“Live Fast and Prosper”
Star Trek: Voyager – Season 6, Episode 21
Star Trek is usually a pretty Serious Property about Serious Things. It does dip its toes into comedy, either in brief doses or episode-length capers. “Live Fast and Prosper” is a light-hearted comedic escapade that manages to be funny and startlingly meta in a way Trek had never been up to this point. The predilection to be introspective and even self-effacing was a unique aspect that Voyager explored a few times. This was, after all the fifth Star Trek series, and thus it leaned on that multi-decade continuity in successful and not-so-successful ways. It’s not surprising that a little bit of meta-contextual self-reference began to creep in as the series approached its end.
Of all the episodes I’ve covered in this “Best of Voyager“ series, this one is probably, objectively speaking, the most inessential entry. It’s not a perfect episode or even a top 10 of Voyager, but hot damn do I fucking love it and I’m just gonna go for it, everyone. Recalling the pit in my stomach I had when I first saw the previews for the episode featuring The Rock, I had an absolute inverse reaction of pure giddiness when the promos for this aired. Aliens posing as Janeway and Tuvok in crappy knock-off uniforms grifting other unsuspecting aliens? Just the sight of them had me beaming like an idiot.
It’s a nice episode because it’s a low-stakes romp that’s pretty easy-going. Like “Trials and Tribble-ations,” it captures a fun sense of whimsy to match its very silly story. The episode begins with a couple of alien miners getting ready for an important meeting, and down beams… Captain Faneway and Lieutenant Fuvok!
Their uniforms are hilariously off-spec – at first glance they look close enough, but to any fan they’re clearly mediocre facsimiles. The collars aren’t right, and the rank pips and comm badges are almost childishly oversized. Fans of Star Trek pioneered the practice of large public conventions and cosplaying, and I have to believe these two are a winking reference to those passionate followers (I’m in this image and I like it).
They generally look the part of the real Janeway and Tuvok and even act like it, too. Faneway is diplomatic and even speaks wistfully of Indiana, and Fuvok displays intelligence and dispassionate logic. They arrange a trade with the miners for some mineral ore, and once they beam it up the two imposters make an excuse to high tail it out of there, revealing themselves to be common thieves and con artists. This is a villain type that Trek has featured often (since The Original Series on), but the posing as our heroes is certainly a novel approach. The aliens don’t even have hair – the imposter Janeway (Dala) rips her wig off as soon as they’re aboard the “Delta Flyer,” a beat-up bucket of bolts that’s the base of their operations.
On the real Voyager, a bevvy of ship malfunctions annoys Janeway enough to track down the source of the problem herself – a faulty power thingie Neelix acquired and installed in the mess hall. Neelix got it from Sister Dala, a religious cleric he met who was supposedly helping some orphans. A likely story!
However, the aliens in charge of the cheated mining colony have caught up with Voyager and demand recompense for their stolen ore. Orek, the chief of the colony shows Janeway “her” transmission promising to return with what she owed them. “That woman isn’t me,” Janeway says incredulously, but Orek isn’t having it (I couldn’t help but recall the Futurama episode where they fool some aliens by switching Leela with an orangutan – uncanny!). Orek goes on to mention some orphans, and Janeway’s ears perk up. Normally when an episode stars the captain, it tends to be a weightier and more dramatic story, so it’s a delightful change of pace to have Janeway untangling this relatively low-stakes mess.
She goes back to Neelix to get the story on this Sister Dala and her orphans. He ran into her on a mission with Paris – while exploring some caves they come across two robed religious monks – the con artists. They grease Neelix’s gears by comparing him to one of their deities and he fills their ears with all sorts of info about Voyager. They do a bullshit blessing ceremony during which they download the Delta Flyer’s database and get all the info they need about Voyager. The embarrassed look on Paris and Neelix’s faces when Janeway informs them they’ve been had is pretty funny.
It leads into the subplot of the episode, which is Neelix and Paris’ crisis over their own apparently diminished street cred. Six seasons in, it’s almost hard to remember how much of an outcast bad boy Tom Paris originally was, as well as Neelix’s initial conception as a devious, nomadic alien junker. These were both interesting and novel character directions, but as is the style of Voyager all those compelling corners and edges were quickly sanded down to fit a more standard, boring Trek template. Which was a shame. So in this way, the episode adds on another curious facet of meta-ness with these two basically asking themselves, “Hey, remember when we were interesting characters? What happened to that?” Probably not the intended direction on the part of the writers, but yeah.
It doesn’t go much deeper than that and the episode explores it in probably the dumbest way possible – they try to do the ol’ cup grift game with The Doctor (of all people, you choose a hologram programmed with the best visual acuity, flawless memory and maximum dexterity possible? Smart!). It reveals a lot about the writers – namely, their incredibly dorky idea of how a bad boy/huckster/ne’re do well would act. Why don’t you have Tom roll up his sleeve and put a pack of space cigarettes in there for maximum effect, you nerds? LOL. Shockingly, the Doctor easily sees through the trick and makes the two dopes feel even worse.
Meanwhile, Dala and her co-conspirators Mobar and Zar (hilariously dressed up as Chakotay) are busily hustling another alien. This time they’re selling Federation memberships and all the supposed protection and technology that (doesn’t) go along with it. It eventually blows up in their face when the angry alien captain returns demanding his money back – the weapons he bought from them were useless and the enemy he was fighting also paid for Federation membership. Oops. Fortuitously, the real Voyager swoops in, distracts the angry alien, and is able to beam Dala off her ship before they slip away.
A very not amused Janeway confronts her imposter in the ship’s brig. “Nice hair,” Janeway deadpans. “It’s not really my taste,” Dala shoots back defiantly. Unintimidated and unrepentant, Dala matches Janeway’s steely gaze and seems unconcerned with her threats. Because she’s defrauded many aliens under the guise of Voyager, any fallout isn’t going to be on her, but on Janeway and her crew. Dick! It recalls an ongoing plot point of the first season, where the rocky reputation of Voyager sometimes preceded them and made their journey (and gaining allies) that much more difficult. Privately, Janeway expresses dismay that the name of Voyager is being sullied by these con artists. So as silly as it all is, it’s potentially a serious problem and there are some actual stakes here.
Janeway threatens to turn Dala over to one of the many alien races she has cheated and gives her some time to think about it. Neelix later enters with some food for her, and engages her in a little chat. He doesn’t show a trace of bitterness over having been fooled by her, and tries to convince her to cooperate and maybe try trusting people for once. He draws a comparison to the way he used to be and how much more fulfilling his life is since joining Voyager and living a (mostly) honest life. It’s some decent character work and is certainly better and more thoughtful than that cup grifting stuff. Neelix’s unassailable sincerity is endemic of Star Trek’s unassailable sincerity – always yearning to give people another chance and to allow redemption for anybody if they’re willing. Neelix seems to feel sorry for Dala more than anything, since what she has isn’t much of a life. She mentions that her father taught her that most people are going to cheat you, so you might as well do it to them first. It might be the only honest thing she says in the entire episode, and it’s a sad detail.
BUT! Dala spills her tea (literally) and uses the distraction to knock Neelix down, steal his phaser, break out of the brig, board the (real) Delta Flyer, and escape Voyager. All as Janeway watches from the bridge…
Dala catches up to her crew as Tom Paris comes out of hiding in the Flyer’s aft section and activates the Doctor. The game is afoot! She beams over, and he fires on them, ordering them to surrender. They escape and make their way to where they have their stolen cargo hidden away, intending to blow this pop stand, get a new ship, and start over. But Dala betrays them and seems to be allied with Tuvok. While chasing her, Mobar comes face to face with said Tuvok.
Oh man, this guy. He fucking makes this episode, he’s so great. Unlike the other two con artists, Mobar remains in character as Tuvok throughout the entire episode, even when it’s just them. He acts as if he’s sincerely internalized the morals and philosophies of Starfleet… except for, you know, the lying and cheating. There’s something dorky and hilarious about that, and again, so very meta. As a gigantic dork who has also internalized Star Trek’s philosophy and lessons, I just absolutely love this guy and what he represents. Reading way too much into it, we can surmise that something about Starfleet and the Federation appealed to him so much that he’s thrown himself into that world (as well as his own role). He’s not just cosplaying it, but living it, man. He’s a literal, actual Trekkie existing in the world of Star Trek! And if that doesn’t make you smile, then, well… you need smiling lessons, buddy.
Having confronted the real Tuvok, Mobar is visibly in awe of his role model. “Commander Tuvok…!” he almost gasps in the single funniest moment of the episode. Phasers pointed at each other, he says coolly, “Logic would suggest neither of us has the advantage.” “Your logic… is flawed,” Tuvok replies before shining his wrist flashlight in his face and phasering him. It’s awesome.
Dala reveals herself to actually be The Doctor, and the real Dala wakes up aboard the Delta Flyer, having been incapacitated by Tom earlier. It’s always satisfying to see grifters get grifted, and the Voyager crew show themselves to be smarter and craftier than the con artists. Trek is fond of showing how stronger cooperation and teamwork make us, and conversely how weaker selfishness and greed are.
Later on, Neelix and Paris are somehow able to fool the Doctor with the cup game. Which proves something, I guess. You still got it, yous scamps! The End.
Depicting alternative versions of the crew is a recurring theme Star Trek explored in a multitude of ways – be they alternate future/timelines, imaginary/holographic scenarios, or in this case, cheating con artists crappily disguised as our heroes. It’s extremely silly and it works so well here. I think the episode could have gotten a lot more mileage out of the self-reference it dabbles in, but that may have tipped the balance into cloying territory. I just love self-effacing meta stuff like this. As it is, it’s a great episode that like all the best ones, leaves me wanting more.
Star Trek is such a large and expansive property and has given rise to its own unique mythology and ecosystem of tropes and recurring themes. It’s one of the things I like most about it and is part of the fun of its fandom. With the advent of the Lower Decks series, the franchise appears to be fully embracing its legacy though meta storytelling and a more humorous outlook. But before all that, there was “Live Fast and Prosper,” a fun episode that captured the whimsical energy of that fandom in some subtle and clever ways. It’s a fourth wall-busting adventure that is not afraid to laugh at itself and let us in on the joke, too.
- Dala is played by Kaitlin Hopkins, who previously portrayed the Vorta Kilana in Deep Space Nine’s “The Ship.” She, uh, looks different!
- Speaking of DS9, the con artists’ ship is a pretty obvious redressing of the Defiant bridge.
- Kudos to Tim Russ for a couple of funny Tuvok scenes. In the mess hall, he confronts Kim and Paris over their meddling of his Vulcan holodeck program. The look on his face is priceless, a combination of murderous rage and even bemusement. Later, Janeway forces him to improvise a litany of fictitious cruel punishments to sway Dala into cooperating. He hilariously bumbles his way through and Janeway can’t help but laugh about immediately it after (“Psoriasis?!”).
- In the aforementioned holodeck prank, Harry and Tom redress the Vulcan oracle so that they’re wearing pajamas. It’s an incredibly silly visual that we don’t actually see, which I think makes it funnier since we can just imagine it. Harry then wonders how they would look in a sombrero, which also makes for a funny (non) visual.