WARNING: This article contains spoilers for VOY's "Cathexis". Please concentrate very hard on that fact, and you might even be able to avoid them if you so desire.
In brief: Not one of the stronger outings -- in fact, one of the series' weakest.
Brief summary: Chakotay is rendered brain-dead by an attack on his and Tuvok's shuttle -- and evidence increasingly mounts that an alien presence is inhabiting one of the crew, changing hosts at will.
Sigh. I was hoping "Voyager" could escape the curse of a "possessed crewmembers" episode, but apparently it was not to be.
I suppose that that reaction's not entirely fair -- after all, a "possession" plot can still lead to a very enjoyable show if done correctly. However, "possession" stories tend to be fluff pieces, since they rarely deal much with significant plotlines or with the characters as themselves; and VOY is a series that has had entirely too many fluff pieces in its first year of life already. If we don't entirely know these characters well enough to know how they usually think under normal circumstances, the impact of having them act "out of character" is blunted -- we don't know what that means yet.
Some things, however, seemed a bit out of character that had nothing to do with any alleged possession by "the alien", most of them involving Janeway. Early on, we had her line to Paris, "Well, I'm willing to rule out mutiny for the time being" -- which may not necessarily have been a bad line, but certainly came off as such given the moment and the expression on Kate Mulgrew's face. Later, Janeway seemed possessed herself by the Character Stupidity Virus, in that she was trusting Tuvok *long* after some suspicion would be seriously warranted (such as any time after the attack on Kes). Even after her suspicions began to be voiced, she went ahead with her plan to divide command codes between herself and Tuvok to avoid vulnerability, which is an incredibly silly move under the circumstances. (Lisa's suggested that Janeway feigned that plan in order to draw Tuvok out in the open, but given all the Spirit-Cam [tm] shots we got of Chakotay's soul moving to Janeway and then Kim during the bridge attack sequence, I strongly disagree.] Lastly, we had the closing sequence, in which Janeway spends pretty much the entire scene with her hands virtually caressing Chakotay's shoulder and upper chest. Perhaps it's me, but that seems just a bit foreign to the way Janeway and Chakotay have usually interacted. The first and last situations above could be errors on almost anyone's part -- Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky (who wrote the story; Braga did the script), Kim Friedman (who directed), or Mulgrew; but the middle situation strikes me as an instance of "let's alter the character for the sake of the plot", which rarely sits well.
Unfortunately, we were asked to believe a lot more than *that* for the sake of the plot. We're intended to believe all of the following:
-- That no one could have come to the conclusion that Kes was neck- pinched, despite the fact that it was a physical assault, that Tuvok was the only one near her, *and* that Tuvok has had suspicion around him already in the course of the show.
-- That Chakotay, *even after* having his "bio-neural energy" removed, could exist as a disembodied spirit. In other words, we're meant to believe mystical technobabble after hearing regular technobabble arguing the contrary. Way too distant from me for me to be interested, sorry. (I've no idea how close the "medicine wheel" discussion was to the belief of any currently existing tribe, but it certainly felt like the Hollywood tribe more than anything else...)
-- That Chakotay's "consciousness" has a memory engram unlike anything the doctor's ever seen. He recognizes Paris's as human (presumably :-) ); did something happen to change it after it left his body?
-- That Chakotay's spirit knows a way out of the nebula, despite never having been *IN* it.
-- That a warp core can be ejected without significant damage to the ship, *and* that it can be retrieved and re-installed despite having been ejected *while the ship was in the nebula*, which they left rather hastily.
-- And, most ludicrous of all, that Torres, the chief engineer of the ship, doesn't have clearance to eject the warp core on her own. That strikes me as an absolutely insane rule -- suppose no one outranking Torres is able to contact engineering, and that the situation has grown critical. Torres can't do anything? This is totally absurd -- every chief engineer we've ever seen has had virtually unlimited clearance to deal with engineering matters, and this shouldn't be different without an explanation.
As you can gather, I spent most of "Cathexis" feeling somewhat distressed. In terms of basic plot contrivances necessary to "make the story work", this was not that far an analogue from TNG's "Genesis", which was a particularly glaring example of a bad show.
However, that isn't to say "Cathexis" was *entirely* bad. In fact, there were moments scattered within the plot that were intelligent, entertaining, or (ideally) both. The initial reaction to Chakotay's initial moves (Paris's two "sabotage" acts and B'Elanna's deactivation of the warp core) seemed reasonable enough; continue back to what you were doing and try to figure out what the heck happened. Tuvok's early detective work is sensible, even in light of the realization that he was possessed all along -- he didn't know what the other presence was, and clearly considered it an important issue. Even Janeway's decision to divide command codes up was a sensible one -- not with Tuvok in particular, but in general -- and the subsequent battle between possessed entities was fairly well presented. There were isolated incidents that tended to work, but not nearly enough to form any sort of coherent whole.
On the whole, I have to consider "Cathexis" a failure. Too many things, both in terms of plot and of character, grated on me, and the few bright spots there were weren't nearly enough to get past that. So, a few other short takes and then I'll wrap up:
-- Another nitpick: Janeway tells Paris to head out along "a line connecting those three planetoids". Sorry; those three are visibly *NOT* on a line at all, and can't be connected with a single line. I'm not sure what's intended there, but it's not what came out.
-- Kes's note about sensing a presence prompted lots of "Star Wars" responses; I'll leave them up to your imagination. :-)
-- Janeway's holonovel was benign enough given the circumstances, but I hope we see it used somewhat periodically; otherwise, it ends up as simple filler, and there's entirely too much of that already. [I'm willing to deal with at least a little filler for the sake of watching Carolyn Seymour, though, as I've always liked her performances.]
-- We apparently have a new supporting character to replace Seska, namely Lieutenant Durst. He seemed to come out of nowhere, though, and his style under the circumstances kept making me think of Peter Lorre. :-) Here's hoping he improves from this.
-- The phrase "X, maybe Y time-units" is getting overused. Kim and then Torres used it twice in the space of about sixty seconds, and it was extremely jarring.
-- It seems that Brannon Braga episodes bear the distinction of being the vocabulary-expanding ones. I didn't know until "Emanations" that "cenotaph" was actually a word, and "Cathexis" itself means the focusing of psychic energy on a place or individual, which is certainly apt...
-- As a general issue, I don't understand the alleged appeal of this "Voyager Q&A" being advertised all over the place. When they asked at the end, "what do YOU want to know?", my immediate answer was "Why are you DOING this?"
That should cover it. So, to close:
- Writing: Not a high mark. The characters existed mostly for the sake of the plot, and the plot was a combination of mystical baggage and contrivances.
- Directing: Some reasonable work at times, but on the whole nothing much comes to mind.
- Acting: Not the best. Tim Russ did what he could with what he had; most of the rest floundered.
OVERALL: Call it a 3. Ow.
NEXT WEEK: The Two Faces of Torres.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "This is the ion trail." -- Tuvok "This is the ion trail on cordrazine. Any questions?" -- us Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.