Let’s start with the Kes story as it is really the meat and potatoes of the episode. There is a lot to like here. The Tuvok and Kes training session is nice and shows a real friendship between the two. Tuvok is shown to have affection for Kes – albeit in a Vulcan way – an almost fatherly feeling toward her. And Kes has real enthusiasm and wonder toward her abilities (granted she shows very little respect for her crewmate’s privacy; but I suppose she’ll learn that after a while). This scene works to establish a bond between the two so that when Kes inevitably loses control of her power there is sincere terror at hurting Tuvok and her screams are disturbing. Also, the image of boiling atoms is a nice touch, a visual flourish that the show doesn’t do enough.
But her story is really one of temptation – temptation first to leave the ship and try something new; and second the temptation to use her power for less than educational purposes. The leaving the ship is interesting and could have had some real weight except for the fact that the character Tanis is an obvious villain. This would have worked better had there been more ambiguity and he didn’t hurt his wrist twirling his mustache so often. Because we know Tanis is a baddie there is no tension; we know Kes won’t leave. Also the stuff with Neelix doesn’t work for me because (maybe I’m alone in this) I just don’t buy their relationship. Sure we are told about their undying devotion to each other but all I’ve ever seen is Kes treating Neelix like a puppy or a favorite child, not a lover. And as for Neelix, his love has only been shown as jealous rages and possessiveness. I would never describe the relationship as healthy.
Ultimately this storyline will be undermined by the presence of the Caretaker. Kes’ temptation comes to nothing because we have to focus on the near-omnipotent Big Bad and her decision becomes a moot point. Even if she wanted to go with the Ocampa they are shown to be the bad guys; that option is removed by default. We never really get to see what Kes would do if given the option of a non-evil sanctuary in which to grow and learn.
And so we come to the Caretaker.
This feels like it should have been a big deal. It is a continuation of the very first story with the added weight of the possibility to get home – there should be tension, there should be urgency, it should be epic. But it is not. We never learn what Suspiria, the female Caretaker’s motives are. What is she doing with the Ocampa? What is her purpose? Why is she doing anything really? Again, this is all undermined by the Kes story. We don’t get to focus on Suspiria or learn about her in any way so that when her creepy little girl form shows up at the end it’s a monster showdown rather than the culmination and resolution to a mystery.
But my real problem with this is the way the crew prepares and reacts to Suspiria. When it is discovered that another Caretaker will be encountered Tuvok recommends a weapon be constructed just in case the being is violent. Janeway initially refuses but eventually relents and the weapon is prepared.
This is usually your basic Chekov’s gun bait-and-switch Star Trek plot device. In this scenario an alien will seem malevolent at first and be seen as hurting or destroying but in reality it is just misunderstood and protecting itself or its children – see the Horta. In this kind of story the weapon created to kill will be readied and just before it is used, cooler heads prevail and communication will be established and we will find we are not so different you and I. Clichéd? Yes, but very, very Star Trek. This is a show that proves (or strives to prove) talking will solve more problems than fighting.
Cold Fire presents a different version. The alien is presumed to be evil, it turns out to be evil and the weapon is used to destroy it. That just felt so un-Star Trek. Yes, in the end Janeway didn’t kill Suspiria. And because they didn’t kill even though they could, Suspiria learns the Voyager crew ain’t so bad after all and changes her ways. This is a lame cop-out. And not very satisfying. Perhaps if this had more time to expand…
In the end Cold Fire isn’t bad. It is cramped and unfocused but not dreadful to watch as some episodes this season have been. The upward spiral of quality continues even though it stumbled on the execution.
The journey continues.