Thursday, January 31, 2019

Voyager, Season 6: Barge of the Dead, Season 6
"Barge of the Dead"
Airdate: October 6, 1999
121 of 168 produced
121 of 168 aired


When she is caught in an ion storm, B'Elanna experiences a vision of the Klingon afterlife - one in which her mother turns out to be dead.

 B'Elanna fantasizes about Captain Janeway being penetrated by a rogue Klingon.


Kevin: If you asked me who wrote this episode, I would have guessed Bryan Fuller. It has all his hallmarks. The stretching of reality in service of character study is a hallmark of his other shows on Voyager and his other TV series. Unlike an episode that simply engages in some St. Elsewhere It Was All a Dream, the focus of the episode is some really solid character work. B'Elanna has an uneasy relationship with her Klingon heritage and it's well portrayed here. As a general note, I think they were a little one note over the course of the series on this. They treat her human half as the default and her Klingon half as the interloper. I wish they had shaded that over the course of the series, but for this episode, her antipathy is well constructed, and the ultimate place her character goes, realizing that she needs to stop pushing people away, is what makes the episode worth the time.

Matthew: At the very least, this episode fleshes out Klingon mythology in a really cool way. Boats are central to the Greek afterlife scheme, and as such it is a powerful image. The false voices of loved ones trying to lure you away was a really cool image, too - dream-like, but terrifying. I did kind of want to know why being eaten by the ocean creatures was "Worse than death." Was it oblivion? Some other torment that was worst than Gre'thor? Either way, it was a cool image.

Kevin: When I watched this the first time, I was expecting a lot more Frame of Mind-style questioning of reality, and I'm glad they largely avoided it after the first reveal. I liked watching B'Elanna go from skeptical to doubting her skepticism. If I had a to level a criticism, it would be that a lot of the exploration of the utility and reality of religion gets hand waved away by the ending. The focus on B'Elanna's character is very interesting, but I think had they shortened a couple of the slowmo dream sequences and spent a little more time on the philosophy angle, it would have elevated a very good episode to a great one.

I would have liked more explicit discussion of afterlives and supernatural beliefs. I am OK with those discussions being more charitable towards these beliefs (TNG would just be like "not this childish bullshit again..."), and Chakotay seems like the obvious person to go to bat for B'Elanna. Should someone who believes in a supernatural realm be allowed to simulate death in order to explore it? What if their talents are needed by 150 other people? These questions were addressed, but I think they could have gotten more development.

Kevin: A lot of fine detail on the relationships was really well done. Janeway's use of a childhood nickname is out of character as an action for Janeway and it tips us off that something is wrong, but the underlying sentiment is completely in character. The scenes with Chakotay and Paris are also great and in character. It really helps ground the fantastic elements of the episode.

Matthew: While the character interactions in the "Real World" were certainly on point, the fantasies that B'Elanna was having show us how she feels about the characters, and that's valuable in itself. They all dovetailed nicely with the overall theme of the episode, that she is trying to figure out her role, to satisfy the needs of those around her. I imagine that's a very resonant theme for a biracial viewer, someone who moves between social worlds and has to pick and choose what to show others.


Kevin: Roxann Dawson is a great actress. Full stop. There's something about her line delivery when she demands to know what her friends and family want from her that just gets me. There's a ragged weariness that felt very authentic. She's definitely in the tier of actors that can remain very human, if you'll pardon the term, in insane situations. The episode lives or dies on the strength of Dawson's performance and she nails the arc of skeptical to credulous well. That final moment when she hugs Janeway kills me every time.

Matthew: I thought Karen Austin did a really nice job of inhabiting her role as Miral. It's a credit to the writing that the actors are given recognizable emotional hooks to latch onto, but it's a credit to the actors when they can do so under a pound of makeup in a fantastical world, to boot. Austin did that really well, here.

Production Values

Kevin: The ship set itself was great. It had a lot of detail and places to get a great shot. It was sumptuous like some Victorian period drama, just chock full of fine detail. The river of blood and a few of the other effects are creaky with their age, and the arrival at the gates of Gre'thor were pure 90s video game. That said, the upside down Klingon aegis was a nice touch. Religious themed horror movies are a favorite of mine, so the sci-fi nod to the upside down cross was a well done one. We are also on record here as really hating dream sequence shooting, and they at least kept it to a minimum of a few slow-mo shots. I also want to give a hat tip to using the warrior song from DS9's Soldiers of the Empire was a nice piece of detail work.

Matthew: I was impressed by the teaser's shuttle bay crash effect. It was really nicely done through the window of the shuttle. I agree the CGI in the underworld was just so-so. The boat was a hell of a set, though.


Kevin: I think the lack of some grander analysis or point about Klingon faith holds this back from a 5, but as a character sketch of an already well developed character, this works like gangbusters. I know there was no real chance of this picking up acting hardware, but I really hope Dawson's agents submitted this episode on an Emmy reel somewhere.

Matthew: Taking this in tandem with "Rightful Heir" provides a really nice look at Klingon culture, one that makes them less the transparent weirdos they're sometimes depicted as, and more of a fully realized people. Combine that with a cracking character story, and you've got a good episode. I do think this one falls down just a bit in pacing and follow through, and therefore I agree with your 4 for a total of 8.


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