Sacred GroundBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 2:28 PM GMT
See Also: 'Sacred Ground' Episode Guide
While exploring the sacred chamber of the Nikani, Kes comes into contact with a force field that leaves her unconscious and near death. Janeway demands to know whether there is a way to save her, and discovers that there is a legend in the Nikani culture of a king who retrieved his son's soul from the spirits by petitioning them directly. Since she is the captain and therefore in the closest position to a "king" on Voyager, Janeway decides to undergo the ritual which will enable her to plead for Kes's life.
While Chakotay and the Doctor watch worriedly on monitors hooked up to a transponder under her skin, Janeway is taken by a guide through the ritual. She is painted with ritual markings, asked to wait in a chamber which she leaves impatiently when the others there tell her they've been sitting for a very long time, and put through physical trials which cause her body to build up lactic acid. The Doctor believes that he is gaining valuable information about Kes from the readings, and refuses to let Chakotay end the ritual even when they realize that the captain has been given a hallucinogen. Though her guide has warned her that the entire ritual is meaningless, she presents Janeway with a nesset, a snakelike poisonous animal that bites the captain and causes her to fall into a trance.
Within the trance, Janeway asks for Kes's life and is told that she has all the answers she needs within her. Elated, she returns to the ship, where the Doctor attempts to synthesize a treatment for Kes. He believes he has done so, but Kes remains unconscious. Janeway beams back down, furious, and confronts her guide, who tells her that she was warned the ritual was meaningless because she never believed in the purpose for it. Janeway asks to go through it again, this time waiting when she is asked to wait and trying to open her mind to the possibility that something more than science is at work in the religious rites. She asks that Kes be beamed down and takes her back into the particle beam, though Chakotay warns her that it could kill them both. Kes revives, and though the Doctor has a medical explanation for how Janeway's altered metabolism protected them both, Janeway is forced to consider that there may be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in her philosophy.
I really love episodes where the all-knowing, imperialistic Starfleet officers are forced to accept that their views are not the only views, and their knowledge doesn't have all the answers. This is the most respectful episode about religion which Trek has ever done, and it's interesting that Janeway was the recipient of this knowledge. I've been hoping that Voyager would follow up on Chakotay's seemingly conflicted background - he's a scientist, and said in "Tattoo" that he never believed in the Sky Spirits of his people, but at the same time, he's obviously very committed to his people's beliefs about animal guides and out of body experiences. Here, he was the skeptic, while Janeway became the believer.
This episode struck me as a response to previous Treks in which Kirk and Picard were worshipped as gods and demonstrated to the benighted that there is no god other than technology. "Sacred Ground" takes it for granted that there are unseen forces at work, and even if they have scientific underpinnings, that doesn't make them transparent or irrelevant. I found Janeway's committment first to Kes and then to the truth very moving.
I also found Chakotay's committment to Janeway very moving. He started out trying to convince her that she might not have all the answers, but ended up so concerned for her safety and her apparent, abrupt change of perspective that he thought about refusing to let her complete the ritual. He was obviously greatly torn between his role as first officer and his personal feelings for Kathryn in both directions. On the one hand it is his role to take her orders unquestioningly, but in putting her life in jeopardy for one crewmember, his captain was not acting like the woman he had come to know and he had grounds to relieve her of duty. On the other hand, he knew Kathryn would never forgive him for intervening...and that he might be depriving her of a valuable experience, for herself as well as for Kes. He knew exactly when to worry and when to step back.
It's a wonderful bond between them, stronger even perhaps than Kirk's and Spock's. This episode proved to me, as "Dreadnought" did, that these two can balance a personal relationship and their command obligations.
Some of the other characters were rather out of character; I could buy Torres' anger at the Nikani, but not good Starfleet boy Harry's, when Kes violated their rules and was injured. The Doc seemed awfully nonchalant about the Captain's health in his efforts to save Kes. This was Robert Duncan McNeill's freshman effort as a director - considering the complex nature of the script, kudos to him. At the end, Janeway's still trying to figure out how to make decisions if science, the beacon which guides her, can't show her everything. This is not an intellectual but a spiritual and emotional problem, and if she's going to survive in command for seventy years, those are the areas she has to work on strengthening. I hope we get to see her painting again.
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.