The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.
While Harry Kim learns to suppress his emotions, a holobabe toys with Tuvok's.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Jump straight to the Analysis
An Inversion Nebula is a rare beast; its like has never been seen in the alpha quadrant. And for the past several days Voyager has been parked right next to one. Better still, the theoretical life of an inversion nebula is a few years...but this one's been around for several hundred. Embracing the adventure, captain and crew do their parts to dissect the mysteries they see before them, acting with swift professionalism at every command Janeway makes.
Except for Ensign Kim, who is...distracted. Janeway and Chakotay can't help but notice, and Harry is feeling some heat, but once he performs his task, eyes return to the forward view screen.
The Inversion Nebula is gorgeous; "Beauty and mystery: a tantalizing combination," Janeway comments dreamily. Paris agrees; "isn't that right, Tuvok?" all eyes turn to the Vulcan, who says the emotional context is not required to appreciate the sight before them. His refusal to acknowledge the need for emotion results in another round of smirks at his expense. Harry Kim, though, does not join in; he regards Tuvok thoughtfully.
The day shift over, Tuvok is in his quarters, playing a solitary round of kalto--a game of pick-up sticks which looks like an effort to build a Death Star with metal toothpicks. His door chimes, and in comes a pensive Harry Kim. Harry sees the board, and refers to kalto as "Vulcan Chess." Oops. "kalto is to chess as chess is to tic-tac-toe," Tuvok notes. Duly chastened, Harry says what he came here to ask: "teach me to suppress my emotions, Vulcan-style."
Tuvok refers to this technique as the Tahan Sahat--the intellectual deconstruction of emotional patterns, but asks why Harry wants to learn. Love, Harry admits, with Marena (pronounced "Macarena" without the "ack"), and says she's a character in the Resort program on Holodeck One he met a couple days before. "You're in love with a computer subroutine?" Tuvok asks, as he places a toothpick just so--the Kalto board morphs into a gorgeous metallic sculpture. "Interesting," he says--whether to the board or to Kim we can only guess.
* * *
On the way to Holodeck One, Tuvok begins diagnosing and lecturing Harry: "To see through an emotinal context is to rob it of its power," he lectures like a visiting professor. He reduces the poor boy's churning emotions into a simple mathematical formula. Can't sleep, can't eat, easily distracted at work: the Vulcans have a term for this. Apparently most emotions (particularly the distracting ones) are given terms by Vulcans, and are preceded by "the." The Konarr, The Duodenum, The Etc. (I refuse to contribute to the spread of such terms; write 'em down yourself.) Tuvok calls it "Shawn Hadlock [wrong spelling, but I do know a Shawn Hadlock and thought I'd give him his fifteen seconds of fame--that's how it's pronounced, though], the Engulfment, or love at first sight." Suffice to say, Harry's got a full-on Holo-chubby for a collection of data and instructions...in other words, he's object oriented.
Man, I should be ashamed of myself.
They enter the Holodeck, with Tuvok lecturing the whole way in. Neelix is there, directing some of the Holo-vixens in their preparations for the evening's scheduled Luau. Torches and lanterns are being positioned throughout the Resort by comely Holo-Polynesians (Holonesians?) in native garb. Neelix asks why Tuvok didn't RSVP; Tuvok said it wasn't an oversight. Kim says he'd forgotten all about the Luau, but he hasn't forgotten why they're here; he asks Neelix where Marena is. Harry asks if Neelix has seen Marena; Neelix says he's never heard of her. Harry gets agitated and tries again: "You know: tall, blonde, athletic, built like a brick--" Neelix finally recalls someone of that general description and says that Marena, an Entertainment Director, is teaching Kes how to hydrosail.
Speak of the devil. In comes a swimsuited Kes with a statuesque woman with waves of auburn hair; she is a commanding presence for a holo-character. Imagine Suzie Q in a one-piece bathing suit and a wraparound skirt, with a sunny disposition. (Savor that image as long as you can.) Harry spontaneously combusts with joy at her arrival, and Marena blushes. She invites Tuvok and Harry to "get your ears wet" but Tuvok balks: "Vulcans do not hydrosail." (Poppycock. I bet some do....) Kes tells Marena that Vulcans go to bed early, eat their vegetables, and play kalto for entertainment.
Marena suggests a game of volleyball, but Tuvok is all business; he suggests they talk, and she agrees. Harry's too busy keeping his tongue tucked in to talk. Marena takes them over to a set of comfy chairs, and mentions that a "reverse curl" has really tightened up her muscles. She grabs Harry's hand and places it firmly on her calf to confirm this fact. (Mrs. Robinson, I do believe you're trying to take advantage of him....)
"Like a knot," Harry says.
"I'm certain it is," Tuvok says. Harry takes away his hand by sheer force of will--most of it Tuvok's.
Marena asks if they're friends. "Yes," says Harry; "No," says Tuvok simultaneously. Harry is visibly bummed that Tuvok doesn't consider him a friend. "I respect him for his intelligence and his integrity, and hope he holds me in same regard," Tuvok clarifies. Vulcans are not by nature chummy; they can be colleagues and associates, but without the emotional context. (He's called Janeway a friend; he's simply being difficult here.) Marena looks at Harry; "but we're friends, aren't we?" He blanches, knowing Tuvok's right there, but he admits that they are. Marena encourages both of them to come to tonight's luau; "you will be there, won't you?" Harry and Tuvok respond simultaneously: "Yes." "No." "Damn."
They are called to the bridge by Chakotay. Tuvok turns and walks away without a further word; Kim looks back longingly. On the way to the bridge Tuvok deconstructs the last few moments, and proves that Harry's love is as predictable as a mathematic equation, and begins rattling off variables, giving their proper Vulcan labels. The conclusion: Harry is seriously Jonesing for that which should not be Jonesed for. [Six months from now I may have no idea what some of these terms mean. And I may be using them incorrectly. I guess we must all eventually bow to the inevitable truth that we're now too old to understand what Kids Today are talking about.) Tuvok's diagnosis is that Harry's got a basic case of Love at First Sight, and prescribes a regimen of distance from Marena, and meditation. Harry takes it as well as he can, but he's sill pining for the holo-babe. He puts on a brave face: "I don't even like hydrosailing...."
On the bridge, they are in time to witness the flare-up of a plasma string, and see what happens. They don't know if it will cause a chain reaction. Paris is ready to beat a hasty retreat as the string flares up...
* * *
...And after the flameout, the rest of the nebula is still intact. Only the string itself burned.
This is a good thing, the crew realizes at once. Not just because the ship didn't explode, but because they may be able to learn from how the plasma stopped burning--it can help prevent warp core breaches and stop the spread of plaque. They take copious notes, and begin researching possible applications. Janeway tells everyone Good Work, and says See ya at that Luau tonight. Her tone suggests it is an order, at least to Tuvok--the only one for whom the Luau is anything other than eagerly anticipated. He takes the news like a condemned criminal, and Chakotay and Paris smirk at him in mock sympathy.
* * *
Torres emerges from the turbolift to find Tom Paris gawking shamelessly at her. She is wearing a form-fitting strapped gown, and looks positively yummy.
"Lieutenant," Paris finally says, stuffing his eyes back into his head. "You look--"
"I know, tropical." she finishes for him.
"More along the lines of smashing."
She rips out his spleen and stuffs it in his mouth.
Whoops. Sorry. Rewind.
"...ore along the lines of smashing."
"Thanks," she says. [That's better.]
Then Paris has to ruin the mood. "Of course, nothing can quite measure up to this shirt. This is an exact recreation of 1962 Big Daddy-O Surf Special...an American classic!" He struts in the Replicator's handiwork.
"I'd say you put just a little too much thought into that," Torres notes with a smirk.
She starts walking. "I told Vorek we'd pick him up at 1600 hours, and you know how Vulcan he gets when people are late." Paris asks what happened to Harry; she says he's not coming, and when he asks why, she says he didn't say. Paris says he and Harry will meet her and Vorek at the luau, and begins walking to Kim's quarters.
"You're pretty confident about your powers of persuasion," she says with a leer.
"Yes...I am," he says. He doesn't need to add, "and don't you forget it." She hears him loud and clear.
Rrowrl. They want each other baaaaaaaaaad.
Paris enters Kim's room and almost immediately wonders if he's in the right place. It looks more like Tuvok's quarters: lights down low, candles burning, and a sackcloth-clad Kim is meditating in Vulcan fashion.
"Harry, this is a luau, not a funeral."
"I'm doing my Vulcan meditations," Harry says, looking not-so-meditative.
"And why is that?" Paris asks. "To suppress my emotions," Harry admits.
Paris looks genuinely concerned. "Is something wrong?" "Not really," Kim says.
Paris thinks for a second, and puts things together. "The...resort woman?"
"Marena!" Kim whirls around. "How did you know that?"
Paris says it was obvious something was going on. "You've spent all your free time in the Holodeck. You don't even like hydrosailing,"
Harry sighs. "Am I that predictable? You sound like Tuvok."
Paris is indignant. "Tuvok? He told you to do this?"
Harry defends his choice. "Logically, the best course is retreat, and meditation helps!"
Paris will have none of it. "Retreat! A classic case of Vulcan denial. We've all fallen for a Holodeck character; it happens! You deal with it by staying with your normal routine, not by hiding out in your quarters."
Kim stiffens. "I'm not hiding out. I'm deconstructing the emotional complex."
Tom regards the pod person who has replaced his friend. "Ooookaaaay....have fun." He turns to leave.
Harry changes his mind and calls Paris back, and turns on the lights. Paris smiles at the return of the friend he came to drag to the luau. "Computer," he orders, "Hawaiian shirt."
"Specify parameters," the computer responds. Paris considers his friend. "Pineapple motif."
It's Luau time. Lights are low, and flaming torches are the norm (there's a lot of fire on this starship....) Tuvok appears in full uniform--the only one not dressed for the occasion--and refuses all efforts by pretty Polynesian women to adorn him with garlands. Even Neelix tries to Lei the security officer without success. The Talaxian has researched Polynesian cultures thoroughly. The garland of flowers, or lei, represents the flowering of love. It's a concept that makes the morale officer feel good about his job. If only the Vulcan would accept a morale boost.
Neelix takes notice of one of the holographic Tiki Gods that is catering the affair. "Did I design the centerpiece guy that big?" Neelix wonders, and leaves Tuvok to adjust the holo-man's size.
Even the Holodoc is in the spirit of the occasion, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bookended by Hawaiian holo-babes.
"The life of a recreational hologram," Holodoc considers aloud. "Dining, dancing, non-restrictive clothing..." The girl on his right kisses him on the cheek. "I see the allure. Your turn..." the other plants a Lei on him, then plants a kiss square on the lips. "Hmm!" He remarks approvingly, making the most of his only scene this episode.
Janeway, decked out in a tasteful off-the-shoulder floral gown, accepts a Lei. Chakotay is glued to her hip, looking equally festive. They see Tuvok and call him over. "I'm glad to see you here," she says with a broad smile.
"I would never disobey an order, no matter how...burdensome."
Janeway eyes him in mock disapproval. "There's a difference between an order and a suggestion," she notes.
Chakotay adds, "The evening's young, Lieutenant--let's mingle."
Tuvok begins to protest that "Vulcans do not--" He sees Marena. She's playing kalto.
"Curious," Tuvok says, and excuses himself to mingle with Kim's woman as Janeway and Chakotay look after him in bemusement.
Tuvok comments on a move Marena is about to make with a kalto piece: "A common error among novice players." She's trying to place the pins symmetrically, which isn't how the game is played.
"Kalto is not about striving for balance; it is about seeking the seeds of order even in the midst of profound chaos." He asks for and is given one of the pieces; he places it seemingly at random, but the result is a morphed section of the puzzle, order from chaos. She comments on its beauty.
"Kalto is not about beauty," Tuvok says. "Still, it is beautiful," Marena insists. She gets Tuvok to admit that he's been playing since the age of five, tutored by a kalto master.
"Playing alone must get a little--predictable sometimes," Marena notes.
"You are perceptive."
"Yes I am...extremely so."
Another smiling Holonesian woman offers him a lei, and again he refuses.
Marena notes that he's trying to isolate himself and make a public protest. In a manner similar to the way Tuvok deconstructed Harry Kim's love for Marena, Marena describes Tuvok's manner of dress for the party, the silent protest against being compelled to be here, and forcing everyone to acknowledge his unique status as someone not having a lick of fun, thus isolating himself intentionally in a room full of people. Tuvok sits down, duly impressed with her impeccable logic, and says so.
Marena takes off her own lei, and suddenly Tuvok is not so alone anymore.
Tom Paris arrives and immediately grabs two mugs of pineapple juice. He finds Torres and Vorek, moves between them, and hands one drink to Torres, making the young Vulcan appear to be the third wheel.
Torres thanks him, adding, "I'm starving." "Me too," says Paris. "Let's find a table; this place is filling up fast." The three of them accept leis from perky Holonesians.
Vorek coughs deliberately, interrupting Paris. "I have already taken the liberty of reserving a table, Lieutenant [meaning Torres], with a view of the lakeside."
The straw drops out of Torres' mouth; she gapes at him. Paris turns to look at Vorek, stunned.
"You did express a fondness for that particular vista," Vorek continues.
Paris looks at B'Elanna, unable to speak.
"I did?" Torres asks, still taken aback. Paris looks back to Vorek.
"Five days ago in a conversation we had in engineering regarding Holodeck programs," Vorek confirms steadily.
Paris again looks at Torres, on the verge of a smile. Or a curse.
"I guess maybe I did." She's flabbergasted. She had apparently thought that she would be spending time with Paris and Vorek, not the other way around. Curses! Foiled again.
Paris looks nowhere in particular. "Good memory," he says into his drink.
"Of course," says Vorek, as if that were self-evident.
Vorek moves past Paris so he's standing right next to Torres, the momentum firmly in his favor now.
Torres also seems a bit befuddled, but soon makes a decision. "Well then, Ensign, let's go." They walk off, arm in arm.
Vulcans don't mingle, my eye.
Paris is left with his drink and a bemused look. He has nobody to share his thoughts with. It may be just as well. He finally shakes his head, closes his mouth and looks for a conversation to join.
About this time, Harry arrives in Pineapple-motif Hawaiian shirt. He sees Marena and smiles...and frowns when he sees Tuvok with her, playing kalto. His good mood is utterly gone by the time Paris reaches him, looking for a buddy. Harry's not in the mood. "I don't feel well; I'm going back to my quarters."
"Harry," Tom calls after him plaintively.
"Tom!" Harry barks. Back off. Now.
"Okay!...okay. See you tomorrow." Paris realizes Harry's worse off than he is at the moment and lets him go, not pressing the issue.
Much later that evening, Tuvok and Marena are the only ones left. The moon is full, and Marena is feeling expansive. She describes the thrill of hydrosailing--the danger, and the control, you have amid the wind and the waves. "That is an illusion," Tuvok notes; she agrees that one really doesn't control the wind and the waves, but that when you're in the zone, it doesn't really matter; you can imagine it is so.
Tuvok says he has never felt such a thing. She tells him to imagine it in terms of Vulcan society: the hydrosail is their Vulcan control, and the wind and waves are the emotions. They do their best to ride along, imagining themselves in control of the emotions, but unaware of the depth and complexity and danger of what it is they are riding. Tuvok notes the astuteness of the observation, and that he can see why Harry is so enamored of her. She says she would like Tuvok to have the same admiration and respect for her that he has for Harry.
She begins to open up to him, and starts to get more intimate than a faithful 100 year-old husband and father could possibly be comfortable with. He says it's time for him to go. She asks him to stay, but he says he can't. "Tomorrow?" she begs. Maybe, he says. She sighs contentedly as he goes, a most un-Holodeck Character expression; she isn't your typical subroutine.
Tuvok exits the Holodeck, and ends the program.
* * *
The next day, it's business as usual. They've discovered a dampening field of some sort, but its origin is unknown. They did gather the data, and they're analyzing it. Janeway suspects they might be able to recreate what they've observed with the deflector dish, and asks Kim if he's got everything he needs. His response suggests that he hasn't been listening, but at least he knows what needs to be done. Janeway doesn't comment, but her face betrays her knowledge that he's not entirely on the ball today.
They have the data they need, and determine to resume course for Home. However, when Janeway orders them to back off from the nebula, Paris reports that the ship isn't responding to his commands. Janeway assigns Kim to help Torres figure out what's going on.
In Engineering, Vorek reports his findings that all the systems are checking out fine. He hovers well inside her Personal Space; this is one smitten Vulcan. Torres doesn't hurt him for it, suggesting Paris has more to be worried about than he may realize. She posits that the problem may be in the computer pathways; everything works but the communication between consoles and components. She asks Kim for an update...and he says exactly what Vorek just said, his mind elsewhere.
"You haven't been listening to me," Torres announces, waking Harry up.
"Sorry, I've got a lot on my mind."
"Forget about her," Torres offers helpfully. Harry demands to know what Paris told her. Nothing, she insists; she's seen how Harry pines for the Q-like megababe on the Holodeck and drew her own conclusions. "Hi," Kim says bitterly, "I'm Harry 'read me like a book' Kim."
"It's not that bad," Torres says. "Wanna bet?" he asks. The computer sides with Kim; his last computation is not accepted. Torres, feeling compassion for her friend, tells him to get some rest.
Harry doesn't make it to his quarters; he orders the turbolift midway there to divert to Holodeck One. He orders up the resort program, but it's already running. He enters, and sees Marena sitting, looking beautiful as always, and walks toward her.
She isn't alone. She's playing kalto again with Tuvok.
Harry loses it. He lays into the Lieutenant, feeling hurt and betrayed and wondering why he ever considered the Vulcan a friend or someone he could trust. Tuvok tries to point out that he's merely playing kalto with a computer--a nicely packaged program, but a non-sentient construct all the same. Kim is not mollified.
Marena is visibly taken aback by Tuvok's words.
Kim continues to rant about Tuvok's treachery, and Tuvok continues to insist that his dealings are with a mere collection of lines of code. He won't let a subroutine come between them, he declares, and tells the computer to delete Marena.
Marena begs to know what Tuvok is doi-- and she disappears in a puff of logic.
The gesture is not enough for Harry, who is still very angry and hurt; he leaves Tuvok alone in the Holodeck to consider recent developments. For despite Tuvok's insistence, he wasn't being entirely truthful; there was more to Marena than mere data and procedures. She intrigued him.
The ship still isn't leaving the area. Janeway orders warp six, and Paris does try to provide it, but no go. Janeway teases him about not coming through for her, but both know it's something beyond their ability to control at the moment, and it's frustrating everyone. Torres says the computers still seem to be the trouble, and Janeway orders a level 4 diagnostic. Tuvok and Kim share a look, and Kim's look is decidedly hostile. Meanwhile, Torres says she's got partial thrusters working, and Janeway takes what she can get. Paris gets the ship moving, slowly. It'll take more than a day to exit the nebula at this speed, Chakotay announces.
Tuvok returns to his quarters. It is not as he left it; candles are lit, and there's a comely blonde in a Starfleet uniform playing kalto, a 29th-century clip-on holo-emitter on her left shoulder. It's Marena. "Your move," she says seductively.
* * *
Some might be flattered by this, but Tuvok is not. He's a long-time security dweeb, after all, and when a holographic character appears outside the Holodeck, he gets suspicious. He demands to know how she got here. She says she transferred herself from the Holodeck to sickbay, and from there she downloaded herself into the portable holoemitter that Holodoc is so emotionally attached to. From there, it was a simple matter to come to his quarters.
She's a bit miffed that he deleted her, but she doesn't take it too personally; she figures he did it for Harry's benefit. But she's bonded with Tuvok, she wants to spend more time with him, she wants to rock his world. She says she never realized how lonely she was until Tuvok entered her life. She caresses his chest.
Tuvok takes her by the hand...and calls for an intruder alert.
Marena can't believe he'd do this to her. She loves him, wants him, needs him. He says he must consider her hostile at this point, given all the weirdness on the ship. She swears she'd never hurt him or the ship. Security arrives and she disappears, the emitter dropping unsupported to the floor.
Meeting time. This Holodeck character is proving scarier by the moment. Chakotay found precedent in the Moriarty character who took control of the Enterprise-D in "Elementary, Dear Data." Kim, though sullen, confirms that he studied that in the Academy. She could be a sentient program, Chakotay suggests. Janeway doesn't like the implication that a woman scorned, digital or not, could be in control of her ship. Tuvok points out that her goal seems to be to spend time with him (Kim seethes). Kim later notes that the trouble started when they arrived at the nebula, which may explain why they can't leave the nebula--whatever's going on may be connected to their location.
Janeway doesn't care--she just wants her ship back. She sends Tuvok, Paris and Torres to the Holodeck, where Marena's program was transferred after she left the portable emitter in Tuvok's room.
The three arrive at Holodeck One. The door is locked; Marena is fully in control now. "We'll be lucky to get these doors open," Torres announces. The door opens. "We're lucky," Paris says with a half-smirk, half-grimace. Tuvok states the obvious: it could be dangerous.
They enter the program as it looked the night before at the luau--soft lights, lit torches, a gaggle of Holonesian women offering them leis and men in Tiki God masks bearing baskets of fruit. The Starfleet folks have their phasers drawn, and Torres moves to a control panel to see what she can find out. She soon learns that there's a subspace signal connected directly with the Holodeck computer...from a ship somewhere in the nebula...
One of the smiling holo-women wraps a lei around Torres' neck and yanks backward, choking the chief Engineer. Paris yells her name in panicked protectiveness and moves to help her--only to get clocked by a large wooden Tiki mask. Tuvok is also surrounded, mostly by male holo-thugs. Torres struggles with just the one strangling, smiling woman. Paris gets stomped by holocharacters of both sexes--kicked in the gut by the women, beset by heavy bowls of tropical fruits from the men.
Tuvok manages to kick some serious holo-hiney, but runs straight into a forcefield. Marena is in full vengeance mode at this point. Paris manages to break free and fend off the characters long enough for Tuvok to tell him to fire at the control panel near Torres. After Tom disrupts a boot to the head from a flying Bond girl, he fires, and a few sparks later the room clears of all but genuine people. Bleeding and gasping for breath, they high-tail it for the bridge.
The ship, meanwhile, is getting pounded by flaring plasma strings. The nebula is alive, and angry. The three reach the bridge and report that the Holodeck has been controlled by a ship somewhere in the nebula. Janeway realizes that the buxom avatar wreaking havoc on the social lives of her bridge crew has been merely an alien probe. She orders that ship located.
Marena hails Voyager and calls out to Tuvok. She wants him; she wants him bad. She won't take no for an answer. Gone is her sworn vow to not hurt him or the ship; she tells him to get down to the Holodeck now, or their ship is toast. Tuvok goes. The crew tries to hold the ship together, and track the other ship in the nebula. Since the subspace link is still active, they have a good chance of success.
Tuvok arrives on the Holodeck, and it's just Marena. No homicidal holo-helpers.
"This can be our place," she says. "Just you and me, right here. You don't need to pretend with me anymore; let your hair down, be yourself. Get nekkid with me. Let's go hydrosailing."
Tuvok tries to tell her that what she's seen of him so far is all there is; his dearth of emotions is no facade. And if she thought that an act of terrorism would impress him, she was mistaken. She refuses to admit that she was imagining the attraction between them. Tuvok admits that she has a heck of a mind, and a good grasp of logic, and that under different circumstances he might be more amenable to an intellectual relationship. But Vulcans do not skinny-dip.
Marena gets uppity and threatens to do damage to Voyager. Tuvok orders an Energize. Marena freaks.
Tuvok rematerializes on her ship--a dark, musty place, smelling of stale pizza, ozone, and Jolt Cola. Phaser drawn, Tuvok wends his way through the ill-lit corridors of the ship, until he reaches a command console, where sits the Real Marena.
Supermodel material, she ain't. This Marena has a vaguely reptilian face, hair that looks like it was last washed when Punky Brewster was popular, intelligent but forlorn black pools for eyes, and an expression you could find by looking at half the AOL chat-room addicts in America. In an honest world, this is what Sandra Bullock's The Net character would have really looked like.
She offers to not blow up Voyager if he stays. Tuvok says he will if that's his only option to save the ship and his colleagues. With the logic of the desperate, she can't accept this; "I want you to want to stay here," she rages in impotent despair.
She's in a bad spot; she's been alone for so long--by her choice, she insists--running this nebula, damping the plasma strings so the nebula stays relatively stable, allowing the people of her planet to enjoy the view. Janeway and the rest of the crew remarked on its beauty--it is worth preserving. But Marena didn't know how lonely she was until she met Tuvok, and interacted with him through Voyager's wondrous technology. For years she's been scanning, downloading, and silently exulting in the thrill of hacking the databanks of the ships that have passed by the nebula, reaching out technologically but never emotionally...until Tuvok. A being incapable of reciprocating her affections, logical and intellectual though they may be.
Tuvok tells her she has a lot he finds worth getting to know, and under other circumstances he would welcome her company. But he has a wife and family and home to return to, and a ship and crew and a mission he cannot shirk. He doesn't have the emotional vocabulary to relate to her effectively, he says, but "if you care about me, you'll let me and my ship and crew go."
Resigned to the inevitable, Marena releases control of Voyager's systems, including communications. Tuvok hails the ship and tells them to stand by. He tells Marena that her recent actions are a loud-and-clear cry for help, and she should consider asking for a transfer back to where the people are and getting a life, and getting someone else up here to run the nebula for a while. It's not healthy to be so alone for so long. She admits he may be right. He beams out, but before he's completely gone, she asks, "but what about you, Tuvok? Are you destined to be alone forever?"
Stardate 50471.3. They're out of the nebula and safely on the trip back home. Tuvok's settled back into his normal routine. Which consists in playing kalto alone in his quarters. At some point in the game, he makes a decision; he puts down the piece, turns off the game board, and takes it to the Holodeck with him.
Harry Kim is there, apparently reading. Tuvok asks him if he'd like to learn how to play kalto. Harry, still a little bitter, asks if that's the game that's too complex for humans to learn. "Not exactly," Tuvok admits. He manages to get out a full apology for the incident with Marena. "I messed up," Tuvok says. "But I do respect and admire you, and I wanna be pals." Kim considers this, and without smiling, he tells Tuvok he's forgiven. Pals may have to wait a while.
"This could take years to learn, couldn't it?" Harry asks of kalto. "Indeed," says Tuvok. But while Harry learns Vulcan Chess, Tuvok can learn a bit about getting a social life.
A pretty holographic resort worker asks if she can join them. "No," Harry and Tuvok answer in unison--the first time they've agreed this episode. It's an encouraging sign. She turns to leave, but Tuvok calls after her. he says, also taking the first tentative steps to think of holographic constructs as subroutines worthy of respect, or at least courtesy.
Order out of chaos. One chip at a time.
Holodoc himself, Robert Picardo, directed this one. His twisted sense of humor shines through in his directing debut.
Picture, if you will, a luau from Hell. Smiling Holodeck Hawaiians garrotting you with flower wreaths ("Look out! She's got a lei!") I half expected Our Man Bashir to materialize in full Tuxedo--with his alluring yet deadly lust interest, Hedda Lottabouti, wielding Her Majesty's Secret Service Revolver, dispatching the digital do-badders with Imperial aplomb. (To my joy, a new episode with Our Man Bashir will be appearing later this season on DS9.) It was an intense scene since lives were clearly in danger, but was also surreally humorous.
Alexander Enberg, the young Vulcan Ensign Vorek, appears again here in a prominent role as Tom Paris' rival for the affections of B'Elanna Torres. A Vulcan in a Hawaiian shirt? You saw it here first. Vorek is my kinda Vulcan: young, unpredictable, and not perfectly in control of his emotions. (See Spock in "The Cage"). You gotta feel for Tom, being outwooed by this logical whippersnapper, but he seems to take it in good humor.
This episode is also distinguished by showing just about the entire crew in swimwear. Janeway's outfit could have been worn without controversy in Lancaster, PA, and was true of most of the crew. The truly provocative outfits are reserved for the holocharacters. Oh, and everyone gets lei'ed at the luau. (An old joke, but I'm contractually obligated to use it.)
Harry Kim seems to be the focus of the episode at first, but he's quickly left behind; it's Tuvok who will change the most in this episode, though Harry will be involved throughout. He approaches Tuvok with a request: teach me how to suppress emotions. Unwittingly, Tuvok helps Harry to unleash them. It's both uncomfortable, and therapeutic. They've clashed in the past, and have never had much of a chance for an onscreen rapproachment until now.
B'Elanna Torres is finding herself a popular gal. Paris has been chasing her for a while now, his awkward banter bolstered by their underlying friendship. The newcomer is Vorek, an ensign under her command whose sudden prominence assures him a future onscreen demise. The moral for all you aspiring actors out there: if you get a role on Star Trek, and it's a speaking part, tell your agent to get ready for auditions elsewhere. It's gonna be a short-term gig. (On the plus side, you're guaranteed convention appearances in perpetuity.) Torres has a choice to make, and from the rumor mill, I'm told, it will be sometime in February. Whether you love or hate Paris, you have to root for him to be the chosen one; Klingon women don't mess around. Holodoc will have his hands full after this romance flowers.
The inverse nebula is quite pretty. I was awfully worried when I first saw it--starships and clouds tend to be a nasty combination. But the events in this episode are refreshingly people-driven, not cloud-driven. No new technology or technobabble is needed here.
* * *
This episode's core deals with Tuvok and with something occasionally hinted at but seldom addressed directly: Tuvok's loneliness. Much of it self-inflicted. Granted, he's the oldest on the ship by a fair margin, and he doesn't seem to have much in common with anyone, and since Chakotay started getting chummy with the captain she hasn't sought Tuvok's advice nearly as often as she used to. He is, more often than not, isolated--more so than he needs to be.
The appearance of Marena alters his perceptions. She reads him like a book, because she's read it before: it's the story of her life as well. She monitors the inverse nebula, maintains it like the Times Square Jumbotron (or a national monument such as Mount Rushmore) for the people of her planet to enjoy; it's aesthetically quite pleasing. She finds a kindred spirit in Tuvok, and uses the Holodeck to create an image of herself that the average human male will find pleasing. She succeeds; Harry Kim is smitten, and Tuvok himself is intrigued by her company--enough to offend Harry, but not enough to forget his first duty to the ship.
There are elements of this story which smack of "Lifesigns," the excellent Holodoc episode where a holographic version of Denara Pel is created temporarily. The Marena of the holodeck is far more attractive (by human standards) than the shipbound Marena whom Tuvok ultimately confronts. Who knows; she may be unattractive by her species' standards as well; she's all by herself out there in the nebula--there may be a reason for it. However, Tuvok--like Holodoc in "LIfesigns" is far more concerned with the person than with the appearance, to their credit. Tuvok admitted he was tempted by Marena's offer to stay, but he had commitments to his ship and crew, and to his wife and children. If anything, he seemed more intrigued by the real person than with the Spokesmodel facade she had presented him on the holodeck.
Perhaps the episode is an allegory of the Internet. We can feel utterly alone in a sea of companionship, and find solace in a place where we both conceal and reveal the truth about ourselves. How many of us open up to people we never met in real life, but consider friends and confidantes because of long-term email or chat relationships? We reveal only as much about ourselves as we feel comfortable doing, and to a large extent we have total control over our ability to do so. Where images are strictly voluntary, we who feel self-conscious about our appearance need not be hobbled by reality; we can simply expose our inner selves--the ideas, the desires, the fears, the likes. When we find people we feel comfortable with, we let our guard down, and our true selves are allowed to shine. We become judged by our hearts, not by our drivers' license photos. This can both be more comforting, and more dangerous, because we are at once more and less ourselves online; if we are judged poorly it is a rejection of our very soul. Marena appears to feel this way when Tuvok spurns her advances.
The state of the Internet today is limited to text--or, among the adventurous, to "Iconic" or "Avatar" interaction. With the Avatars we can present ourselves as anything we can draw (or beg/borrow/steal)--supermodels, Budweiser frogs, Mobius strips, you name it. The "chat room" can also be customized to look like a UN conference room, the headline room at the House of Blues, a Turkish prison...it does nothing to change the words, but it does put them into a different environment. The Holodeck is a step beyond this, where our avatars and environs can be three-dimensional. The less our eyes can be trusted, the more important our intuition about the character behind the mask becomes.
Riker fell for Minuet in "11001001" because she was a seriously souped-up holocharacter. They discuss this phenomenon a little in "Alter Ego," describing the sentience of the Moriarty character from TNG's "Elementary, Dear Data". Quark's holosuites on DS9 tend to be somewhat, er, specific in nature (assuaging loneliness, shall we say), but Beverly Crusher has said she's not too fond of the holodeck because the characters aren't all the way there. They may look and sound and even feel like real people, but the essence of intelligence--and of allure?--is missing.
A character is only as good as the programming. This is just as true of virtual characters as of real people. Whether we are a product of nature or nurture or a bit of both, we are essentially, to cite Vonnegut, machines made of meat. Our programming can take many of us throughout our lives without challenge. Kes challenging Holodoc to expand his understanding was both a kindness and a curse, but it's not a purely fictional exchange; each of us faces that challenge each day: to work within the limits of our programming or to exercise our artificial intelligence. To attempt the latter is to risk failure, and failure hurts.
Tuvok tells Marena to consider reassignment; she's been alone way too long. She needs a date; she needs some personal contact; she needs, to quote Shatner, a life. But Tuvok's words echo back at him, and he realizes that by relating so well to Marena, he could benefit from a cup of his own elixer. There's something to be said for solitude, but there's a lot more that can be said for friendship. Tuvok's reaching out to Harry Kim, both in apology and in a tentative first step to genuine friendship, is a significant effort for him.
In case you haven't guessed, this is the second episode in a row where my "get a life" alarms started going off. Last week, I wallowed in self-esteem problems. This week, I think about how lonely I am. If Trek keeps this up, I'm sending Viacom my therapy bill. In the meantime, I'm logging off, dressing up, and going dancing. [Insert free plug for Mojo's Blues Club in Columbia, MO here.]
On a 0-10 scale, I'll give this a 7.75, or (* * * 1/2). Extra points for the excellent exploration of Tuvok's character when his mind isn't somehow under siege ("Meld," "Flashback").
Next Week: Repeat of "The Chute". Tom and Harry bond in Male Chicks in Prison.