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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Virtuoso"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Virtuoso. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: Various four-star moments
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2000
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's
      "Virtuoso." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      Nutshell: Various four-star moments and zero-star moments rolled into one
      watchable but uneasy episode.

      Plot description: A society that has never heard music is awed by the
      Doctor's singing abilities, and he quickly becomes a celebrity among
      their people.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Virtuoso"

      Airdate: 1/26/2000 (USA)
      Teleplay by Raf Green and Kenneth Biller
      Story by Raf Green
      Directed by Les Landau

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "Well, in any case, you've been neglecting your sickbay duties. I haven't
      received a report in three days."
      "Oh, come now, Kathryn. It's not as though there's been a flood of
      medical emergencies."
      "I wasn't aware we were on a first-name basis."
      "I meant 'captain.' I'm sorry."
      "Oh, that's perfectly all right, Doctor, or do you prefer 'maestro'?"
      "Ha ha ha. Please. Either is acceptable."
      "Well, then, let me make it clear to both of you: Maestro, you're
      finished for today. Doctor, report to sickbay--now."
      -- Janeway and Doc
      -----

      "Virtuoso" plays like a weird tug-of-war between the inspired and the
      banal--an episode where one scene can come off as interesting and even
      brilliant, and the next utterly flat and lifeless. There are moments I
      adored in this episode, and moments I wanted to physically rip out of the
      television and throw into the dumpster behind my apartment.

      Let's start with This Week's Aliens, the Qomar--into the dumpster they
      go. The idea behind them was apparently to make them amusingly annoying,
      but they mostly come off as just plain annoying. In a series where
      exchange of ideas between cultures has been far rarer than exchange of
      weapons fire, it's frustrating to watch the Voyager crew give the Qomar
      something they've never experienced before ... only to get nothing but
      rude, arrogant, insulting xenophobic behavior in return. The Qomar are
      the type who don't really acknowledge they can learn anything from
      you--they simply milk a situation for whatever they can get out of it.
      Thanks, but no thanks.

      That said, the premise of such a "superior" society never having come up
      with the idea of humming a tune (or encountering one in their space
      travels) is a bit dubious, but we'll grant it in the interests of
      storytelling. The Qomar have never heard music before, and when they
      overhear Doc singing in sickbay, they're positively awestruck. What is
      this "singing" and why would one do it?

      This leads to some heavy exposition, where Doc explains that music is a
      vessel of emotional expression, etc., and the Qomar, so taken with the
      Doctor, invite Voyager to their home system (previously closed to
      inferior outsiders), where they request a recital and, later, Doc's
      full-fledged performance in a theater on their homeworld.

      Part of "Virtuoso" plays like a meditation/parody on fandom--Trek fandom
      in particular, we must presume. The Doctor is such a huge hit that
      Voyager is inundated with fan mail transmissions from the Qomar planet.
      Seven mistakes these letters as an attempt to overload the computer and
      sabotage the ship. Uh-huh.

      What doesn't work about this scene is that it makes Seven seem a lot
      dumber than she needs to be, just so the story can provide exposition for
      our benefit. Would Seven really mistake these letters as sabotage and
      sound a red alert? I tend to doubt it. And do we really *need* Janeway's
      overly amused explanation to Seven about the nature of human fandom and
      how people have always imagined themselves meeting celebrities? The idea
      isn't bad per se, but the self-aware presentation is way too proud of
      itself.

      Still, there are some great moments here. I liked, for example, that this
      episode's character theme digs back into both the issues of Doc's ego and
      his state of existence. Individual scenes work--some like a charm. I for
      one got a great kick out of seeing Doc sing a duet with a miniaturized
      holo-recording of himself--a visual that is absolutely hilarious. Picardo
      is this series' most likable actor, and the fun factor of a scene that
      indulges Doc's ego in this manner is well worth our time. He distributes
      his recordings to his Qomar fans. (If there were money involved, they'd
      undoubtedly cost $19.95.) And he lets his ego run awry by neglecting his
      duties and referring to the captain as if she were his agent.

      But there are other scenes here that are completely botched. Most of them
      center around a guest character named Tincoo (Kamala Lopez-Dawson) whom I
      can't make heads or tails of. Lopez-Dawson's performance is dreadful.
      Whether that's partially a side effect of the story envisioning the Qomar
      as weird and quirky (like in the overplayed opening scene) is hard to
      say. In any case, the character is painfully unconvincing and
      uninteresting and doesn't work at all. That's too bad, because this
      character is crucial to several turning points in the story, like an
      awkward moment when she tells Doc that he means something to her (what
      exactly isn't explicit--alarms ring that this may not be what it's
      cracked up to be) and Doc realizes that he might be in love with Tincoo.
      Alas, a lame speech involving "the simplest equation of all"--"1+1"--as
      an apparent romantic sentiment (the Qomar are a society based mostly on
      math and science, see) is all wrong, which especially hurts since it
      sends Doc off in a direction that's extreme under such awkwardly played
      circumstances--namely, his decision to leave Voyager and remain a
      celebrity among the Qomar.

      Picardo is very good in these botched scenes, but his efforts prove
      futile because with the Tincoo character in sight he's essentially
      bouncing emotional dialog off a brick wall. Sorry, but Tincoo ... into
      the dumpster you go.

      Subsequent scenes, however, prove interesting. The "rights of a hologram"
      debate between Doc and Janeway actually comes off quite well, with both
      the Doctor and the captain making some good points. Subsequently, when
      Janeway permits Doc to resign his commission (after the story
      acknowledges both the fact that Doc's ego has gotten the better of him
      and also that he hopes to continue growing by following a dream), there
      are some reasonable farewell scenes, like the understated but sincere
      Doc/Paris goodbye and especially the Doc/Seven goodbye.

      Is it a surprise that the Doc/Seven scenes are among the episode's best?
      Both are sci-fi characters looking at humanity from the outside and who
      share a unique bond, and both are played by the ensemble's two most
      effective actors. The scene in the cargo bay where Doc comes to say
      goodbye is another good example of the Evident But Understated Seven
      Emotion Scene [TM]. She's angry and lets Doc have it, but her face
      reveals a deep (but still relatively subtle) sadness after Doc has left
      the room. It's a truly good scene.

      Unfortunately, I must question the wisdom of Doc choosing to leave his
      Voyager family for a people so dispassionate and calculating as the
      Qomar. Janeway is right: Fame is often temporary, and Doc, who has
      generally had a good sense of human nature, shouldn't be so naive. The
      scene where Doc learns of Tincoo's new creation--a "superior" hologram
      designed to replace him, and who can sing at ranges beyond the grasp of
      imagination--drives home the fact that the Qomar are too incompatible
      with Doc's human sensibilities ... yet we still get an entire final act
      devoted to driving this point home even further--at a point where it's
      already been made obvious.

      But strange, that even though the final concert scene makes a point that
      was already made obvious, it turns out to be a very well-done scene. Doc
      sings an opera song with amazing emotion (albeit not the greatest
      lip-syncing), and it's greeted with zero enthusiasm from the Qomar, who
      expected new musical mathematical audacity. Then Tincoo brings out her
      new-and-improved singing hologram, which sings a technical piece that's
      truly weird and emotionally vacant; a human would call it awful. It's a
      spectacle that's simultaneously bizarre, hideous, hilarious, and
      painfully heartbreaking. It's a four-star moment that says it all: Doc
      has misread the situation, and the realization of his error hurts.

      The ending actually works quite well, from the nicely played Janeway/Doc
      discussion to the typically heartfelt Seven/Doc closing. But by this
      point, the story has shown way too many cracks. This could've been a
      really good episode, but the way the story gets where it's
      going--particularly with the inexplicably robotic performance of
      Lopez-Dawson--undermines the proceedings. If "Virtuoso" reinforces
      anything, it's that the strength of guest characters can make or break a
      show.

      --
      Next week: War. It's FAN-TAS-tic.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 2000 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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