Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Heroes and Demons”

“Heroes and Demons”
Written by Naren Shankar
Directed by Les Landau
Season 1, Episode 11
Production episode 112
Original air date: April 24, 1995
Stardate: 48693.2

Captain’s log. Voyager is investigating a protostar that has unusually intense photonic energy. Torres beams two samples on board, but one sample doesn’t materialize due to a gap in the annular confinement beam. She tries again, and this time it works. She says it’ll take six hours to analyze. Janeway suggests conscripting Kim to help out to cut that time down, but he’s off duty. She contacts him—but the computer says that Kim isn’t on board.

There has been no unauthorized transporter use and all the shuttles are empty. (Tuvok doesn’t mention this, but presumably no airlocks were used, either.) He was last seen going into the holodeck, but Tuvok’s attempts to get sensor readings from the holodeck are subject to interference.

Chakotay and Tuvok go to the holodeck only to find that they can’t end the program or find anyone in it. Kim was doing an interactive holonovel program in which he is the title character in Beowulf. With no other choice, Tuvok and Chakotay enter, and are menaced by Freya, a shield-maiden and daughter of King Hrothgar. Tuvok is unable to delete the character, and he assumes that the safeties are likely malfunctioning, so her sword could conceivably kill them. Chakotay says they are kinsmen to Beowulf, and Freya brings them to the king.

Hrothgar, however, is depressed. They continually are menaced by Grendel, and Beowulf is the latest in a long line of would-be heroes the monster has killed. Tuvok is concerned that Kim may really be dead, but Freya says that Grendel took Kim away, and there is no body to examine.

After reporting to Janeway, and after being bitched at by Hrothgar’s aide-de-camp, Unferth, they stand guard that night in the hopes of encountering Grendel. An energy creature of some sort appears, and then the two officers also disappear.

Janeway, Torres, and Paris brainstorm trying to figure out what’s happening. Before they disappeared, Tuvok and Chakotay’s tricorders picked up a massive amount of photonic energy. They believe that the photonic energy that escaped during the transporter malfunction damaged the holodeck and caused Kim, Tuvok, and Chakotay to be dematerialized. They need to send someone else in, someone who can’t be dematerialized. Paris suggests the EMH.

The EMH is apprehensive, but agrees to go along. Kes tries to encourage him, and generally succeeds, and also reminds him that he still hasn’t chosen a name—however, he has narrowed it down, and finally, in honor of his first away mission (indeed, first time outside sickbay), he chooses Albert Schweitzer.

He is transferred to the holodeck—the only other place on the ship he can go to, as it also has emitters that can create his form—and is confronted by Freya in exactly the same way Chakotay and Tuvok were (because, y’know, it’s a computer program). He, too, is brought to Hrothgar, who gives them the same maudlin speech, and Unferth complains in the same manner about him. However, while Chakotay and Tuvok were able to talk Unferth down from attacking them, the EMH goes ahead and lets Unferth attack, going insubstantial when the sword hits. Everyone assumes he’s a sorcerer, and will finally stop Grendel.

That night, the EMH stands guard, as Chakotay and Tuvok did (and, presumably, Kim did), waiting for Grendel. Freya sits with him a while, and smooches him, inviting him to her bed if he wishes.

Grendel attacks, grabbing the EMH’s arm. Frantically, the doctor asks to be returned to sickbay, which he is, albeit without the arm Grendel was holding.

Torres and Paris examine the tricorder readings while the EMH regrows a new arm. They’re seeing synaptic patterns that indicate it may be a life form—indeed, may be intelligent.

They run tests on the sample they have in engineering, adding a polarization field. This works a bit too well: the sample breaks free of its containment field, and then buggers about through the ship, avoiding the containment fields that Torres tries to capture it with.

The energy escapes the ship and enters a lattice of some sort, which is only detectable for a moment. However, Voyager’s sensors were able to scan the lattice for that brief instant, and Janeway says they found three distinct and unique energy patterns in the lattice. She theorizes that those three are Kim, Tuvok, and Chakotay, who were captured in this way in retaliation for Torres similarly capturing the photonic life forms.

The EMH returns to the holodeck with the other sample in a portable containment field. He describes it to Freya as a talisman that will defeat Grendel. Unferth shows up and accuses “Lord Schweitzer” of being in league with Grendel and fights him. Freya defends him and is killed, her final words being, “Farewell, Schweitzer.”

Heading to the castle, the EMH takes the talisman back from Unferth by threatening him with a lit torch, then calls for Grendel. He frees the photonic life form in the sample container, and in exchange, Tuvok, Chakotay, and a really really confused Kim are rematerialized.

Janeway tells the EMH that she’s going to give him a commendation for exemplary performance, and she’d like to put an actual name there. But he no longer wishes to use Schweitzer, as it being Freya’s last word is a painful memory.

The Doctor (Robert Picardo) and Freya (Marjorie Monaghan) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Photonic energy can, apparently, make the energy processors on Voyager more efficient. Except when they’re actually life forms, at least, at which point, they fuck up the holodeck.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway has a different hairstyle this episode, one that would be abandoned soon thereafter as being too difficult to keep in place.

Half and half. Torres and Janeway both get to geeble about science together some more.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is not at all familiar with Beowulf, which is kind of a relief, as I got real tired of Spock knowing all the Earth history instead of the people who were actually raised on Earth knowing it. (I’m looking at you, “Spectre of the Gun.”)

Forever an ensign. Kim has all of one line of dialogue at the very end of the episode, but at least he gets to wear a cool costume while he does so.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH gets to see something other than sickbay, and he enjoys smelling plants and eating food. He has a bit more trouble wielding a sword, and he’s very surprised when Freya smooches him and later gives her life for him.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Freya hits all over the EMH, and invites him to her bed. Wah-HEY!

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. The photonic energy creatures are able to take over the holodeck in a way that makes the plot work.

Do it.

“You are truly a man of many talents, Lord Schweitzer. Your people must value you greatly.”

“You would think so.”

–Freya praising the EMH, and the EMH enjoying the novelty.

Welcome aboard. Marjorie Monaghan, probably best known for her recurring role as “Number One” on Babylon 5, but who to me will always be Jojo on the tragically short-lived Space Rangers, plays Freya. Michael Keenen plays Hrothgar; he was also in TNG‘s “Sub Rosa” as Maturin and DS9‘s “Statistical Probabilities” and “Chrysalis” as Patrick, one of the “Jack Pack.” Christopher Neame plays Unferth; he’ll also appear in Enterprise‘s “Storm Front” two-parter as a German general.

Trivial matters: This is the only Voyager writing credit for Naren Shankar, who was the only member of the TNG writing staff in its seventh season who didn’t go to either DS9 (Ronald D. Moore, Rene Echevarria) or Voyager (Jeri Taylor, Brannon Braga) or both (Michael Piller). It’s also his last Trek writing credit; he has since worked on dozens of TV shows, notably Farscape, CSI, Almost Human, Grimm, and The Expanse (for which he currently serves as an executive producer).

While Shankar tried to use as much of the actual poem of Beowulf as possible, he did add the character of Freya, who isn’t really in the poem (Hrothgar’s daughter is named Freawaru and is a minor character), so that the EMH would have a love interest. He also included an amusing in-joke, as in the poem, Beowulf cuts off Grendel’s arm, and in the episode, the photonic energy creature cuts off the EMH’s arm.

This episode was also a partial inspiration for one of the most wonderful Voyager comic books, a one-shot by Janine Ellen Young, Doselle Young, and David Roach called Avalon Rising that had the EMH in a fairy-tale-style setting, telling tales of the Voyager crew’s adventures through the lens of medieval European folk tales.

Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Speak as a friend or stand challenged!” On the one hand, this is a bog-standard Star Trek episode that we’ve seen versions of a dozen times before. I watched this with my wife, and the nanosecond that Torres beamed the photonic energy into a containment field, she turned to me and said, “They’re actually a life form, right?” This episode has two of Trek‘s most common tropes: the thing that turns out to unexpectedly be a life form, and the holodeck screwing up in some way.

And yet, I love this episode all to pieces, mostly because of the one element that makes it uniquely Voyager: the EMH. Robert Picardo shines like big giant shining thing in this one. The doctor’s usual crankiness and sarcasm is leavened by a combination of enthusiasm and dread, which both come from the same source: he’s on a non-medical mission outside sickbay. He’s at once thrilled at the notion of seeing trees and a sky and yet completely unsure if he’s even capable of doing what Janeway’s asking him to do.

What he gets is far more than expected, and I particularly love the little touches, from the EMH feeling and smelling plant life for the first time in its natural state to the tentative manner in which the doctor first eats food, as if he’s never done it before because, well, he hasn’t. Plus, his tale of derring-do is solving a measles epidemic on Voyager, and the looks of confusion on Hrothgar’s subjects is hilarious.

This mitigates the horrible predictability of the plot, not to mention the inexplicable use of Paris to help Torres out with the technobabble stuff, which makes nothing like sense. It doesn’t help that the scene in the meeting room where Janeway, Torres, and Paris are spitballing notions of how to save the trio, it’s blocked and written as if Paris was the one in charge.

No, seriously, look at these lines of dialogue:

CHARACTER #1: This is a scan of the holodeck just before we lost contact with Chakotay and Tuvok. The readings are pretty garbled, but I’m still inclined to think there is a malfunction in the holodeck’s matter conversion nodes.

CHARACTER #2: Photonic energy leaking into the subsystems could certainly damage the nodes, and it might have created a defect in the program that occurs when Grendel shows up.

CHARACTER #1: A defect that dematerialized our people.

CHARACTER #3: I’m not willing to accept the fact that Harry and the others are gone for good. Their molecular patterns might still be there. And if they are, we might be able to rematerialize them. The only thing we can do is go back into the holodeck, study this energy surge, find out what exactly happened.

CHARACTER #1: Anyone who goes back in there might wind up just like the others.

(Transcript thanks to chakoteya.net and Netflix.)

Looking at it that way, you’d assume that Characters #1 and 2 are two science officers or engineers—in a TNG script, Data and La Forge would have those lines, on DS9 it’d be Dax and O’Brien, on Discovery it’d be Stamets and Tilly—while Character #3 would be either the captain or first officer.

Character #1 is Torres and Character #3 is Paris. Character #2, whose sole contribution is a bit of technobabble, is Captain Kathryn Janeway, the ostensible main character, while Tom Paris is the one being all take-charge and making definitive statements about their course of action, since he’s the only person in the room with a penis. Les Landau’s direction exacerbates the problem, blocking it so that it looks like Janeway and Torres are reporting to Paris. What the ever-loving fuck?

To make matters worse, nothing Paris does has anything to do with his role as the ship’s pilot. Most of what he does would make more sense going to Joe Carey, in the absence of Kim and Tuvok, or Janeway herself, given her science background.

I’ve been a fan of Marjorie Monaghan’s since Space Rangers in 1993, and she’s a delight here as the shield-maiden who becomes smitten with the EMH. Michael Keenen and Christopher Neame are less compelling as the depressed Hrothgar and the tiresome Unferth, though at least the latter’s personality is an expected feature. Just in general, Naren Shankar’s script does a beautiful job of being aware that it’s a computer program, with Unferth set up repeatedly as an opponent for the person playing the holonovel has to deal with, and with the dialogue repeating every time someone else wanders in.

The EMH’s unwillingness to keep the name Schweitzer due to it being Freya’s final word before she died in his arms saving his life (not that he was really in danger as a hologram) is a sweet touch, and one that mitigates the doctor’s inability to ever settle on a name over seven years.

Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Pensacon 2020 this weekend, spending most of his time at Bard’s Tower alongside fellow scribes Brian Anderson, Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher, Michelle Cori, Phil Foglio, Charles E. Gannon, JB Garner, Andrew E. Gaska, Marion G. Harmon, Kevin Ikenberry, Megan Mackie, and Jody Lynn Nye.

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