HEAT VISION

The Forgotten 'Star Trek: Voyager' Episode Worth Revisiting

Star Trek Voyager -Roxann Dawson, Kate Mulgrew, Tim Russ - Photofest -H 2020
Photofest/Paramount Pictures
The underrated and inventive season-six hour "Live Fast and Prosper" turns 20 this week.

While Star Trek: Voyager often gets criticized for its episodes feeling like they could easily be done on Star Trek: The Next Generation, there’s one episode only Voyager could have pulled off: “Live Fast and Prosper.”

Writer Robin Berger’s underrated and inventive season-six episode, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, is The Sting by way of Ocean’s 11 in space, as three alien con artists pose as Voyager crewmembers Captain Janeway, Tuvok and Chakotay. The imposters trick unsuspecting alien races in the Delta Quadrant — where the Federation and Starfleet don’t exist — to pay for membership into their fake Federation before jetting off with the loot and leaving false promises in their wake. The real Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and crew struggle to stop them when the captain discovers who to blame for the crooks getting the idea for their latest con: her own officers. On a recent mission, Lt. Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and Neelix (Ethan Phillips) were inadvertently duped by the con artists in a way that gave the thieves access to Voyager’s files aboard the Delta Flyer shuttle. The real Voyager gets into a near-disaster phaser fight with one of the many duped alien races before Janeway is forced to stop these con artists by employing a shell game-esque scheme that would make Danny Ocean envious. 

Like the great con-artist movies to which “Live Fast” owes its storyline, the episode’s plot structure clicks into place like safe tumblers — thanks in large part to LeVar Burton’s effortless direction. The hour is pure polish; a slick and entertaining use of a muscle set that Trek — and especially Voyager — rarely flexed, given the then-rigid narrative parameters to which the franchise historically confined itself. The execution is less “outside the box” and more finding a creative and engaging way to play within those confines —  delivering what fans expect in new and fun ways they didn’t see coming. And a large part of the episode’s success comes via the little details Berger clearly had fun scripting. For example, the con artists’ low-fi cosplay uniforms, complete with oversized comm badges and rank pips. (And you gotta slow clap for the subtle visual gag of their oversized version of Chakotay’s facial tattoo.)

“Life Fast and Prosper” also succeeds by subverting the popular Trek trope of having one of the good guys give a heartfelt monologue to help cure the bad guys of their villainy. Dala (Kaitlin Hopkins), the lead con artist posing as “Janeway,” is immune to Neelix’s attempt to show her the error of her ways when he tries to empathize with her plight with a story about his own. In Voyager’s brig, after Neelix appeals to her guilt over seeing every interaction as a transaction, instead of a two-way street where all parties can benefit, Dala flashes a brief epiphany before physically assaulting Neelix and shooting him with a phaser. 

Dala ultimately escapes relatively easily from Voyager by stealing the Delta Flyer — and we cut to Janeway flashing an “it’s-all-part-of-the-plan” grin. Captain Janeway wanted Dala to escape — a risky move — so she could use her to put an end to Dala and her crew’s galaxy-wide graft. (It’s hard to imagine Picard being able to calculate that risk and all the moving parts therein the way Janeway does, further proving she’s one of the best characters ever in Trek canon.) 

Unlike most Star Trek: Voyager episodes, this one makes it easy for audiences to buy why and how Voyager can take this detour on their 30,000 light-year journey back to Earth. They have to tend to this situation because they helped in part to create it. To avoid addressing it, to let it sort out on its own, would make it worse for the real Voyager crew in the long term. They would leave chaos and disenfranchised victims in their wake — and risk making their journey home worse should one of these duped alien species decide to take out their grievances on Janeway and her crew by way of a space battle. This choice, to take some time away from their mission home in the short term to benefit everyone in the long haul, speaks to the show’s operational theme: family. 

As satisfying as it is to watch Janeway pull off a con-within-a-con by the end of the episode, the exercise resonates beyond just an hour’s entertainment because it is all in service of an entire series’ worth of Janeway’s care for her crew. The captain often vocalizes how they’re a family, even the Red Shirts. In true Star Trek fashion, that bond proves stronger than the problematic one among the thieves who have stolen their identities and briefly tarnished their good names. Ultimately, it is Janeway’s ingenuity — and her crew’s care for one another — that leads to the grifters’ undoing. They turn on themselves almost as quickly as Janeway and her crew galvanize against them. “Live Fast and Prosper” tells a story about family — about how the ones we make are often as strong as the ones we are born into. To do so within the confines of a caper resonates long after the end credits roll — and makes this little-seen episode of the classic series worth revisiting.

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