Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Course: Oblivion”

“Course: Oblivion”
Written by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan
Directed by Anson Williams
Season 5, Episode 18
Production episode 213
Original air date: March 3, 1999
Stardate: 52586.3

Captain’s log. Janeway performs a wedding ceremony in the mess hall, uniting Paris and Torres in connubial bliss. Paris has lieutenant’s pips, and after the ceremony we cut down to a Jefferies Tube where it looks like the deckplates are warping.

Voyager has an enhanced warp drive that will get them home in two years. Chakotay and Janeway discuss what specific route to take while Paris and Torres try to figure out where to “go” on their honeymoon on the holodeck. Torres is going over last-minute engineering stuff with Seven (who is taking over engineering during the honeymoon for reasons the script never bothers to explain). They find an anomaly in the Jefferies Tube and find the warped deckplates we saw at the end of the teaser.

The ship’s superstructure is losing molecular cohesion. They soon determine that the warp drive is causing all manner of molecular cohesion issues. They take the warp drive offline and try to figure out the problem.

Torres returns to the quarters she shares with Paris after a frustratingly long day of not figuring out how to fix the problem, and she gets really really cold. Paris comes home to find her curled up in the bathroom shivering. He takes her to sickbay where two other engineers are also laid up. These three have it worst, but the EMH informs Janeway that the entire crew is suffering from cellular degradation, similar to what’s happening to the ship.

Everything on board is suffering from the degradation, including anything they replicate. Neelix, however, has a few items that aren’t showing any signs of it, and they’re all things he brought on board from off-ship within the past few months.

Paris sits by Torres’ side, talking about their honeymoon, but then she dies.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Course: Oblivion"

Screenshot: CBS

Tuvok and Chakotay have backtracked their missions, mentioning several completely unfamiliar events, before finally hitting on a recognizable one: the demon planet where they mined deuterium and the crew was duplicated. This prompts a rather disturbing hypothesis. To prove it, they inject Torres’s corpse with a dichromate catalyst, which turns Torres’ body into silver goo.

They’re the duplicates. They all have the complete memories of the original Voyager crew, but they’re not really humans, Vulcans, Bolians, etc. The tests they ran on the enhanced warp drive proved it wasn’t harmful to humanoids, but they didn’t know to scan for silver-blood-based life forms. Even the EMH isn’t safe, as the equipment that runs him is also duplicated and degrading.

The EMH’s suggestion is to find the original Voyager, as they could copy the original crew’s genetic patterns. But they have no idea where the ship is. Tuvok suggests finding another Class-Y planet, and they do—but a hostile species is using it for mining and fires on Voyager to keep them away. They could fight back, but Janeway insists that they’re still Starfleet and won’t assault a ship defending its territory for their own gain, and so they move on.

Paris doesn’t think they should even listen to Janeway anymore, since she’s not really a captain, but he reluctantly goes along with her orders. Chakotay keeps his disagreements private, urging Janeway in her ready room to go back to their true home of the demon planet, rather than plow onward to the home of the people they’re copied from. But Janeway insists that her goal is to get her crew home—what if the original Voyager crew was destroyed?

In the middle of the argument, Chakotay collapses. He dies, and Janeway realizes she’s been an idiot, and orders Voyager to head back to the demon planet. They also put out a general distress call to the real Voyager.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Course: Oblivion"

Screenshot: CBS

The ship and crew both continue to deteriorate. The holoemitters are all toast, and so the EMH is lost to them. Tuvok is dead and Paris is in a coma; Neelix is now the de facto medic. The deflector fails, and space dust gets into the warp drive. Kim manages to fix it, but the celebration is curtailed when they see that Janeway died in the captain’s chair.

Kim takes command and carries out Janeway’s final order, which is to create a time capsule out of non-silver-blood material so that something will be preserved of them. But by the time it’s complete, the launch systems are so badly degraded that the time capsule explodes. Sensors detect the real Voyager, which is responding to their distress call. Kim and Seven try to hold the ship together long enough, to no avail.

By the time the original Voyager arrives at the source of the distress call, all they see is liquid debris in a cloud in space, with no life signs. Making a note of it for the record, they continue on their journey home.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Somehow, the duplicate Voyager crew can now survive in a standard Class-M-type atmosphere, despite the entire plot of “Demon” revolving around the notion that they could only survive in a Class-Y atmosphere. Also we never learn the nature of the enhanced warp drive, but it’s apparently super-duper fast, as it will get them to the Alpha Quadrant in two years. (Of course, the ship itself will get home in two years…)

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway insists on sticking with the get-to-the-Alpha-Quadrant mission, even though it isn’t really their mission, because she’s that much Kathryn Janeway. But Chakotay dying in front of her makes her realize the error of her ways.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok gets the dramatic irony award when he and Chakotay are going over the demon-planet mission, and he says, “I’ve often wondered what happened to them. Are they flourishing? Have they continued to evolve?” FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK!

Half and half. Because she works most closely with the warp drive—both literally and figuratively—Torres is the first casualty of its effects. 

Forever an ensign. Kim winds up in charge in the end, and he tries really hard to do something right, but the ship is too far gone (as evidenced by the fact that he’s in charge) for anything to work right.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Course: Oblivion"

Screenshot: CBS

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is the one who finds the first clue to what’s going on when he realizes that stuff he brought on board recently isn’t affected by the deterioration. (Why some of that stuff isn’t found among the debris Voyager encounters at the end is left as an exercise for the viewer.)

Resistance is futile. Somehow, Seven’s nanoprobes, which are just as much copies as everything else, are able to enhance the warp field.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH has to explain the tradition of throwing rice at the bride and groom as they depart the wedding to Neelix and Seven. Neelix is particularly confused as to why the rice isn’t cooked.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. The duplicate Paris and Torres apparently got their shit together faster than the real ones, as they’re already getting married.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Neelix brings Paris a list of possible holodeck honeymoon destinations, including the fifth moon of Cytax, which has crickets whose song is an auditory aphrodisiac, and the beaches of Ahmedeen, where you can windsurf on liquid argon. Paris prefers Chicago in the 1920s.

Do it.

“How’s my old lady?”

“Well enough to break your nose if you call me that again.”

–Paris visiting Torres in sickbay.

Welcome aboard. The closest this episode has to a guest star is Majel Barrett’s voice in her recurring role throughout the first wave of Trek spinoffs as the voice of Starfleet computers.

Trivial matters: This is, obviously, a sequel to “Demon,” following up on the duplicate crew and ship created at the end of that episode. Anson Williams directed both episodes.

Tuvok and Chakotay describe the demon planet as being in the Vaskan Sector, a nod to the episode prior to “Demon,” “Living Witness,” when Voyager visited the homeworld of the Vaskans and Kyrians.

This version of Paris never did anything quite so stupid as his counterpart did in “Thirty Days,” so he’s still a lieutenant.

This is the fourth time we’ve seen a Starfleet command officer (or, at least, someone who thinks she is) perform a wedding, and the only one of those four where they didn’t give the “happy privilege” speech that Kirk gave in the original series’ “Balance of Terror,” repeated by Picard in TNG’s “Data’s Day” and Ross in DS9’s “‘Til Death Do Us Part.”

The real Paris and Torres will eventually tie the knot, but not until the seventh season’s “Drive.”

Star Trek: Voyager: "Course: Oblivion"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “They’re saving the painstiks for the honeymoon.” As much as I disliked “Demon,” that’s how much I love this magnificent tragedy of an episode. Since we’re stuck with the duplicate Voyager crew anyhow, it’s fun to follow up on them. I love the idea that they’ve forgotten that they’re duplicates and are blithely barreling forward as if they’re the bona fide Voyager. Best of all are the hints of other adventures and accomplishments: first contact with the Kmada, the N’Kree trying to conscript them into their battle fleet, the acquisition/creation of an enhanced warp drive that will get them home faster. And thanks to the wonderfully tragic ending (which was apparently at the urging of co-writer Nick Sagan—one draft of the script had Voyager at least find the time capsule), it’s all lost.

I particularly love that the crew have varying reactions to the revelation. Paris questions everything, wonders if the chain of command on board even matters anymore. Tuvok even pushes back a bit, suggesting ways to destroy the mining ship that threatens them when they find a Class-Y planet, something the real Tuvok likely wouldn’t suggest (though his reasoning is probably still rooted in logic). Meanwhile, Janeway struggles to keep to the ideals that she knows are a part of the very fibre of her being, even though they aren’t really. Kate Mulgrew does an especially excellent job of showing Janeway’s conflict here, all while her face is made up to show her body deteriorating.

Extra points to Jeri Ryan, Garrett Wang, and Ethan Phillips, who are the last three of the duplicates to survive, and who are utterly slathered in latex to show what bad shape they’re in, while still struggling to keep it all together.

It’s not entirely perfect. The duplicate crew shouldn’t be able to survive at all, and if they figured out how to survive in a Class-M atmosphere, they should also remember that they figured it out and why. It makes no sense that Seven would take over engineering while Torres is honeymooning rather than one of the friggin engineering staff (like, say, the deputy chief engineer who’s been around from jump), and shouldn’t Voyager have found some of the non-duplicated items in the debris? But these are minor nits in an otherwise fabulous episode.

A rare case of Voyager showing that actions have consequences, and lookie! It’s one of their better outings! There should be a lesson in that…

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest work of fiction came out this past weekend: the short story “In Earth and Sky and Sea Strange Things There Be,” a story of Ayesha, the title character in H. Rider Haggard’s 19th-century novel She. The story is in Turning the Tied, a charity anthology published by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, benefitting the World Literacy Foundation, and features a bunch of stories about various public-domain characters by some of the finest tie-in writers in the biz, including fellow Trek scribes Rigel Ailur, Derek Tyler Attico, Greg Cox, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Robert Greenberger, Jeff Mariotte, Scott Pearson, Aaron Rosenberg, and Robert Vardeman. Full list of ordering links on the IAMTW web site.


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