WARNING: The following review contains spoilers exhumed from the VOY episode "Emanations".
In brief: Not always the best in execution, but not bad at all -- and with a few interesting subtleties.
Brief summary: Harry Kim disappears during an away mission, only to find himself in the company of a race of aliens who believe he has returned from the afterlife.
If nothing else, I think "Emanations" safely broke out of the "Trek Lite" mode that "Voyager" has been for most of its brief lifespan so far. With its assorted panic attacks, moral quandaries, and discussions on the nature of death, it was one *morbid* show, but fluff it was not.
I'm going to get my two big complaints out of the way first. First, while the ring system was a beautiful effects job (someone or -ones must have worked long hours to get that right!), the concept that asteroids in a ring are large enough to "support class-M atmospheres" is totally absurd. Our *moon* isn't large enough to have such an atmosphere, for heaven's sake -- and a ring system is essentially made up of fragments of a moon which came too close to the planet it's orbiting and broke apart. You're lucky if you find most fragments are large enough to *stand* on, much less breathe on. While this wasn't all that essential to the story (it could very well have all taken place on another moon of that planet or something), it was a very basic goof that could and should have been caught.
The second problem is also somewhat science-based, though less so. I'll sum it up in a question: what in blazes is "neural energy" supposed to be? It smacked of "hey, let's have a soul but not *call* it a soul", similar to the way in which "Sub Rosa" had an "anaphasic lifeform" playing the role of a demon. Either way, no thanks; I don't mind mysticism when done well and sparingly, but I *do* mind mysticism that's trying to apologize for itself by backing away gingerly and saying "well, we REALLY mean X".
Once I have the scientist-based objections out of the way, though, I have to say that "Emanations" was a show that actually impressed me *more* when I went back to watch it a second time than the first run through it. Both in the show's atmosphere and in the subtle way some things about the characters were presented (or not presented ... more on that later), there was a fair amount of hidden strength to this show above and beyond the core premise of "Harry's thought to be a ghost".
To start with, the atmosphere on the planet (and, to some extent, where Harry ended up) seemed more successfully creepy than usual. [Anyone surprised to see Brannon Braga's name on the writing credit after that teaser needs to pay more attention, by the way. Spiderwebs, naked dead bodies ... that was an easy call to make. :-) ] I also appreciated the fact that the "webs" turned out *not* to be such; the teaser had some fairly nice misdirection in it, and the times when Trek has managed to successfully do that are getting distressingly less common.
Some of the character moments were nice as well. The Chakotay/Kim debate about whether to examine the bodies was particularly nice, and brought out some of Chakotay's beliefs without being too obvious about it. Granted, I don't agree with his position 100% -- for one, I thought ruling out tricorders was going overboard -- but it seemed to spring wholeheartedly from the character, which is all I ask. [The close of that conversation was odd, though; why did Chakotay answer Kim's gratitude with a story which essentially said "this is how I knew you were wrong, nyah nyah"? It seemed just a bit out of place.] The Chakotay/Torres scene immediately following where Chakotay proves himself better at cultural observation than Torres (*big* surprise, that :-) ) was also well executed, I thought -- but I thought B'Elanna's argument that "well, Klingons believe in an afterlife, but *they* don't have any rituals with burial" was specious and should have been noted as such. The argument "action X shows a belief in an afterlife" does not translate to "belief in an afterlife mandates action X". Finishing off Chakotay, his reaction to being told by the doctor that he'd been strolling through corpses spoke volumes without saying a word; he was clearly totally, *totally* unnerved by the thought. It was nice to see Beltran actually get something solid to do.
Another ambiguity I liked was that we never really *did* find out exactly where Kim was taken. Kim asked to look at star charts, but never got the chance -- and for all we know, he really *was* in another dimension that considers our reality their afterlife. This was ambiguity created simply by not giving us all the answers, not ambiguity forced in with a line about "neural energy" -- and as such, it was the far more successful of the two. [A number of other questions were raised when we found out more about their death-rituals -- what, for instance, do they do with accident victims?]
Character-wise, I think Harry Kim was both well written and well played. Garrett Wang hadn't really been given all that much to do since "Caretaker" until now, and it's good to see that he's up to solid material given the chance. Without being too blatant or overdone, he managed to project Kim's panic and despair quite nicely the whole way through, I think (far better than Robert Duncan McNeill did for Paris in "Ex Post Facto", despite the fact that I've always liked McNeill). On the whole, I thought he handled everything as well as he could given the initial setup. (There's one exception to that, though; had I been Kim, I'd have gotten *out of the way* of those two "death-rods" or whatever they were in the cenotaph he used to get home. :-) )
I'm sure lots of people will be protesting "what about the Prime Directive?" with respect to his actions both at the start and at the end, but those objections don't bother me (despite the fact that I tend to think the PD is generally a good idea). At the outset, he had no idea what was going on, and he *is* also still very young and very inexperienced -- and since this isn't a situation one is likely to encounter in "Starfleet Ethics 205 -- Noninterference Directives and Sticky Situations" at the Academy, I think it's understandable that he wouldn't realize at the outset what he was doing. As soon as he *did* realize the impact his words were having, he clammed up. [As for his actions at the end, it might be arguable that his continued *presence* would have far more of a disruptive effect on the society than his actions with Hadil.]
The scenes between Kim and Hadil were on the whole good, if a little slow-paced at times. I particularly liked the scene where Hadil revealed that his *family* arranged this death for him, rather than him choosing it himself. Despite all of Kim's training, Hadil was right -- Kim _did_ look appalled, and for completely understandable reasons.
The other thing I really, *really* liked about everything with Hadil was a directing trick I didn't notice until the second time around. Until Hadil's actually talking about *why* he's coming to die (his leg injuries and their consequences, apparently), we only see him from the waist up; we never have any sense that he's anything but totally able-bodied until that information becomes important. I'm not entirely sure why I'm so impressed by that, but I think it's a nice trick.
Back on Voyager, we were dealing with Patera's revival and her sense of emptiness -- and somewhat surprisingly, I think this came off reasonably well also. Patera's initial panic when her "afterlife" turns out to be something other than she expected was both understandable and eerily assembled, and many of her conversations with both Janeway and Kes reminded me of TNG's "Who Watches the Watchers", only bleaker; she never quite realizes she isn't in her afterlife after all, I think. (This isn't to say those scenes were as good as the comparable Picard/Nuria scenes in "Watchers", though; I don't think they were, but I think those scenes are tough to beat.) In keeping with that, it's worth noting that she really understood basically *nothing* of the "technobabble to send her back" scene other than the fact that she might be able to get home; they could have been telling her to click her heels together three times for all the difference it would have made. Given that that's the sense much of the technobabble has given me for *years*, I find that reaction very valuable.
The resolution went pretty much as expected, and it's here that I have another problem to mention: the situation revolving around the death- shroud. It's said several times that the bodies are naked once they reach the asteroid -- and that makes sense, as Hadil mentions that the shroud's been used by his family for generations. Presumably, then, either they're removed or they're left behind. Given that we know they're not removed as a matter of course -- otherwise Harry would have been found out -- I have to wonder how Harry showed up in his uniform if clothing doesn't accompany a transferee. The whole thing just smelled a little thrown-together to me, alas. [I also wonder what he *did* with his uniform before leaving, but that's a side issue.]
That was almost made up for by the final Kim/Janeway scene, though. While the "neural energy" bit was a waste (telling only in that it showed Kim didn't believe a word of what he was telling Hadil about Hadil's possible fate), I thought her orders to reflect on the situation before returning to duty were interesting. I have to agree with her sentiment that truly rare experiences need to be ... "savored", perhaps, is the word I'm looking for, and it's not a sentiment that one often sees expressed in television at all [perhaps because as a rule characters can't acknowledge much of anything significant happening when it's not a plot point].
On the whole, then, "Emanations" wasn't bad. This is actually a more positive review than I expected I'd write a few days ago -- but the more time I've had to think about it, the more interested I've gotten by the episode. I'll be curious to see if I feel the same way in a few months.
So, wrapping up:
- Writing: Aside from a healthy dose of totally bogus science, fairly good.
- Directing: Some pacing problems, but also some nice work in atmosphere.
- Acting: Solid. Jerry Hardin [as the alien doctor] seemed a little much, but not by much.
OVERALL: Call it a 7.5; not bad at all.
NEXT WEEK: Mutiny?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "No artifacts, no inscriptions ... just some naked dead people." -- B'Elanna Torres 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.