Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Prisoner Rights In The Delta Quadrant Are Explored In “Repentance.”

The Good: Excellent social message/philosophical exploration
The Bad: Surprisingly boring, No real character development, No acting challenges.
The Basics: When Voyager picks up some convicts, they uncover problematic treatment for criminals in an alien society.

The Star Trek franchise is well-known for smart, socially-oriented “message” episodes. For much of Star Trek: Voyager, that aspect of the franchise was terribly neglected. As the show wound down, though, the series seemed to do more episodes that had social messages, perhaps because they were tired of doing predictable spatial anomaly episodes that teased whether or not the crew would get home. Earlier in the seventh season, there was “Critical Care” (reviewed here!), then there was “Repentance.”

“Repentance” tackles the issues of criminal care and prisoners rights. It is a complicated topic and “Repentance” does a decent job of exploring many of the complicated aspects of the problems with law and criminal justice. What happens when a violent criminal has a medical condition? How does race affect prosecutions and sentencing? What can be done about a criminal justice system that has unequal treatment for people who have money vs. the poor? All of those questions are raised in “Repentance.” They are good questions and “Repentance” is smart for asking them, but it does not have a lot of satisfactory answers, even if the topic is a thinly veiled exploration for our criminal justice system, not that of an alien race.

Voyager rescues a small prison shuttle which has two wounded prisoners. When the Doctor tries to heal them, he is held hostage. Janeway and Chakotay are upset by how the aliens treat the prisoners and how they are being returned to their home planet for execution. When they are brutalized in the impromptu brig on the cargo bay, Janeway intervenes.

Neelix soon begins to empathize with some of the prisoners and the Doctor begins working with the violent criminal, Iko. Even Seven Of Nine soon begins to bond with Iko and comes to believe that something is wrong with the prisoners and the way they are being treated. Neelix soon realizes there is a vast social schism and the prisoners are on the losing end of the Nigean legal system. After using Borg nanoprobes on Iko, the medical condition that made him a murderer is cured and Janeway finds herself in a new ethical dilemma.

“Repentance” is smart in that it is sufficiently complicated to be satisfying, even if it is occasionally obvious. Iko might be rehabilitated, but the prisoner Joleg tries to make a jail break at his first possible opportunity. “Repentance” is an issue episode and thus has almost no real character development. In fact, what is perhaps most disturbing about it is that it reinforces how Janeway is characterized as uncerebral and lacking in deeper philosophical thoughts. It is Seven Of Nine who has to talk Janeway, yet again, into re-evaluating her initial stance and considering that the Prime Directive may not apply to the current situation.

Even so, this is not a particularly compelling Seven Of Nine episode; it mirrors the structure of virtually every early Seven Of Nine episode where she resisted doing things the way Janeway wanted her to. Of the main crew, there are no stellar performances in “Repentance” and its pacing is slow and pedantic.

On the other hand, the guest cast is fine. F.J. Rio, who plays Joleg, has a completely different part from his genial character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While Tim De Zarn plays his usual hardass, slightly creepy character in the role of Warden Yedig, Jeff Kober breaks out as Iko. Genre fans might easily expect Kober to play a serial killer (he played the warlock who seduces Willow to the dark side on Buffy The Vampire Slayer). Here he starts with his familiar and cold role and evolves Iko into a character viewers want to see survive and can actually empathize with.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to save the episode. “Repentance” is not focused enough to be a truly compelling character study and does not change any of the main crew in a way that makes the episode anything more than what it is. In fact, it is a huge missed opportunity for closing off the Maquis arc by foreshadowing how Janeway might defend half her crew should they make it home. As a result, it ends up as just an issue episode that we’ve pretty much seen before.

[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 Tim De Zarn, please check out my reviews of:
The Artist
Cabin In The Woods
“Initiations” - Star Trek: Voyager
Pay It Forward
Fight Club
“Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night” – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Starship Mine” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


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.
| | |


  1. Hi !

    Jeff Kober is always amazing in this kind of "creepy" guy roles whether it's here on Voyager, on Buffy or in that X-files episode where he's infected by an ice worm.

    But this particular episode of Voyager, even though it isn't one of the best of the series, I must admit, it moved me a little in the end. It's one of those episode I thought was going to be boring but kept me on my toes like Nothing human in Season 5. Here, I was specially moved by the story of that prisonner.

    Besides I really believe that in life, everyone deserves a second chance, if the repentance is genuine and not an act of course.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    Jeff Kober is amazing in "Ice" (the X-Files episode you mentioned) and here he is a bright spot in the episode for sure.

    Thanks for reading!