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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Warhead"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Warhead. If you haven t seen the show yet, beware. Nutshell: Ho-hum. Plot description: An
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 1999
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Warhead."
      If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.

      Nutshell: Ho-hum.

      Plot description: An advanced, sentient weapon of mass destruction seizes
      control of the Doctor's program and demands Janeway let it complete its
      destructive mission.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Warhead"

      Airdate: 5/19/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Michael Taylor & Kenneth Biller
      Story by Brannon Braga
      Directed by John Kretchmer

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "When a bomb starts talking about itself in the third person, I get worried."
      -- Paris (in second season's "Dreadnought")
      "What about when it's talking about itself in the *first* person?"
      -- Jammer (talking about this episode, and referring to himself in the
      third person)

      It's moments like "Warhead" that make me wonder how much life the Star Trek
      franchise has left in it. With the end of DS9--the most challenging
      incarnation of the franchise--now upon us, I'm realizing that Voyager will
      be all that's left to speak for Trek--for a while, anyway. An episode like
      this makes me wonder how much is left to be said, because what's said here
      has been said many times before--and "Warhead" doesn't find a particularly
      riveting new spin on the material.

      "Warhead" plays like an "all-new" remake of some lost TOS episode. True,
      it's updated with the Voyager quota of technical jargon and current
      production values. But it seems like we're covering ground that was covered
      back in 1967. There's a scene here where the Voyager away team beams down
      to a planet surface for investigation. This planet is obviously a set, much
      the way the TOS planets were obviously sets. It's like meeting an old
      friend--the fake-looking planet. And, theme-wise, it's almost as if a Trek
      script were put into a time capsule long ago and recently rediscovered and
      run through production. Are the themes "universal"? Maybe. Are they
      challenging? Not particularly. Are they familiar? You'd better believe it.

      The high-concept phrase du jour might best be encapsulated by Janeway's
      clever tagline utterance: "outsmart the smart bomb." The plot develops in
      purely Trekkian formula fashion, as an away team brings back a lost,
      unknown life form. The life form is actually an artificial intelligence
      inside a metallic device. It's programmed with sentience. Unfortunate for
      Our Heroes, but fortunate for those interested in suspense-game plots, the
      metallic device is actually a weapon of mass destruction--a bomb guided by
      an intelligence but programmed to complete its mission at all costs. The
      bomb communicates by talking to the Doctor, who can translate its bleeps
      and bloops into useful words, thanks to his handy internal translation
      matrix. (The most obvious line of dialog that is, surprisingly, not present
      here: "I'm a Doctor, not an interpreter.")

      The Smart Bomb is initially unaware of its purpose because of gaps in its
      memory. Suddenly, however, the Bomb realizes what it is--at which point it
      transfers its program into the Doctor's holographic matrix and hijacks
      Voyager, threatening to detonate if the crew doesn't help it complete its
      mission of mass destruction.

      The bulk of the episode is about how the crew must attempt to negotiate
      with this Bomb and, ultimately, outsmart it. I should probably point out
      that it's late in the season, where the cumulative bore effect of these
      types of mechanical plots begins to take its toll on my brain. I certainly
      can't say I was wrapped up in the overall idea of the ship being threatened
      with a big explosion--again. (To boot, this makes back-to-back episodes
      about preventing bombs from detonating.)

      The idea of trying to out-smart the smart bomb isn't ill-conceived, but nor
      does it have much zip to it. Everything about this episode feels like Just
      Another Day at the Office. There are some crew-concocted plans here,
      including one involving a "clever" distraction and Yet Another Use of
      Seven's Nanoprobes, those microscopic, miracle, all-purpose
      sabotage/medical/assimilation tools. (Order now! Operators are standing by.)

      The substance of the episode arises from Harry's attempts to reason with
      the Smart Bomb, which was apparently programmed with a zero-patience
      personality harboring more paranoia than Richard Belzer.

      Honestly, if this Bomb has been sitting inactive for two or three years,
      what's its big rush? What difference would another couple hours of
      reasonable investigation into its memory files make? If the Bomb is
      "sentient," it should have the capability to reason--but, conveniently, it
      must also answer to "destroy the enemy"-type directives that make it more
      uncontrollable than it need be. (Why give a doomsday device sentience if
      you're also giving it inconsistent logical directives?)

      Again and again the Smart Bomb makes threats. Finally, when the Bomb says
      it's going to explode and kill everybody if Janeway doesn't help it
      complete its mission, I was thrilled when Janeway said, "Go ahead." It's
      good to see someone stand up to a bullying bomb.

      The concluding dramatics are laid on entirely too heavily, as Harry and the
      Doc-Bomb get into shouting matches that are supposed to be exciting, I
      suppose, but really just don't have the punch they aspire to reach. Urgent
      histrionics just aren't Garrett Wang's specialty, and Robert Picardo's
      shouting goes overboard into thespian excess. The scene feels stilted
      rather than strong.

      It also doesn't help that the Bomb pulls a complete 180 in the eleventh
      hour concerning its attitude. For most of the show the Bomb is completely
      unwilling to access its memory banks to find the truth, then suddenly, it
      comes to some realization that Violence Is Bad, and checks its memory to
      find it had been ordered to deactivate years ago. It concludes that it can
      trust the Voyager crew then cease and desist. Under the story's execution,
      the Bomb's change of mind is so jarring it simply isn't believable.

      Subsequently, the Bomb goes on a suicide mission to destroy several dozen
      other bombs like itself that have also been floating around. Apparently,
      these other bombs *cannot* be reasoned with. Why? Superficially, because of
      some arbitrary plot point. Dramatically, it's because if these bombs could
      be reasoned with, we wouldn't have a nice tidy ending, a noble Bomb
      sacrifice, the satisfaction of our Starfleet philosophies triumphing yet
      again, and the huge explosion of dozens of bombs as icing on the cake. This
      is a good example of Trek succumbing to its own narcissism.

      I don't mean to sound overly negative, because there are some positive
      aspects to "Warhead." First of all, I appreciated that it managed to be an
      ensemble show rather than a run-with-one-character showpiece. It was good
      that the story teamed up B'Elanna and Harry again, something we haven't
      seen in awhile. It's also nice to see the writers give Harry something to
      do (his night-shift command with the junior officers' perspective had an
      interesting feel to it)--even though, admittedly, the writers have cornered
      him into forever being the resident dork such that the character might be a
      lost cause.

      What "Warhead" cannot do is sustain the tension. I've seen these Trekkian
      issues applied so many times through the years that the interest wanes
      without a fresh approach or a new set of questions. The underlying problem
      with much of "Warhead" is that the plot lives and dies on the execution of
      its threats and plot-twist dynamics, little of which are remotely original.
      As for the Trekkian themes, they're present in abundance: mutual trust,
      non-violence, cooperation, understanding, sacrifice for the greater good.
      But they all seem so obvious. It's nice that Star Trek overall still
      manages to avoid cynicism. But with a story so toothless and transparent,
      how useful are those themes?

      For solid entertainment, not very.

      Next week: Season finale. Voyager has an unexpected run-in with another
      Federation starship. (And this time it's real!)

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

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://st-hypertext.trekseek.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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