Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Voyager Ghost Story Degenerates Into A Variation On “The Cloud” With “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve!”

The Good: Moments of concept, Moments of Ethan Philips’ performance
The Bad: Straightforward and underwhelming plot, No real character development, Ridiculous plot-convenient character traits
The Basics: A Star Trek: Voyager ghost story, “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” leaves fans unimpressed.

The Star Trek franchise has a history of including “ghost stories” in the repertoire of the various series’. From the frightening, like “Schizms” (reviewed here!) to the utterly mundane and disappointing (“Sub Rosa,” reviewed here, leaps right to mind), the ghost story episodes in the Star Trek franchise have an unfortunately erratic history. For Star Trek: Voyager’s “ghost story” episode, the show goes for something shockingly linear with “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve.” As Voyager passes through a nebula, virtually without power, Neelix tells the ex-Borg children the story of what is going on, much like telling the kids a ghost story.

And, it is what it is. Like most ghost stories, “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” is not a startling character study. A chance for the special effects team to show off, “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” provides remarkably little to fans and ranks as one of the least-inspired penultimate episodes of a season in the Star Trek franchise. While this is certainly a chance for the special effects department to show off, it does feature remarkable performances or even character aspects that illustrate any real understanding of the established characters. In fact, writers Mike Sussman, Kenneth Biller, and Bryan Fuller seem to have a lack of understanding of the backstory of the characters, especially Neelix. They contrive a new story of why Neelix would not like being in a nebula, despite that issue not coming up before in “The Cloud” (reviewed here!). In fact, the reason for Neelix’s anxiety in the nebula would easily be explained as being similar to the oft-alluded to metreon cascade that destroyed his homeworld. And yet . . . they go for a somewhat preposterous, new character concept.

After Voyager enters a Class J nebula, Voyager shuts down the main power systems. Neelix is put in charge of taking care of the four ex-Borg children in the cargo bay when their regeneration cycle is interrupted by the ship powering down. Refusing to let Neelix read an adventure of Flotter, the Borg children insist that Neelix tell them the truth about what is going on, believing that their current mission has something to do with the reason a whole section on Deck Twelve is forbidden.

Neelix tells the story of how, before the Borg children were rescued, Voyager encountered a similar Class J nebula, where it began harvesting deuterium for the warp drive. Unfortunately, it appears that their efforts to keep the ship powered inadvertently disrupted the environment of an entity within the nebula. Incapacitating Seven Of Nine and disrupting ship systems, the entity slowly learns to communicate with Captain Janeway. When the nebula from which the entity was removed dissipates, it turns on the crew, threatening to kill everyone and leading to an evacuation of the ship. As the last person to leave, it falls to Janeway to desperately forge an accord with the alien so they might all survive.

“The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” revises the history of Voyager to relay the story of a “lost mission.” It is hardly a compelling or interesting mission, even the way Neelix tells the story (complete with frequent interruptions from Mezoti and Icheb in the Cargo Bay). Worse yet is that, to fill up the time for the episode, after six years, viewers learn that Janeway has a habit of talking to her ship. We see her make appeals directly to the ship more in this episode than in all of the prior episodes combined and it seems real late in the series to be creating that type of character trait for the main characters.

Similarly, as filler, “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” includes a fairly pointless scene between Harry Kim and Tal Celes (from “Good Shepherd”). The scene, which (like the moment when Mezoti and the other ex-Borg children begin listing off the various types of non-corporeal life forms) serves mostly to work as an effective break in the fourth wall, might have been interesting is Celes was becoming more of a presence in the show, but this is her second and final appearance. Moreover, given the size of Voyager and the fact that there are 150 members of the crew on the ship, it seems unlikely she would be able to wander around for three or four hours without running into anyone!

Like, “The Cloud,” “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” is an exceptionally simple concept episode and, as a result, it includes a number of divergences that fill the episode, as opposed to actually fleshing out a single, cohesive episode. The special effects are good, but beyond that, the episode is unremarkable on every front. The best performance comes from Marley McClean, who plays Mezoti as an eager, fearless young woman in a way that is fun and different from the material she has been given to play before. Otherwise, the acting, character work, and plot are entirely unimpressive. Outside the change in narrative technique, “The Haunting Of Deck Twelve” is more a dull exploration story than it is a compelling character study or even a scary ghost story.

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

For other ghost stories in the Star Trek franchise, please check out my reviews of:
“Wolf In The Fold”


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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