Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review: Voyager 3.12: Macrocosm

As an alternate Janeway will once say, "When diplomacy fails,
there's only one alternative: violence."
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twelve - Macrocosm
Written 9/9/15

The 1979 film Alien had a profound effect upon science fiction, establishing a darker genre in which alien hostility took on a personal nature, and space is populated by dusty-skinned space marines and women in vests. Our woman in a vest this week happens to be Captain Janeway, and this episode is a lengthy, if not entirely direct, tribute to Alien and its influence. Funnily enough, this was completely unintentional, the Voyager writers simply wanting an "action" episode without any moralising. I think it's a testament to both Alien and to Kate Mulgrew's biceps that Ellen Ripley is the first thing that comes to mind.
     The plot, while very good at building suspense and drama, ends up feeling a little askew due to the ridiculousness of the aliens attacking Voyager. While Janeway and Neelix were away on a diplomatic mission, The Doctor attempted to play nurse to an alien colony crippled by a virus. He discovered that the virus is able to absorb the growth hormones of the host, increasing its size to a macroscopic level, first into irritating flies and then floating, stabby basketballs. Janeway and The Doctor end up the only two members of the crew unaffected, with The Doctor's cure fixing Janeway's initial infection upon entering the ship. Jacket off and gun in hand, she fights her way to environmental control, where she floods the ship with cure-gas and the day is saved.
     In the real world, of course, viruses don't work that way. Most viruses are nothing more than a few strands of genetic information (RNA) surrounded by a protein shell, and absorbing a growth hormone intended for a multi-celled organism would do diddly-squat. I could have accepted a bacteria forming a multi-cellular organism, but viruses aren't even that complex; they're the simpletons of the microscopic world. This doesn't really harm the episode's effect, because the average viewer isn't assumed to know that much about microbiology, and this stuff is alien after all. Who knows, we might find something like this one day.
Janeway splats one of the macro-viruses.
     As for the stated aim of being an action plot and nothing more complicated... a 100% success! Janeway looks rather strapping in just her grey under-vest, and Mulgrew really seems to take to the Ellen Ripley soldier look, as she shoots and rolls her way around the ship like a bowling skittle with a tommy gun. The scenes of her exploring the ship upon her return and discovering the crew's sick bodies, placed before The Doctor's reveal about the disease's origins, would of course have been far more effective if I hadn't seen the episode before and knew about the Macro-viruses. I really enjoyed the Doctor's expository flashback half-way through the episode, as it gave The Doctor a chance to use his mobile emitter and it also gave the first and last thirds of the episode the well-needed tension they deserved.
     The word Macrocosm, by the way, refers to the entirety of a system, as opposed to individual parts within it. Like many Voyager titles (Parturition, Parallax and Cathexis come to mind) it has a paper-thin connection to the actual episode itself. Which is an unfair connection, because for once the Voyager writers did exactly what they set out to do - a fun, tense action plot incorporated into Voyager's surroundings, giving Kate Mulgrew a chance to do something other than be the ship's captain/mother/inquisitor. So what if the science behind the macroviruses isn't right? Didn't anyone tell you that this was Star Trek? They let Neelix near food.

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: Neelix gets in trouble when he meets an old friend... wait, Neelix has friends? That not a Fair Trade.

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