But first! Absolutely no one has been clamouring to find out what I’m planning to do for Star Trek: Lower Decks, so let me tell you anyway:
I have no idea!
Not just because we don’t yet have info about an international release — there are ways around that, up to and including “getting a prepaid Visa with US currency and a VPN and actually signing up to CBS All Access”. (Don’t think I won’t, uhhhhhhh, give you my money, media conglomerates!)
I’m mostly not sure how much I’ll have to say about it. Recaps for comedies — unless it’s something like The Good Place, where there’s a lot of substance behind the laughs — tend to either just repeat the jokes from the show, or treat the whole affair with so much po-faced seriousness as to render the concept of “comedy” meaningless.
So I’m playing it by ear, hoping we get a last-minute announcement about international availability (I’ll even sign up for Ten All Access if I have to!), and aiming to post about it but not anticipating anything more substantial than maybe amusing bullet points.
Now, onto the show!
“Alter Ego” asks: is it possible to love Tuvok too much? Turns out the answer is … yes?
“Alter Ego” is frustrating, because it’s a great Tuvok episode, but a terrible episode for Harry Kim.
Here’s the problem: there’s this idea, in the show, that Harry is bad with women and unlucky in love. It underpins everyone’s reaction to his crush on a hologram: of course Harry did that.
But nothing we’ve seen to date actually bears that out. He’s not a habitual flirt like Tom, but we’ve seen him make connections and get the girl on his own terms. You know, treating them with respect, as if they’re … people. So far, Harry has either gotten the girl, or chosen not to get the girl.
It’s troubling that this is treated as a failure on Harry’s part — it says something about how Hollywood perceives sexuality. And it’s notable that we are presented here with a young, attractive Asian man with a history of successful relationships (long-term and otherwise), and told, no, he’s actually a complete loser.
(As usual, I recommend Garrett Wang and Robert Duncan McNeill’s podcast The Delta Flyers for their discussion of these tropes and also, for example, which scenes had to be shot sixteen times because Kate Mulgrew had a hair out of place.)
The disconnect between who we know Harry is, and the way he’s written in this episode, comes to a head when he starts fighting with Tuvok over Marayna. This is, for all intents and purposes, two men arguing over who gets to hang out with a video game character. The situation is so wildly improbable that I started to wonder if Harry was somehow possessed.
Let’s talk about Marayna
Honestly, she’s a pretty thin character. She becomes more interesting as she interacts with Tuvok, but I’m not entirely clear why Harry is into her. Like, even if she was a real person, it’s like falling in love with a barista just because she’s paid to be nice to you.
But I like her, nonetheless. I like that she’s a decade older than the other resort holograms, not to mention Harry himself. I like her use of sailing as a metaphor for Vulcan emotional control, even though it subordinates Marayna-as-a-person to Tuvok-the-male-character.
I also emphasise a lot with the lonely alien she’s revealed as being. There are a lot of jokes about this being the Fatal Attraction episode, and crazy women, and all that, but, well. Here in 2020, I too spend a lot of time alone,1 having feelings about Tuvok. Not that I endorse taking over the ship and attempting to kidnap him, but, you know.
Anyway, while the extraneous material around this episode treats Marayna as an object of fun, Tuvok regards her with compassion. Because he is the best, and we do not deserve him.
Tuvok is lonely too
I think one of the reasons I enjoy “Alter Ego”, for all its problems — and oh boy, I haven’t even started on the racism yet — is that it deepens our understanding of Vulcans, and doesn’t mock them. I like Joe Menosky’s take: that they have very strong emotions, but acknowledge and intellectualise them as the first step towards control. Tuvok still has emotional needs — for companionship, for example — and ends the episode by taking the logical step in addressing them.
(He sits in the sun to play a game with a friend. It’s as simple as that.)
Menosky also co-wrote “Lethe”, one of my favourite Discovery episodes, and one which goes further into Vulcan lore. He doesn’t seem to have made Vulcans his specialty, the way Ronald D Moore did with Klingons, but maybe he should.
“Alter Ego” walks a careful line with Tuvok, making it clear that he is interested in Marayna, and might, in a different life, be open to considering a romantic connection with her, without letting him go so far as to have an emotional affair with her.2 That’s some fine writing, and I only wish equal consideration had been given to Harry’s side of the story.
But there are other people in this episode too
I just want to point out that this is an episode about how Tuvok is lonely, and craves the company of people who understand and respect his culture, but he won’t go so far as to hang out with Vorik. Because that dude is the worst.
Tuvok gives Harry a whole guidebook on how to manage unrequited love — but Vorik obviously skipped that lesson at Vulcan school. His crush on B’Elanna might be cute if Alexander Enberg had even an ounce of charisma, but. Well. He does not.
Hey, you know what is cute? Tom and B’Elanna admiring each other’s luau outfits. And Janeway taking Chakotay by the arm. And also Tom dressing Harry in a pineapple motif, because what are friends for if not to make you wear tropical fruit now and then?
Okay, let’s talk about the racism
The luau scenes even include a “funny” bit where the Doctor muses on the idyllic life of a [non-sentient] recreational hologram, while two Polynesian women take turns putting leis around his neck and kissing him.
The problem is compounded later when, under Marayna’s control, the holodeck characters attack Tom, B’Elanna and Tuvok, going from voiceless eye candy to voiceless monsters. (And faceless, in the case of the men, who wear masks throughout.)
Trek doesn’t have a great history of depicting Pasifika cultures or people, but this is a low point.
- No offence to the costumers, but it’s pretty obvious that all the women at the luau are wearing the same outfit. Some have straps, some don’t, and there are variations in fabric print, but their dresses are otherwise identical.
- I think the men’s Hawaiian shirts are also all the same cut, but it’s harder to tell thanks to the garish patterns.
- PINEAPPLE MOTIF. Why do I get such a kick out of this? We’ll never know!
- Sometimes the ugliness of the swimwear on the holodeck is physically painful, and the only thing worse is the knowledge that I owned or wanted to own some of those bathing suits at the time.
- Let’s all take a moment to think about how hard Seska probably bullied Vorik back in season 1.
- SO HARD.
Unless you’re a massive Tuvok fan — or a Paris/Torres die-hard, or desperate for the faintest glimpse of physical contact between Janeway and Chakotay (*raises hand*), this is fairly unremarkable. Two and a half leis out of five.