Jul 3, 2019
Star Trek: Voyager "Elogium"
Being in the middle of a long mid-season break before Star Trek: Discovery returns, I figured what better time to recap episodes of previous Star Trek shows to fill the void? Like, say, Voyager? I won’t lie; the news that Voyager accounts for 6 out of 10 of Netflix’s most rewatched Star Trek episodes played no small part in this decision. (Seriously, Netflix subscribers. With nearly 700 episodes available to you, “Endgame” is what you choose to revisit?)
The Agony Booth being what it is, I decided to specifically take a look at some of the worst episodes of Voyager’s run. And I quickly learned that once you get past the one where Tom Paris turns into a salamander and the one where Chakotay has a surrealistic boxing match, there simply aren’t that many flat-out terrible episodes. Most bad Voyager episodes aren’t bad, per se, just really dull and predictable.
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Such is the case with the early season two episode “Elogium”, which you might recall as the one where a supposed sci-fi action/adventure series devotes an hour to clichéd relationship problems between two of its least interesting characters. Since that description narrows things down to about 38% of Voyager episodes, I’ll clarify that it’s the one where Kes gets the uncontrollable urge to reproduce and Neelix can’t bring himself to mate with her. Yes, Voyager can even take the “alien chick in heat” story trope and make it boring.
The episode opens with your friend and mine, Commander “Chuckles” Chakotay entering a turbolift, only to encounter two junior officers making out. The two are mortified and quickly excuse themselves. Just then, Kes and Tom Paris walk up carrying pots of leafy green plants and they wonder what that was all about. Chakotay says he was just witness to “indiscreet shipboard fraternization”, and in one of the few funny moments of the episode, Paris responds, “Sorry I missed it!” He likes to watch.
Paris walks Kes down to the mess hall, where her boyfriend Neelix continues a particularly annoying thread from the early episodes where he gets jealous over Tom spending time with his girl. Which manifests as Neelix pouting and getting all snippy as he picks through the leaves Kes brought and complaining when he finds a bug on one of them. She excitedly says it’s a “spawn beetle” and admires its colors. Hmm… “fraternization”? “Spawn” beetles? Do you sense a theme here?
Eventually, Neelix gets extra-irritating as he wonders why Tom Paris said “see you later” to her. Kes thinks he’s being ridiculous but Neelix just straight up yells at her for being an “innocent”, and she may not see the way Tom looks at her, but Neelix does. And then he wraps it all up by basically telling her to go away. What a guy.
Just then, the entire senior staff is called to the bridge due to a “magnetic disturbance” near the ship. As they head over to investigate, Janeway notices Chakotay looking a bit preoccupied. He talks about seeing that couple making out in the turbolift and wonders if they shouldn’t establish some rules about relationships between the crew. He says it might be necessary due to their unusual situation being out here all alone in the Delta Quadrant. I have no idea what he’s suggesting, exactly, but Janeway says they can’t set boundaries on people’s personal lives, because all they have is each other, and sooner or later, Voyager’s crew members are going to start pairing off.
Chakotay asks, “Including you?” And Janeway gets a look in her eyes that says, Is that an offer, Commander? This was back when they were vaguely trying to set up a romance between Janeway and Chakotay. Thankfully, that never happened, clearing the way for Chatokay and Seven of Nine to burn up the screen with their raw animal passion.
Janeway, however, is quite the romantic martyr. She says that as captain, she doesn’t have the “luxury” of getting involved with her subordinates. Oh dear, I don’t think James T. Kirk ever got that memo. Regardless, she’s still determined to get the crew home before her fiancé Mark gives up on her. Oops. That didn’t quite happen, did it?
So back to the magnetic disturbance. It turns out to be a pink cloud, not to be confused with the pink cloud from season one’s “The Cloud”, and when they magnify it on the viewscreen, it’s basically CGI space sperm swimming around. No, for real; according to the behind the scenes info, they actually used pink-tinted microscopic footage of sperm to help create this effect. Crew members making out? “Spawn” beetles? Space sperm? Hmmm.
Chakotay marvels at the existence of “space dwelling organisms”, even though we’ve seen plenty of them before in Star Trek, including the aforementioned episode “The Cloud”. Nevertheless, he wants to study them up close.
Meanwhile, Kes is down in the aeroponics bay tending to her plants, when she reaches over into a container full of spawn beetles, scoops up a handful of them… and stuffs them into her mouth. She’s chowing down on them like extra-squirmy Cadbury Eggs until she finally takes a look at what’s in her hand, and gives a great big bug-eyed (pun also intended) look right into the camera. Cue opening credits.
Speaking of credits, can I just say how long the Voyager opening credits now feel in these days of binge watching? I mean, the credit sequence here is certainly more interesting than those of TNG and DS9, but sitting through 1 minute and 30 seconds of this every episode is quickly becoming a chore. Maybe I should have put Voyager on the list, after all.
Back on the bridge, the crew continues to run scans on the space sperm. Along with the senior staff, an ensign named Samantha Wildman is also making her first appearance on this show, for reasons that will become apparent much later.
Chakotay pulls up a wireframe animation to show how the creatures move, and Janeway says, “They seem to flagellate!” Well, not to be the grammar police, but the line really should be “It seems to be a flagellate” (or “They seem to be flagella”), because “flagellate” the noun refers to an organism, while “flagellate” as a verb means… something else.
Chakotay says the creatures can move at enormous speeds, up to several hundred kilometers a second. They apparently absorb nutrients directly from space and Wildman theorizes that they have to constantly be moving to keep feeding.
Speaking of feeding, we cut to Kes now stuffing her face with a variety of foods. Neelix rings her door chime, so she hides the dishes. He’s brought her flowers and is here to apologize for being a big whiny, insecure man-baby in the mess hall. And then he goes right back into being an whiny, insecure man-baby, saying he doesn’t trust Tom Paris and he knows his type and they look for “naïve, sheltered young girls like you!” What an ego boost it must be to date this guy.
He goes looking for a vase to put the flowers in and stumbles across all her dishes of food. She grabs a bowl and says it’s just a “snack”, and specifically it’s an Earth dish called “mashed potatoes with butter”. Neelix gives it a try and thinks it’s awful, but Kes loves it, mainly because of the “nitrogenated soil” she added to it. So she’s been eating insects and dirt, which, not to spoil anything, are apparently the Ocampan answer to pickles and ice cream.
Neelix immediately tries to take her to Sickbay, and she fights him off, while also starting to eat the flowers he brought. He then picks her up and carries her there kicking and screaming. And while you might get the impression this scene was supposed to be comedic and light-hearted, the deadly serious music playing underneath says otherwise.
On the bridge, Janeway worries that they’re getting too close to the sperm swarm and orders Tom to back away. Instead, the ship gets pulled closer to the swarm which is now, according to Tuvok, creating its “own magnetic wake”. And uh oh, helm controls aren’t responding! So Voyager is now at the creatures’ mercy. Paris says they could just engage the warp drive, but Janeway worries that would harm the creatures. She contacts Torres down in Engineering for alternatives, and B’Elanna cooks up a technobabble idea involving modifying the main deflector dish (because all technobabble solutions on Voyager involve modifying the main deflector dish) which might, just might get them out of this.
In Sickbay, the holographic Doctor examines Kes, who’s now sweating profusely, and of course Neelix is here being a huge pain in the ass and getting in the way and demanding instant answers. The Doctor thinks there’s “increased electrophoretic activity” in the ship’s atmosphere, possibly caused by the creatures they’re studying. So Neelix continues to shout out extremely helpful things like, “You have to do something about it!” Finally, the Doctor throws Neelix out of Sickbay, and of course the big baby refuses to leave until the Doctor threatens to call security.
Neelix immediately runs to (oh, come on) the bridge to complain directly to Captain Janeway about being tossed out of Sickbay. And the best part is how Janeway is looking left, right, up, down, pretty much everywhere but at Neelix, barely aware of his presence. Neelix complains that it’s not right for a “hologram” to have this kind of power to keep people away from their loved ones, and this is of course early on in the series when people were still getting used to the idea of a holographic doctor.
Thankfully, the Doctor himself breaks up this whine-fest by contacting the bridge and telling Janeway to come down to Sickbay. It seems Kes has gone completely nuts and locked herself in the Doctor’s office and even put up a forcefield. The Doctor also reveals he found a strange “tumor” on Kes’s back. Neelix tries to reason with Kes and gets nowhere, so Janeway takes a turn. Naturally, Kes lowers the forcefield and immediately jumps into Janeway’s arms.
Kes explains that the “tumor” is actually a “mitral sac” which is where her “child would grow”. It seems she’s going through what her species calls the “elogium”, where her body prepares for reproduction. Janeway just smiles and says humans go through the same thing, and it’s called “puberty”, but Kes says that in her species, it doesn’t happen until age four or five, and “I’m not even two yet!”
And I realize that Ocampans are only supposed to have a lifespan of about nine years, and they become full-grown adults rather quickly, but it still stretches credulity that someone could become this mature and knowledgeable in less than two years. And I know I’m not the first to bring it up, but how creepy is it that Neelix is dating a two year old? This sure does cast all those moments where he yells at her for being “young” and “innocent” in a different light, doesn’t it?
Kes is freaked out because she’s not ready to have a child, and what’s worse, the elogium only happens once in an Ocampan’s life, meaning this is going to be her only chance to have a child. I’m guessing this little tidbit was added to heighten the drama and no one really thought it through, because any species where females can only have one child would have surely died out a long time ago.
Voyager is still being pulled along by the swarm as Chakotay joins Janeway in her ready room to discuss Kes wanting to have a child, specifically with Neelix, but there’s no guarantee he’s genetically compatible or even interested in being a father. She tells Chakotay that all his talk of “fraternization” turned out to be “prophetic”.
Chakotay said that “procreation” hadn’t crossed his mind, but now that she’s bringing it up, he thinks it might soon be necessary for the crew to start having children, because if it really is going to take them 75 years to get back to the Alpha Quadrant, they’re probably going to need a “replacement” crew about halfway there. Janeway grapples with the notion of Voyager becoming a “generational ship” when they were only supposed to be on a three-week mission, and wonders what kind of life these children will have growing up on a starship.
Meanwhile, Neelix is getting the lowdown from a sweaty, writhing Kes about how she has to conceive now or else she’ll never be able to. Neelix of course tries to weasel out of the whole situation, pointing out that it could be dangerous for her to have a child because “you’re so young!” Yes, just keep reminding everyone you’re dating a two year old. Then he suggests that never having a child might not necessarily be such a bad thing.
Then he talks about how they can’t possibly raise a child on a starship, because they’d always have to keep an eye on the “little guy” to make sure he didn’t get into trouble. Kes angrily responds, “That’s right, it’s called being a parent!” You know you’re pathetic when a two year old is acting considerably more mature than you. Though one has to wonder what Neelix is so worried about; given the rapid aging of Ocampans, the “little guy” phase would probably last all of what, five or six months? And yet, Neelix continues his passive-aggressive line of conversation, talking about how having a child means she’d have to put off her medical studies.
She finally shuts him up by lifting her hands to show what looks like dried glue, and says it’s the “ipasaphor”, which makes the “mating bond” possible, and oh yeah, once they start this mating bond they’ll have to stay bonded for “six days” to ensure conception. And Neelix gets a look on his face like perhaps he’ll actually have to keep it up for six days straight. Though, I too suspect Ocampan sex isn’t that much fun, if the women have to excrete actual glue to keep their partners from running off.
Kes says they have to start within 50 hours, and Neelix thinks this is great because it gives them time to “sleep on it” and he gets the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
The next day in the mess hall, Tuvok sits down to eat and Neelix pulls up a chair beside him. He notes that Tuvok has four kids, and asks him what it’s like “being a father”. Of course, what Neelix really wants to know is if it involves a lot of hard work. Tuvok admits it is indeed a lot of work, but being a father also has “infinite rewards”. This instantly changes Neelix’s mind, and he starts to think about how “fun” it would be to have a son and teach him things, including “romantic techniques”. God help the child who learns about romance from Neelix.
Tuvok points out there’s an equal possibility he’ll have a daughter. Neelix rejects the idea, because what could he possibly have to teach a girl? Tuvok more or less calls him a sexist moron and talks about his own daughter and how she’s learned just as much from Tuvok as her brothers. Imagine that! Neelix wraps up the conversation by calling him “Mr. Vulcan” and thanking him for giving him so much to think about. Even though Neelix could have probably picked up the same info about fatherhood from one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Or a greeting card.
Back on the bridge, Torres is ready to implement the deflector dish technobabble solution she worked up. As usual on these episodes, it appears to work at first, as the swarm clears a path, but then it only ends up making things worse as the creatures attach to the warp nacelles and start draining the ship’s power. Then a big massive CGI space sperm appears out of nowhere and blocks Voyager’s path.
The creature shoots out a plasma stream, and hotheaded B’Elanna thinks they should consider this an “attack” and retaliate. But Janeway says that until further notice, they’re going to treat them as creatures behaving normally in their habitat. Then they notice some of the smaller creatures attaching themselves to the big creature just like they previously attached themselves to Voyager. Harry Kim deduces the creature’s plasma burst conveniently has the same “subspace signature” as their warp engines. Chakotay thinks these are actually “mating rituals”, and the creatures might be attracted to Voyager and see it as a “potential mate”. So, there you have it: The space sperm are horny for Voyager.
Cut to Neelix entering Kes’s quarters, announcing that he’s thought it through and now he’s ready to have a child. Kes, who now has contacts in to make her look extra-crazy, says that before they can begin the six-day mating ritual, there is in fact a pre-ritual ritual called the “rolisisin”. Which she explains with a totally straight face as, “One of my parents has to massage my feet until my tongue begins to swell.”
She says that with no parents nearby, she’ll just get the Doctor to do it. Neelix wonders if this will work since he’s “not a real person”, but Kes insists the Doctor is real to her. But Neelix, never missing an opportunity to act territorial, doesn’t like the idea of another guy massaging her feet, but she simply tells him it’s a “ritual” and someone has to do it.
Cut to her in Sickbay getting a foot massage from the Doctor. Kes abruptly asks if she’s “doing the right thing”, and she’s predictably starting to have serious doubts about having a child. It seems that when Neelix was resisting the idea, she was totally confident she wanted to have a baby. But when it looked like he wanted to have a baby too, “Suddenly, I was very frightened!” As well you should be! You’re thinking about having Neelix’s baby!
In response, the Doctor just starts reciting facts and figures about the breeding cycles of other species. This somehow inspires Kes to ask herself if she’s ready to have a child, and if she’s ready to give up all the things she wants to do with her life. And she’s also starting to think she might be too young. So “cleverly”, it’s all of the exact same points Neelix was bringing up earlier.
On the bridge, Chakotay theorizes that if the smaller creatures are sexually attracted to Voyager, the large creature might be seeing the ship as a potential rival. They try again to leave the area on impulse power, but the larger creature pursues them and rams the ship. Tuvok is starting to come around to B’Elanna’s line of thinking about retaliating, but Janeway still doesn’t want to harm the creatures. Instead, she decides to return the favor and gently ram the large creature.
The creature just hits back harder, causing some random person on the bridge to go tumbling down a short set of stairs. And I love how Janeway just kind of glances over at the guy on the ground with a “well, that happened” look before going back to what she was doing.
Chakotay finally suggests they stop making aggressive moves, because if the creature sees Voyager as a “sexual rival”, they should try to act more “submissive”. Meaning Voyager basically has to become the bottom in this relationship. Chakotay suggests “rolling over and changing color” like they saw the smaller creatures do, and so Kim vents plasma to make the ship appear blue while Paris makes Voyager roll over onto its “back”, which seems to work and the creatures move away. Tuvok then deadpans the bonkers line, “It appears we have lost our sex appeal, Captain.” Tell that to the slashfic writers.
Janeway thanks Chakotay and says, “In the future, if I have any questions about mating behavior, I’ll know where to go!” I think she’s just excited that someone knows this much about being submissive.
To wrap things up, Kes, who’s no longer in elogium mode, goes to the mess hall after hours. Neelix is sullen and disappointed about how she decided not to go through with having a child. However, Kes informs him the Doctor thinks the elogium was “false” and she’ll probably go through it again at the right age. Because this is Voyager, where they never could resist the opportunity to hit the ol’ reset button and make sure things ended with the status quo restored. Kes says they could someday have a son after all, but now Neelix wants a daughter, “one who looks just like you!” Well, he’s making progress, at least.
We close on a final log entry from Janeway in her ready room as she ponders the notion of the crew having babies, and wonders how she’ll provide for those children on Voyager. To answer her question, Ensign Wildman enters to break the news that she’s pregnant. She and her husband (who’s still in the Alpha Quadrant, stationed at Deep Space Nine) had been trying for some time, and she just now found out she’s pregnant. This is despite the fact that this episode aired nine months after the premiere of Voyager and she’s not even showing, suggesting Wildman will be pregnant for at least a year. The real-world explanation is this episode was originally meant to air in season one but was held back by the network, though I think the show would later explain her extended pregnancy as being the result of her husband’s alien physiology.
Regardless, Wildman wants to have the baby since it’s all she has left of her husband. Janeway congratulates her, and though this was probably meant as a one-off character, Samantha Wildman would continue to pop up now and then, and through the magic of Rapid Aging Syndrome, so would her daughter Naomi.
About the only decent part of this episode was Janeway and Chakotay talking about the implications of the crew living out the rest of their natural lives on a starship. Voyager’s core premise of a Starfleet vessel marooned in distant space was pretty much forgotten by the end of season two as the show morphed into a TNG clone (for all their talk about coming up with a “replacement crew”, I’m pretty sure Naomi Wildman was the only child born on the ship in all seven season), so it’s nice to see it being given some brief attention.
Pretty much everything else here sucked, from the sloppy writing, to the “living cloud” plot recycled from about six episodes ago, to Neelix being at his most irritating and Neelix-est, to the totally low stakes at play in both plot lines. And there were five long seasons of this still to go.