WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for VOY's "Alliances". Choose your own alliances with said spoilers wisely.
In brief: A lot of necessary issues come up here, handled well at least in character terms -- but the last five minutes cause some problems.
Written by: Jeri Taylor Directed by: Les Landau Brief summary: After a series of Kazon attacks, Chakotay manages to convince Janeway that perhaps the ship's rules need to change, and Janeway finds herself looking to forge an alliance with one or more Kazon sects.
"Alliances" had something that's been missing far too often from "Voyager" as a series -- several somethings, in fact. "Alliances" has gotten back to the two premises of the series: the ship adrift in uncharted waters, and the conflicting philosophies at work on the ship itself. Both are important things separating VOY from seeming like warmed-over TNG, and neither has been given much of its due lately, particularly with this season. Although "Alliances" certainly had flaws here and there, I think its premise was intrinsically stronger than the vast majority of premises the series has had this season -- and as such, I'm inclined to give it the benefit of a few doubts in the hope that this is a beginning and not a fluke.
The better part of the show was its first half. The show very quickly established just how different from status quo it was going to be, with a rather vicious-seeming battle which turned out *not* to be a simulation, as I'd thought it might possibly have been to start with. That in itself didn't make a huge impression -- but the fact that Chakotay then pointed out that it might be time to start changing with the rules, with a grim litany of the ship's current failings followed by "I don't think we can afford to keep on doing business as usual", made me sit up far more sharply. His argument is one that's been made before, both on the show and by a significant fraction of its viewers (the latter group being somewhat divided about its reasons, however), but rarely in quite this blunt a fashion. That bluntness was welcome; and when the ante was upped even further in the turbolift, with Chakotay urging a deal with the Kazon and casting aspersions on Janeway's strict adherence to Starfleet rules, I started wondering if the series was actually going to turn a corner and start behaving a little differently from here on in.
The next fifteen to twenty minutes kept me wondering about that. Although things like the memorial service and Janeway's talk with Tuvok did little to answer my questions one way or the other, they didn't feel particularly unwelcome either. The memorial service, though perhaps a bit overplayed (it's not like crewmembers haven't died on board *before*), was genuinely moving, at least during Chakotay's story, and the crew's fears expressed to Janeway served to further heighten the tension.
Janeway's turning to Tuvok for counsel was a definite high point. From a character standpoint, it certainly felt right, as Tuvok's been established as Janeway's confidant and advisor since "Caretaker". What's more, though, it actually seemed as though these two had been consulting each other for a long time; Janeway's "do I hear a 'however' coming?" echoed the "howEVER" heard on my side of the screen at almost exactly the same time. While Tuvok's flower analogy didn't come off particularly well, his evocation of Spock's Klingon initiative *did* -- as intriguing as it would have been in isolation, it's even more interesting and ironic when one considers what's happened in the Alpha Quadrant since Voyager was abducted. (One wonders if Tuvok would still consider the argument a sound one. I suspect so.)
Once Janeway actually made her decision, I was somewhat disappointed to see the show run downhill slightly. Some of it simply felt like filler, even when it wasn't; Neelix's initial trip to Sobras, for instance, was exceedingly clunky, and the fact that the meeting was apparently held at the Cleavage Coffeehouse [tm] felt like a ratings ploy rather than a story point. Logic also started to fray a little bit; one wonders, for instance, just how Janeway managed to get hold of Seska as quickly as she did. (I also wondered about Janeway's tactical ideas; acceding to Seska's request that the Kazon be allowed to select a meeting location struck me as a fairly dumb move, given that the *Kazon* are the ones with reinforcements.)
The initial conference with Seska and Culluh, along with the pair's subsequent machinations, was occasionally interesting -- but only in the margins. There was little to be found in the collapse of negotiations themselves, for instance, and the attempt to make us think that Culluh might plan to sabotage the conference didn't do anything of the sort. Of more interest were their possible motivations and in- fighting between the two of them. Firstly, I wonder if Culluh's request for an exchange of crews was an attempt to get Seska off his ship; and secondly, Seska's claim that she's carrying Culluh's child is interesting, as it means she's lying to either Culluh or Chakotay. (I suppose that we'll find out eventually, unless the kid *really* takes after its mother physically. :-) )
The remaining meat of the show centered around the Trabe and their leader Mabus's interactions with Janeway. Given that we'd heard of them before, in "Initiations", and that they seemed so nice at first glance, it was a given that Janeway would propose an alliance; as such, I wasn't hugely surprised when something happened to tear it apart. (That's just as well, to some extent; all the talk about a desperate fleet was sitting up and literally *begging* for "Battlestar Galactica" jokes; "fleeing from the Kazon tyranny..." was the most popular here. :-) ) The Trabe treachery did manage to point out that not everyone who sounds friendly is; a valuable lesson, though one Janeway and company probably should have learned before.
In fact, the largest complaint I have about "Alliances" is what it points up about "Voyager" as a series: progress has been *extremely* slow, to the point of nonexistence. If our heroes are trying to zip back home at their best possible speed, they should be *out* of Kazon space before much longer; even if the Kazon sphere of influence is as large as the Federation (which seems doubtful), they certainly should be getting rapidly out of range of *the same group* every time, and Seska's continued presence is implying otherwise. [I might not object quite so much if the Kazon weren't so *dull*, but that's a separate issue.] Similarly, given that Janeway's been burned a few times already in the series, you'd think that she might think twice about accepting the Trabe's requests at face value, especially when she's been warned that *someone* is going to try to sabotage the conference.
Come to think of it, most of the flaws in the plot of "Alliances" can be chalked up to extremely poor reasoning on Janeway's part. She accedes to Culluh's initial demands, which could easily have put the ship at risk; she tells a potentially mutinous crewmember that their technology is more important than his life; she trusts the Trabe implicitly, without even the slightest question of whether their attitude towards the Kazon really *has* changed; and her reaction to the Trabe sabotage was substantially lacking in smarts. Had she been a bit smarter, she could have salvaged that situation: beam *everyone* up rather than just the four that originally came from the ship, tell the Kazon present that they were used by the Trabe unknowingly, and *hand over Mabus* to prove it. That would clear her conscience, not make Voyager come off looking like hypocrites and word-breakers, and might even help their tenuous position in the quadrant; and the only thing it would require is the life of someone clearly willing to sacrifice everyone else anyway. I don't think that's particularly bloodthirsty. (Even if turning over Mabus doesn't sit well, Janeway absolutely should have had the Kazon beamed up as well.)
This, along with Janeway's smug "I told you so" speech at the end of the show, left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth -- but it's also something that *could*, if handled well, be followed up on in several interesting ways. The issue of whether Starfleet rules are appropriate shouldn't be a dead issue by any means; if the speech at the end of the episode is supposed to indicate that everyone's going to roll over and accept it, no thanks. However, if and when it *does* resurface, Janeway's actions virtually throughout the episode could end up being tossed back in her face in extremely nasty fashion. In this case, her vaunted Federation way of thinking and naive optimism that everyone who acts friendly is got them in worse trouble than they did before; and that point is one that someone should make. They might regret it later, but someone who fundamentally disagrees with Janeway's viewpoint needs to say it. Doing so would make the series seem like the characters have opportunities to learn; not doing so will leave "Alliances" a lot higher and dryer.
While I don't know if those particular issues are going to be dealt with again, it seems clear that some of "Voyager" needs to change a little bit now. It's pretty much a given that no Kazon is going to be anything but hostile towards Janeway et al. by now -- but what I find far more interesting is the existence of Michael Jonas, Seska's spy on board Voyager. His presence was clearly established, but no more, which means he'll be popping up more. There are some possibilities there. (There are also questions; was he working with Seska before her abrupt departure in "State of Flux", for instance?) So I suspect that at least some plot points set up in "Alliances" will be popping back; it's just the overall picture that could go either way.
That pretty much covers things, I think. So, some shorter points:
-- Janeway wasn't the only one who had shining moments of blunder- ridden thinking. That Kazon guard during the Trabe escape was pretty dumb, too. Let's see, you hear explosions and get nervous, then something rolls towards you. Yeah, kicking it is definitely the first thing *I'd* do...
-- Between Janeway's "I've been in your quarters before" to Tuvok and Neelix's "I guess you'll be sleeping alone!" to his Kazon contact, this episode was a field day for quotes lending themselves to more prurient interpretations.
-- Although Roxann Biggs-Dawson did good work last week in "Prototype", her one big scene in "Alliances", putting down complaints from Hogan, fell rather flat.
-- Why didn't Voyager *see* the Trabe ship positioning itself for the massacre? It was even under orders to look for surface activity; who's keeping watch up there, guards on vacation from old episodes of "The Tick"?
-- It's not hugely surprising that this episode reached back for some of the series' original precepts, given that co-creator Jeri Taylor wrote it.
That should wrap things up. "Alliances" was simultaneously interesting and frustrating; which side wins in the end will depend on whether this was a beginning, or an excuse to not consider the issue any more. Right now, it's right on the knife-edge. (Even as a worst- case scenario, though, the first half was quite good.)
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Interesting questions raised and debated, marred by serious lapses in Janeway's judgment. Directing: No particular problems here; the initial battle was probably the best directed sequence of the show, but everything worked. Acting: Standard, I think. OVERALL: About a 7, primarily on the strength of the first half and the strength of the issues raised.
NEXT WEEK: Speed kills?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) email@example.com "I can't *imagine* making a deal with them [the Kazon]." "With all due respect ... maybe that's because your imagination is limited by Starfleet protocols." -- Janeway and Chakotay Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.