"The Killing Game"
Parts One and Two

Season Four, Episodes 18 & 19
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Part One Directed by David Livingston
Part Two Directed by Victor Lobl
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

The Hirogen capture Voyager and fore its crew to endure deadly holodeck scenarios.



What the hell was all that about?!
I'm dazed. Confused. I feel like I've been pounded over the head with a sledgehammer. Which is fine, it's just I'd like to know WHY!! What was it all in aid of?

My guess is that The Killing Game, a special feature-length episode, is basically Voyager's attempt at doing a Hollywood blockbuster movie. It's a furiously-paced, all-action romp packed with explosions left right and centre, lots of shouting and people running about with guns. The first part does a nice job of building up a scenario in a war-time, German-occupied French town. But by the second half, it's just absolute anarchy. The writers clearly wanted a huge, spectacular "event" episode and that's certainly what they end up with. It's just a shame they didn't spend a little more effort on the actual plot because, by gum, this really is a ridiculous piece of nonsense. Anyone arguing the point that Voyager is responsible for the dumbing down of Trek need look no further than this.

I can't escape the impression that "plot" was a mere afterthought when it came to The Killing Game. I'd be willing to bet that the episode was borne of the desire to have a big action show that featured the Hirogen and was set largely on the holodeck. You can just imagine the writing staff developing the "story": 

I know, I know, I'm a cheeky little git, but I'm just telling it like it is! I definitely get the feel of a traditional Hollywood blockbuster here. Massive budget, lots of action and excitement, very little in the way of substantative plot or characterisation. Before I actually sat down to write this review I had a look around to see what everyone else was saying and I found that Jamahl Episcokhan had already said pretty much what I was about to say! Read his review, it's better than mine! I was going to use Independence Day as an example of a big Hollywood movie and precisely what The Killing Game seemed to be aiming for. 

ID4 was a big, bold, action-packed, visually stunning movie and one that was undeniably fun to watch. Yet at the same time it was also a piece of overlong, badly-scripted, hollow, laughably contrived nonsense. I mean, Will Smith and the American President save the world from alien invaders? Uh huh, whatever. Obviously it's not a film to be taken too seriously, but when someone is obligated to critically analyse it, you can't just overlook such vital components as plot and characterisation. Because, at the end of the day, regardless of how good the special effects were, it is plot and characterisation that essentially make or break the movie. 

ID4 was absolute nonsense -- entertaining nonsense -- but nonsense all the same. I know a couple of people who seriously consider ID4 a cinematic masterpiece. They don't care about the ridiculous plot, the hopeless contrivances and the paper-thin characters. After all, it was fun, so who cares about all that? Certainly fun counts for a fair bit in my book, but when the plot and characters are so inane that I simply can't take them seriously, then there are very serious problems (unless of course this is intentional as in the case of a comedy or parody).

How does this apply to The Killing Game, you may ask? Well, it was rather like ID4 -- it was fun, slick, exceptionally well produced and visually impressive. On the other hand, the characterisation and indeed the plot were almost a hundred percent superficial and little more than a showcase for as much mindless havoc as the budget would allow. The plot is brittle and incoherent and in the end meant very little at all.

For a start, the notion of the Hirogen taking over Voyager and putting the crew into holodeck simulations seemed quite ridiculous. Certainly, the fact that the crew have now lost control of the ship umpteen times paints them in a less than competent light and the whole story seemed to cry "gimmick". I don't quite understand how the Hirogen can be incapable of creating holodeck technology themselves when they are able to create neural devices that link people in with the holodeck programs. The notion that the crew have been put through various violent simulations but kept alive also seemed to contradict what we know of the Hirogen we've met so far. Basically they were toying with the crew; playing games with them. 

What is Voyager's crew compliment, anyhow? Surely they can't have put everyone in holodeck simulations; I mean how many holodecks do they have?! I could understand if the Hirogen had hunted and killed most of Voyager's crew, leaving only a few guinea pigs left to try out the holodeck "experiment". But it still comes across as somewhat daft. Is this supposed to be some sort of allegory as to how video games are perilously addictive? At any rate, all this completely flew in the face of what we've learned about the Hirogen in the past few episodes.

But then their leader isn't exactly a conventional Hirogen. And it was this that provided the episode's sole glimmer of intelligence or depth. The Hirogen leader, henceforth called the Commandant because I don't recall his name, is a revolutionary. He sees that his people's obssession with the hunt is killing them. He wants to build a new future for his people and holodeck technology would seem to be the answer. He reasons that they could still hunt but they would not have to nomadically roam across the galaxy. That made sense I suppose, but I had immense trouble accepting the idea that the Hirogen would gladly hunt holographic prey instead of real prey. Can you imagine the Hirogen people agreeing to this?

Fortunately, the situation is not portrayed as something that will be easy and eventually the Commandant's own men turn against him, rejecting his radical proposals. This was the real meat of the story, but sadly it's glossed over and comprises only a couple of scenes. The Commandant's death was a little hard to buy and seemed the cheap option dramatically. It was somewhat ridiculous that while Voyager's crew could be shot numerous times and still survive, just one bullet could kill a mighty, well-armoured Hirogen. I think for the episode to have worked, this storyline should have been expanded upon instead of being treated as a mere afterthought.

Instead, the writers choose to focus on the holodeck shenanigans. And to begin with, it's a fair bit of fun. The setting was nicely established, if more than a little reminiscent of 'Allo 'Allo!, a British sitcom that was set in war-time France and featured a resistance movement that worked from a cafe. It was fun to watch the cast playing different characters but with definite traces of their characters' personalities creeping into these alter-egos. Clearly a lot of money has been spent on this episode and it looked simply stunning. The sets, props and costumes were superlative and the attention to detail suitably impressive. Both David Livingston and Victor lobl (who helmed parts one and two respectively) did wonderful jobs behind the camera, David Bell's score was bombastic and spirited while the cast were clearly having a lot of fun, which in turn is fun to watch. No doubt about it, the production values were an all-time high for Voyager, and to everyone's credit The Killing Game looked and sounded absolutely great.

If only the writers had put a lot more thought into this, The Killing Game could have been an exceptionally good episode.

And sure enough, in spite of the general shakiness of the premise, the first part did have a lot of promise. But towards the second half, the novelty factor began to wear off and "fun" was simply no longer enough to sustain a feature-length episode. The second part of this story plunged things into a sea of mindless chaos. It's all action, no brains. Whatever existed to begin with in terms of plot is ruthlessly shot down by holographic bullets! It's simply a matter of everyone running about with guns, lots of fighting and explosions...and if I only had a pound for the number of times a character had a gun pointed in their face! I have no problem with action, but if it is to be used as anything other than garnish then it has to be used constructively in a way that makes sense and creates tension and suspense. My impression of The Killing Game is that action was constituted plot and I don't think that is very healthy at all.

In amongst all this holographic chaos, which has leaked out onto the ship thanks to holo-emitters being installed all over the ship (don't ask) there's a rather painful Klingon sub-plot seemingly inserted only for the aim of letting both Kate Mulgrew and Ethan Phillips dress up as Klingons. In both cases, I can only say "thanks, but NO thanks". Both were absolutely horrible. Yuck.

And what can I say about the ending? There's pathetic and then there's pathetic. Aside from Chakotay's horribly, horribly low-key "It's over; let's go", there's the whole issue of how on earth Voyager's crew wasn't immediately stomped out by the Hirogen. How can Voyager's crew withstand the crew of no less than FOUR Hirogen vessels? Don't forget that the Hirogen are a deadly, extremely powerful race of hunters. That Voyager and its crew got off scot-free is simply impossible to believe. In her log, Janeway states that Voyager has been severely damaged. I would think so too, but we all know that "severely damaged" means absolutely squat because Voyager is a ship with nothing less than miraculous recuperative powers! 

Dare I even approach Janeway's decision to give the Hirogen holodeck technology in exchange for their freedom? Bear in mind that this is the Janeway who swore that she would destroy Voyager before she gave any technology to the Kazon. Perhaps someone should rename her Captain Inconsistent. And, heavens above, I refuse to believe that the Hirogen would agree to end the hunt just like that!! "Okay, we end hunt in exchange for little box!" Right.

And so we have The Killing Game. It was a sumptuous visual feast. It was often fun and entertaining. The acting was fine, the directing and music were superb. Sadly, everything is trashed by very poor plotting. Anything that remotely resembled intelligent storytelling was shoved out the way in favour of mind-numbing, gratuitous action without rhyme nor reason. In other words, it's pretty much like a big budget Hollywood movie. That's fine, if you're one of those that worshipped Independence Day, you'll probably love this. But as for myself, if I want a trashy, brainless Hollywood film I'll go out and watch one. This...this is not why I watch Trek.

Part One Rating: 6
Part Two Rating: 4
Overall Rating: 5

Before I go, here's an idea I had for Voyager's next "big event" episode! Here goes: the Borg capture Voyager, but instead of assimilating it and its crew, they have found something even more deadly . Obsessed with Voyager's food replicators ("Hey, this is better than sex--I mean assimilating!") they force the crew to eat one plate of horrible food after the next. How will Voyager's crew survive this deadly encounter as they must endure the galaxy's worst cuisine at the hands of the brutal Borg? Find out in the special feature-length, big-budget Voyager extravaganza:  The Eating Game.  :-)

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