"Persistence of Vision"


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.


A peek into what keeps the Voyager crew up at night.

Jump straight to the Analysis


Janeway is not having a good day. Everyone wants a piece of her: Paris, Tuvok, Neelix, each try to get a moment of her time as she heads to Engineering, where Kim and Torres have also asked for a moment of their time. They're trying to allow Holodoc to be projected into Engineering in case of an emergency, and this is the first attempt.

It comes up a little short. And so does the doctor. Janeway's not amused, but I am; it's about time everyone's favorite Holoego got cut down to size. Janeway snaps, and even a diminished Holodoc stares her down and forces her to take some time off. As usual, Janeway spends her precious little leisure time in Victorian garb, fending off Victorian gents in her holonovel.

It's a point in the novel where things get a little dicey. The man of the house, the widower who hired her, proclaims his love for her and they mash lips. The stern housemarm proclaims her distaste for Janeway (again) and they butt heads. The kids come in, cucumber sandwiches and tea are served, questions are asked about the daughter's piano skills--which the father knew nothing about and which the daughter denies--and old family wounds are opened as the specter of the deceased wife hangs overhead like the fabric in an ill-kept convertible.

A teacup is dropped in here somewhere--a family heirloom flower teacup. That sort of thing constituted a galactic tragedy in Victorian dramas. But in Galactic dramas, it takes a bit more. Like a hail from the bridge that the aliens are here.

Neelix briefs Janeway about the Botha, the race they're about to contact. They're the paranoid, stay-to-themselves kinda aliens that make good Unabombers. Neelix's warning that the Botha aren't all that friendly is borne out, but Janeway gets them to agree to send a ship out to check them out. A brief conversation, but promising nonetheless.

Neelix and Janeway retire to the galley for a further discussion of the Botha and a bite to eat. The usual Talaxian fare is on the buffet line, but Janeway gets a kick out of the plate of cucumber sandwiches, so like those from the holonovel. An amusing coincidence, Janeway surmises...

Until Neelix pours her a cup of something into a flower teacup. That coincidence is less amusing and veering into Weird territory.

After lunch, Janeway hears the voice of the holostud repeating his vows of love, then sees the guy's uppity daughter. Giving chase, she rounds a corner and the girl is standing there, chewing her out. "My dad loves my mom, not you, and my mom's still alive!" the girl barks, before vanishing in a puff of logic while Janeway's blinking.

Janeway asks Kim and Torres if their experiments with Holodoc could have led to the escape of her holonovel characters. They check but find no reason to believe such an escape had occurred. The computer diagnostic completed, they suggest Janeway conduct a self-diagnostic; she's been under a lot of stress and perhaps she's just seeing things. Janeway visits Neelix and asks to see the teacup he handed her earlier, and it's now just a starfleet issue shot glass. No cucumber sandwiches, either; just fried murt cake. Self-diagnostic completed, Janeway goes to sickbay for a second opinion.

The surface scan shows nothing; Holodoc plans for something a tad more thorough. Kes gets a weird look on her face and shudders. "Someone's walked over your grave," says Janeway, smiling. Holodoc frowns at the colloquialism; Janeway expresses her surprise that he hadn't heard that phrase before. "Pithy earth trivia is not in my programming."

No, just pithy medical trivia and a killer self-aggrandizement algorithm.

Janeway is left alone for a second, but the little girl soon fills the void. "My mother's grave is empty," she says. Holodoc can't see what Janeway sees, but when Kes returns, she does...and the girl reacts to Kes's presence. Kes sees the girl jump into Janeway.

If it's not grave-stepping, it's a womb with a view. (Rimshot)

They say something about Kes being a mirror; I must have missed the reference. Now Alice IS the looking-glass? Whatever's happening, though, Janeway finally has a second witness to her weird visions. She returns to her quarters and breaks out the ice cream. (Coffee ice cream; the woman's probably got enough caffeine flowing through her to see flying monkeys.)

She hears voices. Not foppish 19th-century British voices, neither; this is good ol' 24th-century American voices. Voices we haven't heard since "Caretaker." The voice of Mark, Janeway's devoted dog-watching main squeeze. It's a lonely voice, but also accusing. He knows about her affair of the heart with the holohunk. Janeway opens the door concealing the voice, only to discover the psychotic knife-wielding face of the holomarm.

Imaginary or no, that knife is sharp. A struggle ensues, and Janeway calls Security.

Security is already there. But "there" is back in sickbay; she apparently never left. Tuvok asks Kes if she can see what Janeway sees, and Kes confirms that Janeway's not just wrestling herself. As Janeway comes to her senses, Kes reports that the knife fighter has jumped into Janeway as the little girl did. No wonder Janeway's stressing out--it must be crowded in there.

Jim Kirk might be able to captain a ship when he's bonkers, but Janeway decides she better not. She relinquishes command to Chakotay and he tries to assure her that the crew is up to whatever challenges may be facing them. Kes isn't so sure--her emerging mental powers, under Tuvok's tutelage, is helping her to see that Janeway's not the only one on board getting messed with in the head.

* * *

Chakotay and Neelix discuss the Botha as a ship approaches. Someone wonders about cloaking devices and--sure enough--a couple of Botha ships decloak and start pounding the ship. (Coincidence? Read the book.)

Janeway decides crazy isn't enough to stay in sickbay; in the heat of battle, it probably helps. She checks herself out and heads for the bridge. When the Botha tried to get them to surrender, mentioning the incapacity of their captain, Janeway arrives (good timing) and respectfully corrects the darkness-shrouded alien.

The alien respectfully disagrees with the correction; he insists Janeway IS goofy. He steps into the light, and Janeway considers the dissenting opinion:

Her ship just got blowed up real good by...Mark, her jilted lover. Hell hath no fury and all that.

But Janeway is addicted to second opinions, and asks Paris who he sees on screen. Paris sees his father, the Admiral, a more feared enemy than any pissed-off boyfriend. Paris recommends blowing the hell out of the other ship. (Okay, not really, but he's not happy to see his dad.)

Other opinions: Kim sees his girlfriend Libby. Tuvok sees his wife T'Pel, and he also sees them both back on Vulcan, with his favorite strumming guitar. Janeway looks at Tuvok, and sees the man utterly zoned out.

Torres calls from Engineering. Apparently the Mental Tune-up Masters are needed down there as well; people are going zombie all around her. But Torres seems to know why; she says the ships are throwing a bioelectric psionic field at them. (In English: Electric hypnosis.) She thinks kicking the engines into a resonance burst will counteract the effect, but she can't do it alone, and good help is getting hard to find.

Janeway sends Chakotay to engineering as "Mark" looks on and chides her for never letting up with the Captain stuff. She orders Kim to do something technical, but apparently he and Libby are off on a mental holiday. About the only one still working is Paris, who is doing his dangedest to not look at the screen; he had to travel 70,000 lightyears to get away from his father's influence and grow into himself, and the sudden reappearance, whatever the reason, is most unwelcome.

"Don't look at the viewscreen," Janeway orders anyway. "Not even tempted," Paris replies.

Chakotay makes it to Engineering where only Torres is functional. He suggests they escape. She insists they need to do the resonanceburst. He suggests a burst of another sort. He proclaims his love, and they demonstrate their lust. I'm not sure whether it's Torres or Chakotay who is indulging in this little mental rendezvous. Not that it matters much; they make a cute couple.

Back on the bridge, Janeway orders Paris to try to put some distance between themselves and the Botha. He tries, but soon finds Admiral Paris hovering over him, criticizing him, dredging up all of Paris' fears, self-loathings, memories of ancient arguments with the old man. In short order, Paris is useless to Janeway, who runs to the turbolift to assist Torres. In the turbolift is a transfixed Chakotay (quite a chilling sight, I thought; kudos to all involved on the eerie feel to this whole scene). Janeway feels herself slipping into despair...

And Mark is right there to catch her. He brings up the holodeck Brit again, they discuss her heart and her feelings and her fears and her loneliness, and...

And soon Janeway is staring as blankly as everyone else on board.

All that remain, that we know of, are Holodoc and Kes. Holodoc, because he's a program, not a mental patient; and Kes, because she has so far proved immune to all this mental backwash. Realizing it's up to them, Holodoc orders Kes to head to engineering, where he'll instruct her on how to perform the resonance burst. (His programming isn't filled with earth trivia, but it is well-versed in engineering theory? Hmmm....)

As Kes leaves sickbay, she runs into a plasma-burned Paris. He asks for help, to be assisted to sickbay. Kes sees through it and asks if he's just an illusion trying to prevent her from completing the mission. "Yes," Paris replies in a refreshing moment of alien candor. ("We'll screw up reality for you, but we won't lie when asked a direct question.") She ignores what she sees and concentrates on the mission, making it to Engineering where the Doc is waiting on the viewscreen, barking orders.

Then in pops Neelix. He puts on the full-court press, asking her to escape with him. She sees past the illusion and goes back to work. "You're becoming annoying," says "Neelix" who then gives her a nasty set of skin burns, or zits-from-hell, or something. Kes screamed (and let's just say that Ocampa screams are something I'd REALLY rather not hear again).

Holodoc comes to the rescue. "Do the mirror thing," he urges. Kes resists, the pain all too persuasive, but when Neelix shuts off the monitor and leaves her all alone, she does the mirror thing, and soon Neelix is writing in agony on the ground, burned as she was burned. But she's not burned any more; it was all mental. And Neelix is soon not Neelix, but a butt-ugly alien.

Score one for the good guys.

Kes completes the work, pushes the "deus ex machina" button, and the mind field is counteracted. People start waking up, and Torres pulls a gun on the alien (whether for sucking her up into a forbidden fantasy or for ending the fantasy prematurely is not revealed).

Janeway soon arrives in engineering and grills the alien. "Why did you do this?" she demands.

"Because I can." I hate to say it, but I like the dude's attitude. No excuses, just the big bully reasoning. I can, so I do. Janeway jumps into a lengthy discourse on what they're gonna do to hm for his naughty ways, but he interrupts her, again in a way I'm glad to see SOMEONE doing. "I was never here," he says, and vanishes, not giving Janeway the satisfaction of the concluding righteous monologue. It ain't the way things usually happen, and I approve.

Later, Janeway and Torres share a table in the mess hall. They talk around their recent experiences, preferring not to address them directly. "Maybe he did us a favor," Janeway considers. "Maybe it's better to look these things in the eye than to keep them buried." They say goodnight, and Torres leaves Janeway staring into space, her mind full of thoughts.


There's something about "mess with your head" episodes that I really don't like. A writing mentor once referred to the part of it really don't like as "Tomato surprise." If there's a really long buildup in one direction, only to have it be something else entirely, the reader (or viewer) will get mad. I first heard this term in response to something I'd written, and I thought the reaction was, perhaps, overstated. But "Projections" and "Deadlock" are two examples of a long setup that leads to something else that I really had problems with. So even though it's a few years late: "Sorry, Sasha, for ever doubting you."

That said, here's why this episode is NOT a "tomato surprise." The most important distinction is, when the weird things came, they were immediately checked out, and an answer (that turned out to be correct) was soon found: Kes saw the things Janeway was seeing. It just got out of control as time went on. Second, the mind-messing proceeds in a logical fashion, and even though we know what's going on, the crew still can't combat the alien influence. The subconscious siren song is too powerful, too seductive. And the perpetrators are just plain nasty, unapolagetically so, and too clever for the crew by far. Their escape is purely a matter of luck, and it's iffy even then right up to the end.

Janeway gets to have the most fun here. I'm not fond of the holonovel; the kids in particular bug me. But I must say it's appropriate for Janeway's aristocratic character; she fits into the environment nicely, where everyone's clothes and upper lips are just a tad overly starched. To have the holonovel characters come back to haunt her in her moment of stress is appropriate; I've played a number of adventure games where I was so caught up in the action (even in text based games) that I sometimes hallucinated the random grue in a high-stress moment. The mind is a powerful creative device; what you imagine can be more real than what you experience, even without a holodeck.

Janeway's conflict between the holonovel man of the house, and her real-life snugglebunny Mark, is plausible. Janeway truly has nobody to turn to. The captain is married to the ship, and at least in the Alpha quadrant you have other captains you can associate with. It's a lonely job even in the best of times, but Janeway's about as lonely as captains can get. (Is it any wonder that captain Kirk fell in love so often on those five year missions?) She has social needs of every kind, and the memories of her beloved Mark must be especially keen in the high-stress moments. And the question of fidelity and cyber romances is an issue that is as topical as recent issues of Time magazine.

I'd say Janeway came off quite well in this episode. Kes also held up very nicely, though I REALLY hate that scream of hers. Tom Paris had a good set of scenes with his father, as his inner conflicts were aired for our entertainment. Tuvok disappointed; you'd think someone with a Vulcan's mental discipline would have held out a little longer. Torres' hidden desires for Chakotay were a little too obvious; that their deepest psychic conflicts centered around men seemed to me a cliche. (Yes, Tuvok and Kim saw their significant others, but we didn't get many of those details. But we see Janeway and Torres getting physical. I guess we know which demographic was being played to.) To counterpoint this, it was nice to see that the obstacles thrown in Kes's way were mostly those playing to her strengths: compassion, devotion. No sweaty snugglebunnies for two-year-old cutie; she gets a wounded Paris and a fleeing Neelix to distract her from her duties.

Like I said, I like these Botha aliens. Mean tempered just for the heck of it. No reason is given, just "because we can." I liken this to the first Indiana Jones film where Indy faces off against the daunting guy with the expertly-wielded broadsword saber, with only his trademark whip to protect him...how will he get out of this one? Indy looks, considers his options, finds them unfavorable, whips out his pistol, and blows the dude away.

Now that's comedy. It's utterly unexpected, and you're too busy being impressed to be mad that you missed the epic struggle you were originally hoping for. These Botha don't fit the traditional Trek mold for aliens, and I approve. You may not be able to get away with that trick twice, but you're glad you saw it even once.

Quibbles: When will this danged holonovel end so Janeway can get into another one? The concept of a holonovel played out from beginning to end is interesting in theory, but ST:Voyager has been relying a lot on the multi-episode plot threads (Neelix's jealousy, the recent Michael Jonas spy caper and Paris' dalliances as an undercover slacker, and to a lesser extent Seska's pregnancy and ongoing plots to take over the ship--she first suggested it way back in "Parallax") and generally, I think they weaken the show by spreading even fine ideas too thin. The holonovel is another example; who really pays attention to Janeway's bookmark? They may have a good enough attention span in the 24th century to handle a single book over a ten-month (or more) period, but your average 20th century couch potato, even a Trekker, doesn't. The ones who do...are not watching that much television.

On the other hand, the choice of holonovel is appropriate for Janeway. I can't see her taking part in, say, a dramatized Destroyer novel. (Sheesh, that's too obscure even for me.... What do you think, Remo?)

Another thing: how do Kes and Holodoc know so much about engineering? If the gardener can finish what the chief engineer was working on, that doesn't say much for specialization.

But the complaints here are minor. I don't mind when they mess with the characters' heads, so long as they don't try to mess with mine as well. I was thoroughly entertained, and I'm not embarrassed to say it.

On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one a 7.75. Thumbs up for the Botha, though I hope we never see them again. I'd hate to spoil their mystique.

Next week: Chakotay's tattoo is all the rage on a faraway planet.

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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