Upon entering Bothan space, the crew begins to see deeply personal hallucinations.
Plot Summary: After Janeway snaps irritably at nearly every member of her crew because she feels overworked, a miniaturized Doctor – on whom Kim and Torres have been experimenting in order to allow him to move about the ship – orders the captain to take some time off. In her British holonovel, Janeway finds herself being courted by Lord Burleigh and taunted by his children, but she is interrupted when the ship enters Bothan space, a region about which Neelix has been trying to warn her. After being told by the Bothans that her petition to travel through their space must be evaluated, Janeway begins to see elements from her holonovel appearing around the ship, culminating in an attack by Lord Burleigh’s housekeeper which occurs in Sickbay. The captain fears that stress or disease must have damaged her brain, but Kes can see her visions as well. A Bothan hails to tell Chakotay that Voyager will not be permitted to pass. When the aliens begin firing at Voyager, Janeway goes to the bridge, where her lover Mark appears on the viewscreen. Kim reports that he sees Libby, Paris sees his father, and Tuvok finds himself at home with his wife. Torres has a plan to use a resonance burst to disperse the psionic field that she believes is causing the crew to hallucinate, but she surrenders to fantasies of being seduced by Chakotay before she can activate it. Soon the entire crew is lost in dreamland except for the Doctor and Kes. The former tries to talk the latter through activating the resonance burst even though Kes too is plagued with visions, first of an injured Paris, then of a panicked and enraged Neelix, and finally of painful growths all over her body. Kes uses her telepathic abilities to unmask the Bothan and fire the burst, at which point the crew recovers and Janeway orders the alien to leave her crew alone. Torres tells Janeway that she’d rather not admit she might actually harbor the feelings the alien made her experience, to which Janeway replies that it’s better to bring such feelings out in the open and face them.
Analysis: When I first saw this episode, I conceived a fiery, passionate hatred of it and wrote a long rant about how Star Trek’s obsession with fantasy, particularly via the use of the holodeck, was ruining the show. On a rewatch, I still hate the episode, but the problems with “Persistence of Vision” are actually more Voyager-specific. It’s evident that, after more than a full season on the air, the writing staff has no more ideas for these characters than they did when they sketched out the series bible. They haven’t come up with one new interest, one surprising quirk, not even one deep dark secret that’s unpredictable or clever. If you asked a group of people who saw the first season what they’d expect Tuvok, Kim, and Paris to see in visions, I bet every one of those people could guess that Tuvok would see his wife, Kim would see his girlfriend – even though he just saw her in an alternate timeline and things didn’t go well, but we don’t know a single other thing about Kim for him to fantasize about – and Paris would see himself proving himself to the father for whom he was never good enough. In the Harry Potter books, when Ron Weasley looks in the Mirror of Erised, at least we learn that he wants to be Head Boy as well as a Quidditch-playing jock hero, something we’d never been told before. It’s maybe not the most exciting of fantasies for adult readers, but then, Ron is a tween boy, whereas these adults have no such excuse. I’ll buy that Tuvok wants to see his home and family more than anything, even more than being first officer instead of Chakotay, which would have been so much fun to see. But you mean to tell me that Kim doesn’t deep down have a fantasy about making a brilliant engineering breakthrough that provides the key to getting back to Earth, not just for Libby, but to be a hero to his family and friends? You want me to believe that Paris is still so defined by his distant father’s insults that his top fantasy isn’t becoming captain, breaking piloting speed records, or getting it on with both Delaney sisters at once?
Although it is a nice change that Paris, who’s always thinking about sex, isn’t thinking about sex for a little while, it’s undercut by the fact that pretty much everyone else IS thinking about sex. This is particularly problematic in the case of the three women on the crew whom we know best, because every single one of them is swayed or nearly swayed by the passionate demands of a man. Apparently Janeway’s need to feel like a Real Woman in stereotypical TV terms is stronger than her desire to save her ship or get her crew home, which could have been an amazing and complicated fantasy – how many aliens would Janeway allow to die for that goal, how many Starfleet rules might she break? Instead we get her swooning in the arms of her dogsitter just as she was swooning in the arms of a hologram not long before. Instead of looking for a friend to lean on when the Doctor points out that she’s stressed out, she goes running to the holodeck like Reginald Barclay, who was initially meant to be a cautionary tale, not a role model. It’s aggravating enough that Janeway’s idea of relaxation is to play servant and governess, to let a big burly man push her around while she mommies his kids, which brings up all sorts of ugly cliches about how women secretly want to be swept off their feet by men who consider themselves their superiors and don’t have to worry about consent. I know it’s not fair to judge a woman based on her masturbatory fantasies, but it’s downright weird when she then lets her imaginary boyfriend give her guilt for thinking about sex with a hologram…so weird that I don’t think Lord Burleigh is whom Mark means when he says he knows she’s been thinking about someone else, while Chakotay is standing right there, lost in his own fantasies. Assuming that the captain and first officer do want each other as much as previous episodes have suggested, how in the universe is it healthier for them both to repress that than to act on it or at least talk about it? They’re both grownups, they’ve both had relationships before, they’re capable at least of joking about how desire and proximity can create embarrassing situations. Heck, they could commiserate together with Paris, since he has a similar crush on Kes.
It’s frustrating that the holodeck gets used primarily for personal gratification when it could be used for so many wonderful hobbies as well – people could learn to play instruments or to cook in their spare time from teachers who would never get tired or grouchy, crewmembers could play fantasy sports impractical in the ship’s gym, people could study history via immersion instead of acting out badly scripted fictional versions of it. Maybe it’s realistic that most crewmembers want to spend their off hours with porn, which is everyone’s private business, but it doesn’t make them terribly engrossing as characters. The same goes for what we’re meant to believe are their deepest, darkest fantasies. Yes, most of us think erotic thoughts, but most of us also pick dirt out from under our fingernails and overindulge in our favorite foods; the run-of-the-mill instances don’t reveal anything unique about us. It’s only on a show like Star Trek, which is so repressed about sexuality to begin with, where the sorts of fantasies that turn up in “Persistence of Vision” are treated as so life-altering that they become incapacitating. It makes sense that Torres has a bit of a crush on Chakotay, who’s been both father figure and mentor to her. I can believe that she used to be jealous of Seska and felt that if Chakotay could love someone who was so bitchy even before everyone found out Seska was a Cardassian, then he could accept and appreciate a half-Klingon with a bad temper. What I can’t believe is that Torres doesn’t already know this about herself, and that Torres hasn’t already considered all the reasons “the Chakotay you want me to be, the one who loves you” can only exist in fantasy. The Chakotay in her dreams is ready to abandon the ship to save her, to persuade her to make love instead of saving herself and everyone else. In real life, they often infuriate or just plain don’t understand one another, while Torres has better chemistry with Paris, with Kim, even with Janeway. This out-of-the-blue potential romance is clearly meant to take advantage of Chakotay’s sex appeal without having to explore the complicated and much more interesting relationship he has with the captain.
So Janeway’s swooning over Mark, Torres is swooning over Chak, Kes spends a few moments swooning over Neelix before she comes to her senses and does what any reasonable person would do when upon realizing that her lover is not only not real but also threatening everyone she knows – she pushes him aside. You go, girl! I don’t usually root for people to save the ship with mumbo-jumbo telepathic powers, but as long as this doesn’t become a regular thing, I’m glad to see her discover her strength this once. Still, what a dreary crew she saves, with such limited interests, all obsessed with their personal satisfaction and comfort. Then again, we never get to see what Chakotay sees in his vision. Maybe he’s making love with Janeway, or Torres, or Seska, or some unnamed lost love from his youth, since so many people’s fantasies seem focused on their intimate lives. But given how relentlessly we’ve heard Chakotay describe himself as a peaceful man from a peaceful people, wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if he’s facing his Maquis side? What if, like Tom Paris, he’s telling off a Starfleet admiral, only in his case it isn’t about personal failings but the atrocities that drove him to resign? What if Chakotay’s vision involves having an Anakin Skywalker moment, killing every single Cardassian who destroyed his home? There has to be more to this man than what we’ve seen, just as there has to be more to all the other characters than the recycled bits we get in “Persistence of Vision” – the name for the optical illusion that allows viewers to merge projections of individual stills into moving images, the trick of the brain that lets it lie to the eye while watching a film. It’s a wonderful fantasy device; it’s only dangerous to viewers incapable of telling the fiction from reality, just like the holodeck. I’m not worried that Janeway doesn’t know Lord Burleigh isn’t real, which is precisely what she finds attractive about him. It’s the fact that she thinks he’s real enough to constitute cheating on Mark, who is so important to her that she chooses a fantasy version of Mark over her mission in life, that’s so disturbing. Every single one of these characters needs to move on, yet most of them won’t ever be allowed to do so.