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Star Trek: Voyager – Latent Image (Review)

Latent Image is a powerful allegorical piece of Star Trek, a prime example of how Star Trek: Voyager could occasionally spin gold from its shift towards a more “archetypal Star Trek” template. It is a story that could easily have been told with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example.

At the same time, Latent Image is a story that touches on many of the core themes of Voyager, many of the show’s key recurring fixations and fascinations. It is an episode about the link between memory and identity, about the importance of preserving history rather than burying it; it touches upon both the metaphorical manipulation of history in stories like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness and the literal manipulation of the past in stories like Future’s End, Part IFuture’s End, Part IIYear of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Picture imperfect.

However, it filters that experience through Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s recurring fascination with themes of identity and self-definition. The writers have often used the artificial characters on Voyager to explore the malleability of self, how easily the sense of self might be eroded or decayed; the EMH grappled with this challenge in Projections and Darkling, while Seven wrestled with it in Infinite Regress. The artificial characters on Voyager frequently seemed on a verge of a nervous breakdown.

Latent Image is notable for wedding these two concepts together, for integrating these two concepts and exploring the manipulation of an individual’s history as the root of an identity crisis. What happens to the EMH in Latent Image is at once an extension of the dysfunction suggested in Projections and Darkling as well as a more intimate exploration of the cultural identity crises in episodes like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness. Latent Image suggests that memory is the thread that ties identity together. Without that continuity of self, everything unravels.

A bone to pick with him.

As such, Latent Image exists in an interesting space. It is a story that works very well as a high-concept character study, focusing on the nature of the EMH has a computer programme. Although episodes like Pen Pals suggest that Starfleet has the power to remove memories from biological life forms, the plot of Latent Image could not work as well with a character like Kim or Paris. At the same time, it is a broader allegory about how important memories and experiences are in terms of defining who a person is, and how dealing with these memories defines a cultural identity.

Latent Image is a powerful and clever piece of television.

The camera never lies.

There is nothing radical in the idea that a person’s identity is tied up in their memories, with their sense of self essentially a narrative tied together from a long history of actions and influences that both ensures relative consistency and allows for the possibility of growth. While there are debates about how much of a person’s self is intrinsic or predetermined, how much is down to genetics or luck or fate, there is no denying that experiences have a major impact on the development of an individual.

Of course, these influential experiences can leave many kinds of marks upon a person. Those marks might be physical, with a person carrying literal scars or having their standard of living impacted by some past event. However, those scars are often psychological in nature. Many people are defined by what they have learned (or what they have refused to learn) from their own history. Memory is a roadmap, a sequence of important and defining decisions and events that lead to a person’s distinct identity.

Janeway’s got this Locked down.

This is not a radical idea. John Locke proposed as much while pondering what makes a person unique in Of Identity and Diversity, wondering whether the same man might be a different person depending on his memories:

Suppose I wholly lose the memory of some parts of my life, beyond a possibility of retrieving them, so that perhaps I shall never be conscious of them again; yet am I not the same person that did those actions, had those thoughts that I once was conscious of, though I have now forgot them? To which I answer, that we must here take notice what the word I is applied to; which, in this case, is the man only. And the same man being presumed to be the same person, I is easily here supposed to stand also for the same person. But if it be possible for the same man to have distinct incommunicable consciousness at different times, it is past doubt the same man would at different times make different persons; which, we see, is the sense of mankind in the solemnest declaration of their opinions, human laws not punishing the mad man for the sober man’s actions, nor the sober man for what the mad man did, — thereby making them two persons: which is somewhat explained by our way of speaking in English when we say such an one is “not himself,” or is “beside himself”; in which phrases it is insinuated, as if those who now, or at least first used them, thought that self was changed; the selfsame person was no longer in that man.

It is an interesting idea, and one that has been repeatedly and consciously explored in popular culture. Star Trek: The Next Generation had touched upon it in Conundrum, for example. That episode asked a similar question.

His memories are blocked.

While this is a long-standing philosophical and psychological debate, it really entered popular consciousness during the nineties. Dark City would imagine a world without memory, where a clockwork city reset at midnight every night and people were routinely thrown into strange situations with no memory in order to observe their reactions. Memento would focus on a character who could not create short-term memory, and how he (and others) used that to manipulate his own narrative and identity.

This fascination with memory in popular culture was undoubtedly tied to broader cultural concerns; for example, the increase in Holocaust denial and the slipping of the Second World War from living memory and the Satanic Ritual Abuse controversy that was spurred largely by recovered and false memories. There was also a sense that the past no longer matched the cultural memory of it, with admissions like those involving the Nazis working on the space program and radiation experiments conducted by the United States government on unsuspecting civilians.

“I don’t recall.”

At the end of the twentieth century, it could feel like the United States was a country with an uncertain future. However, there were also worries that it was a nation with an ever-shifting past. At the turn of the millennium, Pascal Boyer moved to Washington University to start more in-depth studies, acknowledging the upswing in interest:

“Already in the 1990s there was an upsurge of interest in human memory—both individual and collective—in the public and in academic discussions around the world, but no one had created a general initiative on memory studies to examine memory in the broad sense,” says Wertsch. “The more we thought about this, the more we realized we should jump at the opportunity.”

Human memory is a notoriously malleable object. The mere process of recalling a memory effectively writes over the original, making its use as the foundation block of identity particularly questionable. Eyewitness testimony is highly fickle and often unreliable.

Getting inside his head.

Voyager was a show very much engaged with the nineties. It was undeniably rooted in its cultural moment, often feeling like a snapshot of certain facets of the decade. Writer and producer Brannon Braga was undeniably interested in many of the recurring concerns of the nineties, right down to the show’s recurring engagement with concepts like conspiracy theory and postmodernism. Voyager was a show that often featured a nested reality, a fractured sense of what was truly real, and the recurring suggestion that there was no way for anybody to know for sure.

Indeed, Latent Image even nods towards conspiracy theory in a way that recalls its use in episodes like Future’s End, Part II or The Voyager Conspiracy. The episode begins with the EMH suspecting that aliens have been manipulating his memory banks and the memories of the crew, only to realise that the truth is much more sinister. Janeway and the crew have altered his program in order to keep something from him. Everybody on the ship has spent the past year-and-a-half lying to the EMH.

“J’accuse, Captain Janeway!”

The EMH even renders the accusation explicitly. When Janeway jokes about a mutiny during a good-natured argument among the senior staff, the EMH responds, “A mutiny? I suppose that’s better than a conspiracy.” When it becomes clear that Tuvok is aware of what Janeway did to the EMH, and fully supports it, the EMH is shocked. “Et tu, Tuvok?” he accuses. “You’re conspiring against me, all of you. Why?” A healthy (and justified) strain of paranoia runs through Latent Image, with the EMH unable to trust those who hold authority over him.

Then again, this all ties back to the idea of reality and identity. Latent Image reveals a delightful irony. For the past year-and-a-half, the EMH has arguably been living inside a simulation in which the people around him have conspired to perpetuate an illusory narrative. The past eighteen months have been an elaborate fantasy world, in which everybody but the EMH (and Seven) have been playing their role in an extended farce. In his own way, the EMH has been the “most real” person on Voyager, despite being a projection of light and force fields.

Photo finish.

Memory becomes a key to all of this, a challenge and a riddle to be unpacked and discussed. As Pascal Boyer argues, reconciling memory and reality is a challenge in the modern world:

“Many problems in culture are memory-related problems,” Boyer says. “Can the victim of an assault accurately name the perpetrator? Can historians look at rival accounts of what has happened in Kosovo or Israel and determine that one account is the true one? How should we deal with the memories associated with trauma, like those surrounding the Holocaust?”

Latent Image plays into this idea, by focusing on an artificial character whose memories can be objective and literal. As a piece of software, the EMH’s memories are pure and accurate. However, he still faces these challenges.

Wrestling with the truth.

Latent Image hints at the fallibility of memory even outside of the primary plot. When the EMH journeys to the bridge to make his accusation, he interrupts a discussion about Janeway’s own faulty recall of a sporting event that she actually attended. “It was the seventy-seventh Emperor’s Cup,” Janeway insists. “Takashi forced Kar-pek out of the circle in less than three seconds. I had a fifth row seat.” Chakotay responds, “Then you must have been ordering sake, because Takashi’s knee broke the sand and the referee gave the match to Kar-pek.” Tuvok concurs, “Exactly.”

Latent Image suggests that even accurate memories can be problematic. When the EMH begins to struggle with his memories of a traumatic event, Janeway suggests deleting them. He is a piece of computer software, after all. His personality is nothing but code. His memories are algorithms. The EMH is a jumble of computer processes, whose psychology can be printed out on a computer screen. Of course, Pen Pals famously insisted that the Federation had figured out how to remove biological memories from a person, organic minds are still more complicated.

What a mess (hall)!

Over the course of Latent Image, the EMH comes to recognise the lacuna in his memory banks, comes to understand that something is missing even if he does not fully understand what has been removed. Latent Image seems to suggest that even in a mind as ordered and mechanical as the EMH, there is some holistic sense of self that is disturbed by these absences. The EMH eventually figures out how to recover his memories, which leads Janeway back to the same dilemma that she faced eighteen months earlier.

Latent Image seems to suggest that the only way to work through these painful memories is simply to process them. They cannot be repressed or deleted or buried. The past cannot be suppressed. In some ways, the individual character arc in Latent Image plays as a more personal variant on the cultural challenges presented in stories like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness. It seems like memory can never be truly erased, whether that memory is cultural or individual in nature.

Well, that’s one way to approach trauma.

There is something decidedly postmodern in the way that Latent Image approaches its theme of memory and identity. The bulk of Latent Image unfolds in the distant aftermath of a horrific tragedy, the horror of what happened to Ensign Jetal revealed more than a year-and-a-half after her death. It is made very clear that the EMH is investigating something that happened before Scorpion, Part I. He assures Seven of Nine that the scar on Ensign Kim originated “a year and a half ago, before [she] came aboard.”

As such, Latent Image is an exhumation of events that occurred a long time ago. It is a story that uncovers a secret that ran through more than a season of Voyager. When future!Chakotay and future!Harry revived the EMH in Timeless, they were lying to him. When Torres went on the away mission with the EMH in Revulsion, she was lying to him. When Janeway sent the EMH to the Alpha Quadrant in Message in a Bottle, she was lying to him. Certainly, the plans to create a back-up EMH seem more ominous in hindsight.

Shuttering the investigation.

However, more interesting is the suggestion that Voyager has effectively been lying to the audience as well. For the premise of Living Witness to work, the audience has to have been seeing the past season-and-a-half from the perspective of the EMH. There has been no allusion to the manipulation of the EMH’s memories, no suggestion that the crew are worried about him. Ensign Jetel has never been mentioned before, and will never be mentioned after, Living Witness. Like the EMH, the audience had no idea that she existed, so has no idea that she could be missed.

This is a very self-aware choice on the part of the production team. After all, Ensign Jetel could easily have been a familiar supporting character. Voyager is populated with minor characters who have appeared and disappeared for extended periods of time. It would arguably make a lot of sense for Latent Image to cast Lieutenant Joe Carey in the role of the lost crewmember, a supporting character who appeared with some frequency in the first season, but has not appeared on-screen since State of Flux. Revealing Carey died in the late third season would explain some things.

Getting into her headspace.

After all, the production team have not forgotten that Carey exists. They would bring the character back for a small appearance later in the fifth season. In Relativity, Seven of Nine travels back in time to the launch of Voyager and encounters Carey before the events of Caretaker. The production team would employ Carey in a similar manner in Fury during the sixth season. Joseph Carey became a very effective shorthand for the early years of Voyager, almost an avatar of those early troubled years. He would arguably have worked very well in the context of Latent Image.

As such, there is something interesting in the decision to create an entirely new character for Latent Image. Joe Menosky consciously chooses to put the audience in the EMH’s shoes, discovering Jetel through flashbacks and memories rather than knowing her already. In doing so, Latent Image seems to suggest that the audience might have been watching Voyager through the lens of the EMH’s filtered memories, which have clearly been edited to remove this character so as to avoid any uncomfortable questions.

Massaging the truth.

In doing so, Latent Image touches on the supreme irony of Voyager‘s fascination with the concept of memory and identity. Voyager repeatedly suggests that identity is a narrative thread woven from memory and history. However, Voyager has consciously and repeatedly avoided building any sense of memory or history. Voyager never developed a strong recurring cast, seldom carried over plots across multiple episodes, rarely explored the consequences of earlier decisions. Voyager adopted a very episodic approach, which meant that the show felt disjointed.

Voyager was a show without any strong sense of internal memory. How many ensigns and lieutenants die over the seven-year run of the series? How many shuttlecraft are lost during the journey back to the Alpha Quadrant? How many members of the core cast were actively allowed to grow over the course of the seven-year mission? How large was Borg space, and how did the geography of it make any sense? How many different versions of Kathryn Janeway were there? Voyager never seemed able to answer these questions, instead eager to move on to the next story.

“I asked the Captain if she could remember losing any ensigns, but she just laughed.”

Latent Image seems wryly aware of this irony, and even builds it into the script. The version of the late third season presented in Latent Image seems quite consciously (and intentionally) contradictory. Ignoring the fact that the audience had never seen Ensign Jetel before, or that Jennifer Lien was highly unlikely to reprise her role as Kes for those small flashback scenes, there is still a sense of lingering discontinuity about these flashback sequences. They do not seem quite “right.”

At the party sequence, Janeway’s hair appears very wrong; much more in keeping with the fifth season than with the third. The EMH unravels the mystery through his “photo album”, boasting, “I was quite a shutterbug back then. Not a day went by when I didn’t record an image for posterity.” This is patently and objectively untrue. The first time that the audience saw the EMH use a holo imager was during the away mission at the start of Drone early in the fifth season. The pieces do not fit together, even in this reconstructed memory.

A model doctor.

Perhaps this is the point. There is some small sense that Latent Image is aware of this disconnect, the gap that exists between the reality of the third season and the memory of the third season, even within Latent Image itself. Maybe the audience doesn’t remember the holo imager because it was erased like Ensign Jetel. Maybe the show misremembers Janeway’s hairstyle because that just happens to be the image of Janeway that is most current. Latent Image seems to reject the very idea of an objective record of the past, the idea of a fixed continuity.

At the same time, Latent Image is very wry in how it is structured. The episode is built around horrific events that occurred late in the third season, when the EMH was confronted with an impossible (to him) moral choice. The EMH was forced to choose between saving the life of a forgotten female cast memory or keeping Harry Kim alive. Inevitably, he chose to perform triage on Harry Kim. There is something very grim in the idea that the EMH is driven to a psychological break by the fact that he save Harry Kim. However, there is more to it than that.

Attempts to replace Garrett Wang with a hologram were less than successful.
It showed too much personality.

Rather famously, the production team had considered firing Garrett Wang at the end of the third season to make room for Jeri Ryan. This is quite clear in how Scorpion, Part I is structured, with Kim attacked by a member of Species 8472 and incapacitated. However, People named Wang one of the most beautiful people in the world, and so he was saved from the chopping block. Instead, the writers chose to sacrifice the character of Kes. As such, this third season moral dilemma in Latent Image has definite echoes of that production decision.

There is something at once intriguing and infuriating in the way that Latent Image folds over upon itself, how it argues for the importance of the EMH’s memory while grossly distorting that of the show itself. It is difficult to reconcile, harder to explain. Perhaps these are simply innocent continuity errors, the result of scrambling to produce so many episodes in so little time. Maybe these are something more, suggesting the way in which memory can be warped. Even then, it is hard to account for the plot importance of a holo imager that objective never existed.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure he just looks hostile and belligerent.”

In keeping with this faint suggestion of reflexiveness, Latent Image suffered its own rewrites at the hands of a superior authority. As Joe Menosky explained to Cinefantastique, his original ending for the episode was quite different than what made it to screen:

He said, “There had to be some kind of dramatic resolution. Our proper climax would be that she allows this breakdown to occur, and sits in vigil with him until he goes through it. This last scene was one of the better scenes I have ever written. Everybody loved it but Brannon. He was really uncomfortable with it, so he just cut out a bunch of dialogue. He restructured certain things, [and] I think made it slightly less effective. In my version Janeway is holding this vigil, and because of her exhaustion, she just drifts off to sleep. He has something dark and sad and also moving to say. He looks up and she’s asleep. He gets up, picks up the book and he reads a little, end of story. In the newer version, despite the fact that 90% of the dialogue is there, the structure of the scene was different. She ends up leaving, which in my mind is absolutely against the premise of the scene.”

He continued, “I walked down to the set, and everybody was looking at me like somebody had just drowned my puppy. Kate Mulgrew said, ‘That scene was perfection, perfection. “They were all very supportive. A few hours later, the director and the actors called Brannon and said they really wanted to do the original scene as it was written. Brannon relented and said, ‘Go ahead and shoot both versions of the scene.’ They shot the version as rewritten, and come around 1 or 2 AM, when it was time to set up for the next one, they just said, ‘Let’s just hope it works. Let’s go home.’ I didn’t fault them for that. You can expect people to fight for you up and to a point. With Latent Image, I just will never be satisfied with it because of that process.”

Sometimes more than just memories can be rewritten. Sometimes potentialities can be revised and edited, altered to suit the agenda of those in authority.

Okay, he might be hostile and belligerent.

Even outside of its fascination with memory and identity, Latent Image is a compelling piece of television. In particular, there is something very clever in the dilemma that caused the EMH’s psychological breakdown. Once again, it is a plot point that capitalises on the nature of the EMH as an artificial organism. Any organic actor decisions that must allow for human error, for miscalculations or instinct or hesitation or subconscious bias. However, an artificial intelligence must weigh a decision on its objective merits.

So how does a computer make a decision when everything is equal, objectively speaking? “Two patients, for example, both injured, for example, both in imminent danger of dying,” the EMH states. “Calculate the variables. My programme needs to ascertain which patient has the greater chance of survival, and that’s the one I treat. Simple.” He hesitates. “But, what if they have an equal chance of survival?” An organic mind can make a decision on instinct or embrace random chance. For a mechanical mind, what breaks that tie?


This is a fascinating question, one that underscores the differences in how human beings and machines make decisions. After all, nobody seems to fault the EMH for his decision to save Ensign Kim over Ensign Jetel. Nobody would fault a human doctor in those circumstances. Indeed, many people would understand the considerable strain under which triage doctors work. However, the EMH struggles to understand why he made the decision to save Harry Kim over Ahni Jetel.

It is a question with no easy answers, and it seems to generate an infinite loop within the EMH’s program. Although the breakdown is recognisable in psychological terms, Latent Image takes care to present the EMH’s crisis as something recognisably mechanical in nature. In the mess hall, the EMH keeps (literally) playing back over the inputs and variables that informed his decisions. In the holodeck at the end of the episode, the EMH keeps running over the decision-making logic, as if debugging his own morality algorithms.

A very trying triage.

This is an aspect of Latent Image that has aged surprisingly well. As artificial intelligence and mechanisation continue apace into the twenty-first century, philosophers and engineers wrestle with these questions. This is a legitimate concern for self-driving cars, as Jean-Francois Bonnefon outlines:

Is it acceptable for an autonomous vehicle to avoid a motorcycle by swerving into a wall, considering that the probability of survival is greater for the passenger of the car, than for the rider of the motorcycle? Should different decisions be made when children are on board, since they both have a longer time ahead of them than adults, and had less agency in being in the car in the first place? If a manufacturer offers different versions of its moral algorithm, and a buyer knowingly chose one of them, is the buyer to blame for the harmful consequences of the algorithm’s decisions?

To be fair, scientists and researchers are somewhat divided on the relative importance of these questions. Some argue that such morality is important and must be coded into the artificial intelligence. Others argue that such debates are sensationalist thought experiments that have no relation to reality.

Fruits of his labour.

Of course, Latent Image has to strain a little bit to justify the thought experiment. The episode goes out of its way to invent a weird (and very specific) alien weapon that is designed to explain how two victims could have exactly the same chances of survival. Latent Image never really broaches the question of whether the EMH is programmed to make decisions for the well-being of the crew in such a situation, if he might access whether Ensign Kim ore Ensign Jetel were more important to the continued survival of Voyager. (And everybody else on board.)

Still, however strained the set-up might be, it makes for a powerful piece of allegorical drama. After all, Voyager has made a conscious effort to pitch itself as an archetypal iteration of Star Trek, and that archetypal quality has led to a lot of relatively abstract thought experiments. Regardless of how unlikely such a situation should be, and how many safeguards should be put in place to prevent it, Latent Image is built around a very clever and very engaging storytelling hook.

Shutter bugging him.

Discussing the episode with Cinefantastique, Robert Picardo argued that Latent Image was a quintessential Star Trek morality play that took advantage of the unique storytelling opportunities presented by the franchise to ask existential questions:

I thought it was a great idea to have the Doctor’s adaptive programming double-cross him, so to speak. In other words, he has personality subroutines and can develop a relationship and even feelings for a particular crew member that would influence a strictly objective medical decision. After he had made that decision, and the consequences had been suffered, that he would relive that moment of decision over and over again, torturing himself with the guilt of having saved one of two equally injured people because of a personal relationship, was a great concept for an episode. The more human he becomes, by definition, the less purely objectively he can practice his medical craft. Also he has to learn to reconcile tragedy, and feelings of guilt, or feelings of doubt about his choices.

Picardo does fantastic work on the episode, demonstrating that he is one of the strongest actors in the ensemble. Voyager has asked Picardo to put the EMH through the psychological ringer repeatedly over the course of the show, and he delivers on every occasion.

Janeway seldom goes by the book.

While the plot is very much in keeping with archetypal Star Trek storytelling, the thematic concerns of the fifth season of Voyager creep in around the edges of the episode. In particular, Latent Image ties into the fifth season’s recurring suggestion that Janeway’s ethics are situational in nature, that she is not so much guided by singular overarching moral values so much as the greatest good that exists within a particular moment. It is hard to believe that the version of Janeway written by Michael Piller or Jeri Taylor would have treated the EMH in the same way.

In Latent Image, Janeway argues with Seven of Nine that the morality of an action is justified by its outcome and the particulars of a situation. “If one of my crew chose to put a phaser to his own head, should I let him?” Janeway demands of Seven of Nine during their late night conversation about Janeway’s decision to wipe the EMH’s memory. Seven responds, “It would depend on the situation.” Janeway counters, “It always depends on the situation, Seven, but we can debate philosophy another time.”

A snap decision.

It is a very telling exchange in terms of Janeway’s characterisation under the oversight of Brannon Braga. Janeway rejects the idea that moral decisions can be made in a vacuum. Latent Image seems to support her position. After all, the EMH’s psychological breakdown is rooted in his efforts to justify saving Harry Kim in purely objective terms derived from first principles. Voyager would seem to argue that such objective morality is impossible, and the best moral decision is made in the context of each individual situation.

“Which is best?” the EMH asks Neelix during his psychological breakdown. “How do you determine that?” Neelix stumbles over the question. “I never thought about it, really,” he admits. “Well, maybe you should,” the EMH suggests. “Think about it, I mean.” Neelix finally offers, “I guess every situation is a little different.” This would seem to be the morality of the fifth season of Voyager in a nutshell, with Janeway adopting an ethical code that is much more situational than it had been in earlier years.

Something to chew over.

In some respects, this feels like a very self-aware attempt to write around some of the outstanding issues with Janeway’s characterisation. After all, Janeway is a character who lacks any singular throughline from Caretaker to Endgame. Janeway’s morality and attitude can change dramatically from one episode to the next. Janeway was a staunch defender of the Prime Directive in episodes like Prime Factors or Alliances, but happily violated it in episodes like The Killing Game, Part I or The Killing Game, Part II.

In characterising Janeway’s ethics as situational in nature, Voyager is making a half-hearted attempt to insulate itself from criticism. If Janeway honestly assesses each individual situation on its own merits, rather than acting from a definitive set of guiding principles, then it becomes a lot easier to explain character inconsistencies or contraditions. Just because Janeway acted one way in a given situation, it does not mean she will act consistently in another. All Voyager has to do is to suggest that Janeway perceived something different in the individual situation.

Morally unconscionable, or just morally unconscious?

This is hardly a satisfying approach to characterisation and development. Instead, it feels like a haphazard attempt to justify inconsistent approaches to Janeway as a character. This situational attitude is a massive cop-out on the part of the writers, one that seems designed to provide lee-way so that Janeway can reach whatever decision that the writers need in order to move the plot forward, to explain why Janeway would unilaterally disarm an alien society in The Omega Directive and return a potentially genocidal weapon to another in Infinite Regress.

During the fifth season, Janeway’s outlook is much more utilitarian in nature. She tends to treat her crew as resources, rather than as individuals. Her treatment of the EMH in Latent Image in some ways reflects her decisions regarding Torres in Nothing Human. In both episodes, Janeway goes against the wishes of a member of her senior staff in order to ensure their survival and in pursuit of the greater good. Janeway is committed to getting her crew home, and the senior staff are tools in that larger plan.

Surgical precision.

“I’ve made a command decision for your own benefit and the welfare of this entire crew,” Janeway informs the EMH. “I’m not willing to debate it.” The EMH counters, “How would you like it if I operated on you without your consent or without your knowledge?” Janeway responds, “If the operation saved my life? I could live with it.” That exchange provides a nice thematic connection between Janeway’s decisions in Nothing Human and Latent Image, while also suggesting the hypocrisy of her position. Janeway would feel just as violated at Torres or the EMH.

As with a lot of the fifth season, the presence of Captain Rudolph Ransom looms large over Janeway’s decisions in Latent Image. The fifth season is building towards the climax of Equinox, Part I, when Janeway comes face-to-face with a Starfleet crew that have completely abandoned any pretense of morality or decency. Janeway’s situational ethics provide an interesting contrast with the compromises made by the crew of the Equinox, even if Equinox, Part II clumsily fumbles these themes.

Drink it all in.

In particular, Equinox, Part I reveals that Ransom manipulated his own EMH in order to make him more compliant with the crew’s grotesque experiments. Is Janeway’s manipulation of the EMH’s memories in Latent Image so far removed from Ransom’s distortion of the EMH’s ethical guidelines in Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II? There is a sense that Janeway is on a very slippery slope, and that her eventual decision to treat the EMH as a person rather than a piece of software serves to distinguish her from from Ransom.

Latent Image is a compelling and clever episode, on that is built in the fashion of an archetypal Star Trek morality play while exploring themes and ideas of unique interest to Voyager. It is one to remember.

5 Responses

  1. Sounds like Braga wanted to bury “Equinox”, along with any traces of Moore’s handiwork.

    This used to happen in comics all the time, before editors took a more active role. One writer says, “That’s dumb!” and the other writer goes, “nuh uh, you’re dumb!” With the result that not much survives into the next arc.

    “She tends to treat her crew as resources, rather than as individuals”

    She certainly takes the cake as the most inscrutable captain. Her defining trait seems to be, “look heroic at all costs”, which can range from anything to swinging a bat’leth at a Borg (as if Mulgrew could do that without shattering every bone in her body) to reminiscing about hiking the Grand Canyon (didn’t she cower under a table during a storm in “Resolutions”?)

    Ironically Janeway behaves more like a Starfleet admiral than the starship captain. To paraphrase your “Broken Bow review”, the Admiral is very much an outside force trying to distort the narrative, trying to edit the show from the inside. What exactly the Admiral is trying to do is a mystery.

  2. Thanks for this insightful review. I found your stance very interesting, that the flaws of the episode/contunuity can be seen or are even suggested to be due to the Doctor’s perspective as our own.

    I found this episode and its neighbours always to be one of Voyager’s strongest periods. It has an intriguing mysterious beginning and an interesting dilemma. Aside from the AI-related questions I could always sympathize with the Doctor because I myself have always been haunted by ethical priniciples and my “weakness”/”sin” to not act upon them in real life, and especially the indecisiveness, the back and forth in situations where all the data I have got are either subjective or lead to indifference. “Buyer’s remorse” was something that followed me for a long time and still tends to stress me at times. In a life and death situation with two equal odds of survival the Doctor had to face I find it all the more reasonable that algorithms have a difficult time and that even in cases that it was “just” a decision by chance or maybe even a rational decision based on Kim’s importance (?) for the ship’s functioning there would be a doubt that on some “unconscious” level he just followed the fact that he was just more befriended with Kim than with the (retroactively unknown) other ensign.

    • Yep, I’ll go to bat for this four-episode stretch as the most consistently brilliant that Voyager ever was. These four episodes are ambitious, distinct and playful. They represent a big departure from the familiar Voyager template in terms of narrative and in terms of storytelling. If the show have been able to produce twelve stories like these four every year, it would have been a franchise highlight.

  3. This very much felt like an episode of The Next Generation. That’s a good thing.

    I do wonder though, about the insane implications of Trek technology. Knowing how easy it seems to be to create sentient beings from thin air, why would the crew not work on creating an entire host of holographic personalities? It’s like the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner deciding to stop at just one replicant.

    Star Trek has always had a limited ability to carry out the logic of what their wonder-techs imply: Replicators, holo-decks, transporters, etc. They treat them like refrigerators, televisions, and airplanes, rather than truly consider what they would mean for human existence.

    Even the existence of the borg call into question the weird lack of cybernetic implants in the federation. The existence of the doctor should basically blow apart the entire notion of the value of human life or material reality.

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