Voyager rewatch 4.24 – “Demon”

It’s a big SFX-heavy sweeps week episode, so why is “Demon” so small and petty?

I’ve always thought that “workmanlike” was unfairly faint praise for a writer. It suggests competence and professionalism, and how can they be bad things? I’d much rather be accused of “workmanlike prose” than the purple kind. It’s a solid baseline.

However. The dictionary definitions specify a lack of inspiration and artistic quality in a workmanlike piece, and … look. When it comes to Kenneth Biller, Voyager‘s longtime staff writer and future showrunner, “workmanlike” is absolutely the word. His scripts range from the competent (“Parallax”) to the mostly inoffensive (“Initiations”) to the interesting yet problematic (“Before and After”). They’re rarely bad. But they’re rarely outstanding, either.

“Demon” is, typically, right in the middle. It’s a solid little adventure. Star Trek by numbers: you’ve got an alien planet, some big special effects, a mysterious alien, an A-plot where the subtext is made text (Harry wants more respect and responsibility) and a comedic B-plot.

It’s workmanlike.

And that’s frustrating, because we’re coming to the end of Voyager‘s fourth season, the one that was meant to reset the series, ramp up the tension and attract new viewers. And we have. This.

First of all, these characters are jerks

This is filler disguised as a sweeps episode.

I see a lot of nostalgia for the filler episodes of yore around the traps, and I don’t completely understand it. Life is short. Tell a story that means something.

But I can see the appeal of getting to kick back and have chill hangs with characters you like. It’s just … I kind of don’t like the versions of the characters we get in “Demon”.

First of all, Kenneth Biller wrote what he thought was “some good Paris-Kim buddy banter stuff.” (Thanks, Memory Alpha!) And I have to give Robert Duncan McNeill and Garrett Wang credit, they work really hard to make the constant sniping seem affectionate. They almost pull it off, too, but then we get to the fat-shaming.

I’ll go back to Memory Alpha:

Garrett Wang has claimed that the scene in this episode where Tom Paris asks Harry Kim if he has put on weight was a slight against the male actors on Voyager, as they all had put on weight during the fourth season. Wang claimed that he asked executive producer Brannon Braga why this issue was brought up on the show and Braga allegedly responded “Well, if you and McNeill continue on your eating ways, we’ll have to change the name of the show to “Star Trek: Voyager – Pigs in Space“.

Pretty unpleasant stuff all around — it gross at the time, and it hasn’t exactly aged well.

Then there’s the B-plot: in which the low power situation requires people to share quarters, Neelix and a few others try to sleep in sickbay, and the Doctor reacts with a bit of comedy workplace bullying. It’s petty and childish — never mind that these are meant to be heroic figures, this behaviour wouldn’t even fly in a workplace.

Finally, we have Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok — all of whom are approximately in character, but their reaction when Seven finds deuterium on a demon-class planet is not “how do we work the problem” but “eh, this looks hard, let’s keep limping along until we die”. This gets us a nice inspirational speech from Harry ‘the writers decided to give him character development this week’ Kim, but it’s hardly consistent with literally anything we know about these guys.

One thing is sadly consistent, though.  When Seven can’t track Tom and Harry on the planet with her tricorder, and Chakotay points out there are footprints, there’s a moment of silence which stretches just long enough that I thought, “Okay, they’re NOT going to make it racist.”

Then Chakotay says, “I guess you never assimilated any Indian scouts,” because of course he did.

Other observations

  • Hurray, B’Elanna’s back!
  • Oh, she’s being told she can’t be on the rescue mission because she’s too emotional
  • Oh, Vorik is still working in engineering and making it weird by imitating her boyfriend
  • I was going to use this section to list the things I liked about the episode, but those things are:
    • B’Elanna’s back!
    • And she has a very nice manicure

In conclusion

You might want to watch this episode because it has a well-regarded sequel later in the series. On the other hand, said sequel contradicts a lot of what we have here and generally doesn’t really make sense, soooooooo, you do you. Two nicely manicured thumbs out of five.

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