Scotch and Star Trek

Scotch… the final frontier.

Several years ago, I came to the realization that I have never actually seen much of the original Trek. This provided me with an excuse to go through from the beginning to see the process by which a cohesive, generation-spanning and inspirational setting is presented to viewers. In the end, though, it’s an excuse to get snarky and pick apart a show I’ve loved since childhood.

Why the drinking? Because every time I reflect on the scope of this project I realize there are over five hundred hours of Star Trek ahead of me.

Here’s to you, Scotty. 

Today’s feature:

VOY: S1E15: "Learning Curve"

In which Tuvok stands as a sturdy oak and bends as the willow. 

Janeway is in her holonovel, where she escapes from the rigors of captaining a shipfull of squabbling ingrates by taking on the role of the governess of only two snotty and entitled Victorian children. Also, the novel probably contains a haunting, or else the little girl is loony. Or else the holonovel is glitching due to a power disruption. When such things happen, holoprogramming is compartmentalized such that only one character at a time vanishes, leaving the others to react to this strange direction in the story. I can only imagine that this is part of a safety protocol, so that in the event of a power failure, structural elements vanish last so that a player who is, for example, rock climbing, has the opportunity to see all the decorations vanish and brace themselves before their handholds disappear. Anyway, Janeway gets to call the bridge to ask why her reading light just turned off.

This maintenance panel was brought to you by Lt. Mondrian.

This maintenance panel was brought to you by Lt. Mondrian.

There’s a panel open on deck six, and Crewman Dalby of the Maquis skipped some protocols by repairing a bioneural gel-pack without telling anyone so they could route around it for the maintenance. Then he tells Tuvok to go jump out an airlock, with very little build. Now, if a former maquis is going to blow up at anyone, it makes sense it would be Tuvok, since the man has no tact and was also a traitor. Still, that was… fast.

Being in the middle of nowhere makes it useful to dwell on how being the newest, coolest ship in the fleet is something of a liability out there if a ship is dependent on a specific and fragile supply chain like bio-neural gel-packs. Even if they’re virtually indestructible, that last inch will be very little comfort when the first neural-energy-eating space monster comes along and burns out half of the computer core and power transfer systems. The ship only has 47 spares, now that one of the spares has been pulled into action. They start moving towards moving some critical systems back to more replicatable systems.

Next up – the morale and protocol problem. Tuvok and Chakotay slap at each other ineffectually until Janeway comes up with an actual solution – training and trust exercises. And since Tuvok taught at the academy for 16 years and is still unable to handle curveballs, Janeway makes him run the training.

The training class starts… terribly. Tuvok gives out laps, and his charges go on strike. It’s almost like he’s used to teaching the cream of the crop who’ve invested the majority of their lives to being the best and any movement away from that status is painful, and is therefore ill-equipped to teach malcontents for whom a large part of their core identity for the past few years has been that the Federation screwed them over. Especially since Tuvok has very little leverage on them. His only leverage is Chakotay.

"I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed."

“I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”

For all that Chakotay’s overarching narrative is that he’s kind of a placeholder for a more interesting character that never shows up, he’s arguably good here. This might be his peak, actually. He’s got this whole paternal thing going on with the Maquis crew, right up until he punches out the Mouth of the group.

When they show up to training the next day, Tuvok starts them off with pop quizzes and uniform code regulations. Having never been either a teacher or a drill instructor, I can’t really comment on his choice of technique, except to say that a headband that matches your uniform and keeps your hair in place seems pretty innocuous. I get him harping on the medallion (could get caught in equipment) and even the Bajoran Earring, though, even if it seems likely that the crew will be able to earn back a little ornamentation with good behavior, after they’ve proven they’re not total screwups.

B’Elanna taunts Dalby the Mouth a little, since he won’t shut up complaining about Tuvok, and then another one of the gel packs goes out. It’s worth pointing out that in a crisis Dalby drops the attitude immediately and gets work done. Next step is to take the gel-pack to Sick Bay to find out what’s making them fail. In this scene, the Doctor exhibits a nascent sense of humor about his utter lack of bedside manner. The gel packs have an infection, and a treatment begins.

Tuvok takes his charges on the closest thing to a training jog – 50 Jeffries tubes and a 10k, under increased gravity, and then tells them to do it again tomorrow. Also, Tuvok has one of the crewmen, Chell, degaussing the Transporter pad with a micro-resonator. This is akin to cleaning the lavatory with a toothbrush, or mopping the parade ground during the rain, or any of a number of other methods of making people perform meaningless tasks in the most difficult way possible. It’s not all physical challenge, though. Tuvok is also giving them war games challenges, which seems like fun, until they hit scenario pile-up and all die because nobody even thinks of running away from a whole fleet of Romulan warbirds.

Tuvok gets a little Guinan’d by Neelix, who takes Tuvok on a tour of a koan made flesh. Tuvok is bad at koans. Also, it’s not at all important but there’s some kind of antique-coffee-maker-looking-thing in the background and why does it look like it got pulled out of a yard sale? I can only assume it came from Neelix’s ship instead of getting replicated or built by the engineers with more importaint things to do, but it’s kind of jarring to see clearly-distressed equipment like that. It’s very… rustic.

"Most advanced ship in Starfleet and we all nearly die because of comfort food."

“Most advanced ship in Starfleet and we all nearly die because of comfort food.”

Also, Neelix has been making cheese for some crewman’s home-cooked macaroni-and-cheese, which means bacteria, which means a probable source of infection, which means undercutting any credit Neelix gets from this scene with a good old-fashioned ‘you broke the bloody ship.’ I want to be fair to Neelix and say that a biological ship component should be sealed well enough that a state dinner won’t take out the entire control network, though. I feel like the whole point of this plot was so that they could make Roxanne Dawson say ‘get the cheese to Sick Bay.’

Tuvok tries to get to know Dalby in a slightly more low-key atmosphere, but the relationship is so poisoned at this point that he’s not really getting into the spirit of a heart-to-heart as he runs the table and tells the story of how the love of his life was brutalized and murdered by Cardassians while the Federation did nothing. He’s protective of the Bajoran kid because he doesn’t want the kid to make the same mistakes as he once did, and he’s not much closer to not hating Tuvok.

Neelix’s cheese is basically a bio-weapon. It’s fortunate it hasn’t taken down the Doctor’s holo-matrix yet. And Kes figures out that the bacteria might be hosts to a virus as the real culprit. The ship is going down fast, as happens when you almost solve a problem, and the Maquis Class is stuck in a cargo bay and forced to rely on each other in a crisis situation and come together as a cohesive team.

The Doctor has been able to cure the samples with heat – the same way the human body uses a fever to kill viral infections. So Janeway has Torres flood their gel-packs with warp plasma, which will be lethal to our Plucky Class of Misfits and Tuvok but somehow not cook the gel-packs – the ship is above 150 degrees in parts, some conduits blow, and Dalby wastes some time arguing with Tuvok, and we’re all supposed to be surprised when Tuvok doesn’t let a kid die. Dalby certainly is.

"If you won't wipe that grin off your face I'm going to reprogram you with a phaser."

“If you won’t wipe that grin off your face I’m going to reprogram you with a phaser.”

While everyone else on this hip is near death, the Doctor gets to remain chipper and unconcerned, because his program was never touched by the virus. The rest of the screwups, meanwhile, have gotten out and come back to rescue Tuvok and the kid. A note about the ship though – the doors appear to fail force-closed. I’m not sure the tensile strength of that bar it was being propped open with, but I’m willing to bet heavily that a humanoid arm or leg trapped in there would not have fared well. Happily, this is the catalyst that makes everyone friends again, and Neelix is never allowed to make cheese again.

Did we miss something awesome?