After Tuvok returns from an away mission with a comatose Chakotay, members of the crew behave very strangely.
Plot Summary: While Janeway plays governess on the holodeck, a shuttle carrying an injured Tuvok and a brain-dead Chakotay flees a dark-matter nebula. When Voyager goes to investigate, Tom Paris changes course without permission, though he has no memory of doing so afterward. Janeway replaces him on the bridge, yet Paris sabotages the course correction from a panel on another deck. Later, Torres ejects the warp core, though she too has no memory of doing so. Kes reports that she senses an alien presence and Tuvok obtains permission to perform a mind meld so that he can interpret her vague perceptions, but soon after, the two are found unconscious in a turbolift, where Tuvok claims they were hit by an energy discharge similar to the one that incapacitated Chakotay. Realizing that anyone on the crew could be possessed by an alien entity just as Paris and Torres were, Janeway plans to give Tuvok half of the command codes, but before she can do so, the alien makes her attack him. The entity moves from person to person on the bridge, forcing Tuvok to stun the bridge crew. In sickbay, the Doctor has been taken offline, so Paris treats the crew and discovers that Kes’s injuries were caused by what looks like a Vulcan neck pinch. Meanwhile, Torres discovers that someone erased the logs from Chakotay and Tuvok’s shuttle, which shows no evidence of the attack reported by Tuvok. When Janeway accuses Tuvok of lying about what happened in the nebula, Tuvok attempts to relieve Janeway of duty, but the bridge crew won’t obey his orders. In Sickbay, Neelix rearranges the stones on Chakotay’s medicine wheel and warns the captain that he must have been possessed. Janeway recalls that Torres couldn’t have ejected the warp core without a command-level authorization, figures out that Chakotay provided that authorization, and realizes that Chakotay’s consciousness has been possessing them to stop Tuvok from taking the ship into the nebula. The rearranged stones represent a star map which the crew uses to navigate to safety. Once Tuvok is free from the alien’s influence, the Doctor can be reactivated to integrate Chakotay’s consciousness with his body.
Analysis: “Cathexis” has a lot of convoluted plot leading to a conclusion that’s pretty obvious from the start, since Tuvok’s utter lack of concern about Chakotay seems cold even for a Vulcan, plus we all know that the first officer isn’t going to remain brain-dead for the rest of the series. It’s fun when a possessed Paris keeps altering the ship’s course since there’s no obvious reason for him to be interfering, but from the time Torres, too, becomes possessed, we know that an Evil Alien must have come back on the shuttle and must be the reason Tuvok is being so creepy. I’ve had issues with the way Vulcans are written in Star Trek’s second generation, when there is outright prejudice against them in some cases (“Take Me Out to the Holosuite”), and I don’t really feel we know Tuvok well enough yet in this first season that it’s fair to do an episode in which he may be possessed or simply may be quite cruel and insensitive. But at least this time the security failures fall squarely on his head instead of Janeway’s, since in the moments when he is not possessed, surely he must be aware that his actions are neither logical nor good for efficiency. My least-favorite Janeway moments in “Cathexis” involve her holodeck diversion, which I’ve always felt was a misguided attempt on the part of the writers to play up the “she’s not just a captain, she’s a WOMAN!” angle in anachronistic, old-world sort of way; it isn’t as though Riker and Paris don’t spend private time on holodecks with retro sex objects, but their idea of getting away from it all involves exploring their hobbies, not acting as nanny when their day jobs already involve supervising people, and anyone who’s ever read Jane Eyre or Rebecca can guess that Janeway’s primary motivation is to be seduced by Lord Burleigh, not to solve the mystery of the creepy house. Maybe Janeway does need something to keep her mind off her sexy first officer and the holonovel sort of star-crossed scenario in which they met, or maybe that’s just me, but the way the holographic scenario plays out makes her come across more like holo-obsessed Barclay than like Riker.
Look, if the stories are going to be as flimsy as “Cathexis,” we’re practically being begged to come up with reasonable explanations for why the characters behave as they do. For instance, I’m allowed to have fun with the idea of Chakotay’s consciousness looking for excuses to take over the bodies of Paris, Torres, and Janeway. I keep thinking back to Chakotay telling Janeway that he never showed his medicine bundle to anyone else before, even though Seska is evidently familiar with it, Torres knows all about it, and now Neelix has gotten to play with his stones…all right, that’s a mental image I don’t need. It’s nice to know that Torres knows how to use Chakotay’s medicine wheel even though she tried to kill her animal guide, which suggests a longer, warmer friendship and attempt to understand one another’s cultures than we’ve witnessed thus far. The Doctor has the best line in “Cathexis” when he warns Torres that, given the way she’s using the medicine wheel, she may send Chakotay’s spirit into the mountains of the Antelope Women, which he might never want to leave. The use of Native American spiritual tradition is sadly superficial throughout Voyager‘s run, but it’s nice to know that the Doctor has been programmed with what in our own century would be labeled alternative medicine even though the techniques have been in use for centuries. We haven’t yet been told the names of the tribes from which Chakotay descends nor the planet where he was born, which suggests a haphazard approach to Native American culture and spirituality on the part of the producers, yet I appreciate that we see more concrete images to link Chakotay to that history – more than we’d seen at this phase of Sisko’s heritage from New Orleans Creole culture and more than we ever saw of Uhura or Chekov’s backgrounds. Given that Chakotay is relatively private about his medicine bundle, I’m less sure about the ethics of Torres using the medicine wheel in Sickbay – I won’t even get started on the issue of whether Chakotay had it on his person when the Maquis ship was destroyed or whether he had to replicate everything on Voyager while the replicators were rationed – but Chakotay did use it to save everyone’s life.
Given the relatively thin storyline, I appreciate the directing of “Cathexis,” which makes good use of the actors to maintain a haunted house atmosphere. The tight shots on everyone’s faces when the crew momentarily believes a thoughtful Harry Kim is possessed, and the death glare on Janeway’s face when she learns that the Doctor has been disabled and moreover that Kes is suffering from a Vulcan neck pinch is scarier than any alien. It’s a shame that yet again Neelix winds up being used as a buffoon – his near-hysteria that a crewman has changed his standing drink order isn’t amusing so much as laughable – and evident that the writers haven’t yet worked out distinct roles, let alone personalities, for the large cast of regulars. (Poor Durst – he gets so much to do this episode that in retrospect it should have been obvious he wouldn’t last the season!) By the end of Voyager, I’d forgotten all about the ship’s bioneural circuitry, and rewatching this episode, it occurs to me that the writers missed an opportunity, since for a few minutes it seems as if Voyager itself might be making the decision to avoid the nebula at all costs rather than being controlled by Chakotay via other crewmembers. Kirk may never have trusted the engrams of the M-5 computer when it took over the Enterprise, but that was a different era, and it’s interesting to note in an era of emerging computer dependence and artificial intelligence that Voyager’s crew actually seems to ask the computer for input less than Kirk’s or Picard’s. Particularly in the Delta Quadrant, where there will never be an opportunity to consult with Starfleet Command or another Starfleet captain, a partially sentient computer would make for a fascinating addition to the crew – someone much like the Doctor but with far more comprehensive access to the ship’s systems and library, like the Andromeda Ascendant’s holographic avatar. Now there’s the sort of hologram I’d have loved to see Janeway interact with.