In the eighteenth episode of the third season of Voyager, Kes has a crisis and then EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL AND THIS EPISODE BECOMES SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH IT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
What the holy fuck just happened, y’all.
There are two distinct stories here, and one of them devours the other one, which provided a momentary shock to me, one that I’m sure will be very entertaining to watch. (I WAS SO CONFUSED.) At the same time, it’s a bizarre writing choice because… well, actually, I have a couple issues here. Let’s discuss.
There’s always going to be things in Star Trek that happen off-screen. That is the nature of episodic television, especially since this show is only loosely serialized and 75 actual years cannot be depicted in the span of Voyager. (BUT WHAT IF.) I accept that, and the writers generally have fun referencing things we have not seen nor will we ever see in the scope of an episode. However, I felt a little cheated by “Darkling” because a significant bit of character development just happened without any real acknowledgment of how important it is. Look, the Kes/Neelix relationship is a core component of Voyager! There’s no other way around it! Thus, if there’s going to be a massive change in the status of that relationship, I feel it only fair that it be shown in some way within a script.
Instead, the Doctor casually reveals in the opening that Neelix and Kes have broken things off. I’m sorry, what? I actually thought I’d skipped an episode by mistake, which would have been disastrous, given the way I watch things. But no, that’s not the case; I didn’t miss anything, and this really was how the show was going to announce a major change in the core story for two characters.
I tried to rationalize it as I watched. Maybe this was a mid-life crisis for Kes, and thus, the audience experienced change as Kes did: suddenly and erratically. But as “Darkling” unfolded, this felt less the case. Sure, Kes seemed like she was trying to find herself. (Which led to that beautiful scene where she asks Janeway for perspective on everything. JANEWAY FOR PRESIDENT, I SWEAR.) But then the break-up – whenever it actually happened – felt less like a meaningful story choice and more like the writers realized they forgot to write it into the script and just had Robert Picardo ad lib the line at the last second.
And it certainly doesn’t help that this episode shifts away from Kes’s journey to become entirely about the Doctor’s struggles with his personality programming. Yes, Picardo is impressive here, and it was a (horrifying) delight to watch him get to play the Doctor differently. But Kes’s conflict is discarded almost entirely! We don’t see Neelix once, which seems ridiculous given that Kes breaking up with him is a HUGE THING. He’s utterly devoted to her! Multiple episodes are specifically about this! He hated Tom Paris specifically because of how Kes became friendly with him. How does it make any goddamn sense to have him absent from this storyline?
Even the Doctor’s storyline suffers. We see him treat people terribly, but I never got the sense that the writers ever fully addressed the Doctor’s creepy protective behavior towards Kes. Y’all, he pushed a man off a cliff because he thought Zahir was a bad influence. PUSHED. HIM. OFF. A. CLIFF. And this was in the earlier stages of his “dark” personality taking over, so I suspect he really did feel like Kes was making bad choices. Soooooo… awkward???
If the Doctor’s plot had been given more screen time, it wouldn’t have felt so hollow. As it stands, it comes off more as a gimmick, a chance for the show to give us an Evil Twin like Jekyll and Hyde. It’s not all that fulfilling otherwise.
The video for “Darkling” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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