April 21 2024

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Retro Review: Twisted

8 min read
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Voyager encounters a spatial anomaly which distorts the ship from the inside out. When Janeway comes into contact with it, she is rendered incoherent.

Plot Summary: In the middle of Kes’s surprise birthday party at Sandrine’s on the holodeck – which most of the senior crew is attending, leaving Tuvok and an impatient Kim on the bridge – Voyager encounters a spatial distortion that surrounds the ship and disables the warp drive. Unable to hail the holodeck on the comm system, Tuvok sends Kim to notify Janeway, then leaves the bridge himself when Kim does not return. The distortion has seemingly turned the ship inside out, so that rooms from different floors appear to be next to each other while the mess hall appears in close proximity to the cargo bays. Unable to reach the bridge, Janeway convenes a senior staff meeting in the holodeck, which seems to be comparatively free from the distortions. Torres and Paris attempt to address the problem from engineering, but doors open into private crew quarters, and Chakotay and Tuvok are unable to map a path to the bridge via corridors while Janeway and Kim similarly can’t reach it through the Jefferies tubes. When Janeway opens an access panel, she comes into direct contact with the anomaly, which renders her nearly comatose and incoherent. Now in command, Chakotay must choose between Torres’ plan to use a shock pulse to invert the effect and Tuvok’s plan to use the navigational array to steer the ship out of the distortion. Chakotay chooses the shock pulse over Tuvok’s objection that his plan is safer, but it backfires, intensifying the distortion waves, which begin to affect the holodeck. Torres wants to continue to try to counteract the anomaly, but Tuvok suggests doing nothing, since their efforts to fight the distortion have proven dangerous. Believing that they may be crushed, the crewmembers try to comfort one another, but the anomaly twists the ship back into its usual state, leaving behind a wealth of information in the ship’s library in what Janeway concludes has been an attempt to communicate with them.

Analysis: “Twisted” is probably as bad an episode as the previous week’s “Non Sequitur” – it’s certainly the weakest of the anomaly-of-the-week episodes filmed during Voyager‘s first season, and the producers were probably wise to bury it in the middle of the second – but I have a soft spot for it anyway. It’s actually a better Chakotay outing than the Chakotay-centric “Initiations” which aired a few weeks earlier, and it’s a strong character lead-in to “The 37s,” which it was meant to precede. Because the anomaly storyline is so silly – and reportedly because all the cuts made the episode run extremely short – there’s a lot of focus on crew interaction, giving us a good look at Chakotay in command and allowing us to see how Tuvok interacts, both positively and negatively, with less logical crewmembers than himself. The main science fiction gimmick defies any logic, so it’s probably not worth analyzing (I remember being certain that this would be one of those stories where the crew realized they’d been on the holodeck all along, or they’d wake up from unconsciousness to discover that all the changes to the ship had taken place in their heads). But come on, even if the pacing is supposed to feel quicker as the scenes jump to different locations on the ship, and even if the visual representation of the distortion is kind of cool, particularly when Janeway gets caught in it, who thought it was ever going to be believable that the ship could be altered physically by a distortion wave with no long-term effects on structure or living beings inside it? It’s all right when it seems like the crew’s perception is what’s messed up – that Kes is just wrong about where Ayala and Nicoletti’s quarters should be located – but when we’re expected to believe that this anomaly has somehow moved around the actual matter of the ship and the people inside the ship, it all becomes preposterous. So I’m just not going to think about the plot.

It’s about time we got an episode in which many of the complications of Chakotay’s position are brought to the fore, as annoying as it may be that they have to incapacitate the captain to give the first officer a good command drama…briefer, at least, than Kirk’s disappearance in “The Tholian Web,” since Janeway gets plenty to do beforehand, including some sweet but oddly effusive maternal praise for Kim while they’re trying to get to the bridge together. She gets knocked out because she insists on lunging first into the unknown, leaving Chakotay in charge. Chakotay has taken issue with Tuvok on several occasions just because their priorities are so different, with Chakotay open to concepts that Tuvok finds hopelessly illogical, but we’ve never heard Tuvok so bluntly announce that Janeway would follow his advice over someone else’s, particularly when he’s up against two of his former Maquis crewmates. Chakotay does a lovely job of telling him to shut up and follow orders. But later, when Chakotay decides that Tuvok is right and doing nothing may be safer than following Torres’ plan to keep fighting the anomaly, Tuvok thanks him for not dismissing his plan, and Chakotay admits that no matter how arrogant he finds Tuvok, he understands how hard it must have been for Tuvok to accept Chakotay and not himself becoming first officer – a statement Tuvok dismisses not very convincingly by claiming that he has always respected Janeway’s decisions (except, you know, when he went behind her back to get trajector technology). Interesting too that stern Vulcan Tuvok criticizes Kim for wishing to end his duty shift early, then relents and lets him go “inspect the holodeck” so that Kim can attend the birthday party there, and that when facing likely death, Tuvok reaches out in a very human manner for Janeway.

It’s rare for us to see the half-human Spock make such an overt gesture when he and Kirk are facing death, but then, Spock never seems as desperately lonely as Tuvok does here, since the former enjoys such close friendships with Kirk and McCoy, while Tuvok is close only with Janeway and these days she seems much closer with Chakotay than with him. This may be because of moments like the Sleeping Beauty scene in “Twisted,” in which, although Chakotay has been told by the Doctor that Janeway can’t hear or respond to him, he tries to get through to her anyway. I must confess that the parallel brought to mind by this development is not any spatial anomaly episode like the aforementioned “Tholian Web” or TNG’s “Time Squared,” but the Bantam-published original series novel The Price of the Phoenix, in which an evil alien kills Kirk to find out whether Spock will betray the Federation to protect Kirk’s alien-created clone; the alien presents Spock with the sleeping Kirk clone and suggests that Spock awaken Sleeping Beauty in the traditional manner. (Look, it’s not my fault if I grew up reading suggestive officially licensed tie-ins before I was old enough to understand that the Bantam books weren’t canon.) For a second it looks like Chakotay might try the traditional manner to wake sleeping Janeway, even though Janeway’s been speaking in tongues like in many bad alien possession episodes. It makes my breath catch, because this is also the episode in which Chakotay speaks very eloquently about love to Neelix, who’s having fits of jealousy over Kes and expects that a handsome man like Chakotay must have women falling all over him. (Listen, I don’t write the dialogue, I just quote it.) Chakotay explains that people are often jealous because they fear abandonment, but he’s always found that what he gains in love is greater than what he risks. No wonder he’s the one whose hand Torres wants to hold when she thinks she’s about to die!

We don’t have to read anything non-platonic into that, though I know there are fans who do, because Harry wants to hold Tom’s hand, or at least clasp his shoulder, and we can be pretty certain the writers didn’t want us to read too much into that, tempting though it is after Harry just threw over Libby to get back to Tom. It’s a nice tableau – Kes clinging to the Doctor, Tuvok discreetly reaching for Janeway, Torres squeezing Chakotay’s fingers, Paris comforting Kim. Series producers and fellow fans may like to ridicule shippers, but episodes like this are how romantic fan fiction is born…the writers can’t come up with anything else to fill the time, so they throw in some dialogue in which Chakotay sounds heartsick or Janeway sounds lonely, and the actors try to make up for the technobabble by infusing such moments with emotions that play off one another. They may not want or intend for us to see certain kinds of bonding as romantic, but when the visual cues follow those from romantic comedies or fairy tales, audience members are trained to a certain extent not just to want but to expect relationships to develop. And that’s not a bad thing. Nothing would have made me want to watch “Twisted” again except such moments as Neelix struggling with jealousy, Kes with a sense of obligation; Tuvok facing a lonely future as a Vulcan among passionate people; Torres wishing for a stronger spiritual connection with someone; Kim and Paris grateful to have found someone else who understands both the thrills and dangers of their work; Chakotay believing that love matters more than almost anything else; Janeway trying to hold them all together. At this point in the second season, the characters are wonderful even when the storylines are terrible. There’s no question that the sci-fi improves when the Borg turned up, but is it worth the cost to the characters and their relationships? Over the past two decades, it’s become very clear that that really depends on who you ask.

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5 thoughts on “Retro Review: Twisted

  1. Well uh none of the books are canon…nnThat said, the Phoenix books are indeed trippy as all get out.

  2. But canon is very much a concept shared by fans who talk to each other… if you’re just buying books for the first time, canon is not even a concept that you’d be aware of.

  3. I really enjoyed Twisted, silly sci-fi aside. I think I quite like it for the same reason I’m a fan of many season one episodes, and that was the character pieces. The Cloud, Twisted etc. all just allow the cast to play nicely off each other.

  4. This episode leads directly into the recent 3-parter in the Voyager re-launch (answering the “whatever happened to all that data” question for one)

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