RSS iconTwitter iconFacebook icon

TrekToday title image

The Trek Nation - Nothing Human

Nothing Human

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 3:57 PM GMT

See Also: 'Nothing Human' Episode Guide

After a boring medical clinic given by the Doctor, the ship is hit by a displacement wave and tossed around, after which the crew discovers that the wave downloaded information to the comm system. It's an indecipherable, screeching message. Janeway concludes that whoever sent the wave must have been desperate to communicate since Voyager was not harmed and orders the ship to follow the ion trail left by the wave. They discover a craft with one injured life-form aboard, which Janeway orders beamed to Sickbay. The Doctor summons Torres, who says that the large scorpion-like creature appears to be able to interface directly with technology. When she approaches it, the creature flings itself at Torres, attaching itself to her cardiopulmonary system before anyone can stop it. While Paris panicks and they try to beam it away, the Doctor realizes that the being can't be removed by conventional means without killing Torres.

Janeway suggests that the Doctor could create an interactive hologram of the greatest expert in exobiology in the database since he doesn't possess all that knowledge in his own program; the Doctor cheerfully agrees, boasting to Kim that he will create a holographic work of art. He chooses a Cardassian doctor, Krel Moset, and is puzzled by Kim's aversion. Krel is friendly and highly competent, immediately recognizing Torres' Klingon-Human biology on sight and declaring that the creature is probably cytoplasmic. He needs an isomolecular scanner, but since Starfleet refused his suggestion that they should put them on ships at a joint conference, he improvises with a tricorder. The Doctor is impressed.

While Chakotay and Janeway try to decipher the alien transmission, Seven works to download information from the damaged ship, but her efforts are hampered by Tabor, a belligerent Bajoran engineer, who reminds Seven that Torres doesn't like her and who says he resents taking her orders. The alien vessel destabilizes and explodes. Torres drifts in and out of consciousness and is horrified to find Krel treating her, but Paris tells her that he's just a a walking database. The hologram asks the Doctor for assistance recreating his own tools so they go to the holodeck, where Krel programs the specs for his lab. The Doctor asks whether this is the lab where he cured the deadly fostosa virus, but Krel says that that was Bajor, during the horrible occupation which cost so many lives. When the Cardassian says that he was forced to improvise treatments in the ill-equipped Bajoran hospitals, the Doctor is impressed and can relate to the need to work outside standard procedures.

Janeway tells Chakotay that she is inclined to believe that the aliens are friendly and rebroadcasts the message Voyager responded to, which she believes to be a distress call by a desperate alien which attacked Torres only out of need. On the holodeck, Krel sings with the Doctor and asks for primitive-looking tools to cut open a holographic recreation of the cytoplasmic alien, saying that he prefers to feel the anatomy rather than just using a laser scalpel. When the alien reacts in pain, Krel reminds the Doctor that it's only a hologram, and comes up with a plan to apply energy to its neurostatic nodes to make it release Torres. The Doctor believes that that will kill the alien, but Krel warns him that they need to choose priorities. Then the Cardassian destabilizes, so the Doctor summons Kim and Tabor to retrieve the program. Torres suggests leaving him offline but the Doctor informs her that her hatred of Cardassians smacks of racism and says he's like to make Krel a permanent consultant. When Krel rematerializes, Tabor calls him a mass murderer, claiming that he killed his brother and thousands of Bajorans.

In Chakotay's office, Tabor tells the first officer and the Doctor that Krel blinded patients, poured acid on them, and infected hundreds with the virus he is credited with curing. The Doctor demands to know why the information is not in the database; Chakotay notes that the Cardassians didn't publicize their medical practices, and sets Kim and Seven to looking into the situation. They discover that he bought sample viruses from Starfleet and appears to have caused an outbreak on Bajor. Tabor insists that all Krel's research should be deleted from the database and Torres refuses to be treated by him, claiming that by benefitting from his experiments, she will be taking advantage of the suffering of others even if the Doctor can't cure her without his help. Then she goes into shock.

The Doctor confronts Krel with data on his atrocities, but Krel points out that he is only a hologram, and knows nothing about behaviors of his original which are not in the Starfleet database. The Doctor says that Krel's program reflects the original's work and may have to be deleted, but Krel suggests that arguments about the ethics of reaping the benefits of his experiments are specious - their patient should be the primary concern. Insisting that his experiments really did cure the deadly plague, Krel points out that ethics are arbitrary and that humans experimented on animals and other humans. The Doctor argues that that was centuries ago, but Krel reminds him that contemporary medicine arose from those experiments. He demands to know whether the crew will delete him and his knowledge, or save Torres.

Tabor gives Chakotay his resignation in protest over the ship's medical policy, telling the first officer that they are violating the memory of his family and suggesting to Chakotay that he's no better than the Cardassian. In a staff meeting, Chakotay argues Torres' own wishes and the ethics of benefitting from Cardassian torture, but Paris accuses him of being too prejudiced against Cardassians to think straight and reminds Chakotay that he used to be Maquis: they used terrorist methods, but now he's pretending Starfleet regulations are more important than Torres' life. Tuvok interjects that Torres' logic is sound and he agrees that using Krel's knowledge would be a violation of ethics. Janeway interrupts: the well-being of Torres is tantamount, they can debate morality later. She takes full responsibility for the decision to use Krel to save her chief engineer. Paris thanks her.

The ship intercepts an alien comm signal as the doctors operate; it's cytoplasmic aliens, who lock a tractor onto Voyager because they can't translate one another's messages. The surgery goes well for Torres but is killing the alien; Krel insists that they continue, but the Doctor believes that they can lessen the electric pulse they're using to force the alien to detach, thus saving both patients. Janeway points out that the aliens aren't trying to kill them, just retrieve their crewmember, and insists to Tuvok that her instincts tell her to treat them as peaceful. The doctors free Torres of the creature, which stabilizes, and Janeway has it beamed to the alien vessel, which departs.

In her quarters recovering, a furious Torres is burning Klingon incense to expel demons. Janeway tells her chief engineer that losing her was unacceptable and they need to put the incident behind them, but Torres demands to know if that's an order and insists that the captain can't order her to forget how she feels at having her values violated. Janeway reiterates that as captain, she did what she thought best. The Doctor asks her what should be done with Krel's program and she leaves it up to him: he is the chief medical officer, and it could be useful to him in emergencies. On the holodeck, Krel is feeling triumphant and discussing a joint paper he wants to write with the Doctor, but the Doctor tells Krel he plans to delete him. "In good conscience, I cannot condone your inhuman practices," he announces. Krel gives him an incredulous look at his use of "inhuman," reminding the Doctor that he took an oath as a medical practitioner and moreover that he has already used the Cardassian research: his conscience goes out the airlock when he needs to save a life. The Doctor deletes Krel anyway, and leaves the holodeck.

Analysis:

This was an absolutely brilliant episode, but it was on the wrong Trek series. On Deep Space Nine, Dr. Bashir could have contacted an actual Cardassian doctor who had abused Bajorans to save Kira's life, thus making immediate and excruciating the dilemma of a Cardassian torturer treating a victim of the Occupation. But on Voyager, I kept being bothered by the niggling question of why the Doctor made Krel look like a Cardassian in the first place - especially since they barely had enough energy to keep the program running. If he'd incorporated Krel's expertise - which was already in the Starfleet database, thus benefitting hundreds of Federation doctors - into a program wearing Dr. McCoy's face or no face at all, I doubt there would have been any ethical dilemma about using Krel's research.

I rather like that the issue was muddied, but it made the ending seem somewhat sanctimonious. Krel Moset was taken seriously enough by Starfleet to have been invited to a conference where he suggested the use of isomolecular scanners. It's a good bet that his research has already "corrupted" Federation medicine. No one on Voyager suggested that the Bajorans should stop using his immorally-obtained cure to treat the devastating fostosa virus; no one asked the Doctor to please remove all information about that vaccine from the database. More importantly, this hologram is NOT Krel; it's a program based on a small subset of his work. It might have had his ruthlessness programmed in just as the Doctor has all the vicissitudes of his original, but those could have been removed without the entire program being destroyed. It's hard for me to fall for the all-or-nothing choices presented because so many gray areas exist already in this plot. The contrived circumstances in which the Maquis met Dr. Mengele seriously weakened the issues for me.

That said, the issues themselves are compelling enough to have made this episode engaging, particularly with the long-dormant Maquis problems roaring to the surface. The scene in which Paris calls Chakotay a hypocrite as both a Starfleet officer and a member of the Maquis was a stunner, which I wish we'd gotten four seasons ago - a much-needed reminder that Chakotay was once a terrorist who undoubtedly committed atrocities Starfleet would have deplored, but now he's hiding behind Starfleet ethics to justify his own aversion to taking aid from a hated Cardassian. Chakotay vacillated quite a lot in this episode, but for once that was a logical character decision: he IS both Starfleet and Maquis, a reluctant terrorist with a deep and abiding hatred of Cardassians which was here at war with his affection for Torres. He both wanted to save her life and to obey her wishes, but couldn't do both. Paris was not nearly as conflicted. Though he is also both Maquis and Starfleet, and could have served as a reminder of their common prejudices, instead he kept his focus. His only priority was saving B'Elanna, to the extent that he barely even looked at the Cardassian when they were introduced, caring only about whether the hologram could help her. Paris and Torres had nice chemistry here despite her passivity - his jokes about rock and roll and his panic were both well-played, though I thought we needed a concluding scene between the two of them as well as the one between Torres and Janeway.

I am trying to decide how I feel about the captain's decisionmaking processes, and coming up with ambivalence. One could argue, as Paris did, that she didn't believe Torres was in her right mind to be making such a decision - certainly she wasn't strong enough for Janeway to have debated it with her, though I am disappointed she didn't at least try. I thought it was gutsy for her to follow her feelings and take full responsibility as she did with Tuvix, but I am again chagrined at how little independence her crewmembers seem to have over decisions affecting their own lives and deaths. Picard once let Worf choose to die. Is it standard procedure for military officers to be able to order medical procedures on unwilling patients? Could Janeway force a crewmember to have an abortion in order to stay functional for duty, or make an officer donate a kidney to save another? Her actions were just a hair too close to what Krel was accused of doing for me to be comfortable. Once again, too, she showed extreme compassion for an alien who attacked one of her crew, putting everyone at risk on a hunch. I'm glad her instinct is to help the aliens, but one day she, like the Doc, should sit down and assess her priorities.

I did like the fact that Janeway did not venture a single opinion of her own on the ethics of using the hologram, though I thought perhaps she should have especially in the end when she left its fate to the Doctor. With the exception of the Maquis, Janeway has more reason to hate the Cardassians than anyone on the ship: she has been tortured by them, and they were indirectly responsible for the deaths of her father and fiance. I'm a little annoyed that ALL the anti-Cardassian sentiment came from Maquis and Bajoran victims rather than from any Starfleet officers, who are surely as capable of gut-level prejudice as the Maquis. The fact that Tabor was portrayed as a hothead in the initial scene with Seven didn't make him particularly sympathetic later on, which is unfortunate.

It's ironic that the title of this episode is "Nothing Human," considering that Janeway forced her own Human values on a half-Klingon Maquis, and that the Doctor deleted a Cardassian hologram for "inhumane" behavior when, as Krel rightly pointed out, various human ailments from tuberculosis to smallpox to polio have been treated by injecting animals and people with the diseases in order to study them. Since we never saw firsthand the horrors Tabor described and we got very little corroborating evidence, it was all too easy to assume that the hologram really was not identical to the monster upon which he was based, despite his willingness to let the cytoplasmic alien suffer and die (a willingness shared by Paris and much of the crew when the creature first attacked Torres and they pulled their phasers). I'd think there would be some sort of regulation against punishing offspring for the crimes of their parents, which in a sense is what this is about. Krel's values were radically different from those of most of the officers on Voyager, but tell me the Klingons and even the Maquis don't have similar barbarism in their recent pasts? We have seen the genocidal Jetrel forgiven on this series. Where does infinite diversity in infinite combinations leave us now?

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


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.