Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Living Witness”

“Living Witness”
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and Bryan Fuller
Directed by Tim Russ
Season 4, Episode 23
Production episode 191
Original air date: April 29, 1998
Stardate: n/a

Captain’s log. Janeway is having a conversation in her ready room with Vaskan Ambassador Daleth, negotiating terms for how Voyager will fight the Vaskan war on the Kyrians. Voyager will wage their war in exchange for access to a wormhole that will get them home. Janeway’s uniform is absent any rank insignia, her hairdo is different, and she is incredibly violent-minded.

Janeway goes to the bridge and orders the use of biogenic weapons. Neelix—in a Starfleet uniform and serving at ops—reports that the Kyrians are attacking. A smiling Tuvok arms the biogenic weapons provided by the doctor, who is an android hooked directly up to the ship’s computer.

Soon we learn that this is a re-creation of events at a Kyrian museum seven hundred years after Voyager’s arrival on the planet. Quarren, the curator of the museum, is telling the story of how Voyager helped the Vaskans subjugate the Kyrians, who are only now just starting to crawl out from under the Vaskans’ oppression.

A spectator asks Quarren about Voyager, and the curator admits that they don’t know as much as they’d like. They do know that the ship cut a swath through the quadrant, assimilating other species and conscripting them into their crew: Talaxians, Kazon, Borg. He continues the simulation, showing the appalling death toll Voyager’s biogenic weapons are wreaking. Daleth is outraged, as that’s not what he signed up for, and Janeway confines him to the brig until it’s all over.

Chakotay (whose name is mispronounced and whose tattoo covers the entire left side of his face) and Kim interrogate a Kyrian prisoner until he reveals the location of their leader, Tedran.

Star Trek: Voyager "Living Witness"

Screenshot: CBS

A Kyrian boarding party beams into engineering. Janeway activates her four Borg drones, led by a fully Borg Seven of Nine, who beam into engineering and take out the boarding party, killing several, and assimilating two to add to Seven’s forces.

A Vaskan comes into the museum and bitches out Quarren, questioning the truth of what they’re showing. Quarren insists that this is close to the truth, based on the artifacts they’ve found, and they recently unearthed a data device that may contain even more insights.

Quarren brings the aforementioned data device into the simulation of Voyager, hoping that using some of their tools might make it easier to activate it. Eventually, he is able to do so, and it turns out to be the EMH backup module. The EMH is shocked to find himself seven centuries in the future, especially since he remembers being on Voyager just a few moments ago. Quarren is equally shocked to learn that Voyager’s doctor was a hologram rather than an android as they all believed.

Quarren explains to the EMH that in their society, artificial life forms are treated as people, so he might be liable for Voyager’s crimes. The EMH has no idea what crimes he could possibly be talking about—the last thing he remembers is Voyager getting caught up in a conflict between the Kyrians and the Vaskans, which they were trying to extricate themselves from. They had been providing medical supplies to the Vaskans when the Kyrians attacked.

First, Quarren shows the EMH their re-creation, which starts with Paris, Chakotay, Tuvok, and Neelix all arguing with each other in the briefing room, continuing to a fistfight breaking out between Paris and Chakotay, and ending with Janeway firing a phaser at a display console to shut everyone up. Tedran is brought on board and ordered to surrender. He refuses, and is shot to death by Janeway for his trouble.

Appalled, disgusted, and angry, the EMH refutes every single thing in the simulation (with the exception of Paris’s behavior, which the EMH says Quarren pretty much nailed). Unable to handle this upending of his worldview, Quarren shuts the EMH off.

After taking some time to think it over, Quarren reactivates the EMH. Since they were obviously wrong about the doctor being an android, it casts doubt on the rest of their re-creation. While Quarren is concerned that the EMH is trying to save his own ass from being prosecuted for war crimes, he can’t deny that he is a living witness to the events. He therefore gives the EMH permission to do his own re-creation, which Quarren then shows to council of arbiters, which includes two Vaskans and one Kyrian.

Star Trek: Voyager "Living Witness"

Screenshot: CBS

The EMH’s simulation shows that Janeway’s meeting in the ready room was about arranging to deliver medical supplies in exchange for dilithium. Then the Kyrians attacked engineering, taking Seven hostage. Tedran led the boarding party, and it was Daleth who killed him, to Janeway’s horror. That prompted more attacks, which is when the EMH backup module was taken.

The Vaskan arbiter wants to know more, but the lone Kyrian representative is disgusted. She thinks that the EMH is just trying to get out of his war crimes trial, and she calls him a mass murderer to his face. The EMH notices that they have his medical tricorder among the exhibits. It’s possible he can call up the scans of Tedran made after he was shot that will prove it was a Vaskan weapon that shot him rather than a Starfleet phaser.

Later that day, a mob of Kyrians attack the museum, trashing it. In the process, they lose the medical tricorder. Tensions between the Kyrians and the Vaskans have boiled over, and the EMH’s existence is the focal point. Horrified, the EMH is willing to recant his testimony, to say that the re-creations are accurate (even though they totally aren’t). But Quarren insists on the truth, because it matters. Besides, he argues, the tensions between Kyrians and Vaskans were going to boil over anyhow—if the EMH hadn’t been found, something else would’ve done it.

We then jump ahead an indeterminate amount of time to discover that this is a re-creation in the same museum of the turning point in Vaskan-Kyrian relations that finally led to their becoming equals. Quarren died six years later, while the EMH became the surgical chancellor of the Kyrian-Vaskan Union until he decided to take a ship and head home.

There’s coffee in that nebula! In the simulation, Janeway is preternaturally calm in her evilness, as she speaks very quietly and straightforwardly about committing genocide.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok smirks nastily at one point, and it’s probably the single scariest visual in the whole episode.

Star Trek: Voyager "Living Witness"

Screenshot: CBS

Forever an ensign. Hilariously, Kim—whose job is as an interrogator, rather than ops manager—is referred to in the simulation as “Lieutenant,” which means even the Kyrians thought he should’ve been promoted at some point…

Half and half. The EMH waxes rhapsodic about Torres, whom Quarren mistakenly believed was the transporter chief.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. The simulation mistakenly has Neelix in a Starfleet uniform and doing Kim’s job of running ops.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. In the simulation, the EMH is an android with blank eyes and a monotone delivery. He takes over the interrogation of the Kyrian from Chakotay and Kim and gets better results.

Resistance is futile. In the simulation, Seven leads a cadre of Borg shock troops that are at Janeway’s beck and call.

Do it.

“This is a reasonable extrapolation from historic record. But if you’d like to point out any inconsistencies—”

“Inconsistencies? I don’t know where to begin! Granted, this looks like the briefing room, but these aren’t the people I knew! No one behaved like this—well, aside from Mr. Paris…”

–Quarren asking for constructive criticism from the EMH.

Welcome aboard. Quarren is Henry Woronicz’s third Trek role, and second on Voyager, having previously played another truth-seeker, Gegen in “Distant Origin.” He also played a Klingon in TNG’s “The Drumhead.”

Rod Arrants, last seen as the holographic bartender Rex in TNG’s “Manhunt,” plays Ambassador Daleth, while Craig Richard Nelson, last seen as Krag in TNG’s “A Matter of Perspective,” plays the Vaskan arbiter. Marie Chambers plays the Kyrian arbiter, while Morgan H. Margolis plays the Vaskan spectator.

And we’ve got a Robert Knepper moment! Timothy Davis-Reed, who was one of the tech crew on Sports Night and one of the White House reporters on The West Wing, plays a Kyrian museum-goer.

Star Trek: Voyager "Living Witness"

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: Technically speaking, none of the main characters appear in this episode. Aside from the EMH, the main characters only appear in museum re-creations, both the Kyrian ones and the EMH’s. And even the EMH who appears is, technically, a backup of the original, which remained on Voyager.

The EMH’s backup module has never been mentioned before, nor is it ever mentioned again. Indeed, the lack of any kind of backup for the EMH was a plot point in “The Swarm” and especially “Message in a Bottle,” which makes the presence of one in this episode problematic, though it remaining behind on this planet makes its never being mentioned after this work, at least.

This is Tim Russ’s first, and only, time directing a Trek episode, though he has gone on to become quite a prolific director of TV episodes and short films. He also directed the Trek fan film Of Gods and Men.

Until Discovery’s second season established Gabrielle Burnham as travelling to the 32nd century (and its third season now taking place then), this episode was the farthest forward in the timeline any Star Trek screen story had gone. It’s possible this episode still has this distinction, as it’s not clear how far in the future the final scene takes place.

A sequel to this story appeared in Strange New Worlds IV, called “Personal Log” by Kevin Killiany, which chronicled the EMH’s journey away from the Kyrian-Vaskan union after he decided to resign his position as surgical chancellor and head homeward.

The EMH refers to the many times early in the show’s run when people deactivated him in mid-sentence.

While Torres is discussed by Quarren and the EMH, she does not appear, as Roxann Dawson was still recovering from giving birth.

The EMH mentions that three people were killed when the Kyrians attacked Voyager. This means that at least eighteen crewmembers have died: Durst in “Faces,” Bendera in “Alliances,” Darwin in “Meld,” Jonas in “Investigations,” Bennet in “Innocence,” Hogan and Suder in “Basics, Part II,” Martin in “Warlord,” Kaplan in “Unity,” and nine unnamed crew in “Alliances,” “Basics,” “Scientific Method,” “The Killing Game,” and this episode. It’s “at least” because the number of crew who died (if any) in “The Killing Game, Part II” is not established. The ship’s complement should be in the 130s at this point.

Star Trek: Voyager "Living Witness"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I suppose Voyager is what made me fall in love with history.” I have always absolutely adored this episode for any number of reasons. For starters, it’s a vehicle for Robert Picardo, which is almost always a delight. (Caveat necessary thanks to “Darkling.”) The EMH is at his snotty best here, with the added bonus of his chilling performance as the android in the simulation.

Speaking of the simulation, that’s another major part of this episode’s fun. It’s the same fun that derives from the various Mirror Universe episodes, as the actors get to play evil versions of themselves, and they’re all magnificent. Kate Mulgrew’s low-key brutality is spectacularly effective, while Robert Beltran’s earnest imploring of the Kyrian they’re torturing to talk because his people worship peace is hilarious. And the most effective moment in the early part of the episode, when we have no idea what’s going on yet, is seeing Tuvok smile when Janeway mock-plaintively asks why he keeps her waiting for maximum carnage. In his directorial debut, Tim Russ does an amazing job of getting good performances out of everyone, including himself. What’s best is that the acting isn’t over the top. There’s a quiet brutality of this iteration of Voyager’s crew that’s scary as hell, much more so than it would be if they were shouting and cackling all the time.

But what’s absolutely best about this episode is its examination of the volatility of history, of how stories change over the years, of how extrapolating from data doesn’t always lead you to the right conclusion. (My favorite was their assuming the EMH was an android because all they knew for sure was that he was an artificial life form.)

This episode manages to be a discourse on history, a social commentary in the problematic relationship between the Vaskans and the Kyrians, which has obviously remained an issue for seven centuries, and a delightful romp through a fun-house-mirror version of the Voyager crew. Best of all is that the ending is a very Trekkish one of hope for peace and cooperation.

There’s really nothing here not to like. Not just one of Voyager’s best, but one of Star Trek’s best.

Warp factor rating: 10

Rewatcher’s note: This is the final Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch entry for 2020. The folks at Tor.com are taking it easy for the rest of the calendar year, so I’m taking a break from the rewatch until Monday the 4th of January, when we’ll do “Demon.” (However, my reviews of Star Trek: Discovery’s next two episodes will appear on the 24th and the 31st when those episodes drop.)

What started as a celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary turned into something that brought me, at least, a sense of comfort and stability in a year that had damn little of either. Thank you all for joining me on this trip through the third Trek spinoff, and I hope you will continue to follow along as we finish the fourth season and cover the fifth, sixth, and seventh in the coming months.

In particular I want to thank those of you who’ve commented. The comments on this site have always remained blessedly rational and calm and free of the inanity that one finds far too often on Internet comments sections. We don’t all agree, but we do so civilly, and that is a beautiful thing. Let’s hope that continues.

Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes everyone a safe holiday and a joyous new year.

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