Voyager rewatch 4.07 – “Scientific Method”

Everyone knows that running experiments on unknowing and unconsenting subjects is unethical, but what my theory presupposes is … it’s also hilarious?

“Scientific Method” feels like a throwback in the best possible way.

Remember “The Cloud”? Remember “Twisted”? Those simple little bottle episodes where, sure, there’s some science fiction happening, there are people in danger, but it’s all a vehicle for character work? (Please try to forget that I do not consider “Twisted” as successful as “The Cloud” in this regard.)

“Scientific Method” is the fourth season version. The plot is tighter, the comedy is more intentional — though not necessarily funny — and we get a warm-up for “Year of Hell” as Janeway is pushed to her limits and beyond.

This whole episode is a gift for:

  • Janeway fans who love to see her suffer (sooooooooooooo all of them)1
  • Paris/Torres shippers2
  • people who, for some reason, were really desperate to see the Doctor in Renaissance costuming?3
  • fans of Tuvok and sarcasm and also Tuvok being sarcastic
  • Janeway/Chakotay shippers (SHE TOUCHED HIS KNEE! PETTED THE INSIDE OF IT! That’s a Lorca-seducing-Cornwell-move, only it takes place in the middle of sickbay, with an audience, and he’s too busy dying of accelerated old age to be seduced, and not a single person in this interaction is evil)4
  • people who … wanted Neelix to have more spots? I guess?
  • also Seven of Nine gets a subplot that’s not about being Borg!
  • fans of really terrible old age make-up

the bit that’s meant to be funny but isn’t

Chakotay (prematurely aged) and Neelix (transforming into his great-grandfather’s species, a different type of spotty alien) have a competitive suffering session in sickbay. It’s cute and all, but doesn’t quite land.

Or maybe that’s just because there are so many funnier things, such as…

The bit that’s probably not intended to be funny but is

Janeway’s face when she finally snaps and decides the best solution to this problem is … a game of binary star chicken.

Now, Kate Mulgrew’s face is always a gift, and she has some marvellous expressions throughout “Scientific Method”, but there’s just something about her expression when she reaches this point. The aliens have fucked around, and now they are going to find out.

“Shall I have them flogged as well?”

What’s great about “Scientific Method” is that, as far as we know, Tuvok is completely unaffected, and his primary concerns throughout are (a) security business; (b) his captain seems a tiny bit more emotional than usual? Some Vulcans might say, “She’s human, how can you tell?” but that is prejudiced and inappropriate. On the other hand, she’s not so far off the rails that he needs to have the doctor relieve her of duty, so logic dictates that the careful application of sarcasm will assist…

In seriousness, the scene where Tuvok promises to join the captain on her Tuscan holodeck staycation for a visit and a glass of wine5 is very sweet. Janeway may not be stroking his knee, but we all know who the most important man in her life is.

A crude cartoon depicting Tuvok and Janeway's exchange ("This is a far more reckless course of action than I have come to expect from you") as she flies Voyager through the binary stars.
I do not know how to draw starships and should not try.

I remembered why I like Paris/Torres!

Not so much for the sneaking around and making out — it is indeed adolescent — but the scene at the end, where they wonder if they’ve been manipulated by aliens all along … and then make out again.

(When you want a sex pollen story without sex pollen?)

What I like here is that they have great chemistry — which isn’t a surprise, but it’s a relief to see the spark is still there, even after the sexual tension has been resolved — and they can have cute, clever conversation without reproducing romcom tropes.

Also, their outfits were very cute. That is, B’Elanna’s outfit was very cute, and Tom wore his best upholstered vest, as was the style at the time.

Is this a story which any other Trek could have told?

Absolutely. But it’s so character-driven that it would play out very differently with any other crew, and I think that’s important. And no captain but Janeway could pull off such epic hair acting — her ponytail is telling a story, and it requires all sorts of content warnings!

Let’s take a moment to appreciate that the aliens are mostly women

I recently finished season 3 of Enterprise, which was more or less watchable and occasionally good now and then — but it was full of scenes with no women whatsoever. So it’s kind of nifty to go back a few years and see an episode that’s full of women, and even the sexy lamp — the model the Doctor is drawing — is filmed respectfully.

Do the aliens have much personality? No. But I’d argue that they don’t need to be complex, when so much of the entertainment comes from the regulars being heightened versions of themselves.

(Perhaps the reason the Chakotay and Neelix stuff doesn’t land is that it’s, well, a bit generic. Whereas with Janeway, and possibly Tom and B’Elanna, the aliens just turned them up to maximum and stood back to see what happened.)

Also Seven of Nine is here

Her role is almost entirely plot-related, but that’s … fine. Everything she accomplishes here is based on the foundation set up in the preceding episodes, and the trust she has built with Janeway and Tuvok.

More importantly, the episode opens with an exchange between Seven and B’Elanna (and I don’t want to overlook the fact that, although a lot of this story is about B’Elanna’s personal life, her professional relationship with the new female character is also developed). B’Elanna is annoyed by Seven, but she’s starting to see a bit of herself in her as well, and that’s fantastic. I wish the relationship had been developed further, but I revel in the crumbs we get.

Harry Kim is barely here

He escapes horrible mutilation — for once — but he’s just here for technobabble, and to be the butt of the joke in the final scene, as he attempts to third wheel himself into Tom and B’Elanna’s date.

At least, that might be the intention. An equally valid read — not just because it’s mine, but that helps — is that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and is deeply amused even if Tom and B’Elanna aren’t.

(The Greatest Gen guys have developed a running gag about Harry being a legendary and prolific lover — but he’s far more low-key and modest about it than, say, Tom Paris. And I know it’s a joke, but I’m also, like, maybe that’s my new headcanon?)

Other observations

  • The Ponytail Era comes to an end — but what an end! Janeway’s hair is a narrative device in its own right!
  • Seven has a slightly different catsuit this week — still brown, but made of finer fabric and basically a variation on the silver one with a slightly lower neckline. In literally any other colour, I’d love it.
  • If I lived on a starship, my primary use for the holodeck would be massage therapy, so that scene with Janeway and the Doctor filled me — and my shoulder muscles — with a lot of envy.
  • I really cannot get over how cute B’Elanna’s outfit is in the final scene. It’s pure 1997 but in the best possible way.

In conclusion

I guess this isn’t the most sophistimacated piece of Trek, but it’s a fun way to pass the time. Four head-penetrating needles out of five.

 

  1. Is that weird?
  2. I just realised there’s probably a portmanteau these days, like Porres or Tomlanna, and … no. I am an old fashioned fan and I’m going to keep on calling it P/T
  3. Hey, you do you!
  4. Look, we take what we can get, we’re not being SPOILT like the P/T shippers over there
  5. Take THAT, non-Voyager watching Vulcan fans who cling to their “alcohol is poison to Vulcans” headcanon like it wasn’t straight-up stolen from Babylon 5 and the Minbari!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.