Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Voyager, Season 5: The Disease

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 5
"The Disease"
Airdate: February 24, 1999
109 of 168 produced
109 of 168 aired

Ensign Kim runs afoul of two cultures' prohibitions when he falls for one of the residents of a generational colony ship.

You can just feel the chemistry, can't you?


Kevin: This episode falls squarely into the "TNG did it better" category for me, and on two fronts, no less. The basics of the plot feel like they stapled together from The Dauphin and Masterpiece Society. I'll start with the romantic plot. In both Dauphin and Disease, we have a junior officer using poor judgment in pursuing a relationship in a way that endangers an important mission. Pretty solid plot so far, and a fun exploration of the costs of choosing a life in Starfleet. My problem here, is that this is 5 years in. Harry isn't, or at least, shouldn't be this green anymore. I understand that the practical problems prevent the normal cycles of promotion, but in very many ways, with one or two episode exceptions, Harry is the person he was in Caretaker throughout the series, and when he does get an episode to himself, it tends to be in this mold, the newbie officer learns a lesson. My other problem is that this iteration of the story doesn't take advantage of the really interesting questions underlying the problem. When Picard tells Wesley he can't pursue a relationship with Salia, he is barring him from this relationship, not any relationship. Wesley will have access to a personal life and time to explore it and an array of other people with whom to pursue it. None of those are true for Harry. I really wanted him to clap back at Janeway a little. He's not a cadet who can't keep it in his uniform until his shore leave on Risa in a couple of months. Risa is 70 years away. In a very real way, she simply lacks the authority to proscribe his ability to form romantic attachments for the next 70 years, and unless people just pass the Delaney sisters back and forth, that's what she's doing. I'm not saying she's wrong to be angered at Harry's poor judgment, but the issue is not that cut and dried. Separately, I have a problem with a rule invented just for this episode that you need a doctor's note to bang an alien. If that were true, neither Riker nor Kirk would ever have gotten work done since they would only be filling out that form all day, every day. I get that they tried to address this with the second conversation in the ready room, but I wish he had brought it up the first time she orders him to break off the relationship when it would have been an interesting conversation about the nature of their situation instead of a somewhat rote defense of LOVE! I also don't like the 'disease' aspect itself. I think the story is just more interesting if this is just a normal relationship rather than some alien effect.

Matthew: I don't think Janeway was prohibiting Harry from all relationships. There was a specific context here, in which a xenophobic colony ship species had tried to prohibit such contact. I think this episode would have gone into really interesting places if they had delved into Janeway examining her own "prudery" (for lack of a better term), and whether it was rubbing off in the way she treats her officers (for all the criticism people have for "Fair Haven," I will always appreciate the episode because it acknowledged and explored that Janeway was a repressed sexual being who was using the holodeck for one of its most natural purposes).

Kevin: A few side points. I enjoyed the exploration of why Janeway was SO upset and if she was more upset at Harry than she would have been at say, Tom. That's fun because exploring Janeway's complex humanity is always fun. My second point is that I got annoyed when Kim defends himself on the grounds that he has true feelings for Tal. I am very much opposed to the idea that sex is only acceptable in the context of long term relationships.

Matthew: Yeah, to some degree, an hour long show is a difficult venue in which to demonstrate "true feelings." And so, when you go there, it frequently rings a bit false. It's hard for me to ding a show for hewing to monogamous values, though, if only because it would be exceedingly rare not to. I think, as nineties shows go, Star Trek was pretty good at showing the pursuit of sexual enjoyment for its own sake.

Kevin: The other story, the riff on Masterpiece Society is less successful for only being half-baked. We got a sense of what ideals that community wanted to protect and the specific ways it made their people feel stifled. Here, all we have is a captain who's a bit of a prick and a very attractive bored woman. The ship is apparently huge and should support a wide variety of people with opinions and needs and had we jettisoned the love story, we could have dug in. We could have found ways that measures the ship took to maintain order (say, for instance, limits on movement or free press) that would rub Janeway the wrong way. The core story of the rights of the individual versus the needs of society is a super fun one, but it just got short shrift in this outing.

Matthew: I basically agree with your evaluation here. There is a much better episode buried in there somewhere, trying to get out. The Masterpiece Society has the angle of genetic engineering and planned lives. This one doesn't, it's more about the colony ship and people falling away from the mission. I think the episode could have benefited from a deeper exploration of that aspect. Are children indoctrinated with the emission? What is the government like on such a vessel? Do different portions of the vessel have different cultures? I'm imagining an American colony ship fracturing along regional division lines left over from the old world. I think, done well, this could have rendered the episode less dramatically inert.


Kevin: Piling on Garrett Wang feels mean at this point. I will confine myself to saying I don't think he really delivered on chemistry with his co-star or actual romantic attachment. Musetta Vander, if memory serves, has been the Very Attractive Woman in a few 90s sci-fi franchises, Stargate jumping to mind. She does her job here. It's not Shakespeare, but she has some internal life.

Matthew: Garrett Wang was at his best when he was in Tal's quarters, being a chill, fun guy, and then swerving into worry and anxiety over being caught. He was at his worst when he was whining at Janeway. That's a hard ask for a lot of actors, so I'm going to pin that on the writing.

Kevin: Charles Rocket (an awesome name, btw) does a yeoman's job of being an officious asshole. Well done, sir.

Production Values

Kevin: The superstructure of the ship was well done and they did a really good job implying its size. The interiors were a little limited and claustrophobic, but that's a small complaint. The effects were nicely done and really helped served the story without overwhelming it. I particularly liked the final scene of the pods separating.

Matthew: This was sort of the "Dyson Sphere" of Voyager. By this I mean, a really well done visual effect that suggest so much of interest, but is then left basically unexplored. Sigh. At least "Relics" had Scotty. As far as the interiors, they did make Tal's quarters look like a home, more than just quarters on a ship, which was appreciated. But they whiffed (for obvious budgetary reasons) on showing us any of the rest of the ship, outside the disappointing control room.


Kevin: This is a 2 for me. Neither story gets the time and exploration it needs and the acting wasn't really up to snuff. This episode falls squarely into the boring category.

Matthew: Sadly, I'm forced to agree. I think at bottom, unless you write the dialogue waaaay better, a "star crossed lovers" story is always going to fail in the Trek format. Of course they're not going to end up together. By focusing on this instead of the better sci-fi idea of a generational colony ship, the episode lost its way. So I'll add my 2 for a total of 4.


  1. I agree that the part of about needing XO approval to hook up with an alien wasnt convincing. I have never heard or seen that in any other Trek series. At least not that I remember.

    That said, the central plot seems to be that love is nothing more than a biochemical reaction and that withdrawal from it has its consequences, both psychological and physiological.

    I mean, human beings have always speculated about love and what it is; how to quantify it and if it is even possible. It sounds like a trite theme but its exploration is quintessential humanity and therefore also Star Trek: take something controversial or philosophical, one of those "eternal human questions" and explore them within the context of the Trek universe such as part of another alien's way of life.

    I loved that.

    I love that they were able to quantify it; where overcoming pain is a matter of just getting the right medication.

    It is brilliant. It's the most intriguing aspect of this episode. How many people who are suffering from emotional pain would not not welcome a pill or shot that would make it all go away? Get a break? A reset button?

    It is pure sci-fi.

    I didnt see at it all as yet another episode where the newbie officer learns a lesson. I mean yes, he does. But that wasnt the central thesis of this episode. It was about love and its physiological effects than can manifest as a disease.

    The rebellion and Janeway's disappointment were the subplots. I think you guys have seriously underrated this episode :(

    1. I agree that the bones of good sci-fi themes are there. I just don't think they explored them very deeply.

  2. Well, a score of 4 for an episode I always enjoy watching. Interesting to hear such a different perspective for what I find to be a fun and . . . sexy episode. I mean even the generational ship is symbolic of a phallus and the episode climax with the 'seeds' spread out into their own journeys. The relationship between sex and love is well balanced and explored here.

    Perhaps I should not be trusted with having a valid opinion since I also like watching 'Sub Rosa' :) It's so . . . creepy and has one of my favorite Riker delivery moments 'It just sort of rolled in on us sir'.

    A good review as always, thanks. Season 5 Voyager has always been my favorite Trek season.

    1. Oh, I think there can be a difference between enjoying watching "Sub Rosa" (which I do) and thinking it's an objectively good episode (which I don't).

      Welcome, and keep commenting!