What I like best about this episode is that it is, at heart, a perfect Star Trek episode. The underlying theme of the entire franchise has always been a future where people cooperate instead of fight. Sure, fighting happens, but ultimately it’s compassion that wins the day, from Kirk helping Balok even after he nearly killed them all to the Dominion War ending due to Odo offering to help the Great Link to the Burn being solved by Saru helping a hundred-year-old child.
There are two aspects of this episode that work. One is Torres’s complete frustration with every nanosecond of this whole thing. She doesn’t want to be the Virgin Mary equivalent in a Klingon cult, she doesn’t want to have to have a security guard on her at all times, she doesn’t want her husband to fight to the death, and she especially doesn’t want a deadly disease. Even when she does go along with Kohlar’s plan, her recitation of her great deeds is somewhat less than convincing. Roxann Dawson plays it perfectly as someone who is incredibly uncomfortable with this manner of boasting but trying her best. (Contrast this with the story Kor tells at the top of DS9’s “The Sword of Kahless,” which John Colicos tells with verve and panache. But Kor is used to being a bombastic Klingon, Torres really really isn’t.)
The other is Kohlar himself. Wren T. Brown imbues the character with great gravity and also significant exhaustion. He wants very much for this quest to be over with, but he’s not being stupid about it. His plan is actually a good one, and he’s earnest in his desire to do right by his people, both by the terms of the prophecy and in terms of getting them to stop being nomads on a fruitless quest.
Okay, it’s obvious that the Benkarans are meant to substitute for people of color who are disproportionately imprisoned and sentenced compared to white criminals. But instead of shining a light on this disparity, we find out that the Benkaran whom Neelix has befriended is not an innocent person being put to death, but a nasty-ass criminal just like Yediq said he was. He even tries a lame attempt to get the same consideration that Iko got—trying to claim that he, too, is mentally ill.
Meanwhile, Iko is a Nygean, one of the “mainstream” species, and he gets a redemption arc. So the equivalent to the white guy gets to be forgiven by the audience, if not by the victims, and the equivalent to the POC gets to be the asshole who stages a prison break and goes back on his word. This isn’t quite failing your saving roll versus social commentary, but it’s a very very low roll…
First of all, in this episode written and directed by men in a season in which the show-runner is a man, it’s a really bad look that the entire episode is about men telling a woman what she can’t do with her own body during a pregnancy. This is especially hilarious on a show with a female lead as the captain—said captain is notably absent for most of the episode, showing up briefly to congratulate the happy couple and again to decline the invitation to get involved. What a waste.
As a kind of final-season tribute to everything Voyager has been through over the years, this works nicely. As an actual story, it’s kind of nowhere. And it actually pissed me off in several spots, in ways that everyone who’s been reading these rewatches for the past nineteen months can probably guess…
With all that, though, this two-hour episode doesn’t quite cohere. Part of the problem is that Iden is a nowhere antagonist. Jeff Yagher has no discernible personality (Cindy Katz and Spencer Garrett do a much better job), and his transition from bland affable leader to megalomaniacal murderer is utterly unconvincing. It’s a narrative cheat to make the EMH’s decision easier, but it makes the arguments far less convincing. The holograms generally are not the nicest people around—they kidnap both the EMH and Torres, they pretty much torture the EMH to make a point—but it was up to Yagher to show how they were evolving past that, and he never really did that. He was unconvincing as an antihero, as a resistance leader, or as a lunatic.
To make matters worse, Kim’s story is sabotaged by the need to make Seven be important as often as humanly possible, so we have the bizarreness of the one person in the main cast who knows even less about how to be a commanding officer than Kim lecturing Kim on what he’s doing wrong. Not that she’s saying anything useful, she’s just taking up a contrary position to whatever it is Kim is doing so she can berate him and pretend to know what she’s talking about so he can then pretend to learn something and be better at his job. Bleah.
The plot itself is a bit awkward to watch, as it dances on the edge of tiresome heteronormativity, but manages not to cross the line. So much of what happens can be seen as playing for cheap homophobic laughs, but the script and performances stop short of that, thank goodness. Ranek’s kissing Seven could have been played as being okay normally, but isn’t because Seven is really a dude, but in truth, the kiss was unwelcome because neither the EMH nor Seven would be remotely interested in a romantic relationship with the guy who took them prisoner, sexual preference notwithstanding. Ranek’s kiss was a violation regardless—and, to his credit, he apologized and backed off the nanosecond he realized he misread the situation. Additionally, Jaryn’s lack of interest in Seven has less to do with what gender Seven presents as and more to do with her unrequited desire for Ranek.
Unlike the last time the Ferengi were used on Voyager, this is actually a decent use of them, with Ferengi vet Frank Corsentino leading the trio of greedheads. This is a return to the villainous Ferengi of early TNG rather than the more nuanced portrayal we got on DS9, and these Ferengi are willing to murder the entire crew complement to get Seven’s nanoprobes, but I’m okay with it. The threat is legit, and this is one case where Voyager trusting the bad guy makes sense, because it’s Barclay for cryin’ out loud! This is the guy who busted his ass to get the Alpha Quadrant in touch with Voyager in the first place, and someone whom the EMH actually got to know during his one-month journey in “Life Line.”
Keith Szarabajka is utterly uninteresting as Teero, while Robert Beltran and Roxann Dawson don’t act that much differently than themselves when they’re mind-controlled, which is disappointing. And at no point does Paris try to get through to hiswife that maybe she shouldn’t leave her husband behind on a planet, a plot point that would seem to be blindingly obvious to pursue. It’s not like they forgot that the two of them were a couple, since the entire first scene of Act 1 is predicated on it…