Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: Macrocosm

Voyager, Season 3
Airdate: December 11, 1996
53 of 168 produced
53 of 168 aired


Janeway and Neelix return to Voyager to find it under siege from large alien organisms.

Kate Mulgrew has her George Takei Moment. Nailed it!


Kevin: This episode was a bit of a challenge for me to analyze. The story is pretty straight forward. It's a Janeway-focused action episode. By Brannon Braga's own admission, the goal of the episode was to be exactly that. So, I suppose there are two ways to look at this one. First, how well does it succeed in its goal, and how appropriate was the goal in the first place. I'll tackle the latter first. I have no problem with Star Trek taking the occasional break from being a morality play to just have some fun. I'm reminded of similar outings, like "Starship Mine" or "Genesis" back in TNG. I think those episodes managed to give the action a little broader stakes with the team of terrorists or the individual devolution stories. The viruses here serve as literally the obstacle to be destroyed. It's still fun, but I think making the goal basically being shoot to kill is fine, if not spectacular as a goal.

Matthew: Yeah, it's an interesting question. Should they have tried for more with this story? On the one hand, I think there was time. Several of the flashback scenes wee rather languorous in pacing. But on the other hand, could they add an ethical or higher concept sci-fi element and do it justice, without repetition of prior stories, in the time allotted? I can imagine a few angles. One would be the basic compassion for the sick vs. self-preservation story. I think this could be done quite well, actually, and say something about people today, whether it be an AIDS or an Ebola allegory. The other tack would probably be a "do we have the right to kill it?" tale. It's been done of course, but perhaps something interesting could be said about our preference for cute life vs. non-charismatic animals. So on the whole I think I would have preferred a higher concept story element.

Kevin: Setting the issues of the wisdom of the episode aside, I can't find fault with the execution. Janeway as Ripley works as sheer entertainment, doesn't it? The tension builds well. We get Neelix being taken by unseen forces and an injured Janeway struggling on. I can't really find fault with the action story elements when they are this tightly executed.

Matthew: I tend to agree. This is written as a showcase for an actor. Critiquing the acting will occur below, but as far as writing for an actor goes, this did what it needed to do. It gave Captain Janeway a chance to be a badass, but never descended into silliness. The basics of the plot work well, though I have a few concerns about how it progresses, that I mention below.

Kevin: I did like a lot of the character moments especially for the Doctor. It's certainly nice that they did not forget that he can leave Sickbay now. I do have some nitpicks. The bioneural gel packs seem to be way more trouble than they are worth. I haven't seen the ship perform in a way that makes me think they are that big an upgrade over isolinear chips and this is the second or third time their biological components have fallen victim to some biological pathogen. I also found the idea that every macro virus all over the ship would be drawn to the holodeck a little incredible as well. And I'm leaving Matt to criticize the transporter filter issues....

Matthew: Escaping "into the buffer" makes no goddamned sense, as if the transporter buffer, which we've been given to understand is essentially a place for data to go, has a vent that microbes can fly into.  Personally, my bigger issue is with the general treatment of quarantine scenarios by the crew. They pay lip service to it, but really, really suck at it in practice. Janeway doesn't even tell Neelix to take his coat off or wash his hands when he is covered by a gallon of alien snot. The Doctor has Kes examine this incredibly potent pathogen in a microscope, without hazmat gear, and then turns off the forcefield when it comes time to inject the thing. I agree on the holodeck thing, but my larger concern is that apparently every one of the pathogens is now large. Hadn't the Doctor averred that he had ten billion to go? Presumably the vast majority of these were still quite small. So would one bomb take them out? This can be fixed with dialogue - it just wasn't'.


Kevin: Mulgrew shows us a different side of herself, and not just her smoking guns. The determination she shows elsewhere felt of a piece with the determination she showed here. It was an extraordinary situation but she did not seem out of character. She was also pretty good at all the athletic requirements of the episode.

Matthew: Kate Mulgrew has had a lot of showcase scenes, where empathy or emotion or concern are required of her, but this was probably her finest hour yet, because she shows she can be a strong character who happens to be female, not that she can be a strong female character. There is no unnecessary butch posturing here, just steely resolve. It's bookended by scenes of her being contemplative, reserved, calm. It just really paints a nice picture of the character, and these types of shows really elevate Janeway into the pantheon of the great captains (I'll leave it to the readers to figure out the other two obvious members of this class), and Mulgrew into the pantheon of great Trek actors.

Kevin: I will single out Picardo for a really good away team and Sickbay scene. He was the perfect sarcastic foil to Janeway in the tense situations as well. It helps that if you are going to have two actors with the majority of your speaking parts, you might as well do it with your two strongest actors.

Matthew: I totally agree on Picardo of course, but you know, there were a number of fine smaller scenes by Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Dawson, Robert Beltran (!), and Ethan Phillips. Paris and B'Elanna had nice comic timing in the Mess Hall, Chakotay and the Doctor butted heads nicely, and I bought "Ambassador Neelix." I kind of wish he hadn't been taken out so quickly, I really like the Janeway/Neelix relationship they're building lately.

Production Values

Kevin: The CGI is nascent, but not bad. Overall, I can only think of a few places where the layering felt off. The scene of the macrovirus pinning Janeway was good for the time, and they had enough practical effects to help carry the digital ones that I am pleased overall.

Matthew: Hmm. I guess I prefer what we got here to a silly foam object. But that doesn't stop it from looking quite fake. I think maybe an optical effect using a model would have been better looking.

Kevin: I really liked the microscopic view of the virus as well as the make-up work on the sores on the crew. Apparently, the Tak Tak gesture language was an in-joke referencing Kate Mulgrew's habit of putting her hands on her hips, and while I found the scene of them communicating with gestures a little precious, it was funny.

Matthew: I agree on makeup, and the various scenes with set dressing were really well done. I kind of wish we could have seen one of the cargo bays crammed with people they mentioned, but I do understand the expense of that many extras.


Kevin: I am going with a 3. The episode set out to be a fun action romp and that's what we got. This episode is like dessert. You wouldn't want to eat it for every meal, but it definitely has its place at the table.

Matthew:  The Janeway aspect of this story makes me want to give it a 4. But the dum-dums creep into the margins here and there, and the story lacks a certain amount of ambition. So I have to agree ont he 3, for a total of 6.


  1. All 6's eh? I see the third season of Voyager seems to have mostly been a blah experience for you guys :)

    Personally I love this episode. It is pure sci-fi and very entertaining...

  2. We have discussed this apparent trend. I chalk it up to a rut in terms of the creative team, (i.e. telling basic Trek stories completely within the wheelhouse of established tropes) but elevated to the point of bland enjoyability by 3 or 4 very good regular actors (Mulgrew, Picardo, Dawson, and I would argue McNeill).

    Things will change as the season and the show progress.