The following is a SPOILER Review for "Learning Curve." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright, who watches the episode no more than twice before preparing the review. This gives me the opportunity to review and recap with a combination of memory and creativity (when memory fails). The result is an experience that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the actual episode. Consider it a revival of the ancient oral traditions passed on through the generations. I make no claims as to accuracy, but I hope I got enough of it right to keep your attention.
Tuvok tries to train some Maquis crewmen who haven't adapted well. Meanwhile, the ship is experiencing technical difficulties.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Janeway is in Victorian garb, back in her holonovel, practicing her greeting to the children she will be instructing. She tries formal, casual, intimate; as an equal and a superior. While she is speaking into the wind from the second story window, the children enter.
And what charming demonspawn they are. They prefer the formal approach, with them in the superior social role.
Janeway accepts the boy's youthful reproach, but the wheels are turning. She almost seems to enjoy being put in her place, probably for the anticipation of returning the favor. She introduces herself formally, and tries to warm up to the kids, but you may as well french-kiss Permafrost.
"In ulam remnae preparimus?" asks the boy in priggish Latin. (Mine is too rusty to know what this means, I'm afraid.) Janeway doesn't understand; the boy repeats himself, she still doesn't understand, and the holoboy gives her the skunk eye. "don't you know Latin?" he asks. It's a little rusty, she admits. Some schoolmarm you are, he responds.
Janeway accepts this putdown as well, then locks her own Marlboro voice on target. "I may be rusty in my Latin, but I can assure you that you will find my science and engineering assignments most challenging." The boy gulped, realizing he would not be intimidating this substitute teacher anytime soon.
Janeway then gets into an odd conversation with the girl; she speaks of her mother, her brother tells her to pipe down (Victorian English style, of course) and when the girl starts to rant, she disappears. Janeway is horrified. the boy is too, and demands to know what she did with his sister...then he disappears.
I don't remember this scene from the novel. Neither does Janeway; she hails the bridge as the spooky music crescendoes and demands to know if there's a problem with the ship that caused the literatis interruptis. Chakotay says yes, but it doesn't appear life threatening. He has sent Tuvok to investigate.
Tuvok approaches the area where the power disruption was reported. There's an open panel, and Tuvok looks in--and almost butts heads with Dolby (Dalby?), a Maquis crewman who seems pleasant enough. Tuvok asks him what he's doing. Dolby says he was passing by, noticed a malfunctioning gelpack, and just got done replacing it. Tuvok tells him there is a "protocol" for such things--that you can't just fix something without telling anyone because people have to be prepared for the inevitable interruptions. (On this point, I gotta side with Tuvok; as those who work in a software company with multiple programmers can tell you, making fixes and not telling anyone is a sure way to get everyone mad at you.)
Dolby isn't pleased; he was just trying to do his job the best way he knew how, and he doesn't appreciate the situation he's in anyway, so Tuvok can do him a favor by either throwing him in the brig or leaving him alone. So, the amiable guy turns out to be disgruntled after all, and Tuvok--the Starfleet spy he'd once called crewmate aboard the Maquis vessel--is now REALLY on his doodie list.
There have been episodes that touched on individuals who weren't adjusting well to the mixing of Starfleet and Maquis crew, but it looks like this one will focus on it.
This brings up a sticky issue with Tuvok, Janeway and Chakotay; though many of the Maquis are fitting into the Voyager lifestyle, there are several who are chafing. Starfleet and Maquis had different entrance requirements. The former's are so demanding and the competitiion so fierce that even Jean-luc Picard and Wesley Crusher didn't get in the first time, and Crusher (and Torres) dropped out before graduating. With the Maquis, all it took was a desire to fight for your freedom. Some Maquis are former Starfleet officers fighting for a cause they truly believe in, but many are patriots, mercenaries, weekend warriors and people who just love to fight. Plus a few spies.
The conclusion: There are a lot of people on Voyager wearing Starfleet uniforms who haven't earned them and may not respect them. The problem: helping them get up to speed. Tuvok, an instructor at Starfleet Academy for several years, offers to set up a schedule for Dolby and others who aren't fitting in as well, to give them a chance to Join Starfleet.
On the first day of Training, Tuvok looks over his recruits. Dolby, a Terran woman with a headband (which is against Starfleet protocol to wear on duty), a very young Bajoran, a Bolian Curly (Stooges in Space!). Each is here, Tuvok says, because they're not meeting expectations, and the hope is that they can be given a crash course in Starfleet. He makes them do laps, but soon they revolt and walk out on him. Tuvok looks as disturbed as nonemotion will allow--them brows was furrowed somethin' fierce.
Chakotay visits the mess hall where Dolby and his fellow Fleet flunkies are sulking. He was their commander, he was Maquis, surely he will sympathize with them. Dolby is emboldened by Chakotay's willingness to listen, and says he thinks more things should be done the Maquis Way. Chakotay considers this, and asks Dolby if he really thinks so. Dolby says Yup.
Thwack. Sucker punch. Down goes Dolby, bleeding from the corner of his mouth, stunned at the attack.
"That's the Maquis Way," announces Chakotay. And we'll do it the Maquis Way until they get their sorry butts back into Tuvok's classroom.
You gotta hand it to Chakotay; the Maquis Way has its advantages. You can't talk back to a superior officer if your mouth is wired shut.
Training, round 2. Tuvok runs them into the ground. They climb through nearly every deck of the ship like monkeys, run 10 kilometers in 1.1x gravity with packs on, and deftly ignores their if-looks-could-kill stares. "We'll do this again tomorow, and I expect each of your times to improve." They're too tired to throw him down a turboshaft, so they sweat in acknowledgement and crawl to the nearest jacuzzi. Dolby suggests that Tuvok treat the Bajoran kid a little easier; Tuvok doesn't give it much thought. Starfleet is starfleet, training is training, rules are rules.
Dolby isn't a happy camper. He seeks commiseration with Torres, but she--like Chakotay--has already done the Starfleet Shuffle and is now firmly camped in Janeway's big tent. He wants someone to agree with him that their situation sucks; Torres asks if the criticisms of him are justified. He may not want to hear it, but he does, and he must admit that he's not fitting in as well as some.
Meanwhile, the gelpack that Dolby replaced way back in the beginning is causing consternation. They can't replicate them, they don't have many spares, and without them the ship is debilitated. The gelpacks are more or less alive, with bioneural circuitry giving the ship a lot better response time and more memory than other Starfleet ships have managed. But this new vulnerability distresses them. After Torres gives up from an engineering angle, they take the gelpack to sickbay and tell Holodoc he's got a new patient.
When other gelpacks start to fail, things get really serious. The ship's systems begin to fail, and there aren't enough backups. Besides, they don't know what's causing the problem, and they dare not expose all the gelpacks to danger.
Tuvok gives his new students a trip through the Kobayashi Maru, the famed Starfleet Academy "No Win Situation" designed to test character. But he didn't use it that way. The students, with Dolby in the captain's chair and the others at their respective stations, go through the simulation, and get the heck blown out of the holodeck by Romulans (of whom they're sure to meet many in the Delta Quadrant). When tuvok ends the test, he asks them what just happened. Most claimed they did everything they were supposed to, or claimed the test sucked. There was no way out. Tuvok said, "why didn't you retreat?" And they were shocked; Maquis don't run. (Of course, had they run they probably would have been hosed anyway; the test--for those who haven't seen Star Trek II--is to see how you react to the no-win situation. It's a test of character and of command intuition.) they exit the simulation even less happy than before; if running is the Starfleet way, they may never learn to fit in.
Holodoc announces, after much testing, that the gelpacks are ill. But he has no idea why. They begin to look for possible answers.
Tuvok goes to the mess hall, where Neelix offers (naturally) to help. tuvok doubts he can be helped; he's been an instructor for years, his methods are sound, he's got tenure; they should be moving along swimmingly by now. Never mind that he'd been used to teaching the Best of the Best at Starfleet Academy, who wanted desperately to be there and to excel while there. Neelix suggested it was Tuvok who needed to learn a little flexibility, using food as a teaching device. (Better that than eat it.) Tuvok decides to at least try to warm up to them. Naturally, he chooses Dolby; as he goes, it seems, go they all. Meanwhile, he notices that Neelix's cooking pot is right under a ventilation shaft, and notices the smell of cheese. Neelix was whipping up some macaroni and cheese, using something he picked up from a cow on a recent away mission or something. he calls in Torres, and they discover that the cheese is a potential cause of the ailing gelpacks. "Get this cheese to sickbay," says Torres, pointing at the offending dairy item.
Tom Paris' now-famous Marsailles tavern is up and running, as Tuvok and Dolby play a round of pool. Tuvok attempts small talk, but Dolby's answers are curt, borderline impolite, and revealing mostly to we the audience. We learn more about the Bajoran boy of whom Dolby is so protective, though we are unlikely to see the kid again in the series. The kid's had a rough life; so has Dolby. They don't want to be in the Delta Quadrant, he says; they don't want to be in Starfleet, and they don't want to be Tuvok's friend. Dolby throws down his pool cue and leaves the holodeck, leaving Tuvok to consider what's going to happen now.
The ship's malfunctions are continuing to worsen. Holodoc announces that the cheese is indeed the culprit. The gelpacks are infected with a form of cold or flu or some such. They discuss their options; if it's a simple illness, they need to cure it. How does the body cure illness, they ask. Fever, is the response. So how do we give the gelpacks a proper fever? They come up with an idea, one certain to keep them uncomfortable--heat the heck out of the ship until the infection is dead. They can't do the gelpacks one at a time for fear of reinfection. They can't take them all out or the ship would have no systems to keep them alive. So they must turn Voyager into Club Med for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, Tuvok's called class into session again. They're in some cargo bay, where they're supposed to do something. Of course, the combination of disease and cure gets them locked in. tuvok sends Garen (the Bajoran boy) upstairs to try to do something to unlock the doors, and to fix some of the damage in the cargo bay--it could hurt the ship if not fixed, whatever it is. Then more pipes burst and turn the air toxic. Tuvok orders them out once the door is opened; Dolby insists they go back after Garen. Tuvok nearly rips Dolby's arm off and says he'll finish the job if he disobeys another order, then shoves everyone out the door. Then Tuvok locks the door between them...and goes after Garen.
The ship continues to heat. Life support is failing. People are sweating and gasping for breath. Holodoc is not; he says things are looking good so far as the ship continues to heat up. The idea: to gun the engines with the emergency brake on, burn out all the gunk in the transmission.
Tuvok reaches Garen, unconscious, and manages to pull him down to the floor without killing either of them. The deadly air is causing him difficulty, and he only makes it half way to the door before passing out.
The engines continue to heat, nearing the magic number of 80% of something before they can unleash the warp engines. Everyone's pretty much unconscious at this point, but that Starfleet training is paying off. Janeway orders the magic button be pushed.
They push it. Things really heat up. People do start passing out.
Holodoc calls from sickbay. It takes a while for anyone to be conscious enough to respond. Chakotay finally does. "yes, doctor?" he asks. Holodoc reports cheerfully that the infection is completely eradicated and the danger is past. Holodoc looks cool and refreshed; Kes is drenched in her own sweat, slack-jawed, and ready to hurt him for looking so good when she feels so lousy.
Dolby and the others pry open the cargo bay doors and stumble through the poison gas and
drag Tuvok and Garen to safety, working like a well-oiled team. Tuvok asks them why they
came back for them--and why they didn't leave him in there to die. Dolby asks Tuvok why he
went back for Garen. Tuvok said he had learned from them that occasionally rules needed to be
bent for a greater good. Dolby and the others look at him warmly; "if you can learn to bend
the rules, we can learn to follow them." Their bonding moment thus established by a
near-death experience, life on board returns to normal, and the season ends.
How can you dislike an episode in which the ship is almost brought to its knees by...cheese?
This was a very funny episode, full of attitude and absurd but at least semi-believable plot complications. The humor didn't seem forced, but came from the situations, and from "real people, real problems." Tuvok was well used, and the distinction between those Maquis who have been more successful at fitting in--Chakotay and Torres--and those who have not, for various reasons, was well played. (I'm sorry, but I really enjoyed Chakotay's left jab to Dolby after he said he would rather do things the Maquis way. We've needed a good old-fashioned decking on this series.)
And of course, the sight of a cool and smug Holodoc cheerfully announcing that things were going to be okay while a drenched-and-drooling Kes looked on, ready to throttle his holographic hiney, was priceless.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.25. Effective humor covers a multitude of sins.
(But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. See what Julia has to say about this episode.)