The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.
Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres is kidnapped by a race of androids who want her to help them solve an engineering dilemma, and she faces an ethical quandary.
Jump straight to the Analysis
A different view of space, with occasional status. Black and white, and fuzzy. A ship approaches, (Voyager) and the subtitles explain to the viewer that this is an alien-eye view. A shimmering transporter sparkle, and we next see Torres, Tuvok, and Janeway, crowded into the (still B&W) view. They discuss what to do. Tuvok urges caution, Torres wants to try to stabilize it, because with the unfamiliar technology she may not be able to turn it on again afterward. Janeway decides. "This is a ship of exploration." Repairs proceed.
More flashing. When the picture clears, it's Torres and Kim, trying to keep the picture stable. After a lot of static, which varies according to Kim and Torres' actions, the picture finally clears and Kim and Torres proclaim at least a momentary success. The view shifts toward a computer monitor, where we see this new technology.
A cross between an android and a mannequin. Silver of face and body, its design suggests there were no attempts to make it look human--it looks more like the plastic casing a human would come delivered in. No hair, no eyes, no mouth, no nostrils or ears--only indentations or protrusions where those facial features should be. It's a bit better than the Klaatu Berata Nictu droid and leagues beyond the "Danger, Will Robinson!" vacuum cleaner robot, but is about two design revisions away from C3PO.
After the commercial break, the color returns (Toto, we're not in deep space anymore). Kim determines it's robotic, not an organism of any kind. He and Torres keep examining the unit, seeing what they can learn from its design while they try to stabilize its power supply.
The unit tries to speak, or so Torres thinks. Kim is skeptical. But B'Elanna, wrapped up in the engineering dilemma, is unwilling to give up. She tries to get Harry to leave while she mulls the problem over, and they get into a brief (and flirtatious) spat about who can work longer than whom. B'Elanna finally pulls rank and calls him Starfleet, and Harry leaves with a mischievous grin.
Torres' brain-wracking leads her to the mess hall (she MUST be desperate) where she asks for yet another pot of coffee. Neelix offers her something else, but she wants coffee. Neelix finally tells her no more. "You're cutting me off?" she asks with weary menace--never get between a nerd and their caffeine.
Torres explains her problem, sorta. Neelix offers a story about perfecting an omlette recipe, how he tweaked this and that ingredient. He finally discovered after a nap that what he needed was another spice. Torres doesn't get the point. Neelix tries to send her to bed; she ignores him. She goes back to engineering, stares at the android, and decides perhaps bed is the best idea.
Torres readies for bed, in a tasteful yet body-hugging burgandy nightdress. (Hubba Hubba!) As soon as her head hits the bed, she bolts upright and rushes to sickbay, still wearing the nightclothes. Apparently bed did have the answer. She activates Holodoc, who comments on her outfit. Too caught up in the question she has to ask she gives him a quickie explanation, then tells him her problem--in her flash of nocturnal insight she realizes she needs to treat the android as a patient rather than an engineering project. With Holodoc as her sounding board, offering the occasional pithy aside, Torres comes up with what she thinks will be the answer.
A short time later, Torres and Kim and Janeway gather around the robot, trying to juice up its energy source in a way it can take. When things seem to be stabilized, Torres announces success. As soon as she does, the robot grabs her wrist and demands that she identify herself. She does, and the robot (male voice) identifies himself as Automated Personnel Unit 3947. "Thank you for reactivating me," he says politely. Janeway and Torres share wide-eyed, big-toothed grins.
In her engineer's log, Torres explains her discoveries, and the tone of her voice suggests she's grown quite fond of her little reclamation project, and not without cause--it seems sentient enough to express gratitude and awe at her technical abilities. When the repairs on the unit (let's call it APU) are complete, we find them engaging in more third-person references than a Bob Dole campaign speech, and a bit of mutual appreciation.
B'Elanna asks how APU ended up in space in damaged condition. APU says something about a life pod, but says his memory isn't entirely accessible. Torres doesn't worry too much about it, but asks other questions. APU is of the species known as Pralor . Torres mentions his power module, and APU reacts strongly. "You fixed the power module? Are you a builder?" Builders, he explains, are the humanoids who created them. "In a sense," Torres replies, flattered. APU wants her to build more such power modules for others of his kind. "Why not let the Builders do that?" "They aren't around anymore."
Torres asks Janeway for permission to proceed. There are thousands of Pralor androids, who have learned how to make basic repairs, but aren't able to create a functioning and interchangeable power unit, which is beyond their skills. Janeway balks; resuscitating APU is one thing, she says; helping a species reproduce is quite another matter. It's a Prime Directive violation.
Torres argues passionately to be allowed to proceed, but Janeway is rigid. Without sufficient information, she insists, the decision to act is a clear violation. Torres argues from the position of an engineer, both eager to solve a technical problem and emotionally attached to the rather charming technical problem she has already solved. Janeway as a scientist understands the technical curiosity, but for Prime Directive reasons (both technical and deeply-held) she must refuse.
Comment here. Part of the information they're missing--the origin and background of the Pralor, both robots and Builders--should have at least been asked of Neelix, their native guide to the Delta Quadrant. They're still in Kazon space, and in later episodes (ain't hindsight great?) Neelix knows plenty about certain planets and sectors, so we're not beyond his bailiwick. Why didn't Janeway or Torres ask specifically for information or at least rumor of Pralor from their Talaxian tourguide? It bothers me only because Janeway cited lack of information for her Prime Directive refusal, without bothering to consult the guy most likely to have that information. They've stumped him before, so there's no shame if he doesn't know about the Pralor.
APU does not agree with Janeway. As an android, it seems to have been programmed for pleasant speech. Even unpleasant words have an Easy Listening disc jockey lilt to them. Torres tries to explain the Prime Directive to him, but APU also argues. He manages to get Torres to admit she would like to help. "Without your help, we will not survive," APU says cheerily. But she has to follow orders.
"I thought you said you were a builder," APU accused amiably. "I did too."
The Pralor vessel approaches them, performs a scan, and hails them. Another APU, with a more command-oriented but no less pleasant voice, asks for identification. Janeway gives it, and says they've got one of their APUs onboard and would like to return him to his people. The command APU thanks Janeway for her assistance and says he will prepare to receive APU 3947.
On the transporter pad, Torres gives APU a fond going-away, fussing over him and giving him some extra plasma for lunch. It's an awkward goodbye, but like a good Starfleet Torres does what she's told. As the beamout nears, APU decides he doesn't like goodbyes either; he grabs B'Elanna in a passionate embrace and...
Not really. He grabs her by the wrist, gives her an electro-mickey to Sleepyland, stuns the transporter technician and beams out--with B'Elanna, despite the bridge's efforts to keep them on the ship.
The Pralor vessel raises shields to prevent beamback. Janeway hails the Pralor and demands the return of Torres, with accompanying threats. The Pralor do not respond, so Janeway orders the powering of phasers.
Torres awakes on the Pralor vessel, spitting bile, demanding to be returned. APU says she's here to build the power thingies for them. She says she cannot do so. APU doesn't take that for an answer. He grabs her, and threatens her cordially.
Janeway orders phaser fire to open up a hole to beam Torres back. They do so, and the Pralor vessel returns fire with a vengeance. Torres and APU watch Voyager get rocked, and APU explains with giddy coldness the imminent demise of the ship and crew.
Voyager continues to get hammered, and soon cannot flee.
B'Elanna chews out APU, who continues to prattle with merry menace about her friends' deaths. Torres finally agrees to build the damn batteries if they'll stop firing.
The Pralor stop firing.
Torres hails Janeway and tells her what she's going to do, and why. She tells them to turn tail and run. Janeway gives her the serious skunk eye, but Torres says it's build the things or watch Voyager go boom.
Technically, this is one of those times where Janeway SHOULD be thinking about initiating the autodestruct. The Prime Directive demands self-sacrifice before violation, if it comes to that choice. Janeway should have flipped the Bird to the screen and punched the Boom button. But apparently she trusted Torres to know what to do. This assures that the episode will take a full hour with all the recurring characters intact.
APU escorts Torres to the building room, and explains what is expected of her and what will not be allowed of her. Torres sees this as an uphill battle.
The command APU (6263) arrives and asks for a status report. "Well, let's see. I've been here five minutes, so I'd have to say I'm not done yet." APU 6263 tells them they have 140 hours to complete the power thingie before Voyager makes repairs. With the usual (I'm running out of synonyms for cheerful') pleasant voice of doom, he says that if Torres doesn't pull through in time, she and her people are dead. All I can say is, they're lucky they didn't run into B'Elanna in her Maquis days; she'd be chewing some robotic hiney and spitting scrap metal by now. She says she'll do her best. APU 3947 tries to console her, saying APU 6263 doesn't know her like he does. (Even in the Delta Quadrant, they know how to play Good droid, Bad droid.)
On Voyager, repair strategies are discussed among the senior crew. Tuvok argues that warp drive should be fixed first, since after a rescue they'll need to haul nacelles away from the Pralor. Janeway agrees. She turns to Harry and asks for an estimate; he gives a 72 hour figure. She says she wants it in 48.
Torres reaches a breakthrough. She learns that the power modules are not interchangeable, by design. The other body parts can be swapped out, but the power modules require a unique energy code. She says she doesn't know how to work around this. "You have failed," APU accuses. Torres looks at him. "If you give up this easily, you deserve to die," she says in more polite terms than I just did. APU asks for clarification. "I may have another idea." APU says that he now has sufficient data to warrant a higher index of optimism. "You took the words right out of my mouth," she says.
BTW, I'm not worrying too much about the technoflotsam in this episode (you wonder why it's taken me so long to review this thing?) So if you are the type who takes notes and tries building this Trek stuff at home....I'm not scanning in the spec sheets. I wear my Pause button out enough as it is. I'll present the tech discussions as well as I can, but I have enough homework to worry about without majoring in Treknology.
Back to the show.
The senior officers don't think they can beam through the Pralor shields. They think they could get a shuttle in to do it, though. Janeway, perhaps justifiably conscious of the crew's predilection for totalling shuttlecraft, asks for another option.
Torres engages in small talk with APU. They talk about cultures, and respective use of automated units. Torres talks about Data, the only sentient automated unit, and his position of equality with "builders." This intrigues APU, who says he would like to meet "this Data." Apparently the status of automated units in humanoid society is important to the Pralor. Just as the conversation hits a lull, we see Torres holding up a Pralor skeletal fist, flexing under the "universal power module." She allows herself a smile of triumph, and APU congratulates her. The battle isn't over yet, but the engineer is cheered by her progress, and APU's words are as cheery as his demeanor.
Chakotay reports that power will be up in 6 hours. Janeway asks for further options. He tells her that in the Maquis, Torres used a sneak dumping of energy to hose enemy shields enough to penetrate them. Janeway likes the idea. Tuvok hails the captain and announces that another ship is approaching.
Torres tries to activate a whole unit with her new power supply. "Cross your fingers," she says, and APU does his best to do so (oh that wacky cultural humor). The new unit rises off the construction table a few centimeters, then flops back down. "It does not function correctly ," APU reports. (Well, duh.) "It does not function correctly YET," Torres amends. "Your builders should have programmed you with a little more patience." She adjusts the flux capacitance ("Doc Brown!!! Where's the DeLorean?") and this time the results are more encouraging.
The unit sits upright, its interchangeable expressionless shiny-tin head moving this way and that, taking in its surroundings. "Prototype Unit 0001 is ready to accept programming," it says.
Torres is ecstatic. Engineering feat accomplished. She shakes APU's hand. "Congratulations, you're a father!" she gushes, as Pepe le PU repeats its readiness to accept programming.
Another Pralor vessel, similar to the first but with gold tint instead of silver, approaches and then starts firing on the first. Kim reports that there are no life signs on board either ship (aside from B'Elanna). "Have we stumbled into a robotic war?" Janeway wonders aloud.
Janeway is hailed by the golden Pralor vessel, which requests identification. The golden ship contains golden androids. The golden Pralor warn them not to interfere or risk being destroyed. Janeway steps up the rescue efforts, and tells Paris to man the shuttlecraft and Harry to be ready to engage power as soon as everyone's back inside.
On the Silver ship, Torres wants to know what's going on. "They're automated units from another planet," APU tells her. The golden Pralor (Kraveck?) builders programmed them to fight the Silver Pralor robots. (Talk about couch potatoes.) Torres realizes that they're enemies. APU says the Kraveck builders are also dead. PU keeps asking for programming.
Paris approaches the Pralor vessel. He tries modulating his shields to match, but bounces off. Tuvok tells him to head in the direction of the Kraveck disruptor blasts, where a shield hole is developing. Paris notes the danger, but figures he lives for danger and heads for the death rays.
Torres presses APU for answers as PU 0001 continues to mewl for input. She can't understand why they're still fighting if their builders are dead. "We were programmed to destroy each other," APU tells her. "Didn't the builders try to stop it?" "They negotiated a truce. They tried to stop us." "Why are you still fighting, then?" "We killed all the builders so we could keep fighting the other robots."
I take it the Robots are still using those old flawed Pentium chips.
Paris dodges his way through the disruptor fire with relative ease; he is, after all, the Best Damn Hotshot Pilot You Could Ever Ask Fer. He slips through the shield breach and starts looking for Torres.
APU continues the explanation. The Builders wanted peace, so they endeavored to shut off their killing machines. The robots, programmed for survival, took umbrage at this, and defended themselves with extreme prejudice. They won.
Torres realizes with horror what she's done--she's provided a way for the Pralor robots to reproduce a massive army of killer droids, which the Prime Directive surely wouldn't have sanctioned and which the original builders added the unique power codes to prevent. She looks at her creation, the cute but ominous PU 0001, and ice picks it to oblivion right after it asks for programming one more time.
"You have terminated the prototype," APU said. "Yup." "You will build another," he says. "Nope," she says adamantly. "I told 6263 you were not our enemy." "I didn't want to be."
The transporter effect takes Torres, and she whispers a tortured goodbye.
Paris continues with the rescue.
Kes serves coffee to Torres and Janeway. Torres feels bad for trashing the Prime Directive, but Janeway is compassionate. "You did what you had to for the ship," she assures Torres.
Now that the Prime Directive concerns are behind them, the two science nerds can commiserate over the technical achievements. Despite the circumstances, Janeway is impressed with Torres' solution, the miracle of technology she achieved. "It must have been difficult to destroy what you created." B'Elanna describes the thrill she felt when the prototype unit looked up at her requesting programming, the joy of the creator over the creation, the maternal elation of lifegiving. But, like Rosemary's baby, she soon realized she'd midwifed a monster.
"As I said...It must have been difficult." "It was necessary." Roll credits.
What can you say about pleasant-voiced killer androids? "Program this, metalhead."
I didn't have a lot of compassion for the androids, but my heart went out to Torres. I don't know why, but I thought of the movie REAL GENIUS, where Val Kilmer creates a five megawatt laser for a senior project, only to learn its only useful purpose is as a weapon. Then I thought of the Nobel Peace Prize, named after the guy who invented TNT (or was it dynamite?), who wanted to make up somehow for the destructive potential of his creation. (I'm too lazy to look up the details. If I'm getting this wrong...please tell me the real story and I'll make the necessary correction.) ["Alfred Nobel, and it was dynamite," a kind reader from Malaysia reports.]
I can't say I've ever created anything with that kind of potential for good or bad. I've written some emails that make people laugh loud enough to get their coworkers mad at them, but that's about it. But I have compassion for those who solve problems because they love finding the answers, only to learn that their discoveries were used to kill.
It puts the Prime Directive into perspective. We earthlings have a hard enough time handling the technology we come up with on our own. If a couple of phaser-vending Ferengi showed up on the doorstep of the Unabomber, for example, who knows where we'd end up?
Part of me laments the decline of Torres' Klingon impulses. Ever since "Faces" she seems to have come to terms with her heritage. That's a shame; we need a good berserker on board, and my money was riding on B'Elanna. What we're seeing here, and in several subsequent episodes, is the softer side of Torres--the dedicated professional who cares mightily about her work. Perhaps a little too much. It's an engineer's failing; Scotty fussed over his engines, O'Brien is happy only when he's knee-deep in circuitry, Geordi LaForge found his heart in the engine room.
Torres is a proud Maquis, but she's also a proud Starfleeter, her new responsibilities and esteem nurtured by the trust placed in her by Captain Janeway. I think she'd rather die than disappoint Janeway again, after her actions in "Prime Factors" earned the captain's displeasure. As a Maquis, she learned to hold a ship together with spit and curses, and constructed feats of engineering wizardry that would have gotten the castaways off Gilligan's Island years earlier. As a Starfleet officer and section chief, she's learned to curb her "whatever works" impulses to fit within proper protocols. But she struggles with the ethical dilemmas here. She sees a problem and wants to find a solution (the universal power supplies) but it takes Janeway's direct order to get her to back down on Prime Directive stuff. The engineering challenge isn't the only factor to consider; the ethical element is a big unknown. To Torres' credit, she buckled under despite her inclinations to help the Prelor, changing her mind only when the ship was threatened with destruction. And when she got caught up in the challenge and succeeded, only to learn that the captain's reservations were correct, she did her duty and destroyed her creation to preserve the Prime Directive, painful as it was for her.
I liked the portrait of Torres painted in this episode. I liked seeing her thought processes, the sleepless head-banging, the inspiration from unexpected sources--these scenes also reminded me of REAL GENIUS (one of my favorite films, if you hadn't guessed). Despite my grumbles that we don't see the Klingon in her nearly enough, I found her utterly engaging here, both strong and determined and tortured and giddy at various moments, in scenes of genuine feeling.
Janeway also had some excellent scenes with and without Torres--sharing her glee at resuscitating the original APU, arguing the Prime Directive, making strategic decisions both short and long range, commiserating with the reflective Torres--playing GI Janeway and Madam Science and Aunt Kathryn with equal ease. In episodes like this, Janeway earns her captain's pips. (My only reservation here is that she didn't consult Neelix about the Pralor.)
Harry Kim also had a couple of good scenes with B'Elanna, particularly the teasing exchange before they'd rebooted APU. In the Great Mate Debate, my chips are placed on Harry and B'Elanna pairing off eventually. They make a cute couple, don't you think?
Paris had the requisite Fighter Jock scene, charging in to the rescue and even managing to bring the shuttle back intact.
Kudos to Neelix for providing a key bit of relevancy to Torres early in the episode, cutting off her coffee supply and giving her a new perspective on her engineering problem. It's good to know the writers aren't content to leave Neelix as a comic annoyance only. The more constructive attributes that can be attached to Neelix, the better I'll feel about him. ("Investigations" just ended; this was perhaps overkill in the Renaissance Talaxian movement, but it was still fun to watch Neelix doing things well, even if his methods are unconventional.)
The Pralor--let's just say I'm glad my microwave isn't sentient. I'm not so sure about my computer, which has been demanding I call it "Eddie" ever since I installed the speech software. The irony of the harsh words spoken so pleasantly was at times amusing, at times chilling. The androids had the facial expressiveness of a department store mannequin, so the voices were the key to the characters, and I was surprised at how effective it was, particularly APU 3947. He could say "Have a nice day" and "You will be assimilated" with the same tone of voice, and that's spooky.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this episode a 7.25. Excellent Torres episode, with strong supporting roles all the way around, particularly from Janeway.
Next Week: Janeway must decide whether tis nobler to suffer the disruptor blasts and suicide shuttles of angry Kazon, or swallow her Starfleet pride and shake hands with the devil. (How many metaphors can I mix before the language police sic the BATF on me?)