“Message in a Bottle”
Written by Rick Williams and Lisa Klink
Directed by Nancy Malone
Season 4, Episode 14
Production episode 1551
Original air date: January 21, 1998
Captain’s log. Seven summons Janeway and Chakotay to astrometrics. She has found an alien sensor net that seems to be abandoned. The far end of the net’s range is on the edge of the Alpha Quadrant, and is picking up a Starfleet vessel in that region.
They are unable to get a regular communication through the network, as it degrades and reflects back. Torres suggests a holographic signal that can go through without degrading. It means sending the EMH through, and there’s a risk they won’t be able to get him back. But it’s too good an opportunity to pass up.
The EMH is sent through and materializes in a Starfleet sickbay. But he only finds two dead bodies. The computer informs him that he’s on an experimental prototype, the U.S.S. Prometheus, the Starfleet crew is all dead, and the ship has been taken over by Romulans. The Prometheus can split into three parts—which is called the multivector assault mode. The Romulan commander, Rekar, uses that mode to destroy another Starfleet vessel. One of the Romulans is hurt, and is brought to sickbay. The EMH pretends to be the Prometheus EMH and treats the Romulan.
The EMH activates the Prometheus EMH, who is also a prototype. EMH2 is disdainful of the inferior earlier model, and also wants to deactivate until they get rescued, but the EMH wants to fight back. The EMH convinces him to try to take the ship back, mostly by boasting of everything he’s accomplished over almost four years in the Delta Quadrant. The EMH2 is a bit skeptical of all the EMH says he has done—though he’s intrigued by the fact that he’s had sexual relations and surprised by the mobile emitter—but eventually, he agrees to go along with it.
Back on Voyager, Paris is being overwhelmed by being the ship’s medic, and begs Kim to create a new EMH. While Kim is able to re-create his physical form, the best he can do is get the hologram to recite Gray’s Anatomy from the beginning.
On Prometheus, the EMH’s plan involves placing neurozine gas in the environmental systems. While EMH2 goes to environmental control, the EMH goes to the bridge to activate the systems via the bridge ops station, under the pretense of checking the other Romulans for a disease that the injured Romulan allegedly has.
However, Rekar realizes that the EMH isn’t actually scanning them, and takes him prisoner. Rekar assumes that there’s a Starfleet officer they missed on the crew who is manipulating the hologram, but in mid-sentence, they’re interrupted by neurozine gas. The EMH2 figured out a way to activate the gas without using bridge ops. Now they have to fly the ship.
On Voyager, they are contacted by the Hirogen, who, it turns out, control the network. Janeway tries to plead with the Hirogen, named Idrin, to allow them to continue using the network just until they can get the EMH back. Idrin refuses. Seven decides to send an electric shock through the communications line to render Idrin unconscious.
On Prometheus, the EMHs learn, to their chagrin, that Rekar was about to turn the ship over to the Tal Shiar, and they were about to rendezvous with some Tal Shiar vessels. While the two EMHs struggle mightily to operate the ship, a firefight ensues, with Starfleet also getting in on it, and firing on the Prometheus. (It doesn’t help that EMH2 accidentally fires on one of the Starfleet ships.)
Then they accidentally activate the multivector assault mode and that turns the tide of battle.
The EMH reports to Starfleet Command everything that has happened to Voyager. It turns out that Starfleet declared Voyager lost fourteen months previous. Now, however, they will be working to try to help get them home. For the first time, Voyager doesn’t feel like they’re alone.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently holographic signals don’t degrade as easily as subspace signals.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway updates her letters home to her family and to Mark, which she does even though she knows this whole thing is a long shot and doing so probably tempts the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing. Chakotay admits that he did the same for a letter to his cousin.
Forever an ensign. Kim humors Paris by trying to create a new EMH, even though it’s way beyond the capabilities of a single officer on a starship.
Half and half. Torres is sick unto death of Seven’s imperious attitude. She tries to convince Seven that she needs to be polite, which is hilarious, considering the source.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Apparently, Dr. Lewis Zimmerman and his team have created a Mark 2 Emergency Medical Hologram, and are testing it on the already-experimental Prometheus. While he looks like Andy Dick instead of Robert Picardo, he still has Zimmerman’s charming personality.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Paris’ nightmare running sickbay in the EMH’s absence is the number of people coming in with gastrointestinal distress after Neelix served Rodeo Red’s Red-Hot, Rootin’-Tootin’ Chili.
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. EMH2 is able to function on any part of the ship, as Prometheus has holoemitters all over the vessel.
“Stop breathing down my neck!”
“My breathing is merely a simulation.”
“So is my neck! Stop it, anyway!”
–The EMHs bantering.
Welcome aboard. Judson Scott makes his third appearance in Trek as Rekar, having previously played Sobi in TNG’s “Symbiosis” and Joachim in The Wrath of Khan. Tiny Ron—who had the recurring role of Maihard’u in the various Ferengi episodes of DS9–makes the first of two appearances as Idrin; he’ll return in the the very next episode, “Hunters.” Valerie Wildman plays Nevada.
But the big guest is the great comic actor Andy Dick as EMH2.
Trivial matters: This episode marks the first contemporary contact with the Alpha Quadrant Voyager makes, having made contact with the AQ of the past in “Eye of the Needle” and “Future’s End.” (One could argue for Kim’s sorta-kinda doing so in “Non Sequitur,” also, I guess.) This also marks the first time seeing the new uniforms that debuted in First Contact on Voyager.
It was established in DS9’s “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” that Dr. Lewis Zimmerman was working on a Long-Term Medical Hologram, and this episode shows that he also did a Mark 2 of his original EMH, as well.
The EMH learns of the Dominion War, which the Federation is embroiled in at this point, the first time that conflict, which dominated the final two seasons of DS9, was mentioned on Voyager.
The Prometheus will be seen again onscreen in the series finale, “Endgame,” and also appear in the Destiny trilogy by David Mack, your humble rewatcher’s A Singular Destiny, Star Trek Online, Star Trek Heroclix: Tactics, and most notably in the Star Trek: Prometheus trilogy by Christian Humberg & Bernd Perplies. The latter were the first original Trek novels published by Cross Cult, a German publisher that publishes translations of English-language Trek novels. In 2016, as part of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the franchise, Cross Cult was given a license to publish their own anniversary trilogy, and they chose to focus on the Prometheus. The novels were translated into English and published by Titan from 2017-2018. (Your humble rewatcher provided editorial assistance on the English-language versions of those books.)
This episode also introduces the Hirogen, who will continue to be antagonists to Voyager for the rest of its run. Voyager will encounter the Hirogen in four of the next five episodes. In addition to appearing several times in this and each of the subsequent three seasons, the Hirogen also appear in two of the novels in the Gateways crossover, No Man’s Land by Christie Golden and your humble rewatcher’s Demons of Air and Darkness, in which a Hirogen alpha destroys a Malon ship and gets into a fight with a Jem’Hadar.
Starfleet declaring Voyager lost, as well as the response when the EMH made contact with Prometheus by the folks at home, was chronicled in your humble rewatcher’s short story “Letting Go” in the anthology Distant Shores.
Set a course for home. “I’m a doctor, not a commando.” I unreservedly love this episode for many reasons, but the main one is obvious: pairing Robert Picardo and Andy Dick is simply comedy gold. Every moment the two of them together is hilarious, from Dick’s skepticism regarding Picardo’s accomplishments to Picardo’s constantly having to push Dick to be heroic to Picardo abashedly realizing he doesn’t recognize the newfangled medical equipment on Prometheus to both of them trying desperately how to figure out how to operate the ship.
Plus we get the Hirogen, an alien species I was captivated by when they were introduced, and am still very much interested in. (I’ll get into this more when we do “Hunters” and “Prey” in the next two rewatches.)
And best of all, we finally get real contact with the Alpha Quadrant. Even more than Kes’s 10,000-light-year jump, even more than finally hitting Borg territory, this connection with home shows true progress in Voyager’s journey back, and it’s quite heartening.
To get there, we also get a fun comedy-action sequence. Judson Scott is pretty terrible as Rakar, but luckily he’s not onscreen all that much. The Prometheus is a spiffy ship (though I’m sorry we didn’t get to see it on DS9), and, again, the double act of the two EMHs is just hilarious as all hell.
The stuff back on Voyager was a little too obviously there to give the rest of the cast something to do, and it really doesn’t work. Torres’s complaints about Seven are legitimate, but Chakotay’s response is a bit too laid-back for someone who’s supposed to be the first officer of a starship. Seven summons Janeway and Chakotay to astrometrics in the same tone that a commanding officers uses on their subordinates, and the fact that Janeway doesn’t call her on it is a glaring omission. And the Paris-Kim subplot with the former begging the latter to create a new EMH can charitably be called filler.
But ultimately, it’s all irrelevant, to use Seven’s favorite word, because the meat here is two snarky doctors being snarky while snarkily saving the ship, and it’s glorious.
Warp factor rating: 9