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The Trek Nation - Real Life

Real Life

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 2:35 PM GMT

See Also: 'Real Life' Episode Guide

Wanting to understand human behavior, the Doctor programs himself a holographic family, with a wife who looks like Kathie Lee Gifford and two perfect children. He invites Torres and Kes to meet them, but they complain that the family is completely unrealistic and suggest some new parameters for the program. When he returns, the Doc finds that he has a wild teenage son who hangs out with Klingon thugs, and a rebellious daughter who wants to play Parisi Squares. His former homemaking wife has a job, and nobody treats him like the family patriarch.

The Doc manages to come to some agreement with his wife about sharing responsibilities and gets his son to talk about his desire to become a Klingon warrior, but when his daughter is fatally injured playing her favorite sport, he becomes so upset that he shuts the program down. His colleagues convince him to return, however, to share a tragic death scene at the side of his child.

Analysis:

"Real Life" epitomizes everything that is wrong with Voyager and much that is wrong with Trek. I can handle bad science fiction and soap-opera writing, but I am sick of being jerked around. Janeway, producer Jeri Taylor's self-confessed alter ego, has had most of her emotional interaction with phony men of one sort or another. Now Taylor has given us an episode which displays more grieving over a hologram than we have ever seen over a dead character - now that is an interesting contradiction, isn't it, a dead character? Can you kill something which only existed on videotape in the first place? I wonder why I was less sad over Dead Phony Doc's kid than Dead Baby Wildman in "Deadlock," because it's pretty ridiculous to mourn either of them.

It would be interesting if there were some serious commentary going on by the writers, like the notion that we should stop caring what happens to the fictitious Captain Janeway and look for some real role models. But what we seem to be seeing is the stunning contradiction wherein the series creators apparently can't see the irony of creating a life for a character who's defined as artificial even among his TV series peers, yet are unable to give the supposedly "real" characters lives. "Real life" apparently means domestic life--we've gotten two straight weeks of that, first Kes's, now Doc's--but in both cases they were diversions, not the focus of the characters' ongoing roles.

None of these characters has a life. The holodoc's consisted of soap opera-ish situations even after he stopped being Mike Brady, a 20th century family man with all the traditional baggage. But the supposed "real" characters are even worse off. Having complicated relationships and emotions would represent a problem for series continuity, so unlike Doc who can at least reprogram his own family, they're stuck with what TPTB give them.

Voyager's writers are notoriously lazy, beginning and ending romances on a whim, creating and destroying hobbies and pets and sometimes children for the characters. 50-minute grand passions, like Picard's for Kamala, get a lot more attention than the passions one has to work at to maintain...the kind that require attention over the course of an entire life, or an entire television series' run. It figures that the one recurrent character on Voyager to get a family is the artificial man, and he gets the kind which can be deleted. Reminded me of Data with Lal on TNG's "The Offspring"--which was vastly better written, more emotional, and did not involve an annoying subplot which offered limited parallels as an excuse to hit the viewer over the head with The Moral.

Poor Robbie McNeill: this is the third episode in which he's gotten the job of stating the obvious without any character growth. And why does Torres, who's supposed to be a strong Klingon despite being female, always have to be emotionally vulnerable, especially given that racism against her species is apparently so pervasive that the Doc will bar his son from associating with Klingons? I don't care much for Torres/Paris--they're nowhere near as compelling as Janeway/Chakotay, the chemistry between Robbie and Roxann seems forced, and the contrived interaction dulls both characters, especially B'Elanna. Has she had a single scene in which she was defined as an engineer, a hoverball player, anything other than Paris' girlfriend, since "Blood Fever"? Still, this is the first Trek relationship this generation to go more than three consecutive episodes, so maybe I should not complain.

I'm not sure I can bear to talk about the sexist assumptions that went into the construction of Doc's initial wife, "the little woman," though someone give the casting director an Emmy for finding her. Given that Picard married a similar Real Woman in the Nexus in Generations and Janeway had a similar mother in Mosaic - the stay-at-home, support-the-man, make-the-family-work variety - there must be more women who've been taught to be self-effacing and blindly cheerful in the future than there are now. And even Torres reads romance novels. Arrgh. I'd have picked Chakotay as a more likely candidate to do so.

Considering that it has a female captain, Voyager is probably the most sexist Trek show we've had yet, Kirk's babealicious Enterprise included. Fluff chick Kes and braided B'Elanna aren't really the problem. It's the display we get, over and over, that a woman may either be a leader or a wife/mother/lover/total human being, but not both. I'm surprised Janeway (who looked like the stupidest woman and starship captain alive this week, sticking around for cheerful scientific investigation of a phenomenon that destroyed a space station) hasn't created herself a holo-Mark and some holo-kids for her off-hours. Then she could continue to run around with a phaser rifle the rest of the time without the risk of real emotions interfering. (Chak can find some other long-haired warrior princess to get a life - I mean, make a life - with, though now that tomcat Tommy is practically tied down with a proverbial ball and chain, he might have to take over as Ship's Stud even if he's too old to get away with it.)

Too bad Janeway didn't know about the Doc's experiment; she could have offered him advice about holokids, given her own proclivities. It would also be nice if she paid attention to what her EMH is wasting her ship's energy on, but the current incarnation of Janeway doesn't seem involved in her crew's emotional life unless it's at her own funeral. For all my complaints about this century, we're better off than Kathryn and her crew of cardboard stand-ups.

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.