Friday, August 2, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: The Cloud

Voyager, Season 1
"The Cloud"
Airdate: February 13, 1995
5 of 168 produced
5 of 168 aired


Voyager investigates a nebula in the hopes of finding a new energy source. The crew winds up getting more than they bargained for, though, when they get pulled into the body of a large space being.

 Why, yes, Commander, I would like to see what's inside that medicine bundle of yours!


Matthew: There are some good things in this episode and some bad things. Unfortunately, the good things all center on side stories, and the bad things are a function of the A story. Bad news first: the A story is a retread of The Immunity Syndrome in TOS, but with the twist that the Voyager crew cares about the space creature they've punctured. I suppose this is a way to illustrate the differences between the Trek of the 60s and the Trek of the 90s, but overall it's just annoyingly naive. Does it really make sense to help what could be no more than a wounded animal, at the cost of more than a hundred sentient lives, and when it might just do it on its own? There needed to be more justification for the Captain's decision besides "we need to clean up our own mess." I did like how Neelix hung a lantern on the issue by complaining that Voyager keeps barreling straight into the Anomaly of the Week (indeed, this is twice now in 5 shows). His objections, however, are dismissed without even a second thought, which continues the trend of the crew disregarding or disrespecting his character.

Kevin: I also get annoyed by how often they are drawn to the anomaly of the week by either the promise of a way home or, as in this case, a heretofore unknown particle that will provide abundant energy. I agree that Neelix calling them on their over-exploration is funny but also that it should have been taken seriously. Of all the "Starfleet" behaviors Janeway would reasonably have to let go in the Delta Quadrant is examining everything for its own sake. Even minor course corrections would cumulatively add to years on the end of their voyage. That could actually be a great moment, especially for a captain who came up through the sciences, to leave an anomaly unexplored. I am less concerned by the callback to TOS than I am to the callback to three episodes ago. The cloud, like the anomaly there, exists in such a way to propel the plot exactly as it did. Over other shows and series, the crew seems to have the ability to detect the organized energy that indicate life, so it seems odd they had to infer it from behavior alone. It actually being a phenomenon Starfleet has encountered before only makes the reveal less interesting.

Matthew: The B story is Chakotay introducing Janeway to his culture's animal guide visions, and showing her his medicine bundle (I'm sorry, I had to type it). This could perhaps have been interesting, if either we had seen something of consequence in Janeway's vision (we didn't), or had they developed a romance element in the scenes (they didn't).  So at the end of the day, it's just kind of filler.

Kevin: Chakotay's "Indianness" comes up sporadically over the series, and I am really going to sit down and see where they are pulling the elements from. If it's a pastiche, I think that will really bother me. I did enjoy the idea of mechanically reproducing the chemical effects of a hallucinogen. There's a fun conversation they should have had more explicitly about the nature of God and the modern world. If God made the plant and that's a real path to enlightenment, then didn't he also make the palm device to achieve the same effect? Does the biological explanation for the hallucination dispel or confirm the religious quality? It's a conversation that would benefit DS9 as well.

Matthew: The power shortage plot was inconsistent within the confines of this very episode. We start out with Janeway foregoing coffee and replicators being rationed. The whole reason for entering the nebula was to collect energy from "Omicron Particles," whatever they are. But then, about a third of the way in, and before the A problem is even close to being solved, we get a C story about Chez Sandrine's? How in the hell does a ship that can't replicate coffee have the energy to replicate France, along with drinkable wine and screw-able paramours? There was not even an attempt to square these story ideas with one another, which makes me think that this episode is the product of a short A story and some spare parts being grafted together. Now, this isn't to say I disliked the Chez Sandrine scenes. In fact, they were quite nice, especially Janeway's pool hustling. They just don't belong with this A story.

Kevin: Maybe even more than "anomaly of the week," the inconsistent impact of the Delta Quadrant will really start to bug me. How many torpedoes do we have? How many? The long term power situation fluctuates episode to episode. Seeing later shows like the first seasons of BSG really drove home how much more satisfying a consistent take on the resource situation can be. If nothing else, the inconsistency robs even good plots focusing on resources of a little of their heft. Janeway's pool hustle was nice, though I always found the characters a allegedly be modeled after a real place. I like the idea of the holodeck being this show's Ten Forward, and the set pieces are lovely, but the characters never quite did it for me.

Matthew: Overall, this crew and these actors display good chemistry, which at least this script affords them the opportunity to do. I enjoyed Janeway's opening log, ruminating on the role Starfleet prescribes for captains vs. the role she feels it necessary to play. The crew shows its aptitude for wrangling technobabble and solving pseudo-scientific problems. But the overall plot is so weak that the episode kind of drags as a result.
Kevin: Ah...the cardinal sin. Boredom. I didn't really care about the A plot at all, and without the far more energetic Janeway/B'Elanna story of Parallax, this episode just drags. The parts are all here, in some form. The captain's log alone shows the show runners are thinking big picture, but the episode doesn't bear out that thinking.


Matthew: Since there is no real enemy here, we really only focus on the main cast. We get more Neelix/Kes, and it's actually not terrible. I liked the way the actors played their argument over the ship's practices, and the way they insinuated themselves as "morale officers."  Robert Duncan McNeill showed a certain complexity in his reminisces over his academy days, and the way he deflected Kim's questions about missing Earth.

Kevin: I did like Kes' defense of Janeway's desire for exploration, as she certainly shares it. The morale scene was pretty funny, including the abortive song.

Matthew: Kate Mulgrew and Robert Beltran actually had pretty good chemistry. There was a clear flirtation going on here, and it's too bad they didn't develop it a bit more. I liked Mulgrew's tenderness in the social scenes, but her determination when it came to fixing the organism.

Kevin: I agree the actors had chemistry, and the scenes were actually fairly light. I think what was really missing was a clear sense of what this relationship was. Starfleet history or no, Chakotay is not a traditional first officer. He's not even really a first officer. He's another captain in a weaker position. It's clear from Caretaker he can respect Janeway and her abilities, but that shouldn't necessarily translate immediately into a comfortable professional relationship. Even aside from the Maquis/Starfleet plot, I think there should have been more focus on how the two of them worked together.

Matthew: The holographic guest actors were pretty good. In limited screen time they all came across memorably, and none were annoying. I particularly liked Larry Hankin as Gaunt Gary the hustler.

Kevin: I did not love them, but neither did I really dislike them. They all played the parts well, and were certainly not annoying. In concert, I just didn't like the sum of the parts. Everyone is just a little too much for me to think hanging out in this place for an extended period would be a lot of fun.

Production Values

Matthew: Chez Sandrine's was a nicely realized set. It looked like a real place, was visually interesting, and had a plethora of characters and extras who were well dressed and made up. Similarly, the kitchen props and food looked interesting.

Kevin: Agreed. Set pieces were great. The dark wood of the bar read well even in standard definition. I liked the burner props in the mess, too.

Matthew: Chakotay's medicine bundle was interesting, especially the Akoona. The beach scene was a pretty bad green-screen effect, it was clear from the lighting that Janeway was not actually near the ocean.

Kevin: It was a nice prop, and I could imagine that the off feel was because it was a vision, but if you are going to do that, go for it. I was "El Viaje Misterioso de Homer" Guatemalan Insanity Pepper levels of art design. Otherwise, it's LA, people. Find a beach.

Matthew: The cloud and the various creature components were pretty mundane. It was all kind of blobby and I couldn't really make out what was what. I did like the camera work when the inertial dampeners failed, though.

Kevin:  The cloud read much like the singularity for me. It was there.


This episode is a mish mash and just never really coheres into 44 straight minutes of entertainment. The A story was a boring retread that failed to justify itself. The B and C story were pretty OK, and probably could have stood to be the entire episode with a bit more of each. Overall, it's a 2 for me. 

Kevin: This is a 2, for a total of 4. As stumbles goes, this is at least a gentle fall. We haven't hit Code of Honor or Move Along Home, so I'm certainly not enraged by this episode, but it does just kind of lie there for 45 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. It may be a weak episode, but it contains my favorite line in all of Star Trek: "There's coffee in that nebula."