"Sacred Ground"


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.


Action Kate goes Gilgamesh to save Kes.

Jump straight to the Analysis


A race known as the Nakami have invited the crew of Voyager a few days' shore leave, including a cultural tour--the sacred caves. "The Sanctuary honors our ancestral spirits. Their presence is felt very strong here," says the tour guide. He leads Harry, B'Elanna, Neelix and Kes through the tunnels, filled with beatific monastic faces and ageless icons. Robed clerics bow before a runestone, smile at the tour group and move on. "They're brothers of the Nakisti order," says the tour guide before leading the group somewhere else.

Kes and Neelix lag behind, studying the shrine, speculating on its purpose. They flirt a little. Kes is then distracted by a shiny object and moves through the cavern to investigate, Neelix following close behind. She is soon mesmerized by the sight before her--a large archway bathed in brilliant light. She climbs the steps, heedless of Neelix's nervous caution. As she walks into the light...

You ever see a bug zapper in action?

Neelix is immediately hovering over her unconscious form on the steps, crying for someone-- anyone--to come help, oblivious to the combadges both are wearing.

* * *

Harry, B'Elanna and the tour guide are there before the commercials end. "You mustn't be here; this shrine is protected," the tour guide says, a bit late. Neelix gives a breathless report; Torres calls the ship and has him and Kes beamed to sickbay.

Then Harry and B'Elanna--two of the last people I'd want as Federation Goodwill Ambassadors--use the tour guide as a verbal tackling dummy.

The Federation gadget-heads start asking questions. But the tour guide is a layman, not a cleric. He doesn't have ready answers to their questions, and he himself feels a bit daunted about being in this place. Kim wants to bring down scanning equipment; the guide reacts as you'd expect Moses to respond if a Philistine insisted on taking a camcorder into the Tabernacle.

Monks arrive, concerned yet silent. The guide, who also appears to be at least part diplomat, does his best to put some emotional distance between the incident and the aftermath; he again asks them to leave, that Kes has been punished by the spirits and that she's as good as dead. Torres says she'll hold him personally responsible for whatever happens to Kes, and her body language suggests she'll help Neelix prepare the man as part of the evening's leola root stew. Picard, she ain't.

Harry puts a restraining hand on her shoulder, says they'll report to their captain and that she'll be in contact. The guide says this is the best near-term action, and he'll be happy to do whatever he can. But he doesn't seem to think there's much he can do. He again asks them to leave; his voice cracks a little.

If he's upset, he's also more than a tad frightened. He seems to have a mere layman's understanding of this place; he knows his way around, but he doesn't grok the sanctuary's vibe. The sanctuary's a place he would likely not have approached voluntarily.

Doc says she's in a coma of sorts, but he has little clue how to treat her. Janeway tells him what steps they're taking to get further information (Kim and Torres are trying to scan through the rocks to the underground sanctuary). Neelix hovers over Kes, pestering the Doc, imploring the captain to give him something constructive to do. Janeway tells him to investigate the "energy field," go to the planet and dig up everything he can find about the sanctuary. He gives the comatose Kes a peck on the forehead and charges out of sickbay, his mind on the mission.

Janeway meets with the tour guide, who apparently is also a magistrate of the people. "I'm an official of the government, not a spiritual leader," he admits ("I'm a wonk, not a monk"?); "I don't pretend to understand why the spirits do what they do." Janeway asks to speak to the monks, but he says they consider the matter closed--and express sympathies on the loss of Kes. Janeway bristles a little at this; "there is no loss yet; she's still alive." She asks if the government can exert some pressure on the clergy, but this planet has a wall of separation between church and state ("Nakisti" must be the local term for "First Amendment").

Janeway tries a different tactic, and asks the magistrate what he knows about the place. He says it's where the monks undergo the gift of purification, the cleansing of the soul. It's one of their most holy places. They can enter it unharmed. Janeway asks how; he says they go through a ritual where they speak directly with the ancestral spirits. "After that, they're able to enter the shrine safely," he says.

Janeway's ears perk up. "What happens in that ritual? How does it offer protection against the energy field?" The magistrate points out again that she's asking questions he doesn't have the answers to. Only those who have been through the ritual know, and they've been sworn to secrecy. But Janeway senses a possibility. She asks if anyone can tell her about the nature of the field; he says all they know is that it's a naturally occurring phenomenon. Janeway will never say die, but the magistrate sees no option but to blame himself and offer condolences.

Janeway asks Holodoc if Kim & Torres have given him a report. "I've received a fascinating lesson in the challenges of getting clear scanner readings through solid rock," he says, rolling his eyes. He says they finally isolated an intense biogenic field in that area, which would explain why Kes got zapped into dreamland. "She was lucky not to have been killed instantly." Janeway tells him that the clerics can enter it unharmed. "Would they care to tell us how?" "No."

Neelix appears, going straight to Kes' side. Holodoc lowers his voice and admits to Janeway that the prognosis is not good. The longer she stays under, the less likely she is to recover.

Neelix gets the bad news and then reports that all he could find was a story about the child of a king who had been "punished by the spirits" and went into a death sleep. The King, Neved, went through the ritual and spoke with the ancestral spirits, who saw fit in their mercy spare the life of his son. Janeway thinks it might be enough.

Janeway shares this with the magistrate, who knows the story. But he says it was a specific case--the man was a father and a king. Janeway says she's a Starship captain, fully responsible for everyone aboard--and thus Kes is both her child and her subject. The magistrate concedes the point, smiling broadly, seeing where she's headed with this. "I'd like to go through the ritual myself," Janeway says.

* * *

Janeway tells Chakotay the magistrate thinks her request may be granted. Chakotay asks what she hopes to accomplish; "no offense, but you're not exactly the churchgoin' type." Janeway admits she doesn't expect to mix and mingle with the ancestral spirits. Ever the scientist, she figures some physiological change will occur during the ritual to make withstanding the biogenic field possible. She has been doing her research; body chemistry modifications to withstand natural phenomena is not unusual (consider fire walking, or rubbing a balloon really fast on your forearm so you can withstand a plasma blast.)

Chakotay looks concerned. He says they should have some way of monitoring her vital signs the whole time, and give her some way of yelling No Mas and getting a quick beamback. Janeway gives him the "Sheesh, okay, Mama Chakotay" skunk-eye. Her homework has led her to believe that the ritual will involve some sort of ordeal, a "spirit over matter" test of endurance, since that's what happens so often Back Home.

Chakotay coyly suggests there might actually be ancestral spirits controlling the elements. She looks at him with smug superiority. "To each his own, Commander. But I imagine if we scratch deep enough we'd find a scientific basis for most religious doctrines." She smirks and swigs from her mug of java.

Stop tape. Rant time.

Scientific basis for DOCTRINES? Hello?!?!? Where did doctrine enter into the conversation? Where's the science behind "thou shalt not steal?" Logic, perhaps--mistrust deepens, society suffers when your stuff isn't safe--but hardly science. Had she said "religious ceremonies, I might not have objected. Biblical or other miracles aren't doctrines, they're events. Events may have a scientific basis--turning water to wine, for example, or a staff into a serpent or raining frogs. But doctrines are different.

Perhaps I'm picking a syntactic nit here. Janeway has been talking about ceremonies up to this point. It may have been poor word choice. I just don't think the words are interchangeable.

Flame off. Back to the show.

Chakotay tells Janeway his mother explained some of the science behind the vision quest, and in a way it was a letdown for him--some of the mystery was gone. Janeway says she would normally let the Nakami worship as they will, but "right now, it's killing one of my crew."

In the immortal words of Bill Murray: "Back off, man, I'm a scientist."

Kim hails her; the magistrate is online. He has good news; the monks are overjoyed at her request, and said she can begin the ritual at sundown. (How do they know when it's sundown in subterranean caves?) He also takes the opportunity to wish her luck, and says that if the spirits grant her request to let Kes live, nobody will be happier than he. Janeway smiles condescendingly. ("Silly rabbi, tricks are for kids.")

Apparently, diplomacy was left behind at their last pit stop.

Holodoc has gotten some stuff under her skin--a biomonitor, and a beamout "panic button." Tuvok hands her a phaser; she refuses to take it.

She beams down and immediately starts looking for her Spirit Guide. She sees monks, bald and benevolent, but none seem to be looking for her. They're friendly, but not talkative. (Vow of silence, I suppose.) She whips out her tricorder and starts scanning. A light flickers behind her, and a frumpy acolyte makes handyman noises, distracting her to irritation. The youngish woman--redheaded, chatty and pleasant, sorta like Kathy Najimy's Chipper Nun in "Sister Act"--finally gets Janeway to talk to her. She's technically astute, kvetching about the light bulb solution the monks won't let her implement, then grabs the tricorder out of Janeway's hand. She understands its function, reads off the capabilities in rapid fire, declares it a useful device--then pockets it.

When Janeway sees her tricorder being abducted, she objects. "I'm gonna need that back," she protests. "No you won't," the redhead replies with a smirk, standing, staring purposefully at Janeway.

It takes a few seconds for Janeway to catch on. "You're my guide," she whispers. The woman grins condescendingly (I like her already); "call me whatever you like," she says, after offering a few alternatives, preferring none. Janeway asks why the woman didn't announce herself sooner. She says nothing, as if deciding the least obnoxious reply--and, finding none, says "shall we get started?"

They enter a crossroads in the cave, and three women approach Janeway, and start touching her purposefully. The purpose: undress her. Janeway immediately recoils, returning to the Guide. "It's all right, Kathryn," she assures her. She slowly returns and allows them to do their work. They remove her clothing, let down her hair, and paint her face. We get a most excellent rear view of a statuesque, topless Janeway (we see her back, but no backside--I think Janeway's officially been naked on screen more than any other Starfleet captain...not that I'm complaining, mind you) as she is dressed for the ritual, in a sackcloth material like that worn by the three who adorn her.

Janeway asks the Guide if it would be breaking any vows of secrecy to ask what the ritual will involve. "Why do you think I know?" "Haven't you been through this before?" The guide smiles. "Don't worry; I'll help you find your way." The Guide is at all times evasive in her answers, and I get the sense that she's doing it deliberately. (She's a redhead, all right.) The Guide asks if Janeway is dedicated to the process ahead, to go through what monks have been doing for centuries to chat with the spirits. "Yup."

"So you can send data back to your ship?" the Guide asks. Janeway looks shocked. "It's not magic; our bioscanners picked up the device under your skin." Janeway asks if that's a problem. "It won't make a lick of difference," the Guide says, then laughs. "You are fond of your little gadgets, aren't you?" "They've always served me well," Janeway responds. "I'm sure they have," she says. Ah. So the "backward churchgoin' types" have bioscanners, do they? Sounds to me like the monks have more up their sleeves than they've been letting on.

She proceeds to a doorway, which closes behind Janeway. Two old men and an old woman are sitting there. "Who are you?" a grumpy old man demands. She introduces herself. "Is this where the ritual begins?"

"Oh, the ritual, yes," says the other man, a good geezer.

"We're waiting," says the old woman--George Costanza's mom from Seinfeld--pleasantly. "Sit down, join us!" She gestures to a bench across from them.

Janeway remains standing. "What exactly are you waiting for?" The Good Geezer says, "just...waiting." He smiles beatifically. How long have they been waiting, she asks. Good Geezer asks Grumpy Old Man how long it's been. "Why you asking me, I've lost track!" he growls. "Quite a while," Good Geezer says. "It's been...as long as we can remember," says George's Mom, as helpfully as she can muster.

Action Kate doesn't like the sound of that.

* * *

"Are you telling me I have to wait a lifetime before going through the ritual?" demands Janeway. Grumpy Old Man asks Good Geezer if they'd said that. "Certainly not; all we said was that we're waiting."

Janeway's mind grinds into action. "I'm trying to understand how this works....The monks out there were young....they couldn't have waited such a long time to go through their rituals."

"She's right about that," says George's Mom. "She's a smart one," agrees Good Geezer. "She thinks she is, at any rate," amends Grumpy Old Man.

"This is a test of some kind, isn't it? To prove my determination."

"A test? She thinks we're a test! What's she talking about?" says George's Mom. "She must like tests," says Good Geezer. "I suppose tests make sense to her."

Janeway asks if the door on the other side of the room has been opened before.

"How many times do we have to tell you that we are waiting!" grumbles Grumpy Old Man in his best Simon Bar Sinister voice.

George's Mom again invites Janeway to sit down and relax; she looks way too tense. "You're welcome to sit with us!" offers Good Geezer. But Janeway insists she must move on; someone is depending on her. She must continue with the ritual.

Grumpy Old Man looks at Good Geezer. "I wonder if she's always this impatient!" he snarls. "She's just determined," Good Geezer replies. He turns to George's Mom. "She wants to get on with it." George's Mom sulks. "Seems to me she could be friendly and sit for a few minutes."

"No no, she knows what she wants to do. She's not the type to sit around when she has a mission to accomplish."

Janeway tries to claw open the door with her bare hands.

"I told you it was locked," says Grumpy Old Man to Good Geezer in sotto voice. He merely nods.

All other means exhausted, Janeway knocks three times. It slides open before she can knock it a fourth. The Guide is standing there. "Yes?" she asks, her face blank.

Janeway gapes silently for a few seconds, then recovers. "I mean no disrespect, but unless there's something I'm supposed to accomplish here, I'd like to get on with the ritual."

"By all means," says the Guide, smiling, gesturing her out of the Waiting Room and into the Ritual Room. Janeway breathes a sigh of relief, and without a backward look moves on. The old folks say nothing, by word or expression.

"I'm not sure how to begin," says Janeway.

"Do you want me to give you orders, Captain?"

"I'll do anything you ask of me."

"I see...so you think this is just a matter of doing what you're told!"

"No...I'm sure there's spiritual significance behind the challenges involved."

"Challenges...that's what you expect!" The Guide's voice is merry but neutral. She's going to be no help whatsoever.

"I don't know what I expect....I'm willing to do whatever is necessary."

"You do realize that all this is meaningless; that all that matters is finding your connection to the spirits?"

"I'm going to make every effort to do that. But I didn't come here for personal enlightenment. I'm trying to save a member of my crew."

"That's a worthy cause. I hope the Spirits listen to you."

The Guide introduces the first Challenge. Stand this way. Hold this rock. What do you see? "I see...a stone." "Keep looking."

Back on Voyager, her vital signs are being monitored. Chakotay hovers over Holodoc, his concern for her more than merely professional. Holodoc's got her readings directly hooked into an analysis program so that anything that might help Kes can be thought through.

More rock holding. Finger painting on a wall. "My sister was the artist; I was the scientist," says Janeway. "Mathematics--I can see why you enjoy it--solve a problem, get an answer," says the Guide, neither approving nor disapproving. She reads Janeway like a book, but doesn't offer a review.

Rock climbing, without a net. More rock holding. Sweat dripping off her formidable chin. The rock glows, as the Guide looks on. "What did you see?" she asks. "I'm not sure." "Describe it." She doesn't know how.

Janeway shares her pain through the implant. Doc gets some data he thinks he can use. "She's going through a grueling physical experience," Doc notes. Neelix grills him anxiously, and Holodoc's voice and irritation rises with each response. Neelix says it should have been him rather than Kes, lying there unconscious and dying (show of hands, who agrees? [quick count] Wow. Near-unanimous.)

"Mr. Neelix, you're wallowing!"


"Wallowing in useless remorse; I'll have to ask you to stop. It's bad for the patient." (quote of the week!)

Neelix stops wallowing. "If it's any consolation...I do understand," says Holodoc; Kes is his closest friend as well.

Janeway's face paint is melting under a torrent of sweat. "I'm exhausted," she says, gratefully accepting a mug of Tang from the Guide. "Your microprobe must be giving your doctor plenty of good data," she says. The Guide sounds amused at the thought.

Guide places a basket before her. "It's a Nesset," she says. It rattles. "They're able to travel from this world into the spirit realm; they serve as gatekeepers."

"Gatekeepers..." Janeway whispers. Down goes the Tang. "Then I'm ready to enter the spirit realm?"

"Do you think you're ready?"

"Yes, I do."

"Then you are." Her expression and tone of voice encourage Janeway in whatever path she chooses to take--never judging, always cheerful, but never letting on how Janeway is doing. It's Janeway's ritual. The redhead is simply along for the ride.

She instructs Janeway to put her hand into the folds of leather covering the hissing basket.

Janeway kneels before it, and extends her hand toward the opening. The noise in the basket gets agitated. "We can stop right now if you like," says the guide, sensing Janeway's hesitation. "No, I'm not quitting, she says, determined to do whatever it takes. She shuts her eyes, grits her teeth, and plunges her arm into the basket nearly to her shoulder.

A high-pitched chitter, an almost electric jolt, and Janeway rips her arm out, screaming. Just under the elbow, on the fleshy part of her inner forearm, is a triangular set of three breaks in the skin--bite marks, most likely. They look painful.

The wound burns. Her chest tightens. Her breath shortens. She panics.

"Don't be afraid," says the Guide, unconcerned by the writhing figure before her.

Janeway loses consciousness. Her life flashes before her eyes. Even the scenes from "Throw Momma From The Train." When she comes to, to the voice of the Guide calling her name, Janeway is lying in a depressed, coffin-shaped part of the room, barely large enough to hold her.

"I'm dying," she whispers.

"Everyone dies eventually."

Sliding doors shut over her, leaving her in blackness.

* * *

Tuvok and Chakotay confront Holodoc. Three days have gone by, with no sleep for Action Kate. Doc insists she's in no immediate danger, but Chakotay sees the readings, and they concern him. They know she's been snake bit (okay, Nesset bit) and that the toxin is flooding her system. But Doc says she's conscious, she's safe, and her body's handling the poison just fine. If she wanted to leave, she could signal beamout. He also says that the readings he's getting are remarkable, and quite applicable to Kes' treatment. Tuvok recommends that they leave Janeway where she is, and Chakotay accepts it--but he intends to become as big a Sickbay pest as Neelix.

His woman is suffering too, after all.

Janeway sees something in the darkened, padded coffin. A flash of light, and she's standing by a seashore, streams of light piercing the clouds into the roiling surf before her.

Janeway looks in wonder as her eyes adjust to the light. She sees The Guide. "What is this? An hallucination?"

"I'm only here to serve as a voice, an interpreter for the ancestral spirits."

"I see; If there are other beings here, can I see them myself?"

"You mean you want proof? That we exist?"

"That would be helpful." Her face is hopeful.

"It's irrelevant." The Guide's voice is sad.

Janeway's face hardens. "I don't want to be disrespectful; I've gone through every part of the ritual that I've been asked to."

The Guide's face hardens as well. "Everything you've gone through is meaningless, you've been told that!" Impatience.

"I know. I just want to bring this to completion, to make my request."

"Then by all means do so." More impatience.

She addresses the oceans, her tone formal. "I cite the story of King Neved as precedent; in the same way that he pleaded for his son, I ask that Kes be restored to health."

"Your request is inconsequential; you have what you need to save her yourself." Janeway erupts into a smile of triumph. She raises her head high, and basks in the light of the Ancestral Spirits.

The coffin doors open. "Welcome back," says the Guide kindly, kneeling over her.

"How long?" she asks groggily. "Does it matter?" "I'd like to know." "Thirty-nine hours."

Janeway is helped to her feet and escorted to a seat. "I guess the Holodeck physical conditioning programs didn't quite prepare me for this," she pants.

"Has it been worthwhile?"

"I think so." She steeples her fingers under her chin. "I was told I had what I needed to save Kes." She has a faraway look.

"Then it must be true; the Spirits would not deceive you."

The Guide hands Janeway her uniform--nicely pressed. "Whenever you're ready."

Janeway accepts it, but is silent for a moment. Her face is a battleground of emotions. "Thank you," she finally says, and the Guide nods graciously. Janeway clutches the uniform to her chest as she walks away, leaving the Guide to look after her with an impenetrable expression.

Back in uniform, back on the ship, nestled in the comfort of her technology, Holodoc examines her. Janeway looks like she could use a Big Gulp of Juan Valdez' finest coffee. Holodoc prescribes a good night's sleep and a solid meal, but otherwise pronounces her healthy.

"How soon can you start treating Kes?" she asks. "Right away. I may have been arduous for you, it was certainly worthwhile." He says the toxin from the Nesset was the key. Janeway gives Chakotay her white-eyed Death Stare to express her thoughts on that painful memory. Holodoc says that her ordeal and the resulting bio readings tell him exactly what he needs to do in order to pull Kes out of the coma. He sounds confident that the procedure will be completely successful.

He gives it a shot. Three "Hmmms" later, Kes is off the treatment, and Holodoc is baffled--it almost killed her, despite his best efforts. He can't try it again--she would most surely die. He has no other options. He looks almost panicked--I didn't know they had a subroutine for that. Science has failed utterly.

"I'm sorry, Captain--it appears that everything you went through was...meaningless," Doc says apologetically, his holo-face ashen.

Janeway has heard this before. Her eyes widen.

You know, I imagine if we scratch deep enough we'd find a religious basis for most scientific doctrines....

Back to the caves, back to the Guide who is tinkering with the flickering light panel. Janeway confronts her. "You meant what you said, didn't you? Everything I went through was meaningless."

"Yes." An unspoken but obvious I-told-you-so.

She whispers her response. "I did everything you asked of me. You've led me to believe that would allow me to help Kes."

"I haven't led you anywhere, Kathryn. You've taken me along wherever you wanted to go. This was your ritual. You set these challenges for yourself."

"It's true that I came here with certain expectations....Are you saying that you simply...fulfilled my expectations?" The Guide smiles. "You'd have settled for nothing less."

"I'm not ready to give up. If there's still a way to save Kes I want to try."

"You've come back to seek the spirits."

A pause. Furious thinking. "I don't know what I'm seeking."

A wide smile. "Then I believe you are ready to begin."

Back in the acolyte's outfit, she enters a room, and finds herself again with the three Old Folks.

"Well...look who's come back," says Grumpy Old Man. Good Geezer nods and looks at her. George's Mom looks at her with a happy smile.

Janeway looks uncomfortable.

* * *

Grumpy Old Man gloats. "So...your little adventure didn't work out the way you planned it. You put yourself through a lot of trouble and for nothing, didn't you?"

Good Geezer: "Don't feel bad. You wouldn't believe some of the things people have done to themselves on their way to seek the Spirits."

"So there is no real ritual after all...."

"Real is such a relative term. Most of the challenges in life are the ones we create for ourselves."

"And you're particularly hard on yourself, aren't you?" George's Mom adds gently.

"I've always been driven to succeed," says Janeway, uncomfortable at being under the microscope.

"Stubborn, I'd say," opines Grumpy Old Man. "You didn't really consider sitting and waiting with us, did you?"

"Well, I'm here now and I'm asking for your help. I want to understand the purpose of waiting in this room.

"But isn't it enough to sit and be sociable? We're good company!" George's Mom says.

"That's what I'm supposed to do--talk to the ancestral spirits."

Giggle from Goerge's Mom. "First we're a test, and now we're the ancestral spirits!" A shrug and a smirk. She neither confirms nor denies the statement.

"Are you?"

Grumpy Old Man grins. "That would be--nice and quantifiable for you, wouldn't it--if the Ancestral Spirits were something you could see and touch and scan with your little devices...." He doesn't deny it either, though.

"If you can explain everything what's left to believe in?" Good Geezer adds.

Janeway gets frustrated. She stands and paces. "I know it's an important part of your religion to trust the spirits without question. But I wasn't brought up that way! It's hard for me to accept!"

"So much for your tolerant, open-minded Starfleet ideals." Grumpy Old Man scoffs.

"There's a difference between respecting the spiritual beliefs of other cultures and embracing them myself!"

"Fine! Don't embrace a thing! It's all the same to us! Go on back to your ship and play with your, er, molecular microscanner!" He knows a lot for an old guy sitting around waiting for as long as he can remember.

George's Mom tries another tack. "You've tried all that already. But it didn't work, did it? Kes didn't get better!" "No she didn't." "Why not?" "The Doctor couldn't explain it."

George's Mom smiles. "So it's inexplicable--a miraculous non-recovery."

"We haven't found the reason yet."

"But of course you will. You'll find all the answers eventually. With enough time and study and the right sort of tools...that's what you believe, isn't it, as a scientist?"

Be honest, adds Grumpy Old Man.

"Yes, that's what I've always believed."

"Even when her science fails right before her eyes she still has full confidence in it. Now there's a leap of faith," says Good Geezer.

"Unconditional trust? Now that's promising," adds George's Mom, smiling broadly.

"If science won't help Kes, what will?" asks Janeway, at her wit's end.

"You won't like it," says Grumpy Old Man.

"Whatever's necessary."

"Kill her. She's as good as dead already--finish the job! Give her another dose of that -- whaddya call it?--biogenic field."

"That would do it," says George's Mom, agreeing.

"Do what?"

"There you go again, looking for a rational explanation. There isn't one! All your scans and your research gave you the facts, and they tell you the biogenic field is lethal!" says Grumpy Old Man.

"If you believe the fact," adds George's Mom.

"Let all that go, Kathryn," says Good Geezer. "Take Kes back to the shrine and trust the Spirits to return her soul."

"The ritual I went through was meaningless; and Kes has done nothing to prepare herself. How could either of us be ready to go through the field?"

"If you believe you're ready, then you are. There's no more to it than that."

"But if you go through with any doubt or hesitation, you're both dead," says Grumpy Old Man. "So, what are you going to do...Captain?"

"You know I won't stand by and let Kes die if there's anything I can do to save her. I want to believe it's possible; I'm going to try."

Janeway contacts Chakotay and orders Kes beamed down to the entrance of the sanctuary.

Janeway stands before the blinding light, as Kes and Neelix and Chakotay beam down behind her. Chakotay says she's slipping fast. Janeway says she's taking Kes into the sanctuary. Neelix, despite his concern for Kes, questions the wisdom of this. Chakotay, despite his deep-seated (if belatedly-embraced) spiritual heritage, also questions it. Both are more concerned for Janeway's safety than anything else at the moment.

Janeway's mind is set. She knows she must do this, and believes (or is trying desperately to believe) that she will enter it safely, that it will restore Kes to life. She's been told it will.

Chakotay whips out the tricorder. "There are 800 megajoules of biogenic energy coursing through that shrine," he says, running a sacrilegious scan of the area. (Silly Question: doesn't "biogenic" mean "life-making"?)

Janeway is determined. But Chakotay is ready to relieve her of command if she won't turn from her course.

"He can't really do that, can he?" asks the Guide, who appears from nowhere. Janeway says he can. The Guide says it makes sense if the captain were mentally impaired; "but you're not crazy, Kathryn--you know that."

Neelix spits venom at the Guide--they were going to let her die. He has no fondness for her people.

"Nobody knows what will happen to them in the shrine until they go in. I don't know the answers--but you do," the guide says pointedly to Janeway.

Kate of Arc turns toward Kes. "I don't understand this," says Chakotay. "Neither do I--that's the challenge." Hefting Kes, she climbs the steps to the sanctuary. She stops one step before the entrance, steels herself, then steps in. A flash of light, a bit of disorientation--then nothing. Janeway isn't unconscious.

Neither is Kes. She opens her eyes, and smiles.

Chakotay finally exhales.

Back on the ship, Holodoc rages a bit about the belated readings, but claims that Chakotay's tricorder gave him the missing pieces of the puzzle. Then he gets excited about the answers he's found. He launches into a nice scientific explanation about the process involved. Kes listens in rapt attention. Holodoc claims that the toxin Janeway had absorbed through the Nesset--and the treatment Holodoc had given Kes--were what had protected them, along with some iridium matter and whatnot.

Janeway's thoughts are elsewhere. She sits, staring at Holodoc as he explains. He notices the needles being shot at him. "Is there something you disagree with about my explanation?"

"No," she says distractedly. "Very--scientific." She leaves Holodoc and Kes to the conversation and leaves, lost in thought.


You don't know how tempted I am to skip an analysis entirely. This episode has already been controversial.

I have a feeling you either love or hate it. Your opinion will be largely based on how you feel about religion versus science--which is better, whether they can coexist, and so on.

Without launching into excessive detail, let me just point out that religion is something that tends to be practiced only by aliens in Star Trek. Humans--Chakotay is a major exception--are not shown practicing or even acknowledging any major earth religion. No Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Anabaptists, Hindus, Buddhists, Unitarians, Moonies...nothing.

Well, secular humanism is there in spades.

Considering your viewpoint, this is either a very good thing, or an irritant. Everyone wants to see themselves reflected in Roddenberry's 24th-century Utopia. Groups lobby for the inclusion of One Of Ours as recurring cast members. Trek is a global phenomenon, and you can't blame countries and states and counties and neighborhoods to beg for recognition four centuries hence--Starships and shuttles and other things needing names, which seemed awfully WASPish in the original series, got a decidedly pan-earthly flavor under TNG and DS9.

Religion has had its appearance on Star Trek, but through the allegory of alien species. Bajorans are particularly oriented to the spiritual (though you wouldn't know it from the Bajoran Maquis aboard Voyager). But humans? North American Starfleet-attending upper-middle-class-in-a- classless-galaxy humans? Observe Religion? Philosophical bone knives and bearskins. No time for deities, major or minor. We got a universe to explore.

I imagine earth religions still exist in the 24th century, but that the devout may not be among those in Starfleet--at least in appreciable numbers. Religion seems to be a planet-bound activity anyway. Explorers are always on the move; missionaries tend to stick around for a while. They're usually part of the second wave of exploration. We did see Picard celebrating Christmas with his wife and children and nephew, when he was in the Nexus in ST:Generations. But he was imagining himself on Earth at the time, where Christmas trees might be easier to come by.

All this is prelude. Or stalling. I'm not sure which. I just know someone's gonna hate this review.

Janeway is a scientist. Science is her religion, regardless of whether she would refer to it that way. I don't think religion and science are necessarily incompatible. Chakotay, after all, goes on vision quests, though there is a scientific basis for the experience. And the Nakami are certainly not technophobic. In fact, they're clearly as technologically advanced--probably more so--than 24th-century Federation technology. What Janeway considers superior to religion, is well known to the Nakami, yet they refer to her icons of faith as "little devices." And not, it seems, without good reason.

It's a setup, of course. Janeway's unswerving belief that Science Explains All will come crashing down on top of her. The whole episode, she was treated by the locals with patient (usually) condescension. She had her preconceptions pureed before her eyes. This episode was Religion's Revenge.

Oh, sure, you could explain it AFTER the trial of your faith. Yes, the numbers add up. Of course, you knew science would give you the explanation eventually.

Knowledge is the natural offspring of faith. Exercise faith, and you can acquire knowledge. Faith is a hope that something you cannot prove is true. Knowledge is proof that it is.

You can have knowledge without having faith. Knowledge is less potent than faith.

And so on.

Janeway makes her life excruciatingly difficult, custom-designing a descent-into-hell scenario grueling enough to make Gilgamesh wince. She thinks she knows what she's doing, and her guide simply goes along for the ride. Clues are dropped along the way--"all this is meaningless," "We're waiting!!!" and so on. Janeway was sure she had the answers.

But as Socrates said, true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing. And as Douglas Adams said, "42" may be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything--but what's the question?

For Janeway, this was a lesson in humility. It is a lesson no Starship captain learns without considerable pain. Delusions of godhood weren't necessarily limited to James Tiberius Kirk (though he seemed to relish the role a bit more than most).

I'm rambling. So what else is new?

It's the sort of lesson Q might have forced on Picard. The Nakami are still a mysterious lot--they have oodles of insight, but they don't offer much in the way of data. You gotta work for the answers you get. It was good to see Janeway struggle to understand, struggle to accept that the scientific answer may not come in time--and that she'll have to act on faith and hope for now.

I kinda like the Nakami religion. The Guide was a hoot, a real imp. She seemed to enjoy watching Janeway torture herself, so set in her determination to GET ON WITH IT that she was willing to endure anything, from rock-climbing to snakebite. She would have accepted nothing less. She had to learn her own way.

I'm perhaps not the best one to analyze this. I'm one of those religious types. I like seeing the godless get one-upped by the faithful. I like seeing science fall short once in a while, as Faith leads the way. It was fun to see the Ancestral Spirits, or whoever they were, give Janeway a Socratic whupping until she plead for wisdom like a drowning man for a gulp of air.

But maybe that's just me.

Other comments. Acting was fine all the way around. Neelix got a little carried away at times, but his Sweeting was comatose, so I'll forgive him. Holodoc had the right mix of responses, from smug to panicked to compassionate--he felt Neelix's pain, because he felt similar anguish at the possible loss of Kes, the closest friend he's got. Chakotay was a tad surprising; I expected him to be a bit more appreciative of the spiritual realm. But again, he had a Main Squeeze to fret over.

The Old Folks were great--kvetching like gods on Olympus, bored from sitting around for all eternity, playing around with Janeway until she acknowledged her ignorance and was ready to listen. Ditto for the young redheaded guide.

Trivia note: the Magistrate is the same guy who played Tam Elbrun (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) in "Tin Man." He's a lot less unstable here than there. He seemed genuinely compassionate here, and very much out of his element with the religious crisis.

The society seems a bit goofy; utter separation of church and state seems difficult to pull off. Are there no religious people in politics? Seems hard to believe. Even the magistrate seems to have some connection to the clergy--a reverence and some understanding, at the very least.

Janeway had the big role here, and she did it with her usual flair. I thought she had what was coming to her, but was glad that what was coming was an expansion of her horizons, and the safe rescue of her crewman. She played the king and father role as well as could be expected.

Direction was by first-timer Robert Duncan McNeill, a.k.a. Paris. I thought he had a nice touch; I don't know much about directing, but nothing shouted out "I don't know what I'm doing!" and in places I thought the pacing and camera angles were nicely done. As Janeway lay in the crypt and said she was dying, I had a distinct "Serpent and the Rainbow" flashback. I may not have bothered to mention it had it not been shoved down our throats ("Paris is directing!") but I did pay extra attention, and found the results pleasing.

On a 0-10 scale, I'm giving this one a 7.75, or (* * * 1/2) stars. The moralizing was pretty ham-handed at times, but in the context of the story it worked for me. It didn't overrule science; at the end they had enough data to form a conclusion. But for Janeway, it didn't matter--she had to take it on faith, and it was most likely a first for her. And that's what the episode was all about--broadening her horizons. Taking a chance. Believing in something you cannot possibly KNOW the result of beforehand.

In Trek, that may be an outlandish concept. But for the vast majority of people on this planet, not knowing exactly how our lives are going to turn out is par for the course.

Next Week: Janeway gets the ship home much earlier than expected.

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: November 19, 1996
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