The following is a SPOILER Review for "The Cloud." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright, who watches the episode no more than twice before preparing the review. This gives me the opportunity to review and recap with a combination of memory and creativity (when memory fails). The result is an experience that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the actual episode. Consider it a revival of the ancient oral traditions passed on through the generations. I make no claims as to accuracy, but I hope I got enough of it right to keep your attention.
The crew is still looking for a power source, as the ship's supplies are limited. They find what looks like a nebula containing an energy source they can use and dive in to investigate. They get stuck, manage to escape, and discover that the "nebula" is actually a really living organism and they seek to repair the damage they made when they got out of it the first time. We also see glimpses of the main characters in their "downtime."
Jump straight to the Analysis
The main plot isn't much of a plot, and what there is of it has been done to death. In the original series, Kirk and Company got stuck inside what seems to be a huge cell in space, and they blow the snot out of it before the Enterprise can be digested and the universe enveloped by whatever the thing could become. In the 60s, the rule was, "if it infringes on your territory, kill it." In the 90s, the rule is, "leave the area cleaner than you found it."
So here we have the Voyager encountering what at first glance seems to be a large cloud filled with the stuff that makes starships go and lets replicators replicate. This episode could be subtitled "Voyager: The Search for coffee," because Janeway is craving a cup of Joe bad enough to treat the universe like her private strip-mining operation as long as it means the Java can start flowing freely again.
The show begins with Janeway entering a Captain's Log, touring the ship, trying to exude authority and ingratiate herself with the crew at the same time, a delicate balance for anyone. She ends up in brief and strained chatter with Lieutenant Tom "I'm too sexy for the Delta Quadrant" Paris and Ensign Harry "I need a new best friend" Kim at breakfast; she cracks a joke, but the junior officers seem too nervous to laugh. It's an honest and uncomfortable moment; she's reaching out, but doesn't know how far to reach, and after she leaves Paris and Kim arguing over whether to invite the captain to sit with them. Paris insists junior officers are bound by tradition against such things, but Kim believes courtesy and extreme distance from the last known location of Miss Manners suggests that the old rules don't apply and that Janeway doesn't have too many peers to pal around with, so why not be nice to her? Compelling points, both.
Janeway looks for coffee, but finds none. Neelix tells her that he's got the next best thing, but since he's an alien he knows nothing about the joys of rich Columbian blends or the morning demeanor of those addicted to same; she about tears his head off when he dares to suggest he has something better than coffee, which when poured looks more like lumpy molassess. The look on her face as the stuff glops into the cup is priceless; it was a good character moment between Neelix and Janeway, as Captain faced off against Mess Sergeant and the former blinks. Coffee thus becomes the rallying cry for the remainder of the episode.
The cloud, and their rootings around within it, are secondary to the characters. Which in a way is a good thing, because the idea is pretty stupid. They fly into the cloud, encounter resistance, punch their way through to what seems to be the source of the energy they need, and find themselves under some sort of attack. They punch back through, using a precious Photon torpedo (for those keeping track, they have 37 left at the end of the episode) when the phasers and thrusters and etc. have no effect. There wasn't a lot of suspense or danger felt during this whole thing, I'm afraid. Brief scene between Neelix and Kes is interesting--Neelix rages that these Starfleet people are reckless idiots, flying into things most sane people leave alone; Kes has the spirit of Starfleet, and says she likes the idea of peeking into every crack they find. Neelix is unpersuaded until Kes says something to the effect that "I've never made out inside a nebula before." That shut Neelix right up, until the beauty of the view gave way to the glow-in-the-dark mucus that started clinging tenaciously to the hull and giving the intrepid crew a reason to want to leave.
Janeway's search for connections with her crew leads to an interesting subplot with Chakotay and Native American beliefs; they get into a discussion about animal guides, and Chakotay offers to help Janeway discover hers. (Janeway's spirit guide is a salamander. I'd have said Newt, but I didn't want to offend Minette.) We subsequently learn that Torres, the half-Klingon chief of engineering, is the only person Chakotay has ever known who tried to kill her animal guide. As a character study, it was time well spent; Janeway is making efforts to soften up a bit during the downtime, when called for, and a good relationship with her first officer is a wise move.
After safely exiting the nebula, they scrape off and degauss the hull, and Torres finds something...unusual. She visits sickbay and has a humorous exchange with the Holodoc. The doctor, of course, has a lousy bedside manner, and is brusque with just about everyone except Kes. Torres, as we recall from the first couple of episodes, inherited a fiery temper from both her parents, and has a penchant for punching out people she disagrees with, though she hasn't decked anyone recently. They verbally spar briefly over the doctor's role and "reprogramming" him to be a bit more civil (to which he responds that if he could be reprogrammed he'd create himself a family, recruit an army...) eventually the reparte gets tiresome and Torres asks the doctor to analyze the sample she scraped from the hull. Torres shows herself to be a competent engineer, but not quite up to the doctor's standards, so he tweaks her a bit before telling her that the sample indicates...
Yes, the big cloud that tried to suck them up and slime them to death is really a floating creature, and they roughed it up a bit when they escaped. This leads Janeway to the inescapable conclusion that they must fly back into it and repair the damage they did. (humorous moment here: The bridge crew is discussing the problem and ask the doctor if he thinks they hurt it. He says, "well let's see. We flew around its insides, punched through its skin wall, attacked it with phasers, and blew a hole in it with a photon torpedo..." Janeway cuts the audio and the doctor finds himself being ignored; he gives an extreme-close-up to the sickbay monitor, flails his arms in an effort to be heard, etc. As a character and as comic relief, I like the doctor a lot better than Neelix. And he interacts better with Kes.
When they decide they CAN help the creature, they decide they MUST help. Neelix, no fan of flying boldly in where angels fear to tread, argues with Janeway, who gets to show her cast-iron side. Janeway, when in Intense Mode, sounds like she's been taking bong hits off the warp nacelles since childhood; her voice takes on Chain Smoker gravel and she could send a black hole scurrying for cover when her low rasp is in full swing. She lays down the law for Neelix: "we're not going to drop you off on the side of the road every time the going gets bumpy." Neelix isn't happy about this, but he finds a way to accommodate--when he gets anxious, he cooks. There is likely to be plenty of fine eatin' when the Voyager flies into danger from now on. If the cooking's good, we'll see more of it; if Neelix's food is frightening (and the buzz on the show is that antimatter is more palatable most of the time) then it is a great motivator to stay out of harm's way.
So...like Kirk, Janeway flew into the heart of the beast and left a trail of debris in her wake. Like Picard, she felt obligated to clean up after herself. I wish she were more like Kirk; she would have said, "screw this, we're Starfleet, let's suck this bad boy dry," and grabbed all the Omicron particles the ship could take on. But no, she has to play Rescue 911 in space, and resigns herself to the consequences--"I may just have to give up coffee."
It goes without saying that they fly back into the belly of the beastie, encounter more danger, overcome it, find a way to undo the damage they caused, and exit again with more attention to safety. Several crewpeople get to look good, though Kim gets scolded by Tuvok for saying "I've never seen anything like it!" a bit too loudly, and Kim later throws it back in Tuvok's face when Tuvok says--with a level of elocution only William F. Buckley could love--the same thing when asked. Tuvok hasn't been given a great deal to do yet, so mostly he comes across as annoyingly officious. And Kim does a decent job, but he still makes mistakes. It's a refreshing change from the almost mechanical precision of the Enterprise crew in Next Generation. These people are learning as they go.
Side plots, other than Neelix whining everytime he's thrown into something dangerous (echoing
the sentiments of many people who think these Starfleet crews bring way too many problems on
themselves) and Kes (who has the soul of an explorer), abound. Janeway and Chakotay connect
with their spiritual side. Paris breaks into Kim's quarters in the middle of the night and takes him
to a holodeck program of his own creation, a tavern just outside Marsailles, France filled with
gigolos, tavern women and a girl that "I put in all my holodeck Programs," Paris says. They flirt
with him shamelessly, and try to flirt with Harry, who seems mortified by the whole thing. We
learn that Paris had his pocket picked in France, but "they just do that for the tourists." He likes
pool, and has assembled a large cast of the greatest pool sharks ever to polish a cue. One starts
flirting with Torres, who tells Paris, "he's a pig, and so are you." Janeway gets hit on by a young
French gigolo, and seems 1/5 flattered and 4/5 amused as hell. Janeway looks at the pool table,
seems very confused by the rules, asks Chakotay to explain things to her, and she breaks...and
immediately joins the ranks of Sharks. The holodeck barmaid snuggles up to Kim and said, "who
didn't see THAT coming a mile away...." The episode ends in the holodeck pool hall, with most
of the uniformed crew either drinking, flirting and being flirted with, playing pool, or starting
brawls. No sign of Neelix or Kes, or the holodoc. Paris has thrown open the doors of his
homesickness, and answered a couple of questions: (1) yes, there is a holodeck, (2) though there
isn't enough energy to replicate a decent cup of coffee for the captain, there is apparently enough
to feul an entire holodeck simulation; (3) Paris is as homesick as everyone else; (4) he learned
how to pick locks and enter cabins while in prison (could come into play later); (5) he really IS a
horny little puppy. And (5) the resolution of Janeway's attempt to socialize with the crew at the
beginning f the episode comes to fruition, when Kim rejects Paris' arguments and invites her along
and she accepts. It was a good moment, and we learn a lot about the crew when their hair is let
The main story was pretty uninspiring. I felt no actual danger throughout the episode, and the plot device has been used many times before--encounter a weird thing in space, interact with it, learn from it, move on. [yawn] It was there mainly as a backdrop to get to know the characters slightly better.
Character interaction was good. Janeway seemed to draw closer to Chakotay, Kim and (to a lesser extent) Paris. Janeway and Neelix clashed on two occasions, over coffee and their relationship in times of emergency. Kes finds exploring the unknown a turnon, but Neelix does not. Torres and the doctor have an anti-chemistry that I found very entertaining; as verbal sparring partners they make a good team. Kim and Paris are friends but polar opposites--Kim, the wide eyed, starched shirted ensign with a heart of gold; Paris, the grizzled, cynical but eager to redeem himself lieutenant who nonetheless has a wild streak nobody is likely to beat out of him anytime soon, though Torres would like to try. Chakotay is a quiet, intensely spiritual man who will likely provide the moral center for the show. The holodoc is the most interesting source of comic relief at present, with a deadpan delivery and acerbic wit that only an Ocampan could love. And Janeway is giving herself a chance to let her hair down, but she still has little tolerance for those who get under her skin.
On a scale of 1-10, I'd give this one a 6.5. It was fluff, but it had some good lines and good character interaction. There were some flaws, like a mixup between "million" and "thousand" and the relative power drains of holodecks and coffee replicators, but no big whoop. Notable for introducing the holodeck and some character pet peeves and prejudices we haven't seen before.
On a 1-10 scale, I'd give this a 6.75.
(Julia may or may not agree with me on this one. But I'll let her speak for herself.)