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The Trek Nation - Bliss

Bliss

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 4:02 PM GMT

See Also: 'Bliss' Episode Guide

An old man on a rickety ship flies straight at a set of giant space jaws, cursing it. Meanwhile, Janeway stands in the door of her ready room, skeptically asking for information about the wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant which her bridge crew thinks they've discovered. By the time a shuttle carrying Seven of Nine, Tom Paris, and Naomi Wildman has docked, however, her doubts have turned to elation. The command crew jubilantly tells Seven that they have communicated with Starfleet on the other side, assuring them that Seven's unfolding concerns about the erratic neutrino readings suggesting the presence of a life-form are unfounded.

The crew are getting letters from home which make them even happier: Chakotay has been offered a full pardon and a professorship, Janeway has learned that Mark didn't get married after all. Seven approaches Paris to ask him whether all this excitement seems excessive but he's just gotten a job as a test pilot. Seven watches the captain's logs, which show her getting perkier and more optimistic with each passing discovery. Neelix approaches her with a letter from her aunt on Earth, but Seven goes to sickbay to ask the Doctor to check the crew for signs of a deception; there she learns that his program has been deactivated and he did not even know of the wormhole.

Alone in astrometrics while Janeway gazes at Earth on the viewscreen, Seven discovers a small ship whose blurry transmission warns Voyager away from the wormhole; the alien who previously attacked the giant space mouth warns Voyager away, stating, "He knows what you want." The power goes off in astrometrics as Tuvok enters. When she suggests that the ship's data and his logic is flawed, he restricts her from using the computers there. In a cargo bay, Seven finds Naomi Wildman hiding and is relieved to find that the girl appears to be the only other crewmember unaffected by the exaggerated happiness possessing the rest of the crew. Naomi says that Voyager is her home, and she wants to stay there.

Seven returns to sickbay but finds Paris in charge: the Doctor has been turned off because the wormhole may interfere with his holographic systems. Then Chakotay finds Seven, bringing an armed guard to tell her that her implants must be deactivated as they approach the wormhole because they will pass through a layer of subspace monitored by the Borg. Seven asks to adjust her regeneration program, but instead traps the first officer behind a force field. Leaving Naomi Wildman to override bridge commands to free his team, the ex-Borg goes to engineering, shoots a slow-reacting Torres and the other engineers, then begins to shut down the impulse engines. Janeway sends an electromagnetic surge through Seven's station, knocking her out as the ship enters what they see as a wormhole but is in fact an alien mouth.

Tuvok has a vision of his wife on the ship; Neelix sees himself meeting admirals; Janeway sees Earth gleaming outside. In reality, however, they are all unconscious; only Naomi Wildman is still mobile. She shouts to waken Seven, who realizes that the hull is demolecularizing. The ship is being digested by the creature they can now see outside the viewports. Announcing that it is the largest life-form she has encountered, Seven looks for the vessel which she contacted earlier, and finds it trapped inside as well. The alien pilot thinks she is trying to trick him into lowering his shields, but agrees to beam onto Voyager when Seven points out that he cannot survive for long on his ship anyway.

The alien tells the remaining Voyager crewmembers (including the reactivated Doctor) that "the beast" is telepathic and preys on the desires of others, which it manipulates to get crews to steer their starships into its maw. The alien has been hunting the beast for 40 years, since his wife and children as well as other families were digested along with their ship by the creature. The beast managed to foil his plan to destroy its neural plexus by tricking him into entering its digestive system, but he hopes to use Voyager's weapons to get them all free. Using a neurotransceiver, the Doctor tries to wake Torres, but when she becomes conscious, she sees her former Maquis colleagues alive; she refuses to focus on the Doctor or the others no matter how they try to compensate for her elevated dopamine levels. "They never want to," says the alien.

The Doctor guesses that the creature is 200,000 years old and can find no evidence of sentience, but the alien insists that it has intelligence. He wants to attack with torpedos, but the Doctor is loath to destroy the lifeform. Instead he suggests getting the creature to expel them as a foreign body. "Let's make us less tasty." Seven of Nine and the alien together concoct a plan to use antimatter to offend the beast, but though she believes they have been ejected on the first try, the Doctor and the alien insist that she look beyond her initial readings: they're only what she wants to see, not what's really there.

A second burst frees them, and as the bioplasmic energy readings fade, the crew begins to waken. Janeway demands to know what happened to the wormhole, but Seven says the Doctor can report because she needs to regenerate. Once she understands, Janeway deploys beacons warning other ships of the menace. Seven finds Naomi Wildman studying Earth, which Seven believes the crew will reach one day. Meanwhile, the alien heads off to attack the beast again.

Analysis:

"The Doomsday Machine" (TOS) meets "Immunity Syndrome" (TOS) meets "Galaxy's Child" (TNG) meets "The Game" (TNG) meets "War of the Gods" (Battlestar Galactica) meets "The Bringers of Wonder" (Space:1999), with the evil alien played by a spacefaring cousin of the Almighty Sarlaac from Return of the Jedi. But plot derivation from other series is the least of the problems with "Bliss." It's also a recycling of Voyager's own "Persistence of Vision," in which the possessed crew hallucinated their deepest desires, and "One," in which Seven and the Doc had to save the unconscious crew -- but this time they have Naomi "Wesley Crusher" Wildman to help them, and a crotchety old alien who would be a lot funnier had we not seen a similarly crotchety old alien in "Counterpoint" recently.

Even if you don't get all the references above, there's no way this episode could strike any regular SF viewer as remotely interesting or original. The writers tip their shallow hand at the very beginning, by starting with the alien attacking the Sarlaac. If they didn't do that, we could watch the first half from Seven's POV, wondering whether the entire crew is on drugs, possessed by aliens, from a parallel universe, replaced by replicants or having a collective nervous breakdown. But we know they're being deceived -- they even suspect they're being deceived before the mind-control sets in, which makes them look stupid afterwards. This could be a strong Seven episode by showing how she has to doubt herself and all of them as she gradually realizes things are not what they seem. Instead, since it's a foregone conclusion that she's right about the mind-control, it's just another installment of the "Who Needs A Crew When You've Got Wonder-Borg?" show. (Side note: when the alien said "You look real enough" to Seven, I was half-hoping he was going to demand, "But are THOSE real or silicone?")

I did have a revelation during this episode about how to stop the annoying trend of having Seven save the ship on a regular basis: Make her the captain! On most other Treks, too much authority has never been a good thing -- hence the near-endless stream of Evil Admirals and Warped Commodores. On Voyager, however, there's no Starfleet Command, meaning that the captain always has to be the authority figure who looks stupid when the clever young things save the day. Janeway walks around with a variation of her "Persistence of Vision" persona, only this time it's the big-grin-possessed face instead of the tortured-terrified-possessed face, while good old Seven knows better than to believe the promises or dopamine-induced bliss of the hidden menace. The crew's treatment of her really seems over-the-top nasty, even worse than in "One" where it was clearly hallucinatory, but maybe this is really what they act like when they're in a good mood; we see them that way so rarely that it's hard to know.

Best line goes to walking zombie Chakotay, who doesn't even seem out of character when he flashes his dimples while trying to deactivate Seven: "Resistance is futile!" I was not sorry to see him locked up and tied down by a little girl. But speaking of crew bliss: OK, Tom wants to be a pilot more than anything, Torres wants her dead colleagues alive, they don't particularly want each other but they do want to go home. Neelix wants respect. Tuvok wants his wife back after last week's romantic debacle. Janeway -- the captain, the woman who has been leading her crew on this courageous quest -- wants to get home, why? Not for them, not to give Starfleet the knowledge they've accumulated, but so she can go back to the unfaithful boyfriend she already claimed to be over! Is that dopamine talking, or just dope? Ah, the intrepid Voyager crew, where everyone's in such a rush to get away from one another that long-lost home seems infinitely better to spending another moment together.

And therein lies my real dislike of this episode, to which I really feel the need to justify my aversion because I keep thinking that I should like a story in which a female adolescent and a little girl save the ship, even with Janeway in the role of Evil Admiral. But Seven is precisely what Trek has always encouraged us NOT to want to be: an artificially-enhanced being like Data and Bashir, who have always wanted to be more human -- not less so. We're not expected to identify with Barbie of Borg, nor are most of us able to. Seven is admired for behaving precisely the opposite of a stereotypical female, despite her clothing: she's less emotional than Tuvok, without even suffering from psychotic repressive episodes as most of the Vulcans do these days. She's not good at nurturing. She's practically the Anti-Janeway, despite occasional professed admiration for the captain, even though she rarely obeys her anyway. Naomi may learn independence from this superhero, but when she cited "Two heads are better than one" as being a Borg motto, I realized that that was really Seven's former philosophy; her current one is, "I'm always right and the rest of you are wrong." The fact that she IS right most of the time doesn't make her look heroic; it just makes everyone else look incompetent.

This show used to do episodes where the female captain looked good at the expense of the males on her crew, who spent months on end looking bad. I hated that they had to knock others down to make her look good, and now I hate it that the Borg Princess is being used in the same way with even Janeway as a bowling pin to fall before Seven on a roll. Take the scene in Engineering where Seven shoots Torres, who used to occupy her position as enfant terrible. We're obviously supposed to root for Seven to shoot, since it's the only way to save the ship, but it's still a nasty situation which the director seems to have far too much fun with -- bodies falling in slo-mo, etc. And even if we do root for Seven, it's depressing to see the two girl heroines characterized as ultimate outsiders who fear their crewmates' dearest desires more than any space menace. Has Naomi's mother never said one nice word to her about her father, her grandparents, the joys of living planetside? If we identify with Seven and Naomi, what does that say about how we're supposed to feel about the Starfleet officers who do want to get home? There's no one to root for in this episode. Really, there's no one to root for on this series. And it's been that way ever since Seven of Nine came on board.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.