Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Darkling”

“Darkling”
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Alex Singer
Season 3, Episode 18
Production episode 161
Original air date: February 19, 1997
Stardate: 50693.2

Captain’s log. Having apparently made it through the Nekrit Expanse, Voyager is at an outpost occupied by the Mikhal Travelers, a people who are well traveled in this region of space, to find out what lays ahead for them. Janeway is listening to tall tales from a man named Nakahn, interrupted by Zahir, who joins them alongside Kes, to puncture the ridiculousness of his tale. Kes and Zahir have been spending a great deal of time together, and they’re obviously smitten with each other.

The EMH is on the holodeck, talking with holographic re-creations of Mahatma Gandhi and George Gordon, Lord Byron, and has also re-created Socrates, T’Pau of Vulcan, Marie Curie, and Leonardo da Vinci (though we only see the former two). He is attempting to improve his personality and is trying to find the best elements of various well-regarded humans, and also one Vulcan. The EMH is also snarky toward Kes about the fact that she hasn’t been available to help him with this project, as she’s been spending so much time on the outpost with Zahir.

Later, Torres is in sickbay with an allergic reaction to the plant life on the outpost—something the EMH warned all the away teams about in his preliminary report, but which Torres ignored. Even as he treats her, he starts acting very weird, and he explains that he’s trying to improve his personality by adding subroutines of the various other personalities into his matrix. Torres is appalled, as that’s not something you can just do without being very careful about it, as personality subroutines don’t always mix well. She promises to look his program over after her engineering shift is done. The EMH deactivates himself to be safe.

On the outpost, Zahir and Kes walk in a wooded area, and eventually smooch. A mysterious cloaked figure is watching them clandestinely. Kes returns to Voyager at 0300 hours with a very happy just-fucked expression on her face, and does the Walk of Shame down the corridor, where (of course) she bumps into Tuvok, who reminds her of the report that’s due in five hours that she hasn’t started yet.

Star Trek: Voyager "Darkling"

Screenshot: CBS

Kes later goes to Janeway after staying up the rest of the night to finish the report and says she’s seriously considering going on a journey with Zahir. She promises to rejoin Voyager after it’s done. Janeway supports her decision, whatever it might be, but also urges her to give it a few days to be sure, especially since Voyager will be remaining for a few more days.

Zahir goes for a walk in the same area where he and Kes had been (Kes herself is catching up on her sleep), when he’s ambushed and tossed over a cliff by the same cloaked figure as before. That same figure confronts Narkahn, and it turns out to be the EMH, albeit with slightly funkier eyes. (We will refer to this as Evil EMH.) He threatens Narkahn and demands passage off the outpost from him.

Later, Kes goes to sickbay and activates the EMH, now back to his old self. She tells him that Zahir fell from a cliff, and is alive, but badly hurt. He puts on his mobile emitter, but Torres stops him from beaming down, as she needs to run a diagnostic on him immediately. The EMH gives Kes some medical advice for treating Zahir and then goes back to sickbay with Torres.

The engineer explains that he’s incorporated all the elements of the personalities he’s absorbed, including the negative aspects: Byron’s lechery, T’Pau’s ruthlessness, and so on. It’s causing his program to destabilize. She needs to purge the extra personalities, and he also needs to deactivate. But when he tries to shut himself off, instead he just shimmers…

Tuvok is aiding Mikhal authorities in investigating the assault on Zahir, who is suffering traumatic amnesia and has no memory of the attack, nor is there any forensic evidence on his person. Tuvok is reporting to Janeway on Voyager and the two of them walk into sickbay to find Torres collapsed on the deck. Janeway activates the EMH, who claims that Torres is suffering anaphylactic shock from eating the local vegetables. After Tuvok and Janeway depart, we discover that this is actually Evil EMH, who faked the anaphylaxis symptoms and has paralyzed Torres. He needs her help to remove the EMH from his program, so Evil EMH will be the only personality. Torres refuses, and his program starts to destabilize. So Evil EMH goes to the holodeck instead to try to use the holographic re-creations of the various historical figures.

Tuvok interrogates Nakahn, and then Chakotay brings Zahir to him. He finally remembers some of the attack, including where it happened. He takes Chakotay and Tuvok there, and Tuvok’s examination reveals holographic residue.

Kes goes to sickbay and finds an unconscious Torres. The computer tells her the EMH is on the holodeck, and when she goes there, Evil EMH takes her hostage (having physically trashed the holographic re-creations for reasons the script never bothers to explain). They transport to the outpost, with Evil EMH scattering their trail so Voyager can’t find them. However, Nakahn can’t get them off the outpost because Janeway has cordoned off the area.

Janeway also penetrates Evil EMH’s scattering field enough to pinpoint their location, and Tuvok and Chakotay head there. Evil EMH jumps over a cliff rather than be captured, but Kim is able to get a transporter lock on them as they’re falling and beam them to Voyager. At this point, the subroutines have destabilized completely, and the EMH is back in charge of his own form, and is very confused as to what’s going on.

Torres is able to remove all the subroutines, and Kes also announces that she’s decided to stay on board. The EMH is grateful, and after she leaves sickbay, he recites part of Hippocrates’s oath.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently personality subroutines don’t mix well together in a holographic personage, and causes the hologram to get dissociative identity disorder where the other alter is evil. Sure.

Star Trek: Voyager "Darkling"

Screenshot: CBS

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway admits to Kes that in her Academy days, she was the queen of the all-nighters, having waited until the last minute on far too many assignments.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok gets to reprimand Kes on her Walk of Shame, be given information about their potential encounters in the forthcoming region of space from Zahir, and help investigate the assault on Zahir. Busy episode for him…

Half and half. Torres is the one who tells the EMH that he shouldn’t go just dumping personalities into his matrix willy nilly—which, unfortunately, makes her a target of Evil EMH, because she can actually stop him.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH is trying to improve his bedside manner by incorporating the personalities of various famous people. I can see Byron and Gandhi, both of whom have a CHA of 20 (Dungeons & Dragons reference, sorry), and probably Socrates, too (most of what we know of him is secondhand from Plato, so it’s hard to judge), but T’Pau? The one whose response to Kirk’s suffering in the thinner atmosphere was, “the air is the air”? This is who you want your doctor to emulate? And Curie and da Vinci are useful for their scientific curiosity, I suppose, which would probably help with research? I guess?

When he’s Evil EMH, his eyes are beadier and his teeth are different.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. This episode finally makes it clear that Kes’s Tieran-induced breaking up with Neelix has remained the case even after Kes was no longer possessed, as the EMH explicitly references their relationship coming to an end.

In addition, Evil EMH is leering and creepy at both Kes and especially Torres. At one point, Torres is cautioning him that, by mixing personality subroutines, he might get hurt, at which point the EMH notices that he’s put a hand on Torres’s thigh. He removes it quickly.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. For whatever reason, the EMH decides to interview his potential personality additions in the Paxau Resort program instead of, y’know, in sickbay. This is what happens when you build a new set and you want to amortize the cost of it, I guess…

Star Trek: Voyager "Darkling"

Screenshot: CBS

Do it.

“Passion is meant for procreation. Anything further is contrary to divine intention.”

“Really? It is said the angels themselves take pleasure in their bodies of light.”

“And you should take a cold bath. In such cases, it is the finest preventative.”

–The re-creations of Gandhi and Byron arguing about passion. Personally, I’m on Byron’s side…

Welcome aboard. David Lee Smith plays Zahir, while Stephen Davies plays Nakahn. Davies previously appeared twice on DS9 as a Bolian in “Emissary” and a Jem’Hadar in “Hippocratic Oath.” Noel De Souza and Christopher Clarke play the holographic re-creations of Gandhi and Byron, respectively.

In addition, regular extra Sue Henley gets a couple lines of dialogue and an actual credit as the ensign in the turbolift. She’ll get another line in “Year of Hell” and be credited as Ensign Brooks.

Trivial matters: This episode is obviously inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and indeed it had its origin in a story pitch bought from an uncredited freelancer that was pretty much “Voyager does Jekyll & Hyde.”

The Mikhal Travelers and the Tarkan (whom Tuvok is told by Zahir to avoid at all costs) are never seen or mentioned again onscreen, though they do play a role in the short story “Monthuglu” by Craig D.B. Patton in Strange New Worlds, in the post-finale novel The Eternal Tide by Kirsten Beyer, and in the alternate timeline of the short novel Places of Exile by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett in Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism.

This is the second onscreen appearance of T’Pau (played here as a hologram by extra Betty Matsushita), who was introduced in the original series episode “Amok Time,” played by Celia Lovsky. She’ll be seen again as a younger woman in the Enterprise episodes “The Forge,” “Awakening,” and “Kir’Shara,” played by Kara Zediker.

The holographic re-creations of T’Pau and Socrates are playing kal-toh, the Vulcan game of skill introduced in “Alter Ego.”

The EMH says he also re-created Madame Curie and da Vinci, but they are not seen. Janeway will re-create da Vinci on the holodeck at season’s end in “Scorpion,” and again in “Concerning Flight” in the fourth season.

Janeway mentions to Zahir that they can use vorilium, and may detour to a dangerous asteroid to find some. Later this season, in “Favorite Son,” Voyager will find some vorilium.

Star Trek: Voyager "Darkling"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “But everyone seems to be treating me like I’m still a child—I’m three years old now!” And now for something I never expected to type at any point in this rewatch (or, indeed, anywhere at all): holy crap, is Robert Picardo awful in this.

This is the only time I’ve seen a performance by Picardo that I would classify as awful. He’s been in so many things, from Stargate (SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe) to Hail Caesar! to Supernatural to The Flash to Justice League Unlimited to China Beach to The Wonder Years and on and on and on, and he’s always been superlative.

And yet, he’s just dreadful as Evil EMH, overenunciating everything, and deepening his voice in a manner that sounds like he’s parodying Christian Bale’s Batman (yes, I know that was a decade later, work with me, here). Truly, what his performance reminds me most of is Alexander Siddig’s horrendous turn as Bashir possessed by Vantika in DS9’s “The Passenger,” which is also the single worst performance of Siddig’s career.

Worse is that the underlying script in this part of the Picardo’s nadir as an actor is really dumb. Both Joe Menosky and Brannon Braga, who collaborated on the story (Menosky wrote the script) have a tendency to go for high concept with little regard to scientific plausibility, and while sometimes that gets you “Darmok” or “Cause and Effect,” far too often it gets you “Masks” and “Threshold“—and “Darkling,” because man, is this dumb, and the concept isn’t actually that interesting, especially when you factor in Picardo’s lame-ass performance as Evil EMH. It makes little sense that Byron’s lechery, T’Pau’s ruthlessness, Gandhi’s single-mindedness, and Socrates’s disdain for authority would somehow combine to create a second personality that only has those features.

Not to mention the sheer laziness of who the EMH chooses. Why all humans, plus a single Vulcan? If this were still the Starfleet of the earliest episodes of the original series that was written as if it was an Earth service, with Spock as the token alien, that would be one thing, but it makes no sense for the EMH to not choose from all across the United Federation of Planets beyond Vulcan—why no brilliant Andorians or Tellarites or Betazoids or Bolians or Trill or Gallamites? (At least there’s some diversity among the humans, not just famous white dudes, thanks to having Gandhi and Curie)

Even worse than all that, though, is that the episode starts out so promising. The Mikhal Travelers are a very nifty idea, and it’s a spectacularly blown opportunity to never have seen them again—Voyager should have been bumping into their little ships all over the place for the next year or so. This is the second letdown in a row after the Nekrit Expanse, which got all this buildup in “Fair Trade,” and then was a big ol’ nothing after that, with the only real sop to it being Paris complaining that it was boring in “Unity.”

It also started with a very interesting examination of Kes. She’s blossomed on Voyager, and she’s no longer tethered directly to Neelix. Under the tutelage of the EMH, Tuvok, and Janeway, she’s developed tremendously, and the urge for her to move beyond the ship is understandable, and was worth dedicating more than one or two conversations to. It’s then forgotten and ignored for the back half of the episode so we can do Evil EMH, and then it’s fobbed off in an offhand remark by Kes at the very end. At no point do we learn how Zahir feels about Kes refusing his offer, nor do the two of them get any kind of goodbye.

This episode leads with a very promising story that it then abandons and ruins it in order to do a hoary Jekyll-and-Hyde pastiche that serves only to put a rare blemish on a great actor’s resumé.

Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido wants you to know that, if you like what he writes here for Tor.com, you’ll love what he puts on his Patreon, including one movie review and anywhere between one and six TV reviews per month, as well as excerpts from his works in progress, cat pictures, vignettes featuring his original characters, and more!

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