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.
Brilliant 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.