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2[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Bride of Chaotica!"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Feb 8, 1999
    • 0 Attachment
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "Bride
      of Chaotica!" If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.


      Nutshell: Schlocky is as schlocky does.

      Plot description: Voyager becomes stuck in space when an alien species
      mistakes Tom's "Captain Proton" holodeck program as a real world with real
      threats.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Bride of Chaotica!"

      Airdate: 1/27/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
      Story by Bryan Fuller
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "Think of it as Starfleet's first encounter with Planet X." -- Seven to
      Janeway, advice on first-contact situations in the holodeck
      -----

      The last thing I expected from "Bride of Chaotica!" was for it to come off
      as routine. I mean, it's a throwback to the 1940s serials, shot in black
      and white, and the title even contains an exclamation mark, for heaven's
      sake. How can you have a title with an exclamation mark for an episode that
      plays itself nearly as straight as any other standard offering?

      Simple style aesthetics and common sense insist that I write the title of
      this show "Bride of Chaotica!" Even so, I tend to think that the idea
      behind this episode was "BRIDE OF CHAOTICA!" The intentions behind what
      would warrant a cheerful, all-uppercase assault are clearly present.
      Unfortunately, the net result of this offering can never muster anything
      that deserves more than "Bride of Chaotica!" or perhaps just "Bride of
      Chaotica" sans exclamation mark.

      Episodes like this one tear down that cinematic "fourth wall" in our minds.
      We're aware that this isn't a story being told so much as a meditation on
      much older cinema. The point of the episode is to show the cast and crew of
      Voyager paying homage to an idea, perhaps so we'll experience vicariously
      the fun they had in making an unconventional installment.

      Well, I'm all for it. I loved the self-referential humor of "Trials and
      Tribble-ations" and got a great deal of enjoyment out of other holodeck
      comedies/spoofs like "Our Man Bashir" and "Take Me Out to the Holosuite."
      And although I'm no expert on 1940s serials, I am familiar with them, and
      they do appeal to my enjoyment of schlocky cinema: I've seen all 12
      chapters of "King of the Rocket Men," and I still enjoy an occasional
      episode of "MST3K" on the Sci-Fi Channel.

      All of which is why I find it so hard to believe "Bride of Chaotica!"
      struck me as so flat. What went wrong?

      Well, to be an optimist, I'll first answer the question of what went right.

      Item #1: A workable nod to the 20th century. Tom's been a history buff of
      sorts, even if he tends to look at old cars and entertainment as history in
      a more superficial and playful context (as opposed to, for instance, Sisko,
      who took interest in the 21st century for what was decidedly more socially
      relevant reasons). Old sci-fi is, like I said, something that might serve
      as a good source of juxtaposition for Trek in the '90s.

      Item #2: Shot mostly in black and white. This was a good idea back when the
      Captain Proton holo-program first appeared in "Night," and it still is.

      Item #3: Flawless re-creation. Although I'll admit that it looks like a lot
      of money went into some of the Captain Proton sets (which certainly wasn't
      the case with serials), the production team did a great job with props,
      costumes, and art design to make the setting look as cheesy as it
      should've. David Bell's tinny, bass-free score is also perfectly appropriate.

      Unfortunately, the writing staff just couldn't trust the audience to enjoy
      the concept on its own terms. (It's the same sort of attitude that required
      a holodeck jeopardy premise be made out of "Worst Case Scenario," a story
      that would've stood just fine on its own.) Fuller and Taylor felt compelled
      to merge Captain Proton with a technobabble plot--which would've been okay
      if done carefully. But "Bride of Chaotica!" makes a fatal mistake by taking
      itself--and especially its tech plot--too seriously.

      One could probably argue similarly about the crew-in-jeopardy setup of "Our
      Man Bashir," but the difference is that "Bashir" had the ability to embrace
      its own silliness and just go with the flow. Something about "Chaotica"
      just can't pick itself up and break free. The tech plot becomes a huge
      liability.

      And about the technobabble--it's the epitome of annoyingly arbitrary
      Voyager technical gobbledygook. The basic premise is okay--Voyager is
      visited by aliens who exist as "photonic" (i.e., holographic) life forms,
      who mistake Tom's program for an actual planet. The idea could've been
      compelling if the aliens were permitted to have a more interesting and
      substantive perspective in this dilemma, which, alas, they aren't.

      But all the flab concerning the ship being stuck in space and trapped by
      gravimetric forces (or whatever)--who freakin' cares? Not me. And I
      wouldn't have let it get in the way of my enjoying the rest of the episode
      if it weren't for the fact there's so much of it. Every time the episode
      seems to be building its momentum in the holodeck's black-and-white
      sessions, along comes color and technobabble to interrupt the flow.

      What's particularly funny to note is that the "actual" plot of this episode
      is about as schlocky as the Captain Proton story; it's just more updated
      schlock. Unfortunately, the writers didn't seem to notice the fact enough
      to parody it. They simply present it as straight as any other Day at the
      Office.

      And yet, these complaints would've been irrelevant if the holodeck games
      would've been hilarious. Simply put: They aren't. What this episode sets
      out to do is all too rarely realized. The gags are surprisingly tame.

      As I watched this episode, I realized that what they did here was not easy.
      The careful mimicking, the attention to detail--all expertly done (Kroeker
      deserves kudos for the directorial effort). But what's missing is pure
      enjoyment and exhilaration. This episode never quite takes off. I wasn't
      laughing much. Occasionally I was chuckling. Some of the gags are
      perceptive, but they don't dare to be brashly satirical. The lesson to be
      learned here, I think, is that skillful imitation alone is not enough.
      There has to be an attitude, an edge, brought to the material. In "Our Man
      Bashir," a great deal of attitude arose from the sharp banter between
      Bashir and Garak. There was a sense--despite the alleged seriousness of the
      plot's situation--that the actors and characters knew their setting was
      ridiculous.

      That isn't the case here, and as a result, the humor doesn't flow, although
      it drips occasionally. The holo-plot is absurd (as it should be): The evil,
      holographic Chaotica (Martin Rayner) opens war on the alien beings (because
      he is one-dimensional, programmed evil, you see), which means Janeway must
      enter the holodeck, pose as the irresistible Arachnia, and stop his evil
      plan. (Standard contrivance of course dictates that the holodeck cannot be
      simply turned off, but never mind.) The performances are good but somehow
      not all that funny. Mulgrew chews the scenery well, but her incessant
      twitching is merely bizarre near the end.

      Doc looks at home in the role of "President of Earth," but his negotiation
      with the aliens is so brief that it feels like an opportunity wasted. There
      are some other good moments, particularly the nods to the familiar
      comic-book goofiness ("NOT THAT BUTTON!"), but given the potential, the
      show seems to play the whole game awfully safe. There are sarcastic
      side-comments, sure, but they don't push far enough into parody to make the
      episode funny. For an unconventional episode, it sure manages to be awfully
      conventional.

      To me, the whole subtext of the Captain Proton holodeck series this season
      has been to analyze the difference between the corny science fiction aimed
      at kids in the '40s and '50s versus the post-"Star Wars" era of commercial
      science fiction that appeals to large audiences looking for something more
      magnificent and significant (or at the very least seeing something blow up
      more realistically).

      But based on what this Voyager offering gives us, the lesson seems to be
      that science fiction has come so far that we don't need solid ideas beneath
      the slick, high-budget exterior. Schlock has evolved into an art form
      toward which we can throw money in mass quantities. We can't get to the
      center of why there's reason for juxtaposing today's sci-fi with the old
      stuff, but, doggone it, we can certainly replicate the old stuff down to
      the last detail if we want to.

      That may perhaps be a harsh interpretation of "Bride of Chaotica!" Maybe I
      expected too much from this show; in its defense I must admit that it
      aspires to simply be light rather than significant. But it's somehow hard
      to laugh at schlock condescending to schlock. I suppose we can grin.

      --
      Next week: "Shuttle Crash, Part XXIV." Let's hope characterization is the
      key, 'cause it don't look like plot is.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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