WARNING: The following article contains large amounts of spoiler information about VOY's "Prime Factors". Anyone whose own moral code does not allow them to see such spoilers is advised to move on.
In brief: A slow starter, but with some of the best character moments the series has had to date.
Brief summary: The crew meet a race with highly advanced technology that has the capability to send them most or all of the way home -- but resentment and conflict arises when the aliens refuse to help them.
While "Prime Factors" had a few weaknesses associated with it, primarily in the stage-setting and the "pleasure planet" concept, it's one of the first episodes "Voyager" has had that has truly allowed these characters to be _human_ (in a broad sense), with all the assorted foibles and bad judgment calls inherent therein. In a nutshell, the strength of the episode was this:
B'Elanna, Tuvok, and the others were swayed enough by the moment to take an action that was desperate, short-sighted, and arguably dangerously stupid (or stupidly dangerous, perhaps; you choose). What's more, that action is one that actually rebounded back upon them and made them pay a price for their choice.
That's rare to see in Trek; the closest analogue that comes quickly to mind is that of Worf killing Duras in TNG's "Reunion". In both cases, the decision is very in character, totally understandable given the circumstances -- and far from acceptable in hindsight. Worf got a reprimand; B'Elanna got much worse. Both were excellent examples of what you can do when you push a character into a bad situation.
"Prime Factors"'s main weakness, alas, was the lead-up to the main crisis of the show, that being the conflict over getting the "spatial trajector" technology. While the concept of a planet devoted purely to pleasure is neither a new nor a bad one in the slightest, I wish it didn't seem so incredibly stilted in the execution this week. Ronald Guttman as Gath, in particular, really, *really* got on my nerves. I don't know if the accent Gath had is Guttman's own or an affectation created for the character, but it did absolutely nothing for me beyond distract utterly from the matter at hand. (It also made Janeway's infatuation seem totally unjustifiable well before she considered it such.) Moments like Janeway strolling through the courtyard being talked into fabric for a scarf, moreover, had entirely too many reminders of "Encounter at Farpoint"'s bazaar scene to make me comfortable with it.
The show essentially drifted its way up to the half-hour mark, I think. While the mess hall banter at the outset was entertaining, it also felt forced (except for Tuvok's comment at the end about improving efficiency, which was inspired). The planet-centered stuff was on the whole a net loss as well, until Kim found out about the trajector. (Even that scene was a mixed bag; while his inquisitiveness was good, I thought the romance angle was pretty shoehorned-in, though not quite on the level of "Ex Post Facto".)
Once the real crisis was evident, though, the show took off and almost never looked back. The initial conference to deal with the situation put all the cards on the table nicely: Janeway's moral dilemma, the fact that not everyone was thrilled about going along with her "almighty principles", and the desperation of their plight, as noted by the fact that after a few moments, even *Tuvok* was rationalizing like crazy to justify not giving up. I thought Janeway's speech about how they're now feeling the pinch of the Prime Directive's other side was also well taken, if a bit obvious.
The conspiratorial trio in Engineering -- B'Elanna, Cesca and Carrey -- also worked wonders for me. Despite everything B'Elanna did to try to justify each next step, she must have realized deep down that she was just digging herself deeper, and deeper, and deeper still with each passing "experiment". Although their initial "theorizing" may have been fine in a strict sense, it was crossing the spirit of what their principles suggested, and they knew it. We got to see a gradual working towards betrayal rather than a simple, out-of-the-blue conversion, and I think the former is far stronger.
The two other conflicts raised besides B'Elanna's duel with her conscience were Janeway's battle with Gath to get him to help them and Tuvok's wrestling match with his own conscience. While the Janeway/Gath confrontations were okay, they were again somewhat undercut by the fact that I found Gath difficult to take even remotely seriously. (The one exception to this was in his final scene, when he finally gets ticked off and orders Janeway to leave for judging him. While I think it was an overreaction, it was a sensible one given the culture -- and it was the one and only time I didn't find Gath all that unbelievable.)
The Tuvok-centered material, on the other hand, was breathtaking. I believe we've seen Vulcans rationalize their way into situations better left untouched before, and I'm also pretty sure that we've seen Spock decide to do things he knew Kirk wanted to do but couldn't on more than one occasion -- but I don't think we've ever seen the other party hurt by that action, and I'm almost positive we've never seen such a decision turn out not to work. Even after Tuvok watched Janeway agonize once and then twice, I still didn't quite believe he was going to take matters into his own hands. "No, not Tuvok ...", I kept saying to myself, "he wouldn't do that." Apparently he would -- and did, in a scene that had me as off-balance as it did B'Elanna and company. _Very_ nice work on the part of all concerned.
The failure of the conspirators' attempt to traject was handled fairly well, and (fortunately!) with a minimum of technobabble. (Some of that lack is actually necessary; given that Janeway's been written as a former science officer and master of technobabble herself, B'Elanna *won't* be able to scam her with doubletalk. Whew!) Things went from bad to worse for B'Elanna, then, as she was forced to in essence take a phaser to the way home, and then to shoulder the blame for her actions, in a scene that showed just how far she's matured since taking on her post.
The final scene between Janeway, B'Elanna and Tuvok is probably the single strongest scene "Voyager" has had to date as a series. The Janeway/Tuvok scene in particular, where Tuvok calmly and dispassionately justifies an act Janeway would not have wanted done for herself, is the first scene the series has had that's actually come close to putting a lump in my throat. All three characters' actions and statements seemed utterly right, and Mulgrew in particular did a top- notch job, catching just the right mix of shock, anger, and feelings neither she nor anyone else could properly put into words. (This isn't to slight either Tim Russ or Roxann Biggs-Dawson by any means, as both were also terrific in that scene, but Mulgrew's the one who people tend to focus on in situations like that, as she's the one playing the captain's role.) Janeway's speech decrying the power _and the flaw_ of Tuvok's logic was also excellent, and one that I think most Vulcans have deserved for years. (While this show wasn't one of them, there are certainly times when I've reacted to a Vulcan's statement with "you arrogant bastard", and I doubt I'm the only one.) That scene in particular was a wonderful crowning gesture to a strong character show.
So, if you can forget about the planet-based scenes in the early part of the show -- which, based on how ephemeral they seemed to me on a second viewing, shouldn't be difficult -- what's left in "Prime Factors" is prime stuff. Between this and the at least reasonably successful depth of "Emanations", I think "Voyager" may finally be starting to break away from "Trek Lite" mode and coming into its own. Here's hoping it stays that way.
So, some short takes:
-- I can't say this show totally escaped the "taunting the screen" treatment, of course. The scene between Kim and Yodonna (?) on Allastria lent itself to several comment, "Tell me of your homeworld, Usul" being a particular favorite. :-)
-- On the other hand, it's nice to realize that occasionally the science on the show *is* plausible. Assuming that their world was as far from its sun as we are from ours, the 30,000 light-year figure given is just about right.
-- Two things on the promotional side of the show are starting to get to me, rather intensely. First, the ads for the show are *terrible*. The writing on the screen is both unnecessary and in the way, and the in- jokes (such as "Starfleet Academy Awards" in this week's ad) are not particularly funny. Second, I don't know who the person is making announcements over the show's end credits, but he seems an insult to most forms of sentient life in both his tone and his content. I don't need to have the show I just watched insulted while seeing ads for shows that quite openly seek out and *kill* brain cells, thank you.
Now that I've aired that dirty laundry, on to a wrap-up. :-)
- Writing: Some flighty stuff at the start, but one of the series's meatier premises, and with excellent attention paid to characterization.
- Directing: No complaints. Nothing striking, but no complaints.
- Acting: Weak from the guest stars (on the planet; both Martha Hackett and Josh Clark, assuming the latter played Carrey, were fine), but excellent from the regulars, especially Biggs-Dawson, Russ, and Mulgrew.
OVERALL: 8. Solid work.
NEXT WEEK: A time-delayed reflection of "Parallax".
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "You are my counsel -- the one I turn to when I need *my* moral compass checked!" -- Janeway, to Tuvok 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.