June 14 2024

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Retro Review: The Killing Game, Part I

6 min read
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The Hirogen take over Voyager and force the crew to reenact a World War II scenario on the holodeck.

Plot Summary: Janeway, now a Klingon, is wounded in combat by a Hirogen impressed by her resilience. Her ship is surrounded by four Hirogen vessels whose crews now control Voyager, most of whose crewmembers have had their personalities erased by neural implants. They are being forced to act out violent simulations on the holodecks, though the Doctor retains his own memories so that he can treat their wounds and Kim has been conscripted by the Hirogen to expand the holographic technology. Within the largest simulation, Janeway becomes Katrine, a nightclub owner in France during the Nazi occupation. Seven of Nine performs as a singer and Tuvok as a bartender, yet they are all members of the French Resistance trying to undermine Nazi intelligence and communications. Torres – who works nearby for the S.S. and is pregnant by the Hauptsturmführer – tells Janeway that the Allies intend to take St. Clair. When Seven and Neelix are shot by Nazis, they are sent by the Hirogen to Sickbay, where the Doctor uses Seven’s Borg implants to restore her autonomy and tells her of Voyager’s situation. One of the Hirogen leaders wants to kill the crew and take trophies, but his superior insists that because the Hirogen race is slowly dying out in pursuit of the hunt, they should explore technology like the holodeck which would keep their traditions alive with fewer losses. Seven promises to find the panel in the holodeck to access bridge controls. Meanwhile, Kim and the Doctor attempt to cut off the rest of the crew’s neural implants, which have Chakotay and Paris believing that they are an Allied captain and lieutenant coming to liberate St. Clair. Seven finds the necessary panel, but Janeway believes her to be a spy and threatens to shoot her until the Doctor disables her neural implant. The two women escape from Nazi headquarters just as Chakotay and Paris blow it up, overloading the grid and allowing the crew to see the holographic outlines of buildings, which most of them take to be new German technology. As officers escape with their weapons but without their memories, Kim warns the Hirogen leader that he now has a real war on his hands.

Analysis: Everything I love about “The Killing Game” is a guilty pleasure, but oh, there are a lot of those, starting with the premise that Janeway is a member of the Maquis – the original one, the French Resistance guerilla organization during World War II – while Chakotay is a captain of the united nations fighting for liberty, rights, and equality against the Nazis. If it’s the twisted Hirogen sense of humor that puts the crew in these positions, does that make Voyager‘s writing staff the Hirogen, who get to warp the characters to whatever scenario they concoct, no matter how perverse? In this single episode, we get to see both Janeway and Neelix as Klingons, Tuvok serving drinks, Torres expecting a Nazi’s baby (a nod to Roxann Dawson’s real-life pregnancy), and Seven of Nine quite beautifully singing “It Can’t Be Wrong” (originally composed as music for the World War II-era film Now, Voyager). I’m generally ambivalent about storylines in which crewmembers lose their memories or live out alternate, to-be-forgotten timelines – in other words, in which they cease to be themselves, whether it’s because aliens took over their brains in an attempt to give the most passive crewmember some power or whether it’s the superbly rendered non-realities of “The Inner Light” and “The Visitor,” two wildly popular episodes that make far too little impact on canon in subsequent episodes. But it would be really hard to resist “The Killing Game” based on the eye candy factor alone. Just look at Kate Mulgrew channeling Marlene Dietrich in that white tux! And Jeri Ryan in those vintage dresses that are less revealing yet so much sexier than Seven’s uniforms, whether it’s the silver nightclub dress or the chic outfit with matching beret! And Robert Beltran and Robert Duncan McNeill in old combat uniforms! Plus, even if they look like movie sets and not a real town, the exteriors of St. Clair make for a nice change in visuals. And I know a lot of people are always excited to see Klingons in full regalia.

On the holodeck, the storyline works nearly perfectly – in fact, for a change, I’m sorry when certain aspects of the simulation end too soon. We don’t get to see nearly enough Warrior Klingon Janeway; as happens far too often, the writers resort to telling rather than showing, having a Hirogen announce that he’s impressed by her hardiness instead of letting us see her do more than lose a physical battle. I’d have sat through a full episode of Klingon Captain Janeway and I don’t even really like Klingon stories! The same thing happens with Katrine, who is a glorious riff off of and improvement upon Paris’s holographic fantasy French club owner Sandrine from earlier seasons. We get thirty seconds of Katrine flirting and placating Nazis, sixty seconds of her scheming with Tuvok, ninety seconds of her having to decide whether to turn on or trust Seven whom she has reason to believe may be an enemy agent, but it’s all a tease; we don’t get a proper backstory narration like Paris provides for his Lieutenant Bobby Davis and like Chakotay hints at when speaking of home during the second half of this two-parter. We’re expected to assume the motivations of all three women in the Resistance without being given access to their individual backgrounds, and the relationships among them seem to be complicated, with Janeway ordering Seven in the name of the Resistance to please the powerful men who come into her place while Torres makes the decision to sleep with and get pregnant by a man she loathes because it gives her unique access to his secrets. I don’t care if Katrine and Brigitte are fictional even within the context of Voyager’s travels; they deserve more complete characterization than they get, and there’s plenty of action in part two that could be trimmed back to make that happen. Mademoiselle de Neuf, too, deserves to be more than eye candy – how did a gorgeous singer become a munitions expert, or the other way around?

Visually, this is one of the most memorable episodes of the series, with well-paced dramatic sequences and terrific lighting. It’s also the first Hirogen story in which their culture stands out in any way from the Tosk from Deep Space Nine and in which we see that some of the nomads have become concerned about their long-term viability as a discrete species, so a bunch of questions about these aliens finally get answered. The parallels with the Nazis are effective and disturbing – there’s great set design in the use of Nazi logos and the art adorning S.S. headquarters – though I still find that I despise the arrogant, racist Hauptsturmführer far more than any of the Hirogen, which perhaps is the point. It’s a bit of a disappointment that Kim hasn’t tried harder to sabotage the programs or even blow up the ship, which we see quickly that Janeway is willing to do if she can’t put a fast stop to the crew’s torment in what feels on this rewatch like a Westworld version of The Man in the High Castle, only with traditionally born people as well as artificially created ones. Kim appears to have access to many of the ship’s systems, so although he ends up looking somewhat heroic coming up with the sabotage plan, he isn’t much reminiscent of the hot-headed ensign willing to plot behind Tuvok’s back when the Vulcan was briefly in command while Janeway and Chakotay were stranded. I’m going to assume the overworked Doctor is busy just trying to keep people alive, though at some point a full explanation of how his system interacts with the ship’s computer would be nice. It strains credulity as well that the Hirogen can’t create holographic technology yet can design neural implants to hook into it to control the crew, which wouldn’t seem like a priority for a nomadic species lacking a home, but then again we don’t even know about their genders – do they have females? are they on those four ships, or a base somewhere, or are we seeing them but we can’t tell them from the males? So I’ll let that slide till part two.

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