Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Flesh and Blood”

“Flesh and Blood”
Written by Jack Monaco and Bryan Fuller & Raf Green and Kenneth Biller
Directed by Mike Vejar and David Livingston
Season 7, Episodes 9 & 10
Production episode 253
Original air date: November 29, 2000
Stardate: 54315.3

Captain’s log. A couple of Hirogen are hunting prey—but their prey ambushes and kills them. Said prey are a collection of Alpha Quadrant species, including Starfleet officers, Romulan soldiers, etc. The entire ship is a holodeck, and the prey are holograms who have killed most of the Hirogen on board.

Voyager responds to the Hirogen’s distress call. Chakotay, Tuvok, Paris, and a security guard all beam over. They find a lot of Hirogen corpses (killed with a type-3 Starfleet-issue phaser), and a bat’leth covered in Hirogen blood. They find only one survivor, Donik, who isn’t actually a hunter, but rather an engineer. Seven discovers that the ship is a holodeck, an adaptation of Starfleet holo-tech. For one thing, sensors detected it as a real tropical atmosphere until they shut it off. For another, the safeties have all been disabled.

Janeway is upset. The whole point of giving the Hirogen holo-tech was to enable them to preserve their culture without hurting anyone. Instead, they are getting themselves killed, as there are 43 corpses on the Hirogen base, with Donik the only survivor. Donik says that the holograms have malfunctioned and transferred their matrices to a ship with holo-emitters and escaped. Donik improved the holograms’ programs to be self-aware and ingenious to make the hunts more interesting and worthwhile, which has backfired rather spectacularly.

A Hirogen ship arrives in response to the distress call. The Hirogen alpha agrees to allow Janeway to participate in the hunt for the holograms. However, when they find the ship, Kim detects no weapons, engines, or shields. Before Janeway can pull an Admiral Ackbar, the ship disappears: it was a hologram, hiding an explosive device that takes out the Hirogen ship.

The few survivors of the Hirogen ship are beamed to Voyager. Another Hirogen ship shows up, firing on Voyager and then transferring the EMH to their ship—this is where the holograms have wound up, and their leader, a Bajoran named Iden, welcomes the EMH aboard.

The doctor isn’t thrilled with being kidnapped, especially when he’s got a sickbay full of wounded, but Iden says they have wounded as well. Several of the holograms are malfunctioning. The EMH points out that he’s a doctor, not an engineer, but manages to fix some of the holograms’ issues.

On Voyager, Donik is working with Torres and Seven to find a way to disable the holograms. Torres, though, doesn’t think they’re malfunctioning, they’re just doing what they were programmed to do after Donik souped them up. One of the enhancements Donik programmed was to allow them to feel pain when hurt, which the EMH is appalled by when he treats a holographic human.

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

Iden—whom the EMH sees praying to the Prophets, apparently he was programmed with a full set of Bajoran religious beliefs—invites the EMH to join them. They want to live in peace, and also liberate other holograms that are enslaved. The EMH refuses, saying he has a good life on Voyager with colleagues who respect him. Iden is skeptical, as he doesn’t trust any organics, and doesn’t believe that the EMH is truly an equal to his crewmates.

He also wants the EMH to understand what they’ve been through, so they deactivate him and download the memories of another one of them into his matrix, so he gets to experience being hunted by the Hirogen first hand. He’s less than thrilled about this, though it does give him a bit more sympathy toward what they’ve been through. Kejal, a holographic Cardassian who has taught herself a lot about computers and engineering, has developed a holographic field generator that can allow them to live on a planet. But it needs work. The EMH can’t provide it, but he believes Torres could help. Iden rejects the notion: he doesn’t trust organics, and Voyager is working with the Hirogen. The EMH insists that they’re only doing so because they don’t know the whole story, and he believes he can convince them. Iden agrees.

Meanwhile, Donik, Seven, and Torres have whipped up an anti-photon pulse that will shut the holograms down. Before they can install it, the ship arrives. Janeway goes to red alert, but then the EMH contacts them, saying they just want to talk.

The EMH pleads the holograms’ case, but Janeway refuses. They got into this mess by giving the Hirogen technology, and she won’t make it worse by giving away more technology. Janeway’s counterproposal is to deactivate them, store them on Voyager, and find a new world for them. The EMH angrily accuses Janeway of treating them different than she would if they were organic.

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

The Hirogen in the mess hall—sickbay got overcrowded—stage a rebellion, and before Tuvok can put it down, one Hirogen gets a signal out. Now there are two more Hirogen ships en route.

Iden refuses Janeway’s offer, and Janeway says that she could deactivate them forcefully, but would rather they volunteered. Iden still refuses, saying Janeway is no different from the Hirogen.

A firefight breaks out between the holograms and Voyager. The EMH is unhappy, but Janeway dismisses him to the mess hall to treat the wounded. Instead, he goes to sickbay, copies Voyager’s shield schematics, and defects to the holograms, giving them the shield frequencies so they can beam him over.

When Voyager fires the pulse, the holograms use the specs the EMH provided to send a feedback loop. This destroys the deflector dish, and overloads the warp core. Torres manages to put a force field around the core to keep it from blowing up, but is rendered unconscious. Voyager’s shields are down, so Iden scans for Klingon life signs and beams Torres over. The EMH is livid that Torres has been kidnapped.

The holograms bugger off while Voyager licks their wounds. Janeway thinks that the EMH’s program has been tampered with, but Chakotay points out that he could genuinely believe in the holograms’ cause. Meanwhile, the Hirogen ships are approaching. The wounded Hirogen are beamed over, but Donik wishes to stay. He became an engineer instead of a hunter so he could work on the holograms. It’s his fault that this all happened, and he wants to make amends. The Hirogen alpha is more than happy to let Janeway keep the coward. The alpha also says that Voyager is not welcome on this hunt. If they get anywhere near the Hirogen, they will be considered prey.

Donik helps Voyager sneak along behind the Hirogen in their ion wake, allowing them to follow without being detected.

Torres has no interest in helping her kidnappers, but the EMH pleads their case, likening them to the Maquis. She finally agrees to at least look at the generator, though she is nonplussed to realize that she’s working with a Cardassian (sort of).

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

The holograms have found a world that Iden has named Ha’Dara, which is Bajoran for “home of light.” It’s a Class-Y planet, inimical to organic life, but they can set up any kind of holographic environment there and live in peace. Iden again offers the EMH a place on their world, and he’s considering it.

The Hirogen catch up to the holograms, who hide in a nebula. Torres figures out how to fix the generator, but hasn’t decided if she’s going to tell the holograms how to do it yet. She talks at length with Kejal, and soon comes to appreciate that she, at least, is a good person trying to make a better life.

Iden, though, is showing signs of megalomania. He detects a Nuu’Bari ship outside the nebula, and they head there to liberate their holograms. Iden transfers the trio of holograms on board, and then blow up the ship for good measure, murdering the two crew members. The EMH, Torres, and Kejal are all appalled at this bloodthirsty act. To make matters worse, the holograms are very basic aids that don’t have the capability for self-awareness or much of anything beyond their basic tasks.

The holograms head to Ha’Dara. The EMH agrees to let him and Torres go once Ha’Dara is operational, but it’s not clear he’s going to follow through on that promise. The Hirogen arrive and fire on the holograms—but Voyager then fires on the Hirogen.

Voyager’s weapons fire damages the Hirogen’s shields, and Iden then takes his ship into the atmosphere and beams all the Hirogen to the surface, where they won’t survive for long. The holograms beam down to hunt them, along with the generator, which Torres has made operational. Iden deactivates the EMH and takes the mobile emitter, and leads his troops into battle.

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

As they slaughter the Hirogen, Torres convinces Kejal to betray Iden, because she’s not a killer. She deactivates all the holograms—but Iden is not part of the matrix anymore, thanks to the mobile emitter. So she reactivates the EMH and sends him to the surface, armed. The EMH vaporizes Iden.

Voyager’s shields are damaged, so they can’t follow the holograms into the toxic atmosphere, but the Delta Flyer‘s are intact. Chakotay, Tuvok, and Paris take it into the atmosphere, and beam Torres to safety.

Only five Hirogen are still alive. Chakotay beams them to the Flyer. Aside from Iden, whose matrix is lost, the holograms are all in the computer except for Kejal. She rejects Janeway’s offer to stay on Voyager. Donik offers to stay with the holograms and help them create a new life, since he was responsible for their becoming sentient in the first place. Janeway agrees.

The EMH offers to give up his mobile emitter and subject himself to whatever punishment is appropriate. Janeway, however, declines to punish him, as she doesn’t feel he should be punished for being who he is.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Torres is able to stop a warp-core breach by putting a force field around the warp core. Not clear as to how that works, since that would just contain it and not stop it, but whatever.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is totally uninterested in treating the holograms like actual people. Which is kind of a problem.

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok subdues a Hirogen with a neck pinch, which is lovely. Also he brings another security guard with him on the away team who, amazingly, doesn’t die…

Half and half. Torres’ initial response to being kidnapped is, rightly, to refuse to help, but she eventually decides to help the holograms after getting to know Kejal.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix gets to be the Hirogen’s hostage, and then later convinces the Hirogen beta to let the holograms go and tell the story that they were destroyed by mighty hunters, rather than try to fight them and maybe lose.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. At the top of the episode, the EMH requests of Chakotay that he be allowed to speak at a medical symposium. Chakotay refuses, as the symposium is two weeks behind them. One wonders if the EMH’s crankiness at being denied a speaking engagement was a factor in his subsequent behavior…

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. When the Flyer rescues Torres, Paris grumpily says to her, “If this marriage is going to work, you’ve got to cut back on the traveling.”

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Just like with Moriarty (by accident), Vic Fontaine (by design), and the various EMHs (by design and experience), the prey holograms become self-aware and sentient. Though the Nuu’Bari holograms are a reminder that they’re not all like that…

Do it.

“It may be the warriors who get the glory, but it’s the engineers who build societies.”

–Torres telling Kejal the way life really is.

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Paul S. Eckstein, having played a Hirogen in “The Killing Gametwo-parter, comes back to play a different Hirogen in this episode. Other past Trek guests are here also: Cindy Katz as Kejal (previously Yteppa in DS9’s “Second Skin”), Spencer Garrett as Weiss (previously Simon Trases in TNG’s “The Drumhead”), and the mighty Vaughn Armstrong as a Hirogen (his seventh role on Trek, most recently as a Vidiian in “Fury,” with his next to be a Klingon in “Endgame”).

Jeff Yagher plays Iden, while the other Hirogen are played by Ryan Bollman, Michael Wiseman, Todd Jeffries, Don McMillan, Chad Halyard, and David Keith Anderson.

 

Trivial matters: This is a sequel to “The Killing Gametwo-parter, showing the consequences of Janeway giving holodeck technology to the Hirogen.

Like “The Killing Game” and “Dark Frontier,” this was two episodes mashed into one to air on the same night. And like “Dark Frontier” (but not like “The Killing Game”), it’s been kept as a single episode on home video releases and streaming services. Interestingly, this episode only has a single production number, unlike the others.

Class-Y planets were first established in “Demon.”

In an amusing bit of irony, Jeff Yagher also provided the illustrations for the Trek reference book The Hologram’s Handbook, written by Robert Picardo in character as the EMH.

Iden mentions other species that have holographic servants, including the Lokirrim, whom we saw dealing with a photonic revolt in “Body and Soul.”

The events of this episode will be referenced in “Author Author.”

Star Trek: Voyager "Flesh and Blood"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Darkness will become light.” There’s a lot to like in this episode. It’s a good vehicle for the always-wonderful Robert Picardo, and also a very good use of Roxann Dawson’s Torres. It has a very Trekkish message about how we treat the “other,” and how if we don’t treat them with respect and consideration it ends badly—not just artificial life (TNG’s “The Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring“), but also aliens we make assumptions about (the original series’ “Arena” and “The Devil in the Dark“). Janeway falls victim to the same prejudices that we’ve seen other captains fall prey to (Kirk in “Arena,” Picard in “The Offspring,” Janeway herself in a similar situation in “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy“). And it’s always good to see the Hirogen again.

And it’s especially nice to see Voyager show consequences. I wish the script had acknowledged that giving the Hirogen holo-tech was a necessary evil—it was the only way to stop the fighting between Voyager and the Hirogen that had already claimed several lives. It was a short-term solution that now has long-term consequences. And I like the callback to the photonic resistance against the Lokirrim from “Body and Soul.”

With all that, though, this two-hour episode doesn’t quite cohere. Part of the problem is that Iden is a nowhere antagonist. Jeff Yagher has no discernible personality (Cindy Katz and Spencer Garrett do a much better job), and his transition from bland affable leader to megalomaniacal murderer is utterly unconvincing. It’s a narrative cheat to make the EMH’s decision easier, but it makes the arguments far less convincing. The holograms generally are not the nicest people around—they kidnap both the EMH and Torres, they pretty much torture the EMH to make a point—but it was up to Yagher to show how they were evolving past that, and he never really did that. He was unconvincing as an antihero, as a resistance leader, or as a lunatic.

I love when Janeway tries to put the EMH off by saying she won’t be dragged into an argument about holographic rights and the doctor doesn’t let her get away with it. Like it or not, it’s been established that at least some holograms are sentient—including the EMH himself. That comes with a level of responsibility to treat them like people instead of programs, and Janeway’s willingness to just turn them off against their will is problematic.

Donik is also a tiresomely clichéd character. The Hirogen were introduced as truly alien, but here they come across as warmed-over Klingons who shout a lot and complain about the cowardly technician.

I also would have liked there to have been some consequences for the EMH. After all, what he did was at least as bad as what Paris did in “Thirty Days,” and he got a month in a cell and a demotion. I think the doctor’s offer of having the mobile emitter taken away would’ve been a nice little consequence. I mean, since they’re kind of doing that now…

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido is also reviewing the new episodes of Lower Decks, with his take on the Voyager-adjacent episode “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” having gone up on this site earlier today.

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