[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Alice"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Alice."
If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
Nutshell: Not bad--just really, really average.
Plot description: Paris undertakes a project to restore a highly
maneuverable shuttle ... but finds the project turning into a mysterious
obsession he cannot deny.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Alice"
Airdate: 10/20/1999 (USA)
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Story by Juliann deLayne
Directed by David Livingston
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **1/2
"Stay out of this, B'Elanna!"
"Or what? You'll sick Alice on me again?"
-- Paris and Torres, a lovers' spat for the books
I don't have much interesting to say about our friend "Alice." It's the
sort of middling plot-based story that just doesn't demand a great deal
of discussion. There aren't many themes that are sufficiently interesting
to dissect; there are no real insights or implications to ponder; there
are no real surprises; and unlike the previous four episodes, I didn't
get the sense that the characters were the important aspect of the story,
because it's the plot that's piloting this ship.
"Alice" is, however, a competent, watchable hour-long exercise with a few
interesting moments as well as some questionable ones. This sort of story
might best fall into the genre of "sci-fi procedural." It's not quite
engaging enough to be labeled a mystery. Not boring enough to be labeled
a failure. "Alice" so much tempts me to offer up a non-reaction reaction.
More than anything else, "Alice" seems to demonstrate that Paris is not
all that complicated a character like Torres, the Doctor, or Seven. If we
take "Alice" as any indication, Paris is a "pilot." Who else is he? Who
knows? This plot seems to see him as one of those guys who defines what
he does with who he is. Okay, fine. But in an episode that's about mental
manipulation and, apparently, personal inner desires, you'd think maybe
there'd be more to find out about this guy.
The story uses elements of Paris that are in line with what we know of
him, but the story doesn't go anywhere new with them. In accordance with
episodes like "Extreme Risk," "Vis A Vis," or even (dare I mention it)
"Threshold," this episode sees Paris as the Expert Pilot, a guy whose
dream in life is to attain some sort of pilot's pinnacle of the
aesthetically perfect flight.
This time Paris finds himself falling in love with a run-down old shuttle
that a merchant is willing to unload for a reasonable price. Paris is
certain: Inside this little relic is the potential of an
ultra-maneuverable dream machine. In keeping with ancient naval tradition
(and in pushing the foreboding factor), everyone calls this ship "she."
Paris eventually names her "Alice." Alice is equipped with an advanced
neural interface that connects directly into the brain, allowing the most
efficient of all piloting methods: you think what you want and it
Well, the alarms should be going off by now; any Star Trek premise where
a piece of technology is being hooked directly into a character's brain
is all but guaranteed to turn into a bizarre, hallucinatory mind-takeover
plot. "Alice" is no exception. It's an average take on the material. This
isn't new stuff, but it's competently put together. Competent, not
Alice is a weird beast. The camera bears down on the shuttle ominously,
and soon we realize that it's somehow alive ... sort of. The idea reminds
us of "Christine." Is Alice evil? What is Alice doing to Paris?
The second question is perhaps the more easily answered. Paris develops
an obsession to make repairs and bring Alice's systems on-line as quickly
as possible. Every moment of his free time is spent on the restoration
project. And soon we see that he begins hallucinating; Alice becomes
personified in the form of a mysterious woman (Claire Rankin) who talks
to him constantly, reminding him that the most important thing in his
life now is preparing for their first flight. Before too long, Paris is
disobeying orders and stealing components to get Alice up and running.
Most of "Alice" is clear-cut plotting setup, but there are some attempted
character themes that find their way into the story. Of course, one is
the Paris/Torres interaction, which follows more or less expected, but
not wrong-headed, lines. Torres objects to being ignored; Paris, under
the spell of the addictive Alice, thinks she's overreacting and brushes
her aside, without even realizing it.
As Paris' behavior continues to venture into the obsessive, Torres is
finally forced to confront him about it. At this point we get a
horror-movie-inspired sequence in which Torres becomes locked inside the
shuttle and the computer vents the atmosphere, nearly killing her. This
reality check prompts Paris to try to give up his obsession, but Alice
won't let him--threatening to, well, blow up his head if he doesn't do
what she wants.
So now it's time for the questions: What is this shuttle? Is it sentient?
The episode seemingly writes it off as a "complex computer program," but
there are sketchy head-scratchers, like why anyone would build a shuttle
that actively tries to recruit its own pilot (and is looking for the
perfect "compatible" pilot, for that matter), and harms anyone who
refuses. The episode also isn't sure whether Alice is truly in control or
simply causing Paris to act out his ultimate piloting fantasy. There's a
reference made to the myth of Icarus (one of Paris' favorite legends, it
seems), followed by the Trekkian Icarus equivalent of Paris and Alice
setting course for a dangerous spatial phenomenon. Why? Is this Paris'
vie for flight perfection? Alice calls this phenomenon "home," but what
does that mean? The story doesn't tell us.
There seems to be a sort of "Halloween tale" motif here--where the story
is full of mysteries and weird unknowns that are supposed to pique the
imagination--but it's only sort of half-effective, and sort of
For that matter, I find it a little tough to swallow that Paris' brain
was "altered" in a way that makes him seemingly communicate with the
shuttle computer. The story calls it a "hallucination," yet one gets the
impression it goes a little further than that considering the shuttle
tries to suffocate Torres on its own accord. (How would killing Torres
help Alice's cause, anyway? That to me seems like a guarantee for an
instant investigation that would keep Alice from getting what it
wants--its tandem flight with Paris.)
I have mixed feelings about the performances. I liked some of the quiet
scenes between Paris and the Alice-image. McNeill does a good job with
the thousand-yard stare into space as he recites his Quiet Meaningful
Dialog about the ultimate flying experience. (The sentiment itself isn't
as captivating as it wants to be, but the delivery is pretty good.) On
the other hand, the key Paris/Torres scene after the
attempted-suffocation episode was hammered too hard with histrionics.
(The histrionics are understandable, but the scene feels off-kilter.)
In the end, the story executes well enough to hold its own and
temporarily (key word: temporarily) suspend our disbelief. But analysis
reveals too many unanswered questions, too much nonsense, and not enough
worthwhile character insights. The Paris/Torres relationship in
particular seems to end up as potential gone unrealized; their
interaction could've been really good, but is instead only adequate. I
also must voice the lack of satisfaction in learning that most of Paris'
early decisions weren't even really motivated by actual characterization
but rather the forced circumstances ("It's like I was sleepwalking").
As I write this, there's a Conan O'Brien rerun on TV. To borrow a phrase
I just overheard, I'll say that "Alice" is okay television--but it's
certainly not "compellivision."
Next week: A rerun of the Epic Voyager Telefilm [TM], "Dark Frontier."
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@...