The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.
I watch the episode only once--maybe twice--before I compose a review, and I rarely don't take notes. I rely on my memory, hence the term SASR (short attention span review).
WARNING: I am also a charter member of the Wordy Muthah Hall of Fame. I'm enrolled in a Brevity twelve-step program, but these things take time.
Tuvok protects alien children from their Bogeyman, and Janeway contemplates Plato with Beekeeper People. First contact meets last rites.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Tuvok rushes out from a damaged shuttlecraft to minister to the injuries of Ensign Bennet, who lies dying (it's obvious; he's not a regular). The injuries are too severe; Tuvok can only offer final comfort. Bennet expresses regret that nobody will mourn his passing--something he once considered a comfort. Tuvok offers that Ensign Cormick will likely grieve him. Bennet dies with that thought, a mixture of sadness and relief, of lives affected and potential unfulfilled. It's a surprisingly compassionate act from Tuvok, though he would no doubt deny any emotional involvement.
While activating a stasis field around Bennet until Voyager's return, he hears a rustling in the nearby trees, and aims his phaser at...a young girl. He quickly replaces the phaser and tells her he won't hurt her. She tries to run past him, but it's a feeble effort--she runs right into his arms. After a brief struggle, she agrees not to run and he lets go.
She notices immediately he's not like her. "I'm not of your race. I am a Vulcan," Tuvok responds. She tells him her name is Tressa, and the craft she had been on had crashed nearby, and most everyone died. All that remains are her, and two other kids, who peek up from behind the bushes when Tressa calls. Tuvok promises to take care of them. They rush to embrace Tuvok, clinging to them as though their lives depended on it.
Aboard Voyager, Janeway and Chakotay discuss the upcoming First Contact meeting with the Drayan, a people whose system is apparently rich in resources, but whom Neelix reports are a very quiet people. Not hostile, just private. Janeway tells Chakotay that as a science officer she always envied the captain's role in the First Contact situations, and the thrill of the unknown, the potential for success or disaster that accompanies each new meeting between strangers. Chakotay tells her his first such mission almost got him sent back to the Academy for retraining; he had studied the "Tarkanian" culture's greetings at length and begged his captain to join the away team, and offered the traditional greeting. He hadn't known that different genders use different greetings, and he had unknowingly propositioned the ambassador. They share a chuckle as they enter the transporter room, where all is in readiness to accept the Drayan embassage.
Soon the sparkling stops, and three black-veiled humanoids greet them in the traditional manner of their people. Chakotay responds with a Native American greeting of a similar nature, which is accepted graciously. We meet First Prelate Alicia, who reminds me a great deal of Sandy Duncan and the admiral that scared Picard in TNG for some reason. Petite, yet proud. Reserved but regal. the first impression is that she and Janeway share many traits, which means they'll either love each other instantly or soon trade phaser volleys. Or both. Alicia tells Janeway she is intrigued by their story of traveling the galaxy and wishes to become better acquainted, and Janeway expresses hope that their cultures can find common ground.
The tour of the ship begins in engineering. Janeway describes the engines and the technology of the Federation with pride. "is this what you consider your society's greatest achievement?" Alicia asks, with some concern. Janeway assures her it is not; it's just the latest means by which they can explore and expand their horizons. alicia describes her people's recent history; they had been fabulously successful scientists and engineers, but a few generations back they found their people losing their humanity to the "soulless machines." The cultural reformation, led by her grandfather, has been the guiding principle of the people since. Rather than explore the galaxy, they've turned their attentions inward. Chakotay remarks that several Federation cultures have done the same. They use technology, but they don't let it rule their lives.
On the planet, Tuvok tries to gather information from the children about their fallen shuttle and any survivors. They tell him the "attendants" had been the kids' guardians, and they had been killed in the crash, that they were now alone. Tuvok gives them an assessment of the situation in his usual straightforward manner, and Elani, the other girl, begins to cry. Tressa chides Tuvok: "you don't have to be so mean." Tuvok replies, "I was not endeavoring to be mean." He explains that Vulcans are not in the habit of sugarcoating their words (my term), and that they feel it does a disservice to their children to not give them all the available information; they are taught to handle it at an early age.
It grows dark, and Tuvok finds a cave that they can use for shelter. The cave frightens the children; they tell him that's where the Morrok lives--a creature that steals children in the night and they're never seen again. Their fear is genuine, and Tuvok considers how to respond.
On Voyager, Janeway leads the embassage to sickbay, where a brightly smiling Holodoc explains the facilities and his own skills. "If something bad happens to you, you'll be in the best possible hands." Everyone is aghast at this announcement, and he rapidly backpedals. "Not that anything bad is likely to happen. I simply meant that if something DOES happen, you'll be well attended." The horror subsides somewhat. It is an uncommonly polite Holodoc.
When he finishes his brief tour, Janeway tells Alicia that Holodoc isn't a person, but a computer-generated holoprojection. Alicia circles Holodoc, explaining that her people believe that physical matter is an illusion, the body a mere representation of the true self. (The implication, for me at least: if it walks like a duck, yada yada ... it's a duck. Holodoc's existence is validated.) Janeway says that Earth's own Plato had a similar philosophy, that what we see is but a poor shadow of real objects on the higher plane. The Drayans grok; "the higher plane is more important than the physical body, no matter how real it may seem." Alicia thanks the doctor for his time, and asks his name. He blushes; "Just...Doctor." Apparently "Schmullis" didn't take.
A call comes in for the First Prelate, and Janeway routes it through Holodoc's office. When the Drayans leave, Kes jubilantly congratulates Holodoc on his performance. "Kes has been coaching me on my diplomatic skill," Holodoc boasts. "It shows," says a smiling Chakotay. Janeway only half-listens to the exchange; thinking aloud, she considers the exchange to be going well so far, and looks forward to the much-needed polyferrinite they can get, the cultural repositories they can share with the Drayans, and the prospect of such a fascinating new culture as a friend and ally.
Alicia and her party return, and thank janeway for their time, but she must be off--other matters have arisen. She expresses her desire that they part on friendly but final terms--there will be no alliance. Janeway tries once, but only once, then accedes to the Drayan's wishes, frowning. Chakotay suggests a different approach, but Janeway will not push; "she made her wishes clear enough." Janeway orders the recall of the away teams.
On the planet, Tuvok searches for lifesigns of the other children, or of the Morrok, but finds nothing. The kids' fear is real enough, and annoying to the Vulcan. He tells them they are allowing their fears to guide them, and teaches them a quick mental exercise. "Close your eyes. Picture the Morrok in your mind. Give your fear a physical form. Now...push it away from you. Maintain the image, but distance yourself from the emotions." When they open their eyes, they seem a bit calmer.
Tuvok decides the search has gone on long enough, and that the first order of business should now be fixing the shuttle. "We promise not to touch anything," the kids say somberly.
Guess how long that lasts.
Tuvok races futilely to keep Tressa and Corin (the boy) away from the welder, Elani to put down a big hunk of glass, etc. He finally picks the kids up and plants them at opposite ends of the shuttle and uses the dreaded Parental Pointing Finger to get Corin to hush. The kids don't take it too personally. Tressa asks if Tuvok has children; he has four. Elani asks what vulcan children are like: "Well behaved," he says pointedly. Kids will be kids, and these alien tykes (who from their forehead markings may be Drayan) act more like 20th century American kids than most we've seen in the Trek universe: cute, hyperactive, but hard to stay mad at. He teaches them a meditative technique. Generally speaking, you don't want your babysitters indoctrinating your kids in their philosophy of child-rearing, but this situation is unique enough that maybe it's okay. Even so, Tuvok seems awfully willing to discuss his culture, which seems to me to be one of those things the Prime Directive frowns on. Particularly with impressionable and curious types like these kids.
Tressa asks more pointedly about Tuvok's children, the emotional aspect. "My attachment to my children cannot be described as an emotion," Tuvok says, but it's kinda hard to believe. "Suffice to say that I am...incomplete...without them." Tressa considers this. "I'm sure they miss you too," she says kindly.
They hear a ship overhead. Tuvok uses the shuttle's partially-functioning sensors and announces it's not from Voyager, and must be the kids' people come looking for them. Suddenly, the Morrok isn't the scariest thing on their minds. "We've got to hide, Tuvok! They can't find us! They sent us here to die!" tuvok asks for an explanatin, but their pleas are all he gets in response. So they hide.
The search party--clad in beekeeper veils like Alicia, so they are Drayans--scours the area around the shuttle, but do not sniff out Tuvok or the kids. When the area seems clear, Tuvok asks them again why they think their people want to hurt them. "We're supposed to die here. It's the place of the final ritual." tuvok has a hard time with this: "It is illogical for society to kill children."
"They say that when we die, our energy is released. Is that true?" Corin asks, his voice almost eager here. Childlike enthusiasm, I guess. Tuvok tells them of the Vulcan philosophy regarding the Katra. they ask if he believes that, and we learn that he did as a child, but now he's kind of a Vulcan agnostic; he thinks there may be more to life (and death?) than that. He muses on the subject only briefly, then returns to the immediate problem. "Until we know more, I will help you." They hug him fiercely, and though he still bristles (telepathic types like Vulcans tend to avoid physical contact and the emotional backwash associated with it), he seems less uncomfortable with it than before.
On Voyager, all the away teams are now back, except Tuvok's. Torres reaches the bridge and helps coordinate the search for the missing shuttle. In short order, Paris finds the ion trail and off they go in rescue mode. They soon reach the planet, but another shuttle is there...Alicia's. She hails them, irate at their "desecration" of this "sacred ground." Janeway says they're just looking for their missing shuttle; Alicia says they found the shuttle, and one dead guy. She insists that they use their transporters and yank back anyone else they've allowed to set foot on their holy moon, and the offending technology. (I'm sure the Kazon would be happy to salvage it for parts....) Unfortunately, the transporters can't punch through the electrodynamic interference that has kept Tuvok from getting the shuttle off the ground so far.
It's night. Corin asks for a glass of water. Tuvok tells him he can't possibly need that much water; he's had four glasses already. He shooes Corin back to the campfire. Soon they're all standing there, saying they can't sleep. Night is when the Morrok comes; they want to be close to Tuvok. He takes them back to the fire and tucks them in. "Tell us the story of the ravenous bug-blatter beast of Traal!" Corin squeals. Tuvok says he can't understand the cultural quirk of telling kids scary stories to send them off to sleep. They ask what Vulcans tuck their kids into. Tuvok says he usually told his kids the story of Phalor's Journey, a tale of enlightenment in 348 verses....but he doesn't think the full story is necessary. (Thank T'Pau for that.) He says it was his youngest son's favorite, particularly when he played the lute (and we get the specs for those hard-core Treksters who want to build one), but a lute is not to be found. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and Tuvok goes a capella. He tells them the story of Phalor, a prosperous merchant who went on a journey to gain greater awareness. The description leads to a pleasant, heavy vibrato filksong that lulls the children to sleep. Tuvok doesn't have a bad voice, though I notice that he and Spock both have a lot of vibrato. Funky.
Tuvok considers the sweet, sleeping children, and we get a much-needed glimpse into the character of Tuvok, the family man. He had described to the kids earlier that emotion wasn't totally absent in Vulcans; they simply trained themselves to not allow them to rule their lives as they once had. There's definite overcompensation as the public expression of emotion became suppressed, but moments like this make it clear that the tenderness and compassion and beyond-yourself totality of childrearing are not alien to Vulcans. If Tuvok will forgive the insult (and Tim Russ will accept the compliment), it humanizes him very nicely. After all the griping I've done about how they've turned Tuvok into a stereotypical Security Type with a Vulcan twist, this episode goes a long way to give Tuvok some depth. W.C. Fields may prefer not to work with kids or animals, but it worked dang well here.
The next morning, only Tressa awakens. The other children are gone. She rushes to Tuvok in terror.
On Voyager, Torres shows Janeway what they've been able to find so far. They've discovered the wreckage of two shuttles, one of which is Tuvok's. They can only detect two life signs, though not too much earlier, they had detected four life signs. (Insert spooky music here.)
Planet: Tuvok checks the sensor logs on the shuttle, but there is no indication of someone coming to take them away. He decides to investigate the cave; Tressa hates the idea. She's scared, for herself and for him. He hands her his phaser, tells her how to operate it, and locks her in the shuttle, promising to return. In the cave, he sees nothing unusual, unless you count the numerous articles of abandoned clothing, some of which seem familiar to him and to us. Corin and Elani had been wearing some of those outfits.
In the shuttle, Tressa waits and worries. A noise is heard outside the shuttle, and she points the weapon. When the door opens and she sees Tuvok, she rushes to hug him, and he is even less uncomfortable than before; he seems glad to see her as well. Like he'd ever admit it. He is about to tell her what he saw in typical Vulcan, no-holds-barred fashion, but settles for a somewhat softened version--he's adapting nicely to his young friend. He is determined to get them off the planet and back to Voyager; Tressa promises not to touch anything this time. "That would prevent you from assisting me," he says, and she beams.
Tuvok manages to make a comlink with Voyager, and he reports his status, and the situation with Tressa; he wants to bring her back until they know more about the threat to her life. Janeway assents. Tuvok's call is followed immediately by one from Alicia, who is furious with Janeway for her continued presence here. Janeway, initially conciliatory, is now bolder--there's a kid at stake. She offers to assist in a rescue mission. "Unacceptable," barks Alicia, sounding a lot like Admiral Necheyev, the bane of Picard's existence toward the end of TNG as regarded the Cardassians and the Borg. The two Iron Ladies square off, neither willing to budge, each with much to protect. Janeway says she's taking a shuttle in, and she will not be swayed; Alicia intends to stop her however she can. Janeway picks Paris, The Best Damn Pilot In These Here Parts, for the away mission. Chakotay protests Janeway's decision to go herself. Janeway assures him that if there's any chance for a diplomatic solution, she'll have to go.
Some may wonder if Janeway and Paris chose their Shuttle O' Love. I didn't check.
They make a good team, and a cute couple. Preflight preparations took mere seconds, and Paris got a dose of Action Kate, a side she rarely shows but which left him both impressed and a little intimidated (my opinion). Before you can say "Aye, Captain," they're off at full impulse toward the planet.
Followed immediately--and a little too closely--by a Drayan shuttle.
On the planet, Tuvok performs a similar preflight with Tressa, who isn't quite as efficient. Drayans are approaching the shuttle on foot, and she's justly scared. First attempt to lift off fails; Tuvok tells her to step away from the copilot's seat, and he blows out several systems in a power surge but manages to get them airborne. As soon as they lift off, they're in trouble. Alicia's shuttle hails them, and she orders Tuvok to land, and begs Tressa to listen to her. She insists that Tressa is confused, and she needs to explain the situation. Tuvok is not inclined to listen; he's grown rather fond of Tressa. Soon shots are fired, and Tuvok finds it necessary to land. Alicia, and Janeway, follow him down.
It's dark when Tuvok and Tressa are on the ground again, right back where they started. They are joined in short order by Alicia and her guards, and by Paris and Janeway. The Drayans insist that Tressa belongs here, but Tressa would prefer not to, and the Starfleet folks aren't too keen on the idea either. Killing kids is not their idea of civilized society.
The truth comes out. Alicia tells them that Tressa is 90 years old. Drayans age in reverse (I'd hate to give birth to one....) and when they get this age they get confused and muddled--their "second childhood" looks a lot like our first. She explains the whole energy thing, that the Morrok is indeed a myth, that the cave is believed to be the place where the first spark of life began for their people, and they feel drawn here when their life comes to a close. The energy is released (as has been mentioned previously, but now it seems to make sense) and the "soul" returns to its resting place.
Tressa still seems frightened. She looks to Tuvok. "you promised you'd protect me," she says. Tuvok tells her he cannot protect her from the natural course of life, that his people look on life and its ending as natural and necessary, that there is nothing to fear. For whatever reason, this pep talk works, and the child starts acting her age. She no longer fears, she accepts her destiny now, but she wants Tuvok to remain with her through to the end.
And a little child shall lead them. Alicia considers Tuvok, and tells him that it is a great honor to watch the child move to the next plane. It's a private time, and she suggests they all leave Tuvok and Tressa now. She and Janeway apologize to each other, with the unspoken hope and promise that the possibility of relations between the Drayans and Voyager are not finished. Paris asks if they should stay around to take tuvok back, but he says he can get his shuttle back okay. (I like this new trend--damage the shuttles, but don't lose them.)
The episode ends, as it began: Tuvok and Tressa stand alone. the 90
year old in Tressa comes out: "You remind me of my grandson," she says
kindly, perhaps not realizing that they're likely of similar age. Tuvok
may even be older. But he accepts the kind words, and they stride toward
the cave and her rendezvous with destiny.
I like Papa Tuvok.
I can't think of anyone else on the ship who has kids back in the alpha quadrant. Loved ones, yes; children, no. We knew Tuvok had kids; we get to see here what kind of father he is. My take is, he's probably a good one. It took him some time to adjust to his non-Vulcan charges, but generally he handled them well. (I speak as a non-parent, so I could be mistaken.) At least as fiction, I thought the interaction between Tuvok and the children was handled well.
We also learn about Vulcan child-rearing techniques, and how well they translate to other people's kids. From a Prime Directive standpoint I thought Tuvok was treading the line, but frightened kids are hard to ignore when they're right there clinging to you for dear life.
As kids go, I liked these three. They didn't talk or act like mutated Broadway Spawn, professional urchins who could play Annie or Othello. Most of the kids we see in Trek come off as child actors, not the sort of children you'd find playing with your kids. (I like Molly O'Brien, though.) These three seemed genuine.
The irony here, of course, is that they're supposed to be geezers on the verge of Drayan death, returning to the ancestral fashion graveyard to free their energy into the cave-womb. That was the big surprise of this show, but they set the groundwork well enough to allow for leniency.
The chemistry between Janeway and Alicia was interesting. The First Prelate seemed to get carried away with the rhetoric in the ship-to-ship exchanges, but after generations of self-imposed isolation, I guess diplomatic skills would be a bit rusty. My question would be, how did these two groups meet in the first place, and since they'd seemed to have at least spoken before the embassage beamed over (something the Drayans didn't blink at, though it's technology they don't seem to have), you'd think they'd have discussed whether or not it was okay to explore the local planets, particularly the most sacred one. The Drayans have enough technology that they have ships and weapons and sensors--they should have spotted the away teams and issued a request to stay away from the motherworld.
But, that would have ruined the story.
As a character study, Tuvok shone. And may I say, it's about time. I've worried about the portrayals he's gotten lately; he hasn't come off as very sympathetic or, even at times, very sensible. It's nice to see him struggle, and succeed. He and Tressa worked very well together, but I could tell from the first interaction with the dying crewman that we'd see a more likeable Tuvok than in prior weeks. The insights into Vulcan culture and child-rearing were also welcome. Aside from one reference to Spock's teddy bear, how Vulcan children become Vulcan adults has been a mystery. Straight talk and mental techniques applied early seem to be the trick. And long bedtime folksongs about enlightenment with lute accompaniment. (I found the little bit we heard to be pretty cool, by the way. Russ has a decent singing voice, and it had the elements of serenity and reverence that I would expect. Though we did see Spock "getting down" with Uhura in some first-season mess hall jam sessions, so I wonder if that lute ever got duckwalked across the Vulcan plains. One can only hope.)
Janeway and Alicia made decent adversaries. They never seemed to warm up to each other, but that wasn't unexpected. I liked the fact that at the end they didn't just become best buddies, but instead inched towards each other diplomatically. We were left with optimism, but not resolution. I did find the conversations aboard Voyager a bit odd--the heavy philosophizing. It did set up the later resolution on the planet, but it seemed curious that the discussions-bordering-on-arguments about the relative value of technology and the nature of existence would take place during the tour of the ship. I wouldn't see it as first-contact conversation fodder; that's the stuff you don't discuss until you start dating seriously.
The scene with Paris and Janeway in the shuttle was humorous, but also impressive. These two have come a long way since "Caretaker"--the interaction was crisp, professional, and displayed an implicit trust that I'm glad to see between them.
Holodoc was cute; trying so hard to please, and not messing up too much. His slipup during his speech and the reaction was funny, and entirely in character.
I liked the image of a young and eager Chakotay accidentally propositioning an ambassador.
I don't know why the Drayans wore that headgear, but it bugged me. It was a sharp contrast to the bright colors the "children" wore.
I guess it's good that we don't kill off the random crewman without at least giving them a decent death scene. The generic and ubiquitous "He's dead, Jim" of the original series has evolved into far less frequent fatalities. The universe, it would seem, is a safer place in Picard's 24th century than in Jim Kirk's 23rd. When they die now, they die well, and they have a whole background and are survived by loved ones.
On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one a 7.75. I gave it an extra quarter point for focusing so positively on Tuvok.
Next week: Rerun of "Maneuvers."