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Star Trek: Voyager – Ex Post Facto (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Ex Post Facto has a lot of problems.

It has logical problems. It has plot problems. It has character problems. It is difficult to fit within the framework of Star Trek: Voyager. It feels like a retread of A Matter of Perspective, a less-than-successful effort from the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation that Michael Piller produced. It is a bit of a mess, a bit too casual about everything, a bit too contrived.

And yet, despite all this, it almost works. Almost.

"This isn't the head massage I asked for!"

“This isn’t the head massage I asked for!”

Let’s be honest. Ex Post Facto doesn’t really fit within the framework of Star Trek: Voyager, at least as the show was originally proposed. The whole point of the show was supposed to be getting the ship out past the edge of new worlds, exploring new civilisations, wandering through unexplored territory. It was supposed to be about a lone starship cut off from the standard Star Trek storytelling tropes, carving out its own place in the cosmos.

And Ex Post Facto doesn’t really fit with all that. It’s a pretty standard episode of Star Trek. In fact, it would work quite well on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s full of the familiar clichés. An away team visits an alien planet on a diplomatic mission. Things go horribly wrong. There is a misunderstanding. Our heroes have to wade into a political, diplomatic and judicial quagmire to sort everything out. It’s a fairly stock Star Trek plot, and that’s before we get to the similarities between Ex Post Facto and A Matter of Perspective.

His head isn't on right...

His head isn’t on right…

The problem is that Star Trek: Voyager really shouldn’t be in a place where it can tell this sort of story, logistically. Voyager is in a foreign part of the galaxy. It’s been there for a few weeks, according to The Cloud. In that time, the only space-faring aliens they have encountered have been hostile – the Vidiians and the Kazon. As such, it seems weird that they’ve been so quick to strike up relations with another alien species in this corner of the galaxy.

It is equally weird that the alien species has been so quick to welcome them. With the Kazon and Vidiians as neighbours, you’d imagine some measure of mistrust. Even if that’s not the case, one imagines that first contact should really be a long and drawn-out affair between two cultures, given the potential for misunderstanding or misrepresentation. On shows like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, you can assume that first contact took place years earlier, and the characters only the latest visitors. That plot logic doesn’t fit on Voyager.

They call this "the Paris Manoeuvre"...

They call this “the Paris Manoeuvre”…

It also seems a little surreal that Janeway is willing to dispatch two members of her senior staff alone in a shuttle to visit the planet. The last time a crew member wandered off alone in this part of the galaxy, his lungs were stolen. To be fair, Michael Piller’s script does try to justify this plot necessity. “Captain Janeway decided not to take our ship into orbit,” Paris explains. “She wanted to avoid getting involved in your conflict. So, we came in on a shuttlecraft that would avoid immediate detection by the Numiri.”

However, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. One assumes that Voyager must be trading something for the expertise and insight of the Banean Science Ministry. Even if they aren’t, the very presence of two Starfleet officers on Banean soil should count as interference. It seems like Janeway only considers it interference if Voyager is caught meddling in Banean affairs, which certainly seems like a cynical position.

And her little dog, too...

And her little dog, too…

Jeri Taylor, who was not fond of the finished episode, conceded as much to Cinefantastique:

To me it was somehow a violation of the concept that we are out in a strange part of space, we don’t know what we’re going to encounter, there are different kinds of aliens out there and where do we arrive? On a planet that sort of looks like Earth and has suburban housewives, dogs, smoking, and people talking like they came out of a Raymond Chandler novel. That seems to me not to be the right thing conceptually, although I think there was a lot of fun to be had in that episode.

She certainly has a point. Voyager should be something a bit different. It’s a waste of the show’s premise if it is just re-heats of old Next Generation episodes. Although it’s not as if Ex Post Facto is even the worst example so far.

It's not quite a black-and-white matter...

It’s not quite a black-and-white matter…

There are lots of other problems with the episode. When Paris is confronted in the simulation, Tolen remarks, “I know about you, Paris. I know you were in prison.” How could he possibly know that? Paris served time in prison, but that was on the other part of the galaxy. Sure, Tolen received the ship’s schematics, but it seems highly unlikely that Janeway would have included Paris’ prison records along with that data. It certainly doesn’t seem conducive to interstellar diplomacy.

“When I’m finished with you, you’ll never wear that uniform again,” Tolen threatens during the flashback, in a beat that feels a little surreal. The Baneans have just discovered the Federation and Starfleet, it seems a bit weird that they’d immediately understand and appreciate the value of the Starfleet uniform. It seems a bit weird for an alien we just met to assume that Paris would be drilled out of an extra-terrestrial service for his conduct here.

He'll be spending years on the couch to cope with this...

He’ll be spending years on the couch to cope with this…

Speaking of Paris’ conduct, Michael Piller has suggested that Taylor’s distaste for the episode was rooted in the portrayal of Tom Paris. As he told Captains’ Logs Supplemental – The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages:

The idea that he would even consider a relationship with a married woman she found quite distasteful. She felt he looked like a low-life womanizer. I think that he has a character flaw, a weakness, that I can appreciate. I think a lot of men can appreciate that and that he fell victim to that flaw – but rose above it to achieve. Jeri can forgive some flaws and she can’t forgive other flaws. Infidelity is one that she can’t forgive.

After all, Ex Post Facto does hinge on the idea that Janeway sent Paris to this alien world to act as a representative of the Federation, and he proceeded to have an affair with the wife of the person who volunteered to help them. That’s more than just “womanising”, that is pure stupidity.

"I can confirm that Mister Paris really is just one big walking hormone..."

“I can confirm that Mister Paris really is just one big walking hormone…”

But it’s not a flaw with the episode. In fact, it’s something of a strength. One of the problems with Michael Piller’s last attempt at Star-Trek-as-noir, A Matter of Perspective, was the fact that noir requires a degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. That is why Necessary Evil remains the strongest piece of Star Trek noir ever put to screen. There wasn’t enough ambiguity around Riker to suggest that he might be compromised. He was accused of murder and attempted rape, both crimes far beyond Riker’s capability.

In Ex Post Facto, we are pretty sure that Tom Paris is not a murderer. However, revealing that he had the poor judgement to sleep with Lidell adds a lot of texture to the story. Suddenly, Paris is a character who can be compromised. He’s flawed. He’s not perfect. The audience is fairly sure that Paris is not responsible for Tolen’s death, but this is proof that Tom Paris is not the perfect model Star Trek protagonist that we’ve come to expect. Plus, his middle name is Eugene, in reference to Gene Roddenberry, so you could argue it’s in his DNA.

"And I would have gotten away with it, too..."

“And I would have gotten away with it, too…”

Poor taste jokes aside, this works very well for Paris. Paris was introduced in Caretaker as a screw-up. He was a convict and former mercenary. As such, he was clearly intended as something of a flawed character – a character seeking redemption. But redemption from what? Paris may have tried to present himself as a hardened cynic, but the episode made it quite clear that Paris has a heart of gold. He confessed to his crime, and seemed affected by guilt. He wasn’t a very good terrorist. So what might is Tom Paris’ Achilles Heel?

Judgement seems to be the most obvious choice. Tom Paris’ basic decency has never been in doubt, but the suggestion is that Paris is not a character who makes the best choices in the heat of the moment. And that would seem to be what happened here. Paris was entrusted with a position of responsibility, and screwed it up due to lack of discipline and self-restraint. He made the worst possible choice. And his lack of concern for people in relationships was made apparent in the Time and Again teaser, where he tried to convince Harry to cheat on his girlfriend.

Wanted!

Wanted!

And that’s not a bad thing, because it means the character has the opportunity to grow. That’s the wonderful thing about Paris as a character. He evolves over the run of the show. Of course, A Vision of the Future suggests that the character development was as rooted in Robert Duncan McNeill as in the producers’ conscious designs:

Originally, Paris was cast in a mold similar to that of Kirk and Riker – both notorious womanisers. The first half-dozen or so scripts, including Ex Post Facto, were written with little or no knowledge of who would play the part, or how he would play it. McNeill was cast, and began playing the role. The writers soon realized that McNeill is anything but a womanizer. He is a happily married man, with children he adores. What he brought to the part so changed the character that today, Paris is no longer written as a womaniser.

Still, regardless of the fact that this change wasn’t by design, Paris’ evolution is still fascinating. Not too many members of the cast have a logical character arc like this. Paris is very clearly a different character in Endgame than he was in Caretaker, and earlier episodes like Ex Post Facto help to establish that contrast effectively.

"Contrary to my communication, I did not invite you all here for an impromptu Vulcan poetry recycle..."

“Contrary to my communication, I did not invite you all here for an impromptu Vulcan poetry recycle…”

That said, it would work a lot better if Janeway called Paris on his unprofessional behaviour. Granted, the guys has been forced to repeatedly re-live a murder, so it’s probably not necessary to convene a court martial or anything – but it would be nice if the episode drew attention to the fact that Paris really wasn’t taking the best advantage of his opportunity for redemption. Instead, the episode closes with a cheesy “we’re all friends here” moment with Tuvok in the mess hall.

Still, the fact that Paris is a dysfunctional and flawed character does mean that Ex Post Facto works much better than it might otherwise. There’s a sense of goofy fun to the whole episode, as Piller goes way over the top on his Raymond Chandler impression. “I came out of the other room, looked over and saw her in the atrium,” Paris narrates. “Her eyes were a million kilometres away, staring at stars I’d just flown by the day before.” He quips, charmingly, “Smoking is a bad habit.” She explains, “Maybe I kill myself slowly because I don’t have the courage to do it quickly.” He replies, “Now why would you go and say a thing like that?”

Red! My favourite!

Red! My favourite!

It is cheesy and goofy and all sorts of silly, but at least Piller is committing to the idea. In The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine, McNeill quipped that the episode started like Raymond Chandler, but finished like Murder, She Wrote – and he’s not far off the mark. The episode features an incredibly strange denouement where Tuvok calls all the guest cast together to identify the killer, doing his best Jessica Fletcher impersonation. It’s a complete shift from the noir set-up, but it still feels a little playful and fun. After all, Tuvok’s “other witness” is a zapping little dog. It’s absurd, but the absurdity is endearing.

Of course, none of this makes any sense. The evil plot is barely foreshadowed and – as with a lot of science-fiction mysteries – there’s no way for the audience to solve the mystery along with Tuvok. Like Paris, we have no frame of reference to identify the text at the bottom of the memories as anomalous, and the Banean doctor isn’t established enough to be considered fair game. (He doesn’t even have a name!) On top of that, the plot to smuggle the information feels very convoluted – it relies on the Numiri being about to capture Paris, which seems like a bit of a gambit for a spy operation like this.

"Next time, keep it in your jumpsuit."

“Next time, keep it in your jumpsuit.”

Still, those are the type of problems that dog every Star Trek mystery episode. Ex Post Facto is just silly enough that it almost works. LeVar Burton’s direction helps. The Star Trek veteran shoots it in the style of a pulpy murder mystery. The teaser was the first time that Star Trek was filmed on black-and-white film stock. Burton uses a number of Dutch angles to convey uncertainty. He seems to relish the script’s pulpier and sillier moments, which helps a great deal.

As an aside, it’s worth mentioning the wonderful central gimmick of the episode – a judicial system that forces a person to relive the crime they committed. One imagines that’s a pretty stark deterrent. Indeed, it’s the kind of science-fiction culture that opens itself to all sorts of explorations and insights. (Voyager would revisit the idea of an alien culture that had figured out how to transfer and translate memory in Remember during the third season.)

Eye see...

Eye see…

It’s worth noting that this sort of memory-related punishment is quite similar to the punishment that would feature on Deep Space Nine in Hard Time. In a way, the different approaches to a similar idea probably reveal quite a lot about the respective shows. Voyager is quick to use the premise to springboard to a high-concept noir tale. Deep Space Nine uses it for a heavy character-driven drama.

Ex Post Facto isn’t a great episode. It’s significantly flawed, and yet another example of Voyager failing to live up to its own central premise. However, it is also strangely charming in places. It’s certainly a much better (if still flawed) attempt to do noir than Piller’s previous effort. While it doesn’t rank as classic Star Trek, there’s a goofy appeal to Ex Post Facto that makes it an enjoyable watch.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the first season of Star Trek: Voyager:

3 Responses

  1. I’m surprised it never comes up that the Voyager crew just might entertain the notion that Tom’s guilty, what with his chequered past. I think Piller missed an opportunity to explore something there – that the crew still haven’t decided yet whether Tom’s on the straight and narrow, or were they right about him the first time?

    • That’s a very valid point. And nobody even calls Paris out on the fact that sleeping with a married woman while serving as an ambassador for the crew is a grossly unprofessional thing to do. Part of me wonders if this was a victim of the Taylor/Piller conflict, given that rebel!Paris was apparently a frequent battleground.

      • They did pick up on some of that in Cathexis, where perhaps Paris protests a little too much when they think he’s tampered with helm control on two separate occasions. There are some definite looks of suspicion on the crew’s faces in that episode.

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