[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Flesh and Blood"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Flesh and
Blood." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: Ambitious and interesting, with well-realized characters and
Plot description: Doc is pulled into the plight of a group of sentient
holograms who were reprogrammed by the Hirogen to be resourceful and violent
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Flesh and Blood"
Airdate: 11/29/2000 (USA)
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller
Story by Jack Monaco and Bryan Fuller & Raf Green
Directed by Mike Vejar
Teleplay by Raf Green & Kenneth Biller
Story by Bryan Fuller & Raf Green
Directed by David Livingston
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
"It may be the warriors who get the glory, but it's the engineers who build
societies." -- Torres
It's probably the end of the road for anything relating to the holodeck or
holograms; with "Flesh and Blood," the Voyager writers have taken the
concept as far as it can go. They've done it here with an abundance of
compelling arguments and smart ideas, which is more than enough for me to
set aside qualms with cans of worms opened by exploring these issues.
I complained -- quite loudly, in fact -- about last season's dreadful
"Spirit Folk" and to a lesser extent "Fair Haven." Both of those episodes
were stupid holodeck farces that didn't have the brains to overcome the
problems of their implausibility. But with "Flesh and Blood," the fate of
holograms and their rights as possible lifeforms is a big chunk of the
point. There's some genuine depth here. It's miles ahead of a silly example
of the holodeck running awry. It's also miles ahead of fourth season's "The
Killing Game," to which this two-parter serves as a sequel. "The Killing
Game" was an action show with no brains, whereas "Flesh and Blood" is an
action show with interesting issues and debate.
Like "Killing Game," this outing involves the Hirogen. It builds upon the
previous episode's end solution, where Janeway negotiated a truce by
offering the Hirogen holodeck technology so they could simulate their hunts
as an alternative to hunting sentient beings.
Yeah, yeah -- I have to ask what the Hirogen are even doing way out here. It
makes somewhere between very little and zero sense that Voyager could run
into Hirogen who were affected by Voyager's actions three years ago. I
suppose they've been steadily moving toward the Alpha Quadrant too, in leaps
and bounds, in order to thank Starfleet for giving them the holo-technology.
Never mind. That's the underlying continuity/believability-breaker, but it's
fairly minor and not worth dwelling on. (Given how flexible Voyager's
position in the Delta Quadrant has been in the past, if the writers are
going to break this rule again, they might as well do it for a worthwhile
story, which this turns out to be.)
A distress signal brings Voyager to a Hirogen training facility where
something has gone very wrong. The facility is a big holodeck, and it turns
out that the holograms here took control of their environment and
slaughtered all the Hirogen hunters on board. They then transferred their
programs to a vessel equipped with hologram emitters and escaped. The only
survivor the Voyager crew finds on the facility is a young Hirogen engineer
named Donik (Ryan Bollman), a non-hunter who had the sense (or cowardice,
depending on your walk of life) to hide.
How did this massacre happen? The Hirogen at first claim the technology went
spontaneously berserk, but it turns out they're lying; Donik's job as a
hologram engineer was to modify the holograms so they could learn and adapt.
These aren't your average holograms; they're special holograms on a level as
advanced as the Doctor -- thinking, learning, sentient AI.
Janeway agrees to help the Hirogen hunt down the renegade holograms and
deactivate them. Forming an uneasy alliance (featuring the expected dosage
of tension between Janeway and the Hirogen leaders), they undertake a
mission that Janeway feels obligated to carry out; she gave the Hirogen this
technology three years ago, and she doesn't want it becoming a roaming
threat. The Hirogen, of course, see this mission as another hunt.
The story gets much more complicated when the holograms abduct the Doctor,
transferring his program to their vessel. They are led by a man named Iden
(Jeff Yagher), a hologram with Bajoran form. Iden tells Doc that the
holograms are fighting for their own freedom and survival; the Hirogen use
them simply as programmed prey, but, like Doc, they have the ability to
evolve beyond their programming. Iden sees himself as a liberator; after he
freed himself and obtained a ship, he liberated holograms from three Hirogen
facilities, and intends to free more of "his people."
The beauty of the episode is its plentiful complexity. It's not simply about
hunting the holograms, and it's not simply about the possibility that
hunting down these holograms is wrong. It's about the dialog and situations
that arise in the meantime, prompting us to ponder both sides of the issue.
Who are these holograms, and have they earned the status of having rights?
At what point does technology attain rights, exactly? Would reprogramming
the technology to regress it into something more rudimentary be tantamount
to a forced lobotomy? And would deactivating such technology be the same as
imprisonment or a death sentence?
With its two-hour length, "Flesh and Blood" has plenty of time to dive into
a lot of well-written discussions, in addition to the action that moves the
story forward. Many of these discussions are between Iden and Doc and reveal
different points of view, both of which have merit when considering the
characters' origins. Iden thinks of Doc as a slave who serves "organics."
Doc doesn't see it that way, since he has been afforded the opportunities to
pursue interests that push beyond the boundaries of his original function.
But Iden's prejudices against organics are certainly understandable. He was
programmed to be hunted and killed over and over again by Hirogen hunters.
His purpose was essentially one to be tortured (the Hirogen, thorough in
their desire to create credible prey, programmed these holograms with the
capacity to feel pain and suffering).
There's a nightmarish sequence where Doc suddenly finds himself being hunted
by a sadistic Hirogen. This turns out to be an implanted memory from one of
Iden's own people. There's perhaps nothing quite like living through the
plight of someone else to possibly understand where they're coming from (cf.
last season's "Memorial").
There's an abundance of plotting in the story's two hours, including several
ship chases, a few clever tactical maneuvers, Hirogen ships firing on the
holograms and on Voyager (and vice-versa), a technical procedure contrived
by Torres as a temporary measure to try to shut down all the holograms'
programs, and a trek through a nebula. Between directors Mike Vejar (part
one) and David Livingston (part two) and all the writers involved in
scripting the two teleplays, "Flesh and Blood" is well constructed and well
paced. A lot happens, but we're never lost, and the story keeps a firm grasp
on all the details to make it something that makes sense and also remains
As a sign of trust, Iden agrees to negotiate, transporting Doc back to
Voyager, where he pleads with Janeway to consider the holograms' position.
Intriguing is how Janeway's position on the matter doesn't depict her as the
episode's hero; she's more of an antagonist if we were to assume Doc as the
story's hero. She won't put others in the potentially dangerous path of
these holograms, even if means deactivating them. Really, there aren't
clear-cut heroes anywhere here, which is to the story's credit. Instead,
there are viewpoints. Janeway's position at least partially stems from the
guilt of having uncorked these holograms by sharing the holo-technology in
the first place. Doc is so immersed in the plight of others of his "kind"
that he flees Voyager and willingly returns to assist the holograms.
All of this is well documented by the plot, but what makes this story stand
out are the details in the characterization, particularly once Torres is
beamed to the holograms' vessel to help them build a generator that will
allow them to live on an isolated world. (Iden says his mission isn't one of
continued violence, but finding a place where his people can live peacefully
without being hunted by the Hirogen.)
Even the choices for the holograms' forms proves interesting. Iden's Bajoran
identity is appropriate given DS9's milieu of Bajoran freedom fighters
trying to end oppression, and Iden even comes preprogrammed with spiritual
beliefs. There's also a Cardassian hologram character here, named Kejal
(Cindy Katz). Her name is of Bajoran origin, given to her by Iden, which
translates as "Freedom."
The Doc/Iden scenes are good, but equally impressive are the more subtle
discussions between Torres and Kejal. Torres isn't sure if helping these
holograms is a good idea, since the technology she's rigging could be abused
for hostile purposes. I appreciated the added dynamic of Torres' discomfort
with Cardassians, held over from her old Maquis days. There's a nifty little
nod to stereotypes of Klingons and Cardassians, and an even niftier point
where Kejal draws a parallel between Torres joining the Maquis to fight
Cardassian oppressors and the holograms' current uprising against the
Hirogen. (I'm tempted to wonder how much irrelevant Alpha Quadrant
information these holograms would've been provided by the Hirogen, but why
The story's latter passages involve a turning point where Iden evolves from
what appears a sincere freedom fighter into a megalomaniac who sees himself
as a messiah to save all enslaved holograms. This turning point is probably
a bit extreme and sudden, but still reasonably portrayed. There's a
well-depicted example of pointless violence where Iden steals some holograms
from a passing merchant vessel, and then destroys the ship and its two
"organic" pilots. The holograms he stole turn out to be non-sentient drones
capable of only a few rudimentary functions. They do not have the ability to
grow the way Iden and his crew do.
Which is interesting, because one of the implicit ideas here is the
contrasting level of growth between Iden and Kejal. Iden's megalomania stems
from his hatred of the Hirogen and the violent tendencies they programmed
him with -- tendencies he ultimately is not able to overcome. He constantly
goes back to his nature of fighting any organics who stand in the way of his
Kejal, on the other hand, is able to grow beyond her original violent
directives. (Earlier, Torres tells Kejal, with a tone that hints of personal
experience, "It's not easy to change who you are. Trust me.") The notion of
preprogrammed instincts and one's ability to grow beyond them (or not) hints
at the "nature vs. environment" debate, something I'll mention but won't
elaborate on (since I can't go on forever). What permitted Kejal, but not
Iden, to evolve beyond her inherent violence? Was it fate? The difference in
their overall purpose and experiences? These are typically human questions,
aptly applied here to artificial intelligence.
The end of the story involves a massacre scenario where Iden beams a ship
full of Hirogen to the surface of a harsh planet, and intends to wreak
vengeance upon his oppressors by turning the hunters into the hunted. It's a
decent idea, ultimately forcing Doc to kill Iden to end the cycle of
violence, but it's not all that original and doesn't quite live up to the
subtler arguments earlier in the episode. It's executed at a breakneck pace,
cramming what could've played as a long action scene into a surprisingly
short amount of time -- but it somehow remains coherent.
The performances and guest performances are on target. Jeff Yagher brings
urgency and sincerity to Iden; Cindy Katz portrays a calm and confident
Cardassian; and Ryan Bollman is good as the scared young Hirogen engineer
who shows that at least one Hirogen character doesn't have to growl every
time he has a line.
"Flesh and Blood" is a well-crafted Voyager outing. As an "epic two-hour
telefilm!" it's by far the best of the series' three (excluding the pilot),
the other two being the dumb and bloated "Killing Game" and the entertaining
but relatively thin "Dark Frontier." As a holodeck show, it puts most others
to shame by thinking about the issues it raises instead of bulldozing
through them in favor of idiotic farce ("Spirit Folk") or sidestepping
necessary questions of programming capability ("Nothing Human"). It's an
adventure that uses characters and ideas wisely, and the best outing so far
Upcoming: Reruns. See you in 2001.
Copyright 2000 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...