Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Concerning Flight”

“Concerning Flight”
Written by Jimmy Diggs and Joe Menosky
Directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño
Season 4, Episode 11
Production episode 179
Original air date: November 26, 1997
Stardate: 51386.4

Captain’s log. On the holodeck, Janeway returns from testing Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, which crashed into the Arno River. Both captain and maestro are soaked, and being mocked by the citizens of Firenze. Leonardo’s ranting that he’s going to go to France where he’ll be properly appreciated is interrupted by Voyager being attacked.

Janeway leaves the holodeck and heads for the bridge, not bothering to shut down the program. The unidentified vessels attacking aren’t doing much damage, but they are able to punch a transporter beam of some kind through the shields and steal a whole bunch of stuff before buggering off. Their bounty includes the computer processor and the EMH’s mobile emitter, among many other items.

Despite not having a working computer, Voyager manages, after ten days, to track down the culprits, mostly thanks to the enhanced sensors in astrometrics. They detect Starfleet signatures on two continents of the planet. Paris and Neelix go to one continent while Tuvok and Janeway go to another. The former two find a merchant wearing a Starfleet uniform under his armor and who has a phaser rifle and some other stuff to trade, but Chakotay just pumps him for information in exchange for getting to keep his stolen merchandise (which he bought from someone else). He tells them that Tau is the biggest, baddest merchant on the planet.

Janeway and Tuvok are stunned to encounter Leonardo on the planet, wearing a mobile emitter. The holodeck character believes he has found himself in the New World, assuming he was kidnapped by pirates and taken across the Atlantic to the Americas. He even has a patron—which turns out to be Tau. The Leonardo character was in the computer processor and Tau downloaded him into the mobile emitter.

They go to Leonardo’s workshop, where he is working on a number of items, some of which uses Voyager’s equipment. Janeway approaches Tau, leaving Tuvok to distract Leonardo with small talk, at which the Vulcan does not excel. Janeway pretends to be a merchant looking for a computer to run a colony, Tau says he has just the thing, and shows off the interface with Voyager’s computer processor.

Leonardo has mapped the continent very accurately, and between that and the astrometric sensors, Tuvok and Seven are able to create a sensor map of the continent and triangulate the location of the processor. However, there’s a dispersion field protecting the structure it’s in, so Janeway will have to go there and activate the processor so that it will give off enough of an energy signature to get a transporter lock.

Star Trek: Voyager "Concerning Flight"

Screenshot: CBS

Tau, however, figures out who and what Janeway is and holds her at gunpoint, taking her combadge. Leonardo smashes Tau on the head, fearing execution for hurting his patron, but not wanting to see his apprentice hurt. He reluctantly leads Janeway to where the processor is stored.

By the time they get inside, Janeway using her “compass” (tricorder) to wend their way through the labyrinthine corridors, Tau has sent his guards after them, as well as ships into orbit to fire on Voyager. Janeway activates the computer enough for Voyager to beam it back. Janeway uses a site-to-site transporter that Tau stole from Voyager to bring them out to the hills where Leonardo has constructed another flying machine, this one made out of more sturdy 24th-century material. They use it to fly away from the guards who are firing on them (and Leonardo is freaked out when the phaser beam goes through him), and eventually Voyager is able to beam them aboard.

Returned to his rightful place on the holodeck, Leonardo is again packing for France, wanting to show his friend the king the wonders he saw in the New World.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Voyager is able to detect their equipment via their “Starfleet signatures,” whatever that means. This reminds me of how they found B4 in Nemesis via the “positronic emissions,” which is rather like finding a dining room table from its “wood emissions.”

There’s coffee in that nebula! There’s a certain amount of fangoobering of Leonardo—even more so than in “Scorpion”—on the part of Janeway, and she’s obviously really enjoying getting to interact with him outside the holodeck. But she never loses sight of the mission to retrieve their stuff, either.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok cautions Janeway on relying too much on Leonardo, as he is not only a hologram, but an accurate re-creation of someone notoriously bad at finishing what he started, something Janeway herself dinged Leonardo for at the top of the episode. Tuvok also is really terrible at small talk.

Star Trek: Voyager "Concerning Flight"

Screenshot: CBS

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Denied his mobile emitter, the EMH is frustrated by being once again trapped in sickbay. He pumps Seven for gossip on the crew while adjusting her optical interface, including the story of her fight with Torres in the mess hall.

Resistance is futile. Seven points out to Tuvok that it’s illogical to refer to a hologram the same way you would refer to a person.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Kim goes to astrometrics to adjust the sensors only to find Seven already there working on the problem. The first thing she says when he enters is, “If you’re here to fraternize, I do not have the time.” This implies that they’ve “fraternized” before, which makes me wonder what was going on while they were setting up that lab between “Revulsion” and “Year of Hell.”

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. The episode opens and closes in Leonardo’s workshop, which we’ll only see once more, in “The Omega Directive.” Also in a nice touch, Janeway is soaking wet on the holodeck, but dry when she’s on the bridge, because of course that was holographic water…

Do it.

“No, I must understand! Catarina, to see objects disappear into thin air, to see lightning pass through my body—are we spirits? Catarina—am I dead?”

“Let me ask you something: if you were something other than a human being, if you were a different kind of animal, if you were a small bird, a sparrow—what would your world be like?”

“I should make my home in a tree, in the branch of an elm. I should hunt insects for food, straw for my nest, and in the springtime I should sing for a companion.”

“And you would know nothing of the politics of Florence, the cutting of marble or mathematics?”

“Of course not.”

“But why not?”

“My mind would be too small.”

“As a sparrow your mind would be too small? Even with the best of teachers?”

“If Aristotle himself were to perch on my branch and lecture till he fell off from exhaustion, still the limits of my mind would prevent me from understanding.”

“And as a man, can you accept that there may be certain realities beyond the limits of your comprehension?”

“I could not accept that. And I would be a fool.”

–Leonardo trying to understand the 24th century, and Janeway trying to explain it to him, the best conversation between the two characters in an episode full of great ones.

Star Trek: Voyager "Concerning Flight"

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. The great John Rhys-Davies makes his second and final appearance as Leonardo following “Scorpion.” John Vargas—who previously played the Genesis scientist who was killed by the Ceti-eel-possessed Captain Terrell in The Wrath of Khan—plays Tau.

Trivial matters: Jimmy Diggs’ original pitch was simply for the mobile emitter to be stolen, and it was Brannon Braga who suggested that it be Leonardo da Vinci running amuck on an alien world. Joe Menosky, a big fan of the Italian Renaissance, jumped at the chance to write the script. “Da Vinci’s Day Out” was one of the working titles of the episode.

Janeway mentions that James T. Kirk was said to have met Leonardo, though evidence of that meeting is “less than conclusive,” a reference to the original series episode “Requiem for Methuselah,” where the immortal Flint claimed to have been, among other folks, Leonardo. Of course, Kirk promised not to tell anyone about Flint in that episode—then again, there were four hundred-plus people on the Enterprise, and one of them may have blabbed…

Tim Russ wears the same outfit when he’s in civilian clothes on the planet that he wore as the Mirror Universe version of Tuvok in DS9’s “Through the Looking Glass.”

Leonardo mentions several times that the king of France is a friend of his. King Francis I of France was indeed a good friend to Leonardo, and when the maestro died in France in 1519, Francis was by his side. Leonardo really was a skilled cartographer, at a time when the art of map-making was nascent to say the least.

Star Trek: Voyager "Concerning Flight"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “The great bird will take flight and bring glory to its nest.” I’m of two minds about this episode. I mean, it’s completely enjoyable because it has John Rhys-Davies doing a magnificent job of portraying the original Renaissance Man. And Joe Menosky’s script shows a superb understanding of a 15th-century person’s worldview in general and Leonardo’s interpretation of the future in particular. This makes both for some hilarious dialogue as well as some fascinating philosophical musings.

And this is a nice change from the usual interact-with-the-hologram stories that Trek has done, as the others have all been aware of their status as holograms: Minuet, Professor Moriarty, Vic Fontaine. But Leonardo isn’t aware of his photonic nature (at least until a phaser blast passes through him) nor of what century he’s in. Leonardo is able to adjust, in part because he’s reinterpreting everything around him through his own lens, but also because he’s so brilliant. And I love his conversations with Janeway on various subjects, especially her sparrow analogy to explain the technological marvels that even he cannot comprehend.

But the rest of the story doesn’t entirely gel. Everyone’s treating the wholesale theft of a ton of their equipment as a minor inconvenience rather than the major violation is truly is, and Chakotay just blithely letting the merchant wander off with a stolen phaser rifle is contrary to the ship that’s supposed to be upholding Starfleet ideals. For that matter, no effort is made to retrieve anything beyond the computer processor and the mobile emitter, which is—not good?

Also the parts of the episode that don’t involve Janeway, Leonardo, and Tuvok don’t really do much. For starters, Tau is a terrible villain. No charisma, no menace, no personality, and worst of all, no effectiveness. Anybody who lets a hologram get the drop on him with a blunt object to the head is not going to impress as a villain, and their inability to capture Janeway and Leonardo at the end is comical. It’s at odds with his ability to so thoroughly own Voyager at the top of the episode.

The EMH’s frustration at being back to stuck in sickbay is a nice touch, but aside from one complaint over a viewscreen in a briefing and one scene with Seven, not much is done with it, though Robert Picardo plays it wonderfully as ever. Meanwhile, the rhapsody in awkward between Seven and Kim just falls totally flat. (The later scene with Tuvok and Seven in the same lab works better, partly due to both Jeri Ryan and Tim Russ excelling at deadpan commentary.) And Tuvok’s attempt at small talk with Leonardo falls even flatter, as the same Tuvok who effortlessly went undercover as a telepathic thrill-seeker just last episode would not have any trouble talking to Leonardo.

It’s worth it for Rhys-Davies and Kate Mulgrew being amazing together, and the pair of them taking flight at the end is a crowning moment of awesome, but one really wishes for more from the rest of it.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be doing a panel on mythology in fiction as part of the ongoing virtual Shore Leave convention Saturday at 1pm Eastern time, alongside fellow Trek authors Greg Cox, Robert Greenberger, Lorraine Anderson, and Aaron Rosenberg, as well as author Christopher D. Abbott. Register at this link (registration is free, but you can’t attend without registering first).

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