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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Alice"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 27, 1999
      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@...
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