Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston
Season 1, Episode 8
Production episode 109
Original air date: March 13, 1995
Captain’s log. Voyager has detected a heretofore undiscovered element in the asteroids of a ring around a planet. They investigate, as it could be useful, not just to catalogue, but to mine and use. Chakotay, Kim, and Torres beam down to discover that the element is in a weird coating that’s on a bunch of dead bodies that seem to be haphazardly stored in the asteroid. (The asteroid is also Class M; the notion that an asteroid would have oxygen-nitrogen air and the same gravity as Earth is patently absurd, but doing space suits and filming in a gravity-less environment aren’t really in a 1990s TV show’s budget.)
Upon realizing that this is a burial ground of sorts, Chakotay recommends that they not do any tricorder scans, only visually scan the area, out of respect for the dead. Kim argues against that, but Janeway agrees with Chakotay; Kim is at least grateful to Chakotay for letting him give his side.
A subspace vacuole opens near where the away team is. Seska tries to beam the team back, but there’s difficulty locking on. When she finally gets them aboard, she gets Chakotay, Torres, and a dead body that wasn’t there before, but no Kim.
They beam the body to sickbay, where the EMH is able to revive her. She was mostly dead, from cancer, but not all dead. The EMH was able to remove the cancer and regrow the lost tissue. Yay 24th-century medicine!
For his part, Kim finds himself inside a pod. He’s on the homeworld of the Vhnori—which, he soon learns, is not the world Voyager and the asteroid ring were in orbit of.
The Vhnori send those who are dead or near dead through the subspace vacuoles to what they call the next emanation. Their belief is that the vacuoles lead to the afterlife. They are nonplussed when Kim says that he didn’t come from the afterlife, he came from an asteroid full of dead bodies. Vhnori believe that they are reborn in the next emanation, and Kim quickly walks back his comments, not wanting to step on the Vhnori’s beliefs. He does, however, want to go home.
Ptera, the woman the EMH revived, is completely freaked out by waking up in Voyager’s sickbay rather than the next emanation. She wants to know where her brother is, and Janeway has to patiently explain that this isn’t the afterlife, it’s a starship. Janeway tries to console her by saying that their act of curing her and reviving her could very well have kept her from going on to the next emanation, but that is small comfort, as Vhnori believe that they go onto the next emanation in their bodies, so the presence of all these corpses in the asteroid belt is distressing to her, also.
The bodies start appearing on Voyager, as the vacuoles are attracted to the ship’s warp core. Janeway orders the ship to move away from the planet while they try to figure out a way to get Kim back and send Ptera home.
Kim meets Hatil Garan, who was badly injured some time in the past, and has chosen to die and move on to the next emanation so he won’t be a burden to his family. Kim’s presence has put his plan in doubt, much to his wife’s distress.
Torres comes up with the notion of re-creating the accident that started the whole thing, running the transporter when a vacuole appears. They return to the planet, with the warp core shielded, but it fails—and when Ptera rematerializes, she’s dead. Sadly, Janeway beams her body to the asteroid with the others.
Garan tells Kim that he has seriously considered running away to the mountains—he has family there who will shelter him—rather than go through with the ceremony. He only hasn’t because he doesn’t want to hurt his family—but then Kim hits on the notion of Kim going in his place, with his immediate family none the wiser. The ritual includes being covered head to toe in a shroud, so Kim wears the shroud. Somehow, none of Garan’s closest friends and family notice that he’s a different body shape and doesn’t talk. He gets into the pod and is then killed with a lethal injection, which is part of the process, and then is transported through a vacuole to Voyager.
The ship detects a new body with human lifesigns, and Janeway immediately instructs the body to be sent to sickbay. The EMH is able to revive Kim.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Amusingly, just a few months before this episode aired, the 111th element was discovered, Roentgenium. This episode postulates that another 135 elements would be discovered between when the episode aired and when the episode takes place. As it happens, seven of those 135 were discovered in the 25 years since “Emanations” aired.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway insists that Kim take a couple of days off after this experience before going back to duty. She says that as she’s gotten older, she regrets not taking time to reflect on things that happened to her when she was a callow youth, and she doesn’t want Kim to have those same regrets later in life.
Half and half. Torres is grumpy about Chakotay not letting her use her tricorder to examine Element 247. She also comes up with a way to put Kim and Ptera in their rightful places and fails utterly, killing Ptera along the way.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Apparently, cancer has been cured by the 24th century, which is awesome.
Forever an ensign. Kim tries very hard not to violate the Prime Directive with the Vhnori, but he’s also not sanguine about being sent to a “secure” facility for his own protection, which smacks of being imprisoned because of the effect his presence is having on the Vhnori.
“No artifacts, no inscriptions, just some naked dead people.”
–Torres summing up what they found on the asteroid.
Welcome aboard. Jerry Hardin makes his third and final Trek role as Neria, having appeared on TNG as Radue in “When the Bough Breaks” and Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, in the “Time’s Arrow” two-parter. Jefrey Alan Chandler plays Hatil Garan—he’ll later play the Trill guardian in DS9‘s “Facets.” Cecile Callan plays Ptera and Robin Groves plays Loria Garan. Plus, we’ve got recurring regular Martha Hackett as Seska.
Trivial matters: This is the first of several times that Harry Kim will die onscreen. Luckily in this case, like Ptera initially, he was only mostly dead.
Brannon Braga’s notion for this episode goes back to his time as a staff writer on TNG when he wanted to do a story about death and the afterlife. His script originally called for Kim’s death in the pod before returning to Voyager to be entirely shot from Kim’s own POV, so we could see death through his eyes, but it was deemed too difficult to film properly.
The Vhnori are said to be “class 5 humanoids,” a classification never heard before or since (though we will later learn that the Vidiians are “class 3 humanoids”).
When Voyager first started, it used a teaser-and-four-act structure, more typical of a network show. However, starting with this episode, Voyager reverted to the teaser-and-five-act structure used by its first-run-syndication predecessors TNG and DS9.
Set a course for home. “I’m getting ready to die.” Just as the previous episode felt in many ways like a redo of (and improvement on) a terrible TNG episode, so too with this one: It feels structurally very similar to “Homeward,” but improves on it mostly by not having the heroes of the show being murdering assholes.
I like the fact that throughout the entire episode, Voyager defaults to respecting other cultures, even if they don’t understand it or think it’s weird. Chakotay refuses to disturb the bodies (giving an anecdote about a time he accidentally desecrated a grave as a young officer), Janeway tries to reassure Ptera that the next emanation may still be a possibility (and admitting that they don’t know squat about death, really, either), and Kim attempts to reconcile his own experiences with what the Vhnori believe, not always to good effect.
Still, I would’ve liked to have seen more done with this. Kim’s presence would be a huge disruption, and we only really saw it in terms of Loria Garan bitching Kim out and Neria telling us that Kim’s presence is causing problems. We should’ve seen more crises of faith and anger the way we saw it community-wide in, for example, “First Contact” and “The Masterpiece Society” on TNG (those episodes had other problems, but at the very least they showed the widespread effect that Starfleet’s presence had on the society in question). Also Ptera’s death is a bit too perfunctory. I wish there had been more mourning for her—I mean, yeah, she was already dead, truly, but it just feels like they shrug and move on, which is not fair to her. Also, it’s a little too convenient that the folks going to the next emanation are covered completely by shrouds, thus making it easy to send a different person through…
I did love the final scene between Janeway and Kim, showing how much the captain cares about her crew’s well being. And in general, this is a nifty science fictional concept that shows the difficulties of cultural relativism, especially when you’re not prepared for a first-contact situation. I also like the fact that we never do find out exactly where the Vhnori homeworld is. Neria talks of other dimensions, and it’s perfectly possible that they are in an other dimension. We just don’t know, and I find that appropriate in an episode that is about the greatest unknown of them all, death.
Plus, it’s got Jerry Hardin, who is always magnificent, and it’s a very good vehicle for Garrett Wang, as Kim gets a serious trial-by-fire.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Farpoint 2020 this weekend in Cockeysville, Maryland, just north of Baltimore, his first convention appearance of the year. He’ll be there as an author and musical guest, doing panels, readings, and autographings, as well as a concert with his band Boogie Knights. Other guests include Trek actors Mary Chieffo (L’Rell), Penny Johnson Jerald (Kasidy Yates), and Anthony Montgomery (Travis Mayweather), and fellow Trek scribes Derek Tyler Attico, Peter David, Dave Galanter, Allyn Gibson, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, David Mack, Aaron Rosenberg, Howard Weinstein, and Steven H. Wilson. Keith’s full schedule can be found here.