(written from a Production point of view)
|"Vis à Vis"|
|VOY, Episode 4x20|
Production number: 188
First aired: 8 April 1998
|←||87th of 168 produced in VOY||→|
|←||87th of 168 released in VOY||→|
|←||512th of 728 released in all||→|
| Written By|
Robert J. Dougherty
Jesús Salvador Treviño
A genome thief switches physical forms with Tom Paris.
The Doctor finds Lieutenant jg Tom Paris inside a holoprogram called Grease Monkey, which was a 1960s-style car garage complete with "surf rock" music emanating from a nearby portable radio of that era. The Doctor calls Paris' attention to the fact that his new medical assistant has been rather lax in his duties to improve upon his skills as an assistant, instead choosing to spend the time he should have been spending in sickbay working on a mechanical "patient" of sorts, a vintage 1969 Chevy Camaro. The conversation ends when Paris gets a call from the bridge to take the helm. When he arrives on the bridge he is still wearing his garage overalls.
An alien ship emerges out of a spatial distortion just ahead, its outer hull sparking with what appears to be an energy overload. Paris believes that the ship is being powered by a coaxial warp drive, an experimental propulsion system that could be the cause of the spatial distortion. Lieutenant Commander Tuvok's readings from the tactical console reveal that the alien ship's warp engines are overloading. Realizing how dangerous a coaxial warp drive explosion could be to nearby space and with the crew unable to hail its pilot or beam them off the ship, Paris decides to create a symmetric warp field that could possibly contain any instabilities in the alien ship's warp core. There is the possibility that the symmetric warp field could cause the USS Voyager to collide with the ship. Captain Kathryn Janeway agrees to Paris' plan and he carefully maneuvers Voyager close to the alien ship so that Voyager's warp field surrounds both ships. With the alien ship's warp core powering down, Voyager receives a hail from the other ship. A humanoid male alien requests repairs to his ship, which Janeway offers help for and which the alien accepts before beaming aboard Voyager.
The alien identifies himself as Steth, a test pilot from the fourth planet of the Benthan system who is currently test-piloting the very ship that the crew of Voyager had put themselves at risk to rescue. As Janeway talks with Steth about helping him repair his ship, Commander Chakotay has a talk with Paris about the lieutenant's seemingly lackadaisical attitude toward his duties as both the navigator and the medical assistant before he decides to assign him to helping Steth with the repairs. On board Steth's ship, Paris gets to know its pilot a little better with some friendly conversation concerning Steth's previous flying missions. Paris tells Steth about the time when he took his father's shuttle out for a joyride. At one time during the repairs, when Paris' back is turned, Steth briefly transforms into an alien female of another species. Steth invites Paris to come with him on his test-piloting adventures, promising that he would have a great time but Paris turns down Steth's offer, realizing that he has responsibilities on Voyager and that B'Elanna Torres would be furious if he just took off.
Paris then later meets Torres in the mess hall on a lunch date that he is late for, explaining that he was helping Steth with his ship's repairs. Torres is wondering what's going on with Paris, why he's been canceling dates and spending lots of time in the holodeck. Paris tries to tell Torres that nothing's going on and that he doesn't need to report every moment that he's not spending with her to her, causing Torres to storm out of the mess hall.
Meanwhile, on Steth's ship, he checks with its computer to see how long it will be before his body reverts to its previous form and it reports that it will be three hours and thirteen minutes and that complete genome recovery is imminent.
The following day, Paris takes Steth into his garage holodeck program to tell him about an idea he had for fixing the alien ship's propulsion system that he came up with, similar to a 20th century car's carburetor. Sometime during the discussion, when again Paris' back is turned to Steth, he transforms yet again into the alien female humanoid, though his voice is still that of his male form. He reverts back to his male form again before Paris notices anything. Shortly after, Steth goes into Cargo Bay 2 and uses Paris' handprint to access all information regarding the lieutenant when Seven of Nine comes into the room and notices what he was doing. Steth says that he was looking for files for polaric modulators and ends up leaving the room under the pretense of looking for the files elsewhere. Seven warns Steth that he should familiarize himself with the protocols of being on board a Federation ship.
The repairs on Steth's ship are soon completed and Paris is on board to make a final check on the propulsion system's flow field parameters when he notices that one of his tools from his holoprogram's toolbox is sitting on that ship's computer console. Steth reveals to Paris that he needed that tool to sample his DNA from the cellular residue left on it, finding that Paris' DNA is compatible, he pins Paris to a wall and grabs him while he and Paris change forms with each other. Now in the form of Paris, Steth stuns Paris (who is now in the form of Steth) and sends him and the coaxial warp drive ship on their way while Steth assumes Paris' life on board Voyager.
Paris, in the form of Steth, wakes up and finds out that he is now on board Steth's ship, which is being attacked by various alien ships when a female humanoid being identical to the form Steth assumed beams aboard, and says she is Steth. Paris realizes that both he and this female humanoid (the real Steth) are victims of a shapeshifting identity thief that was posing as Steth and decide to work together to bring this shapeshifter to justice. Meanwhile, the shapeshifter as Paris has trouble with the life he assumed on Voyager: barging into Torres' quarters with a golf club, attempting to take her on an impromptu picnic on the fourth planet of the Kendren system, even getting into an altercation with Seven of Nine when she finds him in the mess hall looking through Janeway's personal logs. In Janeway's ready room, the shapeshifter is found physically assaulting Janeway and is rendered unconscious by Tuvok before being sent to sickbay.
Back on board Steth's ship, Paris and the real Steth return to Voyager to warn the crew about the identity thief when Janeway orders a tractor beam to hold the ship until the crew hears from her. However, Janeway goes to the shuttlebay and takes off in a shuttlecraft that has recently been modified with Steth's coaxial warp technology. Paris convinces Chakotay that the shapeshifter is now in the form of Janeway and that he truly is Paris, convincing him enough to release the tractor beam on Steth's ship so they could pursue the shapeshifter. While in pursuit of the shuttlecraft, the shapeshifter fires on Steth's ship and prepares to go into coaxial warp before Paris decides to hit the shuttlecraft's polaric modulator with a chromoelectric pulse to disable its "carburetor". With the shapeshifter stopped, Paris and Steth bring him back to Voyager where Paris, Steth and Janeway are put back in the right bodies and the shapeshifter into the female humanoid form of his previous victim. Steth says that he's going to try finding every victim the shapeshifter has violated when he brings it back to Benthos.
Later on, Paris brings Torres into his Grease Monkey holoprogram to make peace with her for all the hours he felt he should have spent with her, taking her inside the Camaro he was working on to passionately kiss her as the "surf rock" music plays on in the background.
- "Captain's log, stardate 51762.4. The repairs to Steth's coaxial drive have been completed, well ahead of schedule."
- "Captain's log, supplemental. The Doctor has treated Mister Paris' phaser wounds, but has been unable to wake him. The motive for his attack remains a mystery."
- "Captain's log, stardate 51775.2. While the alien intruder remains trapped in the body of his last victim, the Doctor has found a way to return Tom, Steth and me to our own bodies."
"Ow! Ow! What do you think you're doing, doc?"
"An impromptu auditory exam."
"Did I pass?"
"With flying colors, which leads me to believe you did hear me when I requested you meet me this morning."
- - Tom Paris and The Doctor in Paris' "grease monkey" holodeck program when The Doctor uses the horn of the car
"Somebody call for a driver?"
- - Tom Paris, when entering the bridge wearing an oil stained "grease monkey" suit from his holodeck program
"How can you be so sure?"
"Advanced subspace geometry. It's the one course at the Academy where I actually paid attention."
- - Chakotay and Tom Paris
Title, Story and Script
- This episode had the working title "Perspectives".  The term ultimately used as the title of this installment, "vis à vis," is a French term literally meaning "face to face".
- Actor Dan Butler likened this episode to a certain film. "It's sort of [an] homage to Face/Off," Butler reckoned, "the movie with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- This episode's writer, Robert Doherty, was – at the time of writing the installment – an assistant to the producers of Star Trek: Voyager.
- The episode's final draft script was submitted on 12 December 1997. 
Cast and Characters
- Seven of Nine actress Jeri Ryan was impressed by Dan Butler's acting here, in his various roles as Steth as well as Tom Paris and the alien intruder when each of the latter two are occupying Steth's body. "He's got a tough role to play," the actress related about Butler, "and he's doing a really good job." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- Actor Robert Duncan McNeill appreciated that this episode gave him an opportunity to play the rebelliousness of a young Tom Paris. "It's fun, in this episode, to play those qualities that I came on playing, you know? It's always fun to play the bad guy! It's the Paris that we know now, [who] is a good guy, but he's got this secret in this episode, you know. And so, it's great. Everybody thinks he's still the good guy, but he gets to cause some trouble." (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
Production and Music
- This episode's production period included 6 January 1998, a day on which Jeri Ryan became distracted by the prosthetics that Dan Butler wore. "Jeri [...] had a very difficult focus problem," Butler remarked, "and would go, 'I was staring at your nostrils and, you know, [the forehead prosthetics].'" The day after this incident, an amused Ryan herself commented, "Well, it's a little problematic, because he's got [two noses] and you look right in his [upper] nostrils, so it was throwing me off a little bit yesterday. It's like a magnet; you just look right at it. And, of course, he's [pointing at it] and blowing both noses, which doesn't help, doesn't make things any easier." The activities on the day when Ryan made that statement included not only video interviews with her, Dan Butler and Robert Duncan McNeill but also the shooting of the scene in which the alien intruder transfers between the bodies of Steth and Paris. (Braving the Unknown: Season Four, VOY Season 4 DVD)
- The songs playing at the beginning and end of the episode in the holodeck are "Night Rider" and "Let's Go Trippin'" by Dick Dale. Ronald B. Moore – this installment's visual effects supervisor – was influential in selecting this music, particularly the former composition. "Since it was a '60s kind of thing I was able to get them to use music from Dick Dale," Moore recalled. "Dick came down, and I was able to give him a tour of the set." The song that plays in the episode's final scene was a result of a recommendation from Dennis McCarthy, who had once been a member of Dick Dale's backing band and was now the composer of this episode. Moore offered, "I was told that he heard the music and said, 'I used to be a Deltone.' This is a small world. He suggested that they close the show with another Dick Dale song. They got to [do that]." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 103)
- CGI involved in the design of Steth's ship was done by Digital Muse, under the supervision of Ron Moore. To create the effect of both Steth's ship and a shuttlecraft individually emerging from coaxial space, Moore took inspiration from origami and decided to surround each craft in an outline of energy. "To create these ships that unfolded, I decided to do kind of a literal thing, so that a ship would be like origami and unfold," Moore remembered. "We could get a little bit of energy to outline the shape, and then inside it we would see the ship unfold and fill it up. That would give it shape, so you'd have a feeling that it was a ship you were looking at all the way through, yet it was still unfolding. The problem with putting energy on the outside, it makes it harder to see what's inside. So it was a delicate balance [....] Energy defined the shape." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 103)
- Showing Steth's ship destabilizing in the teaser involved coloring the energy outline in shades that were unusual for the craft. "I tried to show that [with] color [....] When Steth was having trouble we had a lot of reds and oranges start running through this shell which was normally blue and green," Ron Moore explained. "I've found that in the [compositing] bay, I have some control, and do the final tweaking there. That's what we did with the color." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 103)
- Ron Moore found some difficulty with visualizing the morph in the scene wherein Paris and the alien impostor, disguised as Steth, swap bodies. "Digital Muse did some nice work on that," Ron Moore commented. "It got really confusing when we got Steth and Paris together up against the wall. This is Paris to Steth, this is Steth to Paris. I was afraid I was going to get one of them wrong." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 90)
- The creation of the scene in which Paris, in Steth's body, is confronted by Daelen's ship and a pair of Benthan patrol ships utilized CGI models designed by the visual effects company Digital Muse. Ron Moore said of the vessels, "We weren't going to see them much, just [in] a couple of shots [....] I would get sketches from Muse and pick a direction that we'd want to go, make whatever changes we felt necessary. That's what we did for both [ship classes]. We wanted to play this size thing a little bit, with the biggest one being Daelen's ship." The size differential helped make it conceivable that the arrival of Daelen's ship would intimidate the Benthan crafts into immediately departing, relieving the visual effects artists of having to create a big battle. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 90)
Reception and Aftermath
- This episode was enjoyable for Ron Moore. He happily stated, "That was a fun show for me." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 103)
- The episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 3.1 million homes, and a 5% share. 
- Cinefantastique rated the episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 102)
- Star Trek Monthly scored the episode 4 out of 5 stars. (Star Trek Monthly issue 45, p. 61)
- The unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 233) gives the installment a rating of 6 out of 10.
- The design of Steth's ship was re-used in a number of subsequent Voyager episodes ("The Voyager Conspiracy", "Drive", "Workforce", and "Workforce, Part II"). Interestingly, it also appeared in an episode of Joss Whedon's Firefly.
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 4.10, catalog number VHR 4631, 5 October 1998
- As part of the VOY Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay
- Roxann Dawson as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Lieutenant Tom Paris
- Ethan Phillips as Neelix
- Robert Picardo as The Doctor
- Tim Russ as Lieutenant Commander Tuvok
- Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
- Garrett Wang as Ensign Harry Kim
Advanced Subspace Geometry; alcohol; Avek; Benthan Guard; Benthan patrol ship; Benthan system; Benthos; biobed; blood; box wrench; brig; California; Camaro; carbon monoxide; carburetor; cardiopulmonary reconstruction; Chevy; chromoelectric pulse; coaxial warp drive; Daelen's ship; Delta Quadrant; DNA stability analysis; eidetic memory; Entaban; exatanium; Federation; genetic virus; golf; "Grease Monkey"; Highway One; holodeck; isokinetic containment field; Kaplan; Kendren IV; Kendren system; Kotaba Expanse; Lake Tahoe; logic; mechanic; metabolic referent; Template:ShipClass; neurological scan; Ninipia Prime; Paris, Owen; Paris Program Alpha-1; physio-sensor; plasma manifold; polaric modulator; polyduranide; red alert; sand wedge; scan emitter; selected DNA exchange; Starfleet Academy; symmetric warp field; Trakian ale
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