While Chakotay lingers at death’s door in sickbay, a mysterious alien presence appears to be possessing his crewmates…
The biggest problem with ‘Cathexis,’ aside from the fact the writers don’t seem to understand what ‘brain dead’ means, is this: a main character, a regular cast member, appears to be on their death bed from the start of the episode and no one seems to care very much. Sure, B’Elanna turns up with a medicine wheel in obedience to a promise she once made to him, but no one cries, no one talks about what Chakotay meant to them, no one even wonders what they’ll do about the vacant position of First Officer if and when he dies.
It’s true that, at this early point in the series, most of the crew probably don’t know Chakotay that well and B’Elanna does look mildly upset. It’s also true that Star Trek is set in a military environment, and in that situation, you have to force yourself to be stoic and carry on even if your friends are dying. But Chakotay lingers for ages while everyone else faffs with course corrections and whatnot, they should have spared five minutes to mourn his imminent passing; the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica would later demonstrate just how much characters can show emotion while maintaining a plausible military setting. Janeway showed more concern over the equally unknown Harry Kim in the pilot. Over the course of the episode, someone should have shed a tear. Even if it is Chakotay.
The plot of ‘Cathexis’ feels more like a paranormal story than a science fiction story – essentially, Tuvok is possessed by a demon while Chakotay’s ghost temporarily takes over his friends and colleagues in an attempt to protect them. Because this is Star Trek, and it lives firmly in the ‘science fiction’ camp, not in ‘fantasy,’ the story substitutes ‘alien’ for ‘demon’ and ‘consciousness’ for ‘ghost’ but it all amounts to the same thing. Unfortunately, unlike the earlier ghost-like ‘Eye of the Needle,’ the substitution here does not work. Perhaps if the production team had gone all out for a ‘spooky’ vibe and maybe hung a lampshade on the paranormal aspects of the story it might have been a really interesting, quirky episode, but as it is, it just feels flat and rather silly.
There’s nothing spectacularly awful about ‘Cathexis’ – no one turns into a lizard and no one supervises an operation on their own brain. It’s just empty, the characters going through the motions for forty-five minutes until some kind of plot has been set up, developed and concluded, but with no feeling – ironically, with no soul.
Bits n pieces
The cold open introduces us to Janeway’s current favourite holo-novel, set in ‘ancient’ (19th century) England (clearly the word ‘ancient’ means something quite different by the 24th century). It’s almost but not quite Jane Eyre, with just a hint of Rebecca, and leaves you wondering why she doesn't just read Jane Eyre.
Kes is the Willow Rosenberg of Voyager. If you want to show that someone is really evil, you get them to hurt Kes.
At one point, our heroes know the doctor is the only trustworthy crewmember, but don’t protect him from having his program shut down. Shouldn’t there be a security detail in sickbay or something?
One random yellowshirt is featured several times; watch out for him in the next episode.
Regular cast death watch: Chakotay is declared brain dead before the credits. This being Voyager, that doesn't stop them from keeping his body going until, inevitably, his brain turns up again. The regular cast deaths tally is now up to 4.
Janeway flirting watch: she believes Paris isn't committing mutiny despite all evidence to the contrary, and laughs giddily at him while telling him so.
Doctor: ‘You've placed the coyote stone at the crossroads of the fifth and sixth realms, which would divert Commander Chakotay's soul, that is his consciousness, into the mountains of the antelope women - according to his tradition an extremely attractive locale. He might not want to leave.’
Bottom line – this is just deathly dull. One out of four antelope women.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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