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Star Trek: Voyager – Cold Fire (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Cold Fire is an episode that exemplifies the feeling that second season’s treading water.

Cold Fire opens with a somewhat unconventional recap of Caretaker. Unlike most “previously on…” sections of Star Trek: Voyager (or the Star Trek franchise as a whole), this block is narrated by Majel Barrett in-character as the ship’s computer. It becomes clear that Cold Fire is interested in following up on the dangling threads left by Caretaker, with the crew of Voyager encountering the female mate alluded to in Janeway’s conversations with the eponymous Nacene character from Caretaker.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

This should be a big deal. After all, the Caretaker is the character responsible for plucking Voyager and the Val Jean out of the Alpha Quadrant and depositing them on the other side of the galaxy. Finding another being with a similar amount of power presents a very real and tangible opportunity for Janeway to get her crew home. If the Caretaker could pull them all the way across the Milky Way, then it stands to reason that Suspiria could send them all the way back. Cold Fire presents a potential end to Voyager’s journey.

Unfortunately, Cold Fire never really does anything with that storytelling angle. Even when Janeway comes face-to-face with Suspiria at the climax of the episode, she never asks the powerful entity to send her crew home. So Cold Fire feels like an episode that spends forty-five minutes walking in circles, accomplishing little of note.

"It's probably just the inertial dampeners acting up..."

“It’s probably just the inertial dampeners acting up…”

Brannon Braga’s teleplay is candid about just how thoroughly it is hitting the “reset” button. To be fair, the first two seasons of Voyager would not abuse the “reset” button as frequently as the rest of the show, but the series would frequently roll back from the daring or challenging implications of certain episode plots. When State of Flux revealed Seska to be a member of the Obsidian Order, she was promptly beamed away from the ship. When Tuvok and Chakotay disobeyed orders in Prime Factors and Manoeuvres, they were never punished.

Here, the closing scenes emphasis that the episode has had no tangible impact on any of the characters. Everybody is back where they began. “We’ve resumed our course back to the Alpha Quadrant but the female Caretaker is still out there with the power to send us home,” Janeway reports. “And I will use all my power to find her and convince her to do just that.” That is a nice sentiment, but it also underscores how completely pointless this encounter with Suspiria has been.

"Yes. This is my office. I ahve been meaning to decorate."

“Yes. This is my office. I ahve been meaning to decorate.”

In fact, Cold Fire marks the last appearance for any Nacene characters and any hint of Ocampan culture beyond Kes and her relatives. When Seven of Nine broaches the topic in The Voyager Conspiracy, Janeway doesn’t seem too bothered. “The first time we met a Caretaker, we were pulled halfway across the galaxy,” Janeway explains. “The second time we were almost killed. I’m not eager for a third round.” Never mind the rule of three, the Nacene were lucky to get a second appearance.

Still, it does seem rather strange that Janeway should give up on getting home so easily. As much as the first half of the episode stresses the possibility that Suspiria could send them home, it seems like the last act completely forgets about it. As with any of Janeway’s encounters with Q, it seems like Janeway could gently broach the idea of sending the ship home once the dust has settled on the adventure in question. There is a perfect moment after Suspiria notes Janeway’s “mercy.” It would be the perfect time to add a quick, “if you haven’t anything better to do…”

Tanis courts...

Tanis courts…

To be fair, the production staff were never too excited at the idea of a recurring element focusing on the Nacene. In A Vision of the Future, Rick Berman explained that the “Bride of Caretaker” was just an element included in the pilot episode to help assuage concerns from the executives about the basic premise of Voyager:

The studio was very concerned when they first heard the pitch. they felt the idea of the ship being so far away from home was a bleak premise… a hopeless premise. It wasn’t quite “out there” like Star Trek is used to. It’s “getting back.” We convinced them that it didn’t have to be bleak. The inspiration of the captain, the professionalism of the crew.

And frankly we made a concession to finally finish the sales job… we put the one-armed man out there – which is the other entity that we met in the pilot. It’s out there somewhere. We will try to find that entity and contact that entity more than once during the next several years because we know that the entity has the ability to send us back home.

This story is illuminating. It demonstrates the different pressures at work on Star Trek: Voyager as opposed to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Deep Space Nine was syndicated, so no one network could object to the bleakness of a show set after a pseudo-holocaust. In contrast, Voyager aired on UPN, so it was subject to the demands of a fickle network.

It comes to a boil...

It comes to a boil…

The fact that UPN considered the basic premise of Voyager to be “bleak” or “hopeless” explains so many of the defining creative decisions in the early first season. It explains why the show made a conscious choice to downplay tensions between the Starfleet and Maquis crews; it explains why the show has kept the ship pristine and “good as new”; it explains why there have been so few plots about resources scarcity and so many holodeck stories. As tempting as it is to blame the writing staff, there were other forces at play.

On the other hand, it does demonstrate how lucky Deep Space Nine has been to escape most of these notes. Even the instruction to shake things up at the start of the fourth season was a lot less restrictive than the obligations imposed upon Voyager. Ira Steven Behr was able to get away with a massive intergalactic war storyline that spanned the final two seasons of the show, while the producers on Voyager were very much restricted to episodic storytelling that hewed rather close to the franchise template.

Mind over matter...

Mind over matter…

Even ignoring the contrivance of encountering Suspiria only to watch the entity escape, there is a sense of pointless futility to Cold Fire. Kes’ growth and development is largely undone by the end of the episode. In the final scene, she tells Tuvok, “I looked at the tea and I tried to make it boil, but nothing happened. Without Tanis’s help, I just can’t do it.” When Tuvok suggests that her latent psychic powers might manifest again, Kes responds, “To be honest, I never want to see that part of myself again.” It provides a very comfortable “out” in case the show decided to never return to that idea again.

Braga is aware of the fact that Cold Fire is just walking around in a giant circle. His script makes a point to bookend the episode with scenes between Kes and Tuvok in Tuvok’s quarters as Tuvok tries to help Kes master her psychic gift. There is a sense that both the audience and the characters have embarked on a fairly epic adventure, only to find themselves circling back around to the point whereupon they departed for their journey. For a ship that is heading straight towards the Alpha Quadrant, Voyager spends a lot of time covering the same ground, moving in circles.

No stone unturned...

No stone unturned…

And yet, despite all of this, there are some interesting elements of Cold Fire. The most obvious is that this is a Brannon Braga script. The writer loads the script with all manner of his favourite plot elements and motifs. Cold Fire feels like something of a classic science-fiction b-movie throwback. This aesthetic is perhaps best reflected in the sequences where Kes threatens to boil bother Tuvok and Tanis alive, not to mention the revelation that Suspiria is really a giant purple goo monster with tentacles.

Cold Fire is very much a horror story, one that aligns with the sensibilities of other second season episodes like Persistence of Vision or The Thaw. (Even – gasp!Threshold.) Once again, Janeway finds herself menaced by a young girl in the incongruous surroundings of Voyager. In Persistence of Vision, Beatrice waited for her in the corridors; in Cold Fire, Suspiria confronts her in engineering. It is interesting to wonder whether this recurring motif means anything beyond the fact that creepy little girls are scary.

Oh, Suspiria... you're breaking my heart...

Oh, Suspiria… you’re breaking my heart…

Are Beatrice and Suspiria reminders of a life that Janeway will never have due to her situation? Persistence of Vision forced Janeway to confront the fact that her lover was stranded half-way across the galaxy, with no evidence that she was alive. What began as a simple search and rescue mission has become a life-long journey. Janeway’s seventy-year mission back to Earth will cost her the opportunity to have a family; to have children. Given Jeri Taylor’s repeated emphasis on the denial of Janeway’s romantic and sexual desires, the creepy little girls are quite symbolic.

Of course, they could just be an effective piece of horror movie iconography reflecting Braga’s personal interest in the genre. Much like the effectively atmospheric sequence of Torres’ blood dripping on Janeway, it helps to create a suitably macabre mood. One of the more interesting (and quite often overlooked) aspects of the first two seasons of Voyager is the emphasis on the horror and brutality of travel in deep space. The Vidians are truly horrific aliens, but they are not the only ones.

Don't worry, Kes, everything will be back to normal the next time we see the airponics bay...

Don’t worry, Kes, everything will be back to normal the next time we see the airponics bay…

Voyager is repeatedly menaced by all manner of non-humanoid monstrosities and existential horrors. It seems like the Delta Quadrant is populated by Lovecraftian horrors, whether it’s the gigantic space-dwelling organism of The Cloud, the mind-controlling brain-eating parasites of Cathexis, the twisted deep space reflections of Parallax, the waking nightmares of Persistence of Vision, or the mythical monster at the heart of Heroes and Demons. The trend does continue into the third season and beyond (Microcosm and Bliss come to mind), but is most pronounced here.

In a weird way, this provides a very strong thematic connection back to the original Star Trek, where it often seemed like space was populated by horrors that could drive men insane. Caretaker had suggested that Voyager would tie back into the “space western” vibe of the original Star Trek, and so it is interesting that Cold Fire should emphasise that rather macabre connections that exist between Voyager and the original Star Trek show. It feels like the perfect place to bring them up.

Feeling the burn!

Feeling the burn!

The horror elements are not the only aspects of Cold Fire that hark back to the sixties. In many ways, Voyager feels like a conscious science-fiction throwback. It has since Time and Again offered viewers a nuclear allegory set on a planet of people who dress in bright coloured jumpsuits. This is not always for the best – the Kazon feel like a rather regressive adversary for the crew, owing a lot to stock depictions of “savage” foreigners (non-whites) in westerns and adventure cinema. Still, Cold Fire touches quite heavily upon these sixties vibes.

Most obviously, the episode is built around Kes. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Tuvok is a full-blooded Vulcan, Kes feels like the spiritual successor to Spock’s rich counter-cultural traditions. Kes is a young woman with pointed elf-like ears and latent telepathic abilities. She is the member of the main cast who is most vibrant and enthusiastic, and whose first major contribution to the journey was building an airponics bay to grow fruit and plants on an otherwise sterile starship.

Floating the idea...

Floating the idea…

Kes is very much a classical waif figure. She is a young woman from a magical and mystical race who was stolen away and kidnapped by the Kazon, only to be rescued by the Voyager crew. In fact, the official Star Trek website explicitly acknowledges Kes’ “waif-like air.” He pointed ears and her bob haircut are intended to evoke Spock, but they also suggest an androgynous look that evokes many contemporary depictions of elves in popular culture. (Tolkein tended to keep his elves beardless and suggested that male and female elves were no different “in strength and speed.”)

In many respects, Spock arrived at the perfect moment to become a counter-intuitive counter-culture figure. The half-Vulcan character really resonated with a generation of young viewers trapped between the world inherited from their parents and the idealistic world that they hoped to build for themselves. Kes feels like an attempt to hark back to some of those elements and ideas, even though the nineties did not really have an equivalent counter-cultural movement with which she might resonate.

Caretaker of the Caretaker's remains...

Caretaker of the Caretaker’s remains…

It is worth noting that Tolkein’s epic The Lord of the Rings enjoyed a massive surge of popularity in the sixties, that it resonated with the same young audience who looked to Star Trek for a utopean future:

During the 1960’s, so many American youths were drawn to these diminutive creatures that Tolkien became something of a cult figure. “Frodo Lives” was a popular graffito of the time. T-shirts declared that “Tolkien is Hobbit-Forming.” It must be admitted that there was something escapist about this hobbit-habit. Perplexed by our nation’s carnage in Vietnam and by the ultimate threat of a nuclear inferno, a whole generation of young Americans could lose themselves and their troubles in the intricacies of this triple-decker epic. Indeed, the rumor got about — a wish seeking its fulfillment, no doubt — that Tolkien had composed The Lord of the Rings under the influence of drugs.

There is something rather ironic about this particular example of counter-culture. Much like Spock would seem uncomfortable championing “free love”, Tolkein was a somewhat unlikely counter-culture icon.

No elf-control...

No elf-control…

Nevertheless, certain segments and themes of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings struck a chord with a generation struggling against impossible odds to change a world they found unfair or unreasonable:

Also appealing to the burgeoning anti-war, feminist and civil rights movement activists was Tolkien’s political subtext of the ‘little people’, the Hobbits, and their wizard ally, leading a revolution.  The military industrial complex targeted by protestors resembled Mordor in its mechanised, impersonal approach to an unpopular war. When he is drafted into bearing the Ring to Mount Doom, Frodo feels an “overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace… in Rivendell.” Those who led the fight against Sauron’s army stood reluctantly, hoping this would be the “War to End All Wars”.

Likewise, Lady Éowyn of Rohan, struggling to overcome the limits of patriarchal society, answered Aragorn’s question, “What do you fear, lady?” with lines that resonated among the second wave feminists of the 1960s: “A cage,” Éowyn said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

It might not have been as overtly utopian as Star Trek, but readers took a lot of inspiration and hope from those epic fantasy tomes.

Heated discussion...

Heated discussion…

The portrayal of Kes as a elven (or waif-like) figure seems to represent a conscious effort to provide a crossover between the sixties idealism of Star Trek and the resurgence in fantasy at the same time. Similarly, Voyager puts as much emphasis on Kes’ psychic abilities as the original Star Trek did on those of Spock. While Star Trek: The Next Generation was generally quite clear about what Deanna Troi could and could not perceive, both Spock and Kes seemed to find their powers and skills constantly evolving.

Kes’ ability to “sense” the destruction of the planet in Time and Again evokes Spock’s ability to “hear” the sound of death echoing across the cosmos in The Immunity Syndrome; notably, Tuvok is unaffected. In Persistence of Vision, Kes is able to “reflect” the Bothan visions back upon themselves; in that case, Tuvok is quite quickly captivated by a vision of his wife. If Chakotay is the member of the ensemble most mindful of the spiritual implications of life in the Delta Quadrant, it frequently seems like Kes is tuned to a higher wave-length than her fellow travellers.

"Be prepared."

“Be prepared.”

Cold Fire emphasises this idea, suggesting that Kes has truly incredible mental powers. Tanis offers to teach her to harness her skills, to develop her mind. Rather tellingly, he does so in a manner that evokes sixties psychedelia and consciousness expansion. “See past the liquid, not with your eyes, with your mind,” Tanis urges her at one point. “What your eyes show you is only the surface of reality. Look deeper.” It sounds a lot like the sort of New Age nonsense running through some of the show’s Chakotay scripts. At one point, Kes references “the fire in [her] mind.”

“The people on this ship, they live their lives trapped inside their primitive skulls, depending on flesh and bone to tell them what the universe is like,” Tanis explains. “They don’t know what it is to see beyond the physical. Touch it. This is how they know the universe. They touch the flower, their nerve impulses travel up their arm to the brain, and in their mind they sense the moisture of the petals, the texture of the leaves, the sharpness of the thorns, and think they know what it feels like. But they don’t.”

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

Tanis seems to be espousing something akin to the expansion of consciousness, the New Age idea inexorably associated with sixties countercultural icons like Timothy Leary. As Ralph Metzner observed:

As far as I know, the concept of consciousness expansion was first used by Tim Leary and his associates at Harvard, to describe the effects of drugs like psilocybin and LSD, which were also later termed psychedelic (“mind-manifesting”). In a 1961 letter to Leary from Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD expressed his appreciation to Leary for the concept of consciousness expansion, stating that he had been urging Aldous Huxley and others, that while the applications of LSD in psychiatry and pharmacotherapy were important, there were wider implications of these experiences for the enhancement of creativity and deeper understanding of the further reaches of the human mind. In this regard, Hofmann was far more open-minded than Huxley, R. Gordon Wasson and most psychiatrists, who tended to believe strongly that these drugs could only be used safely by psychiatric patients under medical supervision, or at best by elite intellectuals. Tim Leary’s approach was radically different, though it was not, as some believed, opposed to psychiatric research being done with psychedelics.

Tanis seems to suggest that Ocampans can expand their consciousness beyond the limitations of normal people – that they can see more, and more truly, than any of the other people on the ship.

Easy pray...

Easy pray…

Cold Fire is quite overt about this sixties psychedelia. When Tanis communicates with Suspiria, he does so by sitting in a stance that feels like shorthand for “New Age meditation.” When Kes opens her mind to her incredible psychic power, the episode ramps up the saturation on the plants and flowers around her. The colours in the airponics bay seem ready to drown out the screen, evoking the brighter colour palette of sixties television. Even the flames that threaten to consume Kes are hyper-saturated a bright red rather than a more grounded yellow.

In these respects, Cold Fire does feel like a conscious effort to evoke the mood and tone of the sixties. However, there is a sense of conservatism underlying all of this. Much like the original Star Trek was never quite sure what to make of the counterculture movement, Voyager is rather uncomfortable and awkward with the idea of Kes’ hyperactive psychedelic powers. As much as the episode trades in imagery and clichés associated with consciousness expansion, it seems rather wary of the prospect.

Scream queen...

Scream queen…

After all, Tanis turns out to be a selfish and manipulative villain who uses his psychic powers for his own gratification rather than for any intrinsic good. His dialogue with Kes suggests that he has moved beyond good and evil, which is the Star Trek franchise’s shorthand for “this character has evolved too far.” after Kes kills everything in the airponics bay, he assures her, “Help people, hurt them, give life, kill, it’s all the same. Once you see beyond the physical, you see the universe as it truly is.”

More than that, the episode suggests that Kes has been playing with metaphorical fire – hence the title and the burning motif. It is suggested that Kes is toying with forces that exist beyond her control. There is a sense that maybe Kes should leave some doors closed. The episode ends with Kes disavowing any interest in developing those particular muscles. This could be read as an example of the franchise’s recurring fears and anxieties around transhumanism, but also as a rather cynical rejection of the countercultural movement as a whole.

Kathryn Janeway, godkiller...

Kathryn Janeway, godkiller…

As with Braga’s script for Emanations, there is a clear religious subtext to Cold Fire. As with Emanations, it seems like Braga is deeply uncomfortable with the power that organised religion can hold. After all, Tanis is very clearly attempting to “convert” Kes. In fact, Tanis’ conversations with Kes are juxtaposed against Tuvok’s lessons with Kes. While Tuvok espouses logic and rationality, Tanis simply spouts nonsensical clichés and New Age mysticism in place of any practical guidance.

Caretaker suggested that the Ocampa had an almost religious relationship with the eponymous alien overseer; after all, the being took care of the Ocampa’s needs and the very name “Caretaker” suggests a loving parent. In Cold Fire, it is revealed that Suspiria took some Ocampa with her when she left. While the religious subtext of Caretaker is quite benign, Cold Fire offers a more horrifying and unsettling devotion to a divine figure. As if referencing that quote about the difference between religion and insanity, Tanis does not just talk to Suspiria; she talks back to him.

Kes and tell...

Kes and tell…

When the crew inquire about the nature of Suspiria, Tanis seems to suggest that he does not question. When he is asked is Suspiria lives on another array, he replies, “Oh, nothing so corporeal as that. She exists as pure sporocystian energy. She only assumes physical form when we need to communicate with her.” Chakotay has his Star Trek techno-babble hat on. “Does she occupy our space-time continuum?” Tanis simply shrugs. It does not matter, ultimately. “I don’t know. All I know is, when we need her, she comes.”

If Suspiria is a god, then Cold Fire makes it clear that she is a vengeful and petty god who ultimately proves no match for the reason and science of the resourceful Voyager crew. Tuvok is able to improvise a weapon that is capable of paralysing Suspiria, at the very least. Tanis is ultimately little more than a spoilt child who has grown detached and removed from the universe around him. This is perhaps another respect in which Cold Fire feels like something of a throwback to the aesthetic of classic Star Trek.



Cold Fire is also notable for the introduction of actor Gary Graham. Graham would go on to play the recurring role of Ambassador Soval on Star Trek: Enterprise, becoming one of the few characters to guest star in all four seasons of the show. Reflecting on his appearance in Voyager, Graham noted some tension on the series:

Though I enjoyed most of the cast members on Voyager, the tone on the set was tense.  It wasn’t like the very relaxed and joyously creative set I’d grown used to on Alien Nation.  The Enterprise set was also a very relaxed set.

This seems quite consistent with other reports of life in and around the production of Voyager. Still, Gary Graham does a good job as Tanis, portraying a suitably cold and detached antagonist for the episode. Watching his performance, it makes sense that the production team would cast him as a Vulcan.

Light 'em up, light 'em up!

Light ’em up, light ’em up!

Cold Fire is a solid and interesting episode, if not an exceptional one. It underscores just how much the first two seasons of Voyager could feel like a throwback to the classic sixties aesthetic of the original Star Trek. Unfortunately, that includes the sense that the status quo can never really change, and that all the pieces must be put back at the end of the hour.

21 Responses

  1. You aren’t familiar with SFDebris. So I thought I’d share with you his alternate idea for “Endgame”. Instead of the Borg transwarp tunnel, the reveal is that the Borg have managed to put Suspiria into a stasis field are are slowly trying to assimilate it. The rest of the episode plays out like before, except that once the crew rescues the Caretaker’s mate, she warps them back to earth as a token of thanks.

    “It might not have been as overtly utopian as Star Trek, but readers took a lot of inspiration and hope from those epic fantasy tomes.”

    Yeah, as the last couple season of Stargate proved, “Camelot in space” is a goofy concept which can work.

    It’s yet another Voyager idea which makes you go ‘aha’, but probably doesn’t translate as well to the screen. (the fifth season episode “Once Upon a Time” is trying for a fairytale feel. But in the end, it’s the same studio jungle backdrop and rubber suits we’ve grown used to.) The show’s reach exceeded it’s grasp at times.

    (The poor sods just can’t win with me!)

    In a way it reminds me a great deal of Doctor Who. You know, the show can play about with magical realism and folklore. But in the end it’s always lupus, I mean spaceships. In spite of the limitless storytelling possibilities of the science fantasy medium, it still works according to very rigid rules. Is this an inherent flaw in serialized storytelling? If you change it too much, it is no longer the marketable name we remember.

    • That’s not a bad idea re: Endgame. It would certainly bring Voyager in something approaching a full circle and avoid the “gee, let’s kill everything!” resolution.

      I remember quite liking the idea of Once Upon a Time in theory, if not in practice. But, then, I was a Bryan Fuller apologist before it was cool.

    • Part of Sfdebris’ frustration with Voyager & Enterprise is that after 7 years of lupus the creators decided they’d like another 11 of the same thing – that is, the Star Trek label gave them power, influence and stability that no other newly-debuting sci-fi show would be permitted yet they chose to play it safe (lupus!) almost every week.

      Due in part to my loyalty to Trek, I ignored Stargate during its run. Visiting the series for the first time now, I’m amazed to find it wasn’t simply a well-made production, at times it was also strangely out-Trekking Trek. Despite Starfleet being “not military” in the minds of fans and the SG-1 crew being military by profession, the SG-1 characters seem a lot less eager to resort to violence. Like, they tend to approach problems wondering, “how can we stop this from escalating?” or “we’ve done something wrong by accident, how do we make it right?” So much more humility and sensibility to be found there than in any of the empty threats Janeway would growl over the viewscreen for 7 years.

      I wonder if it isn’t the influence of Roddenberry and his belief in humanity’s innate greatness that the Trek crews so often seem to treat the universe as their personal playground.

      • I’m very fond of Stargate, but I’ll admit that I largely stopped watching when the production team phased out the original cast; Richard Dean Anderson and Don S. Davis. (Shanks left and came back, if I recall; poor Jonas.) It’s funny you should compare it to Star Trek; I remember that Sky One used to rotate it into and out of the 5pm weekdays slot, alternating with The Next Generation and Voyager.

  2. This is the voyager episode that set the precedent the Voyager crew could defeat god like aliens . This unfortunately led to God-awful episodes like the q and the grey.

    • The writing for the action shows are like a stoner version of “Can You Top This”.

      “Yo , let’s have the whole Voy crew turn into Borgs!” “Hey, let’s have Voyager take on a Borg Supercube and win!” “Nah man! Let’s have the Borg Queen try to assimilate Janeway and get assimilated by VOYAGER instead!”

      The scary part is that this stuff is actually influential. So many fans think of Janeway as the most badass captain when violence is supposed to be antithetical to the whole Trek philosophy. I admit I get a fanboy chill whenever Mulgrew picks up a huge gun (usually the cannon is as tall if not taller than Janeway herself) or orders Tuvok to blow something up. But Star Trek is definitely catering to a more “low brow” audience than TOS and TNG usually did.

      • It’s a fair point. As we’ve discussed before, Voyager certainly worked most consistently (and seemed to generate the strongest positive response) when it went into full blockbuster mode. This is most obvious with the big two-parters that begin with a teaser in Future’s End and then ramp up across the run of the show. (Both “Dark Frontier” and “Flesh and Blood” were sold as mid-season “movies”, very much of the blockbuster variety.)

    • And Voyager: the Borg slayer!

  3. I like Kes but – and this might be my D&D roots – I have trouble seeing her as an Elf. Tolkein’s Elves (and Gygax’s) are rather static beings, their fragility and beauty hiding an unchanging lifestyle – I’d argue that their longevity (be it the literal agelessness of Tolkein or the ‘mere’ four hundred or so years of RPGs) is a vital part of the Elf idea.

    The Ocampans have some of the trappings of Elves but they lack that essential quality.

    (Then again, as I’ve said before, I’ve always read Spock as a deeply conservative and flawed figure – the child of a mixed race who does his best to cover up and erase half his heritage out of shame – so I might just be out of step or sympathy with the counter culture on both.)

    • That’s a very fair point. On the other hand, Kes spends about a third of her life on Voyager, and doesn’t seem to change that much at all, relatively speaking.

      (And you’re entirely right that Spock as a counter-cultural figure is an awkward fit, but that didn’t stop them from appropriating him. Much like Tolkein’s conservatism didn’t stop counter-culture from appropriating his work as well.)

  4. Was Majel Barrett narrating as the ship’s computer or just as a narrator? Janeway does hint for Suspiria to send them home. Some of the dialogue in the teaser is different from Caretaker so some of that must have been reshot or reedited. I wonder if Tuvok could hear Neelix’s thoughts as well? The Caretaker’s remains look like something Neelix cooked up. We get to see a bit of Neelix’s jealousy flaring up again when Tanis asks Kes to stay with the Ocampa. Eventually, Kes comes to agree with Tanis that she can’t stay on Voyager in The Gift.

    Why does it take 47hrs for Suspiria to respond and not 48 – oh wait, because it’s Star Trek’s lucky number. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, like in Non Sequitur. What did Suspiria do to the rest of the Engineering staff? It’s eerily deserted when Janeway comes down there and how did Tuvok and B’Elanna survive that fall? When Kes has her mental confrontation with Tanis, Jennifer Lien does her best Charlie X impression. There’s quite a few bloody noses and eyes in Cold Fire. In a Christmas episode of Frasier, he admitted he had been waiting to say “low elf-esteem” for a few days.

    • I thought Barrett read the previouslies in the same monotone that she uses for her computer voice, but it could also be interpreted as a monotone announcer voices, I suppose.

    • The writers left the matter with Suspiria unresolved because they wanted to keep her around as a get-out clause just in case Voyager failed (it was at this point the show was slipping in the ratings) but by the time of The Voyager Conspiracy in S6 where Janeway didn’t want to meet the Nacene again, the writers must have felt Voyager would reach the 7yr finish line after all.

  5. Frankly, no script goes in circles for no reason at all and still makes it past the cutting room floor. Sometimes reviewers review like big, well funded studios have no internal governors and what happens is just the creative process.

    Take for instance the casting of a 10 year girl easily recognized as the My Size Barbie girl to be the wizen old caretaker’s “mate,” Suspiria, itself derived from Latin meaning roughly “sighs from the depths.” Why even create a 10 year old girl whose voice suddenly changes to the husky voice of a matron, but who is easily defeated by a determined Kes fumbling with her latent psychic powers in another part of the ship?

    I think it’s fairly obvious to the cynical minded. It would explain that rare mid season opening flashback to the series’ pilot (a first for the franchise I believe). It reminds everyone just who was Suspiria’s spouse by actually showing him. Later, Janeway presents the female being with the dead lump of her former lover and actually expects the woman-girl to help them all get back home. It’s a rattle trap of non sequitar indulgence.

    Aside from explaining that the 70+ male caretaker is the lover of this 10 year old girl (and wrecking my dinner btw) to imply the image of her bouncing happily on the old man’s knee at some point even younger, threatening Janeway with another child is likely the only other reason this episode exists at all. In this version of the future, everyone knows those little kids are superpredators in tiny, weak packages. Braga should have his head examined for this creepy adultist plot, but not on my nickel.

    • Janeway doesn’t present Suspiria with the Caretaker’s remains Ang Hays. Suspiria leaped to the wrong conclusion because Voyager destroyed the Array believing that is what killed the Caretaker.

  6. Not a great episode, or even a good one, but it’s interesting how referential this episode is. “Suspiria” is obvious. Giving Suspiria the voice of a hoarse woman is a shout-out to The Exorcist, “Tanis” is a shout-out to Rosemary’s Baby, and Kes’ duel with Tanis is a shout-out to Scanners. Too bad it’s such a non-starter of an episode.

    • Older men and little girls is theme that runs throughout Voyager, and the Caretaker narrative is the pilot plot for the whole series. Besides Susperia and Caretaker, we have Kes as a 1 year old paired with middle aged Neelix. Neelix later becomes the creepy “godfather” to Naomi Wildman who is played by an actual child just like Susperia. Then, Seven of Nine, who has the social skills of a child is paired with Chocotay, again, a much older man. Other little girls turn out to be adults as in “Innocence” or to be fake children as in “Flashback.” The age play can’t be denied because it is that important to the stories told in Voyager, the real question is interpretation. I am developing my own in terms of sexualized children during the 80s and 90s. Voyager works perfectly for that historical period and for its near universal approval by its fan base.

    • I have a bit of a soft-spot for it, but I’m admittedly a sucker for “Braga does pulp.” It reminds me a lot of Persistence of Vision. Neither is a great episode, but they are pretty decent in the context of the season as a whole.

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