I’ve suffered from I don’t know how many 5 Neelix (our top torture rating) episodes in a row… I don’t know how much more I can take… but I soldier on thanks to the encouragement of you and my self hatred. Let’s get to this!
I’m not going to go too deep into this one, because there’s not a ton going on. The episode beings with the Voyager crew finding a planet… wait a second. The episode actually begins with Ensign Kim playing his clarinet, one of the lamest instruments around and it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. Okay… the crew finds a planet where some cataclysmic shit has gone down.
They get a pre-recorded hail from the surface telling them that they tried to survive by going underground and going into hibernation. They have their hibernation set on a timer and the do not disturb sign turned on so leave them alone. The problem is, this message is old and outdated. They should have awoken years ago. Voyager scans 2.3 kilometers below the surface of the planet and finds a few life signs. Holy crap, their instrumentation is really powerful.
Scans show that there are 5 total aliens, but two are dead. Instead of going to the surface the writer’s save money by having Janeway beam the hibernation pods into Voyager. They investigate and find that the hibernation pods are functioning just fine. The aliens are all hook up to a computer that’s running some sort of simulation to keep their minds active. They should get a warning every so often to tell them to come out of it.
So Kim and Torres do the sensible thing and beam the pods back onto the planet. J/K, they use the pods of the dead aliens to go into the simulated world to find out what happened to the colonists.
They get inside and find some really serious bizarre Cirque du Soleil type shit. There’s all these weird characters and one particularly nasty and familiar clown… it’s Michael McKean bringing some genuine talent to Voyager. This clown, The Clown, is a huge asshole. You see, the minds of the people in the simulation were supposed to create a utopia, but as so often happens in science fiction their fear took over and The Clown and his assorted cohorts are all manifestations of their fears.
Well, when Kim and Torres want to get out with colonists, The Clown won’t let them. He’s willing to kill the people in the simulation. He’s reached a state of self awareness and he knows if everyone leaves him and his friends will all cease to exist. They leave he dies. It’s an interesting stalemate. It’s also hard to have any sympathy for him, especially since the rest of the episode he literally tortures Kim using his worst memories. I don’t know how the three survivors who were stuck in the simulation hadn’t gone completely mad. But perhaps that only made the Clown worse.
Anyway, he lets Torres out to tell the people on the other side the scoop. If they try anything he’ll kill everyone in there. Which is funny that he’d die to. It’s basically a situation where he’d rather kill everyone and himself than be altruistic and let everyone go.
Anyway, Janeway tries to get them out by negotiating. There is truly a glorious moment when The Doctor goes into the simulation and starts talking to The Clown. As you my tell by my brevity, I liked this episode so I feel like you should watch it to get more of the details.
In the end Janeway goes into the simulation in exchange for the aliens already in there and Kim. Now here’s where the episode misfires a bit. It turns out it’s not actually Janeway, it’s a simulation of Janeway. But it’s played off so seriously creepy and weird that it makes you feel like Janeway is a psychopath herself. I mean, if this is her simulation then it has to reflect on the real deal, right? It kind of explains how she’s so ready to blow her own ship up at the drop of a hat.
I think I found so much enjoyment out of this episode due to three reasons: 1. I’ve watched so many terrible episodes in a row that my bar has been lowered. 2. Michael McKean really sells it. If it had been anyone else I don’t think it would have worked as well. 3. “The Thaw” had an old school Star Trek feel, it felt like it could have come right out of TOS. The limited set design, the situation… pretty much all of it. Even the costuming to some extent made me feel like you could have plugged in someone like Sulu in Kim’s position and Kirk as Janeway and it would have been the same result. Great stuff.
Least Annoying Characters:
Kim, The Doctor, The Clown
Most Torturous Moment:
Janeway’s thing at the end, but even that wasn’t super terrible.
Chris Art Accuracy:
Well, this one is sorta close, but Kim is showing too much joy being in that guy’s head. Now I want to watch Chris’s version of this episode. What’s going on in there?
Torture Score: 0 out of 5 Neelixes