WARNING: This article contains spoiler information for VOY's "The Cloud". Please step cautiously while proceeding on.
In brief: while extremely light fare, another entertaining outing.
Brief summary: The Voyager crew investigates a nearby nebula in the hopes of replenishing their power reserves -- but instead find that the nebula itself is a living thing, badly hurt by their attempts to invade and escape it.
While it's still early to tell if "Voyager" is going to start falling into any particular patterns in the way its episodes are put together, the combination of this and "Phage" suggests that we may be in for shows that are entertaining and filled with good banter, but rather thin on much else.
"The Cloud", in particular, took that particular mold to a fairly high degree. The "weird space cloud is actually alive" plot is one that's been seen in virtually every Trek series known to exist, I think (TOS did it several times, including the first film, and TNG's done it as well; DS9 may have eluded it for now), and the "journey back to correct old damage", while extremely true to Trek philosophy, was also less than mold-breaking. Character delineation and development had two different elements working here, Paris's holodeck program and Janeway's attempt to find her animal-guide, only one of which really struck me as a success. None of this is to say the show was bad -- and with lots of snappy repartee and good production values from acting on down the line, I don't think it was -- but it does mean that the show was strictly Trek Lite [tm].
What's more, I have a hunch that we're going to see a *lot* of Trek Lite from "Voyager", and here's why. A lot of the "deeper" stuff we've seen in Trek, particularly modern Trek (meaning TNG and onwards), has revolved around one of two things: characters dealing with the consequences of past situations suddenly coming back to haunt them, political/cultural issues, or both. While it's possible to do without either of those ("The Inner Light", for example, had neither and was absolutely breathtaking), a great many strong shows have had either the characters' pasts or something implicit in Federation relations as a major backdrop.
With "Voyager", we have neither of those. Well, that's not totally true -- the characters' pasts *could* be dealt with a bit. But to do so will either require flashbacks or a lot of talking, since characters from past situations can hardly come strolling by. Flashbacks will only work in very limited quantities, for obvious reasons; and lots and lots of exposition, while not exactly unheard-of, also isn't likely to be a major success story. Meanwhile, we're not going to get much work with Federation policy here, as there is no Federation to speak of out in the Delta Quadrant. Thus, I suspect that until and unless we see a concerted attempt by Voyager's staff to seriously develop the universe we're seeing in Voyager's neck of the woods, we'll see a lot of distinctly one-off pieces.
Now that I'm done rambling through a State-of-the-Series address :-), on to the actual episode.
The best parts of the show with actual substance, I think, had to do with Janeway's attempt to find her animal-guide. Now, admittedly, I have no clue about how realistic any of Chakotay's statements were -- but they seemed plausible and heartfelt on both the character's and the actor's part, which is enough for me at this juncture. The vision worked -- and given Lisa's field of research, the episode jumped an immediate notch up in her eyes when it turned out that Janeway's animal-guide was a lizard. :-) :-)
I suspect some people are wondering *why* Janeway, apparently a down-to-earth, tough-as-nails captain, would want to explore this particular form of spirituality. Fortunately, I think there's a reason beyond the powers that be wanting to work some Native American culture into the show. Back in Starfleet proper, I suspect Janeway might well have politely declined such an offer, because she has her own friends and her own chain of command to talk to and report to, respectively. Here, she has neither -- and the former was made very clear in her opening log. She needs *someone* she can connect to and ask advice of -- preferably someone not under her direct command. If that someone happens to be a spirit-lizard and also allows her to form a deeper bond with her first officer, fine. In any event, I think it makes a great deal of sense for Janeway to be seeking some sort of higher power to talk to right now -- and I've no problem with her choice of same.
The other character work this week, loosely speaking, would have to be the look into Paris's holodeck fantasies, namely the French cafe outside of Paris where he "learned a great deal" during his Academy years. This part, I have to say, ground the show to a dead halt where I was concerned. I wasn't much for the characters, I wasn't much for the billiards ... er, *pool* commentary, and other than the fact that it led nicely to the closing "Janeway is not Picard; she gets involved" scene at the end of the show, I'm not certain if it was meant to do much of anything beyond pad a few minutes out.
The rest of the show can be summed up in three words: "good sound bites". As I said, there wasn't much deep in the show, but the quality of the inter-character banter is definitely sharp where this show is concerned. I liked "There's *coffee* in that nebula". I liked Neelix's rant to Kes about how Janeway is seemingly trying to destroy the ship: "You don't care a great deal about your crew and introduce them to the specter of death at every opportunity." I liked the entire exchange 'twixt B'Elanna and the doctor, especially his musings on what he'd do with the ability to program himself. I liked Janeway's setting Neelix straight on just what he was in for ("that's a Starfleet expression for 'Get out'.") ... basically, I was chuckling at a lot of the show. That may not lead to any awards, but it's not necessarily a bad way to spend an hour, either.
That's really it for the main points. So, a few other side issues:
-- There does seem to be a reasonable amount of attention paid to the fact that Voyager's supplies are finite. We've already seen references to food problems, and here we had references both to energy supplies running low and the limited number of photon torpedoes the ship has to use. As long as these things are remembered down the line, I think it's a highly good thing. (Anyone want to volunteer to keep a running tally of Voyager's photon torpedo count? :-) )
-- Given the above, however, it seems very odd to me that Paris is spending all this energy on running his holodeck program. While I can see the holodeck potentially being allowed within reason for morale purposes, I'd like to see some reference to this being the case. Otherwise, it looks like Paris is leaving the lights on while everyone else is reading by candlelight, and that's just silly.
-- A lot of the science seemed to make sense (for a welcome change of pace :-) ). At the very least, the nebula's composition (aside from the fictitious omicron particles) seemed somewhat realistic, and we actually got to see B'Elanna using, of all things, a centrifuge! (Granted, it didn't seem to have any shielding unless there was a force-field in place, but I'll take what I can get...)
-- Was Janeway deciding to just punch through the energy barrier a rash thing to do? Yes. But given her equally rash actions in "Parallax" when she claimed "sometimes you just have to *punch* your way through" a problem, it seems a consistent character trait. One of these days it should backfire on her (and Chakotay, at least, should have the sense to point that fact out), but for now it seems fine.
-- I wouldn't be surprised if some nitpicked Chakotay's claim that he'd never shown his medicine bundle to anyone, but I'm not sure it's a problem. Anyone else he's helped find their own animal-guide (B'Elanna, for instance) is someone he's presumably helped back in the Alpha Quadrant -- and there, they were planetside enough that he probably gave them instructions on making their own as a first step. Here, no one had that option. [As a sidebar to that, I wonder if Chakotay's "we talk to animals" was meant to refer to his own tribe, or to his Maquis crew. I think you could interpret it either way.]
-- Time to play Name the Animal-Guide. :-) We know Chakotay's isn't a bear, and that B'Elanna tried to kill hers (a classic comment). I wouldn't be surprised if B'Elanna had some Klingon animal (which given her dislike of her Klingon side would *really* tick her off), but Chakotay's is pretty wide open. How about a fox?
I think that's about it. So, to wrap up:
- Writing: Pretty shallow fare, but good execution and great dialogue.
- Directing: The holodeck sequences dragged, but other than that things seemed to move well.
- Acting: No huge complaints, but not much in the way of standouts. Paris seemed a bit unconvincing, Neelix seemed very strong.
OVERALL: Maybe a 7.5. Entertaining fluff again. I hope we get some depth, but for now I'm satisfied with this.
NEXT WEEK: Romulans?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "Now there's an interesting concept: a hologram that programs himself. What would I do with that ability? Create a family, raise an army..." -- the Doctor 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.