The Good: Decent, though uninspired, acting and special effects
The Bad: Character work is almost nonexistent, Plot is very overdone, Doesn't hold up over multiple viewings.
The Basics: When Tuvok returns to the U.S.S. Voyager with a braindead Chakotay, alien possessions result and the list of suspects soon gets ridiculously narrow.
Star Trek has any number of plots that are reused throughout the franchise with success and failure. One of the more popular ideas that Star Trek recycles within its franchise is the idea of alien possessions, which usually force the viewer to question the identity of one or more of the main crew members. Alien possessions were done in Star Trek effectively with episodes like "Return To Tomorrow" (reviewed here!), with distinction of acting on Star Trek: The Next Generation with episodes like "Power Play" (reviewed here!) and with a sense of tired obviousness on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the first season episode "The Passenger" (reviewed here!). Sadly, when Star Trek: Voyager decided to tackle this concept in its first season, it leaned toward the limitations from "The Passenger" when it did "Cathexis."
The U.S.S. Voyager, never in a hurry to actually return home, has dispatched Tuvok and Chakotay in a shuttlecraft to explore a nebula when Chakotay returns braindead (go ahead and laugh, Robert Picardo's delivery of the line where this is revealed is classic). Comatose and trapped in Sickbay, Chakotay lays near death while the Doctor works to save him and the crew tries to figure out what went wrong. Soon, it appears there is an alien force at work on the starship and Tuvok must figure out how to stop the influence before the ship becomes crippled.
"Cathexis" is a classic Star Trek: Voyager "bait and switch" episode and it sets a bad precedent for the series that it never recovers from. While earlier episodes like "Time And Again" (reviewed here!) involved anomalies where effect preceded cause, the episode did not so much hinge on the reveal in the last moments of the episode. "Cathexis" does and it's the one trick that Brannon Braga brought to the Star Trek franchise and beat it to death with. While the problem becomes exacerbated in later seasons and episodes, "Cathexis" marks the beginning of the use of this very desperate device. "Cathexis" was written by Brannon Braga and it's disappointing that this is one of his earliest, most obvious influences in Star Trek: Voyager - and that it remains so obviously his child.
What makes "Cathexis" so difficult to watch - even just a second time - is the fact that once the surprise ending is known, the episode loses all of its punch. There are films, like The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!) where the end hinges on an important reveal at the end, where the movie may be rewatched and revisited with a greater appreciation once the surprise is known. One may sit and notice the furtive eye movements, the misdirection, the masterful way everything fits together. Braga's Star Trek: Voyager outing lacks that finesse and sophistication. Instead, it is a simple problem, with a simple reveal and the second viewing - for those who did not figure it out in the first viewing - is mostly a "well, duh" experience. My third viewing was my last and even after years of not seeing this one, it was painfully obvious and tired.
That's not to say that a good story may not be done involving alien possessions. This simply is not it. It's obvious in its basic premise and the cheap use of misdirection is nowhere near as clever as the viewer wants it to be. But moreover, it does not advance a cause. "Return To Tomorrow" and "Power Play" (and even "The Passenger") gave the actors on those series's a chance to actually act. "Cathexis" does not expand the range of any of the actors significantly (though Ethan Philips does well as the catatonic, possessed Neelix).
None of the actors shine and it's hard to criticize them for that; none of the character elements truly leap off the page in this episode. Instead, the mediocre acting is merely reflecting the mediocre writing. So, for example, Kes is not given a lot to do in this episode, so Jennifer Lein does not turn in a performance that is especially noteworthy.
Tim Russ, who plays Tuvok, is given a bit to do in "Cathexis," but like almost all of the early episodes involving Tuvok, his performance must be a study in consistency. Russ is hard to evaluate as an actor because once he established his character, his job was mostly to make sure that it changed as little as possible in the course of the series. In "Cathexis," he does a fine job with that, but he ultimately becomes a tool to the plot point.
While this episode might be enjoyable to those unfamiliar with the genre and the conventions of alien possession stories, fans of science fiction and the Star Trek franchise in particular are more likely to be bored. This is a dull outing, that wastes forty-one minutes for a reveal in the forty-second minute that is unsurprising and cheap.
[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season on DVD, which provides the full opening to the series. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!
Check out how this episode stacks up against others in the Star Trek franchise by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page for episodes organized from best to worst!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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