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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "The Voyager Conspiracy"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for The Voyager Conspiracy. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: It is indeed a house of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 1999
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for "The Voyager
      Conspiracy." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      Nutshell: It is indeed a house of cards--with dizzying exposition taken to
      the nth degree--but it's kind of a fun ride.

      Plot description: Seven of Nine uncovers evidence supporting a theory that
      Voyager was not stranded in the Delta Quadrant by accident, and that a
      conspiracy was orchestrated at the chain of command's highest levels.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "The Voyager Conspiracy"

      Airdate: 11/24/1999 (USA)
      Written by Joe Menosky
      Directed by Terry Windell

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "Your physiology is ... different from mine." -- Seven to Naomi Wildman
      (nominee for the year's most obvious statement, though probably not intended
      to be)
      -----

      "The Voyager Conspiracy" owes much to the Chris Carter school of
      storytelling. The main idea is that if you take enough facts and somehow jam
      them together, you get a big, messy, far-fetched conspiracy theory that has
      just enough plausibility (maybe) to arouse suspicions but not enough to
      provide anything resembling a convincing argument. This is Voyager jumping
      aboard the "X-Files" conspiracy bandwagon.

      Of course, the same question-turned-pointed-out-pratfall applies: Does any
      of it wash or are we just being taken for a ride? (You get one guess; if
      you're wrong, you will be forced to dissect every hidden meaning of every
      statement ever uttered by the Cigarette-Smoking Man.)

      "Voyager Conspiracy" also turns out to be another entry into the Voyager
      book of "Borg psychological thrillers," in the vein of episodes like "The
      Raven," "One," and last year's "Infinite Regress." So I guess that makes it
      Yet Another Seven Show [TM].

      Anyway, this is the type of episode that comes with a great-sounding concept
      that might very well be impossible to successfully pull off in practice.
      Don't get me wrong; Menosky comes close here, and finds a clever way of
      spouting intriguing conspiracy theories at breakneck speed, without having
      any bearing on the past as we know it, thanks to the plot's special catch.

      The key to the game is Seven of Nine, who at the episode's outset is testing
      a new processing device that allows her to assimilate database information
      at great speeds--sort of a Borg "learn while you sleep" procedure, as Paris
      points out. In an early scene, we see this device allows Seven to quickly
      draw incisive conclusions from many seemingly unrelated facts, as she
      confidently dismantles the Mystery of the Photonic Fleas. My only question:
      What the heck is a photonic flea, and how does it eat plasma? (Okay, two
      questions.)

      Never mind. The Mystery of the Photonic Fleas is the warm-up game for the
      main event: an elaborate conspiracy theory that implicates the captain (and
      others) in a five-year-old plot that, it would seem, had left Voyager
      stranded in the Delta Quadrant intentionally. "An elaborate deception,"
      Seven calls it.

      Say what?

      By this point, "The Voyager Conspiracy" had my attention. One of the story's
      appeals is the way it uses past Voyager events and twists them into a
      larger-than-life plot that is as complicated as it is sinister. Seven's new
      realizations promptly transform her into a sort of Agent Mulder on crack.
      She summons Chakotay to the astrometrics lab, seals the doors, disables the
      sensors, and unleashes upon him one of the most extremely extreme paranoid
      theories ever conceived in a Star Trek episode. Where's Section 31 when you
      need them?

      I liked the inventive use of old Voyager stories; the episode in particular
      zeroes in on the destruction of the Caretaker's array, raising the question
      of why it was destroyed with tricobalt devices--apparently not
      standard-issue equipment on a starship. Ancient history (by Voyager
      standards)--like Kes' departure, Seska's child, and Tuvok's undercover
      Maquis infiltration--all figure into the plot via some truly inventive
      dialog. And there's plenty more where that came from.

      Does any of it make any believable sense whatsoever? Well, not really. The
      elements are all interesting tidbits in and by themselves, but if you're
      looking for a master plan that means anything, either you need a brain like
      Seven's (complete with Borg implants) or you should go hunting equally
      futilely through the bogus conspiracy plotting mess of "The X-Files."

      Seven's theory ventures quite far into the complicated and is laid out for
      the audience through several minutes of rapid-fire exposition. While actors
      get paid to remember lines, it's still a credit to Ryan that she can expel
      so many Voyager facts in such a small amount of time. For her next
      challenge, maybe she should tackle a one-woman performance of "Law & Order,"
      starring as both detectives, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, and all
      the suspects and witnesses. You want facts? I'd like to see her remember and
      expel all *that*.

      But I digress. Suffice it to say that Seven believes Janeway's actual
      mission involves the Federation and Cardassians conspiring together to
      establish a military presence in the Delta Quadrant, using this week's plot
      element as the tool. That tool would be a space "catapult." You see, the
      conspiracy plotting unfolds against a background subplot in which a friendly
      alien named Tash (Albie Selznik) is about to use his recently completed
      catapult to send his ship several thousand light years on its way to his own
      home--a device Voyager also could use to cut a few years off the journey.
      This device uses a reactor similar to the technology from the Caretaker's
      array, which is one of the key reasons Seven thinks the conspiracy centers
      on the destruction of the array.

      Unfortunately, there's a key problem with all of this, which is the
      episode's tendency to substitute sheer speculation for evidence--despite its
      claims to the contrary. Seven explains. And explains. And explains some
      more. Chakotay informs her that she has uncovered some interesting
      coincidences, but nothing more. So Seven offers more facts, and Chakotay
      slowly allows his suspicions to be aroused. Is Seven onto something here?

      Well, personally, I don't see anything that can't be explained away as
      convenience, or even dismissed out of hand, and I don't think Seven's
      conspiracy theory holds water under any sort of scrutiny. And I also don't
      understand the turning point when Chakotay begins to see the merit in the
      argument. Particularly ridiculous, for example, is the notion that
      cease-fires to confrontations with the Borg and Hirogen were roundabout
      attempts to form relationships and a power structure in the Delta
      Quadrant--and not simply the truces that existed for the reasons which they
      were originally explained. Oh, come on. (Just what power structure is Seven
      referring to? Facts not in evidence?)

      And is paranoia an airborne contagion? While this is all very interesting,
      Chakotay doesn't seem reeled in by the theory because of its "compelling
      evidence" so much as because the plot needs to advance to its next stage.

      And the one piece of actual evidence that makes one wonder--namely the
      tractor beam that Seven alleges had intentionally saved the piece of
      Caretaker technology that would (allegedly) later be used to build the
      catapult--is never explained. The lack of explanation feels more like a
      loose end than a mystery. If everything else is conjecture, what is this
      tractor beam? The story, it would seem, hasn't the slightest clue.

      The episode shows its *real* hand when Seven next calls Janeway to
      astrometrics to unleash the same evidence upon her--except this time
      implicating Chakotay in a Maquis plot. Obviously, there is no conspiracy;
      the problem is Seven, who has assimilated too much information and, in
      Borg-like fashion, is trying to make order out of chaos--ineffectively, it
      would seem. Seven subsequently flees Voyager in the Delta Flyer, one crazed
      conspiracy-nut Borg babe.

      There's a fair amount of subtle paranoid humor percolating beneath the plot.
      In one of the best-played scenes of the season, Janeway and Chakotay run
      into each other in the cargo bay, where both are looking for clues and
      investigating Seven's data absorption device. This scene is damn near acted
      to perfection, with each character suspicious of the other, and both
      thinking the other isn't onto them. The quiet, relaxed, suspicious demeanor
      carried by both characters is hilariously subtle in its sly-yet-evident
      distrust, and played so calmly and carefully by Mulgrew and Beltran that
      it's--dare I say--delicious. Too bad the episode couldn't capture this sense
      more often. The fun to be found is mostly within isolated, irrelevant little
      snippets of conjecture, but here it does a good job of putting a new spin on
      the Janeway/Chakotay chemistry.

      I must say, however, that if a conspiracy threat is wiped away and trust is
      renewed with two lines of dialog, then it probably wasn't much of a
      convincing theory in the first place--certainly not enough to have the
      close-and-friendly captain and first officer second-guessing each other.
      (Yes, indeed--as Janeway said, the whole thing's a house of cards.)

      I did enjoy Seven's approach when detailing her theories to Chakotay and
      (later) Janeway--which is basically "assault with masses of facts." It
      ultimately isn't convincing as theory, but I liked the urgency projected by
      Seven's fast-and-furious deployment of fact after fact, the attitude of the
      scenes occasionally laced with humorous incredulity.

      Alas, the "character-building" ending, where Janeway tries to reason with
      the crazed Seven, did not impress me. The problem, I think, is that Seven is
      finally reaching that point where the human lessons are beginning to tire.
      Last week she learned a lesson in "One Small Step." Now we're supplied yet
      another example of Janeway playing the maternal figure. A "been there, done
      that" attitude begins to take shape. The schmaltz is pushed a bit hard. And
      then in the wrap-up scene, Seven explains to Naomi Wildman (never just
      "Naomi," *always* "Naomi Wildman") that quality time spent is more important
      than quantity. Maybe someone should tell that to missing-in-action Mom,
      Samantha.

      Also gnawing at me is whether Seven is supposed to be a computer or a
      person, and what has the final say in the control of her mind--computer
      malfunctions or brain functions capable of making final decisions. Janeway
      is able to overcome the computer by getting through to the human, but the
      road to be weary of is the one that has Seven becoming more like Data.

      Despite the plot qualms, I sort of liked "The Voyager Conspiracy." It's
      fairly entertaining, well acted, and with a good premise and plenty of
      cleverness. But the myriad of facts doesn't add up, and brings down whatever
      in the plot we're supposed to take seriously. Maybe there simply wasn't
      supposed to be a plot to begin with. I could've lived with that if the
      episode wasn't so set on investing so much in that nonexistent would-be
      plot, only to give us another lesson for Seven. At the end, our house of
      cards is a deck scattered all over the room, all over the Delta Quadrant.

      --
      Next week: Years later, and even on another series, Barclay still has
      trouble with holodeck addiction. Maybe Counselor Troi can help.

      -----
      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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