The following is a SPOILER Review for "Emanations." 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.
While investigating a new element in a planet's rings, Harry Kim is transported to an unknown planet that uses the belt as a burial ground. One of the most philosophical shows to date.
Jump straight to the Analysis
The crew of VOYAGER believe they have discovered a brand-new element in the asteroids in the ring orbiting a planet. The element has properties of stability and atomic weight that could prove extremely beneficial to the Federation. First Officer Chakotay, Ensign Harry Kim and Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres beam to one of the asteroids in the ring to investigate, because it is capable of sustaining human life. (Nitpick: This is impossible. But the first rule of science fiction is, you're allowed two impossible ideas per story.)
What they discover is asteroid spiderwebs and naked dead people, also covered in spiderwebs. Chakotay decides that this is a burial site of some sort, and informs the captain. Chakotay feels the dead should be left undisturbed; Harry Kim disagrees, and argues that they should continue with a thorough investigation. Janeway agrees with Chakotay. We learn that Chakotay once unwittingly desecrated a burial site while on an away mission early in his career; his Native American heritage already includes a reverence for the spiritual and for "sacred ground" associated with burial sites, so the early experience had a profound impact on him. He feels that they should continue their inspection with only visual (naked eye) inspection of the area, no tricorders, no samples to take back with them.
Lieutenant Torres has some of the Klingon disregard for dead bodies; once a spirit leaves the body, Klingons believe, the rest is just useless meat. A burial site doesn't impress her; she thinks they should blaze ahead with the investigation, and she doesn't put a whole lot of effort into doing things Chakotay's way.
Suddenly, they feel a disturbance in the Force, and Voyager records some phenomena occurring near the away team. They try to beam the away team back, and they manage to beam back three bodies...unfortunately, only two of them are alive. Oddly, the dead one wasn't part of the original away team. Chakotay and Torres look down on the prostrate, naked (though suitable for broadcast television), spider webbed body of a female apparently of the same species they discovered inside the asteroid.
So...where is Harry Kim?
Cut to an unknown planet, where a burial ritual is wrapping up. The family is gathered, the spokesman is speaking of high and noble things, comforting them with the knowledge that their daughter has moved on to the next emanation where she will be reunited with her loved ones in a higher state of existence...when they hear a knocking in the pod that just returned from that "next emanation." This has never happened to them before, and they are naturally a little disturbed. They open it up, and out pops a very alive, and very confused, Ensign Harry Kim.
Life, death, afterlife, planes of existence, euthanasia, culture, the prime directive...we're talking serious, weighty issues here. And for a series universe (Next Generation, DS9) that has traditionally disdained religion, we get a healthy dose of it here.
We meet a man named Hadil (spelling is purely guesswork) whose wife is in intimate conversation with him. He is apparently preparing to head into the Next Emanation, and this is apparently the result of a family decision. It is a seemingly happy time, a time of anticipation, but Hadil seems a bit nervous. His wife attempts to calm him briefly before leaving him to prepare. While he is doing so, Harry Kim is brought into the room next door by the funeral party in the previous scene. Harry's disoriented, and more talkative than a more experienced officer might have been. (Good for him; he's a scared Ensign, and he acts like one. I'm sick of the relentless perfection of Next Generation officers; it's nice to see some vulnerability and fallibility in the Voyager crew.)
The Emanation Engineers try to explain to him what has occurred; he is the first to arrive from the Next Emanation, so he must have plenty of good news to tell them about their loved ones. He has come back from the dead, they tell him. Harry is unconvinced, and mentions the "dead naked bodies" on the asteroid he was investigating. He's rambling a bit, understandably, though in Starfleet circles this is one of the Prime Directive no-nos. Hadil hears Harry's ramblings, and is ... disturbed.
Meanwhile...The Voyager crew discovers that the dead naked person who beamed up with them is only mostly dead, not all dead. After a brief disagreement (Chakotay argues the dead should stay that way, Torres insists that dead men can tell tales if not left in that condition too long, and it could help them find Harry) the mostly dead, web-covered naked alien is beamed to sickbay where the still-unnamed Holodoc works his magic. Holodoc and Kes, his able and competent assistant, work like a well-oiled machine. Snip out the tumor, run the standard Starfleet Medical humanoid jumpstart protocols, and our discreetly naked alien is back among the land of the living.
And none too happy about it.
Here's the situation. You were on your home planet, dying. You were placed in a pod your people knew would zoom you to the next emanation, where your body would merge with the universe and you'd be reunited with everyone who's gone on before you. You're happy as a hamster in a world full of wheels, doing the Wild Thing with the universe in eternal bliss. That was the plan, anyway. Instead, you wake up to looming people in odd outfits who don't know Thing One about what you're expecting.
The formerly mostly-dead naked alien freaks, and is drugged to blissful, though temporary, oblivion.
While the young woman sleeps, the crew discusses what they learned. First, we discover that the spider web is actually part of this species' decomposition process. The spiderwebs they walked through was in fact the last remnant of decayed flesh. Chakotay's expression at this revelation is significant; despite all his efforts, he still desecrated graves, and it chills him.
They have also learned that the phenomenon that brought the young woman here, and apparently took Ensign Kim, is recurring. Energy surge, followed by the appearance of another naked dead person. At first, the appearances are restricted to the many asteroids orbiting the planet. But apparently, their proximity to the belt and the configuration of VOYAGER's energy system causes corpses to appear in the strangest places on the ship. As if that weren't disturbing enough, the appearance of these unwanted visitors is causing trouble with the ship, and they'll blow up if they don't leave the system or find a way to counteract the effect. They additionally notice that every time a corpse is deposited, neural energy (whatever that is) is released into the planetary ring.
Back to the planet where Kim has been ceremoniously deposited. His appearance has caused something of an uproar, for obvious reasons. Hadil has been very much affected. He is reconsidering his prior commitment to shuttle off from this mortal coil and transport into the choir invisible. His wife does not take this news well. She blames the newcomer for destroying his faith, and she gives a universal if-looks-could-kill glare at our hapless rookie. Kim feels chastened, and tries his best to not cause further troubles by speaking out of turn, remembering the Prime Directive a bit better now that he's had some time to sulk. The planetary elders (or whatever) refuse to let Harry out of observation, or to let him see anything that might help him figure out just where he is. (We never do learn where he went, by the way; I thought this was a nice move on the writers' part. Let it remain a mystery.)
Back on VOYAGER, we learn the name of the formerly dead woman: Patera. When she wakes up again she's a little better oriented, but not much happier. She finds herself in an afterlife completely at odds with her expectations. She doesn't know much other than her people's beliefs in life and death, so she's not a big help as an information source. But she is still a little out of it, so Kes (the Thinking Person's Deanna Troi) befriends her. She's the closest thing to a fellow fish-out-of-water (pardon the pun) that Patera has access to on this ship. Kes is intelligent, compassionate, and very good with people (as well as holograms). She tries to help Patera acclimate and takes her for a bite to eat.
The resourceful VOYAGER crew, now knee deep in the dead, think they can use the energy burst the way it was intended--to send Patera back to where she came from, wherever that is. There's no guarantee of success, but Patera will do anything--even die--to return home, whether it's back to her people or back to death. They try to transport her during the next burst, but something goes wrong, and when they recover her signal, Patera is covered in a thin layer of webbing. She's dead, and for good this time. They beam her to the asteroid where they originally picked her up.
Harry and Hadil get into another conversation. Hadil, it seems, really isn't all that thrilled about being beamed into the void, and wasn't even before Harry arrived. Harry's arrival was, shall we say, the nail in the coffin of Hadil's faith. The decision to send Hadil into the next emanation was more his family's idea, and he wasn't eager to go along. But their expectations, and his reluctance to disappoint them, kept him going. Harry is appalled at the idea that the man's family would cast him aside like that. In a great bit of film making, we learn for the first time that Hadil was injured in an accident of some sort, and he requires a leg brace and cane to walk. This, Harry decides (or I decided for him) is a disposable society, where damaged goods are land filled. And the idea does not comfort him. The culture has found a way to deal with the dead and dying; the dead ain't so bad, but to jettison those who are made to feel less useful disturbs him greatly.
Hadil has similar emotions, and mentions that he has friends in the hills who would agree to take him and house him in safety the remainder of his natural life. But he doesn't want to do so because his family would worry about him. Harry despairs for his new friend, and also for himself because he has no idea how to get back.
Desperation is the mother of deus ex machina. As Hadil wraps himself in the family-heirloom burial shroud (a material which apparently comes back without the body it was covering, which explains the naked people on the asteroid), Harry comes up with an idea. Why don't I wear the shroud and beam back to where I came from? You can head for the hills, and live free, while your family can believe they saw you go and hence won't worry about you? Hadil considers, then agrees.
A question here: Is all clothing stripped from the dead on transport, or just the shroud? Will Harry be naked if/when he beams back, or will he keep his uniform and lose only the shroud? If he shows up naked, does he ditch the uniform (and its technologically advanced communicator pin and really cool velour fabric) beforehand, or risk wearing it? If he risks wearing it, and the clothing goes back with the shroud, won't the people back on the planet realize they'd been duped? Small points, but someone's gotta ask them.
We soon see a "last rites" ceremony in progress. A transportee, decked out head to foot in tightly-wrapped ceremonial garb, sits upright like a mummy while the soon-to-be-grieving family looks on. He leans back into the pod as the words are spoken, the pod bay door closes, and the trip to the next emanation begins. Once the coffin lid is shut, Harry starts removing the wraps, and then leans back to enjoy the ride. For some stupid reason, when the glowrods close in on his head, he doesn't avoid them. (First rule of coffin travel: AVOID THE GLOWING DEATH RODS AIMING FOR YOUR HEAD!!! But he's just an ensign; hopefully he won't have to be told more than once.)
Things on VOYAGER are getting serious. Dead people keep appearing in the strangest places, and wreaking havoc on the engines and other things that you really want to keep havoc-free. They realize they may have to abandon their search for Harry soon. They're running out of ideas, and corpse-free legroom. They've been beaming down bodies as quickly as they come, and they prepare to leave orbit. Until one arriving corpse displays human characteristics. They beam him to sickbay, and Holodoc begins his ministrations. Turns out Harry is only mostly dead as well, and he is soon back where he belongs, alive and well, if a little tired from his most excellent adventure.
We finally see Harry alone down in the mess hall, picking at his food and deep in thought.
Captain Janeway visits with him, telling him to take a few days off to consider the extraordinary
events he just lived--and died--through. She gives a heartfelt wisdom-of-age talk about how
when you do six impossible things before breakfast every morning, it's easy to forget to sit back
and realize just how unusual that is. She wants him to relax, ponder, pray, read, write, paint, sing,
howl at whatever moon they're passing at the moment, whatever he can think of to fully digest his
remarkable journey, before returning to work. At first, he protests, but finally agrees that he
could use the time. He confesses that his faith has been shaken slightly because of the whole
life/death thing, and he just doesn't know anymore about what is in store for the people with the
pods, or even for himself. Janeway mentions the neural energy release, and its odd interaction in
the planetary rings. "Who knows? Perhaps they really are in the next emanation out there,
communing with each other." Sounds cheesy, and was (to me) a transparent attempt to mix
techno babble with theo babble in a compassionate way.
One thing I've liked about VOYAGER the series has been the range. They've had their lousy episodes, and episodes better than anything The Next Generation produced its first couple of years. This episode attempted to cover some very serious and weighty issues, and though it didn't entirely succeed, it worked a lot better than I expected.
I liked the mistakes, and the recovery from those mistakes, by Ensign Kim. He's young, he's enthusiastic, and though he's unpolished he's still pretty darn good at what he does. He's the series Golden Boy, similar to Ensign Chekov in the original series but a little more competent.
Not to slight Chekov, but the Original Series writers took a while to feel comfortable writing his character; the writers have been better at defining Kim. Harry is a more believable Ensign, the beneficiary of nearly thirty years' writing and Trek history. But Kim's interaction with Janeway is not unlike Chekov's with Kirk--student to mentor, enthusiastic pup to wizened space dog.
Anyway. Harry acts the way I think most inexperienced people would--he talks too much, and gets into some hot water as a result. But he remembers his duty quickly, and is much more sensitive to his situation after the initial outbursts.
The techno babble is there in this episode, but it's not quite so pronounced as in others. I like that they never did find Kim; he found them, and only by using the same device that carried him away in the first place. No understanding of how or where, he just acted on faith that history would repeat itself.
The human element is, as always, vital to the show's success. We learn much about the alien culture, even if it's limited to their theories on life and death. And we also learn that the beliefs are not universally held, that self-interest sometimes abuses beliefs, and that not every member of a culture knows everything. Patera didn't know much and didn't help much, and it warmed the cockles of my heart to know that she wasn't some eminent death scholar or theologian who could give them everything they needed to know to come barreling in with both nacelles blazing and rescue their missing crewman. This episode showed that luck and serendipity still have a place in this universe.
The episode helped us to further explore the characters of Chakotay (his reverence for the spiritual side of life, early Starfleet days, his powers of observation); Torres (more Klingon in her thinking than she may care to admit, a great engineer but a lousy eyewitness, not very effective when she's uninterested in the topic at hand); Kim (his beliefs in life and death, his grace under pressure, his resourcefulness, his prejudices), and several members of a culture who have no idea how to react to Federation people. That we see some acceptance, some rejection, some confusion, and some rationalization-to-fit-conventional-wisdom shows that this was not a homogenous society, and I'm glad of it.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.00.
(Julia and I don't always agree. Do we this time?)