626. Natural Law
FORMULA: The Paradise Syndrome + Darmok + Who Watches the Watchers
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Ventu.
WHY WE DON'T: The flight instructor didn't crap his pants.
REVIEW: Seven and Chakotay crash into a sort of cultural reservation protected by shields. Inside are the Ventu, protected by outside influence for hundreds (thousands?) of years. Chakotay will of course befriend them, Seven will of course try to find a way out. Much of the charm of the episode is the Ventu themselves. A simple people with a gestural language, you can see why they would be at risk from other cultures. They're very friendly, even non-violent, and they are good mimic, taking on Chakotay and Seven's face markings for their own within hours. The young girl (a first role for eventual TV hottie Autumn Reeser) is curious, but totally taken in by her world's natural beauty. She and Seven will bond.
The planet actually belongs to their cousins, the much more advanced Ledosians, and given how bureaucracy-minded they are, I was thinking that maybe they set up the reservation themselves to protect a heritage, but no, someone else put up the shield and once Seven brings it down (and paradise with it), all they want to do is exploit its resources. Voyager will have to lose a friend and restore the balance (which works out well because the shield is kept down by a piece of Starfleet technology they cannot possibly leave behind).
The comedy subplot revolves around Tom Paris having gotten a speeding ticket in Ledosian space and having to take driving lessons. A humorous set-up, and the instructor is of course a dottering blowhard in no hurry to let Tom off the hook and insulting him at every turn, but it doesn't pay off very well. In the end, it's up to the Flyer to get to Ledos and retrieve the Starfleet tech in a crazy maneuver that involves escaping from the shield as it closes in, but the effects don't make the flight vertiginous enough. Or else the instructor isn't acting like it is. To make up for the torture Tom had to go through, he should have corkscrewed the Flyer a lot more, let's say. The resolution just feels a bit limp as it is.
As to who isolated the Ventu in the first place, that remains a mystery. I'd say it was the Preservers, but they probably would have taken the Ventu to another planet. It's hinted that the Borg assimilated a species with similar technology, but if this is meant to explain why the Preservers disappeared or just give Seven an advantage isn't clear. Speaking of unclear, if you think Chakotay and Seven being thrown together can explain their relationship in Endgame, it doesn't. There's no interest during the mission, and if there is in the epilogue, it should be written down as the slowest-evolving relationship in all of Star Trek (and I'm including Riker and Troi!).
One last note on some writing snafus that really bugged me: Chakotay suggesting they go to warp inside an atmosphere. The amazingly quick infection of his surface wound. The amazingly brittle combadge. Glad to get those off my chest.
LESSON: Neanderthals were doubtless huggable.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A nice little episode for anthropology fans, but otherwise rather low on the excitement meter.