Live Fast and ProsperBy Edward James Hines
Posted at April 24, 2000 - 5:44 PM GMT
"Live Fast and Prosper" ***
Written by Robin Burger
Directed by LeVar Burton
Voyager's reputation is tarnished once again as alien imposters assume the identity of Starfleet officers and begin swindling various species out of their resources. It starts when Tom Paris and Neelix meet Dala (Kaitlin Hopkins) and Mobar (Gregg Daniel), who claim to be clerics but then clandestinely download the Delta Flyer's database. With this information, Dala and Mobar impersonate "Janeway" and "Tuvok" over the course of two-and-a-half weeks and begin "selling" Federation memberships out of their dilapidated vessel. Voyager catches wind of this trickery when Orek (Dennis Cockrum), a mining contractor, finds Janeway and demands that she pay him for some stolen bolomite ore. When he complains about having been cheated for the sake of some clerics, Janeway catches on and, with Neelix's help, figures out the deception. Using Orek's records, Voyager tracks Dala's ship and manages to beam her aboard before her compatriots warp away. Hoping that Dala will lead Voyager to her hidden cache of contraband, Janeway and Neelix allow her to escape from the brig. As expected, Dala takes the Delta Flyer (along with stowaways Paris and the Doctor) right to the source of her secret stash. With a few adjustments to his mobile emitter, the Doctor impersonates Dala and, with Tuvok's help, captures the rest of Dala's team. Voyager then returns all stolen items to their rightful owners.
"Live Fast and Prosper" is a light adventure to begin the last six episodes of the season. It manages to distinguish itself with a solid (although unremarkable) story that is packed with subtle humor, good continuity and some genuine camaraderie among the major characters.
Judging from the title alone, which plays on the Vulcan salutation "live long and prosper," you would expect this to be a Tuvok story, but instead it is a loose ensemble piece that particularly showcases Janeway and Neelix. Well-written in the preceding episode "Good Shepherd," the Janeway character continues to demonstrate a positive degree of evolution. Robin Burger and the other producers manage to depict a Janeway who takes adversity in stride. She is well accustomed to Delta Quadrant shenanigans by now and doesn't allow herself to become unduly ruffled when chaotic aliens start messing around.
Janeway's sense of humor, for instance, is quite effective when she confronts Dala in the brig. She quips, "Nice hair," which subtly pokes fun at the media and fan controversy that surrounded Janeway's various hairstyles in the first two seasons. She continues her playful gibing when reviewing Dala's rap sheet: "Selling memberships to the Federation? Too bad we didn't think of it, Tuvok! Imagine all the resources we could have acquired over the past six years!" Later, when appraising herself, she looks over at Tuvok with a glint in her eye and says "intelligent," as if daring him to think otherwise!
Janeway also demonstrates her tactical savvy with misdirection, which worked well in season five's "Counterpoint" and "Think Tank." At first, however, her stern expression on the bridge leads us to suspect that Dala has accomplished what so many others have before her — a maddeningly clean getaway from Voyager without any interference from security codes, closed shuttlebay doors, weapons fire or tractor beams. Even when Neelix is pacing inside the defenseless brig with a phaser brazenly strapped to his side, happily (and apparently obliviously) trying to convince Dala to mend her evil ways, we expect something bad to happen — almost like a bomb waiting to drop. VGR has convinced us one too many times that the main characters often do stupid things to advance an otherwise plodding plot. Sure enough, Dala takes the bait and busts out of the brig. It turns out, however, that Janeway had intended for this to happen all along. Thus, the wily producers successfully preyed on our negative expectations, but instead led us to a surprising roundup while simultaneously bolstering the integrity of the show. And it's better late than never.
Some overdue attention on Neelix reminds us that, like Janeway, he has also evolved considerably over the years. He admits to Dala that he exploited the opportunity to board Voyager in "Caretaker" because he was interested in some creature comforts; more to the point, however, Neelix wanted a powerful yet gullible ally with whom he could deceive the Kazon-Ogla and rescue Kes. It's easy to forget that Neelix's earliest intentions were terribly self-serving. One could even make the argument that his recklessness initiated Voyager's two-year-long conflict with the various Kazon sects.
In "Live Fast and Prosper," Neelix and Paris are equally troubled by feelings of credulity after Dala and Mobar's deception. What's interesting about this perceived loss of "edge" is that Paris expected it from Harry Kim before either himself or Neelix. Paris is probably just being polite, since he and Neelix are bemoaning the same happenstance, but Neelix is doubtlessly one of the most gullible people on Voyager — an interesting and noteworthy role-reversal from "Caretaker." He obviously has taken his grandmother's lesson ("It's nice to be nice") to heart, which is why he is the natural choice to bait Dala.
Orek and Tuvok are correct, however, when they question Paris and Neelix's naivete regarding the "clerics." One dangling plot point is that Dala and Mobar introduce themselves as solitary monks who mask their life signs to maintain their privacy. This begs the question, therefore, of why they would willingly accept Paris and Neelix's invitation to visit the Delta Flyer and share a meal. It would have been less suspicious, and more in keeping with their desire for solitude, if Dala and Mobar had asked Paris and Neelix to return alone to the Delta Flyer, replicate food for the Narva orphans' relief and later return with it to the sanctuary.
The question of naivete is prevalent throughout "Live Fast and Prosper." Both Orek and Janeway use the same interrogative — "How naive do you think I am?" —at different points in the story. Orek asks this of Janeway regarding the idea of imposters, while Janeway asks this of Dala when the impersonator offers to make restitution in exchange for the Delta Flyer and a quick escape. In effect, Janeway gives Dala just what she asks for, but with a twist for an ending.
The denouement itself, however, is a bit too pat, but it is one of the episode's few criticisms. Like season three's "Displaced," after which Voyager apparently made quick work of contacting the various home worlds of the Nyrians' abductees, in "Live Fast and Prosper," Voyager seems to have little trouble returning all stolen resources and mending fences with those who had been wronged by Dala's cohort. That's an entire sector's worth of work! How long must it have taken? Unfortunately, Voyager is guilty by association and, in the interest of future Federation relations in the Delta Quadrant, must mitigate its damaged reputation (a theme with which it frequently contended in the first two seasons).
Another criticism involves the stealthy ease with which Mobar downloads the Delta Flyer's database, which contains Voyager's technical specifications as well as detailed readouts of the crew and Federation/Starfleet procedures. The simplicity of what should be a highly classified undertaking has a history in Star Trek, unfortunately. In DS9's "Through the Looking Glass," the mirror universe's Smiley was able to download the Defiant's technical specs, which he and his rebel friends later used to build their own battleship in "Shattered Mirror."
Speaking of DS9's celebrated starship, it looks like various elements of the Defiant's bridge (particularly the view screen) were hauled out of storage and used in Dala's control center. This is reminiscent of TNG's earliest seasons, when TOS's movie bridge was redressed to appear as the Enterprise-D's battle bridge as well as a courtroom in "The Measure of a Man."
Poor Tuvok is again the victim of a holodeck prank in which his "Oracle of K'Tal" character shows up wearing pajamas. Although Kim doesn't own up to it, his complicity seems clear since he and Mezoti (Marley McClean) had once intended to tinker with another of Tuvok's holoprograms in "Ashes to Ashes."
Tuvok is also startled into improvising a ghastly prison story to persuade Dala to make restitution. What's interesting and ironically humorous, however, is that his impersonator Mobar is quite skilled at improvisation, for which Dala must frequently scold him. Mobar would probably be a better actor than thief because he never seems to "break the fourth wall" or revert to his own personality (whatever it may be). He "becomes" his own version of Tuvok and takes to calling Dala "Captain Janeway" at all times, announcing her presence on the bridge, quoting logic and Federation rules and later berating Dala (played by the Doctor) for betraying her "fellow officers." When he finally meets the real Tuvok, Mobar's amusing expression is one of awestruck reverence, as if he were meeting his boyhood idol. Tuvok has the last laugh, though, when he shoots Mobar for having flawed logic.
The Doctor gets to play captain again, after his debut turn in "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy," only this time he replaces Dala and fools the rest of her team into revealing their hidden stash of goodies. Throughout his deception, however, his mobile emitter is not visible in its usual place — on the outside of his left arm. This appears to be a production gaffe at first, since the emitter cannot be hidden beneath the Doctor's "clothing"; but then we learn it has merely been "disguised" to conceal itself as part of Dala's uniform. This is a new development in the emitter's capabilities, but it believably comes on the heels of B'Elanna Torres' appearance-altering enhancements to the unit in "Blink of an Eye."
One tiny production inconsistency makes it into the final print, however. The Doctor as Dala mistakenly snaps a commbadge onto the red part of his uniform, contacts Voyager and then runs away, ending the scene. Cut to the next scene and the commbadge is in its proper place, on the black section of the uniform's breast.
Speaking of commbadges, one of the other great jokes in "Live Fast and Prosper" is that Dala and Mobar's makeshift units are so goofily oversized as to be reminiscent of the huge, bulky Playmates Toys commbadges that were marketed for children in the early 1990s. We never find out if Dala and Mobar's units really work, but Voyager security takes no chances and removes Dala's when she is captured.
Also silly are Dala and Mobar's "supersize" rank pips and rumpled, inaccurately designed Starfleet uniforms — similar to what you might see fans wearing at conventions. Is this another subtle dig by the producers?
Are we there yet? Voyager is now 30,000 light years from the Federation, which means that under its own power and the various transwarp/slipstream jumps it has made, the ship has covered 40,000 light years in only six years. That has to be some kind of galactic speed record!
The teaser reveals that Dala and Mobar somehow managed to duplicate Voyager's transporter effect. Granted, they had Voyager's technical specs, but should that have enabled them to build such an exact transporter replica in only two-and-a-half weeks?
Finally, "Live Fast and Prosper" has three Star Trek alumni among the guest cast: Francis Guinan ("Zar") was "Minister Kray" in "Ex Post Facto"; Kaitlin Hopkins was the Vorta "Kilana" in DS9's "The Ship"; and Dennis Cockrum was the Corvallen freighter captain in TNG's "Face of the Enemy."
Copyright Edward James Hines
23 April 2000
Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.