[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Think Tank"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "Think
Tank." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.
Nutshell: Not bad, but not consistent or challenging enough to net a
Plot description: A group of intelligent beings offers to help Janeway
escape a difficult situation in exchange for Seven joining their small
community of thinkers.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Think Tank"
Airdate: 3/31/1999 (USA)
Teleplay by Michael Taylor
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Terrence O'Hara
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **1/2
"You seem to be experiencing some turbulence." -- Seven sarcasm
"Think Tank" is a fairly enjoyable hour that's halfway effective, but shows
Voyager making compromises with itself. It reveals a surprising amount
about what works about this series and what doesn't.
This episode works as a reasonable TOS-like entertainment that pushes the
buttons on the control panel labeled "ESTABLISHED PLOTTING LORE," and comes
off as something watchable. Where the episode suffers is in its use of so
many plot elements that aren't developed to their full potential; the
episode refuses to dig deeper for something more challenging, which is
ironic considering one of the episode's main themes is about seeking out
When it comes down to it, what is this episode all about? Well, several
things. It's about establishing a set of aliens who are different from the
average Delta Quadrant Joe. It's about turning the tables in a way that
gives the deserving people their just deserts. It's about outsmarting the
smart guys. It's about putting aside hostilities with the "bad guys" to
work toward a common goal. It's even about Seven of Nine's sense of
Fine and good. I'm glad it's about all these things. What I'm frustrated
about is that it's not about any of these things *enough*. "Think Tank" is
amiable, but too tame on each of its levels.
The title comes from a group of very smart aliens--perhaps smart to the
point of arrogance--who roam the galaxy and solve problems. What they ask
in return for solving your problem is ... ah, but there's your source of
Janeway has a problem. Voyager has suddenly found itself on the run from
the Hazari, a race of bounty hunters hired by an unknown third party.
Chakotay muses: Could the contract have been put out by the Malon? The
Devore? I suppose it's nice to hear these names again. Or, on second
thought, maybe not. Didn't we leave the Malon some 10 or more years behind
us because of the events of "Timeless"? And didn't the Devore agree to
leave "botched enough" alone? Heck, at this point, maybe the *Borg* should
be considered as a group that might send bounty hunters after Janeway &
Co.--they might have better luck.
Anyway, surrounded with nowhere to go, this "think tank" offers Janeway a
way out. The think tank in question is comprised of numerous aliens, most
of them more "alien" than the typical new-Trek alien tends to be. That is
to say, most of them are weird-looking props, which serves to enhance the
TOS feel of the show. That's fine. I like the idea of something different
from the typical routine alien that Voyager has served up through most of
its run--even if it is a hunk of rubber in a bubbling water tank. And the
idea here--that of a group with the ability to solve problems because of
their cooperative telepathic link--is a potentially interesting concept.
The spokes-alien for the group is Kurros (Jason Alexander, in a role that's
about as far away from George Costanza in temperament as he probably can
get). Kurros makes his offer to Janeway, but what he wants isn't something
Janeway wants to give up: namely, Seven of Nine.
The real gold in "Think Tank" (or, at least, the gold before the story
decides to run with its other plot elements) lies within the choice Seven
must make. Kurros' offer is a genuine one, and an intriguing one: He offers
Seven the opportunity to join his think tank community.
The questions here are somewhat interesting on character terms: Given
Seven's mental abilities and the expansive knowledge she gained as a Borg,
is she capable of more than what her role on Voyager offers? Kurros asks
the question flat-out: Is where you're at a challenge? Are you realizing
your potential? The knee-jerk-reaction answer seems to be no.
I appreciated that this episode had Seven question her role on Voyager (if
only briefly), and I liked even more that Janeway gives Seven the choice to
leave Voyager if that's what she wants to do. The prospect of becoming
useless or squandering one's own potential is a frightening one (as another
recent Trek example, I'm reminded of Kor from DS9's "Once More Unto the
Breach" earlier this season), and Seven's role on Voyager, essentially
running routine errands (as Kurros sees it, anyway), could be construed as
quite a waste. Questioning one's role in life strikes me as a logical
direction for Seven to go in her ongoing quest for individuality.
Unfortunately, this story element is cast aside as an incidental before
it's all over, and the "action" quickly takes control of the helm. (At one
point, an entire planet is blown up here as an impetus for a tactical
moment, bordering on needless spectacle.) Seven declines Kurros' offer. Not
surprisingly, Kurros isn't the type of guy who takes no for an answer.
Fortunately for "Think Tank," the think tank isn't quite so boring as to
turn to outright force. Instead, Voyager simply finds itself on its own
with the Hazari fleet closing in. The twist, of course, is that Kurros and
the think tank have manipulated the whole game from square one: Unbeknownst
even to the Hazari, they were the group who hired the Hazari to track down
Voyager in the first place. Why? Because they at some point became aware of
Seven and decided they *really* wanted her to join them. Why? Because she's
"unique." If that motivation satisfies you, great. If not, you're probably
as frustrated as I sometimes got during this episode.
I did appreciate that, for once, the "bad guys" turn out not to be as
hard-headed as Voyager baddies often are. The Hazari are actually willing
to listen to Janeway's negotiation attempts, and it's through this dialog
that everyone learns the think tank is the player manipulating the entire
Therefore, the plot ultimately becomes a game of wits. The mission:
out-think the think tank.
One might think this would be a difficult challenge that would be fun to
watch unfold. But the biggest problem with this episode is that the think
tank isn't as smart as they purport to be--either that, or the writers
weren't thinking on levels high enough to be worthy of such a "brilliant"
Personally, I found the game of deception and wits to be much more
skillfully pulled off in "Counterpoint." In that episode, the audience
wasn't in on the tricks and deceptions until after the game was played; as
a result, the twists were more satisfying to watch unfold. Suspense here is
never really an issue because Janeway's Brilliant Master Plan is mostly
revealed in dialog beforehand. All that's left are the game's nuances, few
of which come off as particularly surprising.
Supposedly, the whole issue comes down to one of "cheating" the game (which
naturally demands us to think of Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru
puzzle, but never mind). My question: If the think tank is so smart, why
didn't they anticipate Janeway's course of action? I mean, it's not *that*
brilliant, really. I suppose there has to be a line drawn somewhere in
order for Voyager to outsmart the bad guys, but the game doesn't quite get
off the ground before it's all over.
On the story's less-than-challenging terms, I enjoyed seeing the tables
being turned at the end, so that Kurros and his smug think tank find
themselves under attack by the Hazari whom they deceived.
Still, the better part of me musk ask whether such evolved, intelligent
beings are simply being wasted by being plugged into a plot that once again
makes the human sensibility the benchmark of morality while absolute
intelligence merely corrupts absolutely. And, of course, the Hazari, being
the violent mercenary type, don't hesitate before turning their collective
firepower on the think tank, who are simply getting what they deserve. I
guess it would be too much of a drag to approach the episode on more
thoughtful terms, where the moral questions of power and responsibility are
approached with a complexity that necessitates more than a few clever
tricks and a lot of weapons fire.
Yet somehow, through all of this, I was reasonably entertained. I wanted a
lot more, yes, but the story as pitched isn't bad--just an unsurprising
underachievement ... standard fare executed with reasonable skill and not a
whole lot of imagination.
But I want a challenge, and I hope this series tries something more risky
before the season is over. The Delta Quadrant is feeling pretty stale these
days. I hope the Paramount think tank will come up with something fresh.
Upcoming: Reruns. See you in four weeks, sooner on the DS9 side.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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