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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Fair Haven"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Fair Haven. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: Only so-so on its given
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 20, 2000
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Fair
      Haven." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      Nutshell: Only so-so on its given terms, and I have very mixed feelings
      about those terms.

      Plot description: A new holodeck program brings the Voyager crew to a
      relaxing Irish town, and Janeway finds herself romantically intrigued by one
      of its residents.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Fair Haven"

      Airdate: 1/12/2000 (USA)
      Written by Robin Burger
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "The fight spilled out onto the street. Before long, he climbed up a tree
      and began shouting your name. Mr. Neelix managed to talk him down." -- Doc
      to Janeway about a heartbroken hologram, a scene worth picturing
      -----

      The use of holograms on Voyager has at times made me very uncomfortable.
      "Nothing Human," in which a holographic re-creation of a real Cardassian
      surgeon helped save Torres' life, was a perfect example of the kind of mess
      the writers can create when permitting holograms to attain such limitless
      realism under manufactured circumstances. And who can forget the silly use
      of Leonardo da Vinci in "Concerning Flight," an episode that had the man's
      life knowledge carried around to be used as a conversation stimulator for
      Janeway as she tried to elude the bad guys?

      As far as I'm concerned (maybe you agree, maybe you don't), holograms should
      *not* automatically be assumed as "real" people except in cases where they
      are long-term social participants who were created or permitted to grow as
      artificial lifeforms. Examples: the Doctor or Vic Fontaine. Your average
      holographic chump conjured on the holodeck out of "photons and force fields"
      (as Janeway describes it) is *not* an artificial lifeform; it's an elaborate
      computer simulation. To assume more opens a can of worms that makes me very
      leery, with implications that grow larger than any given story is willing to
      tackle. (For starters, just where/when does sentience begin?)

      So now, in "Fair Haven," we have years of Janeway as the asexual captain
      finally dropped in order to give her a holographic love interest named
      Michael (Fintan McKeown). When I first heard about this premise a month or
      two ago, did I think it was a good idea? No, because there seemed to be too
      much messy unreality baggage factored into the equation. How does an
      emotional connection exist between a person and a simulation? What are the
      implications of such a relationship?

      "Fair Haven" prompts in me some very mixed feelings. On one hand, I disagree
      with the basic premise--the idea that a holodeck character can make a good
      substitute for the real thing. (Hiding in the holodeck a la Barclay in
      "Pathfinder" has generally been seen as unhealthy and ultimately fruitless.)
      On the other hand, a big element of this story is *about* Janeway's hang-up
      with the fact that Michael is a hologram, resulting in some arguments that,
      quite frankly, needed to be said for this episode to work at all. The story,
      to its credit, manages to address some questions I was asking before the
      show even aired. It didn't resolve those questions to any real satisfaction,
      but it did manage to bring them up and argue them to some degree.

      The Irish dwelling of Fair Haven is sixth season's take on the annual
      Voyager holodeck theme. My favorite hangout is still the more intimate and
      simple pool hall in Marseilles, but Fair Haven has a sort of idyllic context
      that seems to make sense for a pleasant setting the whole crew can enjoy.
      It's a triumph of Hollywood back-lot scene-setting, but it's not a triumph
      of imagination. (And is it me, or did it seem like an out-of-the-way effort
      was made to gratuitously insert [IRISH PUB BRAWL] into the script? Couldn't
      avoid that cliche.) Whether you go for this sort of thing depends on how
      much you appreciate these sort of setting showpieces for their novelty
      value. David Bell's thematically Irish score helps, I must say.

      Overall, I didn't find this to be a particularly effective romance. I did,
      however, appreciate a few of the ideas behind it. What works are some of the
      implications that arise on the side, like Janeway's acknowledgement that
      Michael is a hologram, and the fact that she realizes her ability to change
      everything about him to make him more "perfect" is a big part of what makes
      the experience seem phony. I also sort of enjoyed McKeown as Michael, who
      creates an everyman persona that's sometimes likable, particularly his
      understated, confused vulnerability evident in the final scene.

      But leading up to the (ambiguous) payoff is far too much pedestrian Standard
      Trek Romance material. The only real chemistry between Janeway and Michael
      is in the pathos of that final scene, after all the issues of real/not-real
      have been laid out for us; everything beforehand feels a bit forced. The
      romance here seems motivated more by the writers having said, "It's about
      time we gave Janeway a love story," than it seems like a logical outgrowth
      of events, character, or even spontaneous attraction.

      Maybe the biggest problem is that Janeway just doesn't seem believably in
      character when flirting, dancing joyfully, arm wrestling, throwing rings,
      etc. These two characters aren't compelling enough to watch on the screen
      together. Part of the problem is that Mulgrew overplays the sentiment with
      exaggerated gestures. Mulgrew has always had a tendency to play up body
      language with stylized performances, but here it seems overly "playful" and
      too much for the audience's benefit. An early scene where a borderline-giddy
      Janeway gets a radiation inoculation in sickbay had me wondering just what
      kind of drugs she was on. (Okay, we get it--you're in an unusually good
      mood.)

      On the other hand, I did get something out of the other end of the spectrum,
      when Janeway broods in her quarters. This sentiment is played up with an
      equal de-emphasis on subtlety, but it works a lot better because it grows
      out of emotions that seem to be genuinely held. Janeway has a quiet,
      defeated way about her sullen state--after it fully registers that her new
      holographic acquaintance is not a real person and she realizes that she is
      in fact very lonely.

      It's perhaps a telling sign that the show's most entertaining scene is an
      amusing Janeway/Chakotay exchange on the bridge, which reveals about 100
      times the chemistry of any Janeway/Michael scene. The J/C dialog is natural,
      playfully jibing, and friendly. (Doesn't this seem like the real potential
      here?) It's an episode like this that makes me wonder just what happened
      back in "Resolutions."

      But never mind; Janeway/Chakotay is not an option because we can't have the
      captain having affairs with members of her crew. (As much as J/C interests
      me on the curiosity level, it would almost certainly be a bad, messy idea
      for the writers to attempt.) But is hooking Janeway up with a hologram the
      answer? I'm not sure. Quite frankly, hooking her up with an alien of the
      week might be more satisfying; at least it might seem like a real
      relationship with some sort of believable potential, rather than an
      extended, confusing fantasy with all the holographic real/not-real baggage
      to go along with it.

      There are scenes in "Fair Haven" that suggest the captain's destiny is one
      of unfortunate loneliness. Those scenes are the ones that the show gets
      right. But a key Doc/Janeway conversation suggests that perhaps there is a
      future for Janeway and her holographic love interest after all. And then the
      episode ends with complete ambiguity, revealing that Janeway needs to sort
      some things out, and hinting that she might load Michael's program into the
      hologrid at some point in the future.

      I'm realizing that this episode perhaps has a built-in Catch-22. Like the
      Doctor says, the captain's options are limited (though I'm not entirely
      convinced they must be as limited as the writers decree). So turning to
      alternatives might be necessary. But is this really solving the problem? Doc
      says so, but I dunno. More than anything, the romance seems to be testing
      waters--but testing for what? This relationship can become ... what? Is this
      a cure for boredom, high-tech physical/emotional masturbation, or an attempt
      for something more? Does it even matter since the chances of these issues
      being revisited are close to nil? Man, what a mess this makes. If nothing
      else, new writer/producer Robin Burger's first script for Voyager has found
      a way to provoke some thought.

      In the meantime, there's plenty of laid-back filler, which is forgivable for
      what's essentially a shore-leave episode, I guess, but I can't say I was
      particularly entertained by it. Nor was I excited about the bargain-basement
      filler "danger" plot, involving some approaching spatial turbulence that
      basically serves as a metaphor for a hurricane or severe thunderstorm in
      space (and has the crew bracing for impact and escaping into the holodeck
      since there's nothing else to do while they wait out the storm).

      All things considered, "Fair Haven" is a mediocre romance story. There's too
      much filler and bizarre characterization, and not enough chemistry. What
      remains of value are the arguments about how "real" a holographic simulation
      can be. It's a halfway interesting concept to tackle, but in the end it left
      me just as frustrated as ever about the supposed nature of holograms. At one
      point Doc tells Janeway that Michael is as real as Janeway needs him to be.
      But is he? Or will Janeway feel as hollow about the experience in a month as
      she did when she first sobered to the fact it was all an illusion? Can
      she--should she--force herself to accept the imaginary as reality?

      By the end, Janeway is hopelessly conflicted over this dilemma. So am I.
      Janeway is not satisfied with how things turned out. And, unfortunately,
      neither am I. "Fair Haven" is a nice try on some levels, but it has too much
      implied messiness and ultimately doesn't work. And besides--Janeway deserves
      better than a hologram.

      --
      Next week: Societal development goes warp speed.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 2000 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@...
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