In the thirteenth episode of the sixth season of Voyager, I’ve run out of ways to say that this should not work, but does. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Oh my god, this episode is completely ridiculous, and yet IT STUNG SO MUCH. What I admire about “Virtuoso” more than anything is that the writers commit so fully to the premise, especially in that final act. The Doctor doesn’t just flirt with leaving Voyager; he actually resigns and severs ties with EVERYONE ON BOARD. That’s so much more interesting to watch than if the big twist in the end had happened before he thought about quitting.
Let’s talk about music first, though. I was very thrilled that I got to talk about how much music means to me when I was reviewing Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music (http://markreads.net/reviews/tag/soul-music/) last year. I spend so much time discussing the power of literature and television in our lives that people don’t realize how music, above all else, is my favorite form of artistic expression. It’s saved my life time and time again; it’s what inspired me as a kid and a teenager; it’s responsible for the majority of close friends that I have; it’s what I rely on most to get me through my day. Simply put, I can go a day or two or longer without reading a book or watching television. I cannot go without music.
Consuming music is a cathartic experience for me, too. My taste is a bit all over the map, but I gravitate towards stuff that’s catchy or aggressive. Anything that’s a combination of the two usually ends up being my favorite. But performing music that you’ve written… lord. In another life, that’s what I would have done. I was in a hardcore band for a few years back in the early 2000s, and I miss that so dearly. As soon as I have the time and the means to do so, I want to play in a band again. There’s a reward in performing live that is unmatched for me, and I crave. Sometimes, I get to satisfy that part of me at conventions or my own events, but it’s not quite the same thing. (Well, I’m much closer to capturing that when reading/performing my own material, so we’ll see how book touring goes. AHHHHHH HOW IS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENING.)
I’m opening with this because as absurd as this episode gets at times, I understood the base desire and motivation that the Doctor has throughout “Virtuoso.” This story was grounded in that, even if there was a whole lot more going on. Like how the entire crew was exasperated with the Doctor as his newfound fame got worse and worse. Or how this episode really did play off his deep-seeded desire to be the center of attention. Honestly, there’s a morality tale at the heart of the episode, isn’t there? The Doctor threw himself into this existence without abandon, and what came of it?
More on that in a second. I was impressed with the show’s willingness to portray celebrity and fan culture without making too much fun of it. I say this as someone who had an incredible view of it for most of my life. I’ve been managing online communities since I was 19, and let me tell y’all, I’ve seen some shit over the years. (I’ve been told I should write a memoir based solely on that, but my god, it would be A Lot. The next time you see me live, ask me to tell you the story of how I discovered that an Internet personality was actually their mother pretending to be them. IT’S A GOOD ONE.) Fandom can be a redemptive place, or it can be an utter nightmare. Often, for those of us who get in deep, it’s both! But I’ve personally witnessed much of what’s depicted within “Virtuoso,” from fans putting down other people in order to boost up the person they adore, to fans asking to know very personal details of celebrities, to some of the more wildly inappropriate behavior that would take days to recount to y’all.
And the Doctor ate it all up. Granted, he really did feel like he wasn’t appreciated by the Voyager crew! I always say that as more of a commentary on his presumptuous and arrogant attitude when it came to his craft more than a willingness to accept the Doctor’s talent. Regardless, the adoration he receives is so different for him, and it fulfilled a desire he long had. Thus, he’s not abandoning his friends; he’s merely pursuing a lifelong goal. Y’all, I’m still in awe at how rapidly the tone of this episode transforms from silliness to seriousness. That argument that Janeway and the Doctor have regarding personhood, autonomy, and duty is RIDICULOUSLY INTENSE. How did it escalate to that??? But the moment is not devoid of context either. We’ve seen the crew’s frustration with the Doctor and his own desire to express himself musically. There’s been a longstanding exploration of the Doctor’s humanity and individuality over the past five and a half seasons, too. None of this is new! It’s just that this episode felt so funny, at least right up to the point where it was not.
And then, “Virtuoso” got downright agonizing. Like I said earlier, the writers’ decision to commit to this choice made for compelling television. Watching the Doctor bid everyone good bye hurt, especially in the case of Seven, who felt personally betrayed by what the Doctor was doing. Yet it had to happen so that the Doctor’s ultimate disappointment could sting even more. The Qomar are an analytical and detached people at times. It’s not that they’re uncaring; it’s just that they value different things than the Voyager crew does. Their obsession with music has less of a personal, emotional component to it; they love the science and math of it. Thus, the ending of this episode was inevitable: the Qomar (Tincoo specifically) were always going to design a hologram that was “better” than the Doctor. The Qomar seek perfection and progression, so they were never going to be fully satisfied with what the Doctor could do. His fame was indeed fleeting, at least in reference to himself. Oh, the Doctor will live on in that other form, but the Qomar attachment to him is gone forever. He’ll be an interesting footnote to musical history there.
It’s a brutal end to this story, but for something that felt fantastical at times, it is also grounded in the very real relationships that the crew has with the Doctor. Bravo.
The video for “Virtuoso” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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