WARNING: The article below contains large amounts of spoiler information for VOY's "State of Flux". If your attitudes towards spoilers are themselves in such a state, I suggest you err on the side of caution.
In brief: Probably the series' best show to date. Marvelous work.
Brief summary: When the crew answers a distress call from a Kazon ship, they find evidence of Federation technology -- leading to the unmasking of a traitor in their midst.
I said back at the start of the series that the creative elements behind "Voyager" had a good opportunity here for some serious world-building if they put their minds to it. While I was referring to the development of a lot of new cultures, which we really haven't gotten yet (the Kazon and the Ocampa have gotten little depth, and any other races have just been ships passing in the night), this episode and "Prime Factors" have gone a long way towards what might be termed "situation-building" -- there are issues in those two episodes that should, and hopefully will, resonate for a long time to come.
What's more, both "Prime Factors" and "State of Flux" show situations that, while shocking to those used to the everybody-gets-along situation the Federation is full of, are entirely understandable and even expected in the extreme situation the Voyager crew faces. When you're stranded seventy years from home, it makes sense that some people will feel that any measures are acceptable to get home, and that some will also feel that alliances are key to survival, regardless of how many "former" rules it might break to do so. Those situations will lead to conflict -- and an _ambiguous_ conflict at that, where it's very difficult to say who's in the right.
"State of Flux" serves as a good example of this. Is Seska entirely wrong when she says it's crucial to forge alliances here, Federation principles be damned? Certainly, even Janeway noted that "out here, we need all the friends we can get," and she's questioned how sane it is to stick to her firm principles before. Is Seska going too far, too fast, or is Janeway the one who is, to reference Chakotay, "particularly naive"? These are questions that have no flat right answer -- and as such, they're incredibly interesting ones.
On to the actual plot. Both Seska and Carrey made plausible suspects -- and interestingly, even though Carrey only makes sense because of his past actions in "Prime Factors", *one episode ago*, it felt very convincing to make him a potential traitor. The fact that Seska has shown up as often and as crucially as she has made her a more likely candidate, to be sure -- but it also made it unlikely in some ways, as the traitor felt likely to us to be written out of the show. Turning her into a recurring adversary (no Baltar jokes, please :-) ) had never even occurred to me.
In any event, all the actions we saw -- Tuvok laying the situation out in the turbolift, Seska's attempt to retrieve/destroy the damaged replicator, Carrey's interrogation, the actions of the Kazon, and the final gambit to ferret out the real traitor -- were both well-founded and well-planned, and I saw no particular evidence of sloppy thinking. (The gambit was something of a wishful thinking move, certainly, but it was acknowledged as such -- and when the only tools you have are what's on board, you have to do something.)
Two notes come to mind on technology as well. The first is that the few technical discussions the show had actually were _comprehensible_ rather than long streams of syllables thrown together -- a promising trend and one I hope to see continue. The second concerns the identity of the Federation technology that was stolen. While I initially thought, based on the difficulty the crew had locating the Kazon ship and on the appearance of the bridge, that they'd somehow acquired the phase-cloak from TNG's "The Pegasus", a replicator makes a lot more sense considering both the Voyager and the Kazon -- and adds a rather poignant feel to the Kazon crew that died to get it. (Presumably, what happened when the replicator blew is that it started replicating metal everywhere, including right through the crew. Doesn't sound pleasant, that.)
On from plot to characters. Chakotay has been a character in search of development since "Parallax", and I'm pleased to see the directions in which the character is headed. Rather than being the rebellious ex- Maquis first officer looking for betrayal that might be expected given the initial setup, Chakotay is proving remarkably straitlaced -- even more so than Janeway in some ways. (I'm not at all sure, for instance, whether Janeway would have cared about the "mushroom soup" operation Seska and company pulled at the start of the show.) He's more Starfleet than most Starfleet officers we've seen -- and that raises some interesting questions of how he dealt with joining the Maquis. I hope we get to see more of Chakotay's history -- what sort of career he had before the Maquis, what prompted him to join the Maquis in the first place, and how he felt about betraying his former colleagues, *especially* now that he's been betrayed twice himself by people he thought were loyal to him. (His line to Tuvok, "You were working for her, Seska was working for them; was anyone on board that ship working for me?" spoke volumes!) There's a wealth of depth in this man that's only now beginning to get tapped -- more of it would be wonderful.
Seska's motives and attitudes also made a lot of sense. I was a trifle surprised by her and Chakotay's romantic history together, but I can live with it -- particularly given the added difficulty it gave Chakotay once events were brought to light. As I mentioned earlier, many of her points are *not* simply flat-out wrong -- they're not necessarily valid either, but they're something to ponder, to be sure.
I haven't figured out yet whether Seska being revealed as a Cardassian was a good thing or a bad one, all things considered. On the minus side, it seemed somewhat gratuitous, in that it's perfectly justified for a former Federation member to hold the opinions she did, and it may have undercut the drama of her arguments slightly. On the other hand, it fits in very nicely with past Cardassian actions (DS9's "Second Skin" and "Tribunal" both come to mind immediately), and could prove very interesting in later dealings with her. If it's a negative, I think it's a slight one.
(One thing this might depend on, though, is something I'm dying to know. Was Seska planned as a plant from the outset? I don't think we've ever seen a recurring, somewhat long-term character prove to be an adversary when we expected otherwise -- and if that was planned from the series' inception, I'm *very* impressed. If not, I'm still impressed, as it's believable, but I'm even more heartened if we're seeing that kind of long-term thinking.)
In other, briefer character issues, I found everyone very workable. In particular, Carrey's nervousness during his interrogation seemed very understandable and well played; Kate Mulgrew has gotten a *lot* better about showing Janeway's quiet confrontational style [just compare "That is not acceptable." "It will have to be." with "any attempt against this ship will be met with the DEADLIEST force" from earlier this season if you need convincing]; and Tuvok has once again proved a sturdy character to hold up a show or a scene. His implacable demeanor served him well here, his conversation with Chakotay at the end proved very useful (more so for our understanding Chakotay than him, but that's all right), and he plays a mean game of gin. :-) All in all, I've no complaints here.
I think I've said most of what I really need to. "State of Flux" is an expert example of what "Voyager" can be when everybody tries -- and I hope it's a harbinger of good times to come. So, some short takes and then a wrapup:
-- I called earlier episodes "Trek Lite", meaning thin stories but good, snappy dialogue. Although the stories have gotten heavier, I think much of the dialogue has stayed strong. Tuvok's and Chakotay's conversation at the show's end was particularly good, with Tuvok's "Do not mistake composure for ease" as a necessary point. Snappy, or at least strong dialogue doesn't require a sardonic observer like Neelix or the doctor -- it just needs to come from the characters.
-- It should be noted that this episode could *only* have been done on "Voyager". There's no other situation where Federation technology could indicate an enemy *on board your own ship* -- not when the Federation is everywhere. This was a good use of the series' premise, and I'm eager for more such uses.
-- The murder in sickbay, while not entirely surprising from our point of view, really wasn't much of a lapse on Tuvok's part. The Kazon *did* ask to be left alone with him, and Tuvok was clearly keeping an eye on things -- he just wasn't quite quick enough.
-- The people putting together previews need to get their act together. The "CHEESY" "KEYWORD" "PRINTING" is extremely offputting; it's almost embarrassing to watch, and I don't think that's the idea...
That should do it. So, to finish up:
OVERALL: The series' first full 10 -- here's to more such things.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "The Cloud". See you in two weeks.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) email@example.com "Seska's spent most of the last two years as an enemy of the Federation." "So have I." -- Janeway and Chakotay Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <firstname.lastname@example.org> Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38