"Prey"

Season Four, Episode 16
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Eastman
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:
Tony Todd as Hirogen

Plot:

Voyager comes to the aid of a stricken Hirogen vessel, and unwittingly takes on the Hunters' prey -- one of the deadly Species  8472 aliens.  


Review: 

Three words for you: NOW WE'RE TALKING. "Prey" is one of Voyager's best and a prime indication that with a little more effort and a lot more guts, Voyager has the potential to be SO much more than a watered-down imitation of TNG. Like some of the best episodes of its sister series, DS9, "Prey" picks up threads from previous episodes and weaves them into an exceptionally entertaining slice of television that keeps its emphasis as much on character as plot and actually encompasses some -- SHOCK! HORROR! -- character development. There are certainly one or two little problems but on the whole it's one of the show's most enjoyable, gripping and altogether finest episodes.

I've not been especially bowled-over by the Hirogen both prior and subsequent to this, and that's to put no fine a point on the matter. I appreciated the attempt at something different, but the sad thing is that the Hirogen are all-too familiar. They're a bit like a slightly more gruesome, less articulate version of the Kazon and you all know just how interesting the Kazon were...not! I suppose it didn't help that the Hirogen we saw in both "Message in a Bottle" and "Hunters" were about as three-dimensional as a sheet of paper and played like something out of a bad pantomime. 

If the Hirogen fare any better here, it's surely due to the presence of one Tony Todd, the talented actor who will forever be remembered as the man that so beautifully portrayed old Jake in DS9's masterpiece "The Visitor". Although the Hirogen are still as one-dimensional and blatantly obvious as ever, Todd is superb, managing to instill a degree of depth and complexity for which he deserves a medal. The teaser features two Hirogen soldiers stalking a prey which, we soon discover, is actually one of the Species 8472. Immediate reaction: "ohhh sh******!!" Voyager comes to the aid of a severely damaged Hirogen ship and rescues an injured Hunter, but also unwittingly takes on board the injured 8472 alien. Again, the sight of the alien climbing across the outer hull elicited a similar reaction to that of the teaser.

The resultant discovery that an 8472 is aboard the ship and the crew's attempts to stop it provide some gripping, nail-biting action that is helped enormously by the visually-stunning directing of Allan Eastman and an effective musical score by Dennis McCarthy. The production values were definitely well above average this week. But the most fascinating element of "Prey" is without doubt the moral dilemma that the crew find themselves faced with. The 8472 is severely injured and only wants to return back home to fluidic space. Janeway wants to help it. But several Hirogen ships are converging on Voyager and if Janeway doesn't hand the 8472 over to them, Voyager will be in deep trouble indeed. What should she do?

It's a tough call. Obviously handing the alien over to the Hunters would be signing its death warrant...BUT the lives of Voyager's entire crew are at stake. What good do virtuous intentions count for when you're dead? It's a theme that's been explored very effectively by DS9 several times and the conclusions drawn by DS9 differ from Janeway's eventual decision. Which leads us to the episode's main flaw, something I call "the Janeway problem". Nope, it's not a new problem. Janeway has made some very questionable decisions over the years (just don't get me started on "Tuvix") and at times I've been less than enamoured by her method of command (does "facism" mean anything to you?). Here I actually found myself siding with Seven on several occasions which is ironic because, as we all know, Janeway is the Captain and therefore is always right!! 

First case point: Voyager picks up several Hirogen ships. Does Janeway take Voyager to a safe distance to avoid any possibel trouble? No. Janeway wants to know more about them. Uh huh. Yes, she's willing to endanger her ship and her crew just to satisfy her own curiosity. Bad move, Janey. When Chakotay reminds her that the Hirogen are dangerous and aggressive, unlikely to respond to diplomacy, Janeway's glib answer is that "it's time we taught them otherwise". Does she really believe she can change a people by displaying her own moral superiority?! How naive, how irresponsible.

Her decision that she is not going to hand the alien over to the Hirogen is also very questionable. I appreciate that it's a gut-wrencher...but when it comes to upholding moral principles and safeguarding lives -- lives that she is responsible for -- the ugly choice is the only choice. What is one life for the lives of all those people under Janeway's command? She simply didn't have the right to do that. How can she place her own moral code above the lives of her crew? Sorry, but that is NOT the behaviour of a responsible Captain.  

Still, it just seems par for the course for Janeway. Don't get me wrong, I whole-heartedly agree with the "think before you shoot" sentiment and I had been in Janeway's place I would have tried to save the creature's life as well -- just not at the cost of hundreds of lives. Again, Janeway's damn-near fascist style of command had me paticularly worried. She never even considers that her decisions are wrong and she's never willing to even consider anyone else's opinions (see my comments for "Scorpion"). The closing scene where she reprimands Seven provided an unusually charged moment of character interaction and also left me thinking. I can see how Seven would be a liability for not respecting the chain of command. But Janeway's unrepentant certainty that she is right bugged me. Seriously, Janeway is in danger of becoming the Nazi Commandant of Voyager. Watch it, guys.

But, as I said, this is something of an ongoing problem that has roots far beyond this episode, so I'm reticent to ostracise "Prey" too much for this. Seven continues to be a delight to watch and "Prey" picks up on the fact that Seven has her own ideas about how Voyager should be run and explores what happens if a person should act on that and defy the Commandant -- sorry, Captain. Just as Janeway dresses down Seven for disobeying orders, Seven gives Janeway a few home truths and suggests that she sees her as a threat simply because she can now think for herself -- something Janeway helped her to do. I can wholly respect the need for respecting the chain of command, but I still can't get over Janeway's dictatorial method of command. That lady has me very, very worried indeed. This is something that really needs to be addressed by the writers.

All in all, "Prey" is a powerful, thought-provoking episode. Beautifully-directed, well-acted and thought-provoking, this is one episode I can wholly recommend. Yes, I am concerned with the behaviour of a certain principal character, but I have been for some time and it shouldn't detract too much from an episode that is, certainly by Voyager standards, damn near perfect.

Rating: 9.5


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