Trying to get permission to pass through a region of space controlled by the mysterious Bothan, first Janeway, then the whole crew, start to experience a series of powerful hallucinations.
The early part of this episode focuses almost entirely on Janeway and the possibility that she’s cracking under the strain, as she starts to experience bizarre hallucinations relating to her unutterably dull Jane Eyre rip-off holo-novel. (I have to say, a holo-character telling Janeway he’s in love with her, in a story clearly based on a novel where exactly that happens, is the least enticing lead into the credits ever). While, as you can tell, I’m not a fan of the holo-novel itself, the two badly English-accented Victorian children who appear in it do make rather good horror-movie-style creepy children and much of the episode, especially this early section, contains just a hint of horror in the gothic nature of some of Janeway’s hallucinations, all disembodied voices and disappearing figures, and is rather fun.
Slightly less interestingly, the primary focus for much of the latter part of the episode turns out to be romantic relationships. Now, I’ve nothing against focusing on romantic relationships – I am, after all, a fan of sappy vampire fiction. But this episode seems to take a rather scatter-gun approach to them, filling its time with odd connections that go nowhere. B’Elanna has apparently been hiding a secret crush on Chakotay, so secret that not only was she in denial about it herself, there was no hint of it given to the audience prior to this point at all. After all the fuss last episode, it turns out Neelix may have had a point after all, as the first hallucination the Bothan tries on Kes involves pretending to be Paris, injured. Only when that fails does he try Neelix. Is the episode trying to say everyone’s in denial about their true feelings? Or is this just poor writing mixed with poor planning?
It’s Janeway’s romantic relationships that get the most focus, with her guilt and loss concerning her fiancée Mark played on by the alien. This should be an interesting emotional angle, playing on Voyager’s set-up, with a crew lost far from home and separated from their partners. The story could have played Janeway’s feelings for Mark against a real relationship with one of the many crew-members she’s spending a lot of time with out in the Delta Quadrant, and in this case, it wouldn’t seem to come out of nowhere – you could choose almost any regular except perhaps Neelix and the Doctor and make a case for Janeway being in love with them (see our regular Janeway flirting watch).
Instead, however, it’s implied that Janeway’s feelings of guilt relate to the Rochester-expy in her holo-novel, Lord Burleigh. Imaginary Mark accuses her of cheating on him and claims that ‘someone else is in your thoughts now.’ Now, I’m not one to judge people for falling in love with fictional characters – my love for Eric Northman, John ‘JD’ Dorian, Peter Bishop, John Crichton and countless others is eternal and true – but comparing a fictional character, however three-dimensionally and realistically portrayed, with your actual fiancée, a real human being, seems to be going a bit far to me. On top of that – we all know what, inevitably, the holodeck must get used for 90% of the time, especially on long missions away from loved ones. It is, presumably, the twenty-fourth century equivalent of locking yourself in the bathroom with some appropriate reading material for a little while. Surely, if you’re separated for months or even years, that doesn’t constitute cheating?
On the other hand, this is about what’s going on in Janeway’s head, so perhaps she does indeed consider this cheating. It also comes back to the issue of holograms in Star Trek and how other characters view them, whether or not they spontaneously develop sentience, an issue explored but never really resolved when Riker fell in love with a holodeck character back in TNG. Ultimately though, from the audience's point of view, watching Janeway struggle with her guilt over falling for a holodeck character isn’t nearly as interesting as, say, watching her struggle with her feelings for Chakotay. So naturally, I choose to assume that it was actually Chakotay she was thinking of, not Burleigh – which makes Janeway and B’Elanna’s little chat at the end so much more deliciously ironic.
After all this somewhat underdeveloped relationship drama, the episode ends with a cracking face-off between Kes and the Bothan, in the first of several occasions when the Doctor and one or two other crew-members have to save the ship after everyone else has been incapacitated. Every ship should have a holographic crew member. Or an android, that’d work too. The horror imagery comes back, especially in the foamy stuff that appears all over Kes and seems to cause her great pain, and Kes faces down this particularly unpleasant intruder with style. The creepy, gothy, horror elements of this episode work really well – if only the relationship drama felt real and earned enough to match them.
Bits ‘n’ pieces
- It’s worth noting that, while characters in relationships saw their significant other and characters with crushes saw their crush, Paris saw his Dad (I guess we saw enough of his crush last week) and we’re not told what Chakotay saw. Hmm…
- The appearance of the plate of cucumber sandwiches is a lovely way to introduce the weirdness.
- It’s good to see they’re trying to address the fact their Chief Medical Officer (and only doctor) can’t go anywhere outside sickbay or the holodeck.
- The little girl is Hadley from True Blood and the little boy is Claire’s friend Zach in Heroes and John Connor in Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
- The doctor isn’t yet interested in expanding his horizons much, sneering at pithy Earth trivia.
- Janeway flirting watch: In addition to my theory as outlined above, we get, ‘Paris are you still with me?’ Followed by practically embracing him.
- Janeway’s comfort food is coffee ice cream. Of course.
Beatrice: I don’t like cucumber sandwiches. I don’t like the way cook cuts them. I just love the ridiculously spoiled way she says it.
Imaginary Admiral Paris: When the going gets tough, you crumble.
Paris: Not any more.
Janeway: Why did you do this to us?
Bothan: Because I can.
Some nice ideas, but underdeveloped. Two out of four cucumber sandwiches.