“Vis à Vis”
Written by Robert J. Doherty
Directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño
Season 4, Episode 20
Production episode 188
Original air date: April 8, 1998
Captain’s log. Paris is on the holodeck, playing mechanic to a 1969 Chevy Camaro. The EMH inserts himself into the program to find out why Paris hasn’t been reporting for his medical training, since he’s supposed to have taken over from Kes as the doctor’s assistant. Paris jokes that he’s practicing surgery on the car.
Paris is then summoned to the bridge, as they need his piloting skills. Voyager has encountered a ship that has a coaxial warp drive. Paris has read up on this previously-believed-to-be-theoretical ship’s system. The ship is on the verge of exploding, but Paris comes up with a nifty maneuver that will enable Voyager to surround the other ship with their warp field to stabilize it.
This works, despite Tuvok’s reservations. They speak to Steth, the lone occupant of the ship, who is a test pilot. He was testing the coaxial drive, and it obviously needs some work. Paris offers to help him fix it.
While conducting the repairs, Paris and Steth compare piloting stories. At one point, when Paris isn’t looking, Steth seems to change into a female form from a different species, but then changes back. Paris also realizes he’s lost track of time, and missed his dinner date with Torres. When he arrives at the mess hall, Torres is disappointed, but Paris gets all defensive, and acts like she’s giving him more shit for being negligent than she’s actually giving him. Paris acts like enough of a dick that Torres storms out of the mess hall.
Steth is told by his ship’s computer that his body will revert to its previous form in about three hours.
Paris takes Steth into the holodeck to show him the Camaro program, and he hits on a notion of how to fix Steth’s ship: use the equivalent of a carburetor. They work together to do that, and then Steth attacks Paris. Steth then looks like Paris and Paris then looks like Steth. After stunning him and taking his uniform, Steth sets Paris off on the ship in the coaxial drive, sending him very far away, while Steth takes over Paris’ life on Voyager.
This proves a tough needle to thread, though he bluffs his way through most of it. For starters, he’s ordered to report to sickbay and he has no idea where that is. He gets out of studying with the EMH by playing to the hologram’s (considerable) ego, bluffs his way through talk of golf with Kim, and then manages to get himself back in good with Torres by being charming.
However, this only lasts so long. He eventually alienates Torres, mostly by trying to get her to go on an impromptu picnic, which she declines due to her duties. Steth later is found drinking in the mess hall while (a) on duty and (b) he was supposed to be helping Seven with modifying a shuttlecraft to be outfitted with coaxial warp drive. Seven also notices that “Paris” is reading Janeway’s personal logs.
Seven reports this to Janeway, who then summons “Paris” to her ready room. We cut away from their contentious talk to the bridge, to hear Janeway summon Tuvok to her ready room. Tuvok enters to see Paris attacking Janeway, and he stuns Paris, and brings him to sickbay.
Paris wakes up in Steth’s body to find himself surrounded by hostile ships. A party boards the ship led by a woman who claims to be Steth. It turns out that Steth’s mind is in the body of this woman, who is named Daelen, while the thief who stole Paris’ identity was previously using her form. Paris manages to convince her that he’s a victim, too, and they head back to Voyager.
Janeway stuns Seven, who has just installed a coaxial warp drive on a shuttle. Except, of course, it isn’t Janeway, it’s the thief, who buggers off. Paris convinces Chakotay that he’s really Paris and they go after the shuttlecraft. Paris is able to disable the “carburetor” to stop the thief from getting away.
Steth, Paris, and Janeway are all returned to their respective bodies, while the thief is back in Daelen’s body. Steth promises to try to find the real Daelen so she can get her own body back.
Paris invites Torres to the holodeck to witness his newly restored Camaro. He apologizes for spending time working on it that should’ve been spent with her, and then they make out in the car.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? A coaxial warp drive is one that can fold space to travel great distances. They install it on a shuttlecraft, but will never use it or mention it ever again for some reason.
There’s coffee in that nebula! The thief reads up on his subjects before taking over their lives, and he reads over Janeway’s personal logs before assuming her form.
Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is very much against Voyager trying to save Steth’s ship given the risks, and he actually looks pretty cranky when Paris saves it. (It may also be that Paris did so while still wearing the grease-covered coveralls he was wearing on the holodeck, as he didn’t have time to change into uniform.)
Half and half. Torres is peeved at Paris for neglecting their nascent relationship to play around on the holodeck, and when she tries to talk to him like an adult, he gets defensive and snippy. Then she later goes all smoochy-face with the thief in Paris’ body, about which nobody ever comments even though it’s hugely creepy.
Forever an ensign. Apparently Kim and Paris have been playing golf on the holodeck. It’s never made clear why. (Then again, I’ve never understood why anyone plays golf…)
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH enters the holodeck unannounced, and when he sees Paris under the Camaro, he gets the pilot’s attention by honking the horn, calling it “an impromptu auditory exam.” Later, Steth gets out of being trained in medicine by telling the EMH that he keeps not being able to live up to the EMH’s sterling example and he’s ashamed. The doctor buys this, as it feeds into his Lewis Zimmerman-created ego.
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Paris re-creates a busted 1969 Chevy Camaro on the holodeck for the express purpose of fixing it up. He doesn’t tell his girlfriend that he’s doing this, but does tell the EMH (who, to be fair, barged in on the program) and a total stranger he’s just met.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. The Torres-Paris relationship hits its first major snag, as Paris is in self-sabotage mode, and Torres is getting fed up with it. But he makes it up to her by showing off his muscle car, a trick that I’m sure worked better in the era he re-creates on the holodeck than it would in the twenty-fourth century, but whatever.
“Medieval safety constraints. Internal combustion system producing lethal levels of carbon monoxide. Hm—I stand corrected, this may be just what you need to get you back to sickbay.”
–The EMH’s amusing and accurate and sassy description of a motor vehicle.
Welcome aboard. Dan Butler—probably best known as Bulldog on Frasier—plays Steth, while Mary Elizabeth McGlynn plays Daelen.
Trivial matters: This is the first writing credit for Robert J. Doherty, a producers’ assistant, who would continue to write for the show, working his way up to story editor in the seventh season, where he would co-write the series finale, “Endgame.” Most recently, he was the creator and show-runner for Elementary, the contemporary reimagining of Sherlock Holmes with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, on which DS9’s Robert Hewitt Wolfe also served as a producer/writer.
While Alexander Enberg does not appear in the episode, Torres mentions that she was doing some engineering work with Vorik that Paris interrupts.
The Benthans are seen again in Star Trek Online’s “The Delta Quadrant.”
Set a course for home. “I’d like to get out of your body as soon as possible.” This episode is a cute little story, with a fun variation on that old standby, the body-switching episode. This one works better than, say, “Turnabout Intruder” (it could hardly not), and it’s especially fun because everyone sells it. Dan Butler modulates very nicely from a thief posing as a friendly alien pilot into a very good Robert Duncan MacNeill impersonation, while MacNeill does an excellent job of playing someone pretending to be Paris, and both MacNeill and Kate Mulgrew do an excellent job matching the vocal tones Butler used in the first half of the episode.
But what makes this episode particularly effective is as a character study of Tom Paris.
I know I haven’t been kind of the Paris character in this rewatch, but that’s mostly because the show has spent too much time shoe-horning him into the role of action hero, even though he was created and written as a chronic fuckup. It’s to writer Robert J. Doherty’s credit in his debut script that he leans into the character as created. Paris has thrived on Voyager, but he’s also someone whose life prior to Janeway fetching him from New Zealand has been a chronicle of failure. He had massive expectations as the son of a respected admiral, and he failed to meet any of them.
But here he is, comfortable, happy, in a role that suits him, on a ship where he’s a trusted member of the crew, and he’s in a happy stable relationship with a woman who is, let’s be honest, way too good for him. This is a state of affairs he’s not accustomed to at all, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. So he retreats into a holodeck fantasy while being defensive about it with his girlfriend to the point where he drives her away for no good reason. But he gets to fix things, which is something he understands, certainly more than he understands a stable relationship. He also understands the coaxial warp drive.
Which leads me nicely to the episode’s biggest problem. A warp drive that can fold space and cover long distances strikes me as something that Voyager would be interested in. Like, a lot. And they do take the first step by having Seven retrofit a shuttle with the drive, but where’s the next step? Fine, it probably won’t work for reasons of plot, but something this big, this potentially useful to a ship that’s trying to get home as fast as possible, really needs to be more than a side plot.
Still, it’s the only real flaw in what’s a fun science fiction story that also works as a character study.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s 2021 output will start with the thriller Animal, a novel written with Dr. Munish K. Batra; continue with Feat of Clay, the second book in his urban fantasy series following 2019’s A Furnace Sealed; and also include the short story “Unguarded” in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail & John L. French; with more still to be announced.