"Bliss"

[Disclaimer]

The usual. It's Paramount's playground; I'm just borrowing the equipment. Any resemblance to products, productions, novels, television shows, films, characters, public figures, celebrities, bodily fluids, et al., is purely intended for entertainment purposes.

These reviews are long, highly opinionated, and prone to digressions. They retell each episode from beginning to end in excruciating but dubiously accurate detail. If you haven't seen the episode yet and want to be surprised, run away.

But some people seem to like them, and if you don't mind your Trek with some tongue-in-cheek running commentary, hop on the fun bus and join the crowd, because Fatherly Uncle Jim's in a storytellin' mood.

[Summary]

A wormhole promises to drop the crew right on Earth's doorstep. Too good to be true? Naaah.

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

In the depths of space, lightening licks out, striking a tiny, unfamiliar vessel. Inside the craft, which looks much worse for wear, a crusty old dude with long dishwater-blond hair and full-body leather, looking like the aged offspring of Walter Matthau and a Sharpei, rages at something unseen. "Ah! Surprised?"

With a grunt, the overstuffed leathery old fart squeezes into his overstuffed leather pilot's chair and pounds at the controls as though the craft was engineered by the friendly folks at Whack-a-Mole. "What's wrong? Can't figure out why I'm still not running, huh?"

We finally look over his shoulder and see what he's yelling at. Suffice to say it's big, it's weird, and it's pissed off. Its mouth is easily large enough to swallow this one-man craft whole. And it's spitting lightning, which gives us the occasional view of what lies ahead. Clouds roil around the orifice. Imagine a Dune sandworm the size of a continent, with a mouth the size of Boston Harbor. Kinda like Mick Jagger, before the lip-reduction surgery.

Suffice to say I wouldn't want to go in there.

"Can't read my thoughts?" the geezer rumbles, then chortles in his joy.

The ship's innards begin exploding here and there, a perfect percussive Caribbean rendition of "Sixteen Men on a Dead Manís Chest." Captain Methuselah launches spittle at the windshield with every syllable. "Go ahead. Attack! Take my ship."

The cascade of sparks continues. "Damn ship! Hold together," the coot grumbles under his breath. "Hold." The lightning does not subside. The ship draws ever closer toward the opening.

The man's long growl becomes a howl. Which becomes a shriek as the ship proceeds into the mouth of madness.

* * *

The turbolift doors to the bridge open. Janeway leans skeptically against the doorframe. "Worm hole?"

Yes indeedly-deedy. Tuvok says it's real close, a mere 400 million kilometers or so away. And an optimistic Chakotay tells her to check out the other side of this happy little subspace rainbow. It leads to Sector 0-0-1.

For those playing the home game: Sector 0-0-1 is where Earth is. Which is where they're headed. Going the long way, it'll take them more than 50 years to get home. Taking this shortcut, they could be raiding Starbucks and Subway within days.

The captain rolls her eyes. As if.

"It looks like a wormhole but we're detecting massive bioplasmic activity," Chakotay reports. Janeway frowns. "That suggests a life-form. Neutrino flux?" she asks. Erratic, Chakotay confirms.

The captain makes a face. "A direct route to Earth's doorstep out of the blue. What's wrong with this picture?"

Chakotay suggests launching a probe; Janeway agrees: "Go to Yellow Alert. Prepare a Class-Five probe. Let's see what's really out there."

*

Daily Log, Seven of Nine. While we failed to locate a new source of deuterium our mission had educational value for at least one member of the crew.

The Delta Flyer rides again. Ensign Proton is behind the wheel. Constance Goodheart rides shotgun. And Naomi Wildman is already looking forward to her next mission. "If you go looking for deuterium tomorrow, can I come?" the tyke asks with puppy-dog eyes.

"Well, that's up to the Captain," says Tom, who doesn't seem to mind Naomi's presence. "It's likely you'll be replaced by a more experienced officer," says Seven, who knows just how to hurt a kid. "But this is my first away mission and I didn't get to do anything!" Naomi complains.

"I disagree," Seven says. "You familiarized yourself with this vessel." We can even see where; peanut butter smudges mark the ship's interior like a legume tattoo.

"Well, can't we make first contact with somebody?" Her eyes light up. She grins big. "Or get in a space battle?"

Tom Paris turns around. He looks almost as enthusiastic. "Yeah...can't we?" he says with the same buy-me-that-toy-or-I'll-hate-you-forever whine, eyes twinkling.

Two against one. Let slip the puppies of war.

Mama Seven, apparently the lone adult on board, puts her stiletto-heeled foot down. "Another time, perhaps," she says--but she allows some amusement to lift the corners of her mouth.

Paris offers to let Naomi drive the Flyer for a while. Naomi looks to Seven for permission; Seven cautions against it, but as Tom points out, "She'll be familiarizing herself with the vessel."

Tom sits Naomi down, and shows her how to take the Flyer to one-quarter impulse. The controls are simple enough that a Burger King trainee could do it--it's the very same principle, in fact. Big, well-lit, self-descriptive buttons. Press the blue button A, then the yellow button B, super-size it, here's your change . . . and away we go.

Tom gives her an Attagirl. "Now, you think you can chart a course back to Voyager?" Yes, sir, Naomi says, smiling big.

Seven of Nine watches the two with her slight smile. Tom Paris is good with kids.

And so is Naomi.

*

Corridor time. Tom and Seven walk together at a leisurely pace. Naomi is fast asleep, draped over Tom's chest with that invertebrate rag-doll slumber that only a child is capable of, and Tom carries her with the gentle skill of a veteran daddy. (As a giggle of Parisites wrote this week, "I never wanted to be Naomi Wildman so much in my life. Sigh . . .")

Two crewmen blow past the happy virtual family on their way to somewhere. "They're in a hurry," Tom notes. "Crewmen Boylen and White," Seven says with annoyance. "Frequently late for their duty shifts." It's a perfect time for a segue, and Tom takes it. "Speaking of late, I'll make a deal with you. I'll explain to Sam why her daughter's two hours late for bedtime, if you start on the survey report."

"Acceptable," says Seven instantly. Reports are no problem for the efficiency-minded Seven. Tom is far better suited to diplomatic encounters like explaining Naomi's wild night life to Mom.

"Have fun," Tom says, dropping everyone's favorite Borg off near Astrometrics.

*

The last thing Seven of Nine expects is to see her favorite room swarming with activity this time of night. Tuvok, Harry, Janeway and Chakotay are putting Astrometrics through its paces. And they've been busy.

The Big Screen is bursting with color. The image looks not unlike the virtual image in TNG's "The Game." Trajectory shows a path down the gullet of a long trumpet bell. (Foreshadowing . . .)

"You're back," Janeway says, beaming. "I was beginning to worry."

"The survey took longer than expected," says Seven, instantly on her guard.

"Lucky our deuterium shortage is no longer an issue," Chakotay says, with a Cheshire grin.

Seven steps forward, paying closer attention to the screen. "A wormhole."

"The wormhole," Harry says, correcting her. "It leads all the way back to Earth."

Seven's ocular implant sparks. Her BS meter flies off the chart. "The odds of finding such a phenomenon are infinitesimal."

"Never bet against the house," Janeway says cryptically. (What the heck does that mean? I mean, I know what it means, but talk about irrelevant . . .)

Seven takes over one of the consoles. Harry asks what she's doing. Looking for anomalous readings, Seven says. Tuvok says she won't find any. Chakotay concurs. Chakotay is smiling. Tuvok's eyebrows do the Lambada. Harry - well, Harry always looks like that when Seven's around.

"The probe we sent in has already picked up faint signals from the other side," Janeway says. "B'Elanna's still downloading them but she's pretty sure they're from Starfleet," Harry adds, practically doing cartwheels over the prospect of another letter from home.

But Seven still has questions galore. "This wormhole is only 300 million kilometers away. Long-range scans should have detected it days ago."

"Perhaps it was an oversight on your part," Tuvok says. It's almost an accusation. But Janeway waves the suspicious Vulcan off, telling Seven to run diagnostics to her heart's content. "In the meantime, let's maintain course." She and the other Astrometrics intruders exit, leaving Little Miss Party Pooper to her work.

*

Janeway pulls a lukewarm mug of coffee from her ready room's replicator. Her door chimes before she has a chance to sit down, but she's already in need of a refill.

Seven enters. "I've completed my diagnostic. Sensors are operating at peak efficiency." Janeway looks pleased. "Then there's nothing to worry about."

"On the contrary," Seven says. "The wormhole's neutrino levels are extremely erratic."

Janeway takes a mighty swig. "I thought so, too...until I received this." She holds out a PADD. "It turns out those faint signals we detected were communiqués from Starfleet. They assure me the neutrino flux is nothing to worry about."

Seven has seen enough of Starfleet to be suitably unimpressed. "Starfleet may be in error. We should run further scans." But this is the Janeway of "Timeless" fame. "No time. The wormhole might destabilize."

Seven blinks twice. "The Doctor often instructs me to 'look before I leap.' It is an antiquated adage but I believe it is relevant."

"I have another one for you: 'He who hesitates is lost.' "

How about "a stitch in time saves [Seven of] Nine"? "Donít count your wormholes before theyíre matched"? "Donít look a gift wormhole in the event horizon"? It's Battle of the Hackneyed Adages!

Seven of Nine tries to press her point, but Janeway cuts her off with an idle wave of her non-coffee hand. "We're avoiding the issue, Seven. You're still feeling uncomfortable about returning to the Alpha Quadrant. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Trust me. You're going to thrive on Earth just as you've thrived on Voyager."

In "Hope and Fear," this was a pivotal moment, Janeway naming the monsters in Seven's anxiety closet. Here, it's a brush-off. I'm right, you're wrong, deal with it on your own time. Janeway's not mad; she doesn't even seem all that interested. What she does seem is downright, er, blissful.

(Insert "Feels so Good" by Chuck Mangione here.)

This sets Seven of Nine all the more on her guard. Something funky is going on.

The door beeps again; Chakotay enters, bearing gifts. "Letter number two. I'm getting jealous." He hands the captain a PADD.

Janeway gets a faraway look as she reads. "Mark . . . Apparently his engagement was broken off." She takes this as good news--especially since she expects to be home Real Soon Now. She sets the PADD on her desk. "How about you? Any news?"

Chakotay beams. "A full pardon and reinstatement to Starfleet. I've even been offered a professorship in anthropology at the Academy."

We hear the remaining conversation, barely. The camera focuses on Seven of Nine as Janeway and Chakotay discuss their plans for the future, so rosy you rarely see them except on those "you may already be a winner" envelopes.

A future that assumes the end of their journey is somewhere, over that rainbow.

But where thereís pots of gold, youíll often find leprechauns. With wrinkled faces and heavy brogues and knotted wooden staffs to whack the kneecaps of anyone who dares approach.

*

Seven of Nine returns to Cargo Bay Two so she can work in peace, away from the shiny happy people. She attempts to access Janeway's logs on Stardate 52542, but the computer tells her No Way. Seven walks over to a wall panel, removes a single isolinear chip -- and the computer changes its mind. "Access granted." You gotta love ship's security . . .

Seven tells the computer to play first entry. We see Janeway as we saw her at the beginning of Act One. Frowning. Skeptical.

Captain's Log, Stardate 52542.3. Long-range sensors have identified a wormhole leading to the Alpha Quadrant. Unfortunately, secondary scans have revealed that it's some kind of elaborate deception. The question is--who's attempting to deceive us . . . and why?

The transmission ends. "Play next log entry," Seven orders. The captain appears again; still looking somewhat guarded, but now with just a hint of optimism. The "supplemental" entry takes place on 52542.4, roughly an hour after the first.

Captain's Log, supplemental. We've begun to receive faint telemetry from our probe. I don't want to get the crew's hopes up but B'Elanna thinks it may be a message from Starfleet. I'm beginning to wonder if my earlier skepticism was justified.

Beep. End of log entry. What a difference a tenth of a Stardate makes. Seven orders the next clip to play. We see Janeway again, this time looking like a kid at Christmas. It's now 52542.5, an hour later.

Captain's Log, supplemental. I've set a course for the wormhole. With any luck, we should be back in the Alpha Quadrant in a matter of days.

If Seven of Nine knew any colorful metaphors, she'd be employing a blue streak's worth about now.

*

Seven of Nine marches through the corridors when Neelix calls after her. "Annika! Annika Hansen!" He runs to catch up with Seven.

"There is no one here by that name," says Seven, perturbed. (For the newbies, "Annika Hansen" is Seven of Nine's birth name. Seven of Nine is her Borg name. She prefers the latter.)

Neelix tells her he's got a letter addressed to Annika. "I never realized you knew anyone from the Alpha Quadrant," he says. "I don't," she says. "Well, it looks like someone knows you," Neelix says, grinning. "Who's it from?" Seven takes the PADD and sighs resignedly. She reads. "Claudia Hansen. She claims to be a sister of my father." Aunt, in other words. "She is looking forward to meeting me." That sentiment is clearly not mutual.

Neelix glows with joy. For her, and for himself. "Starfleet's appointed me Ambassador to the Lan'tuan sector."

Seven's nose crinkles. "Ambassador?"

"I guess they thought I'd have a flair for quadrupeds," Neelix says, beaming. (No, that joke's too easy even for me.)

The bipedal Seven runs away without another word.

*

The mess hall is brimming with activity. Shiny happy crewmen, nearly all carrying PADDs, chatter at each other with an exhilaration bordering on ecstasy.

Seven ignores it all, heading straight for the object of her search. She finds him in the kitchen, loading up a pizza with nonstandard toppings.

"Ensign, I require a moment of your time," she tells Tom Paris. Sure, he says, swallowing his first bite.

"Have you noticed anything unusual about the crew's behavior since we returned?" Seven asks. Tom looks at her blankly. "Like . . . " he prompts.

Seven sighs. "When I presented the Captain with evidence that the wormhole may not be what it appears to be, she seemed unconcerned."

Tom seems (very) mildly concerned. "Really? That doesn't sound like her."

Seven takes heart. She presses on. "I believe the crew is being deceived by false telemetry as well as overly-optimistic correspondence." Not to mention the "special brownies" Neelix prepared from the Woody Harrelson cookbook. In one corner, two crewmen are playing Ultimate Frisbee.

"The letters from home?" Tom asks. Speaking of which, a female crewman walks by, waving a PADD with exuberance. Tom gives her a happy nod of generic congratulations, then returns his attention to Seven. "I got one, too."

"No doubt containing good news," Seven says dryly.

"Oh, I'll say. An old buddy of mine offered me a spot at the new test flight center in Australia. Beautiful beaches, a chance to pilot the latest experimental ships." Tom shakes his head. "I can't believe it."

Seven perks up. "Then you doubt the veracity of the letters as well."

Tom makes a face. "Are you kidding? I've already written back and accepted the job."

Seven's shoulders slump. She's running out of people to turn to.

*

Sickbay is empty when Seven of Nine enters. "Computer, activate the E.M.H."

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," Doc says when he solidifies.

Seven wastes no time. "The wormhole is not what it appears to be. I believe that--"

"Hold on," Doc says, interrupting her. "Wormhole?"

Uh oh. "You weren't informed." Doc's face darkens. "Not a peep." He's always the last to know.

Seven frowns. "Considering everyone's recent behavior that's not surprising. Since the discovery of this wormhole the crew has ignored obvious signs that it's a deception. You must determine if there is a physiological explanation."

Chakotay pages her to the bridge. She acknowledges and heads for the door. "I'll call in a few crewmen for routine examinations," Doc assures her. "That should allow me to run the necessary diagnostics." Seven nods just before the door closes.

*

Seven of Nine enters the bridge. "We've just entered visual range," Chakotay says. "I thought you'd like to take a look. We're starting to get images from the other side." She sees a large, beautiful blue wormhole, the sight of which leaves most of the bridge crew drooling with anticipation.

Tuvok reports much interference. Kim jumps to his station at Ops and a few seconds later reports success. "Try it now."

Sure enough, they get a peek at the other side. It's fuzzy, and casts some shadows, but there's no mistaking that huggable Big Blue Marble of Mother Earth herself.

The grins spread through the bridge like wildfire.

They're a mere 53 minutes away from the wormhole. "Maintain course," Janeway says as Chakotay orders the whole ship to hop to it and secure all systems.

Janeway leans in close to Tom Paris. "When we reach Earth's orbit, lay in a descent trajectory. North American continent, Starfleet Headquarters." Paris smiles. "Yes, ma'am." Sounds like she intends to land Voyager on the front lawn. Janeway always was one for a grand entrance . . .

While everyone else prepares, Seven's scowl deepens.

* * *

Seven of Nine returns to Astrometrics. She needs more proof. "Computer, perform a gravimetric scan of the wormhole's interior. Look for inconsistencies in the spatial gradient."

But not even the computer shares Seven's suspicions. "The anomaly is consistent with a Class One wormhole. No irregularities detected."

"Recalibrate sensors and try again," Seven says. "No irregularities detected," the computer repeats.

But Seven sees something--a flyspeck on the screen. "Isolate grid 9-2-5 and magnify." The computer does so. Something vaguely ship-shaped appears in glowing red. A familiar ship shape, in fact. "Computer, is that a vessel in grid 91?"

"No vessel has been detected," the computer reports dutifully. It doesn't want to get on the captain's bad side.

Seven opens up a Comm channel. "Alien vessel, this is the Starship Voyager. Respond. Alien vessel . . ."

The screen changes. A figure appears.

Hey, it's Grumpy Old Man! "Who are you?" demands the grandfather of Fabio.

"Seven of Nine, Federation Starship Voyager. Our ship is on an intercept course 3.4 light-years from your position."

"Turn around. You're being deceived." The guy isn't much for words. "How?" Seven demands.

A pause. "He knows what you want," the alien says at last.

If this episode were a movie, this would have been the ideal tag line.

The channel ends before Seven can get any more details.

Then other things in Astrometrics start to shut down, and Seven's consternation deepens. "Computer, identify the cause of the power failure."

The cause identifies itself. The door opens, and Tuvok enters. "Captain's orders," he says. "Power from Astrometrics has been rerouted to the navigational array--at least until we've completed our journey through the wormhole."

Seven tells him about the vessel. "Starfleet?" Tuvok asks. "Alien," she says. "The pilot attempted to warn us away." Tuvok does a cursory check, and says the sensors disagree with her. The sensors are wrong, Seven insists. "He said we were being deceived--that the wormhole is not what it appears to be."

"The preponderance of data suggests otherwise," Tuvok says. "The data is flawed," Seven says. "As is your reasoning," says Tuvok.

Is it just me, or is this yet another thinly-veiled impeachment metaphor?

Seven tries another tactic. "May I ask you a personal question? Are you looking forward to seeing your wife and family?" Tuvok doesn't hesitate. "Indeed."

"And is that desire stronger than you expected it to be?" Seven asks. Tuvok does not answer directly. "Your point?" he asks irritably, eyebrows gesticulating obscenely.

"I believe you are being manipulated. Someone or something is compromising your logic. Otherwise, you would be willing to listen to my concerns." Tuvok gives this about .47 seconds consideration. Then says, "Access to the Astrometrics lab is restricted until further notice."

Seven's jaw drops. Clank. Tuvok gives her a hard look. "Dismissed."

*

Seven returns to Cargo Bay Two.

She almost immediately notices that something is amiss. She hears things. Using her powers of concentration and sensory acuity, Seven tracks the noise to a particular part of the bay, behind some storage containers.

"Naomi Wildman," she announces. Good guess! Naomi slowly stands up. She's carrying her Flotter doll. She looks petrified. "Your presence here is unauthorized. State your intentions."

"I'm . . . hiding," Naomi says. "From whom?" Seven asks. "Everyone. They're all acting strange. Even Mom." She makes a face.

"Elaborate," Seven demands. Naomi does. "She keeps smiling all the time, talking about Earth like it's the greatest place in the universe." Shocking. It makes sense for Naomi to seek Seven out. If smiling is disconcerting, Seven of Nine's quarters would be my first choice of refuge as well.

But Seven is intrigued by one point. "You do not share your mother's desire to return to Earth?" Seven asks. Naomi shrugs. "Voyager's my home. If we go to Earth, I'll have to leave the ship. I'd miss my room, Neelix . . . you and I wouldn't be able to play kadis-kot anymore."

"Curious," Seven says. "You and I appear to be the only ones not affected." And they have something in common--neither is all that keen on seeing the Big Blue Marble up close. "Affected by what?" Naomi asks.

"I am not certain," Seven says. "Stay here until I return."

It's a great moment, by the way. Seven and Naomi have great chemistry together.

*

Seven reaches Sickbay. "Computer, activate E.M.H."

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," says--is that Tom Paris? Indeed it is; he appears from Doc's office. He tells her that Doc is offline. "Starfleet orders--something about the wormhole interfering with the holographic systems. They didn't want to damage his program."

Seven doesnít completely buy this explanation. And Tomís acting way too happy for his own good.

Hey, waitaminit . . . If theyíre so dang close to the wormhole, whoís flying the ship? Why isn't Helm Boy where he belongs? Why is he in an empty Sickbay, and apparently enjoying it?

This is just plain creepy.

"He must be reactivated," Seven insists. "No can do," Tom says, smiling. "Not until we're on the other side." Seven insists. "It's urgent."

Paris takes as much offense as his giddy mood will allow. "Believe it or not, I am capable of handling almost any medical problem you might have."

Seven turns on her heels and exits. Tom, taking a sip of coffee, shakes his head, wondering what her problem is.

*

Seven reaches a turbolift--only to find Chakotay and two bulky Security officers on their way out. "I was just coming to see you," Chakotay says blissfully.

"Why?" Seven asks.

"I'm afraid I have some troubling news. Evidently, our wormhole passes through a layer of subspace monitored by the Borg. Starfleet's concerned that your neural transceiver might attract some unwanted attention. We need to deactivate your implants."

Well, how conveeenient.

"You should not attempt to do so without the Doctor's supervision," Seven says, just a touch of panic in her voice. Chakotay grins. "Unfortunately, he's off-line." Seven backs away slowly. "Then the procedure is inadvisable."

Chakotay and the brutes advance. "Try to relax," he tells her. "We're only going to keep you in stasis until we've reached the Alpha Quadrant. I realize the prospect of returning to Earth is frightening to you. It's perfectly natural for you to resist the unknown."

His grin broadens. "But you're in good hands. Resistance is . . . futile."

She's heard those words before. They are no less terrifying when delivered with a smile. The crew might not be sharing consciousness, but theyíre sharing something.

And since Seven of Nine is clearly Not Of The Body, Landrouís got her targeted for neutralization.

Brrr.

* * *

The bridge of the U.S.S. Stepford is as smiley as ever. Before them looms the purtiest sight for sore, road-weary eyes. The Diamond Lane exit ramp to Earth.

"What's our distance, Tom?" Janeway asks.

"2000 kilometers and closing. Good-bye, Delta Quadrant," he adds under his breath.

Harry hears him, and joins in. "No more Hirogen hunting parties, Malon garbage scows . . ."

Paris takes over. "By this time tomorrow it'll be Cardassians, Romulans, Ferengi . . ."

(Say it with me) "Oh my." (They're just making this too easy . . .)

Janeway's smile widens. The moment has come.

Chakotay hails the bridge. "Iíve spoken to Seven of Nine. We're putting her into stasis."

"Make it fast," Janeway says. "We don't want the Borg to crash our welcome home party."

*

Seven leads the way into Cargo Bay Two. Chakotay and the well-armed crewmen are not far behind. I noticed for the first time that all three--even Chakotay--are armed with hand-phasers, though they're holstered. They mean business.

"I need to adjust my regeneration parameters," Seven tells them. "How long will I remain inactive?"

"A couple of hours to be on the safe side," Chakotay suggests.

Seven begins entering calculations into one of the bay's consoles. She looks around, and notices Naomi on the far side of the room. Good, good. She makes the necessary calculations.

The air glows green. Seven stands between the green flash and the Starfleet types. But while the shiny objects distract Chakotay and the Brute Squad, Seven takes a few healthy strides to starboard, and passes through the force field into Borg territory.

"Security alert!" Chakotay says to his Combadge. He tells Janeway what's happening; she sends Tuvok and a team down while she and Harry try to disable the force field from the bridge.

Seven walks over to the Borg computer pylon and begins entering commands. She calls Naomi Wildman over.

A brief struggle ensues over the loyalties of Naomi Wildman between Seven of Nine, and Commander Chakotay, who gently but firmly orders Naomi to return to her quarters.

Seven of Nine, remembering Naomi's desire to "do stuff" and her particularly useful skill of pushing buttons in the proper sequence, gives her the chance to do so again. "If this indicator begins to flash enter the following series of commands. Watch carefully." She presses seven buttons: 8, 6, 7, 5, 3, 0, 9. Naomi pays rapt attention, and says she knows what she needs to do. Seven puts her in charge of Flashing Indicator watch.

Chakotay repeats his order to Naomi: go to your room, right now.

Naomi, noticing the flashing indicator, hesitates only briefly before entering in the commands as Seven showed her.

Rebellious little minx, ain't she? Naomi hangs out with a bad crowd. Stayin' out all hours of the night . . .

*

"She's blocking my commands," Harry complains. If he only knew he was getting his butt kicked by a girl. Janeway tells him to keep trying.

*

Seven of Nine grabs Betsy's big sister Bertha, the triple-tanked tuning fork of a phaser rifle that would do Rambo proud. "Computer, lock onto my coordinates and initiate a site-to-site transport. Main engineering." She begins to dematerialize.

Tuvok appears in the cargo bay just in time to watch Chakotay shrug with blissed-out frustration.

Bummer.

*

Seven solidifies in main Engineering.

Torres comes around the warp core and looks up from her PADD to notice the newcomer. "Seven?" she asks. The sudden sight of the Amazon Borg with the Boomstick from Hell pointed right at her just isn't sinking in very fast.

"Iím sorry," Seven says.

She fires. Torres collapses in slow motion. Then Seven goes after the rest of the Engineering team, which is a little slow on the uptake. A few didn't even seem to know they'd been shot. Others, you couldn't tell the difference.

I guess some of the cubicle-drones from Dilbert are moonlighting this week.

By the time the dust settles, Seven of Nine stands alone.

One.

Whoaóitís déjà vu all over again.

*

"We've got phaser fire in Engineering," Harry Kim reports, still getting stomped by Naomi "Would you like fries with that?" Wildman.

Nobody on the bridge is smiling now. "Janeway to security."

*

Seven sets up a level ten force field around Engineering. "Lock out the command controls of Borg encryption code 2-9-4."

*

Paris notices it first. "Seven's tapping into the engine manifold. She's trying to shut down impulse drive!"

*

Tuvok and his security team are stopped cold in Engineering by the force field. He hails the bridge and gives the captain an update.

Janeway gets an idea. "Where is she, exactly?" Engineering console 16 beta, Harry says a second later. Janeway takes control of Harry's station and enters a few commands for a counter-punch combo meal.

Harry gives her a questioning look. Janeway tells him as she works. "Iím sending an E.M. surge to that station. Seven's going into stasis whether she likes it or not."

Brrr. That's cold, Cap'n.

*

Seven continues her efforts to halt their progress toward the wormhole.

ZOT!

Nailed by a wicked burst of energy, Seven staggers back, then collapses to the deck.

"She's down, Captain," Tuvok reports.

*

"Captain . . . We're at the threshold," Ensign Paris reports.

The wormhole fills the screen now. It's big and blue and intricate and beautiful.

The smiles return.

"Take us in," Janeway orders, basking in the blue glow.

*

We see the view from outside as Voyager flies straight and true . . .

Down into the dark, brown, fiendish gullet of a huge, lightning-emitting, gaping space-alien mouth.

Which snaps shut like a Venus Flytrap when Voyager is fully inside.

Lightning strikes the hull. The vessel shudders.

Oh, sh--

*

On the bridge, the ship jolts a bit. "Report," Janeway orders. They look at the viewscreen, which is awash in pretty blue.

"It's just spatial turbulence," Tom tells her casually. Nothing to worry about.

"It's beautiful," Janeway notes, looking at the spiraling aquamarine hues.

The ship continues to be rocked. Hard. Naomi avoids getting crushed by falling boxes, clutching her Flotter doll for comfort, but still gets tagged pretty good a couple of times.

Tuvok and his security team in Engineering have a hard time staying on their feet under the turbulence. Seven is still unconscious, emitting an electric discharge every few seconds. She twitches.

On the bridge, the team works earnestly. Janeway sits in her chair, hair fluffed out like she's riding a horse on a windy day, her eyes gleaming with something approaching madness. "Steady as she goes," she orders.

*

Voyager is pulled deeper into the dark, mud-colored cavern, lightning violently striking its hull a few times a second.

Apparently the rose-colored sensors are functioning at 100%.

This is not good.

* * *

The colors seem a little brighter. Everything seems to move a little slower. The music's a little prettier.

Neelix, dressed in his finest outfit, walks toward a group of Starfleet admirals. They smile a warm greeting at him. Neelix heads in their direction and is soon elbow-deep in hearty handshakes.

*

On the bridge, we have the same view. Too-bright, washed-out colors. Everything moves a tad slower than normal. Janeway, Kim and Paris look wonderingly at the welcome sight of Earth in all her cloudy blue-green glory.

But then the scene changes. Still on the bridge. But with normal colors and at normal speed, with normal music.

It's dark. Everyone--Janeway, Paris, Kim, and the rest of the bridge--is unconscious.

Apparently it's "Waking Moments II." Or maybe "More Persistence of Vision."

*

Tuvok sees his wife T'Pel walking toward him in the corridors, dressed in her Vulcan robes. They close the distance rapidly but with all appropriate decorum. They begin a mutual two-finger caress, the standard greeting for a married couple.

Then we see Tuvok--and his security team--unconscious in the corridor.

But among this sea of somnolence, Naomi Wildman appears. She notes the fallen bodies, and walks around or over them as needed.

She looks for someone, anyone, who might be conscious. But she has a particular someone in mind. Naomi passes through the corridors, looking both ways before crossing intersections and entering rooms.

She finally discovers Seven in Engineering. She runs toward the Borg, but is stopped by the still-active force field.

Naomi calls out. "Seven, wake up!"

She tries the voice that Seven uses on Naomi. "Seven of Nine," she says, addressing the ex-drone formally. Now for the command. "Wake up!"

Well, whaddya know . . .

Seven, groaning, wakes up. Groggy. Still sparking a little. She motions for Naomi to approach.

"Force field," Naomi reminds her. Seven acknowledges, and eventually gets back on her feet. The force field comes down.

Naomi rushes to her. Seven examines the girl. "You are damaged." It's just a scrape, Naomi assures her.

"The crew?" Seven asks. "Unconscious. Sort of," Naomi says.

Satisfied that Naomi's injuries aren't severe, Seven begins checking on the condition of Voyager.

It isn't good. "Our hull is demolecularizing." Ouch. "Do wormholes do that?" Naomi asks. "No . . . They don't," Seven says. "Return to your quarters while I assess the situation."

Naomi wants to help. "My mom says two heads are better than one. Isn't that the Borg philosophy, too?" Seven grunts. "Simplistic, but accurate." And quotable; don't forget quotable. But Seven doesn't bend.

"Please," Naomi begs. "I don't want to be alone." Puppy-dog eyes, boo-boo face. The universal adolescent secret weapon.

Not even Seven of Nine can resist that.

*

Seven and Naomi encounter Neelix in the corridor, unconscious. Naomi rushes over and kneels beside him. Her concern and affection for her godfather shines through.

"He will survive," Seven says, with some impatience. Naomi continues to hug Neelix sadly. "We must keep moving," Seven reminds her. But Naomi is not listening.

Borg time. "Naomi Wildman." Naomi looks up. Seven gives her an understanding look. "We will return for him."

Naomi nods. But she's not in the mood to walk right now. She extends her arms. Understanding, Seven lifts the young girl and carries her the rest of the way.

I never wanted to be Naomi Wildman so much in my life.

*

They pass through a corridor that has an unobstructed view of the outside.

"I don't think that's Earth," Naomi says, noting the ugly brown gunk and the lightning. (Well, it could be New Jersey . . .) "No," Seven agrees, it isn't.

"So, where are we?"

I guess we could ask Jonah over there. Or Gepetto, the guy we just passed, whittling away in the corner. Or that big blue fella with the antennae and the hideously hand-crafted wooden sidekick, Little Wooden Boy.

Seven . . . there be whales here!

*

In Astrometrics, Seven finally gets a handle on the situation. Voyager's Astrometric scanners analyze their location in minute detail.

On the big screen, we see the big picture, and the You Are Here. Voyager's flying around the inside of a continent-sized blob of living organic matter. It's as though Voyager has been swallowed by a gigantic space Teletubby.

But Seven needs more data. She begins searching for the vessel she contacted earlier. And sure enough, it's still there--a little further into the belly of the beast than Voyager itself. She opens a channel, and soon she's chatting up Grampa Harley again.

"Arrr. I told you to stay away. Why didn't you listen, matey?" the alien grumbles with a heavy seafaring brogue. "Our crew believed they were returning to their homes," Seven tells him.

The alien reacts sadly. "Everything they've always wanted, correct?" Yes, Seven acknowledges. "He deceived them," the alien says. " 'He?' " Naomi asks, mind racing with dread.

Seven offers to beam Old Dude aboard. But he gets weird on her, accusing her of being one of the beastie's dirty tricks. "Oh, how convenient. An enormous Starship comes to my rescue! You might try a more subtle approach!" he shouts.

Seven rolls her eyes. "My scans indicate that your shields will fail in approximately 15 minutes. Join us . . . or you can remain on your vessel, secure in the knowledge that you were not deceived--but that knowledge will do you little good when you are dead."

This, at least, stops the alien's ranting. Death is relevant. Particularly a senseless death. He strikes me as the type who wants to go down fighting.

"Decide now," Seven says in Command Mode. He does, reluctantly, and lowers his shields. Seven beams him over.

The geezer alien treads carefully, trusting no one, not even his own senses. But slowly, he approaches the two females. He pinches Naomi on the arm. She yelps. He's a bit gentler with Seven of Nine, his touch of her face almost a caress. "You look real enough, but over the years he's made me believe in many things that are real--a fortune at my fingertips, good friends risen from the dead."

"You're referring to the anomaly we've entered," Seven says. He spits; "Anomaly? It's a beast! Cunning, deadly!" Naomi's eyes go wide.

"What does it want?" Seven asks. He looks at her like the answer is obvious. "You . . . Your ship . . . Antimatter, biomatter. He consumes it."

"Everyone believed it was a wormhole," Seven whispers. The alien grunts. "Hmm, telepathy . . . Psychogenic manipulation. He senses your thoughts, your desires. And then he preys on them."

"Like a pitcher plant!" Naomi says, brightly. Helping keeps her happy. "Pitcher plant?" the alien asks, not familiar with the term. Naomi explains. "The Doctor taught me about it in botany class. It catches insects by mimicking pheromones."

The alien smiles; the kid's got lots of smarts. "Yes, you're right--but this one doesn't eat insects. He eats Starships."

"You are familiar with this life-form?" Seven asks. He rears back, offended. "Familiar?! Iíve been hunting it for nearly 40 years!"

"And have you become impervious to its telepathy?" she asks. The alien looks sad. "Almost, but there are days when he can still trick me. Like yesterday. I thought I had found a way to kill him once and for all! I'd allow him to begin consuming my ship and then I'd fly directly to his most vulnerable system--his primary neural plexus. Boom!"

Naomi jumps high enough to get a shoe deal with Nike.

"I'd destroy him from the inside out," the alien continues. "But he knew. He showed me what I wanted to see. I was nowhere near his neural plexus. I was flying directly into his digestion chamber."

The ship rumbles. "And speaking of digestion . . ." he says meaningfully, his voice rumbling almost as much as the vessel.

Naomi asks the Big Question: "How do we get out of the monster?" Seven corrects her. "It's not a monster, it's a bioplasmic organism, and we will find a way out."

The alien corrects Seven. "No. The girl's right. He's a monster, and the only way out is to destroy him."

Insert Mighty Hunter safari music here.

* * *

Doc appears in Sickbay. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

The alien (whose name, by the way, is Qatai, not that they ever mentioned that in the episode--Grrr), harrumphed. "Your ship is being devoured. I'd say that's an emergency." Naomi steps up. "The monster ate his ship, too," she explains. "Monster?" Doc asks, not quite keeping up with the conversation.

"I want to see your weapons manifest," Qatai says gruffly. "This is a Sickbay, not an arsenal," Doc says predictably. "What's going on?"

Seven speaks. "Voyager has been lured into the digestive chamber of a bioplasmic organism. We require your assistance in charting an escape route."

Closer to Doc's language, but not quite home yet. "Slow down! The last thing I remember I was speaking to Mr. Paris. He said the wormhole posed a threat to my program."

"The beast has been manipulating your crew," Qatai says. "The moment he realized you were beginning to suspect something he made sure you were deactivated."

"And who might you be? The local monster expert?" Doc huffs.

Qatai smiles. "As a matter of fact . . . I am." (He pronounces this "oy yam.") "He's been fooling you for days, creating false sensor readings, and he's been altering your crew's thought patterns--a little neurogenic telepathy to make them lower their guard."

Doc looks surprised; Old Dude might have a point there. "That might explain the heightened dopamine levels I found during my 'routine examinations' of the crew. Have you informed the Captain?"

"She's asleep," Naomi says. Seven elaborates. "It's our proximity to the creature. The neurogenic field is stronger here. It's rendered most of the crew unconscious."

Seven turns to Qatai. "Does your vessel's database contain information on the creature's anatomy?" Of course, he says. Get it, she tells him.

The ship rumbles as more lightning hits it.

"In the meantime, let's work on a wake-up call for the crew," Doc suggests.

*

Voyager continues to get zapped. It dwarfs the tiny alien vessel. Its hull is smoking a little from the constant digestive barrage. Seven activates the secondary Zantac shielding, but itís a temporary fix at best.

*

Who to awaken first? Doc makes a logical choice: Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres. Qatai is with him. Doc attaches a cortical inhibitor to Torres' head and tells the computer to increase neurotransmitter levels.

"A cortical inhibitor?" Qatai scoffs. "I thought it might disrupt the organism's hold on her," Doc says. "It won't, Qatai says; "I already tried a similar procedure."

"I don't remember asking for a second opinion," Doc gripes. He jump-starts B'Elanna's noggin.

Torres groans and begins to awaken. "Doctor . . ."

Doc beams. "You're being exposed to a powerful neurogenic field. You've been unconscious for several hours."

Torres sits up straight. A beatific smile comes to her face. "They're here!" She sees the Maquis. All her dead friends. Alive and well.

(You know, in this light, Torres looks like a redhead. Maybe I'm under the influence of that space monster thingy myself. And I have noticed my car starting to act uppity lately . . .)

Doc tries to tell her she's hallucinating, but Qatai points out that he's seen this before. Many times. She doesn't want to hear you, he tells Doc. "They never want to."

Doc puts her back to sleep, frowning deeply. His worry lines almost rival Qatai's.

*

Throughout the ship, the crew remains unconscious, stuck in their own private Idaho's of bliss.

*

While Doc does his research in Sickbay, Qatai gets in a chatty mood. He's not around other people much. But he does know how to spin a tale, full of gesture and inflection and passion. He and Kahless would make great company. They even have similar hairstyles.

"It's the silence I hate . . . The way he takes you without a fight. It was the same way with the Nokaro, a crew of nearly 3,000--families mostly, mine included--looking for a New World to settle. But they came across our friend here and he showed them what they wanted to see--a glistening green paradise. By the time I responded to their distress call, all that was left of them was some fading engine emissions. That was 39 years ago. 39 years, two weeks, four days..."

Doc finally can't stand any more. "Do you mind!? The situation is dismal enough."

"Iím just trying to explain who we're up against," Qatai grumbles.

"Well, Iím getting a pretty good idea on my own. Judging by these bio-scans the organism's been devouring life-forms for a bit longer than 39 years. I'd estimate it's at least 200,000 years old."

Qatai nods sagely. "The intelligent always survive." Doc rolls his eyes. "I wouldn't go that far. It appears to operate on highly evolved instinct. I haven't detected any signs of sentience."

"He's intelligent, all right--smart enough to fool your crew into taking you off-line." He grins.

Doc frowns. "No need to get personal." Qatai laughs, a rare moment of pleasure for a man who has known only misery and his white whale for the past forty years.

*

Naomi awakens with a start. "Seven!"

"Iím here," she tells Naomi. Both are in Sickbay; we see Doc and Qatai in his office.

"Are we still inside the monster?" Naomi asks. "Yes, but we are going to find a way out," Seven assures her.

They hear Qatai shout. "There! This is it! Exactly what we need. These class-nine torpedoes in your weapons manifest. If we can bring your vessel deeper into the creature's digestive tract and detonate one of these charges we might be able to destroy it."

Doc protests. "Starfleet's not in the habit of killing life-forms." He never met James T. Kirk. He ate Doomsday Machines and killer computers and wimpy alien gods for breakfast.

"Even if that life-form is about to kill you?" Qatai rages. Jimmy T. would agree, Doc dude.

"If I could take a few hours to examine the creature more thoroughly..."

But Seven takes control. "There is no time."

"We kill him!" Qatai bellows.

But Doc isn't done yet. "Maybe there's another way." Seven lets him explain. "Any living organism, no matter how large, will attempt to expel a foreign body. If we could just make Voyager a little less tasty." (How did Geordi LaForge put it? "Sour the milk?" Leah Brahms and Scotty would approve.)

What, smoke their way out? But what could they use to do that?

All eyes turn to the Tick, that loveable, slightly dopey, nigh-invulnerable superhero, who holds his handmade sidekick protectively. He gasps when he understands the meaning. "LITTLE WOODEN BOY!!!" he shrieks plaintively, clutching his dowel doll ever tighter. So much for that option.

"My scans indicate that your weapons are tetryon-based," Seven says. "If you were to fire one at a pocket of antimatter released from our warp core, it would produce an electrolytic reaction."

"Would that make Voyager taste bad?" Naomi asks.

A slow smile spreads on Qatai's face. "It might at that."

*

Doc takes Qatai to the transporter room. "Once Iíve beamed you back to your ship, try adjusting your shields to this frequency. You'll find them more resistant to the bioplasmic discharges."

Qatai is impressed. "You seem to know a little about everything: medicine, exobiology, shield harmonics."

Doc smiles with obvious pride. "Iím something of a Renaissance E.M.H."

Qatai has an idea. "I could use a crewmate like you. The beast would have a difficult time manipulating a hologram's desires."

Doc smirks. "An Ishmael to your Ahab? No, thank you."

"You're turning down the hunt of a lifetime!" Qatai reminds him.

Time for one of them famous Doc lines. Three . . . two . . . one . . .

"As appealing as that sounds, Iím a Doctor, not a dragonslayer," Doc says, providing one of the best renditions of that running gag yet. "My program requires that I do no harm."

Qatai takes the rejection in stride. "Shame." He smiles gamely, though; they'll have this one mission together, anyway.

Doc beams him out.

*

Seven arrives in Engineering. Doc is already there. "Qatai's vessel is ready," she tells Doc when she arrives.

"Iíve rerouted bridge controls to Engineering. Ops, Tactical, Helm--all integrated into one station."

"Efficient," says Seven approvingly. "I thought you'd like it," Doc says with unconcealed pride.

"Iím plotting a course for the organism's esophageal aperture (gullet). Prepare to release the antimatter," Seven instructs.

They take another jolt of lightning.

"Hull integrity's dropped another 13%," Seven says. "Doctor."

"Ready on my end," Doc says.

"Voyager to Qatai. Prepare to fire."

But Qatai has some technical problems on his end. He begins to hack and curse. "That last jolt must have destabilized my targeting sensor." Seven offers to control his ship from here, but Qatai refuses. "Don't bother. I know my ship. It's just being stubborn. Arrrr!"

The parrot on his shoulder squawks. He kicks his equipment a few times. Then smiles. "Arrr. Ready." Hmmm. Apparently Seven of Nine has placed the crewís lives on Arthur Fonzarelli.

"Initiate the burst on my mark," Seven says. "Now."

Voyager vents a bunch of antimatter from its port nacelle. A sheet of cloudy antimatter vapor spreads out over the interior of the beastie. Then Qatai fires.

Boom.

"Like the taste of that?" Qatai shouts, having the time of his life.

Doc reports the preliminary results. "Iím reading violent contractions throughout the digestive chamber. It's working. We're moving back through the esophageal aperture!" he says happily.

Seven is even more impressed. "Voyager has been expelled. We're 3.9 kilometers from the organism."

Doc is skeptical. "After just one burst? For a big fellow he certainly has a low tolerance for tummy ache."

"Qatai's vessel was also released," Seven says, wondering at their good fortune.

"Hail him," Doc suggests.

When she does, Qatai yells at her. "Why haven't you ejected a second burst?!"

"We've cleared the organism," Seven says, puzzled.

"You've been deceived! We're both still inside it!" Doc confirms this. But Seven bristles. "I am impervious to the creature's influence."

"You were impervious!" Doc shouts. "When it was creating the illusion of Voyager getting home--because you didn't share that desire. But now we're trying to escape, which is what you want!"

"Think about it!" Qatai adds. "He's showing you exactly what you want to see!"

The combined yelling of Doc and Qatai sinks in. Seven makes up her mind. "Initiate another antimatter burst."

She returns to her station. She enters the commands. "Now." She releases the antimatter.

"Fire."

"Torpedo away!" Qatai shouts.

Boom. Double boom. The fire in the belly becomes an exercise in fire-breathing. Both Voyager and the tiny vessel (Pequod?) are expelled explosively.

"We're out," Qatai exhales, relieved.

"Are we certain?" Seven asks, no longer able to trust her own senses, relying on the expert and the hologram. "No sign of bioplasmic energy," Doc says. "We've escaped."

"Iím taking us out of range. Maximum warp," Seven says while Doc sees to the crew.

Qatai thanks her for her help and says he'll now be on his way. Seven offers to help fix his ship first, but Qatai says the beast is already moving off. "Iíll handle the repairs myself," he insists.

Seven reminds him it will take days to do it alone, but Qatai is nothing if not self-sufficient. "Don't worry about me. Just get your ship home."

Qatai offers a final smile. "And, err . . . watch out for pitcher plants."

Then he signs off.

*

With the ship presumably at warp, Janeway and the bridge crew wake up. As soon as they're able, the crew returns to their stations and grab their bearings.

"Location?" Janeway asks. "We're still in the Delta Quadrant," Paris reports.

"Scan the wormhole. Find out what went wrong," Janeway orders. But Paris cannot comply. "It's gone. I can't find it on sensors."

Ensign Kim pipes up. "Captain, bridge controls have been routed to Engineering -- ops, tactical, helm -- all of it."

Janeway hails Engineering. She's not surprised when Seven of Nine responds. "Seven? What's going on?"

Seven looks exhausted. She sounds exhausted. Even her implants sag. "The Doctor will explain. I will file a complete report in the morning. After I have regenerated."

Mission accomplished. Seven of Nine sleepwalks her way back to Cargo Bay Two.

*

Captain's log, 52542.3: we've deployed a series of beacons to warn other vessels about the bioplasmic creature and resumed a course for home--our real home.

(This is, by the way, the identical Stardate given in the captain's logs earlier in the show. I'm assuming this is a typo.)

Seven of Nine enters Astrometrics, only to find someone is already there. "Naomi Wildman," she scolds.

"Don't worry. My presence here is authorized," Naomi says. "By whom?" Seven demands.

"Morn. She thinks I need to learn more about Earth." She doesn't look all that enthused about the assignment.

"I see. And does studying this image increase your desire to go there?" Seven asks. "Not really," Naomi admits. "I concur," Seven says. "It is unremarkable."

Harrumph. It ain't much, but we call it home, Missy.

"But my mom likes it," Naomi says, trying to sound cheerful. "And even Neelix can't wait to get there. So I guess it can't be that bad."

Seven concurs. "Given this crew's determination to return home I have no doubt we will see it for ourselves someday."

The two stare for a while at the big blue marble on the Big Screen.

*

Elsewhere, Qatai hums happily. His ship is ship-shape, his parrot is on his shoulder, and all is right with the universe.

He cracks his knuckles idly.

And he prepares.

For he is once again ready to enter the mouth of the Beast.

[Analysis]

Ack.

The title is "Bliss." The suggestion is that this ancient space beastie lures in starships for consumption and has a knack for manipulating biological and technological passers-by with a mix of slick programming and pheromones. Not unlike the Sirens of Homer's Odyssey, I suppose.

What's interesting (or shall I say depressing) here is what triggers each crewman's Bliss Buttons.

Janeway is still, after all these years, hung up on her ex-fiancé Mark, and not on her first officer. (Mark, as I recall, was married when he wrote her in "Hunters," not merely engaged.) Chakotay's Happy thought is teaching anthropology at Starfleet Academy, not building hot tubs for his warrior queen Kathryn back on the Monkey planet. Meanwhile, Neelix is not hung up on his recent dearly-departed Sweeting, Kes; his idea of bliss is an ambassadorship to Animal Farm. Torres thinks, not of Tom Paris, but of her dead Maquis comrades. Tom Paris thinks, not of reconciliation with his Dad or a full pardon or commendations or B'Elanna Torres, but of becoming the next Chuck Yeager in Australia. Tuvok's at least made sense--he thought of his wife, as well he should.

Funny, isn't it, how nobody's idea of Bliss involved their shipmates, even the most obvious ones?

*

Actually, there is a good reason for this. If any of them could find happiness in the here and now, there would be no need to go through that wormhole. Bliss had to come in the form of Over There, where the grass is greener.

Home, good. Here, bad.

So Tom and B'Elanna forget, for the moment, that what they have on Voyager is better than what's waiting for them, most likely. B'Elanna's a Maquis; those of her friends that aren't dead are in jail, according to the letter Chakotay got in Hunters. She's been haunted by that ever since. It would make some sense that the greatest antidote to her burden is the undoing of that calamity.

Likewise for Tom, few jobs could be more exhilarating than test-piloting experimental vessels. He's shown that aptitude and that interest in the past. Delta Flyer is his pet project, and he's darned proud of it; no doubt the Beastie played to that.

The Bliss didn't prevent the characters from thinking about each other. We heard Janeway chiding Chakotay gently for abandoning her if he takes that Academy job, and he says it's part-time so he can still be her first officer. Ironically, Janeway takes the news that Mark's available again is hardly what I'd call enthusiastic. "Huh--engagement's off. Don't leave me, Chakotay." Read into it what you will.

Chakotay's dream of a pardon and return to Starfleet fits him. Starfleet took him away from his home; it took the destruction of his home and the abandonment of the Federation to tear him away from Starfleet. But Starfleet is still dear to him, and the "man of peace" strikes me as the type who'd like nothing better than to anchor himself in San Francisco and lecture on the weird stuff he ran into in the Delta Quadrant.

Neelix is a bit tougher. I can see that being an official Ambassador would appeal to him. But it's not what I'd call his chief motivating characteristic. Naomi says that Neelix looks as forward to reaching Earth as anyone; so why would he want to head for another sector? I'd have pictured him getting hired on as the official chef or cultural liaison for Starfleet Command or something.

And what was Harry's bliss? We never heard. Perhaps he's back on the Captain Proton set, getting tortured by the Delaney sisters.

*

But all their plans depend on entering that wormhole. That's where happiness lies. And they've been convinced that nothing can stand in their way.

As in TNG's "The Game," the crew is hyp-mo-tized by something manipulative. The mass hallucination affects everyone but Seven and Naomi, and of course (?) Doc. But we saw the rest of the ship's computer being fooled by the Beastie, so why COULDN'T Doc be likewise reprogrammed? And if the alien recognizes Naomi and Seven and Doc as impediments, why not lie to them in other ways? The desire to get home doesn't work on them, but there are other distractions. Seven is shown to be susceptible in the end, so we know it's possible.

I guess on the positive side, when the crew does something monumentally stupid and ignores safety protocols, they had a good reason to. They were acting under the influence.

*

I think the thing that made this not work at all for me was the way it was told. We met Qatai the alien who tilts at windmills in the teaser. He yells "can't read my thoughts?!?" at the screen. We see the alien creature.

Then we see Janeway hearing the word Wormhole and scoffing. But the next time we see her, she's not scoffing, she's bought completely into it. But Seven doesn't, and the episode is so clearly focused on Seven that there is zero suspense. We know what's happening can't be trusted, so we wait impatiently for the scenes to play out until we hit something we don't expect.

As if.

A humble suggestion. Had they presented this episode in a way that unfolded as a mystery to the audience as well as to Seven, it would have worked better. Start with the discovery of the "wormhole." Let us see Janeway's skepticism, and let it evolve into acceptance. Let the receipt of Starfleet messages excite us as well as them--the data explainable but not beyond a reasonable doubt.

When Seven arrives and acts skeptical, let us feel inclined to believe Janeway and the crew, though with more bits and pieces Seven discovers making us wonder. Let Harry discover something in the wormhole that leads him to suggest that Doc be turned off for his own safety, not just some message from Starfleet (what do they care if Doc goes offline?) Let Seven make contact with the strange ship before we see the 'wormhole' as it is; make the alien's words seem truly cryptic, a voice in the wilderness that only Seven believes, and perhaps not wisely.

Make the bliss seem earned rather than made out of whole cloth; make the decisions to disable Seven and Doc seem perfectly reasonable rather than some Children of the Corn moment. When we see the big ugly brown opening as they enter the wormhole, let it be the first time we see it.

Then this episode might have been more interesting.

At least to me. As it was, Seven seemed one of the only sane ones, so of course what the crew was doing was wrong, and she was right. We'd already seen the alien. We knew what it meant. Ho hum.

*

There were some good moments, though.

The chemistry between Scarlett Pomers and McNeill, and between Pomers and Ryan, was terrific. I think her addition to the cast as a semi-regular has been a good decision; she doesn't take up that much screen time, and her perspective is refreshing. She does a really good job, and it's almost always a pleasure to watch her.

McNeill and Ryan also had some nice moments together. Tom Paris has an easy charm around Seven of Nine, whether as an overgrown kid or a responsible officer. He treats Seven like a person, and not as a Borg or a Babe or a Bee-yatch on wheels. He's been the outsider; he promised her way back in "Day of Honor" that if she needed a friend, he was there. And for the most part, that's what he's been. He takes her for what and who she is. He doesnít patronize. And while she might give him some Skunk eye doozies from time to time, he's also elicited more than his fair share of secret smiles from her as well. The scene in the Delta Flyer and on the walk through the corridors shows that . . . just as the subtle lack of that easy connection threw off alarm bells in Seven later on.

Picardo was excellent, as always. Doc got some of the best lines, and he remained in character; his was the lone voice for mercy on the overgrown beast, and he came up with the necessary Plan B to save themselves without slaying the beast.

Seven of Nine was the only one who did much growing in this episode. She had to think out of the box when everyone else was going nuts, then when they were all unconscious. And she had that dreadful moment when she had to acknowledge that she was susceptible to the beast's deceit as well, and act despite what her senses tell her to be true. She did what nobody else on board had--she took a leap of faith.

Naomi had her moments too, though. She stayed conscious, she found the grownups most likely to set things right, and she showed a knack for following simple but crucial instructions. But she was still a kid; her eyes bugged out when she heard the word Monsters, she jumped when the old guy said Boom, she worried, she ran and hid when mom got all Stepford on her. She came through in a pinch without straining credibility.

The alien, played by W. Morgan Sheppard, had his Trek debut in the TNG episode "The Schizoid man" as a scientist who transfers his consciousness into Data, who then becomes a bit of a jerk. I like him, and he's quite a character here. Sympathetic, gruff, a bit nuts, but not in a bad way. Not a bad Don Quixote figure.

All the smiling Starfleet folks got a bit eerie, but nobody had a better hide-the-children look than Janeway as they plunged into the "wormhole." Looks like that are probable causes for mutiny; it was a beautifully scary rictus of a grin.

*

Minor nits.

The Stardates didn't match up; the Janeway used the same Stardate at the beginning and ending of the episode, even though later dates were referred to in between.

Seven managed to override the captain's security lockout on the Captain's Logs by yanking out a single chip. That happened to be conveniently located in her cargo bay. More amusing than believable.

Torres' hair. I liked it, but I think she's caught a case of Janewayitis. It looked pretty darned red to me. I haven't done a comparison, but I could swear it was jet black at some point in the series.

Delta Flyer's "modern" controls. I take it the aerospace engineering community laughed Tom's "Proton-style" controls out of the room. Perhaps they've always been there, but the suggestion in "Extreme Risk" is that they are not. But they were conveniently there for Naomi to show her acuity with button-pushing.

The "fantasy" hook. We've seen it several times in Voyager before. "Persistence of Vision" and "Waking Moments" in particular for the crew as a whole, and episodes like "Coda" and "Favorite Son" showing manipulation of Janeway and Harry. And of course the nightmare episodes that were mostly self-inflicted, like Paris in "Thirty Days" or Neelix in "Mortal Coil." The purpose of such visions should be to tell us something new, or something familiar, about the characters, hopefully something essential. But too often, that promise hasn't been fulfilled, and that is particularly so here.

The beast itself didn't do much for me, visually speaking. Its powers seemed arbitrary--amazing one moment, strangely limited the next.

Yet another Captain Ahab allegory? Call me irritated.

*

The score. Call it (* *). Some strong performances, but the story just plain didn't work for me.

Next week: Captain Janeway and the Borg Queen butt heads over Seven of Nine. This could be a biggie.

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Copyright © 1999 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.


Last Updated: February 14, 1999
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