Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Season 2, Episode 3
Production episode 117
Original air date: September 11, 1995
Captain’s log. The EMH is activated to an empty sickbay. The computer states that there is nobody on board, but the ship is at red alert, and there are no escape pods left. The last log entry is a chaotic one by Janeway, which gives incomplete information, only that they’re under attack.
Eventually, the doors are pried open by Torres, who is injured. Strangely, none of the medical tricorders are picking up her life signs. Internal sensors aren’t working right, which is why her life sign wasn’t detected by the computer, either, but as far as Torres knows, only she and Janeway are still on the ship, and the captain is injured on the bridge. They were attacked by the Kazon and had to abandon ship because the warp core was going critical. Janeway and Torres managed to get the core ejected before it went boom.
The turbolifts are out—Torres had to go to sickbay on foot. The EMH says she has to go back on foot with a medical kit and a comm channel open, but she says that they’ve been working on putting holoprojectors in certain areas of the ship, including the bridge, engineering, and the mess hall. They haven’t tested them yet, but no time like the present…
The EMH arrives on the bridge for the first time, and it’s a wreck. He is able to treat Janeway, though his tricorder remains useless. They then get a communiqué from Neelix, who it turns out is in the mess hall, in a fight with a Kazon. Janeway transfers the EMH to the mess hall and he distracts the Kazon long enough for Neelix to take him out with a sauté pan.
However, somehow, the EMH came out of that altercation with a cut—and pain. He transfers back to sickbay and is very confused as to how he can be injured. What’s stranger is that the tricorder is picking up his life signs. Janeway and Neelix arrive with the Kazon as a prisoner, with Janeway asking that the EMH set up an ARA scan while they interrogate him. But the EMH is more confused because he’s still not picking up anyone else’s life sign readings.
Janeway thinks there may be a malfunction in the holoemitters, and she instructs the computer to shut off any holograms. At that command, Janeway, Neelix, Torres, and the Kazon all disappear while the EMH remains.
The computer says that the others were programs that were discontinued—and then Reginald Barclay appears.
He tells the EMH that he isn’t really an Emergency Medical Hologram. He is Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, and he’s running a long-term simulation of a fictional ship, Voyager, that’s lost in the Delta Quadrant, by way of studying the effects of long-term isolation on a crew.
The EMH has trouble with this, but Barclay explains that the holodeck on Jupiter Station was hit with a burst of kinoplasmic radiation, which has caused a malfunction. Barclay isn’t actually there, he’s a holographic projection from the observation room, but it took six hours to insert him into the program—that’s how borked it is.
The neurological damage to Zimmerman is considerable, according to Barclay, and will kill him if he stays in the holodeck much longer. The only way to get him out is to end the program, but all attempts to do so have failed. So they have to end it naturally. There were two possible endings to the scenario: success (getting back to the Alpha Quadrant) or destruction. Barclay says the best bet is to just destroy the ship. The EMH is reluctant.
Barclay proves it’s a simulation by doing the one thing he can still do to affect the program, and that’s start it all over. He resets it to the day they fell through the Caretaker’s rabbit hole and Kim activated him. He goes through the events of that day before finally giving in. He also deletes Paris and then everyone else from sickbay.
He goes with Barclay to engineering, where Janeway is supervising repairs. She’s confused as to the appearance of the EMH and an engineer she doesn’t know. However, the Caretaker whisks her and the rest of the engineering crew away before she can arrest them.
They’re about to destroy the ship when Chakotay appears. This confuses the EMH, as everyone should be at the array by this point. (He doesn’t mention this, but Chakotay also wasn’t part of the crew at this stage yet, either.) Chakotay explains that the EMH was on the holodeck playing a holonovel when Voyager was hit with kinoplasmic radiation. He’s locked in a feedback loop, and they’re trying to get him out. The pain he’s felt has been how he’s reacted to his memory circuits degrading. If he destroys Voyager in the simulation, he will also be destroyed. He just has to wait it out, they almost have the problem fixed.
The EMH doesn’t know what to believe, as Chakotay’s story is very similar to Barclay’s. Barclay then raises the stakes by bringing in a holographic projection of Zimmerman’s wife, Kes. Turns out that the character of Kes on the Voyager holoprogram was based on Zimmerman’s one true love.
Collapsing on the deck, Zimmerman gets inveigled from both Barclay and Chakotay—
—and then he wakes up in sickbay. Kim, Tuvok, and Kes are there, and they tell him the same thing Chakotay said: he was taking a Janeway-mandated day off on the holodeck when they got hit with kinoplasmic radiation, which messed with his matrix. He’s fine now.
Tuvok and Kim leave, and the EMH talks to Kes—who then reveals herself to be Kes Zimmerman, who’s devastated to learn that her husband doesn’t love her (which the EMH said to Kes). Barclay reappears, and the EMH starts to have multiple delusions, including seeing himself on the biobed injured and talking in Janeway’s voice.
And then he appears on the holodeck with Janeway, Chakotay, and Kim. Voyager hit a subspace anomaly that sent a radiation surge through the ship’s computer, including the holodeck, where the EMH was in a holonovel. Apparently, his program’s way of dealing with the surge was to create a detailed existential delusion. He discusses it with Kes, who says that having an existential crisis is something every living thing goes through, when they question their reasons for existing.
The EMH also sticks his arm through the sickbay door—where it disappears, as there are no holoemitters in the corridor—which he finds as something of a relief.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Kinoplasmic radiation is the latest made-up radiation type that can do whatever the plot requires it to do.
There’s coffee in that nebula! The holographic Janeway stays on board to try to keep the ship intact, but has everyone else except Torres abandon ship in case she can’t. Even the holographic captain goes down with the sinking ship.
Half and half. The holographic Torres has set up holoemitters on various parts of the ship to allow the EMH to go places other than sickbay and the holodecks. Sadly, this was just an artifact of the delusional program, and no such project was undertaken on the real Voyager. The EMH won’t be able to roam freely until he gets a mobile emitter in the third season’s “Future’s End” two-parter.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH was designed on Jupiter Station by Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, assisted by Barclay. When stuck in a feedback loop from the kinoplasmic radiation, his program created a very bizarre delusion to keep him occupied. Chakotay makes it clear that the crew considers him a friend and comrade regardless of his holographic status, and it’s also obvious that the EMH has great fondness for Kes in particular and the crew in general (except for Paris, anyhow).
Everyone comes to Neelix’s. The holographic Neelix throws food at the Kazon to keep him at bay, and I kept waiting for John Belushi to appear and scream, “FOOD FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!” Then he hits the Kazon with a sauté pan, which was delightful.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. When she learns that she was his wife in the EMH’s delusion, Kes asks that they keep it to themselves, as Neelix might get jealous. My first thought upon her saying that was, “So you know he’s a toxic asshole, why are you still with him?”
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Except for the final scene, the entire episode takes place on the holodeck, kinda. Indeed, Janeway, Chakotay, Kim, Kes, and the EMH are the only characters who really appear, and the former four only in the last two scenes—we only get holographic versions of Torres, Neelix, and Tuvok.
“Did I program Mr. Paris to be so annoying?”
“Actually, I programmed him. I modeled him after my cousin Frank.”
–The EMH asking about the “simulation” of Paris, and the simulated Barclay giving a delightful answer.
Welcome aboard. Only one guest in this one, and it’s the triumphant return to Trek of Dwight Schultz as a hallucination of Reginald Barclay. Schultz was last seen as the real Barclay in TNG’s “Genesis,” and will next be seen in First Contact. He’ll return to Voyager as the real Barclay five more times in the sixth and seventh seasons, starting in “Pathfinder.”
Trivial matters: Like “The 37’s” before it and “Elogium” and “Twisted” after it, this episode was produced for the first season but held back for season two by the network.
This is the first of three Voyager episodes directed by Jonathan Frakes, who has at this stage directed episodes of five of the nine extant Trek TV series (TNG, DS9, Voyager, Discovery, and Picard; he obviously didn’t direct any episodes of the original or animated series, nor any of Enterprise, and he hasn’t yet directed any of the Short Treks). Amusingly, all three Voyager episodes he helmed are one-word titles beginning with the letter P—the others are “Parturition” and “Prototype.” After working with them extensively in this episode, Frakes made sure there were cameos for both Dwight Schultz and Robert Picardo in the movie First Contact (which he directed), the former fangoobering Zefram Cochrane as Barclay, the latter as the Enterprise’s EMH.
This episode establishes that Lewis Zimmerman modeled the EMH to look and sound exactly like him. Zimmerman himself will be seen in the DS9 episode “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” as well as two subsequent Voyager episodes, “The Swarm” (a holographic re-creation) and “Life Line” (the real one).
Barclay is established as being one the engineers who helped Zimmerman design the EMH.
The original conception was to have Geordi La Forge be the engineer trying to convince “Zimmerman,” but writer Brannon Braga decided having it be Barclay would be more fun.
Several scenes from “Caretaker” are re-created and re-done here, including the EMH’s initial activation and Janeway’s working in engineering right before the Caretaker kidnapped everyone.
Set a course for home. “Well, it’s bigger than I thought.” On the one hand, this episode is a less surreal redo of TNG‘s “Frame of Mind,” also a Brannon Braga script (and one that heavily featured Jonathan Frakes, who directed this one). It takes a much more linear approach to the main character’s breakdown, but given that the main character is a computer program, this makes sense.
And the main reason why it works despite its derivative nature is the same reason why every episode that focuses on the EMH works, to wit, the superlative work by Robert Picardo in the role.
I realized watching this that one of the things I like about the EMH is also one of the things I like about the characters of Jonathan Banks’s Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House on House: characters who are smarter than everyone around them and who have absolutely no patience with people dumber than them, which is pretty much everyone, and they’re just disgusted and fed up with all of it.
But Picardo adds another dimension to the EMH because, while he starts out that way—mainly because that’s also Lewis Zimmerman’s personality, as we later see in DS9’s “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” and the character’s two subsequent Voyager appearances—it’s leavened with the desire to expand his experiences, to learn more, to become less a program and more a person. It’s similar to the journey Data went on, only with a thousand percent more sarcasm.
Picardo is aided and abetted by the always-wonderful Dwight Schultz as a version of Reg Barclay. Picardo’s snotty confusion goes nicely with Barclay’s desperate urging, giving us a delightful two-character play for the latter half of the episode.
Indeed, my only real complaint about the episode is that the situation set up in the teaser, with the EMH seemingly alone on a ship that’s been abandoned after a catastrophic Kazon attack, is one that I would have loved to have seen play out, and I’m kinda disappointed that it was all an illusion.
However, the twists and turns the episode takes are fun, and the notion that the entire series has been a holographic simulation is a fun one to play with for a while. And besides, some of it is totally convincing, from Kes’s template being Zimmerman’s wife to Paris’s template being Barclay’s annoying cousin Frank.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido has started a YouTube channel called “KRAD COVID readings,” where he’s reading his works of short fiction, by way of giving folks some entertainment while they’re at home because of the coronavirus. Please do subscribe!