Voyager rewatch 5.03 – “Extreme Risk”

It’s the third episode of the season, which means it’s time to check in on B’Elanna.

Half of “Extreme Risk” is a really good episode.

If “Night” was about the depression that wants you to stay in bed with the covers drawn, “Extreme Risk” is about the depression that wants you to hurt so you can feel something. (This isn’t subtext, B’Elanna straight out says it.)

B’Elanna’s arc has always been about mental health. From “Faces”, where we see that her human “side” has extreme anxiety, we’ve known that she’s a complicated person whose extreme competence and aggressive demeanor conceal profound insecurities.

Not to be all, “Let me tell you about my podcast”, but we recently did an episode on depictions of depression in Star Trek, and Anika made what I think is a truly brilliant observation: throughout the series, B’Elanna has an untreated anxiety disorder, and it never goes away.

And that’s terrible, right? It’s the 24th century and they’ve forgotten how to make Lexapro. Or Prozac. Or Valium.

But it’s also interesting. It makes B’Elanna a multifaceted (pun intended) character. Yes, it’s frustrating and frankly racist that her problems are often boiled down to a tragic mulatto stereotype, but I am persuaded that even if she was wholly human, or wholly Klingon, B’Elanna would deal with these problems.

Unfortunately this is a Kenneth Biller script

It’s a typically forgettable workmanlike job. If B’Elanna’s emotional story is the A-plot, the B-plot is a race to capture a lost probe, and Tom finally gets to build a fancy new shuttle. “We have an old-fashioned space race on our hands,” says Janeway, only this space race is somehow … boring.

Technobabble is broken up by mean banter — which is becoming a Biller trademark — and worse, no one is particularly horrified or even mildly saddened that the crew of a Malon ship lost their lives. They were trying to steal from Voyager, you see, and that means they deserved it.

Honestly, B’Elanna’s story deserves better.

Threads are dropped, threads are picked up

Back when I wrote up “Hunters”, I thought it was a bit remarkable that B’Elanna has a stronger reaction to the loss of the Maquis than Chakotay. And I still find that frankly shocking, but Beltran’s performance as he drags B’Elanna into her Maquis massacre simulation does a lot of heavy lifting. (Was it in the script? Mmmmmmaybe?) His performance is typically understated, but there’s anger and grief behind his concern for B’Elanna.

It’s a good moment, and overall revisits a relationship we haven’t seen much of in the last few seasons, but I find it very interesting that B’Elanna has demonstrated a stronger attachment to the ideals of the Maquis than Chakotay, their cell’s leader.

Is that bad or careless writing? Absolutely! But it’s also an interesting piece of character work: Chakotay left Starfleet and joined the Maquis because he felt like he had to, that he owed it to his estranged father and to the ancestral culture with which he has a complex relationship. Meanwhile, when B’Elanna commits, she commits absolutely. To the Maquis, to Voyager (if not Starfleet as a whole). She’s constantly rebuilding the family she lost as a child.

Which makes it especially interesting that it doesn’t seem like she and Tom are really together here. Like, if you told me that they broke up in late season 4, I would absolutely buy it.

And that is definitely bad writing, because it seems completely unintentional. Biller simply doesn’t know how to write this relationship and isn’t interested in trying.

Neelix and B’Elanna are friends once a year

I don’t know how we’ve wound up in a place where the annual B’Elanna episode also gives us a glimpse of her friendship with Neelix, but I’m not mad about it. He doesn’t always know what B’Elanna needs, but dammit, he’s going to support her in any way he can, whether she likes it or not.

And amazingly, it’s … good? Neelix doesn’t come across as overbearing, the way he did with Kes and often still does with Tuvok. Unlike Tuvok, B’Elanna needs to see that her friends will fight for her, even if she’s the one they’re fighting. Neelix perseveres where Tom gives up which is why I suddenly ship it.

Other observations

  • I really am very cynical about Roxann Dawson coming back from maternity leave, shedding the baby weight and being put straight into the eye candy treadmill. But at the same time, I am looking respectfully at her biceps and generally appreciating the whole tank top thing.
  • I’m not saying Tom doesn’t deserve any credit for the Delta Flyer; I’d even accept that he deserves the majority of the credit. But let’s not overlook the contributions of Tuvok, Harry, B’Elanna, Seven and the various extras. Reject the Great Man Theory of shuttle engineering!
  • Under no circumstances should they let Chakotay anywhere near that shuttle.

In conclusion

This is a frustrating episode, because the good bits are really good but the rest is just there. Let’s call it three and a half probes out of five.

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