Voyager rewatch 5.25 – “Warhead”

It’s the one where Voyager helps someone in need who then BETRAYS THEM! No, wait, it’s the one where Voyager gets entangled with an artificial intelligence with an agenda of its own! No wait! IT’S BOTH!

“Warhead” is not a bad episode, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen it before. I have a real problem where I confuse “Prototype” with “Dreadnought” with “Juggernaut” with “Warhead”. Three of these episodes are about B’Elanna, Liz. Get it straight.

“Warhead” is a Harry episode, which naturally means the Doctor gets the bulk of the attention and the meaty acting goes to Robert Picardo. Classic Voyager.

Do I sound salty? I recall a few years ago, someone investigated the claim that Seven of Nine “took over” Voyager after her arrival, and found instead that the Doctor had more dialogue than any other character. No, I can’t remember when or where that was, or who did it. Yes, I’m mildly tempted to get the transcripts and start counting, but who has the time? Definitely not me right now!

Warhead does one new thing

Essentially, this is an episode about Harry learning to trust his judgement as a leader, by inspiring the warhead to trust its judgement more than its programming, and in doing so … well, essentially murder its compatriots, but it’s an interesting arc for Harry nonetheless.

But I have trouble getting excited about a leadership story for Harry when I know that Rick Berman will never allow an Asian character to be promoted.

So, uh, is the warhead a sentient being or not?

The other interesting — and probably unintentional — thing this episode does is keep various parties completely separate. Janeway never interacts with the warhead entity; Harry does. This leads to the climax, where she has to trust Harry’s judgement, completing his leveling up. (Except he will never level up, etc.)

But it also leads to a really uncomfortable situation where, on the one hand, Harry is arguing for the warhead’s personhood, while Janeway is preparing to have it sold for parts and effectively enslaved.

The problem is that she can’t say she doesn’t know the warhead is sentient. Onquanii discusses its capacity for learning, and even intends to utilise the AI to control planetary weather systems. And before the warhead turned on Voyager, the Doctor argued for its personhood.

It’s a bad look for Janeway, who earlier this season had to be stopped from treating the Doctor like a faulty iPhone that needed to have its factory settings restored.

Now, we can argue that Janeway, like Picard before her, has a blind spot when it comes to artificial people. (Remember that time in TNG when Picard was angry that Data procreated without his permission?) And that’s interesting. But in this case, I don’t think it’s even slightly intentional.

There’s more than a hint of burnout around “Warhead”. The story was conceived by Brannon Braga in his role as showrunner; the script was by Michael Taylor and Kenneth Biller — two writers who had already contributed a lot of scripts this season. “Warhead” has interesting ideas, executed in a half-hearted way. Everyone’s tired and conserving their energy for the season finale. It’s one of the strongest arguments I can think of for the 10-episode season.1

Other observations

  • Onquanii has one of the best costumes we’ve seen all season — maybe one of the best in Voyager, full stop. You’ve got your mock turtleneck, and over it, a nicely-cut embroidered coat. All in purple. Amazing stuff, weird that it was wasted on this character who only appears in one scene.
  • Harry’s night shift bridge crew includes two women in the same blonde haircut. Like I said, you can feel the burnout in every department. Except wardrobe.
  • Seven: I’m going to suffer fake third degree burns
    Neelix: Don’t worry, I’ll make them as flattering as possible
  • You can tell Kenneth Biller co-wrote this script because there’s a nod to the Paris/Torres relationship, but it makes having a girlfriend seem like a really unpleasant chore.
  • Someone was really impressed by the “outsmart the smart bomb” line, given that it’s used twice.

In conclusion

If you love Robert Picardo’s acting or Garrett Wang’s remarkably perfect eyebrows, you should watch this episode. Otherwise … meh. It’s fine. Two smart bombs out of five.

  1. Actually I think 13-15 episodes is the sweet spot for a Star Trek, and even 15 is pushing it. Though let’s be real, Star Trek: Picard only needed six episodes a season.

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