Welcome back to ‘Final Frontier Friday’! After the last three installments, we’re taking a break from the original crew and returning to ‘Star Trek: Voyager’. This time around, we’ll be looking at ‘Learning Curve’, the final episode of the show’s first season.
‘Learning Curve’ wasn’t always going to be the first season finale. That honor originally fell to ‘The 37s’ which, along with a trio of other episodes left over from the first season’s production block, would ultimately open the second season. The reason for delaying those four episodes? The network, of course. UPN wanted to, essentially, get the drop on the competition by premiering early (the second season began on August 28, 1995). What better way to do that than to have a few episodes already in the can? Well, I’m not a programming executive, but maybe a better idea would have been to not spring derail the planned ending of your flagship series’ first season, all the while forcing the second to open with episodes produced as the season’s budget was running dry. Just a thought.
Regarding the episode itself, ‘Learning Curve’ was scripted by the team of Ron Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias, whose prior ‘Trek’ contributions included the ‘Next Generation’ outing ‘Lower Decks’ (with which ‘Learning Curve’ has some passing similarities). After the team’s original ‘Voyager’ pitch (which eventually materialized as the third season episode ‘Fair Trade’) was put on the back burner, they came back with ‘Learning Curve’. The episode’s story was extrapolated from a secondary plot in the ‘Fair Trade’ pitch, motivated both by their interest in the story and in exploring the character of Tuvok (Matthias having a particular fondness for Vulcans).
And now for the episode.
Janeway is on the holodeck when her program is interrupted by a malfunction. Investigating the cause, Tuvok finds Kenneth Dalby, one of the Maquis crew members in the midst of repairs, which he began – in violation of Starfleet protocol – without informing anyone. When Tuvok informs him of this fact, Dalby tells him off.
The malfunction is traced to a fault in one of the bio-neural gel packs that are key to the operation of Voyager’s computer systems. This is a problem because they only have so many replacements on hand and no way to replicate new ones. Tuvok mentions his encounter with Dalby to Janeway and Chakotay, who surmise that Dalby’s attitude is a reflection of his frustration with Starfleet procedure. Noting that Dalby isn’t the only former Maquis who’s had a hard time adjusting to life on Voyager, Janeway suggests that Tuvok give some of these crewmen a bit of field training, or as Chakotay puts it, a “crash course in Starfleet operations.”
The next morning, Tuvok meets his Maquis charges (Dalby, Gerron, Henley, and Chell) in the cargo bay. It does not go well. Not only do the trainees not take it (or Tuvok) seriously, they all feel insulted by the whole affair, to the point that Dalby leads the class in a walkout. Later, in the mess hall, Gerron expresses his misgivings about the walkout, though Henley and Dalby are steadfast. They are interrupted by Chakotay, who takes Chell’s seat and asks for their version of events. When Dalby explains that they prefer the Maquis way of doing things, Chakotay punches him in the face, reminding him that that’s the Maquis way too and that they can keep doing it that until the four of them report to Tuvok’s class.
The next session goes somewhat better, though it’s hardly smooth sailing. After inspecting the trainees’ uniforms and finding several dress code violations, Tuvok dismisses them, with orders to meet him that evening on deck eleven. Another gel pack fails, and Torres, unable to find a technological fault, takes one of the faulty packs to sickbay so that the Doctor can examine its biological components. He finds that the gel pack has a very contagious infection. Though the crew doesn’t seem to be at risk, there’s nothing to stop it from spreading throughout the ship’s circuitry. Torres does what she can to slow the spread as they search for the source of the infection. When Tuvok’s trainees assemble, they learn that he’s arranged for them to run ten kilometers on deck thirteen, though they’ll have to climb through fifty Jeffries tubes to get there. At the end of the run – which Henley calls a death march – the trainees are all gasping for breath, and Tuvok reveals that he increased the gravity on deck thirteen by ten percent. He also tells them that they’ll repeat the exercise the day, and he expects each of them to better their performance.