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Star Trek: Voyager – Twisted (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.

It’s easy to see why the decision was made to bury Twisted as deep into the second season of Star Trek: Voyager as possible. The third of four episodes carried over from the end of the show’s first production year, it was the sixth episode of the show’s second broadcast season. Not only did it air behind the last episode produced as part of that first year, it also aired behind the first two episodes produced during the second season.

To be fair, Twisted isn’t a bad episode. It has a whole host of problems, but the most fundamental issue with Twisted is that it is incredibly dull. It’s the most pointless sort of story imaginable, where a bunch of weird stuff happens to our characters and there’s no way to save the day so they just sit around and wait patiently until it stops. While the script to Twisted is comprised of irritating moments, they don’t add up to anything substantial.

Twisted is very much the equivalent of forty-five minutes of Star Trek themed dead air.

"Why, hello there..."

“Why, hello there…”

To be fair, the production team all but acknowledge the issues with the episode. Interviewed by Cinefantastique, Jeri Taylor reflected that the show was part of a desperate attempt to save money towards the end of the first season:

At the tail end of last season the shows were bottle shows where we were trying to make up for over-budget shows. So to start off the season we essentially had a bunch of bottle shows. We would not have designed it that way.

As with The 37’s or Elogium before it, the situation was hardly ideal. While the producers weren’t happy to hold the episode over the summer to let UPN get an early start on its competitors, it’s hard to argue the first season (or summer repeats) lost too much by its absence. Unfortunately, this meant holding the episode back to air in the second season, setting the tone for the next year.

The Doctor's left to clean up another fine mess...

The Doctor’s left to clean up another fine mess…

The production process for Twisted seems quite painful. Talking with Cinefantastique, Jeri Taylor confessed that the writing staff were forced to add an incredible amount of padding to get the show up to forty-five minutes:

With something as extremely short as Twisted we were forced, were forced by the structure of the story to add all these sequences in the corridors. Often our added scenes turn out to be some of the best ones in the show, because it allows us to do off- plot character scenes which can be fun. In Twisted, what we ended up with were these endless wandering the corridors scenes and they just contributed to a general lethargy of pace, slowed the whole thing down, and weighted it rather than buoyed it.

There’s a sense that Twisted is just marking time. As Taylor notes, there are interminable sequences of characters walking around the show’s corridor sets with only slightly more urgency than usual.

Let them eat cake...

Let them eat cake…

Taylor is not alone in her dismissive attitude towards the show. Writer Kristen Beyer recently attracted attention when she used the episode for a plot point in the novel Protectors, but even she conceded the show was less than stellar:

When it came to Twisted, it was truly one of the last places I thought to search for the hook I needed. But I had never gotten over all of that data that was dumped into Voyager’s computers and then never addressed again. That made it easy to choose. Everything else about the episode made it less appealing.

While Jennifer Lien has confessed a surreal fondness for the episode, her co-stars Robert Picardo and Kate Mulgrew have both expressed their disappointment with the instalment.

"It could be worse... we could still be wandering through corridors..."

“It could be worse… we could still be wandering through corridors…”

All of this is a nice way of saying that Twisted is pretty bland. The episode is very much the stereotypical “anomaly of the week” story, in which the Voyager cast encounter a strange phenomenon in space that causes wacky events that are helpfully resolved before the final credits role. Due to the nature of such stories, there’s little room to focus on character growth and development, as the events are typically generated from outside the ship and are typically resolved by techno-babble.

To be fair, “anomaly of the week” episodes are not inherently bad. The Cloud was trying to be something interesting, even if it didn’t quite succeed. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, something like the superb Cause and Effect would arguably be classified as an “anomaly of the week.” The problem occurs when the show uses these strange events as a substitute for storytelling. Twisted might serve as one of the purest examples of the “anomaly of the week” in the history of the franchise.

Talk about putting their feet up...

Talk about putting their feet up…

The story goes a little something like this:

  1. Voyager encounters a strange phenomenon;
  2. Tuvok reports this to Janeway, his voice getting loopy and distorted in the process; for some inexplicable reason, the show avoids using this as an excuse to have the crew break into a spontaneous musical number;
  3. the crew try to get to important parts of the ship, this includes Tuvok inexplicably abandoning the bridge in the middle of a crisis so he can join the fun;
  4. a couple of the crew succeed at getting where they need to be, most don’t;
  5. the cast wander around the the corridor sets for an extended period of time;
  6. having never seen a horror movie, and clearly not at all worried about the constantly-shifting geography of the ship, the crew constantly split up;
  7. they inevitably end up back on the holodeck, because everybody knows that’s really the most important location on the ship anyway;
  8. Janeway is incapacitated, the rest of the senior staff bicker – but avoiding falling into Starfleet/Maquis roles because that would be potentially interesting;
  9. the crew attempt a techno-babble solution;
  10. it doesn’t work;
  11. the crew decide they don’t have time to do anything else, so face their fate;
  12. it turns out that the phenomenon isn’t really a threat; because the episode’s over, the problem resolve itself;

Surprisingly, this does not make for compelling viewing.

The script's not that bad, is it?

The script’s not that bad, is it?

It is, in essence, the laziest story ever. The crew spend all of Twisted completely helpless – which is a nice way to raise suspense, or would be if the problem were interesting or the stakes real. Every attempt to fix the problem fails, which means that the episode should be growing more tense with each passing moment. However, in the end, it turns out that the problem just goes away with absolutely no effort from the crew themselves.

In short, there’s nothing that the crew do that makes any difference to how Twisted plays out. The only reason that there is a show next week is because our crew got lucky. Our heroes don’t even learn anything from the experience, and it isn’t strange or surreal enough to be interesting. The phenomenon looks like nothing more than a pretty basic visual effect. It doesn’t seem terrifying or wondrous. It just seems like the show was trying to save money and this was the most logical way to do that.

Serves you right...

Serves you right…

As with Jetrel, the episode confuses meaningless techno-babble with meaningful drama. At one point, the crew discuss how to deal with the problem, and it consists of vaguely scientific-sounding words arranged into sentences:

If I can get back to Engineering, I may be able to generate a shock pulse strong enough to do just that. Of course, I’d have to raise the pressure in the warp core to near critical.

A shock pulse of that magnitude would create a subatomic particle shower all over the ship.

Which could set off a chain reaction that would cause not only the ring to explode outward but Voyager along with it.

Not if I can precisely tune the shock pulse to the distortion frequency of the ring.

That’s just nonsense that exists to eat up time before the end credits roll.

"I love it. That's why I'll never wear it over my costume or reference it again..."

“I love it. That’s why I’ll never wear it over my costume or reference it again…”

To be fair, there is an interesting idea buried deep within Twisted. It’s nice to have Voyager reinforce the idea that truly alien organisms can exist and that the cosmos is not entirely hostile. It’s fun to imagine a universe populated with creatures that skirt our ability to perceive them. Entities that warp the very space that we occupy are an interesting concept. It’s fascinating to witness a peaceful attempt at first contact that is so readily misinterpreted because the aliens are so different from us.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Twisted. The idea that there could be a benevolent alien at work isn’t even hinted at until after the plot has resolved itself. As such, Twisted misses out on an opportunity to mount an intriguing examination of our leads, and instead uses the concept as a nice deus ex machina. It’s as if the writers reached the end of the script, and were desperately searching for a resolution.

The gift of surprise parties is truly the greatest gift of all..

The gift of surprise parties is truly the greatest gift of all..

“Let’s make it a peaceful first contact with some wacky aliens!” one suggests, and nobody bothers to worry about the rest of the script because now everybody can go home. So the idea of truly alien (and possible Lovecraftian) aliens feels more like a desperate attempt to save a wounded script than a clever and subversive look at the way that we appraise intelligent life. As with a lot of the episodes surrounding it, there is the root of a good idea in Twisted, but the execution is just banal.

Indeed, the central moral isn’t that the crew might encounter something truly alien on their travels. At the climax of Twisted, it seems like Chakotay is urging the crew to embrace fatalism – to stop struggling against the inevitable. “Whatever this thing is, B’Elanna, it’s bigger and more powerful than we are,” Chakotay remarks. “Maybe, maybe this is one bear we can’t wrestle to the ground. Maybe like Tuvok says there’s nothing we can do but let it happen, and hope for the best.”

It was rather mean to keep Kes in the dark like that...

It was rather mean to keep Kes in the dark like that…

Outside of the awkwardness of couching the life lesson in new age clichés, it feels like the exact opposite approach to the one that Star Trek should advocating. In a show about optimism and hope, it feels really weird to have a many character encourage everybody to just shrug their shoulders and accept the inevitable. It’s even stranger that Chakotay is absolutely right. It is very strange to have the show endorsing the idea of just explicitly accepting the way things are rather than striving to make them better.

To be fair, the main plot to Twisted is rather boring, but it’s not the biggest problem with the episode. In order to pad the episode out to forty-five minutes, the writers decided to extend an already wafer thin concept (“what if… the rooms on the ship weren’t where they were supposed to be?”) with character scenes. This isn’t a bad idea. After all, Twisted was written at the end of the first scene. We have yet to get to know many members of the cast. It might be nice to spend some time with them. One of the best parts of The Cloud was the way that it allowed itself to go on tangents with carious characters.

Chakotay, now might not be the best time...

Chakotay, now might not be the best time…

The problem with Twisted is that these tangents are all varying degrees of terrible. The idea of doing a framing episode around a surprise birthday party for Kes makes Twisted feel like an episode of a children’s show, as does the fact that Twisted seems to assume that the ship is literally (and figuratively) centred around the holodeck. The after-school special nature of the episode is emphasised when the crew take time out to patronisingly explain the concept of birthday parties to Kes.

While this makes a certain amount of sense – Kes is an alien, to be fair – the fact that Kes is only two years old also means that it has the weird effect of infantilising her. The crew aren’t just explaining birthdays to an alien, they are explaining them to a two-year-old alien. (Asked what she liked most about the party, she innocently responds, “I suppose what I liked best was that all my friends were there.”) In an episode about her relationship with Neelix and about how Paris probably wants to sleep with her, this is quite unsettling. Then again, the relationship between Neelix and Kes was always creepy, without reminding viewers she is two years old.

No need to get all bent out of shape...

No need to get all bent out of shape…

However, things quickly get more toxic. Twisted seems to suggest that Neelix’s concerns about Tom Paris are justified – one of the nicer touches of the episode is how Janeway awkwardly reacts to that “Tom gets an expensive piece of jewellery for Kes right in front of Neelix” scene, practically flinching at how creepy the whole set-up it. While Neelix’s possessive behaviour is still unnecessary and uncalled for, that has to be a breach of social etiquette.

Still, it’s hard to sympathise with Neelix when he spends a significant portion of the episode making crass insinuations about Kes’ relationships with the other men on the ship. “How do you know where everyone’s quarters are?” he asks. When she assures him that she “just” remembers, Neelix is less than convinced. “Remember from what? Have you been in all their quarters?” When she mentions another man by name, he practically jumps down her throat.

This is not what a healthy relationship look like...

This is not what a healthy relationship look like…

Like Neelix’s emotional manipulations in Phage or he warnings about Paris in Elogium, it feels like the relationship between Neelix and Kes is wandering into abusive territory. However, Twisted never calls Neelix out on his behaviour. Indeed, the central point of the character interactions between Kes and Neelix seems to be that Kes should appreciate his possessiveness more; the episode ends with Kes deciding to wear a photo of Neelix around her neck, so that he can always be near her. That’s not a happy ending.

This isn’t the only subplot with an awkwardly sexist element to it. The Doctor transfers his program to the holodeck to help celebrate Kes’ birthday. While he is there, he finds himself resisting the “predatory advances” of a middle-aged hologram. It appears that the sexual politics of Star Trek have not evolved far from episodes like Manhunt, which work on the basis that a sexually aggressive middle-aged woman trying to court a disinterested man must be inherently hilarious. Ugh.

It's nice to know precisely how far Star Trek has come...

It’s nice to know precisely how far Star Trek has come…

Twisted also features the reappearance of Ensign Baxter. The character appeared as the snotty patient in Eye of the Needle, and was mentioned (or would be mentioned) in passing during The 37’s. Based solely on these two appearances, Baxter may be the single most irritating recurring Starfleet officer in the history of the franchise. By this stage in the season, Seska had defected to the Kazon; Joe Carey had been consigned to the scrap heap barring flashback episodes and Friendship One. But the obnoxious middle-aged gym rat from Eye of the Needle gets to reappear?

Twisted fairly quickly confirms the characterisation in Eye of the Needle, effortlessly reminding viewers about just how much of an anti-social jerk this guy must be. He seems to spend most of his screen time reminding other characters that he works out. In his opening line in Eye of the Needle, he is sure to tell Kes and the Doctor, “I’d been working out in the gym, maybe I overdid it.” Apparently, the guy loves the gym so much that he refuses to heed medical advice about his wrist. (It’s also weird that – despite spending so much time at the gym, Baxter doesn’t appear that toned.)

"I have always respected Captain Janeway's wishes... except when I haven't."

“I have always respected Captain Janeway’s wishes… except when I haven’t.”

In his first scene in Twisted, he is quick to inform Kim that he was definitely just working out. “Ensign Kim, I’ve been trying to report a problem in the gym, but the comm system seems to be down,” he offers, making it clear that Baxter isn’t one to normally complain about weird space phenomenon – as long as they stay out of his gym. He also remarks that the gym seemed to get pretty cold. “I didn’t notice it at first. I was working out so hard.” He doesn’t claim full douchebag credit because he neglects to mention how much he can press or what his max is.

To be fair, Baxter is really just an example of a larger problem. Voyager needs a supporting cast it can draw on for bottle episodes like this, so that it doesn’t have to resort to drawing in “that guy who mentioned he like to work out that one time.” At this stage of the game, it’s strange that Gaunt Gary has appeared as often as Joe Carey and more often than Baxter. The only crew member outside the main cast to have appeared more than Gaunt Gary is Seska, and she is no longer serving on board the ship. It’s the end of the first season, there really should be more of a sense of who lives on the ship at this point.

One year older...

One year older…

Twisted is a pretty crappy episode, and a disappointing instalment. It certainly didn’t help to close out the first production season on a high note, and carrying it over into early part of the second season is very much a mixed blessing. It might fill one of the season’s broadcast slots, but it also brings a lot of inertia with it.

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

Episodes produced during the first season, but carried over to the second:

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8 Responses

  1. Thanks. It’s post election day and I needed a laugh.

    This is not directly related to Twisted: But what’s remarkable about early-season VOY is how focused it was on titillating us with Kes. People remember Seven of Nine and the sprayed-on leotard, but at least the plots didn’t revolve around the crew’s frustration at not being able to bang an elf with progeria!

    This was the attitude era of WWE after all. It takes a little more than foot massages (one of Braga’s authorial signatures) and Merchant Ivovy costumes to give teenage boys a case of the vapors…

    • Yep. The sexualisation of Kes is weird. I mean, Jennifer Lein is a very attractive young woman – and the voice is pretty sexy – but she’s made up like and elf and the script is constantly reminding us that she is two years old. There’s a really weird dissonance there. Then again, a lot of Seven’s character arc centred around the fact that she had the emotional intelligence of a child. Which makes the catsuit even more creepy.

      (I’d never noticed the foot massage as a Braga kink. I mean, he’s talked about BDSM in interviews and that comes up in both Seven and T’Pol. But the foot thing is new to me.)

      • The finale to ENT has a gratuitous, unsexy, pointless foot massage.

        They only show up in Braga scripts, so I assume he’s the culprit. He’s also talked candidly about his giantess fetish… I view him as a typical American TV executive. Nerds who don’t have much luck with women, and if you hand them a modicum of power in Hollywood, they almost won’t know what to do with themselves. It’s like the dog who finally catches a car.

        There is a larger problem. From Uhura’s fan dance to Picard’s chest hair to Gates McFadden in spandex – Trek has the worst, most… eerie fanservice. A few theories present themselves.

        Star Trek actors don’t lend themselves naturally to, say, nerd fantasy orgies with elves. Many are classically-trained and though they sort of *wish* they were an action hero (Patrick Stewart), it’s not their niche. Scott Bakula is handsome in a 1950s, Ward Cleaver kind of way, but he’s not a sexual being.

        This is not a problem if you cast, essentially, a porn actress as your Vulcan subcommander. Which brings us to our second problem. We also want to draw in the kiddie demographic. So you have this profoundly schizoid show which doesn’t know what it wants to be. The actors are naked and sweaty and horny, which works, but they speak like Mormon missionaries. Or, take this for example: Trek’s idea of a bachelor is a cartoony, Night At The Roxbury womanizer who gets punished during a trip to Risa by getting mugged or violated. Because the end moral of the episode is never going to glorify promiscuity.

        Third, I think the reason we never see, say, Harry Kim in a sexual encounter is because he’s a handsome, young, virile man. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman, take for example, have more in common with their balding and pudgy doctors (one of whom we’ve seen shirtless!). Pure self-insertion.

        I direct you to Chris Sim’s article on the Worst Couples in Comics. It’s really funny and illustrates what I’m talking about.

      • Big fan of Chris Sims. Will search that out!

        I’m not sure I agree with the generalisation of all television executives, but I think that Berman era Star Trek was really awkwardly positioned between two extremes. On one level, there was the sterile asexual “we’re all adults and we don’t worry about that sort of thing” with The Next Generation, and the other shows inherited that to a degree. I think it was such a norm that trying to react against it could seem – as you said – schizoid.

        It also failed to get with the times. In 2001, barely-clad people rubbing lotion on each other in a blue-lit room was relatively tame; most teenagers watching could just use the internet to get anything more explicit. (And more candid.) Sexy is not something you accomplish by trying too hard. It takes a sort of confidence that is lacking from most Star Trek portrayals of sexuality. (See also: mirror universe.)

        (Although, while I will say that while I hate the homophobic and transphobic implications of that dire – and a little desperate – Trip/Reed subplot in Two Days and Two Nights, I seem to recall Hoshi getting to have some hot alien one-night sex. Although, to be fair, it wasn’t really an attempt to be “sexy” so much as romantic and was handled with discretion. When Star Trek tries to talk about sex, you end up with A Night In Sickbay, which ends with an incredibly awkward castration metaphor.)

      • Johnnyfog, Harry did have a sexual relationship in The Disease, which got him in a whole mess of trouble.

  2. What a TWISTED episode am I right, huh?

    *Gets booed out of the stage*

    WHAT, WHAT?

    Seriously though, this episode probably has the most fitting title I could ever possibly predict for it. They knew it was crap, and wanted people to know about it!

    • It’s just terrible.

      “How about… some stuff happens… on our standing sets… with only special effects I can render on this free trial software… and at the end of the episode… what if everything just goes back to normal for no reason?”

  3. How many times does B’Elanna say “my guess is” in Twisted. At least three. Was that the scriptwriters way of saying “no, we didn’t get the episode while we were writing it either”? And this feels like another Brannon Braga script that wound up in the hands of the wrong writer; right down to the “we do nothing” solution, which always felt like a plot cul-de-sac. Like a lot of future episodes, Chakotay would rather just accept the inevitable, so it’s strange that he’s resistant to Tuvok’s plan initially. Tuvok seems to be a chaos theoretician when talking about chaotic systems and predictability in the corridor (but which one?) with Chakotay.

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