In which the writers had a choice between a story about medical ethics and racism.
The Doctor appears to have erected a towering monument to his ego. In fact, this is a slide show about how he resolved so many messions. For some reason, he’s not using holograms for this ‘holographic’ display. Meanwhile, on the bridge, Harry reminds Chakotay that they were supposed to rescue this group of the Doctor’s audience half an hour ago, and Chakotay reminds Harry that Janeway let them suffer, so why shouldn’t she suffer too?
We’re following a very pissed-off Torres and Tom into the mess hall, but at this time Voyager gets hit by an energy wave that even seems to be tracking them. It leaves the ship capsized in its wake, but downloaded a bunch of information to Voyager as well, including an audio file of some screeching bat-sounds. Janeway restates the last twenty seconds of her life for the benefit of nobody, and Tom suggests they track the wave back to its source. That source is a ship adrift.
There’s a life sign aboard, that Janeway orders beamed directly to sick bay. That life form is vividly non-humanoid. The tricorders can’t even begin to diagnose it, and with a lack of fingers, it manipulates its ship biochemically. It can also leap through force fields, and tackles B’Elanna in the process. They try to emergency beam it back to its ship, but Harry can’t get a lock and soon it’s connected to her, chewing on her neck and shutting down her organs. It’s so strongly connected to her they can’t beam her off.
Tom seems confused as to why the Doctor doesn’t immediately know enough exobiology to work on this creature they’ve never seen before, but Janeway has a solution – download the computer’s exobiology database into a holographic consultant. Harry’s a good enough programmer to do it, apparently, and they start with the physical appearance, arguably the least important part of this program. Plus he’s a Cardassian.
Harry and the doctor square off on the issue – Harry is bigoted and the Doctor is indifferent to the potential conflicts of his patient potentially waking up to being operated on by a group she’s spent the better part of a decade hating. Neither of them tell the computer to operate a basic facial morph to make this guy look… say… Andorian or Bolian or Vulcan. Nor does Harry stop to wonder whether a foremost expert on exobiology coming from a species he considers to be broadly evil might be something of a Mengele figure. Also, given Harry’s much-vaunted skills, simply telling the computer to import some libraries isn’t really showcasing them. Fortunately, there’s enough going wrong for him to be able to import a toolkit and solve the problem in order to look smart.
Crell Mocet the Cardassian exobiologist/surgeon quickly consults with the Doctor, and they transfer over to sick bay. Torres has been drifting in and out of consciousness with the thing on her face. They don’t have the tools that Mocet would have liked – an iso-molecular scanner. Apparently at a joint medical conference he suggested they upgrade but the Federation decided against it on principle. This doesn’t sound like the Federation we’ve come to expect. During this resigned half-tirade he does make a passing reference to ‘enlightened races’ which strikes me as a bit of foreshadowing, or possibly I’m vaguely remembering this episode from way back.
Mocet re-calibrates the tricorder to be able to get some readings, so maybe Starfleet just decided to go with Alton Brown rules – no monotaskers when a multitasking tool will do more just as well. Meanwhile, Janeway’s started trying to decode the audio transmission by translating it visually. Seven has also run into some friction with one of Torres’ underlings, but just skates over it as irrelevant. They also screw up and accidentally blow up its ship.
Mocet walks through the creature’s actions – eating Torres’ bodily fluids and white blood cells – from an evolutionary perspective as they try to figure out why it’s doing what it’s doing. This probably isn’t predation, since it leaves the predator vulnerable. They decide that it’s latched on to her as a life support system. Mocet asks if they can move to his own laboratory, and they decided to make it holographically. Torres wakes up enough to see Mocet, and unsurprisingly Torres has a problem with a Cardassian doctor. Place your bets whether she’s going to learn a lesson in forgiveness or whether he’s going to turn out to be a crazed vivisectionist prompting a debate about making use of unethically-gained medical knowledge.
His lab is impressive, but we already have a bit of an answer – he did a lot of research on some virus on Bajor, during the Occupation. He condemns the occupation, the waste of resources. And he explains how he had to experiment with new improvised techniques in order to complete the work. And peaking of the work, they get to it on a simulation of the alien.
Janeway’s having more trouble decoding the signal, so they decide to re-transmit the distress signal to try to get more aliens to show up and help properly. The Doctor and Macet bond over some opera before Macet defends his Big Scary Scalpel as very helpful in keeping to the fundamentals of medicine. Haptic feedback, he claims, ca be very helpful.
The Doctor has some trepidation about vivisecting the alien, even though it’s a hologram. They find evidence inside of intelligence (as if the spaceship wasn’t a giveaway) ad Mocet suggests that by electrocuting it’s brain nodes they can taser it and then remove it. Before they can get heavily into it, Mocet destabilizes and Harry will have to help reboot it. During the downtime, Torres is able to make her wishes not to be treated by a Cardassian known, but not vociferously.
When they boot him back up, Torres’ beligerant bajoran underling from before is present, and recognizes Crell Moset as a mass murderer. The program denies it, which leads to an interesting question – the program might be sincere, because Starfleet might have left it out of their personality matrix. There might be a directive for the subroutine for personality matrices not to create a holographic mass murderer’s personality unless explicitly ordered to do so with a command override. Or the hologram might be lying to avoid being deactivated.
Tabor, Torres’ crewman, was an eyewitness to Mocet’s experiments, and Chakotay offers up the explanation that the Cardassians wouldn’t have been very open with the precise nature of Mocet’s experiments. In fact, the real Mocet is a research chair at a university. Tabor, however, insists that they delete all of Mocet’s research from the ship’s database.
Torres can’t pass up the opportunity to Told-You-So, even at the cost of her own life. Now that they know Mocet is the Butcher of Bajor, she stands firm even while lying down. The Doctor has been desperately seeking disproof of the allegations so that he can use the consultant, but Harry and Seven have found more corroboration than disproof. Seven also expresses some confusion as to why the Borg are considered monsters, but Mocet isn’t.
One question here: If Mocet’s horrifying approach to medical ethics wasn’t part of the historical record, then how did the computer’s personality matrix know to make him eager to vivisect and taser the brain of the alien? I’d like to think that the recursive algorithm toolkit that Harry installed into him had enough machine-learning to recognize the Mengele pattern but not be close enough to human-intelligence to lie to itself about its findings. Mocet’s still doubling down on his strict classical utilitarianism over the Federation’s more uanced Preference Utilitarianism with its hefty dash of objective morality in the form of the television audience watching at home. Oh, Mocet’s also drawing a false equivalency between using rabbits to make insulin and vivisecting humans to see whether their livers can heal after having acid splashed on them.
Tabor is so upset by this situation that he’s resigning his commission. In a staff meeting, Tuvok even backs up Torres’ decision with logic, specifically the concerns regarding validating unethical research. Tom argues anything to save Torres, and eventually Janeway shuts down the argument, prioritizing B’Elanna’s life over her preferences. As a captain, her choice between retaining the skills of her chief engineer or the morale of like half her crew – also no perfect answers.
The surgery begins, and up on the bridge, Tuvok hears the alien screaming just ahead of everyone else. They have received an alien comms signal, shortly followed by visitors they can’t understand. Janeway tries to negotiate, given no common language, but Mocet and the doctor have already cut the alien open and are about to zap it. During the process, the Doctor comes up with an alternate strategy that will be less likely to kill the patient. The other ship appears to be draining power from Voyager, in a sort of parasitic way. The Doctor has successfully detached the alien from Torres, but its life signs start failing so they pump it full of drugs and send it back home.
Torres will need a couple of days to recover, and also she evidently turned the air blue with a stream of Klingon curses when she found out Mocet was involved in saving her. Janeway goes to discuss things with Torres and delegates the decision over what to do with Mocet to the Doctor. Her talk with Torres amounts, more or less, to ‘get over it, I’m the captain.’ The Doctor’s discussion with Mocet goes a little different. He decides that he has to delete Mocet’s data, and live with the consequences of using him as much as he already has.