WARNING: Spoilers for VOY's "Projections" are projected below. Proceed with caution.
In brief: Great fun. The first episode from "Voyager" in a while which has had me truly wondering how things were going to be resolved.
Brief summary: The Doctor finds himself in a near-deserted Voyager, where circumstances lead him to believe that everything he has experienced was an elaborate simulation -- that he, the only real person on Voyager, was running.
Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way first. Even for people who *don't* look for the writing credits on the episode, I suspect it was fairly clear that Brannon Braga, writer of TNG's "Frame of Mind", also wrote this episode. (My evidence for that beyond a gut feeling? Well, the fact that two different 13-year-old students I talk to brought it up independently the day after the show aired. :-) ) "Projections", like "Frame of Mind", had a serious everything-you-know-is-wrong component in the story, and the same reality-bending effect on the main character's stability. I rather suspect how much someone likes "Projections" will track heavily with how much they enjoyed "Frame of Mind". I liked the latter an awful lot, and so leaned pretty strongly in favor of this one, too.
"Projections" did have a weak spot or two that "Frame of Mind" lacked, however. For starters, I'm not certain the early stages of the episode quite fit in with what the eventual explanation given for the doctor's condition was. If his mind built up an elaborate scenario turning him into a real person, why the talk of remote holoprojectors? Why the food fight with Neelix? Most importantly, how is it that "Janeway", allegedly the hologram Zimmerman created, was able to order the shutdown of all holographic input on Voyager, including herself, if we're later told that everything's keyed to "Zimmerman"'s commands? As inconsistencies go, I think these are fairly minor -- but it is something of a pity that "Projections" wasn't as downright airtight in its plotting as "Frame of Mind" was. (Of course, one could always make the excuse that since it was all in the doctor's mind, the simulation can change from moment to moment ... but I'd hope no one would try to use that excuse with a straight face.)
Once those first fifteen minutes or so are out of the way, however, and "Zimmerman" stands revealed, the show absolutely takes off. Although I'm not certain I can buy the time-frame needed to have Barclay be involved in designing the doctor, having a holographic Barclay stand there and tell *anyone* not to panic is such an entertaining concept that I don't much care. :-) (Besides, if Barclay really was the one who designed the doctor's interpersonal skills, that explains rather a lot.) Braga's shown he can write Barclay well in previous shows, and Dwight Schultz is just so damned good in the role that the Barclay/doctor scenes were a big highlight of the show.
I particularly liked Barclay's "proof" that all of Voyager was just a simulation by restarting the program. While we got to see some dialogue rerun from the pilot (thus another proof that Braga wrote this; remember the repeated scenes in "Cause and Effect", for instance?), it also gave the viewer a serious case of "wait a minute; there might be something to this..." syndrome. As the doctor himself put it, Barclay's credibility level went up sharply after that scene, and I found myself quite intrigued, wondering where things were going next. [And, of course, the explanation behind why Paris was so annoying was priceless.]
The final act, with Barclay and Chakotay each staking their own claim as to the doc's true nature, was actually a rather nice bit of psychological drama. Although dialogue like "It doesn't matter what you're made of!" usually falls very flat, in this particular case it worked; it was about the only lifeline the doctor had to grab onto, in fact. The irony of Barclay being the one to argue *against* someone being a holographic character (and yet by that very same fact arguing that the doctor lose his true identity) was also much appreciated. Unlike much of VOY to date, I think "Projections" managed to have a healthy dose of *texture* to it, and that's a welcome addition.
Then, of course, there was the fake ending. I probably shouldn't have been caught by it, but I have to admit that I was. Part of me wishes it hadn't been a fake ending, and that Kes's "then I guess this means our marriage is over" was just her being evil; but given that she got to be evil later, I suppose this'll do, and the realization that the ordeal wasn't over was, while not quite as powerful as Riker shattering scene after scene after scene in "Frame of Mind", pretty strong in its own right.
It's difficult to talk about characterization of anyone except the doctor in this, as all of the show except the last minute or so took place in the doctor's mind. The characters we did see were true to the real ones, though (except possibly for B'Elanna, and there things didn't seem out of character so much as generally off key. Everyone felt as real as they needed to (in one case too much so; Neelix's fight against the Kazon was *really* annoying), but on the whole the only real character that mattered as a character was the doctor; everyone else existed solely to advance the plot, really.
Other quick thoughts:
-- One drawback to a show like this is that I'm not sure what facts we got were "real". For instance, *is* work proceeding on a holoprojector system for the doctor? *Was* Barclay involved in the doc's design? [He must have been, or there's no explanation for his appearance.] *Does* Zimmerman look exactly like the doctor? That's a slightly annoying state of affairs, particularly the first part; I hope we see some evidence one way or the other about it soon.
-- Barclay's argument that "well ... I'm just NOT an alien" was hilarious. (It was also, as an aside, fun seeing Schultz play someone relatively well-adjusted here after seeing him as someone substantially less so in a B5 rerun less than a week earlier.)
-- The doctor's casual stroll through engineering to destroy the holographic generator was good, as was his discussion of what was about to happen to the guards holding phasers on him.
That's really about all I have to say on "Projections". It had a glitch here and there, but only here and there, and it was a vastly entertaining hour. That's enough for me. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Little characterization to speak of except for the doc, but the plot was nicely knotted. Directing: Frakes must've remembered some of what he was told to do in "Frame of Mind", because he directed this nearly as well as the former was. Acting: Great from Picardo and Schultz, fine for everyone else (except perhaps Phillips, though that may just be my annoyance with Neelix). OVERALL: 9.5. Very solid work.
NEXT WEEK: Years ago, TNG had Mama Michelle Phillips as a guest star. Now, another of the famed quartet is heard from. Yes, you guessed it ... Mama Kes.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) email@example.com "Did I program Mr. Paris to be so annoying?" "Actually, *I* programmed him. I modeled him after my cousin Frank." 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.