Science-fiction-tv fans: Quiz alert! ”You launch a protoplasm capsule into your partner’s receptor port and then wait for an impact summary.”
Is this a line of dialogue from the series conclusion of (a) Star Trek: Voyager or (b) 3rd Rock From the Sun?
Answer: (b) — that’s how John Lithgow’s alien, Dick Solomon, describes to his girlfriend, Mary (Jane Curtin), the act of sex as it’s performed on his planet. But the line wouldn’t have been out of place on any Star Trek spin-off, either — it could easily pass for an explanation of a biological experiment delivered by, say, Voyager‘s Vulcan security officer Tuvok (Tim Russ).
For people with a laser-beam-thin interest in sci-fi (oh, say…me, for instance), this is one problem with the genre: dialogue that’s equal parts jargon, joke, and gobbledygook. It takes a mighty actor to deliver sci-fi dramaturgy, and 3rd Rock and Voyager both found one in their respective leaders, Lithgow and Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway. Lithgow always understood he was playing broad farce, and this stage vet pumped up his energy and maintained a loopy wit that transcended the show’s often-limp punchlines. For her part, Mulgrew presided over the USS Voyager with a jaw as prominently steely as any to have graced a Starfleet Command ship without ever slipping into inadvertent camp — as the original Trek‘s William Shatner did — or unwarranted huffiness, as Avery Brooks did on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Patrick Stewart’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Captain Picard remains the standard of unprecedented subtlety by which Trek‘s lead actors are measured.)
This week, both series end long and prosperous runs — Voyager premiered in ’95, 3rd Rock in ’96 — and both send their crews back home. (These aren’t plot spoilers — this has been all over the Web for months.) In 3rd Rock‘s jagged hour-long farewell, it’s a matter of wringing laughs out of the supporting crew’s one-dimensional traits: the dumbness of French Stewart’s Harry (imagine the relief Stewart must feel, never having to do that eyeball-squashing squint anymore), the grumpiness of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s old-man-in-a-young-man’s-body Tommy, and the amazon hubba-hubba-ness of Kristen Johnston’s Sally, who, in a moment typical of the show’s burlesque-era corniness, says goodbye to her earthly breasts, each of which she named. Guest star Elvis Costello, a reputed fan proving once again that there’s no accounting for Brit taste, croons (what else?) ”Fly Me to the Moon.” And not a season too soon.
As for Voyager, I catch about two viewings a season (the opener and ender), so I turned to an expert to help me judge its finale — my next-door neighbor Mark, that rare fellow with extensive Trek knowledge who also remains an articulate adult. We viewed the two-hour send-off, which commences in the future of Voyager‘s already future: a flash-forward to most of the crew, once over 70,000 light-years from home, now safe on Earth. And when I say ”most,” I mean even my antennae went up when a returned Janeway was asked about Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan, another sci-fi paradox: a stiff hottie) and replied ominously, ”I’d rather not talk about Seven of Nine.” Uh-oh…
Neighbor Mark pointed out that the final Voyager bears a strong resemblance to the series’ popular 100th episode from 1998; in both cases, it’s necessary for the crew to travel back in time to attempt to undo something awful, thus breaching the hallowed ”temporal prime directive” — i.e., don’t screw with time periods, something UPN actually needs to do more often. There’s a special appearance by arch-archenemy, the Borg Queen, once and again played by Alice Krige from the film Star Trek: First Contact — not Once and Again‘s Susanna Thompson.
Robert Picardo, as the holographic Doc, remains wittily prissy and priapic to the end, there’s a satisfying payoff to this season’s pregnancy of B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), and you’ve gotta like a space opera that has Janeway yelling ”Just get these Klingons off my tail!” When Mark and I turned off the VCR and showed each other our notes, we’d arrived at the same letter grade, a fair measure of Voyager‘s success to fan and casual viewer alike. I hope our vibes are similarly attuned when I plant that new tree on the border of our property. (Note: Grades are for finales; as for series-run grades, fight amongst yourselves.) 3rd Rock From the Sun: C Star Trek: Voyager: B+