Monday, May 16, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Waking Moments, Season 4
"Waking Moments"
Airdate: January 14, 1998
81 of 168 produced
80 of 163 aired


The Voyager crew begins to suffer from a sort of narcolepsy, falling asleep on the job and having trouble waking in the morning. But things take a sinister turn when they all notice the same antagonist in each of their dreams - a strange, malevolent alien.

 Behold... the Ahn-Woon!


Matthew: This episode starts pretty strong. The conceit of seeing everyone's nightmares is a good one. Has it been done? Of course. TNG's "Violations" gave us glimpses into the crew's minds, too. But good ideas bear repeating. I particularly liked Janeway's dream, because it gets to the psyche of a captain whose ship is lost. But Harry's sex dream is suitably adolescent, Tuvok's dream gives us a glimpse into his insecurities. I wish we had been given a Seven of Nine dream, or a B'Elanna one (Tom could have been cheating or something). I liked the layered structure of the dreams, too, in which characters appear in different dreams in different ways - it was pleasantly disorienting.

Kevin: I definitely agree on the comparison to "Violations," but the episode thank sprang more immediately to mind was Season 2's "Persistence of Vision," in that we get another ill-explained telepathic alien tricking the crew. Janeway's dream had the most impact since it felt character specific, but I was less into everyone else's. It just read as a list of fairly cliche dreams. Given the uphill battle you have when trying to depict a dreamscape, I think "accidentally naked at the office" is such a standard TV dream that it almost pulls me out of the episode a little. I'm a little too aware in that moment I am watching a show.

Matthew: Things start to bog down when Chakotay becomes the main protagonist. I don't think the problem is that Chakotay is boring, it's that things switched from an interesting conceit to a less interesting one. We care about our characters, not about some aliens we've never heard of. So going to direct communication with them is less interesting than having people slowly discover that they are dreaming and working on the solution from within their much more interesting fantasies and fears.

Kevin: I would have enjoyed had they managed to pitch the reveal and realization they are still dreaming as the arc of the episode, leaving the aliens for the very end. The solution of the moon thing was also too pat. I don't think lucid dreaming works that literally or that easily, even in an experienced practitioner. It also kind of pulled me out of the moment, especially after the second or third time, it left me waiting at each step for the shot of the moon rather than engaging the story.

Matthew: Chakotay hangs a lantern on the biggest question - how could any species possibly evolve to spend most of their time dreaming? The episode dismisses this obvious and huge question, to the episode's detriment. Overall, the last third of this story is a mess. I see that they were going for some sort of clever "dream within a dream" twist structure, but it just ended up being confusing, and obscuring interesting story questions.  All in all, the trapped in a dream conceit just doesn't work all that well because, unlike something like "Inception," the rules are no established early on, which makes the stakes very nebulous. If someone dies, are they dead in the real world? There is something said about "knowing they are dreaming" being the feature that prevents death. But no one dies doing the reverse, so stakes are never established. If the ship gets destroyed, what does that mean for their dream world? How can someone win against these aliens? Why were the crew's dreams connected again? Why can't the Doctor just take control of the ship and get them away from the aliens? Why doe the aliens have bipedal limbs, gastrointestinal tracts, and clothing, and why are they all in a giant cave?

Kevin: I don't actually see why the aliens must also be asleep. Couldn't telepaths of a sufficient skill just make people believe they are awake while they are asleep and that's it? And even if they are permanently asleep themselves, it seems like trying to force other people to sleep only encourages attention they don't want. They could have just put them to sleep long enough to keep them moving. It was the fact of being under assault that got them to find their home world. I did like that they at least teased the idea that being asleep long term is actually a health risk.

Matthew: I would be remiss in my being me if I didn't call out Tuvok's improper use of the phrase "begs the question." He should have said "raises the question."


Matthew: Robert Beltran was pretty good, and I bought his urgency and anger at the aliens. He played disorientation and tiredeness well, too. In fact, I would say everyone was pretty good in their own particular nightmare. I really liked the scene between Ethan Phillips and Roxann Dawson in the mess hall - about drowning in Leola root stew - it was a brief little comic relief scene, but it really worked for me. Mark Colson was kind of a big nothing as the alien.

Kevin: Everyone was at least fine, I agree, though I don't think there was a lot there to actually do. I think Kate Mulgrew did a good job with shock and revulsion in the Mess Hall scene in her dream.

Production Values

Matthew: For as inexplicable as it was, the cave area with the slumbering aliens was a well-achieved effect. The aliens themselves were a pretty standard Westmorehead, nothing to complain about but nothing to laud. Their clothing was par for the course as well.

Kevin: The alien reminded me of the alien from "Persistence of Vision," which reinforced the sense that we had been here before. I agree the cave was good. It has a really good depth of field in the shot. I wonder how much was CGI versus a matte painting.

Matthew: The dream sequences had a few highlights - the dead bodies in the mess hall being perhaps the most interesting. The rotoscoping close-up on Tuvok was rather strange and grainy. The moon images were incongruous, and not really in a good way. I kind of wish they had chosen something else to be Chakotay's tell.


Matthew: Although it steadily loses its way, there is a certain baseline competence to this episode. While it is tough to explain, it isn't terribly difficult to watch. I'm going to chalk it up to the inertial momentum of a decent first act and the charm of a solid cast, and give it a 3.

Kevin: I just don't care enough about what happens in this episode. Once we get to the dream within a dream where we learn pretty quickly that it's a dream within a dream, I kind of check out. I hate to say it, but I have to go with  2, for a total of 5. Ironically, it kind of always puts me to sleep.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to say I agree with what Matthew said about Chakotay's character. There were just so many missed opportunities. I am sure fans of Chakotay must lament those ruefully everytime they watch Star Trek Voyager.