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The Trek Nation - Persistence of Vision

Persistence of Vision

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 2:03 PM GMT

See Also: 'Persistence of Vision' Episode Guide

Warning: I hated this episode so much that I can't write a summary without inserting snide comments. Please be alert.

When the Doc orders her to get some relaxation because she's suffering from a terrible case of PMS, Captain Janeway attempts to get some hot action on the holodeck (since she can't have Chakotay in real life) by cozying up to the bratty kids of the fake English lord whom she fancies her master, but she's interrupted by the Anomaly of the Week. Things get worse when she starts seeing one of the brats following her through the ship, then the evil housekeeper attacks her. Janeway puts Chakotay in command, so he has the honor of looking incompetent when the nasty Bothans refuse to let Voyager pass through their space.

Although at this point she's hallucinating about Mark, her ex-lover, sweet-talking to her, Janeway comes onto the bridge for long enough to bail Chakotay out. At this point the entire crew starts wigging out; Janeway sees Mark on the viewscreen, Tuvok sees his home, Harry sees Libby, and Tom has a lengthy debate with his absent father the admiral. It's not clear whether these are the crew's fantasies or fears, but I'd bet the former despite how nasty some of them are, because Torres sees Chakotay, who spouts romance novel drivel and then flings her onto his bed. Of course, this turns her on - what woman wouldn't want to be condescended to and then harrassed outright?

Janeway's out of commission because she's hallucinating making whoopie with Mark in a turbolift (Chakotay's standing right next to her when she enters, but they don't have as much fun with that fact as they could have). This leaves Kes to save the ship - at least one of the women does not surrender to libido! Though the alien controlling everyone's minds tries to scare her with Nasty Neelix and some hurt/comfort with Tom, she uses her formidable brain powers to scare him, at which point Janeway belatedly shows up and orders him to stop messing around with her crew or she will get Really Angry.

The alien leaves, because he was never really there and he's had enough fun. Janeway and Torres have an oblique moment discussing the hidden fantasies the Bothan made them experience (note: hidden? did we learn one thing about one character that we didn't already know?). They never realize that the two of them are repressing lust for the same doofy guy, whose mind is so empty that the writers couldn't even figure out what he was fantasizing about.

Analysis:

It's a fantasy of mine that one day, Star Trek will get rid of the holodeck. I'd like to see them get converted into schools, tennis courts, amusement parks--even brothels, which are all they're good for anyway. This won't happen, since the holodeck has become a necessary plot device for making it look like there are trees and castles and bistros on starships - on The Next Generation first season, they hardly left the ship, they were so busy in fantasyland.

But if Trek must keep the holodeck, I wish people would treat it the way they'd treat any other use of hallucinogens. Assume that Starfleet recognizes the dangers of holo-addiction. Stand by "The Barclay Rule": When the holodeck get used in a way which is demeaning or dehumanizing to the user, it's time to turn it off. Lately, we rarely see the holodeck used any other way.

Voyager executive producer Jeri Taylor told an interviewer that she suspects holograms, if they existed, would primarily get used for sex. I can't argue with that, but it bothers me seeing it all the time. Listening to Quark discuss "Vulcan Love Slave, Part II" was downright nasty. Maybe I'm old-fashioned in that I'd prefer to see the characters involved with living, breathing people, rather than with projections. Maybe I'm concerned that the kids in the audience will think it's better to have relationships consisting of rigid role-playing, bodies which never get fat or age, and designer sex than to have emotional intimacy. Or maybe I'm just a prude: I don't want to watch characters satisfy themselves with inflatable people. I suppose that Starfleet officers can do what they want to burn off repressed sexual tension when they don't have an Alien Lover of the Week, but not in front of the rest of us, please.

There's so much good stuff that the holodeck could be used for. Students could get education at any time of day or night from teachers who never get tired or snappish. They could study music, sports, dance, things they might not have time to find teachers or meet partners for in their busy lives. People could learn about history by immersing themselves in an era. Starfleet already uses the holodeck for simulations of actual scenarios that trainees might encounter, like the Kobayashi Maru test. It can also be used for martial arts without anyone getting hurt, and for battle simulations with the real effects of violence visible for trainees. The holodeck is often used to let characters role-play their favorite personal mythologies. Worf gets to be a great Klingon warrior, Picard gets to be a great detective. Kim gets to be Beowulf, Bashir gets to be James Bond.

But Kira and Dax get to dress in medieval costumes and pretend to be damsels in distress, or else put on bathing suits and have men pamper them. And Janeway gets to have a pompous British guy and his bratty kids order her around. Is it asking too much to demand that the holodeck not be used to demean women? Couldn't they have made Riker forget Minuet, his holographic jazz dance partner whom we later learned was his ideal woman, and given him a lasting relationship with a woman might have snapped back at his skanky lines? If they must write Tom Paris as a womanizer, I wish he'd stuck to Kes and the Delaney sisters, rather than a barfly named Ricky who doesn't really exist. No wonder Tom's having such problems relating to B'Elanna; he gets his practice with what Sandrine describes as a puppydog who sits and waits on his every whim. Sandrine's pretty bright about such limitations. I guess in some respects holocharacters are smarter than their programmers.

Most importantly, I wish they'd give Captain Janeway just one live friend, or lover, and delete her holograms. This woman's looking like she needs serious psychological help. I started to lose respect for Janeway the moment it became clear that Janeway's idea of "relaxation" is nookie with a fake English lord. Given that she played Lord Burleigh's servant and mommied his kids, the tone of the story was sexist and downright masochistic. I worry about a woman who thinks it's less degrading to have a relationship with an artificial construct than with a living, breathing person who happens to serve on a ship she commands. OK, fine, they can't pair her with Chakotay onscreen: keep it offscreen, or give them a Mulder/Scully-type relationship. Throwing Torres at him is misguided and makes everyone involved look bad.

For Picard, holographic scenarios were social: he invited Crusher and Data to share his scenarios. When Barclay snuck onto the holodeck all by himself for a control fantasy involving the bridge crew, he was rightly treated as a man who needs help. Janeway's never invited anyone to play Victorian Nanny with her, and I don't get the feeling she's planning to give Chakotay a tour of the haunted house any time soon. Janeway's showing all of the weakness and vulnerability attributed to women who choose to remain alone at the top, with none of the strength or passion. She looks hysterical, desperate for companionship but too scared to deal with a real man. It's obvious that the producers want her to be "feminine," wearing dresses and showing an artistic side, yet she's not allowed to have any meaningful relationships outside the holodeck. It's as though they can't see her as a woman and a captain simultaneously.

"Persistence of Vision" is the term for the way your brain lies to your eyes when you're watching a movie: you're seeing a set number of still frames a minute, but because you want to believe that what you're seeing is real, your mind accepts that you're seeing actual motion. I imagine it's like the way the mind works in a holonovel; you know you're seeing a projection, but you let yourself believe in it, to a point. The real problem with holodecks and movies both happens when you forget that what you're seeing isn't real: you forget that you have the power to turn it off. But that's a producer's dream--that fans will accept fantasy as reality. On some level, we're all supposed to be like Voyager's holographic Doctor--"I don't have a life, I have a program." If the holodeck represents us, maybe we should think about shutting off the program ourselves.

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.