(written from a Production point of view)
Tuvok and Harry Kim become interested in a holodeck character who is more than she seems.
The USS Voyager arrives at an inversion nebula, and stops to investigate. While inversion nebulae normally burn out after a few years, this one appears to have been around for centuries. While studying the nebula, Neelix organizes a luau to raise the crew's spirits. A solemn Ensign Harry Kim goes to Lieutenant Tuvok while he is playing a solitary game of kal-toh in his quarters and explains he wants to learn how to suppress his emotions. Tuvok points out that learning this requires a long personal journey, and inquires into his motives for asking.
Kim admits to Tuvok he has fallen in love with a holodeck character named Marayna. "You're in love with a computer subroutine?", Tuvok asks skeptically. Kim explains that he's become emotionally attracted to her and seeks Tuvok's guidance in suppressing these feelings.
Tuvok agrees to meet her and goes to the holodeck with him. There, they see her walk up to them with Kes after she gives her a hydrosailing lesson. Tuvok watches as she subtly flirts with Kim until they are called to the bridge. On the way there, Tuvok explains and deconstructs the role each part of their conversation with her played in her attempts at seduction, and points out that logically, such interaction can end in only one of two ways: a relationship, or a tragic parting. Since the former is illogical, his only option is retreat to minimize tragedy.
As Voyager continues its scans, a plasma strand begins to ignite which would normally cause the entire nebula to burn up along with it.
However, the energy is suddenly reduced by dampening fields of unknown origin. The crew decide to move in closer to investigate, knowing that if they could replicate the process they could contain warp core breaches or other normally catastrophic plasma reactions. The captain also recommends that all personnel go to the upcoming luau, which Tuvok misinterprets to be an order.
Later, B'Elanna Torres exits a turbolift wearing a tropical dress. Tom Paris happens to be standing outside the doors and remarks that the chief engineer looks "smashing". He notes that nothing can measure up to his 1962 Big Daddy-O Surf Special Hawaiian shirt, an "American classic", as he puts it. She tells Paris to accompany her to get Vorik, knowing how "Vulcan" he gets when anybody is late. Paris tells her that he thought they were going to get Kim. However, Torres informs the helmsman that the operations officer will not be joining them at the luau this evening. Paris tells her that he and Kim will be joining her and Vorik at the luau. Torres tells Paris that he seems to be very confident in his powers of persuasion and he replies in the affirmative.
Paris arrives at Kim's quarters and observes the drab clothing he is dressed in, telling the ensign that he looks like he is ready to go to a funeral, not a luau. Kim tells Paris that he is practicing Vulcan meditation to suppress his emotions. Paris is incredulous. He tells a shocked Kim that he knows about his attraction to the holodeck character, since he has not been able to hide it well. He assures him that this happens to everyone once in a while and he should not be hiding out in his quarters. Kim denies it and Paris decides to leave him alone. Just before Paris leaves, Kim changes his mind and decides to go. Paris replicates him a Hawaiian shirt with a pineapple motif.
Despite of Tuvok's lack of interest, he encounters Marayna again as she is playing kal-toh alone, fascinating him. He moves over to her and finds himself strangely interested in her. Her analysis of the ways he isolates himself from the crew is intriguing to him, and they play kal-toh together.
When Kim arrives and discovers Tuvok's interest in the hologram, he is beside himself with anger and jealousy, and begins to suspect Tuvok's motives for advising retreat were merely a ruse so that he could have Marayna all to himself.
After investigation, the crew finds that the dampening field that stops the inversion nebula from burning up only comes into force once a plasma strand starts to ignite; in essence, the fire seemingly puts itself out. Having learned everything they can from scans, the crew decide to continue their course home to the Alpha Quadrant. However, Paris reports that the helm has stopped responding. It's confirmed that the engines are still fully functional however the commands towards it are being blocked. When Harry Kim returns to the holodeck to find Tuvok playing kal-toh with Marayna, this leads to a confrontation in which Tuvok ultimately orders the computer to erase the startled Marayna. Harry Kim angrily insists that this does not truly solve the problem, however. Meanwhile despite investigation the crew still cannot get the warp or impulse engines to respond to commands, but they are able to get the thrusters working allowing Voyager to slowly move away from the nebula.
She tells him that she's lonely and indicates her desire to continue her relationship with him, but he contacts the bridge and declares an intruder alert, summoning security to his quarters. To his surprise, although the security guards do arrive, she is able to cancel the alert shortly before vanishing. In conference with Janeway and the other senior officers, he and they discuss the possibility that a hologram has become sentient and taken over the ship. Chakotay reports that this is not the first time this has happened. According to Starfleet records, this had previously happened to the USS Enterprise-D under Captain Picard when a sentient hologram took over the ship.
After further investigation, Tuvok, Tom Paris, and Lieutenant Torres discover that Marayna is actually a projection of someone from outside of the ship. Tracing the uplink through the holodeck, they discover a small cloaked station. Unfortunately, the holodeck characters suddenly become hostile. One of the hula girls attacks Torres with a lei used as a garrotte, One of the fire dancers attacks Tuvok, and one of the waiters attacks Paris with a plate of food. Tuvok and Paris attempt to come to Torres' aid, when a force field is erected, blocking the two. Tuvok orders Paris to shoot the holodeck control panel, causing the holodeck characters to vanish, saving Torres from being choked. As they attempt to escape the holodeck, an explosion rocks the ship. The plasma strands from the nebula are burning up around Voyager.
On the bridge, Marayna gives an ultimatum to Janeway through Voyager's intercom. She wants to see Tuvok alone in the holodeck, or she'll destroy the ship.
Tuvok returns to the holodeck to meet her alone, and then beams over to confront the real Marayna. Marayna disables Tuvok's communication with Voyager and tells Tuvok her story. In reality, it is she who holds the nebula together with the dampening fields for the benefit of her people, who often visit to observe the beauty of the inversion nebula. However, she's become lonely and she frequently taps into nearby ships' computers to find out more about their visitors.
Marayna reveals that she had never encountered anything like the holodeck and tapped herself into it so she could interact with the crew of Voyager. This, in turn, allowed her to meet Tuvok who was much like her – interested in being separate from those around him – whereupon she developed feelings for him. After some discussion, Tuvok convinces Marayna to allow him to return to Voyager. Before he goes, however, Tuvok encourages Marayna to contact her people and have them find a replacement for her in this lonely assignment so she can seek company among her own kind again. She tells Tuvok she will consider this. Before the Vulcan dematerializes, Marayna asks him if he too will always be alone. Tuvok looks at her but does not answer her question before he is beamed away.
After his return to the ship, Tuvok is again playing kal-toh alone in his quarters. He then pauses and deactivates the game. He goes to the holodeck and, finding Harry Kim there, he apologizes for failing to consider or respect his feelings. Harry accepts the apology, and Tuvok offers to teach him kal-toh which he accepts, stating that he was under the impression it took years to learn kal-toh, which Tuvok confirms. A holo-woman comes up and offers to join them and they simultaneously refuse her company, but Tuvok then (somewhat uncharacteristically) thanks her for the offer. Kim smiles at the tactical officer and they begin to play the game as Voyager continues on home.
- "Captain's log, Stardate 50460.3. We've been investigating an inversion nebula for several days. This phenomenon has never been seen in the Alpha Quadrant and is proving something of a mystery to us, here."
- "Captain's log, supplemental. We've completed sensor scans and confirmed our discovery of an unusual dampening field responsible for keeping this unstable nebula from going up in flames. The field's origin is still a mystery."
- "Security Chief's log, stardate 50471.3. The remaining damage to the ship was easily repaired, and we soon left Marayna's nebula behind. Voyager is back on course, and I have resumed my normal routine."
"You're in love with a computer sub-routine?"
"That's the problem."
- - Tuvok and Harry Kim
"Kal-toh is to chess as chess is to tic-tac-toe."
- - Tuvok
"Vulcans do not hydrosail."
- - Tuvok
"Are you two friends?"
- - Marayna, with Harry Kim and Tuvok answering her simultaneously
"I tried a reverse curl this morning... I think I pulled a tendon. Feel that."
"It's like a knot!"
"I'm sure it is."
- - Marayna, Harry Kim, and Tuvok
"I have already taken the liberty of reserving a table, Lieutenant, with a view of the lakeside. You did express a fondness for that particular vista."
"Five days ago, in a conversation we had in Engineering regarding holodeck programs."
"I guess, maybe I did."
- - Vorik and B'Elanna Torres
"Forget about her."
"What did Tom say to you?"
"Not a single word. I saw the way you were looking at Marayna yesterday."
"Hi, my name's Harry Read Me Like A Book Kim."
"It's not that bad."
"Apparently, it is."
- - Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres
"Mr. Kim, I value our working relationship. I would not allow a holodeck character to disrupt that."
- - Tuvok, to Kim
"Make it stop!" (The intruder alert klaxon is silenced.)
"You have access to the ship's control systems?"
"And I'll use them all if I have to. You can't just delete me!"
- - Marayna and Tuvok
Story and script
- This episode was originally to primarily feature the characters of Tom Paris and Harry Kim, before its focus was changed to Tuvok and Kim. (Delta Quadrant, p. 162; Beyond the Final Frontier, p. 302)
- Prior to this episode being written, Tuvok actor Tim Russ expressed concerns to writer Joe Menosky about the nature of Tuvok's attraction to Marayna. Russ told Menosky, "It has to be right on the line of not looking as though he is romantically attracted to this woman, but that he is interested in her intellectually. He wouldn't be involved with anybody at all. He sticks to his wife." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 100)
- Joe Menosky considered this installment to be an opportunity to explore the way in which Vulcans suppress their emotions. "The actual mental details of it are not really that specified," Menosky related. "Instead of imagining that Vulcans sort of bludgeon emotion, there is something a little more sophisticated going on. They understand the patterns and see them in a profound intellectual sense, that in some way robs them of their power, before they even add the will to suppress. It's an opportunity to add a layer of texture to how Vulcans work." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, pp. 103-104)
- The first draft script of this installment was delivered on 19 September 1996. The episode's final script draft was submitted on 27 September 1996. 
- This episode has repeatedly been likened to the film Fatal Attraction. Tim Russ declared, "'Alter Ego' was our Fatal Attraction episode." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 17) He also described the relationship between Tuvok and Marayna as "a Fatal Attraction kind of thing" and said that the episode "involved a sort of Fatal Attraction towards me". (Star Trek Monthly issue 33, p. 30) Director Robert Picardo likewise referred to the installment as "the Mr Tuvok Fatal Attraction story". (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15)
Cast and characters
- During production on the earlier third season installment "Macrocosm", Tim Russ felt that, while his character does not heavily feature in "Macrocosm" or the even-earlier third season episode "The Q and the Grey" (both of which were consecutively produced straight before this installment), he had to concentrate more on this episode, due to its intense focus on Tuvok. While working on "Macrocosm", Russ noted, "Really, I have to take the time to prepare for the next one, which I will be heavy in!" Russ was eager to work on this episode, as he was interested in its plot, particularly the devoutly logical Tuvok's encounter with a woman who is not only attracted to him but is also a potential danger to the vessel on which he serves. "[It] is a very interesting situation to be in, so I'm looking forward to doing that story because we haven't done one like that yet," he said. "It ought to be an interesting insight into Tuvok's character." (Star Trek Monthly issue 25, pp. 11 & 12) Tim Russ later listed this episode, midway through the fourth season, as one of five episodes that he characterized as "the defining moments for Tuvok". Later in the same interview, he said of this installment, "It was a very interesting episode, and I liked the scenes between Kim and Tuvok." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 17) Russ also approved of the form of relationship that Tuvok has with Marayna, including the fact that his interest in her develops when he teaches her kal-toh. "All of a sudden there's someone to play with as opposed to a machine, which makes it much more interesting," Russ commented. "Engaging in conversation and ideas and thoughts, that's something he's into very heavy duty, until she's perceived as a threat and it switches." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 100)
- Robert Picardo was pleased that this episode so heavily featured Tim Russ. "I was delighted that Tim Russ, Mr. Tuvok, was my principal character in the show," Picardo remembered. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 92)
- In common with Tim Russ, Kim actor Garrett Wang enjoyed this episode in general and a particular highlight for him was the episode's focus on the characters of Tuvok and Kim. Wang enthused, "We saw a little bit more Harry and Tuvok, which I was happy to see [....] Overall [...], I thought 'Alter Ego' was a good show." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 17)
- According to Robert Picardo, however, Garrett Wang was suffering from flu while this episode was produced. Picardo noted, "I had to whip him into a frenzy of energy before every take, because he was so under the weather!" (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15) In certain scenes (particularly the Vulcan meditation scene in Kim's quarters before the Lu'au), Wang is quite clearly struggling to deliver his lines through his nasal congestion.
- Nonetheless, Robert Picardo was delighted by Garrett Wang's work on this episode. The director remarked, "Garrett Wang [...] had a very significant role in the story and is terrific in the show – it's the funniest I've ever seen his character [...] He did a great job and I think his performance is very funny and charming in the show." (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15)
- In fact, both Robert Picardo and Joe Menosky were highly satisfied with the performances that Garrett Wang and Tim Russ delivered for this episode. "Tim and Garrett did very good work in the show," Picardo remarked. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18) Menosky likewise raved, "I loved the scenes between Tim and Garrett, and I think they were really, really funny. Part of it was Tim's delivery, this dry, almost straight-man delivery." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 104)
- Appreciative of the casting of this episode, Robert Picardo found Sandra Nelson physically attractive, as well as two actresses who appeared as a pair of holographic, Polynesian women who kiss The Doctor. Picardo once referred to Nelson as "our beautiful female guest star" and to the pair of kissers as "beautiful". (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15)
- This was the second I AM ERROR episode to be directed by a main cast member of the series. Regarding the experience of being directed by such a co-star, Tim Russ noted, "I've already had that experience in that Robert McNeill was directing an episode earlier [namely, "Sacred Ground"]." (Star Trek Monthly issue 25, p. 11) In this case, the episode was directed by the performer of The Doctor, Robert Picardo. Shortly before production on Voyager's third season officially began, Picardo remarked, "I would like to think I will definitely be directing this year [....] I am confident it will happen. I don't know whether it will be the first half or the second half of [this] season. I hope it's a good one." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 98) In another interview conducted before Picardo directed this installment (at a time when he knew the episode's position in the third season but not yet its story), he commented, "I'm sure there will be a lot of challenges to doing it, but I'm really quite excited about it. There's not too much more I can say about it now, other than to tell you that I'm completely committed to doing the best job I can. I hope my first effort as a director is a respectable one." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 10)
- Robert Picardo discovered the episode's production to be challenging though rewarding. He later said, "I certainly enjoyed it [...] When you finally [direct for the first time] yourself, there's many sink-or-swim moments. I did as much homework as I could. I was well prepared. I stayed on schedule and on budget which are all important things to the front office, but it took me, five-fold the time to plan something that it would have taken an experienced director. I had to put in a lot of extra hours of homework and coming in on the weekend, rolling with the punches as those rewrite pages came flooding in as I was shooting [....] At the end of the first day I said 'I never want to do this again.' By the middle of the third day, I was going, 'Well, maybe.' And by the fifth day I definitely wanted to do it again." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, pp. 91-92) Picardo also enthused, "It was a great experience. I really enjoyed it [....] I certainly had a good time. After the first day's anxiety, I relaxed a bit, and I enjoyed it." Additionally, Picardo expressed that he "didn't have any bad luck" with directing the episode, apart from the fact that Garrett Wang was ill with flu. (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15)
- Robert Picardo encountered a problem of another sort, however. "[Sandra Nelson] appeared in a bathing suit, and the set was too cold," Picardo recalled, "so we had to line the inside of her bathing suit. I don't know if you know this, but in television the networks [in this case, UPN] issue what we call 'nipple memos' [....] Too many nipples in 43 minutes of television and you get a memo. Anyway, we were afraid of getting a nipple memo so we closed down for 40 minutes waiting for the lining to be sewn in. That was the most interesting delay I had." (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15)
- During production, Robert Picardo devised a short moment involving his character of The Doctor, an event that Picardo enjoyed filming. "I wanted to have one vignette for my own character in this big luau which all the cast members were in on this set. So I got to pick my own vignette and suggest it to the writers," Picardo remembered. "There are these two [...] Polynesian women who are recreational holograms. I'm musing over the difference between being a working hologram and a recreational hologram, and they both kiss me. So that's one of the advantages of directing. I got to shoot as many takes of that as I wanted." (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15) Picardo also joked, "Since I started directing, I've had the chance to use myself the way I prefer to be used, which is strictly as a sex object. I'm hoping some of the other directors will take note!" (Star Trek Monthly issue 26, p. 13)
- The original edit of this episode was not long enough, so the scene wherein Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres meet in a corridor, comment on each other's clothing and then make last-minute preparations for attending the luau was added during post-production. While Torres actress Roxann Dawson's typical make-up was being applied shortly before the scene was filmed, she explained to Star Trek Monthly, "I'm actually here at the studio today because we're tacking an extra scene onto 'Alter Ego.' When they put the show together (in the editing room), they realized it came in about a minute short. So Robbie and I and Bob (Picardo) are back here shooting a short scene in which Paris sort of compliments B'Elanna as they're walking down a corridor." (Star Trek Monthly issue 25, p. 22)
- Robert Picardo ultimately thought his directing of this episode went well, as did other members of Voyager's cast and crew. Executive producer Jeri Taylor commented, "[He] did a very nice job." (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 14) Roxann Dawson said, "Bob was great on his [first] show." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 12) Garrett Wang agreed, "Bob Picardo did a nice job directing it." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 17) Picardo himself noted, "I thought it turned out well." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18) He also said, "Directing ['Alter Ego'] was a wonderful whetting of the appetite," and, "I believe I did well enough that they will offer me another opportunity [to direct]." (Star Trek Monthly issue 30, p. 20; Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 15) Picardo would indeed go on to direct another installment of Star Trek: Voyager – specifically, the sixth season episode "One Small Step".
- This episode is one of nine Star Trek episodes with Latin names, in this case meaning "The Other Me." The others are "Sub Rosa", "Dramatis Personae", "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges", "Ex Post Facto", "Non Sequitur", "Terra Nova", "Vox Sola", and "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum".
- Voyager's transporters are used while the shields are rapidly disengaged and reengaged; a common Starfleet technique. The editing makes this confusing however, as after Tuvok dematerializes, a plasma stream detonates near the ship and Chakotay reports "Shields are down to 47%;" Tuvok then rematerializes on the space station.
- This episode is the first to feature the Vulcan game kal-toh. Tim Russ noted, "The producers sort of made up the game and how to play it." (Star Trek Monthly issue 33, p. 30)
- This was the first produced episode to include the character of Ensign Vorik. He also appears in "Fair Trade", which was produced straight after this episode but aired immediately before it.
- Vorik's interest in B'Elanna Torres is revealed in this episode. It becomes a major plot point two episodes later, in "Blood Fever".
- The corridor scene between Tom and B'Elanna also somewhat presages "Blood Fever". In the makeup chair shortly before this scene was shot, Roxann Dawson said of the scene, "It will help set the stage for what happens in 'Blood Fever.'" (Star Trek Monthly issue 25, p. 22)
- This episode makes a reference to the holographic depiction of James Moriarty and his role in the events of the I AM ERROR episodes "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle". The holographic Moriarty inspired the creation – early in the development process of Star Trek: Voyager – of the character of The Doctor. (A Vision of the Future - Star Trek: Voyager)
Reception and aftermath
- Jeri Taylor was highly satisfied with this episode in general, describing the installment as "a delightful kind of a romp" as well as "a very intriguing and unusual sort of story for Tuvok." (Star Trek Monthly issue 24, p. 14)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 4.8 million homes, and a 7% share.
- Cinefantastique rated this episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 103)
- Star Trek Monthly scored this episode 2 out of 5 stars, defined as "Impulse Power only". (Star Trek Monthly issue 28, p. 57)
- The unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 163) gives this installment a rating of 3 out of 10.
- One of the costumes worn by Sandra Nelson in this episode was re-used by background actress Fedra Thompson in the fourth season episode "Concerning Flight" and later sold off on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction on eBay. 
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 3.7, 2 June 1997
- As part of the VOY Season 3 DVD collection
Links and references
- Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay
- Roxann Biggs-Dawson as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres
- Jennifer Lien as Kes
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Lieutenant Tom Paris
- Ethan Phillips as Neelix
- Robert Picardo as The Doctor
- Tim Russ as Lieutenant Tuvok
- Garrett Wang as Ensign Harry Kim
- Lily Acain as Hawaiian woman
- Antony Acker as alien waiter
- Bobby Apisa as Hawaiian waiter
- Simone Boisseree as Hawaiian woman
- Carl David Burks as Russell
- Jeff Cadiente as torch holder
- Cid Castillo as torch holder
- Damaris Cordelia as Foster
- Adriana del Pomar as Resort woman
- Patrick Emery as command officer
- Tarik Ergin as Ayala
- John Faruzzi as Hawaiian waiter
- Caroline Gibson as operations officer
- Sue Henley as Brooks
- Lana Joy as Hawaiian woman
- Susan Lewis as operations officer
- Linda Li as lei strangler
- Angela Lloyd as Resort woman
- S. Senda as fire handler
- Martin Squires as Resort man
- Simon Stotler as operations ensign
1962; Alpha Quadrant; astrotheorist; astrotheory; Big Daddy-O Surf Special; blonde; centerpiece; chess; computer pathway; Delta Quadrant; Enterprise-D, USS; dampening field; entertainment director; Eros; facial expression; Federation; Hawaiian shirt; holodeck; hula; hydrosailing; illumination; imagination; inertial dampener; intruder alert; inversion nebula; k'oh-nar; kal-toh; Kelvin; kilometer; knot; lake; lei; luau; Marayna's homeworld; Marayna's space station; Marayna subroutine; Mister Vulcan; mobile emitter; Moriarty, James; parameter adjustment file; Paxau Resort; Picard, Jean-Luc; pineapple; Polynesian; plasma strand; puppet; shon-ha'lock; soo-lak; spouse; Starfleet Academy; stereotype; subatomic cascade reaction; T'Pel; t'san s'at; table; temperature; tendon; tic-tac-toe; Tiki torch; turbolift; volleyball; Vulcans; Vulcan (planet); Vulcan master; warp core breach
- "Alter Ego" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Alter Ego" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Alter Ego" at Wikipedia
| Previous episode:|
| Star Trek: Voyager|
| Next episode:|