The following is an ALL-SPOILER Review. Teaser to closing credits, I give you the whole dang episode, blow-by-blow. If you want to be surprised when you finally see it, leave now. If you don't mind having the whole enchilada spelled out for you, pull up some shuttle debris and enjoy the ride.
I rate each episode based on how much I enjoyed it--not necessarily on how good I think it is; I leave the objective takes to others. I don't claim to be accurate or objective, though only on occasion will I deliberatly try not to be. (this week, for instance.) But with luck, you'll enjoy yourself along the way whether you agree with me or not.
So kick back and toss another shrimp on the barbie. Fatherly Uncle Jim's in a storytellin' mood.
Paris wants a change of pace--and ends up with a change of face.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Jump straight to the Analysis
Grab your wave-cutter, Moon doggie, it's the summer of '69! Generic, saxophone-heavy beach music blares out an old radio inside a typical suburban garage of yesteryear. Only it's a lot cleaner than the garages of my childhood--there's actually room for a car in there. Two, probably. The bulk of the room's grime is concentrated on the coveralls of whoever is waist-deep under the body of the muscle car in the center of the garage. The hood is up, and the engine it reveals promises all manner of high-octane manly fun.
The first hint that we haven't tuned into the Transmission Network by mistake comes when we hear the familiar zzzzt of Doc's holographic matrix coming online. He wanders around the room, notices the feet under the car--and delivers an old-fashioned Detroit Hello, leaning noisily on the horn. Twice.
That gets Mr. Goodwrench's attention. Not surprisingly, Tom Paris is the guy who emerges from the belly of the beast, raining curses down on the interloper before he realizes it's Doc. (Tom's obsession with 20th-century vehicles is well documented: "The 37's," "Lifesigns," "Future's End.")
Paris scrambles to his feet. "What do you think you're doing, Doc?" he demands. Doc calls it "An impromptu auditory exam"--which Paris passed with flying colors. "Which leads me to believe you did hear me when I requested you meet me this morning."
Paris turns off the radio, and admits he did hear Doc. But he does have a better excuse: "I forgot." Which doesn't fly much better with Doc than the deafness excuse. But as long as Paris is evading his Sickbay duties, he's going to make the best use of his borrowed time. He reaches under the hood and inspects the air filter while Doc talks at him from the other side of the car.
"I realize your Sick bay training is voluntary," Doc says earnestly. "But you haven't spent any time there in several weeks! And when I try to find you, you're always in the Holodeck!" Paris points out that Sickbay's emergencies haven't risen above the hangnail level lately. (How long ago WAS "The Killing Game," anyway?) Doc counters that Paris needs to make better use of the quiet time, so he'll be prepared for the next true emergency. "You're too far behind in your medical texts to waste your time in the Holodeck!"
Paris, turning on the charm, tells Doc he's been operating all morning. "A classic case of atrophied shocks. They needed to be extracted to prevent chrome abrasion." he shakes his head dramatically. "It was touch and go for a while, but the prognosis is excellent."
Doc rolls his eyes. "You'll be ready for neurosurgery in no time."
Tom tries to sell Doc on the beauty of his newest project. "Take a look at this, Doc! This is a fully stock 1969 Chevy Camaro--one of the earliest muscle cars ever made!" He crawls inside. "Imagine: Northern California, late 20th century. You're cruising up Highway One. The woofers are pounding, the wind is whipping through your hair..." He looks at Doc and realizes that with Doc, the wind wouldn't have much to work with. Oops.
Doc turns his medical tricorder on the car. "Medieval safety constraints...internal combustion system producing lethal levels of carbon monoxide....I stand corrected! This may be just what you need to get you back to Sickbay."
Paris complains that Doc suffers from a severe fun deficiency. Doc looks at him sadly. "This isn't about fun, Mr. Paris. Serving in Sickbay is a privilege. I'd expect you to realize that." Paris may realize it...but he doesn't appreciate it. Nevertheless, he promises to show up in Sickbay. "Soon," he adds, indicating soon means later than "now." Mollified, Doc exits.
The Fun doesn't last. Tom's private time is again interrupted when Janeway summons him to the bridge, pronto. That's one call he does not dare ignore, though his plaintive look heavenward does suggest this boy is in dire need of a vacation.
Even with Voyager's relaxed dress code, Paris' grimy garage attire and smudged and sweaty face raises eyebrows when he appears on the bridge. "Somebody call for a driver?" he asks jauntily. Janeway, unamused, tells him to take his station, then promptly ignores him. Paris wastes no more time or words taking over helm; as he walks to his station, he stares intently at the forward screen, preparing himself for whatever he was called up for.
Apparently space is making waves again--folding in on itself, Harry reports--and they don't have an explanation. A few moments later, they do--a ship appears out of nowhere, unfolding into something roughly shuttle-sized, looking like nothing they've ever seen before. Visually, or on sensors. Kim reports one occupant.
Paris notes something, and speaks up. "Captain, it looks like that ship is being powered by a coaxial warp drive....It's a hypothetical propulsion system. Starfleet engineers have been dreaming about it for years. In theory, it can literally fold the fabric of space--allowing a ship to travel instantaneously across huge distances." To their credit, nobody--not even Harry--says anything about the getting-home potential for such a propulsion system.
Probably because the ship looks like it's on the verge of going Boom. Tuvok reports that the sensors see it the same way. "In theory," Paris says, "a coaxial drive explosion could collapse space within a radius of a billion kilometers."
To nobody's surprise, Janeway calls for Red Alert.
How's this for Fun, Helm Boy?
* * *
The alien ship gets closer to the Big Boom. Tuvok suggests they high-tail it outta there. But Paris wants to stick it out--and he has the only plan on the bridge. "A symmetric warp field. That should contain any instabilities in his space folding core." Chakotay asks what orifice he pulled that from. "Advanced subspace geometry," Tom explains. "It's the one course at the academy where I actually paid attention."
Hey, I believe him--subspace is a big part of a Starfleet pilot's life. If I were in the Coast guard, I'd want to know all I could about the ocean...
Catch a [sine] wave and you're sittin' on top of the world...
Paris begs the captain to let him try, and despite all the objections and concerns from the other crew, Janeway has a soft spot for moxie. He wins the day...and in short order, the crisis is past, as the hulking Voyager matches course with the tiny vessel, wraps a motherly warp field around it, and defuses the time bomb of tachyonic trigonometry.
You gotta love Treknobabble sometimes....
"Got him!" Tom shouts a few seconds later, High Five-ing himself. (No George Michael jokes, please.) Janeway compliments him, and he beams.
After that, the rest is gravy. They contact the ship and meet a pleasant looking young guy named Steth (Trek Nose: quadrophonic nostrils, the other two in the center of his forehead) wearing a red and white jumpsuit reminiscent of the STII Starfleet uniforms. He declines medical assistance, but does request the help of a mechanic. Janeway is happy to oblige, and invites him to beam over.
Tuvok and Janeway meet Steth in the transporter room. As they stroll the corridors, he thanks them for rescuing him; he knows the risk they took. He confesses he pushed his new engine too far, too soon. He agrees with her that it's not the smoothest ride, but he points out the benefit: long-distance travel at incredible speeds. He looks like a Need For Speed kinda guy. Tuvok points out that fast and dead isn't exactly the logical way to travel. But what's the fun in that? "If I were worrying about danger I wouldn't have become a test pilot," Steth answers pleasantly.
At Janeway's query, Steth says he's from 20 light years away, in the Benthan system. Janeway volunteers some of her engineers to help with repairs, since without his drive system, he's a long way from home. (It would take Voyager about a week to get there.)
I assume Janeway doesn't ask about acquiring the information about the drive system because her engineers will find that stuff out when they help him fix the thing.
Chakotay is slurping java and frowning at a PADD when Paris shows up, asking to help Steth fix his ship. "I need a change of pace," Paris says.
"This isn't a good time to ask," Chakotay says. "I've been reading a report from the Doctor."
Paris explains that he wasn't in Sickbay because "I was a little busy this morning...saving someone's life, as I recall." Sickbay, helm, what's the difference? It's all about saving lives, ain't it?
Chakotay doesn't bite. "Is there something wrong, Tom? Anything bothering you?"
I've been wondering the same thing myself.
"Nothing is wrong!" Tom insists. "Since when is not wanting to spend time with the Doctor a capital offense? You'd have to throw the whole crew in the brig for that one."
I pity the next person who asks him if something's bothering him. He's wound up tight enough to bounce quarters off of.
"I was wondering if there's something on your mind. You're showing up for your shifts, you do what's required--but your heart doesn't seem to be in it. You seem--preoccupied."
Paris bites his lip, and several possible responses flash across his face. "Like I said, I think I need a change of pace," he finally answers.
Chakotay looks Paris over. "You're a different man from the one that came on board four years ago. You've taken charge of your life, turned yourself around. I'd hate to see you ruin it."
[Dang, that's a little harsh--and a bit of a stretch, don't you think? "You're doing your job, but you're just not enjoying it. Sounds like you're on the road to FUBAR to me...."]
Paris reacts as though Chakotay just roshamboed him. Like a condemned man, he steps forward and accepts his sentence. "I won't," he promises. "With your permission, I'll report to Sickbay."
Chakotay sighs. "Permission denied." Paris' shoulders slump; he fears what's coming next.
"Report to Steth's ship instead," Chakotay says, to Tom's surprise. "Assist in the repairs." He smiles. "We need our best man on the job."
Paris, relieved and grateful, nods and exits.
Inside Steth's ship, Steth and Paris trade flying-mishap stories. (Sorry, folks, no Caldik Prime recollections.) Steth mentions a time when he was doing his Chuck Yeager thing and ended up limping back with phaser holes from irritated neighbors. Paris, laughing, recalls a teenage joyride in Dad's shuttle that ended up with fried relays and a permanent parking space at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.
While Paris talks and breaks out his toolkit, Steth works behind his back, removing a piece of equipment from behind a control panel. We don't know much about Steth, but we do learn this while Paris' back is turned:
Steth is a woman trapped in a man's body.
We learn this because Steth, to his horror, realizes that his Inner Female is now Outer. Kinda cute, kinda exotic--kinda vampiric. She's a long-nailed, bat-eared, full-lipped, evil-eyed banshee babe. Looking over to make sure Paris didn't see, she takes a deep breath and concentrates. And is soon male again when he shows Paris the key to the coaxial warp system--the "coaxial induction drive." It looks like a fuse the size of a beer can. "It draws in subatomic particles and reconfigures their internal geometries."
Stay in school, kids. You never know when those lectures will come in handy.
"This is what makes folding space possible?" Tom asks.
Steth grunts. "At least in spurts." Which means that if Voyager were to use it, it probably wouldn't get them home all at once. It would take many jumps. Assuming, of course, they're willing to try using it...assuming Paris can help Steth fix his own ship. "Unfortunately, particle instabilities keep overloading my engines--but I'm going to make it work."
"I have to keep in motion!" Steth says passionately. "I don't like the thought of settling down--too many new ships to drive, too many intriguing women..." (Hey--weren't you a women just a second ago?) Paris chuckles sympathetically. He could relate--once. Steth tells Paris what he'll be flying next--a cool fighter craft--and invites Paris along. Paris looks tempted, but Chakotay's comments are still ringing in his ears. Even Steth's assurance that it'll be FUN doesn't sway him enough to agree. He confesses, he has [ugh] Responsibilities. "People who count on me. And B'Elanna would be furious...."
His smile freezes. "B'Elanna..." he repeats, on the verge of remembering something important...
"I have to go," Paris says, suddenly panicked. He thrusts the coaxial whatsitz into Steth's hands, collects his tools in two nanoseconds, and bolts toward the exit.
In the mess hall, Torres doesn't look happy when Paris enters, looking guilty--and with his bad hair, he looks a lot like Kramer making an entrance. He makes his way over carefully, and notes that she started eating without him.
"I finished without you," she says, though not angrily. "You're a little late." Paris apologizes; he was helping Steth with repairs. She asks how it's going, and he tells her where they're stuck. "How to prevent the particle overloads in his propulsion system."
"Have you tried an isokinetic containment field?" she offers helpfully.
"Yeah. That's the first thing we tried," Tom says, none-too-gently, and regrets it. She makes no further suggestions, and I can't blame her. "How long do you think repairs are going to take?" she asks a moment later, and he says he doesn't know, not wanting to commit to anything.
"I was just hoping," Torres says haltingly, "that maybe you could help me recalibrate the plasma manifolds tonight...." Oh, sure, it's work. But it's also quality time with B'Elanna. With their conflicting schedules, it's the sort of invitation he usually relishes.
But not this time. He says he needs to help Steth some more.
"Tom, is there something wrong?" Torres asks quietly, concerned--and without a trace of accusation.
All the same: Uh oh.
Paris explodes. "Why are you interrogating me?" he demands. No soft answers from her turn away his wrath; his accusations get ever harsher. She starts to get miffed, but this isn't the pre-Day Of Honor Torres. She hangs in there for quite a while, trying to get him to open up to her--instead, he opens up on her. All she knows is, he spends more time on the Holodeck these days than with her. And she doesn't even know what program.
" 'The Dancing Girls of Ninipia Prime.' It's very entertaining," Paris says caustically. "Very funny," Torres says. The whole mess hall is watching them by now, and Neelix arrives to try to boost morale.
Nice try, dead dude. Both lieutenants give him a talk-to-the-hand gesture.
"Are you going to talk about this?" Torres asks. "If you're not, I don't want to sit here."
Tom, who has been rubbing his hands together fiercely enough to ignite kindling, shouts, "If you can carry on a conversation without all the histrionics--" TILT!
"Good night, Tom," Torres whispers, and slides smoothly and quickly out of her seat, and out of the room. Neelix looks at Paris, totally at a loss for words.
Paris bounces back and forth from fury to fear to confusion, wondering what the heck just happened--and just what it is that has been bothering him lately.
Yo, Helm Boy--look in the databanks for 10 things men do to mess up their lives....
Harshing on B'Elanna like that? After a year of (more or less) patient courtship while she fought tooth and nail against the expression of her own feelings?
Usually, when Paris acts goofy, there's a reason. This is the point in the episode that screams for a scene with Harry--a cut through all the denials, all the evasiveness, all the emotions suppressed in the name of duty--so we can get down to the nitty gritty. Something's got Paris stir crazy, and it's time for the Big Revelation.
Steth, in his ship, turns into a girl again. He suppresses it, resuming his man shape, and asks the computer how long he's got left. Three hours, 13 minutes, he is told by the dramatically-inexperienced male voice of his computer.
And Tom Paris thinks he has problems. At least he's not four hours away from changing species, gender, or identity.
* * *
More than three hours and 13 minutes later (I presume), it's the next morning. Old-fashioned mechanic's toolbox in hand, Paris leads Steth to the Holodeck. He seems in much better spirits at the moment. "So I was lying in bed last night when it hit me," Tom explains. "What you need is a carburetor." Naturally, Steth has never heard of one. "It's a device that's hundreds of years old," he explains, laughing that it took him this long to think of it.
Steth questions the utility of a centuries-old piece of hardware, but Paris assures him the technology will be quite new; only the CONCEPT is 20th-century. "It all goes back to basics. You'd be surprised at how often I find solutions to 24th century problems in 20th century technology." (What about problems with your 24th-century social life, dude?) They reach the holodeck, and he activates the program "Grease Monkey." Steth looks at him oddly; Paris shrugs. "Mechanic lingo." They share a laugh.
I'd call it male bonding, but Steth might take issue. Part of the time, anyway.
Paris lets Steth into The Garage. He shows him the Camaro, but mostly to show him the carburetor. "A car's engine can't run on pure fuel, so the carburetor supplies it with a mixture of vaporized fuel and air." Steth extrapolates that concept to his problem: "And you think we need a device like that to...dilute the particle stream as it enters the coaxial drive...." Exactly! Says Paris. "And a spare polaric modulator from Voyager's impulse drive should do the trick."
"Subatomic dilution!" Steth shouts, grinning broadly. "It never would have occurred to me. I think you've solved it!" The implementation should be a snap; coming up with the idea was the bulk of the problem. "I owe you a lot," Steth says gratefully.
"You can thank my lucky toolbox," Paris says, chuckling. "It's gotten me out of hot water more than once." He grabs a wrench, shows it to Steth for effect, then reinstalls the carburetor.
Steth starts pacing. "You're lucky to be stationed on a ship like this. Replicators to feed and clothe you, holo-technology to cater to every whim...hallways filled with women."
Paris stiffens under the hood. "Yeah," he says wistfully. "It's great."
"You don't sound convinced," Steth notes. "Aren't you happy here?"
Paris bolts upright and glares at Steth. "Of course I'm happy!" he snaps. "I'm very happy!"
Steth gives a puppy-eyed look at Tom.
"I mean..." Tom says.
Hmm. I think Dr. Steth may have made a breakthrough.
"I pilot one of the most advanced ships in Starfleet," Paris says, trying desperately to convince himself of his happiness. "I have a beautiful girlfriend. I'm respected. I have everything that I've ever wanted."
"You're lucky," Steth says.
Aye, there's the rub. Luck is a fickle mistress. He is lucky; can that last? The way things went for him yesterday, he may not be so sure. Respect from Doc and Chakotay and B'Elanna were in short supply then...
Or, perhaps having everything he ever wanted IS the problem. A person's got to have dreams, mountains yet to climb. Most of the adventure is in the pursuit.
Steth continues, as Tom's look gets still more desolate. "You're part of a family, part of a structure. You have rules to guide you. You don't have to worry about making a lot of choices."
Tom, cleaning off the wrench he just used with a greasy rag, gives Steth a baleful look--you call this a pep talk? "I usually go to bed at night not knowing what the next day has in store...What trouble I might get into." Tom laughs. "You don't have to worry about those things. You're very settled."
BTW, How's that holo-novel coming, Tom? Let me take a look.
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY
Yikes. Sorry I asked....
Paris' voice grows wearier than he intends. "I remember those days," he says, slapping the wrench down onto the toolbox, then grabbing another and leaning back under the hood. "I used to be a lot like you--going anywhere...doing whatever I wanted..."
"Used to be." Three very depressing words sometimes, especially when you dwell on them.
Paris doesn't notice Steth making a beeline for the wrench he's just been wiping off with cloth and bare hands. He continues, oblivious. "Making my own rules, living life my own way...."
Steth, clutching the wrench like the Holy Grail, reverts briefly and involuntarily back to female form. "Well, then--there's hope for me yet," (s)he says, with Steth's male voice. "Maybe someday I'll settle down, too, but...for now...I prefer to stay on the move." Apparently the wrench has something (s)he needs; the smile is enigmatic as Steth pockets the thing.
Under the hood, Paris sighs. "Sometimes...I wish that's what I was doing."
Steth ain't Harry--but hey, at least now we know why Tom's acting like a dolt lately. He's hating life because life couldn't be better. Tom should be listening to Prozac.
When Tom steps away from the car, Steth--male again--places a friendly (but to the audience, creepy) hand on his shoulder. "Things'll turn around for you," Steth says. "I've always found that change is inevitable. It comes when you least expect it."
"Now," says Steth, "are we ready to try this carburetor idea on my ship?" Tom asks for five more minutes, which Steth freely gives. "And, Tom...Don't dismiss the suggestion I made about coming with me to fly the new ship. It might be fun to escape the shackles for a while." Steth leaves.
Alone with his thoughts, Tom tries and fails to focus on the Camaro. He goes over to his toolbox...but can't find the wrench he'd cleaned just moments before.
Unescorted, Steth enters Cargo Bay Two and starts downloading all the info he can on Tom Paris. His own PADD makes a great all-access ATM card, wiping away all security restrictions. He smiles as the data pours into his terminal.
Seven of Nine enters unexpectedly. These are her quarters, after all. Steth looks her over, and likes what he sees. He flirts with her--and gets nowhere. Her suspicious nature, which rivals Tuvok's, cares only that he's messing with computer stuff he ought not. Steth manages to avoid getting turned in, though, and makes a smooth if premature exit with what data he can muster.
Seven looks after him, and gives him a parting bit of advice about familiarizing himself with Voyager's heirarchy. All smiles and bows, Steth leaves.
Captain's log, Stardate 51762.4. The repairs to Steth's coaxial drive have been completed well ahead of schedule.
Steth's ship now flies alongside Voyager. Inside, Paris finalizes his diagnostics, nods his approval, and begins packing his tools.
And notices one tool he hadn't expected to find here. His old mechanic's box wrench. He asks Steth about it.
Steth, whose three hours and 13 minutes have got to be approaching rapidly, says he needed it for an experiment. He walks up to Tom...and invades his personal space in a big way.
Paris chuckles nervously. "To, uh...check your new carburetor?"
Steth begins moving even closer, and Tom finds himself backing up, up, against a far wall.
"Not quite," says Steth, moving ever forward, still with the eerily ingratiating smile. "You're the first humans I've met--and that wrench had enough cellular residue on it for me to check your DNA."
Thud. No more room to backpedal. Paris looks suddenly afraid; he's taller (and definitely beefier) than Steth, but he's at a clear attitude disadvantage. The guy looks decidedly menacing, right down to his smile.
"I have good news," Steth says, grabbing one of Paris' hands and effortlessly pinning it to the wall, then wrapping his other hand around Tom's throat. "We're compatible."
Steth's eyes roll back in his head. We see an instant transmogrification as Steth and Paris swap bodies. Soon "Steth" is in a starfleet uniform, slumping weakly against the wall and slipping to the floor, and "Paris" is wearing Steth's outfit, looking down on him with a weapon in his hand and that same creepy smile on his face.
"Consider this a favor," Steth says with Tom's voice. "I know how unhappy you've been with this dreary, settled life--so I'm taking it off your hands. I'm betting there's still some fun to be had here."
Tom can do little but groan and look up at himself.
"Voyager is a great ship, Tom. I'll take good care of it."
An orange burst of energy strikes Steth's body in the chest, and unconsciousness--or worse--overtakes him.
"Tom" exits the turbolift onto the bridge. He looks around, getting his bearings. "Sorry I'm late," he says with just a hint of anxiety.
"We were beginning to wonder if you were ever coming back," Janeway says over her shoulder, smiling.
The first thing I notice is that Paris/Steth takes the "wrong" way to helm. The real Tom almost always goes to his right, past Tuvok's station. Paris/Steth heads to his left, towards Harry at Ops.
Kim reports that Steth's ship is powering up. "Tom" stands back, watches the space-folding drive kick in and the ship disappear in a burst of light. His position on Voyager is now uncontested.
Janeway notices. "Something wrong, Tom?"
He finishes his walk to the helm and takes over. "It's nothing," he assures her. He takes a deep breath. "I'm just really going to miss that guy."
And with that, Steth begins a new life as Tom Paris.
* * *
In the mess hall, Chakotay takes his meal to Tom's table. "Mind if I join you?" he asks. Tom hesitates; the PADDs he's reading from are all about...Tom Paris. "Not at all...Commander," he says pleasantly.
Just a guess: Steth was hoping to have a lot more time to get to know everyone before taking over a body. Tom Paris and his pesky 20th-century obsession sped up the repairs, so Steth is now cramming to pull off this new persona. This seems to be the first of Tom's many and minor mistakes, the subtleties of knowing who these people are, and how Tom Paris relates to them.
Chakotay winces a bit at the formality. " 'Chakotay' will do, Tom. Don't carry this 'rules' thing too far." He takes his seat, mentions that the captain was interested in Tom's engineering report, and wonders if he could duplicate that bit of magic with, say, a shuttlecraft? Tom, not surprisingly, says he shouldn't have any problems managing it.
"Great," says Chakotay. "You can start right after you finish with the doctor." Paris is confused, but this time it works for him, since the old Paris might have said the same thing. Chakotay tells Tom that his duties to Doc are still on his plate. Paris, not knowing he's supposed to dislike this duty, hops to it.
But he has no idea where to hop.
Trying not to look like he doesn't know where he's going, Paris greets some crewmen amiably, and does his best to steer clear of Seven of Nine. He finally finds a wall map of the ship, and locates Sick bay.
He's caught in the act by Harry, who thinks this is hilarious. "I knew you were avoiding the Doc, but don't tell me you've forgotten how to get to Sickbay!" Paris doesn't know Harry is his best friend, so his interaction here is particularly dicey. Harry asks him if he's "got them" yet; Paris says not yet, speaking evasively until Harry speaks up enough to let him know what they're talking about. It takes him a while, and a few misunderstandings (what sounds like an intent to beat the already dead Ensign Kaplan to death with clubs turns out to be a golf rematch with the dead girl) but he manages not to raise Harry Kim's suspicions the whole time they walk together through the corridors.
It wasn't a perfect performance, but he survived it.
But as Harry disappeared into the turbolift, he still didn't know where Sickbay was.
Doc is pleasantly surprised when Tom Paris shows up early. Tom looks a little surprised when he realizes he's found Sickbay, but that quickly passes. He's like a chameleon, this guy.
Doc immediately puts him to work, doing something technical with the diagnostic beds. This Tom, though, knows even less abut Sickbay than the real Tom, and he guesses wrong twice in a row, getting beeped at for his troubles. Doc chides him for his missing even the most basic steps.
Paris gives up. Doc urges him not to give up so easily. Paris says he's not feeling well; Doc says there's no better place for it, and offers to start some scans. Paris panics at the thought of being scanned, and thinks furiously.
He swallows. "To be perfectly honest with you...Uh..." he shakes his head. "This is so frustrating for me! I usually pick things up a lot faster than this." Good call. It's something Paris might have said--never would, but probably should.
"You're here to learn, Mr. Paris!" Doc says encouragingly. "It will get easier with time."
"Well, that's easy for you to say," Tom says with calculated bitterness, which irritates Doc a little. "No offense, Doctor--but you were programmed to be a medical genius. Things always come easy to you. Me, I'm just a pilot, a--Grease monkey!--And as hard as I might try to become a better assistant to you, it's clear to me now that I'll never be half the healer that you are."
It's a load of horse hockey...but he exudes such lip-quivering sincerity, he'd do Slick Willie proud.
"Do you mean to tell me you've been trying to live up to my standards?" Doc asks, stunned. Tom sighs and shakes his head sadly, as if confessing a secret shame. "I'm afraid I have." And danged if it doesn't work. Doc, blown away by the revelation, breaks out his oh-so-reliable Psychology 101 algorithms and does a quick analysis. "It all makes sense now! The misplaced aggression, the shirking of responsibilities...all classic signs of an inferiority complex! I had no idea my superior abilities were affecting your psyche so strongly!"
You almost want to slap "Paris" silly for making this look so easy.
Doc puts a fatherly hand on Paris' shoulder. "Take the rest of the day off. Reflect on your strengths. Realize your worth!" he says earnestly.
Tom, voice choked with emotion, whispers, "I'll do that, Doctor. Thank you." He bolts for the door.
After a long day in Engineering, Torres trudges toward her quarters. She's not at all amused when she finds Tom there, without her permission, taking aim at a green practice hole with a golf club. He looks up and smiles when he sees her. "B'Elanna!"
"What do you think you're doing?" Torres demands.
Oops. There's a million dangers in that question. He has no idea what she could be mad about. [What are you doing HERE (why are you in my quarters without my permission), What are YOU doing here (we're still mad at each other, remember?), What are you DOING here (you know I hate golf, I just cleaned that floor...) Ad infinitum.]
Think, man, think! Fooling Doc is one thing; fooling the girlfriend is something else entirely.
[Go for the obvious. Reveal as little as possible. Don't guess.] "Putting."
"In my quarters?" [what are you doing HERE. Check.]
"I can't putt in your quarters?" [Confirm?]
"Since when?" [seek further data. Get her to talk more.]
Torres sighs heavily. She notices another golf club and picks it up. "Tom...What is this?"
"That is...A sand wedge. It's used for getting out of traps." [chuckle; good one.]
"Why is it here?" she demands.
"I replicated it for you. I thought we could play a little game of golf on the Holodeck before dinner." Not a bad ploy, actually; nothing says "let's talk while we walk" like golf. Or so I assume; I'm opposed to the game on moral grounds.
Torres looks at Paris like he's nuts. "So this is your idea of an adult conversation?" (Uh oh, 90210 time...) "I don't know what you are trying to accomplish with this little stunt, but let me assure you, it is not working. I am sorry if you are bored because Steth is gone but that doesn't mean that you can just walk in here and pretend like you haven't been shutting me out!"
Yow. She's been practicing that. But to an information-starved body thief, Torres' rant is a veritable feast. He takes the rampage in stride, then smiles. "You're being a little hard on Steth. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here right now." Torres folds her arms; bad sign. "Really?"
Tom walks toward her. "I mentioned to him that we were having some problems and he urged me to...come and talk to you. [warmer] To try to work things out...[warmer!] to admit I was wrong."
DING DING DING DING No more calls; we have a winner!
Paris takes her hands in his, caresses her fingertips. "I made a mistake, B'Elanna, and I'm sorry. I won't shut you out anymore. In fact," he says, tracing the contours of her face, "I went to the Doctor and begged to be excused from my duties. I realize it's only a few extra hours--but they're hours I want to spend with you." He leans in for a passionate kiss.
This would be a squeal-worthy P/T moment if it weren't for the fact that this is an alien in Paris' body--an alien of undetermined actual gender--putting the moves on Engine Gal. But Torres doesn't know this. She returns the kiss, and though her eyes still smolder with mixed emotions, her personal shield strength is weakening. "Steth...turned out to be a positive influence on you," she says at last.
They kiss again.
A P/T chat room is burned down in protest.
When Steth's old ship finally unfolds, real Paris in Steth's body is jolted awake. He's groggy and his head hurts and he has extra nostrils. When he uses his voice, he discovers it's not the one he's used to. The shock lasts only a few seconds; he's got more important things to worry about. Like where he is.
"Navigation matrix 1711, the Kotaba expanse. Coaxial leap complete," the stilted voice of the computer replies. He asks where Voyager is, but gets no response; Steth probably did that on purpose. He also locked out the drive system, so Paris is stuck where he is unless he can figure out the password.
But time has run out. He's surrounded by hostile ships, who demand his surrender and don't care about his explanations. "Surrender the vessel peacefully or we'll have to use force."
Well, he wanted a change of pace...
* * *
The firing continues. The shields go down. And then someone beams aboard.
Wait--I know that girl...
Paris/Steth finds himself staring down the barrel of a nasty looking handgun, wielded by...the woman Steth kept turning into.
"Why is everybody trying to shoot me today?" Paris asks nobody in particular.
The furious, familiar woman claims to be the REAL Steth, and demands her body back. "Look at me! You did wear this body for nearly a year before you switched it with mine. That's my body you're in now. I want it back."
Steth/Paris puts up a hand. "Bear with me for--for a second. We have more in common than you might think."
Now I'm way confused. Apparently Paris, in Steth's body, really is in Steth's body. While Steth, in Paris' body, isn't really Steth. Steth, in the woman's body, is the real Steth, who is looking at Steth's real body, currently occupied not by the fake Steth but by the guy whose body the fake Steth occupies now....I got a headache.
Let me get this straight. The body thief doesn't actually swap bodies. What he/she/it actually does is assume their form, and modify their victim's form to look like whatever he looks like now. Only he can keep changing, and they're stuck in the body he gives them since they don't have similar talents. So what they really need is a DNA tailor. They're still who they are; they just look like someone else, at the genetic level.
To get their old genes back, they need Steth. Who is over 20 light years away.
Back on Voyager, which is orbiting a big blue planet, Torres rushes into a transporter room, telling Tom she's extremely busy, so his summons had better be worth it. "I left Vorik right in the middle of an EPS recalibration."
Tom looks impish. "You can thank me later." She smiles, and asks about the Big Surprise. "What would you say to 24 glorious hours on the famed fourth planet of the Kendren system?" he asks. "You mean the planet where Neelix is gathering food samples?" she asks. You'd think she'd know that...He confirms it; he says he found a beach just crying out to host a good old-fashioned romantic picnic.
He holds up a newly-replicated picnic basket. "Voyager isn't leaving orbit until tomorrow. We'd have an entire day!"
Torres laughs, and her eyes dance. She slinks over to him. "Only a day?" she pouts, half-lidded, full-lipped. "Oh, I think that we would need at least a week." She wrinkles her nose, baring her teeth seductively. Daaaang. Tom got bored with her?!? The fool!
But she's only kidding; she knows a week is as impossible as a day. But Tom seems serious. So she asks. He says he really is serious.
She gets mad. She knows they'd get in trouble. Paris laughs it off. "What could Janeway do, execute us?" Paris asks. He hasn't endured The Look yet. Torres objects, noting they both have responsibilities.
Apparently, Steth reacts to "responsibilities" the way Kal-El reacts to Kryptonite. "Responsibilities? I don't care!" He grabs her wrists. Hard.
"Tom, you're hurting me," she tells him. This may be a surprise to her--this is a girl that can drop-kick a horny Vulcan. We do know that Steth was far stronger than Tom.
"You're a real disappointment to me. Do you know that?" Tom growls with disgust, roughly grabbing her jaw. "I don't know what I ever saw in you." He lets go and marches angrily out of the transporter room, leaving B'Elanna in a state of absolute shock.
Gee...it took four years for Tom to get bored. Steth lasted barely a day.
It's dark in the mess hall, but the replicator is humming along. It produces a tall glass of something thick, sticky red. Tom sits, and takes a healthy swig while continuing his readings from his ever-present PADDs.
Seven enters to ask why he missed his appointment with her in the shuttlebay (apparently she's been assigned to help him install the coaxial warp drive), and notices that he's drunk on duty, ineffectually flirtatious...and ultimately belligerent.
Yeah, that'll win a girl's heart.
Since he refuses to help her work on the shuttle tonight, Seven says she'll finish the work herself. But she has one more item on her agenda. "Before I leave, I would like to know why you were reading the captain's personal logs."
Paris denies it, all humor gone from his voice. "I saw the PADD," she says. "It was unmistakably the captain's logs."
"You're wrong," he says dangerously. Then he smiles in that allegedly seductive way Steth has. "You're...confused. You couldn't possibly have seen anything."
But this time, the chameleon lands on plaid. "You know I possess an eidetic memory. I require only seconds to commit what I see to memory," Seven reminds him. "Would you like me to quote the passage you were reading?"
So much for the subtle approach. Tom lunges from the chair and clamps down on her arm. "I'm warning you--stay out of my way!" he growls. "Don't interfere in things that don't concern you. If you bother me again, I will make things very unpleasant for you."
"Remove your hand from my arm," she says steadily. (Steth really didn't do his homework. He's now been abusive to two of the three women on board voted most likely to ram your teeth down your throat and your nose into your skull if you get on their bad side.)
Paris stares fiercely at her. "Don't be foolish. You'll regret it."
What is this, PRIMARY COLORS?
Seven yanks her arm away and walks out, daring him to follow so she can roshambo him into the soprano section of the ship chorale. Paris lets her go, grunts and falls heavily back in his chair, where he resumes reading from the PADD in one hand...and from the tall glass of liquid bravado in the other.
Janeway sits alone on her ready room couch, hands clasped tensely in her lap. Paris arrives a few moments later, announced by the door chime. He's all charm, but Janeway cuts right to the chase. "I received a rather disturbing report from Seven of Nine regarding your conduct last night." (What, she believed her? That's a switch...) "She claims you were drinking on duty." Paris denies it--but Janeway has verified Seven's claim via the replicator logs. "She also said you threatened her."
Tom sighs and switches tactics, apologizing profusely and blaming his actions on an argument with B'Elanna earlier in the day. "I was upset."
"And is that why you were reading my personal logs?" the captain asks. He denies this, but Seven is nothing if not thorough; she had quoted Janeway's log verbatim. Paris then claims that Seven was doing her own unauthorized reading, and asks, Who Do You Believe?
Fortunately, this isn't real life. Liars don't prosper here, and Janeway tells Tom his credibility is in the toilet at the moment. "Your conduct lately has been bizarre, and I've heard far too many complaints from far too many people to dismiss it--Chakotay, the Doctor, Seven of Nine. They're all worried about you--and so am I."
Oh well. He knows he's busted, so he stops arguing. "You're right, Captain. I need some rest. I'll go right to my quarters." But Janeway tells him to go to Sickbay for some tests. But he knows that will really get him into trouble, so he refuses. She makes it an order.
Paris' eyes burn. He advances toward her.
I guess he's going to make it three for three...and this time, he's taking on a redhead.
An unspecified amount of time later, we see Tuvok at his station when Janeway's voice comes over the intercom. She sounds fine, but forceful. "Security, I need you in the ready room, now!"
Five seconds later, Tuvok and another Security officer burst into the ready room and find Paris and Janeway locked in mortal embrace on the couch by the window. Paris has his hands wrapped around the captain's throat.
Two beams of energy simultaneously strike Paris in the torso, and he collapses into unconsciousness.
Janeway jumps off the couch, and chokes and sputters in an effort to regain her breath.
"Are you hurt, Captain?" Tuvok asks.
"No," Janeway insists. "Take him to Sickbay. Keep security with him!" She breaks out into a another coughing fit, shoving her way past Tuvok and rushing out of the room. Tuvok and the other security guy grab the heavily stunned Paris by the shoulders and drag him after her.
* * *
Onboard the Stethmobile, Paris/Steth and Steth/Daelen (the name of the woman's body, according to the credits) break the last of the lockout codes and get the ship ready to pursue Voyager. "No offense, but I'd like to get out of your body as soon as possible," Paris says.
"The alien seems capable of some sort of selective DNA exchange," Daelen explains. "He absorbs new DNA while depositing his current genetic material into his victims." (You just knew there'd be some babble in there somewhere....) They share the hope that the process can be reversed.
The ship is ready to go. In a cool special effect, a white POP announces the transition to coaxial warp, and the ship folds in on itself until there's nothing left to fold.
Captain's Log: Supplemental. The doctor has treated Mr. Paris' phaser wounds but has been unable to wake him. The motive for his attack remains a mystery.
Janeway hangs over Tom's bed like a vulture as Doc reports his analysis. "Neurological scans yielded very little but I did find something very interesting in his blood analysis. There are traces of a second DNA pattern in his nucleotide structure. Possibly the result of a genetic virus."
"Could this be the cause of his recent behavior?" Tuvok asks.
"I don't know, but I'm running more scans to see how this might have affected his neurological functions."
Chakotay hails Janeway from the bridge. "A vessel just emerged from coaxial space off our starboard bow." Tuvok frowns. So does Janeway. "Keep me informed, Doctor," she says as she leaves, nodding for Tuvok to follow.
Janeway orders a hail to the ship before she's two steps out of the turbolift.
"Captain Janeway," Steth nods to the captain. Daelen stands beside him.
"Welcome back, Mr. Steth," she says pleasantly, walking over to stand beside Chakotay.
"I know this sounds crazy, Captain--but I'm not Steth. I'm Tom Paris."
Chakotay and Janeway share a look. "I beg your pardon," she says, the mirth in her voice matched by her eyes.
"We're dealing with an alien who's some sort of identity thief. He traded places with me." Steth and Daelen share an anxious look. "Please beam us aboard."
Janeway hesitates for only a second. "Maintain your position while we consider your request. End transmission." They nod, and the screen goes dark.
"Hold him in a tractor beam until you hear from me," Janeway says, and Harry responds with a crisp but unseen Aye Captain. She walks toward the turbolift. "I have a feeling Steth and his new friend are behind whatever's happened to Tom," she says over her shoulder to Chakotay.
"Captain?" Chakotay asks, confused, watching her leave.
"No time to explain. I'll be in Sickbay."
Seven is adjusting the controls in the coaxially-enhanced shuttlecraft. Janeway skulks in, phaser belt on, mayhem etched on her face. She sneaks closer to Seven.
Seven can't help but notice her approach. Janeway's too darned noisy.
"Captain?" Seven says.
Janeway shoots her.
Hey, waitaminnit...would Janeway ever do something like that?
Well, okay, maybe. But would she ever slouch like that?
I sense a plot twist...
Kim reports that he's reading an unauthorized shuttle launch. "It's the captain! She's in the shuttle Tom's been working on."
Everyone looks confused. "Try hailing her," Chakotay says. Harry says a moment later that she's not responding. He then tells Kim to hail Steth's ship.
"Look," Chakotay says when the two other faces of Steth appear, "I don't know who you are but I want to know what's happening here!"
"Who's on that shuttle?" Steth asks.
"Captain Janeway," Chakotay says--more than he probably should have said to a complete stranger. But this guy has told one less confirmable lie to him in the last five minutes than Janeway has.
Steth thinks. "No. I'm betting the alien switched my body--Tom's body--for hers. You've got to let us out of this tractor beam! We can catch her with this ship."
"Chakotay...it's me," Steth says earnestly.
"How do I know that?" Chakotay asks. A fair question.
Steth exhales sharply, turning his head to the right--a classic Paris gesture. Then he comes up with something. "The other day in your office you told me I'd turned my life around." Chakotay remembers, but is shocked to hear Steth say it. "Well, give me the chance to prove it. Let me go after the shuttle! It is the only way we can get everybody back into the right body."
It takes but a moment for Chakotay to decide. "Harry...Disengage the tractor beam."
The alien craft barrels through space. It's a better folder than a flier, but they're closing in.
"Has he detected us yet?" Steth/Daelen asks. Alien/Daelen/Steth/Paris/Janeway responds by zapping them with phaser fire. "I'd say he has," Paris/Steth says.
In the shuttlecraft, Janeway slouches in most un-Janewaylike fashion. She slurs her words almost drunkenly. "Gentlemen, I'd advise you to reconsider this pursuit," she says, enjoying herself way too much. "Killing me will only keep you trapped in those bodies."
Daelen frowns. "He's right. We can't risk killing him."
Funny, isn't it, how two of the bodies are female in this scene--but all three are actually men. At least everyone's calling each other Him. I half expect a RuPaul cameo.
"Yeah," Steth notes, "but nothing's keeping him from killing us." They get rocked by another jolt from the shuttle. "Damn! The ship's not nearly as maneuverable as a shuttle." Daelen reports shields are down.
"I'm surprised you're so eager to reclaim your life on Voyager, Tom," Janeway drawls. "I was just as disappointed with it as you were."
Steth sets his jaw. "Then I guess we were both wrong." It's all relative, I suppose; Dull beats Dispossessed any day.
"It's time to move on again," Janeway says almost lazily. "Oh, Tom...Be sure to send my best regards to B'Elanna, hmm?" Her lascivious laughter echoes across the comm line.
Poor Tom. Even if he catches the alien, he can't do the manly thing and beat it senseless; Janeway needs that body back. And even if the alien is deposited back in the Daelen body, it might belong to yet another innocent victim.
The closest they're likely to get to justice is likely to be a genetic multiple-undo. But Chairface Chippendale isn't likely to go gently.
Steth engages the coaxial drive, Steth reports. Steth says to set the sensors to track. Steth says they're being blocked. "We won't be able to follow him once he goes into coaxial warp," Steth says.
[I feel like I'm betting on the identity-transfer trifecta here...]
The shuttlecraft powers up.
"We're losing him!" Daelen shouts.
Steth/Paris slams his hand down with a thud. "The carburetor!" He explains to a confused Daelen that he found a way to make the engine work better--and that it's an easy part to break if you know what you're doing.
Just as the shuttle disappears, folding in on itself, a burst of electric light zaps the area where it had been. The shuttlecraft reappears. In the shuttle, Janeway works the controls, wondering what went wrong.
Steth hails Steth while Steth looks on. "I hope you still have my box wrench, Steth," says Steth to Steth, while Steth keeps out of it for now. "Faulty carburetors can be a pain to fix."
I know...I'm a big meany.
Captain's Log, Stardate 51775.2. While the alien intruder remains trapped in the body of his last victim, the doctor has found a way to return Tom, Steth and me to our own bodies.
Steth--the real Steth, mind and body--thanks the Doctor profusely. "You've given me my life back!" Sickbay is crowded with security people, medical people, and people who have been playing identity shell games lately. "There were times when I thought I would be stuck in that body forever."
"And believe me," Paris says, "I'm just as happy to be back to the old Tom Paris." He seems to mean it. Maybe he's had all the change of pace he can handle, and routine will feel like a relief-- for a while, anyway.
Janeway asks about his plans now. "I'm going to take her back to Bentha," he says. "I hope to find the person who belongs to that body."
Doc interrupts. "But who knows if that's the end of it? We have no idea how long she--or he--has been switching identities."
"It may take a while," says Steth, walking up to and staring down the now smug-looking Daelen, "But I will do whatever I can to find everyone you've violated."
Daelen is tight-lipped as she's led, under heavy guard, to Steth's ship. Silence may be the only fun she has left for a while.
Paris, back in his grimy coveralls, lifts the garage door handle, giving us a nice full-frontal view of the Coolest Car in the Delta Quadrant. Guitar and saxophone beach muzak blares from the old garage radio on the refrigerator. He's not alone.
"So this is where you've been hiding? A garage?" Torres asks, a mixture of annoyance and relief in her voice. His holodeck hours could have been spent in far worse places, she realizes.
"It's more than just a garage!" Paris protests, gesturing to the highly-polished bit of testosterone-charged Americana before them. "This is a monument to hundreds and hundreds of hours..."
He leans on the hood. "That I probably should have spent with you." He smiles apologetically.
Torres glares at him from the other side of the car. " 'Probably'?" she asks, with more amusement than rancor...barely.
"Definitely," he amends quickly.
"It's a lovely garage, Tom--but I still don't understand why you brought me here."
"Consider it a symbolic gesture. It's my less than subtle attempt to....Let you in."
"I see," says Torres. "To make it clear that I mean almost as much to you as a..." she strains to read the lettering on the side. "A cam-a-ro." She pronounces it like "camera."
Tom winces. Considering what cars like this are considered extensions of, such a mispronunciation is like a sharp kick to the...
Well, never mind.
"It's a Mint Condition! Nineteen-Sixty-Nine!..." he says, practically drooling over his baby, climbing in on the driver's side.
Torres follows, crawling into the front passenger seat. They stare at each other, mere inches separating their noses.
"Cuh-mare-oh," he corrects her gently, almost seductively. "And Yes...you mean a lot more to me."
He sounds sincere enough. Torres smiles. All is forgiven, or at least forgotten. [Good thing, probably. The last time he rocked her world...he was somebody else entirely.]
They smooch salaciously to the sultry siren song of the saxophone.
I'm having a terrible time analyzing this one for some reason.
There's much to like. The "It's a Wonderful Life, Tom Paris" theme was fairly well executed. Those who chafed at the overly bloody nature of "The Killing Game" can cheer that the body count this week was a big Zero. The technobabble wasn't overused, though they still managed to introduce a whiz-bang new propulsion method (which seems compatible with Voyager hardware without turning people into amphibians) and an identity-swapping body thief. The focus is primarily on character.
Dan Butler was a terrific guest star, bringing an amiable, Clintonesque charm to a character that has more cunning than sense--and also manages to portray Tom Paris much the way McNeill does. Butler plays a triple role ("Steth" the body thief, Paris the victim of "Steth," and the "real" Steth who was victimized before Tom.) Each personality was played distinctly enough to be different people, no mean feat.
McNeill got to break out of the Paris role for a while, portraying the scheming Steth without benefit of makeup or prosthetics. From the subtle to the overt, McNeill's "Steth" was supposed to be someone who wasn't the real Paris try to pass himself off as the real Paris with varying success. That's trickier than it sounds, and McNeill does a pretty good job of it. (His brief turn as Janeway consists mostly of strangling Mulgrew and collapsing when shot.)
In fact, I had an easier time buying McNeill's Steth than I did his Tom Paris. That's my main beef with the episode: I can believe that Paris could become dissatisfied with his life, but I didn't believe that this is how Paris acts when he's dissatisfied. In particular, the argument in the mess hall between Tom and B'Elanna rang false with me.
Judging from my mail so far, I may be in the minority on this--but this season, that's apparently the norm.
Here, the body swapping is inflicted on Tom Paris by "Steth" because Tom needs "a change of pace." It's a wonderful life, but Tom's too ratholed in routine to appreciate it. He's achieved his goals; he's got a great girl, a job he loves (the helm), the one he hates is only part-time, and even Chakotay's treating him with grudging respect these days.
But there's no challenge--at least of the sort he wants. The Sickbay assignment was plenty challenging for Kes...but she enjoyed it, and she and Doc got along great. For her, a career in Sickbay wasn't a bad thing. For Paris, Sickbay means Not At The Helm, and that is a fate to be feared. "Message in a Bottle" showed him he's the closest thing they've got to a doctor after Doc--and if anything happens to him, Paris' life changes forever...for the worse, in his opinion.
So it's not hard to picture Tom not going the extra mile in Sickbay. It goes against his interests to shine in an assignment that threatens his lock on the pilot's chair. But that said...Tom actually blowing Doc off, not showing up for work at all, is very much unlike him.
A "turnabout intruder" plot relies on the imposter acting "not quite right." But that is supposed to be in contrast to how the character normally acts. Unfortunately, the behavior of Tom Paris before Steth takes over is already unusual. Doc finds it aberrant enough to report; Chakotay finds it disturbing enough to comment on (the first time he's been chewed out for job performance in a long time--and that was when he was screwing around under captain's orders); Torres finds herself on the receiving end of a barrage of bad mojo. He withdraws into himself, absorbed in holo pursuits.
This is the sort of behavior I'd expect from the phony Tom.
Sure, the body thief makes Paris act goofy. But the real Paris was already acting goofy. So rather than being a clear case of sane versus not sane, we have a matter of varying degrees of bizarre behavior. In fact, at first it seemed Steth was saner than the real Tom had been right beforehand.
With the high rate of alien takeovers in the logs of Starfleet, you'd think aberrant behavior would earn an instant phaser to the face and a level-47 diagnostic over every cubic angstrom of your person. Ship's security frequently depends on it.
Now, after everything they've been through this year--and the weeks-long trauma of being Hunted through holodeck history by cruel Hirogen--this episode is a clear example of why the whole ship's complement is probably nuts, in dire need of a full-time Counselor.
Playing golf with dead ensigns, for example. It's either a goof, or Kaplan--killed in "Unity"--slipped through the same back door that those shuttlecraft do.
Or maybe the Delaneys aren't the only sisters serving on board together.
Just the fact that there's golf in the 24th century frightens me. But maybe that's just me. (If Janeway really wanted to punish the Hirogen in the Killing Game, she should have given them a set of clubs and funny trousers.)
Okay. One thing at a time.
First: coaxial warp. Cool idea, never heard the name before but I'm familiar with the concept. (Take away the Spice, and it's how folks got around in DUNE).
I've heard a lot of folks complain that Tom Paris "suddenly" acquires this expert knowledge of propulsion systems. For me, it's not all that sudden. He's spent a lot of time in engineering, helping out. He dates the chief engineer. And as the pilot--as a dedicated, few-better-joys-in-life pilot--Paris more than anyone would seem likely to be interested in anything and everything that had to do with what he can do behind the helm.
He was in on the project to turn the shuttle Cochrane into a transwarp capable craft, in "Threshold." He helped as well when Seven of Nine tried to help install transwarp on Voyager in "Day of Honor." He's often portrayed as a mental lightweight compared to the engineering/scientific wonders that are Torres and Janeway, but what he knows and cares about, he jumps into with both feet.
Unlike some "Hidden Talents Revealed" moments, I didn't have a problem with this one. It's something I have no trouble believing Paris being interested in. He drives through subspace, so subspace geometry would mean much to him--particularly if things like coaxial warp theory are covered there. I don't read too much into the fact that Paris is the only person who seems to have a clue about coaxial warp--it's a theoretical idea, for one thing, more in the realm of trivia than practical engineering, so it's not surprising that it would be remembered only by someone who was really interested in the idea. For another, Paris heard it in an "advanced" course, which B'Elanna--who dropped out long before her senior year--likely didn't get the chance to take. Could Torres or Janeway or an engineering team have come up with a workable solution? Naturally. But that wouldn't serve the story. Third--everyone's allowed to get lucky once in a while. In "Threshold," the breakthrough came not from Paris or Torres or Kim, who were putting their formidable minds together on the transwarp problem, but from Neelix, who provided the new perspective the three "experts" had missed. Once nudged in the right direction, they were done in no time.
Paris isn't the only one who could have come up with a solution to Steth's propulsion issues. But he was on the list, and his other issues for the week were enough to make him a good choice.
His obsession--and talent--with cars was also well-established prior to this point. It was a nice, practical application of his character's "fascination with the 20th century," and it was nice to have him mention to Steth that he found that historical interest a treasure trove of inspiration for 24th-century dilemmas. (Modern Invention is often merely a rediscovery and refinement of ancient knowledge. To 24th-century folks, I can see a look back on the 20th-century as an exercise in amazement. Few centuries advanced technology more swiftly than ours. The carburetor fix Paris discovered was a nice touch.
This does beg the question, though--this seems like very promising technology, especially with Paris having worked out the kinks (that we know of). They've got a working shuttle (with a busted carburetor) with the technology. I'll be extremely disappointed if this is the last we hear of it, even if there are limitations they have to work within--only goes a few dozen light years at a time, can only work with shuttle-sized vehicles. There could be strategic advantage to that in a future episode.
They've never resolved the transwarp issues to my satisfaction. I still haven't seen any reason why they can't continue experimenting with it. "Day of Honor" merely suggested they need to be more careful next time.
I'm still waiting for the next time.
I guess it goes without saying that the Incredible Regenerating Voyager is going to remain one of those Unsolved Mysteries. "The Killing Game" didn't leave much of Voyager's innards intact. After rerun season ends, everything's not only back to normal, sparkly white and fully functional, but they've all had time to get over their suppressed memories of getting chased around the holodecks by Hirogen...and Paris has the time to be bored enough to log hundreds of hours on the (reconstructed) Holodeck
The ship, I can accept--it's happened enough times before. You gotta figure there's a Tune-Up Masters and an Earl Scheib at every stop along the star system, just like in the States.
But Paris being bored with his life...I had a harder time believing.
Not that Paris couldn't possibly be dissatisfied with his life. This is human nature; even the best situations can feel "wrong" from time to time. Paris' new, responsible existence means he's got responsibilities, he's got commitments, and he's got a newly-established reputation to maintain--one he's worked long and hard to make.
But it's suggested that this is (1) a long-standing dissatisfaction (which we've heard little sign of before this week), and (2) nobody is saying anything until now.
I would have expected Torres to speak up long ago, if this is as worrisome to her as they made it out to be. Hundreds of hours on the Holodeck takes time to accumulate--longer than the hiatus, surely. And given Paris' other duties in the also-bombed-out Sickbay, He should have been keeping quite busy, with little time for these extended diversions under the hood of a car.
Even a fully stock 1969 Camaro.
I had no problem believing Paris would be dissatisfied with his Sickbay duties. He's said so in word and deed many times before, and his reticence seems to be a shipboard joke (Harry's crack about him not even being able to find Sick bay now). I know they keep him there for dramatic purposes--McNeill and Picardo do play off each other well--but frankly it makes little sense in the context of the crew. to make him Doc's sole backup--not only given his lack of enthusiasm for the post, but his importance to the crew as its helmsman.
Lots of people can be medics (crusher had many--and most of them never said a word, which makes them both cheap and interchangeable), and adding to the stable would take a huge amount of pressure off Paris; he's afraid to be too good at the sick bay job for fear of losing the one job on board he loves the most, if anything happens to Doc. Only Paris can be Helm Boy.
The interesting thing was that Chakotay chided him for not enjoying the job more. Doc reported him for being late to one meeting--otherwise, he did everything he had been assigned. Chakotay, as personnel guy, should be far more astute about recognizing that Sickbay is a terrible duty assignment for Paris. If it threatens to "ruin" four years of personal development, then the job may simply be terribly wrong for Tom.
Chakotay likes stories. Here's one.
The animals decided to compete in the barnyard Olympics. The Duck seemed to have the swimming events locked. The horse could do the marathon and the steeplechase like nobody else. The ox had the power-lifting events well in hand. The seal could play basketball like nobody's business. The dog could sprint the short distances expertly, and was a whiz with a frisbee. (This farm's in California.)
Problem is, the animals didn't stick to their strengths. The duck tried to run the marathon, and thrashed its webbed feet so badly that it impaired its performance in the swimming competition. The dog broke its leg in a Greco-Roman wrestling match with the cow. The seal gets its nose bashed in boxing with the kangaroo, and can't shot baskets anymore to save its life. And so on.
Moral: play to your strengths. Know your weaknesses. Know which events to avoid. If you love to pilot, and fear sickbay, SPEAK UP. Duty is one thing, but if it messes up your life to do something you hate, GET OUT. Paris might like sickbay duty a lot more if he had some guarantee it wasn't as inexorable as a prison sentence. "Message in a Bottle" scared him. His superiors should be aware of that, and act on it to reassure him his job at helm--the position that matters most to him--is secure.
While he's a medic, he should do what's required. Which, it sounds like, he's doing. If that's not enough, they should find someone who would do a better job, and consider it a privelege. Kes was one such person. There may be another on board. Or there may be several who can do as well as Tom with a lot less personal trauma over the whole thing.
Enough on this; the point is made. Let Paris like the job more, or get him out of there. It is unlike Starfleet, and unlike most captains, to leave someone in a job they are clearly ineffective and unhappy in. Seven would call it inefficient; Tuvok would call it illogical.
I would call it boring. You can only ride that mechanical pony so far before the quarter runs out.
Paris and Torres--I didn't buy their conflict for a second.
Some have said they had no problem believing that part of it--not me. I cannot believe Paris would be that dense, that accusatory, that defensive, with Torres. So suddenly.
Far more believable were his actions in "Hunters." There was, first, a specific reason for his behavior--letters from home. He didn't want to hear from home, particularly from his father. (Why, we can only guess, until Jeri Taylor's next novel comes out.) He cares what other people think about him, his father most of all. Better no news from home than bad news. So, for a time, he feigned indifference--his old defense mechanism. Later, with Torres, he was a bit more actively indifferent, but his defenses finally came down. He was never openly hostile to Torres.
Here, Tom accuses B'Elanna of "interrogating" him, almost right out the gate. He accuses Torres of smothering him, of wanting transcripts of his activities. (With her schedule? Yeah, right.) When Kes accused Neelix of this, it was darned easy to believe, and he didn't bother denying it. Here, it rings hideously hollow, and just makes Tom look like a jerk who's hiding something (most likely from himself). She invites him to do something he'd normally jump at, and he kicks her like a soccer ball.
In short--this is usually how characters act AFTER they've been possessed by aliens. Not before. This was the 90210 moment--taking massive umbrage at the slightest perceived slights. It's the sort of crud I'd expect from Valerie or Donna or David (but never Steve), not Tom goldang Paris. When he goes postal, Torres has no idea how to react. It is, to borrow a phrase from Janeway, "bizarre" behavior. And in this scene, it's all Tom. He doesn't even have alien possession to fall back on afterward.
This is not to take away from McNeill. Whether himself or the alien Steth (he didn't get much conscious screen time as Janeway--I'd have loved to see more of that. Janeway in Paris' body, tracking down an alien in her body? You go, girl!) This was McNeill's episode, and he seemed to have a lot of fun with it.
His brief time as Steth was nicely creepy. It was easy to see that this was a character used to thinking fast on his feet, adapting to new situations as well as he could. The way he stroked the Doctor was almost painfully good, and the real Paris could have learned a lesson or two from him about getting on Doc's good side. His impromptu scene with Harry was less successful, but he managed not to give himself away. Only Seven of Nine proved a major obstacle to his getting away with the charade. (Well, that and his own personality. He blew his Paris persona in less than a single day, mostly because the Fun Mandate got the best of him.)
When McNeill played Steth playing Paris, he was able to play himself just a tad off center. Going one way rather than another. Lots of brief blank looks followed by smooth (or not so smooth) recoveries. The almost seductive initial encounters with everyone he met, followed by harsh impatience when he didn't get his way. Torres, after initially succumbing to his charms, resisted his outrageous day-long diversion, so "Paris" gives her a rude goodbye. Seven successfully parries everything he tells her, so he is reduced to naked threats--which she is even less impressed with. Janeway, likewise, doesn't buy his load of shinola for a second.
Tellingly, most of the men bought it hook, line and sinker. Which goes to show that we guys Aren't That Bright. We like shiny, loud, fast things. And beer. We don't take note of much else.
Yeah, me neither.
But McNeill was, admittedly, generally fun to watch. He was creepy when he was supposed to be creepy. He was charming when he was supposed to be charming. He was confused when it was logical for him to be confused. He made a quite passable Steth.
I just didn't buy him as Tom Paris.
Janeway as Steth--maybe a little bit over the top in the shuttlecraft, but still amusing. Even more amusing was the hindsight realization that Janeway was choking herself. When "Janeway" called for Security, the transfer had already taken place. Everyone knew Tom was acting goofy lately; she could have carted him off to sickbay or the brig just because she was the captain, and nobody would have thought twice. But it amused the heck out of me that Janeway--finding herself in Tom's body, about to lose her ship to someone in her body--would throttle first and ask questions later. (Paris, sick of life in general when he found himself staring at himself, just lay there and took whatever Steth threw at him (to his credit, he did fight back later). Janeway's never been known for that quality, so she fought tooth and nail for her identity.
Chakotay making comments about Paris coming a long way--it's about bloody time. I've been waiting two years for that line, since "Investigations." And how is it used? To show that Chakotay gives even compliments grudgingly to Paris--as blackmail, almost. "You've made great improvements--so far." I get the impression he still doesn't entirely trust Tom Paris' rehabilitation, or that there are still lingering hostilities between them.
Some insist those sentiments just aren't there between them. This scene contradicts that. Chakotay should be able to chew Paris out without breaking out the soul-destroying guilt bombs if he had truly gotten over Paris' past before Voyager. Janeway was content to refer to Paris' recent bizarre behavior. She's never held his past over his head; she's always focused on what he's done since he joined her crew, and judged him on what he's done (good or bad) lately.
But...at least Chakotay's acknowledged that Tom has turned his life around the last four years. That couldn't have been an easy admission for him--it's taken this long for him to make it.
Fake Paris seduces Torres--and there are no consequences? Real Tom doesn't get outraged, B'Elanna doesn't get revolted? It's hard to believe there would be no discussion whatsoever of this incident afterward. Heck, if it'd been MY girlfriend that got seduced by someone masquerading as me, I'd be getting Killing Game on the guy's hiney. These two pretend nothing happened. Which seems odd, because the whole episode seemed to be about combating Denial.
The guest star, Dan Butler, is better known as "Bulldog" on FRASIER. I had to watch it twice before I was able to match the name with the voice; I didn't recognize him. He was actually as busy as McNeill this time out; he played "Steth" the body thief, Tom Paris in Steth's body, and the real Steth, who we first met in the form of Daelen. Playing three people in the same body can't be easy, and he pulled it off pretty well. The different character quirks were minor, but noticeable, and as "Paris" he managed a few McNeill-established mannerisms--expressing frustration by turning his head and breathing out sharply, for example. He was able to make even innocent gestures feel creepy. Good job there.
The transformation of B'Elanna the last four years has been remarkable, particularly since "Day of Honor." She argues differently. She's more vulnerable these days, more understated. It's a good approach for her. And she's also learning to be playfully sexy; what Dawson was able to pull off with facial expressions alone in the transporter room was quite impressive.
Kudos to Ryan's Seven of Nine this week, and to the writing of her character. The scenes between Ryan and the various incarnations of Steth were well handled. Her humanity is setting in, a bit at a time; she didn't say "irrelevant," and her reactions to Steth and to Paris were as logically human as Borg. She's naturally suspicious enough to give Tuvok a run for his money, too, and it was well played for Steth to go from turning on the charm to avoiding her to threatening her to shooting her.
I don't know why it amused me so much, but the captain shooting Janeway was a great scene. Mulgrew looked like she really enjoyed that moment....
The episode looked pretty good. Alternately chipper and moody, there was a whole lot of play with light this week. The familiar Starfleet lights; the alien lights (inside and out) of Steth's ship and controls; the play of light off a glass of alcohol (and an alcohol-influenced man) in a darkened room. Everyone got a scene, however brief. The folding space ship effects were exceptionally cool. The music (the "beach rock" aside) worked nicely.
It's too bad; I just couldn't buy Tom Paris' relationship with B'Elanna. I didn't believe their argument, anyway.
All in all, I was moderately disappointed. A whole episode often rests on the strength or weakness of a single scene, and the deal-breaker for me was the scene in the mess hall, which didn't convince me. Those who considered it True or Real or Whatever seem to like the episode much more, but for me, the whole P/T dynamic fell flat. I tried to picture them as a couple, but based on this episode, I couldn't. What real heat there was came between Torres...and Steth.
On a four star scale, I'm giving this (* * 1/2). Good performances, but the characterizations were off just enough to sour the mood for me.
Next Week: Janeway and Seven argue about an energy source.