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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Someone to Watch Over Me"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode Someone to Watch Over Me. If you haven t seen the show yet, beware. Nutshell: A
    Message 1 of 1 , May 8, 1999
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "Someone
      to Watch Over Me." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.

      Nutshell: A delightfully pleasant, hilarious, and sincere hour.

      Plot description: Under the guidance of the Doctor, Seven of Nine learns
      some social aspects of human dating.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Someone to Watch Over Me"

      Airdate: 4/28/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Michael Taylor
      Story by Brannon Braga
      Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***1/2

      "How the hell do you know when we're having intimate relations?"
      "There is no one on deck 9, section 12, that doesn't know when you're
      having intimate relations."
      -- B'Elanna and Seven

      Some of the best comedies are the ones that dare to be true to human nature
      rather than simply going for the isolated gag. Elaborate gags are fine, and
      comedy can certainly work when arranged through ridiculous, manufactured
      situations (just look at much of "Seinfeld's" run, for a good example), but
      there's something to be said for the simple comedy that runs with a basic
      situation and doesn't go for the contrived, overblown payoff.

      "Someone to Watch Over Me" is a human comedy with a ring of truth. The
      concept behind the story is relatively simple: Seven of Nine takes dating
      lessons. The result is an hour that takes many of the expected comic paths
      in ways that are impressively sincere, and also finds a bittersweet
      undercurrent that leaves one charmed. It's a straightforward story well
      conceived by Brannon Braga and well told by Michael Taylor, in probably the
      latter's best work of the season.

      There are probably about a million ways this story could've gone wrong and
      ended up looking just plain silly. Somehow, the story manages to steer
      clear of almost every trace of stupidity. Sure, sometimes the humor is
      obvious, but we sense that, given these characters' personas, it's
      precisely what would happen under the circumstances.

      The one who gives Seven dating lessons is, of course, the Doctor. The funny
      thing about Doc is that he is in a situation similar to Seven's--somewhat
      outside the understanding of human existence. But the difference is that he
      has a certain perceptiveness of human behavior that Seven seems to lack
      (and he therefore considers himself something of an expert). He also has a
      desire to fit in as a human, whereas Seven seems somewhat more content
      being "unique."

      So who else would be fit to give Seven lessons on dating, that strange
      human custom that Jerry Seinfeld likens to a job interview?

      Seven will probably always be Seven, but she does try to be more human. (At
      the hour's beginning, she's watching Tom and B'Elanna eating dinner, and,
      much to B'Elanna's dismay, reveals that she has been observing and logging
      the couple's intimate activities for days.)

      The Doctor's tutelage comes in the form of chapter-by-chapter lessons, with
      the chapters having titles like "Beguiling Banter," "Dress for Success,"
      and "Shall We Dance?"

      Watching Seven engage in dating behavior is hilarious, because the most
      important aspect of her social development--how to talk in human terms
      rather than Borg ones--is still somewhat lagging. Seven always speaks in
      terse, matter-of-fact phrases that often feature computer-like words like
      "terminated." She also has a tendency to make verbal mandates rather than
      requests. For her, verbal communication conveys fact, not emotion. She aims
      for efficiency, not courtesy. So when you plug that pattern of speech into
      a dating situation, you get almost instant comedy.

      Doc's plan takes Seven through a series of social interaction exercises,
      including one particularly cute scene where Doc and Seven sing a duet of
      "You Are My Sunshine." (Here, having Jeri Ryan sing works as a legitimate
      aspect of the story, rather than seeming gratuitous the way it was in last
      season's "Killing Game.") Eventually, Seven is ready to make a selection
      for her first date, which she does by narrowing to two candidates a list of
      crew members based on compatible interests and duty efficiency. ("You are
      not one of the candidates, Ensign," she informs a hopeful Harry. Heh.)

      For her first date, Seven recruits, er, requests the presence of one Lt.
      Chapman (Brian McNamara) for dinner in the holodeck, whom she asks out in a
      way that's as terse and matter-of-fact as one would probably expect a Borg
      might ask someone out.

      The date itself is charmingly funny. One would expect it to be a disaster.
      It pretty much is. But what I like most about the date scene--and the
      episode in general--is the way the characters try so hard to make
      everything work. The scene could've played the wrong notes and embarrassed
      both characters beyond our ability to feel good about what unfolded, but it
      doesn't. Instead, both characters genuinely try to make the best of a very
      awkward set of situations. This scene deserves credit because it allows
      Chapman not only to be incredibly nervous, but also very understanding.
      Poor Seven just doesn't comprehend these human customs, but she tries the
      best she can to play along. And Chapman tries to salvage the evening
      several times by maintaining patience and composure, and suggesting that
      perhaps they try a different activity. When the lobster dinner falls
      through, he recommends dancing ... which lands him in sickbay with a torn
      ligament when Seven attempts a more complex dancing maneuver.

      All of the mini-disasters and the awkwardness in the dialog prove very
      amusing, but the lighthearted sincerity of good-natured effort is what
      really makes the scene work. Even though the date, as expected, sinks about
      as fast as the Titanic, both characters somehow survive with their dignity
      intact. Doc's presence as the piano player/chaperone provides a nice touch
      for some subtle laughs on the side.

      Robert Duncan McNeill, who directed, shows a skill for comic timing with a
      light touch. A lot of the humor in this episode could've suffered if it had
      been blunt and in-your-face in execution, but instead it's somewhat
      understated, which I think is a very wise choice. The episode seems more
      human and less manufactured as a result.

      Also, it's nice to see Tom's Marseilles restaurant brought back from
      holodeck oblivion. I've always thought it had the most class of the Voyager
      holodeck hangouts, though I must share Tom's disappointment at the deletion
      of the pool table.

      Performances are key to success in a story like this. McNamara is effective
      as the likable but ill-fated first-date victim. But, naturally, this is
      Jeri Ryan's vehicle to carry. I realized here more than ever before that
      Ryan gets great acting mileage out of her eyes. Because Seven is generally
      very subtle when it comes to emotion and facial expressions, it's eye
      language that most often shows how she's feeling, whether it's the terror
      of arriving at that first date or the bemused wonder of letting her hair
      down for the sake of appearance.

      Of course, we can't forget about Robert Picardo, who brings the usual mix
      of sincerity, sensitivity, and manic over-eagerness to the character. Just
      as Seven is Seven, Doc is Doc: a well-intentioned guy who begins realize
      he's getting more than he bargained for in giving Seven these lessons on
      romance. He silently begins to fall for the pupil, which makes for the
      story's bittersweet coda, where Doc realizes that Seven probably doesn't
      share the feelings--but can't be sure because he can't muster the will to ask.

      It's clear Seven and Doc share a respect and friendship that is unique, but
      the question, I think, is whether Seven has the capacity at this point to
      even feel something for Doc--or for anyone. Through all the dating practice
      and social lessons, does Seven see this as anything more than an elaborate
      human exercise? I'm guessing she doesn't really have the need or desire for
      romance, and it's apparent her ideal "compatible mate" does not exist,
      simply because the parameters she sets for compatibility are too narrow.

      There's also a B-plot here that is good for some laughs, as Neelix finds
      himself in over his head in showing around an alien guest of honor, Tomin
      (Scott Thompson), who overindulges in spicy foods and synthehol, going
      against the traditions of his people. Neelix can't control Tomin's
      indulgences, and Tomin eventually gets so drunk he can't stand, leading
      Neelix to fear that his babysitting of the guest will end in an unpleasant
      embarrassment. (Neelix: "The captain will be back tomorrow. What do I do?!"
      Chakotay: "Pray.")

      However, I really could've done without Tomin interrupting the hour's peace
      and good will with that obnoxiously drunken outburst. (The whole show
      benefits from being tranquil, so why ruin a good thing?) Most of the
      material is fine as lightweight subplots go, but I wish it had backed off
      at the end, because in an hour almost completely free of conventional
      cynicism, Tomin's angry drunkenness begins to show the hints of a mean
      spirit that should've been barred from the set.

      Anyway, even Tomin's outburst can't bring down a scene where Seven
      accompanies Doc to a party, and where she makes a toast to "the things that
      make us unique." Seven can fit in when she tries, but it requires her to
      relax and feel comfortable, and it's interesting that Doc is one of the few
      people who can help her feel that way.

      Doc and Seven's rapport is an interesting phenomenon. At one point Seven
      calls dating inefficient, saying the communication she shares with the
      Doctor is more useful, since they say what they mean. But that's sort of
      the point: Dating isn't supposed to exemplify efficiency; it's customary,
      ritual human behavior. For Seven to understand it would require her to
      better understand humanity. That's the quest. She has come quite a way
      since "The Gift," but there's still a long way to go. In the meantime, I
      suppose she can take satisfaction in being unique.

      Next week: Y2K makes Voyager blow up. (Okay, maybe not.)

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

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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