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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Natural Law"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Natural Law. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Not unpleasant, but
    Message 1 of 1 , May 11, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Natural
      Law." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Not unpleasant, but incredibly uneventful and content-free.

      Plot description: Chakotay and Seven find themselves trapped with a
      primitive culture that is separated from the rest of its world by an
      energy field designed to protect them.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Natural Law"

      Airdate: 5/2/2001 (USA)
      Teleplay by James Kahn
      Story by Kenneth Biller & James Kahn
      Directed by Terry Windell

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "It's not like you to be on the fence." -- Janeway to Seven
      -----

      With only a few hours of screen time before Voyager closes shop, it seems
      beyond odd that "Natural Law" is what we get as one of those final hours.
      Apparently nearly everything that needs to be resolved on this series will
      be resolved in the two-hour finale, because you'd have no clue we were
      anywhere *near* the end of the series based on watching this episode.
      "Natural Law" -- while not off-putting -- is astoundingly nondescript,
      bordering on pointlessness, with a central issue that's barely given
      enough time to emerge as an issue.

      What's on the screen isn't *bad* per se. But it's easy to avoid
      wrong-headed scenes when you take a stand on nothing and have virtually no
      story. There's simply so little on the screen. Most of it is like a
      documentary of two people walking around a forest and interacting with
      other people who, apparently, are mutes. "Natural Law" supplies four acts
      of that kind of setup before delivering a final act of half-hearted
      arguments that don't seem like they care much at all about taking any sort
      of stand. Maybe that's because there's simply nothing here to stand on.

      We've also got a B-story about Paris getting a speeding ticket in the
      Delta Flyer and forced into traffic school, where he's the student of a
      stodgy driving instructor (Neil C. Vipond). Hello? Why is this worthy of
      screen time? Sure, there's mild amusement to be found in seeing Paris --
      whose primary character trait through this entire series has always been
      Ace Pilot -- being told by his instructor that he's "on [his] way to
      becoming an adequate pilot." But this sort of plotting only fuels my
      argument that Voyager's writers have all these characters and resources at
      their disposal to tell great stories ... and yet they deliver trivial
      nonsense like this. Half the Voyager audience could've written this
      subplot.

      The main "plot," such as it is, has Chakotay and Seven crashing their
      shuttle into a cultural preserve on the planet of the Ledosians. The
      Ledosians are a space-traveling, technologically advanced society, but
      inside this preserve is a primitive culture known as the Ventu, who live
      in isolation. They are protected by a massive energy barrier that was
      enacted centuries ago by an alien culture to protect the Ventu from the
      Ledosians, who had begun extending hostilities in an attempt to conquer
      them. The barrier is tenacious, to say the least; all attempts by the
      Ledosians to remove it have failed, and the technology continues to
      operate after centuries of non-maintenance. Find me any technology with
      that kind of reliability, and I'll buy it, no matter what it does or what
      it costs.

      Most of the show sits and watches while an injured Chakotay tries to
      communicate with the Ventu while Seven looks for shuttle debris that may
      aid in her and Chakotay's escape from underneath the energy barrier. The
      Ventu never speak, and apparently communicate only with sign language.
      These scenes are palatably handled, sometimes with the aesthetic sense of
      silent cinema, but there's not much content behind them. They exist as
      atmosphere under the "seek out new civilizations" clause of the Trekkian
      mantra. And that's really all there is to the episode.

      I might be willing to deal with four acts of repetition if the final act
      went somewhere interesting. It doesn't. Seven devises a way to bring down
      the energy barrier so she and Chakotay can be beamed out, but this allows
      the Ledosians to promptly send in research teams to study the Ventu. The
      Ledosians, it would seem, now intend to assimilate the Ventu into
      mainstream society. The question is whether or not that's a good thing.
      The Ventu, while primitive, are a resourceful bunch with a respect for the
      land, and a living piece of history.

      The episode sees this as a Prime Directive issue (which is, of course, a
      Trek cliche), and Janeway's ruling is that the technology that's keeping
      the energy barrier deactivated must be removed since it belongs to
      Voyager. Sensible enough, but there's no real argument or debate here that
      exposes any intriguing angle or issue; it's addressed in about 60 seconds
      and the story marches on. For something that's supposed to be at its core,
      the story sure doesn't seem to care one way or the other. (Eventually the
      script has the Ledosians attack *Voyager, which proves the writers ran out
      of ideas.)

      The irony, of course, is that the energy barrier itself was created by
      aliens who didn't have their own Prime Directive type of policy; they
      interfered by stopping the Ledosians from attacking a culture on their own
      world. This is an irony the story apparently doesn't even recognize.
      Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of any of this is supposed to be.

      The pleasant saving grace in "Natural Law" is in the way the story depicts
      our characters' interaction with the Ventu. Chakotay's attempts to
      communicate are patient and sincere -- as is Terry Windell's direction
      over these scenes -- and the reference to Chakotay's anthropological
      background is welcome. Even Seven, initially unmoved, ultimately can't
      help but deny that the Ventu are fascinating people, even if they do not
      have any sort of technological understanding.

      But as for the story, this review would be remiss if not to ask: What
      story?

      --
      Next week: Farewell, Neelix...

      -----
      Copyright 2001 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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