"Real Life"


The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot (and everything else) given away, stop reading now. (But you probably know that by now.)

I reserve the right to be wrong, and to change my mind later. The following is my opinion at the moment I wrote it. Think of it as a tall tale told around a campfire. So snuggle close and perk them ears, 'cuz Uncle Jim's got a story for you. "A long time from now, in a quadrant far, far away...."


Tonight, on A Very Special Voyager, Doc programs himself a family and mistakenly accepts B'Elanna Torres as a beta tester. Meanwhile, Tom Paris gets flushed down a subspace toilet.

Jump straight to the Analysis


Picture if you will, a home. Not just any home--a future home. A beautiful home, tastefully designed, almost museum-quality ideal. Wood is the dominant material, and the abundance of floor-to-ceiling windows expose the heavily-wooded natural beauty beyond. 'Tis a home fit for a king, the master of his domain.

The perfect home wouldn't be complete without perfect people, and here they come now. 2.4 children, the ideal number, scamper down the stairs, their youthful exuberance clearly channeled into positive activities. Their clothing is Brady-perfect, their cherubic faces practically screaming their zest for life and their innate brilliance. They tease each other playfully while their mother, also dressed to innocuous perfection, fusses over them ("fingernails are sparkling, shoes are polished, breath inoffensive--excellent!") as they head for the front door and stand at loving attention for the departure of their beloved father.

Father--Holodoc--appears at the top of the stairs. His disposition is sunny, and why not? The coffee is perfect, the house is clean enough to perform surgery on, the kids (Jeffery, the elder of the two, around 14; Belle, a fragile but spunky 8) are chips off the old Doc. All that this family lacks is a few good acting lessons; and you thought the scenery was wooden. But they're smiling brightly, in a Stepford sort of way.

Kissing them all, he elicits a status report from each, and is pleased with what he hears. Jeffery is accepting his first Nobel later that evening. Belle singlehandedly wiped out a virulent plague on Cootie Alpha VI. His blushing bride of 15 years doesn't look much older than Kes. His wife reminds him to invite some folks from work to have dinner with the family sometime soon. He promises not to forget.

They consider him with eyes so full of love, there isn't room for much else (say, intelligence or free will). He bids them farewell, and like loyal hounds they look after him with longing eyes, their lives unfulfilled until he returns to them again. He beams out from the front porch, appearing in sickbay. Kes, decked out in her new hair and blue velvet body suit, greets him warmly, asking how his new holo-family is working out. "Everything I could have hoped for," he says, beaming.

Yes, folks, it's a Very Brady Voyager.

* * *

Captain's Log, Stardate 50836.2. We've had long-range communications witha seemingly friendly race known as the Vostigye. We'll be rendezvousing within the hour at one of their space stations.

All the senior officers are on duty on the bridge. Tuvok suggests Ensign Kim take a look for the Vostigye station. Harry zeroes in on the coordinates they'd been given and finds...debris. Naturally, Janeway and Chakotay share an uncomfortable look at this news. Tuvok confirms the coordinates, and the current composition of stuff there. Janeway orders a visual scan of the area, and it certainly looks like the pieces floating around lazily could once have been parts of a space station. Now, they're just part of a galactic obstacle course.

The investigation begins in earnest. It is determined that the station's destruction is less than an hour old. No known weapons signatures were used, but unknown weapons can't be ruled out. Janeway's repeated use of the word "scientists" is almost a mantra; "there are sixty dead scientists," "someone completely hosed a science station." Okay, so she was a science officer, but one would think all deaths are tragic, and not just the deaths of scientists. (Granted, if that'd been Bill Nye's house, I'd have been crying like a baby.)

Harry finds a clue of some sort--a subspace thingie. Chakotay confirms it--there's a subspace thingie, now moving away from the former station. Janeway orders them to follow. "Yes, Ma'am," Paris says. (Having just reviewed "Caretaker," I have to point out that Janeway's preferred form of address, "Captain," seems to be falling into disuse, whereas "ma'am," which "will do in a pinch," is becoming more prevalent. I see nothing wrong with this; I just thought I'd point it out.)


In Sickbay, Torres gives Doc's program a thorough scrub, and declares him fit and ready for duty. Doc, of course, had no doubt she would find him so. The Chief Engineer says she prefers to give him first-hand, frequent and thorough "tune-ups" (her term) considering all the "tinkering" he's been doing with his programming lately, though she does commend him for his keen desire to improve himself.

Doc seems pleased with her encouragement. "That's why I've created a family," he says proudly. Torres' ears perk up. During this close-up I notice something extraordinary. Two things, actually. First, Kes isn't the only one to change her hair. Torres' is no longer the helmet of Darth Vader Black hair; it's a lighter shade of brown, it's been softened considerably, it's a tad longer...and there's just the hint of a braid on the left side, ending in a reddish bead. It's as if, one by one, the female cast of Voyager is being replaced by the cast of FRIENDS. The women, anyway. Kes/Phoebe, meet B'Elanna/Rachel.

If anything happens to Janeway's tresses, I will--I swear by the orbiting ashes of Timothy Leary--go Postal. Conditioners will flow like blood through the streets of the Paramount lot. Combs will roll.

But despite my worries about the spread of the follicle macrovirus reaching Cap'n Kate, it's not a bad look for B'Elanna. Really. It'll just take some getting used to.

Anyway, where was I?...oh yes, Doc's family. Torres doesn't seem at all pleased with the concept. Of course, her family life wasn't all that great growing up. Kes, whose family life was apparently much better, smiles broadly as she explains to Torres that Doc wanted to have a better feel for the "family life" the crew had left behind, so he can better relate to them. She has not yet met Doc's Family, but is eager to. Doc remembers that "Charlene," his wife, has been bugging him to invite some coworkers home for dinner.

Torres thinks, then decides that--if for no other reason than to make sure he's not raising a new generation of Darklings--she'd better look into this new Holodoc Adventure. "Tell the little woman to break out the good china," Torres says. "I'll bring my appetite." Doc and Kes beam.


A perfect house, a perfect fire roaring in the fireplace, six perfect places set at a perfect repast. A perfect wife and two perfect children, echoing perfect platitudes to their perfect papa. Kes listens with rapt amusement while Jeffery explains his physical science project, Belle blushingly recounts her athletic heroics and algebra wizardry, and Charlene beams with motherly pride, taking only brief moments to blush appropriately over the splendor of the "humble" meals she tries to prepare for her beloved Kenneth (Doc), to make this home a sanctuary away from the stresses and burdens of work.

Torres, on the other hand, isn't so amused. Finally it's all she can stands; she can't stands no more. Just as the entire Holodoc Family runs through another chorus of "We love Daddy," she freezes the program. The holowife and holokids freeze in place. It almost improves their acting.


Doc asks why Torres would do such a thing. Torres says it was for self-preservation; she might have gone into sugar shock otherwise. For any self-respecting Klingon, this scene practically demands she put them all out of their misery.

Doc doesn't understand. Torres tries to help him the best way she knows how: the direct approach. "If you think you'll learn about what it's like being in a family with...this (she gestures at the frozen family) you are sadly mistaken."

"They're kind of perfect," Kes says mildly. "They're ridiculously perfect," Torres replies, genuinely angry. "This is a fantasy! You're not going to learn anything living with these...lollipops!" She spits the word.

Doc protests that this holo-family is simply operating within his expectational parameters; if he were to pick a wife for real, she'd have to be just as literate, educated, et al., as Charlene, and...

Torres says there's nothing wrong with the premise; it's just the execution that needs a little (her eyes twinkle with infinite possibilities) tweaking. To give it a bit of "real life." Doc's consternation at having his perfect little family dissed like this gives way to his desire to give his family idea a genuine go, since understanding the crew's background is why he entered into the family life in the first place. But he's still not sure he likes the idea of an engineer tinkering with his idyllic home life.


On the bridge, the search for the whatsit that destroyed the science station seems to reach a breakthrough. Subspace is rumbling, and something is bound to happen soon. Sure enough, something does. Janeway calls for Red Alert and orders Tom to back away from whatever it is that's rumbling out there. Paris does so.

The viewscreen lights up with a humungous subspace wedgie. A disk of light, bisecting two mirror-image funnels of churning space stuff. It looks impressive, but from the debris swirling about inside the thing, it would appear to be dangerous as well.

* * *

The thing is huge. And it's coming towards them.

Like most intergalactic space wedgies, this one magically causes most major systems onboard Voyager to spontaneously stop working--no engines, no propulsion. Everything but the weapons. It may be a natural phenomenon, but Janeway's first order is to fire at it. (After three years, has she learned nothing? It could be sentient. It could be a way home. Heck, there could be coffee in that thing.) But Chakotay suggests they wait a minute. He saw TWISTER; it may be evil-looking now, but ...

And sure enough, 2.47 seconds later, it goes away on its own. Leaving the crew to wonder what the heck just happened, what they can do to protect themselves from it, and what they can do with it for the next 45 minutes or so. "I'm not afraid to say it," Chakotay says. "I've never seen anything like that before."

The damage reports are in; some broken china, a scuffed piece of the exterior on deck three, and Neelix's cake fell in the oven. But nobody died. And conveniently, Paris notes that engines are back online and ready to get them the heck out of there.

"Not so fast," Janeway says. "It is new, and it's a scientific curiosity." (There's that word again. Is someone on the writing staff getting kickbacks from NSF?) And when it's curious AND science-based, Captain Kate ain't goin' nowhere.

Perhaps she smells coffee after all.

As the crew catches its breath from the recent run-in with churning plasma death, it begins looking for reasons to back up Janeway's desire to stick around rather than skedaddle Stage Anywhere at Warp 47. Chakotay is the first. He gives it a name and a reason to exist: it's a subspace Eddy, "at the confluence of space and subspace," meaning basically that it's that spot in the bathtub where the water funnels when it goes down the drain. "And hey, there's a whole lotta energy in that thing," he says, suggesting they could collect some and go off replicator rations for a while.

Ensign Kim asks how they're supposed to track something like that. Janeway's eyes gleam at the thought of bottomless Starbucks refills and tells him if he values his hiney, he'll find away. Then she tells Tuvok to make continuous scans of subspace. "Maybe we can anticipate the next one," she says, her eyes blazing with the joy of discovery and the anticipation of a triple vanilla latte with Bavarian goats'-milk cream chaser.


In sickbay, Doc tells Kes he's given a lot of thought to Torres' suggestions for adapting his family program, and has decided it makes a lot of sense. Torres has randomized the predictability quotient in the characters and events, so Doc won't know exactly what will happen. The family will no longer be under his benign tyranny, but will be free to develop more or less as regular people would. Kes seems to worry about this--she wonders if Doc can handle a bit of Real Life (she remembered how well he handled his bout with the flu when she lengthened its duration on him). Doc sounds confident--he's got the wisdom of an entire quadrant of child psychologists, from Dr. Spock to Dr. Seuss to Dr. Laura. "I can't imagine a parenting problem I couldn't handle," he says.

Famous last words.

Kes also says his wife's personality will also be changed. "I've been on a date or two," Doc says smugly. "I don't anticipate any problems there." Kes only smiles, a bit too broadly. She seems to have an inkling of what's going to happen, and she wishes she could be there to see the look on his face.

Fortunately for us, we don't have to wish. Doc tells the computer to activate Family Program Beta-Rho and transfer his program to Holodeck 2.


Doc walks through the door cheerily. "Hello, I'm..."

His lower jaw drops to the ground.

His immaculate house is now cluttered (though still tidier than my place). The sounds of Kazon Warrior Rock waft through the house like mustard gas. No family is there to greet him with plastic faces and polyester jumpsuits. Even the trees outside look a little worse for wear--probably from the music, which inhibits photosynthesis.

"...home," he squeaks.

His wife finally appears. She's in a hurry. Her hair is different--no longer the Breck Girl style of Holodoc's sitcom dreams, it's more like the functional Bridget Fonda tied-back approach. She's throwing her clothing on, complaining that he took his sweet time getting home.

Doc tries to tell her about his day. She tells him to stow it; she's late for her address to the Bolian embassy. It's Wednesday, after all; did he forget again? Doc's confused--she has a life outside of work?

Wait a minute--is she wearing SHOES?!?!?

Doc asks about dinner; "it's your night to cook," she reminds him. She's halfway out the door now.

Doc--Kenneth--asks what the racket is; Charlene tells him she's been putting up with it all day and asks him to try to do something. She slams the door, beaming out before her eardrums disintigrate under the aural barrage.

Meanwhile, Belle is screaming about her ion mallet, which (for those playing the home game) is the athletic equipment of choice for Parisi Squares, a popular, three-dimensional 24th-century sport that is apparently similar to zero-gravity Jai Alai. It's a demanding sport, and little Belle is fretting because she can't find it. Her mother's parting shot is that if Belle cleaned her room once in a while, the mallet would be a lot easier to find. Now Belle is downstairs, begging Daddy to help her find the mallet before Coach Morgan demotes her to the second team. Her shrieks of anguished protest are almost as decalcifying as the music.

Doc calls up after Jeffery, asking just what the heck that racket is that he's playing. Jeffery appears, looking like Bud Bundy on a bad-hair day. His earrings hang down to his kneecaps; on the end of them are bat'telhs. Tuvok dressed better in "Future's End."

"Klingon," Jeffery says, then disappears back into the darkness of upstairs.

While Belle continues to berate Daddy for not paying more attention to her, the door gets pounded on insistently. Doc opens the door, and there stand two scruffy nogoodniks of familiar ancestry. Klingons, Doc notes.

"Where's Jeffery?" One of the Klingon brats growls.

"Who are you?" Doc asks with forced pleasantness.

"Friends," he growls.

"Do you have names?"

"Larg," says the chatty one. "K'Kath," says the other.

Doc tells them to go away; Jeffery is doing his homework.

Jeffery appears to tell Daddy that he invited them over. "We have business," he says in a voice fraught with meaning. He doesn't elaborate.

Since Belle is now howling and stomping around Doc like a wounded wildebeest, Doc gets distracted long enough for the Klingon twins to slip roughly past him and up the stairs. While Doc looks towards the stairs in disbelief, Belle tells him how mean he is, how he doesn't love her as much as Mommy does because she would help Belle find her precious mallet, etc.

For the second time, Doc's jaw drops to ground level.

Welcome to Hell, family man.

* * *

In the mess hall, Paris spies the evening's repast with something a few steps shy of actual enthusiasm. Neelix, slaving away over a hot stove, notes him fidgeting by the serving window. Paris asks if they're having casserole again; "pleeka roots and grub meal," Neelix confirms, "very tasty if I do say so myself." He's a bit surlier than usual, which is appropriate for a mess sergeant; it's about dang time, sez I, that he took enough pride in his cooking to kick butt on those who dared complain to his face. Paris backpedals a bit, but does say he wishes there could be a bit more...variety. Neelix says he's always free to use the replicators. "I'm out of rations," Paris admits. Neelix plops a generous portion of something brown and lumpy on a metal tray and tells him to eat hearty. Paris does his best to look grateful and fails miserably.

(Incidentally, it's a nice scene that underscores a point someone said they wished were covered more often: the unique challenges facing Voyager. This season, the question of their less-than-whole ship hasn't come up much. One would think at times that all their energy, propulsion, and other problems were solved by now. It's good to see that this is still a ship that must continue to scrape for supplies, live on Neelix's cooking most of the time, and splurge on Replicated stuff only sporadically. Janeway's earlier desire to investigate the big space thingie has real practical application--saving them from a fifth consecutive Casserole Day.)

Paris looks around the mess hall, and sees a bright spot to an otherwise dreary meal. Torres is sitting by herself, absorbed in a data padd and a mug of something hot. (Another frequently-forgotten privation on this ship is a slightly lowered standard temperature to save energy, which makes the demand for, say, coffee especially high.) After some slight hesitation, he makes a beeline for B'Elanna, already working on his first line.

"A beautiful woman should never have to eat alone," he says. (Smooth one, Tom.) He gets no real reaction. He asks what she's reading. "Nothing important," Torres says, hiding the screen from him.

A brief hand-slap fight ensues. Paris wins. He picks up the padd and reads the title. "Women Warriors at the River of Blood?" he gives her a funny look.

Torres leans back and sips her coffee. "It's just escapist reading," she says casually, her eyes daring him to contradict her. Tom begins to read. Klingon man makes Klingon woman's heart race, and she has to decide whether to plunge a dagger into his throat or rock his world.

"Is this a Klingon romance novel?" he asks, seeing the chief engineer in a whole new light.

"Hey, us Klingons have our romantic side...it's a bit more vigorous than most..." she smiles while saying that last part.

"I think I'll read it," Paris says. "Maybe it'll give me some ideas about how to make your heart quicken." He says it completely deadpan, hoping the joke might also be taken seriously.

"It's not a technical manual, you dolt," she says, retrieving her story, leaning closer to him in the process. If Klingon body language is anything like human, she's practically screaming at him to drag her by the hair to the nearest utility closet for a little Blood Fever Therapy.

"Depends on what you mean by 'technical,'" Tom teases.

"To an engineer, it means, 'specializing in particular system.'" She leans forward, her face inches from his; her chin rests in the palm of her hand. Her eyes gleam with the promise of an evening so memorably "vigorous" it will take three Holodocs to put him back together again. Two of them just to get the smile off his face.

If Paris were played by Mickey Rourke, I know exactly what would happen about now. Regrettably, Paris is too much of a gentleman, and Voyager is not pay-per-view.

"I think that definition works," Paris purrs.

"I can't promise I won't put a dagger in your throat," Torres coos. Paris chuckles, and the moment of mutual flirtation passes.

Torres asks if he's heard about Doc's holo-family. Paris laughs a bit and asks how that's going. "I think he was a little overwhelmed at first," Torres says, "But I have to give him credit. He's sticking with it." Paris says he has a hard time picturing Dr. Kenneth Mozart Van Gogh Schmullis as married with children.

They share a laugh as the view of outside changes. They stop laughing when the Subspace Wedgie appears not far off the starboard stern and the ship begins to shake like me after three days away from my beloved Dr. Pepper. Janeway's voice fills the intercom system as she calls all senior staff to the bridge. Tom and B'Elanna share a look, and head for the door, the Klingon Romance novel and the untouched grub casserole forgotten.


Paris is the first off the turbolift, with Torres close behind. Janeway tells Paris she wants to send a probe into the thing, and asks him to get them in close enough to monitor, but far enough away that she won't be spilling coffee all over herself. "I can try," says Paris. He takes the helm from Commander Chakotay, who may be the best pilot onboard after Paris. The transition of drivers results in a briefly bumpy ride, but a quick apology from Paris is only partially voiced before his piloting skills reduce the ship's shaking dramatically. Not to say entirely. "That should be a bit better," he adds, his voice filled with confidence and requited love, blissfully unaware of the shakiness of his voice caused by the jumpiness of the ship.

Janeway orders the probe launch, and Tuvok says it's on its way. They take a couple more nasty jolts, and Torres falls from her console. "Actually," says Paris cheerily, "This is kinda fun." Chakotay looks at him like he's nuts. Torres tells him to speak for himself.

The probe reaches its destination and promptly begins relaying information to Harry's station. "This is one weird puppy," Harry announces. Heavy on the plasma, hotter than Boris Yeltsin after a Macarena marathon, filled with technical words I don't care to learn, it's every Starfleeter's fantasy: something new to learn about and exploit before the environmentalists come along and point out the downside.

There do seem to be useful properties to it, though, and as they investigate the anomaly--it starts to fade. Then it disappears entirely, along with the probe. But the probe is still working, stuck in between space and subspace, in that twilight zone where anything can happen. A guy could grow up to be a lizard, marry his captain, and have slimy catfish babies with her. And that's just for starters.

The immediate question answered, the shake/rattle/roll stopped for now, the next dilemma becomes how to grab some of that energy. Torres says they could collect plenty of the leftover plasma without too much danger, but the mighty starship Voyager can't do it--it'd mess up the plasma and make it useless. Paris suggests he go out in a shuttle, which would be far more efficient. Torres gives him a baleful look. "There's radiation out there; wear a cup." Janeway sends him down to sickbay for some pre-launch advice from Doc.


Doc gives him a shot of some anti-radiation wonder drug, but tells Paris it's only a short-term solution. Paris says he doesn't plan to be out there long.

Doc starts making guesses about Paris' youth. "You were the kid who always had to climb the tallest tree, I bet," he says. Paris has to smile and admit that he was. Doc's comments become increasingly agitated, transferring his frustrations with his own holo-kids onto Paris. Finally Paris leaps off the table and approaches the Doc, who seems overly preoccupied.

"How's the family, Doc. I understand they're a real handful." His tone is not unkind.

Doc admits that there have been difficulties, but he has been analyzing the situation, and believes he has a solution to the problem.

"You make it sound like you're treating a sick patient," Paris says. "I don't think you can diagnose and cure a family, Doc," he adds, genuinely concerned for the Doc's state of mind.

"You're in fine shape, Lieutenant. You may go ahead and engage in this reckless activity," Doc says dismissively. Paris considers continuing the discussion, thinks better of it, and leaves with a simple "Thanks, Doc."


"Where's Jeffery?" Doc asks impatiently. Belle and Charlene are sitting on the couch in their humble home, fidgeting a bit. Doc is fidgeting a lot. He'd called the family meeting for 4pm, and by golly, that's when he wanted Jeffery here.

"I think he was sleeping," Belle offers helpfully. This makes Doc even more frustrated.

Jeffery finally crawls downstairs, yawning, his hair unkempt (or appealingly Klingon), his outfit resembling Michael Jackson's on Tour Day. He collapses on the couch. "I had a long night," he says as his only explanation. Charlene leaps to her little boy's forehead checking for fever.

Now that all are accounted for, the meeting can begin. Doc wants to have these more often, he says. He launches into a brief preamble ("this family is spinning out of control,") and says that as husband and father he's decided they need to adjust some parameters.

"What are parameters," asks Belle, no longer the smart-as-a-whip prodigy of the pre-B'Elanna program, but curious nonetheless. "Boundries," he explains. "I've written up some rules and regulations; I'd like you all to study them carefully." He hands each of them a padd. Their eyes widen as they read.

"See how much better things are now?" asks Holodoc.

The wife and kids set their phasers on "bite me."

"You've rearranged my lecture nights!" says Charlene.

"I had to do that so the schedule would work," says Doc. "We all have to make sacrifices."

"You've bumped me to the second team of Parisses' Squares!" says Belle.

"You're not old enough for the first team; you could get hurt," says Doc. "Daddy knows best."

"You've forbidden me from seeing my Klingon friends!" bellows Jeffery.

"You'd be better off with some nice Vulcan friends," says Doc. "Everyone has to make sacrifices."

"And what sacrifices are you making?" Jeffery asks, his voice an accusation.

"I'm cooking dinner on your mother's lecture nights."

"You do that anyway!" Jeffery tells Doc he's being unfair. Jeffery's mom is compelled to agree.

Doc bolts out of his chair. "Charlene?" he asks, confused and hurt that his unilateral disruption of all their lives has not been met with cheers of approval. He beckons her to him with a finger, much as a master summons Mans's Best Friend.

So far, Doc doesn't have my vote for Father of the Year.

Doc expresses his disappointment in his wife for not being more supportive, especially in front of the children. She says she'd also prefer not to argue in front of them, but she feels (quite correctly) that he's way out of line with this little act of demagoguery. She says he should have discussed things with her beforehand. She disagrees with his decision to forbid Jeffery from seeing his friends; he can't pick his kids' friends for them.

Jeffery agrees loudly, calling the Family Meeting a "Vulky idea" and tossing the padd into the couch as he storms upstairs. Charlene also exits, frustrated.

Doc is left to himself, to wallow in utter confusion.

But Belle is still on the couch. She may be the youngest, and she may no longer be the Wesley-in-training Doc had originally envisioned, but she's a good judge of character. And she seems to know that Daddy could use someone in his corner about now.

"You really made a mess of things, didn't you, Daddy?" she asks. Surprisingly, her tone isn't harsh.

"I was just trying to make the family function better," Doc says, mostly to himself.

"How does the family function better if I go to Parisses squares on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday?" Belle asks. Doc tells her that her current schedule pits her against players several years older than she. "It's a hazardous game, I don't want you to get hurt," he says.

"I'm just trying to be a good father." He slumps down on the ottoman. His daughter considers her desires, and his. She makes a decision. She walks up to where he sits, sits next do him, and places her hands on his shoulder. "I'll be on the second team," she says.

Doc seems genuinely touched. "Thank you, Belle. That's very grown-up of you." He also seems perplexed at her change of heart. It wasn't the instant, effortless acquiescence he was expecting; it's something different, something inexplicable, something...something that had to be freely given. It's the first genuinely, honestly positive moment of his family life since Torres revamped it for "Real Life."

She rests her head on his shoulder. "I love you, Daddy...even if you did make a mess of things." For the third time this episode, his jaw drops. But this time, it's a good thing. Belle has just become Daddy's Little Girl, instead of just another errant subroutine to correct. He's just been loved in spite of himself, and that is a sensation he will never forget.


In the shuttlecraft, Paris is flying around the space wedgie, cracking wise about the rough ride and having too much French Toast that morning. On Voyager, Janeway and Torres share a knowing smirk. As long as Paris is telling jokes, there's nothing to worry about. Kim announces that the Eddy is about to dissipate, and Paris is ready with the Bussard collectors to do some plasma scooping in the name of recharged Replicators and no more of "Neelix's pleeka rind casserole" for a while.

"We'll all thank you for that," Janeway says a little too earnestly as the bridge crew snickers. The collection process is working, so there's plenty of reason to celebrate.

Kim breaks up the reverie to announce that another Eddy is forming. Lightning may not strike in the same place twice (unless you're Lee Trevino) but apparently these space wedgies don't follow the same rules. This one will appear very near Paris' shuttle. Janeway tells him to haul butt.

The Eddy appears, and Paris' butt is dragged towards the center of the subspace disturbance. All the king's horses, all the captain's technomumble, are not sufficient to keep Paris and the shuttle for ending up about the same place where the probe had been when the Eddy dissipated and pulled it into that subspace nowhereland.

And history repeats itself as Voyager watches the last of the water go down the drain, taking Tommy Boy with it. Torres is stricken. Harry is ashen. Janeway is stoic. Chakotay lights a cigar. Tuvok hands Neelix five slips of gold-pressed latinum. The petty officer in charge of shuttles reaches into the utility closet for another Chia Shuttle kit. (Just add water, place near a light source, and in two weeks it's ready to fly.)

Deep in the bowels of sickbay, Kes feels a disturbance in the Force. She almost trips over her new high-heel pumps.

Deep in the bowels of Holodeck 2, Jeffery snores.

* * *

Janeway rushes to Kim's station and asks if Tom could be in the same place the probe went. Harry says it's possible; he's not recording the death of the shuttle. After a few attempts to clean up a hailing signal, they manage to reach Paris. A little more tweaking of communications, and they can hear each other fairly well.

"Where are you, Tom?" Janeway asks.

"I wish I could tell you," Paris admits. We see what he sees. It looks a lot like the Badlands way back in "Caretaker." Swirling pinkish haze, far distant swirls of galactic Eddys at varying stages of development, the eerie calm at the eye of the storm. It's beautiful, but "how the heck do I get out of here?"


Doc is in sickbay, running test samples of something through a centrifuge. His mind is clearly elsewhere. His concentration gets so bad that he abandons his experiment and collapses at his desk, his head resting in his hands.

Kes arrives asking if she can help in any way. His initial response is no, but he reconsiders and asks her to continue Ensign Parson's lab work. She readily agrees, and picks up where he left off. She suspects he's having troubles at home, and asks how he's doing. He admits he's afraid to go back home--that his own family may not want him there. She tells him he can't avoid them forever. Doc, seeing the wisdom in this, takes the day off and launches the family program on Holodeck 2.


He appears outside the front door. He can hear voices--Klingon voices. They are speaking in hushed, somber tones. Doc finds Jeffery in the living room, with Larg and K'Kath.

Father and son exchange uneasy greetings. The Klingons don't seem at all happy to have him there.

Doc says he'd like to get to know Jeffery's friends. His tone suggests he won't take no for an answer. The kids relent and take seats on the couch.

Doc notes that there's something in Larg's hands. "What is it?" Doc asks with affected pleasantness. Larg's expression is both hostile, and vacant. "Huh?" Larg growls.

"It's a knife; what does it look like?" Jeffery mutters arrogantly. Doc says nothing, just looks at him. Jeffery fidgets and averts his gaze., knowing he was out of line with the remark and the tone. (For a kid claiming to be hooked on Klingon, he sure shows a lot of disrespect to the House of Holodoc. He's picking up all the irritating qualities of Klingon culture, without catching the honorable elements such as, well, honor, and family name, and respecting one's parents.) Doc asks why they have a knife. Larg says the knife is a big part of Klingon culture. He gives the knife a name: D'k Tahg. A badass three-bladed puppy with a hilt as wide around as a Louisville Slugger and a history as long and proud as Kahless himself. The blade given to a young warrior before the Rite of Ascension.

The problem is, the knife Larg holds is not a D'k Tahg, and Doc knows it. And Jeffery suspects Doc knows it. Doc looks at the knife, says "Hm," and holds his hand out. After some hesitation, Larg flips the knife over and catches it by the blade, offering the hilt to Doc. He takes it, examining it as he would a medical instrument.

"I know something of Klingon culture. This is actually a dagger of Kut'luch...isn't it?" Larg scowls. K'Kath sees something incredibly fascinating in his shoes, too "absorbed" to look up. Jeffery looks like he's just been caught doing something seriously wrong, or about to.

Doc looks at Larg. "Well?" he asks. Larg's response is so forced it sounds like it was provided by a voiceover. "Yessss." Doc expounds on his knowledge of the knife and its use: the first bloodletting in preparation for becoming a warrior. "Who plans to spill blood with this?" he asks.

All eyes turn to Jeffery. His friends can't help it; Jeffery looks like he's ready to implode. Nobody answers, though. Doc demands to know who plans to go through the ritual. Still no answer.

Doc throws the Klingons out of the house, and tells them to leave the sharp things at home next time. Larg grabs the knife and storms towards the door. "I told you humans were weak and cowardly," he rages through his Berlin Wall of prosthetic teeth. Jeffery calls after them, practically begging them to call him later.

When the Klingons leave, Jeffery turns on his father. "Now look what you've done!" he rages. Guilt and embarrassment mix with frustration as the boy unleashes a lifetime (all 42 minutes of it) at his father. Doc confronts him, accuses him of being the one who planned to do the bloodshed ritual.

A brief argument ensues about whose culture is superior, and about living under roofs and abiding by rules. Doc delivers an ultimatum. Jeffery calls it. He's "gone native" in a big way, and i guess being the son of a doctor would naturally make you want to go out and kill something. (My dad was a lawyer. I rebelled by never needing one.)

Needless to say, Jeffery and Belle have different opinions of their father. And while I must say that I was more approving of his handling of this scene than I was with his "here, I've rewritten your entire schedules and lifestyles, no need to thank me all at once" scene, I noticed that it didn't go over any better with Jeffery. No neat sitcom resolution here. There's some genuine conflict here. Doc is naturally upset by the development; as a doctor, the thought of shedding blood repels him; his son wants to do so, it seems, primarily to turn his back on everything Dad believes in. That's gotta hurt.

While Doc considers what just happened (he's effectively kicked Jeffery out of the house), he gets a call from his wife. Belle had an accident while playing Parisses Squares. I'm not sure which day of the week it is, but it's a good guess it's Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday--the days Doc expected her to play, because it's with kids nearer her own age, and supposedly safer.

Naturally, she's hurt badly. Really badly.


Doc puts a blanket over Belle in the hospital room. She is not awake. A large bandage covers the left side of her forehead.

Belle's Mom appears asking how she is. Doc says, basically, that the brain is still a complex and little-understood organ, and despite his best efforts as a surgeon, and with the help of Dr. Finley, Belle is tolling. In this scene he's more Doc than Dad, though you can see he's shaken by the turn his daughter's life has taken. He had spent hours trying to heal the damage, an effort that even his massive knowledge couldn't fix. His wife has hard time accepting wht he is saying--that she will die. She flees the room.

Doc falls heavily into a chair by the wall, and rubs his forehead. He calls Belle's name, a plaintive plea to nobody in particular on her behalf. Daddy's Little Girl is being taken from him. His wife doesn't understand him. His son doesn't want to.

If I were Doc, I'd reinstate those "dark threads" from Darkling, call Torres down to sickbay, and finish what I started. She cooked up a family life that would be too rough for Jerry Springer to air.

Belle, her voice weak, calls to Daddy. He rushes to her. Not only is she dying, she's blind and can't feel her legs. Old Yeller is in one corner, frothing at the mouth. Bambi's mother lies bleeding in another. In a third, Barney looks in dismay at his plummeting ratings. In the final corner, Simba's dad is being trampled by a stampeding herd of gazelles. This is a room of death, of lost innocence, and of shameless emotional manipulation.

Doc finally has had his fill. As the blind Belle calls out to Daddy, Doc tells the computer to end the program and blow it out the nearest airlock. He'll be in therapy for months after this. So will I. As he stands in the now empty Holodeck grid, he struggles to keep his wits about him.

* * *

Kes enters sickbay, and she and Doc briefly discuss Ensign Parsons' labwork. Then she asks about his family. "Okay I suppose," he says. He says he's finished with that program; he got what he wanted out of it and sees no further need to continue it. Kes senses something is wrong; whenever Doc is this upbeat, it usually means his world is crashing in around him. She says she was hoping to see them again, that she enjoyed the dinner with the family. He says if he ever creates a new one he'll let her know. She exits without further comment. Doc allows the facade to fall, and his becomes the face of Anguish personified.


Janeway hails Paris, and this time the connection is nice and clear. Paris says he's been doing some scans and believes he's in the "interfold layer" between space and subspace. He starts to describe its properties (some of which might have been interesting--like, for example, a possible way ot cutting their trip shorter?) But Janeway doesn't care about any of that. Her only concern at the moment is bringing Tom back to space in one piece.

Paris already has an idea about that. "I'll leave the way I entered," he says. Catch a wave. He says he's been tracking an Eddy he thinks is on the verge of breaking on through to the other side. Janeway and Torres share a look. They don't like the sound of that. Janeway exhales sharply. "If I had any other ideas I'd suggest them, but I don't," she says. She green-lights him to use his best judgment on the matter.

Tom's shuttle leaps toward the mirrored twisters and expanding ring of energy.

Paris barks status reports every few seconds. He thinks the Eddy will be breaking out soon. He warns Janeway that this one will be a whopper, and urges Voyager to steer clear. Janeway refuses, since that might prevent them from rescuing him after he'd done all the hard work. The churning mass of debris-strewn power draws closer, and soon Paris is dodging pieces of space station, old starships, etc. He tells Janeway how he's doing, keeping the jokes to a minimum. A massive jolt throws Paris out of his seat, but remarkably the shuttle doesn't lose control. He crawls back and continues the flight. Voyager, meanwhile, is being buffeted by the advancing circle of death which wiped out the science station, its shields not preventing stations from exploding in showers of sparks. Janeway shouts time and time again for status reports, demanding to know if they see Paris, if they have a lock on him, etc. Chakotay does his best to keep Voyager from flying apart. Kim does his best to latch transporters onto the shuttle. Torres does her best to keep her turbulent emotions in check.

A monstrous piece of debris advances on Paris. A transporter lock claims him and the shuttle before they collide. I think the editing on this got mixed up a tad, because Voyager's bridge crew talks for a few seconds before harry announces that he's got the shuttle with one lifesign aboard.

"He's injured!" Torres reports, panicked. Janeway orders him beamed to sickbay.

Hey, wait a minute--the shuttle LIVED?

Mr. Paris: Mission accomplished. Shuttle more or less intact, the energy collected, presumably, now available for integration.

Sorry, Mr. Neelix, but I'll be having the cordon bleu tonight.


Holodoc examines Paris, treating his wounds with breathtaking efficiency. His normally brusque bedside manner, though, has degenerated into a shouted interrogation. Poor Paris; this is his second lecture of the episode from Doc, and this one is almost as virulent as the plasma Eddy he just flew through. The highlight of the diatribe is Doc's suggestion that folks like him who live for the moment should be thrown in the brig. Paris takes it with some good humor (the concussion probably prevents Paris from bantering with all thrusters actve) but he soon realizes he's getting a lecture meant for someone else.

By the time Doc whirls around with a face of fury about Paris' childish irresponsibility, he realizes it as well. He stops in mid-sentence. Paris cocks his head to one side, quizzically, like a basset hound watching Jeopardy. Embarrassed, Doc turns his back on Paris and apologizes.

Paris gets up from the biobed and walks towards Doc, asking what's wrong. Doc starts to say something, then lets it out. His daughter, Belle, is a risk-taking child. She took one risk too many. She had an accident. She's going to die.

Paris, who'd laughed with Torres earlier about Doc's Family, looks half-tempted to laugh at first, but reconsiders. Doc's family may be only a few days old, but it's clear from his behavior that they are very real to him, and B'Elanna's reprogramming means that Doc doesn't have any control over outcomes anymore. It's as real to Doc as it would be to anyone else. His smirk vanishes. "I'm so sorry," Paris says, his voice a whisper.

Doc tries to brush it off. "No matter, I ended the program. I won't be going back." Paris asks him to reconsider that. Doc says he couldn't; it was too difficult. He couldn't bear it.

Paris, who has known some pain in his life, says that most folks would also avoid that kind of pain if they could. But they were never given the choice.

"Well, fortunately, I do have that choice."

Paris locks his gaze on Doc. "Is it so fortunate?" He collects his thoughts, doing remarkably well for someone who just suffered a concussion. "You wanted a family. That means taking the good along with the bad. You can't have one without the other." Doc wonders why not.

Paris explains that the crew of Voyager all left families behind when they were brought out here. One of the things that's brought the crew closer together has been the community of pain; they're all suffering similar experiences. This suffering has helped make them a family. Paris notes that if Doc doesn't finish the program, he'll never have a chance to say goodbye to his daughter, he'll never have the opportunity to comfort his wife and son in their hour of grief, he'll never know the love and comfort they can provide him in this dark hour. And what's more, Paris says, Doc will be stuck at this point in his development, unable to relate to the crew who have gone through the same thing. "You'll miss the whole point of what it means to have a family," Paris concludes. With nothing more to say, he exits sickbay, leaving Doc to his thoughts.


Doc appears on Holodeck 2 and tells the computer to continue the family program where it left off. He finds himself back in the hospital room where Belle, blind and scared, asks if she's going to die. Doc does his best to comfort her, but tells her honestly that she is dying. She cries, but says that if he'll stay with her she won't be scared. He holds her hand and assures her he'll be right there.

Charlene and Jeffery enter. Jeffery is holding a blanket. Mom makes a beeline for Belle. Jeffery hesitates near the doorway, and he and Doc share an awkward moment. Finally, Jeffery says "Dad..." in a shaky voice, and rushes into Doc's arms. You get the feeling a lot of talks lie ahead of them, but the immediate impasse is at an end. Jeffery isn't so Klingon after all.

Jeffery approaches Belle and hands her "your blanket." He calls her Shorty, his affectionate nickname. Doc looks in wonder as the scene unfolds. The family, all together, not arguing, sharing grief. Belle smiles at the love in the room, filled with her family, knowing she can die now. She says she's sleepy. Doc tells her it's okay to sleep now, her family is with her. She drifts off, then breathes her last. Doc uses the instruments to confirm her passing, as Mom and Jeffery weep. He puts the scanner down and holds them close, looking down on his daughter.

For better or worse, he's got a family now. And he needs them as much as they need him. His grief is no longer too much to bear, because he is no longer alone.


I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry.

What angers me is, they practically put a gun to our heads and ordered us to.

The title of this episode is "Real Life." It started out showing Doc's idea of what it's like to be in a family, something straight out of Nick at Night. Since it was directed by Anson Williams ("Potsie" from Happy Days) this must be familiar territory for him. He also gets to put an ironic spin on things by putting Torres--someone whose childhood was anything but Sitcom Perfect--into the scene, and letting her react. And react she does.

You want real life? She asks. I'll give you real life.

The problem is, she doesn't. She gives Doc the polar opposite of what he had. And it seems as far removed from reality as his original programming.

Question: Are there families like the one Doc ended up with? Undoubtedly. Are there families like Doc originally created? Yes and no. I bet more of us imagine it Doc's way than B'Elanna's.

The issue here is expectations. Sure, they may be wildly inaccurate, but I think it's the vision of the good side of family life that prompts us toward it. Torres provided a worst-case scenario.

"Happy Days" turned into "Touched by a Destroying Angel." Not fair at all. That kind of tragedy may happen, but it's not the norm, and even it seems to promise something that doesn't always happen: the death of a loved one will bring the rest together.

This is not the Big Lie of sitcoms, but the Big Lie of the Very Special Episode. It's just as stereotypical, just as manipulative, and just as offensive to those who have endured this sort of tragedy and found life still didn't work out all that well.

But...all things considered, Voyager itself isn't Real Life, so perhaps I'm being too harsh.


It's just a guess, but this may be a Chick Flick episode, the sort of story to divide the genders. Every guy I've talked to thought it was an outrage; every woman loved it.

I haven't heard from everyone with an opinion, I'm sure. But the early results are conclusive. Perhaps the inclusion of the Klingon Romance is telling. This is not the (stereotypical) male ideal of family life, of the perfect, non-problematic offspring and utterly devoted bride who ensures that there are no problems at home, who is all things at all times, and utterly predictable. No, this shows the arrogant male getting his comeuppance, experiencing firsthand just how difficult it can be to be in a family, making a mess of things, getting all his best-laid plans thrown right back in his face.

Doc, the Alpha male, learns a lesson in Real Life the hard way. He was so stubborn, it took killing a kid to get the message through.


I'll admit it--I'm pissed. This episode makes me very angry. There's a lot to like about it--standout dramatic performances by Picardo and McNeill; the little girl is only overplayed slightly, and is for the most part endearing; the B Plot with the Giant Sucking Sound in Space is relatively nonintrusive, and mixes in well with the Doc Plot, giving Paris a chance to show some genuine maturity; and they returned to some elements that make Voyager stand out--the facts that it's a long way from home, and on its own for resupply, and that those resupplies come along less often than they'd like. Again, it was Paris providing the telling nature of their paucity, as he is forced to eat Neelix's food because he doesn't have any replicator rations.

Dramatically, the episode worked. They pushed all the expected buttons, right on schedule. What bugs me is how manipulative it was. You're almost guaranteed to prompt tears if you kill a kid, slowly enough to gather the family--particularly a feuding family--together. The problem is the aftermath; speaking for myself, I don't like Drama by the Numbers.

The only real innovation here was Doc's ability to cancel his family, and Paris asking aloud whether Doc is doing himself any favors by simply cutting out. In a less dramatic sense, this also happens frequently. People skip out on their families and their responsibilities all the time when things get rough--when their personal fantasy of what Family Life Should Be gets kicked in the butt by reality. It's not just Holodoc. The means may differ--they may lose themselves in work or in mind-altering chemicals; they may lose themselves in the oblivion of suicide; they may simply ignore reality and continue to believe despite all evidence that they're still living in a Very Brady World.

Denial is a powerful thing. You don't have to be a character on television to be detached from Real Life.


So...my question is, do I hate this episode for the right reasons, or the wrong ones? Does it boil my bacon because it's a shameless play on emotions, or because it's a blistering social commentary on unrealistic expectations?

To be honest, I still don't know.

You'll either love or hate this episode. And you'll either think I'm right on, or utterly off my rocker. If you figure it out, let me know.


Okay...rant off.

The bit about the subspace eddy was nothing spectacular, except as a visual. You just knew Paris would get out okay. The surprise was how nicely the whole adventure, a relative milk run dramatically, worked in with the Doc Plot. I also noted how curious it was that Paris and Torres managed to double-team Doc into giving his family simulation the Old College Try. Their forceful argument for a realistic family (and their own less-than-thrilling family backgrounds) means they're heading into their relationship with both eyes open. Perhaps it's good that they're taking things slowly.

The only other thing I feel like saying about this episode was the cute scene between Paris and Torres in the mess hall. Their flirtations are getting much more direct now, and I see that as a good sign. Perhaps sometime soon, they can actually go out on a full-fledged date rather than do the verbal two-step.

This is truly the season of Hair Trek. Janeway's gone from the Power Bun to the ponytail (a welcome improvement, IMO, which has also led to a general relaxation of the on-board atmosphere. As goes Janeway's hair, so goes the crew. Kes was next, using "Before and After" as an excuse to toss that dreadful Elfin wig. We even saw Doc with hair and Paris without. Now we've got Torres putting in a braid, lightening and lengthening and letting down her hair.

It's like a virus, I tell you.

I'm avoiding the rating on this one. Like I said, it's love it or hate it, and I felt both in a big way.

Ah, hell with it. Some important things happened here, and like they say in comedy, a strong reaction is a good reaction.

On a 0 to 10 scale, I'll give this 7.75, or (* * * 1/2).


My original suggestion--that this is a guy/girl thing--has long since been blown out of the water. After the review was posted, as expected, the folks who didn't fit the hypothesis came out of the woodworks, and set me straight.

So if you're a guy who liked the show or a woman who didn't, don't worry--I no longer believe that this is a pure-dee Chick Flick episode. I don't regret suggesting it; your responses were a joy to read, I learned a lot, you gave me a lot to think about -- and though I can be stubborn, I don't mind a bit being proven wrong.

Next week: Starfleet Velociraptors.

Copyright © 1997 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.

Last Updated: April 27, 1997
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