The following is a SPOILER Review for "State of Flux." 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.
Jump straight to the Analysis
We start out on a planet, where Chakotay is leading the away team in a foraging expedition. Carrey finds what looks like an apple...and Neelix describes in morbidly funny detail what would happen to anyone who ate it. Instead, Neelix shows what he brought them for--a root that looks like (and is) painted Ginseng, is full of vitamins and minerals, and has a taste that has Chakotay almost reaching for the death apple. (Neelix and the Voyager crew have, in general, wildly different ideas of what tastes good. Which makes him a less-than-ideal cook, except for the wacky "boy does this mess hall food stink" comments common to M*A*S*H. Starfleet never was a military organization as long as the food was good....)
Cut to Voyager, where Lieutenant Paris notices an anomalous reading. Janeway orders a flare shot in the vicinity of the anomaly, which reveals a ship under a unique but not altogether impressive form of cloaking device. Janeway whispers, "Kazon" (pronounced "kay-zawn") and orders the away team to beam back to the ship. Semi-amusing line from Chakotay: when Janeway asks him to scan for other life forms, he reports only seeing bloodworms, with which Neelix wants to make "Bloodworm Tartare"--an apparent example of Chakotay's Twisted Sense of Humor (as mentioned by Torres in "Parallax"). Janeway is not amused, but that may just be the tenseness of the situation. On the other hand, I didn't laugh either; reminds me too much of some of my mission dining experiences.
Everyone in the away team is soon rounded up, except for Seska, the Bajoran engineer who served with Chakotay aboard the Maquis ship. She doesn't register on sensors, but someone mentions seeing a nearby cave, so Chakotay orders everyone up to the ship while he searches for her in the caves. In the caves he notices some Kazon, then runs into Seska, who apparently found some mushrooms and thought that they would make a great soup. They accidentally run into the Kazon before leaving the cave, and they shoot up some Kazon before they shoot Chakotay too often. They escape back to the ship and fly out of the Kazons' reach.
Chakotay suffered only minor injuries in the brief firefight, and is soon back on duty. While in his quarters, Seska appears with a bowl of mushroom soup, and she and Chakotay have a laugh at Neelix's expense (he wanted to "extend" the mushrooms with some of the nasty painted ginseng). She then describes the "Maquis operation" that allowed the soup to be made, which culminates in Seska breaking into the kitchen and raiding the food stores for the other ingredients.
Chakotay was smiling right up to that point. Then he turns serious. The food stores are very limited, and to break into the kitchen for a snack is apparently a very serious crime onboard Voyager until they solve their power needs and the Replicators can be used without concern. The friendly little Maquis Operation for a good bowl of soup has turned into a criminal conspiracy, and Chakotay is none too happy about it. He officially revokes replicator privileges for two days for everyone involved, including himself (must have been some soup....) and answers Seska's complaints with a threat to toss anyone who objects into the brig. (Neelix is also furious, and he has even harsher suggestions for those who "take food from the mouths of their fellow crewmen.")
Here we learn something significant...Seska snuggles up to Chakotay in a very familiar way, and we learn that aboard the Maquis ship there was at the very least a tentative attempt at a relationship between these two. A relationship Seska seems eager to resume, but Chakotay seems to feel isn't likely to happen, much as he may want it. Seska leaves his quarters, but not before saying that "there aren't that many good eligible mates around here... I guess I'll have to settle for young Ensign Kim" (who doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to do on this episode.)
Soon Voyager picks up a distress call from a Kazon ship...the same ship they'd spotted orbiting the Painted Ginseng planet under shoddy cloak. Neelix urges caution--this branch of the Kazon, he says, are particularly treacherous. Janeway decides to investigate anyway, but does a very smart Captain thing by ensuring Neelix that she values his input and will exercise extreme caution, but their people have a genetic inability to look the other way while someone suffers, if they have the means to help. Soon they intercept the ship and beam aboard.
The place is a mess. Most everyone they find is dead, apparently fused with the surrounding metal. (I had a Hercules flashback, where he fought the serpent demon who turned people to stone. The dead Kazon kinda looked like that.) They find one almost-dead Kazon among the all-dead Kazon, and beam him to their sickbay while they continue to look around. They find the apparent source of the radiation that's flooding the ship (they're protected by a force shield) and discover that some of the energy patterns are ...
Are of Federation origin.
[insert suspense-filled music here]
Most of the senior bridge crew is next seen in sickbay, while Holodoc and Kes are hovering over the seriously-ill Kazon. They learn that his blood has bonded with metal, and he badly needs a transfusion. Kes begins looking through the crew records for compatible blood types, while Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok head to the turbolift. Tuvok presents three possible explanations for the Federation equipment on the Kazon vessel:(1) It's only Federation-like, not actually Federation. (2) Another Federation vessel got sucked into the Delta Quadrant by similar means as those that brought Voyager here. Or (3), someone onboard Voyager gave it to them.
Janeway stops the turbolift between floors, faces Tuvok and says in a voice that could deflect a phasor blast, "I don't like Three at all." However, Tuvok's logic is, as usual, impeccable, and neither Captain nor First Officer can dispute it. Next comes the discussion of possible suspects. Seska is an immediate front-runner; she was with the away team, she was in close proximity to the Kazon. Chakotay defends her, saying she saved his life when the Kazon attacked. Nevertheless, she is on the list. Janeway orders Tuvok to conduct the investigation personally, to check for communications logs, missing stuff, etc.
Meanwhile, they decide to try to recover the item, to see what it was and where it might have come from. Lieutenant Carrey offers one solution, a method that would push the bad radiation out of the way long enough for them to transport it to the ship. The downside: it will take close to a day to set up. Seska offers an alternative, which she thinks could be done immediately, but which is riskier to whoever tries it. Janeway chooses Carrey's option, and orders Torres to get on it. She says it'll happen tomorrow morning. Janeway says she wants it by the end of the day. Torres says, "I don't exaggerate. When I say tomorrow, I mean tomorrow." She's no Scotty, this chief engineer. Engineers have been exaggerating since time immemorial, so it throws Janeway off balance momentarily, but she finally smiles and agrees. (Kirk would have made her change the laws of physics to get it done tonight, but that's another show.) Chakotay orders Seska to the bridge to coordinate Engineering's efforts.
Seska isn't happy about it. She and Chakotay argue briefly; he insists he wouldn't have her on the bridge if he didn't trust her. She feels under the gun. He doesn't bend. She says See you up there. But she detours to sickbay to see the comatose, heavy-metal Kazon. She's mumbling a bit, and she seems to want the Kazon to return to consciousness because she says he can prove her innocence, then she leaves sickbay, but not before Kes can comment that her blood profile is not on file. Seska says she'll get around to it, but she has something to do first.
Next thing we know, the bridge is up in arms because someone just transported to the Kazon ship...it's Seska, and she's trying to recover the part--her way. She fails, screams, and needs to be beamed to sickbay with a nasty looking burn mark on her face that isn't completely unlike the one Richard Dreyfus got in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." She's unconscious briefly, in which time the doctor and Kes discover that her blood doesn't have the traits of a Bajoran, but it does have the traits of...a Cardassian.
At this point, Chakotay is having a very bad day. He has feelings for Seska, but he also starts to wonder aloud whether his Maquis ship contained any actual Maquis; first he learned that Tuvok was a Federation spy, now it seems that his favorite Bajoran engineer is in actuality a Cardassian. As the captain of that former vessel, he is feeling awfully stupid for not catching these spies. But he displays all the emotion of Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential debates. He's either stoic or Vulcan, I'm not sure which. (Well, I know he's not Vulcan, but you get the idea.)
In the meantime...Lieutenant Carrey is brought into the Captain's office, where Tuvok and Chakotay and Janeway look sternly at him. They discovered that a message had been sent from Carrey's station to the Kazon the week before. Carrey had been next in line to take over the Chief Engineer's spot, and had been passed over by Torres, with whom he had had some misunderstandings and from whom he received a severely broken nose. As a potential suspect, he had motive and opportunity. He looks nervous (who wouldn't be?) and he suggests that Seska is a more logical suspect, because all the rumors are pointing to her, and because she is not him and he'd rather not be under suspicion. He is confined to quarters, and Janeway/Chakotay/Tuvok discuss the possibility. Chakotay would rather it be Carrey, but hasn't ruled out Seska.
Another Kazon ship appears. They try to strong arm Voyager, but Janeway is nothing if not a cast-iron warrior. She stares down the Kazon captain until he blinks, then invites him over to see their downed colleague. They head to sickbay looking like something out of a Rick James concert, and while arguing with Janeway they spike the unconscious Kazon with a neural poison; he's dead before Tuvok can reach them. Janeway throws them off the ship; they're lucky she simply beams them back rather than personally booting their hineys out the nearest airlock.
When Seska comes to in Sickbay, Chakotay is there. He tells her what they know, and she has ready answers. She had a blood disease as a child (Okala?), that swept through her Bajoran refugee camp. A sympathetic Cardassian woman offered a bone marrow transplant. She reaffirms her love and devotion to Chakotay and the Maquis cause, and insists that if she had been a spy, Chakotay hadn't had much for her to spy on. He tells her where the investigation is at the moment, and keeps her confined to sickbay.
The Kazon, back on their ship and none too happy about not being bowed to, try to stop Torres and her team from recovering the burned out Federation device. Janeway again gives him a warning that nobody in their right mind would ignore, and soon Torres and company are back on board, with the device in hand. It turns out to be a replicator--militarily insignificant, but for a people that have never seen a replicator it's impressive and important technology indeed. But the illicit device didn't come with instructions, and they made the unfortunate mistake of letting Tim Allen install it.
Next we see Tuvok kicking Chakotay's butt in bridge. Apparently Vulcans learned much from Spock about Captain Kirk's predilection for bluffing, but now they've found a proper logical definition of bluffing so it can be done with a clear conscience. They are in engineering (?) waiting for either Carrey or Seska to take the bait; they told both about the investigation, in the hopes that one or the other would try to cover up their tracks. Soon someone does bite, and begins modifying the logs, leaving a clumsy traceable identification: Seska's. It looks like someone meant it to be found. So it must be Carrey, right? Torres asks.
Next we see Chakotay entering sickbay, rousing a sleeping Seska, and telling her he knows she is the traitor. He then explains that (1) her story about the disease was already investigated and discounted before she came to; Holodoc is very thorough, and has a complete text on Okala disease so he knew that this wasn't it; (2) other parts of her biology were unquestionably Cardassian; and (3) they'd traced the recent computer coverup back to sickbay. The lights come on, and in come some heavily armed extras with Janeway, and Holodoc is activated to be smug for a few minutes. Chakotay has her dead to rights; his only question is, why?
Seska's appearance changes markedly, and she looks every inch the Cardassian while she explains her actions. She felt she was working in the best interests of the ship by forming proper alliances. She also felt that the Federation people were weenies, and wouldn't do anything constructive without her taking some initiative. They're all alone out here, she insists, and they need powerful friends; they need to be protected on their march home. She doesn't have much nice to say about Janeway, and asserts that a Cardassian ship would have been home by now; they'd have flipped the bird to the Ocampa back in Episode 1 and forced the Caretaker to send them home. (Which may be true, but we're talking a very short series....)
She reaffirms her love for Chakotay; that much seems sincere. But she feels betrayed by the former rebel-turned-Starfleet-toady, and lets him know it. When she gets mad, she looks Cardassian. When she speaks softly, she looks Bajoran. I haven't seen such deft camera work since Mudd's Women in the original series. (Ugly women: harsh lighting; beautiful women: Vaseline on the lenscap)
Seska knows the gig is up, though, so she beams over to the Kazon ship before anyone can stop her, and though they put the tractor beam on the departing ship, two other Kazon vessels are minutes away and they realize they can't possibly defeat three such ships. (Which begs the question, WHY THE HECK NOT?!?!!? Probably because to do so would make even greater enemies of the Kazon, something they don't dare do with a still non-100% functioning ship. If it were just one battle, I have no doubt they could easily have beaten the three ships, simply by being as stone-cold ruthless as Janeway can be when she puts her mind to it. (1) blow the ship they've got tractored into baco-bits; (2) booby-trap the second ship; (3) with these substantially better odds, hose the remaining two vessels. Militarily possible, strategically unwise; if they get hurt at all, they have no starbases to retreat to for retrofitting.)
So...Seska gets away, and we'll likely see her again. The Kazon are still the bad guys. The Voyager crew discovers that the Kazon don't know how to install a decent replicator (which by implication means they likely cannot borrow Kazon technology to fix their own ship). And Chakotay has to deal with the fact that he had more than one spy on his ship and he didn't know it.
The final scene is Chakotay approaching Tuvok in the mess hall, asking if he was really that naive.
Tuvok admits that Seska "pulled the wool over my eyes as well," and he wouldn't call Chakotay
naive. There was some more Vulcan bashing, when Tuvok says "Vulcans are always honest" and
Chakotay said, "you lied to me," and Tuvok said "I was honest within the parameters defined by
my mission" and Chakotay said "You damned Vulcans and your damned defined parameters." (In
the last new episode, Tuvok's logic got him a major reprimand from Janeway, because he acted
logically, but not honorably.) Tuvok took it stoically. Tuvok said that Chakotay was merely
human, a competent officer, with adequate judgment (high praise from a Vulcan) and that he
wasn't particularly naive. Chakotay felt better knowing that Tuvok had also been fooled by
Seska; Tuvok said, "I don't get it; why should your mistake and mine make you feel better?"
"Misery loves company," Chakotay replied.
A good Chakotay episode. He is not what I'd call a passionate character; his emotions tend to be variants of deadpan. But he is demonstrably a man of honor and loyalty, competence and conviction, a twisted sense of humor and a straightlaced set of morals. He is also the bridge between Federation and Maquis, a man who has served and led in both and who is ideally suited as nobody else onboard Voyager to integrate and unite the crew. He has fond memories of his Maquis days, but as long as he wears the Starfleet uniform he will not bend Starfleet rules to fit Maquis traditions.
The challenge of a believable "traitor" episode, particularly one featuring a crew member we've seen before, is to pick someone who we believe could do it. They picked two good people: Carrey, and Seska. Carrey does indeed have motive and opportunity; he's a good engineer, who in most cases would have expected to become chief engineer, and could have been expected to feel resentful at being passed over by a non-Starfleet person who almost killed you. Seska also showed signs of discontent; she offered to help start a mutiny in "Parallax," and in "Prime Factors" she was the devil on Torres' shoulder trying to get the Party Planet's technology for a neutrino-bending transportation device that could have gotten them halfway home in an eye blink, and later trying to convince Torres to cover up their sin when the device didn't work. (Prime Factors is chronologically the episode immediately prior to this one, though there were several repeats shown in between. Her actions here make more sense when this is taken into account.)
Look at it from Seska's perspective: she had looked to the Maquis as her colleagues, Cardassian or not. She had no love for Starfleet, and had high hopes that they could take over the ship. But one by one, particularly Chakotay and Torres, those she counted on to side with her took up the Starfleet banner. From her perspective, once she failed to carry the day, she had to look elsewhere. And the only logical elsewhere were the Kazon, the militant Reggae people from the pilot episode, "Caretaker." They're powerful, they're ruthless, they're widespread...she feels right at home with them. She either hopes to win their trust, or turn Voyager over to them. Either is unacceptable to Janeway, who wouldn't trust the Kazon as far as she could drop-kick them.
In short, over the history of this show we have seen Seska several times, and each time she gave at least some indication, subtle or overt, that she isn't exactly happy with their present arrangements. She had been explicitly "betrayed" by Torres and by Chakotay--repeatedly, by Chakotay, who threatened twice (once here, once in "Parallax") to toss her into the brig if she didn't obey his orders. As a Bajoran, her resentment would be understandable. As a Cardassian spy, it makes even more sense.
I'm glad to see the Kazon again. I'm also glad to see a renegade Alpha Quadrant person helping them. Voyager has needed some loose ends, one of the hallmarks of the Next Generation series. I'm particularly glad that Tom Paris, the original Bad Boy of the Voyager crew, wasn't listed as a suspect simply because he had a history of screwing up. He has apparently earned his place, and will not be an automatic suspect without cause. Though I hope he does get into trouble now and then.
In not-so-short, I liked this episode. It showed, through throwaway lines and real conflicts, the continuing problems faced by the Voyager crew, and it deftly used prior episodes as a foundation for the uncovering of a traitor. And it didn't provide a resolution, which means we have something to look forward to down the road. As an engineer, Seska can help her new Kazon comrades immensely, so future confrontations could be very interesting. And those Maquis who abhorred what she did will become even more firmly entrenched in the Voyager family. As Janeway said in this episode, "we're all in this together."
Holodoc still hasn't picked a name for himself, but as just about everybody knows by now, it's Zimmerman. His scenes were well handled, missing most--but not all--of his trademark humor. Kes wasn't given much to do, Harry Kim was practically non-existent, and Paris handled himself professionally throughout--darn him. (I would have loved to hear a smart mouthed comment from him about his relief at not being the prime suspect.) Neelix, I've decided, simply annoys me, and that's a shame; he has a lot of potential. I'd like to see some more episodes concentrating on him and giving him some sympathetic characteristics. Given time, I'm sure it will happen.
Particularly, I liked Chakotay here. His is not an easy job, and I like to see him suffer the growing pains of his position. Not for the sake of suffering, but because characters become more interesting when the camera is focused on them because they're suffering. This is how we see them grow.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.25.
(Even Jim has to shut up eventually. If you're still screaming for more, take your plate over to Julia's for a second helping.)