Star Trek Voyager: Coda

"I was getting awfully tired of talking about Talent Night."

Janeway and Chakotay crash another shuttlecraft.

On paper, this is an episode I should really like. It has several of my favourite things. It has elements of a time loop episode, and I love time loop episodes, including one with the repeated death of a main character in every loop. It has a scene practically lifted from a Next Gen episode I'm very fond of (and a Stargate SG-1 episode too, come to that), with Janeway attending her own funeral as a sort-of-ghost. It has afterlife themes, and I study those professionally. And it has Janeway/Chakotay goodness, which is just my favourite thing. And yet, I have to confess, for many years I didn't like it very much.

Re-watching it now, I'm finding I'm struggling to remember why I disliked it so much! Perhaps that very mix of themes is part of the problem. It's not really a time loop, Janeway's not really a ghost, and she's not out of phase, so there's no quest to get everyone to hear her. It's all a bit uneven, especially on first viewing, before you realise what's happening.

I think there are two key issues with this story that caused my intense dislike of it. First, almost nothing that happens in the episode is real. Sometimes that sort of story can work – Alice in Wonderland is pretty good, and Voyager's earlier episode 'Projections' got a lot of mileage out of things that didn't really happen because it was good character development for the Doctor. But this is a lot of emotional character work that turns out not to be real, which is just rather frustrating.

My other issue with it is more personal, I think. Voyager's writers were very interested in near death experiences and ideas about the afterlife – as I am too! – but they had a rather different perspective on it than me. The fake Janeway senior's description of the feeling of presence of a lost loved one, especially soon after their death, is very, very close to real experiences, and the light behind him echoes real near death experiences as well. I'm very interested in near death experiences, and don't find the suggestion – which, to be fair, Chakotay suggests isn't the case – that all of them are the result of encounters with a hostile alien particularly interesting or satisfying. Ultimately I think it's just an issue of personal taste. The idea of an alien species that helps others to cross over at the moment of death appeared on Farscape, where the alien in question was more benevolent and the experience more real, and I enjoyed that a lot more.

I liked this episode a lot more than I used to on a re-watch. It's well made and Janeway's realisation that the figure is not her father and her refusal to go with the alien is satisfying, and very much in character. Plus, the Janeway/Chakotay moments are some of the only real moments of the episode, even if the actual death scenes are fake! The idea of the alien bad guy who preys on people who are vulnerable and near death is actually nicely creepy and horror-movie-like – another example of how much the Voyager writers really enjoy horror, as they draw on horror tropes and creepy sequences very often, especially in this third season. It's a decent episode – just not entirely to my personal taste.

Bits and pieces

Shuttlecraft count: If we charitably assume Tuvok's shuttlecraft from 'Innocence' was recovered, and take them at their word that the crashed shuttlecraft in 'Future's End' was recovered, Voyager should still have been down to 0 shuttlecraft remaining of their original 2. With the loss of this one, which does not appear to be recoverable, they have now lost 3 of their original 2 shuttlecraft. I have always assumed they must have an army of expendable crew-members working below decks to build more.
Shuttlecraft lost: 3
Shuttlecraft remaining on board: -1

Regular cast death count: Although it's a near death experience, and although she has hallucinations of dying several times, Janeway doesn't actually die in this episode, so it doesn't count.

 - Vidiian ships? The Vidiians are still around? How have they not moved on from Vidiian space by now? We haven't seen the Kazon since 'Basics Part 2' (thank goodness) and we explicitly moved out of any area of space Neelix was familiar with a couple of episodes ago. Every now and again, Voyager tended to forget that the ship was constantly moving in one direction, and it shouldn't have run into any particular antagonist more than once or twice, unless they have special travel technology (as some later antagonists would). Mind you, this was all an hallucination, so maybe it's Janeway who's forgotten that she's left the Vidiians far behind by now.

 - I like Janeway's immediate assumption they're in a time loop – though they have the advantage of their memories of course, unlike the Enterprise crew in one of the three best time loop episodes ever made (the other two being Supernatural's 'Mystery Spot' and The X-Files' 'Monday').

 - Voyager was really good at throwing in super creepy scenes, like last episode's murder attempt by holodeck party girls, and in this episode, the Doctor euthanising Captain Janeway against her wishes. This is made even creepier by her desperate attempts to not just de-activate, but *delete* him in self-defence.

 - The shipping news: The best thing about this episode? ALL THE JANEWAY/CHAKOTAY FEELS! Full-on, weeping and cradling her dying body fan-fiction-y goodness.

 - Oddly enough, this also makes wandering around as a ghost trying to get Kes to hear them an experience Janeway and Chakotay have in common.

Quotes

Tuvok: I would like the record to show that I have lost a good friend as well. One that I can never replace. Most of this didn't really happen, but I like to think Tuvok would really have said this.

Janeway: Go back to Hell, coward!

Much better than I remembered, but still a bit... odd. Two and a half out of four conversations about Talent Night.

Juliette Harrisson is a storyteller, freelance writer, Classicist and Trekkie. She runs the podcast Creepy Classics, re-telling and discussing ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories. She tweets @ClassicalJG

No comments: