The Good: Interesting plot and concept, Fine acting
The Bad: Minor special effects issues, No real character insights, Very inconsistent conceit
The Basics: The crew of Voyager is taken hostage by aliens who need the personnel for their “Workforce.”
Like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager did not have any episodes that were set in the Mirror Universe or involved any crossovers with that setting. While Star Trek: The Next Generation got around that wrinkle by providing numerous holodeck episodes that allowed the actors to stretch their wings and display other aspects of their talents. On Star Trek: Voyager, the crew had numerous episodes where their sense of identity was compromised, usually in two-parters, like “The Killing Game” (reviewed here!) and “The Killing Game, Part 2” (reviewed here!). The last episode where the performers had a chance to play outside the bounds of their characters is “Workforce.”
“Workforce” does not thoroughly upend the characters – Tuvok laughs and jokes, but Janeway still loves to cook – and that is part of the problem with the episode. The episode is not riddled with problems, but some issues stand out, none more than the fact that the identity-erasing conceit of the episode is very erratically applied. Annika Hansen (Seven Of Nine) is essentially a Borg, Paris is a quarrelsome loner, but Tuvok is stiff and while he initially laughs, he quickly reverts to logic and order (even before the medication slips). That said, “Workforce” has a lot going for it.
On an alien world, an excited Janeway, out of uniform, takes a lift down several levels to try to find a supervisor. She is assigned to monitoring a thermal readout and she takes to the job with an uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Janeway is rescued from embarrassment and an overload by Jaffen, who keeps her from the new efficiency expert, Annika Hansen. Paris, meanwhile, is struggling to find work in a local bar. As Janeway and Jaffen get closer, Janeway learns that as part of the compensation package, she is given inoculations against radiation, an injection that Tuvok seems to dread.
Returning from a trade mission, Chakotay, Kim, and Neelix come upon Voyager stuck at the outskirts of a nebula. There, the Emergency Command Hologram has been working desperately to get Voyager back up and running. He tells Chakotay about how the ship hit a mine and was flooded with radiation shortly after the team left. With the crew forced to abandon ship and command turned over to the ECH, commands Voyager through an attack. Working to get Voyager operational again, the Away Team searches for its lost crew. With the Doctor surgically altering Chakotay, Kim and the ECH are left on Voyager while Neelix and Chakotay try to unravel the mystery of the local labor shortage and discover what has happened to their crews.
The return of the ECH, a peripheral plot point in “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” (reviewed here!) is a welcome one. It is almost shocking that perceptive writers Kenneth Biller and Bryan Fuller can recall the concept of the ECH to utilize, but sloppily have Ensign Kim declaring that his encounter on the Away Mission (which is basically the worst case of a stomach ache he has had) was the worst he has ever had when he was attacked and almost killed by Species 8472. Similarly, Chakotay reacts to seeing Janeway as second season Chakotay might, which is off because his character’s memory is never wiped.
Unlike most of the other episodes of Star Trek: Voyager where the characters are given identity issues, “Workforce” does not give any of the actors a real chance to shine. Kate Mulgrew plays the brainwiped Janeway much the way she played Janeway outside the command structure in “Resolutions” (reviewed here!) and by this point in the series, we have seen Tim Russ play Tuvok conflicted and struggling to get himself under control at least half a dozen times, so he gives us nothing new either. In fact, more than any other identity change episode, “Workforce” gives the viewer nothing new for the actors and no real character insights. The acting is not bad, it is just not at all surprising; no one is stretching their abilities at all.
The special effects, though, are another matter. The opening shot of “Workforce” has very obvious computer generated effects for the city and monorail. For some reason, the way the elevated train moved in the teaser instantly set me off; I knew I was looking at a virtual construct. On HD televisions, this episode may show its age more than others. Also particularly problematic is that the ship the ECH defends Voyager from is a Breen ship! It’s a distinctive ship and particularly sloppy of the producers to reuse the vessel.
Despite the minor issues, “Workforce” is an engaging first part and it intrigues the viewer enough to look forward to how the dilemma will be resolved when it ends in a pretty obvious cliffhanger.
[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!
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© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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