The usual. It's Paramount's playground; I'm just borrowing the equipment. Any resemblance to products, productions, novels, television shows, films, characters, public figures, celebrities, bodily fluids, et al., is purely intended for entertainment purposes.
These reviews are long, highly opinionated, and prone to digressions. They retell each episode from beginning to end in excruciating but dubiously accurate detail. If you haven't seen the episode yet and want to be surprised, run away.
But some people seem to like them, and if you don't mind your Trek with some tongue-in-cheek running commentary, hop on the fun bus and join the crowd, because Fatherly Uncle Jim's in a storytellin' mood.
Neelix struggles to deal with his tragic past by shielding his goddaughter from the tragic present.
Jump straight to the Analysis
[The following episode is sponsored by the letter "Q".]
It's a beautiful day in the magic forest. Colors that exist more often in imagination than nature teem with happy, chirping life--none of that icky stinging biting disease-carrying variety. This forest is stamped with the parental seal of approval.
So when the perky kid comes skipping down the path all alone, it's perfectly okay. Mr. Bluebird's on her shoulder. No girl-gobbling wolves in drag lurking nearby to spoil the mood.
The young girl, whose waist-length strawberry-blonde hair and forehead spikes identify her as Naomi Wildman, stops at a stone-enclosed pond and tosses a rock in. Ker-Plunk!
"Ouch!" the pond says. (You heard me.) Naomi tells it to wake up. Who's there? The pond asks. Naomi, she says.
"Ohhh...come back laaaater," the pond whines.
You can tell who some of Naomi's role models are. She promptly puts her hands on her hips, elbows angled for maximum leverage, and casts her Supersonic Glare-o-Pain pondward; a puff of vapor rises, forming three perfect, ephemeral exclamation points. "You know what I think?" she scolds. "I think you're scared of the tree monster."
When you question the courage of a body of water in the magic forest, you get results. A fountain springs up, disturbing the lilypads. A few seconds later, the body of water becomes...a body of water. A cool blue creature--a tall, skinny puppy. If he were a superhero, you'd know exactly what to expect--Captain Hydro!
The water creature yawns dramatically, then he walks across the water and onto dry land, looming over the little Naomi, hands on hips. "I'm not scared of any tree monster, Miss Wildman," he says, wagging a squishy finger at her. "But as you know, I need my beauty sleep." Let's just say he's not kidding.
Naomi acts as if this sort of thing happens every day. "I'm sorry I woke you, but we have a mission."
"You and your missions," the watery guy says, wagging his finger at her again. But he smiles. "Lucky for you your old pal Flotter has everything ready. Follow me." He extends a hand, which Naomi takes without hesitation. (Flotter?)
They skip a few meters over to a tree, from which a vine is hanging. "I've laid a trap," Flotter says dramatically. "When he climbs this tree, he'll trip the alarm." He pulls the vine, and bells tinkle overhead. "Tree monsters are terrified of high-pitched noises."
Naomi scowls adorably. "I never heard that," she says dubiously. But Flotter assures her it's a well-known fact. With exaggerated gestures, he explains how the monster will climb the tree, which has been set to go SPROING and toss its victim into the pond. "And, splash! He'll sink like a log."
Naomi looks at her water-headed buddy. "But, Flotter...Logs float." Flotter waves her off; "Eh! Details, details."
The background music turns ominous. The camera pans upward. The terrifying gravel that is the voice of Martin Sheen rumbles from a wooden creature. "That is a terrible plan."
Naomi's eyes go wide. Her forehead spikes begin to change color rhythmically. "It's him!"
The tree monster looks like ten parts tree, maybe half part monster. But he does look grumpy. "The name's Trevis," the creature rasps. "And you are...?"
Flotter stands tall, grabbing Naomi's shoulder protectively. "Flotter," he says boldly. "Flotter T. Water III."
Oh, man...Trevis and Flothead. (Huh huh. This sucks.)
Trevis looks annoyed. "Well, of course you are, drippy. You," he says, pointing girlward.
Naomi's initial fear has long since dissipated. "Naomi Wildman, but my friends call me Naomi," she says pleasantly.
"Where do you live?" Trevis demands. "In space," she says proudly. "Nobody lives in space!" Trevis rumbles.
Flotter pipes up. "She does...on a starship called Voyager." Naomi puffs out her chest and smiles proudly. "I'm an explorer."
Trevis' voice jumps an octave. "Really?! An explorer!" He scrambles down the tree and pulls up a patch of grass, landing with a self-announced Timber! "What's that like?" Naomi shrugs. "Well, you know--space battles with aliens, strange anomalies." The usual. He asks if he can visit her starship; she says she'll have to ask her mom.
"You know, for a monster, you're very polite," Flotter says.
"That's because I'm not a monster," Trevis says sadly. He pulls on the vine, and the high-pitched tinkle of monster-scaring bells begins. "You see that? I'm not scared one bit. My bark is worse than my bite." Sulking, Trevis lumbers away. (Get it? Lumber? Wood boy? I got a million of 'em.)
Naomi and Flotter share a guilty look. "Maybe we jumped to conclusions about him," Naomi says. (And let that be a very important lesson to you, young lady! "J is for-judgmental.") But Flotter isn't quite ready to get chummy with Trevis. "But he is stealing my water with his roots!" Trevis takes umbrage at that, and soon Trevis and Flotter are circling each other in the classic martial art of Stooge Fu. Nyuk-nyuk.
Naomi breaks them up. "Excuse me! It sounds like you two need each other. I mean, think about it! Flotter, your water helps his trees grow. And Trevis, your branches shade his pond from the sun. It's a well-known fact that the sun makes water evaporate." (Foreshadowing...)
Flotter looks guiltily at Trevis. "She's got a point..."
Trevis agrees, whispering conspiratorially. "The girl's a thinker."
Naomi, arms folded, accepts the praise graciously. "Now, shake hands and make up." They do, reluctantly. Trevis complains about moist palms, Flotter about sappy fingers. But Naomi, successfully bridging the gap between water and wood, smiles triumphantly as she shakes her head at her two silly pals.
The scene is interrupted by a new voice. "Neelix to Holodeck Two. It's bedtime."
Naomi's face falls. "Can't I stay a little longer?" she begs with practiced pitifulness.
"You know the rules. Besides, someone special wants to say good night."
"Mom!" she shouts excitedly. "Computer, end program."
Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy. Unless you're a parent of youngsters, you've probably fled the room in terror by now.
But I hate to break it to you--they'll be back.
In her quarters, Naomi talks to her Mom, whose picture is very fuzzy and keeps breaking up. "And how's Flotter?" Ensign Samantha Wildman asks.
"Grouchy as ever," Naomi says, "but we made a new friend today named Trevis. I'll introduce him to you tomorrow as soon as you get home." But Mom says it may be a few more days; Naomi pouts. "I'm bringing you back some beautiful sillinite crystals. And lots of holopictures for your data album. Now be a good girl and get ready for bed while I talk to Neelix." They say goodnight, a sweet mother-daughter moment.
When Naomi's out of the room, Neelix nervously asks what's going on. "We ran into an ion storm....We took a real beating. We're trying to make repairs But there's another storm on the way." As the static gets worse, she asks Neelix to say goodnight to Naomi for her.
The signal cuts out. Neelix frowns.
On the Delta Flyer, Ensign Wildman, Commander Tuvok and (who else?) Lt. Paris in the pilot's chair try to weather the incoming storm. Tuvok says the Level Seven storm is coming in fast, at 33,000 K.P.H. "I need more power to the thrusters If I'm going to outrun it," Tom tells Samantha. She gives him all she can spare from other systems, but Paris says it's not enough. "Brace for impact!"
The teaser ends the way Millennium begins: in an intense washout of blinding whiteness. The last we see of our intrepid trio is them squeezing their eyes shut in pain.
B is for "Boom."
* * *
A somber senior staff listens in the conference room as the barely-understandable report from Tuvok is replayed on audio. "Mayday, Mayday. Delta Flyer to Voyager. We need assistance. Warp drive is off-line, impulse power is down. We're running on thrusters only. Heavy ion storms damaged our primary systems. Life support is failing. We're searching for an emergency landing site. We require immediate assistance."
The good news: they've tracked the shuttle to a planetary system 0.6 light years away. The bad news: a level-five ion storm looms between the Delta Flyer and Voyager.
Janeway scoffs at a measly level-five ion storm. She seems almost disappointed that the challenge isn't greater. "We've been through worse. Let's just batten down the hatches and reinforce the shields. I'm not going to let a little bad weather stand in our way."
Neelix, borrowing a page from The Electric Company, asks, "And what about Naomi?"
This stops everyone in their tracks. "I guess somebody's going to have to explain why her mother's not back," Chakotay suggests.
Neelix hesitates. "Maybe we shouldn't. . .tell her anything."
Janeway gives him funny look. "Why not?"
"She's a very sensitive girl! I don't want to alarm her unnecessarily. With any luck, we'll have her mother back before she starts to worry." He exudes something masquerading as confidence.
But he's in a room full of single people with no child rearing experience, so they defer to the godfather. "You're closer to her than anyone," Janeway says. "I'm inclined to let you take the lead on this." Not what I'd call a hearty endorsement, but Neelix will take what he can get; he thanks her. "All right. Consider it your mission to keep her occupied," Janeway tells him. Neelix stands at attention. "Aye, Captain."
As the officers file out of the room, Neelix lets his guard drop. He looks downright spooked.
In the mess hall. It's Juice Time with Naomi and Neelix. They carry their glasses to one of the few empty tables.
"I was thinking..." Naomi says. "It's time I carried my weight around here." All, what--47 pounds of her? Neelix thinks for a second and suggests they could use a hand in the airponics bay. "I was thinking more of the bridge," Naomi says. Neelix smiles at the girl's gumption. "Captain's assistant!" he says.
"Would I get to fly the ship?" she asks. Neelix smiles. "Well, we'd have to take it up with the Captain." They'd probably have to pry the controls from Tom Paris' cold, dead fingers, too.
Seven of Nine enters the mess hall with a couple of crewmen, deep in discussion about something on their trio of PADDs. Naomi stiffens; her voice drops to a whisper. "Don't move," she pleads. "The Borg lady."
Neelix shakes his head. "She has a name, you know."
Naomi rolls her eyes. "Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct of unimatrix zero one," she recites softly. "Don't look! She'll assimilate you."
Neelix frowns gently. "Naomi, Seven is a nice person. And she's a valuable member of this crew."
"I don't want to be in her Collective."
"I don't think there's much danger of that," he assures her.
Ensign Kim calls Neelix away for a few seconds to discuss a Sickbay supply problem (which Neelix is on top of), and to ask how Naomi's doing. Neelix sighs. "On the Naomi Anxiety Scale of one to ten--where one is a touch of insomnia and ten is a panic attack?--about five."
By talking with Harry, Neelix has left a seat open--and Seven of Nine is looking for one. She walks over. "Is this chair occupied?" she asks frankly but not unkindly.
Naomi's eyes go wide, popping six inches outside her head with a loud a-oo-gah noise. Her jaw drops, hitting the table with a clank.
"Yes or no would suffice," Seven of Nine tells her. (It's an unsubtle camera angle. To Naomi, Seven of Nine's as tall as a Wookie, and as fearsome as a Wookie that just lost a chess match.) "No," Naomi stammers. "I mean, yes."
Seven of Nine looks confused. "Explain."
"You can't sit here. Somebody else is sitting here!" Seven accepts this and moves on. Naomi watches her go, gaping shamelessly. She talked to me! She almost assimilated me with her sneaky can-I-sit-here Borg trap!
She's still staring over the back of her chair, caught up in the moment, when Neelix returns. Next on Naomi's schedule: a botany lesson in Sickbay. He notices she's not paying attention to him. "What's wrong?" he asks.
Naomi, still gaping, does her best to recover. Her face goes blank. She turns around stiffly. She stares straight ahead. "I am Borg," she says mechanically.
Neelix chuckles. "No, you're not!" She smiles back; gotcha! She asks if they can go to the Holodeck first for a little more Flotter time. She doesn't like Sickbay--full of creepy things like alien organs and hyposprays, and besides--Doc talks too much.
"Well, that's his way," Neelix says diplomatically. "Can't you reprogram him or something?" she asks. "Oh, I-I don't think he'd like that very much," Neelix says. She smiles sheepishly. Can't blame a girl for trying.
I gotta say--the kid's adorable. She's all over the map, jumping from emotion to emotion, moment to moment, thought to thought...just like a regular kid. She's not one of those actor-child hybrids whose first words were "what's my motivation?"
The Delta Flyer is hard to see in the angry maelstrom of ionic mayhem. It appears to be struggling, but it's slightly ahead of the worst of it, a massive core of energy directly behind them.
Inside, Paris asks for a little help. "Rumor has it there's a planetoid around here." Wildman performs the search, but the storm is mucking up her readings. With certain doom less than two minutes away, they're not picky about landing sites. Well, not overly picky. Good thing, because the place Ensign Wildman finally finds, while Class M, has a benomite mantel.
What is benomite? I couldn't tell you. But Paris suggests one of its properties--and it's not encouraging. "I want to land this shuttle, not bury it." But they have no choice. Samantha suggests a large crater as a landing site, and Paris takes it, since it's far enough away from all the volcanoes.
As they head toward the planet, the storm worsens. Stuff inside starts to go up in sparks. "Starboard thrusters are down," Tuvok reports. Paris mumbles under his breath. "Tuvok, if you don't have something positive to say..."
"We're coming in too fast!" Wildman shouts.
Things go dark. Noise is our only clue as to their fate.
The lights go on. Tom Paris sighs. "The flyer has landed." He takes a deep breath.
Then he looks up. All around them is rock. His fears appear to have been realized: he didn't just land the shuttle, he buried it.
He looks back to see how Tuvok and Samantha are doing.
Tuvok looks okay.
Samantha Wildman does not.
"She needs immediate medical assistance," Tuvok tells him.
Paris blanches. No matter how far away from Voyager he gets, he can't seem to avoid Sickbay duty.
T is for "Trouble."
* * *
Ensign Wildman, seated semi-upright on the floor of the Delta Flyer, begins to come to. Tom Paris is checking her over with medical instruments. "What happened?" she asks.
"We made it," Tom says. "Delta flyer's first landing," she cracks. She asks where they are; Paris says they're about three kilometers below the surface. "At least our primary hull's still in one piece."
"Wish I felt the same," Wildman says, clearly in pain. "You'll be all right. Minor concussion, a few fractures--nothing I can't handle," Tom says. "You're a great nurse, but you're a lousy liar," she says through gritted teeth. Paris' smile falls, and he tells her the truth. "You've got a punctured kidney, and you're bleeding internally. You need surgery." They haven't been able to reach Voyager. (If she's got a punctured kidney, should she be sitting up?)
"I've got to talk to Naomi; let her know we're okay," Wildman says, but her face twists from pain when she attempts to stand up.
"Conserve your strength, Ensign," Tuvok advises softly. "Mr. Paris and I have the situation under control."
"Nice bedside manner, Tuvok," Paris says under his breath. (He does this a lot this week). "Sam, I'm going to give you a mild sedative and something for the pain." He does so, and she relaxes somewhat as the pain eases.
"Any chance we could abandon the shuttle, make our way on foot?" Tom asks Tuvok.
"Unlikely. Not only are we buried under several kilotons of rock, but the atmosphere in this cavern is flooded with fluorine gas."
Paris lets out a frustrated breath. "Nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the view."
Rock and dull, dude.
Captain's log, supplemental. We've weathered the ion storm and tracked the Delta Flyer to an M-Class planetoid.
Janeway coordinates the search from her chair. Harry, at Ops, barks updates as they come in. Neelix sits beside the captain. "How's our littlest crew member?" the captain asks.
"She misses her mother, but I don't think she suspects anything. I was just about to take her to the Holodeck for some more storytelling."
Janeway smiles. "Call me an optimist, Neelix, but I'm still counting on a happy ending."
"Me, too," Neelix says, drawing strength from her encouraging tone.
Kim narrows the search down to a big ole crater...but all he finds of the vessel is a few broken remnants and plasma fires. "Either they vaporized on impact or they're buried beneath the surface." Yipes.
Neelix, sick to his stomach, asks, "any life signs? Maybe they beamed out before the crash." Janeway has Harry check, but the ensign comes up empty.
Janeway stares at the forward view screen, to the monstrous crater on the planet below. Her jaw is set. "We built the Delta Flyer to take a lot of punishment. I'm betting it held together." She tells Chakotay to lead an away team. "If sensors can't find them we'll have to do it the hard way." Chakotay exits, taking Harry with him.
Neelix, powerless to help, gapes at the planet. His lower lip trembles with worry.
Doc is in Bill Nye mode today, showing Naomi the Incredible Mitochondrial Powerhouse of Science. The precocious junior Wildman refers to it as the "warp core of the cell," which causes Doc to beam with delight.
"Now," says Doc, "what if I told you that this fellow was invited to dinner but never got around to leaving?"
Naomi looks up at Doc. "What do you mean?"
Doc, even more animated than Trevis or Flotter, sells the story like a Shakespearian in the park, punctuating his words with hand gestures, vocal inflections, and so on. "Well, turn back the clock a few billion years to when cells first evolved. These early cells had no mitochondria. They struggled along without them, making do with whatever energy sources they could find. Then, one day--a mitochondrial ancestor arrived, broke though the cell wall, and made himself at home!"
Naomi absorbs this. "They became friends?"
Doc gets schoolmarmish on her. "The correct term is 'symbiosis.'"
"Friends," repeats Naomi, standing her ground.
Doc caves. "Friends," he agrees, smiling.
"My mom says cooperation is more important than competition," Naomi says...which reminds her, "She was supposed to call me today." Doc's facial line triple instantly; he recovers, and suggests that Mama Wildman is "probably just a little busy. Now, let's have a look at the cell wall. It looks simple enough, but believe you me there's more here than meets the eye."
"Can we try to call her?" Naomi asks. Naomi may have a short attention span as most kids do, but she's still a pit bull when she sinks her teeth into a nagging thought. Fortunately, Neelix picks this moment to arrive. Doc is genuinely happy to see him--itself rare enough for Neelix to notice.
Neelix asks about school; Naomi says it was good. Neelix smiles at her. "There's a time for school, and there's a time for..." He prompts her to finish the thought. It takes her only a moment. "Flotter!" She practically sprints through the Sickbay doors, but Neelix calls her back. "Uh... Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Oh," she says. She comes back in, and politely says, "Thank you, Doctor."
Doc smiles warmly. "You're quite welcome, Miss Wildman."
After she and Neelix leave, Doc looks at the door, his face lined with concern.
Neelix and Naomi stroll the corridors toward the Holodeck. "In the blink of an eye there was Trevis above us," Naomi tells Neelix, relating her experiences the night before. Neelix, listening attentively, asks what happened next. "He turned out to be very nice. His bark was worse than his bite," she says, really selling the joke, and Neelix laughs gleefully. "Where did you learn to make such silly puns?"
"You," she says, as if it were obvious. "Oh," says Neelix, going suddenly quiet. He hopes she won't learn "hiding the truth" from him as well.
Naomi asks if Neelix had a favorite Holodeck program as a kid. He tells her they didn't have Holodecks on Rinax. But they did have a real live forest for a backyard. His tone grows wistful as he remembers those happier days when he and his sisters would to out and play, make up their own stories. "Imagination," says Naomi. "Exactly," says Neelix.
She asks about his sisters. Where are they now? Do you call them? Neelix is uncomfortable with the memories; for those playing the home game, Neelix's entire family and virtually the entire population of the moon Rinax were killed in something called the Metreon Cascade, a lethal device employed at war's end by his people's enemy, the Haakonen. He tries to provide evasive, non-depressing answers, never broaches the subject of death. His mood is significantly more somber by the time they reach the Holodeck entrance.
Neelix handles the choice, consulting Naomi on each chapter. "Computer, display chapter headings, The Adventures of Flotter. Let's see. 'Flotter and the tree monster'?"
Naomi shakes her head. "Played that one yesterday."
"Okay. 'Trevis and the terribly twisted trunk.'"
"I promised I'd save that one for mom. It's her favorite."
Strike two. Here's the pitch: "'Flotter, Trevis and the ogre of fire.'" Naomi likes this one. Neelix isn't so sure. "Huh. That sounds a little scary," he says.
"It's okay. I won't be scared if you're with me." She leads the way.
The computer gives the introduction. "Once upon a time in the Forest of Forever, Flotter and Trevis encountered a strange element they'd never seen before." Naomi and Neelix run toward the sound of moaning.
Trevis is jumping up and down, whimpering in a deep bass, staring at his hand, which is burning. He's clearly in distress, but seems unsure what he should do. Naomi states the obvious (which, as the kid, it's her job to do): "Trevis, you're on fire!"
Flotter bounds into the scene. "I told him not to touch it, but this blockhead never listens." He points to the tree, which has some low-hanging, burning branches.
Naomi chides Flotter, tells him to help Trevis. "Me?" Flotter asks. Naomi, shaking her head, explains: Hello, duh! Water puts out fire?
Flotter seems to think this is a novel idea. He squishes his hand over the burning finger, which sizzles wetly as the fire goes out. Trevis hugs Flotter joyfully. Flotter, pleased with his newfound skill, goes over to the burning tree, and gestures with his hand. Water sprays from his finger until a single tiny flame remains--which he blows out, ever so proud of himself. He looks at Naomi and smiles widely.
"Good thinking, Naomi!" Neelix says proudly.
"Who's the furball?" Flotter asks. Neelix introduces himself. Naomi asks what caused the fire, but Trevis and Flotter don't make things too easy for her. They point skyward. Her initial thought is lightning, but "the sky is clear." Neelix, Flotter and Trevis look expectantly as Naomi thinks the puzzle through.
"There's only one other explanation," Naomi declares dramatically. "The Ogre of Fire."
Trevis and Flotter don't like the sound of that. "Who is that?"
They like the look of it even less. A large, angry, sunlike creature appears, its corona scorching the nearby flammables. "He is me! I'm going to burn this forest to the ground!" The ogre turns into pure fire, and expands rapidly. Trevis makes an escape, but Flotter, caught in the path of flame, gets stuck in place--then vaporizes in the furnace of flame.
"Flotter!" Naomi yells as her friend goes away.
We didn't start the fire...
When the conflagration ends, the Forest of Forever is now a charred wasteland. Neelix and Naomi scour the debris for signs of her friends. "Maybe...maybe we should play another program," Neelix suggests. He looks seriously spooked.
"No! We have to find Flotter," Naomi insists. They do eventually find Trevis, "a little hot under the bark" but otherwise okay. Just sad. The beautiful forest is no more.
"What about Flotter? Is he dead?" Naomi asks. Trevis shrugs, still a bit stunned. Neelix doesn't dare try to answer that. "I think it's your bedtime," he says. She wants to stay, but Neelix, seriously freaked out by the carnage around him, gets stern. "Don't argue with your godfather. Come on, now."
Harry Kim helps coordinate the away team's supplies. After giving orders, he finds time for Neelix. "Are you sure you have time for this?" Neelix asks; "I know you're busy." Harry says he's glad to help.
They head to a command console. Harry enters commands.
Neelix is a backseat programmer. "Maybe a shade bluer. And the head's a little disproportionate Don't you think?"
Harry gives him an annoyed look. "We're not shooting for an exact replica, Neelix. Artistic license--"
Neelix is suitably abashed. "Sorry. Guess I shouldn't barge into your kitchen and tell you how to cook."
Harry snickers a bit. "Flotter--now there's a name I haven't heard in a while. I used to be nuts about those Holostories when I was a kid. Did you see the one Where Flotter suspects Trevis to be a rubber tree? He keeps trying to trip him to see if he'll bounce. Yeah. Those two were a lot of fun."
"Actually, the last scenario that Naomi chose was pretty frightening. No fun at all," Neelix says. "Kids love to be scared," Harry assures him. "Not Naomi," insists Neelix, though he may be projecting somewhat.
"Computer," Kim orders, "transfer the design parameters to the replicator. How's she holding up?" He asks Neelix.
"Fine. Right now, she's busy with her homework." But his body language is screaming that things are not fine. Harry asks what's wrong, and Neelix explodes. "Everything. Everything's wrong! Ion storms, crash landings, alien attacks--a starship's no place for a child!"
Harry is thoughtful. "I don't know. I'd say Naomi's pretty lucky to be growing up on Voyager." Neelix scoffs, but Harry presses on. "Think about it! Think about all the things she's experienced--stars being born, supernovas, life-forms no one from the Alpha Quadrant has seen before! When I was a kid, I would have given anything for a chance like this." This settles Neelix down a little, enough to take the roughest edges off. Harry notes their efforts are complete. "Well, here goes...."
The replicator spits out the Next Big Thing in Trek merchandising--a good-sized Flotter doll. Harry picks it up and speaks for it. "Hi, Neelix!" he says, voice high pitched. "Did you miss me?"
Neelix doesn't smile.
Harry laughs, handing the doll to Neelix. "You know, I forgot how ugly this guy was." It does look like a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Blue Man Group. Neelix thanks him and leaves; Harry, concerned--whether more for Naomi or Neelix, Tuvok or Tom, watches him go.
Naomi is working away on her computer terminal when a hideous blue marketing ploy appears to float in midair. "Naomi...." Neelix appears soon after. "Guess who I found in the replicator!"
Naomi's a smart kid. She turns around, sees the doll, and frowns. "Thanks. But that's not really Flotter." She turns back to her computer. Neelix points out that Flotter's just a Holodeck character, but I think Naomi knows that.
Neelix asks what she's working on. "I'm researching the evaporation of water....I've been thinking. Water doesn't just disappear when it's heated. It turns into invisible gas. So, if we could get the forest to cool down enough Flotter might re-liquefy."
Trevis always said, The girl's a thinker. Neelix is impressed. "Clever!" he says proudly.
Naomi asks more uncomfortable questions about her mom. She says she misses her, wonders when Mama Wildman will be back, asks if anyone has talked to her. She even quotes protocol: "Starfleet regulation 476-9: All away teams must report to the bridge at least once every 24 hours." She is Borg... Neelix tells her she's going to make an excellent Captain's assistant. "I'm sure everything's fine," he assures her. "Come on now, bed."
"Promise to wake me up if mommy calls?" she asks. "Promise," he says. "Even if it's 0200 hours?" He smiles. "Even if it's 0200 hours. Sweet dreams."
Before he leaves, she asks for the Flotter doll. Like I said: smart kid. I wonder who's taking care of who.
Neelix leaves Naomi's bedroom and borrows the data terminal in the living room; the door to Naomi's room is opened. Neelix, anguish growing by the moment. He calls up a picture of his sister Alixia, and begins talking to her. "I'm sorry it's bn so many weeks since I've thought about you, but we've been very busy here on Voyager. I miss you. My goddaughter, Naomi, she's in trouble. We're in trouble. She may lose her mother. Alixia, you always knew the right thing to do--the right thing to say....I wish you were here to help me."
The image, a still photo, has no response. Sighing heavily, he logs out. Behind him, in clear view, Naomi sleeps.
I know he's worried and everything--but if he's going to talk about losing Naomi's mother...shouldn't he do it somewhere Naomi can't possibly hear him?
Y is for "Yipes."
* * *
Neelix is running through the forest with two other Talaxians. It's night. He's leading the way. They're running away from something. Neelix urges them to hurry. "We're under attack!" he says. He looks back; the two behind him have fallen.
The ground shakes. He screams at them--"Get up! The Metreon cascade! Run!" But it's too late. Much as the Ogre of Fire turned the Forest of Forever into fiery wasteland and vaporized Flotter, the Metreon Cascade causes vegetation, and Talaxians, to spontaneously combust.
Neelix cries out.
And wakes up on the couch in the Wildman quarters, gasping, in a cold sweat. Once he gets his bearings he checks in on Naomi, adjusting her covers.
Neelix arrives alone in Astrometrics. Only Seven of Nine is on duty here. She notices him. "Neelix, do you require assistance?"
He looks distracted, just searching for someone to talk to. "No, no, I was just passing by. I thought I'd pay you a visit, see how things were going. How are things going?" She tells him she's mapping the crash site, how much she's extended the sensors so far, says they know a little more with each scan, but little is relevant so far.
Neelix musters his courage to ask. "Seven...your family--your human family--do you ever think about them?"
"Infrequently. I was only six years old when I was assimilated."
"Not much older than Naomi is now. Do you miss your parents?"
"I barely remember them."
Neelix considers this. "Maybe that's a blessing." Seven gives him a surprised look.
Chakotay calls Seven asking for the data she's collected so far. She says she'll beam down immediately. As she walks toward the door, she stops. "I adapted," she tells Neelix. "The child Naomi will adapt as well."
"Borg wisdom," Neelix says, nodding. It doesn't sound like a compliment. Seven raises an eyebrow, and exits.
Janeway barks orders on the bridge for an update on the away team, when Neelix enters bearing coffee. He asks if Janeway would like some.
"No, thanks. I've had enough. One more cup and I'll jump to warp." That's my captain...
Neelix asks if there's any news. No good news so far. "Well, so much for that happy ending," he says sadly.
Janeway gives him her full attention. "We'll turn that planetoid inside out if we have to. But I think we have to be prepared for the worst. Maybe it's time you told Naomi." Neelix shakes his head; not yet. "She's an astute girl," the captain says. "She must be aware that something's wrong by now." Neelix says he's got "a big day planned for her tomorrow. Plenty of distractions. She won't have time to be worried."
This concerns Janeway. "Your mission was to keep her occupied, not to lie to her. First thing in the morning I want you to explain the situation." Neelix balks. "Like I told you, she's sensitive."
"All the more reason to answer her questions," the captain says.
Neelix bristles--and with all the fur on his head, that could be dangerous. "With all due respect, Captain, I'm her godfather! I know what's best for her!" He heads for the turbolift.
"Neelix..." Janeway calls after him--softly. Uh oh. Neelix turns around. She points to her ready room with a lethal gaze. He doesn't dare object, and practically raises his hands in surrender as he leads the way to the butt-chewing of the century.
Janeway, in the privacy of her ready room, is actually pretty gentle. Her voice has the softness of kindness, not of impending doom. "I realize you care about Naomi...and you are only trying to protect her...but you've got to tell her the truth."
Neelix, uncharacteristically, mocks her. "'Good morning, Naomi. Would you like some papalla juice with your cereal? And, oh, by the way, your mother is buried under 30 kilotons of rock'!" We haven't seen this sort of insubordination from Neelix to Janeway since "The Cloud." To my surprise, this time I'm on the captain's side... "When we know something for sure...when we find her mother, alive or dead...I'll--I'll tell her then. Not before."
Janeway frowns. "If you can't do it, I will."
Neelix explodes. "You don't have the right! You don't understand what's at stake here! When you were her age you were safe and sound on Earth with two healthy parents to take care of you. You never had to worry about the possibility of being alone! You take it from me--you wouldn't have liked it." He's practically spitting the words through his anger and fear and frustration. Dang. This boy's got issues.
Janeway, wisely, doesn't point out her own childhood. A soft answer turns away wrath, and Janeway's voice is barely a whisper. "I know. You must identify with Naomi's situation."
Neelix crumbles. His outburst has opened the way for personal confession. "When my family was killed, I lost everything. I still have nightmares. It hasn't been easy--I don't want Naomi to go through what I did."
Janeway's eyes triple in size, a Trans-Lux degree of compassion. "I understand And you're right! But this situation is different. Naomi has you. Neelix, she has to be told, but I know she'll be better off having you here to help her through it."
Finally, Neelix relents. "First thing in the morning."
Janeway pats his arm. "We've got a few hours until then. Why don't you come back on the bridge, give us a hand?"
Tom and Tuvok have, in B'Elanna's absence, nevertheless tried to jury-rig the Delta Flyer into functionality, but even with their fingers crossed, they still manage to fry some more of its innards and further reduce their chances of getting out on their own.
"We're never getting out of here," Samantha Wildman moans.
"Do not give up hope. The probability of our being rescued is low, but not statistically impossible."
"Comforting," cracks Paris.
"Who's going to look after Naomi?" Wildman asks, rhetorically.
"You should not concern yourself with that now," Tuvok says. Uh oh--are we in for more of what Tom Paris sarcastically calls Tuvok's "bedside manner"?
"How can you say that?" Samantha demands.
Tuvok locks onto her eyes intently. "My youngest child has been without a father for four years. Yet I am certain of her well-being--that I conveyed my values to her before leaving. And I have confidence in the integrity of those around her. You have been an exemplary mother to Naomi, and she is in the hands of people you trust. She will survive and prosper, no matter what becomes of us."
Oh my. That was truly unexpected. Downright hanky-worthy in its excellence, in fact. Even Paris is impressed. Wildman thanks him, sincerely.
Naomi, alone, wakes up in her room. "Mom!" But mom's not here. Neither is Neelix. She asks the computer, which says he's on the bridge. "Thanks," she says.
Moments later, Naomi is wandering the corridors. She notices Torres leading a team, and scurries out of sight. She hears some of what they're saying, notes their urgent tones. She manages to evade notice, hears Torres ordering a beam-down to the planet below.
She heads for a turbolift, again careful to avoid being caught by any meddling grownups. She has no trouble getting the turbolift to take her to the bridge. (I've always wondered why lifts, which are voice-activated, aren't more security-rich. Why should a cute kid like Naomi Wildman be allowed to get to the bridge? The computer should say, "Nice try, kid," or "you must be as tall as this sign before going to the bridge," or something. Security lockouts cover other parts of the ship (in theory). It just seems odd to me.
Naomi arrives on the bridge, and immediately notes the tense flurry of activity. Hears Janeway talking to the away team. Notes words like "the Flyer" and "debris" and "survivors" and "Casualties." Sees the forward view screen, the huge crater, the trail of fires and pieces of Starfleet stuff leading into it.
She notes Neelix, who turns around, too late, to see the horrified look on her face. "Naomi?" he says, not quite getting at first how bad this is.
Naomi runs back into the turbolift, her face filled with hurt.
"S" is for "SNAFU"....
* * *
Neelix sprints from the turbolift and through the corridors, shouting Naomi's name. She's nowhere to be found. He asks the computer to locate her. "Naomi Wildman is in her quarters." He heads there, and finds Naomi's commbadge...on the Flotter doll. "Clever," he mutters.
Naomi runs to the Holodeck. "Computer, resume program "Flotter, Trevis and the Ogre of Fire."
"Program activated." She enters.
Several kilometers beneath the planet's surface, Chakotay and Seven of Nine are close to their goal. Unfortunately, close--a mere 80 meters--is no cigar. Their path is blocked by buttloads of benomite. They're not reading life signs. But Chakotay thinks they can beam the whole shuttle back up to the mother ship if they can dig through enough of the debris. They contact the ship and order all teams to join them.
Tom Paris is recording his last goodbyes. "But, hey, B'Elanna, look on the bright side. No more day-old pizza laying around. And you'll never have to watch another chapter of Captain Proton again."
He winces as the computer interrupts. "Warning: Life support has fallen to critical levels."
He shakes his head. "Don't mind the computer. She's just jealous that I'm spending my last few minutes talking to you." Tom, who's a man of few words when it comes to his feelings, ends with "So long."
The screen goes black.
So do the hearts of P/Ters everywhere, who declare a fatwa against any and all associated with the decision to not let him say those Three Big Words: "I love you." He never has. Although, it should be said that what he doesn't say, still seems to come through in his facial expressions.
(Westley, the Dread Pirate Roberts, used to say "As you wish." But we all knew what he meant when he said it to Princess Buttercup. Likewise, when Ralph Kramden said "Baby, you're the greatest" (or, to a lesser extent, "bang, zoom, to the moon, Alice!" (Once again, I hope my English teacher isn't reading these, lest she hunt me down and kill me for my use of nested parentheticals.)).)
Anyway--the point is, Paris isn't going to win any verbal communication trophies in the Boyfriend of the Year awards. But at least he looked the part, more than usual for this season.
Tom hands the microphone over to Samantha Wildman. She says she's not ready yet; she tells Tuvok to go first. But he prefers to write his farewells, he says, holding up the PADD. Paris helps her over to the console. Hair a mess, bleeding from a wound on her forehead, it's not a pretty farewell image. She can barely look at the recorder as she speaks--by saying her farewells, she is acknowledging her fate. That's never easy.
"Computer, begin recording. Encode message for delivery to Naomi Wildman. Hi, honey. I know you're feeling sad right now, but I want you to listen to me very carefully, okay? First of all, I love you." (Tom can't help overhearing, and the look on his face is telling. Dang, I wish I'd said that. Tuvok is similarly moved. "Second, I want you to know that I'm proud of you. How smart you are, how funny, how kind you are to other people. And I know that you are going to grow up to do extraordinary things. Last--and I know this is a hard one--try not to be scared." The computer beeps another warning: Oxygen depletion in ten minutes. "Listen to Neelix," she continues, in obvious pain. "He'll be taking care of you now."
"Bye, honey," she concludes softly.
Neelix travels through the former Forest of Forever. He calls Naomi's name.
Trevis blocks his way, charred under the bark and with a smoker's voice akin to Janeway's in season one. "Go away!" he rasps. "Where is she?" Neelix demands. Flotter appears. "She doesn't want to talk to you. You lied!"
Neelix looks at Flotter, puzzled. "I thought you vaporized." Flotter manages to maintain the glare at Neelix while beaming with pride over Naomi's accomplishment, a very high-difficulty move. "Naomi re-liquefied me. Now leave."
Neelix sees Naomi's head poking above a log behind her two holographic friends, and begs to talk with her; after a few seconds, we hear her say it's okay. But Flotter and Trevis nevertheless provide some stern warnings to Be Nice and No More Lying. They're a bit too cuddly to worry about them hurting you, but their guilt-inspiring big-eyed glares is pretty darned effective.
Neelix sits beside Naomi, determined to spill it all. Her questions are hard, but her tone is not so much angry as worried about her mom.
"Is my mother dead?" she asks. "We don't know."
"What happened?" "The away team was trying to avoid an ion storm. They had to land on a planet."
"I saw that crater. Something was burning."
"Plasma fires, pieces of debris..." he says. "But not the hull! Until I know for sure what's happened, no one's giving up on the rescue attempt."
"You really think they might find her?" Yes! He says.
She asks the question that tears at his heart. "How do I know you're telling me the truth this time?"
This is the hardest part for Neelix--saying what's been bugging him throughout this crisis. "I...I never told you this before...But when I was much younger I lost my mom in a terrible war...My father and my sisters, too. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Always wondering: How did they die? Were they worried about me? Could they still be alive? I thought if I could just keep you from wondering...you wouldn't have to feel what I did."
Naomi's a smart kid. She doesn't look mad anymore. "You were pretending that nothing was wrong...that nothing bad happened. Do you ever pretend that nothing bad happened to your family?" Sometimes, he admits. "Does it help?" Not really, he admits, eyes hollow, voice timid as a frightened child's.
Naomi smiles at him. She rubs the fur on his cheek. "Don't be sad, Neelix."
Personal crisis resolved.
Time for a physical crisis.
Janeway's voice comes over the comm system. "All hands to emergency stations. We've got a level eight ion storm approaching." Flotter and Trevis think this means the Ogre of Fire is on its way again--and that's as good an explanation as any. A level five ion storm is to bad weather what a level eight ion storm is to Hurricane Mitch. Voyager does not want to be around when that puppy hits.
Neelix and Naomi get up to leave the Holodeck. Flotter and Trevis beg Naomi to stay. "I'll be back," she says. "I promise." She's never lied to them yet; they smile.
Janeway hails Chakotay. "We've got another ion storm approaching. When it hits the planetoid your entire cavern is going to destabilize."
On the planet, phaser drills are alternating pulses at the debris. "Just a few more meters and we'll be close enough to beam out the shuttle. How long before the storm hits?"
"Six minutes," says the captain. "Make the most of it, because it's all you've got."
We get an external view. The planet. Voyager. And one seriously big ion storm. We're talking Raymond Burr big here.
D is for "Daaaaammmnn."
* * *
Harry reports that the storm is moving in. "Shields down to 86%." Janeway's already got the course laid in, the speed set to warp two. She's given the away team every second they can spare.
Inside the Delta Flyer, Samantha Wildman's keeping quiet. The computer says they've got two minutes of oxygen left before total depletion.
Naturally, Tom Paris thinks there's still time for some idle conversation. "I never thought it would come down to this--suffocating beneath kilotons of rock on some nameless planetoid."
"Did you envision a more heroic death?" Tuvok asks.
"I didn't envision dying at all," he admits. ("I'm gonna live forever. And you know what? So far, so good!")
Tuvok's tone is somber. "In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace."
Paris looks at him, decides he has time for one last zinger. "If that's another Vulcan saying, Tuvok, I'll stick with 'Live long and prosper.'"
But as luck would have it, this is the moment that the phaser drills begin to be heard. Paris pounds on the ceiling of the shuttle: "We're here. We're here!"
Chakotay reports in, says pattern enhancers are in place. "We're ready to transport the flyer." Seconds later, shuttle and away teams are all on board. The Delta Flyer, beat up but still salvageable, will live to fly again.
"Helm, engage," Janeway orders. They haul tail out of the system at warp two.
Neelix and Naomi walk hand in hand through the corridors. They stop at one of the doors, which slides open.
Sickbay. Doc is there. So is Samantha Wildman. Alive.
Naomi launches herself into her mother's arms. Samantha whispers her thanks to Neelix, who accepts the words gratefully, more relieved to see her alive than she may ever know.
The Forest of Forever is back to its perky, garish self. Plants bloom, birds chirp, Flotter and Trevis slam back coffee shooters with Neelix. They seem to have buried the hatchet (sorry about that, Trevis--it's just a figure of speech) and are laughing merrily.
"And how are you today, Mr. Trevis?"
"Feeling a little stiff, my slippery friend. And you?"
"Now that you mention it, I'm feeling a little washed out."
Now that's comedy.
Naomi and Samantha Wildman enter together. Flotter is thrilled to see the elder Wildman. "Samantha? Is it really you?"
"Long time no see," Samantha says. "You're all grown up!" he says. She nods. "I'm an Ensign now."
"I missed you," Flotter says. "Likewise," she says.
Now that the gang's all here, let the adventure begin! "Now that you mention it, there is a castle that I've been meaning to explore," Flotter says, voice filled with the prospect of impending fun. "Castle?" Naomi asks. "I hear a giant beetle lives there," Flotter says.
Yee-hah! They're gonna visit Paul McCartney!
Naomi urges Neelix to come along, but he tells her to go on ahead. The Wildmans take off, with Flotter in the lead and a goofy, skipping Trevis bringing up the rear. Neelix watches them go, sighing happily.
"Here's to happy endings," says a voice from off screen. Neelix notices Janeway down the path a ways, enjoying the cheerful scene from a distance. "Captain!" he says, pleased to see her.
"Just checking on my future Captain's assistant," Janeway says, grinning widely.
"Well, right now, she's off to conquer a giant beetle."
"Oh, sounds like a dangerous mission," Janeway says seriously, eyes twinkling.
"She can handle it," Neelix says proudly. "She's a courageous girl," Janeway agrees.
The captain looks around; the Forest of Forever seems to bring back memories. "Did I ever tell you about the time I flooded this entire forest? I was six years old. Flotter claimed we were in for a dry spell so I came up with the obvious solution. Why not just divert the river? This entire forest was a swamp by the time we were done." She puts her arm around Neelix's shoulders, and they stroll down the path. "At which point, stinger was born."
"The biggest mosquito..."
H is for "Happy Endings."
If Neelix writes a book on child-rearing, don't buy it.
If you see Flotter dolls on sale for Christmas...well, it's your money.
If Tuvok tries to cheer you up--you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that he can.
This wasn't a bad episode overall. You may feel that not enough attention was spent with the folks in the Delta Flyer. But that's not what the episode was about--was there really any doubt that they'd live through the crash? (Well, maybe Samantha Wildman--I was actually a bit surprised that they let her live, though I was glad for Naomi's sake that she survived.)
A mailing list discussed the concept of peril in response to this episode. Physical peril is certainly one way of creating stress in a plot, but it's by no means the only way. And if you put peoples' lives on the line every week, it gets hard to be innovative after a while. We have more than 500 hours of Star Trek to choose from, after all. Some complained that there was no real tension in the Delta Flyer's fate.
Which, I submit, is why we didn't see them much. We see them crash. We find out that Naomi's mom is hurt. We hear Tuvok tell her that her child is in good hands, so whether or not they get rescued, she needn't worry about her kid. We hear her say her goodbyes to Naomi. That's about it. We know we'll see them again, alive and well.
Like I said--not their story. The crew was looking for them, and they weren't exactly ambivalent about it, but the passion was reserved less for the lost comrades than it was for the Only Child On Board. Harry makes time out to make a Flotter doll. Janeway makes time to make sure Naomi's doing okay--and to make sure that Neelix, who's looking out for Naomi, is doing okay.
This episode belonged to Neelix. He's the one in real (dramatic) peril here--a threat to his identity. He is in danger of a change in status, from godparent to legal guardian, under tragic circumstances. Circumstances which lay bare the most painful memories of his life, the loss of his own family, a family he dearly loved. He was young when that happened, so his own childhood vulnerabilities, which he's been running from his whole life, return to haunt him without pity.
It's a follow-up to the episodes "Jetrel" and "Rise" and "Mortal Coil" in that it discusses his past, particularly the loss of his family to the Metreon Cascade in the Haakonen War. We see his sister Alixia in a picture, and recall (from Rise) that he still talks to his dead family. He's been a sadder character since "Mortal Coil," and the doubts that came from not seeing the Great Forest during his brief bout of rigor mortis. Naomi's "Flotter" stories, in the "Forest of Forever," bears a passing resemblance to that Great Forest, and its destruction by the Ogre of Fire could easily be seen as the catalyst to reopening these old wounds, a fresh reminder of his losses.
Neelix suffering through these resurfacing memories would be a plausible plot on their own. But throw in the tender feelings of a child, and the stakes get raised significantly. Naomi's a stronger kid than Neelix gives her credit for, but Neelix is more fragile than he realizes. He's given the charge of Naomi early on, given the benefit of the doubt as her godfather. Nobody doubts his devotion. But the signs of concern are there early on, and Janeway finally intervenes. (Not that her own track record of child-rearing, in the case of Seven of Nine, is all that great.)
I've been told that one of the first rules of parenting is, never ever EVER lie to a kid, and that seems sensible to me. Naomi is a forgiving child, but Neelix has to work hard and suffer much to earn back her trust. One can only imagine that if Samantha Wildman had not survived the crash, Naomi would probably be looking out for Neelix as much as he'd be watching out for her. He's a sincere guy with a sweet heart, but he's no Ward Cleaver.
Then again, he's no Worf; Naomi would be in far better hands than Alexander. He may mess up here, but his heart is in the right place, and he's got a good support network.
Ethan Phillips does a fantastic job here. So does Scarlett Pomers, who is a joy to watch as Naomi Wildman. Tim Russ, likewise, is surprisingly sympathetic, and does a great job. Likewise Jeri Ryan, who shows a little growth here, a little there. Her scene with Neelix is touching, and her scene with Naomi is nicely giggle-worthy. Wang's turn with Neelix making the Flotter doll was quite pleasant, and Mulgrew did a fine job interacting with Phillips in their scenes together.
My only major complaint was that the lack of tension over the Delta Flyer's travails was partly due to the presentation. Harry's delivery that the Flyer may well have vaporized on impact didn't seem to have the emotional resonance we'd expect, given that his best friend Tom is on board. Likewise Janeway, who rarely takes the threat of loss to her crew well but who here seems far more concerned about Naomi.
Though we do expect everyone to get rescued, it'd be nice if the crew didn't act like they knew it, too. They were professional about it, but I would have expected some actual worry to texture the delivery more.
Wallace Langham's Flotter, and Justin Louis' Trevis, are entertaining, though they were actually more subdued than I would have expected. They weren't bad, and I wouldn't mind seeing them again (I was very taken with the concept), but I think they could be used to greater effect in the future.
The "Flotter" Holoprogram is a great idea for children's edutainment. It's not a kid's book so much as interactive software, even though they call the adventures "chapters." I loved the concept, and I also loved the idea that it's been around for a while and a common part of 24th-century early childhood education. All I can say is, I wish I'd had that program growing up.
Harry Kim and Captain Janeway relating their own Flotter memories added to the story; I can just see Young Kate flooding the Forest. I wonder if we'll hear Flotter stories from the rest of the cast. Seven of Nine was of the age to play before her assimilation. I can just picture young Tom Paris preferring a female Flotter. Chakotay I doubt would have played it. Torres might have been more of a threat to the Forest of Forever than the Ogre of Fire. And so on.
Did we need to see quite so much of the holoprogram? Perhaps not. But I didn't mind it. The lessons learned there kept Naomi occupied, gave her a chance to showcase her budding talents, and did move along the Neelix plot.
Some have suggested that Naomi should have provided the missing pieces, using her newfound Flotter knowledge to save the day and rescue her mom. I remember too dang many Wesley Crusher and other Precocious Child (TM) plots in TNG where kids pull off what trained Starfleet personnel do not, and it always bugged me. So count me among those who was pleased that Naomi's skill were well placed: interacting with Neelix, and solving the episode's real problem--her godfather's ailing heart.
Some have wondered how Samantha Wildman was recognized by Flotter. The answer brings up other questions about how things are done in the 24th century. I offer my opinions, not official answers.
The suggestion in the episode that Janeway, Harry, and Samantha Wildman also played Flotter as kids means the stories were not only popular, but quite possibly widespread. Part of the curriculum, maybe. With programs this interactive, you'd want the relationships formed with the holocharacters to continue, so your personal settings would have to be saved somehow.
We also know that just about all equipment on Voyager is networked--commbadges are assigned to individuals, and can be used to pinpoint locations, and which Naomi uses to throw off her trail when she's upset with Neelix. Data terminals are also networked; Neelix was able to pull up his personal files (the picture of Alixia) as easily in the Wildman quarters as he could from his own.
Now--Neelix's sister died many, many years ago. Yet he still has her picture. It's just my opinion, but I think that by the 24th century it's likely that as computers become more pervasive and more interconnected, there will be an increasing tendancy to not own a computer of your own--why bother?--but simply to carry your hard disk around with you. In whatever form that may be--flash memory, crystals, data rods, cubes, chips, tubes, monkeys, whatever. These will have such a phenomenal storage capacity that you might only need one your entire life--and you take it all with you.
Think of it as your Borg backup brain, your personal computer interface. Getting back to "Flotter," if the same holoprogram has been running since Ensign Wildman was a kid, it's safe to assume that when she set the game up for Naomi she could simply use the pre-installed network version of the program. (This is common: store network programs in a single place, store your personal settings on your local machine.) If Samantha knew she'd be jumping into the program with Naomi, she might well still have her settings from her own childhood. Her ID would allow Trevis and Flotter to recognize her; her settings would tell the program when she last logged on. They could react accordingly. Tamagotchis already have the ability to respond to inattention. They could "remember" how Samantha last looked, note the variance, and react realistically.
Like I said--I'd love to have grown up with that program. In a way, we do--it's called real life. The only problem with real life is, we program it as we go along, and we don't have absolute control over the environment. Naomi is in much more control of the Flotter simulation than Neelix is of his own past; he can't undo the Metreon Cascade that evaporated his family. The creator of the Cascade, Jetrel, tried, but some things cannot be undone.
The name of the episode, "Once Upon a Time," underscores the themes of truth and various types of lies. Flotter and Trevis are awfully realistic, but they aren't real. We see Neelix create a Flotter doll, which Naomi says isn't "really Flotter," and Neelix points out that "Flotter isn't really Flotter." The Ogre of Fire chapter may have made Flotter go away, but he's still in all the other chapters. His evaporation isn't a lie--it teaches a scientific truth--but it's not the lesson in life and death that the episode might seem to suggest.
Paris gives a white lie to Samantha Wildman about her injuries; she sees right through it. Naomi is perceptive enough to know when the adults aren't being totally forthcoming. Naomi herself lies a few times--"this seat's not taken," and "I am Borg." Some lies aren't really lies at all, just teases, but none goes unchallenged. And the Big Lie ("pretending that nothing was wrong"), Neelix discovers, is not taken well by anyone--by Janeway, by Naomi, by Trevis and Flotter...and ultimately, even by himself. In the wasted forest of once-upon-a-time, Neelix finally reveals the truth--and it's not until then that the happy days are here again. Shortly thereafter the shuttle is recovered, Mama Wildman is healed, and the Forest of Forever blooms again.
And maybe, just maybe, Neelix will be able to move past his pain. The "happy ending" seems to suggest the possibility.
Robert Duncan McNeill's turn as Tom Paris alternates between sympathetic and annoying, thanks to the script and to a lesser extent to his delivery. Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a time for the wisecracks, and time for something more substantive. Paris is nicely gentle with Samantha Wildman, but he can't seem to lay off the digs at Tuvok, even to the very end. Some of these, no problem. Others, I could accept if Paris had offered a smile or a wink along with the dig. I've occasionally complained about Chakotay doing the same--dissing Tuvok and/or Vulcans just because he's there.
You'd think, in his dying moments, Paris would have a little room for goodbyes. I sensed that Tuvok was making those gestures, but Paris batted them away. I would have appreciated even a little male bonding in the downed shuttle. One line might have sufficed. I know Paris has it in him; I've seen it in episodes like "Worst Case Scenario" and "Future's End." But it's a minor disappointment at best.
Tom's farewell to B'Elanna is bound to be controversial--it already is, if the email is any indication. But I sensed real emotion in his goodbye, and I liked it. Would I have liked it more if he'd said I Love You? I dunno; I'd have had to see it to see if it worked; a heartfelt goodbye without the Three Words is preferable to an unconvincing goodbye that includes them ("See you on the other side, kid. Love ya. More or less. [click]") It would certainly have made the moment memorable for those begging to hear the words, but it can be argued that Tom's not the type--at least not yet.
What Neelix is to parenthood, so Paris is to relationships. Giving it the old college try, but lots of room for improvement. But I give all credit for remembering that Paris and Torres are still at least allegedly a couple, and letting her be the recipient of his final farewells.
All in all, this was a pretty good episode. Not a blockbuster, not a disappointment, but a sincere, sad, sometimes scary tale with a happy ending. The special effects were terrific, but this could just as easily have been a stage play.
And I liked that.
Let's call it (* * * 1/2).
Next week: In the landmark 100th episode (only the second network science fiction series in history, after The X Files, to reach this milestone), Voyager may actually make it home. But at what cost?