476. Learning Curve
FORMULA: Lower Decks + Parallax + Hollow Pursuits
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Maquis way! -POW!-
WHY WE DON'T: The pat ending.
REVIEW: Centering the season finale on the characters, with no real antagonist and a gentle touch, is an odd way to go out, but I'm not complaining. Not when it comes to the entirely too plot-driven Voyager (at least, that's how I remember it). Janeway continues her boring cliché-ridden holo-novel, in which it is revealed that her idea of relaxation is helping raise some spoiled brats. You'd think she had more than enough of that at work with the Maquis. Ha! And so we segue into the actal focus of the episode: Starfleet-Maquis relations.
The captain gives Tuvok the very special assignment of breaking--I'm sorry, training four of the least cooperative Maquis crew members. In the incident that sets it off, I can see where Dalby is coming from. Dude saw a problem and fixed it, so what's the big problem? Tuvok, of course, completely misses the point and tries to deal with Dalby and his three other charges as if they were cadets. They're not, and he'll require the advice of Neelix and the behind-the-scenes help of Chakotay to make any headway. This was back when Chakotay was cool, and his lesson about what the "Maquis way" is supposed to be it reason enough to watch Learning Curve. Another high point is Dalby's chat with Tuvok over a pool table, probably the most realistic scene in the episode (and a good indicator of the Maquis experience), and there are some cute humorous moments throughout having to do with lack of discipline.
Meanwhile, the bio-neural gel packs have gotten a virus or an infection, disrupting systems shipwide. It's the usual malfunction B-plot TNG used to throw out at us all the time to pad character-centric shows, but at least it examines this new piece of technology for the first time since the term was thrown out in Caretaker. That Neelix's cheese was responsible is perhaps silly, but not impossible, and the sweat-drenched resolution, with a dripping Kes and very dry Doctor, makes for a fun ending.
Obviously, Tuvok is going to show the Maquis he isn't an uncaring robot by saving one of them, because it's more about Starfleet officers getting the Maquis' respect than it is about learning discipline and protocol. Hopefully, that too-pat ending doesn't mean the Starfleet-Maquis conflict is entirely resolved for the rest of the voyage. If it is, Voyager's just gotten rid of it's built-in twist quicker than any season of Big Brother. Chell will be seen again, but not the other three, which is really too bad. Since it's impossible for the ship to transfer personnel, I would have thought building a supporting cast would have been more important than on DS9.
LESSON: Starve a fever, hyperthermically feed a cold.
REWATCHABILITY - Oh screw it, I'm gonna say High: It's not a big blow-out and the big baddie is a block of cheese, but the focus on the characters and the gentle humor make it one of the better episodes of the first season.