The following is a SPOILER Review for the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Lifesigns." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright. I usually watch an episode no more than twice before preparing its review. What the recap lacks in accuracy, I hope to compensate with creativity. The result is as much a retelling as a review.
Note: The past few reviews I've been a bit more, er, meticulous, using the pause button on the VCR while writing the review. That wasn't the original intent of the reviews; I wanted to go by what I remembered, knowing I was missing a lot of things but figuring the important parts would linger. I'm going back to that method with this review.
Holodoc programs a Vidiian girlfriend, Paris pushes his way into the brig, and Seska makes plans for better prenatal care.
Jump straight to the Analysis
It wasn't that many episodes ago when Tom Paris had done much to redeem his reputation in the minds of Captain and crew alike. Now, they're treating him like the Paris of old, and not without reason. Since "Threshold," Paris has been anything but a Starfleet Poster Boy.
Methinks there is method to his madness. There sure as heck better be.
Paris arrives a tad late for his shift--again--gushing to Harry Kim about how he has just assisted in a turbolift delivery for Ensign Wildman, the pregnant crewman we've seen repeatedly this season. (BTW, Harry's been underused lately. I hope that changes soon.) With a subtle throat-clearing, Harry nods toward Chakotay, who remarks about Paris' declining work habits. Paris doesn't respond in the way you know he wants to.
The discussion about Paris' tardiness is superceded by the discovery of a ship bearing an unconscious Vidiian ("Phage," "Faces") female, who is transported to sickbay. Holodoc, performing his standard-issue miracle, discovers an implant in the woman's brain which (1) probably keeps her alive, (2) isn't working so well at the moment, but (3) enables him and Kes to upload her into the ship's memory, and make a a holographic but phage-free copy of her. Neat special effect: building her up, a layer at a time, from strong bones to clean outfit. Gray would have been proud.
Chakotay reports the doctor's progress to Janeway. Before he leaves, he mentions his concerns about Paris, asking if she wants to get involved since he's seen her take Paris as "your personal reclamation project." Janeway expresses her full confidence in Chakotay's ability to handle the situation. (I've got a theory about this whole Paris thing, but I'll save it for later.)
In sickbay, the healthy hologram awakens. As she slowly realizes in open-mouthed wonder that things aren't as they used to be, Holodoc rattles on about his unique expertise and flair for the miraculous. She begins to cry. This puzzles Holodoc, who doesn't know a Happy Cry when he sees one. "Why are you crying?" he says, almost accusingly.
"I never thought I'd see myself this way again," she replies. "I've been sick so long."
Holodoc explains the limitations of her new form, and the need to seek a cure or something to slow the progress of the Phage. She sees her "old" self, lying in stasis, and shudders.
They begin what amounts to small talk. She first contracted the Phage at age 7. He asks why she was running around if she was so sick; she says she was visiting another Phage-inflicted colony, but was sicker than she had thought and hadn't made it back home. She asks his name; he tells her he (still!) doesn't have one. He asks about hers: "Denara Pel," she says. She mentions that she's a doctor. Holodoc extends an offer to her to help with the treatments.
In "Faces" Lieutenant Torres was split into Klingon and Human versions of herself by a Vidiian "mad scientist" who thought she could prove the key to combatting the Phage. Turns out he was onto something, but Torres was rescued and restored to her original form before the experiments were completed. Holodoc now wants to do similar experiments, describing the procedure in clinical but unsympathetic terms. Torres objects heatedly, until Denara enters and apologizes sincerely for the actions of her people, which she had heard about but not approved of--and assures her that she will not ask Torres to do anything against her will. Denara's compassion carries the day and Torres agrees to donate a sample of brain tissue
As the experiments begin, Holodoc gets to strut his stuff for Denara. He mentions Dr. McCoy and a procedure he created which Holodoc has perfected. He describes his capabilities, obviously proud of his programming. (And you thought Dr. Benton on ER was cocky....) Holodoc recommends that Denara's program be terminated temporarily, so as to minimize the drain on her real self, but she wants to enjoy her new body, experience a life without pain for the firs time in years. Denara wants to get out of sickbay; he says she can't, because of the limitations of the holoprojectors. He first recommends she read up on something medical, which doesn't sound too appealing to her; he then gets the bright idea....
They are soon sitting at a table at Paris' holodeck bustling Marsailles tavern. Neelix and Paris are playing pool; Holodoc and Denara discuss Vidiian life (and lack of lifestyle--the Phage has sapped life from her culture as it has struggled for survival). Neelix introduces himself to Holodoc and his "Date"; a holographic gigolo asks Denara to dance. Holodoc shooes them both away, employing his "other" emotion, irritation. We learn that not all Vidiians are affected by the Phage, which makes sense--if the disease has been around for hundreds of years, and is as devastating as we've seen, they should have died out long ago if it affected everyone.
As they discuss Holodoc's programming, he mentions again that Dr. Zimmerman was the physical "template" on which he was based. The general assumption among fans (and some novel authors) is that eventually he'll officially adopt that name. But on the series, it's still up in the air, and for good reason--he decided not to use "Albert Schweitzer" in "heroes and demons" because of the painful memories associated with the "death" of a BEOWULF warrior babe who kissed him a couple of times. And in "Projections" he had an acid-trip descent into Hell in which he was told he really was Zimmerman and was married to Kes and was losing his mind. I'd say that could have poisoned the name Zimmerman for him. So he's looking for a name, and she gives him one: Schmullis, named after her favorite uncle. "I think I like the sound of that," he says after rolling it around a bit.
Holodoc makes a joke, without realizing it. Denara laughs, and says he's "very funny." Deadpan, he replies that humor is the best medicine, so "consider it part of your treatment." She doesn't laugh this time; she looks longingly at the dancers, and asks why he can't dance. "It's not in my programming."
They zap back into sickbay, and Holodoc--Schmullis--urges her again to deactivate herself. She thanks him for the wonderful time--despite his earlier protestations that she was his patient, not his date, she seems to have taken it as a social outing. She calls him Schmullis a few times, and he deactivates her program for the night.
* * *
It's mealtime, and Chakotay approaches a noshing Paris, attempting cordiality. Paris, part amused and part annoyed, asks him what the deal is. Chakotay says he's noticed Paris' recent job degradation, and wants to know if there's anything he can do to help. Paris replies, "you're my problem. You won't let me do my job." Paris says he isn't given the kind of leeway and trust that someone of his position (he is driving the ship, after all) should be given. Paris outlines his grievances in that deceptively quiet, who-gives-a-crud voice of his. Eventually Chakotay bristles and says "I don't need you to tell me how to do my job." (Today's word: IRONY.) Paris raises his voice and suggests Chakotay talk to some of the others in the mess hall who feel the same way. Paris then asks to be excused, in a barely subordinate tone of voice...as Michael Jonas looks on.
Hmmm, let's see. Most of Paris' outbursts and fits of dereliction have been PUBLIC. Shipboard gossip being what it is--particularly when it comes to someone like Paris who has had to re-earn his trust among both Starfleet and Maquis crewmen, and has not yet totally succeeded--Paris' fall from grace must spread like wildfire. "We knew he'd screw up eventually," they must be thinking. Particularly those who have, oh, let's say, the Kazon communications codes and an expatriate friend he misses terribly.
When exactly did this born-again Bizarro-world Paris appear on Voyager? Immediately after "Threshold," where Paris (and Janeway) were everywhere at once, knowing all, seeing all, etc. In the few days that Paris and Janeway convalesced in Sickbay, they had to have spoken about more than their abandoned offspring. Could they, perhaps, have seen Michael Jonas speaking with the enemy? And remembered what they'd seen? And, perhaps, developed a plan for dealing with it? Just the two of them?
The very next episode, Paris is running a betting pool, running afoul of Chakotay for the first time in a loooong time (my opinion). Though he's always been a bit nonstandard, giving his personal spin on his duties, Paris has rarely been outright insubordinate. In fact, he's done his darnedest to redeem himself--he pretends not to care, but in vulnerable moments he's admitted that he does. So when he finally breaks through the transwarp barrier and becomes a legend in the eyes of the crew...he returns to the screwoff behavior that got him on Starfleet and Maquis crap lists in the first place.
There HAS to be a reason for this. The only one that makes sense is that it's an attempt to flush out the weasels. Chakotay isn't let in on the secret, because only Janeway and Paris have experienced Transwarp and know about the traitors. The fact that Paris' behaviour has turned so bad so soon afterward and has remained bad for several episodes, and the fact that Paris has been much more reflective and professional when the chips were down or when he was talking soberly with Torres ("Dreadnought") suggests Paris is acting bad deliberately.
I must say at this point that it kinda bugs me that they're doing this. Even though The Next Generation used open-ended topics all the time, we got RESOLUTION of some sort or another by the end of the individual episodes (unless it was a two-parter, in which case we got a decent cliffhanger). The main plot and the subplot both had points, and if it showed up in the episode, it was explained or used by the end. This "C" plot business is more like daytime soap operas, which string you along for days or weeks before resolving themselves. Trek series, even when introducing plot lines that may take seasons to resolve, aren't visited, a snippet at a time, every episode until resolution. You get a crisis episode, then a resolution episode--partial or complete--later on. In the meantime, you get other A and B plotlines.
Am I making sense here? Am I the only one irritated by this? At episode's end you should like or dislike what you've seen, but you shouldn't be have to point to a scene and ask what it was doing in the episode, and not get the answer for a couple of months, with teasers every week or so along the way. It gets frustrating. One thing TREK has NEVER EVER EVER done is keep people guessing week after week, and I think that has been an asset. Introduce and resolve, or introduce and cliffhang. This "introduce and interrupt" concept has got to go.
Sorry. End of rant.
Anyway. Paris goes for Chakotay's jugular in public, and Mike Jonas witnessed it. As expected, he's soon on the horn with the Kazon, reporting this new development along with another plea to speak with Seska. The contact has palpable contempt for him, but will put up with Jonas while he's useful. He gives him new orders: prepare to sabotage the warp coils. Finally, a line Jonas refuses to cross: "I'm not going to break the ship. And if you don't let me talk wish Seska you can forget about hearing from me ever again!" he barks, and breaks the connection.
Kes enters sickbay to see Doc Schmullis running a self-diagnostic. He thinks there's something wrong with him. Kes asks for symptoms: he says he can't seem to concentrate on his job. Kes chirps, "You're attracted to Denara!" Impossible, says Schmullis; it's not in his programming. Kes counters that his programming is adaptive, which he acknowledges, but he protests that he doesn't want to adapt. It's terra incognita, and he's just not comfortable when he's not orders of magnitude more informed on a subject than everyone else. And on attraction, he's definitely Kes' inferior. Kes, however, is delighted at the development and urges Schmullis to pursue the relationship, guiding him along the way.
So, the next time they're working on the infirm Denara, our intrepid holodoc manages to slip in "by the way, I'm romantically attracted to you and wondered if you felt the same way" between bouts of probing her (physical) cerebellum. Kes is horrified, and Denara is speechless. She finally manages to blurt out, "I think we should keep our association professional." Schmullis--Holodoc?-- reacts badly, mumbles the next procedure to perform, and is clearly lost in thought. He eventually abandons Denara and Kes in sickbay to ask advice from Lieutenant Paris.
Paris offers advice to Holodoc, while Kes follows up with Denara. It turns out Denara is flabbergasted that anyone would be interested in her--she has a lifetime of Phage-imposed self-esteem problems, and has trouble believing that she can be (1) attractive, or (2) loved. Kes is good about seeing this sort of thing, and tells Denara the qualities she sees, and believes he does as well. "You're not very good at accepting compliments," Kes suggests. "You need to learn to feel good about yourself." Meanwhile, Paris gives Holodoc a crash course in heartbreak and rebounding, which apparently involve the front seat of a '57 Chevy on a hilltop overlooking the evening skyline while R&B music sets the mood.
And dang if it doesn't work. Kudos to Lieutenant Paris. The difference between the Paris Chakotay sees, and the Paris who helps Holodoc, is so striking that I have to believe the former is a front. (see above) Holodoc even adds a "dancing subroutine" just in case, but they end up staring at the stars and smooching.
Paris arrives late for his duty shift--again--only to find someone else already there. Chakotay says Paris' efforts won't be needed today. Paris looks to the Captain, who only shrugs and says that Chakotay has her full confidence and discretion. Paris asks when he should return to duty, and Chakotay says "when you grow up." Chakotay touches Paris's elbow to escort him to the turbolift, and Paris pushes him. (Looks to me like Chakotay made it look worse than the shove deserved, but that's just me.) Janeway shares a look with Paris, then instructs Tuvok to escort him to the brig. Chakotay looks on in confusion as to what just happened.
Michael Jonas finally gets his wish: Seska stares at him from the monitor instead of the typical Kazon bureaucrat. "I got all your messages," Seska assures him. "You've been very helpful." Jonas still doesn't like the idea of damaging Voyager or leading it into a trap, but Seska is adamant: she doesn't want to bear her child on a Kazon ship, and she has every intention of taking Voyager, and making Janeway and "the others" suffer, and she will make Jonas suffer if he stands in her way. Her bile-spewing leads to sugar-and-spice; she ramps up the charm and tells him what she wants to do. Her plans have been thoroughly laid out, and of course we only get to hear a tiny portion of them and won't know more until the planet she mentions is mentioned. (Hemakek 4? Whatever.)
Meanwhile, back at the "A" plot, Holodoc has made his first chief medical officer's log; he's that chipper. They are prepared to do some sort of genetic transfer to heal the worst of Denara's maladies, but something has gone wrong--the body is rejecting it. He's frantic, wants to know why. He discovers that the wrong syringe was used, and looks for the right one, ordering an investigation of anyone who has been in sickbay the last few hours. He wants to know who wants to hurt Denara--someone who hates Vidiians, perhaps.
He's close. Denara confesses that she did it--she can't stand the thought of returning to her ravaged body, of giving up the pain-free and fully-functional holographic body. Holodoc can't understand her reasoning; if the real body dies, so does the holographic one--the computer can't hold her pattern forever. She doesn't care--a shortened life that she can enjoy in an undiseased body is worth it to her. He finds this illogical, and painful--he doesn't want to lose her.
This is a similar argument to last week's "Death Wish"--is life always better than death? Is quality of life a factor to be considered? She has lived most of her life slowly dying, relying on half-measures and cannibalized body organs to prolong suffering and ostracism and inevitable death. It's a life she doesn't look forward to returning to, and I can't say I blame her. But she is also letting her feelings cloud her judgment--she is in love with the doc, and is afraid that he loves her for her looks alone, that he will cease to love her when she's "ugly" again.
But we're talking Holodoc here. He's not impressed by looks. It's not in his programming. He loves who he loves, and he loves her. He begs her not to die.
Back in Paris' pool hall, Holodoc stands alone. In through the doors walks Denara--the real,
flesh and blood and Phage Denara. Nothing in his demeanor suggests anything other than love, and
he caresses her face and activates a dance program, and they share a tender moment neither could
have forseen a mere 48 tv-minutes before.
I've ranted enough about the Paris thing and the current plot device. As for the traitor and his activities, things did finally come to a head--he was given orders he refused to follow, finally got to talk to the expatriate Seska, and discovered the reasons for the order--Seska intends to take over Voyager, and the Cardassian in her is beginning to assert itself again.
The big story here is the A Plot--a closer look at Vidiian society and the Phage, a potential name for Holodoc (Schmellis), and a genuine learning experience for him. He learned to dance, and to love--and love deeply. On this count, I rate the episode highly.
Holodoc has three basic attitudes: aggressively competent as a physician and utterly pleased with himself; irritated with the fools he must suffer around him and the lack of respect for his place among the crew; and utter bewilderment at new and unfamiliar situations that lie outside his "programming." Does he act like a program? Mostly, yes. When something doesn't go his way he immediately checks for the reasons. Compassion, subtlety, modesty--these weren't programmed into him because he was originally designed for emergency triage where speed and efficiency were essential. He was never intended to be the chief (and only) medical officer. He never saw himself as anything but a program until Kes prodded him to see himself as more--to consider his "feelings" and to argue for his rights as a crewman and to help him cope with the new situations. The two of them make one heck of a doctor.
Holodoc can be infuriatingly smug at times. It's usually amusing, at least to me, but there are times it gets a little ham-handed. It's almost as if Holodoc has a self-esteem problem and must reassure himself that he is operating at peak efficiency. When he falls for Denara, he thinks he is malfunctioning because his efficiency has degraded. (I feel the same way when I fall in love.) Kes is, in effect, reprogramming him by guiding him through the adaptive process, to ask the questions that he needs to know in order to answer them. It's kind of fun to watch Holodoc debug himself. With 20th century electronics you know you're dealing with a machine and a program, and the debugging process isn't a conversation (unless you count shouted epithets at the monitor while pounding on the keyboard). But when most of the interaction with the ship's computer is done vocally, that's exactly how it will appear--a conversation, an argument, an appeal to reason. "Kes said do this, I did it, it didn't work." Paris suggests an alternative. When it works better, he commits it to memory. Humans do pretty much the same thing, but we call it learning and growth instead of programming and adaptation.
Denara was a good choice for Holodoc to fall for. She gave him an opportunity to take pride in his treatment before she had regained consciousness. She's a fellow doctor, so she's intelligent. She's got many of the best Kes-like qualities. And by forcing him to expand beyond his programming she became part of his new programming. The life-or-death issue also gave him a dilemma, and he found himself arguing from the heart instead of the mind. It made sense for her to return to her original body, but he also wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before she left. For him, two weeks with a Phage-ravaged Denara was better than three days with a beautiful and healthy Denara, because for him looks truly don't matter--it's what's inside that counts, how she affected his programming. After last week's "Death Wish," where an immortal chose mortality and suicide, it was good to see Denara choose to live, and to help others, and to be accepted for who she is and to begin to accept herself the same way.
On a scale of 0 to 10, I'm giving this episode a 7.25.
Copyright © 1996 Jim Wright