Foreword: This week I've also posted an article about my trip to Paramount
Studios last month. To read it, visit Star Trek: Hypertext at
Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Live Fast
and Prosper." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
Nutshell: Some flashes of cleverness, but the story can't succeed as a
Plot description: Con artists impersonate members of the Voyager crew and
use the false identities to scheme valuables from unwitting aliens.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Live Fast and Prosper"
Airdate: 4/19/2000 (USA)
Written by Robin Burger
Directed by LeVar Burton
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **
"I make a better you than you." -- Impostor Janeway to real Janeway
At a few key points, "Live Fast and Prosper" successfully anticipates our
expectations and then hits us with the "Gotcha!" There's a moment here when
a woman, who is locked in the Voyager brig, takes Neelix by surprise and
then escapes in the Delta Flyer, all too easily. At this point, I was
furious. So sick am I of the cliche of the easy theft of a shuttle, which
makes the crew look witless and inept. But then came the unexpected twist
where not all was what it appeared to be, and ... they got me.
What's interesting is that I'm not sure whether this is effective because
it's effective, or if it's effective because I expect that annoying
contrivances will happen so frequently on this series. This gotcha scene can
be analyzed on a couple levels. On one level, we have what is competent
execution of audience deception. On a deeper, more ironic level, we have the
writers possibly winking at us, acknowledging that, okay, the writing is
sometimes contrived and cliche, we know it, and we're going to cleverly use
that knowledge against you. I propose that it must be clever, simply because
the mental review already popping into my head during the viewing suddenly
found itself in immediate need of a rewrite.
So, then, at the very least, "Live Fast and Prosper" has a couple clever
twists working in its favor. The question still remains: Is it any good?
I can't recommend it, because this is an episode that sounds like a fun idea
but doesn't end up being as much fun as such a premise ("interstellar con
artists impersonate Voyager crew members") seems capable of. Sure, this is a
fluff episode, but it's got some annoying rough edges that should've been
smoothed out, and too much wandering and not enough comic momentum. If you
want comedy, go watch the far-more-fun "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy." If you
want clever cons with substance behind them, go back to last season's
believably grounded "Counterpoint."
The premise is simple: A small crew of con artists is posing as members of
the Voyager crew and scheming gullible aliens into forking over valuables.
How did they get in a position to pose as Voyager crew members? Well, it
goes back to a recent away mission, when Paris and Neelix were on the Delta
Flyer and came across the holy grounds of some clerics. These two "clerics"
were really con artists, who came up with a story to sucker Tom and Neelix
into helping them. They were aboard the Delta Flyer for a short time, during
which they craftily downloaded the Voyager database in order to later assume
their phony identities.
There are some decent ideas here, like the notion of Tom and Neelix feeling
that they've "lost their edge" upon learning that they'd been had. Although
many characters on this series are nearing the realm of lost causes, this
story at least makes an effort, remembering that both Tom and Neelix were
cynical types who'd come across their share of shady characters. The
question they now ask is whether they're getting soft.
As I go off into a tangent that is certain to inspire annoyed "let it go"
letters by those who are more optimistic about Voyager as a series than I
am, I'll answer the question: Of course they're getting soft. How could you
not when you're aboard the starship Voyager, which is a pristine palace that
never shows a scar no matter how many battles it's been through? With an
endless supply of food and energy and weapons despite the fact it's alone in
the unknown? A ship that represents the Federation on its best day, even
though it should be more like the Federation on a bad day, or even a crew
like the Equinox?
More to the point, the question seems to be whether cynics are even possible
in the Federation. When Paris boarded Voyager in the first episode, he was a
cynic and an outcast. Time has molded him into a more respectable officer
that embodies the good, virtuous Starfleet, as well as Janeway's idea of an
inflexible Starfleet moral sensibility. The same goes for Neelix. Of course
they're soft. They're Starfleet. Starfleet relies on trust and openness as
Of course, that doesn't make you stupid or even gullible. Tom and Neelix
were tricked--plain and simple--by people who apparently dedicate their
lives to tricking other people. Hindsight is 20/20, and the con, involving a
story with orphans, was effective probably because it was an appeal to their
empathy. We're only human, and most of us have a soft side. My soft side
resists (but relents to) the urge to call Tom and Harry chumps--not because
one of them was tricked and the other is a goof, but because their idea of
fun is picking on Tuvok by reprogramming his holodeck program. (I dare them
to go pick on Torres or Seven of Nine--I bet they don't have the cajones.)
The main annoyance here is the show's reliability on stupid alien characters
and moments of clunky plotting. An important plot allegation this episode
makes is that the con artists are destroying Voyager's reputation by posing
as them. But once Janeway & Co. are onto this scheme, this should no longer
be the case, simply because Voyager is now aware of the phonies and able to
get word out that these impostors exist.
But no. Instead, every alien the real Voyager crew encounters is a
Hard-Headed Alien who refuses to believe that the impostors exist, and
demands that Voyager return what has been conned from them. Watching these
dialog scenes is not interesting; it's merely frustrating. I personally
wanted to tell the first Hard-Headed Alien victim to wake up, smell the damn
coffee, and get out of Janeway's face. (Hint: That's not the reaction the
scene was looking for.)
A later scene has Voyager catching the impostors red-handed in one of their
schemes while another alien ship has them locked in a tractor beam. The
second Hard-Headed Alien victim won't hear anything Janeway says, and
interrupts her constantly as she tries to explain the situation. Meanwhile
the success/failure of tractor beams and weapons is used as a handy plot
device that permits the impostors' ship to escape in a way that manages to
make everyone involved look incompetent. (Hint: It's more interesting to see
smart characters doing clever things, rather than having a mess that careens
out of control because everyone is a bumbling fool using technology that
fails arbitrarily.) If any of these aliens had an IQ higher than 75, and
lower levels of testosterone, half the story's problems would be nearly
Fortunately, it's about this time the episode begins to show some
cleverness. The tractor beam fiasco results in the capture of con artist
Dala (Kaitlin Hopkins), who has been posing as Janeway. She's thrown into
the brig, which leads to a pretty good Janeway vs. "Janeway" scene, which
ends with a rather nice con on behalf of the real Janeway and Tuvok.
(Tuvok's improvisations are particularly fun.)
It's at this point we get the Neelix scene with Dala that ends with an
escape in the Delta Flyer and the twist I mentioned earlier. I won't go into
the details, and for once I'm not even going to explain the way the plot
pulls together in the end. Suffice it to know there is some more plotting
cleverness, and that explaining it won't make this a more useful review.
There are also some subtle comic touches here that I can appreciate. One of
them is the uniforms the con artists wear. They're not exactly the
best-tailored Starfleet uniforms one has ever seen. And the con artists'
combadges are oversized. The comic idea here is that these phonies have
tailored the look of the uniforms as best they could with their stolen
information. It's funny in that it reminds us of the die-hard Trek fan who
tailored his/her own uniform to wear at a convention: You know what it's
supposed to be, but you also know that it didn't come from the professionals
at the Paramount costuming department.
Of course, humor like that is more fun to consider after the fact. While the
story is unfolding it's simply not much of a factor. And other scenes that
should be fun seem flat, like the scene where Tom and Neelix attempt to pull
a fast one on Doc with the old "under which cup is the walnut" routine,
which is done once early in the show and then again at the end, both times
with thin and predictable results.
The show is sort of a muddle in tone. It wants us to take long dialog scenes
seriously (like the scene of Neelix in the brig) before revealing that it's
all probably just a con, on us as well as the other characters. In a way, I
find that effective. There's almost a sense that we should just wink our way
through the whole darned absurd Star Trek universe. But we never come to
understand Dala as a character. She seems to be considering reform, then
turns on Neelix in a way that makes her a con-to-the-end when it's really
*she* who is being unwittingly conned. And then the story removes her from
the plot using Doc in a way that is a nifty trick. But along the way Dala
becomes a bland pawn to the plotting when she could've been an actual
The episode also tends to jump around from character to character with no
big payoffs. The Janeway vs. "Janeway" idea seemed to be going somewhere,
but then the whole thread is abandoned prematurely and we return to Paris
I also didn't understand the nature of the phony Tuvok (Greg Daniel). Just
who is this guy when he isn't playing the role of Tuvok? There seems to be a
buried joke in here saying that he has disappeared completely into his
role-playing and refuses to come out no matter who is or is not watching.
Even when he's just with his fellow con crew, he keeps acting sort of like
Tuvok while the others drop the guise. What is this supposed to mean? It's a
joke with a confused punch line.
All things considered, this is a middling fluff piece. I liked the skillful
way the twists in the last act were presented, but apart from the clever
twists we don't have a compelling core. And it's too evident that Robin
Burger's script is smarter than any of the characters who populate it; the
plot takes clever directions while the villains aren't nearly so clever as
they probably should be. "Live Fast and Prosper" lives pretty fast. But it
doesn't live with any depth or much credibility. And in the end it can't
Next week: Torres and Kim die, if you believe the trailers. The suspense is
Copyright (c) 2000 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...