the story: Holograms fight for the right to exist on their own terms.
what it's all about: In the highly charged atmosphere of 2017, it's difficult to find anything that attempts to unite disparate perspectives, and yet that's Star Trek at its most ideal. In the original series, Kirk routinely broke the rules to give alien societies a fighting chance against oppression. Somewhere along the way, that instinct was muted, but Next Generation's "The Measure of a Man" introduced an intriguing new way to express it: via the individual, the android Data. Voyager's holographic Doctor was a chance to broaden that expression, and "Flesh and Blood" is one of its finest attempts to explore it.
The short-hand of using holograms who look like familiar aliens, notably Bajorans and Cardassians, prominent in Deep Space Nine, calls to mind how in that series the Founders, a race of changelings, eventually created the Dominion as a means of protecting itself from a galaxy that didn't seem to understand them. The holograms in "Flesh and Blood" are well on their way to such a destiny, but fate intervenes. The crew of Voyager was inadvertently responsible for this situation when it gave the Hirogen these holograms to hunt. The Hirogen greatly enhanced these holograms, to the point where things got out of hand, and suddenly these holograms were considering themselves individuals.
With a lot of additional dilemmas on their hands. Next Generation had, in some ways, used the Borg to further explore its concept of artificial life ("Descent" helped make that clear), which Voyager itself certainly continued. The idea of individuality proved to be a concept far more difficult to comprehend for the likes of Seven and the Doctor than anyone could have anticipated. Seven's journey is clear enough, but the Doctor's is complicated by the fact that it was always too easy to remember that in some respects he was made up of subroutines and programming, and that if he had become something other than all that, it was something he'd earned rather than been given. Or so it was sometimes concluded. But what if it's a right of all life, biological or artificial? Other holograms find it very much worth fighting for.
In the end, it's not really about who's right or who's wrong, which is a sign of the maturity of the franchise at this point, and that's as much as any other reason why "Flesh and Blood" is a pivotal moment in Voyager and Star Trek as a whole.
- franchise - Grapples some big ideas, in fine tradition.
- series - The final stop before the Doctor reaches his final catharsis in "Author, Author."
- character - Well, so it's significant for the Doctor.
- essential - Seems like it's not that important. But it kind of is.