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The Trek Nation - Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd

By Edward James Hines
Posted at March 18, 2000 - 6:00 AM GMT

"Good Shepherd" ***
Teleplay by Dianna Gitto & Joe Menosky
Story by Dianna Gitto
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Janeway recruits three misfit crewmembers to accompany her in the Delta Flyer on a survey mission of a stellar nursery. Her personal agenda is to give them some special attention and hopefully make them feel more at home among the Voyager family. When the shuttle is critically damaged and besieged by dark-matter alien life forms, the misfits band together with Janeway and confront their personal demons to help save the Away Team.

When you think about it, the premise is terribly contrived. In reality, how likely is it that three misfits would be placed in a random situation that simultaneously required each of them to deal with their personal problems to stay alive? Janeway's mission to the Class T cluster could just as easily have gone off without a hitch, and then what would these misfits have learned?

Contrived or not, this is the first solidly good episode in several weeks - the perfect way to end an unusually long string of new shows - but it's nothing we haven't seen before. One could easily classify it as TNG's "Lower Decks" meets VGR's "Learning Curve" with a bit of TNG's "Hollow Pursuits" and a suggestion of TNG's "Conspiracy" mixed in.

The only detraction is that, like "Ashes to Ashes," this episode takes the trouble of creating new characters when it doesn't have to. Fans have long inquired as to the fate of the four Maquis flunkies from "Learning Curve." This episode could have picked up that story and run with it. If you think about it, the "Good Shepherd" characters "Mortimer Harren" (Jay Underwood), "William Telfer" (Michael Reisz) and "Tal Celes" (Zoe McLellan) could just as easily have been the "Learning Curve" characters "Dalby," "Geron" and "Henley," respectively.

Better still in terms of timeliness, "Good Shepherd" could have followed through on the whereabouts of the U.S.S. Equinox crew, who transferred to Voyager at the end of "Equinox, Part II." Janeway, who severely reprimanded crewmembers "Gilmore" and "Lessing" for their complicity with Captain Ransom's plans, could have directed her amend-making efforts to these most recent Starfleet additions to her crew. As it is, we have no clue as to the disposition of the Equinox refugees - a severe oversight considering executive producer Brannon Braga's high praise for "Equinox, Part II." One of Braga's biggest problems seems to be his inability and/or unwillingness to follow through on events relating to Voyager's extended family - unless, apparently, it has something to do with Seven of Nine.

Janeway, who has made flagrantly poor command decisions in recent weeks, finally puts her boundless compassion to good use. She, like Picard in "Hollow Pursuits," takes it personally that three of her crewmembers have slipped through the cracks. Unlike any of her Star Trek counterparts, however, she takes it upon herself to try to bring them into the fold. Her patience with the restive Harren is infinite as she allows his wisecracking and open flouting of her authority to go largely unchallenged. To her credit, she humors him far beyond the usual tolerance of her station because she never loses sight of her goal to make him feel at home on Voyager. With Tal and Telfer, Janeway's mothering instincts are well played as she listens to their woes and sympathizes with their feelings of dejection.

Of particular interest is Janeway's assertion that, in retrospect, and despite her lack of preparation, she still wouldn't trade the misbegotten experience of exploring the Delta Quadrant. Harren, who doesn't know her, nevertheless makes a good case by countering that Janeway has deluded herself into a "come what may/next best thing" attitude and is avoiding the truth. Harren, however, as he mentions ad nauseum, is not an explorer; he can't possibly understand the richness of Janeway's good fortune in pioneering truly uncharted territories and seeing things before anyone else in the Federation. Still, if given the choice between raw exploration and former boyfriend Mark, which path would Janeway have taken if not for the Caretaker?

Again, true to form, Janeway tries to be the hero by ordering her "flock" into the escape pods when it seems clear that the aliens will overtake the Delta Flyer. She has, however, as little luck enforcing compliance as she did in "Night," which presented a similar no-win scenario. Beset by Harren's obvious resentment at having his professional life put on hold, Janeway still blames herself for having stranded Voyager in the Delta Quadrant and actively pursues any and all dangerous ways of atoning for that mistake. What she doesn't count on, however, is that Harren learns from her selfless example and quickly turns the tables by entering the escape pod and trying to head off the aliens himself - even though he will likely be killed.

What's amusing about the hypochondriacal Telfer is that he unwittingly excels in his assignment to look for signs of life in the stellar nursery. The job actually performs itself because before he can actually find life, it finds him! He is most similar to Dwight Schultz's TNG character "Barclay," who also suffered from bouts of hypochondria ("Realm of Fear," "Genesis"), was physically overtaken by alien life forms ("The Nth Degree," "Realm of Fear") and was at least temporarily relieved of whatever ailed him (i.e, social anxiety disorder at the end of "The Nth Degree").

Tal, whose name is quickly becoming redundant in Star Trek ("The Disease" and TOS's "The Enterprise Incident"), drops an interesting tidbit about receiving sympathy votes throughout her Starfleet training courses because of her Bajoran heritage. It seems that right around 2370, when Ro Laren resoundingly completed advanced tactical training, Sito Jaxa was recruited for a dangerous mission behind Cardassian lines and Benjamin Sisko was newly revered as the "Emissary of the Prophets," the Federation was eager to have Bajorans in Starfleet. It was all very politically motivated, of course. The Federation needed to look the other way for decades while the Cardassians overran Bajor, but now that the Cardassians were gone and a useful, stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant was located in Bajoran space, the Federation was all-too-willing to play nice.

Janeway dashes Tal's belief that she was accepted aboard Voyager out of sympathy. Just as Picard wanted to test Sito's abilities in TNG's "Lower Decks," Janeway chose Tal because her record showed signs of unconventional thinking. Poor Tal, however, who barely scraped by on her Starfleet training exams, never counted on Voyager getting lost. She probably accepted the initial assignment because it was only intended to be a three-month mission. How much trouble could her awkwardness get her into? Her problem compounded after "Caretaker" as she was forced to acclimate to a full-blown mission of exploration that demanded the kind of detail-orientation for which she was unprepared. But for her fast friend Telfer and some better-late-than-never attention from her captain, Tal's personal situation could have been a lot worse.

TOS fans may have noticed Zoe McLellan's (Tal) passing resemblance to Kathie Browne, who played "Deela" in "Wink of an Eye." McLellan's lips, jaw, eyes and voice are startlingly familiar, but it is unknown if she is related to Browne.

Seven's complaint about Tal's shoddy work in the Astrometrics Lab is especially curious since we've rarely ever seen anyone but Seven working there, outside of the senior staff.

Seven's criticism that Torres has failed to utilize the expertise of her engineering crew is an observation that actually applies to all of Star Trek. Fans used to complain that Wesley Crusher didn't belong at the Conn because the Enterprise-D was full of Academy graduates who deserved the position more. Also, because each Star Trek show subscribes to a regular main cast, the primary characters are often depicted performing tasks that, in reality, would be better left to other specialists aboard ship/station.

What's particularly nagging about "Good Shepherd" is that the teaser contrives a scenario in which both Seven and Torres must endure tedious relay requests for more sensor power from Deck 15 - the ship's bowels - as if the communications system were offline or Voyager had suddenly turned into an antiquated submarine. The scene, however, is beautifully and creatively shot by veteran Star Trek director Kolbe, who has the guest characters play "pass the PADD" while focusing on the PADD itself (a technique he later employs during Janeway's visit to Deck 15).

Also terrific in the teaser is the lavish zoom into Janeway's Ready Room window (very reminiscent of the zoom into the Enterprise's bridge in TOS pilot film "The Cage") and later the pull-away from the "plasma relay room" porthole, after which Voyager's warp-core ejection tube is clearly visible (as well as some of the escape pods). Also visible in the opening shot is a figure walking past the windows of the Mess Hall on Deck 2, which is similar to the TNG main title sequence in which a crewmember walks by the windows of the Observation Lounge. Later, the visual effects of the Delta Flyer inside the gas giant's radiogenic ring is breathtaking (rivaling Voyager's own main title sequence), but one wonders if Janeway's phaser fire destroyed the planet's entire ring system.

Returning briefly to the ship's bowels, Deck 15 looks appropriately cramped and industrial (thanks to sixth season money) as Voyager's lowest deck, but go back and review season two's "Deadlock" and you will see a Deck 15 that looks identical to every other corridor on the ship.

Torres, who has frequently absented herself from social gatherings and isolated herself from fellow crewmembers (and boyfriend Paris), makes the interesting yet ironic observation that, regarding Harren, "Some people just don't want to fit in."

Later, aboard the Delta Flyer, Telfer says that when the alien was inside him, its overriding concern was "do not belong." This hearkens back to the Horta's similar three-word exhortation "no kill I" in TOS's "The Devil in the Dark." Continuing a Starfleet unisex tradition that began at least in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Telfer's roommate is female.

Harren, who takes to taunting Tal for her inept handling of the sensors, later feels taunted by the aliens when they return Janeway's garbled distress call.

Finally, Chakotay's suggestion that the three misfits be permanently relieved of Starfleet duty to pursue their own interests is about as radical a notion as locking up the Betazoid killer Lon Suder (season two's "Meld") for the entire journey home.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.