WARNING: I have discovered something truly shocking: there are spoilers for VOY's "Investigations" below.
In brief: *This* is what everything was building up to? High marks for ambition, perhaps, but minus several million for good thinking, mm?
Written by: Jeff Schnaufer and Ed Bond (story); Jeri Taylor (teleplay) Directed by: Les Landau Brief summary: Neelix becomes an investigative journalist, and finds himself covering one heck of a story: the departure of Tom Paris from Voyager, Paris's subsequent kidnapping by the Kazon, and evidence that Paris may have been spying for the Kazon all along.
So this is the way the long-term plot ends: not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a resounding "splut." Though there are things about "Investigations" that are certainly praiseworthy, it was a show that felt hollow from its first minute to its last, and was a wholly unsatisfying ending to two different running subplots.
"Investigations" and the stories leading up to it do deserve credit for at least attempting to do something a bit different. Having a spy feeding enemies information over a series of episodes is something we've never seen in Trek before (to the best of my memory, anyway), and although the "crewman pretends to be a villain to gain secrets/flush an enemy out" story is something that's been done, it's rarely been done with the intent to make the viewer wonder as well, and certainly not for this period of time. (TOS's "The Enterprise Incident" strikes me as an example of fool-the-viewer writing, and relatively good fool-the- viewer writing at that -- but it only tried to do so for about half a show.) So, as displeased as I was with the actual outcome, I think the attempt deserves a bit of commendation.
However ... the story itself needed work. Lots of it. In turn, then:
First and foremost, there's Neelix the journalist. I'll admit that telling the story through some sort of journalistic eye wasn't a bad idea, and "A Briefing With Neelix" strikes me as just the sort of goofy idea Neelix might be inclined to try. Despite all of that, though, the "here's what it means to be a journalist" story felt both overplayed and just silly. His original light, fluffy, gossip-column style was pretty much just annoying, and his later "gotta be independent ... gotta be independent" style, while perhaps in character, was extremely wearing as the show ground on. (Except for the two scenes of Paris talking with Seska, it's worth noticing that *every single scene* featured Neelix in it. Sorry, but Neelix is not nearly an interesting enough character to carry a show like that.)
Then, there was the Paris story. After my review of "Lifesigns", I got mail from about a hundred thousand people asking me if I didn't think it was likely that Paris was a plant. I'll admit the thought had occurred to me during and before "Lifesigns", but I hadn't put all that much stock in it, for precisely the reason that I wasn't entirely buying Paris's conversion into a rebel in the first place. If Paris's newfound persona wasn't seeming justified to me, who only sees him for an hour a week, I see no reason why it would seem realistic to people who knew him far better. As such, I figured that such a feint would have to be less obvious. Since it wasn't, I had to revise my earlier assessment of Jonas's and Seska's intelligence (which was dropping a fair bit anyway).
Speaking of Jonas ... well, I can't complain that this one was untrue to the character, because there *was* no character. Jonas has been a walking, breathing, line-giving MacGuffin for the last few weeks; sure, we know he's talking to Seska and betraying Voyager, but do we have any idea *why*? Others have drawn comparisons to a betrayal in the late first and early second season of "Babylon 5", but I think Jonas comes off the worse in that comparison: in B5, the actions were quickly revealed as part of a grander plan which is still unfolding. Here, it's not at all clear what if anything Jonas hoped to gain by his actions: did he think he'd be safer with the Kazon running the ship and the quadrant? Did he intend to get Voyager for himself? Did he just not like Janeway's hair? For all we know, it could be any or all of the above.
So, since there weren't a great many character arcs to look at here, we were forced to rely on the plot. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to fare much better; there were a great many moments where I was snapped out of the story saying "oh, hold ON a second" in disbelief. Most of them were in the final third of the show; the first forty minutes were just getting all the pieces in place. For instance:
-- Paris is kidnapped by Seska to be "recruited". Fine. She doesn't trust him and leaves him with an open console so he can prove he's a spy. Fine. But she doesn't check for any sort of weapons? And this from a former *Cardassian agent*, who you'd think would specialize in such things?
-- Jonas is so damned obvious during his "let's talk Neelix out of investigating" scene that anyone but Neelix would have been talking to Tuvok even without prior suspicions.
-- Neelix gives an engineering override he overheard to "prove" Tom's guilt. Um ... doesn't anyone check *voiceprints* any more?
-- Paris steals a Kazon shuttle from under the nose of a waiting ship prepared to fire on him. This is taking the theft of Federation shuttles a step or two further.
-- Mr. "I'm no expert" Neelix apparently knows engineering routines enough to know not only that Jonas isn't dealing with the transporter, but to *recognize a weapons-related subroutine*. What's he been doing, training for his own espionage mission?
-- The "open round-the-clock comm-link" that Tuvok set up for Neelix sure was useful, wasn't it?
-- There were tons of other ways to get Jonas out of Engineering. Once it was established that transporters worked, how about simply locking on to all human life signs? How about gassing the entire section and sending in someone else? How about beaming *every* life sign out? How about beaming security in? Anything but a big Neelix-vs-Spy slugfest.
There are a few other points here and there, but those are the big ones. I was snapping out of the atmosphere of the show so often that I nearly got whiplash; I certainly didn't stick around "inside" the show long enough to get any sort of real sense of jeopardy.
There were a few pluses, though. For one, I thought Neelix's "farewell" briefing to Tom was actually fairly good, especially cutting from person to person; a little sappy, perhaps, but befitting Neelix. I also liked Chakotay's reaction when the truth about what Tom had been doing finally came out: he was ticked off, with good reason. Despite the fact that Janeway's and Tuvok's rationale was fairly reasonable on at least one level, there's a real sense of "hey, you didn't trust me enough to bring me in" that Chakotay had -- and it should stay for a while. If Chakotay is chummy with everyone next week, so much for repercussions. Thirdly, while Paris's escape from the Kazon was generally ludicrous, it was filmed well in action terms: both his escape from the ship and his flight in the shuttle back to Voyager had enough excitement to grab me for a while. (This is in stark contrast to the Neelix/Jonas fight.)
All in all, though, "Investigations" struck me as a startlingly poor end to a weeks-long buildup. If this ambush was the best the Kazon could do, Voyager should have escaped them long ago; and if Paris's bluff was the best Voyager could do, the ship shouldn't have lasted this long. As a result, this big confrontation is feeling sort of like a game of "Jeopardy!" featuring the Three Stooges as contestants; it might have its moments, but there's just no reason to have it.
So, a few other points and then a wrap-up:
-- Neelix: "I'll be careful." Me (in my best "Star Wars" cantina-alien voice): "You'll be dead!" (Problem is, then I was waiting for someone to tell me that Neelix wasn't worth the effort...)
-- Robert Duncan McNeill deserves some substantial credit for this episode: I think he had horrible material to work with, but he still came off rather well, whether it was during his talk with Neelix, during his confrontations with Seska, or almost anything else.
-- The "Doc goes prima donna" story underlying Neelix's show was not, in fact, funny. Annoying, yes; funny, no.
-- While Kim's advice to Neelix was generally well taken, I'm not sure bringing up an example of a Maquis-related news-item that divided his readership is such a good idea under the circumstances. :-)
That's it. So, closing it up:
Writing: Take two plotlines, wrap them neatly in a bow, then drop 'em on the floor. Yep, works for me. Directing: Some good action sequences in spots, and the Paris-leaves montage wasn't bad. Acting: Kudos to McNeill (and to Phillips just for sheer endurance); complaints about Hackett and Raphael Sbarge (Jonas). OVERALL: Hmm ... a 4, mostly for ambition and effort.
NEXT WEEK: Double your starship, double your fun.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "It's sort of like a steady diet of dessert -- which is fine, but pretty soon you want some meat and potatoes." -- Harry Kim, perhaps discussing VOY as a series 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.