Oct 9, 2020
Star Trek: Voyager “Alice”
My recaps of bad Star Trek: Voyager episodes continue with season six’s “Alice”, one of those utterly predictable Voyager episodes that foreshadows its plot so heavily that by two minutes in, we already know exactly how the whole damn plot will unfold, and yet for some reason we still sit through the remaining 43 minutes hoping for an interesting twist that, of course, never happens.
But in this case, there’s an added reason why this plot seems so familiar: if you’ve read or watched the movie of Stephen King’s Christine, where a guy buys a used car, gives it a female name, and obsessively restores it, only to find out the car is self-aware and homicidal and jealous of his new girlfriend, the beats of “Alice” are probably going to seem extra familiar to you.
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A few things have changed since the last Voyager episode I recapped. Kes is now gone, coincidentally transforming into a higher state of being (or something) just as Seven of Nine was rescued from the Borg Collective and welcomed into the crew. Prior to that, the flirtation between Tom Paris and Kes had long since faded away, to be replaced by a romance between Paris and B’Elanna Torres which leads to their marriage by the end of this season. And Tom Paris became one of the few Starfleet officers we’ve seen demoted in rank, going from lieutenant j.g. to ensign for disobeying orders and violating the Prime Directive. But hey, that’s basically the same reason Kirk got demoted in Into Darkness, so Paris is in good company.
I only mention all of this Tom Paris-related info because “Alice”, like so many of Voyager’s worst, is a Tom-centric episode.
Things kick off with some alleged fun ‘n’ hijinks on the bridge with Tuvok in the command chair and Harry Kim and Tom Paris trying to guess how old he is. Paris guesses that he’s 162 based on how many pon farrs he’s been through. Is this really something Tuvok, or hell, any Vulcan crewman would be openly discussing on the bridge? Kim guesses 133 years old and Tuvok says they’re both wrong, yet still plays coy about his real age.
This fascinating thread gets dropped when they detect a group of unidentified vessels up ahead and Tuvok orders a Red Alert. Janeway and Chakotay instantaneously appear on the bridge, ready to face the threat, but when they get it onscreen, it turns out to be dozens of dead ships and Tom Paris instantly recognizes it as a “junkyard”.
A guy named “Abaddon” hails the ship, and he’s a member of this week’s One-Off Delta Quadrant Race, with leathery skin and brown patches all over his face. (He’s played by John Fleck, who later played main Suliban bad guy Silik on Enterprise.) He’s the sole proprietor of this spaceship junkyard, and he starts giving them the sales pitch about what he has to offer, and then… it’s off to the credits. Huh. I kind of thought the point of the cold open was to make a person want to stick around after the credits.
After the credits, Abaddon beams aboard and begins bartering with Chakotay and Neelix, saying he’s looking to trade his wares in exchange for some of Voyager’s technology. Down in Stellar Cartography, Tom and Harry and Seven of Nine are scanning the junkyard when Tom spots a tiny shuttle that he finds “beautiful”. He then foreshadows the rest of the episode (and not for the last time) when he proclaims, “I think I’m in love!”
Cut to a conference room, where Tom and Harry and Neelix are getting Chakotay’s sign-off for the items they want to acquire. When the idea of asking for that “beautiful” shuttle comes up, Chakotay says, “We’ve already got a full complement of shuttles…” Wait, what? How? They’ve been losing shuttles like every other week, and they’re still decades away from any Federation shipyard. Who’s building these shuttles? Have they figured out how to grow them down in Aeroponics?
Tom argues that this shuttle would be an asset, specifically pointing out its “neurogenic interface”, which means it can be controlled by the pilot’s thoughts. And of course, the potentially dangerous implications of this kind of technology are completely glossed over. Tom promises to do all the restoration work on his own time, and he’s even trading the shuttle for what Neelix describes as his “interactive record collection”, which turns out to be his old-school jukebox. Abaddon’s into vinyl? Who knew there were hipsters in the Delta Quadrant?
Later on in a corridor, Abaddon makes Tom Paris promise to treat the shuttle nice. For more foreshadowing, he starts to refer to the shuttle as “her” and talk about it like it’s a person, even saying the ship is like “the daughter I couldn’t marry off”.
He beams away and Tom and Harry start working on the shuttle, and Tom reveals he’s decided to name it “Alice”, because “I’ve got to call her something.” So… “Alice”? Why not an actual ship name like, I don’t know, Cochrane, or Drake, or the Delta Flyer? Oh, right, because more foreshadowing. In fact, he’s naming it after a girl he used to know named Alice Battisti back at the Academy who “wouldn’t give [him] the time of day”. I too like to fondly reminisce about classmates who ignored me.
He finally gets the ship to light up, and he then activates that “neurogenic interface”, which is basically a steel headband that comes sliding out of the headrest and wraps around his forehead.
The ship immediately blows out some “power cells” and Paris wants to keep working, but Kim says he’s done for the night and he’s heading to bed. With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder he stayed an ensign for seven years. Tom agrees to head out too and gives “Alice” one last look and says, “See you in the morning!” But then creepy music plays as the shuttle suddenly lights up again.
The main console shows a graphic of Tom Paris’ head and the computer replays his last line a few times until we hear a sultry female voice say, “See you in the morning!”
Tom’s in his quarters when he hears a female voice call out to him. He walks out into the corridor and catches a glimpse of a woman walking away from him. He then ends up back in the shuttle bay, and looks confused at what he’s seeing. With the camera still on Tom’s face, we hear that same sultry woman announce, “It’s me, Alice!”
The next morning, Tom is fervently working on the shuttle, getting it all cleaned up. And now he’s wearing an ill-fitting leather jumpsuit that looks like space pajamas.
He goes to Engineering and is yelling at a console just as Harry walks up, asking him about the outfit. Tom says it’s a “flight suit”, and he found the design in Alice’s database. Harry says he thought for a minute that Tom was “changing Captain Proton’s look”.
Yes, Harry is here because he and Tom were supposed to meet up on the holodeck to act out one of those serialized Captain Proton adventures. Harry’s even dressed up in his Indiana Jones-esque outfit to play Proton’s sidekick Dirk Gently, or whatever the character’s name is. Alas, Tom is so obsessed with Alice that he totally blows off his play date with Harry, and Harry looks like he’s on the verge of tears over it.
Down in the mess hall, Seven and Neelix are examining some of the supposed “historical artifacts” they acquired from Abaddon, and Neelix is bummed out that most of them are “worthless trinkets”. But then Seven picks up a crystal and discovers that it’s “beryllium”, meaning it’s incredibly valuable in the sector of space they happen to be in. And we’re obviously supposed to file this info away for later, just like every other detail revealed in this episode so far.
Tom enters to replicate a bottle of champagne for the “christening” of Alice, and he wants B’Elanna to join him. The two head to the shuttle bay, with B’Elanna joking in a foreshadow-y sort of way about finally getting to “meet the other woman!” She sees that Tom’s got the ship all cleaned up and even given it a new paint job. B’Elanna hefts the bottle and says, “It’s almost a shame to break this over the hull!” Cut to the two of them inside the ship, drinking the champagne instead. I like the way she thinks.
They almost kiss, but Alice cock-blocks them by activating a warning buzzer. Tom says he needs to fix that, and B’Elanna is a little weirded out by the sexy female voice of Alice’s computer. She then notices another problem with the ship, but Tom gets all defensive when B’Elanna tries to touch a console. So B’Elanna responds with the clearly tongue in cheek “maybe I’ll leave the two of you alone,” and Tom hilariously responds with a totally serious, k bye!
And in case you somehow still don’t get what’s going on here, B’Elanna touches a panel on her way out and gets a mild electric shock. In response, Tom is all durrr I need to fix that. Obviously, the ship is becoming jealous of B’Elanna, and also controlling Tom’s mind, but given that he’s not acting that much dopier than usual, you can’t really blame B’Elanna for not noticing.
Next, Tom is in Chakotay’s quarters, asking for some supplies to help enhance Alice, but Chakotay refuses, saying the supplies he wants are for emergencies. Tom says he’ll just replicate the supplies he needs, so Chakotay says he can’t do that, and pays some lip service, as Voyager begrudgingly did once in a blue moon, to the ship running low on replicator energy. But if things are that dire, why did we just see Tom replicate a bottle of champagne? And while we’re at it, what about the flight suit?
Then Chakotay talks about how Tom has been slacking on his duties of late, and tells him to shave and put his uniform back on, because “We do have protocols.” Tom immediately goes back to the shuttle bay, talking aloud to complain about Chakotay not being willing to give up those supplies. And then we finally see, to no one’s surprise, that Tom is hallucinating an actual woman named Alice (played by Claire Rankin, who would later have a recurring role on Stargate Atlantis), who’s the personification of the shuttle, and wearing the same unflattering leather flight suit.
Tom starts to take off his flight suit, but she tells him not to. He says that this was an order and he already got demoted once, but Alice tells him to forget all that, and promises that when he finally gets “her” up and running, “we can go anywhere you want!” Tom says he can’t just leave Voyager, because of his job, and his friends, and oh yeah, his girlfriend B’Elanna. But Alice replies, “She doesn’t understand you the way I do!”
Alice then has Tom sit in the shuttle and activate the neurologic interface again, cooing, “You won’t regret it!” Just say no, Tom! Too late: Tom looks blissed out as the steel headband covers his forehead again.
And now Tom is climbing a ladder in a Jeffries tube just so he can steal those emergency supplies. He starts to feel guilty for a moment, but Alice is creepily right there, hovering in the air I guess, assuring him that “If your friends had been more understanding, we wouldn’t have to be sneaking around like this!” Him and Alice, they’ve got a thing going on.
Then Alice knows he’s thinking about his “first flight” and Tom begins to relay a memory about his dad taking him up in an “old S-class shuttle” when he was 8 that’s just as boring as every childhood anecdote Tom has ever told. Though I suppose the twist here is that Tom is actually saying something positive about his father for once. Alice promises that he’ll recapture that feeling again when he takes her out for a spin.
Cut to Tom alone in Astrometrics, plotting out a course on the big screen, and Seven enters and gets suspicious about what’s he’s doing. Right on cue, “Alice” appears in Astrometrics and tells Tom to make up a story to throw Seven off the trail.
Down in Engineering, B’Elanna talks to Harry, and she’s concerned about Tom’s behavior, so Harry tries to calm her fears by… talking about the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition? You know, it’s not worth getting into. But then they discover that somebody has stolen some power cells, and B’Elanna instantly knows who’s to blame.
She goes down to the shuttle bay and climbs into the ship looking for Tom, but then predictably gets sealed inside. Oh, and the life support systems are failing, because of course they are.
Tom immediately shows up to release B’Elanna. She yells that his ship tried to kill her, but Tom thinks she’s just being crazy. She then confronts him about how he stole those parts, and it turns into a full-on screaming match. At one point, he even grabs her arm and violently whips her around to scream at her some more. B’Elanna runs off and Tom tries to follow, but he stops when he runs into Alice, who says she didn’t have a choice but to try to kill B’Elanna, because “She was going to discover our flight plan!”
Tom tries valiantly to get away from “Alice”, but she’s there at every turn, even when he runs into a turbolift to take himself to Sickbay. He says he’s getting the hell away from her, which prompts Alice to cause gross veins to appear in Tom’s forehead as he crumples in pain to the turbolift floor. He finally agrees to her demands and goes back to the shuttle bay.
Cut to B’Elanna bringing her grievances to Captain Janeway, saying that Tom “practically assaulted me!” No, I think what he did counts as actual assault. To which Janeway says with a smirk, “That doesn’t sound like Tom!” Oh no, are we about to get a decades-later tweet from B’Elanna joining the #MeToo movement? But B’Elanna says that “Alice” is controlling Tom, and Janeway is totally confused. After B’Elanna explains that Alice is the new shuttle with the “neurogenic interface”, Janeway simply says she’ll have the Doctor take a look at him.
It’s a bit too late for that, however, because Tom has already launched the shuttle and escaped from the ship. Janeway orders a tractor beam. Cut to the shuttle, where Alice tells Tom he can defeat the tractor beam by “activating the connector sequence”, which causes brightly colored CGI cords to attach themselves to his flight suit.
As promised, Tom suddenly has an epiphany about how to disrupt Voyager’s tractor beam. The shuttle breaks free and Janeway tries to hail him, but Paris is all “I’m with Alice now and she’s such a better GF than B’Elanna” and he goes to warp. And it seems he’s “masked his warp signature”, meaning they have no idea where he went.
Back from break, Tom is listening to Alice talk about the myth of Daedalus and how he made wings from wax to break free from his prison, and Tom says he likes that myth, but also notes that she’s conveniently leaving out the part where his son Icarus flew too close to the sun and his wings melted. And then the camera pulls back to show Tom is totally covered by neon-colored cords like a holiday display at a rave. He says that he can’t feel his arms anymore and Alice replies, “Who needs arms when you have wings?”
Meanwhile, Voyager has returned to Abaddon’s Magical Emporium of Space Garbage to learn more about the shuttle. Abaddon is less than forthcoming until Neelix shows off that valuable beryllium crystal and offers to return it in exchange for more info.
Cut to Abaddon in Voyager’s briefing room describing the shuttle, when he suddenly gets a weird look on his face, and hallucinates his own version of “Alice”, played by the same actress made up to look like a member of his species. Everyone’s confused because they don’t see what he’s seeing, and then Abaddon collapses in pain.
In Sickbay, the Doctor reveals Abaddon’s brain has been rewired by a neurogenic interface, meaning he’s a former victim of Alice. They revive him and he says Alice needed a pilot, but she didn’t want Abaddon, because his “reflexes were too slow”. And so, Alice totally negged him into finding her a real man, I mean, pilot.
Janeway then gets called to Astrometrics, where Seven has reconstructed the course that Tom plotted out and found his ultimate destination: a “particle fountain”, a glowing anomaly that was supposedly responsible for the loss of a dozen ships in the Alpha Quadrant.
Meanwhile, Tom is reaching the particle fountain, and Alice says it’s “home”. Voyager shows up a few minutes later and Janeway opens a channel and tries to reason with Tom. He doesn’t respond, so Janeway asks for a way to disable the shuttle. Tuvok says it’s possible, but they’d have to distract Tom/Alice while they do it. So they cook up a way to hack into the ship remotely and insert B’Elanna into the shuttle’s neurogenic interface.
Over on the shuttle, Alice is calling Tom “the one” and saying things like, “No one’s ever gotten me this close before!” …That’s what she said.
Alas, there’s really no explanation for why Alice wanted so badly to get to this particle fountain. She calls it “home”, but does that mean it’s home for the… shuttle’s computer program? Or is she really an alien entity masquerading as a computer program? No clue. And for all the talk about Alice needing a “real pilot” to get her here, it didn’t seem to take much skill on Tom’s part to reach this place. Why couldn’t anyone get her this close before? Even Voyager was able to easily make it here just a few minutes after Tom.
Thanks to the Doc, B’Elanna suddenly appears in Tom’s hallucination. She’s trying to get through to him, and telling him that Alice is an illusion, while Alice continues to remind Tom that she’s giving him everything he ever wanted. Tom screams a lot, and Janeway says to beam him out. Kim can’t do it, so Chakotay turns to his console and says he’s “boosting the confinement beam”. This eventually allows Kim to get a lock on Tom and beam him out. Whew! Thank god Chakotay was here to tap a few buttons on his console.
Tom is out, and “Alice” the shuttle gets incinerated in the particle fountain. So wait, is this what Alice wanted? Does this mean Alice transformed into energy and merged with the fountain? Or was she trying to commit suicide? Regardless, in response to what appears to be the destruction of a sentient being, Janeway just coldly orders the ship to “resume course to the Alpha Quadrant”.
Tom’s in Sickbay getting the once over, and then B’Elanna hands him a “get well card” drawn by Naomi Wildman. Tom apologizes, but B’Elanna says it wasn’t his fault. He remembers all of it, and he felt like he was “sleepwalking”, and B’Elanna is glad she was able to wake him up. Tom replies, “Thanks for being my alarm clock.” Groan.
Tom promises “no more affairs with strange ships.” When B’Elanna brings up the Delta Flyer, Tom assures her, “We’re just friends.” Jesus, just end this shit already. Eventually, they have a really uncomfortable looking kiss to end the episode.
So there you have it; an episode that begins with strong hints that Tom is about to get obsessed with and possibly mind-controlled by a secretly sentient spaceship, and then we get to watch for an hour as… Tom gets obsessed with and mind-controlled by a secretly sentient spaceship. A story like this that slowly and deliberately makes it way from point A to point B with no surprises whatsoever might have worked if we’d learned something new about the characters. But nope; from the story of his first flight, to his jukebox, to his Captain Proton holoplays, to tinkering with his new toy “Alice”, all this episode does is reinforce the notion that Tom Paris is a perpetual adolescent.
Next up: Actually, I’m not sure what I’ll be looking at next, but watching these old Voyager episodes is really starting to make Discovery look a whole lot better.