Thursday, February 6, 2014

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECT: (5.13) "Gravity"

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"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECT: (5.13) "Gravity"

Every once in a while, an episode from the "STAR TREK" television franchise featured an episode that featured a few members of the cast being stranded on some planet during an Away mission. In fact, I cannot think of one TREK series that did not utilize this story structure. One of them was the Season Five "STAR TREK VOYAGER" episode called (5.13) "Gravity" 

In this episode, Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok, the recently demoted Ensign Tom Paris and the Doctor crash landed on a planet during an Away mission. Their shuttle got caught in a gravimetric shear and pulled toward the planet's surface. And unbeknownst to them, time is moving faster on the planet than it is throughout the rest of that region of space. Tom remains behind inside their damaged shuttle, while Tuvok scours the area for supplies. During his foray, a lone alien female robs Tom of much needed equipment, before she is attacked by a small hunting group of another species. Tuvok comes to her rescue and leads her back to the shuttle for medical attention. With the assistance of the Doctor, whose Universal Translator was still working, Tuvok and Tom learn that her name is Noss and that she had been stranded on the planet for "14 seasons".

During the following two months on the planet, Tuvok and the others have moved to Noss' damaged ship for better shelter. More importantly, Noss has developed an attraction to Tuvok. He decides to ignore her attraction due to his marital status. Noss' attraction also brings back memories of Tuvok's time with a Vulcan master, who tried to help him purge his emotions, following an incident with another female years ago. Tuvok's failure to respond to Noss' attraction angers her and annoys Tom. Meanwhile, Captain Kathryn Janeway and the Voyager crew uses a probe to find the gravimetric distortion that the Away team's shuttle went into, in order to contact Tuvok and Tom. During the two months the Away team had spent on the planet, Voyager's crew had spent a few hours searching for them. However, a species dealing with the loss of nearly a dozen ships arrives, bent on closing the distortion, which would crush everything within.

One would think that the main narrative for "Gravity" centered around the Away team's survival on the planet and Voyager's attempt to rescue them. The episode's title certainly seems to hint this. But "Gravity" began with a flashback to Tuvok's childhood. As I stated earlier, the much younger Tuvok was sent to a Vulcan master to help him purge strong emotions not only for a female member of his community, but also teach him to control those emotions. One could say that aside from a few incidents beyond Tuvok's control - like mind melding with a Betezoid crew member/killer and dealing with telepathic aliens addicted to angry thoughts - the Vulcan master more or less did his job. However, Tuvok, who considered himself happily married, did not count upon meeting the castaway, Noss. Between their mutual attraction and Tom Paris' encouragement of a relationship between them, it was not surprising that Tuvok resorted to alienating himself from Noss and meditation to avoid caving in to his desire. But this has always been typical Tuvok behavior. Whenever faced with the idea of connecting with someone he deemed a threat to his emotional well-being, he would resort to drastic measures.

I have always had a problem with how Vulcans were portrayed in the "TREK" franchise. The writers rarely appreciated their talent for controlling their emotions. They either want Vulcan characters to embrace emotional response or be more like Humans. Spock was always chided by James Kirk or Leonard McCoy for his failure to "be more human". This was due to Spock being half-Human on his mother's side. The Vulcans - namely Spock and his father, Sarek - were treated with dignity on "STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION". But honestly, I found their appearances on that show not very interesting. The writers of "STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE" practically villified Vulcans. "STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE" also seemed to vilified Vulcans, despite having one as a main character. It has been a mixed bag on"STAR TREK: VOYAGER". Most of Voyager's crew - especially the Humans - seem to constantly make sly digs at Vulcan culture or express a desire for Tuvok to behave more like a Human. Although Tom seem to regard Tuvok a lot higher than the ship's First Officer, Commander Chakotay, he is one of those who seem to wish that Tuvok be more openly expressive. And yet, there are those like Captain Janeway and Seven-of-Nine who seem willing to accept Tuvok as he was. More importantly, the series has managed to pinpoint that Tuvok's main problem was his tendency to be a loner. Other Vulcan crewmen - like Vorik and one of Chakotay's former Maquis crewmen - managed to socialize with the rest of the crew without losing any aspects of their culture.

Although Tuvok has managed to befriend others like Captain Janeway and Seven on a one-to-one basis, I suspect those loner tendencies did more harm than good in this particular episode. One of Tom's rants against Tuvok was the manner in which the latter rejected Noss' declaration of love. Even I found it unnecessarily brutal . . . especially since I have seen the Vulcan security officer deal with others with more compassion. Tuvok could have been a little more graceful in his rejection of Noss. But I suspect that his attraction to her, his status as a married man and his memories of the last time he went overboard for a woman without the benefit of Pon Farr must have scared him shitless. I must admit that I found Tom Paris' encouragement of a Tuvok/Noss love affair seemed surprising . . . almost tasteless. He could pursued Noss, himself. But she never displayed any romantic interest in Tom. The latter was certainly not interested in Noss. Also, Tom was in the middle of his second year of his romance with Voyager's Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres. He probably figured that he had a better chance of seeing B'Elanna again than Tuvok had of reuniting with his wife, who was thousands of light years away. And I also took umbrage at Tom's unwillingness to understand or accept Vulcan culture and customs. But as I had stated earlier, I understood his anger at Tuvok's rejection of Noss.

I would not rate "Gravity" as among the best episodes of "STAR TREK VOYAGER". The B-plot regarding the castaways' situation on the planet and Voyager's efforts to rescue them struck me as best, unoriginal. But it did feature some pretty decent action sequences involving Tuvok, Noss and Tom's conflicts with the alien raiders. It was the main plot involving Tuvok's feelings for Noss and his Draconian measures to deny them that I found interesting. Unlike many other "TREK"fans, I never had a desire for Tuvok to behave more like Humans. Instead, I enjoyed episodes like "Gravity" that explored the Vulcan's inner feelings, conflicts and especially his interactions with Tom Paris and Noss. Despite all of the action in this episode, it is basically a character study.

"Gravity" featured some solid performances from Kate Mulgrew and the rest of the cast who portrayed Voyager's crew. Leroy D. Brazile's portrayal of the young Tuvok struck me as decent, but occasionally over-the-top. Robert Picardo provided some comic relief in his brief, yet witty portrayal of the Doctor. But the episode featured three superb performances. I have never come across an actress who not only proved to be a more than credible action character, but one with a baby voice. But Lori Petty did a great job in creating an original character like Noss - attitude, voice and all. She also had great chemistry with both Tim Russ and Robert Duncan McNeill. Speaking of the latter, McNeill not only did an excellent job in portraying Tom Paris' usual minor flaws and at the same time, conveying how much the character had grown over the years and how romantic he truly can be. But this episode belonged to Russ, who did such a marvelous job in his portrayal of the subliminally emotional, yet always emotional Tuvok. And this is the first time Russ portrayed a Tuvok involved in a possible romance and he did a superb job with his usual subtlety.

"Gravity" is basically a mixture of a character study and an action episode. Honestly? The action-themed plot surrounding the Away team's predicament on the planet struck me as unoriginal and barely interesting. The character study of Tuvok and his near romance with Noss really made this episode for me. Overall, "Gravity" proved to be a very entertaining, yet not particularly great episode from "STAR TREK VOYAGER".

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