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By Edward James Hines
Posted at May 2, 2000 - 10:43 PM GMT

"Muse" ***
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Mike Vejar

While surveying for dilithium, the Delta Flyer encounters spatial eddies that sweep it off course. B'Elanna Torres orders Harry Kim to eject in the escape pod while she crash-lands the ship on a Class L planet. Kelis (Joseph Will), a Bronze Age alien poet, finds the wreck and binds an unconscious Torres to her chair while he listens to the Delta Flyer's logs. From these, he writes a play called "The Away Mission of B'Elanna Torres," which chronicles the story of a godlike clan he calls the "eternals on Voyager." Kelis' authoritarian patron, the Autarch (Stoney Westmoreland), is intrigued and wants more Voyager stories. A desperate Kelis implores Torres for help, and she reluctantly agrees in exchange for some dilithium and other items to help repair the Delta Flyer's subspace transmitter. The Autarch, however, unwittingly escalates Kelis' need for an extraordinary play when he comes within a hairbreadth of declaring war on a neighboring state. Kelis, whose starving troupe will suffer as a result of the impending conflict, and Torres, whose wreck will be discovered if hostilities ensue, work together to create a Voyager tale that inspires the possibility of peace. Kim, whose escape pod followed the Delta Flyer to the planet, soon arrives with a spare transmitter, which he and Torres use to arrange for rescue. Kelis' new play, "The Rescue of B'Elanna Torres," goes especially well when the engineer herself makes a surprise appearance and, in transporting home to Voyager, "ascends into the heavens" before everyone's eyes. Kelis promises the Autarch more Voyager stories in exchange for his leader's wisdom, compassion and efforts toward peace.

For the second time in the history of the franchise (and the second time this season), VGR uses an episode title that is similar to one used in a previous Star Trek series. "Muse" will likely be confused with DS9's "The Muse" unless speakers and writers make sure to include the distinguishing definite article! VGR also came close with "Blink of an Eye," which is similar to TOS's "Wink of an Eye" and even contains comparable instances of humanoid hyperacceleration. Furthermore, fans may not know that VGR almost had an exact match with "Tsunkatse," which was originally titled "Arena" and would have duplicated the name used for TOS's Gorn episode.

Titles aren't the only thing that "Muse" borrows. Kathleen Garrett's unmentioned character name is "Tanis" — the same given to Gary Graham's Ocampan in "Cold Fire." Additionally, "Muse" is the second episode in a row in which different actors portray regular VGR characters, and the second this season in which a primitive culture deifies Voyager (the first was "Blink of an Eye"). Also, the plot contrivance that sets everything in motion is the hackneyed "shuttle crash" scenario, which is particularly unbelievable in this case because it's the super-advanced Delta Flyer that gets caught in a little spatial turbulence and Torres seems curiously unable to cope with the situation. Like the open ending tagged onto "Collective," however, we assume that the Delta Flyer is salvaged before Voyager leaves orbit.

In the tradition of ancient Greek plays, by which "Muse" is heavily influenced, a "chorus" helps advance the action of Kelis' plays by explaining important information. Their opening recitation in the teaser takes the form of a "captain's log," which, ironically enough, was itself probably inspired by the omniscient Greek chorus and has helped fill in various minutiae of Star Trek episodes, leaving the main action for the screen.

Another useful Greek/Roman device that has long served VGR is deus ex machina, represented first by Kim's timely arrival with just the piece of equipment that Torres needs to operate the subspace transmitter. Torres is also the deus ex machina element at the end of Kelis' second play, when she makes a surprise appearance and quickly fabricates a much-needed ending by magically disappearing in a transporter beam.

Torres' readiness to use 24th century technology in full sight of the aliens — and in apparent violation of the Prime Directive — is justifiably predicated on the conclusions that Kelis has already reached when she awakens in his capture. By the time she uses the dermal regenerator and fires the phaser, Kelis has already poked through the computer, learned about Torres' mission and Voyager being lost, and decided that she and her people are gods. With the damage done, Torres doesn't bother trying to convince him otherwise (and in one amusingly effective instance, her demand that he procure some dilithium is accented by an unexpected crack of thunder and lightning).

Kelis himself seems to be a kind of prodigy. There is the suggestion that he understands more about Torres' real origins than he lets on — except for once. He tells her that he observed the Delta Flyer streaking through the sky before it crashed; but his Voyager plays, however, are always primitively couched in the form of oceangoing vessels and faraway lands with no hint of otherworldliness (other than the strangeness of Vulcan or Borg ways).

Kelis also demonstrates keen ingenuity when he effortlessly manipulates the Delta Flyer's computer records (like Mobar did in "Live Fast and Prosper") to learn more about the "Voyager eternals." We can only imagine the circumstances that led him to access the controls. Maybe the computer was stuck in some kind of recursive loop and was babbling to itself when he arrived, and he simply located the source of the noise and "leaned" on the controls by accident. As to how he was able to comprehend the "storytelling" of a strange device that wasn't speaking his language, it's just one of Star Trek's longtime "mystery givens" that aliens only need translators when the story calls for them. Otherwise, spoken languages are as universal as music and mathematics and everybody understands what you're saying.

You don't need a translator, however, to catch VGR poking fun at itself — commenting subtly yet snidely on the perceived recklessness of its stories, rampant mischaracterization and the general flouting of Star Trek standards and continuity. One of the old chorus members (read: core Star Trek fans) complains that Kelis stocks his plays with manipulative "tricks," not truth, but Kelis (read: VGR's producers) insists that truth is "old fashioned" and "audiences today want excitement … passion!" This was a clever jab by outgoing co-executive producer Joe Menosky, who has been notably outspoken in his willingness to forgo Star Trek continuity in the interests of a good story.

Menosky also titillates us in Kelis' plays with several "could've been" VGR characterizations. "Paris" kissing "Seven of Nine" seems to refer back to "Day of Honor," when Paris and Torres were estranged and there was the suggestion that Paris' penchant for infidelity might underlie his kind offer to help Seven adjust to life on Voyager. "Kim" kissing the "Delaney sisters" recalls his habit of choosing the wrong women and, in particular, the wrong sister; but thanks to some dramatic reversal of fortune, Kim gets both twins in Kelis' play. Finally, of course, there is the expected "Janeway" kissing "Chakotay" scene, which has been long clamored for in some VGR fan circles, but Menosky soundly thrashes the idea with a laughable scene in which a mock-serious "Janeway" longs for the "privilege" of "Chakotay's" touch. To bury the matter, Menosky's very next scene is a serious, businesslike one between the real Janeway and Chakotay as they discuss their missing comrades and she bids him a terse "good night."

Kelis has the most trouble characterizing "logical" Tuvok, and his actor Jero (Michael Houston King) has equal difficulty portraying someone who shows no emotion. Menosky again subtly comments through Jero that Tuvok can easily be (and often has been) misunderstood as an "unfeeling monster" by those who do not understand what it means to be Vulcan. This assessment recalls numerous instances of Tuvok belittling Neelix (e.g., "Rise"), failing to sympathize with the crew's needs (e.g., "Resolutions") or coldly ignoring those of others (e.g., "Gravity"). Despite attempts to justify Tuvok's ultra-Stoicism in "Gravity" and even lighten him up in "Riddles," the stigma of being a full-blooded, emotionless Vulcan never really eases.

Menosky tries again, however, to show the "softer side" of Tuvok, who forgoes sleep for 10 days and pores over sensor records in a valiant attempt to locate Torres and Kim. His single-minded determination is the curiosity here. What is his motivation other than the simple performance of his duties? He holds no particular affinity for either Torres or Kim. If it were longtime friend Janeway who was lost, then his impetus for such a painstaking search would have been clearer.

One possible answer — admittedly a really long shot — could have something to do with the fellowship Tuvok developed with Kim way back in season three's "Alter Ego," which may have engendered more of a mutual respect than anyone (including the producers) suspected. Hell, for all we know, Tuvok could secretly have some kind of deep-seated admiration for Kim's otherwise troublesome holodeck pranks of late!

Menosky possibly takes things too far when he later depicts an exhausted Tuvok snoring in the captain's chair. While the scene is certainly worth a stupefying giggle, it unwittingly "humanizes" the all-Vulcan Tuvok, who supposedly can go without sleep for more than two weeks if necessary. This is nothing more than contemporary Star Trek's latest attempt to "update" the inviolate Vulcans as they were portrayed in TOS — as if they were aging superheroes in need of a facelift.

Other discontinuities include Kelis' story that Torres is a fellow poet "from across the Eastern Sea" who is an expert on the "Voyager eternals." This conflicts with his earlier assertion that he was the first to write about this clan — a boast he probably made to his fellow actors, but they don't seem to catch this contradiction. The performers likewise seem strangely oblivious to Torres' alien appearance. Also, in a continuity goof, Torres beams off the Delta Flyer without her commbadge, but when she appears backstage in the following scene, she is wearing it.

"Muse" showcases another welcome headliner for Torres, but the story doesn't do much in the way of advancing her character (which makes this a "plug-in" show, i.e., any character could have been the star). The most noteworthy character tidbit is that, when asked by Kelis, Torres out-and-out refuses to acknowledge that she is in love with Paris. It seems a simple enough question, but after having been bound and unconscious for eight days, it's understandable that she may feel "violated" by how much Kelis already knows about her.

The metaphor that Torres employs about Earth being "an island" goes back to James Kirk's similar assertion in TOS's "All Our Yesterdays." The metaphor about Voyager and the Delta Flyer being oceangoing vessels also recalls Kirk's cover story about the Enterprise as a "ship somewhere at sea" in TOS's "Bread and Circuses."

The Vulcans' ability to go without sleep for long periods of time originated in TOS's "The Paradise Syndrome."

Finally, "Muse" boasts a couple of noteworthy guest star returns to Star Trek. Kathleen Garrett ("Tanis") played the Vulcan captain in DS9's "Vortex." Veteran actor John Schuck, wasted here in a thankless and nearly invisible chorus role, played "Legate Parn" in DS9's "The Maquis, Part II," but is best known for his portrayal of the unnamed "Klingon Ambassador" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Copyright Edward James Hines
1 May 2000

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.

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