Mark Watches ‘Voyager’: S02E19 – Lifesigns

In the nineteenth episode of the second season of Voyager, the Doctor gets a hologram companion. Sort of. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

This episode is so much better than it should be. The whole “romance-of-the-week” story that we’ve experienced in countless Star Trek episodes never strays too far from a familiar pattern. I don’t know that “Lifesigns” fares all that better in that area, but I still adored this experience. Robert Picardo is so good! There’s so much chemistry between him and Susan Diol! EVERYTHING HURTS.


Before I get to the meat of this episode, I wanted to address the largely jarring subplot involving Tom Paris. There’s an interesting story within “Lifesigns” about Paris feeling ignored and dismissed, but it’s buried within a whole lot of telling instead of showing. We don’t ever see Chakotay do any of the things that Tom describes, so we have no emotional basis for his problem. Instead, Tom comes across as spoiled and prone to throwing tantrums about the chain of command. Chakotay, on the other hand, has the patience of a saint throughout “Lifesigns.” He tries to pull Janeway into this situation, hoping she might have a better chance of getting through to Tom. Even after Tom shoves him on the bridge (!!!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU !!!!!), he still barely reacts. CHAKOTAY FOR PRESIDENT, I SWEAR.

So, Tom’s in the brig. That’s bad. But this felt tacked on, incomplete, and unsatisfying. Perhaps we’ll get more in the episode, but I’m comfortable theorizing that this would have been better had it been given more time.


Dr. Denara Pel

Again, I should not like this as much as I do, BUT I CAN’T HELP IT. Much must be said of Picardo’s incredible performance here as a hologram adapting to the human experience. In this specific instance, he learns what attraction feels like, how a burgeoning love can destroy you as much as it can uplift you, how much rejection hurts, and how great it is to experience romantic reciprocation. This all happens in forty minutes, it feels believable, and it HURTS THE HEART.

How is that possible? Well, thats one major reason that the Tom Paris subplot suffers as much as it does. The bulk of this episode follows the Doctor and Dr. Pel, so much so that aside from Kes, most of the characters don’t even appear in the episode aside from a few minutes overall. That’s okay, though, because it gives the writers room to explore this entire phenomenon. The Doctor gets to experience the first prickles of attraction, and we get to see it in his facial expressions. When the two of them begin to develop an affinity for each other, it feels real. It doesn’t seem like a gimmick or a contrivance.

And I love that! I love that both characters don’t take this experience for granted. The Doctor never considered that he’d ever have to deal with love. But neither did Dr. Pel, though her reason is a whole lot sadder. Since she’s had the Phage since she was a child, she just assumed that she’d never have a companion. And that’s something brilliant about this episode: the writers build an entire world for the Vidiians all through Dr. Pel’s dialogue. We learn of how her non-infected friends abandoned her; we discover that Vidiians aren’t allowed to socialize in groups; we learn that companionship is viewed as an impossibility for people like Dr. Pel. Thus, her behavior makes perfect sense, from the way she backs away from the Doctor to the way she rushes towards him a couple scenes later. Romance is a myth to her until it’s suddenly not.

Of course, I kept expecting the worst. Romance is simply not allowed to happen in the Star Trek in any significant way. Would Dr. Pel’s brain transplant take, and would she move on? Or would her body die, taking her hologram self with her? I admit I was initially shocked that she tried to kill off her body, but I came to understand why she’d be so afraid of being returned to her previous state. Her entire understanding of her own body is filtered through the lens of having the Phage. She can’t even conceive of someone loving her in a body that is controlled by a disease she cannot control or cure. Yet that’s the power of love, at least shown to us through the Doctor. He can’t conceive of a life without Dr. Pel, and he doesn’t love her “despite” her disease. He loves her as a whole person.

So… is she sticking around??? The end of this episode is satisfying in an immediate sense, but Dr. Pel isn’t killed off. She doesn’t return home. Indeed, there’s no future hinted at in “Lifesigns.” MIGHT VOYAGER BREAK WITH TRADITION??? I’ll have to see.

The video for “Lifesigns” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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