Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Episode Review - Prototype (Voyager, Season 2)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – Voyager beams aboard the body of an artificial lifeform. It is humanoid and low on power. Torres begins work to repair it and reactivate it. After receiving advice from Neelix and the Doctor, Torres is able to reactivate the robotic humanoid, which identifies itself as automated unit 3947. It appears that 3947 is one of many robots that were created during a war. 3947 requests that B’Elanna helps him in producing more of his kind, as his kind are only able to repair existing units and not create new ones. When Janeway refuses the offer, 3947 seems to accept it. When a ship of identical looking units arrives (identified as the Pralor automated personnel units), 3947 abducts Torres and forces her to construct new units. After Voyager is almost destroyed in an unsuccessful rescue attempt, Torres finally agrees to assist the Pralor units. Just as Torres appears to have been successful at creating a prototype unit, the Pralor unit’s enemy, the Cravic units, attacks their ship. As the battle rages on, B’Elanna makes a startling discovery about the true nature of the automated units.

Score: 7/10 – This is a classic type of story dealing with artificial intelligence, a staple of any sci-fi franchise. B’Elanna is fascinated by the possibility of being a “builder”, a term the Pralor unit uses to describe the sentient beings that created them. Because of the idea in the Federation that artificial life can be sentient and therefor has rights, we are put in a Prime Directive dilemma of deciding whether it is best to help these units build themselves or to allow the society to evolve in its natural course. It is a clever twist to have the units turn on their builders when the Pralor and Cravic people declare the war to be over. To have the robots turn on and destroy their builders/creators because peace was against their programming is interesting, and it awakens within Torres a startling realization about how quickly good intentions can go awry. The episode is well written and acted, giving Roxann Dawson some good scenes that she pulls off well. If there is one thing that I could note that might be an area that could have worked better was the design of the robots. They basically looked like men in plain jumpsuits with a weird metal mask covering their face. The look just seemed to much on the corny side. According to Rick Worthy, the actor who played Unit 3947, it was almost impossible for him to see through the slits they had in the mask.

Relevance – 1 point. Only one point to score here. During her conversations with Unit 3947, she mentions that artificial life forms in the Federation are regarded as sentient beings. She then goes on to mention Data by name. This harkens back to the 2nd Season TNG episode “The Measure of a Man”.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity works. Tuvok is opposed to repairing the robot due to security concerns. Torres is fascinated by the engineering challenge. Neelix tries to help out with anecdotes. The Doctor is sarcastic. Universe continuity checks out, as does the story continuity. It truly makes sense that the robots destroyed their creators because of their programming. Since the creators were trying to stop the war, they were seen as an obstacle in the way of achieving the unit’s overall mission.

Character Development – 2 points. Definitely a Torres episode. She gets to tap into both her engineering side as well as polish her mothering nature. She does treat the prototype unit as a child and takes a certain amount of extra care towards it. That makes her deactivating it all the more painful for her when that moment comes. It is nice to see Torres go on the journey towards saving Unit 3947. One thing I loved about B’Elanna’s character is how she solves problems. Other engineers tend to consult with their peers, but Torres has a different approach. This is likely due to her being in the Maquis, but she would turn to anyone who may have a different perspective. This is not the first time that she turns to the Doctor to get a biological/medical perspective, and it all came from the advice she got from Neelix.

Social Commentary – 2 points. There are quite a few things that we could touch on with this episode. First, there is the classic commentary about the warnings of an over-reliance on technology. That is typically a given for stories involving AI. The more we go down this road, the more likely the AI units will eventually do something bad to us. Going deeper, as we examine the relationship between B’Elanna and the prototype unit, we see how sometimes our own belief system on what is right can be challenged. B’Elanna’s experience with the prototype was also a metaphor for motherhood. Of course, most mothers are not forced to kill their offspring to protect the galaxy, but sometimes a mother has to turn her back on her children for their own good.

Cool Stuff – 1 point. Alright, I know I criticized the look of the robots in this episode, but I am going to give a cool point for the Pralor and Cravic units. The fact that they turned on their creators when peace was declared was an interesting revelation. I guess to go along with social commentary section there is the idea that if you are going to create AI to fight your wars for you, make sure you include a “Peace” switch to turn on when the war is over. Their ships are also quite cool looking and fit the concept of the character.

Rank – Captain (17 points). Overlook the very cheesy appearance of the units, then you have an excellent episode. It is fun with a clever plot-twist that gives us some insight into the character of B’Elanna Torres.

If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Voyager, click on the link here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

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