WARNING: The following article has spoiler information for VOY's "Maneuvers", so I suggest you maneuver yourself around it if you're not interested.
In brief: Mostly entertaining ... though with a few big flaws that undermine it.
Written by: Kenneth Biller Directed by: David Livingston Brief summary: Voyager is attacked by a Kazon vessel and has its technology stolen, leaving Chakotay to plot the technology's rescue ... from his old associate, Seska.
I had high hopes for "Maneuvers" going in. After a host of lackluster shows this season, "Maneuvers" was bringing back Seska, who was an interesting character even before being revealed as a traitor, and had the potential to bring out some interesting reactions upon her return. In addition, her knowledge of Voyager's operations, defenses, and strategies could make her formidable to face in hostilities. With all that going in, I figured "Maneuvers" had a good shot at being a good show.
For the most part, I think it was, assuming one looks at it primarily as a chess game of move and counter-move. Seska's initial attack to steal the transporter technology *did* in fact catch the crew flatfooted, making them look "like first-year cadets at the Academy", as Chakotay put it. Chakotay's maneuver to get close to the Kazon vessel was another fairly smart tactic, as were many of the later ones by both Voyager's crew and Seska's. I may have occasionally stopped to question, but for many of the plotting scenes I was more than willing to let myself just get strapped in for the ride. On that level, "Maneuvers" worked just fine.
It also worked well by shifting some of its focus ever so slightly. Rather than solely concentrating on Chakotay and the rest of Voyager, there was a sizable portion of the show devoted to Seska and her scheming with Culluh to unite and exploit the Kazon. While some of the scheming itself wasn't necessarily riveting, some of it was -- the immediate killing of their major rivals being high on the list (ouch!) -- and even what wasn't was notable for its novelty value. It's certainly not like showing the "enemy" perspective has never been done before -- it has, particularly with the Duras sisters in both TNG's "Redemption" and in "Generations" -- but it's done rarely enough that it's interesting when one gets to see it, assuming it's competently done. This was, so that novelty was a plus.
Story-wise, the main drawback of the story was the set of implausibilities it carried along as baggage. For instance, the beacon emitting a Federation signal at the start was one large unexplained question that never got answered. First of all, you'd think Voyager has the technology available to distinguish signals sent with Federation hardware vs. those jury-rigged; and second of all, the signal pattern was supposedly one not meant to be used until a month after Voyager had disappeared. I'm curious about why Tuvok had that on file, and how Seska found out about it -- it doesn't strike me as high-level information she'd want to take with her. The entire sequence struck me as odd. Beyond that, it was mostly a question of technobabble more than real implausibilities (the final minute aside -- more on that later); the early work to detect the missing transporter module seemed particularly densely worded, as was everything about the antiproton beam weapon. (The rescue-at-warp-speed babble was verging on being horrible as well, but B'Elanna's knowledge "because I've done it before" saved it, as it's always nice to be reminded that there *are* people on this ship who don't always follow 'Fleet rules.)
On a character level, I'd also say that much of the show worked. Chakotay's conflicts were particularly solid; I think Torres's claim that he felt responsible for Seska's acts felt spot-on. Janeway's later claim that Chakotay was being somewhat self-indulgent was also true, but that doesn't matter -- Chakotay felt like he had to do something, and did the only thing he could. No, it wasn't sensible, and no, it wasn't particularly bright -- but on a character level, it felt very like Chakotay. Torres's plea for leniency also came off pretty well, and Janeway's continued annoyance at Chakotay through most of the show felt more than justified to boot. For much of the show, I was more or less genuinely interested in the possible repercussions to Chakotay's actions. (B'Elanna's argument about morale to justify Chakotay's rescue was also interesting, particularly because it *could* be viewed almost as an unconscious threat.)
Some of the other character moments, however, proved more distractions than interesting subjects. The Chakotay/Seska scenes, regrettably, mostly fell into that category. Last season's "State of Flux" came very close to having Seska go too far over the top, and "Maneuvers" came close to that line and then trampled all over it. Martha Hackett's great as Seska when she restrains herself ... but when she really lets herself go wild, I'm not nearly as happy with her work. Her outbursts to Chakotay felt like just that -- outbursts, and not particularly interesting ones.
Similarly, there are a lot of interesting Chakotay/Janeway conflicts that *could* have been set up that weren't. In particular, this may be a case where Chakotay might have chafed at the subordinate "first officer role" entirely. He was a commander himself for a time in the Maquis (and possibly before; we still don't know how high he rose in the ranks in Starfleet), and Seska was from that time; he may have felt that if he knew what had to be done, he shouldn't *have* to check in with anyone. The "Chakotay gets rash over a personal issue" approach worked reasonably well, but there are so many fundamental differences between how Chakotay and Janeway should think that they should come out just as much, if not more so.
Despite all of that, however, I liked "Maneuvers" quite a bit until the ending; alas, the last two or three minutes were a *major* letdown. On the one hand, we had Janeway's big concern about disciplining Chakotay turn into a case of "stop doing that, or I'll have to ask you to stop doing it again", which was so far under-proportioned to what he'd done as to be laughable. I agreed with her points about him setting a bad example, but Janeway's turning into a disciplinarian with no teeth, which will do much worse damage to morale in the long run than losing a crewman might do. Putting him "on report" would have felt iffy even if they'd been in Federation space; here, where they even *admitted* it essentially meant nothing, it feels even worse. (In addition, her response to his non-justification of his actions should have been something more like "that was a very noble gesture; it was also a damned lie. Want to try again?")
And then, there's Seska's big "revelation" to Chakotay about his impending fatherhood. Janeway's line from the previous scene comes to mind: "what were you thinking?" This came off so nebulously that I had no real sense of how we were even *supposed* to interpret it; is Seska genuinely interested in having "part of Chakotay" still with her, or is this just a final taunt? And are we meant to perceive this as a threat? On a technical level, I won't even begin to get into the issue of "I extracted your DNA and impregnated myself with it", except to point out two things: one, she'd need sperm cells, not full DNA, and she can "extract" that by far easier means (though not ones that could be mentioned on television, I suppose :-) ); and two, by past Trek logic, if she's somehow injected herself with Chakotay's DNA she should start *turning into* Chakotay. Snort.
-- There were a few priceless dialogue moments in the episode, though. Tuvok in particular got in a nice line early on: "Perhaps Commander Chakotay could use his intimate knowledge of Seska to manipulate her in much the same way she did us." The eyebrow makes the whole line. :-) The Chakotay/Torres scene just afterwards also worked well for dialogue, both in Torres's "so you have lousy taste in women" and in Chakotay's "now I'm getting advice about controlling my emotions from *you*".
-- A line that's priceless if you take it out of context came from Janeway, to Torres, about Chakotay: "We'll worry about the discipline later." A-hem.
-- Beltran was generally quite good throughout the show, except after the beatings by Culluh. While the idea of the mind games he played with Culluh was good, his mannerisms kept reminding me of "Beltran does DeNiro". "You talkin' to ME?" was heard here several times.
That about covers it. "Maneuvers" was undoubtedly the best VOY episode of this particular batch of new ones, and one of the two or three best ones of the season -- but given how much water the season's been treading, that's unfortunately not saying much.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: A few plot holes, but good sharp stuff until the last few minutes; then it falls flat. Directing: Nothing earth-shattering, but solid. Acting: Hackett varied wildly depending on the scene, Beltran was almost always good, and everyone else was reasonable. OVERALL: 6.5, I think; on par with "Non Sequitur". (It would've been much higher if my power had gone out five minutes before the episode ended.)
NEXT WEEK: Everyone's taken prisoner. I hate when that happens.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "I find it more than a little self-indulgent of Chakotay to assume this is all about *him*." -- Janeway 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.