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Star Trek: Voyager – Someone to Watch Over Me (Review)

Someone to Watch Over Me is a decidedly atypical episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The episode’s subplot, focusing on Neelix and a disorderly alien ambassador, harks back to the old diplomacy subplots of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the crews would be asked to ferry ambassadors around only for terrible things to happen. There are any number of examples of that story template across the two earliest incarnations of the show; Journey to BabelElaan of Troyius, Is There in Truth No Beauty?Lonely Among UsLoud as a Whisper, SarekThe PriceMan of the PeopleData’s DayViolationsLiaisons.

The EMH rose to the occasion.

To be fair, Voyager has done a couple of these episodes before. There are a number of episodes in which the ship acts as a diplomatic courier shipping aliens from one destination to another or welcoming on board representatives of an alien culture; the subplot of Innocence comes to mind, as does the set-up of Remember. However, by and large, these diplomacy-driven subplots are a lot less frequent on Voyager than they were on the original Star Trek or The Next Generation. As such, the Neelix subplot feels very much like a throwback.

However, the primary plot of Someone to Watch Over Me feels very much like an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an intimate romantic character study about an attraction between two individuals. Someone to Watch Over Me is very much an archetypal love story, one without the flavour of adventure or stakes defines other Star Trek romances like Captain’s Holiday or Counterpoint or Gravity. This is a low-stakes interpersonal attraction, very much in the style of Looking for Par’Mach In All the Wrong Places, His Way or Chrysalis.

A snap decision.

In fact, the basic plot of Someone to Watch Over Me is so archetypal that it can be traced back to number of classical inspirations. This is nothing new. The Star Trek franchise has long borrowed inspiration from various classics; Favourite Son and Bliss owe a great deal to The Odyssey and Moby Dick, for example. However, the choice of influences on Someone to Watch Over Me feels more like Deep Space Nine than Voyager; it draws from Pygmalion and its various adaptations, along with the early eighties comedy My Favourite Year.

The result is a decidedly strange blend of classic Star Trek storytelling that feels fresh and exciting in the context of Voyager. In many ways, Juggernaut was a showcase of Voyager‘s preference for blockbuster plot-driven storytelling. However, Someone to Watch Over Me is something much more compelling and intriguing. Someone to Watch Over Me is a character-driven episode of Voyager, and a very impressive and engaging one at that.

Putting the “ass” in ambassador.

Someone to Watch Over Me is an episode that does a lot of things very well, but part of what is striking about the episode is what it consciously chooses not to do. As a rule, Voyager has largely steered away from character-driven storytelling, instead favouring a combination of high stakes and high concepts. Typically, when the show does decide to foreground a quiet character-driven narrative, there is a tendency to weight the episode with broad science-fiction subplot.

Learning Curve is the story of a bunch of Maquis recruits coming to understand their place on the ship, but it features a subplot about a bunch of mysterious malfunctions with the ship’s bio-neural circuitry. The Swarm finds the EMH going through a mental breakdown as his programme runs out of memory, but it features a subplot about a very angry and very mysterious alien species. Real Life has the EMH start a family, but it features a subplot about a strange anomaly.

“Romance is the real anomaly.”

Part of what is interesting about Someone to Watch Over Me is the way in which the episode eschews this convention, instead allowing two comedic plots to run in parallel. Of course, the budding romance between Seven of Nine and the EMH is slightly more serious and grounded than the wacky hijinks involving Neelix and his drunken ambassador, but both fall on the “light” side of the show’s plot spectrum. There is never a direct threat to the ship, never a mystery to be solved, never any unnecessary technobabble.

Someone to Watch Over Me is a very charming and engaging piece of television, and one that puts a lot of faith in its primary cast. It helps that the story is build around three of the stronger members of the ensemble. There are any number of issues with the character of Seven of Nine, but Jeri Ryan is phenomenal in the role. Robert Picardo very quickly established himself as the breakout performer playing the EMH. Neelix has not always been well-served by the scripts, but Ethan Phillips is a gifted comedic performer.

Taking his (Nee)lix.

Reflecting this emphasis on performers, Someone to Watch Over Me was even directed by Robert Duncan McNeill. Perhaps the most gifted director of the regular cast, with only Roxann Dawson challenging him, McNeill explained to Cinefantastique that he relished the opportunity to work with such an actor-driven script:

I really enjoyed working with Bob. He never gets tired of figuring out new ideas, and funny moments, and quirky things to do. Jeri found, I think, a different kind of humanity in Seven of Nine than we have seen before, a real kind of child-like sense of humor in her character. Seven and Bob sing together in a real, nice little moment.

Someone to Watch Over Me is very much a showcase for all of the actors featured, demonstrating that there is considerable talent and charisma to be found within Voyager‘s primary cast. It is interesting to wonder what Voyager might have looked like if the production team had invested more faith in their performers.

The love doctor.

To be fair, the Voyager ensemble might never have had the raw charisma of the Next Generation cast nor the sheer talent of the crew working on Deep Space Nine. There are a number of weak performers in the primary cast, and a number of actors who are severely miscast. Nevertheless, the primary cast of Voyager were very rarely well-served by the scripts they were provided. Almost half of the primary cast could expect to spend three quarters of any given season delivering technobabble exposition about the anomaly of any given week.

The fifth season of Voyager does make some small gesture towards these actors, trying to come up with stories and scripts that allow the performers the opportunity to do more than deliver stock dialogue during bridge or briefing scenes. Timeless is a gigantic episode for the series, and it is built around possible future versions of Kim and Chakotay. Gravity ranks as one of the franchise’s best love stories and one of its best Vulcan stories, and it is centred on the character of Tuvok.

“This next slide gets a little blue.”

Writer Nick Sagan acknowledged that there was a conscious effort at the start of the fifth season to build episodes around the more underserved members of the ensemble, conceding that the senior writing staff tended to lean towards a certain subset of these characters:

There was definitely that mindset, especially at the very beginning of the season, with Timeless and Harry Kim, which gave him an opportunity to shine. And also for Robert [Beltran] and Tim [Russ], because they’re both great actors, and were itching to do meaty episodes.

There are certain characters that lent themselves to certain types of stories that Brannon wanted to tell. I think Janeway, Seven of Nine and the Doctor got the majority of those stories there, and part of that was because they just sort of fit with the stories we wanted to tell and sometimes it was just the luck of the draw. We certainly tried to find stories for the others, since there’s something nice about giving everyone the chance to shine, but it didn’t always work out the way we hoped.

Of course, the fifth season gravitated back towards that trinity of Janeway, the EMH and Seven of Nine in its final run of episodes. Indeed, the late-season episodes focusing on characters like Kim and Chakotay (The Disease and The Fight) were disappointingly generic efforts.

“On the other hand, Tuvok will be spending most of this episode off-screen.”

Still, there is something very charming about Someone to Watch Over Me. The story is familiar, the classic story about an old man helping to introduce a younger woman to the world, and then gradually falling head-over-heels in love with her. Of course, Seven is biologically older than the EMH, but the EMH has been active for longer than Seven has been separated from the Collective; it’s an interesting wrinkle in the classic story template. “The blind leading the blind,” as Paris quips.

One nice, relatively subtle touch: Someone to Watch Over Me arrives at roughly the same point in Seven’s arc as Lifesigns occurred in the life of the EMH. The EMH had been active for almost two years when he had his first romantic encounter in Lifesigns, while Seven’s curiousity about interpersonal relationships in Someone to Watch Over Me arrives almost two years after she was separated from the Borg Collective. There is some suggestion that this interest is inevitable, and part of a larger journey towards developing into a functional adult.

Captain knows best.

Someone to Watch Over Me is very clearly influenced by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the story about a snooty upper class linguist who takes on a bet to transform a lowly flower girl into the toast of the town. Someone to Watch Over Me borrows the basic structure of the story, right down to the wager at the heart of the story. In Pygmalion, Higgins and Pickering make a bet about Higgin’s ability to transform Eliza Doolittle into a lady. In Someone to Watch Over Me, the EMH and Paris make a bet over the EMH’s ability to transform Seven into a lady.

This type of adaptation is relatively rare in the context of Voyager. The Star Trek franchise has a habit of drawing from all manner of sources and reframing them in terms of science-fiction; Obsession and The Doomsday Machine are Moby Dick in space, A Matter of Perspective is Roshomon in space, The Mind’s Eye is The Manchurian Candidate in space. This arguably played into the idea of the Star Trek mythos as something similar to an American mythology, a framework that appropriated and reconceptualised other stories to make them part of its cosmology.

What a Pyg.

Deep Space Nine was particularly fond of this sort of narrative borrowing, particularly by reference to classic Hollywood. Profit and Loss was Casablanca in space. Rules of Acquisition was Yentl in space. Meridian was Brigadoon in space. Fascination was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in space. Indiscretion was The Searchers in space. The Magnificent Ferengi was The Magnificent Seven in space. One Little Ship was Fantastic Voyage in space. Profit and Lace was Some Like It Hot in space.

Voyager would frequently make small references and nods to other memorable or iconic stories. Favourite Son and Bliss both seemed to lift from individual chapters of The Odyssey. In some ways, Prey felt like Star Trek twist on the (at the time undeveloped) premise Aliens vs. Predator. Juggernaut quoted from both Aliens and Predator at separate points, as well as alluding to The Phantom of the Opera. As a rule, Voyager would play very broadly with genre: pulpy science-fiction in The 37’s or Rise; b-movie horror in Macrocosm or Darkling.

Dining on franchise history.

Still it was relatively rare for Voyager to do direct adaptations of classic stories. Often, Voyager seemed more likely to quote from other Star Trek episodes than to seek inspiration from outside the franchise. Faces and Tuvix were both plays on the basic premise of The Enemy WithinScorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II seemed designed to invite comparisons to The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II owed a sizable debt to Star Trek: First Contact.

Perhaps this reflects a sense of old age setting in. Perhaps Star Trek was becoming more introspective. The final frontier had contracted over the previous three decades, and there were simply very few original stories left to be told. After nearly five hundred episodes, it is inevitable that any franchise would begin to quote from itself. After all, Voyager represents the beginning of the end for the Berman era, the point at which it seems like the franchise has exhausted all of its potential and has started running on fumes.

Swipe, right?

After all, one of the principle themes of Voyager is a sense of nostalgia, a yearning to return to the familiar more than to explore the unknown. The crew’s journey is quite literally a journey backwards, with Caretaker throwing them further than almost any ship not named Enterprise has ever travelled and the crew immediately deciding to find the shortest way “home.” This nostalgic yearn was reinforced by early appearances from familiar Alpha Quadrant aliens; Romulans in Eye of the Needle, Cardassians in Manoeuvres, Q in Death Wish, Ferengi in False Profits.

To be fair, the problem became even more pronounced on Star Trek: Enterprise. In the tired and tiring second season, the series quoting extensively from franchise history; The Communicator seemed based around the closing gag of A Piece of the Action, Dawn riffed on Darmok, The Crossing channelled Return to Tomorrow, Vanishing Point reprised Realm of Fear. This repetition reinforced a sense that Star Trek franchise had little new left to say, that it was content to repeat itself ad nauseam.

A familiar song.

This is what makes Someone to Watch Over Me so refreshing. It might be built around a classic and oft-retold story, but it feels like a new departure for Voyager. It is a low stakes character-driven comedy episode, to the point that even the subplot is an enjoyable goof, as Ethan Phillips conceded to Cinefantastique:

“We want to get something from his race,” said Phillips. “They are a highly moral race, and before they can give it, we have to make sure that they see us as an equally moral race. I am entrusted to show him our ship and all our functions, so that he can assess our righteousness. The guy turns out to be a lush, and a complete drunk. It’s kind of like that movie with Peter O’Toole, My Favorite Year; the guy is entrusted with keeping him sober. It’s a funny part and a really neat role.”

To be fair, the episode benefits from some great casting with its goofy subplot. Scott Thompson is cast as the lecherous alien ambassador Tomin. As one might expect from a former member of The Kids in the Hall, Thompson has great fun picking scenery out of his teeth. He is an absolute joy to watch, and plays well with Ethan Phillips.

Talk about not taking direction.

This subplot is so goofy and charming that Robert Beltran can score the episode’s best one-liner. As Tomin careens out of control, Neelix panics. “Commander, I tried,” Neelix pleads. “I had an itinerary, I even set up a prayer dais in his quarters, but I just couldn’t control him. The Captain is due back in the morning with the Kadi minister. What do I do?” Chakotay offers some sage advice, “Pray.” Beltran has never been the franchise’s most elastic performer, and tend to work better with heavier material, but the episode generates enough good will that the sequence lands.

This layering of character-driven subplots within Someone to Watch Over Me feels somewhat unconventional for Voyager, which has a long history of pairing character-driven narratives with science-fiction subplots. Perhaps worried about how audiences might react to forty-five minutes of television devoted to character development, Voyager has tended to combine its more intimate and personal stories with familiar (and stock) action beats. This arguably dates back to The Cloud in the first season, an episode of light character moments built around an anomaly of the week.

Table manners.

This sort of plotting is more like the approach taken on Deep Space Nine, where the show would routinely tell one character-driven story with a smaller character-driven subplot. In Explorers, Ben and Jake Sisko set sail to Cardassia while Julian Bashir worries about an old academic rival visiting the station. In Family Business, Quark returns home to deal with a family drama while Benjamin Sisko goes on a first date with Kasidy Yates. In Doctor Bashir, I Presume, Bashir weighs a secret from his past as Rom and Leeta work out their relationship.

However, Someone to Watch Over Me most consciously evokes the more explicitly romantic episodes of Deep Space Nine. Much like Worf teaches Quark the intricacies of Klingon romance in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, the EMH helps Seven of Nine with human courtship. Much like Odo in His Way, Seven is a socially awkward individual who looks to get some dating tips from a self-aware hologram. This is not even the only loose adaptation of Pygmalion in this broadcast season; Julian Bashir made his own girlfriend in Chrysalis.

“You’d be amazed how hard it was to get the crew to pose for these.”

Michael Taylor’s script for Someone to Watch Over Me seems to affectionately tease its connections to Deep Space Nine. The first stop on Tomin’s slippery slope into debauchery is flavour country. “I was hoping I might sample a food item I noted earlier in your data files,” he suggests, with something approaching innocence. “Hasperat.” Neelix is immediately on guard. “It’s a Bajoran dish,” Neelix explains. “Very spicy.” Later on, when Paris and the EMH bicker about Seven’s social potential, Paris urges his companion, “Put your latinum where your mouth is.”

There is an easy charm to Someone to Watch Over Me, which works in large part because of the simplicity (and familiarity) of the story paired with the talent of the performers. Both Jeri Ryan and Robert Picardo are skilled enough to layer their performances, to create a surprisingly nuanced set of character studies. Seven presents herself as aloof and analytical, assertive and assured. However, Ryan has always understood the vulnerability lurking beneath the character’s exterior. The EMH is similarly confident, but just as socially clumsy.

Music to his ears.

Someone to Watch Over Me encapsulates this compelling character conflict beautifully through its emphasis on song and dance. “Seven, has anyone ever told you, you have a beautiful voice?” the EMH asks on hearing her sing. “It’s a true gift.” Seven explains that her gift is technical rather than organic. “The gift is from the Collective,” she confesses. “A vocal subprocessor designed to facilitate the sonic interface with Borg transponders.” Similarly, both characters can easily approach dancing from a technical perspective, a set of movement memorised.

However, Someone to Watch Over Me underscores the difference between memorising a set of moves and actually dancing, the distinction between hitting the right note and actually singing. Seven and the EMH seek to reduce romantic interaction to a series of predefined calls and responses, inputs and outputs. Seven treats romantic interaction as something equivalent to a video game skill, something through which she might “level up.” After a single conversation with a hologram, she declares, “Our small talk is terminated. I have mastered this exercise. We can proceed to the next.”

A sure bet.

In some ways, this is a revealing portrayal of how certain people approach romantic interaction. There are a lot of individuals (particularly young men) who think that “love” and “sex” are achievements to be unlocked, rather than happy accidents of chemistry and interaction. This is a message that has been codified by countless hours of entertainment, by numerous popular narratives in which the quiet introvert (usually male) wins over a romantic partner through sheer perseverance. Even His Way played into this fantasy, more focused on Odo’s affection than Kira’s agency.

The reality is infinitely more complex than these narratives might make it appear. Part of what makes Someone to Watch Over Me so clever is the way that it effectively weaponises Voyager‘s deep-seated love of the reset button in order to subvert these storytelling conventions. Neither Seven of Nine nor the EMH find what they are looking for at the end of Someone to Watch Over Me. Neither character’s approach to courtship or romance pays off in the way that they would in a more conventional tale. Seven and EMH never realise they are meant to be together.

Doesn’t scan.

Although this is a very smart storytelling decision, it feels like the result of more pragmatic reasoning. Voyager is a show pathologically afraid of long-term consequences or long-form storytelling, and so its natural instincts are to avoid changes to the status quo. As Robert Duncan McNeill explained the ending to Cinefantastique:

What about the end? Said McNeill, “Because it’s two series regulars that are playing around with love, that’s always a very dangerous subject. If you go too far with it, you’ve got to live with the consequences. If you are not ready to deal with it on an ongoing basis on the series, then you have to be really careful with how far you go.”

It should be noted that Voyager‘s only truly long term relationship (between Paris and Torres) began during the low-key flirtations with small-scale serialisation in the fourth season, and occurred over the objections (or just disinterest) of several members of the production team. That relationship was always going to be an exception.

Seven lets her hair down.

The EMH and Seven could never be allowed to have a long-term relationship like that between Jadzia Dax and Worf or Kira Nerys and Odo or Kasidy Yates and Benjamin Sisko on Deep Space Nine, because Voyager was never built that way. Out of deference to syndication, for fear of alienating viewers watching the series out of order, the status quo would be reset at the end of Someone to Watch Over Me. Even the EMH’s unrequited crush on Seven is largely brushed aside after this episode, as he daydreams about the entire female senior staff in Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy.

In practical terms, this was no different than resetting Voyager itself to factory settings in episodes like Deadlock or Year of Hell, Part II or Timeless, an acknowledgement that the show had a status quo to which it was drawn like gravity. That status quo governs the characters and their dynamics as much as the ship’s look and feel. Part of the beauty of Someone to Watch Over Me is the way in which Michael Taylor’s script uses this inevitability as a source of drama, how he uses it to explore and subvert the narrative conventions of this kind of story.

Nano problem at all.

There is something honest, and profoundly sad, about the resolution to Someone to Watch Over Me. It is an acknowledgement that the pursuit of love and romance does not always work, that the path to a fulfilling romantic partnership is decorated with failures and loss, that even people who in theory should work well together might not click due to timing or circumstance or poor decisions. Someone to Watch Over Me is in many ways a “light” episode of Voyager with minimal stakes, but it is also a very human one.

In terms of Seven’s character arc, her decision to suspend her exploration of romance feels like a personal defeat. Of course, Seven does not frame it as such. “I chose to convey my gratitude at this time because I no longer require your assistance,” she tells the EMH. “It’s obvious there are no potential mates for me aboard this vessel.” Of course, Seven is not the most reliable of narrators when it comes to her feelings. Seven had denied her yearning for personal romance earlier in the episode, trying to argue it was driven by academic curiousity more than loneliness.

And the EMH played on.

Similarly, her arc in Someone to Watch Over Me suggests that her decision to suspend her inquiries into love feels like an acknowledgement of a deeper disillusionment. Her date with William Chapman was a disaster, despite both their best intentions. More than that, her date with the EMH ended with the revelation that she had been the subject of a wager between two male members of the crew. While Seven argues that she could not find a suitable companion on the ship, Someone to Watch Over Me suggests that perhaps she is (justifiably) too exhausted to keep looking.

Similarly, the resolution to the EMH’s character arc feels entirely earned and entirely reasonable. Pygmalion ends with the revelation that Eliza Doolittle has grown beyond any need for Henry Higgins, and has acknowledged their dynamic as fundamentally unhealthy, a development somewhat mirrored in the conclusion to Chrysalis. However, the bet between Higgins and Pickering is never explicitly identified as a singular cause of the rift between the pair, instead used as an illustration of the fact that Higgins is not a nice person. (Eliza is more sympathetic to Pickering.)

He’ll be dining out on this story for years.

In contrast, Someone to Watch Over Me very explicitly calls out Paris and the EMH for wagering over a female crew member. Seven of Nine is justifiably frustrated and upset to be reduced to a commodity by two male crewmembers, two people who should be close friends. “I believed your interest in my social development was sincere, not motivated by personal gain,” she wryly observes. “Clearly I am not the only one who requires social lessons. Thank you for a lovely evening.”

In a standard romantic plot, this revelation of the wage between the EMH and Paris would serve as a third act plot complication, a narrative device designed to push the romantic characters apart so that they can come together again at the very end of the tale. It is tried and test part of the romantic formula, one that audiences have been conditioned to expect through decades of romantic comedies and dramas that use this cliché to escalate the stakes between the prospective romantic partners.

Working together in harmony.

As Claire Mortimer explains in The Routledge Guide to Romantic Comedy, this is very much a structural feature of the genre:

So what are the elements that compose the genre? A romcom certainly has a very distinctive narrative structure: boy meets girl, various obstacles prevent them from being together, coincidences and complications ensue, ultimately leasing to the couple’s realisation that they were meant to be together. In keeping with the comedy genre, the narrative concludes with a happy ending, with the final union of the couple.

It is a familiar template, one recognisable to anybody who has watched even a handful of romantic comedies.

Photo finish.

Consider Ellie’s misreading of Peter’s depature in It Happened One Night, Robbie misreading Julia’s pantomime in The Wedding Singer, the disagreement between Sara and Hitch at the climax of Hitch. Two 1999 movies, She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You, even hinge on the love interest discovering the existence of an immoral wager like the one featured in Someone to Watch Over Me, with the couples eventually working through the sense of betrayal and manipulation.

With all of this in mind, the audience would be conditioned to expect a reconciliation between Seven and the EMH. In fact, the EMH makes an overture to Seven later in the episode to apologise for his behaviour. “I can see how you might have felt manipulated, but I assure you that was never my intention,” he tells her. “I want to make this perfectly clear so there’s no room for misunderstanding. I asked you to go with me to the reception because I enjoy your company. In fact, over the last few days I feel as though we’ve grown closer.”

Peeping Tom.

The narrative conventions of the romantic comedy would suggest that Seven should accept his apology and embrace the possibility of a relationship with him. Indeed, Seven does acknowledge his apology. “I accept your apology,” she assures him. When he suggests that they are more than “colleagues”, she also concurs, “Friends. Agreed.” However, there is a very pointed subtext to all of this, just as there is a very pointed to subtext to all of Seven’s interactions over the course of the episode, a very repressed acknowledgement of deep-seated emotion.

Although Seven never acknowledges it as such, just as she never acknowledges her need for emotional companionship or her disillusionment with dating, there is a very real sense that Seven of Nine as been hurt by the EMH. There is a sense that Seven perceives this as a massive betrayal of her trust in the EMH, and justifiably so. Someone to Watch Over Me never comes out and says it, but both the subtext and Jeri Ryan’s performance make it clear that the EMH severely wounded Seven.

Save the last dance.

The implication seems to be that this has understandably killed any chance of Seven entering into a romantic relationship with the EMH. This is a perfectly rational and mature response to a revelation like this. Contrary to what romantic comedies might suggest, trust is not easily repaired and reconciliation is never easy. In many cases, it is impossible to fully restore trust in a person who has betrayed confidence like that, who has been revealed to be party to such manipulations.

Someone to Watch Over Me feels smarter and more human than the romantic comedies that it is emulating. In fact, Someone to Watch Over Me feels more emotionally realistic than the the courtship between Odo and Kira in His Way. Odo repeatedly betrayed Kira’s trust in the years leading up to their relationship, most notably through the actions of his future self in Children of Time or his collaboration with the Dominion in Behind the Lines. However, the writers tried to brush past all that with an off-screen conversation in You Are Cordially Invited… It never felt earned.

Engineering a meet cute.

The ending to Someone to Watch Over Me is a fantastic exploitation of Voyager’s love of the reset button to deconstruct the conventional romantic comedy ending. However, the ending did not materialise easily. As Robert Duncan McNeill explained to Cinefantastique, the episode was not written during shooting:

McNeill added, “The ending wasn’t written we shot the whole episode. When the whole script wasn’t written, we were just sort of making it up, shooting it as it was being written. It’s very hard to plan ahead and say, ‘You don’t want to give away too much in this moment. You want to save it for the end when you realise your feelings.’ It definitely kept us on our toes, kept us aware of how much we were telling, in what order we were telling the story, and not to have the Doctor fall in love with Seven in Act One, to really find the whole journey, and fill it out fully. It’s a real actors’ show, so I felt particularly excited, being an actor to work on a show that really depended on the performances and the subtleties that the actors could bring to it.”

All of this is remarkable, because the episode very much earns its ending. Unlike a lot of Voyager endings, the resolution to Someone to Watch Over Me doesn’t hinge on contrivance or technobabble. The ending feels entirely true to the characters and the show itself.

Serves them right.

Despite how perfectly the ending fits the characters and the show, the closing scenes of Someone to Watch Over Me were added after the fact. The scenes were shot after production had wrapped on the episode, because the script was not finished on time. Robert Picardo mused on the situation to Cinefantastique:

The ending was filmed some time after primary shooting finished. Laughed Robert Picardo, “This episode is like the movie Casablanca, because we shot it without knowing what the end will be. It’s like shooting a romantic story, without knowing the payoff. But Casablanca turned out pretty well. I’m hoping that we will be equally fortunate.”

There are very few episodes of Voyager that can be compared to Casablanca, so it’s hard to blame Picardo for seizing on the opportunity to make that particular point. Indeed, it would seem that Picardo has been vindicated.

“Play it again, EMH.”

Someone to Watch Over Me is a stellar piece of work. It is an episode that really pushes the boundaries of what Voyager can be, that demonstrates the potential for character-driven narratives using this ensemble in a way that provides an intriguing counterbalance to spectacle-driven action stories like Juggernaut. In many ways, it is interesting that Voyager chose to produce this episode right as Deep Space Nine was in the middle of its sprawling “final chapter”, as Someone to Watch Over Me is an episode that owes a lot to the narrative framework of Deep Space Nine.

Someone to Watch Over Me arrived at a time when Voyager was grappling with the fact that it would soon be the only Star Trek series on television. Towards the end of the fifth season, Voyager wrestles with its inheritance from Deep Space Nine; Someone to Watch Over Me is the show embracing Deep Space Nine‘s approach to character, 11:59 superficially emulates Far Beyond the Stars, Equinox, Part I represented the series’ most cynically Deep Space Nine season finale, Ronald D. Moore would be recruited to join the writing staff.

Neelix will be receiving a dressing down for this.

None of these experiments would actually go anywhere, the sixth season quickly retreating back to the familiar Voyager template. Equinox, Part II would largely avoid the tough questions posed by Equinox, Part I, in favour of a more generic high-stakes action-movie run around. Ronald D. Moore would leave the writing staff only a few weeks into the new season, citing irreconcilable differences with former collaborator Brannon Braga. These late fifth season flirtations remain nothing but a brief dalliance, the status quo exerting its strong pull on Voyager.

Still, Someone to Watch Over Me beautifully captures the sheer potential of these kinds of stories, demonstrating that it is not too late for Voyager to embrace an entirely different model of storytelling, one quite removed from the scale and action of stories like Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. There is something strangely charming in Voyager discovering that it can tell these stories more than one hundred episodes into its run. It is impossible to know whether Voyager could have committed to that approach so late in the game, but it’s nice to see it try.

One sick bet.

Indeed, the cast and crew of Voyager are (deservedly) proud of Someone to Watch Over Me, with many singling the episode out as one of their favourite episodes and noting how radically it departed from the idea of what a Voyager episode could be. As Brannon Braga acknowledged in a retrospective interview about his work on Voyager:

A special favorite to me was Someone to Watch Over Me. That was really a very simple character piece, with no space battles and not much science fiction at all. It showed Star Trek could be funny and touching.

Similarly, actor Robert Picardo singled the episode out as one of his favourites, pointing out that it was a somewhat atypical episode for the EMH, “I also love Someone to Watch Over Me, where the Doctor falls in love with Seven of Nine. I love that one more for its romance and its bittersweet quality.” It really is a superlative piece of Star Trek.

A galaxy of possibilities.

Sadly, Someone to Watch Over Me did not represent a sudden late-season change in direction for Voyager. While that is disappointing, perhaps the episode is all the more special for that.

11 Responses

  1. “You wish to accelerate our social encounter.” Where would this franchise be without Jeri Ryan?

    (Also, was that a Seinfeld reference with the lobster? Seinfeld was a monster back then; I saw references to it in the oddest places, including a Sonic the Hedgehog comic.)

    > You don’t want to give away too much in this moment. You want to save it for the end when you realise your feelings.’ It definitely kept us on our toes

    That reminds me of of when the cast of NYPD Blue stopped receiving scripts in the later years. The co-writer was suffering from alcoholism, though he recovered by the end. (Is there something you want to share with us, Brannon?)

    Oddly, Voyager handled romance much better than the other iterations do, particularly with Seven and Torres.

    • Ryan is astoundingly good. To the point that I almost forgive the damage that the introduction of Seven of Nine caused to the rest of the ensemble. In the Darwinian world of television storytelling gravitating towards stronger performers, Ryan is basically an wolf let loose in the proverbial hen house.

  2. This is honestly my favorite VOY episode, along with Tailor, Tinker, Doctor, Spy. I love ‘My Fair Lady’ so the first time I saw this episode I had a huge, goofy grin on my face for almost the whole time. But as Picardo notes, it really is a bittersweet episode, and I got choked up at the end of the show. It really was a great job by McNeill and the cast! If only every Voyager episode were able to hit those notes…

    It was also a good decision to make Neelix the straight man in the side story. When Neelix is the comedic relief, the humor is frequently cringeworthy, but putting him in the opposite role gave Phillips some good material to work with.

  3. The singing scene was heartbreaking and even better than the very similar one on DS9’s “Chrysalis”. I like both shows for acknowledigng the power of music to bring true character to the fore.
    I am not too fond of Picardo’s solo here, but the duet is overwhelming and brought me to tears.

    All in all it is a very tragic show despite its humorous and well executed B-plot. Picardo sells the Doctor’s inner turmoil and isolation very well. Another strong outing in a pretty strong season.

    • Yep, it’s certainly a standout of the show’s sixth season. Which has a number of really good episodes, even if they get lost in the general mess of the season around them.

      • It is a pity, indeed. The seasons had such a potential which was visible in so many episodes. But somehow it did not add up…

  4. Great guest stars in this episode – recognized from Kids in the Hall and Seinfeld. 90s nostalga was real in re-watching this one.

    I really enjoy the duet between Seven of Nine and the Doctor, although I got quite annoyed with her technobabble explanations for her vocal skills and dancing timing abilities – both devices installed by the borg. Why would the borg need drones to have any voice at all? They have telepathic communication at all times. Why do the Borg have devices to help them dance in time? Maybe Borg cubes are huge party zones when they’re flying around, with drones belting out choruses and dancing in synch, LOL

    I wonder about Paris waltzing into the holodeck uninvited. I imagine there must be a Do Not Disturb sign crew can activate or not when in the holodeck.

    Jeri Ryan is really breathtaking the minute her hair is let down. It’s almost unfair how attractive she is.

  5. I agree with the comment about how annoying it is all of Seven’s abilities have to be tied to her Borg technology somehow. She’s supposed to want to be human, but why when she can practically run the ship herself as a cyborg?

    The point about romance conventions make me think of Friends. The writers on that show pushed Ross and Rachel together again and again. Despite that their relationship never seemed to work and brought out the worst in Ross, it was never let go of. This episode, as you point out, is much more honest about relationships.

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