[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Workforce"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for part one *and* part
two of Voyager's "Workforce." If you haven't seen the episodes yet,
In brief: An intriguing and thoroughly entertaining premise, featuring an
eerie take on the workplace and a plot that moves swiftly and confidently.
Plot description: The Voyager crew is abducted to an alien world, where
their memories are altered and they are dropped into the large population
of an industrial labor force.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Workforce"
Part I: ***1/2 (out of 4)
Airdate: 2/21/2001 (USA)
Written by Kenneth Biller & Bryan Fuller
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Part II: *** (out of 4)
Airdate: 2/28/2001 (USA)
Teleplay by Kenneth Biller & Michael Taylor
Story by Kenneth Biller & Bryan Fuller
Directed by Roxann Dawson
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I'm still feeling kind of queasy from that nectar."
"I treated you days ago!"
"Whatever you did hasn't worked. Maybe all those command subroutines are
compromising your medical abilities."
"Maybe all that sarcasm is compromising your natural charm."
-- Harry and Doc
Perhaps the best thing about "Workforce" is that it's a refreshing escape
from the reality (as it were) of the usual Voyager situation. Here's an
episode that looks and feels like good, grander storytelling, taking us to
an unfamiliar but relatable world where it gives the characters bizarre,
unwanted vacations from themselves.
Simply put, the premise for this episode is a neat idea. We join the story
already in progress, as Janeway begins her first day at work at a massive
power plant on a mysterious industrialized world. She introduces herself
as Kathryn Janeway, New Employee. What is she doing here? Other oddities
pique our interest when we see that Seven of Nine and Tuvok also work at
Is this an undercover mission? We quickly learn no. Although the plot is
gradual in giving us all the information, it's clear that our characters'
memories have been tampered with. What's nice about this plot structure is
that we have our suspicions even before the story reveals all its cards,
the whats and hows. We quickly understand that the crew had been kidnapped
specifically to be dropped into the labor force of this company, as new
Talk about your extreme solutions to labor shortages.
How did this happen? Doc explains via flashback: Voyager had been ambushed
in a unique way -- with an invisible mine that unleashed toxic radiation.
Forced to abandon ship, we see that the Voyager crew was "rescued" by the
crews of nearby ships. The would-be rescuers were really the perpetrators,
having put Voyager in this precarious situation to get their hands on its
defenseless crew. (My only question, best ignored, is how economically
viable it would be to hire or bribe the crews of armed starships so they
can round up 100 or so people to work in your plant.)
It's to the story's credit that we learn these details only after we've
been able to watch the crew interacting in new situations, unaware that
their lives had just a few days ago been very different. It gets us drawn
into the mystery from the very beginning, putting us on the same level of
unawareness as the characters.
The only members of the crew not kidnapped are Chakotay, Harry, and
Neelix -- who were away on a Delta Flyer mission at the time of the
kidnappings -- and the Doctor, who was left in command to safeguard
Voyager when the rest of the crew was forced to flee the radiation. (Can
one person fly a whole starship and fire its phasers? Apparently so, but
The idea of bringing back the ECH ("Emergency Command Hologram") -- first
explored as a comic daydream in "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy" -- is a rational
plot device, and a pretty smart course of action on Janeway's part. Once
Chakotay's away team returns to Voyager, the mission is to go to this
world, called Quarra, and track down the abducted Voyager crew.
The depiction of the Quarren world makes a big difference in the overall
impact of the episode, and is nicely realized through effective visual
effects. If Voyager has demonstrated anything the past few years, it's
that a healthy budget and outstanding production values *can* make a
difference in a story's persuasiveness. This show looks and feels like a
million bucks (especially compared to lesser productions like Andromeda),
which, along with Dennis McCarthy's more-awed-than-usual musical score,
helps make this world seem real. Through CGI and mattes depicting large
structures and lots of people, this mega-industrialized planet comes alive
with motion and yet still seems appropriately arid, as most of that motion
comes from hundreds of people walking to their workplaces like Borg
Much of the story's fascination arises from our characters in their new
identities. Janeway meets a co-worker named Jaffen (James Read), and
before long they're dating and even living together. Meanwhile, back at
the power distribution plant, we meet Annika Hansen (Seven of Nine), who
holds the middle-management position of "efficiency monitor." If anyone is
perfect for the job of efficiency monitor, it's Seven. And Paris, who
couldn't keep his job at the plant (fired by aforementioned efficiency
monitor), finds himself hired at the nearby bar. Appropriate, how his
somewhat renegade nature still seems a part of his new personality. Torres
frequents this bar to spend time alone, quietly studying engineering
schematics -- not unlike our actual Torres. Tuvok is different in that he
laughs and cracks lame jokes -- which seems contrary to the similarity
that everyone else exhibits when compared to their actual selves -- but
since the writers reasonably make Tuvok the subject of the memory-control
failure, I'm not going to complain.
After work, everyone hangs out at the same bar for happy hour to relax
after a shift at the workplace. There's a subtext here on the subject of
human happiness. As programmed into their memories, our characters -- as
primarily seen in the Janeway/Jaffen storyline -- are kept in line mostly
by the belief that their lives now are as good or better than they ever
have been, and that having this job is the key to success and fulfillment.
"I'm from a planet called Earth," Janeway says to Jaffen. "Overpopulated,
polluted -- very little work." They live in decent apartments afforded
them specifically by, of course, their jobs.
Indeed, there's a point once Chakotay has found Janeway and is trying to
figure out how to break the truth of her forgotten life to her. He asks
her if she's happy. "I have a good job," she responds. Funny, how the
quality of her job is the first thing she mentions when discussing the
quality of her life. On this planet of industry, it would seem your job is
the most important benchmark of your self-identity. Sounds kind of like
My favorite human aspect of "Workforce" is the subtly sweet Tom/B'Elanna
subplot. Here are two characters whose memories have been changed so they
now see each other as complete strangers ... and yet something prompts Tom
to care for and try to protect B'Elanna after their chance meeting at the
bar. Paris is not simply trying to "pick her up" (like his attempts on
some of his other customers); rather, something makes him approach her
with a higher respect and concern for her welfare. I liked this a lot;
it's a quietly affecting story development that brings a human touch to
the sci-fi theme of memory alteration. If you're one who believes in
destiny, it might cross your mind here.
What's nice is how these humanistic subtexts grow out of the main drive of
the story, which is a kidnapping-conspiracy plot that's surprisingly well
executed. It involves a crooked brain surgeon named Kaden (Don Most) who
conspires with administrators at the power plant to deliver fresh laborers
who have implanted memories that will make them better appreciate their
jobs. All of Voyager's crew has been assigned to this plant. But something
in Tuvok's subconscious knows there's something wrong, and when he briefly
mind-melds with Seven, her own suspicions begin to surface. Meanwhile,
Chakotay, working from the other end of the game, goes undercover to
expose the conspiracy and rescue the crew.
To go into much more of the plot's detail would be superfluous. There are
a lot of apt little details (like computer records at the plant) that move
the story from beat to beat and supply us and the characters with clues,
respecting their intelligence and ours. It's all executed with a
confidence that makes me wonder how aimless plots like "Prophecy" even
happen. The story progress feels almost like a "Law & Order" episode,
which is high praise, since the forward movement of complex plot elements
on L&O is about as good as it gets on television.
I especially appreciated that the story featured a guest character working
on the inside to find the truth, and who is therefore on our side. His
name is Yerid (Robert Joy), and although bureaucracy often renders him
powerless, he's no dummy (which is refreshing); with the help of some of
the victims he slowly begins to chip away at the conspiracy. How he enters
the story is interesting, and where and when Chakotay decides he can trust
Yerid -- in a moment of desperation while being rolled away in restraints
on an operating table -- reveals the story's villains as working on
multiple levels of deception, thus making the plot even more compelling to
The second half of "Workforce" doesn't play as well on the themes of the
workplace as part one does, but it probably couldn't have with so much
plot in motion. There is, however, at least one dead end in part two that
doesn't pay off, which is the friction between conspirator Kadan and his
innocent assistant in the operating room, Ravok (Jay Harrington). Much is
made of a scene (which is weakly performed, alas) where Ravok's suspicions
about the conspiracy are awakened and Kadan justifies his actions as
something necessary for society. The friction between the two is set up
but never resolved. Similarly, John Aniston's role as the Quarren
ambassador proves to be a mostly unnecessary walk-on that serves little
purpose other than to conveniently bookend the two hours.
I also have some reservations about memory alterations being so easily
reversed without the dialog necessary to explain that ease. There's a
point where B'Elanna is rescued but doesn't know who she is. Doc describes
the alterations as "radical," but wouldn't a few lines explaining that
B'Elanna's real memories were intact but repressed with drugs have made
this a little easier to swallow, and less like a miracle when she
inexplicably seems to know who she is a few scenes later? (But don't get
me wrong -- the scene where she visits her Voyager quarters and realizes
the waiter from the bar is actually her husband is a moment with true
Aside from the solid mechanics of its plot, "Workforce" covers a lot of
ground in two hours. The relationship between Janeway and Jaffen is
pleasantly depicted, and explores a "what-if" situation pretty nicely
(until maybe Janeway's none-too-ambivalent last line to Chakotay in the
final scene). Chakotay finally gets some solid screen time where he gets
to take action and play hero without being saddled with a plotted mess
(see "Shattered"). A comic subplot involving the tug-of-war for command
between Harry and the Doctor is amusing, albeit hopelessly petty (and
therefore appropriate for these characters). Everybody gets some good
moments, making this one of the better ensemble shows on Voyager's record.
The technical credits are impressive, including the directing. Part one
(Allan Kroeker) ends with dizzying crosscutting between characters that is
jarringly effective, as Chakotay flees the authorities, Janeway has a
romantic encounter, and Tuvok is about to undergo invasive surgery. Part
two (Roxann Dawson) handles the increasing plot elements with expert
pacing; Dawson shows she can direct a big show with a good script just as
well as a small one with a mediocre script (last season's "Riddles").
The only thing missing from "Workforce" is a powerful ending. The first
half shows the signs of a subtle message episode, highlighting ordinary
issues of daily employment as filtered through a harrowing sci-fi premise.
Part two is skillful, well-characterized plot wrap-up, but with an ending
a little too routine for my tastes.
When I think about the bigger scope of my job, I like to think I'm doing
something useful and worthwhile. Sometimes, by the end of my shift, I'm
relieved I'm going home, and hardly thrilled about the fact I have to come
back. Maybe my employer should tamper with my brain; I might appreciate my
Next week: Seven and Chakotay get it on. Say what? (No, I'm not making
Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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