Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Real Life”

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“Real Life”
Written by Harry Doc. Kloor and Jeri Taylor
Directed by Anson Williams
Season 3, Episode 22
Production episode 164
Original air date: April 23, 1997
Stardate: 50836.2

Captain’s log. We open in what feels like a parody of a 1950s sitcom household, as a perky blonde housewife named Charlene lines up her son Jeffrey and daughter Belle so they can wish their father Kenneth well on his way to work. The kids argue (politely) over who gets to speak to him first.

We then discover that Kenneth is the EMH, who has created this family on the holodeck to try to give himself the family experience.

Voyager arrives at a rendezvous with a scientific research station run by the Vostigye only to find it destroyed. They find a subspace trail and follow it, hoping to find out who’s responsible.

The EMH invites Torres—who is going over the changes the doctor has made to his program—and Kes to dinner with his holofamily. After getting through the first course, Torres is forced to freeze the program, lest she go into insulin shock. She tartly points out to the EMH that this is nothing like a realistic family, and she offers to alter the program to add verisimilitude to it.

The subspace trail Voyager is following peters out, but then there’s a huge subspace distortion and a massive astral eddy forms, which breaks through the boundary between space and subspace. The eddy messes with the ship’s systems, but then disappears before Voyager can try to disrupt it with phasers.

The EMH goes “home” for dinner only to find the house a mess, Charlene on her way out the door to give a lecture at the Bolian embassy (meaning “Kenneth” has to cook dinner), Belle can’t find her ion mallet, and Jeffrey is playing Klingon music obscenely loudly. Jeffrey also has made two Klingon friends who stop by. The EMH is, to say the least, overwhelmed.

Another astral eddy appears, interrupting an attempt by Paris to flirt with Torres. They send a probe in, and discover that the eddies exchange matter between space and subspace. When the eddy disappears, it takes the probe with it, but they’re still able to read its telemetry. The plasma from the eddy might be useful to help power the ship, but the Bussard collectors on Voyager would corrupt the plasma because they’re too powerful. However, a shuttlecraft’s collectors might do the trick. Paris volunteers, first going to sickbay to be inoculated against possible radiation. While there, the EMH lectures Paris about taking unnecessary risks, and how he probably worried his parents sick when he was a kid.

The EMH has analyzed the situation with his family and come up with a solution. Paris warns him that you can’t diagnose a family the way you do a patient, and those words prove prophetic, as Jeffrey and Charlene reject his notions of how to “fix” things, and Belle isn’t that thrilled, either, though she stays on Kenneth’s good side mostly by being adorable. However, Jeffrey is pissed because he’s an adolescent who just wants to hang out with his Klingon friends (one of the “fixes” was telling him he can’t hang out with them anymore), and Charlene is even more pissed that Kenneth made all these decisions without consulting her.

Paris’s shuttle gets pulled into the astral eddy just like the probe was and gets stuck in a region that is between space and subspace. Eventually he rides one of the eddies back into normal space, and Voyager is able to rescue him.

The EMH goes “home” and tries to make nice with Jeffrey and his Klingon friends, but when he discovers that Jeffrey wants to go through a ritual that will make him an honorary Klingon (basically), he’s very upset.

Star Trek: Voyager "Real Life"

Screenshot: CBS

Then Charlene contacts him: Belle was hurt in a parrises squares competition. Kenneth and another doctor operate on her for three hours, but the damage is too great. The EMH ends the program before she can die. He later tells everyone that he “finished” the program and got what he needed out of it. However, while examining Paris after his rescue, he admits that he didn’t want to face his daughter dying. Paris tells him that, if the point of the exercise was to experience a real family life, it has to include the bad with the good.

He goes back into the program and stands with Charlene and Jeffrey as they watch as Belle draws her last breath.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The region of space Voyager is flying through is filled with astral eddies that pop up like the flame spurts in the fire swamp (and which can swallow you up like the lightning sand in the fire swamp—all that we were missing were the Space Amoebas Of Unusual Size…).

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is outraged at the destruction of the Vostigye outpost, but that modulates into nerdy scientific curiosity once they discover the eddies.

Half and half. Torres has been checking up on the EMH’s program adjustments. She also wears a braid in her hair this episode, which is never seen again, though it looks pretty nifty.

Star Trek: Voyager "Real Life"

Screenshot: CBS

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH has been hearing people talk about their families constantly since he was activated, so he decides to create one.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Paris flirts with Torres, interrupting her while she reads her Klingon bodice-ripper (armor-ripper?), Women Warriors at the River of Blood.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. The EMH’s family is entirely on the holodeck, of course.

Do it.

“In fact, we think we have just about the most wonderful husband and father in the quadrant! Don’t we, children?”

“Yes, we d—”

“Computer, freeze program.”

“Lieutenant? What are you doing?”

“I’m stopping this before my blood-sugar levels overload.”

–Charlene and her kids carrying on, Torres stopping the program, the EMH objecting, and Torres speaking for the entire audience

Welcome aboard. Wendy Schaal—who, like Robert Picardo, is a regular in films directed by Joe Dante—plays Charlene, while Glenn Harris plays Jeffrey, Stephen Ralston and Chad Haywood play the Klingon teenagers, and Lindsey Haun plays Belle. Haun previously played a different holographic moppet, Beatrice Burleigh, in “Learning Curve” and “Persistence of Vision.”

Trivial matters: This is the only time the Vostigye are mentioned, but they play a large role (and are significantly fleshed out) in the alternate timeline of Places of Exile by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett in Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism.

This is the only time the EMH uses the name “Kenneth.” He will also once again have a family in the episode “Blink of an Eye,” when he spends three years on a planet where time moves more quickly.

Torres is keeping an eye on the EMH’s program tinkering in an attempt to keep things like what happened in “Darkling” from happening again.

The EMH mentions that he’s had experiences with romance in the past, a reference to Freya and Denara Pel.

The qutluch seen in the program was an assassin’s weapon in TNG’s “Sins of the Father,” and it also looks a lot like the mevaq dagger used in DS9’s “Sons of Mogh.”

The EMH injects Paris with a combination of hyronalin and lectrazine. The former was established on the original series episode “The Deadly Years” as being a treatment for radiation, and has been used regularly on all the spinoffs since. Lectrazine was first established in “Lifesigns,” and is usually used to treat cardiovascular issues.

Parrises squares was first mentioned in TNG’s “11001001,” and has been used repeatedly since.

Star Trek: Voyager "Real Life"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “How’s the new holofamily, Doctor?” I disliked this episode initially, but the more I think about it, the more I loathe it.

The EMH is programmed with the full medical knowledge of the entire Federation of the 24th century, including the knowledge of hundreds of worlds. Yet somehow, the only family unit he can manage to concoct on his first try is the insipid, patriarchal garbage that we get in the teaser and Act 1? And honestly, it’s not much better once Torres “fixes” it, as we go from Leave it to Beaver to Married…with Children, and it’s just awful.

The entire setup is just a colossal, pathetic failure of imagination. There’s no exploration of anything here, just inserting Robert Picardo into a 1950s sitcom setting that is then modulated into a 1990s sitcom setting that’s no less insipid. What is he supposed to gain from this experience, exactly?

And then apparently he totally forgets that he can change the program. In fact, Torres has already changed it. Why, when confronted with a wife who actually has a mind of her own (probably the worst aspect of the opening bit is how utterly mindless and bereft of personality Charlene is, and the kids aren’t much better), with a son who is rebelling by trying to be Klingon, and a daughter who can’t find anything, did he not just change the fucking program? Why were his only options after Belle’s accident to end the program or finish it? Why not tell the computer to rejigger the program so she doesn’t have the accident? For that matter, why was he wasting three hours operating on a hologram when he’s the only doctor on a ship that’s busy chasing subspace anomalies?

Oh yeah, the subspace anomalies. What starts as a promising adventure to avenge the deaths of the people on a space station quickly becomes a boring technobabble chase that has absolutely no suspense or consequence—or even vengeance for the poor Vostigye, whose deaths are forgotten by the time Act 1 ends.

Just a stupid, dumb, ridiculous episode. The only reason I gave it as high as a 2 is because it gave us Women Warriors at the River of Blood, which is a book I think we all need…

Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be doing a bunch of panels at the virtual version of Dragon Con this coming weekend. His schedule can be found here.



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