The following is a Spoiler review of "Heroes and Demons." If you have not yet seen this episode and do want to be surprised when you do, stop reading now.
The opinions expressed are my own. I bear full responsibility for any errors, opinions, fabrications and creative liberties. I typically write these reviews after no more than two viewings, the day after.
I call these Short-term Memory Reviews because the limited exposure and relatively fresh memories allow me to give something that is more of a recap than a review, in the proud oral traditions that many have forgotten. Imagine we're sitting by a campfire under a starry night, and I'm telling a story as if I'd just made it up. I don't claim to give you the story exactly as it happened in the episode, but I hope you'll come away feeling like you've been entertained as well as informed.
The disappearance of three crewmen leads the holodeck doctor on his first away mission...to the ancient Danish setting of Beowulf on the Holodeck.
Jump straight to the Analysis
In the engine room, Janeway and Torres are running tests on Photonic Energy, samples of which they picked up on a recent pass by a nearby star. Torres has one projected schedule for implementing this energy into Voyager's systems; Janeway has another, and suggests that Harry Kim help Torres with the task. She pages Kim, only to find that he is not accounted for on the ship, and there is no record of him leaving, either through authorized or unauthorized means.
His last known location was on the holodeck, so Chakotay and Tuvok head down to investigate. They find that a holonovel recreation of Beowulf is in progress, and that they cannot shut the program down. So they enter, and a brief but interesting conversation between Chakotay and Tuvok concerning the correlation between the stories of cultures and their fears as represented by their monsters ensues. (In one non-earth culture, demons were believed to live in the belly. So their folklore mentions a man who consumed a whole lotta boulders in order to slay them.)
Tuvok and Chakotay soon find themselves being threatened by a spear-wielding Viking babe. They manage to identify themselves as kinsmen of Beowulf, who is described in a way that sounds a lot like Harry Kim. They follow the woman to the great Hall, where the king and his people sit morosely. Beowulf, the king reports, was killed by the monster Grendel. (For those who haven't read Beowulf recently, the literary character killed the monster Grendel. And his mother.) Chakotay and Tuvok decide to stick around and "battle" the monster, to see if they can find their missing crewmate. All the characters go to bed, our heroes start scanning the room, and shortly thereafter the walls shine and out comes a throbbing, pulsing, illuminated land-based Portugese Man-o-War, flagellating like a paramecium on crack cocaine. And it's coming right at them. They ask--politely but insistently--on being beamed out of there, but something's jamming their coordinates.
The next thing we know, they're gone as well, and Janeway is not happy about it. She's befuddled, and she's irked as a result. She and Torres examine the holodeck to see if they can find anything, and they come up with what seems to be photonic energy signatures (coincidence #1). They don't dare send anyone back in there...until Tom Paris gets the bright idea--one of his first of the series--to send in the one crewman who would seem tailor made for such a mission.
Next stop, sickbay. We don't hear "I'm a doctor, not a hero," but what the heck. The Holodoc is flabbergasted, but accepts the assignment. He begins reading up on Beowulf for his mission (what I don't understand is why he couldn't just download the novel and commentaries to the medical libraries and assimilate them automatically). Since the sickbay and the holodeck use the same technology, they can just transfer Holodoc to the Holodeck, rather than transport him. Link the two together, and he has access to his knowledge and stuff, as well as his ability to go from solid to noncorporeal at will (see Phage)--an ability that comes in handy when someone's swinging a broadsword in your direction.
Kes talks with him briefly, sensing that the doctor is a tad nervous; after all, he has never left sickbay. Holodoc, typically an acid-tongued, quick-witted curmudgeon, has a tendency to let his, er, hair down around Kes. (Personal opinion: if Neelix and Kes ever break up, Kes and Holodoc would make a perfect couple. They have wonderful chemistry together--better than Kes and Neelix, I think.) Holodoc admits that he's a bit nervous; he knows every item, every location, every purpose of everything in the sickbay, and this assignment is completely unknown territory for him. At the same time, he's a bit excited--he has never seen the sky, touched a tree, been seduced by a midieval warrior goddess, etc. It's well beyond his programming, but so has just about everything that's happened to him in the Delta Quadrant. Kes consoles him, encourages him, supports him.
And asks him if he's decided on a name for himself. He has remained nameless the entire series, though he's been thinking about one since Parallax. He has narrowed the list down to three names. We get to hear one of them in this episode: Albert Schweitzer. (Ah, but we love irony in this series...the legendary hero who steps in to battle the monster that vanquished Beowulf is named after a famous humanitarian.)
Soon, Holodoc--excuse me, Schweitzer--is ready to begin his first away mission. With Tom Paris at the controls, he is sucked out of sickbay and planted in the middle of the holonovel, where he retrieves his tricorder and touches his first tree (holographic, to be sure, but real enough for a holographic being). The look on his face was marvelous--the joy of discovery, the thrill of the unknown.
Soon he is dodging Viking Babe spears just as Tuvok and Chakotay had. Since he has recently read the book, he recognizes the spear woman and mentions her name. She wonders how he knows her, and he comes up with a sloppy but effective reason that her exploits are well known where he comes from, and he allows her to lead the conversation as she recounts her own adventures. And she soon is seen to be enamored of this stranger. She takes him to the castle, where the mood is even more subdued. The king (Rothgar?) is old and unhappy; this hall, he moans, was once a happy and lively place. His assistant, a hirsute barbarian with an attitude, is very protective of his king and will not tolerate further failure; three strangers of the Beowulf clan and thrity men of the king have fallen prey to Grendel. He isn't impressed with Schweitzer, and calls him out, broadsword in hand. Viking Babe hands Holodoc her sword, and after a few barely-withstood blows, Holodoc says, "heck with this," drops the sword and stands there, but makes himself non-solid. When the death-blow comes, it goes right through him and strikes the floor with enough force to hurt the man's hands something fierce. "I'd put ice on that," holodoc says with a smirk.
Needless to say, being cleft in twain and living to tell the tale impresses the Hall of the Mountain King, and soon Schweitzer is dining on leg of deer and relating tales of his heroism -- finding a vaccine for a case of measels that threatened the crew -- to the complete befuddlement of the honorable barbarian horde. (Holonovels are not unlike today's adventure games; it's great fun trying to "spaz" the game parser with language it was never intended to process, and see what it says to you.) Soon, everyone's heading to bed while the hero Scweitzer does battle with Grendel by night....
Except he's not alone. Spear Woman is stoking the fire, among other things. They talk a bit, and she becomes only the second person to whom he opens up at all--he admits that he, like she, often feels like the only person, even in a roomful of people. Alone, underappreciated, overworked. She runs a full-court press on our acerbic but romantically-impaired holodoc, and says good night by saying pointedly, "you know where I sleep" and kissing him passionately, leaving him speechless and breathing irregularly. Before he can catch his breath, the walls light up and in comes Grendel, the undulating nite-lite from hell. Holodoc begins his scan and contacts the bridge, and manages to hold on for a while but soon yells to be beamed the heck out of there.
When he reappears in sickbay, Tom Paris looks on in befuddlement. "Do you have him?" Janeway demands. "More or less," Paris replies. Holdoc is missing most of his right arm, from just above the elbow, with a look of undisguised horror on his face.
Fortunately, his scans revealed much. The crew discovers that the energy signature is photonic, not at all unlike the samples they beamed up from the star not long before. They also notice some synaptic coherence (ie, it's coherent light in that it has the ability to think). They decide to experiment on one of their samples by introducing some of that synaptic stuff, and the result is that the experiment grows limbs, escapes, and leaves the ship. They notice that the result of their experiment also had three distinct biological signatures...which Janeway surmises are the converted-to-energy remains of her missing crewmen. They guess that the star and its photonic energy components may be a life form, or collection of life forms, and what they did when they beamed samples aboard was to kidnap a few members of that society. The work of Grendel, therefore, is reciprocity, and Janeway can't say she blames the beings for fighting back the only way they know how.
Soon Holodoc has a brand-spanking-new arm, good as new (thank goodness for frequent backups). He has been given the other sample, and is asked to jump back into the holodeck to try to negotiate for the release of their people, by offering the other unwittingly-kidnapped alien as an act of good faith. It's a first-contact situation, Janeway explains, but nobody but Holodoc has the qualities that are likely to pull the exchange off. He agrees, even though he is told that he must remain solid the whole time--a dangerous proposition with broadsword-weilding barbarians at the gate.
He transfers back, glowing lantern in hand, and soon meets up with his not-so-secret admirer. She is thrilled to see him still alive, and they embrace. Then along comes the King's protector, who is convinced that Schweitzer is a demon, or in league with them, and he refuses to allow the lantern to be brought into the great Hall. He tries to kill Holodoc, but the woman takes the blade for him. They share a poignant final moment together while the lantern is removed from the scene, and Holodoc soon follows after the king's loyal but misguided servant.
They meet up in the hall of the king. Holodoc argues persuasively to be given the container with the alien, with the help of a torch and a broadsword held strategically to the man's throat, while the king looked on. "I could kill you," Holodoc says flatly, "but I took an oath that I would do no harm." He then lets the man up and takes the container.
Soon Grendel arrives again. Holodoc tells it (I'm paraphrasing), "I don't know if you can understand me, but I'm gonna talk anyway. We didn't know we were taking your people, and we release them freely." (He does so, and the trapped being flies toward the larger entity.) "You have several of our people. Would it be too much trouble to send them back?"
The bridge wasn't kept in contact with during this exchange. Janeway asks what's going on. Holodoc says, "oh, nothing, everything's fine now." We see Tuvok, Chakotay, and a Beowulf-clad Kim standing around, wondering what the heck was going on.
Janeway is impressed. Back in the sickbay, she tells Holodoc that she is putting a note in the logs
recommending a commendation for his action. She treats him, for the first time, as a valued
member of her crew; scant episodes ago, she didn't consider him a crew member at all, so this is a
vast change of heart for her. But what he has done is truly remarkable, and she lets him--and
herself--acknowledge this fact. She also says that she doubts this will be the last time Holodoc will
have an adventure of this sort ("foreshadowing--a valid literary technique") and asks him if he has
a name to associate with that commendation. He says, "I thought I had, but it brings back painful
memories." So, we're down to two names, one of which is not going to be Albert Schweitzer.
(Everyone seems to know it's going to be Zimmerman, except for the crew. It's in the series
bible. It's just a matter of time before it's official.)
I freely admit it: I like the Holodoc. I like it every time he shows up on screen. I like it when he's speaking with that attitude of his, I like it when he's showing his vulnerable side to Kes, I like it when he's got that look on his face like, "I'm not being paid nearly enough for this job." I liked the emphasis on Holodoc in Phage, and looked forward to the next episode that would feature him prominently. This episode did not disappoint.
First, I always enjoy it when the holodeck is used to provide a forum for melodrama. The Shakespearian plays in Next Generation, for example, gave the actors a chance to stretch themselves, and gave us insights into the characters--who did they choose to play?
Frankly, I never pegged Harry Kim as a Beowulf kinda guy. That's a fascinating insight to me, and I look forward to seeing that aspect of his personality. The holodeck characters themselves were wonderfully over-the-top. It's been years since I've read the book, but I recognized the feel of the place, and the episode prompted me to pull out the book and read it again soon.
The discussion between Chakotay and Tuvok about folklore was fun, and enlightening; I actually learned something that I hadn't considered before (perhaps I'm slow and most everyone else had already made this connection long ago.) The exchange led to another jab at Vulcans:
Tuvok: "Vulcan society has no legends or monsters."
Chakotay (tongue-in-cheek): "That's why it's so popular."
I must admit that, while I thought Vulcans were praised a bit too much in the 60s and the original series--while Kirk was the heart of the original Trek, Spock is arguably its soul, or at least its katra--Vulcans have been almost univerally bashed in the other series, including the Original Series films. And this trend disturbs me. Logic may be, as Spock says in STVI:TUD, "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end," but too many writers have decided that Vulcans aren't so noble as they were originally portrayed by Nimoy. We have Vulcan admirals in Next Generation involved in conspiracies, Vulcan spies using mercenaries to gather psychic weapons, Vulcan rebels acquiring weapons for the Maquis on Deep Space Nine. Vulcans covering up the illnesses of their greatest diplomats. And in the original series, Spock's betrothed conspiring to get out of marrying him.
It's good that Vulcan is shown as a complex society with some diversity of population, but why is it that we have met so few honorable Vulcans, or Vulcans as true to the teachings of Surak as Spock and Sarek? I'm glad Tuvok is on Voyager, because we need to get to know Vulcans better, and have more positive role models. Tuvok isn't perfect, but he does seem, at heart, honorable. I'd love to see him effectively defend Vulcan more often, particularly against the cheap shots.
Sorry. End of rant.
Okay. Back to the show. I like the fact that Holodoc is being asked to stretch, to grow, to expand far beyond his original programming. As a doctor with direct access to the combined knowledge of Federation medicine, he can be insufferably cocky. Put him in unfamiliar territory, and he's as vulnerable and subject to possible failure--and therefore interesting--as anyone else. Holodoc is the Data/Spock/Odo of this series, struggling to live among humans and to find his place within it. He is unique in that he never considered that he would need to find his place among humans; he is becoming more human by sheer necessity, and by the stubborn compassion of Kes, the sensitive Ocampa, who refuses to let him be what he's used to being. As he trains her to become a doctor, she nudges him inexorably toward his own humanity.
His first "away mission" was a revelation. He was forced completely out of his element, and all by himself at that. He was awkward, he stumbled, he screwed up occasionally--and he managed to recover time and time again. He learned. He grew. And though he was nervous and even frightened at times, he displayed courage. He touched flora, he consumed fauna, he partied with Vikings and battled demons and wooed women and negotiated the release of his crewman and accomplished a successful first contact and earned the admiration of his captain and the gratitude of his fellow crewmen. Not bad for a first away mission. It was fun to watch. And the actor, Robert Picardo, played him with a good combination of sass and uncertainty, and showed growth quite well.
Kim had, I believe, one whole line the whole episode. Torres didn't have much to do here, but what she had she handled well. Chakotay and Tuvok had significant dialog early on. Kes played a minor but important role in her one-on-one with Holodoc before he left the first time. Janeway's got a new hairstyle, which I wasn't too fond of, but her scenes with Holodoc were significant. I love it when she gets excited and talks animatedly with someone; she listens with her whole body, leaning in to talk and listen and fairly crackling with energy. Here is a person who loves knowledge, and sharing experiences with someone with a common base of experience. (Her interaction with Kim when he came back from "the dead" comes to mind, as well as her warp-speed conversations with Torres in Parallax.)
Tom Paris finally had a chance to come up with a good idea, and do more than just smirk and look cute when he's not looking stupid. (I'm probably being harsh, but I blame the writers; he hasn't been given much to do, and it's a shame; the actor has a lot to offer, I think.) He's unique in that he's Starfleet, but not Starfleet; the son of an admiral, he's got the Tom Cruise in Top Gun problem of a military father who casts a long shadow, one he can't possibly escape. So while he's competent, he's also far from disciplined. He seems incapable of speaking in the crisp Starfleet manner, preferring instead the Paris-ized spins on each line. It's good for the character because it sets him apart, but it's bad in that it makes him sound somewhat less than professional, and a little harder to take seriously. He hasn't had much to do yet, but given time I'm sure that will change.
Kudos to the cast of Beowulf, for providing culture within a Trek episode. If even one person reads Beowulf as a result of this show, they will have struck a blow for cultural literacy in this world.
On a scale of 0-10, I'm going to give this one an 8.25. I liked it that much.
(So what do you think about this one, Julia?)