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Persistence of Vision

WARNING: The apparitions appearing before your eyes are spoilers for VOY's "Persistence of Vision". Persist not in thy futile quest to avoid them.

In brief: A goofy story, but nice atmosphere and creepiness until the last five minutes -- which might be a good place to stop watching.

Written by: Jeri Taylor Directed by: James L. Conway


Brief summary: An encounter with a new alien race causes the crew of Voyager to begin hallucinating, bringing long-repressed thoughts and desires to the surface.

By my count, this makes the third time Trek has tried to do some sort of "Halloween episode", though never proclaiming it specifically as such. To date, regrettably, I've yet to see one that's worked. TOS's "Catspaw" never really got much of a reaction out of me, and the attempts to "Halloween-ize" TNG's "The Bonding" hurt it a lot more than they helped. By those standards, "Persistence of Vision" actually did a fairly decent job; until the last few minutes, it was managing to be a reasonably atmospheric psychological horror tale.

As with most horror stories, the plot was nothing much to speak of. Okay, I can buy a race of projecting telepathic aliens; we've certainly had plenty of them in the past. I can buy a ship that gives off a "psionic energy field", or whatever technobabble was used to describe it. I can even buy that the race's abilities are so strong as to let them project from a great distance away. But even accepting all that ... I can't find the point. If they're that strong, what was the point of the exercise? If they really wanted to destroy Voyager, they could have. If they were giving some sort of test, why wasn't that clear? What was the point of projecting the ships *and*, at some point, projecting the image of one of their own so clearly that it could be damaged? Why were they calling up images of Janeway's holodeck creations, when those thoughts (at least of the girl) aren't likely to be in any deeply buried parts of her mind? Janeway herself remarks at the end that they've been left with mysteries; well, perhaps, but it'd be nice if the show at least made _some_ sense.

Fortunately, as with most horror stories, the plot is generally subordinate to the sense of atmosphere; and if the atmosphere works, much else is forgivable. And for much of "Persistence of Vision", the atmosphere felt right for what the episode was trying to do. Director James L. Conway's done psychological horror trips for Trek before, having done TNG's superb "Frame of Mind", and he was in nearly as good form this time; Janeway's sudden vision of the cucumber sandwiches in Neelix's mess hall, followed almost immediately by the ornate teacup, was effectively jarring. Moments like that abounded in the episode; one of the best of them came when Janeway headed for engineering, only to see the entranced form of Chakotay standing in the 'lift, never having made it any further. Brr. On that level, most of "Persistence of Vision" worked fairly well.

On a character level, the episode was a bit more mixed. It actually tended to skew along gender lines; what moments we saw with the "temptations" of the male characters came off rather well for me, but those visions involving the female ones didn't, at least mostly. Torres's vision was particularly uninvolving for me; I'd prefer to see a strong female character, just once, who wasn't harboring some hidden passion for a friend. It's a very, very old trick, and one that in this case seemed to come out of the blue -- perhaps because no one could think of any other vision to bring B'Elanna into when the story was broken. (I have no idea if that's the case; I hope not.) In any case, that particular vision did very little for me. (In its defense, though, it's worth pointing out that *all* of the visions except for Paris's involved a love interest of some kind, and Torres's may only have been the most egregious of the lot, as it was introducing one.)

Many of the others fared better. Paris's in particular was nice; between the alternate version of Tom we saw in "Non Sequitur" and the interactions he had with his father here, he's the character who's probably being displayed best in the few episodes of this season. While Admiral Paris was a bit harsher than I'd anticipate him really being under such circumstances, it wasn't implausible -- and it's also extremely plausible that we were seeing him *as Tom saw him*, which is bound to be a skewed viewpoint.

As for Janeway's ... well, it had some peaks and valleys. The romantic angle, as with Torres's, didn't wow me, but the question of faithfulness, or more broadly of abandonment, is one that makes a lot of sense for Janeway to be pondering. She's got to be worried that she and her crew are being forgotten back home, and concerned as well that building community ties on board could clash with the crew's desires to be true to their lives before the mission began. If her vision of Mark was meant to apply specifically to her own personal feelings for him, I think I could well have done without it; but it can be read as a more "captainly" concern as well, and I think it works better that way.

In essence, then, "Persistence of Vision" mostly managed to be a nice series of vaguely connected vignettes. That technique has somewhat limited use, but it works well in situations like this; as a result, then, even though we had moments like B'Elanna's vision and some rather tiring scenes in sickbay, there was a good sense of eeriness (thanks in part to David Bell doing a very nice job with the music), I was pleasantly disposed towards the show going into the last few minutes.

Unfortunately, those last few minutes were terrible on most counts. On a writing level, I had a big problem with the idea that the doctor and Kes could singlehandedly save the ship in a technical manner; I can see them doing it in other fashions, but not in something where neither character has any experience. On a directing level, the scene in engineering changed the show over from psychological horror to cheesy effects horror, which I've never particularly liked in the slightest. (That transition was a real pity, because the idea of Kes's mental powers and defenses growing and channeling is a *very* solid one and one worth pursuing beyond this.) And on an acting level ... well, I'm not much for screaming, and I'm afraid neither Jennifer Lien nor Ethan Phillips does it with quite enough panache to convince me otherwise. Pity. The closing scene between Janeway and Torres was a substantial upturn from the rest of the ending, but it wasn't enough to keep the episode from dropping down into the "mediocre" category where it would otherwise have been pleasant.

Other brief thoughts:

-- I did like the Bothan's statement after he'd been beaten. "Why did you do this?" "Because I can." Sure, it makes him a one-dimensional clown; but dammit, that's nice to see once in a blue moon. :-)

-- Janeway did a good job of following up options and questioning alternatives during the early stages of her hallucinations. (Some of the dialogue during those scenes, particularly in engineering, needed help, but the plotting itself worked fine.) It was also nice to see that the holo-emitters were *not* a setup for a problem for a change.

-- We never found out what Chakotay saw. A lead-in to next week's "Tattoo", perhaps?

That would seem to cover it, I think. Depending on your taste for somewhat goofy horror, "Persistence of Vision" might work for you -- but I'd advise ignoring the last few minutes. So, to wrap up:

Writing: Some of the individual visions were well designed, and Janeway's search for answers was good. The basic story and the ending weren't so strong. Directing: Somewhere between good to excellent; nice and moody. Acting: All over the board. McNeill was on form, Mulgrew was generally good. OVERALL: Until the last few minutes, I'd have said a 6.5 or 7. As is ... a 5.5. Not horrid by any means, but not a must-see either.

NEXT WEEK: Chakotay faces some demons from his past.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu "I suggest you not look at the viewscreen." "It's not even tempting." -- Janeway and Paris 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.

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