Written by Brannon Braga and Tom Szollosi and Michael Piller
Directed by David Livingston
Season 1, Episode 5
Production episode 106
Original air date: February 13, 1995
Captain’s log. Voyager has found a nebula that is full of omicron particles. Hoping they can be used to increase their power supply, and maybe get the replicators online so she doesn’t have to keep drinking Neelix’s awful coffee substitute, Janeway orders the ship into the nebula.
At first, they enter it with no trouble, but then they strike a barrier that is between them and the omicron particles. They punch through, but then an unknown compound attaches itself to the hull and starts draining power.
They manage to punch through the barrier and escape, but now their reserves are down 11%, the opposite of what they were hoping for when they went in after omicron particles.
Paris introduces Kim to a new program on the holodeck: a re-creation of a bar in Marseilles that he frequented called Chez Sandrine. Besides Sandrine, the proprietor, there are three regulars, a woman who has designs on Paris, a man who has designs on every woman who enters, and a pool hustler, all of whom Kim meets.
In lieu of a counselor, which Voyager doesn’t have because they were supposed to be on a short-term mission, Chakotay offers Janeway an animal guide, which he describes as a Native American tradition.
While Janeway is learning what hers is—a gecko, apparently—they’re interrupted by Torres, who was examining the material that was attached to the hull. She thinks it’s organic, and the EMH concurs. That wasn’t a nebula, that was a life form, and they wounded it.
Janeway orders the ship to return to heal the being. Eventually, they figure out how, and then reenter the “nebula.” The creature doesn’t take kindly to their return, and the ship gets knocked about, with the inertial dampeners turned off before they get under control. The creature won’t let them get near the wound, however, so Janeway borrows a trick she uses with her dog: distract the puppy to get their attention away from the injury so she can look at it.
This works, and they cure the nebula/puppy. Of course, now their energy reserves are down over 20% after a mission that was supposed to increase those reserves.
Kim invites Janeway to Sandrine’s, where Paris, Chakotay, Torres, Tuvok, Neelix, and Kes are also present. Janeway proceeds to hustle the shit out of everyone in pool.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? In a classic case of “that’s no moon,” what they think is a nebula turns out to be a life form. Oops. Torres and the EMH are the ones who figure that out, and also together work out how to heal its Voyager-inflicted wounds.
There’s coffee in that nebula! This is the episode where this phrase comes from, as Janeway is desperate for coffee, not wanting to use up all her replicator rations on the beverage, nor is she thrilled with Neelix’s coffee substitute.
She also pretends not to know anything about pool (“Is this billiards or pool?” “Right, pool is the one with pockets”) before running the table on everyone in two seconds flat.
Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is in Sandrine’s. It’s unclear why.
Half and half. Torres is in Sandrine’s. It’s unclear why, especially since she explicitly states that she doesn’t like the people and also that she doesn’t like Paris.
She is also the only person Chakotay knows who ever tried to kill her animal guide.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH aids Torres in her figuring out what the nebula is, and also makes a suggestion on how to heal the creature, based on the concept of suturing (a process the rest of the crew is unfamiliar with).
Forever an ensign. Kim sleeps with a mask on because of a roommate he had at the Academy who never slept and therefore kept the lights on all the time. Said roommate also helped Kim get through Quantum Chemistry, which is why Kim put up with it. He continues to wear the mask out of habit.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Upon learning that Voyager went into a nebula twice, the second time knowing that it’s truly a hostile life form, Neelix is appalled. He tries to get Janeway to let him and Kes leave in his ship while they go back in but, for once, Janeway refuses Neelix’s whims. Neelix is cranky about Starfleet’s tendency to investigate every damn thing (Kes, on the other hand, thinks it’s awesome). Once he calms down, he appoints himself morale officer, which initially at least includes feeding the crew.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Sandrine’s is full of women who fall all over Paris. That’s not creepy at all.
“A nebula? What were we doing in a nebula? No, wait, don’t tell me—we were ‘investigating.’ That’s all we do around here. Why pretend we’re going home at all?”
–The EMH, cranky about Voyager’s tendency to be all Starfleety instead of just going the fuck home.
Welcome aboard. The only guests are the holographic patrons in Sandrine’s: Judy Geeson with a comedy French accent as the eponymous proprietor (she will return in “Twisted”), Angela Dohrmann with an even worse comedy French accent as Ricky (she will return in “Meld”), Luigi Amodeo as the gigolo (the character will return, played by Rick Gianasi, in “Lifesigns”), and the great character actor Larry A. Hankin as Gaunt Gary (he’ll be back in “Jetrel”). Hankin also appeared as the wind dancer in TNG’s “Cost of Living.”
Trivial matters: Sandrine’s was created as a hangout for the crew, much like Quark’s Bar and Ten-Forward were for DS9 and TNG, respectively, with pool being Voyager’s version of TNG’s poker game and DS9’s darts. It will continue to recur as a hangout for the first three seasons or so.
Chakotay’s beliefs are given prominence in this episode, though his actual tribe is never specified. The producers wanted to honor his Indigenous heritage without being clichéd about it, at which they failed utterly. However, the script provides an artificial means of going on a vision quest, thus eliminating the need for psychotropic drugs, which is a nice science fictional touch.
The EMH mentions that he was programmed by a Dr. Zimmerman. Originally, in the series bible, the EMH was going to take on the name “Doc Zimmerman,” naming himself after his creator, but that was abandoned.
Set a course for home. “Dismissed—that’s a Starfleet expression for ‘get out’.” In the 1960s, The Dick Van Dyke Show did an episode where Morey Amsterdam’s Buddy Sorrell has his bar mitzvah, belatedly. At the time, it was probably considered forward-thinking, but watching it now, it’s a mess, with Buddy referring to it as his “Jewish Confirmation,” because apparently the only way to make it workable to the TV audience of the time was to put it in Christian terminology. It felt like it was written by someone who was told about Jewish customs by a friend who was told it by another friend who was told it by an actual Jew, but things were lost in the multiple retellings.
I have the same issue watching Chakotay talk about animal guides and vision quests and such. The producers were trying so hard not to be stereotypical and clichéd that they wound up being incredibly stereotypical and clichéd. It’s frustrating, because there’s some good material here, but it has the same game-of-Telephone problem as that Dick Van Dyke episode.
Chez Sandrine probably seemed like a good idea, but the stereotypes are even worse here, from the pool hustler to the Europeans who all flirt with everything that moves. It wouldn’t bother me as much if it was a re-creation of an old 20th-century bar, but this is supposed to be a 24th-century locale in Marseilles, and ugh. Watching Ricky and Sandrine paw all over Paris is just oogy.
Having said that, I can watch Janeway hustle everyone at pool all day and night.
This is overall a decent little bottle episode with a fairly standard Trek plot where the thing we believe to be a spatial phenomenon turns out to be a living creature that our heroes have harmed and, as ever, compassion is the order of the day. Voyager is willing to sacrifice their power reserves to fix what they broke, and that’s a very noble thing.
I must also sing the praises of Robert Picardo, who provides one of the single funniest bits of business in all of Star Trek. The EMH is limited to sickbay (at least for now), and so when the crew on the bridge is discussing the “nebula,” the EMH is on the viewscreen. He’s babbling, as usual, so Janeway mutes the audio feed. For several seconds, we see the crew batting ideas around, with the viewscreen in the background, and on the latter, the EMH is wandering, fidgeting, grumbling, and then he obviously has something to say, so he starts waving and jumping up and down. Everyone’s got their back to the viewscreen, though, so nobody sees him except Paris—who takes his sweet time telling Janeway that she should maybe un-mute. It’s a hilarious sequence, beautifully played by Picardo.
Warp factor rating: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido has written three works of Voyager fiction, most of which don’t actually take place in the Delta Quadrant: the Mirror Universe short novel The Mirror-Scaled Serpent (in Obsidian Alliances, in which Kes and Neelix go through the Caretaker’s array and wind up in the Alpha Quadrant), the novella “The Third Artifact” in The Brave and the Bold Book 2 (which tells the story of how and why Tuvok infiltrated the Maquis), and the short story “Letting Go” in the anthology Distant Shores (which focuses on the families of the crew left behind, primarily Janeway’s boyfriend Mark Johnson).