"Cold Fire"

The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.

This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.

I watch the episode only once--maybe twice--before I compose a review, and I rarely don't take notes. I rely on my memory, hence the term SASR (short attention span review).

WARNING: I am also a charter member of the Wordy Muthah Hall of Fame. I'm enrolled in a Brevity twelve-step program, but these things take time.


Kes explores her Dark Side with grumpy old Ocampa, and Voyager finally encounters Caretaker's embittered Ex.

Jump straight to the Analysis


A very brief recap of the pilot episode is shown, with Voyager pummeled into the Delta Quadrant, then the Caretaker as an old banjo player, then the Caretaker as a dying "sporocystian lifeform" (a massive cloud of clear Jell-O left out in the sun too long shrinking into a bowl-sized hunk of shiny rock, filmed in time-lapse). The setting is given: the Caretaker, who had the power to bring them to this part of space, had a "companion" who left about three hundred years ago (irreconcilable differences) and he hasn't seen her since.

Fast forward ten months.

The lights are low, the incense is burning, and Tuvok has his mind--and hands--on Kes. Establishing a mental link, Tuvok begins the day's lesson. The Ocampa evidently have substantial mental abilities, and Tuvok is best suited person on board to give her the training and discipline she needs to utilize them.

He tells her to listen to the voices in her head, and she says she can sense what seems to be the thoughts of the crew. Tuvok tells her to filter those out and concentrate on one voice, like picking out the off-key trills of a single Viola in a symphony. (He's the security chief; I guess he's got a warrant to search those thoughts.) She does so, and hones in on the mental murmurings of--who else?--Neelix. She's happy it's him she found; Tuvok suggests he was a logical choice, since their relationship would make them particularly sensitive to each other. Neelix is getting a haircut, and he's complaining at length that the barber is hacking away at his ear hairs, which had been "just the right length."

Kes giggles. Tuvok breaks the link, and calls class off for the day, telling her that tomorrow he will teach her a few Vulcan techniques which will help her control her "outbursts." She protests that it was merely a giggle, but giggles are not on Tuvok's Approved Responses list. She seems a bit hurt, but accepts the instruction and leaves his quarters for sickbay.

Holodoc is waiting for her when she arrives, somewhat miffed that she is late for her studies. "You would think a Vulcan would be more attuned to punctuality," he huffs. Kes apologizes, and Holodoc admits that he doesn't want her mental studies to interfere with her medical studies. She is his promising young protégé, and he relies on her more than his programming may permit him to admit. After all, they were married once.

This warm and fuzzy moment is interrupted by an irritating noise, source unknown. Kes and Holodoc track it down to a sickbay cubbyhole ...where the remains of the Caretaker are shrieking and vibrating in a manner most unusual for a long-dead life form. But as soon as it started, the weirdness stops.

In short order, Torres and Janeway are in sickbay. They can find no evidence of life in the rock...until it repeats its song and dance. Torres whips out the tricorder and announces that she detects traces of sporocystian life signs. "The Caretaker was a sporocystian life form," Janeway announces. But the corpse isn't coming back to life--it's just responding to other such life signs, kinda like a tuning fork. The life signs stop registering, and the rock stops rockin', before they can learn the source of those life signs. Janeway gets the idea that they can use the corpse as a divining rod of sorts...and that the other life signs may be that of Caretaker's mate. They've been looking for her--assuming it is a her--in the hope that she can send them home.

Does anyone else find it odd that a creature capable of translocating objects across scores of thousands of light-years in a matter of hours or minutes could only travel far enough in 300 years that it takes our strolling starship only ten months to find her? And that nobody else in this part of space seems to know about her, even though the Kazon are obviously still in the vicinity? And they didn't have much love for the original Caretaker or the Ocampa he was protecting, so ...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Torres takes the corpse and plugs it in to the navigational equipment so it can help them trace the location of the sporocystian life sign the next time they encounter it. Tuvok, ever conscious of ship's security, suggests that there may be a way to develop a way to debilitate the Caretaker's mate, or whatever it may be, if needed. The original Caretaker caught them off guard last time, and he'd prefer to not repeat the disadvantage.. Janeway is hesitant, but Tuvok assures her that it's a weapon of last resort only, and he'd also prefer it not be needed or used. Janeway gives him the nod.

The rock acts up, and they get a course to follow. Soon they approach an array not unlike that of the Caretaker's--only a tenth the size, and filled with about 2000 Ocampa. (What is it with Caretakers and Ocampa?)

Voyager hails the array. The array fires on Voyager. The array hails Voyager. "You're not wanted here!" says an uppity Ocampa man, who promptly hangs up on them.

Fighting fire with honey, Janeway consults Kes. She's confused but delighted at the prospect of running into other Ocampa; her people have no knowledge of any of their people leaving the planet, and she thought she was the only one. Janeway asks Kes to negotiate for them. She's nervous--that's a lot of pressure to put on a two-year-old--but agrees.

Voyager hails the array again. The same Ocampa male answers, ready to throw another round of nastiness at their ship, until Janeway introduces Kes. His demeanor promptly changes, and we learn that Ocampa diplomacy resembles bad singles-bar pickup lines: "What's an Ocampa like you doing on a starship like this?" etc. Kes asks if they can send a party of Starfleet folk to the array, but the Ocampa guy says he would prefer to bring some of his people to the ship. That is satisfactory, and this transmission ends on a positive note. Janeway gives Kes her best captainly smile.

Shortly thereafter, the guy arrives with a few associates, and they begin talks in a confererence room. The Guy is named Tanis, which I believe is Ocampa for "excrement" and/or "cranium." He brings up some disturbing news to Janeway: "Have you any idea how your ship is regarded? You kill the caretaker, declare war on the Kazon, raid planets for their resources..." Another Ocampa adds, "Yours is known as a ship of death."

Chakotay protests that their reputation is undeserved, but let's face it--they haven't exactly been received with open arms.

Hmmm. Starship Kevorkian. Has a nice ring to it. Okay, kids...Rant Time.

Sure, the Federation is often at war in their home quadrant; the Borg, the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Klingons, the Ferengi--none of them really likes the Federation. Most actively loathe it. We've had three series and a baker's half-dozen films that give the Federation viewpoint, but in addition to Starfleet, the Federation also has thousands of member worlds, and a whole lotta Public Relations teams spreading the gospel. In the Delta Quadrant, they're a lone ship. After a battle, Voyager leaves, leaving everyone else to write down what happened. They have no rear-eschelon pukes to do spin and damage control on events after the fact.

There's no Milo Minderbinder to proclaim, "What's good for the Starship Voyager is good for the Delta Quadrant." Imagine the events of Operation Desert Storm chronicled personally by Saddam--it isn't exactly going to match what we read in the Wall Street Journal.

I can see why the Voyager crew would take umbrage at the news of their lousy reputation, but you gotta admit--at the very least, Voyager has had a run of bad luck establishing a love connection with any of the races in this part of the galaxy. Their friends to date include Kes, Neelix, and ... well, that's it. Their allies in this part of space fit into a single guest suite. Their enemies are everywhere--Kazon, Vidiian, etc. Few of the races that have enountered the ship seem to have a neutral opinion. For all their good intentions, these Starfleet types just don't fit well with the prevailing galactic culture. Loot, shoot and pontificate--that's about all we've seen from them so far.

Too rough? Perhaps. But it's refreshing to see Roddenberry's vision through the looking glass, and to realize that the Federation evolved over a period of centuries--and that its much vaunted principles will not be embraced automatically by everyone, and more often than not is likely to cause resentment among those who are not in a position to appreciate Federation ideals in terms of their own lives. In fact, the strange outfits, the wondrous technology and enlightened ideals are more likely to be seen as pompous, greedy and slightly insane, better suited to be conquered and dismantled than embraced and educated by.

Needless to say, I'm fond of the "ship of death" concept, though I seriously doubt Gene would have approved. It's hard to see how the Delta Quadrant races would see the Federation Starship as the flagship of an ideal society when it's limping around, starved for resources, and chased by sworn enemies and organ pirates.

Sorry. Flame off.

Anyway. Ship of death, Chakotay says that their reputation is undeserved. Kes comes to the defense of Voyager; they saved her and Neelix, and in the ten months she's lived on board she can attest to their benevolent tendencies and noble characters. Tanis accepts this from her, but you get the feeling he doesn't really care. As the discussions continue, Tanis looks at her and speaks straight into her mind--"I want to speak with you." She is surprised to hear his voice in her mind. When the meeting breaks up, Tanis asks to see her "special place" on the ship.

She takes him to the Greenhouse. Tanis looks around approvingly, that she has managed to bring some life into "this sterile place." I decided Tanis still isn't a big fan of the Alpha Quadrant Castaways. He confesses to Kes that he is 14 years old; Kes says the oldest Ocampa only lived to be nine. "You know so little about your own people," Tanis responds.

Apparently the Ocampa we've seen to date aren't all created equal. These Ocampa are a lot cockier, for one thing. Tanis, in particular, is very full of himself. "Being here on this ship is holding you back. I suppose we were like you once, innocent, naive."

Tanis refers to the long-sought Other Caretaker, whom his people know as Susperia. She doesn't like the term caretaker; she thought her ex was a wimp, who kept the Ocampa servile. Susperia saw more potential in the Ocampa, and brought a few of them out here 300 years earlier to develop a race of überOcampa, mental giants who can drop kick mere mortals with their psychokinetic muscles. And so much more. "We have abilities far beyond anything you can imagine," he struts.

As Bill Maher would say, "Get over yourself!"

Tanis says he must return to the Array. But before he goes, he demonstrates a measure of his powers: all the plants in the greenhouse have blossomed and bloomed and grown like crazy, much to Kes' amazement.

Kes briefs Janeway on their conversation. She's thrilled to have found some of her own people, but seeing their capabilities leaves her feeling a bit daunted.

Tanis briefs...someone. "I've met with the Ocampa girl," he thinks out loud. "She has potential." (I don't know why, but I had a "Mork calling Orson, come in your immenseness" flashback during this scene.) A voice, that of a middle-aged female which a penchant for unfiltered cigarettes, rasps, "Keep the girl. I want the ship." If this is the Caretaker's ex, I say the last 300 years before his death were probably best spent a few light-years apart.

The Ocampa and the crew meet again for dinner. Tanis mentions that the traveling Ocampa lifespan is now much longer than that of the homebound Ocampa. His own father lived to be 20 years old. Neelix perks up at this--can the technology that extends their age be used to give Kes a few extra years? Possible, he responds.

Another rant: How do Ocampa know they only live to be nine years, and how do they know that nine years is "only" nine years? They live underground, at least the ones Kes knew about before this. When you live underground, you don't have stars or planets or moons or suns to help you keep track of time. But even if you do, you're likely to think in smaller time units than years. Translate our years to their months, and you've got a rough parallel; we have people living to be 108, though not many.

Most Ocampa development occurs in the first year or so; Kes was nicely developed when we found her at approximately 14 months of age, not yet child-bearing age but certainly old enough to date Neelix. Now, not to put too much emphasis on this, but when is the last time you discussed life expectancies on a date?

Anyway. It just seems that counting time in years would not be how the Ocampa would do things. Yeah, they translate the times for our benefit, but I'd be more likely to accept that she would consider the races she encounters to be near-immortal, much as we say Wow at the prospect of a 900 year-old guy. Our life span is normal--theirs is amazingly long. Perhaps over time she would realize that her race is the exception, and might feel cheated. But until Voyager arrived, Kes likely had seen only Neelix and the Kazon, and the latter weren't exacltly chatty.

So for me, it would be more logical for Kes to refer to her people's lifespan in units closer to our months than our years, and that it's still not likely to be something to turn up in casual conversation. I know, it's just a show, and units are standardized for those not playing the home game. But it still bugs me.

Where was I? Oh yeah, way off track. I'll try to be brief .

Back to dinner. Tanis mentions the 20-year lifespan of space station Ocampa, and describes the nature of Susperia and their relationship to her. They're rather close to each other, and Tanis is happy to introduce them.

Then Tanis invites Kes to live with her people on the station. This is not appropriate dinner conversation, and Janeway diplomatically suggests that this can be best discussed elsewhere, and after some time to consider the offer. Neelix seems displeased at the offer. Tanis then offers to help Kes with her mental training; "No offense to Mr. Tuvok, but I am more familiar with the Ocampa mind."

Tanis is really quite a weener; I wanted to slap some humility into him throughout this episode. Nevertheless, they agree that Kes should get some homegrown lessons.

After dinner, Tuvok shows Janeway the sporocystian toxin gun. After the recent discussion of Suspiria (how do you shoot someone you know by name?) Janeway is hesitant, but Tuvok insists dispassionately that it's a precautionary measure only. It's won't kill the creature, just paralyze it momentarily.

In the mess hall, Kes and Tanis contemplate a cup of something. Tanis has her stare at the cup, to mentally grab the handle; she can feel it. He then tells her to move it. She doesn't know how. He tells her to mentally take a drink, and the cup moves. "Focus on the goal, not the task." he says. Neelix tries to interject (to cheer for her, most likely) but Tanis cuts him off; he has one more trick to show her. "The drink's too cold. Heat it up." He has her concentrate on the molecules, and to "bring the fire of your mind" to excite the molecules. She applies some mental heat, and soon the cup boileth over. Tanis says goodnight, Neelix waits for him to leave before asking to speak. "Of course, Neelix!" she says. He rushes over and tells her how proud he is of her, and asks that he be allowed to join her if she moves to the Array.

Kes offers to show Tuvok her new mental skill. Tuvok urges caution, but permits her to demonstrate. She gets molecular, then brings on the fire, and soon the cup is boiling. Unfortunately, Tanis never showed her how to turn it off. The cup breaks, and she turns to Tuvok for help--and the red liquid turns green. (Helpful hint: if your mind is boiling anything you focus on--be careful what you focus on.) She looks at Tuvok, and sees him in serious hurt: his eyes are bleeding--that's never a good sign.

Then comes that hideous, hope-I-never-hear-it-again Ocampa scream. Fingernails on chalkboards are the Mormon Tabernacle Choir compared to that scream. Forget the mental stuff -- the scream is the most alien thing about Kes by far.

Fortunately, boiling blood is no big thang for Holodoc; in less time than you can say Commercial Break, Tuvok is awakening with a heck of a headache, a smug doctor, and a repentant Kes. Tuvok tells her to put away her emotional guilt over his near death experience and insists that--if anything--he feels even more committed to helping her attain some mental discipline. He gets up to leave, Holodoc protests, Tuvok insists that his Vulcan Healing Techniques are sufficient, and Holodoc murmurs, "Vulcans make the worst patients."

Kes returns to her Special Place, the greenhouse, to consider the recent developments. Tanis is there, and he's eager to press the case for her moving to the station. He presents a picture of a Glorified Ocampa, so superior in mind and experience that the Voyager folks will soon seem to her as little more than pets. (Dating tip: If you want to impress a girl into moving in with you, don't exhibit delusions of godhood.) He gives her another lesson in Ocampa Mind: he has her view one of her flowers in a new light--to become one with the flower. A bit of special effects lets us in on the Ocampa Cam and the flower indeed comes to life with a brilliance the naked eye can't fathom--though a bit out of focus. Tanis then tells her to grasp all the plants in the room at once, to expand her mind to encompass the room, and she does--all of her plants come to life as never before.

"Now...bring on the fire!" he commands, and Kes is engulfed in a roomful of flames, drawn into her without causing her harm, reeling her onto her back in a fit of orgiastic epiphany.

When she returns to our plane of existence, all the plants in the greenhouse are dead, consumed in the knowing. Tanis tries to assure her that what she's just done is a good thing. But I didn't want to hurt anything, she insists. "That's not the point," says Tanis. "Hurt, help, give life, kill--it's all the same." Remind me not to hire Tanis as a paramedic.

Tanis seems to think he's made his point that she belongs with him and his people. Now, maybe I'm deficient in Ocampa courtship practices, but Tanis strikes me as a very creepy guy. I wouldn't go anywhere with him. He insults her friends, teaches her only to destroy, and thinks she's going to be impressed by this? Yeesh. Oh yeah, I'd follow you anywhere, mind boy. Take me to momma.

He does mention a place he calls "exotia," which is where susperia lives and which apparently is similar to Human Heaven, though Tanis says we'd call it a "subspace layer, a place of pure thought, pure energy." Put that way, I can see why we wouldn't be all that eager to go there, but Kes is tempted.

When the corpse vibrates again, it means Caretaker's ex is nearby. The ship readies for her arrival. Janeway calls engineering when a subspace rip appears near them, and in Engineering we see a plantlike thing -- most likely the other Caretaker -- slips in unnoticed. When Torres stops talking, Janeway sends Tuvok to investigate.

Tanis comes for Kes. "Time to go," he announces. "Your future is here."

Tuvok arrives in Engineering and tells Janeway the caretaker is here, but soon he stops talking, and Janeway heads to engineering. (They must not have drive-in horror movies in the 24th century. Investigating in groups of one or two is just making it easier on the psycho killer.)

Tanis tells Kes to open her mind, to hear the minds of the other Ocampa on the station. He asks if she can hear them. She can, and she rejoices in it. He asks her to feel Susperia, eager to close the deal and convince her to follow him off the ship.

Janeway reaches Engineering and finds the place deserted--except for a little girl clutching the Caretaker's remains. The girl is crying.

Kes can feel Susperia. She senses its power. And its emotions. "She's angry...she wants to destroy the ship!!" Kes cries, but thankfully doesn't scream.

The way Tanis has talked and acted throughout the episode, this isn't much of a surprise. But Janeway doesn't know it yet. She tries to talk to the other Caretaker, with compassion and a little condescension. But she knows Susperia has the power to send them home, and tells her of their struggles to find her.

The caretaker asks if the other caretaker's bringing them her is why they killed him. Janeway says they didn't kill him, but Susperia is adamant. "You killed him, you destroyed the Array, and you took his remains." Susperia undergoes instant puberty--her voice drops several octaves. "And now I will kill you."

Janeway would know that Marlboro voice anywhere. She steps back defensively, then notices something wet on her shoulder. It's blood. She looks up, and sees Torres and Tuvok floating above her. Torres is bleeding. Soon, Janeway is floating, and suffering.

On the bridge, Paris reports that the "ship's molecular integrity collapsing" button has lit up. (I thought my Hyundai was the only vehicle with that particular warning light.) When the Other Caretaker threatens the ship, she doesn't mess around.

Kes has decided she's not all that fond of Susperia. Tanis tells her they've got to go--let Susperia destroy the ship and all the friendly little pets, Kes belongs with her people now. Kes resists. Neelix approaches them, and Tanis uses his mental powers to throw the Talaxian across the room. Finally, Kes lets her fury come out, and she focuses it all on Tanis--with some for Caretaker. Soon he's bleeding out of multiple orifices, and Susperia is also momentarily stunned.

Janeway and the others hit the ground. While Tuvok and Torres are still recovering, Janeway grabs the "sporocystian toxin ray" gun, locks and loads, and fires. Susperia is bathed in Ebola virus and writhes long enough for Tuvok to enable a force field around her.

The "ship's molecular integrity" light goes back to black. The ship is safe.

In Engineering, Susperia recovers, but is trapped. "So now you kill me?" she spits, still in old-woman voice.

"No," Janeway's rasp responds. We didn't kill your mate, and we won't kill you. We just want to go home, and we would like your help. We're going to give a show of faith. She instructs Tuvok to lower the force field, against his recommendation.

Susperia is skeptical. "You show me mercy after what I would have done?" Yup, says Janeway.

No thank-you, no apology, no parting words. The girl goes subspace and flies through the roof. A suffering Tanis begs Susperia to take him with her, and he fades into nothingness. Our favorite Ocampan in her Terrible Twos has saved the ship, her fledgeling powers momentarily Bluer than Indigo (an old Asian proverb signifying that the student has outpaced the instructor).

After all this, Janeway redoubles her commitment to find Susperia again and convince her to send them home, though the ship is on course to the Alpha Quadrant.

In Tuvok's quarters, Kes explains to Tuvok that her mental powers haven't been the same since Tanis left; she can't do the boiling java trick anymore, for instance. Part of her is very glad--she isn't happy about the side of herself that took pleasure in burning out her own garden. She had been tempted to go with Tanis. "I never realized I had such dark impulses."

Tuvok tells her that the darkness is necessary, or "how would we recognize the light? Do not fear your negative thoughts. They are a part of every living thing. Even Vulcans." Kes isn't a Vulcan scholar or a Trekkie, so this is news to her. "The Vulcan heart," Tuvok explains, "was forged out of barbarism and violence. We learned to control it, but it is still a part of us." It's refreshing to hear him admit it; Spock was eventually willing to acknowledge the struggle Vulcans have with their emotions, but this may be a first for Tuvok. "To pretend it does not exist is to create an opportunity for it to escape."

The enemy vanquished, the ship out of danger, equilibrium restored, the episode comes full circle, with low lights, incense burning, and Tuvok and Kes joined in a mental exercise.


From my outbursts in the breakdown section, you may get the idea that I have a lot to complain about in this episode. You'd be right.

However, a lot of it is just pent-up gripes that happen to be convenient to express here. Ocampa time measurement and courtship rituals are high on this list. I'm sorry, but I wouldn't follow Tanis anywhere; in the original series, Kirk would have kicked his butt and then forced him to endure a lengthy monologue. If the universe ain't big enough for Greek gods and Gary Mitchell, it certainly isn't big enough to suffer the likes of a petty backwoods Ocampa who regards Starfleet people as pets. (Neelix, maybe; he's kinda cute in a furry sorta way.) Well, Tanis is 14 years old, and we know how volatile American teenagers are at that age. Perhaps it's a good thing their people only live to be nine.

Susperia is a mystery; she leaves her companion Caretaker because they fundamentally disagree over how to treat the Ocampa, but they're really not that far apart in terms of distance. She's busy creating a Master Race of xenophobic, arrogant jerks, but still has time to exact blind revenge. And she talks like Anne Ramsey in "Throw Momma from the train." Why Janeway would willingly seek Susperia out again is something I hope they don't explore in future episodes.

I did think the mental stuff Tanis taught Kes was kinda cool, but again as a selling point I don't see it. Tanis showed their powers can create, but the only thing Tanis taught Kes to do was destroy. He seemed to enjoy it when she injured Tuvok and nuked her own plants. That whole "it makes no difference--give life or take it, help or hurt" spiel is pure crap, and if Tanis is half as adept at reading the Ocampa mind as he claims to be, he'd read Kes better than that. She's the most compassionate creature on the ship. I can see the allure for Kes to be with her own people, but not if they're gonna act like that. I also can't figure why Kes' powers, which seem to rely heavily on Tanis' help, could be turned against him and Susperia.

I really liked the whole "ship of death" idea, as I mentioned before. It was a shock to Janeway to hear her ship and crew and philosophy turned on its head like that.

Don't mind me; I'm just tired.

On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one a 6.50.

Next week: Seska's back.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.

Last Updated: May 11, 1996
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