In the nineteenth episode of the second season ofÂ Voyager, the Doctor gets a hologram companion. Sort of. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.
This episode is so much better than it should be. The whole â€œromance-of-the-weekâ€ story that weâ€™ve experienced in countlessÂ Star TrekÂ episodes never strays too far from a familiar pattern. I donâ€™t know that â€œLifesignsâ€ fares all that better in that area, but I still adored this experience. Robert Picardo is so good! Thereâ€™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. Thereâ€™s an interesting story within â€œLifesignsâ€ about Paris feeling ignored and dismissed, but itâ€™s buried within a whole lot of telling instead of showing. We donâ€™t everÂ seeÂ 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 â€œLifesigns.â€ 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, Tomâ€™s in the brig. Thatâ€™s bad. But this felt tacked on, incomplete, and unsatisfying. Perhaps weâ€™ll get more in the episode, but Iâ€™m comfortable theorizing that this would have been better had it been given more time.
YET I WOULD NOT TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM THE OTHER PLOT.
Dr. Denara Pel
Again, I should not like this as much as I do, BUT I CANâ€™T HELP IT. Much must be said of Picardoâ€™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 donâ€™t even appear in the episode aside from a few minutes overall. Thatâ€™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 feelsÂ real. It doesnâ€™t seem like a gimmick or a contrivance.
And I love that! I love thatÂ bothÂ characters donâ€™t take this experience for granted. The Doctor never considered that heâ€™d ever have to deal with love. But neither did Dr. Pel, though her reason is a whole lot sadder. Since sheâ€™s had the Phage since she was a child, she just assumed that sheâ€™d never have a companion. And thatâ€™s something brilliant about this episode: the writers build an entire world for the Vidiians all through Dr. Pelâ€™s dialogue. We learn of how her non-infected friends abandoned her; we discover that Vidiians arenâ€™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 itâ€™s suddenly not.
Of course, I kept expecting the worst. Romance is simply not allowed to happen in theÂ Star TrekÂ in any significant way. Would Dr. Pelâ€™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 sheâ€™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 canâ€™t even conceive of someone loving her in a body that is controlled by a disease she cannot control or cure. Yet thatâ€™s the power of love, at least shown to us through the Doctor. He canâ€™t conceive of a lifeÂ withoutÂ Dr. Pel, and he doesnâ€™t love her â€œdespiteâ€ her disease. He loves her as a whole person.
Soâ€¦ is she sticking around??? The end of this episode is satisfying in an immediate sense, but Dr. Pel isnâ€™t killed off. She doesnâ€™t return home. Indeed, thereâ€™s no future hinted at in â€œLifesigns.â€ MIGHTÂ VOYAGERÂ BREAK WITH TRADITION??? Iâ€™ll have to see.
The video for â€œLifesignsâ€ can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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