Message in a Bottle

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 3:31 PM GMT

See Also: 'Message in a Bottle' Episode Guide

Seven summons Janeway and Chakotay to astrometrics to inform them that, using an alien relay system, she has traced the emissions of a Starfleet vessel on the outskirts of the Alpha Quadrant. When a conventional message sent through the relay bounces back, Janeway decides to send the Doctor's holographic matrix through in its place. The Doctor arrives in Sickbay on the U.S.S. Prometheus in the Alpha Quadrant...but the ship has been taken over by Romulans, and the entire crew is dead.

After a minor skirmish, a wounded Romulan crewmember is taken to Sickbay. Pretending to be the Prometheus's EMH, the Doc treats him and activates the ship's holodoc, who's an experimental the ship, which is capable of "multivector assault mode," or the ability to split apart into several fully-armed segments. The two holograms use the ship's multiple emitters to devise a takeover, using improvisation and anesthetic gas to wipe out the Romulan crew.

Back on Voyager, Janeway and Chakotay write letters home to their families while Tom languishes in Sickbay, working with Harry to devise a replacement EMH in case the Doc never makes it back. Torres and Seven quarrel, but when a nasty alien appears to demand that Voyager stop using the relay system which belongs to them, Seven stuns him with an energy burst in the midst of Janeway's attempts at diplomacy.

The holodoctors find themselves under attack first by Romulans, then by Starfleet vessels which believe the Prometheus is under Romulan control - a situation not helped any when the EMH Mark 2 accidentally fires a torpedo at a Starfleet vessel. The holograms accidentally activate the multivector assault mode, disabling all three Romulan attackers. When Starfleet returns the Doctor to Voyager, he informs the captain that Voyager was declared officially lost fourteen months ago. Starfleet has promised to contact the families of the missing crew, and to work on a way to get them home.


Voyager's best episode since "The Gift," "Message in a Bottle" had a great deal going for it: hope, humor, Starfleet, Romulans, two EMHs for the price of one. In fact, the only really ugly thing about it was Seven of Nine, but the producers obviously don't share my assessment, since they're putting her in charge - Torres comments snidely on this fact at the beginning, but by the end of the episode, the engineer and the captain are sitting nicely at the end of Seven's leash. Janeway arguably made a decision dumb enough to warrant needing a new leader, in risking her only medical staff on a mission that, even if successful, was never likely to get her a quick trip home, but that didn't really bother me: for once she decided to take a big risk and it actually worked. But more on her later.

Picardo and Andy Dick carried this episode, playing off one another's wonderfully dry wit and contrasting styles of outraged prissiness. My favorite exchange was the Mark 2 attempting to convince his predecessor that he's obsolete, but I suspect most people will remember our beloved Holodoc's announcement that he's had sexual relations, to which the Mark 2 declared that he lacked the proper equipment...and the Doc rebutted that he made an addition to his program, at which point his successor begged the Doc to download those programs to him. The two had nice repartee on the bridge in the midst of the crisis and were highly enjoyable playing one-upsmanship in the midst of working together.

I wavered between being amused and annoyed at their control of the Prometheus. We've seen people command ships practically singlehanded by voice command, which one would think the Doc could have done here...and we have NEVER seen anyone press a button to make a Federation starship self-destruct. A little silly, there. I also don't understand why the EMH program needs voice controls and can't interact directly with the computer, but I'm sure there's some [tech] reason.

There was nice chemistry between Paris and Kim, too, though it seemed gratuitous; after two years of Torres telling us that the Doc's program is irreplaceable, in episodes like "The Swarm," we're supposed to believe that Harry could write a new one in a day? I liked seeing Tom caged in sickbay, and I liked seeing Torres without Paris, though this was not a strong showing for her. Her resentment of Seven contains no small edge of jealousy at the way the ex-Borg can twirl Janeway and Chakotay around her fingers. It's a little funny to listen to a formerly fiery Klingon (now hidden behind a smock to hide actress Roxann Dawson's pregnancy) tell Seven to get along better with people, especially a few minutes after she barked at Chakotay herself. I wish she'd argue substance with Seven rather than style.

Chakotay makes an excellent lap dog; apparently he takes orders from anyone who can give them, especially women. He and Janeway had a couple of nice moments together which were marred by poor directing choices - we didn't get to see his expression when Torres accused him of having a new mistress (I mean captain), nor when Janeway announced that she was writing a letter to Mark. Janeway herself gets increasingly un-captainly with every episode. The new hairdo seems to have reduced her stature; she looks shorter walking down the corridor beside Chakotay and standing next to Seven, and her commands are similarly diminished. The fact that she said not one word about Seven's improvisation, nearly electrocuting an obviously powerful enemy with a relay that they desperately need the use of, made her look completely irrelevant. I'd worry about Kathryn being replaced if it weren't for the fact that Chakotay's even weaker, and Tuvok's been completely irrelevant to the past few episodes.

Voyager - the series as well as the ship - desperately needed something like "Message in a Bottle" to justify its mission. I have been wondering why crewmembers haven't bailed right and left when they reached friendly planets; we've gotten no indication that the ship's going to get home in less than the predicted sixty years, nor that Janeway is clever enough to change that situation. Contact with the Alpha Quadrant ought to do one of two things: either it will convince everyone that their previous lives are truly gone, so they might as well become explorers and embrace what life has dealt them, or it will infuse them all with hope that a Starfleet rescue is which case, again, they might as well explore what they've got. They needed to redefine themselves as part of the Federation.

I do have to wonder what in hell UPN was thinking showing this episode before a two-week rerun hiatus. The joy of having made contact and the promise of additional communication via the relay, the threat from the Hirogen whom we know from the previews will be with us through sweeps month, the escalating tensions between Seven (who obviously thinks she should be running the ship all by herself) and the rest of the crew, all will have faded by the time we get back to this storyline. For the first time in a very long time, it seems Voyager has the potential to carry viewers through an arc; why are they disrupting it?

And there are interesting consequences for Deep Space Nine which may not be realized for months. The EMH explains to the Doc that the Romulans never involved themselves in the Federation war with the Dominion (Doc: "Who?"), but the one who took over the Prometheus, initially on course for Romulus, decides to give the ship to the Tal Shiar. This would seem to indicate that both the legitimate Romulan government and its secret defense force are aware of the Starfleet prototype, and consider it enough of a risk to risk a war over. The EMH said the ship was designed for deep-space tactical exploration, but what sort of exploration requires armaments like this battleship sports? I'd like to believe that there is a long-term plan for the franchise, and we're seeing the early stages of something that could tie into both series and the next movie. Hey, I can hope, can't I?

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

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.