WARNING: This article contains spoiler information for VOY's "Learning Curve." If you haven't learned yet what that means, you might want to consider caution.
In brief: Now that's more like it. The plot's still a bit on the goofy side, but at least it's holding together -- and the character work here was quite promising.
Brief summary: As Voyager's bio-neural circuitry mysteriously begins to fail, Tuvok begins training some difficult Maquis crew in Starfleet procedures.
"Learning Curve" is an example of what can happen when the writing focuses on the more unique elements of the series' premise. On the one hand, we had an equipment failure -- a routine enough concept, but made more pressing by the fact that these things can't be replaced, by replication or by trotting off to a starbase for repairs. As Janeway herself noted, once they run out of equipment, that's it. On the other hand, we had more of an examination of the fact that these are still two distinct crews at times, with different personalities and different methods. That side is something that "Deep Space Nine" could perhaps have done if there were a more prominent Bajoran presence on the station than simply Kira, but as is it's really more suited for "Voyager". And while neither side was perfect, both were fairly well done -- more than enough to be a nice antidote to the weeks of mundane shows we've seen from VOY lately.
The main reason the Tuvok/training plot worked as well as it did is because it was two-sided. This could very well have been a "let's teach the Maquis something" show -- and while that's not impossible to do well, it tends to glorify one side over the other. Here, though the four Maquis in question were hardly held up as shining examples of officer material, Tuvok wasn't much more sterling. Dalby's quote to him that "this whole concept is insulting" was absolutely spot-on, and the episode would have been a great deal weaker if it hadn't gone on to essentially acknowledge and build on that fact in Tuvok's conversation with Neelix, one of the show's high points.
Granted, I may be a bit biased towards that particular plot because of my own situation. It doesn't take very much practical experience to know that the same teaching technique will *not* work for every single student, and that approaches need to be modified on a more-or- less continuous basis. I'm surprised Tuvok had as much success as he did in the sixteen years he taught at the Academy with a single approach. [I'm also surprised that one of Neelix's points in his "pep talk" wasn't to note that all of Tuvok's former students _wanted to be there_, which his four current "cadets" most definitely did not.]
I wouldn't say that the rest of the Tuvok story went perfectly -- it didn't. For instance, some of the scenes were going a bit too broadly, such as Dalby's expository bit in the holodeck, and I think the ending proved a little too pat. (Besides, lines like "if you can learn to bend the rules, we can learn to follow them" always rub me wrong -- they're way too hokey for me.) However, all four of the "trainees" were fairly well delineated (Dalby most of all, of course), and whether the outcome was "expected" or not, the story certainly proved interesting enough to be worth following.
One point that *did* need to be made, however, was that Tuvok might have been a bad choice as the crew's tutor. Not just because of his inflexible manner, as was pointed out -- but because as far as the average Maquis crewmember is going to know, Tuvok betrayed them. Yes, he was acting on orders, but I still doubt that's going to go over well with the likes of Mr. Dalby.
[As an aside, Chakotay's brief demonstration to Dalby that he didn't want an entire return to the "Maquis way" of doing things was also very worthwhile. Some forms of discipline you don't want.]
I particularly liked the holodeck simulation of Voyager's bridge. Fortunately, Tuvok was bright enough not to give them an actual Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario, but it was entirely too close to be fair to people with no real starship experience to speak of. And Tuvok appeared to lose sight of something, too -- even if they made some incorrect choices, they *did* appear to function as a team then, for the first time. Tuvok would have been in far better shape had he actually commended them for that instead of sticking solely to their flaws.
The other half of the episode, namely the "ship gets sick" plot, was well executed, if somewhat goofy in concept. (I will refrain from calling it "cheesy" out of deference to the sensibilities of sentients everywhere. :-) ) As soon as I heard in the premiere about the ship's "bio-neural circuitry", I knew the concept of a virus attacking the ship couldn't be too far behind. My hope was simply that it would be done well.
Fortunately, I think it mostly was. Both the infection itself, being one that only attacked the ship and not the crew, and the "cure", a fever, seemed grounded in at least marginally plausible logic (which may not sound like much, but is better than the sort of premises we saw in "Faces" or "Cathexis", to be sure). And as I said earlier, there was an actual sense of crisis involved here -- not so much in the "imminent jeopardy" angle itself, though, but in the fact that a critical system could fail with _no way_ to replace or repair it, given their location. Although that point was only really made at the start of the show, that was enough to keep me thinking about it as I watched, which was a help.
The one big negative in the show was the closing act. For one thing, the temperature issues in the "heat up the virus" attempt seemed odd, partly because it was unclear just where that temperature was. 360 Kelvin is in the 185-190 Fahrenheit range -- that's a bit on the cool side for the warp engines, but way too hot for humans to survive for the few minutes they're shown as managing. (I also thought that, given the heat they're likely to reach, it might have been a prudent order to strip down to essentials, or at the very least get rid of the top layer of the uniform shirts. These folks seemed like they were trying to kill themselves at times.) More important, though, was the characterization issue I mentioned earlier, where it seems that Dalby et al. warms to Tuvok a little too strongly right after this. It's understandable in the heat of the moment, so I'm not knocking it down yet, but if we see these characters again and everything is wonderful between them and Tuvok, I'll object. (Another point is that communications, despite being ostensibly out all over the ship, didn't seem to cause any problems on the bridge -- they could talk to Engineering and sickbay as much as they wanted...)
On the whole, though, "Learning Curve" was a definite improvement over the last month -- still a little on the lightweight side, maybe, but attempting a necessary point and mostly managing it, which works for me.
So, some shorter points:
-- Something interesting during Dalby's little self-history: is this the first time we've actually heard about a character being raped in Trek? TNG's "Violations" used the term, but only as an analogy. This is taking it a bit further...
-- The doctor's choice of just now to improve his bedside manner was definitely a scream. "Don't worry, my little friend" was almost as amusing a line as "get that cheese to sickbay", which has my vote. :-)
-- We also saw more of Janeway's holo-novel, which I'm starting to look a bit more forward to. Several people have pointed out to me that it seems to be an adaptation of _The Turn of the Screw_, which I'm forced to admit I haven't read; but it's also reminding me of an old movie called "The Innocents", which I saw this past fall, and which also has ghosts (at least implied ones, as here) and two exceedingly chilling children. In any case, it's interesting to see Janeway in an entirely different light, and I hope we get to see this continue on for a while. (I also hope we get to see her *finish* at least one sequence instead of getting interrupted every time! :-) )
That should do it. So, in closing:
- Writing: A somewhat silly "jeopardy" plot, but mostly sound writing and with a lot of good characterization of Tuvok.
- Directing: No complaints to speak of. The "climb and run" Tuvok put his students through came off particularly well.
- Acting: Few complaints, though Derek McGrath (Chell) got a little annoying. Tim Russ seemed particularly good given the situation.
OVERALL: Let's call this one a 7.5. There's still some room to improve, but this is definitely an upturn. Onwards!
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Eye of the Needle".
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "Get that cheese to sickbay." -- B'Elanna Torres Copyright 1995, 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.