Thursday, May 15, 2014

Voyager, Season 2: The Thaw
Voyager, Season 2
"The Thaw"
Airdate: April 29, 1996
38 of 168 produced
38 of 168 aired


Voyager happens across a small group of hibernating survivors of a solar flare. These survivors are connected to a computer system that seems to be providing them with a virtual mental environment. When they enter it, though, they find themselves trapped just like the survivors - captured by a manifestation of fear.

Clowns, midgets, and jugglers. Dancing together. Sigh.


Matthew: At first blush, this isn't the worst setup in the world. A planet that suffers a solar flare is certainly interesting, as is the proposed solution - burrowing underground and entering suspended animation, all while connected to a computer than can offer a VR environment. There are even a few problematic wrinkles this early in the setup, though - if a brain can be active during 19 years of suspended animation, how suspended is it, really? The brain needs blood and oxygen to be active. Blood and oxygen need heart and lungs to circulate through the body. Circulation requires metabolism, namely caloric intake and excretion. So wait - it's not suspended animation at all, and anyone in it should age at essentially a normal rate.  Still, I'd be willing to table these concerns if the VR story were interesting enough.

Kevin: I agree. I always wonder about species with such technology not simply having the technology to leave, but that's not the biggest question in the world. I think generally, your problem, Matt, can be chalked up to a general sense of mind/body duality that Star Trek tends to have. Their bodies can be shut down separate from their minds.

Matthew: Unfortunately, the VR story we are given isn't even remotely interesting enough to distract from its fundamental flaws. The setting baffled me. It looks too much like an Earth circus for credulity's sake. I would much rather have seen something native to their culture, some piece of their mythology, which could perhaps be intruded upon by the new visitor's mythologies, too. The notion of the computer reacting to the mental contents of the hibernators is interesting, but nothing interesting is done with it. For one thing - is there any privacy control that prevents sharing between hibernators? There are some things in my mind I might not readily share with coworkers... Also, I would have liked seeing more detailed fear scenarios for individual characters, with new settings, as opposed to the generic backdrop we're given. Fears of the aliens might have been nice, too. Perhaps we could relive the solar flare. Perhaps we could see a fantasy of the rebuilding. Instead, we get some vague BS about Harry not wanting to be elderly, or a baby, or something. You know what would have been a good fear? Harry's zombie duplicate from "Deadlock" coming back, frozen and hemorrhaged, to reclaim his rightful spot in the world.

Kevin: The lack of real fear was a big problem. All the fears were generic to the point of boring. At least in something like "Coming of Age," we got a deeper exploration of Wesley's fears relating to the death of his father. Even when we picked aging as the fear, in the otherwise uneven "Night Terrors," Picard's fear and sadness contemplating he might be deteriorating like his grandfather had more weight than a few seconds of latex appliances. The circus itself was just lazy.

Matthew: Overall, the notion of this computer system taking over just failed to pass muster with me. I have a very difficult time believing, at least not with a lot more setup, that the computer could generate this Fear being, or that the world these people wanted resembles the one we see in any possible way. I think a better story angle is that one of the persons in stasis is holding the others hostage, instead of the computer somehow merging each person's fear into one being. Fear's modus operandi makes no sense, either - how does allowing any of his attached minds to die ever serve his purpose? It seems like he should take the utmost pains not to allow this to happen. But 2/3 of the way into the episode, he is killing people he's held for 19 years as punishment. How has this idiot been dominant over 5 sentient beings for this long? For that matter, who are all the other beings in this program? The Captain's subterfuge provided for an interesting scene. That said, her safeguard just raises the question of why they didn't do this from the start. Also, the Doctor characterizes the program as using "bioneural feedback" to create the simulation. The vocabulary had me wondering whether a gel pack could be substituted for a person.

Kevin: We discuss about...a billion...ways the episode could have pulled it together in the podcast and I'm not really going to rehash them here, but I think the one solution we didn't discuss could have been the best of all. What if the people had become addicted to the program? That could make Fear's seemingly self-defeating behavior make sense, and it could raise a Prime Directive question. What if they refuse help, but the crew knows that request is borne of the addiction? I found the solution we got a bit too neat for its own good. Maybe we could have muddied the waters there, too. What if the program had to be more sophisticated than a standard hologram to fool him, but maybe less than the Doctor, but the set required being unable to disengage the hologram. What are the ethics of leaving a possibly quasi-sentient hologram to experience the program forever? Again, really any set up and solution other than the one we got would have been miles above this one. Hell, had Fear just turned them all into lizards, I probably would have liked it fine.


Matthew: I respect Michael McKean and have enjoyed him in other things. I did not enjoy him here. His laugh was grating. He did not really surpass some bad material - he came off as annoying, petty, and uninteresting. I did not find his comedic delivery funny, and I did not find his horror delivery scary. The Cirque du Soliel performers added nothing for me. In fact they detracted, because all of their routines seemed completely rooted in Earth circus acts. It ripped me out of the episode.

Kevin: He is a very good comedic actor, and maybe they could have taken more in that direction. What if instead of the emotion of fear, what if he were humor, but in his own way, addicted to the endorphin rush of making people laugh, won't let them leave? That would have allowed more shading in the performance and hewed closer to his strengths.

Matthew: This was a big Harry showcase. His range... was pretty typical. This episode was not in Wang's wheelhouse. Picardo and Mulgrew each had some pretty good scenes with Fear.

Kevin: Ditto.

Production Values

Matthew: Both the writing and the acting in this show were flawed. But production really sunk the ship here. The setting was wholly bland and uninteresting. I hated the color scheme, I hated the set accouterments, I didn't even really like the hibernation units. And why were the Voyager crew meeting with the lights off?

Kevin: Unsurprisingly, the most effective part of the episode was the fade to black with the two characters. Like "Spectre of the Gun," a pared down set can really work and heighten the surrealism of the scene. Here it was garish and lazy.

Matthew: I have mentioned on more than one occasion my hatred of jugglers in the Star Trek milieu. I think my hatred is vindicated in spades, here. I'm not afraid of jugglers or clowns. I just think they're annoying, and I don't think they fit into the Trek universe without rendering whatever story they inhabit just kind of stupid and cringe-worthy.

Kevin: There's a movie I saw once, and I forget the rest of it, but there's a scene where a character is filming a dream sequence for a movie and the director decided to include a short person, who some googling confirms is in fact Peter Dinklage, and disgusted he says:
Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have dreams with dwarves in them. The only place I've seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this! "Oh make it weird, put a dwarf in it!". Everyone will go "Woah, this must be a fuckin' dream, there's a fuckin' dwarf in it!". Well I'm sick of it! You can take this dream sequence and stick it up your ass!
And that's my problem with this episode in a well delivered nutshell. Giving the short person the oversized objects only exaggerated the frankly offensive portrayal. If you wanted to go the "freak show" route, you could have and really found something interesting to say, but this was just lazy use of stereotyping, and in its own way as staggeringly offensive as "Code of Honor" or "Angel One" in its use of stereotype.


Matthew: This episode is painful to watch, and doesn't offer enough in the way of either ideas or of performances to overcome this pain. I don't think it's quite as bad as "Move Along Home." "Threshold" presents an interesting comparison, since its first third was really well done. Well, none of this is well done. Once Cirque du Soliel shows up, the verdict is sealed. It's a 1.

Kevin: I think had the story not been bland to the point of coma-inducing, they could have gotten past the circus, but they certainly did not. This is 1, and I believe a strong contender for the worst of the entire series. That make a 2 from us, which still somehow feels generous.


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