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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Equinox, Part II"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Equinox, Part II. If you haven t seen the show yet, beware. Nutshell: A lot of good
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 1999
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Equinox,
      Part II." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.

      Nutshell: A lot of good character work within a good action show, although
      there are enough questionable moments to hold it back.

      Plot description: As Janeway's determination to capture Captain Ransom
      becomes an obsession, Ransom begins having second thoughts about his methods.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Equinox, Part II"

      Airdate: 9/22/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
      Directed by David Livingston

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "He'll break." -- Janeway, defending roundabout torture

      If you're a fan of Janeway in badass mode, you will probably revel in
      "Equinox, Part II," an episode that shows Janeway's teeth at perhaps their
      most sharpened--a captain who on this day is not taking any prisoners,
      conveyed by a Kate Mulgrew performance whose take-charge-of-a-scene
      attitude is capable of sending chills.

      On a story level, "Equinox, Part II" manages to work fairly well, too.
      Given the preset stipulations--i.e., it must be resolved in an hour,
      regular characters cannot be radically changed or killed, the Equinox must
      be destroyed, peace with the aliens must be attained, and Captain Ransom
      must die (I just can't picture an ending where the writers would've let him
      live)--"Equinox II" manages to get a good amount of mileage out of the story.

      Whereas "Equinox, Part I" seemed more focused on showing us who these
      Equinox crew members were, what they were hiding and planning, and the hell
      they'd been through that made them less likely to listen to their
      consciences, "Equinox, Part II" is essentially finished with that stage of
      the story; the motives have been set in motion and the show launches into
      action mode. But is that all?

      Well, thankfully, no, that's not all.

      "Equinox II" is ready to launch into its new action-oriented direction, but
      it's also ready to think about how it's getting there. When we last left
      Janeway and her crew, Voyager was coming under attack by a swarm of aliens
      from another realm--aliens who were attacking in retaliation for being used
      as "fuel" for Ransom's jerry-rigged warp drive. (I'm not sure exactly what
      to call these nameless aliens other than the CGI aliens; the show never
      calls them anything except "the aliens" or "the lifeforms.") Ransom had
      escaped in the Equinox along with hostages Seven and Doc, while the
      Equinox's EMH, sans ethical subroutines, had smuggled himself aboard
      Voyager, where he began pretending to be the Voyager EMH.

      Oh yes ... and of course, Janeway Was Going to Die--we love our pretentious

      So, anyway, "Equinox II" begins again. The Voyager crew has temporarily
      shielded itself from the aliens, while Ransom finds he can't use his
      modified engine device because Seven had locked out the stolen
      techno-ma-whozit device with security codes.

      So the primary outline for "Equinox II": Ransom wants those codes, and
      Janeway wants Ransom.

      There's something nice about the episode's underlying simplicity. The plot
      goals are clear, but how the episode gets where it's going is where things
      turn interesting--sometimes extremely interesting.

      First, foremost, and most attention-grabbing is what effect Ransom's escape
      has on Captain Janeway. She launches into a single-minded obsession to stop
      Ransom at damn near any cost. This obsession is the Janeway equivalent of
      Picard's obsession to stop the Borg in "First Contact" or, more similar,
      Sisko's obsession to catch Eddington in "For the Uniform." Watching Janeway
      take this situation so personally works every bit as well and for many of
      the same reasons as when Sisko took Eddington's betrayal personally. Ransom
      has betrayed his uniform, and Janeway, being the only Starfleet captain
      within many thousands of light-years, is going to stop him.

      What I found particularly compelling was the extent to which the writers
      took this idea. If there's one thing they *didn't* do, it was play it safe.
      Janeway, often a character whose decisions have come across as
      controversial and even reckless, goes probably farther here than ever
      before, telling her first officer in no uncertain terms that she's "damned
      angry," and that if he wants to consider her unwillingness to back down as
      motivated by a personal vendetta, then so be it.

      The Janeway/Chakotay interaction here made me sit up and take notice. It's
      been some time since we've seen some really memorable interaction between
      the two of them, and in terms of seeing them strictly as the captain and
      first officer tackling a problem (complicated here by the fact they're in
      extreme disagreement) this is one of the strongest-played uses of
      Janeway/Chakotay in years.

      Most of that can be attributed to the fact Janeway's actions venture
      dangerously near the realm of wrong-headed insanity. Janeway seems to be
      putting her vendetta first, and Voyager's safety and her own principles
      second. Although the show itself isn't so bold as to resort to such a
      comic-book statement, it's clear she WANTS RANSOM, in all capital letters.

      All I can say is: Don't get on Janeway's bad side. At one point the crew
      cleverly captures two of Ransom's away team on the surface of a planet.
      Janeway brings one of them, Crewman Lessing, into the cargo bay for
      questioning. She wants Lessing to tell her about Ransom's tactical status.
      When he refuses to talk, she threatens to lower the shields in the room and
      turn the CGI aliens loose on him in order to speed the interrogation along.

      Chakotay at first thinks this is a game of "good cop, bad cop," but Janeway
      isn't playing. Nor is she bluffing.

      Quite simply, the sight of Janeway standing ice cold in her place--having
      locked Lessing alone in the cargo bay with some none-too-happy aliens, and
      now firmly reassuring Chakotay (none too sympathetically) that "he'll
      break"--is downright frightening. "What's happened to you, Kathryn?"
      Chakotay asks at one point. I wanted to ask the same question. I haven't
      seen this Janeway before. She doesn't answer to anyone. With no Starfleet
      watching over her soldier, how could she be stopped if she continued down
      such a dangerous path?

      Mulgrew is quite mesmerizing. While a dangerous, self-destructive Janeway
      like this might be lost upon the Voyager audience if used too often, in
      small doses it's compelling stuff. And although Janeway pushes the envelope
      of her authority oh-so-far (as do the writers, really), there's an
      awareness buried somewhere beneath Janeway's madness--she simply wants
      what's just. Unfortunately, the price is too high and she almost completely
      loses Chakotay's confidence in the process.

      In another scene (which would've been more powerful if not for the hokey
      CGI aliens goofily swirling about and shrieking), she negotiates an
      arrangement with the aliens, promising to deliver the Equinox to them if
      they call off their attacks. When Tuvok objects, saying it will mean
      certain death for the Equinox crew, Janeway's answer is, "I've already
      confined my first officer to quarters. Would you like to join him?"

      Ransom has his own problems, and they're mostly coming from within. You
      see, he's disabled Doc's ethical subroutines so he'll perform an operation
      on Seven that will forcibly extract the codes, which she is refusing to
      give. This will leave Seven with severe brain damage. Ransom doesn't want
      to do it, but he has "no choice," a term that he tends to overuse as
      rationalization, which Seven aptly points out. It gets Ransom to thinking,
      and eventually struggling. He has already devalued the lives of the CGI
      aliens. Can he bring himself to devalue the life of another human being?
      Although nicely documented, Ransom's role in this half of "Equinox" is less
      interesting than Janeway's, probably because it's more expected: He is a
      Starfleet captain after all, and his decision to ultimately do the Right
      Thing and surrender is an ending to his tale that I can barely envision
      playing out any other way.

      In the meantime, the action elements are mostly well placed here. The FX
      are above average, and David Livingston keeps the story moving along at a
      nice pace. And there's always something unsettling about seeing two
      Federation starships firing on each other.

      Of course, in the process of the plot we somehow also get our fill of the
      Ryan and Picardo Duet [TM]. I don't know why, but it's hard to view a Jeri
      Ryan Singing Scene objectively anymore. Yeah, she can sing, but in an
      episode like this it's hard for it to come across as non-gratuitous.

      It's when we get into the final act that I have some bigger reservations
      about the plot. Ransom decides to surrender, which may be sudden
      backpedaling considering his previous actions, but still backpedaling that
      makes sense given how much we saw Ransom go through in the course of the
      hour. I thought his nagging visions of Seven speaking as his conscience in
      the scenery program came off as fairly appropriate given the circumstances.

      On the other hand, one of the show's bigger failures is its superficial use
      of Max Burke. In part one, Max had some fairly intriguing scenes with
      B'Elanna that hinted that this guy was a potential three-dimensional
      character. But in this half, alas, the writers utilize Max as a Convenient
      Plot Pawn [TM]. Once Ransom has come to his realization and intends to
      surrender, Max pulls a phaser and becomes a non-surrendering mutiny, the
      avenue through which the story can still end with him, Ransom, and the
      Equinox being destroyed, thereby satisfying, we presume, the CGI aliens'
      blood lust. While other members of the Equinox crew are brought aboard
      Voyager (including Lessing and Gilmore, who had better become recurring
      characters after all this), this ending makes for a lot of convenient
      conditions that let both Ransom and Janeway off the hook for their actions.
      One wonders what the consequences might've been had things played out

      Also, there are some gaping plot holes that simply had me confused. For
      starters, how did Doc get from the Equinox computer system back aboard
      Voyager? And how did he get his ethical subroutines back? As far as I can
      tell, no explanation is supplied; it's almost as if a scene ended up on the
      cutting room floor. In one scene Doc's operating on Seven, then the plot
      develops away from him for about 10 minutes and the next thing we know he's
      suddenly back aboard Voyager confronting the "bad" EMH.

      And about this confrontation--it sure ranks as a lame one: Doc walks in and
      says, "Computer, delete the Equinox EMH," and, sure enough, the Equinox EMH
      vanishes, game over. Talk about your convenient ways to off a bad guy. Come
      on, people.

      Problems aside, "Equinox, Part II" is possibly Voyager's best season
      kickoff. While this half of "Equinox" doesn't begin to revisit many of the
      issues of Starfleet officers pushed to their limits in the Delta Quadrant
      (a la part one), overall, it's done better than the first part, and it
      finds an angle almost as interesting, showing the obsessions of Janeway's
      sense of moral righteousness--which nearly degenerates into an
      eye-for-an-eye mentality that she alone intends to see through. She
      ultimately doesn't have to, but seeing her intent is certainly worth the time.

      The final scene on the Voyager bridge seems to indicate that Janeway
      realizes and regrets how far she crossed the line, and how she all but
      abandoned her first officer and crew. She admits quietly to Chakotay that
      he might've had good reason for his own mutiny. And I liked the symbolism
      of the fallen Voyager dedication plaque. "All these years, all these
      battles; this thing's never fallen down before," Janeway notes. The
      implications are interesting. As a unit of Starfleet ideals, Janeway's
      vendetta may have taken Voyager as far off course as it has been. And I
      particularly like the fact she realizes that.

      Next week: The Borg Are Back [TM], and Seven May Return to the Collective

      Jammer trailer commentary: I've seen some press information about this
      upcoming show, and from what I understand, there's much more to this
      episode than what the trailer would have us believe. Obviously, UPN
      marketing isn't trying to appeal to Voyager viewers, since any loyal
      Voyager viewer's reaction to this promo is likely to be, "What? Again?!" I
      guess, as always, they're trying to appeal to would-be Voyager converts who
      haven't seen the other Voyager Borg episodes. But, really, are the Borg
      still *that* marketable that a "Borg Are Back" preview is considered the
      most effective approach?

      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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