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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Dragon's Teeth"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Dragon s Teeth. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: The first few acts
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 18, 1999
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Dragon's
      Teeth." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      Nutshell: The first few acts are pretty good, with some interesting ideas
      and approaches, but the closing passages comprise a thoughtless mess that
      sinks the show.

      Plot description: From a stasis of nearly 900 years, the Voyager crew
      awakens members of an almost-wiped-out alien society, who now ask that
      Janeway help them escape their enemies so they can rebuild their way of
      life.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Dragon's Teeth"

      Airdate: 11/10/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Michael Taylor and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
      Story by Michael Taylor
      Directed by Winrich Koble

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "When it rains, do you run from doorway to doorway, trying to stay dry,
      getting wet all the while, or do you just accept the fact that it's raining
      and walk with dignity?"
      "Rain's one thing; plasma bombs are something else."
      "But the principle is the same."
      -- Gedrin and Janeway
      -----

      Perhaps the toughest question at the heart of "Dragon's Teeth" is where to
      draw the line between helpfulness and caution, between trust and skepticism,
      between exercising the Starfleet way of seeking out new civilizations and in
      fending for yourself because those you're seeking out might want to take you
      for a fool and hijack your ship.

      Actually, to say this question is at the "heart" of the show is probably
      wrong; this is an episode that can't maintain long enough focus on what's
      important. It ultimately can't really even seem to decide what's important.
      Or perhaps its most important goal is to supply a Trek show that has enough
      action and FX and bad guys to be worthy of November sweeps.

      If I sound somewhat cynical about "Dragon's Teeth," it's because it's an
      hour with some ideas that hold promise and deserve better treatment than
      they get. A lot of that promise, though, seems to be playing second fiddle
      to improbable movements in the plot and action that exist to fulfill some
      need to create a new Delta Quadrant enemy rather than to tell the story at
      hand.

      While "Dragon's Teeth" features some good elements, scrutiny uncovers too
      many moments that just aren't believable, and too many motivations that seem
      governed by the Plot Gods rather than believable characters within the given
      situations.

      It all starts about 900 years ago (892 according to Harry's handy
      estimates), as a society known as the Vaadwaur is bombed virtually out of
      existence. Several hundred survivors go deep underground into stasis
      chambers where they expect to wake up five years later and rebuild their
      world. Fast-forward almost 900 years, where Voyager happens upon this
      destroyed world while being chased by This Week's Xenophobes [TM], named the
      Turei, who are determined to hunt down Voyager and force them to erase all
      data pertaining to the subspace corridors Voyager had accidentally wandered
      into. These corridors are quite the commodity, permitting travel across long
      distances in very short periods of time. Such a commodity, in fact, that any
      outside knowledge of them is prohibited.

      Hiding out on the surface of the planet under an irradiated atmosphere,
      Voyager discovers the underground Vaadwaur survivors. In a moment of
      questionable judgment, Seven brings one of the survivors, a man named Gedrin
      (Jeff Allin), out of stasis. Gedrin tells the tale of his world's
      destruction, and we get an interesting recap of the Vaadwaur culture, which
      is revealed subtly over a number of scenes.

      Among the show's strengths is the way it gradually uncovers who the Vaadwaur
      are and what kind of intentions they might harbor. I liked the idea, for
      example, that the word "Vaadwaur" meant "foolish" in an ancient Talaxian
      tongue--the implications of which are revealed with a good amount of
      storytelling care. Neelix's role in the plot as he uncovers the linguistic
      mystery is commendable; the cipher of last year is now actually getting some
      material that shows him as a useful contributor to the ship's operations.

      There's also the interesting use of Vaadwaur beliefs that make for some good
      foreshadowing. Gedrin's analogy between falling bombs and falling rain
      ("Accept the fact that it's raining and walk with dignity") is a telling
      sign of the Vaadwaur warrior ethic, as is the Vaadwaur attitude to so easily
      accept death, as revealed in a scene (Torres' only scene, we must note) that
      draws a parallel between the Vaadwaur and the Klingons. And don't forget
      Naomi's reaction to the bad vibes she gets from the Vaadwaur children; in
      mass entertainment mediums, inherently perceptive kids who pick up bad vibes
      are never wrong.

      Unfortunately, what I have trouble with is the fact the episode goes to
      these nicely conveyed lengths to show us the Vaadwaur are a potentially
      dangerous bunch, yet the Voyager crew doesn't stop to ask the tough
      questions. That is to say: How prudent is it to uncork the bottle and wake
      up the "dragon's teeth" when they have their own ships and outnumber your
      people four to one?

      In fact, the placement of Chakotay's "dragon's teeth" tale *hurts* the
      overall scope of the episode. Said tale is about a slain dragon, whose
      teeth, after buried, became seeds that gave birth to new warriors to rise up
      against the enemy. A very interesting observation, I must say. But nobody
      seems to be listening. The episode makes the point and then the characters
      ignore it; Janeway agrees to help Gedrin's people escape the Turei by
      allowing him to wake up the remaining Vaadwaur survivors, who according to
      plan will escape the planet with Voyager's help, once the ship is repaired.

      Meanwhile, Neelix and Seven find historical evidence that the Vaadwaur had a
      warlike history that once extended through the Delta Quadrant thanks to the
      far reaches of the subspace corridors. The Vaadwaur were eventually
      conquered, but Voyager might become the long-deferred next victim. The
      episode makes it clear for us when we see Vaadwaur characters making plans
      to seize Voyager and use it as their new device to become competitors in the
      current century.

      So back to the first question posed in this review: Is Voyager obligated to
      help these people when turning away could mean the remainder of their
      culture being permanently annihilated? That's a toughie, and a question that
      somewhat justifies Janeway's decision to be a humanist and help out. But the
      episode itself doesn't consider the question long enough, and once it starts
      showing us evidence the Vaadwaur cannot be trusted, the plot hijacks the
      episode and makes almost every other choice in the course of the hour
      irrelevant. (At the very least, I am glad that Janeway didn't cave regarding
      the weapons issue, and that she wisely put her ship's safety first after
      Neelix's discovery was made clear.)

      But what could've been good analysis of a tough situation turns into a
      mindless wind-up action toy. Once Janeway confronts Gedrin with the
      historical evidence, Gedrin gives assurances that he is willing to accept
      peace and change in the new Delta Quadrant. Unfortunately, he's the only
      one. When it becomes clear to the other Vaadwaur that an attempted dupe of
      Janeway isn't going to help them become renewed conquerors, the plot
      instantly becomes "Voyager versus the Vaadwaur bad guys."

      This leads to an "action" finale where the Vaadwaur launch their ships to
      attack Voyager, and Voyager desperately tries to escape the planet's
      atmosphere before they are destroyed by the vengeful pack of Vaadwaur.
      Apparently realizing that the Vaadwaur alliance was a mistake all along,
      Janeway pulls a 180 and contacts the Turei and asks for their help to stop
      the Vaadwaur, who obviously want the subspace corridors back. Meanwhile,
      Tuvok and Gedrin beam down to the underground tunnels to contact an orbiting
      satellite that will help the Turei penetrate the atmospheric interference
      and bomb the remaining Vaadwaur from orbit.

      These events constitute a chaotic mess without regard for what any of it
      means.

      First of all, Janeway's 180 strikes me as based purely on convenience, as
      she essentially makes a deal to help one enemy destroy the other--while the
      story sits by and doesn't begin to consider the consequences. Sure, Voyager
      is in danger, but does that mean the entire remaining Vaadwaur culture is
      fair game for being destroyed by an orbital bombing (including the innocent
      children mentioned earlier in the episode)? That in itself might be
      debatable given the Vaadwaur's extreme actions, but my point is that this
      question is the farthest thing from the writers' minds. Janeway's decision
      seems more a result of the Plot Gods, who make the Vaadwaur into convenient
      Bad Guys who deserve to die for their cold, warrior-like inflexibility.
      Early in the episode the Vaadwaur (through Gedrin) can be seen as people,
      but by the end the Vaadwaur are hopeless villains with zero depth or desire
      to see reason. They're hell-bent on taking over the universe, or whatever.

      Meanwhile, the action scenes just don't work very well. Tuvok beams down to
      help Gedrin contact the satellite, but later beams up (we assume) in a
      manner that is executed so awkwardly that it almost appears Voyager leaves
      Tuvok behind. (And how would he beam up through all the interference and
      blocked communication signals, anyway? Convenient how the crew can't get a
      transporter lock on someone only when it suits the plot.) This of course
      means Gedrin will die alone in a cave-in, since any good-guy subset of the
      Bad Guys must be killed for their beliefs. But what about those beliefs?
      What exactly is it that makes Gedrin different from the rest of the "bad"
      Vaadwaur, except for the fact that he's the guest character with the most
      lines? By the end, he seems practically eager to go along with Janeway's
      teaming with the Turei, never mind that his own people will be slaughtered
      as a result. I don't buy it. (There's no room here for subtlety or torn
      loyalties; either you're with Voyager or you're not. Bah.)

      Voyager's escape from the atmosphere is anticlimactic, done with an
      unfollowable technobabble procedure that's supposed to have the urgency of,
      say, fighter pilots using flight jargon as they take emergency procedures to
      save themselves. Unfortunately, technobabble just doesn't have the same
      perceived credibility. This escape sequence is a joke.

      And although it's been awhile since I've climbed aboard the musical Trek
      bitch-train, I must point out that Jay Chattaway's notably unmusical score
      also didn't help matters in this final act. Are random-sounding, discordant
      notes supposed to constitute excitement? (Tell you what: Just let David Bell
      score the rest of the shows and we'll call it a season.)

      The deficiencies in action might've been okay if the ideas here were
      worthwhile, but the action is the episode's priority.

      The final scene tries to give the show some perspective, and, in theory, I
      liked the idea that Seven's intention to revive a culture is turned upside
      down into a violent showdown. But, again, it doesn't wash. The ending
      purports that the handful of Vaadwaur that escape are somehow going to be
      the new fearsome bad guys of the Delta Quadrant. Excuse me, but how?
      Resourceful or not, I'm with Seven: Their technology is nine centuries out
      of date, there's only 50-some of their ships floating around, and even with
      access to the corridors they're hardly invincible (otherwise, why would they
      even have needed Voyager in the first place?).

      I don't buy for one second Janeway's line, "the repercussions could be
      catastrophic," which was inserted solely for the audience's benefit as a cue
      that we'll be seeing the Vaadwaur again. (The whole idea is the writers'
      toss of a coin; if the line hadn't been there, we wouldn't expect to see
      them again and it'd be Voyager business as usual.) I also don't think the
      notion, however subtle, that this was in a way Seven's "fault" holds water.
      While I find interesting the idea that Seven perhaps set an ages-old
      conflict back into motion with one action, it ultimately isn't quite so
      simple. After all, Janeway's the one who decided to wake up the rest of the
      Vaadwaur.

      This nonsensical ending is really a shame, because this episode makes good
      use of Seven, whose appropriately interesting desire to rebuild a culture
      turns into a tragedy; makes good use of Neelix, whose use of historical
      knowledge and research goes a long way toward making him a useful character;
      features some well-done scenes early in the episode that maintain patience
      in establishing the Vaadwaur; and asks a few interesting questions regarding
      caution versus exploration. It could've been a great episode. By the end
      it's an action-packed mess.

      --
      Next week: A three-century-old spacecraft intended to go to Mars has ended
      up in the Delta Quadrant. And Voyager happens upon it. How very nice.

      -----
      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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