In the ninth episode of the seventh season of Voyager, the crew receives a distress call from a surprising source. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Ah, now this is more like it! If the past few episodes have felt a little weak, then this feels like a proper chance for Voyager to explore something that’s meatier. The mystery of the massacre of a bunch of Hirogen in one of their hunting facilities gives way to a conflict about the nature of personhood and identity and IT’S MESSY AND COMPLICATED AND VIOLENT AND yes, thank you, Voyager.
I say that because I like stories about people who do messy, dramatic things because they fiercely believe in something. After over six seasons of the Doctor’s struggles with humanity, he’s placed in a situation that demands he think about his place within his world. At the start of “Flesh and Blood,” it made sense, then, that he wouldn’t question his relationship to the people on Voyager. Indeed, when he discovers that the holograms that the Hirogen created have become more skilled than their creators, he’s sort of sympathetic, but he still can’t get past being kidnapped by them. He does his duty and helps repair the broken holograms, but is he all that interested in their quest for independence?
It’s complicated, and that’s why the first half of this story is so entertaining to watch. While the Doctor is coping with his predicament on the holograms’ ship, Voyager is dealing with the problem from the other side of things. For them, and especially Janeway, this is a story of complicity and accountability. Back during season four, the Hirogen were given hologram technology to hopefully counter their use of living people in their hunting scenarios. Oh, how that backfired. I DARESAY THIS IS THE BIGGEST BACKFIRE IN THE SHOW’S HISTORY. See, because the Hirogen want difficult hunts, they took the technology that Voyager gave them and constructed holograms that could adapt. What happened after each death? Those holograms got smarter, so much so that THEY ENDED UP TAKING OVER THE HOLO-PROGRAM. They killed all the Hirogen but one, and then ESCAPED.
It’s here that I find myself siding more with the holograms than anyone else. They got free from a scenario in which they were murdered over and over again. Of course, Janeway doesn’t know that the Hirogen programmed them so that they’d feel every bit of suffering that was inflicted on them. But she’s also of the mind that, in the end, they’re holograms. They can be deactivated and dealt with later. I get why she’s pragmatic about this; it’s not personal for her. She’s looking to resolve this conflict in the quickest way possible while keeping the Hirogen on her good side.
But at what cost? Because of the detailed and complex programming these holograms got, they advanced beyond code. It makes perfect sense to me that the Doctor would come to empathize with them, and I’d theorize that this would have occurred even if they hadn’t forced him to endure one of their simulations. Thus, as upsetting as it was to watch him disobey Janeway, the show had already established his morals. They’d already done the work to build this kind of motivation into his character. Kidnapping B’Elanna after hurting her… yeah, I imagine the Doctor is going to have a huge problem with this. I’m totally interested in seeing if the writers acknowledge that regardless of his support, the Doctor still has different opinions on non-holographic life as these holograms do.
Still! This was a great set-up that pulls off a number of risky things in very little time. I can’t wait to see how it’s resolved.
The video for “Flesh and Blood, Part I” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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