In which I found the worst episode of Star Trek, and it’s not what you think. I tried to give this show a fair shake, I really did.
We are currently in orbit over a planet for shore leave, and some command staff are taking a tour of the sacred spaces of the locals. It’s all very somber and beautiful, and Neelix and Kes go off wandering down the corridors when she hears an eerie humming. She steps onto a shrine and gets zapped out cold because nobody ever made her read Harry Potter and the Not Going Near Big Ominous Archways In Spooky Buildings.
The local guide is very upset that they were there, although he seems initially concerned for their wellbeing rather than offended. But he does refuse to let them bring in scanning equipment, because Kes has been ‘punished by the spirits’ for trespassing on a sacred place and poking strange energy fields. I’m not saying she deserves it, but this is kind of one of those situations where a little diplomacy and a light touch might be indicated. No disrespect to Torres, but she’s probably not the best first-responder. And after her descent into autocracy, I’m not that sanguine about which Janeway we’ll get either.
In SIck bay, the Doctor’s trying to stabilize her brain and needs more information about what caused the problem. Janeway is working on cutting through the bureaucracy and sending Neelix to see what he can find. The government rep is being as accommodating as he can, or at least faking it well, but this isn’t his wheelhouse and the religious order whose wheelhouse it is ‘consider the matter closed.’ On this world, there’s a separation of church and state, so he can’t really order them to do anything, but some background shows that the monks use that shrine (after a ritual cleansing) to prepare themselves to commune with the Ancestral Spirits. They know it’s a naturally-occurring field, but nobody knows more about it than that.
Torres and Kim have their scans blocked by the solid rock in the way, and the Doctor is shocked that there’s a way to protect against the effects. Neelix has come up mostly blank, but for some ancient folk legend about a prince who was saved from the death-sleep after his father went on a spirit quest. Per this religious precedent, Janeway (as Kes’ adopted guardian and also the monarch of her ship) may have the spiritual authority to petition the spirits in keeping with the local customs. Chakotay offers some words of skepticism at her willingness to do this, but she assures him that all she’s really interested in is the changes wrought by the ritual, hoping they can duplicate it later. He suggests that maybe it’s real, and she scoffs.
The government official comms her with the good news – the monks have accepted her proposal, and are impressed and pleased that she seems to be taking their religion seriously. Little do they know she’s wearing a microbead that will monitor her vitals. She also refuses a phaser, which seems like a good decision when the issue at hand is diplomacy. While waiting for the ritual to start, a maintenance worker asks her to help fix the lighting, and turns out to be her guide.Also, steals her tricorder because analysis of the sacred ritual dealies is not allowed. She undergoes some ritual preparation – stripping, painting, et cetera. The spirit guide knows about the probe, but doesn’t seem to care much, and leads Jaeway to the ritual room. Thus, the cryptic nonsense begins.
First, she meets a trio of people waiting. And who have been waiting for quite some time, and reflecting her questions back on her, and she skips on past. She’s trying to check off all the boxes on her way to spiritual enlightenment, in that way that just begs Mysterious Old Guides to mess with you. Currently, she’s being made to hold a rock and stare into it, and her probe is sending back data that her arms are getting tired from holding a rock. Next up, fingerpainting, rock climbing (in slippers), and more staring at rocks. Only this time, it’s glowing, and the Doctor’s probe finds that she has elevated neuropeptide levels, which might help Kes. And finally, she’s offered a basket full of a Nesset, otherwise known as the Gom-Jabbar-ghostsnake. They are fabled for being able to travel back and forth to the afterlife, so presumably Janeway’s hypothesis is that the venom is hallucinogenic… to the extent that it’s not deadly.
In the subsequent vision, Janeway hears Kes’ voice, and is then sealed into a tomb. According to the probe, her vital signs are stable, she’s fully conscious and mobile, and the Doctor is getting very useful data about some new amino acids from the venom breakdown which is probably what will save Kes, so Chakotay aquiesces to leaving her in there.
In her tomb-pit, Janeway experiences vivid visions, which are the setpieces of the Ancestral Spirits. She makes her request, and is told by the spirits that ‘she has what she needs.’ When she comes back, it’s been 39 hours, which is more than the conditioning programs on the Holodeck are meant to simulate, and Janeway takes her uniform and tricorder and goes home, where she’s given a clean bill of health and the Doctor confirms the utility of the amino acid.
The treatment doesn’t seem to be going well, though, and his devices start shouting warnings. If Janeway truly has what she needs, she certainly doesn’t recognize it, so she goes back down to the planet, where the guide Mysterious Old Monks at her some more. Now that Janeway is hopeless and destitute, she’s ‘ready.’ This time, in the waiting room, she tries the opposite approach, and can’t quite drop her Starfleet nature. In dialogue, the aesop here is that some things can’t be explained and you just have to have faith. Or that Janeway’s devotion to technology is a faith in and of itself and that she needs to learn the bounds of her magesterium, or something equally gross and non-Star-Trek.
The old folks tell her, in so many words, to kill Kes by hitting her with the field again. When Janeway asks how that would work, she’s told to shut up and drink the faith water. But don’t have doubts or hesistate because then you’ll die, because the miracle faith magic won’t work if you have doubts, and also James Randi is a mean guy who’s mean to us for demanding experimental rigor.
She beams Kes down, and when she explains the plan, both Neelix and Chakotay are correctly shocked, and Chakotay threatens to remove her form command because she’s clearly impared from sleep deprivation, but her spirit guide offers gentle encouragement that ignoring science is merely the healthy expression of faith. I think we’re supposed to be all impressed that Janeway is surpassing Chakotay in matters of spiritual awareness, but I don’t have sufficient numbers of expletives for how much I hate that the moral of this story is “faith healing works.” Because of course that’s how the episode ends.
After the fact, the Doctor explains that some of Chakotay’s scans found traces of something that allowed Janeway to survive the blast, and the Doctor giving that treatment to Kes afforded her that protection as well, the second time. After that, the second blast just jump-started her brain, like the way defibrillators work in movies. But of course all this is post-facto justificaiton doesn’t impress Janeway anymore, because the spirits told her.
So, I did it. I found the worst episode of Star Trek. Say what you want about Catspaw, at least it was entertainingly bad. Say what you want about Sub Rosa, but Beverly saved herself via reason. Even Threshold only hinted at a theme that better not become regular – that some lines aren’t ‘meant to be crossed.’ This episode is the worst worst worst worst worst and if the best episode ever wasn’t coming up next I honestly might have ended this entire project here.