In which medias res goes too far.
So since last episode didn’t matter at all, we have to open with Chakotay screaming from a brain thing while the Doctor and Seven try to stabilize him. In fact, Chakotay appears to be a conduit for some aliens, and the rest of the crew is trying to use him as an ambassador. They also seem to be fighting with something called Chaotic Space, which is… more or less what it sounds like.
Chakotay isn’t even allowed to sleep for fear that it will sever his contact with the inhabitants of Chaotic Space. The idea is that they might know a way out, but he can’t understand them. The Doctor tells Chakotay that the aliens might be reconfiguring his neural pathways to communicate, but that this won’t lead to him being permanently brain damaged. Think how bad things must be at this point for Janeway to be using Chakotay this way, then imagine what we’ll think of her slide into dictatorial exigence if they don’t turn out to be that bad. Chakotay got this way from a blow to the head in a boxing simulation.
I’m no expert on Boxing, but Boothby seems to be a bad coach, and tells Chakotay to get punched in the face more. During the match, we see Chakotay observe the start of Chaotic Space as the holo-image behind his opponent starts to fracture, distracting him enough to take Boothby’s advice and take a glove right to the jaw. The Doctor is not a fan of boxing in this extended flashback, but it’s during the discovery of Chakotay’s edema that Chakotay relates the visual effect he saw, and the Doctor starts to observe Weird Brain Stuff.
Since the stinger showed us the ship moments away from destruction or salvation, this whole episode might be the flashback – on the bridge, the command crew sees that a weird spatial phenomenon has been disappearing and reappearing constantly, but is now enveloping the ship and has caught them in a writing mass of tentacles made of distorted space-time. Still pictures don’t really give a good idea, but Seven explains that the Borg are aware of this phenomenon, and it’s no bueno. It shows up randomly throughout the galaxy, and only one cube has survived an encounter with Chaotic Space. Chakotay retcons every lost Federation ship as a potential encounter with Chaotic Space upon hearing that it can occur anywhere. Such are the perils of writing in such a full universe.
Meanwhie, we start to see Chakotay’s brain being rewritten, starting with audio hallucinations of his boxing simulation and visual hallucinations of his gloves. A call to the bridge snaps him out of that and into the observation that they can be at warp 6 and also standing still. His hallucinations start up again on the bridge, and back to Sick Bay he goes, where the Doctor starts to sing at him. This is by way of testing his auditory nerves.
Chakotay has genetic markers for sensory tremens. The gene was suppressed in utero, which goes a long way towards explaining why Geordi is pretty much the only person with a disability we’ve ever noticed. Genetic defects are corrected, so everyone starts out at Human Nominal Baseline, or almost everyone. Without that suppression, most of his family has had the symptoms. And now that gene has been turned on for Chakotay, so he’s got to stay in Sick Bay. Chakotay also relates how his grandfather refused treatment once he started seeing things. We do not, thankfully, enter a flashback within a flashback.
A question we must ask ourselves is: if the Chaotic Space bubble was materializing and rematerializing, why is it now just staying around Voyager? Or is it seamlessly doing so and Voyager just can’t tell from within the bubble? Perhaps the aliens Chakotay was raving about are directing it to eat them.
Harry’s got sensors up that will work inside the Chaotic Space bibble, and they start heading forward through it. Almost immediately, they find a derelict whose last log entry shows that their captain was also hearing things – the stars calling to him. That ship died after a year stuck in Chaotic Space, even with their advanced sensors. However, it’s a data point they can use to unravel the mystery, and also to steal its sensors.
In the case of the crew of the alien ship, they also started experiencing audi-visual hallucinations, but for an entirely different biological cause. Not just a different genetic marker, but an entirely different effect producing the same result. It is not clear how the Voyager crew determined there was an intelligence at work here. But Chakotay decides to go on a vision quest anyway, to continue this show’s theme that science just isn’t enough. In his vision quest, he sees his grandfather, wandering around lost and refusing to take modern medicine. Chakotay’s boxing hallucinations follow him into the vision quest inside the flashback. And when he wakes up out of… I think all the way out of the flashback (because he’s now taking the aliens as a given) he’s gotten some insight. They give him some technobabble about how to get out, but it doesn’t quite translate, and then he collapses. Something about Rentrillic Trajectory.
To get back into a receptive state, the Doctor takes Chakotay back to his dream state. This time, it’s lucid enough for Chakotay to bring in a security squad. In this dream-state, the boxing ring is irregular and the cinematography takes a running leap at German impressionism in this whole dream sequence. The question is which, if any, of the dream figures is the aliens trying to give him information. My money is on Boothby, but it seems a little obvious. Then again, his Grandfather is also behaving as a mouthpiece for the spirits.
From the non-vision-quest end of things, Voyager starts launching beacons as they travel forward, but heading straight forward has them traveling in a big three-hour circle. If space is twisted up on itself, they could easily have circled around a local wrinkle in space-time. But the good news is that Seven has found a pattern to the chaos. And Janeway recognizes in the signal an energy pattern that universally acts on DNA.
Don’t think about it too hard.
Anyway, this winds up being how everyone else catches up to Chakotay’s knowledge of the aliens. We can see that in this lead-up, it was Chakotay who convinced Janeway to let him go back under. How does that square with him begging to be allowed to go to sleep ten minutes later? Screw you, that’s how. More specifically, the Doctor puts in a field that fully activates Chakotay’s epilepsy gene to get him to go back in.
You know, I was almost expecting the hidden other boxer figure to actually be just another Chakotay for the full-on ‘you’re only fighting yourself’ metaphor. I think I’m relieved? But it’s gonna be hard for Chakotay to punch space in the face. It also starts to cut together dialogue from all his memories, somewhat Prophet/Wormhole-Alien-Like. The aliens do seem to be trying to help, and after the Doctor yells at him not to be a wuss, Chakotay gets enough knowledge to make the necessary adjustments, but not to explain it. And he gets them out.
Once it’s done, Chakotay goes back to his boxing simulation to unwind and relax.