Monday, September 4, 2017

Voyager 5x8 "Nothing Human"

rating: ****

the story: The Doctor struggles with the ethics of employing a consulting hologram based on a Cardassian who gained his knowledge in unethical ways.

what it's all about: As I write this review in 2017, "Nothing Human" proves itself all over again, an episode that questions the value of the past as a continuing legacy in the present.  In the Trump era, statues that have long stood in American streets commemorating Confederate soldiers like Robert E. Lee have come into the crossfires of renewed interracial conflict.  Some argue that censoring the past is akin to rewriting it.  The dilemma at the heart of "Nothing Human" is much the same.  Clearly based on barbaric Nazi practices from WWII, the episode speaks to a wide range of topics as well, as should any good morality story.  How do we draw conclusions from such things?

In the episode, the Doctor chooses what anyone would, but the episode itself proves that it's worth debating, that the existence of the consulting program was itself inherently beneficial regardless of its implications and how various personnel aboard the ship reacted to it.  This is not to say statues of Confederate soldiers are inherently repugnant to those who denounce the cause for which the Confederacy fought, or that the ends justify the means (Next Generation pursued the same medical question in "Ethics" with a lot more blunt trauma) no matter how grotesque, but that the full knowledge of the past comes with benefits that aren't so easy to dismiss.  Confederate statues ensure that we keep alive the memory of what so horribly wrong across half the United States; the consulting hologram does in fact help the Doctor save the lives of both B'Elanna Torres and the alien that had attached itself to her.  In a lot of ways, it's the Vidiian problem all over again.  In the early seasons, the crew faced the Vidiians, who developed horrible ideas of self-preservation but incredible medical knowledge along the way, some of which the crew benefited from. 

Backing away from the heaviness of the episode, it's also a deep franchise cut the series pulled off nicely.  The consulting hologram is modeled after a Cardassian, which means not only does "Nothing Human" draw from the Maquis element of the series, but the rich vein of Deep Space Nine material concerning the legacy of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, which gave that series some of its best episodes, which also tended to feature shades of grey ("Duet," for instance).  Incredibly, Deep Space Nine never managed to tell a story quite like "Nothing Human," although ironically "The Begotten," featuring a Bajoran scientist, comes closest.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Features the best of Star Trek's ability to reflect the real world's complexities.
  • series - Reminds viewers that the characters don't forget what's important to their backstory.
  • character - Arguably the Doctor's best medical spotlight.
  • essential - It's a Deep Space Nine story in Voyager.  What's not to love?

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