Star Trek: Voyager – 3×22 – “Real Life”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Real Life”
Originally Broadcast April 23rd, 1997
Reviewed by Chakoteya

The Story

Stardate: 50863.2

In the spotless house, an enthusiastic woman is lining up her son and daughter at the door, checking their nails are clean and shoes polished, before they say goodbye to Father as he leaves for work. The father of this perfect home is the EMH, and he promises his adoring wife that he will bring some colleagues home for dinner that evening, before leaving the holodeck and appearing in sickbay for his day’s work.

Captain’s log, stardate 50836.2. We’ve had long range communications with a seemingly friendly race known as the Vostigye. We’ll be rendezvousing within the hour at one of their space stations.

Meanwhile, up on the bridge, sensors are not picking up the space station, only debris. The composition is consistent with a space station, and whatever happened occurred less than an hour ago. There are no weapons signature but Captain Janeway assumes foul play as they pick up a subspace wake leading away from the scene and follow it.

In sickbay, Torres is giving the EMH a tune up to make sure his habitual tinkering with his program is not having any more unwanted knock-on effects. He tells her about his family and invites both her and Kes to dinner. Curiosity piqued, Torres accepts.

The dinner is worthy of the cordon bleu chef, Charlene, who devotes her existence to making the home a sanctuary for her wonderful husband. Son Jeffrey is ahead of his years in science and little Belle is a mathematical genius. Torres freezes the program before she overloads on the sugar in the atmosphere. They are too perfect, she explains to the bemused EMH, but she can tweak the program to make it more realistic, if he’d like her to.

The wake that Voyager has been following thins out, and they put the shields up just before a strange phenomenon comes out of subspace and wreaks havoc with their systems before dissipating again. No one has ever seen anything like this before, and Janeway’s scientific curiosity is aroused. Chakotay suggests that they harvest some of it’s plasma energy to allow the crew to come off replicator rations for a while.

The EMH confides to Kes that he has decided to allow Torres to add random elements to his family program. His database of paediatric medicine gives him confidence that there is nothing he cannot handle. On the holodeck, he discovers the house is full of a cacophonous noise, Belle is searching for her Pareses Squares mallet and Charlene is about to leave for her lecture at the Bolian embassy. A thumping at the door heralds the arrival of two Klingon teenagers to see Jeffrey and Belle throws a tantrum about daddy not helping her to find her mallet. The EMH is totally out of his depth.

Paris is in the mess hall, questioning as to why Neelix is preparing the same casserole for the fourth day running. As he is out of replicator rations, he has no choice but to take a plateful of the dish of the day over to the table where Torres is reading a Klingon romance novel. He borrows it, for research into how to quicken her heart. The gossip of the day is the EMH’s family, and B’Elanna is impressed that he is sticking with it. Their chat is interrupted by another anomaly appearing near the ship. The senior staff head up to the bridge, and while Paris holds Voyager as steady as possible, a probe is sent into it, to discover that there is a calm eye at the centre of the storm, and there is too much turbulence to beam in the plasma. As the eddy collapses, it takes the probe with in into an interfold layer between space and subspace. Paris volunteers to take a shuttle out to try and collect plasma particles with the Bussard collectors.

He calls in at sickbay to get a couple of anti-radiation shots first, only to get a lecture from the EMH about his innate taste for risk-taking. The experience with his family is colouring the EMH’s outlook on his life. He has, however, come up with a solution. There is a family meeting in which he hands out a new schedule of chores and a list of rules and regulations. He has changed Charlene’s lecture night, and Belle’s sports night – putting her down from the first to second teams. Jeffrey is banned from having Klingon friends too, and Charlene takes him to one side to point out that if he wants her to agree with these changes, he should have consulted her first. Jeffrey storms back to his room, and Charlene follows, leaving the EMH alone with Belle, to try and explain how dangerous Pareses Squares can be, and that he is only trying to keep her safe. She agrees, and tells him that she loves him, even if he does make a mess of things.

On the shuttlecraft Cochrane, Paris is regretting his choice of breakfast in the turbulence, as the eddy dissipates and he begins collecting the plasma that might save them all from more of Neelix’s casserole, but another one forms nearby and drags him into the interfold layer with it. After a lot of fiddling with frequencies, they make audio contact to learn that he is safe.

The EMH has brought his family problems to work, and is having trouble analysing Ensign Parsons glial cell culture. Kes takes over and suggests he has the afternoon off to try and sort things out. So the EMH arrives home early to discover Jeffrey discussing ‘business’ with Larg and K’kath, his Klingon friends. Larg has a knife, which he tries to lie about, but the EMH’s database is full of Klingon cultural references and he recognises that it is a kut’luch dagger, used for ‘first blood-letting’ in the journey to becoming a warrior. He orders the Klingons out and insists that they never bring a weapon into the house again. Jeffrey is furious. He was going to perform the kut’luch, to become a Klingon rather than a feeble human. The EMH insists that as long, as he lives in his house, he abides by his ethical standards, so the rebellious teenager storms out. Then Charlene calls to break some bad news. Belle has had an accident playing Pareses Squares, and is in hospital.

Despite operating for 3 hours, the EMH and Doctor Findlay have been unable to stop the bleeding in her brain. Charlene refuses to accept the prognosis and goes to get a second opinion. Belle wakes up, wanting to know why she can’t feel her legs, and her vision in blurred. Unable to handle the situation he ends the program right there. Back in sickbay, he tells Kes that he had got what he wanted from the experience, and won’t be revisiting the program.

On the bridge, Tom tells his Captain that he plans to escape the interfold layer the same way he got in – via an eddy. While Chakotay takes the helm, Torres and Kim struggle to get a lock on the shuttlecraft, but they finally succeed in getting it aboard and beaming Tom to sickbay. After getting a tirade about risk taking, Tom finally prises the truth out of the EMH. The hologram doesn’t want to have to deal with Belle’s death and doesn’t see why he should have to. Tom gently points out that every one on Voyager has had to deal with the loss of close family members, through distance if not actual death, and it has brought the whole crew closer together. If the Doctor doesn’t play this tragedy out he will miss one of the most important facts about having a family – being there for each other through the bad times as well as the good.

He only needs a few moments alone to make up his mind, then he returns to the holographic hospital to be with his wife and son as Belle peacefully ‘falls asleep’.

Review

Welcome to ‘Space-Soap’, a heart rending soap opera set way out there in more ways than one. It’s yet an other holodeck story, so the EMH can hold centre stage with his take on humanity. This time, we’re not going for mental breakdown, we’re doing relationships and parenting. The EMH has a rose-coloured view of family life, but broken family child B’Elanna soon sorts that out for him. It’s a good job she does, so the acting of the Ideal Family can move from terminally wooden to half-way decent.

As far as the main story goes, I suppose the lesson here is that you have to take the good times with the bad. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that, before we try to bale out of marriage, friendships or whatever just because things don’t always go the way we’d like them to. On a character side, the Paris – Torres relationship is beginning to blossom. Although our defensive Klingoness is still sniping at Tom, there’s more gently teasing coming through, and she is very concerned for his safety in the anomaly of the week.

This is a love it or hate it episode. If you like to be made to cry, have your emotions put through a wringer every so often, enjoy seeing the EMH trying to be a living person and getting it very wrong, you’ll love it. If you’re not a fan of the soap opera genre, like me, then you’re not going to have a fun time here. If you’re a hair-style obsessive, you’ll notice that Torres’s look is being softened up.

I think it was a mistake to have another ‘family’ story straight after the joy of ‘Before and After’, with the possible family lives of Kes, Tom, Harry et al. We have a saying over here in London – after the Lord Mayor’s show come the road sweepers. That just about sums up my feelings.

Grade: 5/10

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