In which Janway necks a hologram, goes absorbs a child, and channels Mengele.
Today’s topic is about Voyager‘s route through some territory that they actually know the owners of, the Botha. But first, a meeting with Torres in Engineering, about actually setting up those holo-emitters in key areas. Has this been in the works long, or did they get this idea from the Doctor’s own hallucinations? Either way, it’s quite a good idea once they get past the obligatory ‘make fun of the Differently Abled crewmember’ parts and fix the aspect ratio. The hits keep coming, and it’s the Doctor’s responsibility to relieve Janeway of duty based on her stress levels and general snappiness, so it’s off to the Holodeck, in a period costume she presumably had to spend replicator rations on, to get hit on by the brooding and be-muttonchopped Lord Burleigh. Did I say hit on, I meant snogged by.
Amongst the Gothic romance are more hints of Gothic horror, just incredibly Jane Eyre on all counts except for there being children. This fantasy and stress relief is, of course, interrupted by the Botha negotiator wanting to talk to her immediately, beforeNeelix has even had the chance to brief her. She gets the 30-second shakedown anyway – the locals fear and revile the Botha. During the initial contact, the Botha are imperious and standoffish, and afterwards Neelix insists Janeway have something to eat during their meeting. This all reminds me of the “Don’t you think she looks tired” moment in Doctor Who – I just can’t imagine Picard allowing this sort of nonsense to slow him down. Well, without Beverly cajoling, insisting, and possibly threatening him.
One of the things Neelix made was cucumber sandwiches and tea in a familiar cup, both of which are straight out of her holodeck program. Only as she’s walking through the halls later, she starts to hallucinate lines from the novella, and even see characters running down the hallway. It’s probably a good thing we all remember about the new holo-imagers planted all over the ship which are currently undergoing calibrations and are therefore possibly cycling test data like the program she left running. Hence the creepy holden-haired moppet.
Or no. B’Elanna and Kim have been specifically bypassing the holodeck, so it’s coming back to stress. Harry is eager to exonerate his commander from suspicions of going insane, but it’s clear from his expression that it’s wishful thinking. Janeway doing diagnostics in the holodeck gets interrupted by Lord Burleigh, who is one of the characters with sufficient metatextual awareness to recognize that she’s not dressed in period costume, but insufficient awareness to marvel at the scandal of a woman wearing pants. Next on the list is off to the mess hall, where Neelix’s setpieces from the holodeck were not, in fact, creepy coincidences, and clearly just Janeway hallucinating. Whether that’s due to stress or becomes of some freaky brain-ray the Bothan (no relation) negotiator hit her with is as-yet-undetermined.
In sick bay, the Doctor hasn’t found anything conclusive yet, but Kes gets weird chills. Since she’s the resident telepath/canary, we should probably take that somewhat seriously. When Janeway gets another hallucination and Kes walks back into the room, she sees the little Creepy Child get absorbed into Janeway. The good news is that this shifts the balance of probability away from Janeway is Going Insane. Kes could be picking up on that telepathically, but it’s more likely that something more spectacular is going on. Janway is ordered to return to her quarters by the Doctor in order to not be on duty, interact with command codes, and blow up the ship. There, she has more hallucinations, as was eminently predictable.
She hears the voice of her beaux, Mark, then the housekeeper slashes her with a letter opener, then she wakes up in Sick Bay with Kes confirming the visions. The time has come for Janeway to hand off command to Chakotay for the time being.
If Janeway were going insane, it would be no wonder. She’s keeping the list of every little thing on the ship in her head. This is both unhealthy and inefficient, when she could just sign over access to her agenda document to Chakotay and have a nap. Captains, amirite? Anyway, Kes preps Janeway for bed and tests, and indicates that the problem may not be isolated to Janeway without explaining why.
Chakotay has to meet with the Botha negotiator now, and of course the alien wants to know where Janeway is. In a situation like this, where the two cultures know nothing about each other, I’m a little surprised they don’t just have Chakotay take lead and claim he’s the Designated Honorbale Alien-Talker or whatever. If they’re going to make a protocol argument that allows them to be snooty, it seems reasonable to make the counter-argument. Not that it matters, since Tuvok and Kim both confirm anomalous energy readings which are probably the Botha phantasm-ray. Or cloaked escort cruisers. Or the phantasm-ray being used to make Voyager think that they’re being attacked by cloaked ships.
Janeway makes it to the bridge just in time to be offered surrender by the Botha leader, who’s actually Mark. Only Paris sees his dad, and my goodness this is an absurdly terrible tactic if it can be defeated by the phrase “who do you see on the viewscreen, <random member of my crew>?” Then again, this is even shaking Tuvok. I am willing to postulate that this is hitting him harder because he’s a telepath, but otherwise it’s really far too easy to dismiss the hallucinations given the magnatude of their improbability. Maybe the phantasm-ray induces enough of a frontal-lobe shutdown to force dream logic to take over. It’s not hitting Torres, though. Or Neelix, or Chakotay. Or Paris, but that’s easy to explain – he’s not a fan of his dad.
Ehh, never mind, it’s probably hitting Torres too. And Paris. And Chakotay, until the whole crew is caught up in the phantasms. This leaves the Doctor and Kes, either of which offers a viable solution to the plot. Kes with her demonstrated ability to Hadoken the hallucinations away temporarily, and the Doctor by the tried-and-true method of whipping up an amphetamine or stimulant or beta-blocker or whatever and distributing it via the ventilation system. I’d pick that one, given its efficiency. Until then, Kes will have to go around the ship, completing repairs. On the way, she sees Paris with a faceful of not-skin from a plasma burn, but it is, of course, a psionic attack. The Doctor tries to talk Kes through the repairs, but apparently Starfleet UI blows and she can’t figure out how. Problematically, she’s still got to rely on outside advice to fix the ship, so if the psionic attack were contextually-aware, it would be trivial to make Kes hear instructions that disabled or destoyed the ship. Instead, she hallucinates that she’s a stuffed animal and her stuffing is rupturing out of her hands.
It doesn’t take much more than arrogant victorious gloating for Kes to reflect the pain-hallucination back on the guy who apparently needed to by physically present in order to stop her, and she Does the Thing which disrupts the attack and renders the Bothan weak enough for Janeway to threaten to experiment on his brain, but then he and all his ships vanish with no explanation. Literally none. Rather than the Classic Trek trope of reducing all gods to explicable phenomena or the Next Generation trope of extolling the virtues of reason and civilization, Voyager has us revel in ignorance and barbaric threats. Taken as a data point alongside Janeway’s first encounter with the Vidiians, I might consider marking this episode as a genuine descent into darkness.