"Random Thoughts"

Season Four, Episode 10
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Alexander Singer
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Guest Cast:
Gwynyth Walsh as Nimira
Wayne Pere as Guill
Rebecca McFarland as Talli
Jeanette Miller as Older Woman
Ted Barba as Malin
Bobby Burns as Frane  


Voyager's crew takes shore leave on the peaceful world of the Mari, a telepathic race. But when a man accidentally stumbles into B'Elanna in the market square, her reflex action is to go on the defensive and this thought causes another Mari to kill someone. B'Elanna is arrested and charged with the murder, which they claim resulted from her violent thought. The punishment is to erase to thought from her memory, a dangerous procedure. Tuvok investigates to prove her innocence and uncovers a far bigger threat lurking under the peaceful Mari society -- in spite of them having eradicated negative thoughts, there is an underground black market where people telepathically trade violent images for thrills.

This is nowt more than a tired rehash of previous stories. It tries to combine aspects from Ex Post Facto, Prime Factors, TNG's Violations and, terrifyingly enough, Justice (shudder). It starts off reminiscent of Prime Factors, with the crew perusing the market place of a seemingly hospitable planet. What was the betting that once the Voyager bunch had arrived on the scene they'd uncover a more sinister aspect to these people? It turns out that the Mari are a telepathic race who have forbidden violent thought to eliminate its negative effect. When B'Elanna inadvertanly thinks a bad thought after being accidentally knocked over, she is locked up and the Mari plan to erase the thought from her mind (a risky procedure, apparently). Cue Tuvok doing his Hercule Poirot routine again (ala Ex Post Facto) and an investigation which uncovers a black market of "negative thoughts".

Telepathy is always something that's been a little difficult to dramatise and this is no exception. It's hard to get worked up over something which comes across as insipid and limp in dramatic terms. For a start the basic problem I have with the premise is this -- why didn't the crew just beam B'Elanna aboard and leave? I don't buy this "we must respect every law, no matter how unjust". Janeway's responsibility is to safeguard the lives of her crew foremost. What possible damage would it have done to just whisk B'Elanna away from the Mari? Ah well, I suppose that's a concession we have to buy because it sets up the core of the story.

Problem is, I didn't like the core. I hate it when Tuvok starts acting like something out of an Agatha Christie crime novel and whilst Tim Russ is, for the record, a good actor, Tuvok's constant stoicism just isn't engaging. In the slightest. The only person who could ever seem to get around that is Leonard Nimoy. The guest cast are pretty poor (though I enjoyed seeing Gwynyth Walsh, better known as the Klingon Duras sister B'Etor), Alexander Singer's directing was lacklustre (stop inviting him back! Either that or send him off on an intensive "how to direct" refresher course) and the script was dull, wordy and lame. You get the impression that the writers were so busy trying to give us sly social commentary about our society (presumably referring to the popularity of violent films and video games) that they totally forgot their primary purpose to construct a good drama.

The conclusion is pretty much as I'd expected. Tuvok uncovers a grave problem lurking under the surface of this seemingly "perfect" society. This isn't the first time Voyager has adopted this cynical approach. They encounter a race, uncover some sinister side to them and fly away with almost an attitude of "ha, ha! You were far too good to be true. Once again the Federation is far more enlightened than you lesser cultures". I'm probably just being hyper-sensitive but that's how it felt to me and I don't like that. Couple to that an awkward moment where Tuvok tells Janeway of his findings and she simply cannot conceal her smugness. Just, eww.

And, do forgive me, but what the hell was that final scene in Janeway's ready room doing there? Seven asks why the ship goes about exploring like any other Starfleet ship when they ought to be concentrating on getting home. A valid point, but once again we get Janeway's typically sanctimonious "we're a Starfleet crew, we follow the book regardless of all else". I'm reminded of Alliances in season two. Her rigid conforming to Starfleet "ideologies" is damn near facist and of course, as we all know, Janeway is always right. We all know the real reason that Voyager goes about exploring is to try and keep the series interesting and varied -- it's one issue I'd rather not have seen tackled, for it only went to tarnish Janeway by thoughtlessly using her as their plot device rather than a character. Plus it was completely unrelated to the rest of the story and felt like it had been tacked on when the writers realised they were a few seconds short. Bad idea.

Soooo, thanks but no thanks. This is an ineffective episode that takes a hackneyed premise and executes it badly with a plodding, preachy script, poor acting and comatose directing. This is the first real dud of the season, which I guess isn't bad, much unlike the episode itself.

By the way, does anyone else think that Neelix looks a bit like Jerry Springer sans the specs?

Rating: 4

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