Star Trek: Voyager “The Fight” (part 1 of 5)
Before we launch full bore into this adventure, it might be a good idea to explain where I am, vis-à-vis Voyager and the Star Trek franchise in general. See, Voyager is about where I stopped watching Star Trek. Not that this was necessarily the fault of Voyager, mind you.
I grew up watching the original series in its earliest syndication reruns. I was a fan of the animated series on Saturday mornings as a boy. The Next Generation premiered when I was in college, and I watched it religiously. The trend continued after school and into my marriage; my wife loves Star Trek too, bless her. We watched Deep Space Nine together, and quickly became fans.
On top of that, I own all of the original series episodes on VHS. I have a blooper reel I purchased from a vendor at a Trek convention in Anchorage. I have a dog-eared copy of The Star Trek Compendium on my bookshelf. In the interests of time, we’ll dispense with the discussion of action figures and plastic model kits, but you get the idea.
So, what happened with me and Voyager? Well, in a nutshell: right around the premiere of the series in January 1995, my daughter was born, I started graduate school, and I picked up a part-time teaching gig. So, my TV watching habits changed a bit, to put it mildly.
I do recall seeing a few of the early episodes of Voyager. For example, I saw enough to share Albert’s queasiness about the shape of the USS Voyager itself, although I thought “tadpole”, whereas he thought “serving spoon”. I saw enough of the show to know the essentials of the main characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Torres, Tuvok, Kes, and—shudder—Neelix. But I didn’t see a lot of the series, and certainly nothing like my old Trek habits. Like, I know Seven of Nine through cultural osmosis, not through the show itself.
To prepare for this recap, I (along with my family) watched a few Voyager episodes from different seasons. And even in the early season one episodes, there seemed to already be a pattern in place in terms of plot. Namely: there’s some problem that threatens the ship at the beginning of the episode. The problem may be external, or something caused by the crew of Voyager itself. A healthy amount of time is spent with various permutations of technobabble phrases, until eventually the right combination is spoken. Then, everything resolves itself in time for the end credits. That was definitely the pattern set with “Parallax” and “Time and Again”, first season episodes that aired in successive weeks in January 1995.
The season five episode right before the one I’m recapping here was “Course: Oblivion”, which to me seemed like a tiny acknowledgment by the screenwriters of the whole “reset button” plot format. In that episode, Paris and Torres get married; shortly thereafter, we learn that everybody on the ship, and the ship itself are actually duplicates of the real Voyager and crew. Worse, they aren’t very good duplicates; in fact, the ship and its crew are all disintegrating into shapeless, mercury-like glop. In an attempt to save themselves, they head back to their home planet, and send out a message to the real Voyager.
Well, the duplicates never make it. They all disintegrate into glop, including the ship. It’s almost like a Voyager snuff film: watch your favorite characters die! Yay! Of course, the real Voyager and crew aren’t in the least bit affected. In fact, they arrive on the scene just in time to find an expanding cloud of glop. So, not only did the duplicates die a meaningless death, but they also died without anyone knowing they ever existed at all. A pretty dark episode, to be sure. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, but I see “Course: Oblivion” as a statement from the writers like: “See, they don’t all end happy!” But then again, none of the “real” characters were impacted at all by the events of the episode. So whatever point the writers thought they were making, they immediately canceled it out by going right back to the status quo in the final five minutes.
Other than the episodes mentioned above and a few others, I haven’t seen a whole lot of the show. All of this is my way of telling you that, for better or worse, I’m not bringing a whole lot of Voyager baggage along for this recap. I don’t have seven years worth of Voyager lore, canon, love, or hate in my head. The episode I’ll be examining here, “The Fight”, will have to stand or fall on its own merits, and not on how well it fits in with the series as a whole.
Stand or fall. What do you think?
Well, if you listen really carefully, I think you’ll be able to hear the thud as this episode hits the canvas.
What we have here is an attempt by the director and writers to generate mood and atmosphere, and stuff like “coherence” and “linear plotting” obviously took low priority. Unfortunately, it takes a skilled hand to pull off mood and atmosphere, and they just weren’t up to it. So all that’s left is a nonsensical tale that’s weird for the sake of being weird. Basically, it’s like a frustrating artsy indie film, except it features Star Trek characters. It’s not a good fit, to say the least.
“The Fight” opens in Sickbay, as Chakotay, Voyager’s second-in-command, wakes up screaming. He yells, “Make them stop!” while Paris (the ship’s navigator, last seen on this site turning into a tree sloth) restrains him. The story structure of the episode means that Chakotay has already had some time to be driven mad by the goings-on. You and I will get there soon enough, trust me.
The ship’s holographic Doctor, and Seven of Nine are also in Sickbay. They’re all being jostled around a fair bit—the ship always shakes during the crisis o’ the week, dontcha know. Paris wants the Doc to help him, but the Doctor says that if he sedates Chakotay, they may lose their chance to communicate with the aliens.
Trouble communicating with the aliens, huh? Seems like it’s either feast or famine for interspecies communications in the Trek universe—albeit mostly feast. I mean, either there’s no problem whatsoever, universal translator Babel-fish thingie works fine, or difficulty in communication serves as a source of conflict in the story. There’s never a middle ground. How cool would that be, though? What if the translator garbled only a certain percentage of the words? “I said lunch, not launch!” Oh, wait; that particular mistake has already happened.
26 seconds into “The Fight”, and we know the dealio: Voyager is in some deep doo-doo again this week (the ship is shaking, no?) and the crew must communicate with the well-nigh-impossible-to-communicate-with aliens in order to escape. All that’s left is to fill in the details.
Ah, but the dreck is in the details, to twist a phrase. So, let’s see what’s in store for us, shall we?
Chakotay says he can’t understand the aliens, and they won’t stop talking. He pleads with the Doctor to make them stop.
Cut to the bridge. Captain Janeway (hey, when did she lose the Power Bun?) checks with Sickbay to see what progress is being made. The Doctor tells her that “their ambassador”, AKA Chakotay, is still delusional.
The ship shakes some more. On the bridge, Torres says the “graviton shear” is buckling the hull, and they must get out of “chaotic space” at all costs, or they will all surely die. They really, really, mean it this week, too!
Crisis o’ the week briefly sketched, it’s time for the opening credit sequence.
I alluded to the story structure of this episode earlier. Obviously, things start off with a bang, in medias res at the crux of whatever it is that’s buckling the hull this week. So, we’re going to need to be filled in on the events leading up to now, right? Well, if you were a screenwriter, what sort of a literary device might you use in order to accomplish that? Don’t be shy, now! Just raise your hand if you have any idea. You in the back? Yes, you. “Flashback”, you say? Correct! In fact, you could even ramp it up a bit and try something crazy like, oh I don’t know, a hallucination within a flashback!
Ugh. I’m not kidding about that, either.
After the credits, the scene returns to Sickbay. The Doctor frets some more about Chakotay, and tries to explain to Chakotay that he has to keep listening to the aliens in his head so they can help get Voyager out of this mess. Chakotay protests that he doesn’t want to end up like his grandfather, “a crazy old man.”
The Doctor tells him he’s not going crazy; it’s just the aliens are re-configuring his neural pathways. Whew! Is that all?
The Doctor asks Chakotay to think back to when this all began: specifically, he wants him to recall the day he was injured on the holodeck. Turns out Chakotay was knocked down in a boxing simulation. The Doctor eggs Chakotay on, just enough to cause… [huge drum roll] a flashback!