This review is cross-posted from The Tolerability Index with permission from the author.
by Prole Hole
Season 1, Episode 11: “State of Flux”
It’s a cliché to point out that the nature of trust leaves one vulnerable but that doesn’t make it any less true, and here we discover just how vulnerable trust can render the crew of Voyager. “State of Flux” marks the start of Voyager’s first story arc (well, beyond the every-episode one of them trying to get home) which will last, on and off, until the end of Season 2 and the two-parter, “Basics”. It also features the Kazon as Voyager’s first returning bad guys. Unlike DS9’s story-arcs which tend to blend into each other so whole seasons follow on from each other, Voyager’s first arc will be something which is dropped into from time to time (logical, given their meanderings through unknown territory) until it reaches its conclusion and provides not just Maje Culluh as someone for Janeway to butt heads with but also reveals Seska as the viper in the nest.
As observed last week Seska’s role has been gradually growing throughout Voyager’s run thus far, from fairly anonymous Maquis member to someone in Engineering to Transporter operator to friend of B’Elanna, and now we get an additional wrinkle in the form of her previous relationship with Chakotay. This has provided her character with a nice little step-by-step development, and the big reveal here – that she’s secretly trading technology with the Kazon to build a power-base in the Delta Quadrant – carries a lot more weight because we’ve been able to see her gradually develop over the course of the previous episodes. We’ve observed her duplicitous behavior before – in the preceding episode, in fact – and now we get a chance to see just how far she will go to further her own ends. Seska is the end result of the two-crews-thrown-together scenario and the one who pulls focus in terms of disagreeing with both Janeway and Starfleet. Alongside her Maje Culluh is back, first seen in “Caretaker” and here providing This Weeks Bit Of Threat. In fact (and maybe this is a spoiler, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph) it’s the first of a few return visits for the Maje and it’s by far and away his most successful. Here he’s written as smart and manipulative – not manipulative on a Seska level, but he plays off Janeway’s compassion successfully to give him the opportunity to kill the rescued crew member in sick bay before Janeway throws him off the ship, and Kate Mulgrew and Anthony DeLongis play their scenes together with an almost sexual charge. Janeway’s line “perhaps by then we’ll have the answers we need” as she tilts her head looks almost seductive and her refusal to be intimated by someone massively larger than she is allows her to retain strength in the scene without resorting to bluster.
But then again seduction is one of the themes that runs throughout this episode, whether the little dance between Janeway and Culluh, Seska being seduced by her own deluded dreams of power and control, or Chakotay being seduced, at least emotionally if not romantically, by Seska constantly drawing him in. Even Culluh is seduced by the idea of the power and strength that Federation technology has the potential to give him, using Seska in any way he can to achieve this aim. In fact Seska gets two big reveals in this episode – firstly that she’s the one trading technology to the Kazon as Culluh lusts after its power, and secondly that she’s a Cardassian spy, sent to infiltrate Chakotay’s little band of Maquis yet apparently falling for him. It’s a nice little tweak that adds unexpected problems going forward and an unexpected twist to their interactions. Seska claims that when she was with Chakotay she only ever had one agenda and it didn’t have anything to do with secrets, but it’s very unclear just how true this is, even though it’s relatively clear that Chakotay does (or did) have feelings for her but chose not to act on them. She goes to great lengths to keep Chakotay on side – making his favourite soup against regulations, flirting outrageously with him, apparently engineering a dangerous firefight to drive them closer together – but given the reveal of her dealings with the Kazon it’s almost impossible to know at this stage how much of what she says is genuine and how much is her simply playing on Chakotay’s feelings to get her own way. She certainly proves herself an ardent manipulator of others in this episode aside from her interplays with him, attempting to frame Carey, sidestepping Kes’s questioning of why she never gave a blood sample, and injuring herself on the damaged Kazon ship to throw Janeway, Tuvok and Chakotay off the scent. Later on, when we encounter her again, we’ll get clearer answers as to at least some of these issues but for now her being apparently seduced by Chakotay is left intentionally vague.
This is also a very pacey little episode as well and everything kicks into high gear as we get the best of Voyager’s action-adventure scripts up to this point. As with “Prime Factors” there’s a very logical layout to the story as we follow the crew’s investigations, firstly on the damaged Kazon ship then as they try to track down the potential traitor amongst them. Yet here we see how to do this kind of story properly, with lots of forward momentum replacing mechanistic plot contrivances and plenty of sharp dialogue to keep everything flowing along. In fact this ends up being a very quotable script, whether Janeway is bluntly telling Maje Culluh, “you know, most of the time I’m pretty easy to get along with. But I don’t like bullies, and I don’t like threats and I don’t like you” or Chakotay lamenting to Tuvok, “you were working for her, she was working for them, was anyone on that ship working for me?” or Tuvok himself mildly reprimanding Chakotay at the end of the episode, telling him, “do not mistake composure for ease.” Even Janeway’s absolutely furious delivery of “get off my ship!” to Culluh after the rescued Kazon is killed in sickbay is terrific, absolutely dripping with contempt for his actions (Cullah’s smug little half-bow as he acknowledges her command is a nice touch too).
All of this is accompanied by a very assured direction which incorporates a number of nice touches and really helps to sustain the drama. The early scenes, when the Kazon ship is discovered orbiting the planet, feel genuinely tense and the caves Chakotay scrambles through to try and find Seska are miles better than normal, complete with different acoustics and dripping water, all shot with much lower light levels than usual. And the camera is much more fluid, sliding around the bridge to pull crewmembers into frame or hovering pensively as the damaged Kazon ship is explored. They’re not big show-off moments, they just allow the drama of the episode to build until the final confrontation.
Prior to the big moment we get to see Tuvok and Chakotay working together and it’s a smart decision to only reveal this after Chaktoay has a private little heart-to-heart with Seska. Revealing that Tuvok seeded the same information to Carey to draw out the traitor, and that now Chakotay is manipulating (and seducing) Seska in the same way she tried to manipulate him feels very satisfying, and presents us with the moment that the scales from Chakotay’s eyes. No longer is he blindly defending her and now at last he’s leading from the front. What’s also effective about this is that it’s never really played as Chakotay being naïve or stupid, something confirmed by the final scene where Chakotay confronts Tuvok over both his and Seska’s deception when onboard his ship, but that he’s allowing his heart to lead his head instead of the other way around. It’s also one of the reasons Tuvok and Chakotay make a good pairing – the heart of Chakotay and the head of Tuvok is what, ultimately, brings down Seska’s plans, and though Chakotay is openly critical of Tuvok’s “Vulcans never lie” dissembling neither point of view is given dominance, allowing both to hold some grains of truth.
And when it arrives it’s a great final confrontation in sick bay, with everything laid out in front of Seska in a way that even she can’t manipulate or wriggle her way out of, until her mask slips and her withering dismissal of Janeway comes to the fore. Martha Hackett soars over the top here, lacking only a moustache to twirl and some railway tracks to tie someone to, but at least, in this instance, it’s entirely appropriate as she pours her full scorn on what she believes to be Janeway’s lack of vision and failure to understand their situation. Again thanks to some great direction, the over-the-topness of the situation is well channeled, allowing a moment of Grand Guignol from Seska that never – quite – tips over into parody. All the emotions are dialed up to 11 but it provides an effective denouement as Seska slips away at the end to live and fight another day. Clever girl…
• There appears to be disco sheeting in sickbay – the sheet that covers the Kazon retrieved from the damaged ship is purple and iridescent in a pretty non-traditionally medical way.
• Given that she’s later revealed to be a Cardassian spy, it’s a nice little moment on the planet when she nearly shoots Chakotay then says, “thank the Prophets!” when she realizes who it is. She’s really in character…
• When Seska’s hurt over on the damaged Kazon ship and her combadge closes down there’s a very effective little scream as the signal cuts out.
• “Off all the things to die for,” B’Elaana sighs once they discover the stolen technology was something as simple as a food replicator. Of all the characters to choose to deliver that line… surely a member of the Maquis, cut off from Starfleet’s apparent economy of plenty, would understand immediately just how vital that piece of equipment would be. Carey or a member of the Starfleet crew should have been given that line.
• Chakotay and Tuvok play Gin Rummy together while waiting for someone to access the secure data store, which is rather sweet, given the friction between them.
• In fact the palpable tension between Chakotay and Tuvok throughout this episode, even as they work together to find out who the traitor is, is really great, and Beltran and Russ spark nicely off each other.
• Voyager is really good at doing these ensemble episodes, where everyone gets something useful to do, more or less – Neelix doesn’t have a lot to do but at least we get to see him gathering food on the planet’s surface so he’s again seen doing what he’s actually supposed to be there to do.
• So – what’s the point of Starfleet security codes if anyone can just use them? I work in a normal office and I’m not even allowed to let anyone else use my PC, and if I leave my desk I need to lock my system, yet Seska can flounce into Engineering and use Carey’s console while nobody’s looking? Starfleet security must be dreadful.
• In her final, failed, attempt to manipulate Chakotay and stand by her innocence Seska pouts, “you must think me terrible!” when he lays out the evidence against her. Yup.
• Seska, in common with any number of bad guys in Star Trek’s past, arranges to have herself beamed off the ship when she’s finally cornered in sickbay. Ta-da! Did it not occur to anyone to maybe unplug the transporters for a few minutes until she’s taken into custody?
Season 1, Episode 12: “Heroes and Demons”
Oh Voyager warriors brave and true,
To the holodeck you go, for entertainment so bold.
To play the roles that are assigned to you.
To battle all those monsters, in the deep forests of old.
Young Harry doth ventures to Beowulf’s time,
While down in Engineering, photonic matter’s aboard.
A leak will corrupt the holodeck’s rhyme,
On reality and, now they must face the Norse hoard.
As Voyager flies at the stars,
Cruising past a sun that’s so bright,
We see titles as it flies through,
Then Captain Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew.
Noble Chakotay’s Robert Beltran,
Facially tattooed Native American.
Roxanne Dawson plays a Klingon so brave,
B’Elanna Torres takes bIHnuch to their grave.
Jennifer Lien is gentle Kes,
Young but learning, she’ll cope with the stress.
Robert Duncan McNeill plays a cad,
With a smile and a wink Tom ain’t so bad.
Trader Neelix is Ethan Phillips
Whipping up meals and morale with some quips.
Robert Picardo’s the doctor sardonic
He can cure you of ills mild and chronic.
Tim Russ gives us stoic Tuvok,
With no emotions, nothing can shock.
Garrett Wang is Harry Kim, Ensign,
A Delaney sister he never will win.
Then the titles do come to a close,
In the blackness of space we repose.
Chakotay and Tuvok explore the wood,
These two really do make, a great pairing on this show,
But they don’t last long, not as long as they should,
Their bodies are converted, no-one knows where they go.
So lost to foul Grendel they are dispatched,
We need another hero, and one who cannot be harmed.
It’s time for the Doctor, as a plan is hatched,
To step up to the plate now, but he looks far from charmed.
Robert Picardo gets his first lead in,
An episode wherein he, by dint of the scripting,
Is the only one who can face the beast,
That spirits away the crew, while slowly his spirits are lifting.
He is great at portraying the Doctor,
First nervous but as he, learns from Kes who gives him a talk,
Time hath come for him to be more than a watcher,
That he deserves his respect, from this mission he cannot baulk.
[MEANWHILE, ON THE BRIDGE]
Captain Janeway does search for her lost crew,
One by one they go somewhere, but she has no idea where,
Kate Mulgrew is in full flow it is true,
Her frustration is great, as Grendel takes them to its lair.
The investigations of photonic matter,
Are all pure bafflegab, but they do serve a function,
Less words and they’d be only a spatter,
But they work fine in context, not too bad at this junction.
As they explore the science in Engineering,
To find out what has happened, to determine the status,
Of the life form that’s taken their crew,
Who would ever have guessed? It’s a photonic lattice!
The effects for the lattice are cheesy,
But it doesn’t feel too bad, in context on this occasion,
The script and characters are all breezy,
At least they repair the damage, it’s not another invasion.
So Robert Picardo’s first chance to shine,
Gives him plenty of scope, plenty of range to explore,
The Doctor brave and can no longer whine,
That he’s being left out, he can now walk on a distant shore.
The thing with his name, it is a cop-out,
But it’s rather touching, he wants it no more spoken,
The memory of the pain left him in doubt,
Fair Freya took his heart, and the shield maiden left it broken.
• Neelix is again absence. Ethan Phillips is getting his money pretty easy so far.
• Not that Garrett Wang is much better this week– ten words and that’s it. Also, Beowulf seems like an unusual choice for Harry to be interested in, but it’s very nice to see someone express an interest in something that falls outside of his or her expected cultural norms.
• The Doctor finally chooses a name, Schweitzer, but it doesn’t stick.
• Tuvok and Chakotay really are great. “There are no demons in Vulcan literature,” says Tuvok, trying to assert this as a mark of superiority. “That might explain its popularity,” Chakotay sarcastically replies with just a hint of bitchiness. There’s a buddy-cop series here just waiting to happen. Chakotay and Tuvok Investigate! New on Fox!
• Though it’s mild we get to see Chakotay’s interest in myth and legend help him interact with the holodeck character in a way Tuvok can’t.
• That forest seems remarkably lush and verdant for Scandinavia in winter and (a common problem with shows set when it should be cold) nobody’s breath mists.
• The Norsemen sheltering from Grendel are all serious scenery chewers, though maybe they’re meant to be given they’re all fictional (and there’s quite the collection of porn-star blonde moustaches going on with the extras).
• “Are you a master of herb-lore?” “Well I suppose in a way I am.”
• Tom’s “I’ll give you a hand” quip when he offers to help B’Elanna in Engineering after restoring the Doctors arm is great, and a nice bit of comic timing from McNeill and Picardo.
• This ends up being a pretty light episode after the twists and turns of “State Of Flux” but, despite leaning on the worst Star Trek cliché this side of “Turnabout Intruder” (holodeck gone wrong, and come on, we all knew it was coming) it’s terrific fun, and it at least tweaks the formula slightly. It’s not quite an ensemble piece (which is rapidly becoming Voyager’s signature successful episode format) though it does very much play out that way.
• For what it’s worth I’ve eaten Elk in Scandanavia – it’s rather nice.