The Good: Moments of concept, Michael McKean
The Bad: Most of the acting, Execution of plot, Utter lack of real character development
The Basics: In a solidly dull episode, Michael McKean appears as an incarnation of fear, but all the viewer has to fear here is losing interest.
Every now and then, I review something that is so derivative of something that has come before it that my knee jerk reaction is to simply rate it one-star and move on with my life. In the case of Star Trek: Voyager, I continue to find myself disappointed with how derivative the characters and storylines were of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!). As I approached the end of the second season on VHS and hit the episode "The Thaw," I was ready for yet another bomb of an episode that I was on the fence about the star rating for. But then there's the final shots of the episode and it's just enough to pull it out of the complete toilet that my initial impression of this episode was being flushed down.
The U.S.S. Voyager, oblivious to its quest to returning home, stops at a planet where the inhabitants apparently died in an abrupt ice age approximately nineteen years prior. The arrival of the Voyager triggers a system that reveals the presence of cryogenically frozen people linked to a computer. Janeway sends Torres and Kim into the system to find out what happened. There, the two officers find the three natives of the planet being tortured by a clown who is the computer's manifestation of their fears and their suffering turns dark and unpleasant, a fate Torres and Kim seem doomed to share.
"The Thaw" is one of those unfortunate episodes that never quite lives up to its potential. I like the idea of the people trapped in a computer simulation while their bodies are frozen and being tormented. This idea was much more effectively rendered in The City Of Lost Children (reviewed here!). In "The Thaw," the script is not developed enough, the sets look cheap and the menace is never truly real. Indeed, on Star Trek, there were red shirts, people who beamed down and bit the dust. Star Trek: Voyager employs no such conceit and the menace is simply not there as a result; main characters are never killed in the Star Trek franchise in reality-bending situations. As a result, the menace only extends to the three aliens of the week and the truth is, who cares about them? This is Star Trek: Voyager, at the end of the episode, the ship will leave the planet and the crew will be on to their next adventure.
My point with this deconstructive rant is simple: this is an episode about fear and the nature of it and it's not at all scary. Instead, the Clown is more annoying than terrifying and the room where Kim and Torres are held is simply cheap looking. The result is that the concept of the episode is not well executed and the feel of the piece is more of a drag than anything near insightful.
The only thing that works is Janeway's ending monologue and the resolution to the episode, which I will not ruin for the viewer who is so bored they still feel the need to watch the rest of this piece.
Michael McKean, who was enjoying a resurgence of popularity when this was released thanks to Best In Show (reviewed here!) and an appearance on The X-Files, does well as the Clown. He's interesting to watch, but not as creepy or electrifying as he could be. Instead, McKean performs as well as the script and director will allow him to, resulting in a mediocre character.
Still, it's more than the viewer gets from anyone else this episode. Garrett Wang (Harry Kim) and Roxann Biggs-Dawson (B'Elanna Torres) appear on screen barely able to muster up the enthusiasm for the scenes that are supposedly nightmarish. Robert Picardo does his usual schtick (which I like), but provides nothing new or interesting for his character of the EMH. Kate Mulgrew does excellent work in the final moments of the episode, but outside that is pretty tame.
And that is a severe problem with "The Thaw." Janeway's presence in the episode is to deliver a rousing speech on the nature of fear to combat the Clown, but there is no frame of reference. Instead, she sits around for forty minutes, then leaps on with the words of wisdom. "The Thaw" would have been much better if it had attempted to develop any level of character here. In this case, the episode could have rocked completely had there been a parallel plot focusing on a mission that hinged on Janeway's overcoming her fears (flashbacks would have been wonderful, a la Lost). Instead, the episode is bogged down with substandard imagery to continue to re-establish the premise of the room Kim and Torres find themselves in.
Ultimately, this episode has little appeal even to fans of science fiction or fantasy. It is certainly not insightful enough to attract a general audience interested simply in human development stories. But hey, if you're interested in watching five people supposedly being tortured for an hour (I was more bored and that was the true torture of "The Thaw"), then maybe this is for you!
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!
For other Star Trek reviews, check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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