Star Trek 524: Real Life

524. Real Life

FORMULA: In Theory + The Offspring + The Outcast

WHY WE LIKE IT: The touching ending.

WHY WE DON'T: The technobabble B-plot.

REVIEW: The Doctor creates a perfect 1950s kind of family and hilarity ensues. It's all very ridiculous, with each family member fighting for his affections, if they have any flaw at all. Points of interest include his being called Kenneth, a surprisingly acceptable first name in this context, and Belle being played by the same holographic matrix as the haunted Burleigh girl from Janeway's holonovel. The reuse of an actor has never been so easy to explain.

Things get more amusing and more interesting once B'Elanna imbues the program with more real life variables, not that she's an expert on family life. In keeping with her own difficult upbringing, her input doesn't just cause realistic problems for the Doctor, but threatens to destroy the family. Belle throws tantrums, but is still daddy's little girl. Jeffrey is the rebellious son hanging out with a bad influence (Klingons!). And Charlene is suddenly a real woman with a schedule of her own. It's always nice to see the Doctor in a situation he can't quite handle, but it's all fun and games until somebody dies.

And someone does. Belle's death is heart-wrenching not once, but twice. Robert Picardo is immensely effective when he shuts down the program, unable to bear the pain of seeing his dying child. When he returns later to face the situation, and has to tell a child she is going to die, it becomes unbearable for the viewer as well. It's so harsh that I don't think they would ever script a situation like this with a real child. If there's a flaw in the episode, it's that the family story is under-developped. It's amazing that the emotion works based on the broad strokes presented here. The more you know these characters, the more punch the ending packs.

Especially since the B-plot is total dreck. It's a technobabble anomaly that does technobabble things and begs Voyager to technobabble around it instead of just taking pictures and moving on. It's largely irrelevant to the main story except to give the Doctor an excuse to overreact to Tom Paris' irresponsible behavior. Any minor accident would have worked. No need to hijack 15 minutes of the episode for it (and part of that is some of the WORST flirting in Star Trek history - and that's saying a lot about a show that's starred Kirk, Riker and Bashir). Tom does get to give the speech that sends the Doctor back to his ruined family, but he sells the punchline by overexplaining, a common problem in Star Trek writing. Still, it does underlie his own family troubles without putting a greasy finger on them (an actor's choice rather than a scriptwriter's, it seems to me).

LESSON: They're only cute between the ages of 4 and 11.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Almost on par with the devastating The Offspring, but the useless B-plot really holds it back.



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