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The Trek Nation - Course: Oblivion

Course: Oblivion

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 4:05 PM GMT

See Also: 'Course: Oblivion' Episode Guide

Paris and Torres get married in a traditional American nondenominational ceremony - in dress uniform, exchanging vows and rings, rice tossed, complete with a wedding cake with Tom and B'Elanna figures on top. Chakotay gives the bride away, Janeway makes jokes about Torres foregoing the Klingon ritual with painsticks...until the honeymoon, Harry Kim chimes in. It's a little odd that Paris is a lieutenant again, but it's possible he demanded his rank back so he wouldn't have to be on the bottom, so to speak. But no sooner does Seven of Nine catch the bouquet and take over engineering so Torres can go on her honeymoon than Torres begins to disintegrate - literally!

Voyager has developed a marvelous new enhanced warp drive which can get them home in about two years...so quickly that Janeway gets Chakotay to agree to stop on a few exploratory excursions on the way. Unfortunately, it appears to be having some negative effects; for instance, the matter in one of the Jeffries tubes is losing molecular cohesion. Turns out it's the same problem Torres and several other engineers are having. They're suffering from acute cellular degradation. In fact, every particle of matter which was not picked up on a recent away mission seems to be slowly disintegrating. The crew run tests, but the problem does not appear to be the new warp drive. While Chakotay and Tuvok go through the database to figure out where they might have picked up such lethal radiation, Torres dies in the midst of a description of where Paris planned to take her for their honeymoon. The Doctor insists on performing an autopsy before her cells degrade any further, but is unable to locate the source of the problem, which is affecting every crewmember on the ship and threatening his own systems.

Coming across some old logs, Tuvok reminds Chakotay of the ship's visit to a Demon-class planet last year, and wonders whatever became of the clones the crewmembers left behind. Looking at the records on the composition of those duplicates, the two develop a suspicion and go to sickbay, asking the Doctor to scan Torres' body for deuterium, then inject her with a dichromate catalyst. Torres' corpse melts into a disgusting glob of goo, then coalesces into the silver blood from the episode "Demon." The Doctor says he doesn't understand, but Chakotay explains that she and the rest of the crew - yea, verily, the rest of the ship - are biomimetic duplicates of the original Voyager and crew. They ARE the duplicates from the Demon planet.

Janeway refuses to believe this explanation, even when shown the biomimetic compound; she remembers her childhood in Indiana, her whole career. The Doc notes that somehow they all forgot that they were duplicates, but it's obvious that they will disintegrate unless they return to a Demon-class planet to figure out how to survive. Janeway flatly refuses to go back to the planet of their origin - it's the wrong direction if they want to reach Earth - and suggests turning the ship's environmental controls to simulate a Demon-class planet, but Tuvok reminds her that the controls themselves are beginning to disintegrate. Reluctantly, Janeway informs the crew of their status, but while she insists that their memories and feelings are real, a bitter Paris insists that he doesn't have to take her orders and doesn't even have to mourn B'Elanna since none of them are real.

Since the crew has no way to find the original Voyager to ask for help in replicating their DNA patterns once more, they decide to look for a nearby Demon-class planet to regenerate. They find one and Janeway orders the ship to land, but aliens who claim the planet for mining purposes fire on Voyager. Most of the bridge crew encourages her to destroy the alien vessel, but Janeway refuses to kill the aliens over a misunderstanding and orders Voyager to break orbit. Paris sneers that he's not sure why he's taking orders from Janeway, since she's not really the captain. Chakotay cuts him down, but later in Janeway's ready room, he says the same thing: "You're not the captain, you need to step back and look at our situation objectively. Home isn't Earth!" He believes they should have fought for their own survival, not as Starfleet officers but as the new creatures which they are, as many of the crew are beginning to remember. But Janeway insists that their humanity is intact, as is their ship. Chakotay says that won't last for long, and as if to prove his point, he begins to melt, right there in her ready room. Janeway rushes him to Sickbay but it's too late.

Returning to the bridge, Janeway announces that she has lost a fine officer and a good friend who wasn't afraid to tell her when she was wrong, and turns the ship back towards the Demon planet of their origin. Unfortunately she's too late; 63 crewmembers are dead and the systems are collapsing. Still five weeks away from the planet even at enhanced warp, Janeway admits that they have lost the Doctor and asks Harry to put together a time capsule of their logs and database to preserve what they have discovered and accomplished. The warp field fails, and Janeway dies as the ship is saved. Ultimately, Harry becomes acting captain, but with ten hours of life support left, he and Seven find that they cannot launch the time capsule beacon; it has disintegrated along with virtually the entire crew and much of the ship.

Seven detects a vessel nearby; she can't tell what it is, and Harry's attempts to hail it are not successful. Harry orders her to dump the core in the hopes of getting its attention, but the ship does not survive the transition. And oh, the irony! The ship is Voyager, which comes upon a debris field where they had detected a distress call. Janeway records in her log that there were no survivors, then looks pensively out the viewscreen at giant globs of the silver blood which she does not recognize.

Analysis:

First of all, I want to state that my description of the wedding - even the action figures on the big white cake - is wholly accurate right down to the throwing of the bouquet, though I neglected to mention Torres suggesting that Seven should marry Harry Kim and Seven rebutting that monogamy sounds monotonous. How could Trek air marriage vows which were so obviously stolen from a bad piece of fan fiction? Don't tell me they came up with it independently...well, yeah, they probably did. I'll say one thing for the show's writers: they make virtually all the internet romantic fanfic look good. Sheesh, I thought I hated wedding scenes when amateurs wrote them! If I'd been writing Paris/Torres, she would still be a Klingon. She might skip the painsticks but she would not have a Starfleet wedding. She would have opinions about where they should go for their honeymoon instead of passively leaving it up to Tom. She would also still be a better engineer than Seven, but I suppose that is asking too much - Seven, after all, managed to have perky bosoms even when her entire face was falling off. What a woman!

The theme for "Course: Oblivion" could be described as: "Why are you people wasting your time on Voyager when you could be watching Barbara Walters' interview with Monica Lewinsky live tonight?" Seriously, I did not think ANYTHING could make me want to hear one more word about that...but fifteen minutes into Voyager I was thinking that the interview could not possibly be more drippy, manipulative, or predictable than this episode. The fact that the previews showed the entire crew dying was a pretty good indicator that we were in an alternate universe or at least on an alternate Voyager, and Tom's being a lieutenant immediately indicated that it split off from the present series several months ago. Seven's presence meant that it couldn't have been more than two years ago, however, even if she was wearing an anachronistic red catsuit which she didn't have back then. The acting was quite fine, particularly Janeway's grief over Chakotay and Paris' bitterness over Torres, but who cares? He's right: this isn't the real crew. I didn't feel sorry for them, I felt relieved when they were finally all gone. At least I know that Janeway's smashing the Prime Directive to leave clones in the Delta Quadrant won't have any lasting effects.

Ahh, Janeway. When she says "Our humanity is intact," it's starting to sound like a threat. She has obviously turned Torres into a human being, there ain't a trace of Klingon left in that girl. She has leveled some of Seven's unique talents along with her bad Borg behaviors, she has forced Tuvok to rationalize human emotional displays at crew weddings. Her entire self-conception is based on an idea of herself as an exemplary Human, specifically a Starfleet Captain. She is incapable of conceiving of herself as anything else, even when she discovers that in fact she is a biomimetic creature created in the Delta Quadrant. As Chakotay points out, she's so rigid that she can't even THINK about being anything else. If I were Janeway and I found out I was merely a duplicate, I'd have a party! I'd cut loose! Maybe I wouldn't act like the Intendant, but I would, at least, have sex with my first officer before I got him killed by refusing to consider options other than getting home to families which, as Tom points out, would probably see this crew as the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Chakotay is right: Earth isn't home and home isn't Earth, not for a lot of the original crew, not for people like Paris and Torres who would rather be together on Voyager than die trying to get somewhere else, nor people like Neelix and Naomi Wildman who have never even seen Earth. The Starfleet-centric and Human-centric behavior Janeway exhibits looks more and more like totalitarian fanaticism with each passing week. No wonder she related to the dictator in "Disease"!

But it's not just Janeway who lacks creativity and scope for the things she and her ship could do. If the writers of Voyager wanted to create a duplicate crew - as they did once already in "Deadlock" - why didn't they make them DIFFERENT from the characters we're stuck with every week? Why didn't they have some fun with it, why didn't they have Janeway working as ship's cook while Neelix was the navigator and Torres the captain, why didn't they have the Doctor and Seven get married, just to show us the possibilities, or have Janeway and Chakotay finally get together at least on his deathbed just to show us they haven't forgotten? This episode could have been fun before it turned morbid - what was the point of pretending to trick us about whether or not we were seeing the real Voyager for the first half hour when they could instead have been showing us all the things this crew could be doing without the usual strictures? There was no drama to the unfolding events, just a kind of morbid obviousness. Having seen "Deadlock," I think we could all guess what would be the fate of this temporally-displaced double crew.

Kudos to the makeup team, which did a fabulous job making Janeway look like Vina from "The Menagerie" (the real Vina, not the Talosian illusion), and which made Torres' disgusting end comparable to anything The X-Files has done. And quick kudos to the producers for a valiant if weak attempt to give relationship fans a shipboard wedding. Like the entire episode, it was predictable and pathetic, but at least it wasn't canonical. Great title for the series, though.

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.