September 27, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "State of Flux"

It is 10 April 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

After an altercation with the Kazon Nistrim, it becomes clear that someone onboard Voyager has been secretly passing Federation technology to the Kazon. Ensign Seska (Martha Hackett) immediately comes under suspicion, and no matter how much she protests her innocence the guiltier she appears.

"State of Flux" is one of those frustrating episodes of Star Trek where you can sort of enjoy what's been produced, but your enjoyment keeps getting interrupted by realising all of the alternative creative choices that could have made it all so much better. Its biggest problem is that it spends 40 minutes pushing us to believe that Seska is actually a traitor to the Voyager crew, and then reveals that she is indeed a traitor to the Voyager crew. There is simply no suspense. It's a shame as well, because Martha Hackett was developing Seska into a much more interesting character than half of the regular cast.

There is a neat twist thrown in midway through the episode, in which it is revealed Seska is a Cardassian spy who, after some clever genetic manipulation to make her look Bajoran, was sent undercover into the Maquis. It's a great shift because it throws Chakotay (Robert Beltran) into a hilarious pit of self-doubt (was anyone on his ship actually working for him?), but it is also a wasted shift because so much more could have been done with the idea. Here it is close to being entirely discarded as soon as it was introduced. It also inadvertently weakens the character: there's more drama I think in a Starfleet officer sacrificing their principles to get home than there is in a Cardassian doing the same action with less personal consequences.

While I appreciate the effort that Voyager is putting into establishing its own alien civilizations, it did always strike me as weird that the Kazon kept turning up. Voyager is flying through the Delta Quadrant on a mission to get home, so the idea that they keep running into the same aliens means that either the Kazon's territory is massive or the Kazon are all travelling in the same direction. Admittedly these are a different group of Kazon to the ones seen back in "Caretaker", but they will be coming back throughout Season 2 - it simply doesn't make a huge amount of sense to me.

One aspect of the episode really did impress me: Voyager's crew discovers someone has given the Kazon some Federation technology because they come across the results of a replicator explosion onboard a Kazon raider. Dead crew members are fused into the walls and floors. The sole survivors blood has fused with metal compounds from the ship. Star Trek generally treats its replicators as simple convenience: seeing one kill a room full of people when it wasn't assembled correctly is pretty amazing stuff.

Despite my frustrations "State of Flux" is a generally enjoyable episode. It only disappoints because its ambitions are too small - an accusation that you could probably level at Voyager in general, to be honest. Still, six enjoyable episodes out of 10 do give Season 1 a current quality ratio of 60 per cent. There are certainly worse science fiction TV dramas out there to watch.

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