Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Once Upon a Time”

“Once Upon a Time”
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by John Kretchmer
Season 5, Episode 5
Production episode 199
Original air date: November 11, 1998
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Naomi Wildman is on the holodeck, doing a Flotter and Trevis program, specifically the one where Flotter and Trevis first meet and Flotter (a creature of water) realizes that Trevis (a tree creature) isn’t a monster.

Neelix interrupts to tell her that her mother is calling to say goodnight. Wildman has joined Paris and Tuvok on the Delta Flyer for an away mission, and says she won’t be back tomorrow as planned. After Naomi goes to bed, Wildman tells Neelix that they’ve hit an ion storm, and it’s taking a while to repair the damage.

On the Delta Flyer, another ion storm hits. They barely get off a distress signal to Voyager, which the senior staff listens to in the briefing room—it’s full of static and is cut off. They’ve managed to track the Flyer to a star system, but there’s another ion storm brewing. Janeway orders them to plow through it.

Neelix asks what he should tell Naomi, but while Chakotay says she should be told, Neelix says she shouldn’t, and he’ll be in charge of distracting her while rescue operations are underway.

In the mess hall, Naomi explains to Neelix that she feels she should be doing more on the ship, and volunteers herself to be the captain’s assistant on the bridge. Naomi is also scared to death of Seven, and when Neelix excuses himself to talk to Kim (about how rescue operations are proceeding), Seven walks over to ask if she can sit with Naomi, who very nervously says the seat is taken.

Paris manages to crash land the Flyer on a planet, narrowly avoiding the volcanoes, but winding up in a crater deep underground. Wildman is badly injured in the crash, and she needs surgery that can’t really be performed with an emergency medikit by a not-so-glorified med tech (Paris). Unfortunately, Voyager hasn’t responded to their communication attempts—they may be buried too deep—and the cavern is flooded with poisonous gas, so leaving the Flyer on foot ain’t happening.

Kim finds some debris from the Flyer in a crater on the planet. That’s a bad sign, but it’s not enough debris to account for the whole ship, nor has he found any biological signs. Janeway has Chakotay take search teams to the surface.

Star Trek: Voyager "Once Upon a Time"

Screenshot: CBS

Naomi is having a botany lesson with the EMH, after which Neelix takes her to the holodeck. Both of them distract Naomi from her querying as to why she hasn’t heard from Wildman today. When Naomi asks Neelix about his family, he says only that he hasn’t seen them in a very long time, not mentioning that they were massacred by the Metreon Cascade. Naomi then has the adventure of Flotter, Trevis, and the Ogre of Fire.

When Neelix puts Naomi to bed later, she asks again about her mother, and Neelix’s attempts to deflect her are stymied by the girl’s awareness of Starfleet regulations about how often away teams should check in. After he tucks Naomi in, Neelix calls up an image of his sister Alixia, asking her for guidance. That night, Neelix has nightmares about his family’s death at the hands of the Haakonians.

Janeway talks to Neelix about telling Naomi the truth, and Neelix rejects the idea wholeheartedly. She’s too young and sensitive, and he doesn’t want her to go through what he went through when his family was massacred. Janeway points out that it’s better for her to be prepared for the worst if it happens than to have the truth dropped on her all at once if the worst does happen. Neelix relents and agrees to tell her in the morning.

Paris and Tuvok have been unable to get life support functioning properly. Wildman expresses concern about what will happen to Naomi without her, but Tuvok assures her that she has been an excellent parent, and that influence will continue even after she’s gone.

Star Trek: Voyager "Once Upon a Time"

Screenshot: CBS

Naomi wakes up in the middle of the night and calls for her mother. When the computer tells her Neelix is on the bridge, she heads there, noticing that Torres is putting an away team together. When she arrives on the bridge, sees what’s on the viewscreen (the crater where the Flyer crashed), and hears what everyone’s talking about, she figures it out. Neelix chases after her after she runs away, finding her on the holodeck. Flotter and Trevis try to get rid of Neelix, as Naomi doesn’t want to talk to liars. Naomi eventually agrees to talk to him, and Neelix explains why he didn’t tell her about the ion storm that hit the Flyer, and tells Naomi the full story of what happened to his family.

On the Flyer, Paris and Wildman both record final messages for, respectively, Torres and Naomi. Tuvok prefers to write prose letters.

Chakotay detects the Flyer buried in its crater. He uses phaser drills to make openings that they can put transporter enhancers into, which will allow Voyager to beam the entire shuttle and its contents to Voyager. This works very nicely, and Naomi is thrilled to be able to hug her mommy (after the EMH has patched her up).

When she’s well enough, Wildman joins her daughter on the holodeck for another adventure with Flotter and Trevis. Neelix and Janeway watch happily to see mother and daughter reunited.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? “Ion storms” were first seen on the original series in “Court Martial,” and have been used as “space hurricanes” by Trek ever since.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway played Flotter and Trevis on the holodeck when she was a kid. One time, she flooded the entire forest.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok does a magnificent job of reassuring Wildman that Naomi will be okay even if she doesn’t make it. He says: “My youngest child has been without a father for four years, yet I am certain of her well being, that I conveyed my values to her before leaving. And I have confidence in the integrity of those around her. You have been an exemplary mother to Naomi, and she is in the hands of people you trust. She will survive and prosper, no matter what becomes of us.” Just another reminder that Tuvok is a fantastic parent and is generally totally awesome.

Screenshot: CBS

Forever an ensign. Kim replicates a Flotter stuffie for Naomi. (Later in the episode, Naomi puts her combadge on it to keep Neelix from finding her.)

Kim also waxes rhapsodic about how great it is for Naomi to be growing up on a starship, getting to see supernovae, meet new aliens, and other cool stuff, conveniently ignoring the twenty-plus people who’ve died during their Delta Quadrant sojourn, not to mention the fact that she’s never even met her father…

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Once again Neelix’s insecurities overcome his common sense, as his own misery at the death of his family warps his ability to be a godfather to Naomi, leading him to prefer lying to her to preparing her for the possibility of losing the only family she’s ever known.

Resistance is futile. Naomi is scared to death of Seven, convinced that she’s going to assimilate her and everybody else. She will eventually get over this and become friends with the ex-Borg.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH is teaching Naomi about botany.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Paris tries to cheer Torres up in his message to her that she would find after he was dead by saying she’ll never have to stumble across day-old pizza or watch another Captain Proton chapter.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Apparently the adventures of Flotter and Trevis have been very popular with kids for a while, as Janeway, Kim, and Wildman all did those programs when they were children, and Naomi enjoys it now. Naomi is, in fact, using the same programs her mother used, as Flotter recognizes Wildman and remarks on how much older she is since the last time he saw her.

Do it.

“Did you envision a more heroic death?”

“I didn’t envision dying at all!”

“In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace.”

“If that’s another Vulcan saying, Tuvok, I’ll stick with, ‘live long and prosper’.”

–Tuvok trying and failing to comfort Paris.

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Scarlett Pomers takes over the role of Naomi from Brooke Stephens, and will continue to the play the role throughout the rest of Voyager’s run (though Vanessa Branch will play a grown-up version in “Shattered”). Nancy Hower returns as Wildman. Pomers will be back in “Infinite Regress,” while we won’t see Hower again until “Fury.”

And we get a double Robert Knepper moment! Flotter and Trevis are played by, respectively, Wallace Langham (probably better known for his role as Hodges on CSI) and Justin Louis (probably better known as Louis Ferreira and for his role as Colonel Young on Stargate Universe).

Trivial matters: This is the first Voyager writing credit for Michael Taylor, whose previous writing credits include four episodes of DS9 (among them, “The Visitor” and “In the Pale Moonlight,” two of that show’s finest). He’ll write or co-write nine episodes this season as a freelancer before becoming a story editor for season six and executive story editor for season seven.

This is the only onscreen appearance of Flotter and Trevis, but they are mentioned a few more times throughout the run of Voyager, and the Flotter doll Kim replicated for Naomi will continue to appear. We will also see a Flotter lunchbox among Soji Asha’s possessions in Picard’s “The Impossible Box.”

Strictly speaking, this is chronologically Wildman’s last appearance, as when she appears in “Fury,” it’s in scenes taking place during the first season.

Neelix’s family was established as being lost in the Talaxians’ war with the Haakonians in “Jetrel.” An image of Alixia was seen in “Mortal Coil,” and the picture of her Neelix looks at is from that episode.

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I think you’re scared of the tree monster.” One of Star Trek’s perpetual failings has been its general inability to come up with human popular culture that was created between the present day of when the show is aired and the present day of when the show takes place. This goes all the way back to the spectacularly unimaginative, 20th-century-and-prior creations of the recreational planet in “Shore Leave,” through to the holodeck programs favored by Jean-Luc Picard, William Riker, Julian Bashir, Miles O’Brien, Kathryn Janeway, and Tom Paris, and the music featured on Discovery.

Which is why I just adore the heck out of this episode, because it breaks that particular pattern very nicely by presenting us with a 24th-century children’s tale, that of Flotter and Trevis. It’s a lovely combination of adventure and learning (with the pair’s very first time meeting being an object lesson in not judging a book by its cover), and both Justin Louis and the great Wallace Langham do a superlative job of bringing the two elemental characters to life.

Trek also has a bad rap for its kid characters, but I think that’s mostly a byproduct of TNG‘s botching of the Wes Crusher character, and later also the Alexander character. (Well, okay, also “And the Children Shall Lead” was one of the absolute low points of the original series, but the kids weren’t the problem with that piece of garbage, and in fact the kid actors all did really well. Plus, TOS did fine with “Miri.”) We had great kids on DS9 in Nog and Jake Sisko—and watching them both grow up was one of the best ongoing concerns in a series that excelled at ongoing concerns—and Riker and Troi’s daughter Kestra on Picard is one of the best Trek characters ever.

And then we have Naomi. Scarlett Pomers just owns this episode. Naomi is bright, charming, inquisitive, adorable, but not cloying or unconvincing at any point. Plus, this is another good use of Neelix, as the thing that makes the character interesting—his insecurity and fear of losing those he loves—is used beautifully. As usual, when the writers remember to write Neelix as a character instead of a caricature, Ethan Phillips is more than up to the task.

Not to be outdone is Tim Russ, whose Vulcan dignity in the face of hopelessness comes across as comforting and helpful in a crisis. His speech to Wildman about what a good parent she is is one of the character’s best moments, of which there’s no shortage. Tuvok was my favorite character when I first started watching Voyager in 1995, and this rewatch has renewed that enthusiasm a hundredfold. (I also loved writing him in The Brave and the Bold Book 2, as well as his Mirror Universe counterpart in The Mirror-Scaled Serpent.) I like that his logic and emotional control is consistently seen as a benefit, rather than a problem to be solved, as it is far too often with Vulcan (or half-Vulcan) characters.

The shuttle-crashes-and-the-away-team-has-to-be-rescued plot is hoary as hell, but it works because it’s mostly there as a vehicle for dealing with issues of loss and parental responsibility (and god-parental responsibility), and also gives Pomers a superlative debut as a character who will continue to be a delightful recurring regular for the rest of the show’s run.

Warp factor rating: 8

Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote a short story for the forthcoming charity anthology Turning the Tied, which features stories about existing characters in the public domain by some of the best tie-in writers in the business, including fellow Trek scribes Greg Cox, Robert Greenberger, Jeff Mariotte, David McIntee, Robert Vardeman, Aaron Rosenberg, Scott Pearson, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Derek Tyler Attico, and Rigel Ailur. Keith’s story is about Ayesha, the title character in She by H. Rider Haggard. You can preorder the book now from Amazon.

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