Voyager rewatch 3.04 – “The Swarm”

The Doctor runs out of iCloud storage.

I’m gonna be honest with you guys: I had no memory whatsoever of this episode, and even after I read the Netflix summary, which promised weird aliens and a Doctor plot, I thought it was about the space beings that tried to mate with Voyager.

But, no, that was the plot of “Elogium”. No one in this episode is having sex with anything — although Tom does ask B’Elanna out. Which is nice, but I have notes: workplace sexual harassment is not a great starting point for a relationship. Like, Tom’s a good guy, and I like where his relationship with B’Elanna goes, but it was, alas, the nineties.

Anyway, there are aliens

They’re known as the Swarm, and they have two main characteristics: their language cannot be translated, and they really, really hate people enroaching on their space. Unfortunately, avoiding Swarm Space would mean a 15-month detour, whereas cutting through would only take a matter of days. So Janeway decides to go a-trespassin’.

If this episode aired now, I suspect a lot of people would be very angry and call it “not Star Trek“. Which is ridiculous, because Star Trek is a lot of things — but it does feel like the writers saw an opportunity for a complicated, interesting race of aliens, and a nice, classic Trek sort of story about differences and communication, and then went, “Nahhhhh, let’s just go with the shooty bang bang.”

So, yeah, it’s a missed opportunity, and yet another example of the Voyager writers taking the narratively easy way out. But I can whinge about it, or I can engage with the episode we actually have.

Now, maybe it’s just because I’m on Covid time, but adding 15 months onto a 70-odd year trip doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. But Janeway doesn’t even consider it. Once again, I feel like the events of “Basics” have affected her more deeply than she lets on.

Tuvok tries to argue, but he’s overruled, and though he remains silent, his eyebrows are extremely judgemental for the rest of the episode. How anyone can remain strong in the face of Tuvok’s disapproval is beyond me, but that’s the difference between Kathryn Janeway and the self-isolating lump into which I am evolving.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is running out of memory

This plotline is only tangentially related to the Swarm business, but I kind of liked it. Turns out that emergency medical holograms were never designed to be constantly running, let alone to have the sorts of additions the Doctor has been making to his software, and now he’s malfunctioning. The diagnostic hologram — also played by Robert Picardo — says the only option is to restore him to factory settings, but that means losing two seasons worth of character development. And maybe B’Elanna can come up with a neat solution, but she’s busy dealing with the Swarm.

So it’s up to Kes to save the day — or, at least, the Doctor.

I’m not the biggest Doctor fan, and this episode marks the beginning of the whole “the Doctor sings opera” thing, which I can’t stand. But I do love Kes, and here she presents herself as his advocate and carer, while also taking over his job as chief medical officer when he can no longer function in that capacity.

Her ultimate solution is interesting and clever: graft the diagnostic hologram’s memory capacity onto the Doctor’s, restore his factory settings, then try to install his memories from the potentially-corrupted back-up. This takes about as long as setting up a new iPhone, and the final scene — the Doctor doesn’t recognise Kes, but does start humming the aria he sang at the beginning — suggests it will work.

What made this interesting to me is that Kes’s idea requires the diagnostic hologram to sacrifice himself. And I wonder, at what point does such a hologram become a person? If that hologram is capable of the same sort of growth as the Doctor, is it wrong to sacrifice him?

Emergency crew technology is so new at this stage — even holodecks are only about a decade old at this point in Star Trek‘s timeline — that I can forgive them (both characters and writers) for not really considering the issue. But I wish it had been addressed in Star Trek: Picard, along with the difference between synthetic life in the form of an android versus synthetic life in the form of a hologram.

Catching up on the OTPs

Over at badpajamas.space, Jules includes a ranking of the most horny characters in each episode of DS9. But no horniness is allowed on Voyager, not even in the episodes intended to be titillating. Here’s the current state of the OTPs:

  • Janeway/Chakotay: They SIT NEXT TO EACH OTHER and SOMETIMES THEY INTERACT
  • Look, I’ve had quite a few years of fixating on recurring characters and OTPs who, for various reasons (marriage to other people, being dead, etc), rarely hang out. Give me this crumb.
  • Kes/Neelix: No interactions this week. No one is sad.
  • Paris/Torres: On the hand hand, he asks her out. On the other hand, she says no, probably because he’s just made inappropriate remarks alluding to her Klingon heritage and sexuality.
  • Paris/Kim: After last week’s riches, nothing. Harry is barely even in this episode. Tom spends part of it comatose.
  • Janeway/Paris: they have a flirty moment when he asks why she snuck out of the house as a teen, and she leaves it to his imagination. LOOK, IF YOU DON’T WANT ME TO SHIP IT A BIT, DON’T INCLUDE THESE MOMENTS.
  • The Doctor/his ego: They’re going through a rough patch, but they’ll get through it.
  • The Doctor/The Diagnostic Hologram: Someone ships it, right?
  • Tuvok/judging people: This is a solid long-term relationship and I wish them every happiness.

In conclusion

This is not a bad episode, but it’s somewhat insubstantial. I’m giving it three untranslatable aliens out of five, but with the caveat that it’s a lot more skippable than the last two. (Unless you’re a big Doctor fan! In which case, you should absolutely watch this, and I’m sorry I was mean about his singing.)

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