Retro Review: Macrocosm

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Janeway returns from an away mission to find that macroviruses have incapacitated her crew and taken over her ship.

Plot Summary: Upon returning from a precarious diplomatic mission to the Tak Tak, Janeway and Neelix discover the ship drifting and the entire crew incapacitated. Upon boarding the ship, they discover green slime in critical systems and macroviruses attacking anything that moves. Neelix becomes infected from touching the slime, and Janeway is bitten by a miniature macrovirus as she storms the bridge with a compression phaser rifle. After an attack by a huge macrovirus, she goes to sickbay, where the Doctor explains that on his first away mission to investigate a virus decimating a local population, some of the virus was inadvertently beamed back with him. They got into the ventilation system, then infected a gel pack, and when Torres tried to repair it, she was infected. Soon the rest of the crew was incapacitated and the Doctor found himself unable to leave sickbay to test an antidote. He successfully treats Janeway, but when the two leave sickbay to deliver the antigen to the rest of the crew, macroviruses trap the Doctor in a shuttlecraft. While the Tak Tak fire on the ship to prevent the infestation from reaching their home world, Janeway lures the macroviruses to the holodeck, where she kills them with an antigen bomb, enabling the doctor to deliver the antidote to the rest of the crew. As the Tak Tak retreat, Janeway relaxes in her ready room, telling Chakotay that she’s had enough exertion for quite some time.

Analysis: I have fond memories of “Macrocosm” in large part because of a review by Yul Tolbert submitted to Now Voyager in the form of a filk song to be sung to Aerosmith. To this day, I start singing it whenever this episode comes up in conversation: “Janeway’s got a gun/Janeway’s got a gun/The viruses multiply/Janeway must make them die/She’ll access the holodeck/To stop the macroviral effect…” Now tell me you aren’t humming along. It’s a feel-good story! Yet I just reread the review I wrote when “Macrocosm” first aired, and it seems I hated it. I don’t know what I was thinking. The episode is a laugh-fest! The villains are brainless gigantic alien blobs that exist for no other reason than to pop like pimples when shot, though they can also make scream-like noises when stabbed! The holodeck has never been put to better use than tricking macroviruses who attack and incapacitate every swimsuit-clad sex toy in Neelix’s cabana program! Kate Mulgrew has never looked better, prowling around all sweaty in a tank top and the inevitable high-heeled boots with her hair artfully mussed and her biceps artfully emphasized, blowing up the bimbos on the holodeck to save the ship. It’s exactly what Ripley would have done in Alien, which I guess would be the blueprint for “Macrocosm” if Star Trek’s writers could pull off horror scripts beyond a demand for darkened corridors and flying attack blobs.

Yes, to be serious for a few moments, “Macrocosm” is even worse than I’d remembered. All the humor is either unintentional, like watching bad CGI virus-flies emerge from people’s necks, or mean-spirited, like the aforementioned holodeck massacre. The science is preposterous even to me, who hasn’t studied biology in decades, yet learned in tenth grade that giant microbes must either be very flat or full of vacuoles to maintain a functional ratio of membrane to interior proteins and while most microbes are limited in size because they couldn’t generate enough energy for internal metabolism if they got too big, viruses don’t even have independent metabolism and couldn’t go flying around attacking people from the outside even if they wanted to. There are ridiculous elements both large (the Doctor must wait for a command from the bridge to purge protective filters designed specifically to avoid bringing contagion aboard – did they learn nothing from the cheese in “Learning Curve”?) and small (there’s a handy suitcase in engineering, not even a locker, which contains both a backpack full of essentials and a big honking phaser rifle that crewmembers can yank out in case of emergency or if they’ve just lost their temper and want to shoot someone). It’s terrible science fiction and pretty poor Star Trek, since most of the crewmembers look incompetent even when not unconscious. Yes, of course I love how concerned Janeway looks when she finds Chakotay seemingly near death, but it’s “Cathexis” all over again.

The point of all this? Apparently the writers decided to convince us of Janeway’s kick-ass action heroine bona fides, not only by making her a one-woman army, but by having characters suggest she makes a better Rambo than an Eleanor Roosevelt. They try to tell us – yes, seriously – that Neelix might be a better diplomat than she is, and we get the great pleasure [NOT] of seeing a male alien telling Neelix to make her quiet…to which Janeway reacts by being apologetic and submissive. I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if the next episode had involved Voyager coming across a patriarchal society like the Kzin and having Janeway tell Chakotay that he’d better be the captain during the encounter, lest her femininity endanger the crew. Since so many action heroes are also loners, we also get intimations of what will become Janeway’s crippling isolation in later-season episodes like “Scorpion” and “Night” as she rejects a chance to socialize with Chakotay and the crew, choosing instead to hide in her ready room listening to mediocre jazz. (At least she isn’t watching “A Briefing With Neelix” as we’re told Wildman does in all her spare time when she isn’t working or taking care of her baby.) The triumphant ending – helping the Doctor deliver the cure, stopping an attack by the Tak Tak who speak like a ridiculous version of the Tamarians from “Darmok” – seems predictable and perfunctory. And the people Chakotay set out to save by sending the Doctor into the infection in the first place are all dead, “purified” by the Tak Tak. No amount of unintentional comic relief can turn this into a feel-good story any more than revenge by the abused victim in “Janie’s Got a Gun.”

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Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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