AliceBy Edward James Hines
Posted at July 8, 2000 - 6:56 PM GMT
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Story by Juliann deLayne
Directed by David Livingston
Voyager happens on a space junkyard run by Abaddon (John Fleck), a friendly alien who offers to trade for supplies. Tom Paris acquires a one-person spaceship with a neurogenic interface a feature that allows the ship to react directly to its pilot's thoughts. Paris dubs the ship Alice and begins the long process of restoring it, only to discover that the interface manifests Alice as a woman (Claire Rankin) that only he can see and hear. He becomes obsessed with tending to Alice's every need, skipping out on holodeck adventures with Kim as well as neglecting Torres and his Voyager duties. When Chakotay refuses to spare some emergency supplies so that Paris can finish the restoration, Alice incites Paris to disaffect and steal the parts he needs. When Alice almost suffocates Torres, who comes to investigate the thefts, Paris tries to cut his losses and walk away from the sadistic ship. Thanks to a special flight suit she designed for him, as well as the interface, however, Alice is able to assert control over Paris and force him to leave Voyager with her. Janeway confronts Abaddon for some answers, and he reveals that Alice needs a biological entity to work in tandem with her programming and transport her to a specific location in space. Voyager tracks Alice to a particle fountain, which is her home. To rescue Paris, Torres taps into the interface with a communications signal and distracts him while Tuvok accesses Alice's main computer and shuts down her multiphasic shields. Paris is beamed aboard Voyager just as Alice explodes inside the particle fountain.
Coming on the heels of such remarkable character shows as "Survival Instinct," "Barge of the Dead" and "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy," you can't help hoping that "Alice" will have something of relevance to say about Tom Paris. Consider his development thus far:
He began the series as a prisoner, a pessimist and a womanizer ("Caretaker," "Ex Post Facto") but stepped up when Voyager needed a pilot and soon became the first human to break the warp 10 barrier ("Threshold"). Later, he successfully completed an undercover operation to expose the traitor Michael Jonas ("Investigations"). His confidence and reputation bolstered by each of these successes, Paris was more settled with himself and his fellow crewmembers ("Vis-ΰ-Vis"), for whom he created a number of communal holodeck programs. He even found a satisfying and committed intimate relationship with B'Elanna Torres, who earlier had spurned his flirtatious advances. In "Thirty Days," Paris broke the rules for a good cause born in good conscience, in fulfillment of a childhood dream. He bore his demotion and kept going thanks to the solid support base of his friends. Overall, Paris has been on a personal journey from college frat boy to responsible adult. He may not be completely "grown up" by the time Voyager gets home, but he doesn't have to be. He's at least made significant strides. "Alice" is another opportunity to add something positive to the Paris lexicon.
On the surface, the uncomplicated, straightforward plot seems to be little more than an exercise in "reviewing" the Paris character, reminding us who he is by revisiting some of his inclinations. As in "Vis-ΰ-Vis," an alien gets him involved in nefarious exploits by baiting his passion for piloting and spaceships. As in "Extreme Risk," he becomes passionate about working on a spaceship. As in "Thirty Days," he goes AWOL. Thus, in terms of storytelling, there's very little here that's new.
The simple, redeeming effort behind "Alice," however, is undoubtedly its attempt to portray an "evolved" Paris showing us how far he's really come. His passion, for example, is not something to be casually dismissed, whether he's designing and building the Delta Flyer or restoring Alice. Everyone needs passion. Everyone needs an inner fire to ignite his or her interest in something. Passion is a palpable part of being alive, and in "Alice," thanks to Robert Duncan McNeill's emotional delivery, we learn about a pivotal day at age 8 when Paris flew a shuttlecraft for the first time. After a rocky start, when he couldn't even keep the craft level, Paris suddenly achieved a moment of "clarity" when everything made sense, and only then did he really begin flying. "Alice" only briefly delves into this heretofore unknown depth of Paris, but in that time we manage to learn that, despite all the starships he's piloted, he's still hoping to recapture that illusive, first-time feeling of clarity.
Paris' "exit clause" for the episode his absolution or "get out of jail free" card is the fact that Alice is controlling him through the neurogenic interface, making him do things he wouldn't on his own. Alice talks a good game, though, using her womanly wiles to whisper suggestions of defiance in Paris' ear. She appeals to his boyish recklessness and wants him to reject Voyager's rules and regulations in favor of the freedom of spaceflight with her. Throughout this, however, and when she forces him to steal vital Voyager backup components, Paris betrays his reticence and even guilt at having to do her bidding. "Vis-ΰ-Vis" had already established Paris as feeling "settled" in his job, with his friends and with Torres, and in "Alice" he upholds these convictions. He is no longer the torrid teenager chasing skirts, breaking rules and skipping out on hairy situations. This doesn't stop Alice from taunting him, though, when it appears she won't get her way: "I guess this is the real Tom Paris. Life throws up a few roadblocks and he heads for the nearest exit." While this was once true of him, it is an unfair jab now especially in light of his well-considered actions in "Thirty Days."
His adolescent days behind him, Paris nevertheless stays connected to his "inner child" and retains his diverse and continually changing range of interests a character trait he shares with Hikaru Sulu, who in the earliest days of TOS was always dabbling in new hobbies. Paris' particular penchant is not lost on Chakotay, who before approving the acquisition of Alice playfully asks, "Are you sure you're not just looking for a new toy?" He then appends his approval with some famous last words "Don't make me regret this" and given VGR's usual predictability, you can guess what happens next.
Chakotay, however, manages to stay on top of his concern for Paris, taking the pilot to task for neglecting his duties and his general appearance, and for being out of uniform. Seven of Nine also notices Paris' aberrant behavior, questioning his strange pilot suit as well as his unauthorized presence in the Astrometrics Lab. Not surprisingly, though, the buck stops here and story believability breaks down as a result. Seven doesn't inform Chakotay of the transgression; nor does Chakotay share his concerns with Janeway. Thus, when Torres is nearly assaulted for catching the "pickpocketing" Paris and informs Janeway, the captain laughs off the complaint with a dismissive, "That doesn't sound like Tom" conveniently forgetting the part about Paris having stolen backup components and chalks up the entire incident to a lovers' quarrel. Admittedly, this seems like a strangely callous reaction coming from Janeway, who in S4's "Retrospect" responded immediately to Seven's alleged assault; but Janeway's lack of concern appears to be based on Paris and Torres' frequently well-publicized verbal altercations ("Someone to Watch Over Me"). What's interesting about their "Alice" shouting match is that the usually indomitable Torres actually seems threatened by Paris when he lets loose his tirade.
Still, Janeway should have taken Torres' issue more seriously, especially since it's likely that Torres would never have previously informed Janeway of any personal problems she was having with Paris. Janeway, who could have called Paris to her Ready Room and quickly gotten to the bottom of things, unfortunately waits too long to make her move. The plot catches up and Paris effects another in a long line of clean getaways from Voyager, effortlessly opening the shuttlebay doors, disrupting Voyager's tractor beam and masking Alice's warp signature to keep Janeway off his trail.
Alice's intended destination "home," in the particle fountain, begs the question of what her true nature is. Torres, interfacing through the communications signal, tells Paris that a "computer program" has deluded him. Earlier, Abaddon says that Alice needs a corporeal being to work in tandem with her programming because she can't fly herself. So what are we dealing with here? What exactly is trying to return to the particle fountain? Is it a computer program or an alien masquerading as one? The latter is certainly not a new scenario for Star Trek, but why would a computer program want to return to a particle fountain? Is this some fantastically new form of life never before encountered?
Unfortunately, Alice's true identity is never made clear, nor is the reason why Abaddon was an incompatible pilot for her. If the purpose of the neurogenic interface is to restructure the neural pathways of pilots to make them compatible with Alice, then why does such restructuring often fail to take effect with some of the test subjects? What is Alice's particular measure for compatibility? Furthermore, considering the "haunting" control she still has over Abaddon despite their "incompatibility" why is she content to lay rotting in his "Repository of Lost Treasures" until a suitable pilot comes along? How long had she been waiting? How much longer would she have waited? If Abaddon had been unable to find Alice a pilot, what would have been her recourse? To kill him? How would that have helped her return to the particle fountain?
From a certain point of view, it seems that Abaddon has all the control and he decides when to use it. Notice how he never presses Alice onto Voyager, never makes her exchange a mandatory part of the trading process. He never even brings her to the table, which suggests that he's under no time limit from Alice. He's an amiable fellow to begin with, but when Paris spots and actually wants Alice, Abaddon practically bubbles over with details as to her proper "care and feeding." He is also quick to seal his divestiture of Alice by reminding the Voyager visitors that "all trades are final."
Of course, Abaddon is compelled to reverse his stringent rule when Neelix confronts him with a priceless beryllium crystal, contained in one of the cultural artifacts for which Voyager traded. You can't help wondering, though, how such a valuable gemstone could have escaped Abaddon's attention or didn't it? Did he keep lousy junkyard manifests or was he secretly hoping that the beryllium crystal would be enough to offset any trouble that Voyager would have with Alice?
Considering all the worthless and obsolete junk with which Voyager ends up, one leftover question is why Chakotay would even agree to trade for "cultural artifacts" like the beryllium crystal. Neelix says they have some historical value, but the question is to whom? Obviously, the artifacts are important to various Delta Quadrant species, so why would they be of interest or even useful on a Voyager supply run? Is the crew buying Delta Quadrant souvenirs for family and friends, or are they trying to get home?
Paris' justification for acquiring Alice is that, thanks to the neurogenic interface, she has the potential to be quicker and more maneuverable than Voyager's shuttlecraft or even the Delta Flyer. From his conversation with Chakotay, however, we get a definitive answer to a long-standing VGR question: Has the crew been constructing new shuttlecraft to replace the many that have been lost in the last five years? Chakotay's observation that Voyager already has a "full complement of shuttles," not to mention the crew's ability to construct the Delta Flyer in "Extreme Risk," is an incontrovertible "yes" at long last.
Think, however, of all the energy that must have been necessary to replicate the parts needed to construct new shuttlecraft. If we've learned nothing else from VGR, it's that starship power "doesn't grow on trees" and no longer simply "regenerates," as it apparently did aboard Constitution-class starships (TOS's "The Mark of Gideon"). Voyager's lack of energy abundance in "Alice" is the primary reason why Paris is not permitted to replicate parts to refit Alice. However, he is allowed to replicate a bottle of champagne with which to christen Alice. Wasteful? Squandering? It's just another of those pesky VGR double standards. Curiously, though, in terms of protocol, it seems that Paris must ask Neelix's permission before using the Mess Hall replicator (not that he waits for an answer, mind you; it's just that Neelix doesn't refuse his request).
Paris' enthusiasm for Alice permits Neelix to wax nostalgic for his own freighter, which is still docked in Voyager's shuttlebay and finally receives a name Baxial. Paris' understandable excitement isn't as contagious with Kim, however, who gets himself "volunteered" to help with the refit and is later summarily dumped when Paris' all-consuming work ethic causes him to blow off some "Captain Proton" holodeck adventures. Paris' decision to recruit Kim, while not completely unreasonable, is at least surprising considering that he doesn't give any thought to asking Torres, who had initially agreed that Alice would be an asset to Voyager. But for Torres' depression and withdrawal in "Extreme Risk," she and Paris had already expressed interest in designing a ship together ("Drone," on Seven's suggestion). Perhaps the events of "Extreme Risk" resulted in an off-screen lovers' decision to keep work and relationship separate. This at least explains Paris' apparent oversight in "Alice," but it doesn't prevent Torres from complaining that his latest hobby has left her in his wake again.
Still, Torres' enthusiasm for viewing the refitted Alice, during which she jokes about meeting Paris' "other woman" and feigns jealousy at the ship's female voice, is palpable and enjoyable and reaffirms the integrity of their relationship. In the final scene, Paris also reiterates his commitment to Torres, promising no more "affairs with strange ships" and also that he and the Delta Flyer are "just friends." This is nice character stuff.
One of the problems in the final act, however, involves Paris' physical connection to Alice. By this time, his flight suit appears to have grown over and engulfed him, numbing his arms and linking his synaptic functions directly to Alice. Something similar happened to Barclay in TNG's "The Nth Degree," when he was physically connected to the Enterprise-D's computer and could not be extracted without being killed. In "Alice," however, Paris is too easily separated from Alice via transporter with no apparent danger to himself. This seems inconsistent.
Paris also speaks of the old Class-S shuttlecraft having only two seats and no warp engines. This also seems inconsistent because, in TOS's "The Menagerie, Part I," the earlier Class-F shuttlecraft had seating for seven as well as an ion-powered warp drive.
In the final scene, Paris recounts to Torres how he painfully remembers the entire experience "everything I said, everything I did" much like Picard at the end of TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" (but not nearly as dramatic).
Earlier, when Paris is trying evade Seven's inquiries about his flight suit, he indirectly appeals to the Borg in her by describing how he "adapted" the suit to communicate better with Alice "You know, the 'merging' of man and machine.'"
For a Voyager viewscreen gaffe, check the scene in which Janeway is planning how to rescue Paris from Alice. She turns to Tuvok and, for an instant, you can see the viewscreen with only a starfield on it, which does not accurately represent the space flyby sequence that precedes this scene and shows Voyager approaching the particle fountain.
It's certainly fitting to see Voyager making a supply run in "Alice." Regrettably, we should have seen more of these types of visits in S2, when the Kazon and/or Vidiians were pummeling the ship to within millimeters of her existence every week.
John Fleck ("Abaddon") is no Star Trek stranger. He has played the Romulan characters "Taibak" (TNG's "The Mind's Eye") and "Chairman Koval" (DS9's "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"), and also the Karemman "Ornithar" in DS9's "The Search, Part I." For sci-fi genre fans, he was also in the Babylon 5 pilot film "The Gathering" as "Del Varner."
Copyright Edward James Hines
7 July 2000
Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.