MuseBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 10:28 PM GMT
See Also: 'Muse' Episode Guide
A Greek-type chorus sings of shining Voyager, far from home, far from the gleaming cities of Earth. The actors recite a captain's log about Torres taking the Delta Flyer to look for dilithium and crashing on alien rocks. After the play, the regent demands that playwright Kelis produce some more of this Voyager drama in a week. Then the playwright rushes to secret location of the crashed Delta Flyer, hidden in the mountains away from his village. Kelis, who listened to the shuttle's logs while Torres was unconscious, makes the engineer a deal: he will help her repair the vessel if she will tell him stories to enable him to write another play.
Though initially reluctant, Torres desperately needs "winter's tears" - the local name for dilithium, which exists only on the patron warlord's estate - so she agrees to trade some of her history for minerals and metals. While Kelis agonizes over actors who can't grasp the nuances of playing Vulcan and Borg characters, Torres agonizes over exploding subspace emitters and drained energy conduits. Then Kelis learns that his patron has been insulted by a warlord to the north, and war may be imminent. He wants to write a play promoting the virtues of peace in the hope of averting slaughter. Though she wants to avoid involvement, Torres learns from Kelis that her shuttle will likely be detected by marching armies, so she risks Prime Directive interference by going to meet with his cast.
Though Torres discourages cheap titillation - particularly scenes where Janeway kisses Chakotay and Paris kisses Seven of Nine - Kelis' actress girlfriend becomes convinced that the playwright is in love with the stranger. Torres manages to convince Kelis that romance is the last thing on one's mind when headed into battle, and suggests he concentrate on the plot. He siezes upon the idea of the Borg as implacable enemy, writing Seven of Nine as the Borg Queen secretly determined to destroy Voyager, with the unexpected twist that Janeway will grant leniency to her enemies. Kelis is not happy with his final scene, but Torres cannot help him, since the actress-girlfriend follows her back to the Delta Flyer where she realizes Torres is "an Eternal" and warns her away.
Harry Kim arrives unexpectedly, having crashed in a life pod on the same planet, and uses his transmitter to allow the Flyer to contact Voyager. But Torres insists on helping Kelis finish his play, claiming it's because she doesn't want her character killed off. As the play emphasizes the futility of war, Torres enters, providing a romantic denouement with the passionate Kelis and a fantastic finish when she has Kim beam her away. Kelis says such inspirational stories will continue as long as their patron remains wise and compassionate. And Voyager heads toward the gleaming cities of Earth.
It's always a risk to write a drama about what makes a good drama; it makes the audience that much more aware of when they're seeing something contrived, cliched, or condescending. "Muse" isn't a dramatic episode so much as an expose on the Voyager writers' apparent philosophy of storytelling, which makes its own flaws dramatic to observe. Here, in a nutshell, is everything that's right and wrong with the series.
When Kelis has the false Janeway and Chakotay kiss - after some admittedly treacly dialogue - there's a giddy charge to the proceedings, a glimpse of the show's road not taken, as the actors drop their masks (literally) and stop acting like captain and first officer. What's more, the next scene in "Muse" features the real Janeway and Chakotay in a muted ready room dialogue without any of the personal connection that could give the scene emotional power. For a moment, it looks like the Trek writers actually understand what could be good about more relationship-oriented stories.
But then the issue is warped in parody, with Torres complaining that Paris and Seven and Harry and the Delaney Sisters are all kissing too. Of course, it makes sense after that for her to cite romance as a deterrent to good drama - and to bring up Voyager's all-purpose dramatic device, the Borg. Torres says passion doesn't cross anyone's mind when facing that enemy, yet most of the powerful Borg scenes on this series have stemmed from personal, emotional issues: Chakotay's feelings for Riley in "Unity," Janeway's feelings for Chakotay in "Scorpion," Seven's feelings for Janeway in "Dark Frontier." The writers proclaim that conflicts are more interesting than kissing, but the two together make a fantastic recipe for drama, as every great drama writer from Shakespeare to Shaw to Aaron Spelling has realized.
For a poet, Kelis is remarkably unpoetic - he says he saw a light and heard a sound that led him to Torres' shuttle, hardly the phrases of a colorful wordsmith. We're supposed to think of him as something of a hack, which suggests that even hacks can move warlords to embrace peace. Even here the parallels with Trek as a whole are amusing - and sad. There's very little drama in "Muse"; we don't see Kelis go on the dangerous mission to get dilithium, the warlord remains a cardboard villain who offers no threat to anyone we care about. As Kelis asks, where's the mistaken identity, the discovery, the sudden reversal?
These may be the tricks of a hack, but this hack knows that audiences really do want excitement and passion, something Voyager lacks as a whole. Having Torres go back and hack the Prime Directive to bits, not to stop a war but because she feels personal loyalty to the playwright - or possibly because she wants to be remembered as an Eternal - is outrageously out of character, and it's pretty funny that the one real romance on Voyager, hers with Paris, is a topic she won't discuss and Paris drops after a single briefing room tantrum - quiet concern like Tuvok's is a lot more effective. It's cheap characterization, something even Kelis seems to know to avoid.
And Kelis' play is terrific. Seven of Nine's soliloquy tells the audience that she is the Queen of the Borg: "Say nothing, or you too will be assimilated." Then Janeway reveals that she knows her enemies within, yet refuses to fall prey to violence. In the final showdown, the older actress tells the young would-be-Borg that soon nothing will be left but their hatred - that's good, it's Roddenberrian Trek at its finest, and the actress delivers the lines with aplomb. I can only hope this play is a foreshadowing of the return of the Borg Queen in Voyager's season finale. It almost gives me hope that on some level, the writers do know what they're doing.
Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.