506. The Swarm
FORMULA: The Tholian Web + Projections + The Deadly Years
WHY WE LIKE IT: The aliens..?
WHY WE DON'T: Rebooting the Doctor.
REVIEW: The title of this episode refers to what is actually the B-plot, so I would have never guessed that the dreaded EMH reboot was in this one. But I'll get to that in a moment. For now, let's discuss the B-plot. The Swarm are very much a one-trick technobabble pony (but so were the Tholians), but sadly, they're probably the most interesting and alien we have yet to see in the Delta Quadrant. I say "sadly" because despite their unusual design (for both make-up and ships) and inhabiting an apparently large section of space, they were never seen again. So they feel kind of wasted.
Much worse, however, are Voyager's actions re: the Swarm. Janeway, with her Starfleet crew, doing things the Starfleet way, suddenly feels justified enough that these aliens are "bullies" to disregard any notion of their national sovereignty. The same woman who stops at every nebula and every port because she an "explorer" now says she's not willing to tell the crew they would have to add 15 months to a 70-year journey by going around Swarm space. No wonder Tuvok expresses surprise. I'm not saying running the gauntlet in four days isn't a good idea, just that there's a disturbing (and as written, unjustified) change in Janeway's character occurring.
As for the main plot, it's a lot more engaging, but no less wrong-headed in its execution. The set-up is interesting. The EMH has been running for way too long and adding non-medical subroutines to its matrix (romance, friendships and for the first time here, an interest in opera), so its memory has started to degrade. Though this starts as an interesting dilemma, and segues into the appearance of Lewis Zimmerman as a diagnostic program, it soon starts to parallel Alzheimer's. Robert Picardo actually delivers a performance that's at once pathetic, amusing and touching.
Even as the ship is under attack by the Swarm (though the two stories feel very much independent of each other), Kes and the diagnostic tool hatch a plan to save the Doctor's matrix. It's not too technobabbly to follow and there's actually some tension associated with the procedure, so the ending is rather unfortunate. It appears the Doctor HAS been rebooted and he's lost the memories he accumulated since Caretaker. If this is actually the case, they've just lobotomized one of the few characters the public actually enjoys. If the little opera he sings at the end is meant to indicate that, no, he's fine and his memories will turn up in time for the next episode (a trick later used with Data/B-4 in Nemesis), it's quite ambiguous. The audience is left walking away from this as if a favorite character has been damaged beyond repair (and that he'll need to be rebooted every couple years as well). But we'll have to see how this plays out (or doesn't, Voyager is good at ignoring character changes) in later episodes.
LESSON: Voyager's stance on character development? RESET!
REWATCHABILITY - Medium-Low: A waste of a potential recurring enemy, more of Janeway's unexplainable descent into corruption, and an ending that'll make you worry about the series, but Robert Picardo is very watchable.