Friday, August 10, 2012

As Kes Lay Dying, The Viewer Waits For "Sacred Ground" To Matter

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Is this faith-based Voyager?! Pacing, No real plot
The Basics: When Kes is put in a state near death, Janeway tries to rescue her through faith in a boring episode not worth watching.

One of the few truly original characters on Star Trek: Voyager was that of Kes. Kes was a young Ocampa woman (a species unique to this series) and from episode one, her clock was ticking. Her race lives up to nine years and she was already a year old when Voyager first encountered her. Viewers came to expect that Kes was going to die before the series end. They didn't expect she would bite the dust near the beginning of the third season, though.

As the U.S.S. Voyager witlessly wanders home, it takes the time to stop at the Nechisti homeworld where Kes goes exploring and is put in a coma while exploring a shrine. The Doctor, unable to do anything, leaves it to Janeway to solve the problem. Janeway works to undergo a Nechisti purification ritual so that she might learn how to save the life of Kes and allow Voyager to continue on its mission home.

There's not anything else I can write about the plot; this is one of the simplest episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. Kes is dying, to save her Janeway undergoes a religious ritual. The ritual often manifests as Janeway talking with some Nechisti monks and the resolution is no big deal as the plot ends up being remarkably straightforward. So, the episode ends up being a question of either character development or message.

On the character front, the episode becomes a weak Janeway episode. Janeway is characterized as a scientist in "Caretaker" (reviewed here!) and throughout the series, she entertains scientific ideas, but is much more often focused on as a captain. She is a StarFleet Captain, not a science officer. But as a StarFleet Officer, she relies on facts, reason and scientific methodology to determine her approach to everything. "Sacred Ground" does not change her character (next week, she'll be back as methodical and scientific as ever), but instead it mortgages her basic reasoning sense.

"Sacred Ground" is about taking a leap of faith. After four acts, Janeway rationally comes to the conclusion that there is no rational solution to saving Kes's life and she goes from there. It's not so much about changing Janeway's character as the writers and producers saying "it's not all logic and rationality here!" The problem is, it falls flat in its execution.

Star Trek: Voyager has done episodes with death and faith before, almost right off the bat with their dud "Emanations" (reviewed here!). "Sacred Ground" is a bit better, though it takes a far less confrontational route to get to its message. The problem, then, is the execution. The franchise has done "leap of faith" episodes, most notably with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation and here the perspective adds nothing new or significant to the idea. Instead, the episode is mostly Janeway begging the Nechisti monks for a way to save Kes's life and them responding with riddles until Janeway gives up and makes her leap of faith.

If this review is sounding repetitive, there's a reason for that. The episode is. Instead of offering something new each act, once Janeway begins the purification ritual, the pacing takes a nose-dive into slow territory and the plot dies a quick death. The episode becomes repetitive and dull and the viewer simply waits it out until it is resolved (which it fortunately does, eventually).

In the meantime, all the show has going for it is its acting. Kate Mulgrew gives a fine performance as a subtly desperate Janeway who does not understand all that she is going through. Mulgrew adopts a more casual body language and a softness in her voice and bearing that convince the viewer that Janeway is not in control and is out of her element.

Sadly, that's not enough to sell the viewer on this episode. At the end of the day, it's remarkably average and not enough to sustain the interest of anyone interested in general drama, science fiction, or even theology.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!

For other works with Harry Groener, be sure to check out my reviews of:
About Schmidt
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season Three
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “Tin Man”


For other Star Trek episode reviews, be sure to visit 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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