Once Upon a TimeBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 3:55 PM GMT
See Also: 'Once Upon a Time' Episode Guide
Four-year-old Naomi Wildman is in a holographic forest running a children's program in which Flotter, a water spirit, is angry at Trevis, a tree spirit. Naomi explains to them that she's an explorer who lives in space, lectures them on science, and plays diplomat. Neelix interrupts to tell her it's bedtime. Her mother, Ensign Samantha Wildman, is on an away mission, and contacts her daughter to say goodnight; later she privately tells Neelix that they've encountered an ion storm which is causing damage to the Delta Flyer. The next morning, Janeway and the crew listen in the conference room to a garbled transmission from the now-missing shuttle, which was looking for a planet to land on; Janeway orders Voyager to look for the shuttle while Neelix insists that it's too soon to concern Naomi with the knowledge that her mother is missing.
Naomi has a pretty normal day taking anatomy lessons from the Doctor and avoiding Seven, who makes her nervous. Neelix takes her to the holodeck and explains that he used to play in a forest with his sisters. When Naomi asks what happened to them, he doesn't tell her that they died in a war, instead evading the question. Naomi chooses a rather scary adventure in which Flotter and Trevis are are attacked by the Ogre of Fire, who evaporates Flotter and burns Trevis. Naomi wishes her mother was there, and is not satisfied when Neelix explains that her mother is busy: she knows away teams are supposed to report in every 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Wildman has been injured when the shuttle crashed and was buried several kilometers under the planet's surface. While Voyager searches, Paris determines that she needs surgery and Tuvok informs them that they cannot leave the shuttle - the atmosphere in the cavern is poisonous. Janeway orders Chakotay to take an away team and search while they attempt scans, but Kim has already concluded that the ship must be under the surface if it survived the descent. Neelix rants to Kim that a starship is a terrible place for a child and asks for help replicating Naomi a stuffed Flotter, but Kim says he would have given anything to have grown up exploring.
Neelix has a nightmare about his sisters' violent deaths and talks to a photo of Alixia, wondering what she would do to care for Naomi. He visits Seven in astrometrics to ask how she coped with the loss of her family, then goes to the bridge to bring the captain coffee and find out how the search is progressing. He continues to insist that Naomi should not be told of her mother's fate, but Janeway insists that Naomi deserves to know, and orders Neelix into her ready room when he argues on the bridge. Janeway realizes that Neelix identifies with the girl, but Neelix has to realize that Naomi has him: he promises to tell her the truth first thing in the morning. When Naomi awakens, however, she goes first to the transporter room, where she overhears an away team planning a search mission, then to the bridge, where she hears Janeway warn sickbay to prepare for heavy casualties. Neelix spots the girl but she flees.
While Tuvok comforts Naomi by talking about his own absent daughter and the shuttle crew record final messages as their oxygen runs out, Neelix tracks Naomi to the holodeck, apologizes for deceiving her, and admits that he doesn't know whether her mother is alive; he wanted to spare her the pain of not knowing, but admits that not knowing never made him feel better. The ship is jolted by an ion storm: the away teams have only minutes to retrieve the shuttle. They manage to dig it out and use amplifiers to beam the entire Delta Flyer into the transporter room. When Wildman is well, she and Naomi go to the holodeck with Neelix for another Flotter adventure. Neelix hangs behind and is greeted by the captain, who tells him of her own adventures in the holoprogram when she was a child.
Despite a slightly too-precious feeling during the holodeck story, "Once Upon a Time" is an emotional, well-paced episode with a superb performance from Ethan Phillips, who has never disappointed when asked to carry a storyline. His scene in Janeway's ready room discussing his lost family was very moving, pulling elements from the plots of "Jetrel" and "Mortal Coil" with an attention to continuity rare for Voyager. I also appreciated Tuvok's reflection on his own lost family and Janeway's of-late-uncharacteristic warmth; this episode had the feel of a first-season installment, which I mean in the best possible sense.
I like the concept of exploring childhood on Voyager and in this century overall; with the exception of the child prodigy Wesley Crusher and the very ill-used Molly O'Brien, we have rarely seen kids on the new generation of shows as anything other than nuisances. It makes sense that there would be classic holoprograms which everyone remembers the way we remember Disney movies, so I thought it was nice that Harry and the captain as well as the senior Wildman had grown up with this one. All of Neelix's concerns about children on starships were given short shrift, which is too bad - the question of how Naomi would be raised in the event of her mother's death is pretty significant, and could have been tied into the issue of why there aren't more children on Voyager. In general I think this series should have more of the family feel it had this week - not just in terms of Samantha Wildman and her daughter, but Paris' understated, emotional farewell to Torres and Tuvok's reflecting on the children he has not seen in years.
There were a couple of jarring moments - I laughed aloud when Paris said he never expected to suffocate in the middle of nowhere when last season he almost suffocated in deep space, and I'm still not clear what the away team was doing out in the ion storm in the first place, let alone how they could drop shields to beam the flyer up - but overall I enjoyed this episode as much as any Voyager installment of the past couple of years. I don't, however, understand Paramount - they market Wednesday as MENSday and then they show a family story like this? Not that I'm complaining! The performances were nicely nuanced and the action and emotion were very well-balanced. Next week the series hits its 100th episode...we can only hope for consistency.
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.