Once Inspired

A Review of the Star Trek: Voyager Episode Muse

I watched Muse when it was first broadcast in 2000, and even then it captured my imagination. I have seen it innumerable times since, probably more than any other single Voyager episode. Like all good writing, its story yields new discoveries every time I approach it.

The setup is fairly simple. B'ellana Torres has crashed the Delta Flyer on an alien planet, and the local culture has a technological and social level roughly analogous to ancient Greece. She is discovered, unconscious, by a local playwright, who tends her wounds. While doing so, he listens to B'ellana's crew logs and fashions Voyager's recent history into a play, which he proceeds to put on for his patron, a local warlord.

The episode begins with the brilliant cold open of the performance of his play—aliens in ancient garb on stage pretending to be our familiar characters, such as B'ellana and Harry Kim, albeit with bronze age modifications: seaships rather than spaceships, spears instead of phasers, and so on.

As a young adult, my favorite aspect of Muse was the way it juxtaposed a far-future society (Starfleet and 24th century Earth) with the ancient culture of the planet B'ellana lands on. It probably also resonated with me because, from an narratological point of view, the story is incredibly well constructed. B'ellana transitions from being hostile toward the playwright, who she views from the onset with annoyance and hostility, to caring about will happen to him and his community.

At the time of my life I first saw Muse, I was doing much more computer programming than writing. Once I started delving more deeply into my writing, I was able to pick up a number of other productive threads in Muse, particularly about having integrity as a writer by finding the truth in a story rather than relying on gimmicks and narrative effects to lure my audience in.

On this particular viewing, I was struck by the subtle jab at the Star Trek franchise itself. The episode begins with the playwright's first Voyager performance, and afterward his patron demands a new Voyager play in one week's time. Coincidentally, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager aired twenty-six episodes per year, often spaced at weekly intervals from one another. The playwright insists that inspiration can't be forced, but his patron, who holds the purse strings, insists a new play be ready in a week. One cannot help but wonder just what the writers of those shows had to endure, and how hard pressed they were to make all twenty-six stories per year meet their own quality bar, let alone meet the expectations of their "patron," Paramount and its executives.

Muse is a subtle episode. In a single hour, it manages to touch on multiple concepts—inspiration, storytelling, authorial integrity, societal development, and the productivity of peace—and do all of them well, at the same time moving its narrative forward and developing the characters. It is both complex and simple; it can be viewed productively from many angles. Its themes are timeless. Its central theme of inspiration inspired me—to learn more, to read more, and like Kelis the playwright, to make the world perhaps just a bit better through the power of a story.

Categories: Television Narrative Analysis

Tags: Star Trek: Voyager