It's Paramount's playground. They own the characters, the ships, species, planets, quadrants, and the dialog, plots, etc. My summaries and reviews are for the purpose of entertainment and analysis only. The reviews are full-spoiler, which means that it's as close as you can get to seeing the episode without actually seeing the episode. All that's missing are commercials and pictures. If you want to be surprised and haven't seen the episode yet, read no further. But if you've already seen it, or you don't mind finding out the details in advance, sit back and let Fatherly Uncle Jim spin the tale for you...Review Boy Style.
"That Malon freighter is really unstable right now." "We're in luck--so's B'Elanna!"
Jump straight to the Analysis
A massive vessel lumbers through space, trailing thick green clouds of noxious fumes like a flatulent leviathan. It travels alone, which isn't the least bit surprising. Also not surprising is that this Love Canal Boat is run by the Malon, whose only reason for leaving their home planet seems to be the dumping of toxic waste.
We've had only one extended conversation with a Malon before, with Emck in "Night"--a most unpleasant fellow who richly deserved to be kicked to that Great Curb in the Sky. Here we get a glimpse at the cuddly side of this rather unsanitary species, Voyager's answer to House Harkonnen.
One of the crusty Malon crewmen is wielding a scale model of a toxic waste scow, doing his impression of the Malon Valdez like a true thespian. He even provides his own Foley artistry. "Alert! Alert! Decompression on platform 684! Brace for hull rupture! The thrusters are down! We're going to crash! Aaaaauuugghh!" He collides with another Malon--taller and more scarred by radiation, so he's probably the leader--and asks what he thinks of the toy. "Look at the detail on that dorsal plating!"
Hey--if there's a Malon Mattel, they can't be all bad, can they?
"Impressive," says the taller man, eventually called Fesek. "Are you sure you're willing to part with it?" The boy with the toy--unnamed because his minutes are numbered--grins. "I just hope your boy enjoys it as much as I do." Fesek's expression clouds a bit; "I'm certain he will--if we make it home in time for his birthday." We'll make it, the other assures him.
The banter continues a moment longer, before a Malon Malfunction kicks in. Theta radiation waste is nasty stuff, and leaks are not just common--you can set your watch to them. The banter stops; the toy is set aside as the serious business of avoiding radioactive death takes priority. They know the drill.
But this time, the drill isn't working. They can't shut down the leaks. They can't even eject the damaged tank, which should be impossible. We learn that Fesek's good side only goes so far--he was willing to eject the tank into an inhabited system, something the guy with the toy argued against.
As the crisis accelerates, and all the usual safeguards fail, Fesek has to make a decision. Sacrifice a crewman, or doom them all. He points to a young man in a red shirt, who looks an awful lot like a Malon version of Vorik. Imagine that.
"I didn't sign up for core labor," the young man insists. He says core labor the way a condemned man would say Last Meal, or Janeway would say decaf. Shudder. But Fesek gives him an order. The young man continues to resist. "Now!" Fesek rages.
Once it becomes clear that his chances of survival are now greater in the core than they are on the bridge, the young man leaves. Fesek and the remaining crew do their best to contain the damage before yet another Malon vessel contaminates an entire sector like a mobile Chernobyl.
* * *
The lights are low in Tuvok's quarters. He has his power robes on, dressed to the nines for an evening of high-impact meditation. He holds his familiar meditation lamp, which is lit.
He's not alone. Decked out in a simple red dress with the hem a little above her knees over a full-body leotard, B'Elanna Torres looks like she'd rather be knee-deep in vole-infested access panels than in the contemplative solitude of the Vulcan's quarters.
Tuvok speaks formally. "The flame, like emotion, is a primitive force. Left unchecked, it's chaotic, destructive--but if controlled, it can be a powerful tool. The lamp controls the flame, as you must learn to control your emotions."
Torres glares. "I lost my temper--no big deal." She destroyed the Doctor's holographic camera when he wouldn't leave Engineering--he was too busy snapping photos for his next slide show, A Day in the Life of the Warp Core. Besides, she says, she apologized and replicated Doc another camera. She doesn't see the need to be here.
Tuvok points out that she's been a powderkeg since she was an embryo. "The point of this exercise is not to atone for past transgressions, but to prevent future ones."
You can't order someone to meditate, Torres insists, hands on hips in fine Janeway style. Commander Chakotay thinks otherwise, Tuvok reminds her, and gestures to the seat across the meditation table. Resigned to her fate, Torres does so.
B'Elanna asks whether her eyes should be open or closed. "Whichever allows you to focus your mind." Eyes closed, then. "Envision the flame burning within you," Tuvok says. She snickers, then apologizes without explanation, and tries to look peaceful. "The flame grows hotter...A point of white light. Follow it backward through the years to a time when you were younger, a child." Torres laughs out loud.
"Is there something amusing, Lieutenant?" Tuvok asks, brow furrowed. She waves her arm as though to ward off the image. "I'm sorry. An image just flashed through my mind. You as a child. Those pointy little ears. You must have been cute." Tellingly, Tuvok doesn't deny his childhood cuteness; Vulcans do not lie needlessly, and gratuitous self-deprecation is illogical.
Torres may be beautiful when she's angry, but she's downright charming when she's sporting a carefree smile. And the way she says "cute"--adorable. For the nanosecond, her anger is forgotten.
But as we know, B'Elanna's mood can stop and pivot on a dime.
"Please follow my instructions or we'll discontinue this exercise," Tuvok tells her. She complies. He tells her to search her mind for a time when she experienced "uncontrollable anger." She surprises herself by dredging up just such a memory. Her eyes pop open. "Daniel Byrd?!" One of her classmates in grammar school. "He was always terrorizing me. He used to point at my cranial ridges and tease me about being half-Klingon. He called me...'Miss Turtlehead.' "
"That angered you." Well, Duh.
"Of course, it did! So I attacked him once, during recess...on the gyro-swing. I disengaged the centrifugal governor. He was spinning so fast, he almost flew apart." B'Elanna speaks almost too fast to follow, as the memory of the experience returns with feelings intact--perhaps even magnified. She becomes angrier with each syllable. "Then I yanked him off the swing and started pounding his little face! If Ms. Melvin hadn't showed up, I probably would have--"
"Describe the anger you felt at that moment," says Tuvok, interrupting her with a soothing voice.
This breaks the spell. Torres is able to report her anger semi-objectively rather than taste the rage in all its awful glory. "I...I wanted to hurt him. To take revenge for all the humiliation he caused me." The fire of anger has now been replaced with the ashes of regret.
Tuvok gives her an encouraging look. "Your anger was a source of strength. It protected you, gave you courage." This seems a new thought to B'Elanna, and she accepts it gratefully.
Then he brings up Doc and his camera--what was the deal with that outburst? "I was . . . annoyed," Torres says--and suddenly, she is annoyed, as every irritable emotion from that incident returns.
"The rage within you runs deep. It's been with you for many years," Tuvok notes. "I'm not a Vulcan. I'll survive," B'Elanna retorts testily.
"Whatever you say...Miss Turtlehead." Torres goes from zero to pissed in a quarter second. Tuvok holds up a hand. "You're easily provoked. You must learn to master your emotions."
Master this, Torres says. "School's out." She rises, and storms away.
Tom Paris exits the turbolift and makes a beeline for Tuvok's bridge station. "So, how'd it go with B'Elanna today?" he whispers. Tuvok tells him it's confidential. Tom laughs. "I'm not asking for sordid details. I just want to know if you think you can help her." Tuvok's change in body language is answer enough. "Her training will be a challenge for both of us," he confesses.
Tom chuckles. "Take it from me--getting B'Elanna to control her temper is like convincing a Ferengi to leave his estate to charity." Ah, the ever-supportive boyfriend . . .
The necessary character development out of the way, we return to the B Plot. An alarm blares, and Tom runs to his station at helm as Ensign Kim reports an incoming distress call from coordinates 121 by 268. Janeway orders a rescue course set.
I gotta say it: 268-121 = 147. Oh, and 121 is 11 squared, and 11=4+7. I can't help myself; it's a sickness.
They arrive at the coordinates to find 37 escape pods floating in space, lousy with theta radiation. Only two contain life signs. There's also a fast-moving vessel not too far away, leaking like a radioactive sieve.
Janeway orders the survivors beamed aboard, with appropriate safety measures put in place to protect her own crew.
In Sickbay, their suspicions are confirmed. The survivors are Malon. "I thought we'd seen the last of [them]," Tuvok says. I thought the same -- the Malon should have been in the dust after their big leaps in "Dark Frontier" and "Timeless," nearly half a quadrant away.
If the Malon have to venture this far out to dump the gunk, they should really consider other energy sources. As I recall, Torres even came up with one in "Night," though Emck was more interested in making a profit than in "give a hoot, don't pollute."
Needless to say, this doesn't endear the Malon to the Voyager crew.
Janeway tells Doc to revive one of them. By sheer luck, they revive the leader. "Fesek, Controller Fesek. Where am I?" he asks groggily. "My ship..." the last thing he remembered, over sixty of his people had died in the accident, but nearly two dozen had reached the escape pods--
"It's heavily damaged," Janeway and Tuvok tell him. He's shocked when he discovers that the "few" survivors is fewer than he thought--only he and his unconscious comrade in Sickbay. The other escape pods are now floating coffins. He tells them that they need to get away from here fast; his ship's ready to blow, and when it does it will contaminate the entire sector. "Everything within three light-years will be destroyed."
Janeway gives the order to Paris, but--surprise!--warp picks precisely that moment to fail, and without warp they'll never escape in time. Drat that pesky plot-complicating theta radiation! She orders Harry to warn every ship in the sector to haul hiney, stage anywhere--and tells Tom to set a course toward the new reigning Ship of Death. "If we can't outrun your ship, maybe we can disable it," Janeway explains.
Fesek protests. "Every deck has been contaminated. Anyone who goes on board will liquefy within minutes!" We'll find a way, Janeway says confidently.
"We? I'm not going anywhere near that vessel!" Fesek protests. Whoa--déjà vu. It seems mere moments ago that Fesek was the one sending the reluctant into harm's way. And Janeway is about as understanding as Fesek was. "You can either stay and help us--or I'll send you back to your escape pod. Your choice."
What goes around . . .
Fesek finally nods, bowing to the forged ferrous will of the Auburn One. Janeway looks over her shoulder. "Clean them up, Doctor. I need them on the bridge."
* * *
Voyager catches up with the Malon freighter, which looks even more toxic than usual. Torres reports that they've got about six hours before the storage tanks go Boom.
The away team has its work cut out for it, Tuvok reports. "The freighter's hull is intact. Life support appears to be operational. However, 33 of 42 decks are flooded with high levels of theta radiation." Including, Fesek says pointedly, the control room, "which is where we have to go to reestablish containment." He's all for running away.
Torres, whose fuse has been predictably and understandably short with the Malon, is holding together pretty well--for the moment. "We could beam on to one of the lower levels where there's less radiation and vent the contaminated sections one by one," she suggests. Chakotay likes the idea. Fesek doesn't--he claims his people know more than anyone about dealing with stuff like this, and he says it can't be done.
Torres' anger flares. "Your experience is what got us into this mess in the first place." Janeway snaps at B'Elanna to back off.
Fesek offers an alternative--there's a nearby nebula, they can hide there and ride out the explosion. But this doesn't help the other three ships in the sector that would get caught in the blast, so Janeway nixes it.
Torres advances on Fesek, eyes blazing. "So hundreds of people become contaminated because you're not willing to clean up your garbage!" Janeway shouts her down again, then tells Chakotay to assemble an away team. Janeway and Torres agree about the Malon--they just don't see eye to eye on how to talk to them.
As though radiation weren't bad enough, the younger Malon--soon to be called Pelk--pipes up with a new concern. "Tell them about the Vihaar," he hisses to Fesek, who would prefer not to. The Vihaar, we learn, is a legendary creature, the Malon version of the Toxic Avenger--part Freddie Krueger and part gremlin, stalking the ultra-poisonous cores of Malon freighters, wreaking havoc among the (relatively) unpoisoned crew. Essentially, it's a radioactive Bogeyman. Pelk buys into it, and claims the ship's malfunctions couldn't have occurred naturally; Fesek rejects it as the paranoid superstitions of the young and the addled.
Torres just sneers. "You'd say anything to get out of going back to that freighter." Pelk doesn't back down. "If you'd been there, you'd be afraid to go back, too." But nothing scares Torres. Nothing but her own bad self.
And nothing scares Janeway. Her mind is set; suit up, grab yer stuff, and go clean up that mess.
Janeway's work is done, for now. It's Chakotay's away mission, and she leaves it in his capable hands while she handles things from Voyager's end. Chakotay's team consists of the two Malon, Neelix (who has six years' experience on a Talaxian garbage scow), and B'Elanna.
That last chocie is a surprise. B'Elanna's talents outweigh her attitude, yes. But arguably Seven of Nine would be a more logical choice. Seven's Borgness makes her more resistant to the elements, and she doesn't take things personally. B'Elanna can't stand to be in the same room with the Malon.
Fesek and Pelk continue to play hard to convince. The details of the mission are fairly simple--beam into one of the less contaminated areas, and work their way up deck by deck using controlled decompressions to air out each level. They'll use force fields to keep themselves from getting spaced.
"Even low levels of theta radiation can be lethal," Pelk reminds them. But Chakotay says Doc has created an inoculation that will keep them safe for two or three hours.
The optimism of the Starfleet crew doesn't exactly win over the Malon. The more they resist, the less diplomatic Torres becomes.
Chakotay finally tells Pelk and Fesek to head to Sickbay to get their shots, so he can take a few shots at B'Elanna in private. "We're trying to avoid explosions, remember?" he snaps.
Torres gives him an et tu look. "Oh, not another lecture about my emotions!" No, Chakotay says; "A lecture about how to treat guests aboard this ship." Torres reacts as if slapped. "Guests? Chakotay, these people are the scourge of the quadrant!" Agreed, Chakotay says, meaning it. "But right now they're our only hope of repairing that freighter, so I suggest you make friends."
Torres scoffs. "Diplomacy...Janeway's answer to everything." Chakotay looms over her. "This isn't the Captain talking. It's me, and I'm giving you an order! Keep your temper in check. Understood?"
Torres doesn't respond. "Understood?!" he repeats. Yeah, she says at last, too soft to hear. "I didn't hear you!" he says sharply. "Yes," she says again, loud enough to at last get him off her back.
Chakotay softens his tone somewhat. "B'Elanna, I need your expertise on this mission--not your bad mood." I'll see what I can do, Torres says, promising nothing more.
Yeesh--maybe she should see the Doc about getting the chip surgically removed from her shoulder.
Tom rushes to catch up with B'Elanna, who's marching through the corridors, vaporizing everyone within eyeshot with a Janeway-class skunk eye. "B'Elanna..." he says, panting a little, trying to match her stride. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"I don't think so," she says, confused, checking her shoulder pack, doing a mental inventory.
"Well...Uh, a 'good-bye' would be nice? 'So long,' 'see you soon'--something along those lines."
The thunderclouds above B'Elanna's head begin to flash. Storm's a'brewin'. "I didn't want to risk it." Risk what? Tom asks. "Starting an argument," she says.
Paris gives an exaggerated laugh. "Ha! Argument? Us?" They share a look, and the clouds of funk dissipate. B'Elanna even smiles. Well done, Helm Boy!
Tom's tone turns more serious, understanding. "So, I hear it's been a short fuse kind of day." About this long, she admits. Nothing you can't handle, Tom says. If you think so, B'Elanna says, unsure. I know so, he assures her.
"I suppose it's always going to be like this," B'Elanna confesses. "Me against the galaxy."
Tom smiles impishly. "Well, the galaxy doesn't stand a chance."
They stop at the door to the transporter room. Tom takes her by the shoulders. "Now...Promise me that you're going to be careful over there. No stopping to have fun." This elicits a smirk from B'Elanna. "Fun? On a Malon freighter?" But her mood has lightened dramatically; if fun is out of the question, at least it might be less of an ordeal.
Tom leans in for a kiss. Not a passionate, tonsil-scrubbing, furniture throwing, oh-find-a-room-you-two kind of kiss that suggests they'll never have this chance again. Rather, a simple, have-a-good-day-at-work-honey sorta kiss, the kind you give when you fully expect to see each other soon.
The away team begins coughing as soon as they beam into the Malon freighter. Even the Malon; it must be bad. "Well, it's nothing a fresh coat of paint wouldn't brighten up," Neelix says, always one for looking on the bright side.
Now--in this perilously toxic environment, the Malon are wearing their usual thick radiation suits. The Federation folks are wearing their standard duty uniforms. No fancy radiation-proof gear for them, nosir. They've had their shots.
We quickly encounter our first plot complication--the tricorders are responsible for igniting highly-charged "methogenic particles" inside the ship, meaning every scan results in an explosive blue-dart of foul-smelling electric methane.
Yo quiero Taco Bell.
Torres figures this out just before a particularly nasty explosion blows her jacket off. (And only hers, of course--who wants to see a topless Malon?) Now Torres is down to her gunmetal gray tank top in a massively radioactive sauna.
Hmmm. Big, dark, scary ship. Mythical slime-oozing alien rumored to be skulking about. Underdressed, tough-as-nails female lead.
Just call her Ripley.
But without their tricorders, they're flying blind. The job just keeps getting tougher and tougher, and they just got here.
The next plot complication: the control mechanisms are down, Pelk reports. "We're going to have to open the air locks manually."
Fesek tells the Voyager crew to wait here while they take care of it. Chakotay pulls rank. Fesek says it's his ship, so he's in charge. Chakotay says they abandoned ship, so Tattoo Dude now rules the roost.
Chakotay wins the ensuing staring contest.
"We'll have to crawl into an injector port," Fesek says sullenly. "It's only big enough for two people." Chakotay tells Pelk to stay behind, pairing Torres with Fesek. "Shall we?" B'Elanna asks.
Cultural exchange moment. Fesek and B'Elanna talk while they crawl. "How can you stand to work in these conditions?" B'Elanna inquires cordially. "You think we're animals, don't you?" Fesek says, defensively. "You said it, not me," B'Elanna says.
Fesek tells her that his job as waste controller is part time, and will probably cut his life expectancy in half. The other half of the year, he tells B'Elanna, he's a sculptor on Malon Prime, one of the "most beautiful worlds you'll ever see." He does it as a service to his people, he says. It's a sacrifice he's willing to make--if they don't haul away the radioactive waste, all of Malon Prime would look like the inside of this ship. And unlike the other Malon we've met, he seems genuinely conscientious about where he dumps his deadly cargo.
Unless his own life is on the line. He may be one of the better Malon we've met, but his views are still very much shaped by his culture. He is enlightened enough to know that his day job stinks, but hasn't made the jump to the next level--that there might be a better way to do things. He hasn't yet seen the paradigm shift.
You'd think a species that can travel 30,000 light years just to unload a shipload of glowing gunk would have encountered a species or two that could show them a cleaner source of energy.
But I digress.
They reach the manual controls. While Fesek does the grunt work, he asks her if she has any kids as a segue to mentioning his own son. "He's seven years old. He wants to be a waste controller when he grows up."
"You must be very proud," Torres says sarcastically. But Fesek seems to share her sentiment. He might feel some pride that his son wants to follow in his footsteps, but waste dumping seems to be a career he'd rather not bring his family into. It's dangerous, dirty work.
They release the controls, but it doesn't work. Torres fills Chakotay in; someone needs to check out the airlock controls.
Neelix points out that the deck in question is still contaminated. Pelk offers to go. "One for the road," Neelix says, giving Pelk an extra shot of antitoxin, giving him an encouraging smile, which Pelk accepts gratefully.
We see Pelk enter a really dark, fog-obscured chamber. The way the camera's moving, the oddly lit glow of the room (reddish rather than the typical yellow-green), and the soft labored breathing we hear, tells us we're seeing this scene in VihaarVision.
Pelk, paranoid enough already, hears enough to get spooked. He backs out of the room.
And runs into something. There is an unseen struggle. Pelk screams, and keeps screaming. Finally, he collapses backward through a doorway just as Neelix and Chakotay reach him.
"I...I saw...I saw it..." Pelk murmurs. "The creature…"
His face looks even more radiation-scarred than before.
Houston, we have a problem.
* * *
Neelix performs emergency first aid on Pelk's burns as Torres and Fesek arrive. Chakotay calls Voyager for an emergency beamout.
But Pelk is dying. His last words are an insistence that he saw "the creature." Fesek insists it's all a figment of his imagination.
But Pelk has the last word, insisting he saw it with his final breath. Fesek closes his eyes for him.
Harry finally gets a lock. Chakotay cancels the order for medical assistance, and instead orders an autopsy. Perhaps that will settle the whole monster thing. Regardless, they need to know why Pelk died.
Meanwhile, they've got air locks to open. Fesek and Chakotay handle that, leaving Torres with Neelix. "From now on, nobody works alone," Chakotay orders.
Some time later…
Janeway enters the bridge and asks for a status report. "They've vented five decks--ten to go," Harry says. Tuvok chimes in. "At this rate they'll reach the control room in approximately three hours. However, the storage tanks will detonate in less than two." Dang.
"I've been working on a contingency plan," Janeway says. Naturally. She pulls up an image on Tuvok's station. It's a Type-O star. "If the freighter exploded within the star's corona it might absorb the radiation," she explains. Tuvok notes that the freighter isn't headed that way, but Janeway explains that with a few well-placed nudges, it could be. Tuvok says it could work--but that if they're not careful, they could end up detonating the tanks themselves.
Janeway isn't worried about that. She has faith in her people. Besides, "I'm still counting on the away team to succeed. But I want to be ready with Plan B if they don't." Good thinkin'.
Team Woodsy is making good time. But they're showing the strain. Torres in particular shows every square inch of grime from crawling through tight, icky spaces. "I don't know about the rest of you but I could sure use a sonic shower," she says. Neelix says he's looking forward to a good two-day soak in a hot bath. But Torres prefers the shower. "I want to feel those sonic pulses dissolving every last atom of this grime off my body."
Fesek offers the Malon alternative. "We have a decontamination bay on board. It can purge over 50 workers at a time." Torres scowls.
Then she leans against a wall, coughing wetly. Neelix looks on her with concern. "I'm okay. I'm just a little light-headed," she insists. But Neelix is looking at her hand, which is blistered and cracking. She gasps.
"Freighter blight--from the prolonged exposure," Fesek explains. Lovely, Torres groans. "In my business, it's an occupational hazard," Fesek says sympathetically.
Neelix suggests another inoculation. But Fesek says the blistering is a sign of a fatal dose of radiation. "She needs treatment." Torres shakes her head angrily. "I'll live," she says, apparently not grasping the meaning of the word fatal. Fesek tells Chakotay they've got the needed medicines in their infirmary. Chakotay tells Torres to go and get cleaned up.
Inexplicably, Torres refuses. Chakotay makes it an order. When she still refuses, he yells.
Finally, reluctantly, she complies.
"This is the infirmary?" Torres sniffs, stepping into the spare room with a single isolation tent in the middle. "Looks more like a morgue. What happened to him?" she asks about the guy inside the tent, looking very dead.
"It looks like he was being treated for long-term exposure. He was probably left behind during the evacuation," Fesek explains. Tough luck, huh? Torres asks. "There was nothing more we could do for him. He was a core laborer," Fesek says. "He worked close to the storage tanks. Only three of ten core laborers survive a standard mission."
This doesn't do much to improve Torres' opinion of the Malon. "Occupational hazard?" she sneers. Fesek says they know the risks when they sign on. "Core laborers can make more in two months than most Malon make in a lifetime." Torres wonders aloud what good money is to a dead man. "It will go to his family," Fesek says. Malon Roulette. Either way, your family's set for life. The only question is whether you're there to enjoy it with them. Fesek's tone makes it plain it's not a job he'd want.
But in the meantime, she's under order to accept their medical help. Fesek shows her a wicked looking device. "It's a subdermal injector. It contains analeptic compounds to reverse the cell damage." He promises it won't hurt, though she will feel a "slight burning sensation."
Torres shuts up and takes her medicine, wincing only slightly.
Tuvok enters Astrometrics, where Seven of Nine has been working alone. She has prepared the necessary data for Janeway's Plan B--and her own Plan C. "Shield modulations that should reduce the structural damage of Voyager. It will also help protect the crew against theta radiation poisoning...if we fail."
Tuvok nods. "A wise precaution. With any luck, we won't be needing it." Seven's eyebrows rise. "I didn't think Vulcans believed in luck." Tuvok's rise as well. "As a rule, we don't. But serving with Captain Janeway has taught me otherwise." Seven of Nine sighs. "She does seem to succeed more often than random chance would allow. I'll factor it into my calculations."
Tuvok accepts the PADD and heads for the door. Then he stops. "Is there a Plan D?" Seven faces him. "No." Tuvok gives her a "never hurts to ask" look before exiting, leaving Seven to her work.
And who knows--the next time he asks, she just might have one.
The away team sprints toward the next set of controls. "Initiating decompression sequence, deck Four! Deck clear!" Fesek yells. Done. They begin running to the next target.
"12 down! Three to go!" Neelix shouts.
An alarm sends them scurrying back to where they just were. Torres reaches the controls first. "The air locks are opening on this deck!" This takes everyone by surprise. They have to scream to be heard over the din.
Torres can't close the airlocks. Neelix yells about the force fields--they're off line, Torres bellows a moment later.
Let's get outta here, Chakotay booms. Fesek leads the way to the ladders, and they start climbing. Chakotay is last. But before he can make it to the top, a large pipe flies through the air and smacks him, hard; he loses his grip and falls.
And then there were three.
Torres, Neelix, and Fesek pause to cough a lot and catch their breath. It's quieter here; the air on this deck isn't escaping into space. Only then do they notice that Chakotay didn't make it.
Torres starts to run back, but Fesek grabs her. "It's a vacuum down there now!" he shouts. Torres starts to argue, then changes her approach. She slaps her combadge and orders Harry to find Chakotay's Comm signal and beam him back to Voyager.
Tense seconds pass. Finally, Harry's static-filled voice returns. "Got him." Another second or two. "He's okay."
They all breathe easier.
Then Torres whirls on Fesek. "I thought that deck was secure!" It was, Fesek insists. "Then why did we almost get blown into space?" I don't know! Fesek shouts, his own temper flaring.
We see the argument from a distance. Via MonsterVision. We even see a nasty, gnarled, Freddie Krueger hand leaning against a pylon, as we hear the ragged breathing.
"Air locks don't open by themselves!" Torres rages. Fesek demands to know what she's accusing him of.
Neelix loses it. "Calm down, both of you! We don't have time to argue about what happened. We've got to keep moving!" A shouting Neelix is rare enough to snap B'Elanna out of her anger. The morale officer has spoken. They move on.
The monster watches them go. He's an ugly sucker.
* * *
Janeway works at a station on the bridge. Tuvok approaches. Janeway asks how Chakotay is doing. "Unconscious but stable," Tuvok reports. "The Doctor is treating him now. We'll be able to talk to him in less than an hour." Janeway says she wants a full report when Chakotay comes to, and returns to her research.
Tuvok doesn't leave. Chakotay is unconscious but stable; Torres is conscious but unstable. He expects the captain to send him over to the Malon vessel to take command of the mission.
She doesn't. "I just spoke with B'Elanna. She's got everything under control." Tuvok points out that "this is a dangerous situation. There is no margin for emotional error."
Janeway ignores him. "We have plenty to do here. Help me remodulate the tractor beam." Tuvok presses; he doesn't think Torres can handle it. But Janeway does. "If I send you over there I'd be sending the wrong message--that I don't have faith in her. But I do."
Tuvok grimaces. "Your faith is admirable, but logic suggests--"
"This isn't about logic. It's about trust. She'll come through for us. Now, give me a hand."
Tuvok finally backs down.
Neelix finds Torres in a strange state--not angry. She's sitting silently, peacefully, oblivious to her surroundings. He has to call her name several times to get a reaction out of her.
When she does react, she's almost instantly agitated, trying to hide her embarrassment. She looks like hell--her hair is matted and singed in spots, sweat darkens her tank top, and her arms and face are almost black with layers of soot, grime and who knows what else.
Actually, she looks pretty darn good. She may not like conditions like this, but she does seem to thrive in them. Ripley would be proud.
"Are you all right?" Neelix asks, concerned. "Fine," she snaps, more harshly than she intended. Then, more softly, "Report." Neelix tells her they just vented the last deck, and they now have what should be a clear path to the control room.
"Let's get this thing over with, then," Torres says.
Neelix hesitates. "If you need to rest..."
"I said I'm fine!"
Neelix doesn't believe her.
Torres finally confesses. "I was...meditating." Neelix' eyes go wide, then he snickers, amused as all get-out. "Meditating? You?" Surprisingly, Torres doesn't get angry. Her words are almost a plea. "Do me a favor. Don't tell Tuvok." Neelix gets serious; he vows, "Your secret's safe." They do a pinky promise, sealing the deal.
"It's this place!" Torres growls, confiding in Neelix, who shares her sentiment. "The next time I volunteer to board a Malon freighter, check me into Sickbay and have my head examined."
"I feel like I'm ready to explode!" Torres rages--not at Neelix but at the whole situation. Neelix gives her a voice of calm assurance. "We'll get through this. Together. I've got a knack for diffusing explosive situations." He wiggles his eyebrows at her.
And danged if it doesn't work. She gives him a slight smile. "Thanks." Off she goes.
Neelix reflects on a job well done. He leans against a ladder--and his face twists with disgust as he feels the gooshing goop between his fingers.
He does his best to wipe it off, and he follows B'Elanna out the door.
Seven of Nine has a schematic of the Malon freighter on the Big Screen in Astrometrics, which updates every second or so with new visual data.
Torres calls in. "We're outside of the control room, but without tricorders, we can't tell if it's safe to go in there." Seven reports that the room is too heavily shielded for her to penetrate at the moment. "You must stand by."
Fesek checks his own controls. "The theta dampening field is still active. It should be safe." He taps a few commands, and the door opens.
"After you," Torres says. In they go, with Fesek in the lead and Neelix bringing up the rear. The room is lousy with thick clouds of gaseous death, but they don't die immediately, and that's all they can ask for.
The news isn't good. The warp manifold is choked with theta gas. Neelix says they're ten minutes away from a really big bang. The emergency systems are down.
Torres handles one problem at a time. She slaps a battery pack onto a power conduit, which is just enough to jumpstart the power matrix. Soon the room begins to clear.
But the situation is still bad. Two tanks are unstable, but only one containment grid is working.
We'll seal them one at a time, says Torres, all business.
Chakotay awakens in Sickbay with a nasty headache. Doc says he can't go back to the Malon vessel in his current condition.
Doc's autopsy of Pelk hasn't finished yet. "If you want to help you can answer some questions about Mr. Pelk's death," Doc says. "I've found unidentified tissue in his wounds."
"Pelk said he was attacked, Chakotay says. Doc rolls his eyes. "Ah, yes, the Malon Bogeyman."
The computer finishes its micro-cellular analysis. The result: the Malon Bogeyman is real. Doc explains. "The tissue is saturated with theta radiation--but it's not showing signs of decay. It came from someone...or some thing...that's developed a resistance to the radiation."
Doc calls Seven of Nine. "Scan for additional life-forms aboard the Malon vessel." She says she's been running continuous scans and has found nobody other than the away team. Doc tells her to recalibrate the sensors and look for one seriously irradiated dude.
Meanwhile, back on the Malon freighter, they get the first tank stabilized. Torres orders a reroute of the containment grid to the second tank.
Plot complication. Stuff begins to explode. Power surge. "It was triggered from a workstation on this deck!" Torres shouts.
Janeway hails the away team. "We've detected an alien life-form aboard the freighter. We believe it killed Pelk."
When it rains, it pours. "Captain, we just lost power!" Torres reports.
Time for Plan B.
"We're diverting the freighter into a nearby star," Janeway tells them. "Leave the control room so we can get a lock on you."
Torres, Neelix and Fesek run toward the exit--but the door closes on them. And they can't get it open.
Seven of Nine calls Torres to warn her that an alien life form, toxic as refried hell, is moving toward their position.
The control room, meanwhile, is filling up with choking gas. And there's no other way out. It becomes impossible to see more than a few feet in front of them.
We see the four life forms on Seven's Astrometrics display--the three icons running about almost at random, the fourth moving in with steady purpose.
The music reaches a fever pitch--Danger Will Robinson Suite in B minor.
Janeway notices that the team hasn't been beamed aboard yet. Seconds are ticking away. The tanks are getting more and more unstable.
Seven of Nine shouts that the entity has entered the control room.
Welcome to FUBAR.
Choking from the blinding fumes, Torres does her best to vent the gas from the control room. Fesek offers suggestions, then goes to attempt to open the hatch manually.
Neelix, looking around as a guard of sorts, is the first to fall. The monster lashes out, and we hear Neelix give a sickly yelp.
Torres whips out her phaser, but Fesek warns her off--the gas will ignite. She holsters her weapon.
A moment later, Neelix screams. Torres calls after him--and gasps when Neelix appears, face bloody and deformed from radiation burns, too injured and in shock to speak.
"We've got to get him back to Voyager. Get that hatch open!" Torres shouts. "I'm trying!" Fesek shouts back, too absorbed in his work to notice the lumbering creature approach.
"Fesek, behind you!" Torres yells. But the monster drops Fesek like a bad habit. And heads straight for B'Elanna.
Torres snaps a large metal pipe off of something, about the size of a broom handle. She sees the shadow fade and appear, fade and appear in the clouds of vapor, moving inexorably toward her.
Torres rears back and brings the pipe down. Hard. She connects. The dull crack of metal striking bones. The shadow collapses.
But not for long.
Torres staggers back to the controls. Within twenty seconds, the ventilators are doing their job clearing the air.
Another fifteen seconds, and the Vihaar is revealed. He's an ugly muthah. Toxic Avenger indeed. The boys at Troma would be proud.
"You're a core laborer," Torres gasps. He's Malon, or was. The thick nose, the porcine features. But there's some exposed skull, rotted-away lips resulting in a permanent rictus. He can cooks a meal just by holding it. He's the stuff of nightmares and public service announcements. "Not anymore," the Vihaar says softly.
"Stay back! Don't make me kill you!" Torres shouts. (You gotta love this woman; she's not worried about dying, but of killing.)
But the monster's response is chilling. "I'm already dead."
Now would be an appropriate time for a colorful metaphor . . .
* * *
The Vihaar and B'Elanna square off. She's still got the pipe. In a normal fight she wouldn't need it, but ol' Toxie here is too radioactive to beat to death by hand without damaging herself as well.
Torres looks at the Vihaar with disgust--not for his looks, but his actions. He's even more irresponsible than regular Malon, because he's intentionally causing harm. Dumping is bad enough; causing an industrial catastrophe is far worse. "You've been sabotaging the ship!"
"There's no other way to make them understand."
Torres' eyes flare. "So that's your way of getting even--killing your crew? Causing an explosion that will contaminate other ships?"
The Vihaar shouts primally. "They poisoned meeee!" He charges B'Elanna, who ducks without much difficulty. But it has the unfortunate result of changing their relative position. Now the Vihaar is nearer the ship's controls.
Both are thrown to their knees when the freighter buckles.
Voyager launches a few more course-altering pulses at the freighter, nudging it toward a now-visible blue-green star. Tuvok reports that the freighter's now on the desired collision course.
Janeway nods and hails the away team. "We've adjusted the vessel's course. It's heading for an O-type star. You have to get out of there now."
The Vihaar growls furiously when it hears Janeway's words. "No. No!" To B'Elanna's horror, he lunges at the controls and begins entering commands.
Paris reports the bad news. The freighter has kicked in maneuvering thrusters and is changing course away from the star. Worse yet, the theta tanks will blow in only three minutes.
Janeway looks to Harry Kim, who says they can't transport the away team as long as they're still in the control room. Sighing with frustration, she hails the away team again with instructions to shut down the maneuvering thrusters and get the heck out of there.
Torres hears the order. Drenched with sweat and grime and scars, holding her metallic bludgeon, she looks almost as fearsome as the mutant Malon. "Get the hell away from there, now!" she shouts, with a killing anger.
"No! It's too late!" the Vihaar roars back, his own fury unrestrained. She backs off, and the creature returns to the controls, counteracting Voyager's efforts at every turn.
The funny thing is, this endears the creature to B'Elanna. She senses a kindred spirit. Her tone softens. She tries to reason with it, show it she understands. She keeps a respectful distance, circling the control panel, desperate to get its attention.
"Okay. Okay. Look...I know what they've done to you. They used you. You want to hurt them. Listen. Listen to me! I know...I know that you're so angry you want to destroy everything in sight! But there's another way to make them understand." Her voice becomes a plea. "I'm on your side. I can help you."
It doesn't work. The creature is poisoned by more than just radiation. It's bad to the bone with anger, resentment, and killing hate. Torres knows that look--knows how hard it is to reason with someone carrying that much rage.
Torres' own anger flares, focused and and channeled. "Innocent people are going to die if you do this!"
The Vihaar shakes his head, resigned to his fate. "No. It's over." Torres begs some more to let her help him, but there's a magma eruption behind those eyes. Last chance, Toxie.
"You can't help me," the Vihaar says. Wrong answer.
Torres gets Sammy Sosa on his hiney. She rears back and brings the rod down hard on the Vihaar, shattering its left arm. Dead or not, that's gotta hurt.
"Step away!" Torres thunders, a final warning before she taps the entire keg of industrial-grade whupass. But her plea goes unheeded; the Vihaar tries to return to the controls, and when she approaches, he takes a swing at her.
It's not even a contest. B'Elanna Torres may be whisper-thin and shorter than a Chihuahua, but the half-Klingon is also strong enough to stomp the guts out of a young Vulcan in heat. This mere Vihaar may do serious damage by stealth, but against B'Elanna in open battle he's little better than a radioactive piñata. Three or four unanswered whacks after Torres' attack begins, the Vihaar is down for the count.
Tossing the rod aside with a resounding clank, Torres leaps on the control panel to undo the damage and destroy this vessel safely.
Paris reports the good news: the freighter's thrusters are powering down. Tuvok announces a few seconds later that the freighter is back on course for the sun. Janeway shouts to B'Elanna to get into the clear.
Torres goes first to Neelix, shoulder-carrying him toward the door. She picks up Fesek next. Both are too injured to travel on their own, but Torres has enough adrenaline for three at the moment.
They run out the airlock and into the corridor.
Voyager launches the last of its course-correcting bursts, and then veers off as the immense gravitational forces embrace the freighter.
The timing could not have been closer. The tanks begin to erupt before the freighter is close enough. But nothing scrubs like a star, and by the time the massive reactive explosions are through, the system is clean.
Voyager survives with only a few sparked panels on the bridge.
Janeway looks to Ensign Kim. "The away team?" Got them, he says.
Neelix, Fesek and Torres are tended to in Sickbay. Chakotay stands near Torres, but they are not looking at each other. "Maybe the meditation's working," he says softly.
"What makes you say that?" B'Elanna, exhausted, whispers.
"From what Neelix told me, you kept your temper in check over there." Chakotay gives her a sideways glance.
Torres moves her head slightly toward him. "Don't expect me to make a habit of it," she says, sounding as dead as the Vihaar looked.
One suspects that these two still don't see, er, eye to eye.
The two become more animated when Doc approaches. He tells B'Elanna that most of her cellular degradation has been reversed, and she sighs with relief--the image of the Vihaar is vivid enough to be worth a nightmare or two.
Doc then turns to the seated Fesek. "I wish I could say the same for you--but you've suffered long-term systemic damage. Your condition will deteriorate over time," he says apologetically.
Fesek gives him a sad look. "It's an . . . occupational hazard," he says softly."
Janeway tells Fesek they've contacted another Malon transport ship and have altered course to rendezvous with them. Fesek thanks her, but wonders aloud how he'll explain what happened.
A shadow of Torres' old fire returns. "Tell them the truth." All eyes turn to her. In her present condition, looking as she does, her words have greater import. "Tell them the Vihaar is no myth."
The undertone is clear. You tell them--or I will. You owe that core worker that much.
B'Elanna trudges through the door to her quarters. Awash in darkness, leaning against walls and doorframes and furniture at every opportunity, she finally slumps to a seated position. After a deep breath, she begins to undress.
Removing the last of clothes in the bathroom, B'Elanna rests her weary head against the mirror, cradled in her hands. But even with her eyes shut, she cannot escape the images--those last terrible moments when she engaged the Vihaar. The one person she really didn't want to harm, who most understood the intensity of her anger--but who was so far gone that it considered no path other than violence. The Vihaar had been willing to die--but not without taking many others with him. She had killed to save lives. She channeled the fire that raged within her, directed it. It gave her courage and strength.
But after the fire of fury comes the ashes of regret. The mirror doesn't lie--the stains of her ordeal cover every inch of her, scar her features.
She feels dirty.
Trudging to the sonic shower, she leans against the wall for a few moments. Then, eyes closed, she orders it to activate.
Turning around, B'Elanna takes a deep, cleansing breath as the cleansing sonic waves vaporize the sweat, blood, dust--and tears.
I'm not going to say a great deal about this one.
I enjoyed "Juggernaut," but the timing seemed odd. In many episodes, timing isn't a big issue, but given the Torres plot a case could be made that this should have aired earlier in the season.
This episode has direct parallels to "Extreme Risk." Colleagues intervening to protect her from herself. A moment of quiet somber reflection in the bathroom. A final moment of revelation that suggests things will improve. The conditions are exactly opposite--in "Extreme Risk" her big problem was that she couldn't feel anything; in "Juggernaut" she was a little too in touch with her emotions. In "Extreme Risk," she was hurting mostly herself; in "Juggernaut" she lashed out at others. And of course, in "Extreme Risk," Tom Paris was the most clueless boyfriend in existence; in "Juggernaut" he said and did exactly the right things.
In many ways, Juggernaut is a nice cap on Extreme Risk--or it could be considered a weigh station on the road to recovery. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more "(wo)man in the Mirror" scenes with B'Elanna. It's a good device to use with her.
However, a lot has passed since "Extreme Risk," and in most of them Torres wasn't what I'd call in dire need of meditative sessions. The "sudden history" issue gives this a bit of a false ring--why would one broken camera be the straw that broke the targ's back? We know about her "long history" of irritability--but she's hardly alone in that regard. (Scotty and O'Brien are known for their own gruff temperaments, but frequent derogation of Celtic culture was not a part of TOS or DS9.) It's rarely mentioned, but B'Elanna is darned young for a chief engineer, and is under a great deal of responsibility and pressure. yes, she's not very diplomatic. But on most ships, they're smart enough not to expect the engineers to BE diplomats. (Just read Dilbert. Marketing, Management and Engineering are hardly the same species.)
One very good thing to note: never--not once--did anyone blame B'Elanna's attitude on her Klingon-ness. I was thrilled by that. It's easy to blame one side of the family or the other, but I think the big issue with Torres is the conflict between the two parents, the two cultures, the two completely different sets of priorities. As with Mr. Spock, the major struggle is in finding a balance, and integrating them into a unique, confident, non-weirded- out whole. Heck, that's the very definition of growing up, isn't it?
Of course, "This is Starfleet. Weird is part of the job." On TNG, they used Counselors for when things REALLY got weird--and on the whole I think it was a good idea. Here, they have to work their problems out on their own, or they get by with a little help from their friends.
I'm not sure how I felt about Tuvok's approach to meditative counseling. Calling B'Elanna "miss turtlehead" certainly got the point across, but one hardly needs to provoke Torres again just to point out that she is easily provoked. Even so, I think she can benefit from the exercises--as we saw here. (In fact, I think the whole crew could benefit from daily tai-chi (or even Tae-Bo) workouts. Worf, Beverly and Deanna were frequently seen doing so on the Enterprise-D. Worf hasn't done much of it on DS9--and he's been far grumpier lately. Coincidence?) Chakotay also seemed to be looking for reasons to chew Torres out about her temper--yet continued to put her in situations where she was almost guaranteed to be irritated. There's an old joke. A guy goes into a doctor saying, "it hurts when I do that." Doc says, "stop doing that." If you know Torres is going to spit fire whenever she's in the same room as the Malon, ASSIGN SOMEONE ELSE. This isn't rocket science.
And Tuvok's repeated efforts to take the lead on the Malon vessel seemed misplaced. They've trusted Torres with assignments like this many times. To treat her like an untrustworthy newbie now is a bit hard to follow. If they were that concerned about her, they should have sent someone else in the first place. This seemed more a concern of Chakotay and Tuvok, not Janeway--she did cut B'Elanna off a couple of times on the bridge, but that was appropriate--Torres was out of line, and when called on it, she backed off. But that never impacted Janeway's faith in her to get the job done. That confidence was nice to see.
But it is drama, and drama thrives on conflict. Guess we're stuck.
Performance-wise, I give high marks to Roxann Dawson and Robert Beltran in particular. I didn't much care for Chakotay, but I thought Beltran did well with what he was given. Ron Canada as Fesek did a fine job. McNeill's scene with Dawson was very enjoyable--it's the sort of short but meaningful moment that gives us good news about the Paris/Torres relationship. It shows they're learning how to read each other better, getting more comfortable with each other. They know when to quarrel, and when to support each other. Thumbs up.
I generally enjoyed this episode. I liked the more textured look at the Malon. I don't like them much more than I used to, but I am glad to see that there's more to Malon society than bringing down neighborhood property values. I had some sympathy for Fesek and his friend with the toy. it would have been intriguing to see a bit of Malon Prime, maybe a snapshot of the family. It must be some place if someone would shorten their life and leave that paradise to preserve. Who knows--maybe one of these days they'll encounter a Malon in a position to change thigns.
But it's not like we don't have similar situations here. There are many high-risk jobs right here on planet earth.
Anyway. I'm not going to wax poetic about this episode. For that, may I introduce the guest review. My thanks to Heather Jarman for her willingness to help out.
* * *
Let's get the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" issues off the table first off
The Voyager Virgin whips out her notepad and takes a look at the evening's specials. On tonight's menu:
Juggernaut: 1. an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu; his worshippers
reputedly threw themselves to be crushed under the wheels of a large cart
carrying his idol 2. a) anything that exacts blind devotion b)any terrible,
irresistible force. 3. A really cool B'Elanna Torres centered Voyager episode.
Tonight, in the "Juggernaut" category, we've got a wide assortment of choices. You've got your standard action kickin' butt and taking names "A" plot with a smattering of mythological allusion and Freudian garnish. But to start off with, let me tell you about our basic meat and potatoes Blue Plate special:
Roxann Dawson owned this hour. Her performance was beautifully crafted and nuanced. "Juggernaut" is a perfect bookend to "Extreme Risk." Together, those two episodes are Emmy caliber. Brava!
Each cast member played his or her crucial roles well. Russ, Mulgrew, and Beltran gave credible performances that provided Roxann with energy and conflict to play off of. Hearing Janeway voice support for B'Elanna leading the away team after Chakotay's accident was a nice touch. We haven't seen Janeway showing confidence in Torres' abilities for a long time. The Kathryn Janeway in this episode came closer to my version of the authentic Kathryn Janeway. Nice to have her back.
Of special note was Ethan Phillips' Neelix in this episode. As in the aforementioned "Extreme Risk," the Talaxian acts as a foil for B'Elanna -- a neutralizer. The addition of Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok, Tom or Harry all might shift the half-Klingon's pH towards alkaline or acid, but Neelix brings B'Elanna into balance. No Voyager hour would be complete without a few nits. Let's get the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" issues off the table.
Initially, "Juggernaut" skirted closely to the same plot mistake that plagued "Vis a Vis": introducing a character issue (in "Vis a Vis" it was Tom's boredom with Voyager, dissatisfaction with his job, feeling trapped by B'Elanna etc.) that seems reasonable enough, but lacks support from other episodes. So B'Elanna broke the Doctor's camera. Who among us wouldn't be annoyed with an uninvited guest buzzing around and getting in our way? We know B'Elanna's a hothead. But what more can they give us that makes Chakotay's ordering her to "meditate" more credible? This issue, however, was not enough to keep me from loving this episode. I just suspended my disbelief and figured there was more to it than a photographic essay on "A Day in the Life of the Warp Core."
Strictly speaking, this episode would have functioned more effectively if they had aired it in place of an episode like "Nothing Human," or even as a companion piece to "Gravity." Earlier in the season, we observed substantive interpersonal conflicts plaguing Lieutenant Torres. Her butting heads with Janeway in "Extreme Risk" and "Nothing Human" comes immediately to mind. It also stands to reason she didn't earn brownie points with the captain when she encouraged Tom to destroy the Monean oxygen plant in "Thirty Days." Consequently, an episode back in sweeps revolving around B'Elanna taming her inner demons might have created a more visible, concrete arc.
But I'll take what I can get. With nine principal characters divvying up 26 episodes (anticipating that at least a third of those will revolve around Seven) the pickings become slim. I'm just unlucky enough to have chosen a favorite character that a)Braga isn't living vicariously through (Tom) and b)Braga isn't enamoured with (Seven).
From a scripting standpoint, Fuller's story is nicely paced. The action moves briskly and I never found myself watching the clock. I enjoyed the suspense remaining uncertain until the end about how the plot would resolve itself, a nice change from recent Voyager outings ("Think Tank"). With Janeway's Plan B, I worried that the Fuller might fall back on a deux ex machina, rendering the Away Team's struggle against the elements a futile exercise. For B'Elanna's sake, I wanted her fight to have meaning. Fuller's ability to integrate Voyager and Torres into the final resolution knitted the plot together beautifully.
"Juggernaut's" weakness was Fuller's dependence on dialogue exchanges, not action to move the character development. If Janeway, Chakotay or Tuvok had pulled B'Elanna aside one more time and admonished her to keep her temper in check, I might have decked them myself. What (especially Chakotay) could have accomplished with a gesture or a word turned into sotto voce tete de tetes. In this case, less was more. A simple shot of B'Elanna meditating on the Malon vessel accomplished what Chakotay's speechifying couldn't: showing us how hard B'Elanna worked to keep herself in check. This is film, people. Use the visual.
Along similar lines, I'm always an advocate for leaving the big moments "unseen." The old fade-out as the train enters the tunnel technique. Initially, I thought there might be room for more of this in "Juggernaut."
Act Five found me frustrated that the bogeyman wasn't a mythological beast or a supernatural force, but actually a disgruntled employee. A Delta Quadrant postal worker. My first assumption was that if the writers (and director) hadn't shown Mr. Toxic Waste, the audience could draw their own conclusions. Is he a figment of the crew's imagination or of B'Elanna's? Or is he a mutant created in the primordial wastes (along the lines of "The X-Files" Flukeman)? By bringing the guy out in all his ugly splendor, the mystery vanished and I actually said, out loud, "This is it?"
However, the more I considered the control room scene, I realized that B'Elanna's enemy couldn't be an incorporeal entity, rather, she needed to come face to face with something more tangible: the physical manifestation of her own anger.
Staring back at her with his blistered, yellow pustules, he had not only been poisoned by the freighter's toxic theta radiation, the toxins of his own anger blinded him to the selfishness of his own desperation. His fury possessed him so deeply that he failed to acknowledge the horror his actions could potentially unleash on the sector. Only a mammoth explosion, a physical and metaphorical manifestation of what boiled in his soul could possibly gratify the monster raging within him.
What B'Elanna saw personified in the dying core worker was her own fate should she allow the toxin of her temper to poison her life. Directed, her passions empower her. Tuvok perceives her capacity for strong emotion and tries to help her channel it. "Your anger was a source of strength. It protected you, gave you courage." Take a weakness and make it a strength. Tuvok wants to guide her to self-understanding thus enabling her to use her anger as a tool. Otherwise, she risks being run over by the "juggernaut" of her temper.
The Vulcan's statement, "The point of this exercise is not to atone for past transgressions but to prevent future ones," proves to be prophetic. In the control room, B'Elanna finds herself in a tenuous situation. An alien with more brute force than she has and armed with a greater fury gains the upper hand. Should B'Elanna unleash her anger without safeties in place, the results could be catastrophic. She could have easily become consumed with "making him pay" just like the mouthy Daniel Byrd who called her Miss Turtlehead on the playground. Instead, when B'Elanna and "the monster" engage in combat, she attempts to use the Tuvok's techniques. Reason. Self-Control. Dialogue. In the end her anger gives her strength, it protects her and gives her the courage to take charge.
Like Tuvok, Tom knows B'Elanna's storminess. He accepts her "temper" as an integral part of who she is; her tempestuousness, her fiery nature figures into his attraction for her ("Ha! Argument? Us? So, I hear it's been a short fuse kind of day"). His concerns about her anger are more personal. Recognizing that her tendency to transform from a smoldering ember to a roaring brush fire compromises her safety, he expresses a good natured, but serious concern for her before she leaves for the freighter.
A complete analysis of any fiction always involves copiously using the word "Why." In this case, why did the writers elect to include the hallway scene between Tom and B'Elanna? After months of hearing Tom's laments ("Gravity" comes immediately to mind) why this episode? Why this moment? I see this scene as the "Juggernaut" equivalent of B'Elanna's holodeck pep talk in "Thirty Days." In Tom's moment of crisis, B'Elanna encourages him to believe in himself and his capacity to enact change. Now, as B'Elanna wrestles with her own crisis, Tom comes to her, reassuring her that she has the capacity--the strength even--to lick her demons:
Paris (referring to her 'short fuse day'): Nothing you can't handle.
Torres: If you think so.
Paris: I know so.
Torres: I suppose it's always going to be like this.
Paris : Like what?
Torres: Me against the galaxy.
Paris: Well, the galaxy doesn't stand a chance.
The soft, gentle kiss at the end of the scene punctuates Tom's belief in her. "You can do this." I'd like to believe that when B'Elanna plunges into the freighter's depths, it's partially the strength she draws from his confidence in her that sustains her.
Purely speculating, I might go as far to suggest is that B'Elanna functions as an emotional conduit for Tom. While he suppresses his anger and masks it with sarcasm, misbehavior--or even alcohol (Ex Post Facto)--B'Elanna gives her feelings free reign. She's an emotional open circuit, a classic red Yang. With her as his lover, Tom, a perfect blue Yin, accesses an unfamiliar part of himself. Together, they complete the Taoist circle, they fuse the water and fire natures giving B'Elanna a chance to quench her flame and Tom a chance to light his. However, left alone, the Yin will shrivel and freeze from lack of warmth; the Yang will burn to the ground. Tom knows that B'Elanna must find internal balance if she wants to survive.
"I Love You Just the Way You Are"
I've heard fans grouse that trying to tame B'Elanna's temper somehow reflects a lack of understanding or respect for her Klingon nature. I couldn't disagree more.
Unlike some, I don't consider anger a "Klingon" trait. Klingons are lusty, fighting warriors, more like great bears than spitting cobras. Though Klingons appear to have short fuses, they channel their intensity into battle and love. Nothing I've seen of Gowron, Martok or Worf convinces me that the Klingon race is a geyser of untamed emotion. Rather, Klingon souls long for poetry and music. While certainly not typical Jane Austen houseguests, Klingons embrace romance and courtship with as much ritual as Miss Elizabeth Bennett does.
If one is searching for biological causation of B'Elanna's temper, one could focus equally on her human father's Spanish heritage. Whether her genes come through Espana or Latin America, Latin tradition is equally marked with passion and violence (just check out Laura Esquival's Like Water for Chocolate or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude if you want further evidence. If books aren't your style, go rent a Zorro movie. Then we'll talk.).
"Moving on, to tantalize your taste buds in a totally different way, let me steer you towards a more sophisticated entrée--maybe pan-seared Campbellian philosophy in a Jungian mole with a side of coconut rice for starters…."
Frame it however you want. "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death," or perhaps a plunge into a garbage compactor in the depths of the Death Star. Maybe it's as simple as Young Goodman Brown taking a walk through the forest searching for his beloved wife, Faith. Gandalf losing his life in the Mines of Moria. To rise above all things, you must descend below all things. Part of the hero's journey is to challenge the darkness and survive.
Torres' trek into the Black Hole began with her receiving the bleak news of the Maquis' demise, her adopted family. Overcome with depression, she shut out those who loved her and that which she loved and came to place where only physical pain could pierce the numbness. To borrow from Dante:
Midway life's journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
That wood, so harsh, dismal and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes fear now into my breast.
Fear of being alone. Fear of loss. All of it fell upon her and almost buried her. Gradually, she's emerged from the cold place. Her frostbitten limbs have warmed and she's rejoining the world of the living. Yet her journey isn't complete. She still has to crawl through the refuse of her agony and find her way to rebirth. Coping with the Maquis' destruction, facing the mocking voices of peers who told her she wasn't good enough, dealing with her father's abandonment, her resentment of her mother, her failure to graduate from the Academy. B'Elanna's wounds are still open and bleeding. To triumph, she has to examine those wounds, one by one, heal them and move forward.
Using Joseph Conrad's model, "Juggernaut" follows Torres' journey from safe, sane civilization (Voyager) through the gradually more toxic climes of the Malon freighter. Along the way, she loses companions, the pressure increases and all pretense of control evaporates. Just as Heart of Darkness uses the Freudian model of the Super Ego, Ego and the Id, "Juggernaut" explores these same psychological territories. In the beginning, she faces the Super Ego--Janeway, Starfleet, a sense of right and wrong. Tuvok and Chakotay helping her regulate her temper. She leaves Voyager and moves into the Ego--Torres' conscious self, her self-perception and understanding. Gradually, she strips down (literally and figuratively) until she's left with the most basic parts of herself. Finally, in the end she confronts the Id-- her instincts, the lava river that threatens to erupt and consume her. She stares into the fire--the "vihaar" and beats the monster into submission, ironically both an instinctual and conscious choice, the marriage of Ego, Super Ego and Id. Janeway orders her to get the thrusters off line (Super Ego) Torres is aware of and managing her own feelings (Ego) but she also feels the power of anger (Id). She comes away from her battle scathed, but alive. Triumphant in the sense that she faces the blackness and lives.
The final scene, she strips away the last reminders of her journey. We see her grimy skin, her filthy clothes, her exhausted posture. Naked, she walks into the sonic shower and cleanses her physical body. Putting this in archetypal terms, she's being baptized, having her "sins" stripped away. She will emerge purified and ready to begin her "hero's quest," whatever her Holy Grail might be.
Putting all this symbolic muckety-muck in perspective, I hope B'Elanna's finally cast out the torment that has haunted her. That she can now craft a future without being lost in her past.
For dessert, maybe a little Personal Introspection in a chocolate pop culture sauce. Rich, but an excellent choice as the piece de resistance…
Putting it Together
One of my favorite Billy Joel songs comes off his mid-70's album, the title track from "The Stranger."
"Well we all have a face, that we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.
Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk and some are leather
They're the faces of the stranger but we love to try them on."
Most theology embraces the idea of the need to conquer our animalistic natures. Call it the "natural man," call it "the stranger" call it the "Id." Whatever label you assign the place in yourself where reason ends and instincts reign, that part of your soul's landscape must be dealt with at some point in a lifetime.
In these supposedly highly civilized days when the mind's power can create ideas that travel instantaneously around the world--when our technology has provided us more time for introspection, we still haven't figured out how to quell the hurricane of hurt and fury that we all carry around inside us. Witness Littleton, Colorado if you doubt this. Listen to some propaganda coming out of the Balkans.
What do I take from "Juggernaut?" Let me borrow from a contemporary German philosopher to express my thoughts:
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Nietzsche
A friend told me that maybe B'Elanna might have been looking into her abyss and got an unnerving look at what might be gazing back. She fought with the monsters and for a split second, when she before she stood in the sonic shower, she felt what it was like to be a monster. That kind of power can be intoxicating. But she wanted to liberate herself from that contamination. Physically and metaphorically cleansing herself of the monster's presence.
Staring down into the abyss isn't a bad thing -- we all need to do it to be whole people (that old Socratic line about an unexamined life not being worth living).
The trick is being able to know when to avert your eyes and walk away.
* * *
Jim again. To sum up, on a 0-4 scale I'd give this (* * *).
Next week: Janeway roots around her family tree.