Phage", the latest episode of "Voyager

WARNING: This article contains spoiler information regarding "Phage", the latest episode of "Voyager". Please act accordingly.

In brief: Basically fluff, I think, but entertaining fluff.

Brief summary: Neelix's lungs are stolen, forcing the doctor to resort to untried measures as the Voyager crew tries to recover the original organs.

Now *that's* high-concept. :-)

Seriously, while the phrase "Neelix's lungs are stolen" is bound to send shivers of anticipation down the spines of anyone who knows "Spock's Brain" ... this was actually pretty entertaining stuff, and _without_ truly bad '50s-movies scenes such as the brainless Spock telling Bones how to reinstall Spock's own brain.

Of course, a show like this *does* more or less require that someone integral to the plot, somewhere, do something mind-bogglingly stupid -- and Neelix not telling Chakotay about this passage that's just opened up in front of him qualifies rather well. It was, at least, a sound choice of characters to do something dumb, this being Neelix's first trip on an away team and all; but even so, it was rather horror-movie dumb.

Once that happened, though, things moved along quite well. The search down on the planetoid for the lung-thieves was done fairly efficiently and as quickly as humanly possible given the stakes, and the stress levels in sickbay were also understandably high. Although not much happened at this point in the plot that was really a *surprise*, everything crackled along at a good clip and kept us engaged -- which is, after all, the point.

One of the main plot innovations was the idea of holographic lungs. I'm not entirely sure I understand why holographic ones were possible where replicated ones were not, but I assume it has something to do with keeping them stationary and connected to the computer system vs. letting them be self-sufficient. In any case, all the medical terminology was actually thought through enough to sound plausible to this layman, so I can deal.

(What's more, some of the technobabble actually meant what it was supposed to mean in context. An "isotropic restraint" literally means a restraint that would prevent movement in any direction -- and that's just what was required. Miracles _do_ occur. :-) )

The strength of the show, however, like that of "Parallax", was in character interplay rather than plot. In particular, I've finally warmed completely up to the doctor, even as he's ceased making any attempts to warm up to anyone other than Kes. His muttered remark about Paris's incompetence ("the man drives a 700,000-ton starship, so somebody thinks he'd make a good _medic_) was one of several really good quips that came out of the show -- and maybe it's this era of sound-bites we're living in, but I'm extremely partial to characters and settings given to good quotes.

I'm not, however, defining character interactions solely as good quotes; we also saw "Voyager" take a turn here that I didn't really expect. After the two crews merged, there was going to be a settling-in period where everyone began to deal with the new roles they'd assumed. However, I'd assumed in turn that those new roles were going to be pretty well set; Chakotay _would_ be first officer, Paris _would_ be both pilot and field medic, and so forth. Interestingly, that's turning out a little more fluid, in that Paris has apparently *tried* the field medic position and not fit it very well. That suggests both a multi-purposeness in characterization *and* a counter to the "jack-of-all-trades" persona that some characters have occasionally fit (such as Picard; I love the man, but he did seem able to do anything at times). Both are refreshing.

I also particularly liked the Paris/doctor exchange when the doctor first suggested the holographic lungs idea. Given the normal definition of holography we're used to in this century, Paris's protestation that the holo-lungs wouldn't be "real" makes sense. But given the doctor's own existence as a hologram, I thought to myself that Paris was really asking for it with that line -- and one resounding slap later, I found that the writers agreed. I love it when that happens. :-) (I do think, though, that it would also have been in character for Paris to in turn slug the doctor once he'd returned himself to "normal-seeming" matter. I'm not disappointed it wasn't there; just surprised.)

Continuing with the doctor yet again, I loved his rant to Kes late in the show about how the entire situation had gone out of control. Virtually everyone on board is stuck in some sort of role they never expected to play (with Janeway and Kim perhaps the only exceptions), but the doctor is further along that than most, as he has to play it twenty-four hours a day when he wouldn't normally expect to *exist* that often. Kes's rejoinder to him, while reminiscent of some speeches we've heard given to Data, was also well taken and well delivered.

While I'm not sure I like the idea of Yet Another Womanizer aboard ship (from Kirk to Riker to Paris; who's next?), I do like the way it led to Neelix's paranoia about Paris and Kes in this instance. My love of sound-bites got the best of me in that scene as well, as the line "He's just one big hormone walking around the ship" so beautifully describes other people I know that I'm sure it'll get used from time to time; but it also makes sense that as Neelix found himself in a situation so threatening that he didn't really want to consider it, he chose instead to take something that may not even exist and blow it up out of proportion, solely to distract himself. [Neelix's later claustrophobia and panic over being stuck in sickbay forever also seemed appropriate to me; while no one close to me has been in a situation similar enough to that to strike chords (thankfully), it seems entirely likely that everything sinking in at once would be so overwhelming that panic might set in.]

Cutting back to the chase (literally!), the pursuit of the lung-thieves to and into the asteroid was plausibly done; thankfully, given how routine chases can be, there wasn't much screen time devoted to the chase itself. There were really only two big "moments" surrounding the chase: the decision to enter the asteroid, where the parallels to "The Pegasus" were nicely deflected by Tuvok pre-warning Janeway not to do what she's already decided to do; and the chamber of mirrors waiting at the end of the chase, which presented the only major puzzle of the show. I found the associated dampening field a little too convenient, but the puzzle itself of how to locate the real alien ship was a good one, with a nicely simple and well-explained solution. Sound work.

Finally, we had the explanation of why the lung-thieves were acting as they were and the solution, and this was a mixed bag. While the alien race is one that seemed an intriguing design (even if it's really just an organ donor's nightmare version of vampirism :-) ), and both of the actors involved seemed to really invest the species with a certain fallen nobility, I found myself questioning a lot of the final plot resolutions. For instance:

-- This species has been afflicted with a virulent plague that's taking no prisoners whatsoever, and yet Janeway seemed not even remotely concerned about the threat of contagion. That strikes me as a bad thing.


-- Kes's sacrifice of a lung is very ill-considered given the circumstances. Given lines earlier in the show, "normal" species' lungs *can* be replicated -- as such, what would make sense is for one of those to be replicated and adapted, or for a human to donate the lung and then get a replicated one later -- not for Kes to be stuck with only one lung permanently.

So, I had some questions about the final wrap-up of all this mess, but on the whole I was pretty pleased with "Phage". It's not all that deep, but it's a solid hour of entertaining characters with a relatively sound plot -- and that's certainly enough for me.

So, some short takes and then a wrap-up:

-- It was also nice to see that technological advancement can be relative. For instance, this particular species is way ahead of the Federation in medical technology due to necessity, but seems evenly matched in some other areas (propulsion, for instance) and perhaps even behind in others. That makes a lot of sense.

-- Given the parallels to "Spock's Brain" that were abounding in the show's premise, it might have been cute to have seen reference to a Vulcan brain among the alien samples. Granted, it would've been tough to explain, but hey...

-- Maybe it was just my mood, but this particular episode seemed to invite a hell of a lot of Pythonesque allusions. I mean, first we had Neelix following Chakotay down to the planet unbidden ("where are you going?" "With you."), which seemed right out of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"; then there was Neelix bellowing for the doctor at the top of his lungs, which led me to expect him to complain that his brain hurt; and finally, there's the entire "Meaning of Life" sequence about ... you guessed it ... "Live Organ Transplants". Need I go on? :-)

-- The introduction of Neelix-as-cook and of a galley seemed shoehorned in just a bit, but I imagine it would have been under any circumstances -- and at least now it's established.

-- While Janeway is generally still very good, it seems that Kate Mulgrew is trying too hard to drop her voice when giving threats. It ends up sounding artificial.

That would seem to do it. So, wrapping up:

OVERALL: Maybe an 8 -- not earth-shattering, but very enjoyable.

NEXT WEEK: "The cave is collapsing!" "This is no cave."

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"What's that, then?"
"Liver donor's card."
"Need we say more?"
			-- "The Meaning of Life"
Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <>
Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38