Written by Jimmy Diggs & Steve J. Kay and Kenneth Biller and Jeri Taylor
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 2, Episode 4
Production episode 118
Original air date: September 18, 1995
Captain’s log. Chakotay stumbles on two crewmembers smooching in the turbolift. This prompts a conversation with Janeway on the subject of fraternization. Meanwhile, Paris helps Kes carry some cabbage from hydroponics to Neelix’s kitchen, prompting a jealous snit from Neelix.
Voyager finds a magnetic disturbance, one that turns out to be a swarm of space-dwelling life forms.
Back in hydroponics, Kes is appalled to realize that she’s absent-mindedly munching on the beetles they use for cross pollination. Back in her quarters, she finds herself eating everything in sight. Neelix discovers this when he visits her to apologize for his jealous snit, and insists she go to sickbay—eventually going so far as to carry her.
The creatures move like protozoa. Xenobiologist Ensign Samantha Wildman determines that they have no digestive system, but absorb nutrients from all around them. They also move very fast, likely because the nutrients in space are pretty well spread out.
When the creatures start to move away, Janeway orders Paris to back off—but instead, they accelerate toward the creatures, which have sucked the ship into their magnetic wake. Torres suggests a targ scoop of sorts—Klingon ground vehicles in rural areas have scoops that pick up groups of targ on the road and toss them aside. She can do something similar with a deflector modification.
Neelix drives the EMH to distraction, to the point where he kicks Neelix out of sickbay so he can examine Kes in peace. Neelix goes to the bridge to complain about being thrown out of sickbay, which Janeway ignores right up to the part where Kes is sick (Neelix buries that lede, more focused on his being kicked out than why he in sickbay in the first place).
Then the EMH summons Janeway to sickbay—after he discovered a strange sac on Kes’s back, she barricaded herself in the doctor’s office and is barely coherent. Janeway is able to get through to her—apparently she’s going through the elogium, which is when Ocampa are fertile. It usually happens between the ages of three and four, and Kes isn’t even two yet. The EMH theorizes that the proximity to the magnetic resonance of the creatures is causing a premature puberty, as it were.
However, the elogium is transitory and only happens once. If Kes is to reproduce, it has to be now, and she wants it to be with Neelix.
Janeway and Chakotay talk further about fraternization and also the need for procreation if they’re really going to be stranded in the Delta Quadrant for decades—they’ll need crew replacements. Janeway doesn’t even know if the ship—which set out for a three-week mission—is adequately prepared to have children aboard.
Neelix and Kes have a fraught discussion, as neither of them is really prepared for parenthood. Kes thought she had another year or two, and Neelix has always been so itinerant that being a father never entered his worldview.
A distracted Neelix forgets to make a lunch special and winds up serving leftovers—and accidentally putting too much pepper in one crewperson’s meal. After serving Tuvok, he talks to him about being a parent. Eventually, he decides that he wants to do it.
Torres’s targ scoop fails miserably, having the opposite effect—the creatures start attaching themselves to the warp nacelles and sucking energy from the ship. Systems start failing all over the vessel.
Then a larger creature shows up, generating a plasma field. Several of the smaller creatures also attach themselves to the bigger creature, and Kim reads that the plasma field the large creature gives off is similar to that of their warp nacelles. Chakotay theorizes that the warp nacelles’ energy may work like pheromones, and the smaller creatures are trying to mate with the ship, with the larger creature seeing them as a sexual rival.
Voyager tries taking aggressive action against the large creature, but that just results in retaliation that drains the ship’s shields. Janeway is reluctant to take action that will actually harm the creature, but they’re running out of options.
Chakotay suggests they act submissive instead of aggressive, imitating the movements of the smaller creatures. Paris takes them into a roll that is imitative of the smaller creatures, and they also vent plasma to make themselves the same color blue as the creatures. That does the trick, and Voyager is finally able to leave the swarm, having lost its sex appeal.
When they do so, Kes’s elogium symptoms go away. The EMH theorizes that it was a false positive brought on by the creatures’ magnetic field. Neelix is saddened, as he’d finally come around to the notion of parenthood, but Kes says it’s possible she’ll still have a proper elogium in a year or two.
Wildman then comes to Janeway to announce that she’s pregnant. She conceived before Voyager left Deep Space 9—which is where her husband is assigned. Voyager‘s having a baby!
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The creatures—which are inexplicably never given any manner of name, neither a scientific designation nor a nickname—are the latest space-based creature in Trek, alongside the beings seen in “Obsession,” “The Immunity Syndrome,” “Encounter at Farpoint,” “Tin Man,” “Galaxy’s Child,” “The Cloud,” “Context is for Kings,” etc.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway and Chakotay discuss fraternization and procreation. She makes it clear that Starfleet prefers to err on the side of not interfering with personal choice, but Chakotay points out that if a relationship goes south, there’s nowhere for anyone to go. Janeway is also holding out hope that they’ll get home before Mark gives up on her. (This hope, we will later learn, is in vain.)
Mr. Vulcan. We find out that Tuvok has four children, three sons and one daughter. While he isn’t emotional about his kids, obviously, he does tell Neelix that parenthood has infinite rewards and that he regrets being separated from them.
Half and half. Torres has the brilliant idea of using the deflector as a “scoop” to get the creatures out of the ship’s way. It fails rather spectacularly.
In addition, Torres advocates more aggressive action against the creatures pretty much from jump.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH throws Neelix out of his sickbay because he’s being annoying. Amazingly, people don’t do that nearly as often as they should.
Also, the EMH performs the ritual task of rubbing Kes’s feet, which usually falls to the woman’s father. This right after the EMH hallucinated her as his wife, which isn’t weird at all…….
Everyone comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is jealous of Paris’s attentions toward Kes. Even though Paris is the one he’s concerned about (not entirely without reason, given Paris’s well–established lechery, which was enough to make him a convincing murder suspect), he takes it out on Kes, treating her like utter crap because another person looked at her with desire. And yet, Kes still wants to have a kid with this jackass.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Janeway talks about how people will pair off, which is certainly one of the possibilities, but it’s only discussed in terms of romantic relationships and then later making babies. The notion of people just having sex as a release, or at least without strings, is never discussed, nor is the notion of more complex relationships—which, frankly, would be necessary in so small and closed an environment. Not that 1990s-era Trek would ever dream of anything other than a traditional male-female relationship, but rewatching the show now in particular makes the conversation seem incredibly incomplete.
Do it. “I continue to wonder about the issue of procreation aboard the ship. Certainly, it’s wrong to interfere with the private lives and decisions of the crew, yet I remain concerned about the environment we could provide for any child born here.”
Janeway’s log entry, recorded right before Wildman announces she’s pregnant, turning her concerns from speculation to reality.
Welcome aboard. The only guest this time is a new recurring regular: Nancy Hower as Wildman, who will continue to recur (and be mentioned in dialogue in episodes she doesn’t appear in) throughout the rest of the show’s run. The character was named after a seven-year-old organ donor girl whose kidney saved the life of co-writer Jimmy Diggs’s wife. Because the real-world Wildman loved animals, her namesake was made a xenobiologist.
Trivial matters: Like “The 37’s” and “Projections” before it and “Twisted” after it, this episode was produced for the first season but held back for season two by the network. This had the unintended consequence of making it look like Wildman didn’t know she was pregnant for an unconvincingly long time if she (of necessity) conceived prior to “Caretaker,” but this was later explained by her husband being alien and having a longer gestation period.
Wildman’s pregnancy will continue to be a running subplot through “Tattoo,” “Dreadnought,” and “Deadlock,” when the baby, a daughter named Naomi, is born. Naomi will also continue to be a recurring character.
The pitch by Jimmy Diggs and Steve J. Kay was partly inspired by Diggs’s time in the Navy, particularly seeing a school of fish in the water attracted to his ship’s lights. The line that sold the pitch was Tuvok saying, “It appears we have lost our sex appeal, Captain,” a line that survived to the script stage (and which Tim Russ delivered perfectly).
Kes and Neelix have separate quarters, which is surprising, but I guess enough people died in “Caretaker” that they have the extra room. It still feels weird, if they’re supposed to be a couple, that they’re living apart.
Set a course for home. “My children occupy a significant portion of my thoughts.” I was dreading rewatching this episode, because the Kes part of the storyline is completely idiotic.
One of the responsibilities when writing science fiction is to create interesting aliens. It also behooves one to make them at least somewhat believable. Trek hasn’t always been consistent in that regard, unfortunately, but sometimes they get it right, providing biological and cultural characteristics that give verisimilitude to the alien species.
“Elogium” fails in two different directions here. With Kes, it’s the one and only thing I remembered about the episode twenty-five years later: The elogium makes absolutely no sense. The Ocampa are short-lived beings (average age is nine), which means they would need to procreate at a bunny-like, if not tribble–like, rate in order to keep the population numbers viable. If Ocampan females can only have babies once in their lifetime, there’s no way they could possibly replenish the populace enough. It’s a case of “hey, let’s do a cool alien thing with their pregnancy” without actually thinking through what it means. In this case, it means the Ocampa should’ve gone extinct long before the Caretaker showed up.
As for Neelix, he’s not nearly alien enough. From the moment he finds out what the elogium is, up until his final scene with Kes, Neelix says a whole lot of things about parenthood, including some really hoary and stupid gender-role distinctions (thankfully, Tuvok punctures these pretty thoroughly). If those exact same lines of dialogue were given to a middle-class suburban white guy in 1950s America, not a single word would change. That’s a spectacular failure of imagination.
My disgust with that aspect of the plot had blotted out the rest of it, which was actually a nifty little science fiction story. I liked the whole notion that Voyager was being seen as a mate, and that they had to impersonate the submissive behavior in order to save themselves. That bit of anthropological biology was well handled and entertaining. (I do wish they’d given the creatures a name, though. TNG and DS9 understood that, what with Microbrain in “Home Soil,” Junior in “Galaxy’s Child,” and Pup in “The Forsaken.”)
And I do like the discussions Janeway and Chakotay have on the subject of fraternization and procreation, because there are several sides to it, and they all have merit—and both officers bring up all those sides. Chakotay’s concerns about the dangers of bad relationships on morale, as well as the need to replace crew as they grow old and die, are legitimate ones, but so are Janeway’s about how they can’t legislate behavior. It’s not an easy question to answer, and I like that the episode doesn’t really provide one.
Warp factor rating: 4
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!