Well, OK. This is more like it, then.
Season 5 of Voyager so far has been a lot more hit-or-miss than Season 4 was. I don’t think S4 had anything as strong as “Timeless” up its sleeve, but neither did it have any total duds (except that one episode with the guy who stole Seven of Nine’s Borg components against her will, ugh). I’m honestly fine with occasional flops if the tradeoff amounts to episodes like this, though.
“Counterpoint” is the kind of episode you get from a show that’s become comfortable with and confident in itself. The bad guys here, the Devore, would have been stretched out over an entire season or two in Voyager‘s early days. They’re more interesting than the Kazon, a genuine danger to the ship’s well-being led by a man who (as the title hints at) actually feels like a formidable match to Janeway through the power of his inexorable bureaucracy. But just as “Thirty Days” involved an attack on the ship, in passing, by a threat that we never actually saw, “Counterpoint” begins several weeks into Voyager‘s unhappy relationship with the Devore. We don’t see their first contact, nor do we see the series of events that led to the Devore instituting a humbling surprise inspection policy on the ship. Instead, we begin at a point at which those inspections have become routine. We know enough about the ship, the crew, and its captain to recognize how this treatment must chafe.
So, when the Devore’s chief inspector defects to Voyager, the tension between him and Janeway feels authentic. He’s ruthless but not cruel, charming in his condescending way; unlike with Janeway’s handful of previous flirtations so far, you can actually buy the notion that the two might be attracted to one another despite their difficult relationship so far, and despite the fact that his civilian clothes consist of a velour jacket and a muted Hypercolor shirt. (It is, however, a little harder for us to take the inspector entirely seriously when his name is one Y short of being the name of Chewbacca’s homeworld.)
Of course, it’s not really surprising when Devore turns out to have been merely pretending to have defected; it’s a ruse to arrest the telepaths (whose very existence is highly illegal in the Devore imperium) that Voyager is smuggling and locate the unstable wormhole that telepaths have been using to escape Devore “justice.” Janeway saw it coming, too, and as Kashyk’s grip tightens on the ship and its precious cargo, we slowly see her counter-ruse come into focus. The Devore find their efforts to recover the telepaths thwarted step-by-step. It’s a brilliant sequence, as it becomes clear that Janeway has used her familiarity with the rigid inspection procedure the Devore have subjected the ship to as a means to undermine their efforts.
There’s a real sense of regret at the outcome: The episode ends with Janeway alone on the bridge, clearly disappointed that her suspicions about Kashyk turned out to be well-founded. And there’s a subtle surprise at the outcome, too; she clearly helped the telepaths escape with the awareness that she’d be sacrificing Voyager. In the end, the status quo is preserved simply because the career-minded Devore don’t want this failure on their records, so they quietly let Voyager go — an outcome that Janeway clearly didn’t expect, based on her quiet reaction to Kashyk’s orders to his men. So while there was a happy outcome to Janeway’s altruistic actions, it’s still not a totally cheerful ending. And that makes this a strong episode.
One of the themes I’ve noticed taking shape throughout S5 is the willingness to show the crew as fallible and explore their failures. It’s not a very Star Trek kind of approach — everyone’s the best of the best, driven by the Prime Directive, noble souls, etc. etc. And that’s fine, I appreciate a show that takes a sincerely positive view of humanity’s future. But it’s interesting when the good guys mess up, and a relief when the writers are willing to admit it. “Timeless” happened because Harry Kim screwed up some math; “Nothing Human” addressed a poor choice by the Doctor; and now “Latent Image” forces Janeway to question her choices.
The interesting thing about this episode is that it addresses one of the consistently frustrating things about Janeway: Her tendency to decide what’s right for people, regardless of how they feel about it. In this case, she’s forced to reconsider her solution to the Doctor’s freakout over allowing the death of a crewman about a year and a half prior. The Doctor begins to uncover evidence that someone has been deleting some of his program files surrounding an alien encounter and a spinal injury to Kim, and as he begins to investigate this strange mystery (which none of the crew claims to have any clue about), he learns that Janeway herself has been deleting his memory.
This isn’t some malicious sabotage, of course; Janeway establishes the circumstances of her actions, which also explains why everyone else has gone along with the choice. The Doctor was forced, some time back, to make a decision between saving one of two people in a rapid-response emergency surgery in the wake of a deadly alien attack. Pressed to choose between Kim or one of those anonymous below-decks crewpeople that appear in the show’s background, he went with Kim. In the aftermath, the decision caused a conflict in his ethical routines, and his inability to come to terms with his guilt over having chosen to save the crewman he was closer to caused his behavior to become increasingly erratic. Janeway ultimately decided to “reset” his program by erasing the event from his database — a reasonable, if difficult, choice.
But her actions echo back to similar unilateral decisions she’s made about other people’s autonomy throughout the show’s run. No one mentions Tuvix, but Seven of Nine does act as a sort of viewpoint character here; the original incident transpired before she joined the crew, so like the Doctor (and the viewer), she’s only learning about his choice and meltdown now. Seven quite pointedly compares Janeway’s actions regarding the Doctor’s memory to Janeway isolating her from the Collective, which the captain did over her protests. When the Captain asks if she regrets the choice, Seven demurs, but only after she pointedly replies, “I had no choice.”
So Janeway, humbled, chooses not to wipe the Doctor’s memory again. Instead, she takes point on helping the program to reconcile its digital equivalent of guilt. And, in the process, I feel she takes a step toward redeeming her own guilt for some of her own past sins. I don’t know if the writers specifically had “Tuvix” in mind (in addition to Seven’s being press-ganged back into humanity) while putting together this episode, but that ugly incident from the past certainly casts a long shadow here.