Voyager rewatch 2.20 – “Investigations”

“Investigations” is late because I’ve been sick all week — I made it to work on Wednesday, then passed out on the couch on Wednesday night — and didn’t have the energy for my usual pre-post proofreading yesterday.

BUT FIRST: my intrepid co-podcaster, Anika, and I had the pleasure of appearing on the podcast Enterprising Individuals, discussing (in a roundabout way) the third season TNG episode “Sarek”. It was a lot of fun! Check it out!

And now, “Investigations”.¬†Neelix’s bid for YouTube stardom ends in death.

Shorter “Investigations” review: *fart noise*

I was tempted to leave it there, but I actually do have things to say.

Or, at least, I have a list of questions:

  • why?
  • at which point did someone decide it was a good idea to make this a Neelix story?
  • did they just forget that Harry is Tom’s best friend?
  • at any stage did the writers stop to think about Michael Jonas’s motivations, or was he conceived as an incredibly boring character from day one?
  • who thought it was a good idea to have so much time taken up by the Doctor’s demands for attention?
  • that’s screen time which could have gone to Harry, the natural hero of this episode????
  • where are the long-term consequences for the lack of trust shown in Chakotay?
  • I realise that Voyager is not a series which believes in long-term consequences, but this is also inconsistent with what has gone before, ie, in “State of Flux” he sadly but manfully investigates his own girlfriend, soooooo…
  • ??????????

Here’s my confession: I dislike season 2 of Voyager. It has a couple of great episodes (stay tuned for my upcoming rant about how “The Thaw” is brilliant and underrated), but mostly it’s just consistently mediocre.

When I think about season 2, I picture a small, dimly lit room, because it feels like that’s where much of it is set. I’ve talked about how the settings and lack of location shooting makes it feel claustrophobic, but the storytelling, too, is … small and confined.

The concept behind “Investigations” and the arc that led up to this point is solid. Of course not everyone is on Team Janeway. Maybe someone on the crew — or someones — would be up for helping Seska take over the ship and either using more extreme methods to get home, or just becoming the Dread Pirate Ship Voyager.

This didn’t have to boring. But I feel like the writers — led by Michael Piller, who was determined to modernise the writing style on Voyager, which was not keeping pace with current TV trends — worked so hard to structure their arc that they forgot to make it about the characters.

Again, why is this a Neelix episode? He has a bond with Tom, sure, they’ve gone from rivals to buddies. But it’s Harry who has believed in Tom from day one, who has taken him as a role model, even. We barely get to see how Harry feels about Tom’s apparent abandonment of Voyager, let alone his reaction when Neelix claims Tom is the traitor.

(Query: how does defamation law work in the Federation?)

“Harry teaches Neelix about courage in journalism” is cute, but it’s simplistic — I almost compared it to something out of children’s television, only Press Gang‘s depiction of journalism was far more sophisticated than this. I don’t really think the “Briefing with Neelix” framing was necessary at all, but we could have used it as the basis for some sort of Harry and Neelix buddy story.

But it’s all too clear that very little about this arc¬† has been about character.

And that’s a damn shame. When he came in at the beginning of TNG’s third season, the latest in a revolving door of showrunners, Pillar was the one who recognised that the key to making TNG work was to make it about the people. And here he is, nearly ten seasons later, correctly observing that Voyager‘s style is out of step with its contemporaries, but forgetting that important lesson about character. He was creatively exhausted by this point, and it shows.

(Sometimes I think the hardest thing for any creative professional is to recognise when it’s time to move on.)

Tuvok versus Chakotay, again

I’ve seen Robert Beltran’s performance in later seasons, so I had a good laugh at Janeway’s claim that Chakotay wasn’t told the truth because they didn’t trust his acting abilities.

But, like the exclusion of Harry from this narrative, it’s really unfair to the character, and asks the audience to forget everything he has been through before.

Now, I like that Tuvok doesn’t really trust Chakotay, or even take him seriously. Tuvok’s competence and stability mean that he has very few chinks in his armour, so this irrational blind spot is actually welcome. Even though you think he might have gotten over it after “State of Flux”.

But Janeway should know better, and the fact that she instead goes along with Tuvok’s suggestion makes her look like a bit of an idiot. Which I suppose is fitting, given that this arc began with “Alliances”, a whole episode dedicated to making her look foolish. But she’s yet another character who is ill-served by this storyline.

Other observations

  • There are no consequences for Jonas’s death. We don’t get to see him being mourned by his friends, or the regret they might have for trusting him. He was barely a character.
  • In fact, one of the problems with this whole arc is how thin the supporting cast is. Again: the regular cast is top heavy, leaving insufficient room for the rich supporting cast which makes DS9 so successful.
  • I cannot get over how ugly Tom’s civilian outfit is. It looks like the costumers took the simplest of designs — a T-shirt — and made it as complicated and unflattering as possible.

In conclusion

This is a bad episode which brings an end to a bad arc. I’d say “never let us speak of it again”, but I suspect it will come up again around the time of the second season finale. One ugly T-shirt out of five.

Fortunately, we have a run of solid eps coming up. Although I’m a bit scared of “Tuvix” on account of how (a) it’s incredibly controversial in the fandom, as in, people either don’t have strong opinions about it OR it makes them ragequit; and (b) I haven’t actually watched it since I was 14, and what if it makes me ragequit this time?

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