April 23 2024


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Retro Review: Concerning Flight

6 min read


When aliens steal technology from Voyager, Janeway works with a holographic Leonardo da Vinci to find the computer processor.

Plot Summary: While Janeway is testing a glider in her Leonardo da Vinci holodeck program, aliens attack Voyager, using transporters to steal technology including both the main computer processor and the Doctor’s portable holographic emitter. The crew tracks the stolen items to a planet with technology pilfered from many local cultures. When Janeway and Tuvok beam down in local dress, they are astonished to be greeted by Leonardo, who is wearing the Doctor’s emitter and believes he has been taken to America by pirates. He has a new patron who has given him a workshop, where he is using a phaser to generate what he assumes is lightning. A local merchant questioned by Chakotay about the stolen goods identifies the regional leader as Tau, whom Janeway guesses must be Leonardo’s patron as well as the man responsible for stealing Voyager’s technology. She pretends to be interested in buying a computer processor so that she can learn where Tau is keeping Voyager’s missing one. Because the processor is hidden behind shields in a secure facility, Tuvok advises Janeway that a power surge will be necessary to lock a transporter beam onto it. Janeway persuades Leonardo to help her, finds the equipment, and tries to set an overload, but Tau confiscates her comm badge and threatens her until Leonardo knocks him out. When Tau’s guards try to stop Janeway from beaming out with Voyager’s equipment, she flees into the hills with Leonardo, where she finds that the Renaissance genius has been working on a new model of the glider she was testing with him on the holodeck. Unable to contact Voyager without her comm badge, she launches the glider with Leonardo and its lift takes them within range of Voyager’s transporters. Once the glider has been recovered and the holographic emitter returned to the Doctor, Janeway finds Leonardo on the holodeck planning a trip to France, where he hopes to recreate his successes in the New World.

Analysis: “Concerning Flight” is one of my favorite episodes of the show’s fourth season. As when I first saw it, I have some quibbles with it, primarily the ongoing frustration that particularly as the series progresses, Janeway’s most significant relationships between equals – the times when we really see her listening and learning with anyone – take place with holograms. I wish she the same care with her subordinates’ feelings as she takes to avoid offending Leonardo, whom she approaches with a combination of sympathy and reason tailored specifically to his sensibilities in the way she once nurtured Kim and Torres yet now too rarely offers Paris and Seven of Nine. It would be easier to appreciate Janeway’s holographic companions if they offered not only escape but the sorts of self-discovery that Picard and Data experienced in their holographic simulations. Plus we’re getting a history textbook old-man-Leonardo, not the rebel Janeway mentions from her studies, the radical who broke Church and regional laws prohibiting everything from autopsies which taught him anatomy to erotic admiration of naked young men. That said, “Concerning Flight” is reminiscent both of something the original series would have done, since, as Janeway notes, James T. Kirk claimed to have met Leonardo da Vinci (though we know that it was centuries hence when the latter was living as “Requiem For Methuselah”‘s Flint) and of first season Voyager, since the Janeway who goes exploring with Leonardo has so much in common with the one who met Amelia Earhart in “The 37s” and who did her own investigating in “Time and Again” and “Prime Factors.”

This is Janeway as I first loved her – intent on exploration for its own sake even when the ship has serious problems to be faced, eager to lead away missions and take charge of situations directly, impossible for threatening aliens to intimidate. She has both a sense of humor and a sense of wonder even though her crew is facing the loss of equipment crucial to their continuing journey. More than anything Janeway said to Seven last week when Seven declared her opinion that the desire to explore was incompatible with a mission to return to the Alpha Quadrant with all possible speed, Janeway’s actions in “Concerning Flight” demonstrate why we want Seven to be wrong, why the diversions are a part of a bigger journey. Despite the holographic Leonardo’s mutterings, his real life was a testament to the necessity of failure; he kept copious notes on the things he learned from his mistakes that he couldn’t have discovered without some false starts. He might have been irritable when his genius was mocked, but he never took that as a reason to rest on his laurels or play safe for the sake of his reputation. Janeway admires what Tuvok calls Leonardo’s “notorious unreliability” – she sees the possibilities for creative thinking and innovation from unlikely sources, so it isn’t just personal admiration that lets her give the hologram an opportunity to investigate with her. This Janeway isn’t just more likeable than the super-tough warrior of “Macrocosm” or the obsessive leader of “Year of Hell”; she also taps into unique possibilities for problem-solving, rethinking situations for which neither Federation diplomacy nor Starfleet military might offers an obvious solution. We get to witness Janeway’s warmth and confidence not because she’s winning but because she’s doing what we’ve seen every Star Trek captain love to do, synthesizing a unique and exciting ending to a scenario no one back home ever could have envisioned.

The rest of the cast appears mostly as background color, though in most cases they’re also versions I like: Torres throws a tantrum around Seven but she and Janeway squeak the episode a pass on the Bechdel Test with an engineering discussion, Tuvok is put in his place for doubting Leonardo by not knowing about the Vulcan off Sicily, Chakotay deals efficiently with overconfident alien thieves, the Doctor exhibits signs of claustrophobia when the emitter that has given him freedom abruptly disappears from his life to strand him in sickbay. (Kim once again comes across incapable of dealing with his hormones around Seven, but I blame whoever designed her new, insanely tight catsuit that shows off the furrow between her buttocks as if it might contain a wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant or something.) John Rhys-Davies gives Leonardo as much colorful emotion as the script allows, though I still wish we got to see a bit more of the criminal mastermind, someone who devised deadly weapons and apparently had no squeamishness about human body parts. At least this Leonardo doesn’t turn to prayer as quickly as he did in “Scorpion” even after being shot by a phaser and guessing that he might be in Purgatory. Instead it’s Janeway who gets to display the full range of science and philosophy, worry and awe. If she had to choose a hologram as a mentor, I’m only sorry she didn’t pick Christine de Pizan or Elizabeth I – a Renaissance woman like herself – and that Leonardo doesn’t get to keep the emitter for long enough to experience the wonders of Voyager, a New World to him like the planet of stolen technology, which might make Janeway see the ship she loves through new eyes. Joe Menosky has his name on several terrific Janeway stories and this is one of his finest.

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