Good day, and welcome to Delta Blues. I'm DangerMom, your guest announcer for this week's installment. Review Boy is out of town, so filling in we have Starfleet Journal columnist and self-professed Voyager Virgin Heather Jarman. Taking a page (or two!) from Father Jim, Heather will be providing a thorough breakdown and detailed analysis of Voyager's most recent episode, "Course:Oblivion."
The good reverend's standard warnings will hold true: spoilers ahead, plus loads of personal opinions and reactions. One note for our regular viewers and readers: Ms. Jarman is a card-carrying member of P/T fandom, so be prepared some fervent viewpoints! Nothing like a little romantic bias to spice up a review, I always say. She's promised to keep her "ooing" and "ahhing" to a minimum so as not to nauseate those of you failing to share her enthusiasm!
Yet Heather will bring her sharp mind and keen wit along as well, to provide you with a stellar review in the finest story-telling tradition of Delta Blues.
Uncle Jimbo will be back as soon as a new Voyager episode airs (we can expect at least two weeks of repeats, folks). In the meantime, it's Heather's show.
Lieutenants Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres tie the knot but their holographic honeymoon is cut short by a phenomenon that breaks down the U.S.S. Voyager's infrastructure and disintegrates not only the ship but the crew.
Perched atop cascading steps of sugar and shortening, the Target 5-inch Tom and B'Elanna collectable action figures proudly proclaim, "We've got ourselves a wedding!"
Woo-hoo. PT4EVR's everywhere throw up high-fives as honeymoon fanfic possibilities send synapses firing across the fruited plain.
The Harry Kim Trio playing "Heart and Soul" serenades the celebrating crew as Tuvok's security detail has been drafted to dispense champagne to the milling crowd. Neelix considers a silver platter, covered with little net baggies, tied with ribbon.
"You're sure this rice isn't supposed to be cooked? Steamed, fried?" he says dubiously.
Ever the font of information, the Doc sets him straight. "The idea is to shower the couple with a symbol of good fortune--not garnish them like a roast chicken." He pulls out his holo-camera. "Smile."
Neelix complies but Seven has the "yet another annoying human socialization ritual" look on her face. This girl needs some champagne.
"Rice, anyone?" Neelix resumes his Martha Stewart duties.
Without any fanfare, the door hiss open revealing a calm, composed B'Elanna Torres, Voyager's latest red-head(!) on the arm of surrogate father and mentor, Chakotay, both in dress uniform.
"Red Alert," Neelix clues in the band.
The Harry Kim Trio launches into the "Bridal March" in the nick of time.
Mama Janeway, eyes sparkling with delight at the prospect of her two favorite delinquents tying the knot, gives her helmboy one last chance to jump out the airlock. "This is it, Tom. Your bachelor days are over."
Eyes trained on his bride-to-be, Tom replies dreamily, "Not a moment too soon."
Annette in Forest Grove, OR single-handedly topples an aging Oak in her front yard with her exhale. And you all thought it was a shifting jet stream. Shows how much you know…
"Second thoughts?" teases Kathryn.
In an awed whisper, almost as if he can't believe he's standing here, he says, "Second…third…fourth…"
Apparently, Tom's not alone. "I never thought I'd see the day," the Doctor remarks.
Sour Grapes Seven can't let Doc have the last word. "Given the volatile nature of their relationship one might have predicted homicide rather than matrimony."
Sounds like our kids kept happy on a steady diet of broken clavicles and hurled furniture. You gotta love those Klingon mating practices.
Tuvok, the closet romantic, adds, "When it comes to affairs of the human heart, it is wise to look beyond logic."
Task-oriented Captain Janeway begins the ceremony. "We're gathered here today, not as Starfleet officers, but as friends and family, to celebrate the marriage of two of Voyager's finest. B'Elanna has asked me to forego the rigors of Klingon pain sticks in favor of a more traditional ceremony."
Best man Harry Kim interjects, "They're saving the pain sticks for the honeymoon."
The crowd snickers knowingly; B'Elanna and Tom join in the smiles.
Janeway's not going to let this degenerate into bachelor party humor so she quickly refocuses the crowd's attention. Marriage first. Honeymoon later. "As Captain, the honor of joining these two people has fallen to me. But before I declare them husband and wife, Tom and B'Elanna have prepared their own vows."
The moment of Truth. Parisites everywhere are hanging on their remotes.
Wearing his most sincere, honest Tom Paris face, one of Voyager's most eligible bachelors looks deeply into his beloved's eyes. "I still don't know what I've done to deserve you. But--but whatever it is, I'll try to keep doing it. And I promise to stand by you, to honor you, till death do us part."
Janeway prompts. "Ensign--"
Still thinking about painsticks, Harry mutters, "Hmmm?"
"The ring," she hisses.
"Oh." Kim fumbles about until he produces a simple gold band and hands it off to his best friend.
Those long, graceful fingers take her small, almost delicate hand and slide the ring onto her fourth finger. "May this ring be the symbol of our eternal love."
In a strong, almost incredulous tone, B'Elanna begins her vows. "You stood by me . . . when most people would have run for the nearest airlock. You were willing to see past my shortcomings, and to take all the bumps and bruises that came along with it. You made me a better person. Even though I put up one hell of a fight. I look forward to our journey together."
Janeway cues Chakotay. "Commander."
Smiling Daddy Chak hands dutifully hands his daughter another gold band.
Gently, she places it on Tom's finger. "May this ring be a symbol of our eternal love."
Once Tom sets his mind to a task, he's pretty focused and the wedding is no exception: he swoops in for the kiss--
Parisites everywhere remind themselves to breathe…
Ever the stickler for protocol, the Captain calls an 'abort' on this mission. "Not so fast." Tom and B'Elanna look at her with anticipation. Smiling, Janeway proceeds. "Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris--"
Yes, you read that correctly. Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris. We not only missed the proposal and engagement, we missed the promotion.
"--Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres. With the power vested in my by Starfleet Command, and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife." A pause.
Tom and B'Elanna have their eyes trained on Mama Kate, waiting for her blessing.
Janeway gives at her conn officer and chief engineer her warmest maternal smile. "Now, Tom."
Laughter and applause erupt as the tempest-tossed twosome meet in a lip lock.
"Bravo!" Janeway cheers. She's a sucker for a happy ending.
Unknown Ensign #8 passes off a bouquet to the new Mrs. Paris. Following an ancient earth tradition, she tosses it over her shoulder.
Poetic justice dictates that Sour Grapes catches it.
A big fan of irony, the Doctor immediately congratulates the Borg.
Not amused, she asks, "For what?"
"You may not want to know," the Vulcan replies before the Doctor can insert his foot in his mouth.
Grateful Janeway's PDA edict from "Scientific Method" has been voided, Tom and B'Elanna do the old tonsil tickle front and center while their fellow crewman prepare a celebratory rice shower.
The Harry Kim Trio resumes their lounge act, as the camera s l o w s w a a y d o w n. Smiling happy people throwing rice. Jovial party sounds dominate the soundtrack.
As the rice hits the ground, the rug begins to buckle, allowing the grains to pass through the floor into a Jefferies Tube. Either my blood to Nyquil ratio is too high, or that tube is warping and waving like a metallic surf.
The Happy Couple heads off to work up a good old fashioned rough and tumble sweat…
An exterior ship shot reveals Voyager has some sweaty action underway herself as the ship appears to be bubbling very much like the Jefferies tube.
Captain's log, Stardate 52586.3: We've had a lot to celebrate lately--Tom and B'Elanna's wedding, Ensign Harper's new baby, and the continued health of our warp core drive which has taken us within striking distance of home.
Janeway and Chakotay are having their customary morning briefing. Armed with her hefty mug of liquid sanity, Janeway's ready to take on the world.
"In this case the shortest path is a straight line. We'll pass right through the center of the Milky Way," Chakotay updates her.
"And be in sector 001 within two years," she notes happily.
Equally smug, Chakotay agrees. "More or less."
"You had Seven double-check the calculations?"
"Two years, 11 days, six hours--provided we continue to operate at peak efficiency." (Who's counting, anyway?)
"Naturally," she concedes, but our Kathryn always has a hidden agenda. "Of course, if we operate at peak efficiency we'll be missing some interesting phenomena along the way--an anomalous gradient to the curvature of space; unusual bioharmonic readings from a binary system we'll reach about six months from now."
That's my girl. Even her straight lines have curves.
Chakotay knows her and smiles. "The scientist in you can't resist stopping to look."
Scientific phenomena to Janeway is like sex to Bill Clinton. Simply irresistible. "It would only add two or three months. Do you think the crew would mutiny?"
What the heck. What's another three months when you've been gone for five years?
"On the contrary. Everyone'll jump at the chance for some last-minute exploration." The final fix before they all get assigned desk jobs at Starfleet headquarters, I suppose.
"Everyone...Except Seven." The party pooper.
Always the bouncer, Chakotay protects his boss. "Let your first officer deal with the personnel problems."
Wearing his morale officer hat, Neelix tries to seduce Tom with various honeymoon trips. "Here's a lovely program modeled after a mountain resort on the fifth moon of Cytrax--just you, B'Elanna...and the crickets."
Tom is puzzled. "Crickets?"
"Cytraxian crickets. Their song is reputed to be an auditory aphrodisiac."
The confident, knowing smile of a man who's just--well, experienced painsticks--appears on his face. "Aha. Well, between you and me--B'Elanna and I don't need aphrodisiacs."
Neelix grins. "Ah. Well." He chuckles. "There's always the beaches of Ahmedeen-- windsurfing on a sea of liquid argon."
"I was hoping for someplace a little more down-to-earth." Tom's not impressed.
"Well, it's your honeymoon. Just how down-to-earth did you mean?"
"Earth." A pause. "I was thinking Chicago in the Roaring '20s--Speakeasies, flappers, the Charleston."
Hot, smooth jazz. Long strands of knotted pearls and shimmering satin dresses. Tom in the same tux Redford wore in the The Sting.
Hey. I definitely approve.
Neelix, however, is unimpressed. "If that's what you want."
"What? Is there a problem?"
"No, of course not, but we're so close to earth I thought you might want to try something a little more exotic." Right, you ninny. It's like visiting Cairo and avoiding the pyramids. Or eating at McDonalds in downtown Milan. Take advantage of the local culture.
Tom is unpersuaded. "Let me let you in on a little secret, Neelix. Earth has the best vacation spots in the galaxy. It's got the cultures, the climates, the history, the people. It has everything you ever want in a planet."
Last night's horizontal tango action must have been mind-bogglingly spectacular for Tom to have become such a Beaver Cleaver optimist so quickly. He's a little too chipper. Not a hint of the smart-mouthed cynic in sight.
"You sound like a travel brochure." Even Neelix recognizes an infomercial when he sees one.
Laughing, Tom corrects him. "No. No. Just a native."
"Oh, and make sure the deuterium manifolds are never opened wider than 600 microns." B'Elanna Torres reluctantly leaves her beloved child in the hands of…
Seven of Nine. "I am familiar with the specifications."
"Are you familiar with how temperamental the isolitic converter can be?" B'Elanna doubts the Borg's parenting skills. After all, Seven's never been anything but a babysitter.
Almost, but not quite exasperated, Seven answers in the affirmative.
"Most important, the enhanced warp drive. With the dilithium matrix running hot all the time you have to watch it like a hawk." Torres hovers anxiously.
"There is no point in providing me with knowledge I already possess." The phone number's on the fridge. I'll call you if she needs surgery, okay, Mrs. Paris?
B'Elanna concedes she is over-protective. "I guess I am being a little overcautious. I've just, uh, never been away from Engineering for more than a couple of days...Certainly never a week."
"My engineering abilities are more than sufficient. Enjoy your honeymoon." GET OUT OF HERE ALREADY, WOULD YOU!
Not content to let Seven have the last word, B'Elanna makes sure Seven knows whose the real mother in here. "You may understand the iso-dynamics of this engine, but I don't think you understand its personality."
"Personality." She's dubious. "It is a propulsion device."
B'Elanna's not reassured. You see! I knew this was a bad idea, she's practically spitting. "That's my point. It's not just a device. It-it has its own quirks, its own...Its own moods."
An alarm sends a wake up call.
A quick assessment reveals the problem that Seven correctly diagnoses. "It's just a minor fluctuation in a subsidiary injector port. I will take care of it."
Never a woman to be left out of the action, B'Elanna insists, "I'm going with you."
Now, Seven is annoyed. "Lieutenant, you are on leave."
Once again, Lieutenant Torres one ups her. "Not for another 20 minutes."
Who needs "The View" when we can get candid girl talk in a Voyager Jefferies tube?
Speaking of the view, Mrs. Paris and Seven wiggle and crawl side-by-side through the conduit. Not to leave the men deprived, the camera takes copious advantage of both women's well-formed derierres in relative close-up. Wolf-whistles in high tech start-ups from Silicon Valley, CA to Harvard Yard set half the dogs in the nation to howling. Geeks everywhere hurriedly wipe their fogged coke-bottle lenses to avoid missing a blessed moment.
Always looking to make Seven squirm, B'Elanna teases her. "So, who's the lucky guy? You caught the bouquet. That means you're next in line for the altar."
"Yes, the Doctor informed me of that archaic human superstition," she says with disdain.
"How about Harry Kim?" B'Elanna suggests. Like many married people--especially newly married people--B'Elanna feels the need to share her joy at joining this great and noble institution with everyone around her. The loyal friend she is, I'm sure she'd love to see Harry Kim take the plunge so she and Tom have someone to double-date with.
Kim/Seven fans everywhere throw back a shot of Mountain Dew. Score!
But Seven's a Cosmo girl. "I fail to see the benefit of monogamous relationships." And I wouldn't settle down with Harry if he were the last man on the ship. So there.
"So you want to stay single?" B'Elanna's beginning to sound like a matchmaking yenta.
"If you mean remain open to social situations with a wide variety of individuals, then yes." Play the field. Sow her oats.
B'Elanna doesn't buy Seven's reasoning. Has she ever? "I'm married--I'm not going into stasis for the rest of my life. No, I plan to have..."
"I do not wish to be dependent on anyone. By marrying, one limits one's romantic interactions to a single individual--a circumstance which implies extreme monogamy." Too bad this isn't playing out on a comm link in the mess hall. Seven would have a waiting line of eager volunteers willing to keep her from embracing extreme monogamy (with Brannon Braga probably leading the pack).
Unsurprised by Seven's complete contrariness, B'Elanna concludes sarcastically, "I'm glad we had this little talk."
Without comment, Seven punches in the security codes to open the next tube's door. The little bugger is unwilling to comply.
B'Elanna sighs. "Try the manual release."
The door opens to wavy world.
"I thought you said it was a minor fluctuation," B'Elanna states petulantly. See. You don't know everything, Seven.
Seven states the obvious. "This entire Jefferies tube is losing molecular cohesion."
"I guess the honeymoon's off," Torres announces, leaving the P/T legions shrieking in protest.
You seriously didn't think they would actually show them on a honeymoon did you?
Janeway no longer seems concerned about bent space. She's got bigger anomalies closer to home to cope with now.
"It's our warp field. The enhanced drive is emitting some form of subspace radiation that's affecting Voyager's infrastructure," Engineer Torres explains.
Tuvok elaborates "It's beginning to break down the molecular bonds in all surrounding sections."
"We're seeing early stages of the effect in the warp core. Reaction chamber, injector ports--they're all showing signs of de-cohesion," B'Elanna continues.
This sounds grim.
Harry Kim, the same Harry Kim who sent Voyager to an icy death in Timeless, protests, "It doesn't make any sense. We knew about the subspace radiation and ran dozens of simulations before we brought the new drive on-line."
Janeway has the obvious solution. "Have you tried taking the core off-line?"
Alas. "It's not stopping the problem," Torres responds.
Action Kate gets into gear. "Try to isolate the cause of this and stabilize the sections that have already been affected. Dismissed."
"Let's take another look at this." Chakotay stands by his fearless leader in these trying times.
The double bed featured prominently in the foreground appears to be the perfect place for B'Elanna Torres to toss her coat as she enters her new quarters. Talk about a bummer way to begin newlywed bliss.
"Computer. Begin Chief Engineer's Log, Supplemental. I've spent the last four hours analyzing the warp field schematics but I'm still no closer to finding out what's going wrong."
Gasping, B'Elanna wraps her arms around herself as she begins shivering. "Computer, did it just get colder in here?"
Majel Barrett's comforting voice states, "Negative."
Regardless of the species, women always have an issue with cold. "Raise the temperature by five degrees."
B'Elanna stripped down to her tank top, heads for the bathroom where she looks in the mirror. Her eyes fill with horror. Her face appears to be blistering--and bubbling.
After a hard day at work, Tom and Harry head home.
Like you had to ask, Harry? The man's supposed to be on his honeymoon. This isn't bowling night on the Holodeck.
Unapologetically, Tom answers, "Ah, can't join you tonight--dinner with B'Elanna." And when we're finished with dinner, we might actually eat too.
Not even half seriously, Harry teases, "Married one day and you're already domesticated."
Chuckling, Tom veers off to his quarters. "Jealous?"
Harry smiles. Okay. Maybe a tad bid envious.
The new husband wastes no more time in the hall. "Good night, Harry."
Tom enters his quarters. Hi, honey. I'm home.
"B'Elanna? If we're going to live together we're going to have to compromise on the temperature. Computer, reset environmental controls to standard."
The eternal combat between men and women: who controls the temperature on the electric blanket.
When she doesn't answer, Tom looks puzzled. He hears her groaning in the other room. "B'Elanna!"
Tom finds her, doubled-up on the bathroom floor, shivering and trembling uncontrollably. He scoops her into his arms and tries to comfort her, while simultaneously attempting to swallow his own fear.
"Shhh…" he whispers into her hair.
A long shot of sickbay reveals scads of Voyager crewman, each laid up with leprous-like decomposition.
The door opens and Tom rushes in, supporting his wife in his arms.
Worriedly, the Doctor orders, "Bring her in, quickly. It looks like we've got an epidemic on our hands."
* * *
A familiar scene: B'Elanna, unconscious in a bio-bed while a panicked Tom runs a tricorder over her from head to toe.
To avoid needlessly worrying the masses, Janeway and the Doctor huddle off to the side.
Scientist Kate inquires, "Acute cellular degradation?"
The Doctor confirms her suspicions. "Their chromosomes are breaking down at the molecular level."
"Proximity to the warp field," the Captain concludes.
"I believe so. B'Elanna and my other three patients all work in Engineering. They've been subjected to the heaviest exposure. But preliminary scans suggest the rest of the crew has been affected as well...including the Captain. It's only a matter of time before you begin showing the same symptoms," the Doctor says gravely. Clearly, this situation is critical mass.
"We've shut down the warp drive . . . but the ship is still deteriorating and so are we. Why?"
There are no answers to Janeway's questions. Yet.
The DQPD crew, Commander Chakotay, Tuvok and Neelix, are examining the collected evidence.
"Every bulkhead and conduit from deck one to 15 show signs of molecular de-cohesion," Tuvok updates everyone.
"Even food from the replicator shows signs of decay." Chef Neelix's efforts have been put on hold.
Chakotay states what worries them most. "As soon as anything comes into contact with Voyager's atmosphere, it's affected."
But wait. This isn't as total as it seems. Neelix points out not all is lost. "That's what we thought at first but take a look at this. These vegetables are completely free of decay."
"I thought you said the replicators..." Chakotay begins.
"They weren't replicated. I harvested them on an away mission last week. The same goes for these particle accelerators, the trilithium ore samples, the keg of hazari ale. All of them were brought aboard over the last few months and none of them is disintegrating." The paradox presented by the evidence in sickbay and the healthy veggies in front of them clearly puzzles them.
"We haven't been able to narrow the time frame precisely but it appears that anything brought onboard over the past 30 to 40 weeks is immune, "Tuvok observes.
"Something happened to the ship months ago that's causing this decay," Chakotay concludes for all of them.
"A logical conclusion." Now that we've stipulated to that...
In astrometrics, Detectives Tuvok and Chakotay review Voyager's travels over the past 3 dozen or so weeks.
Tuvok begins. "Eight months, 17 days ago--first contact with the Kmada."
Remembering the encounter, Chakotay wonders out loud, "They tried to sabotage our life-support systems with low-frequency theta radiation. Any chance that could have caused the phenomenon?"
"Let's keep looking."
Going through the list, Tuvok discovers the next possible cuprit. "The next event of note took place nine months, two days ago when the N'kree tried to conscript Voyager into their battle fleet."
"And failed. Next?"
Beside her biobed, Tom leans over, keeping watch over his new wife, his eyes filled with fear, worry, desperation… Her eyes flicker open and the expression in them acknowledges a familiar face.
"Hey." His voice a caress.
She half-smiles. "Hey."
"How's my old lady?" he teases.
"Well enough...to break your nose if you call me that again." Always a fighter, even with those she adores.
Laughing softly in reply, Tom shows her a smallish, narrow yellow chip. "There it is."
"What?" She's curious.
"Our honeymoon." He speaks longingly, tenderly. And yet, he sounds resigned to what appears to be a certain fate.
(Break out the Kleenex boxes)
"Tell me," she says, a little girl waiting for a bedtime story from her handsome prince.
Holding out this dream for her to touch, he begins. "Six days and seven nights...in the historic Graystone Hotel in beautiful downtown Chicago, circa 1928." His face is a case study in transparent emotions: longing, tenderness, sorrow, love. "Uh, wait till you see it--crystal chandeliers, wall-to-wall Italian marble. We'll take a drive up Michigan Avenue in a vintage Duesenberg, hobnob with the stars of the silver screen, dance the Charleston at a genuine speakeasy called the Green Mill."
Listening to the fantasy being spun by her husband, B'Elanna asks softly, "What do I wear?"
Tom smiles gently. He has every detail planned. "That's already taken care of. Our bags are packed and waiting for us at the hotel."
She sighs weakly, losing her tenuous connection with life as each second passes. But she continues dreaming. "Champagne?"
"It's on ice...in a silver bucket...right next to our canopy bed." Hold on B'Elanna, his eyes plead. Hold on….
Softly, without drama, her eyes flutter shut.
An alarm sounds.
You don't have to be an E.R. fan to know what this means. Code Blue.
Terrified, Tom calls out, "Doctor?!?"
Doc jumps into action. "Cortical stimulator. Initiate an iso-synaptic pulse."
The Doc shakes his head. "It's not working. Again! Increase the electrolytic level to 75 millijoules."
Quickly, the two men work to save the dying woman.
But this is Trek. And weddings and funerals go together like peanut butter and jelly.
"We've lost her," the Doctor says quietly.
Tom isn't willing to give up. "Increasing electrolytic levels to 90 millijoules…."
"There's nothing more we can do."
Frantically, Tom searches for options. "Uh, maybe we can try a direct neural resequencing."
"We can't just let her die!" His agonized plea shatters the hearts of all within hearing.
Programmed to be pragmatic, the Doc keeps his head. "Return to your quarters."
"No!" he yells. This is my wife. We were just married. Forlorn, Tom sighs, "I don't want to leave her."
But there's an epidemic underway and the Doctor has a whole ship of folks on the verge of B'Elanna's fate. "I understand--but I need to perform an analysis before her cells have completely degraded. Please."
Tom backs away, his eyes never leaving the still body laying on the biobed before him.
Meanwhile, back in astrometrics, Tuvok and Chakotay are still playing detective.
"Nine months, 28 days. We collected silicate from a comet in the Podaris sector." This seems tedious, even for Tuvok.
Chakotay doesn't think so. "According to Neelix's manifest those samples are stored in the geology lab. They're showing no signs of molecular degradation. Take us further back."
"Ten months, 11 days ago. Voyager was forced to land on a Class-Y planetoid in the Vaskan sector."
Ah, yes. I remember it well.
"The Demon-Class planet...one of our more interesting missions. We set down looking for deuterium and ended up helping a new form of life to be born."
Those of you new to Voyager or those just repressing painful memories of last season's "Demon," a quick check of Father Jim's review will 'splain the whole sordid fiasco.
To recap, Tuvok helps out: "The planet possessed a bio-mimetic compound."
"The 'silver blood.' It sampled our DNA and created duplicates of the entire crew." Chakotay has fond memories of the unbreathable gases and the horrible dialogue.
"I've often wondered what happened to them. Are they flourishing? Have they continued to evolve?" Yes, Tuvok. That was one of those tricky moral questions that we fans found ourselves asking. Create a clone colony, and then what?
Chakotay asks the real question. "Do they still resemble us?"
Menacing Perry Mason on the case music plays in the background….
Chakotay and Tuvok move their party to sickbay.
Witnessing the lifeless Mrs. Paris, Chakotay asks the obvious. "Is she...?"
"I'm afraid so," the Doctor confirms.
Wails go up from deep in the heart of Texas as Auntie Ron tosses the second box of Kleenex and goes straight for a bucket. Thank heavens Al cleaned those drains or we'd be a floating down the driveway about now…
Chakotay makes a strange request. "Scan for traces of deuterium hydrogen sulfate and dichromates."
Huh? Even the Doc is confused. "Dichromates?"
"Just do it."
Not wanting to be left out of the game plan, the Doc inquires, "What's this about?"
With even more sober Vulcan solemnity than usual, Tuvok gives him a hint. "We have a disturbing theory."
Amazed, the Doctor looks at the senior officers. "I'm detecting all of those compounds."
"I want you to inject her with a dichromate catalyst," Chakotay orders.
"Commander?" the Doc seems puzzled.
"We've got to be sure." Chakotay is definitely not kidding around.
Doc makes the necessary adjustments to the hypospray and administers it to the corpse before him.
Very much like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, B'Elanna dissolves, leaving behind only a puddle of silver blood.
The Doctor, shocked, looks for answers from Commander Chakotay. "I don't understand."
By now, if you haven't guessed, Chakotay confirms what we've suspected since we heard about "Lieutenant" Paris. "That wasn't B'Elanna. It was a duplicate...a bio-mimetic copy."
"Copy?" The Doctor still isn't getting this. Maybe he needs to read Father Jim's review and update his program a bit.
"We are all duplicates. None of us are real," Tuvok finally pronounces. That's a pretty deep statement when you start pondering it.
Kids, we've got ourselves a bona-fide clone colony.
* * *
A big old beaker brims with mercury-like silver goo. Presumably, the former Mrs. Paris. Just think of it as an alternative to cremation.
"Behold the primordial soup," the Doc declares.
Janeway, partly awed, partly appalled, stares at the beaker. "That's what created us."
"Not just us. The entire ship is composed of the same material." Chakotay answers the next question before it's asked.
"It's a bio-mimetic compound that duplicated the crew's molecular structure so precisely that I would never have detected it if I hadn't known what to look for." The Doctor, fascinated by this latest development, ponders its ramifications on their existence.
Captain Kate isn't going gentle into that good night. "I was born on earth...in Indiana. I remember growing up there. I remember graduating from the Academy. I have no memory of being a copy."
Ready with an explanation for everything, the Doc fills in the blanks. "Apparently, the original Kathryn Janeway's memories were duplicated as well. Somehow, after the real Voyager left we began to forget we were duplicates."
"Eventually, we assumed their lives and set a course for Earth," Chakotay informs her.
"And now the warp core is breaking down our cellular structure. We didn't think the radiation would hurt us because it isn't harmful to humanoids." Kathryn looks frustrated. This kind of obstacle she didn't plan for.
According to the Doc, their prospects are grim. "Each and every one of you will disintegrate just as B'Elanna did. I'm not immune, either. The holo-emitters, like everything else, are copies. It's only a matter of time before my program begins to degrade."
"What can we do to stop the process?" Even the clone Kate is a problem solver.
Chakotay tells her simply. "We go back."
"To the Demon-Class planet?" You're kidding, right? Kathryn's incredulous expression lets him know she doesn't find this funny.
But Chak won't back down. "We were created to survive there."
Tuvok concurs. "He's correct. It's reasonable to assume that if we return to our native environment the degradation will cease."
The Captain has other ideas. "Even if we survived the trip we'd be traveling thousands of light-years in the wrong direction."
Excuse me, but WHAT? The wrong direction? Hasn't it dawned on her yet that Earth isn't her home?
Leave it to Chakotay to keep Kate in line. "It may be the only way."
Janeway is not going to make this easy. "Duplicate or not I'm still the same person I was yesterday and so are all of you...and that means we're going to do everything possible to complete our mission, which is to reach Earth. Is that clear?"
The First Officer responds dutifully. "Yes, ma'am."
"I want you to adjust the environmental controls to simulate a Class-Y planet. That should slow the rate of degradation." She's grasping for every stop-gap measure she can think of.
Ever the fount of logic, Tuvok helps her see the flaw in her plan. "It's only a matter of time before the environmental controls themselves are affected."
"I realize that. That's why we're going to try and find a safe harbor till we can figure out a way to stop the degradation. Scan for the nearest Class "Y" planet and set a course. In the meantime...I'll explain our situation to the crew."
"There's still a great deal we don't know about this phenomenon and I have every confidence we'll find a way to reverse it." Janeway downplays this latest development and throws in a pep talk to boot. She did get Kathryn's moxie, if nothing else.
Harry's confused. "So you're saying all our experiences before we were duplicated-- none of it's real?"
"I don't pretend to understand it myself, Harry...but the way I choose to look at it is this--if everything about us was duplicated, that includes our memory engrams--the emotional centers of our brain. So, if you feel something...remember something...believe something...I'm not about to tell you it's not real." Really, she's trying, but I don't know about this….
Neelix has other ideas. "But there is another crew out there, right? The real Voyager."
"I suppose there is, but I don't want that thought to distract any of you from our mission." She swats the idea away like an annoying mosquito.
Tom asks the obvious question. "What mission is that?"
"The same as it's always been, Tom--to reach the Alpha Quadrant safe and sound. But to do that we're going to have to beat this problem...and for now, that means conserving energy. Running the ship in Grey Mode, cutting crew shifts in half. The less you exert yourselves, the slower the cellular decay. Duplicates or not...you're still my crew. Dismissed." A woman with a mission. She'd be trying to plug the leak in the Titanic.
As the crew disperses, Harry approaches his friend. "Tom…"
"There's no one here by that name," Tom spits bitterly, his voice rife with hostility.
Harry persists. "I just wanted to say...I'm sorry about B'Elanna."
Wearing the face of man who literally has lost everything, Tom brims with fury. "Sorry? What for?"
"She was your wife," he says incredulously.
Tom Paris looks Harry over with a practiced cynicism. "She was a duplicate...just like you are, Harry."
"You heard the Captain. If we're going to survive this we've got to believe in ourselves." True and faithful to the end. That's the Harry Kim I know. Boy Scout of the Galaxy.
Refusing to buy into the Dorothy Gale idealism ("There's no place like home. There's no place like home,") Tom mocks young Ensign Kim. "You can drop the good soldier routine. You don't have to do everything the Captain says anymore. Hell, she's not even the Captain."
"She is to me." Harry is nothing if not loyal.
Reality check. "Okay. Well, let's suppose she does get us back to Earth--what then? You really think your family is going to welcome you with open arms?"
For once, Harry's a bit rattled. "I don't know."
Like a wolf smelling blood, Tom circles his wounded prey. "For all you know, the real Harry Kim is having Sunday dinner with them right now! And you come strolling through the door they're going to see you for exactly what you are--an impostor."
Harry refuses to give up. "So what are we going to do, huh? Wait around till we all disintegrate?"
Tom, frowns and walks away, clearly in agony, racked with anger by his losses.
A wardroom converted into hospital quarters overflows with Voyager crewman covered in blistering, gooey sores.
Only the Doctor appears as his usual self. "I've tried everything I could think of--bio-molecular enhancers gene splicing with replicated DNA--and I'm no closer to finding a cure. But I do have an idea."
"I'm listening." Janeway's beginning to resemble a melting candle--either that or the dissolving Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
"Find the original Voyager. If the real Captain Janeway were here we could sample her DNA and imprint it onto your mimetic pattern." The Doctor waits for the Demon Kathryn to respond.
"But, Doctor, we have no way of knowing where they are. They could be behind us, ahead of us, back on earth...destroyed! Besides, even if we could find the real Janeway how do we know she'd help?"
Obvious answer, Demon Kate. Think about it.
The Doctor says simply, "She's you." His image begins fizzling. "My emitter's starting to degrade."
Sounding worried, Janeway encourages him to take care of himself. "You better get back to Sickbay."
A call from the bridge alerts the Captain to potentially good news.
:Tuvok to the Captain. Sensors have detected a Class-Y planet.:
A glimmer of hope before her, Kathryn Janeway heads to the Bridge. "On my way."
Clone Kathryn strides onto the bridge. Come hell or high water, this woman gets the job done.
Harry shares the news. "It may not be home, but it checks out. Thermionic radiation...surface temperatures in excess of 500 kelvins."
Triumphant, she knows she might just have saved her crew. "Just what the Doctor ordered. Safe harbor?"
"There's no guarantee this is going to work." Even in this reality, Chakotay sits on Kathryn's shoulder and forces her feet back on the ground.
As usual, she ignores him. "Harry, vent all plasma from the nacelles. Transfer available power to atmospheric thrusters and stand by to commence landing sequence."
"Yes, ma'am." Harry obediently follows her orders.
The familiar stress scenario notice goes up: Red Alert. Like Real Time Kathryn, this Captain Kate operates comfortably in complete chaos.
Tom begins the landing sequence. "Landing struts on-line. Inertial dampers at maximum."
"Take us down, Mr. Paris."
"Captain, a vessel is approaching from the planet surface," Tuvok at tactical reports.
These clones can't catch a break.
From Ops, Harry updates,"They're hailing."
"Open a channel."
:You're in direct violation of the Ord'mirit mining treaty. Leave orbit or you will be destroyed.:
Tuvok states the obvious: "They are firing."
Deluged by phaser fire and who knows what other twisted, demented weapons, the already limping Clone Voyager sustains serious, substantial damage.
Janeway groans in frustration.
* * *
The Alien weapons assault Voyager. The ship absorbs each blast, causing a metallic surf to ripple over the vessel.
Back on the bridge, explosions rip through the consoles and the crew does their best "combat stagger" routine.
"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. We are not your enemy."
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
"They seem to disagree," Chakotay notes.
Not dissuaded, she continues, "We're not interested in your mining operation. Our ship is badly damaged. We need to set down on the surface to make repairs."
:We repeat: leave or you'll be destroyed.:
More BOOMS. Determined buggers, aren't they?
"Shields down to 52%," Tuvok delivers the bad news.
"With our systems degrading we won't be able to take this much longer," the first officer informs his Captain.
More stubborn than ever, Janeway refuses to go down politely. "Target their weapons systems. Fire."
"No effect." BOOM's punctuate Tuvok's sentences. "Hull breaches on decks 11, 14 and 15."
Harry's readings aren't much better. "The damaged sections are turning into bio-mimetic matter. Containment fields are failing."
Janeway orders, "Evacuate those decks."
Still looking for a way to save themselves, Tuvok discovers an Achille's heel. "If we emit a polaron burst, we can disable their shields long enough to target their warp core."
A stickler for protocol, even when the odds are impossible, Janeway refuses his suggestion. "No. We're not going to destroy them over a misunderstanding."
"Either that or retreat." Tuvok offers the only alternative.
Gritting her teeth, she reminds her bridge crew, "We're Starfleet officers. We can't forget that. Break orbit."
"That planet may be our last chance for survival." Only Tom as the nerve to say what we're all thinking.
"We'll have to find another option." Janeway, regardless of her incarnation, refuses to accept defeat.
Newly widowed Tom Paris isn't so thrilled with his fearless leader. "I'm not sure why we're still taking orders from you," he mutters under this breath.
Never a man to let common sense interfere with his chivalry, Chakotay leaps to the Captain's defense. "Lieutenant, follow orders or leave the bridge!"
Tom bites down on his reply and focuses on the task at hand.
"The alien vessel's not pursuing," Tuvok informs them. The first break they've caught since B'Elanna melted.
A new plan gets underway. "Begin scanning for other Class-Y planets. Harry, transmit a distress call on all subspace bands. If the real Voyager is out there I want to find them."
Not dissuaded by Chakotay's reprimand, Tom asks the next obvious question. "In the meantime, which direction do you want me to go?"
"Resume course for the alpha quadrant, Mr. Paris."
Oh come on, Kathryn. Open your eyes. The ship's dissolving beneath your feet, half your crew is puddled in sickbay and your authority is seriously--and legitimately--being questioned. Are you willing to sacrifice your very existence for a futile purpose?
The Captain and Chakotay head for her ready room.
"I know what you're going to say and I don't want to hear it."
It's about dang time someone spoke up.
But Kathryn rarely backs down. "I'm willing to take a little insolence from Tom, but I shouldn't have to remind you that I'm still the Captain."
"You're not. You're a bio-mimetic life-form created in her image." Wake up and smell the bio-mimetic coffee, Kate.
Et tu, Chakotay? "Are you saying you're not taking orders from me anymore?"
"I'm saying you need to step back and look at our situation objectively." Pull your head out, as it were.
"You think I should have given the order to fire on that vessel."
"No. I agreed with your decision to stand down. But how long can we adhere to Starfleet principles before we start making compromises?"
She's mastered a remarkably excellent version of the Death Glare. "As long as it takes. Our ship may be deteriorating but our humanity is intact."
"Belief alone won't hold this ship together."
Clap your hands if you believe in fairies….
"It's gotten us this far."
This goldurn Irish stubbornness is seriously getting on my nerves.
"Not far enough." Chakotay sighs. "Tom and I aren't the only ones who question your decisions. Now that the truth is known, a lot of people think we should turn around and head for the Class-Y planet. They're starting to remember their existence before Voyager!"
"What? What existence? Pools of bio-mimetic fluid? We didn't even experience sentience until Voyager came along." Ah! Beautiful life.
"What good is sentience if we're not alive to experience it? Kathryn, we've got to go back."
Listen to him Kathryn! He's making sense!
"I promised the crew I'd get them home."
Very simply, he says, "Home isn't Earth."
His face begins to ripple…
Finally panicking, Janeway frantically calls for help. :Janeway to sickbay. We have a medical emergency!:
Yet another Demon Clone withers away…
Chakotay succumbs to his fate. Ashes to ashes, bio-mimetic fluid to bio-mimetic fluid…
"He's not responding," the Doctor warns the Captain.
The very familiar alarm sounds.
"His neural pathways are destabilizing."
Bent and bruised from her windmill tilting, Janeway staggers, a defeated entity, onto the bridge.
"We've lost Commander Chakotay. Duplicate or not, he was real to me...and he was a fine Starfleet officer. And...he was a friend...who...wasn't afraid to let me know when I am wrong." She tells her remaining crew, her voice thick with pain. Chakotay's death finally drives "home" her cause's futility. "Mr. Kim, bring the enhanced warp drive on-line." And to the man whose losses began this whole bleak tale, she gives her conn officer another order. "Turn Voyager around. We're going home."
"Captain..." He looks at her, questioning.
"Set a course...for the Demon Planet."
* * *
Captain's Log, Supplemental. We've lost 63 crewmen, and our systems are continuing to fail. Though we're still five weeks away from the Demon Planet we haven't given up hope.
Just when you thought this scenario couldn't get worse, Harry Kim breaks more bad news to the Captain. "The holographic projectors in Sickbay went off-line at 0300. We've lost the Doctor."
Apparently, the Doc's not the only one. "What's Tom's condition?"
"No change," Harry informs her.
"Well...hmm...looks like we're in the market for a new medical officer. Feel up to it, Neelix?"
Even with his face erupting in KY Jelly pustules, Neelix managed to look confused. "Wh...what about my other duties?"
"Make Sickbay your priority." She coughs, looking one shade shy of death herself. "At this point...morale is a luxury. How's the core holding up?"
Amazing body still intact, Seven's face resembles a radical facial gone awry. "The modified nanoprobes are still reinforcing it. It should remain functioning until we reach the Demon Planet. However, there is less than a 20% probability that Voyager will remain intact that long."
Sounding even weaker, Janeway keeps up the pep talk. "Well...It won't be the first time this crew has been..up against..."
Loyal puppy-dog Harry worries. "Captain?"
"It's all right. I'm just...a little tired. Now...there is another matter. I want to download the ship's database...and our personal logs into a signal beacon. In the event we don't survive, there should be some record of our accomplishments."
Harry understands. "A time capsule."
"This crew's existence may have been brief...but it's been distinguished. None of you...deserves to be forgotten."
And the tears well up, the throat tightens…
"I will use unaffected components to construct a beacon." Seven joins the cause.
The ship shudders and shakes like 6.8 earthquake.
Back in action, Harry Kim has taken Chakotay's old job.
"The deflector's off-line. Interstellar dust is contaminating the warp field."
In her state of decay, Janeway musters up a fight. "Purge it."
Borg brilliance can't save this lost cause. "I can't. The exhaust manifolds have disintegrated."
Groaning, Captain Janeway sits down, exhaling a heavy sigh. "We've come too far to be stopped by dust. Reroute auxiliary power to the deflector."
Seven's voice of reason provides the painful facts. "Warp field failure in Eight...Seven...Six...Five...Four...Three..."
"Got it." By golly, Harry's a fighter too.
"Reinitializing the deflector. The warp field has stabilized." Seven's relief fills her voice.
Fondly revisiting his party days, Neelix has a plan. "I may not be morale officer anymore but I think this is a cause for celebration. What do you say, Captain?"
Silence greets him.
The Talaxian hobbles over to her side. "Captain?" He takes a tricorder reading. A gasp. "She's gone."
(Harry Kim) Acting Captain's log, Stardate 52597.4. Our situation's getting worse every day. More than 80% of the ship is uninhabitable. Most of the crew is gone. It seems less and less likely that the few of us left will reach our destination.
Neelix surveys the bodies that line the mess hall like war casualties. The sight is sobering. Where just a short time ago, Voyager's crew stood throwing rice, cheering and celebrating the beginning of a new life for their crewmates, the dying lay quietly.
Alone, on the bridge, in the big chair, Harry Kim tries to accomplish the impossible. "Computer, hull status."
:Hull integrity at 45%
A ghastly noise.
Captain Kim addresses the last voice of reason, the computer. "What was that?"
:Cargo bay two has decompressed.:
"Seal off that deck."
The bulkheads begin to buckle and warp and the bridge takes on an Alice in Wonderland weirdness.
In a lesson well learned from Captain Kate, Harry Kim refuses to concede. "Computer, erect a level-ten force field around the bridge."
:Unable to comply.:
"Seven...I need more power up here. The bulkheads are coming apart."
Shades of déjà vu; Seven of Nine now mothers B'Elanna's engines. And it looks like the last available man on the ship is Harry Kim. Gotta love that irony.
"I'm transferring the last of our power reserves." She's all business.
:Deck one force field is in place:
Cut to Harry Kim. "That's better. How's life support?"
The news gets worse.
"Degrading. We have approximately ten hours of air remaining."
Attempting to honor the Captain's last order, Harry inquires, "What about the time capsule?"
"It's ready for launch." Nothing like Borg efficiency in a crisis.
"The launch sequencers have misfired."
And I thought Sisko had bad luck.
With a determination Janeway herself would have shown, Harry won't let the issue rest. "Reset the initiator; try it again."
Another blow from Seven. "It won't work. The launch mechanism is demolecularized."
We came from nothing. We must fight back. "Salvage the probe."
The final defeat. "It's too late. It's been destroyed," Seven says, depressed.
"Personal logs...mission logs...all our history...gone." He sighs emptily.
A beeping erupts on the control panel.
Not imagining that things could get worse, Harry snarls, "Now what?"
"I'm detecting a vessel...22 light-years away."
Voyager. The Real Voyager.
A last glimmer of hope for the dying man, Harry leaps into action. "I see it. I'm trying to hail them. Subspace transceiver's malfunctioning. If they move out of range, they won't see us. We still have one active com circuit but we'll have to go to impulse to use it. Seven, drop out of warp."
But nothing is making this easy. "The engine controls are fused."
"Then unfuse them."
She can't bring water out of a rock, Harry. "Without an isolitic converter, I cannot comply."
The ultimate starship desperation solution: "Dump the core."
"Ensign, dropping out of warp at this velocity could tear the ship apart." Odds are, with this bunch, it most certainly will.
Harry states the obvious. "We're already falling apart. We're not going to make it to the Class-Y planet in one piece, which means that ship is our only hope. Think about it. What would Captain Janeway have done?"
Seven pauses a moment, remembering her mentor's steely determination, her unmitigated nerve and then makes her decision. "Computer, prepare to eject the warp core. Authorization: Seven of Nine, omega phi nine three."
:Warp ejection systems enabled.:
The tension builds. "Eject the core."
MASSIVE COLOSSAL BOOMS
They knew the risks…
"We've lost attitude control and shields. Hull integrity at 19%." Seven rushes around, hurriedly tapping out commands as engineering collapses.
"Reroute life support! Hell, reroute everything we've got left to the containment fields." Harry issues his commands authoritatively.
Clone Voyager dissolves with the speed of an ice cube on a hot sidewalk.
The bad news keeps coming from Seven. "Hull breaches on decks nine, ten and 11."
Harry calls out to his only hope. "Seven. Seven!" Silence. "Computer...How long until we're within hailing range of that ship?"
Warbling like a 45rpm record played at 33, the computer attempts to answer : f-f-f-five minutes...And th-thir...Th-thirty...:
Crisp, clean and clear, the Voyager bridge peopled with freshly dry-cleaned and pressed versions of our heroes comes into view. Our first clue as to where we actually are is Kathryn's commanding presence, an agonizing reminder of what the Demon clones have already lost.
Janeway inquires of her helmsman. "Range?"
"Five million kilometers."
"Try hailing again." A woman on a mission.
"No response," Answers Tuvok from tactical.
Ensign Kim, not acting Captain Kim, turns to his leader. "Captain, I've found the source of the distress call. It's coming from a vessel."
Another familiar voice. Commander Chakotay. "Can you identify it"
"No. The readings are erratic. Looks like they've taken heavy damage," Harry reports.
Tom updates them. "400,000 kilometers."
Janeway snaps, "Drop to impulse; are the rescue teams ready? Bridge to Sickbay: stand by for casualties."
I love this woman.
"In visual range." Tuvok informs the Captain.
The moment of truth. Will Voyager be able to salvage some evidence that these life forms lived, breathed, loved and lost?
The viewscreen fills the frame with...silver puddles, scattered and suspended across space. Not a recognizable form in sight.
This is the way the world ends..this is the way the world ends not with a bang…but a whimper.
"Where's the ship?" Janeway asks to no one in particular.
Checking ops, Harry fails to find anything vaguely resembling a vessel. "No sign of it."
Chakotay is equally confused. "That debris...that couldn't be all that's left."
Tuvok continues to analyze the data. "I'm detecting residual deuterium, anti-neutrons, traces of dichromates. If it was a vessel, it isn't anymore."
Never one to give up easily, Kathryn searches for someone to save. "Scan for life signs, escape pods."
"None," is Tuvok's matter-of-fact reply.
Janeway considers what she sees before her and memorializes the event the best she can. "Make a note in the ship's record--we received a distress call at 0900 hours arrived at the vessel's last known coordinates at 2120. The ship was destroyed. Cause unknown. No survivors." She turns to Tom, seated at the conn. "Mr. Paris, resume course."
In a word, grim.
From a technical standpoint, "Course: Oblivion" works on all fronts. Bryan Fuller and Nick Sagan's script keeps the cards close, waiting to disclose the "Big Secret" until after the viewers are emotionally invested in the episode. What better way to appeal to our deepest human longings than by sharing a cross-cultural human tradition that transcends time and space: a marriage. On Deep Space Nine, when Pah'wraith-possessed Keiko O'Brien sneers at her husband about the human need for physical intimacy and connection, she's absolutely correct. We do need to belong to one another and we spend much of our lives attempting to overcome our separateness. C:O taps into this instinctual compulsion we share and we immediately identify with the situation.
The script follows a tight, simple narrative. Because we're already familiar with the character subtexts, our immediate questions focus on the mystery. Why the wacky wavy world? Did the film stock get singed on an editing machine? What? As each act ends, the problems build and become more complicated. Wisely, Sagan and Fuller don't reveal the hopelessness of the clone's quest until the last act. When the Real Voyager appears on the clone ship's sensors, the audience can actually believe that maybe, just maybe, the battle these demon people have fought to stay alive might not be entirely futile. We've watched these clones through joy and sorrow by this point. We want to see them succeed, if only in the smallest way.
While the storyline itself is strong and the characters sound, the piece does take logical leaps reminiscent of Wesley and Buttercup's traipse through the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride. One misstep and you're standing on quicksand. The most obvious weakness is how the demon clones created Voyager. Bio-mimetic silver blood does not a starship make. Voyager doesn't have DNA to copy. And even if the silver blood could recreate her hull, how on earth could the metallic fluid figure out the intricate technology it takes to run replicators, tricorders, holo-emitters -- not to mention configure a functioning warp drive. Perhaps the Real Janeway tossed schematics out the door before she took off for greener planets, but even then, how could the clones possibly have built from scratch a vessel with Voyager's complexity? With the time it would take to create such a ship, how could the clones come close to catching up with Real Voyager, given Real Voyager's lead time combined with the light years sha ved off the journey via the Borg Transwarp conduit from "Dark Frontier." And speaking of "Dark Frontier," wasn't that plum outfit Seven sported in "Course: Oblivion" introduced in DF? What about her Borg implants. If you dropped Seven's DNA into the silver blood, wouldn't you get Annika Hansen, human, not Seven of Nine, Borg? Borg implants don't have DNA either.
But hey. Who am I to remove the mote in a Trek producers eye? Once the common sense-ors ingrained in my brain shut down, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode from a character standpoint.
More than any story in recent memory, "Course: Oblivion" is an ensemble piece. Every character has a chance to show off his or her expertise: Chakotay's unfailing loyalty and pragmatism, Seven's unique humanity and brilliance, Harry Kim's optimism and compassion, Neelix's generosity and dependability--just to name a few. Not a single sour note sounded with one notable exception: Janeway.
I've taken issue with the writers' depiction of Janeway's character this season before. In my Starfleet Journal column this month (shameless personal plug), I've discussed in detail my personal perception that Janeway's character has never exhibited such radical fluctuations as she has lately. At her finest, she's cradling compression phaser rifle Betsy in her arms and taking on the Borg Queen with breathtaking chutzpah. At her worst, she's shrill, fixated and controlling. The final three acts of C:O give my favorite Starfleet captain two choices: possibly save your crew by returning to the Demon Planet or win a Pyrrhic Victory, destroying your ship in the process, by returning to earth. For reasons I can't grasp, Clone Kate chooses the latter.
Earth offers her fold nothing but an atmosphere toxic to their demon lungs and possibly empty arms as Voyager's families hope for their real children to return. What did she think? That if a bio-mimetic version of Voyager showed up in San Francisco , St arfleet would have no choice but to put all their top scientists on figuring out a way to save them? As single-minded as Real Kate is, defining Clone Kate in such one-dimensional terms renders her no better than crazy Ahab. It's not that I think Clone Kate should have turned tail and ran, but rather that the Real Janeway puts her crew's safety and survival at a premium. When the crews' condition began deteriorating en masse, I can't believe that the Real Janeway would have sacrificed her family's survival for mission and principle. A case could be made that when placed under extreme duress, Clone Kate reverted to the memories and tendencies that served her progenitor best (brash stubbornness, fearless pursuit of the unknown, single-minded dedication) but at what point does common sense step in and slap her upside the head?
Voyager's actors took this script, embraced it and breathed vibrant life into every scene. Jeri Ryan once again proved her adeptness in comedy in her terrific trip through the Jefferies tubes with Roxann Dawson. Following in the footsteps of "Timeless" and "Disease," Garrett Wang stretches his acting skills successfully and demonstrates a strength that we see too rarely. His character has matured past the "green as string beans" ensign and has become a capable leader in his own right. Mulgrew, in spite of being handed a thankless characterization, exhibited the flinty power that helps her performances transcend the script and truly give Janeway life. I couldn't have been more pleased to see Robert Beltran back as strong, silent but passionate Chakotay, giving more than the "Night of the Living Dead" impersonations that have characterized his work this year.
Personally, I don't think Bob Picardo is capable of bad work and "Course: Oblivion" continues to prove me correct. The Doctor gave backbone and continuity to a difficult series of scenes, a task that lesser performers couldn't have pulled off. Frequently, I forget what a needed breath of levity and charm Ethan Phillips' Neelix can be, but in this angst-ridden episode, his steady, even characterization became an emotional anchor.
After last year's sometimes cloying Paris/Torres romance, I could understand why the actors and writers shied away from delving too deeply into exploring this story possibility. However, this episode proves that Roxann Dawson and Robert Duncan McNeill have enough talent to manage any Real Time Paris/Torres stories with finesse--and they ought to be given the chance. Their tearjerker scenes in an already wrenching episode were tender, without being gooey, sweet without being maudlin. Dawson and McNeill have a natural chemistry that was shown off beautifully in this episode. McNeill particularly was given a broad emotional palette in C:O. He played each "phase" of Clone Tom's journey with skill.
For once, internal turmoil and the Boom quotient were balanced. Voyager works best when it allows the characters to grow and features shoot-em-up big space battles with nasty aliens. No new aliens with weird ears or noses this week (unless you count the clones) but the gradual self-destruction of Clone Voyager created plenty of tension.
I'm still asking, "Why," however.
Why write a sequel to "Demon?" Of all the episodes needing follow-up, "Demon" ranks as one I've tried to forget.
Why tell the depressing story of a doomed voyage when in the end, the whole journey is an exercise in futility? (Hey wait a minute. This I get. Just look at the box office receipts for Titanic.)
All of it--a "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
I have a few guesses.
Hypothesis #1: The need for alternative sandboxes.
The rules and regs defining a Trek series have little flexibility, particularly when you're on a network (as opposed to syndication like DS9 and TNG). It's no accident Jadzia and Janeway both sported ponytails with big fat geometric clips for multiple seasons. Uniforms. Comm badges. Transporter effects. And so forth. Making certain the United Federation of Planets and their minions always have the party line down cold is Rick Berman's job. Consistency, thy name is Star Trek. (I'm not talking about continuity I'm talking about consistency. Different issue.) Add in the network expectations (Dean Valentine at UPN would toss Kate Mulgrew for Jeri Ryan tomorrow) and producers' personal preferences and the writers turn into tightrope walkers.
Deep Space Nine has circumvented expectations by creating a Mirror Universe, mostly recently featured in "The Emperor's New Cloak." (A previous Mirror Universe episode would be "Shattered Mirror" for those of you outside the U.S. and still working your way up to DS9's 7th season.) In this alternative universe, anything goes. Unlike the holodeck where the characters assume personas they chose for themselves, in this AU, actual, completely unique versions of the characters exist with different identities. For example, straight-shooter, noble-rebel Kira becomes the double-crossing, leather-loving lesbian, the Intendent. Eager-to-please, Starfleet captain-in-training Nog becomes a backstabber. You get the picture.
Voyager hasn't found an identity in holodeck programs (the exception being Captain Proton) or alternate universes the way previous Trek incarnations have. Certainly, "Before and After" could be considered AU as could "Living Witness." But only "Living Witness" allowed the writers to make risky character portrayal choices. "Before and After" was an alternate time-line. The writers haven't experimented with the characters much this season (Janeway's Arachnea in "Bride of Chaotica!" aside): allowing them to make choices that might not be easily permitted in the "real" Voyager universe isn't a bad idea.
Trekkers can play God in fanfiction. The writers don't have that option, but they also enjoy the chance to explore possibilities--the 'what ifs' and 'might have beens.' Episodes like "Course: Oblivion" give the producers new sandboxes to play in.
Hypothesis #2: Quiet the Naggers.
Of all the reasons why the producers might have chosen C:O, this is the one I hope isn't true.
It's no secret that certain tribes in TrekLand carry on volatile love-hate relationship with The Powers That Be. Most prominent among the tribes are the "relationshippers."
Voyager's relationshippers fall into many categories. The two most vocal and prominent camps are: the Paris/Torres zealots (a subset being the organized Paris-Torres Collective on AOL and the PTFeverites list) and the Janeway/Chakotay fanatics (more casually organized into cells called "The JetC's" but equally as loud and intense as the P/T factions). Relationshippers thread across the net, frantically writing fanfiction, filling one another's mailboxes with copious analyses of every smile, gesture, touch and kiss that passes between their favorite couple and griping to Father Jim about each and every taunt he tosses out that maligns their favorite snugglebunnies.
I ought to insert a "Disclaimer" here and state my personal alliance with the romantics. My cyberpal Sara informed me in no uncertain terms yesterday that, "If you at all care if the casual reader knows about your big ol' crush on Tom, the line about his 'long, graceful fingers' is pretty much a dead giveaway.J" One evening shared with When Harry Met Sally does more for me than a week's worth of psychotherapy. I'm a sucker for a love story, so sue me. Having said that, however, I don't consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool relationshipper. Cool opticals, feisty phaser battles and mentally challenging science fiction are equally important to me.
In Real Time Voyager this year, Tom and B'Elanna's shared romantic moments have been non-existent. Oh sure, Tom's angsty confessions of love come with regularity, but not so much as a spit swap has passed between them since late last year. Robbie and Roxann have both expressed a willingness to explore their character's relationship in plot appropriate episodic context (meaning, no awkward relationship-speak episodes or deep, longing gazes across the briefing table) and a willingness to take more risks in the hot and heavy department (I won't quote McNeill here, but suffice it to say Parisites everywhere were passing out). Braga's not taking them up on their offer was surprising to some. Especially with writer Nick Sagan (he who authored Picard and Crusher's legendary mind-link) now on staff.
The more cynical relationshippers have suggested that "Course: Oblivion" was the token Paris/Torres bone thrown out to fans to encourage them to quit their yammering for more romantic stuff. Since Janeway/Chakotay fans have an uphill battle fighting for their twosome (Mulgrew is on record being opposed to a romantic entanglement between the first officer and her character), the only "sanctioned" romance on Voyager is Tom and B'Elanna's. The reasoning going, "Gee. These are clones. Since their actions have no consequence on the regular characters, and because they'll all dissolve into metallic goo at the end, let's make the whiners happy and throw a wedding."
I realize that this makes some relationshippers sound paranoid--at the very least, they might have persecution complexes. But to be fair, this hypothesis, however weird, deserves consideration.
Hypothesis #3: It just sounded like a cool idea.
This requires no explanation. I picture Braga, Sagan, Fuller, Taylor and Menosky sitting around a conference table, Nike clad feet thrown up in front of them, saying things like, "Hey, what if we did something with those demon clone guys?" And an episode being born.
With amused affection, my writing partner Kirsten would tell me I'm overanalyzing this. But three days later, I'm sitting here at my desk, still wondering what exactly it was the writers were trying to say.
Life is pain and then you die?
Live each day as if it were your last?
Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
Was it a nod to late 20th century existential angst, as we sit poised on the crest of the millennium, not just the century, wondering whether or not anything we say or do will ever have lasting impact?
Like our human craving to make connection with one another (witness the Internet), our species strives to be remembered. When our bones are worm food, we want our essence to live on. Some have children. Some paint pictures or make movies. Some write poems or novels. Some live on in memories passed on from one generation to the next in the form of stories.
The universe is the great recycler. Since matter is neither created nor destroyed, once our physical selves decompose, our matter re-enters the life cycle. The smallest building blocks of our identity can be reincarnated as the mundane, the fruit salad on a dinner plate, or something dramatic like the stuff of stars and comets. Just as conceivably, the hydrogen, carbon and oxygen that you are might have come to earth via an asteroid from a far off planet. The possibilities are mind-boggling. If your cells had memories, what would they say?
But when we think about who we are, our identities are more about the electro-chemical transmissions that we call thoughts and feelings. Our brains store these chemical impressions, but sentience -- the feeling of consciousness and self-awareness--isn't as easily accounted for in the great universal life cycle. Where do your memories go when your physical form is gone? If you believe in a soul or spirit as I do, the answers come easily, but what about those who don't?
A question for theologians and philosophers to be sure. But a question I've asked myself repeatedly as I've contemplated the "whys" of "Course: Oblivion."
The Demon Clones were little more than complex photocopies of real (and since we're talking fiction here, I use the word "real" metaphorically) people. For the most part, their memories, their feelings, their consciousness emerged, fully formed like Athena from Zeus' head when the silver blood replicated Voyager's crew. Nonetheless, once they had awareness, these clones lived as completely as if they were twins, as opposed to clones. Making choices that created a unique path for them, a path distinct from their flesh and blood counterparts.
Unencumbered by Real Voyager's "Year of Pain," the Demon Clones lived without the repercussions of Janeway's plunge into self-doubt in the void and her subsequent alienation from Chakotay. Demon B'Elanna didn't spend weeks, perhaps months, on the holodeck mutiliating herself from an inner anguish. What would Tom Paris be like, if like Demon Tom, he never encountered the Moneans and made the choices that led to his demotion? Tal's lovely visage never made an imprint on Demon Harry's mind so the suffering real Harry endured after he parted from his "love" had no impact on his counterpart. The Demon Doc wasn't forced to face painful memories of a "Sophie's Choice" moment, experiencing a relapse into guilt. Even Seven's suffering in "Infinite Regress" or her agonizing confrontations with the Borg Queen were missed by Demon Seven.
Without the pain their counterparts suffered, the Demon clones took more emotional risks. From Janeway's logs, we know a baby was born. Who knows if there were others? Tom and B'Elanna overcame their emotional insecurities and made a life commitment to one another. Even the gentle, easy affection that I've loved between Janeway and Chakotay seemed to flow more naturally with the Demon clones than it has with their real life versions this season.
To their very last gasp, the Demon clones fought for their lives, struggling against impossible odds. Never once did they acquiesce to complete hopelessness. Though Clone Tom became bitter, his circumstances warranted it and in spite of his pain, he still sat on the bridge and did his job. Most of us wouldn't have blamed them if they had taken an "Eat Drink and Be Merry For Tomorrow We Die" approach. Hey--they're doomed. They might as well live it up. Instead, they maintained a sense of dignity and honor until the end.
The question remains. What message can we take from this?
A wise physician of my acquaintance told me once that we humans are naïve if we think our individual actions don't have ripple-effect ramifications. "All it takes is two people on the planet, and one person's actions will impact the other." On a macrocosmic scale, I can't imagine it would be much different. Newton said, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." In other words, every action produces a consequence.
In the 17th Century, Anglican priest and writer John Donne spoke of this interconnectedness in his famous "Meditation 17:"
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Any man's death diminishes me.
Though no record remains, no witness exists to testify to the galaxy about who the Demon clones were and what their journey meant, the mere fact of their lives and deaths diminishes all life. Having had encounters and interactions with other species along their pathway, the clones produced change. Who knows what might come from those meetings?
For the part of me that craves completion, I can only hope that at some point, the ripples set in motion by the Demon clones will wash over the real Voyager. If nothing else, my friend Patti Heyes (aka DangerMom) observed Real Voyager could then see "the road less traveled by" and how what road they chose did make all the difference.
In the end, a solid piece of work from producers and cast alike. Like many others, I was dreading this episode, but in the end, I was surprisingly pleased. For the emotional wallop alone, I'd have to agree with Jim and give it a meaty (***) overall with a special (****) kudos for the performances.
Bones to pick, complaints to make? Don't harass Uncle Jim. Send them straight onto firstname.lastname@example.org
Next week: EXTREME RISK (Rerun). B'Elanna Torres decides jumping without a parachute beats psychotherapy with the Doc.