Written by Dianna Gitto and Joe Menosky
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 6, Episode 20
Production episode 240
Original air date: March 15, 2000
Captain’s log. On deck one, Chakotay reports to Janeway that there’s a Class-T star cluster nearby and they might want to check it out. Janeway doesn’t think it’s worth altering course, but it’s worth sending an away team on the Delta Flyer to map it. Chakotay also mentions that Seven has a shipwide efficiency report to share with the senior staff.
Chakotay tells Paris to prepare the Flyer and Kim to do a long-range scan of the cluster. Kim asks Seven in astrometrics on deck eight to increase the metagenic resolution in the long-range sensors. Seven then tells Crewman Tal Celes to bring a padd of data to Torres in engineering. Tal brings the padd to Torres in engineering on deck eleven, who tells another crewman that they’ll need another five terawatts added to the sensor array. That crewman goes down to deck fifteen to give the request to Crewman Mortimer Harren.
And thus we go from the top of the ship to the bottom…
That night, Tal calls Crewman William Telfer to ask for his help with the level-three sensor analysis that’s due the following morning.
Seven’s efficiency report mentions Harren, saying that someone of his expertise should be in a more prominent position in engineering. However every time Torres has tried to put him elsewhere, he doesn’t do the work—hence, the lonely drudge work of plasma relays on deck fifteen. In addition, Seven notes that the EMH has spent an inordinate amount of time with Telfer, who’s a hypochondriac. Seven has given herself a less-than-perfect rating due to Tal, whose work must always be double-checked.
Janeway checks all three crewpeople’s service records, and notes that none of them have ever been on an away mission. They’ve gone off-ship for leaves and such (and presumably left the ship with everyone else in the “Basics” two-parter), but otherwise, they’ve been homebodies.
Chakotay says that normally you’d just transfer someone like that off to another post, but that’s really not an option here. So Janeway decides that she will lead the away team that’s investigating the cluster, and take these three with her.
Janeway briefs Harren, Tal, and Telfer in astrometrics. They’re all very surprised to be on the mission, and Telfer in particular is worried about what might happen if they beam down to a planet and contract some horrible alien illness. (Harren’s pointing out that the planets in the cluster are all gas giants doesn’t mollify him in the least.) Later, Telfer tries to convince the EMH that he’s feverish (his body temperature is 0.2 degrees higher than normal) and can’t go on the mission. The EMH calls him a silly goose.
Seven reminds Janeway that Tal’s work will have to be double-checked, and advises her to take a more talented team. Janeway says she isn’t just mapping the cluster, she needs to rescue three lost sheep—she then tells the story of the good shepherd from the Book of John, how the shepherd would always retrieve any member of the flock who went astray.
The Delta Flyer goes off on its mission. At one point, the ship shakes, but Tal’s sensor readings don’t pick anything up. Janeway checks her scans, and agrees. From the aft section, Telfer offers to make lunch for folks. Janeway orders pasta soup, and Tal sucks up and says she’ll have the same, and goes aft. Once there, she laments that Janeway is double-checking everything, and she and Telfer agree that they wish they were back on Voyager, and then joke that maybe they could take the escape pods back?
Up front, Janeway tries and fails to engage Harren in small talk. Harren is grumpy because he was only supposed to do a one-year bit on a starship before transferring to the Orion Institute of Cosmology. Harren is more interested in theory than practice, and Voyager falling down the Caretaker’s rabbit hole has completely derailed his entire life. When Janeway points out that space exploration is unpredictable, Harren tartly says that that’s why he hates space exploration.
The Flyer is hit by something that knocks propulsion and main power offline, and also rips off a chunk of the hull. Janeway orders red alert and they manage to get partial impulse power back online, but the warp drive is toast, as ninety percent of the antimatter was drained by whatever hit them. Janeway sends a distress signal.
Harren’s notion is that it’s a dark-matter proto-comet. (Janeway mentions reading a paper on the subject, and Harren says he wrote it.) He thinks they should eject the warp core, as the comet will be attracted to it, but Janeway isn’t willing to sacrifice the warp core on an unproven hypothesis. Tal suggests bringing the hull fragment that was torn off on board to scan it for dark matter.
Tal feels responsible for not realizing that her earlier scans might have prepared them for this. She doesn’t feel like she belongs—she struggles with everything, she barely made it through the Academy (she feels she was helped along by people feeling sorry for her because she’s Bajoran), and she does nothing important on Voyager because nobody trusts her work. Janeway points out that she was the one who thought of examining the hull fragment.
Harren and Telfer are effecting repairs, but Telfer is so distracted by his hypochondria that he doesn’t close a relay in time, which almost results in Harren getting gassed.
Janeway and Tal’s examination of the fragment is that it might be dark matter, but it might not. Janeway’s still not willing to eject the core, but they can make it on impulse to a gas giant that is surrounded by radiogenic rings that they can use to recharge the warp engines.
Tal detects another spatial anomaly. They fire a photon torpedo—if it is a dark-matter proto-comet, it’ll be attracted to the antimatter in the torpedo. Then some kind of energy reading converges on Telfer, who seems to be beamed away—then beamed back with a life-form inside him.
They bring him to a biobed. Sensors don’t read the life-form, they only know it’s there because they can see it (and Telfer can feel it). Then the Flyer receives a message on a Starfleet frequency—but it’s their own distress call being reflected back at them. Harren, meanwhile, is devastated to see that his hypothesis was wrong.
The alien takes control of Telfer’s motor functions, and enable him to walk through the force field. Janeway stuns Telfer with a phaser, and the alien then leaves his body. Janeway wants to try to communicate with it, but Harren shoots the creature instead, against Janeway’s direct order.
The dark-matter creatures are now pursuing them. Janeway orders the others to go into the escape pods and use the radiogenic rings to catapult them to full impulse and away from the creatures. Janeway will stay behind on the Flyer and fight them off. Tal and Telfer insist on remaining with Janeway. Harren, though, goes to the escape pods—and then engages the aliens, figuring he can sacrifice himself to save the others. Janeway fires on the rings, they are able to rescue Harren, and then the shockwave hits them a couple of seconds after when Tal thought they would.
Janeway wakes up on Voyager in sickbay. Chakotay reports that they found the Flyer adrift over a gas giant. No sign of the dark-matter creatures. Janeway says that the stray sheep found a wolf, but the good shepherd got them home.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Harren is trying to disprove Schlezholt’s Theory of Multiple Big Bangs. When he mentions this to Janeway, she is impressed, but reminds him that Wang’s Second Postulate “has more lives than a cat,” and also offers to help him with his disproving after the away mission. Harren is suitably nonplussed.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway tries to make her three most unproductive crewmembers into actual productive crewmembers, with varying degrees of success. She definitely gets through to Tal and Telfer—Harren, not so much.
Mr. Vulcan. Seven’s rating of security is near-perfect—her only comment is to rearrange how phaser rifles are stored. Tuvok’s very dry, “I’ll look into it” speaks volumes.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Telfer is apparently the EMH’s best—or worst, depending on how you look at it—customer.
Forever an ensign. Seven thinks that Kim’s night-shift personnel don’t have enough to do.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. The Delta Flyer’s replicator includes a pasta soup that is listed as Neeilx 651, and I shudder to think what Neelix has done to pasta soup…
Half and half. At one point, Torres, Neelix, and Paris are talking about Harren in the mess hall, and Torres and Neelix practically dare Paris to go talk to him. It goes poorly.
Resistance is futile. Seven has efficiency ratings for every section on the ship. When the EMH comments about how idle hands are the devil’s workshop, Seven snidely comments, “Religious metaphors are irrelevant.” Perhaps out of revenge for that, Janeway later tells Seven the titular story of the good shepherd.
“Just making conversation.”
“Conversation filled with unspoken assumptions, which I don’t agree with. I’m a product of my nucleic acids. Where and how I was raised are beside the point. So, if you’re trying to understand me better, questions about my homeplanet are irrelevant.”
“All right, then—how’s your thirteenth chromosome? Missing a couple of base pairs in gene 178?”
–Janeway making small talk, Harren being a snot, and Janeway being a snot right back.
Welcome aboard. Jay Underwood plays Harren, Michael Reisz plays Telfer, and Kimble Jemison plays the engineer who brings the padd to Harren.
And then we have another Robert Knepper moment, this time a very young Zoe McLellan, whom I almost didn’t recognize in her Bajoran makeup as Tal Celes. McLellan is probably best known for playing two different roles in the “NCIS-verse,” as Jennifer Coates in JAG and Meredith Brody (alongside Enterprise star Scott Bakula) in the first two seasons of NCIS: New Orleans. McLellan will return in the role in “The Haunting of Deck Twelve.”
The window in Harren’s little alcove on deck fifteen isn’t part of Voyager’s model, and was added for this episode. It isn’t seen in subsequent episodes.
The equation Harren shows Paris in the mess hall is a variation on equations seen in Fundamentals of Astrodynamics, a 1971 book developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Paris jokes with Torres that he invited Harren to their quarters to watch TV. Torres made an old-fashioned television for Paris in “Memorial.”
Tal refers to the sympathy she received as a Bajoran at the Academy. Bajor was established as being occupied by the Cardassian Union in TNG’s “Ensign Ro,” and Bajor’s recovery from the occupation formed the through-line of DS9.
Set a course for home. “Captain Janeway, are you lost?” This episode oh-so-desperately wants to be “Lower Decks” for Voyager, and it comes very close to succeeding. Scripter Joe Menosky does as good a job as René Echevarria did in that TNG episode in creating interesting characters in the limited timeframe of a single episode.
Harren is my favorite of the bunch, though his storyline is the one I like least. Harren is a type we don’t often see on Trek, but is exactly the kind of person you see in some scientific disciplines, who would prefer to remain in the lab with theories and models and not deal with the very messy practical world at all. Jay Underwood plays him perfectly.
Telfer is my least favorite, as hypochondria is a serious condition that is always played for laughs, and it’s a tired, tiresome trope. Telfer’s friendship with Tal is way more interesting than his thinking he’s always sick, and I would have rather spent more time on that. The resolution to his storyline is a bit pat, too.
My favorite was Zoe McLellan’s Tal. I was a huge fan of McLellan’s work on NCIS: New Orleans as Brody, and I’m still disappointed that she was written off the show. And I love that she’s someone who has good command instincts, but is terrible at the grunt work—which is a problem, as you have to start out doing grunt work before you can get to the point where you can make decisions. I like the way Janeway encourages her.
Indeed, Janeway is excellent with all three lost sheep, though Harren refuses delivery of her work. This is a problem insofar as he shoots the alien against orders (and against, y’know, morality) and then tries to commit suicide rather than face the consequences of that action.
And then we don’t find out what those consequences are. Maddeningly, the script forgets to give us an ending. One of the reasons why “Lower Decks” worked is the final scene in Ten-Forward where Lavelle gets his bittersweet promotion and Ben encourages Worf to sit with the others as they grieve over Sito. But we get no such denouement here, so we don’t know if Harren will become more social, how Telfer’s epiphany from the aliens will make his life better, if Tal will take Janeway’s advice to heart.
More to the point, we don’t find out what disciplinary action Janeway will take against Harren, who spent the entire episode being insubordinate in a manner that should’ve had his ass thrown into Tom Paris’s old cell in the brig.
The other frustrating element of the episode is the same one with “Learning Curve“—this is something that Voyager should’ve done way more often, because they’re stuck with the same bunch of people. In fact, this episode probably also would’ve been much stronger if one or two of the malcontents from “Learning Curve” was one of Janeway’s lost sheep.
One final problem I have with this episode is a line of Janeway’s: “I wouldn’t trade the last six years for anything.” That’s a lovely sentiment, and also a despicable one. A handful of people died when the Caretaker snatched them, including the first officer, chief medical officer, chief engineer, and conn officer she picked for the ship, and more than twenty people have died since then during their attempt to get home. I’m really disgusted by the fact that Janeway wouldn’t trade the journey that got those score-plus of people killed for “anything,” not even, say, allowing those poor bastards to live.
Warp factor rating: 8
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