Date: December 17, 2020
Season 5, Episode 11
Musical Accompaniment: Am still on songs that begin with the letter ‘S’, and there are SO MANY that have the word “some” in them.
Interstellar News: I am very glad it is Thursday.
TL;DR: The EMH takes holoimages of everyone but finds something unusual when he scans Kim; a surgery he doesn’t remember performing and one Kim doesn’t remember getting from 18 months ago. The Doctor asks for Seven’s help running a self-diagnostic, but then doesn’t remember asking for her help. They are able to find five images on his camera of a mystery Ensign and mystery alien, as well a few snippets of memory that were hidden from the Doctor. Janeway sends Seven to look for cloaked ships, asks the Doctor to deactivate himself for his safety, and then shares a look with Tuvok. The Doctor saves a backup and sets up his camera to take pictures and then deactivates himself as someone comes into sickbay to adjust his program… and it’s Janeway. She explains that something happened and they had to adjust his programming because it caused a problem, and now she’s got to do it again. Seven appeals to Janeway and Janeway decides to share the story with the Doctor, so we see a flashback.
We start with Ensign Jetal’s surprise party, a mission with her, the Doctor, and Kim, an enemy alien who attacks them all, Voyager coming to the rescue, and the Doctor trying to stop them from both dying. He can’t save them both so he chooses Kim while Jetal dies. He can’t reconcile why he choose Kim over her and looses his shit in the mess hall, which then causes his cognitive and ethical subroutines to spiral… so Janeway ordered him to be reprogrammed. The Doctor again begins to spiral but after another chat with Seven, Janeway decides to help him get through it. Everyone sits with the Doctor over a period of two weeks and eventually he sends Janeway to bed and reads her poetry, seemingly starting to get some peace at his decision.
Janeway: A replicator operates through a series of electronic pathways that allow it to receive instructions and take appropriate action, and there you go. A cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, a plasma conduit, whatever we tell it to do. As difficult as it is to accept, the Doctor is more like that replicator than he is like us.
Seven of Nine: He would disagree.
Janeway: I’m sure he would, but I can’t let that change my decision. I learned that the hard way when his program almost self-destructed. I won’t take that risk again.
Seven of Nine: The risk isn’t yours to take.Janeway and Seven discussing ethics at 0200. To quote Ted Mosby, “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.”.
“You’re malfunctioning, and you need to be repaired.”: This is a very interesting episode. At first it’s a cool, new technology to help aid the Doctor… kind of like a full body scan but much more sci-fi. It’s immediately a mystery and there might be an intruder, much like when the EMH was being messed with in “Scientific Method“. As soon as Janeway and Tuvok share a look in her ready room, I know something is up and it’s clear the EMH thought so too. Then the story morphs into ethics on a variety of fronts and ends up with a giant group counseling session. It’s also an interesting way to bring in some new faces by doing a story in the time before Seven. There is also a really nice set up as the Doctor tells Kim he’s not in the business of killing people (by choosing to not space the alien) and minutes later he has to make a decision about who to save. Paris and Seven do excellent work in this episode. Paris is immediately in “go” mode when Kim and Jetral are brought into sickbay and you can see that he and the EMH are triaging and brainstorming together, but ultimately Paris knows on the Doctor can make the call. Seven advocates for the Doctor, who has been her champion, and even gets Janeway to reconsider her position now that she’s had more time to think about it.
Writing this during the ninth month of the Coronavirus pandemic here in the United States, this episode is extremely sobering. Health professionals are choosing who to treat all the time due to capacity or even just not having enough time to get to everyone. Do you try to save an old person or a young person? Do you try to save the person with the best prognosis regardless of age? Do you just try to save everyone and take it hard when you can’t? It’s an impossible decision. I make a similar, but not at all comparable in regard to life and death, decision when choosing who to enroll in the last section of a class. Majors are given priority, but what if they are both majors? Do I go by GPA, closeness to graduation? If we all think about our jobs, we make these decisions every day… but sometimes they don’t really have a large ripple effect like Covid does. The Doctor, in this episode, tries to understand why he made the decision he did when he had two patients in the exact same situation. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to pull a Batman and save them both, but now he knows the weight behind his position and what toll it takes to make those decisions. 7 cups of lukewarm coffee for Janeway here.