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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Life Line"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Life Line. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: A winner. One of the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 22, 2000
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Life
      Line." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      Nutshell: A winner. One of the year's more entertaining shows.

      Plot description: The Doctor requests that his program be transmitted to the
      Alpha Quadrant so he can treat his creator, Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, who is
      suffering from a terminal illness.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Life Line"

      Airdate: 5/10/2000 (USA)
      Teleplay by Robert Doherty & Raf Green and Brannon Braga
      Story by John Bruno & Robert Picardo
      Directed by Terry Windell

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

      "The Enterprise is in the middle of a mission. We're nearly seven
      light-years from you."
      "An important mission?"
      "They're all important, Reg."
      -- Troi and Barclay

      Watching "Life Line," one can see just how effectively Robert Picardo
      disappears into his character week after week, or in the case of this week,
      two characters. The plot of "Life Line" permits Doc to meet his creator, Dr.
      Lewis Zimmerman, face to face. We know the story: The original EMH was
      modeled in appearance and personality to resemble Zimmerman. So Picardo
      plays Doc and Zimmerman right alongside himself. What's interesting is that
      it's not a carbon-copy performance. There are subtle differences that allow
      Zimmerman to become his own character.

      We previously saw a rendition of Dr. Zimmerman's character in the
      third-season installment "The Swarm," as well as in DS9's fifth-season
      episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." I can't recall in detail Zimmerman's
      demeanor, whether the same subtle differences as compared to the Voyager EMH
      were evident in those episodes. (Although, in looking back at my review for
      "Presume," I see that I did praise Picardo for creating a character who was
      similar but not identical to the Doctor.) No matter; the differences are
      evident here, and it's an impressive feat.

      The episode is a successful follow-up to "Pathfinder" from five months ago,
      even though the main story being told here is mostly self-contained and
      completely different (reminiscent of TNG's "Brothers" in its basic idea).
      Starfleet has found a way to send a data transmission to Voyager once a
      month when a certain cosmic alignment makes it possible. Voyager then has a
      window of opportunity to send information back.

      In an interquadrant e-mail, Barclay sends news along to Doc that Zimmerman
      is dying of an unknown terminal illness. No one in the Alpha Quadrant has
      been able to treat him successfully, but Doc, adapting methods learned out
      in the Delta Quadrant wilderness, believes he may have a cure he can
      administer. He's the only one with the experience, and he wants to treat
      Zimmerman himself. He asks Janeway to transmit his program to the Alpha
      Quadrant. Janeway reluctantly grants Doc's request.

      So there's your premise, a neat tech idea that makes sense and is
      believable. The rest of the story takes place almost exclusively in
      Zimmerman's holography lab at Jupiter Station, where we have ourselves a
      story that focuses on personalities, dialog, and an interesting relationship
      between Doc and his programmer--and not exactly having the dynamic Doc had
      in mind.

      Zimmerman is an irascible fellow--even more abrasive than Doc ever was. Of
      course, knowing that he's dying probably doesn't help form a positive
      attitude. It's almost painful to watch Doc building himself up to present
      himself to his creator as a hologram who has grown beyond his original
      program, simply because Zimmerman is truthfully beyond caring. The moment
      when Doc materializes in Zimmerman's lab shows Doc nearly in a state of
      glee. That glee is met with a cold Zimmerman shoulder: "An EMH Mark 1? I was
      wrong Mr. Barclay; you do have a sense of humor." Ouch.

      If you listen closely, you'll notice the subtle way Zimmerman's speech
      differs from Doc's: Zimmerman has a more relaxed, "human" way of talking,
      with slightly less articulation on each spoken syllable. Doc tends to
      articulate each syllable just so and with more song in the inflection, which
      has become so much part of Picardo's performance that it's almost strange to
      hear it scaled back through Zimmerman.

      A lot of the episode focuses on the Doc/Zimmerman friction. Make no mistake:
      Zimmerman wants no part of Doc's treatment, and in several scenes Zimmerman
      flat-out insults Doc and his limitations. For Zimmerman, this is an issue
      that runs deep. Doc is getting nowhere. Even an attempt to scan his patient
      while masquerading as a masseuse fails.

      Doc also makes some unsettling discoveries: The original EMH has been
      rendered obsolete by several new versions--Marks II, III, IV (although, is
      it really likely there'd be a Mark IV already? Mark III, possibly, but
      Zimmerman seems to have a faster development schedule than Intel). The
      original line of EMHs, much to Zimmerman's dismay and what helps explain his
      distress at Doc's appearance, has been relegated by Starfleet to scrubbing
      conduits in garbage barges after being bounced out of the medical corps
      because of defects.

      Zimmerman's unyielding resistance to Doc's attempts eventually prompts
      Barclay to call in Counselor Troi for help. Maybe she can get to the bottom
      of the friction between these two stubborn personalities. Then again, maybe
      not. Between the two of them, they have enough stubbornness for 10 people.

      From a technical standpoint, "Life Line" is flawlessly executed. Director
      Terry Windell and the Voyager visual effects team have assembled scores of
      shots that are so completely convincing that you won't even be thinking
      about the techniques that allow Picardo to interact with himself on the
      screen; you will simply believe that there *are* in fact two Picardos. Of
      course, Picardo deserves credit for acting these scenes out against what are
      really voice recordings, stand-ins, or, for all I know, empty air. This
      must've been a lot of work to pull off, and it shows--but most importantly,
      it's not evident while you're watching. Like the most "responsible" special
      effects, the technique is a function of the story and no more. If Picardo
      had an identical twin playing opposite himself, I get the feeling the scenes
      would've ended up looking just like they do here. Great work.

      As a character study with depth, "Life Line" is not the equal of "Barge of
      the Dead" or "Pathfinder," but it's high on the Voyager list. It's often
      quite funny, it's well acted, has sharp dialog and some moments of
      poignancy. The stubbornness is only part of Zimmerman's problem; the biggest
      problem is in revisiting the pain of the EMH-1's failure. When defect
      reports of the original EMH began rolling in, so did nicknames like
      "Emergency Medical Hothead" and "Extremely Marginal House call." Zimmerman
      was humiliated and has carried the pain with him for years.

      Troi's detour into the plot is perhaps a bit contrived, although the story
      makes reasonable use of her. Barclay's presence makes more sense given past
      history; he's the actual link between Doc and Zimmerman, since he was
      established in "Projections" as having once been Zimmerman's assistant in
      developing the EMH. In a sudden twist of fate, Doc's program malfunctions
      and is threatened with destruction unless Zimmerman intervenes, forcing the
      two into the same room until Zimmerman finally confronts his own agonizing
      issues. (The fact that Barclay and Troi manufactured the crisis works better
      than if the plot had arbitrarily done so.)

      I also appreciated the little touches here, like the way Zimmerman is
      surrounded by his intriguing holographic creations, like pet Leonard, a
      holographic iguana that occasionally talks like a parrot (which is a hoot).
      And there's Roy, the holographic insect that buzzes around, much to Doc's
      annoyance until he finally squashes it.

      But most interesting is Haley (Tamera Craig Thomas), who is revealed in an
      unexpected but understated scene to also be a hologram. Her role is crucial
      because she predates even the EMH; she's Zimmerman's personal assistant and
      a friend he has grown very attached to. She helps him realize that he cannot
      turn his back on the EHM.

      There's also a brief scene back aboard Voyager that gives me hope about some
      of the larger issues that deserve to play into the seventh season. Within
      Starfleet's transmission is an interesting question Admiral Hayes (Jack
      Shearer) asks Janeway: He wants to know the "status of the Maquis"--a single
      line that plants a seed which could become an interesting issue for the
      Voyager family in the upcoming year (whether or not it does is another
      matter). How will we deal with these things as re-entering the Alpha
      Quadrant becomes closer to a reality?

      The bottom line: "Life Line" is a very likable show with people we can care
      about. Picardo and the others are constantly watchable; the plot is simple
      and benefits from good dialog; we feel at home in Zimmerman's lab, which is
      a triumph of set design; the comic timing is on; and the problem at hand is
      an empathetic dilemma of one man's troubled feelings. It's hard to believe
      an episode like this and an episode as incompetent as "Fury" can pass the
      same studio export test. Here I cared. There I didn't. And that's the

      Next week: Ghosts in the machine.

      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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