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Star Trek: Voyager – Concerning Flight (Review)

Concerning Flight is a lovely, whimsical little episode.

Of course, the actual plot of the episode is complete nonsense. During a raid by alien pirates, a bunch of advanced technology is stolen from Voyager. Among that advanced technology is the EMH’s mobile admitted, the holodeck database, and the primary computer core. Somehow, the pirate prince responsible for this raid has the wherewithal to download a character from the holodeck database into the mobile emitter and employ him as an inventor. Conveniently enough, the hologram is Leonardo da Vinci and the arrangement resembles medieval patronage.

da Vinci's demons.

da Vinci’s demons.

It is all very ridiculous, relying on insane contrivance and random leaps in logic. At any given moment, the audience might be inclined to ask exactly what chain of decisions have led the characters to this exact point, right down to the sheer coincidence of having Leonardo da Vinci’s prototyple glider resting on a hilltop on the escape route that Janeway and da Vinci take in the final act. All of these criticisms are valid, and all of them are perfectly reasonable. Concerning Flight does not require suspension of disbelief, it requires a suspension bridge of disbelief.

However, the episode largely earns that trust. There is an incredible charm to this very simple and straightforward (if awkwardly contrived) story, a surprising warmth and engagement to the tale of the ultimate renaissance man confronted with the ultimate new world. Concerning Flight is a fun episode that places a lot of faith in the interplay between Kate Mulgrew and John Rhys-Davies. It is a choice that pays dividends.

O brave new world, That has such people in 't!

O brave new world,
That has such people in ‘t!

In hindsight, it is remarkable that Leonardo da Vinci only appears in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, Scorpion, Part I and Concerning Flight. To be fair, John Rhys-Davies was a pretty big guest star to land for a recurring gig; this was an actor already recognisable for his appearances in Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, let alone his role as a series regular on Sliders. Indeed, Davies’ most iconic role was just around the corner, appearing as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps da Vinci feels like a much larger part of Voyager because of the size of Rhys-Davies’ personality; the actor absolutely owns every scene in which he appears, something that is evident even from the teaser. (“A bird who cannot fly!” a stranger heckles. “Better than a man who cannot think!” da Vinci retorts.) However, da Vinci might also have seemed a bigger aspect of Voyager because of the use of his workshop sets in the background of episodes like Scorpion, Part II or The Raven or Scientific Method.

His first test flight was a bit of a wash.

His first test flight was a bit of a washout.

Rhys-Davies carries a lot of Concerning Flight, doing a lot of good work in a frankly ridiculous role by recognising the absurdity of the script and then pushing his own performance further. Indeed, Rhys-Davies talks about the role with some good-natured self-effacing affection:

By the way, my son, the same one who was a bit concerned after I, Claudius… oh, he must’ve been well into his 30s when he called me up and said, “Well, Dad, I guess you’ve finally arrived.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I’ve just seen you in Star Trek: Voyager. If you’re in Star Trek, you’ve really cracked it, Dad.”

Even as a familial joke, that is quite a bold statement. Rhys-Davies is a recognisable character actor who has appeared in countless memorable roles. It is amusing to think of Voyager as the role that led his son to (even jokingly) to observe that he had “finally arrived.”

Oh, what a new world!

Oh, what a new world!

Despite only appearing twice, da Vinci feels like part of the fabric and texture of Voyager, certainly as much as Janeway Lambda One from Cathexis, Learning Curve or Persistence of Vision or the Irish village in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk. Mulgrew, who canvassed for the inclusion of da Vinci, was also disappoitned that the character did not stick around for longer:

It was my idea. And you saw, madam, did you not, that it didn’t last very long. Not only was it my idea, but it was even an…exalted idea. And it was my thinking that the audience would like to see Janeway get away from her science, the great love of her life, una passione tremendo, and try to marry it with art. Who better to represent this than the greatest of them all, Leonardo da Vinci! I think we had three or four episodes, then they took me up flying and we crashed, and the rest is history. But it was a good idea, wasn’t it?!

For all the flack that Voyager gets for its over-reliance on the holodeck as a storytelling device, it is perhaps more reasonable to argue that the problem is a lack of focus and a wandering attention span. After all, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine arguably did a much better job with its “Julian Bashir, Secret Agent” and “Sixties Vegas” programmes, through the simple decision to keep them around for longer and to thread the entire cast through them.

"I shall become a man who makes small scale models of bats."

“I shall become a man who makes small scale models of bats.”

Leonardo da Vinci is a very interesting choice for a holographic character on Star Trek. After all, the franchise has always had a decidedly classical tone. As early as Dagger of the Mind, the classic series was mining Shakespeare for titles. Star Trek characters can randomly and ironically quote from the Bard without anybody batting an eyelid. In fact, as Janeway points out in Concerning Flight, James Tiberius Kirk even met a man claiming to be da Vinci in Requiem for Methuselah.

(Indeed, this small throwaway line leads to one of the nicest asides of an episode packed with delightfully goofy moments. Acknowledging Kirk’s claim to have met da Vinci, Janeway concedes that “the evidence is less than conclusive.” It is fun to imagine the more outlandish and surreal adventures from the original show have become twenty-fourth century urban legends, with bureaucrats and record-keepers back home scoffing at reports of stories like Who Mourns for Adonais? or The Savage Curtain, offering an eye-roll and a sarcastic, “Sure you did, Kirk.”)

An ear for detail.

An ear for detail.

More than that, da Vinci was that interesting fusion of artist and scientist that captures the spirit of Star Trek, a man who could imagine a future that looked ridiculous to his peers and yet came close enough to what transpired. Sure, Star Trek‘s predictions of flip phones and tablets cannot compete with a man who imagined helicopters and tanks, but there is a very strong connection there. It seems fair to describe Leonardo da Vinci as a sort of futurist, a man who believed in possibilities far beyond his own surroundings.

This fusion between scientist and artist renders him particularly appealing as a Star Trek guest character. After all, despite the obvious narrative convenience of pseudo-science like the warp drive or transporter, Star Trek has a long and rich history of engaging with scientific community; space shuttles have been named in honour of the franchise, while the franchise has inspired many people to pursue careers in STEM. At the same time, this scientific bent is fused with a very strong artistic sensibility and very humanist core.

Organic developments.

Organic developments.

There are even more specific touches that relate specifically to his presence in both Scorpion, Part I and Concerning Flight. Repeatedly, the scripts draw attention to Leonardo da Vinci’s fusion of form and machine, of his combination of the mechanical with the organic. He is introduced in Scorpion, Part I building a mechanical arm. Surveying an industrial estate in Concerning Flight, he reflects, “Catarina, observe the construction, like the veins and arteries of a great animal. Now, this is the way to build, using nature as your guide.”

These small observations play into the broader themes of the fourth season of Voyager, with the introduction of Seven of Nine to the cast. After all, Seven of Nine is a literal embodiment of this fusion between biology and technology, a drone robbed of her humanity by the Borg Collective and now being deconstructed and reconstructed by the rest of the crew. Again, there is a sense that Seven’s humanity is something both scientific and artistic, something at once biological and ineffable.

Nothing to wine about.

Nothing to wine about.

Over the course of Concerning Flight, Leonardo da Vinci comes to serve as an embodiment of many of the franchise’s core values. The character is presented as a bright an enlightened individual, a character who seizes upon opportunities as they present themselves and one who relishes the opportunity to explore strange new worlds like “America.” Da Vinci is described by Janeway as the ultimate renaissance man, an artist and a scholar who constantly worked to better himself and humanity. In some ways, he is the archetypal twenty-fourth century human.

Concerning Flight goes even further. It repeatedly suggests that da Vinci might do more than just embody classic Star Trek values. The genius might in some way stand in for Star Trek itself. Most obviously, da Vinci makes repeated reference to his “great bird”, invoking the pseudo-religious deity of the Star Trek universe first suggested in The Man Trap and the nickname affectionately applied to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Repeatedly over the course of Concerning Flight, da Vinci returns to the image of the great bird.

One for the (great) birds...

One for the (great) birds…

Most obviously, his glider is a “great bird.” Planning to move to France, he vows, “The great bird will take flight and bring glory to its nest.” Towards the end of the episode, he confesses, “My oldest memory, Catarina, is of a great bird perched on my bed, its feathers open towards me as if summoning me.” The “great bird” is a myth, a figment of imagination no more than this holographic interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci, but it still has power. It might be ridiculous, it might not always work, it might bot be as impressive as imagined; but it is still an aspiration.

Indeed, Concerning Flight is very much a Joe Menosky script, and these themes are a recurring fixation for Menosky. Menosky is a Star Trek writer who is singular fascinated with stories and dreams, with the idea of Star Trek as a mythic framework. After all, one of the writer’s recurring motifs is the suggestion that Voyager and her crew have become a story that sweeps across the Delta Quadrant. It makes sense for Concerning Flight to approach the character of da Vinci in a similar way, treating him more as a story than a character.

Plans upon plans.

Plans upon plans.

More than that, Concerning Flight seems to use da Vinci to comment upon Voyager and the larger Star Trek franchise. Despite his references to “the great bird”, it is difficult to read da Vinci as a convenient stand-in for Gene Roddenberry like Sarek was in Sarek or Noonien Soong was in Brothers. Instead, da Vinci seems to embody the very idea of Star Trek as a living and breathing organism. He is brilliant… and erratic. He is at once hopeful for the future… and occasionally blindsided by his own character flaws.

The characters even talk about da Vinci in way that Star Trek fans might discuss the franchise. Justifying her affection for the character, Janeway insists, “He was a renaissance man, Tuvok. Interpreted, reinterpreted, deconstructed, fantasised about all through history. Vasari thought he was an angel. Freud thought he had a problem with his mother.” Da Vinci’s strength lay in his adaptability, the fact that he could be anything and everything, that he continually invented and reinvented himself… and has been invented and reinvent in turn.

The father of invention.

The father of invention.

Da Vinci is larger than life, but he also flawed. The Star Trek franchise is a fantastic and brilliant accomplishment, but it also repeatedly falls short of its potential. It has limitations not entirely apparent to the fans who love it. “Charming as your childhood hero may be, the programme was not designed for use outside the holodeck,” Tuvok warns Janeway. “The programme reproduces the entire range of Da Vinci’s behaviour. His genius and his notorious unreliability.”

In some ways, this is is true of Star Trek itself. The franchise has done amazing things, and had an incredible impact on popular culture. However, it has also fallen short of its own measure on multiple occasions. There are any number of examples in which the original Star Trek show failed to live up to its mythology; the treatment of Uhura in episodes like The Changeling or And the Children Shall Lead, the actual background to the interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren, the racism of episodes like The Omega Glory.

Renaissance man.

Renaissance man.

Of course, even by the late nineties, these shortcomings are not entirely historic. Despite nods to LGBTQ issues in episodes like The Outcast or Rejoined, the franchise would not get an openly gay regular character until Star Trek Beyond. The handling of Chakotay in episodes like Tattoo is absurdly offensive, as are the racial politics of episodes like Alliances or Real Life. The Kazon as introduced in Caretaker were a horrible collection of racist caricatures. Later this broadcast season, Profit and Lace will demonstrate Voyager is not alone in this regard.

However, there is more to the shortcomings of the Star Trek franchise than these lapses in judgment and taste. In its fourth season, Voyager wrestled repeatedly with its own limitations. This is most obvious in episodes like The Gift, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. These episode toyed with the idea of telling long-form stories. The Gift picked up directly from the end of Scorpion, Part II, seeming to ask “… what now?” after the events of the season premiere. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II imagined an entire year-long story.

Working some stuff out.

Working some stuff out.

In both cases, Voyager retreated from these bold ideas towards more familiar territory. The Gift teased the idea of long-form storytelling concerning Janeway’s adventures in Borg space and Seven of Nine’s rehabilitation, but the episode ended in such a way that things could return to normal the following week without really delving into those threads. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II compressed an entire year to a two-part episode and then wiped it from continuity. Voyager was wrestling with its shortcomings, and losing.

As Voyager warped into its fourth season, there was a sense of resignation. After all, the fourth year represented the mid-point in the series’ seven-season run. If Voyager had not found a unique identity by this point, there seemed little justification to continue searching. In a broader sense, there were concerns about the future viability of the Star Trek franchise. The fourth season aired directly following the thirtieth anniversary season, and there was a feeling that the production team were coming down off that particular high.

An uphill struggle.

An uphill struggle.

After all, the audience for Star Trek was clearly in decline. The producers knew this. After all, that was why both Deep Space Nine and Voyager attempted character-driven retools during their fourth seasons, an attempt to improve (or at least shore up) ratings that were trending downwards. This problem would not build to critical mass until Star Trek: Enterprise was on the air, but it was clearly nibbling at the production team. After all, there would be no new Star Trek series rushed to air following the end of Deep Space Nine.

There was a sense of frustration among the writing staff, particularly on Voyager. Writers like Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky wanted to push for more ambitious storytelling, trying to live up to the potential of Voyager‘s premise. Instead, they found themselves constantly held back by Rick Berman’s conservatism. Voyager felt like a work in progress that was never allowed to complete, watching while genre shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 marched past it with more ambitious storytelling and more energetic writing.

The Pirate Prince.

The Pirate Prince.

That anxiety seems to bubble through the presentation of Leonardo da Vinci in Concerning Flight. There is a recurring sense that Leonardo da Vinci is not the legend that his reputation would suggest. Repeatedly, he is shown to be flighty and unreliable. “You’re giving up,” Janeway observes. “Again. Your beautiful painting of the Adoration, the great bronze horse in Milan, the Battle of Anghiari. Unfinished, all of them. You were going to publish your notebooks. You never did. You have given up, abandoned your most important works. Why?”

To be fair, Concerning Flight is ultimately optimistic in its interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci. In the end, da Vinci does manage to build a functioning glider. Despite his cynicism, even Tuvok warms to the inventor. “It is puzzling that even a Vulcan would refer to a holographic character by name, as if it were alive,” Seven of Nine notes. “It seems somehow illogical.” Then again, love is seldom logical. Voyager might never live up to its potential, but it still capable of telling enjoyable stories within that framework.

Ear, ear!

Ear, ear!

There is an appealing romance to this idea of Leonardo da Vinci as a flawed hero, as a man with incredible vision and potential who did not always live up to that potential. In fact, Concerning Flight does an excellent job of capturing both the joy and frustration of being a Star Trek fan. Those fans who acknowledge the shortcomings and limitations of the franchise are not doing anybody a disservice. It is entirely possible to love something while remaining cognisant of its flaws. Few things in life are perfect; many things are lovable for the contours of those flaws.

Many Star Trek fans can empathise with Janeway as she appears in Concerning Flight, somebody willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of her idol without loving him any less for those limitations. Joe Menosky is a writer uniquely fascinated with myth and legend, as demonstrated by his scripts for episodes like Darmok, False Profits and Distant Origin. However, part of that fascination reflects back upon the franchise itself. Scripts like Concerning Flight and Muse touch on ideas like the relationship between Star Trek and its fans.

Drawn to adventure.

Drawn to adventure.

Concerning Flight is very much an atypical Voyager episode, in that it firmly decides that the plot is secondary to the character beats. One of the most frustrating aspects of the writing style on Voyager is the tendency to suffocate character beats in favour of plot-driven adventure. Too many of the regular characters on Voyager feel interchangeable. After all, how many episodes focusing on Chakotay, Harry Kim or Tom Paris would work if any of those leading characters were swapped out?

Indeed, this explains one of the most frustrating recurring structure flaws with Voyager scripts. The Voyager writing staff have difficulty maintaining a consistent throughline from the beginning of an episode to the end. The “lead” character shifts repeatedly over episodes like Alter Ego, Displaced, Worst Case Scenario and Random Thoughts, which means that these stories never invest enough energy or attention in a particular character to actually develop them. Instead, there is a sense that the characters serve to hit one plot beat after another.

Making a big splash in Florence.

Making a big splash in Florence.

Voyager has historically demonstrated a strong disinclination for character-driven storytelling. After all, there are any number of small and intimate character-driven episodes that suffer from the awkward need to insert a stock science-fiction plot into the background of the episode; the EMH’s deterioration vies for space with a mysterious alien menace in The Swarm, the EMH’s family drama makes room for an anomaly of the week in Real Life, even Torres’ introspection is crowded out by a space refugee story in Day of Honour.

As such, Concerning Flight makes for an interesting departure from a long-established template. It is an episode in which the stock plot elements are very clearly secondary to the joy of having Janeway run around on an adventure with a holographic recreation of Leonardo da Vinci. It is whimsical and indulgent in a way that very few episodes are. In fact, it recalls the lighter plotting of certain character- and relationship-focused Deep Space Nine episodes like Explorers or even The Visitor.

Rotten to the computer core.

Rotten to the computer core.

Concerning Flight is much less interested in plot. In fact, the plot is very much an afterthought. Speaking with Cinefantastique, writer Joe Menosky confessed some frustration with the time and energy that was devoted to the rather pointless plot:

Writer Menosky said frankly, “I hated this episode despite the fact that I wrote it. This is when the collaborative process collapses. Jimmy Diggs came in and he pitched something that had to do with the Doctor’s portable emitter and a character getting away with it. Because we had liked da Vinci in Scorpion, when Brannon was listening to Jimmy’s pitch, he just thought this is a cool way to get da Vinci off the ship and have an adventure. The way we work collaboratively in a situation like that, where there is no real story except ‘da Vinci’s day out,’ we’ll sit around and talk about it, all of us as a staff. What could we do here? I had massive disagreements every step of the way with how this story should go, and I lost the argument every step of the way. Somebody in the room said, ‘How does he get off the ship?’ I said, ‘That’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how he gets off the ship. That’s like a one page or two lines of tech dialogue that you brush off, and your on to the adventure.’ I lost that argument. Everybody said it does matter how he gets off the ship. So we came up with this unbelievably tortured tech story for how you get the mobile emitter off the ship. My phrase was, the tech tail wags the Trek dog. You had a ludicrous tech story that took over and got out of control and drove the rest of the story in utterly the wrong direction. I couldn’t argue my way out of it. The one thing I’m happy about is that I do know late 15th century Italy and da Vinci’s life really well, so that every one of his statements is how a late 15th century Renaissance Italian would interpret an alien world.”

That is a very revealing glimpse at the Voyager writing room. It is worth contrasting the hand-wave logic that Deep Space Nine uses to fuel its fun runaround episodes like Our Man Bashir and Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang.

Industrious explorers.

Industrious explorers.

The plot is admittedly ridiculous and contrived. It makes very little sense, and relies on a villain who is at once clever enough to recognise the potential of Leonardo da Vinci but also generic enough that he does not interfere too much with Janeway’s run-around. Indeed, Concerning Flight works very hard to ensure that the plot does not intrude on the character interactions. It is never entirely clear why Voyager can’t beam up da Vinci and Janeway along with the computer core, except that the episode wants to get to that sequence of the two in flight.

The script occasionally even draws attention to all the ridiculous leaps that are necessary to adapt to the absurdity of the plot that is unfolding. “How did you get here?” Janeway asks on meeting da Vinci. He elaborates, “A question I have asked myself many times. One moment I was packing for my journey to France, the next I was in this land of marvels. Possibly, upon leaving my workshop I was accosted by Spanish sailors, rendered unconscious, delivered to a galleon in the port of Genoa, and carried like a sack of grain across the vast Atlantic.” Ridiculous, but clearly meant to be so.

Taking flight.

Taking flight.

Admittedly, there are points at which Concerning Flight feels a little too light-hearted and giddy. Around the middle of the episode, Paris returns to Voyager with an alien who bought a whole host of stolen technology, including an outdated phaser rifle. Chakotay pressures him for information. “You can keep what you’ve got,” Chakotay offers. “We’ll call it even.” Given how stingy Voyager has been about sharing its technology in episodes like State of Flux or Alliances, it seems strange that Chakotay would allow an alien to keep weapons technology.

Still, in shifting its focus away from the rigourous demands of plot, Concerning Flight feels like a genuine oddity. In some respects, it plays almost like an episode of Russell T. Davies’ revived Doctor Who, a series that runs as much on whimsy and energy as it does on plot logic. Concerning Flight is a goofy high-concept run-around that features characters (one of whom is explicitly time displaced) skulking around conspicuously low-key industrial estates on alien planets.

"Well, in terms you would understand…? … Sorry, there aren't any."

“Well, in terms you would understand…? Sorry, there aren’t any.”

It is not too hard to imagine Leonardo da Vinci as a Doctor Who companion, akin to those celebrity guests in David Tennant’s season of specials from The Next Doctor to Planet of the Dead to The Waters of Mars. Janeway’s fannish enthusiasm for Leonardo da Vinci recalls the Doctor freaking out about Dickens in The Unquiet Dead, Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw or Shakespeare in The Shakespeare Code. The storage facility looks a lot like the kind of facility employed in “futuristic” stories like Planet of the Ood.

Even the interactions between the characters play like dialogue from Doctor Who, casting Janeway as the seemingly innocuous guest who holds a deeper understanding of the universe than da Vinci could ever fathom. “Step close, Leonardo,” she urges as she rigs the transporter. “We’re going for a ride.” Da Vinci protests, “I don’t understand.” Janeway urges, “Trust me.” Like any other companion, the adventure opens da Vinci’s eyes to the wonders of the universe. “Catarina, what just happened to me? I was shot, yet I live. Such things are not possible.”

A constant companion.

A constant companion.

Like Rose or Martha or Donna, or even like Charles Dickens or Sally Sparrow or Wilf, da Vinci finds himself invigorated by his exposure to concepts well outside his frame of reference. “Machines that fly through the air,” he gasps. “Lightning flung from one’s hands. Mechanical women who live in boxes. These things I have seen. And these things I must recreate.” Indeed, it is probably for the best that Concerning Flight isn’t explicitly a time travel episode; it would have been too easy (and trite) to suggest this encounter inspired da Vinci.

Even outside of the fact that Concerning Flight feels more like an episode of Doctor Who than Star Trek, there is an endearing lightness to the script. In particular, Concerning Flight offers a very broad and light-hearted sense of comedy that does not always work on Star Trek, a storytelling style that elicits grins more than laughter. There are any number of small brilliant moments in the script, including Tuvok’s awkward attempts to make “small talk” with da Vinci or pausing the program to have an aside with Janeway.

"This is turning into one of those days."

“This is turning into one of those days.”

Even the robbery sequence that spurs the plot is quite cute on its own terms, as Voyager gets pilfered by a bunch of low-tech raiders in a transporter-powered snatch-and-grab. “Fire at will,” Janeway orders. Tuvok replies, “I have the will, but not the means, Captain. Targeting control is down.” Harry elaborates, “Captain, the main computer processor is gone. We’ve lost weapons, navigation and propulsion.” Janeway insists, “Full phasers, manual targeting. Keep firing until you hit something.”

In fact, Concerning Flight is very much a showcase for Mulgrew, who handles the script in her stride. From the outside, Janeway’s exasperated (rather than angry or worried) demeanour communicates that this is going to be a much lighter episode than usual. Mulgrew is great at playing dogged determination, as showcased in episodes like Year of Hell, Part I or Year of Hell, Part II, but she also has an underrated comedic sensibility. After all, she does have an Emmy nomination for her supporting turn on Orange is the New Black.

Janeway is having none of this.

Janeway is having none of this.

Mulgrew goes broad in Concerning Flight, and it works beautifully. Her facial expressions across the episode are a joy to behold. As the raiders pilfer Voyager, it seems like Janeway is just having a really bad morning. When Paris cracks wise about the loss of rations, Janeway effortlessly shoots him a “that was funny, but don’t push it” glance. As the adventure continues, it becomes increasingly clear that Janeway is actually having fun on this little mission. There are probably more effective ways of recovering the computer core, but none that would bring the character such joy.

This is important. Voyager has struggled to properly define Janeway as a character, to turn her into a fully-fleshed out individual like Picard or Sisko before her. There are multiple reasons for this, most obviously the chaos behind the scenes with various different writers having radically different interpretations of the character. As Brannon Braga takes charge of Voyager, Janeway is increasingly characterised as a no-nonsense badass, as seen in episodes like Macrocosm or Scientific Method. So there is something to be said for allowing Janeway to have a more light-hearted adventure.

Taking flight.

Taking flight.

It is tempting to look at this portrayal of Janeway as it relates to Mulgrew’s later performances in episodes like Counterpoint or Bride of Chaotica!, but the characterisation of Janeway in Concerning Flight harks back to the early characterisation of Janeway as a geeky scientist. In The Star Trek: Voyager Companion, Mulgrew alludes to this in discussing the climax of Concerning Flight:

“I think that Janeway’s one flaw as a scientist was an inability to exercise her imagination sometimes as an artist. So who would she then appeal to who could help her in both regards? Well, da Vinci, who was both a scientist and an artist. So, really she was going to him for lessons in philosophy – to teach her the heart of an artist while honing the brain of a scientist. And he did indeed, in the end, give [her] the greatest gift of all, which was emotional flight and freedom.”

There is a lot to be said for the idea of Janeway as the scientist, an archetypal interpretation of the character that resonates with Kirk as the adventurer, Picard as the diplomat, Sisko as the builder or the veteran, and Archer as the test pilot. Indeed, it could be argued that the Star Trek shows really struggled when they lost sight of those archetypal qualities; the less Archer seemed like a pilot, the more lost Enterprise felt. (Eventually, it found focus by casting him as a soldier.)

Captain of her destiny.

Captain of her destiny.

During the first season of Voyager, Janeway seemed very much like a scientist who had been assigned to a short-range low-key search-and-rescue mission that evolved into a seventy-year journey across the stars. It was suggested that Janeway had come up through the science division. This interpretation was supported by Mosaic, Jeri Taylor’s biography of the character. It came up in small exchanges in early episodes, running her own analysis of the anomaly in Parallax or theorising about “photonic matter” with Torres in Heroes and Demons.

There is a small sense of that in Concerning Flight, a sense that Janeway is still very much excited by the wonder and mystery of the larger universe. It is refreshing, as the series comes to focus increasingly upon the character’s darker and more morbid tendencies. The fourth season as a whole marks a point of transition between Jeri Taylor’s approach to the series and the tone set by Brannon Braga. The whimsy of Concerning Flight feels very much like a last hurrah for Jeri Taylor’s interpretation of Janeway as a renaissance woman rather than Braga’s grizzled leader.

"What's a captain like you doing in a quadrant like this?"

“What’s a captain like you doing in a quadrant like this?”

Indeed, there is something very heartwarming in that climactic sequence of the “great bird” taking flight as Janeway grins and laughs alongside her life-long hero. Of course, the episode relies on all sorts of contrivances and conveniences to reach that particular point, but it is endearing to see Janeway so happy and to see Voyager so joyful. The series rarely seems so comfortable in its own skin, so ate peace with its own lightness and lack of consequence. Concerning Flight is not a blockbuster episode by any measure, but that is part of the charm.

This might be the best thing that can be said for Concerning Flight. If Voyager must commit to the idea of a lighter and softer approach to Star Trek, eschewing the gritty potential of its core premise in favour of a fluffier and more generic storytelling aesthetic, then Concerning Flight makes for a satisfying installment. This is not an episode that demands to be taken seriously. There are no meaningful stakes, and never any real sense of suspense. There is never any doubt about how this adventure will play out, instead taking pleasure in the gentle stroll through the story.

Floating ideas.

Floating ideas.

Concerning Flight is highly enjoyable fluff with just enough self-awareness. Given Voyager‘s reluctance to be anything more substantial than a series of loosely-connected weekly adventures, Concerning Flight feels very much of a piece with the series around it.

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

8 Responses

  1. As always a neat review. 🙂

    I think this episode really highlights many of the good points of ‘Voyager’, that you’ve articulated before – the great guest stars, the lightness of touch you can get at times, the sheer ‘everyTrek’ nature of the show. Don’t get me wrong I much prefer ‘Deep Space Nine’ but there is a lot of sheer charm to be found in ‘Voyager’ at times.

    • Yep, I actually enjoyed Concerning Flight a great deal more than Mortal Coil, despite the fact that Mortal Coil is (to all appearances) a more profound and meatier episode of television. The truth is that Voyager doesn’t really do “meaty” very well and that Concerning Flight plays to its strengths. It’s frothy, pointless, and incredibly fun.

  2. I think even more than Deep Space 9, Voyager would have benefited from being made now, when serialisation is the norm.

    Besides the obvious plotlines that would have been allowed to come to fruition, there’s also the character work.

    Even with the changes that were made, Season 1 and 7 versions of the same characters are largely the same, I’d even argue that for Sisko, the most changed of them.

    But having Janeway slowly transition from the wide eyed scientist of season 1 to the ruthless badass she could be later on would have made great television in much the same way as Rick on The Walking Dead gradually has become more ruthless, while having moments when his old character could come through.

    • I think the DS9 characters all fundamentally change between the beginning and the end of the series, to the point that I don’t think you could comfortably tell a S1 story with S7 Bashir, to pick an example. (O’Brien might be the exception, but O’Brien’s defining character trait is arguably his consistency – even in the mirror universe.)

      But, yeah, the basic premise of Voyager all but demands serialisation, which makes the rejection of serialisation on the series so striking.

  3. Concerning Flight recalls some of the better episodes of Voyager’s second season where a guest star tremendously raised they’re quality. In the same way Tom Wright’s performance transformed Tuvix into a minor classic, John Rhys-Davies does much of the same for Concerning Flight. In fact, both episodes would have been much the lesser without them.

    John Rhys-Davies has an extremely boisterous personality, and that is something that lends itself rather well to Leonardo Da Vinci. He manages to sweep the whole episode along in his wake by his presence and sheer enthusiasm for the role. He captures very well Da Vinci’s frustration at not being given the respect and recognition he felt he deserved, as well as his awe at what he thinks is the new world of America. Concerning Flight tends to work whenever Rhys-Davies is around and flags a bit when he isn’t.

    I’m not sure I would call it a classic, but Concerning Flight is worth the price of admission just to see Leonardo and Janeway escape the pirates in a glider – the very flying machine the real Da Vinci always dreamed of seeing but never got to invent in his lifetime.

    Shouldn’t the caption have been “His first test-flight was a bit of a washout”? Janeway’s character in her holonovel was Mrs Lucy Davenport. It’s Distant Origin, not Origins. It is funny to think of 24th Century parents telling they’re children TOS episode plots like they were bedtime stories – “the furry pet Uhura owned, that looked no different than all the other pets, after one midnight snack became something to drive even those wicked Klingons completely up the wall”.

    • Thanks! Corrected.

      I have a massive soft-spot for this episode. If Voyager wasn’t going to be a relatively complex and ambitious serialised adventure asking tough questions about the Star Trek mythos, I would have settled for a half-dozen episodes like this every year. Fun run-around adventures with crazy high concepts that paint the Delta Quadrant as a place that is weird and wonderful in equal measure. It is one of my favourite episodes of the fourth season, one of Voyager’s best seasons.

  4. Mulgrew seemed to have a lot of fun here, and it is translated onto the viewer. For the first time she reeeeally seems like a nice, easy-going, but still strong character.

    What I do not get though is why they destroyed one of those pirates ship after the first attack. What if the computer core had been on this vessel?!

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