Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “The Disease”

“The Disease”
Written by Kenneth Biller and Michael Taylor
Directed by David Livingston
Season 5, Episode 17
Production episode 210
Original air date: February 24, 1999
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Voyager has spent the last two weeks helping out the Varro. A very xenophobic people, they’ve been living on a massive, segmented generation ship for four centuries. They only very reluctantly have accepted Voyager’s offer of help because their warp drive is offline and they can’t fix it.

Kim and one of the Varro, an engineer named Derran Tal, have been carrying on an illicit affair. This is violation of both sides’ regulations. Starfleet requires medical clearance and approval from the captain before getting into a liaison with a new alien species (should this be called the Kirk Rule? the Riker Rule?), and the Varro avoid contact with any outsiders. While they’re making mad, passionate nookie-nookie, both their skins glow.

Even after two weeks, Jippeq, the leader of the Varro, has to be bullied by Janeway into giving her access to his ship’s systems in order to test the repairs to the warp drive. Voyager transfers antimatter to the Varro ship. Kim and Tal hear the warp engines firing up and hastily get dressed and go to the test, late and separately.

The test fails because there are microfractures in the hull. They’ll need to check every segment of the ship, which could take days, a notion that does not make Jippeq happy, but he has little choice.

Paris and Kim babble at each other when they’re back on Voyager. Paris has guessed that Kim and Tal are having a liaison, though Kim insists that he was late because he was checking a plasma manifold. Kim retires to his quarters, and immediately sends a secure communiqué to Tal. Tuvok detects the comm signal, but Paris is able to sabotage it and make it appear to be a sensor glitch.

Chakotay hands out assignments for how they’ll examine the Varro ship. While he’s briefing them, Paris tells Kim that he covered for him, but that the relationship is a bad idea.

Star Trek: Voyager "Disease"

Screenshot: CBS

Kim and Seven are assigned to astrometrics. While there, Kim queries Seven about love, which she analogizes to a disease. Then Kim’s epidermis starts to glow like it did while enwrapped in connubial bliss with Tal, and Seven urges him to report to sickbay.

The EMH can’t determine the cause, and is worried about an alien pathogen. It isn’t until the doctor starts talking about quarantines and medical lockdowns that Kim finally comes clean about his relationship with Tal. Janeway immediately summons Kim to the ready room for a dressing down. Kim insists it isn’t just an affair, he’s really in love with this woman. Janeway doesn’t particularly care, as the regulations don’t disappear because the participants are in love. This will mean a reprimand on Kim’s record. She also has to tell Jippeq.

Neelix discovered some petty thievery of rations, which led him to in turn discover some clandestine mucking about with the environmental controls, with life support being supplied for a Jefferies Tube. He brings it to Tuvok, and the pair of them find a Varro stowaway in the Jefferies Tube in question. Chakotay and Tuvok interrogate him, but he says very little beyond that he’s part of a dissident movement that doesn’t agree with the Varro’s xenophobic ways. He asks for asylum, but won’t answer any substantive questions, suspicious as he is of Voyager’s crew being sympathetic to Jippeq.

Janeway tells Jippeq about the Kim-Tal affair, which appalls Jippeq, especially given the chemical bond that occurs when the Varro have sex. The withdrawal from that bond can be brutal.

Torres and Seven report that Voyager has the same microfractures on their hull, and both sets of microfractures have the same source: artificial parasites that were placed on the Varro ship’s hull, and which later migrated to Voyager. They are definitely manufactured and not natural, which means sabotage.

Kim goes on a mission to inspect one part of the Varro ship in a shuttlecraft, but he finishes early and transports Tal to join him for a joy ride. They’re interrupted by Tuvok, who arrives in the Delta Flyer to arrest Tal for sabotage. Turns out, she created the parasites.

Star Trek: Voyager "Disease"

Screenshot: CBS

She confesses, and also absolves Kim of any responsibility for the sabotage. She’s part of the dissident movement the stowaway mentioned, and it’s much larger than Jippeq is willing to admit. Her intent wasn’t destruction, but to weaken the bonds among the segments of the ship so each could choose their own path. She agrees to slow the parasites down, but it’s too late, the ship is destabilizing—and it’s doing it faster than the segments can be evacuated. Kim suggests extending Voyager’s structural integrity field to the Varro ship to buy time, though that risks Voyager also being destroyed. Janeway does it, and everyone is saved.

Janeway also orders Kim to be confined to sickbay and treated for the chemical dependency he’s developed on Tal, but he refuses (bitching Janeway out on the bridge before she drags his immature ass into the ready room).

The Varro ship splits into different segments, with some folks choosing a path different from Jippeq’s hard-lined xenophobia. Kim visits Tal one last time; she’s off to explore a binary star, while Voyager will be continuing to go home.

Kim continues to refuse the EMH’s treatment for the chemical dependency he now has on Tal. Janeway allows him to do so, but reminds him that he will get no consideration for dereliction of duty—he’s expected to do his job like usual, no matter how miserable he is. Later Seven visits Kim in the mess hall, thanking him for finishing some work for her (he needed the distraction) and saying that maybe love isn’t a disease if humans are willing to suffer this much for it. She also implores him to get well soon.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Varro ship started out as a single vessel, but they added other ships onto it, becoming both a massive generational ship and also a Transformer…

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway reminds Kim that pretty much everyone on board has lost a loved one just by being stranded here. (She doesn’t mention that Kim is one of those, since Libby seems to have been completely forgotten.) Kim counters by asking if Janeway could take a drug that would make her forget Mark, would she do so? Janeway’s silence in response speaks volumes.

Star Trek: Voyager "Disease"

Screenshot: CBS

Forever an ensign. In an episode that seems to be about the theme that Kim is no longer the green ensign fresh out of the Academy but a grown-ass adult who’s got five years of experience, Kim sure spends a lot of time acting like an immature twit.

Also the title of this section is perhaps at least in part due to the reprimand he receives in this episode, as that’s the kind of thing that can keep you from being promoted.

 Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix does some investigating, and it actually turns up a stowaway. Tuvok is suitably impressed and disturbed.

Resistance is futile. Seven describes love thusly: “A series of biochemical responses that trigger an emotional cascade impairing normal functioning.” She’s not wrong… 

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH goes into a tizzy when he can’t identify what’s wrong with Kim and then an even bigger tizzy when he finds out he knocked boots with a new and unexamined alien species.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. So you know how some people are described as glowing after they’ve had really good sex? The Varro literally glow after sex. Which, if nothing else, makes it hard to be discreet about the fact that you’re having sex…

Do it.

“You are such a lousy liar! Haven’t you learned anything from me after five years?”

–Paris to Kim.

Star Trek: Voyager "Disease"

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Jippeq is automatically established as an unsympathetic character by the very act of casting Charles Rocket in the role, as Rocket has made a career out of playing smarmy assholes. And veteran genre actor Musetta Vander (you’ve probably seen her in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Highlander: The Series or Stargate SG-1 or Babylon 5 or Xena: Warrior Princess or where I just saw her last weekend in O, Brother, Where Art Thou?) plays Tal.

Also Christopher Liam Moore returns as the stowaway, having previously played a Voth in “Distant Origin.”

Trivial matters: The opening scene includes an early version of something that is now very commonplace: a virtual set. When we first see Tal’s quarters, it’s entirely a CGI creation, which then transitions to the real set they built.

Paris references three of Kim’s previous doomed infatuations: with Marayna in “Alter Ego,” with Seven of Nine shortly after she came on board, and with Megan Delaney (when Jenny Delaney was the one who was interested in him) in “Thirty Days.” Janeway refers to Mark Johnson, established as her fiancé in “Caretaker,” and who was established as being married to another woman now in “Hunters.”

Star Trek has done several other examples of generation ships, including the original series episodes “By Any Other Name” and “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” the original series novel The Galactic Whirlpool by David Gerrold, the DS9 novel Objective: Bajor by John Peel, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Orphans by Kevin Killiany, the Lower Decks episode “Moist Vessel,” and the Discovery episode “Forget Me Not.” For that matter, the origin given to the Romulan people in the tie-in fiction (The Romulan Way by Diane Duane & Peter Morwood, the Vulcan’s Soul trilogy by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz) has a group of Vulcans on a generation ship that eventually settles on Romulus.

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Seven of Nine told me love’s like a disease!” There are a couple of really good concepts here, and both are pretty thoroughly botched.

The whole setup of the Varro is a fascinating one. Usually a generation ship is set up in order to get people to a destination, but the Varro seem to be content to be a big-ass city in space and never arrive anywhere—or speak to anybody, or interact with anything. It’s a nice twist on the typical story. Usually when a generation ship makes no contact with anyone it’s because they forgot their original purpose (viz. “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” on the original series).

But the whole thing is really only given a minor surface treatment, with a frustrating promise of more that we don’t get to see. I was way more interested in learning more about the stowaway and the dissident movement than I was in the romance between Kim and Tal.

I mean, as one-episode romances one, this one does one of the more critical aspects right: Musetta Vander is (as always) radiant and magnificent and charming and delightful as Tal. You can totally see why Kim is so smitten with her.

What I have a harder time with is figuring out why she’s so smitten with him. On the one hand, it’s not a bad idea to establish that Kim isn’t the fresh-out-of-the-Academy ensign anymore. In fact it’s such a good idea that we’ve already seen it several times: in “The Killing Gametwo-parter, in “Demon,” in “Timeless,” and here.

And I’d have a much easier time accepting it if Kim was acting in any way like a grownup, but instead he’s acting like a whiny teenager. Worse, he’s acting like the same kind of whiny teenager that he keeps defaulting to over and over again. This isn’t the first time he’s had a breakdown on the bridge, for starters, as he whined at Tuvok on the bridge in “Resolutions.” For that matter, he had an existential crisis regarding a love affair in “Alter Ego” (an event mentioned by Paris in this very episode). It doesn’t really count as character development if you keep treading the same ground over and over again.

One other thing I want to mention is the regulation that you need to check with your chief medical officer and your captain before you go boinking aliens. While that seems to fly in the face of the entire history of Star Trek in general and the characters of Jim Kirk, Will Riker, and Tom Paris in particular, it’s actually a very sensible and intelligent rule. There are lots of medical and political reasons why having sex with random aliens could be a spectacularly bad idea. The problem isn’t with the rule showing up in this episode, the problem is all the episodes it didn’t show up in…

Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest work of fiction is due out this weekend: the short story “In Earth and Sky and Sea Strange Things There Be,” a story of Ayesha, the title character in H. Rider Haggard’s 19th-century novel She. The story is in Turning the Tied, a charity anthology published by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, benefitting the World Literacy Foundation, and features a bunch of stories about various public-domain characters by some of the finest tie-in writers in the biz, including fellow Trek scribes Rigel Ailur, Derek Tyler Attico, Greg Cox, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Robert Greenberger, Jeff Mariotte, Scott Pearson, Aaron Rosenberg, and Robert Vardeman. Full list of ordering links on the IAMTW web site.


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