“Think Tank”

I had family in town over the holiday weekend and didn’t have time to exercise, which meant no Voyager time. Which was actually OK, as it turned out. I couldn’t stop thinking about “Course: Oblivion,” and now I’ve had lots of time to chew on it.

After writing about that episode, I immediately went online to read other opinions and was… well, maybe not shocked, but definitely a little bummed out when I immediately came across a lot of scathing reviews calling it garbage. But there’s also a lot of affection for it, so I suppose it’s a love/hate proposition. I guess if you can roll with Voyager as a whole, you’ll love it, but those who hate Voyager despise this episode in particular.

That’s strange, really, because the concept behind “Course: Oblivion” is some fine sci-fi regardless of its affiliation with Star Trek. A starship crew on a long-term mission to return home discovers they’re actually duplicates of the people they thought they were, and now they must question everything about their existence from the value of freedom to the importance of their inherited ethics? That’s a great Heinlein novella right there. The fact that it builds on a long-running franchise and works by both reinforcing and playing against the expectations established with a set of characters we’ve followed for five years, though — that adds another layer to the story. It’s a brilliant more-or-less standalone science fiction tale that also happens to work within a separate context.

I compared “Course: Oblivion” in my previous write-up to “The Inner Light” and “The Visitor,” and it occurs to me that all three of those stories revolve around a common central concept: Being remembered. The alien probe of “The Inner Light,” which causes Picard to live another man’s life in its entirety, exists strictly to ensure that a people’s plight and extinction are not forgotten. Likewise, “The Visitor” sees Jake Sisko put his life practically on hold in order to cherish the last fleeting vestiges of his father, who was lost in an accident and set adrift through time. “Course: Oblivion” carries forward this theme, as the copy-crew struggles to ensure it won’t be forgotten, that some record of their existence is preserved to be found by someone else. That they fail makes the story all the more striking; it would have been formulaic Trek for the real crew to have discovered the dying ship or its message, and to have at least taken a moment to contemplate their counterparts. But they don’t, and the episode becomes all the more tragic for the near-miss.

Anyway, it’s good.

“Think Tank”

Hmm, this was a perfectly decent standalone episode that could have been better. The writing takes a few things for granted, and it tips its hand a little too much right from the start. The cold open this time gives away the entire game, really: The villain here is Jason Alexander, playing a manipulative alien who kind of comes off as what George Costanza would have been like if he were actually the criminal genius he thought of himself as (and also if had a vagina on his forehead). I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth out of Alexander, so they wrote the pre-credits sequence entirely around a scene of him making a deal with a client and threatening to destroy said client’s planet when the deal goes south.

It’s a shame, because it sends out a clear signal that Alexander’s character is pretty likely the main antagonist here, once again undermining the potential intrigue of the episode. The first scene with Voyager, in which their scan of a planet triggers a booby trap that had been laid specifically for the ship, is a lot more captivating and would have made for a compelling premise. A small army of extremely dangerous alien bounty hunters have been sent to capture Voyager, and it quickly becomes clear after the ship’s narrow escape from the initial scan-trap that they’re badly outmatched and have almost no chance of escape. Enter Kurros (Alexander), who appears to Janeway, offering his help for a price.

To the writers’ credit, Janeway immediately regards this offer with suspicion, but she’s also pragmatic enough to recognize that her back’s against the wall, so she fields Kurros’ offer. In return for helping them escape the bounty hunters, all Kurros wants is one of Neelix’s recipes, one of Chakotay’s personal relics, and… Seven of Nine. Unsurprisingly (thanks to the cold open), the entire situation turns out to have been engineered by Kurros and his Think Tank of aliens to get Seven to join their group. And while Voyager eventually outsmarts the villains in a very Trek sort of way — they cleverly lay a reverse trap with which to capture a pair of bounty hunters and convince them to join the fight against Kurros, who put the bounty out on Voyager under false pretenses — the outcome is never really in doubt. Despite the fairly formulaic outcome, though, the writing takes a few narrative shortcuts (where does Janeway find sufficient debris to make it look like Voyager was destroyed?) while dragging things out in others (it takes the crew way too long to come up with the extremely obvious plan to use Seven as a lure against Kurros).

I don’t know. This was an enjoyable episode for sure; it ends with one of those “sorry, you’re hoist by your own petard” moments Starfleet captains like to do, with the Think Tank facing what will very likely be destruction by the third party (bounty hunters) they’ve wronged as our heroes zip away from the powder keg they’ve tossed a match toward. But the longer I think about the details, the more I notice little things that don’t hold up. Like: Kurros somehow knows about his client’s deception in the cold open, but Voyager manages to pull a fast one on him despite having been hanging out with the bounty hunters for a day or two — something you’d think he’d have noticed. For someone with the ability to just drop in to someone else’s ship and say, “What’s up?” Kurros sure did get taken for a sucker. And why didn’t Kurros just kidnap Seven rather than openly manipulate her into the crew? She’s hostile either way. Finally, the crew discovers and proves that Kurros lied to the bounty hunters awfully easily. I feel like some of these details could have been better explained with a few extra minutes of running time… time that would have been available if not for that cold open. Ah well.

Despite its flaws, I did like this episode. And I kind of hope we haven’t seen the last of the Think Tank. A small group of extremely intelligent and manipulative antagonists with access to high-level technology could be an interesting continuing threat for Voyager to deal with — a nice change of pace from the more standard threat of alien races that dogpile the ship and attempt to overwhelm it with brute force and numbers.