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Basics, Part I

WARNING: Here are the basics: spoilers for VOY's "Basics, Part I" lie ahead.

In brief: Some interesting moments -- but the only person whose situation I care about at this point is a guest star.

Written by: Michael Piller Directed by: Winrich Kolbe Brief summary: After a distress call from Seska comes in telling Chakotay about his son, Chakotay and crew head into Kazon Nistrom space -- with near-fatal results.

"Basics, Part I" was another example of how frustrating Voyager can be at times. On the one hand, there were a few nice character moments (including at least one really good one), and the plot at least had a few twists to it. On the other hand, making this plot to work as shown required both Voyager's crew and Voyager's designers to have a terminal case of brain absenteeism -- and frankly, so many bad decisions have been made so many times by so many characters that I'm not seeing a reason to worry about whether they survive the cliffhanger ending or not.

The essential angst of the first quarter or so of the show, namely Chakotay's anguish over whether to pursue his unwanted son or not, should have failed utterly with me. I don't particularly like what Seska's become since leaving Voyager (from either an acting or a writing standpoint), and I think the "hi there, I took your DNA so that I could have your son" ending of "Maneuvers" was a pretty absurd step. As a result, I didn't much care about the kid.

However, the vision where Chakotay discusses the issue with his father *did* work for me, and work well. I don't entirely know why; perhaps it's because that conversation was one of the few times Chakotay's been a person rather than a plot device. The acting was quite persuasive, and the arguments generally were persuasive as well. (I'm still not sure how I feel about the analogy to Chakotay's ancestor; part of me wonders if it was excessive, but most of me thinks it's okay and in fact added something.)

After that, the show changed from any sort of character-centered piece to a set action-adventure "let's go into a stronghold where we're totally outnumbered and save the kid" plot, and here's where I had a few more problems. They were a combination of bad decisions on the part of the characters and plausibility strains -- I don't know if any of them were so bad by themselves to cause a problem, but the combined effect was rather fierce. For instance:

-- The Talaxians have offered help, yet Janeway inexplicably says "thanks, we'll call if we need you." Excuse me? You're going into the heart of enemy territory that you've agreed is likely to be a trap -- I think you need them. Of course, that's not possible; no, instead we need to develop new unworkable technical solutions that can be circumvented. Right.

-- Nobody trusts Tierna (also known as the Exploding Ballpark Kazon; he plumps when pricked :-) ). Apparently, however, nobody *ever* searches him. I'm not even going to start in on the silliness of having a humanoid body create massive fireballs by exploding (having felt that way myself after a couple of bad meals once or twice), but you'd think that someone would have checked him for suicide possibilities.

-- Apparently the self-destruct system not only is so poorly designed that Janeway can activate it all by her lonesome (as was shown at least twice this season), but it's also so poorly designed that damage to *one system* can prevent its implementation. Was this system designed by someone indecisive, or what? "Let's make it too easy for them to kill themselves!" "Only if we can also make it easy for enemies to prevent!" Sheesh.

-- It's also distressing that no one thought ahead enough to have the crew *armed* in case of boarding parties; under the circumstances, you'd think that would have come to mind. (On the other hand, Janeway's made enough unpopular decisions lately a la "Tuvix" that maybe she worried they'd turn the phasers on *her*.)

-- This isn't a plot problem, but it's an objection nonetheless. I found the relentless misogyny by Culluh and the other Kazon really, really annoying. It's fitting with Culluh's previous characterization -- I'm just tired of characters whose sole distinguishing feature is membership in the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. We rarely if ever see any races with a serious case of misandry -- so why the misogyny here, aside from giving Culluh another reason to be hissed and more of a reason to slap Janeway around?

As I said, I'm not sure any of these glitches are large enough to cause a problem by themselves. When they and similar glitches are popping up every few minutes, though, there simply isn't time to settle into the story. And given that the strategy *was* the story in this instance ... when that strategy shows so many signs of flaws, there isn't much reason to want to stick with the story.

This isn't to say that "Basics, Part I" was a total loss -- it wasn't, by any means. As annoyed as I was by the problems above, there were a number of good features which helped the show. For instance, I was pleased to see that Neelix was put to some good use -- his "check" of one of Tierna's claims is actually in keeping with his alleged expertise. Also, as silly as I thought it was to rely solely on gimmicks like the "holographic Talaxian ships" for defense, the holographic ships did come in handy. (I could have completely done without the "poor doc's thrown into space" angle, though; bleah.) The doctor's response to being boarded was also one of the few that showed any sort of canniness -- simply shutting himself off to reactivate later at a set time is a reasonable risk. That, along with a few nice quips like the doctor's line about his suggestions, helped keep "Basics" at a reasonable level.

The use of Suder was also interesting, though there wasn't quite enough of it to really get me going. I like the fact that he seems very changed from when we last saw him in "Meld", and the scene where he manages to blow his chance with Janeway due to over-eagerness was properly off-putting. The set of scenes wasn't nearly as good as most of "Meld" was, mostly because Suder was a side-plot here and thus potentially not written as well -- but it worked.

On the whole, though, I was just left a bit cold. As of now, we've got Paris on a seemingly-destroyed shuttle, the doctor and Suder secretly on board Voyager with a lot of Kazon for company, and everyone else stranded on a planet with no technology (since no one was intelligent enough to hide their combadges -- even eating them would probably have worked). I'd love to say that I'm avid to find out how it's going to be resolved in the fall -- but I'm not. I'm a bit curious to see what happens with Suder -- he's one of the few characters I care about, and one I figure will probably be dead by the end of part II. As for the rest -- given that everything will undoubtedly be restored to the status quo, I don't see any reason to give it much thought.

A few other notes, then:

-- So, anyone else wonder if the reptilian cave-dweller we saw at the end of the show is Janeway's and Paris's long-lost kid? :-)

-- A physicist friend, when the ship landed: "Does the concept of moment arm and torque mean *anything* to you people?"

-- I loved the fact that we saw this hellhole of a planet depicted from orbit, and yet it looks like perfectly normal desert/grasslands ecology on the ground.

That about covers it. So, wrapping up (for the final time this season):

Writing: Some good moments here and there, but not enough to prop up a plot riddled with holes and without much of a reason to care. Directing: Kolbe did what he could. The Suder scenes weren't nearly what they were in "Meld", though. Acting: The usual Kazon and Seska complaints (overacting, anyone?) Other than that, no major problems. OVERALL: 6 or so; I'm being generous because my expectations for a season-ender may have been high.

NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Prototype". (Sometime this summer: a review of the season as a whole.)

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "Please, doctor; your suggestions on any subject are always welcome." "Really? In that case, you may expect several more on a variety of subjects in the near future." -- Janeway and the doctor 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.

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