[VOY] Jammer's Review: "The Voyager Conspiracy"
- 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
"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
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.
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
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,
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.
Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...