Tom Paris is convicted of murdering an alien scientist and condemned to relive the dead man’s final moments. Luckily, Detective Tuvok is on the case…
Every now and then, Star Trek tries to tackle some flavour of crime fiction. Here we have an attempt at SPACE NOIR.
It … could have been worse?
The problem with “Ex Post Facto” is that the noir elements are only surface level. The black and white opening. The bored housewife with Veronica-Lake-but-alien hair. But noir was a cynical genre, and its stories were genuinely transgressive in their ways.
Here, the transgressions are as half-hearted as Lidell’s cynicism. She smokes a cigarette! Tom has a consensual flirtation with a married woman!
The pulpy elements smack up against Star Trek‘s optimism. We know that Tom didn’t kill the scientist, but the reveal — that it was a guy who didn’t even get a name, with Lidell’s assistance — just falls flat. Why did the doctor betray his people? Why did Lidell go to all the effort of framing Tom? Is she, too, a traitor? Why?
For all that the noir and pulp genres were dominated by misogynistic writers, they contained interesting, complicated female characters. One of the reasons “Ex Post Facto” doesn’t work is that Lidell is neither complicated nor interesting. She has Veronica Lake hair but her costumes are pure 1996, and that’s both a metaphor and a literal fact.
Tuvok Holmes is on the case
The older I get, the more I love Tuvok. He’s not the most dynamic character, but his very solidity is appealing. He has absolutely no internal conflict about his identity. He has been happily married for sixty-seven years. He sings, he meditates, he breeds orchids, he has a tremendously boring life, and he’s happy with it.
Honestly, he’s sort of a role model.
This also means he is completely the wrong type of detective for this story. And you could make something of the clash between Intellectual and Dispassionate Investigator versus Hot Noir Mess, but the script doesn’t do enough to lean into that. The scene where Lidell attempts to vamp Tuvok could have been tense, or funny, or revealing. Instead, it’s just a bit half-baked.
Is that the actress’s fault? Maybe. She doesn’t have the presence of a Lake or a Turner.
But mostly, I blame the script — and the era. ’90s television didn’t exactly lend itself to the antiheroics of noir. Homicide: Life on the Street was out there, laying the groundwork for #peakTV — but this is Star Trek: Voyager, a brightly lit, highly episodic spin-off being used as the launching pad for a whole new network.
I mean, just portraying a character smoking was controversial.
Obligatory womanising is obligatory
Also controversial at the time: Tom’s flirtation with Lidell. And, I mean, it’s not great. It’s a bad choice on his part.
But it’s hardly a worse choice than “lying about an accident that killed a fellow officer, getting kicked out of Starfleet and joining a terrorist organisation”. Tom Paris was introduced as Bad Decisions Guy.
And he was also introduced as Gross Around Women Guy. At least Lidell is actively into him!
Honestly, Tom didn’t lose me until he started telling Harry that he had no choice, and one day Harry would understaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand because everything’s just so haaaaarrd when you’re a heterosexual maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan.
Keep it in your pants, Paris. Keep it in your pants.
Janeway is extra tactile this week, putting a hand on Tom’s thigh as he discusses his punishment, and squeezing Chakotay’s shoulder when he pulls off a nifty bit of tactical work.
I’m torn, because I’m totally into it, but I’m also, like, Kathryn, this is inappropriate workplace touching, please stop.
Miscellaneous other things
The aliens of the week — both sets — are sadly generic. Not every episode can be a profound exploration of a complex culture, but these guys are either Plot Devices or Twentieth Century Stereotypes.
They’re so generic, even the pet dog is just referred as a … dog.
Missing in action: B’Elanna Torres, with just one line of dialogue — and that’s technobabble.
Kes, on the other hand, gets a short scene with the Doctor, where we’re reminded that her giant brain is really, really fast at learning stuff, and we also advance the Doctor’s personhood arc. It’s not exactly meaningful characterisation, but it’s interesting how much time and attention she’s getting compared with, say, B’Elanna or Chakotay.
- It’s made extremely clear in one shot that the dog, referred to as “she”, is in fact a boy.
- On a whim, I watched “Broken Bow”, the Enterprise premiere, for the first time since it first aired. I gave up on ENT a few episodes in and never went back, and I was surprised to realise that “Broken Bow” was better than I remembered, in that it was tightly plotted and interesting in its set-up and worldbuilding, but also steeped in misogyny. As much as “Ex Post Facto” is deeply mediocre, it was still a relief to return to a Trek which doesn’t seem to hate me.
- Such is Tuvok’s dedication to being a Sherlock Holmes in a Philip Marlowe scenario that he gathers all the suspects together in a room (okay, that’s Agatha Christie’s trope, moving along…) and cites the curious incident of the dog in the night. He must be super fun at parties.
- (I love him.)
Do I recommend it?
Nah. I mean, I’m not the boss of you, but if you’re not a completist, this is entirely missable.
Two peekaboo haircuts out of five.