Monday, January 7, 2013

Variations On A Theme; “Muse” Poorly Reworks “Living Witness.”

The Good: Moments of concept
The Bad: Does not enrich the story or characters in any meaningful way, No truly stellar performances
The Basics: When Torres finds herself stranded on an alien planet, she feels compelled to help an alien playwright who is inspired by her.

One of the things that becomes far more obvious to fans of Star Trek: Voyager when they watch the series on DVD at a pace much faster than the years over which it originally aired, is how the show faintly redressed some of its episodes. Some of the “new” episodes were hardly new or original, though they might have appeared that way with only a casual evaluation of them. In many ways, the sixth season episode “Muse” is just “Living Witness” (reviewed here!) redressed in a way that seems immediately to be a clever variation on the theme.

Unfortunately, unlike something like “Living Witness” that involved a severe time distortion aspect that made its ending unpredictable, “Muse” is forced to resolve itself in a way that is entirely foreseeable and utterly mundane. One of the least compelling “alternate reality” type stories that Star Trek: Voyager ever produced, “Muse” seeks to restore B’Elanna Torres as an interesting and vital character, while attempting to play with the standard narrative structure of Star Trek: Voyager.

On a primitive planet, a playwright – Kelis The Poet – performs a production involving the character of B’Elanna Torres. He is ordered to produce more plays about the character, who fascinates the playwright’s patron. Kelis returns to the crashed Delta Flyer, where he has B’Elanna Torres tied up. A captive, Kelis has utilized Torres’s logs on the Delta Flyer to create his plays about Torres and he inadvertently releases Torres, who turns on him. Trading his interest in her stories about Voyager’s crew for the materials she needs to fix the Delta Flyer, Torres struggles to survive on the planet while Voyager searches for the crashed shuttle.

When a war is in danger of breaking out, Kelis turns to Torres to help him use the plays to sway the minds of the local leaders. Bringing Torres to his community of performers, he tries to tell her story while she waits for Voyager to find her.

“Muse” is another self-referential episode of Star Trek: Voyager that falls just shy of serious introspection. When Kelis lists off the traits a play must have, it is hard not to smirk when he mentions “reversals” as Brannon Braga (who was, by this point, an executive producer on Star Trek: Voyager) was notorious for last minute reversals as a writer, so much so that when one saw he had written an episode, it became easy to predict the end based on the “unexpected” reversal it would invariably possess. “Muse” takes a jab or two at the Star Trek franchise – one of the actors balks at Kelis’s characterization of Tuvok, loudly declaring that the audience would never believe a character who had no emotions! – but manages to be remarkably safe.

It is the safety of the episode that makes it more mundane than in any way special. Kelis’s influence seems to be dramatically overstated given how small the theater at the outset of the episode actually is. Unlike “Living Witness,” which featured a dramatic misinterpretation of the Voyager crew and allowed the actors to play alternate versions of their characters, with the commentary from the Doctor allowing the viewer (and the people he found himself among) to realize just how courageous and idealistic the Voyager crew was, “Muse” just has different people trying to play interpretations of the main characters from Voyager. It is hardly inspiring.

That said, Torres is given a good role – she has never been characterized as overly creative, so helping the playwright is an interesting use of her character – and Roxann Dawson plays her well. She plays off Joseph Will (Kelis) well and the two have decent on-screen chemistry, though Dawson might invest too much in making Torres amiable as opposed to actually challenging Kelis to help her get off the planet faster. The only other stand-out from the main cast is Tim Russ, who plays Tuvok as severely fatigued, without going over-the-top. The guest cast is fleshed out by Kellie Waymire, John Schuck (who must have been happy not to have to get stuck in Klingon make-up for a change), Tony Amendola, and Kathleen Garrett, who play the alien actors convincingly enough.

But, no matter how it is dressed up, “Muse” is a mundane episode of Star Trek: Voyager that is far less inspired than it is ordinary.

[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 Kellie Waymire, please visit my reviews of:
Six Feet Under - Season 2
The X-Files - Season 8


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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