– Four Badges out of Four – “It’s no Measure of a Man but it’s a fun exercise in the Poetry of Propaganda and the Heights of Holographic Hubris.”
2021 UPDATE – Twenty years ago the Trekweb.com forums used to have semi-official Star Trek reviews posted by a user who went by ‘O. Deus’ and had all his reviews posted by the site owner Steve Krutzler. I often had contrasting views to the official reviewer’s, especially since I felt he had a strong bias against Star Trek: Voyager and the character of Kathryn Janeway in particular. In a way, this forum and these reviews set the tone for the overall internet “consensus” for both the show and the character, for the first couple of decades of fan response on the internet.
Now that chatty internet Star Trek fans have a new generation of Star Trek to pick apart and freak out about, a new generation of people are looking back on Deep Space Nine and Voyager with new eyes, and googling the discussions of the episode only to find their new eyes provide less judgment and derision for those old Star Trek shows and characters. I’m here to continue to provide the “Devil’s Advocate” viewpoint in argument with Deus, sharing the fact that the negative opinion of Star Trek: Voyager and Kathryn Janeway was never unanimous… even among early internet-enabled Star Trek nerds!
They say history is written by the victor. Well, the Trekweb site went down pretty definitively around 2014, and the forums themselves had degraded and lost significant segments of posts and data long before that. They say the internet never forgets, but I’m old enough to remember times when it actually has. But since I still happened to have saved and retained text versions of certain O.Deus reviews along with my responses, I guess history is written by me! I am the victor!
The Doc Founds the Beginnings of Holographic Rights In Ambitious AUTHOR, AUTHOR
Posted: 19:32:56 on April 19
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews – Voyager
Reviews Ex Deus
Written for TrekWeb by O. Deus
Summary: A strong episode that addresses some important issues but its reach far exceeds its grasp.
The issue of the Doctor’s holographic rights has been Voyager’s most consistent and longest running arc and now finally seems to be at a close at about the same that Voyager itself is ending. Unfortunately the deadline seems to have caused the writers to try and do too much in too little time. Like the Void, another strong recent Voyager episode, Author Author is at times clever, imaginative, and finally, addresses the substantive issues but it is overstuffed with material that far outstrips the forty minutes available to deal with it.
While Voyager early on displayed great facility with the Kazon arc, running it as a B-story in unrelated episodes very effectively, the later Voyager seems to prefer stuffing its return-to-Earth arc into large single pieces placed throughout individual episodes. So Author, Author has to spend time dealing with Voyager’s first regular connection to Earth AND the issue of the Doctor’s holographic rights brought to contest AND the issue of the Doctor’s relations with the Voyager crew. Each of these would have made a good episode. Together stuffed into one single episode, none of them has the time to be fully developed into a natural storyline.
And so, The Doctor’s humanity arguments are reduced to a several-minute footnote towards the end of the episode. The Voyager crew’s phone-calls are well handled but this sort of thing should have been shown to have more impact on the crew than a few quickly edited scenes of ‘phoning home’. It’s odd that at a time when the Voyager crew have the first semi-permanent connection to their families, the main topic of conversation is The Doctor’s insulting holo-program. This should have really changed things, followed up on the promise of scenes like Barclay’s “gift” of the live shot of Earth. After all, this is what Voyager has been working for all these years; it should have meant and mattered more.
For once, Seven’s family scenes were tastefully and very effectively handled with the stimulus towards change coming more from her, than from scenes with Janeway or The Doctor lecturing her on getting to know her family. Having Seven come towards the incentive to “phone home” by acting as a silent observer while Kim and Torres get in touch with their families is the kind of subtlety that the Seven arc could’ve used more of. Kim’s scenes are used for their comic potential but Wang underplays the material so that it works, instead of being an over-the-top Asian family joke as it was written. Torres’s scenes with her father also do a good job of following up on prior material–continunity is one thing Author, Author demonstrates abundantly.
The entire holonovel material, though, feels unnecessary. Instead of the entire circus of alternate universe doubles, we could simply have had the crew read off a few of the same lines from a PADD and spend the time on the arguments over the EMH’s humanity or the actual issues involved. After all, the comic potential and the whole concept of distorted perception\mirror universe Voyager crew members was handled far better in Living Witness. There was no real need to do it again except as an attempt at a gag, which only distracted from the actual issue of the Doctor’s political advocacy and feelings.
It would’ve been far more effective, however, if The Doctor had made the Voyager crewmembers more true to life, but distorted in subtle ways so as to put a negative spin on their actual conduct and behavior. This would have brought home the notion that The Doctor might view the crew’s behavior differently than they themselves or the viewer do. Instead, The Doctor produces ridiculous caricatures that make him look ridiculous and the crew look petty for taking offense at such ridiculous and patently unrealistic distortions. Certainly, literary works of political advocacy don’t tend to be very subtle and with The Doctor drafting his own Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he couldn’t have likely produced a quiet masterpiece. Still, the problem remains that most of the Voyager crew’s carciatures are excessively and inhumanly psychotic and evil while works of political commentary are more effective if they address actual, everyday evils as they appear. Political advocacy of evils as practiced by demented cartoon characters doesn’t make people re-examine their own behaviors and participate with their victims in the healing process; it just distances the problem and makes it seem unrealistic. More so, a lot of the Voyager “evil crew” are evil in ways that have nothing to do with holographic rights. They’re simply crazed and demented. Janeway phasering a wounded crewmember has nothing to do with holographic rights. Her treatment of the EMH by contrast seems almost merciful.
The plot twist of having the publisher of the EMH’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” work exploit him as a hologram with no rights is smart and politically sophisticated, while being quite true to life. Having the test of the EMH’s humanity be copyright law is also ingenuious and unexpected, even though the publisher has no chance of victory. If the EMH were a thing rather than a person, than he and all his works are property of Starfleet, which has sole authority over them. The problem is that much of this comes as an afterthought. In TNG’s Measure of a Man, the arguments over Data’s humanity forced the crew to really reconsider their feelings about Data, the arguments hit home and the answer was in actual doubt. Picard had a point but so did Riker. Here there is zero doubt.
The crew has fully acknolweged the EMH’s humanity and they’re ready to tell stories about it all day and all night. The use of The Doctor’s betrayal of Voyager as a point in favor of his humanity is a smart touch of continuity. But there is no real challenge anymore. Only the Federation doubts the EMH’s humanity and the Federation isn’t actually here, they’re far away listening-in. The final scene of the holograms breaking the proverbial rock in the dilithium mines, spreading the word about freedom, is a wonderfully inspirational final thought and the episode is full of so many similar nice moments. Unfortunately, this episode could have been put to better use if it had done a better job of connecting all these instances into a more seamless, cohesive story.
By Imbarkus at
16:30:28 on April 20
Yikes! You mean that when you’re watching an otherwise good second season episode, like, say, ‘Dreadknoght,’ that an out-of-the-blue scene of conflict between Paris and Chakotay, having nothigng at all to do with the plot at hand and contributing nothing to the resolution, doesn’t rub you the wrong way?
There was a time when Voyager couldn’t entirely trust UPN to run Voyager episodes in a sensical order when it came to running storylines. The last four episodes of season one were held back for three full months, leading to a weird break in momentum. The conclusion to the Paris-Chakotay Kazon Infiltrator arc was held back and aired after four weeks of repeats to be in sweeps. Are you sure your estimation of the facility of the Kazon running storyline is based on how they aired and were perceived, and not just on the fact that they were addressed more consistently, even if not more effectively?
I don’t know. I for one appreciated that this was one endeavor the doctor wasn’t good at. He’d been celebrated as a musician before, taught social lessons and been given all the computer memory to do pretty much anything he wanted. ‘Life Lines’ had already shown him that his life on Voyager was far better than that of ALL of his peers. I thought he was in a perfect position of hubris, feeling very special.
He’d written a holo-novel that wasn’t all that good but was controversial and ostensibly about Voyager, and his ego led him to believe the interest was due to the quality of the work. Yeah Neelix liked it but Neelix was always an easy sell. I found his embarrassing interpretations of the crew funny. I liked the gag. My wife and I especially got a chuckle out of the foppish Bajoran Chakotay!
It wasn’t until Tom’s short yet equally funny modifications did the doctor even see that his work was so clearly just an unfair sketch of the people in his life.
I thought his hubris and eventual comedown all the way to defending his very rights supported what has been a strong theme in Voyager this season, supported by ‘Repression’ and ‘Human Error’ among others, that sometimes its not so easy to return ‘home’ if the journey has put you out of step with how ‘home’ likes to have you.
Just because charicatures are more real in a smart work of political commentary, doesn’t mean the doctor was smart enough to produce one. I appreciated that his holonovel kind of stunk just like I appreciated that Data’s poetry stunk.
I’ll concede that for this plot point [of sentient AI rights], Measure of a Man was superior. It was the seminal episode for this debate within Star Trek. But that debate occurred more within Picard than the whole crew. Yet TNG itself was guilty of repeats of the argument that were inferior to this episode, if you’ll recall ‘The Offspring,’ ‘The Quality of Life,’ and ‘Descent.’ You’re absolutely right that they deserve credit for being inventive and keeping the legal focus on copyright and control, but I think they deserve credit for how far they DIDN’t choose to go. Again, I liked that the argument highlighted the contrast between Voyager and ‘home.’ Both sides were pretty much opposed and set, with Reg again as Voyager’s thematic ambassador to Earth.
But it was rushed. So rushed that poor Kate had to chew her way through another one of those righteous speeches she gets when they don’t have time to hammer it out in dialogue. Yet I took her moment at the end of ‘Flesh and Blood’ as her clear decision to grapple with the concept of the Doctor as a fully fleshed individual. So it made sense that she would be all for that argument–it was the reason he never ended up scrubbing a plasma conduit himself!
‘Needed more time’ has been such a note for Voyager episodes lately. Of course, in the ‘running storyline’ format used now that is less of a consideration. Beware, people. The networks like it that way. Two minutes more advertising space means two minutes more profit. Ally McBeal and Survivor can put it off ’til next week. Voyager and Seven Days and others are still trying to put out intelligent episodic storylines in less time.
I’m not saying its impossible to do or that writers can’t make it work, but this episode was crammed full of great moments, great dialogue, funny stuff, and thought-provoking stuff. You should be more forgiving that it didn’t also squeeze in a mini version of Measure of a Man within it. In the final season of Voyager our main problem is that episodes have TOO MANY good ideas, when in the final season of TNG we were yawning through episodes like ‘Emergence,’ ‘Interface,’ ‘Firstborn,’ and ‘Homeward.’ For me, Voyager is hitting a nice middle ground between the “Um, what next?” of final season TNG, and the “Dear lord HOW MANY ‘running storylines’ do we have to address in this episode?!!??!” of final season DS9.
Now, having said all that, aren’t we glad this episode wasn’t about Chakotay? 😉