Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Random Thoughts”

“Random Thoughts”
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Alexnander Singer
Season 4, Episode 10
Production episode 178
Original air date: November 19, 1997
Stardate: 51367.2

Captain’s log. Voyager has spent the last several days visiting the Mari homeworld. The people there are telepathic, and Voyager has been taking shore leave and resupplying. Neelix is building up the courage to ask out Talli, one of the fruit merchants, and Janeway and Torres are purchasing equipment from Guill.

A Mari named Frane bumps Torres, who briefly yells at him before getting her temper under control. A few minutes later, Frane starts beating another merchant with a stick.

Tuvok is taking Chief Examiner Nimira, the Mari’s chief of police, on a tour of Voyager when the attack happens, and they return to the surface. Janeway offers full cooperation, and she, Torres, and Neelix are all interviewed both verbally and telepathically, and their thoughts and memories are recorded and examined as well.

To the crew’s shock, Torres is arrested after she’s questioned. The Mari have virtually eliminated crime, and considers even unpleasant and violent thoughts to be taboo. But Torres had a brief violent thought when she was bumped, and that apparently had an adverse effect on Frane, and it caused him to get violent. Because the Mari aren’t used to such thoughts, they overwhelmed Frane.

Janeway is livid, but Nimira is insistent. The punishment is to have the violent thoughts excised from her brain. The problem is that there’s a risk of brain damage to Torres from the procedure. Tuvok and Janeway conduct their own investigation, including the discovery that Frane has been detained for violent thoughts before. Nimira, however, insists that that isn’t relevant, because those thoughts were purged each time.

While shopping on the planet, Seven and Neelix hear a scream: it’s Talli, who was killed by an old woman. Nimira questions and scans the old woman, who was also influenced by Torres’s anger. But both Frane and Torres are in custody and didn’t meet the old woman. Nimira is at a loss as to how that would happen, and she agrees to let Tuvok investigate further before they lobotomize Torres.

Paris approaches Chakotay about mounting a rescue mission before Torres can be taken. Chakotay says they don’t want to antagonize the Mari, but he also tells Paris to go ahead and make a rescue plan, which can be considered as a last resort. Paris correctly thinks he’s just being given busy work, but goes ahead to make the plan.

Star Trek: Voyager "Random Thoughts"

Screenshot: CBS

Tuvok mind-melds with Torres, which she isn’t thrilled about, but she’s thrilled about the Mari’s procedure even less, so she goes along. Tuvok helps her remember that Guill seemed to be all over her when she was bumped also. Tuvok goes to question Guill, who provides reasonable answers, but Tuvok remains suspicious. Guill cuts the interview off because he says he needs to go home to dinner, but Tuvok follows him to a meeting with another Mari to whom he gives cash.

Tuvok confronts Guill, saying that he buys and sells illicit thoughts, and Guill admits to it. Tuvok pretends to also be a seeker of such thoughts in order to gain Guill’s trust. Guill admits that he and Frane set Torres up to be angry so they could capture her thoughts and sell them to various Mari voyeurs. However, he didn’t expect the effect to be so brutal as to cause Frane to commit assault and the old woman to commit murder.

Having gained a confession, Tuvok tries to arrest Guill, but his friends gang up on the Vulcan and subdue him. Guill forces himself to feel some of Tuvok’s violent thoughts that he promised. At first Tuvok holds back, but then he gives Guill everything, the full brunt of turbulent, violent Vulcan emotions, and Guill is utterly overwhelmed.

Tuvok brings Guill onto Voyager and puts him in the brig. Janeway convinces Nimira to not lobotomize Torres in light of this new evidence. Nimira is stunned to realize that there’s an entire black market dedicated to selling illicit thoughts.

The EMH treats Torres to make sure there are no ill effects from the abortive procedure. Seven castigates Janeway for their reckless first-contact policies that got their chief of security and chief engineer damaged, and could have gotten them killed. But Janeway points out that they will never learn if they don’t contact other cultures. Seven doesn’t get it.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Mari have adapted their technology to their telepathy to the point that they can record thoughts. While Nimira uses this for law-enforcement purposes, Guill does likewise for profit.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is eager to cooperate with Nimira initially, but refuses to accept that Torres is responsible for an assault and a murder just because she briefly got angry.

Star Trek: Voyager "Random Thoughts"

Screenshot: CBS

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok and Nimira bond instantly, with Tuvok explaining the need for a brig on Voyager (Nimira finds the idea barbaric). Tuvok also does mostly excellent work in his investigation, including pretending to be a nasty-thought-voyeur just like Guill and his clients, and then later giving him a lesson in being careful what you wish for. (I say “mostly” because he neglected to have any backup and tried to arrest Guill by himself, which backfired rather spectacularly.)

Half and half. Torres’ temper finally gets her in serious trouble, just like pretty much everyone thought it would…

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix asks Talli out, and is actually successful. It’s the first time he’s tried dating anyone since Kes.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH doesn’t show up until the end, giving Torres a once-over.

Resistance is futile. Seven thinks that the whole notion of stopping at a planet and hanging out with the locals and being arrested by them is counterindicated to a ship that claims to be trying to get home.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Paris buys a present for Torres on the surface, but doesn’t get the chance to give it to her before she’s arrested. He spends the entire episode fuming over her being detained and lobotomized. Meanwhile, Neelix flirts with a woman for the first time since Kes. He castigates telepaths and says they’re bad for relationships, which is odd considering that Kes is a telepath…

Do it.

“Fortunately, the Mari didn’t get very far with the procedure. You can return to duty, Lieutenant—though perhaps with one or two fewer violent engrams in that fiery head of yours.”

“It’s all right, Doc, there are plenty more where those came from.”

“Duly warned.”

–The EMH treating Torres.

Welcome aboard. The excellent Canadian actor Gwynyth Walsh returns to Trek as Nimira, having played the Klingon B’Etor in the “Redemptiontwo-parter and “Firstborn” on TNG, “Past Prologue” on DS9, and the movie Generations. Wayne Péré plays Guill, Rebecca McFarland plays Talli, and regular stunt performer Bobby Burns gets a rare billed role as Frane.

Trivial matters: Gwynyth Walsh was eager to return to Trek but less eager to subject herself to hours in the makeup chair, so she was only willing to do a guest shot that did not involve facial prosthetics.

This episode is the first time Kes has been mentioned since she left the show.

The violent thoughts seen by Guill and Tuvok in this episode recycled footage from First Contact, “Fair Trade,” “Unity,” “Nemesis,” Generations, and the Paramount film Event Horizon.

The matte painting created to show the Mari homeworld is a kitbash of buildings in the Los Angeles area, including a university library and the MTA Building, plus reuses of towers, scenes, and buildings used in other episodes of TNG and DS9.

Janeway mentions that Neelix is lodging a formal complaint with Mari authorities, a nice use of his ambassadorial title that was official in “Revulsion.”

The depth and breadth of uncontrolled Vulcan emotion was seen with Spock in the original series’ “The Naked Time,” “This Side of Paradise,” and “All Our Yesterdays,” with Sarek (and the mind-melded Picard) in TNG’s “Sarek,” and with Tuvok in “Meld.”

Star Trek: Voyager "Random Thoughts"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I guess it’d be pretty tough to keep a secret from you.” This is a prototypical Star Trek episode, using a science fictional conceit—in this case, telepathy, which has been a part of the genre since the 1940s—to take a look at contemporary society. The commentary is nicely broad-ranging, which also means it isn’t particularly heavy handed. But the episode nicely shines a light on the notion of how difficult it can be to legislate behavior.

The episode was also originally inspired by the notion of whether or not portrayals of violence in media provokes violence in people, which was an especially hot topic in the 1990s when this episode first aired.

But what makes the episode so strong is that it can apply to so many things, from the war on drugs to Prohibition. And throughout history, the hardest laws to enforce are ones that a) bring pleasure to someone and b) don’t do active harm to anyone. The word “active” is important there, because technically Torres’s thoughts are responsible for both the assault and the later murder. But that’s only because the Mari aren’t used to thoughts on the level of violence that Torres, with her Klingon heritage is capable of. And it’s why Guill really really really can’t handle Tuvok’s full Vulcan craziness.

Tuvok is magnificent in this episode, as his investigation is straightforward and sensible and clever, and I love how easily he modulates into the role of someone eager for illicit thoughts to feel in order to entrap Guill.

Credit also to Kenneth Biller’s script and Gwynyth Walsh’s performance in making Nimira a sympathetic character who is simply trying to do her job. She could easily have been antagonistic, and it’s to Biller and Walsh’s credit that she isn’t. She’s likeable and her actions make sense by her own lights. And she’s apologetic about what she has to do—she’s still a kind, compassionate person.

One other bit of social commentary here is Nimira’s complete and total shock at the notion of this underground thought-selling. It never even occurred to her that this could happen, which belies Tuvok’s earlier comment that she was probably a good investigator. A good investigator would have had that in her head as a possibility, if perhaps a remote one.

Still, this is a strong, powerful Trek episode that beautifully does what Trek does best.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido hopes everyone in the United States either already has voted or will be voting tomorrow.

citation

Back to the top of the page

58 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.