Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Extreme Risk”

“Extreme Risk”
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 5, Episode 3
Production episode 197
Original air date: October 28, 1998
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Torres is doing orbital skydiving on the holodeck, albeit with the safeties disengaged. In mid-free-fall, she’s summoned to engineering, but she fobs off her duties onto Seven, to the latter’s surprise.

Voyager is launching their fancy-shmancy new multispatial probe, incorporating Borg design elements Seven has provided. However, while it’s gathering data, a Malon freighter snags it in a tractor beam. Tuvok is able to command the probe to send a polaron burst to shake off the tractor beam, at least, but the Malon refuse to respond to hails, and Voyager is two hours away. Kim is able to direct the probe into a gas giant; the Malon follow and are destroyed—the Borg shielding keeps the probe safe.

They set course for the gas giant. The crew discusses options for retrieving the probe. Torres is unusually terse and makes no substantive contribution to the discussions, which wind up focusing on the Delta Flyer, a shuttle Paris has designed, incorporating notions from Seven, Tuvok, and Torres. They can build it and use it to salvage the probe.

Torres has continued to go to the holodeck and engage in dangerous programs with the safeties disengaged, including one where she fights off several Cardassians.

At one point, Paris, Tuvok, Torres, Kim, and Seven are in the holodeck working on the design of the Delta Flyer. Seven points out a flaw in Torres’s hull design, and Torres accepts it without an argument, and promises new specs for Paris later.

Later, Torres brings the specs to Paris’s cabin. He asks her to stay for dinner, but she declines.

By the time Voyager arrives at the gas giant, they’ve got two problems. One is that the probe, which is stuck in an atmospheric layer of the gas giant, isn’t responding to commands from Voyager. And the other is that there’s another Malon ship nearby. This one hails Voyager and Controller Vrelk informs Janeway that they are claiming the probe for salvage.

Screenshot: CBS

The race is on. The Malon are also constructing a ship that will allow them to salvage the probe, and so Janeway orders the crew to devote all resources to getting the Flyer up and running.

Torres goes to an empty mess hall and asks Neelix for some banana pancakes, as she remembers them fondly from her youth. Neelix asks for some from the replicator, and Torres only remembers to eat some when Neelix reminds her. After halfheartedly eating the one bite and telling Neelix it’s delicious, she leaves without another word.

Tuvok and Paris are concerned that the atmospheric pressure of the gas giant will cause microfractures in the hull. Torres volunteers to test the hull on the holodeck, which she once again does with the safety protocols disengaged. She discovers that the microfractures are too voluminous to be safe, but she’s rendered unconscious by the atmospheric pressure before she can shut the program down.

Upon learning that the Malon’s shuttle is likely to be constructed sooner than the Delta Flyer, Janeway orders production sped up. When Chakotay calls Torres and she doesn’t reply, the computer informs him that she’s on the holodeck. Chakotay goes down to rescue her before the holographic Delta Flyer‘s hull breaches. Chakotay ends the program and brings her to sickbay.

Janeway chews Torres out when she wakes up four hours later, as the EMH has found dozens of injuries, not all of them recent, and has diagnosed her with clinical depression. Torres refuses to talk about it, and Janeway removes her from active duty and the Flyer project.

The captain then talks to Paris and Chakotay. Paris has no idea what’s wrong with her, as she’s been distant lately. Chakotay promises to go through her holodeck programs.

Chakotay then goes to Torres’s quarters and takes her to the holodeck, where he runs a program that she ran for 47 seconds after they got the news about the Maquis being wiped out. Since then, she’s run ever-more-dangerous programs, all with the safeties disengaged. She finally comes clean to Chakotay: She’s trying to feel something. She’s not angry that their friends were massacred—she’s numb. All her life, she’s lost people. Her father walked out on her and her mother when she was a kid, she was kicked out of Starfleet Academy, and she was forcibly separated from her life and her cause when they fell down the Caretaker’s rabbit hole.

Screenshot: CBS

Vrelk attacks Voyager with an antimatter barrage, which is meant to distract them from the fact that they’ve launched their shuttle. Torres begs Chakotay to put her back on active duty and let her be part of the Flyer‘s launch. He accedes to her request, and gives her the toolbox he was going to take on board.

The Flyer‘s maiden voyage takes it into the gas giant, and sure enough, there’s a hull breach from both the atmosphere and the Malon shuttle attacking them. Before it cracks open completely, Torres is able to MacGyver a force field using bits from the transporter and a hand phaser, which enables the Flyer to survive long enough to retrieve the probe.

Janeway orders them to leave orbit as fast as possible. Torres tells Chakotay she’s feeling better and thanks him for the kick in the ass—and also says that if he barges in on her holodeck programs again, she’ll break his neck. Then she goes to the mess hall and chows down on some banana pancakes and, for the first time all episode, smiles.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Delta Flyer is a “hot rod” shuttle designed by Paris and incorporating design elements from several crew members. He also includes console interfaces inspired by the Captain Proton holodeck program, to Tuvok’s chagrin.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is appalled to realize that Torres has been endangering her life on the holodeck.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok resists every one of Paris’s attempts to make the Delta Flyer look cool, whether it’s fins on the hull or the old-fashioned console.

Half and half. Torres’s normal state is to be angry, so when given news that would normally make someone angry, she instead becomes numb. Her constant attempts to harm herself are a desperate attempt to feel something, and she’s healing her physical injuries herself (badly) to avoid it being reported by the EMH in sickbay.

Forever an ensign. Kim is as sick and tired as anyone about how Paris has been going on about the Delta Flyer design, but the minute Janeway authorizes its construction, Kim jumps in with both feet.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is thrilled when Torres comes to see him, though he has no more luck than anyone else in helping her. He is doing training in security, and Neelix does a very good impersonation of Tuvok when talking about the training to Torres.

Resistance is futile. Both the probe and the Delta Flyer have many enhancements that come from Seven’s knowledge of Borg technology.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Torres has been pushing Paris away, not confiding in him or even really spending much time with him, to his chagrin.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WHY DOES THE HOLODECK HAVE SAFETIES THAT CAN BE DISENGAGED?????? WHY AREN’T THE SAFETIES FUCKING HARDWIRED?????????????

Do it. “Well, if we can’t transport it out, we’ll just have to fly in and grab it.”

“Perhaps you weren’t paying attention when the Malon freighter imploded.”

Paris making a suggestion and Tuvok bringing the sass.

Welcome aboard. The great character actor Hamilton Camp plays Vrelk. He also played the Ferengi psychopath Leck in DS9‘s “Ferengi Love Songs” and “The Magnificent Ferengi.” Plus recurring regular Alexander Enberg is back as Vorik.

Trivial matters: The episode’s story was inspired by conversations Roxann Dawson had with the producers about how Torres would deal with depression, in particular through self-harm.

The Malon are firmly established as recurring antagonists in this episode. They’ll be back in “Think Tank” (kind of) and “Juggernaut.”

The Maquis were wiped out in the DS9 episode “Blaze of Glory.” Torres and Chakotay found out about it when the crew got letters home through the Hirogen communications relay in “Hunters.”

This episode introduces the Delta Flyer, the super-duper shuttlecraft hot rod of Paris’s design, which will be Voyager‘s primary support craft for this and the following season before it’s destroyed in “Unimatrix Zero.” Its creation was foreshadowed by Seven in “Drone.” A new one will be constructed in “Drive.”

After Voyager returns home in “Endgame,” the Delta Flyer will inspire the design of a new class of shuttlecraft, called the Flyer-class, as seen in (among other places) the Titan novel Over a Torrent Sea by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett.

The orbital skydiving suit Torres wears is of the same design as the one worn by William Shatner as James T. Kirk in a scene that was filmed for Star Trek Generations that was ultimately cut from the final film, in which Kirk also engaged in that activity.

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Warning: Disengaging safety protocols presents extreme risk of injury.” For the second time in three episodes, we have a member of the crew suffering from clinical depression, except this time we’re told it explicitly. In Torres’s case, it manifests through dozens of attempts to hurt herself in order to actually feel something.

What makes this episode work is Roxann Dawson’s stellar performance. Torres has always been grouchy, and to see her apathetic is heartbreaking. Seeing her as the wallflower in a confab about building a new ship is mind-boggling, and Dawson plays her indifference beautifully.

And for all that the Paris-Torres relationship is strong and excellent, writer Kenneth Biller made exactly the right decision in having it be Chakotay who gets her out of it. Chakotay is the one member of the opening-credits crew who knows what she’s going through, because he went through it also. Chakotay is her mentor and the one who brought her to the Maquis, and it’s the destruction of the Maquis that’s doing this to her. Chakotay pretty much dragging her into the Maquis-slaughter holodeck program is the bucket of ice water in her face she needs.

What makes this episode not work is the timeframe. This needed to happen within a few weeks of “Hunters.” Instead, it’s been more than seven months (it was five months between “Hunters” and “Hope and Fear,” and the ship spent two months in the void in “Night“). How have we not seen any evidence of this behavior before now? The dialogue in this episode implies that this has been going on since they got the letters from home.

There are two factors at work here that sabotage the episode, only one of which is in everyone’s control: Dawson spent much of season four pregnant, which precluded her doing an action-heavy episode like this; and it didn’t occur to anyone on the writing staff to even consider showing Torres (or any of the other Maquis crew) suffering PTSD from finding out their comrades were all massacred until Dawson brought it up. Indeed, Biller said in an interview with Cinefantastique that he considered this episode’s greatest flaw to be that it relied on a past episode, which was a spectacularly wrong statement to make, as that’s the episode’s strength. The serious issue here is that we haven’t seen more stuff like this and Janeway’s depression in “Night.”

Screenshot: CBS

Well, okay, there’s a third thing. On the one hand, it’s a long-established aspect of holodeck technology; on the other hand, this episode, more than any other, points up how unutterably stupid the very concept is. There is no way it makes any sense that a holodeck would have safeties that could be disengaged.

The gabfests where Paris, Tuvok, Seven, Kim, and a nearly somnambulant Torres design the Delta Flyer are very entertaining, and it’s especially fun to watch Paris and Tuvok butt heads over aesthetics. But the main plot is something that should’ve come up sooner, and should’ve been a bigger part of the character’s overall through-line.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido recently talked about Star Trek on Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster alongside fellow scribe Derek Tyler Attico (Strange New Worlds 2016, Star Trek Adventures) and Jarrah Hodge (Women at Warp, TrekkieFeminist.com), in a broad-ranging conversation hosted by author Russ Colchamiro. Check it out!

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