Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Cold Fire”

“Cold Fire”
Written by Anthony Williams and Brannon Braga
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 2, Episode 10
Production episode 126
Original air date: November 13, 1995
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. After a brief narrated segment reminding us of what happened in “Caretaker,” including the revelation that the title character had a mate out there somewhere, we jump to the present, where Tuvok is working with Kes on her telepathy. She hears the cacophony of thoughts on the ship, and then eventually is able to isolate Neelix’s as he’s getting a haircut. She also giggles, to Tuvok’s chagrin.

Their session makes her late for her medical instruction with the EMH. In the midst of their discussion of her progress, they hear a high-pitched whining, that turns out to be coming from the corpse of the Caretaker, which has been kept in storage in sickbay.

The EMH picks up life signs briefly, but they cease, and by the time Torres and Janeway report to sickbay to check it out, it once again reads as inert. But while they’re discussing it, it starts to make the noise again, and also shake. Torres is still reading the corpse as inert, but it’s resonating with sporocystian energy—and the Caretaker was a sporocystian life form. Janeway thinks they may have found the Caretaker’s mate.

It doesn’t last long enough to get a fix on the energy reading, but Kim and Torres work to set up a way to trace it if it happens again. Meantime, Tuvok proposes the creation of a weapon that will debilitate a sporocystian life form, remembering that the crew was completely at the Caretaker’s mercy, and they could use an advantage this time.

The whining and vibrations happen again, and Kim is able to get a fix. Paris sets a course, and they find another array just like the Caretaker’s only way smaller. They hail it, only to find an Ocampa answering—and one who wants nothing to do with Voyager and tells them to bugger off.

Janeway brings Kes to the bridge, and she tries again. The Ocampa, Tanis, is running out of patience, but he softens upon seeing Kes. He agrees to beam over to discuss matters.

Tanis and his comrade explain their hostility: Voyager has gained a reputation in this region as a “ship of death,” based on their conflicts with the Kazon as well as their role in the death of the Caretaker. (The conflict with the Vidiians isn’t mentioned, but that probably doesn’t help.) Janeway tries to defend the ship’s rep, but Tanis asks to speak with Kes alone instead.

He offers to help her develop her telepathy, which is far more advanced than hers, and that of the Ocampa on the homeworld. Kes is shocked to learn that Tanis is fourteen—the Ocampa Kes grew up with usually only live to be nine at most. He starts to teach her how to develop her psychokinesis, demonstrating by accelerating the growth of everything in airponics. Then he shows her how to create great heat, and she winds up destroying everything in airponics. (The effect this has on the crew’s food supply is not mentioned.) He works a bit more with her, eventually getting her to show more control. He also offers to let her stay with them on the array among her own people.

The Caretaker’s mate, Suspiria, is the one responsible for this. When she left the Ocampa homeworld and the Caretaker behind, she took some Ocampa with her, and they have thrived on the array. Tanis agrees to ask Suspiria to manifest, which will take a couple of days. He returns to the array, saying he’ll return when she arrives.

The Voyager crew sits around a table in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Kes shares her experience with Tuvok, and attempts to re-create it. She is able to heat a mug of tea, but she loses control and superheats Tuvok’s blood, nearly killing him, though the EMH is able to save him. Kes is beside herself, but Tuvok reminds her that, while she nearly killed him, she didn’t actually kill him, and she should focus on that.

Tuvok, with help from Torres and the EMH, has come up with a way to disable Suspiria, should it become necessary.

Suspiria appears in engineering. Torres alerts the bridge, but then loses contact. Tuvok goes with a security team. Tanis, meanwhile, tries to inveigle Kes to come away with him. Kes refuses, and, after Tanis assaults Neelix, she attacks Tanis telepathically.

Janeway goes to engineering, only to find Tuvok and Torres suspended from the ceiling. (It is unclear what happened to the rest of the engineering crew or the rest of Tuvok’s security detail.) Suspiria blames Janeway for the Caretaker’s death, not believing her assurances that her mate died of natural causes. Suspiria attacks the ship itself, starting to disintegrate it, but then she’s distracted by Tanis’s pain at Kes’s attack. That gives Janeway the opportunity to hit Suspiria with the toxin.

But when she’s helpless before Janeway, the captain agrees to let her go. Surprised by the compassion, Suspiria buggers off, taking an anguished Tanis with her.

Voyager continues on its merry way. Kes no longer has the enhanced abilities she had when Tanis was around, and she’s grateful to a degree, as she didn’t like what she became with those abilities. Tuvok reminds her that without the darkness, we cannot appreciate the light.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently, the Caretaker and Suspiria are sporocystian life forms. Whatever the hell that is.

Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) observes the Caretaker alien in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Mr. Vulcan. After it’s been mentioned twice that Kes is training with Tuvok on the use of her telepathy (“Cathexis,” “Persistence of Vision“), we finally get to actually see them having their telepathic tutoring sessions.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Twice, the EMH snarks off Tuvok. The first time is to Kes by complaining that his telepathy training is making her late for her medical training with him. (“You’d think a Vulcan would be more attuned to punctuality.”) After Tuvok is injured by Kes, he prescribes bedrest, which Tuvok refuses, as his Vulcan healing techniques (seen way back in “A Private Little War“) are adequate to the task, prompting the second snark, that Vulcans make the worst patients.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. It is never made clear who is cutting Neelix’s hair. It’s rather difficult to credit that a ship that only had two people assigned to the medical staff had a barber assigned, equally difficult to credit that there was a barber in Chakotay’s Maquis cell. But maybe someone in one of the crews does it as a hobby. Still, it is an odd bit of business…

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. In contrast to his past churlish behavior, Neelix is now totally supportive of Kes working on her telepathy, and is thrilled with her increased abilities under Tanis’s tutelage. He also makes it clear that he will go with Kes wherever she wishes, even if that means staying in Suspiria’s array.

Do it.

“If you are to succeed in honing your telepathic abilities, you must learn to control these emotional outbursts.”

“Outbursts? It was a giggle!”

“Tomorrow, I will teach you a Vulcan mind-control technique that will help you inhibit your—giggles.”

–Kes and Tuvok discussing her progress—this quoting of it fails to show just how perfect Tim Russ’s dry delivery of the final line was…

Welcome aboard. Gary Graham, best known prior to this as Detective Sikes in the Alien Nation TV series and followup movies, plays Tanis. Graham will return to Trek on Enterprise in the recurring role of Ambassador Soval. Norman Large also appears as another Ocampa, having previously appeared in “State of Flux” as a Kazon in an uncredited turn; Large also played Proconsul Neral in TNG’s “Unificationtwo-parter, an alien ship captain in DS9’s “Duet,” and Maques in TNG’s “Dark Page.” Lindsay Ridgeway plays the little-girl version of Suspiria, while Majel Barrett does triple duty, providing narration over the “previously on” segment, her usual turn as the computer voice, and is the voice of Suspiria.

Trivial matters: Suspiria was originally written into “Caretaker” as a sop to the executives at Paramount, who wanted a “get out of jail free” card to play in case the audience didn’t embrace the “lost in space” premise. However, the show was a success by this point, and after this episode, Suspiria is never seen on screen again.

Suspiria and the Caretaker’s species is identified in this episode as the Nacene. While they won’t be seen again, and will only be mentioned generally in connection with how Voyager (and, as we’ll see later, the Equinox) got stuck in the Delta Quadrant, the species is explored in the String Theory novel trilogy by Jeffrey Lang, Kirsten Beyer, and Heather Jarman.

This is the first time Voyager is referred to by the locals as “the ship of death,” an appellation that will dog them throughout their time in the Delta Quadrant.

The “previously on” segment explicitly dates this episode as being ten months after “Caretaker.”

Tuvok (Tim Russ) with a disfigured face in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Now you will know what frail, small creatures you truly are!” One of the frustrations that has often been expressed regarding Voyager over the last couple of decades has been that it doesn’t just hit the reset button, but jumps up and down on it several times. To make matters worse, too often the show doesn’t go to any effort to justify the resetting of the status quo, it just sort of happens because it’s the end of the episode. We’ve already seen it in “Faces” where the only reason why Torres had to be restored to her halfbreed status was because the EMH said so in a technobabble infodump at the last second. Nothing in the episode set up the restoration, it was just a fait accompli, justified only by made-up science.

It happens again here, only it’s worse, because Kes’s increase in powers doesn’t happen because Tanis is manipulating her abilities, it’s happening because he’s unlocking her potential. She’s become a much more powerful psychokinetic, powers she continues to manifest without Tanis’s presence, though she has less control without him around. In fact, she’s sufficiently powerful that she can hurt Tanis so badly that he needs Suspiria to save his ass.

And then at the end of the episode, those increased abilities are gone with absolutely no explanation. And it makes no sense whatsoever, based on what the episode itself provided. Just like “Faces,” it’s thrown in at the last minute as if Brannon Braga was most of the way through Act 5 and said, “Shit, I gotta restore the status quo!!!!!” and wrote the last scene with Kes and Tuvok to say she couldn’t do it anymore.

Which is especially annoying because everything else in that final scene is brilliant. Tuvok is supposed to have a long history as a teacher, but the only previous example we’d seen was in “Learning Curve,” about which the less said the better. But here, his advice to Kes is good and strong and useful. I particularly love his response to her never wanting to feel the joy she took from destruction: “Without the darkness, how would we recognize the light? Do not fear your negative thoughts, they are part of you. They are a part of every living being—even Vulcans. … The Vulcan heart was forged out of barbarism and violence. We learned to control it, but it is still part of us. To pretend it does not exist is to create an opportunity for it to escape.”

Way back on the original series, “The Naked Time” established that Vulcans aren’t emotionless but that they in fact tightly control their emotions, and “Balance of Terror” and “All Our Yesterdays” made it clear that Vulcans have a violent past. Too often, Vulcans are mistaken for emotionless rather than controlled, and Tim Russ’s performance in general and that speech in particular beautifully encapsulate that important truth.

It’s just a pity the rest of the episode doesn’t live up to what came at the end of it. The whole thing feels perfunctory. The producers had hung the Suspiria gun on the wall back in the very first episode, and they needed to fire it and get it out of the way so it wouldn’t be hanging over the show for the rest of its run. Suspiria believing that Janeway and the gang killed the Caretaker is a nice way to keep her from sending them home, at least.

But the whole episode just feels like paperwork. It doesn’t help that the script is lazy—besides the last-minute she-doesn’t-have-super-powers-anymore ending, there’s also the lack of explanation of what happened to the engineering crew and Tuvok’s security detail when Suspiria showed up—and that Gray Graham gives a surprisingly stiff performance. Graham, who will be one of the bright spots of Enterprise in showing the evolution of Soval from antagonist to ally, is just nowhere as Tanis, and he drains all the tension out of his scenes with Kes. What should be a relationship that goes from wondrous to awful instead just kinda sits there on the screen.

This is through no fault of Jennifer Lien, who does the best she can with the material, and she really sells Kes’s eagerness to learn, which has been the character’s hallmark from jump. And it’s nice to see Neelix being supportive of Kes instead of ignoring her telepathy or undermining her intelligence or being jealous every time she looks at anyone. Post-“Parturition” Neelix is way better, and I approve of the change.

But there are so many unanswered questions. How does the crew feel about the fact that they’ve had another shot at going home yanked out from under them? For that matter, how did the crew feel about going after Suspiria in the first place? The guarded excitement that we saw in “Eye of the Needle” and “Prime Factors” is completely absent here. Hell, I’d have settled for the hand-wringing we got in “The 37’s,” but there’s just nothing here.

Lien and Russ are superb, but that’s all this sodden mess has going for it.

Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido encourages all and sundry to support the crowdfund for the third book in the “18th Race” trilogy of military science fiction novels, To Hell and Regroup, which Keith wrote with David Sherman. It’s being jointly funded along with Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime, and it’s already reached the funding goal, so if you support it, you’re guaranteed to get the books! Check it out!

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