Crewmembers suffer from nightmares about unknown aliens, so Chakotay uses lucid dreaming to contact the strangers.
Plot Summary: Voyager’s crewmembers begin to have nightmares – Janeway about everyone dying on the journey home, Chakotay about being forced to hunt deer, Tuvok about going to the bridge naked, Kim about Seven demanding sex from him before turning into an alien. Each of the other crewmembers sees the same alien in his or her dreams. When several crewmembers fail to wake up, Janeway guesses that the aliens in everyone’s dreams can’t be a coincidence and agrees to let Chakotay try to contact the species via a lucid dreaming technique. Using an image of Earth’s moon as a touchstone to tell him whether he’s asleep, Chakotay enters a trance in sickbay and returns to his dream about the deer. It turns into an alien, who explains that the species has been assaulted by travelers and asks that Voyager pass the boundary of a nearby star system, at which point all crewmembers will return to consciousness. Waking, Chakotay gives this message to the crew, but when Voyager reaches the star, alien vessels intercept and take over the ship. Chakotay sees the reflection of Earth’s moon in a panel and realizes that he’s still dreaming. This time, when he wakes up in Sickbay, he learns that the Doctor is the only other crewmember not asleep and that the rest share common brain waves, indicating that they are sharing the same dream. Chakotay finds a neurogenic field on a nearby planet emitting the same brain wave pattern and beams down, finding hundreds of sleeping aliens. Meanwhile, Janeway concludes that she must still be dreaming when a series of engineering anomalies inspire her to test this theory by remaining near the warp core during a supposed breach. She survives and confronts the aliens, along with Chakotay who has gone to sleep on the planet after telling the Doctor to destroy the sleep chamber if he doesn’t receive a countermanding order in five minutes. When the aliens learn they will all die otherwise, they leave the ship and a crew suffering from insomnia.
Analysis: “Waking Moments” remains one of the most derivate episodes of any Star Trek series, but during this rewatch, I did not dislike it – not because it was better than I’d remembered, but because so much of the fourth season is worse (and we’re not even up to the detestable “Retrospect”). I refer to “Waking Moments” as “Persistence of ‘Persistence of Vision'” because it has so much in common with every other crew-has-hallucinations story ever done in Star Trek. It’s like The Next Generation‘s “Night Terrors” infused with elements from the original series’ “Spectre of the Gun” – one crewmember who can control dreams, though in this case it’s via pseudo-Native American vision questing instead of Betazoid empathy, communicating with aliens, then proving to everyone that because the visions aren’t real, they can still effect change in the real universe. I cite “Persistence of Vision” because the subconscious thoughts of the crew have not changed one iota in two seasons: they’re still obsessed with sex, disappointed fathers, and not getting home to loved ones. We don’t get to see any of the minor characters like Wildman, Carey, or Ayala who might have something new to contribute to our sense of the crew’s hopes and fears. Really, Janeway is afraid she might never get her crew home and Chakotay is concerned about staying connected to his people’s traditions, who’d ever have guessed? At least, in this shallow regard, the characters are consistent, because my laugh-out-loud moment in “Waking Moments” comes when Janeway gets upset that Torres can’t eject the warp core…which might have something to do with the fact that, in “Cathexis” when Chakotay is having a different sort of out-of-body experience and takes over B’Elanna’s brain, Janeway notes that Torres can’t eject the warp core without command-level authorization. It made no sense that the chief engineer couldn’t eject the warp core during a breach, but once the writers established that that was the case, they owed it to the audience to explain when they decided to change the rules, not to hope we forgot them.
There are character bits I like as well as the ones I don’t, such as Janeway and Chakotay’s warmth when she wishes him sweet dreams and the (imagined in his dream) closeness when he wakes and comes to the bridge, plus Torres and Paris’s frustration that their duty shifts make it hard for them to see one another and their differing ideas about what would constitute a relaxing date when they do find the time. But Tuvok’s fear of accidentally turning up naked for duty seems random, though funny – I’d think Vulcans would be pretty matter-of-fact about nakedness, since body-shaming is illogical – and Kim’s ongoing obsession with the idea that Seven might force herself upon him is painful to watch. He seems even less excited to be kissing her than his awkward efforts to pretend to be not-looking at her butt in “Concerning Flight” or to explain why he doesn’t want to mate with her in “Revulsion.” It’s nice to see Chakotay carry an episode, but I’m less impressed with how feebly his background seems to be anchored in actual Native American customs, and it’s irritating that we don’t see his moment of triumph as the aliens capitulate and he eventually wakes in Sickbay, having been beamed off the planet of the sleeping aliens. As for Janeway, I’m sorry to see that she’s given up lingerie for grabbing big guns at every opportunity and I’m sorrier that once again she displays the sort of reckless regard for her own life for which the Doctor nearly removed her from duty in the “Year of Hell” alternate reality. There are much safer ways she could prove that she’s still dreaming than remaining in the engine room during a warp core breach. It doesn’t particularly help to solve the problem with the aliens, since only Chakotay can arrange a real threat to use to bargain for Voyager’s freedom. Whether he actually has the right to exterminate dozens of lives to free Voyager’s crew is a different question, not addressed by this episode.
The science fiction tropes here set up so many other problems, anyway. Since we’ve met other species that invade dreams before, this one should have some aspect that sets it apart – like some explanation of how the aliens eat, clean, reproduce, all the things for which most humanoids generally need to be awake. Or do they sleep in shifts and wake periodically? If so, can’t the ones who are awake defend the ones who are asleep from invasions without needing long-distance dream manipulation that brings them to the attention of spaceships like Voyager that would otherwise have ignored them? If not – if they’re all always asleep together – what do they need a starship for? We get the displeasure of seeing Janeway lose control of her ship and get herded into a cargo bay yet again, completely unnecessarily since it’s all a dream, without any indication of whether this is a fear the aliens took from her mind and focused on in the group dream because she’s the leader or whether it’s a common fear among all the crew that the captain won’t be able to protect them. The drama feels generic, without contributing to our understanding of the crew and how they see their combined efforts to meet new species and gain resources to help them get home. Chakotay’s recurrent awakenings resemble Janeway’s from “Coda” last season, the forced-to-stay-awake medical discomfort resembles the crew torment in “Scientific Method” this season. If the characters need a way to cure their insomnia after this experience, they might try counting monotonous experiences that recur despite the vastness of space. Are humanoids really so dull? Must science fiction storytelling continue to recycle patterns instead of going in unexpected directions? All I know is that, while “Waking Moments” doesn’t have me snarling at the television like the many other wannabe horror movie episodes of this terrible season, its lack of originality puts me sleep.