Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.18: Darkling

Wait, does Dark!Doctor have more hair?
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Eighteen - Darkling
Written 30/9/15

Okay, okay, okay. This review was going to go a very different way. I had a whole bit about how this story was the beginning of the "Terrible Trilogy" of Season Three stories between the okay Unity and the amazing Before And After, and then I'd pick it apart for how obviously terrible it is. I do have a problem with this episode, and that's the simple fact that it is not the episode it advertises itself as being, going from a plot which is important to the continuity of the show and derailing it with another plot which, while interesting and very well executed, really should just have been done some other week.
     The episode's initial thrust is about Kes, following on from her separation from Neelix in Darkling. She has become enamoured with a member of a nomad species named Zahir, and is reconsidering her life on Voyager in favour of pursing the life of adventure and travel which originally inspired her to leave Ocampa. The Doctor, simultaneously, interferes with his own program by incorporating the personalities of various historical figures, intending on picking and choosing the best traits to improve himself. A byproduct of this is his transformation into a "Mr. Hyde" version of himself formed from the personalities' negative qualities. This new Doctor is murderous, jealous and possessive, and not only assaults Zahir but kidnaps Kes, fighting to control The Doctor's "body" for as long as possible.
     Kes's arc on the show is one that so rarely gets its deserved development. It's about Kes finding her way in life, and taking control of her own agency. The beginning and the end of her story work really well (let's not discuss Fury) but the steps along the way often had Kes' story sidelined for the exploits of other characters... usually guys. Here, we see a Kes free of Neelix, exploiting her newfound sexual freedom and attempting to live as a free adult. That story is cut short by The Doctor becoming so jealous and protective (though admittedly through technobabble and not by choice) of her that this chance is cut short. At the end of the episode Zahir just disappears like the disposable, lazy love interest he is, and any sense of Kes' development is thrown out with the bathwater when she decides that "she best stay here."
Three huge assholes in a line. I knew Neelix was a Gandhi fan.
     However, as I said, The Doctor's plot is not even that unpleasant in isolation. The Jekyll and Hyde story is of course a well-worn one, but Picardo has the acting chops to make his "Dark!Doctor" distinct from the original in an entertaining and interesting way. Unlike the regular Doctor, who is programmed to believe in the Hippocratic Oath, Dark!Doctor has absorbed the hypersexual traits of Lord Byron and the discriminatory shrewdness of Gandhi, turning him into a ruthless, lecherous deviant whose main philosophy rejects the notion that people are innately good and/or worthy. Ignoring for now the involvement of Byron and Gandhi, I think it's interesting to see the black-and-whiteness of the Doctor's darker persona have some justification behind it. A computer program is more likely to deal in absolutes, which explains why the Dark!Doctor is so ardent in his misanthropy.
     The Doctor's Jekyll and Hyde story is clearly one that Picardo could handle, but it didn't need to be here. Instead of Zahir being an empty character who appears only for about five minutes on screen and declares his love for Kes twice in that time, we could have spent longer developing their relationship, watching Kes become embroiled in Zahir's attractive outsider persona, before being involved in a misadventure with him which would then remind her of how she felt the same thing about Neelix, making her realise that she still had some growing up to do. That would have been an amazing character piece for Kes, and it's so frustrating seeing her sidelined when I know that she's not going to be here next season.


NEXT WEEK: A Neelix/Tuvok bonding episode. Because there aren't enough of those. Why not make reference to a film I haven't seen and Rise?

P.S. Whose idea was it to give Kes some of Seven of Nine's catsuits?

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