Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Star Trek 565: Latent Image

565. Latent Image

FORMULA: Clues + Whispers + The Swarm + Retrospect + The Measure of a Man

WHY WE LIKE IT: Some nice direction.

WHY WE DON'T: The EMH is a toaster.

REVIEW: It's Clues in reverse as the crew tries desperately to keep a disturbing moment out of the Doctor's memory, but he proves too resourceful for them. That memory: Given equal chances of survival, he unethically perhaps chose his friend Harry over another ensign for a life-saving operation. The conflict in his program had made him go mad and Janeway had ordered the event wiped from his databanks. So the first half of the episode plays like a conspiracy mystery, but it quickly turns into a study of ethics. The Doctor's, yes, but Janeway's as well. While the Doctor asks how anyone can make a moral choice given those circumstances, the deeper question of the episode is whether the Doctor has a soul.

But while Data had the support of his captain when it came to his civil rights, Janeway still sees the EMH as a piece of software and nothing more. You wouldn't think twice about formatting your hard drive, right? Her arguments, however, are rather insulting (comparisons to a replicator, etc.) and Seven once again has to call her on her bullshit. I was happily surprised to see Janeway reexamine her views on the EMH and realize that he had grown beyond his original programming and was, perhaps, a person. She had been dodging a simple truth: A human doctor might also have suffered a breakdown after those events. Letting him work it out naturally might take time, but we know he'll get through to the other side eventually. I'm not sure about the Vita Nuova reference, but referring to Dante also conjures up the image of a lost soul walking through hell and purgatory to purge his sins.

The girl not chosen to live, Ensign Jetal, was cute and sassy, so it's really too bad we never got to know her more (we couldn't, by the very premise of this episode), though the personality evident on screen makes her death more meaningful. And though the second half of the episode is where it gets heavy and important, the investigation that precedes it must also be commended. The Doctor's plans are clever, and Seven makes a natural ally, this time because she's the new girl.

But what really puts this one over the top is the direction. There are a lot of moments with real flair one show: The rack focus between the Doctor's face and the memories being unlocked, the degraded holo images looking like bad Photoshop embossments, the creepy opening of doors when someone comes to sabotage the EMH, letting console surfaces tell the story in reflections and empty rooms... The most subtle - indeed, you practically have to be told about it - is Ensign Jetal's face being incorporated into the holo-camera's flash. Subliminal haunting.
Stolen soulBrilliant work by Mike Vejar.

LESSON: 18 months prior, Kes took a vacation from nursing.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: I'd have easily given it a High if it didn't participate in the destruction of Janeway's character. Despite her change of heart, she still comes at it from a morally weak position.


snell said...

Yeah, this episode was the one that finally lost Janeway for me. If this had happened in season 1, maybe you could buy her initial position. But after years of interacting with the Doctor (not to mention how many times he's saved the ship), it's inconceivable that she could have the position that she initially has here.

Yeah, she "redeems" herself, but it's from a position the writers never should have had her in in the first place. Of course, the writers had a dilemma--given Voyager's situation, they couldn't bring in an outsider like Commander Maddox to advocate rebooting the Doctor. Their solution, as it so often was, was to make Janeway act out of character. But by this point, they were doing it so often, her "character" was just however they needed her to behave to make some dramatic conflict for the current week's episode.

Jayunderscorezero said...

But of course, one has the issue that, if Janeway had acted completely rationally and morally, then there would essentially be no plot this episode. I'm glad that we at least get to see her come around and change her mind.

Also: EMH episode! Wooo!!

Siskoid said...

In a sense, it's more Kirkanization of Janeway. He was always rather "soft" on AI rights. ;)

snell said...

jay--that was sort of my point. The Voyager premise boxed in the writers: as you couldn't bring in outside sources to be dickweeds, you had to randomly have people behave way out of character in order to provide the dramatic conflict they wanted. Was it worth ignoring 4 1/2 years of Janeway characterization to tell this story, or should they have jettisoned it? (One could argue that this wouldn't have been a problem if they hadn't been trying to write Voyager as one big happy family, and at some point had a humanoid character who was consistently anti-Doctor from the beginning. But that wouldn't have been in line with the "eliminate any potential conflicts by the end of season 1" series mandate)(Of course, they could have gone the usual Voyager cliche way and had brought in some one-time alien race to declare the Doctor had violated Ape Law and must be wiped...)

siskoid--"soft" on AI?? Hell, Kirk would have talked him into deleting himself in the flippin' pilot...(it's still pretty cool that 60's TV writers thought you could destroy a computer just by confronting it with illogic...)

Siskoid said...

I think the episode (and a lot of the "edgy Janeway" stories besides) could have work with a softer, kinder Janeway.

The problem isn't that she made those controversial decisions, it's that she defended them without any kind of reasonable or sympathetic argument. It's always "because I said so", and that deflates any kind of ethical dilemma (both sides are NOT represented as valuable).

Jayunderscorezero said...

snell: yeah, I do realise now that that was your point, but when I started typing up my comment, yours had yet to appear (check the close times). The moment I saw both our comments come up, I do have to say I felt that I looked rather foolish for essentially repeating what you'd said, but far less eloquently. Sorry :/