Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Most Subtle Two-Parter For Star Trek: Voyager Is A "Cold Fire" Indeed.

The Good: Decent character elements, Acting
The Bad: Plot, Lack of follow-up, Much of the tone
The Basics: When the Caretaker's mate shows up after Kes receives guidance from an older Ocampa, Voyager is menaced and the viewer mildly disappointed.

Star Trek: Voyager, the series where the Star Trek franchise began to go seriously wrong, flailed around in its second season and began to illustrate the cracks that would eventually fracture the series and the franchise. As a huge fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with its ultimate theme of "Dreams Die" (check out my review of the series here!), Star Trek: Voyager's ideal place in the Star Trek franchise ought to have been to illustrate that dreams can be reborn. Ideally, what Star Trek: Voyager ought to have been was story of a crew lost in space, working week after week to return home while holding tight to their core principles as the galaxy around them took its toll on the ship and crew. Ideally, Star Trek: Voyager could have been a clever reconstruction of The Odyssey wherein Gene Roddenberry's brilliant and inspiring view of the future would be reconstructed by two opposing crews who were working together toward a common goal. Wow, did Star Trek: Voyager fail to do that. But, it started well. For all my critiques of Star Trek: Voyager, it started out quite strong with "Caretaker" (reviewed here!). When "Caretaker" ended, one of the promises left for the series was the search for the Caretaker's mate as a possible way to return home faster. That promise is lived up to and explored in "Cold Fire."

The crystallized remains of the Caretaker begin to react and hum and this leads Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres to become concerned and for Captain Janeway to believe that the Caretaker's companion might be nearby. Constructing a device to track the direction of the reaction from the dead mass, Voyager finds an array much like the Caretakers, save that it is smaller and populated by Ocampa who are older than nine years old. Kes immediately falls in with Tanis, a mentor who begins to unlock her psionic and telekinetic abilities, which results in such things as Kes almost killing Tuvok by boiling him from within. Freaked out by her new abilities, yet eager to learn more about them, Kes allows Tanis to mentor her. While Kes is off having her spiritual journey, Janeway uses Tanis's connections to hunt down Susperia, the Caretaker's companion. Susperia is nothing like the Caretaker and the encounter soon becomes deadly, leaving the U.S.S. Voyager in a precarious situation.

"Cold Fire" is one of those episodes that has a beginning that is going in one direction and a second half that goes off in an entirely different direction, leading the viewer to have the feeling that the episode does not know what it wants to be. As a result, the viewer ends up feeling more uncertain about the episode than satisfied. The episode goes from being a spiritual journey to a harrowing horror episode and in this particular instance, the combination does not work terribly well. Instead, this has the feeling of being an episode that does not know what it wants to be. Indeed, this might have been far better as a two-part episode where the first part dealt with Kes and the Ocampa elders and the second part dealing with Susperia.

This is, at the end of the day, a two-part episode, though. This is the second part of the story begun in "Caretaker" and while there is the "Previously on Star Trek: Voyager" recap at the beginning of this episode, it's barely enough to appreciate the magnitude of the story and the episode is likely to only be truly appreciated by those who sit through all of "Caretaker" again. This also, however, leads to the deadly fault of "Cold Fire." "Caretaker" was a strong, ambitious beginning to Star Trek: Voyager and "Cold Fire" merely illustrates how far the series has already fallen. "Cold Fire" illustrates a crew virtually without conflict, a captain whose priorities to get her crew home have meandered for over a season and a set of characters whose initial characterizations have already been compromised for the convenience of a series that is episodic as opposed to serialized.

That said, the Star Trek franchise has attempted this type of two-parter before, where the first and second part are not adjacent to one another. In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the episode "Coming Of Age" (reviewed here!) set up the penultimate episode "Conspiracy" (reviewed here!) in a way that makes the two episodes essentially a two-part viewing experience. "Caretaker" and "Cold Fire" suffer some when viewed in order, as opposed to sitting down and watching the two episodes back to back. "Cold Fire," in context, illustrates to the viewer the meandering, somewhat pointless and inconsequential (literally) nature of Star Trek: Voyager. On its own, it is merely erratic, in context, it's a bit of a letdown.

What isn't a letdown are the two elements of the plot and character that make up this episode. Tanis is a cool, interesting mentor and the idea of an Ocampa who has survived beyond their nine year life span gives the viewer hope for Kes. (For those who are fans of the series, one of the excuses used to have Kes depart the show prematurely at the beginning of the fourth season was the make-up concerns that would come with aging her throughout the seasons to keep up realism - Tanis's appearance debunks that as he is a fourteen year-old Ocampa and he looks rather young - mid-thirties in analogous looks.) He has some disdain for the non-telepathic Voyager crew and that gives him a sense of balance and texture that some of the guest characters on the show lack. He's not just a mentor-type.

The real winning guest character is Susperia, though it's easy enough to see what the writers were attempting to do with her. The Caretaker was a forgiving, gentle old man full of compassion; Susperia is a vindictive girl bent on revenge. She is motivated by the belief that Janeway killed the Caretaker and her desire for vengeance for the loss of her lover. Susperia is creepy, deadly, and interesting to watch.

This is, ultimately, a Kes episode in many ways as the Ocampa becomes the focus of a competition between Susperia and Tanis and the Voyager crew. Kes has abilities that have been hinted at, but not fully explored thus far. As a result, virtually any exploration of Kes's character may result in character growth and here the insinuation there may be a way to prolong her existence gives her, Neelix, and the viewer quite a bit of hope.

Kes is played masterfully here by Jennifer Lein. While the story is focused on her character's growth, Lein gives a wonderful, subtle performance where she plays a student eager to learn how to become. She is convincing in the delivery of her technobabble lines and she creates a character that progresses beyond the simple delivery of her lines.

Similarly, actress Kate Mulgrew gives a sterling performance to close the episode. Mulgrew delivers the ultimatums of the episode with humanity, compassion and the hope the viewers had for the potentials of this series. Sadly, her part is somewhat smaller in this piece and Mulgrew's place is mostly to react to plot as opposed to creating the story.

Indeed, this is a heavily plot-driven episode and while it does much right, it falls down on the tone. The resolution sets up a third part that, in continuing with how unsatisfying this episode is, was never followed through on. As a result, this episode is less likely to satisfy the casual viewers as opposed to the diehard fans. Those looking for a good mentor story will be disappointed by the left turn the story takes when Susperia appears, those looking for a good horror story about an alien-of-the-week who comes aboard with a vengeance are likely to be let down by the long build up to it.

Ultimately, this was a razor decision for me and I leaned toward the "recommend" because the character and acting aspects were sufficient. And, in context, there was something of a necessary evil quality to this episode; the viewers would have been disappointed had the Caretaker's mate never shown up. It's just too bad it went this way.

[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 franchise episodes featuring Norman Large, be sure to visit my reviews of:
“Dark Page”
“Unification II”
“Unification I”


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, be sure to 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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