Star Trek 617: Repentance

617. Repentance

FORMULA: The Chute + Duet

WHY WE LIKE IT: The realistic/DS9 downbeat ending.

WHY WE DON'T: More issues than you can shake a painstik at.

REVIEW: Though we've had Voyager characters in jail before (rather often, actually), the show has never really used it to provoke discussion about the death penalty. In Repentance, the ship becomes a prison vessel for a few days and the issue is explored and debated from what seems to be every possible point of view, to the point of overwhelming the episode. It's pretty heavy material, and it does become preachy at times.

We get to know two convicts on death row, one a total psychopath (Iko) and the other sympathetic (Joleg). The twist is that brain surgery makes the former a good man (and not guilty by virtue of insanity), while the latter is only snowing Neelix. The set-up asks a number of pointed questions about the death penalty: What if the murderer is mentally ill? What if he was cured of that illness? What if he's truly repentant? What if circumstantial evidence was used to convict? Does ethnicity play a role?

They also trot out the "victims' families' rights" argument. In fact, the Nygean legal system is based on it. What if the victim (or victim's family) was in charge of sentencing criminals? Can we trust distraught victims to make the moral choice? A lot of the death penalty debate focuses on that very question, and it's the show's opinion that families will not act on reason. How could they? And as biased parties, why should they be included in the debate? The episode also asks if it's cost-efficient to pay for life sentences and whether you should give medical treatment to a man who's about to be executed. Oh, and throw on some of that guilt Seven is feeling about having assimilated entire cultures and not having been punished for it.

It's no surprise that Star Trek comes out against capital punishment, so I guess they should be commended for giving the other side a voice (and not just a Nygean one). Seven is the "conservative" voice, exalts efficiency and dismisses sentimental considerations in Iko's case. And while the Doctor makes his sermons, Neelix is shown as the "bleeding heart liberal" who wants to save Joleg from his fate, seeing injustice and wanting to right it. The real twist is that these points of view are flipped by the end of the episode. Seven does everything she can to save Iko, while Neelix sneers at Joleg for having abused his trust. In other words, it's all philosophy and polemic until it's personal. And once you're personally involved, you're no longer able to make unbiased judgments.

LESSON: Uhm, that last line of the Review.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: While the issues raised are interesting, the episode takes a scattershot approach to delivering them. Too much, unfocused, sometimes preachy, even manipulative.

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