Monday, September 25, 2017

Voyager, Season 5: Once Upon A Time, Season 5
"Once Upon A Time"
Airdate: November 11, 1998
98 of 168 produced
98 of 168 aired


Neelix is called upon to care for Naomi Wildman when her mother leaves on an away mission. Things become fraught when that mission runs into potentially fatal complications. 

Once upon a time, in the sweetly-scented land of CARNAGE AND DESTRUCTION...


Matthew: I've got to say, this is an episode that's grown on me as I've aged. I remember being somewhat bored and annoyed by this episode as a surly 21 year old. But now that I have two little ones at home, I identify a great deal more with the overall thrust of the story. So let's get this out of the way: Yes, this is about the challenges of kids on a starship, the drama of potentially losing a parent, and yes, this has been done on TNG before. But there is a greater focus here, with better kid writing and acting, a better approach than the whole Roddenberry "We no longer fear death" screed, and a good character connection between Naomi and Neelix. Tying his own family history into his protective feelings for her really worked. Was the ending a bit predictable and sappy? Sure. But I was invested by that time, and I won't lie about my eyes being a little misty.

Kevin: The emotional throughline of the episode is pretty strong, since it focuses on some very recognizable and relatable relationship dynamics, and the relationships draw on what we know of the characters. Neelix's actions rather than feel off-putting the way they did with Kes, feel completely organic. He's protecting someone from a loss he knows too well. I also liked the scenes in the Flyer more than I normally like those scenes given that we know the show won't kill a main character and given that this was 13 years before Game of Thrones, Samantha Wildman was likely going to make it as well. I liked the goodbye messages since not only were they affecting for themselves, they all drew on the characters. Of course Tom makes a joke with his dying breath. Tuvok chooses to make his goodbyes as privately as possible. The moments I teared up were Samantha's goodbye to Naomi, obviously, and Tuvok's admonition that regardless of happens to them, her daughter will thrive because of the kind of mother she has been and the people around her. It is really just about up there with "I am and will always be your friend," in terms of Vulcan austerity encompassing some surprising emotional depth. It also actually sells Vulcan philosophy for me in a way few other times have. Rather than ignore his attachment as a father, his logic tells him that his children will be fine, and knowing that is a source of comfort in a way that it wouldn't be for a human. His commitment to logic provides a certainty that human parent would never allow themselves about their children's well being in their absence, so it's actually a selling point for his philosophy rather than the normal butt of a joke. So yeah, even though the ending is predictable, the path took us through some really good character work, and thus is worth the trip.

Matthew: The ion storm aspect of the story is a throwaway. The only really interesting aspect of it was the shuttle crew recording messages for their loved ones. The scenes on the ship fared better, creating a nice sense of urgency and of the crew being a competent, professional force working towards a rescue. The timing on the ultimate ion storm at the end was a bit cute, naturally coming two minutes before oxygen depletion. Um... can't they just replicate oxygen? I was also a little iffy on why the shuttle crew couldn't just walk around (I know fluorine gas), given that the rescue crew could. My favorite part from a "Voyager" perspective was the way Janeway handled Neelix. He was getting agitated, and she could have rebuked him. But she empathized with him instead, understanding his emotional position. She still insisted that Naomi be told, but the conversation shows her command style really well.

Kevin: I think it underscores the emotional intelligence of the episode. Everyone reacted to the story the way they should, and everyone acted with concern for the specific needs of the people around them. And the conflict in Neelix's story arises when Naomi feels he hasn't acted the way she thinks he should have, even if it was with the best of intentions. I've always added an addendum to Rodenberry's edict about 'no conflict' to read 'every one handles conflict appropriately.' I think it achieves the same level of elevation and evolution he's going for without robbing the story of potential drama. Here, Naomi and Neelix are in conflict, but to the extent Neelix made a mistake, it was from a good, if possibly misguided place, and everyone eventually handles all their feelings. So, I am entertained by the exploration of the story but leave still liking and respecting everyone.

Matthew: You would think, given my hatred of past Trek holodeck stories featuring brightly clad circus freaks, that I would hate Flotter T. Water and friends. But you know, I actually didn't? It was, for the most part, a realistic children's story. I do think the Ogre of Fire chapter should have come with a disclaimer... Anyway, I was interested in the question of how children would deal with adaptive holodeck stories. I can't even imaging trying to get my sons out of the holodeck for dinner or bedtime. And does it really remember Samantha Wildman? Is it just her copy or something? I liked that other crew members fondly remember Flotter. It's sort of how we reminisce over TV shows or video games in the present day.

Kevin: I agree in liking the idea of Flotter, but good gravy did that whole story annoy the hell out of me. Maybe you're going soft having consumed an inordinate amount of Doc MacStuffins and Daniel Tiger. :P I did like Janeway's throwaway line about resolving a drought by flooding the valley. It felt very authentically like what a curious and scientific but inexperienced kid version of Janeway would have thought made perfect sense at the time.


Matthew: Scarlett Pomers is a really natural kid, and not annoying. So that's a big step up on basically every kid we've been exposed to thus far (and no, Jake doesn't really count, because he was older from the start).  I like how she pretended to be assimilated when she ran up against "the borg lady." It was a really real, organic moment that any parent would recognize. She and Ethan Phillips also had real chemistry on screen, and this episode does a lot to redeem his character. If I hadn't been already, this episode would put me firmly in the "Neelix Liker" category.

Kevin: Pomers is practically the Meryl Streep of child actors. She manages to land "precocious and intelligent" without being insufferable or preternaturally competent. She's a bright child, but in a crisis, she falls back on the emotional skills she has, which were appropriate for her age. Phillips really landed the Uncle part, didn't he? Maybe that's why his interaction with Kes was always so creepy. He's always read as jovial middle-aged man, and Kes was kind of Namoi's age, both metaphorically and almost literally. 

Matthew: Wallace Langham as Flotter and Justin Louis as Trevis really did a pretty good job, all told. They had to seem like classic cartoon characters, basically, and I think they achieved it. I can truly imaging a kid enjoying their stories.

Kevin: Yeah, they did a good job for their part, and anyone who can wear those outfits and continue to act with a straight face is my kind of actor. Maybe part of why I did not click with the Flotter story per se is they did such a good job of making a story for kids. That said, I do love me some Steven Universe.

Matthew: Kate Mulgrew again knocks it out of the park with her scenes with Neelix. She is such a strong, serene, but still empathetic and sensitive screen force as Janeway. I found the rest of the crew pretty solid, but not particularly remarkable.

Production Values

Matthew: As far as effects go, they did a decent effect of the crash landing site. The space stuff generally was pretty solid, with the standout being the planetoid from orbit. It looked really cool and variegated.

Kevin: I liked the camera work in the Flyer. It was difference enough than the normal shots, and tight enough to highlight the claustrophobia. Nothing to write home about, but nothing that pulled my attention in a bad way.

Matthew: The Forest of Forever was really like the Soundstage of Forever. With that said, it was by no means awful. There were some scenes in which the lit background matte was really obvious, but overall the level of detail was good, and the costumes were much less molester-ish than in "Cost of Living."

Kevin: I'm almost okay with the fact that the world looks a little fake on the holodeck. I think that makes more sense. Even though the holodeck is capable of creating a flawlessly accurate forest, wouldn't that kind of mess a kid up? Like maybe they purposefully make the world more cartoon-ish to highlight that it isn't real for the kids who are too young to know better? I mean adults (looking at you Barclay) have a hard enough time...


Matthew: 21 year-old me would probably have gone with a low 2 based on children and brightly colored holodeck characters. But I think this is a solid 3. Not enough is done with sci-fi aspects of holodeck culture for me, and the shuttle story is pretty lame. But I cared about Naomi and Neelix both, and the acting really sold me on the emotional story being told.

Kevin: This is has always been a 3 for me. The Flotter story doesn't set my world on fire, but the emotional core of parents and children dealing with loss or even the possibility of loss is a timeless and universal enough story that was portrayed in a variety of ways with empathy and competence by the actors, that even if they had gone back to the world from Cost of Living, it would still get a 3 from me. That makes a total of 6.

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