Level to Blue Level, from the working class of society to the patients who are the richest. Appalled, the Doctor discovers that patients the Allocator and Dr. Dysek determine are of more use to society are being given medicine as vanity treatment when, on the lower levels, the same medicine is desperately needed to save the lives of patients.

Meanwhile Voyager begins to hunt down the Doctor, via a scam artist who visited Voyager days before and made off with the actual holo-emitter and the EMH. As Voyager tries to find the alien, Gar, who stole the emitter, they encounter other aliens who have been ripped off and dead ends, like a device emitting a false warp signature. As Voyager nears the planet where the Doctor is conscripted, the Doctor has a severe ethical quandary about continuing to assist the people in the facility in which he is trapped!

“Critical Care” is an episode focused heavily on The Doctor, but the standout of the episode is Tuvok. Wow, how did Tuvok get so damn stupid?! The Doctor and his program are abducted and Tuvok is none the wiser until the moment Paris and Kim go to Sickbay with injuries and discover that the Doctor has limited capabilities compared to his usual personality. Tuvok recommends a course of action and when it leads the ship to a dead end, he instantly has an alternative way to track down Gar. It begs the question that if Tuvok had a logical way to track Gar, why did he not suggest it initially, as opposed to waiting for the red herring to be exposed?!

But, most of the episode is focused on the Doctor and “Critical Care” is very obviously about promoting a social message and reinforcing the idea that there is an inherent value to all life, as opposed to categorizing the value of each life based on one’s job. The Doctor’s sense of rebellion is a nice offshoot of his prior developments and foreshadows well his future character arc as an architect for holographic rights.

Robert Picardo does his usual masterful performance as The Doctor. He plays off a wide array of guest actors – his old friend Larry Drake, the always intriguing Gregory Itzin, etc. – exceptionally well and he makes the plight of the both the Doctor and his patients seem palpable. He has great facial expressions and emotionally distraught deliveries that make the Doctor seem exceptionally human.

“Critical Care” is good, but it is obvious and it hits its mark very fast, leaving the rest of the episode to be resolved through plot contrivances that are more filler than focused.

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

For other works with Gregory Itzin, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Ides Of March
The Change-Up
Original Sin
“Who Mourns For Morn?” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Dax” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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