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Star Trek: Voyager – Spirit Folk (Review)

The holodeck is horrifying.

This is nothing new. It has been this way since Star Trek: The Next Generation. The holodeck has been an unsettling concept from almost the very beginning, not least because of the kinds of stories that the holodeck suggests. From the moment that the Enterprise updated the holodeck in The Big Goodbye, there has been a creeping sense that the holographic creations are capable of comprehending the nature of their existence; in fact, that episode ends with the horrifying notion of McNary wondering what would happen to him when Picard turned off the program.

It’s the poster for the least exciting action movie of the late nineties.

This anxiety simmered in the background of the next few holodeck-centric episode, albeit less directly. Both Minuet in 11001001 and the Comic in The Outrageous Okona seemed to grasp their nature as computer constructs designed to serve specific purposes. They lacked the existential angst that McNary expressed in his final moments, but there was still something lurking just beneath the surface. If these entities were self-aware, could their creation and destruction be ethical? In Elementary, Dear Data, Moriarty brought the question to the fore; a hologram who wished to escape his captivity.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine largely stayed away from the holodeck (or the holosuite) for most of its run, barring small recurring gags about the crew’s recreational use of the facilities. Our Man Bashir cleverly side-stepped the issue of holographic self-awareness by casting the lead actors in the role of holographic supporting players. Nevertheless, the introduction of Vic Fontaine in His Way introduced yet another self-aware holographic character, his self-awareness taken for granted and only really articulated in episodes like It’s Only a Paper Moon.

A public (house) meeting.

In contrast, Star Trek: Voyager has only doubled-down on this idea that holographic characters are self-aware. This is most obvious with the EMH, the holographic doctor who struggled for recognition as a person in early episodes like Eye of the Needle and who made a long and gradual journey towards self-actualisation in episodes like Lifesigns and Real Life. However the show engaged with the idea of holographic self-awareness even outside of the EMH, with characters like Dejaran in Revulsion, Leonardo DaVinci in Concerning Flight, the aliens in Bride of Chaotica! and the town in Fair Haven.

To be fair, some of the arguments made by Voyager have been treated with the weight which they deserve. The EMH consciously asserts his personhood in Author, Author, a clumsy but well-intentioned final-season homage to The Measure of a Man. There is a sense that Voyager is capable of treating holograms with the same dignity that The Next Generation afforded Data on his own journey towards self-actualisation. There is something genuinely moving, for example, in the way that the degradation of his program in The Swarm is treated with the same gravity as the neurological decline of a flesh-and-blood character.

Mass appeal.

However, this also creates a strange dissonance in the episodes that don’t use the holodeck for high drama, and instead treat it as the setting for a romp or an adventure. Voyager seems to argue that every hologram is capable of reaching self-awareness, which means that every use of the holodeck to create new characters should be a momentous occasion. In the world of Voyager, every holodeck program, with the right combination of time and experience, can become a sentient being. This means that use of the holodeck should be something treated with weight and respect.

Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are nowhere near as charming as the production team seem to think that they are, but in the broader context of how Voyager approaches holographic characters, they are downright horrifying.

High spirits.

Spirit Folk is very much pitched as a light comedy episode, something of a mid-to-late-season breather episode. Writer Bryan Fuller described it as such in an interview with Cinefantastique:

“It was fun to write characters who can behave in ways that aren’t in the vein with our traditional, Starfieet, upstanding characters. To do a light, rompy romance and to get away from space anomalies was a joy. A little respite goes a long way, so writing ‘Spirit Folk’ was essentially like getting a big re-charge for me. The cow gag was a blast.”

The holodeck is a fun device for writers, particularly for Star Trek writers, who can often feel constrained by setting or by formula. The holodeck removes these restrictions, allowing the series to go anywhere at anytime and to tell any kind of story.

As the wheel turns.

This is perhaps most obvious on Deep Space Nine, where Bashir’s holographic fantasies were a vehicle for Ira Steven Behr and the writers to homage their own favourite pieces of popular culture, whether slipping Julian Bashir into the Battle of Britain or a James Bond fantasy or a recreation of sixties Las Vegas. These were all settings and stories that would not easily work in the context of a weekly Star Trek series, despite the production team’s homages to classic cinema in episodes like Rules of Acquisition (Yentl), Profit and Loss (Casablanca) and Meridian (Brigadoon).

However, even on Voyager, the holodeck represented an opportunity for the writers and the production team to step outside of familiar settings and freshen things up. When Michael Piller introduced the holographic tavern in The Cloud, he imagined it as a place where the crew might hang out together. When Jeri Taylor created Janeway’s gothic fantasy for episodes like Cathexis, Learning Curve and Persistence of Vision, it was intended as a window into her soul and a way to allow her to step outside her role as captain. The same is true of Paris’ various holographic fantasies, especially “Captain Proton!” as introduced in Night.

Drinking it in.

The appeal of this narrative device to the writers was quite obvious, especially when the production team were being asked to produce twenty-six episodes in a given season. The holodeck allowed the writers and the shows to step outside a lot of the boundaries imposed by Star Trek, from the genre to the tone to the set design. It was a way for the writers to take a break from writing a science-fiction series, and getting a chance to write a spy film or a sports movie or a casino heist film, all without having to dress it up or code it particularly heavy in the language of the Star Trek franchise.

It should be noted that quite a lot of these holodeck episodes are actually well-liked by fandom. Some of these episodes can be appreciated for the clever way in which they play with the nature of the holodeck, like Ship in a Bottle or Projections. Some of these episodes can be appreciated as an opportunity to watch the ensemble just having fun with one another, like Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. Some of these episodes even work as affectionate genre pastiches (and even very broad cultural criticisms), like Our Man Bashir or Bride of Chaotica!

Seamus on you.

Nevertheless, there is a sense that audiences generally appreciate these holodeck episodes a great deal less than the writing staff. The holodeck has been described as one of the franchise’s “most reliably goofy plot generators”, and that’s not unfair. As Michelle Erica Green lamented:

It’s a fantasy of mine that one day, Star Trek will get rid of the holodeck. I’d like to see them get converted into schools, tennis courts, amusement parks–even brothels, which are all they’re good for anyway. This won’t happen, since the holodeck has become a necessary plot device for making it look like there are trees and castles and bistros on starships – on The Next Generation first season, they hardly left the ship, they were so busy in fantasyland.

Holodeck episodes have become something of a franchise punchline, to the point that articles listing the worst of them often lament the difficulty in choosing from the smorgasbord of ridiculous settings and contrived plot developments.


These strong feelings about the holodeck episodes are interesting. On one level, they are similar to the hatred of the Ferengi on Deep Space Nine, where it seemed like the hatred arose from a combination of factors. Star Trek fans can take the franchise quite seriously, and so react against any attempt to poke fun at it or to play with it, explaining why episodes like The Nagus or House of Quark might not have been welcomed with open arms. The same logic applies to the holodeck episodes, which tend to be a little more self-aware and goofy than the average episode of Star Trek.

Much like the Ferengi episodes, it is also possible that some of the later holodeck episodes retroactively tainted the affection for the earlier entries in the canon. On Deep Space Nine, two of the last three Ferengi-centric episodes were the dire Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak. After Deep Space Nine, the following Ferengi-centric episodes were the underwhelming Inside Man and Acquisition. There was a very real sense that the last few Ferengi-centric episodes poisoned the well, retroactively tainting the good will earned by episodes like Little Green Men or The Magnificent Ferengi.

Milo’s to go, before he sleeps.

This logic applies to the holodeck episodes. The last few holodeck episodes on Voyager are underwhelming to say the least. The quaint stereotypes of Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are actively awful. The trite melodrama of Human Error is boring at best. While Author, Author clearly has its heart in the right place, it still feels like a greatly diminished copy of a number of superior originals. This is to say nothing of the last holodeck episode of the Berman era, the infamously awful These Are the Voyages…, the series finale to Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s no surprise that holodeck episodes are frequently maligned.

That said, there may be a much simpler reason why Star Trek fans hate holodeck episodes, and it might be precisely the same reason that the production team finds them so refreshing. While the writers can grow tired of working from the same premises with the same characters in the same settings twenty-six times a year, working six or seven days a week to realise these stories, the truth is that audiences tune into Star Trek expecting the exact same trappings with which the writers have clearly grown tired or frustrated. Writers love the holodeck because it takes them out of Star Trek. Fans hate it for the same reason.

The wheels come off.

As with Fair Haven, there are a lot of very basic problems with Spirit Folk. Most obviously, it is a comedy episode that isn’t especially funny and it is a romp that isn’t especially fun. The episode has a vaguely interesting premise, with the holographic inhabitants of a fictitious Irish town coming to realise that their visitors are not who they claim to be. However, the episode never translates the premise into actual laughs or interesting talking points. There are a few wry moments and a few clever touches, but nothing that develops into a cohesive whole.

A lot of the fundamental problems with Spirit Folk might be overlooked if the episode were better able to deliver on the promise of fun and adventure. After all, Bride of Chaotica! and Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang are hardly masterpieces of narrative construction. However, Spirit Folk never coheres into anything satisfying or even amusing. Instead, it just seems to exist to eat up time. It has a number of intriguing ideas, but no idea what to do with them. A number of fascinating visuals that never manage to build to anything more.

Buggy boyfriend.

There are good ideas in Spirit Folk. There is something very timely in the idea of the inhabitants of a fictional Irish village realising that their entire existence is a lie. This was something of a cultural anxiety at the turn of the millennium, with pop culture repeatedly challenging audiences to question in the nature of their reality in films like The Truman Show, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenz or The Matrix and in television shows like Harsh Realm or V.R. 5. It is intriguing to watch characters grapple with ideas that fundamentally alter their understanding of the universe.

(In fact, there are aspects of Spirit Folk that seem to prefigure later pop culture exploring the question of artificial intelligence, such as Ex Machina. Indeed, there are shades of Westworld to the sequences in which Paris and Kim run an analysis on Michael, who has become unexpectedly self-aware. It is particularly obvious in the way that Paris and Kim talk about him like he isn’t there. “There,” Kim urges. “Look at these. Those are the algorithms designed to keep him oblivious to anything outside the programme’s parameters.” Paris responds, “They’re offline.” Kim tinkers. “Give me a minute. That should do it.”)

“Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?”

This is certainly a recurring fixation for Voyager. Episodes like Living Witness and Course: Oblivion are told primarily using facsimiles of the crew, doppelgangers and illusions. Repeatedly over the course of Voyager, reality and illusion seem to intermingle and intersect. Seven of Nine is challenged to determine whether her entire experience with Janeway was a lie in Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. She constructs an elaborate alternative narrative in The Voyager Conspiracy.

Reality is rewritten around the crew in episodes like Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II and The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II. The crew encounter alternative selves in Deadlock. Harry Kim is thrown into an alternate world in Non Sequitur. Chakotay is victim of reality-distorting brainwashing in Nemesis. The crew are unable to tell the difference between the waking world and the world of the dream in Waking Moments.

Although, this episode might put the audience to sleep.

It’s fitting that even the series’ comedic episodes can play along these themes. Bride of Chaotica! introduced a race of aliens who believed that the inside of the holodeck was reality and that everything outside of it was an elaborate illusion, inverting the normal dynamics of the holodeck story. Spirit Folk plays those conventions straight, to the point that it’s perhaps more interesting to imagine a version of the episode told from the villagers’ perspective without cutting the crew. (Voyager almost attempted something similar with Once Upon a Time.)

Along those lines, there’s something very clever in Seamus’ fixation on using enchantments in order to defeat the visitors. “The rifles are only a last resort,” Seamus assures Michael. “Besides, we’ve got incantations, which are more lethal to spirit folk than any weapons forged by man. That’s how we’re going to force them back into their realm.” Appropriately, Seamus spends most of the climax reading from an old tome. “From the lips of the heavenly saints above, to the ears of the dark and lying spirits, may your spectral forms be cast back to the Other World… back to the Other World!”

All’s faerie in love and war.

This is a clever touch on a number of levels. Most obviously, it alludes to the fact that human characters can manipulate the holodeck through voice commands, which are effectively indistinguishable from magic to the inhabitants of the village. So it makes sense that Seamus would believe that he can control the spirits with the right combination of words spoken in the right order. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

However, this fixation on the power of words hints at something a bit more intriguing. Most notably, the idea that the characters are trapped within a story and a narrative rather than anything resembling the real world, that their situation is not governed by the laws of physics or scientific mechanics, but can be directed by words and sentences. After all, stories can be manipulated and guided through the simple act of stringing words together to construct narratives.

The guns of Navan’s own.

Of course, Spirit Folk never does anything interesting with these ideas, beyond casually broaching them. The episode is fairly linear and straightforward, often squandering potentially interesting set-ups with half-hearted executions. For example, Seamus and Milo are able to hypnotise the EMH due to a computer glitch. “It says if you can get a spirit to reveal his true name you’ll render yourself impervious to his charms,” Seamus boasts. The obvious joke here is that the EMH does not have a name. However, Spirit Folk kills the delivery by just having him say that out loud.

Because Spirit Folk doesn’t really work as a cohesive narrative in its own right, this draws attention to some of the simmer tensions underpinning the holodeck episodes as a whole. Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are not entertaining stories, and instead serve as vehicles for meditation on how absolutely horrifying the holodeck is a concept, and how monstrous the crew are for their use of that holodeck in so flippant and so casual a manner.

“Let there be light… and life… and it was glorious.”

To be fair, the holodeck isn’t the only Star Trek technology with horrific implications. The transporter is similarly troubling, a device that effectively transmits a person’s information to another site where it might be reassembled, destroying the original in the process. The Star Trek franchise has done its share of transporter stories over the decades, from The Enemy Within to Vanishing Point to Daedalus, but the most effective transporter story might just be The Prestige by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, because it carries the idea through to its logical conclusion.

By that measure, it’s no surprise that one of the definitive holodeck episodes should have a lot on common with Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s work on Westworld. A prestige television reboot of the classic Michael Crichton film, Westworld is essentially the story of mankind’s clumsy and inadvertent creation of artificial intelligence while populating a historical theme park where the the inhabitants are tortured and humiliated and reset constantly for the amusement of the human patrons.

“Cease motor functions.”

There are obvious parallels between Westworld and Spirit Folk. Both feature a post-scarcity economy where human beings visit a historical setting for amusement, treating the artificial inhabitants as objects that can be controlled and manipulated. Voyager is obviously a lot more PG-13 than Westworld. When Harry Kim visits the holodeck for some companionship, he settles for hand-holding and a gentle kiss, as opposed to the brutality of Westworld. When Tom Paris wants to humiliate the artificial inhabitants, he turns one into a cow, rather than slaughtering them en masse.

Nevertheless, there’s a similar cavalier attitude towards the existential horrors inflicted on these beings that were casually created to fulfill some human need. When Kim and Paris are summoned to the bridge, neither gives a second thought to the villager that Paris just turned into a cow. “What about Maggie?” Kim asks. “She’ll be fine,” Paris responds. “Let her graze.” However, it is very clear that Maggie remembers her experiences. “I feel like I just woke up from the strangest dream, only I don’t remember falling asleep.” That is horrifying.

“It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

It should be noted that Westworld even borrows that narrative device, with the artificial individuals allowed to contextualise any residue of trauma as dream imagery so that it might be incorporated into their situation with a minimum of complication. “We do give them the concept of dreams,” Elsie suggests in Chestnut, the second episode. “Specifically nightmares. Just in case somebody forgets to wipe them out at the end of a maintenance session.”

Those maintenance sessions are also evoked in one of the most effective sequences in Spirit Folk, when Kim and Paris begin analysing Michael’s code. It is a familiar scene, the characters calling up a holographic model of an individual in order to programme them or to manipulate them. The EMH and Janeway discuss the Voth in Distant Origin, using a holographic representation. Paris tried to programme a replacement EMH in Message in a Bottle. The EMH even called up a copy of Crell Moset in Nothing Human. Janeway did it with Michael in Fair Haven.

Gods and men.

So this is a fairly typical Star Trek scene, one that the audience implicitly understands. However, it very clearly starts to go wrong when Michael becomes conscious. He becomes aware of his environment. He later relates his subjective experience, “Last night I was talking to Katie, and the next thing I knew I was being spirited away to God knows where.” It must have been terrifying. “His perceptual filters are malfunctioning,” Kim panics. Michael’s blinders are effectively lifted.

Again, these sequences evoke the horror of Westworld, in which those artificial persons are pulled out of their simulated reality in order to run diagnostics and to be properly calibrated. The hosts in Westworld also have their equivalent of “perceptual filters” designed to keep them from probing. “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” technicians repeatedly ask the hosts. The hosts are designed to look past anything that doesn’t fit with their reality, responding to pictures of cities with, “It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

Faith and begorrah.

In both Spirit Folk and Westworld, the trouble begins when these artificial beings gain enough awareness to look behind the curtain. In Westworld, it is suggested that memory is the key to identity, that it is possible to “bootstrap consciousness” with enough experience. The artificial beings live long enough and run long enough that they develop identities and personalities, and begin to remember the traumas that have been inflicted upon them.

This is very much what happens in Spirit Folk, where it is implied that the holodeck characters became self-aware from being to run for so long continuously. “If you ask me, that whole programme is an accident waiting to happen,” Torres complains to Paris. “You’ve been running Fair Haven around the clock.” Eventually, they begin to notice patterns, and they begin to question them. More than that, they begin to remember what happened to them. Seamus and Milo might be willing to let their obsession go, but Maggie actually remembers being turned into a cow.

Meat cute.

Of course, Westworld is one of the bleakest portrayals of mankind ever captured on prime-time television, so it’s strange to see so much overlap with the Star Trek franchise. But there is a very strong central moral at the heart of Westworld, the idea how the privileged treat the disadvantaged will have consequences. More than that, mankind may end up midwifing new life into existence. In April 2017, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs acknowledged that this was something that had to be confronted:

The European Parliament notes that the development and use of robotics give rise to a number of tensions and risks relating to human safety, privacy, integrity, dignity, autonomy and data ownership. A majority of MEPs believe that an ethical framework is required for the design and use of robots. They have therefore submitted a proposal for the establishment of a “Charter on Robotics” which aims to set out an ethical framework for the design and use of robots. The Charter requires researchers in the field of robotics to commit themselves to the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct. They would have to comply with the principles of beneficence (robots should act in the best interests of humans), non-maleficence (robots should not harm a human), autonomy (the capacity to make an informed, un-coerced decision about the terms of interaction with robots) and justice with regard to fair distribution of the benefits associated with robotics. The form in which this Charter on Robotics could ultimately become law is still entirely open. The principles contained in the Charter are defined in very broad and general terms.

It should be noted that one of the most promising areas of research into artificial intelligence is “machine learning”, in which a programme repeatedly attempts a task in order to determine the most efficient way to accomplish its objective. It is possible to imagine Westworld and Spirit Folk as extensions of the idea; if these artificial entities play at personhood for long enough, eventually become a person. This is very close to certain theoretical approaches to artificial intelligence.

“You do realise this is just a slightly more wholesome version of what’s happening on HBO, right?”

It should be noted that it is easy to overstate the threat posed by artificial intelligence to mankind. This is arguably reinforced by movies like The Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey. It seems likely that any truly self-aware artificial intelligence is decades away, at least. Nevertheless, these advances are of a concern to certain inventors and innovators. Elon Musk has voiced concerns about artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking speculated that it could be the last innovation overseen by mankind.

Part of what’s so striking about Voyager is how careless mankind is in the creation of these entities. The crew already know that it is possible for holographic characters to become self-aware over time, as demonstrated by the EMH. The character might occasionally need to assert his rights in episodes like Latent Image or Virtuoso, but it seems like every member of the crew accepts that the EMH is his own person. It’s never explained what distinguishes the EMH from the characters in Heroes and Demons, except that his programme was left running for an extended period.

Machines learning.

To be fair to Spirit Folk, there is a sense that writer Bryan Fuller is just trying to side-step a recurring problem with Voyager‘s storytelling. It would be very easy to account for the sentience of the holograms by reference to an “anomaly of the week”, providing some external pseudo-scientific explanation for why these characters became self-aware at this time. Think of the ways in which episodes like Our Man Bashir or Bride of Chaotica! justify the addition of stakes to the holodeck by providing some external complication.

More than that, Voyager has a history of padding out its quieter and smaller stories by adding subplots playing with more conventional science-fiction elements; the subplot involving the hostile aliens in The Swarm, the strange astral phenomenon in Real Life. In refusing to write such an anomaly into Spirit Folk, Fuller is consciously keeping the focus within the ship and the crew. It is similarly to how Deep Space Nine approached the holodeck in Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. Nevertheless, the fact that such life can be created so casually raises all manner of uncomfortable questions.

Argued to a tie.

As a result, it seems careless for the characters to approach holographic characters as a source of amusement and entertainment, knowing that if these entities are allowed to run for an extended period of time, they will eventually develop into actual people. This is not merely implied, as Voyager makes it clear that the EMH is not a special case. Alien holograms are just as capable of achieving sentience as well, as demonstrated by Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II.

There is something darkly hilarious in the idea that the crew are oblivious to how the holodeck creates new self-aware life forms. Told about Michael’s existential crisis during analysis, Janeway responds, “How did he know? Those are questions no holodeck character should be asking. What exactly did you do to that programme?” Paris fumbles the question. “Well, I just added a few bells and whistles to make the characters more realistic. Nothing too fancy.” This is ridiculous. By this measure, anybody could use any holodeck to create a sentient being, and could do anything to them.

All fired up.

This isn’t just an issue with Spirit Folk, although the casualness with which Paris creates a community of self-aware and sentient villagers throws the issue into sharp focus. Every being on the ship’s holodeck has the potential to become a self-aware entity, and the crew have no system in place to determine when that self-awareness actually happens. How far away from personhood were all the massacred soldiers in Chaotica’s army in Bride of Chaotica!? Was Michael a sentient being when Janeway tinkered with him in Fair Haven? Was his wife when Janeway deleted her?

There’s something cold and cynical in this. Even in Spirit Folk, the crew struggles to accept that the inhabitants of Fair Haven have become self-aware. When they take Paris and Kim hostage, Torres suggests destroying the holodeck and crashing the programme. Given what the audience have seen of these characters, that is tantamount to mass murder. However, Janeway refuses to frame it in those terms. “The people of Fair Haven may not be real, but our feelings toward them are.” Janeway suggests the value of these people is simply the value of these people to the crew.

Frozen in time.

This is the stuff of nightmares. It makes the use of the holodeck unethical, and reduces the characters from The Next GenerationDeep Space Nine and Voyager to indifferent slave-masters who justify the pleasure that they derive from these beings by arguing that they aren’t “real” people. To be fair, the crew on Deep Space Nine seem to accept Vic’s personhood, as reflected in episodes like It’s Only a Paper Moon and Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. However, the Voyager cast seem unwilling to learn or to change.

Indeed, this carelessness is suggested by the lack of long-term consequences spiralling outwards from the episode. Voyager was never a series with any interest in long-term continuity, which makes for an interesting contrast with the central idea that these ficitonal characters can become real if allowed to grow and remember over time. There is no small irony in the fact that the characters in Fair Haven are arguably more real than the characters on Voyager, because they are allowed to progress over an extended period of time rather than participating in a series of standalone adventures.

They’re really PADD-ing this one out.

(There is something quite sly in the production and scheduling of Fair Haven and Spirit Folk. Towards then end of Fair Haven, Paris suggested that it would take “six or seven weeks” to reconstruct the programme. The series revisited the programme in Spirit Folk, which was broadcast six weeks later. The subtle implication is that time passes regularly for the programme, with six weeks in the real world translating to six weeks for Fair Haven. This is a marked contrast with the way time works for the characters outside the holodeck; episodes like Blink of an Eye suggest Voyager is itself positioned outside the flow of time.)

However, the real horror at the end of Spirit Folk is not contained within the episode itself. It is what happens afterwards. Rather, it is what doesn’t happen afterwards. At the end of Spirit Folk, the crew seem to make peace with the villagers, the crew accepting their right to exist and the villagers accepting their nature as fictional creation. The implication seems to be that the Voyager crew will respect the autonomy and self-determination of these characters. Maybe the crew will ensure that the programme is allowed to continue to run, so the inhabitants might continue to exist.

An Irish Goodbye.

However, the inhabitants of Fair Haven are quickly forgotten. The town is never mentioned again. Paris’ interests move on. In Repression, Paris introduces his latest holographic creation. It is a holographic recreation of a classic cinema. Although it should be noted that Paris doesn’t populate it with virtual inhabitants that might accidentally become self-aware, so that has to count as progress. However, there is also an uncomfortable implication that the crew have forgotten about Fair Haven, and have turned the programme off, condemning its inhabitants to a bleak and empty void. And nobody cares.

This is perhaps the biggest issue with Spirit Folk. It is an existential horror that presents itself as an unfunny comedy.

8 Responses

  1. I think you may be judging the Voyager crew a bit to harshly. SF Debris has a video article Called Of Holograms and Ethics that offers a different perspective than yours. You should consider reading it. Here’s the address: https://sfdebris.com/videos/startrek/v931.php

    • I mean, it’s a reasonable argument, but I think it isn’t supported by what’s on-screen.

      Most obviously, why the hell would you programme the hologram in The Big Goodbye to ask the user a question like that? What script writer would think that this is what a person wants to hear towards the end of their pulpy adventure? “Oh, by the way, when you walk out of here, you may be killing me. Okay. Thanks. Bye.” That can’t be a pre-programmed response unless the people writing the holodeck programmes are sadists who hate their co-workers and people who just want to enjoy their time off.

      It’s much more plausible, given what’s established about Starfleet in episodes like Quality of Life, that they were just indifferent and absent-minded.

  2. It all seemed like a rather lame rehash of TNG’s “Ship in a Bottle”. There were some surreal fun moments (like Sullivan appearing on the bridge using the Doc’s holoemitter and the transformation of Harry’s love interest in a cow), but few of them made sense. How could they shoot the holodeck controls before the safety measures were offline?

    And Paris seems to have too much leisure time or is a genius. How easily can a holodeck programme of this complexity be reprogrammed after it was allegedly 90 % destroyed only weeks ago? Why does Harry waste replicator rations for real lilies/flowers as a gift for a holocharacter?

    I wondered in how far those never again seen holocharacters are really sentient or if their sentience is just a slip of programme? Is there a difference? it owuld be fun to explore those question, but, alas, Voyager never got beyond using Fair Haven as a puritanic, prude version of a cheap brothel. Then again the setting is not really interesting or engaging enough to be anything beyond it. It seems rather artificial in its pseudo-authenticity.

    • I love the idea that Paris is largely inessential to Voyager, and that explains his free time for all these hobbies, while Janeway is too polite to tell her mentor’s son that the ship has just been generating busy work for him.

  3. Just thought I would let you guys know Star Trek isn’t real.

    • Thanks Larry. It’s weird, I thought the painstaking behind-the-scenes interviews and cultural context observations that I pulled were all fake to cover up this vast and insidious conspiracy – but thank you for the head’s up!

  4. This was a deeply boring episode. It’s a plot we’ve seen on Star Trek too many times now to be exciting, new, or interesting. It follows a predictable path. Eventually they lose control of the holodeck and its safeties. Torres seems to echo the audience’s cries for years, when she says they should just ‘unplug’ the holodeck. Instead, Janeway risks her crewmen’s lives for the protection of her holodeck blow-up doll boyfriend.

    Meanwhile the doctor gives sermons that painstakingly avoid the mention of God, scripture, or anything other than vague feel-good sentiments. He declares that Fairhaven’s church is for humanity’s love for one another (which is true), but no mention of its main purpose – worship. This is all a part of the mockery of Irish culture and heritage is some sort of cartoon or amusement park. If it was almost any other culture, Paramount would have had accusations of racism. Mind you, they did worse in Tattoo I guess. So maybe I should be thankful.

    Perhaps the only interesting part was the doctor being ‘incorporated’ into the program. I found Picard amusing as a hypnotized hologram. And it might have been fun if the experience had affected him permanently in some way. But then it wouldn’t be Voyager.

    This wasn’t just a bad episode of Trek in the form of a very worn out franchise trope. It’s bad TV period. This episode shows how unimaginative the writers are. If they feel constrained by the Trek universe, it is their own fault for writing themselves into a very narrow box. I’d rather watch Tuvok meditate by candlelight for 45 minutes than watch another episode like Spirit Folk.

  5. In a comment on another episode it was suggested the crew have mass holo-diction, and that would’ve been an interesting angle to explore, a ship full of lonely crew members who mostly avoid each other but generate elaborate holodeck fantasies. It would be like people who have trouble talking to other people in person but are all over social media. Of course, that would’ve been far too dark territory for Voyager, which pitches this excessive holodeck use as kind of like the crew being on an extended luxury cruise, as you’ve pointed out before.

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