Star Trek: Voyager: The Thaw   Rewatch 
May 15, 2017 6:20 AM - Season 2, Episode 23 - Subscribe

Can't sleep, clowns will eat metrap me in stasis

When your only reality is Memory Alpha, then Memory Alpha is reality:

- The writer of this episode's teleplay was former Star Trek: The Next Generation scribe Joe Menosky, who was living and working in France when he wrote the script. He previously helped to develop the story of Star Trek: Voyager's first season episode "Cathexis", in collaboration with supervising producer Brannon Braga, and would hereafter return to Star Trek as a staff writer, serving as a writer-producer on Voyager from its third to seventh seasons.

- Michael McKean was eager to accept the invitation to appear as The Clown. He recalled, "It was one of those offers you know you're going to accept before you read the script, because you'll always be able to say, 'I did a Star Trek.' These shows are part of our culture." McKean was attracted to accepting the role not only due to the cultural significance of Star Trek, however, but also thanks to his own personal history; he had watched Star Trek every weekend during his college days and had also been a big fan of science fiction literature. "So, having been both a Star Trek fan and a science fiction fan," he noted, "I was very eager to do Voyager."

- An unusual casting choice was made for the extras of this episode, to lend a certain mood to several scenes. Jeri Taylor related, "We hired a lot of people from the Cirque du Soleil as background." She elaborated, "We hired [them as] background performers [...] to provide a very strange, sort of carnival-like atmosphere." Robert Picardo referred to this group of background performers as a "very odd cast of guest players."

- Carel Struycken (The Spectre, aka the big skull-faced dude, in this episode) is better known to Trek fans as Mr. Homn, Lwaxana Troi's valet.

"Let's get down to the issues, shall we?"
"How can I negotiate if I don't know what you're thinking?"
"I have a very trustworthy face."
- The Doctor and the Clown

"The simulated brain..."
"... Would leave me at your mercy. No! They stay."
"The captain is prepared to risk the lives of the hostages rather than leave them under your control."
"Who is she to tell me what I have to do?"
"She's the one out there. With the 'off' switch in her hand."

- The Doctor and the Clown

"Don't be a poop!"

- The Little Woman to the Clown

"Well you certainly know how to bring a party to a halt."
"I don't get out very much."

- The Clown and The Doctor

Poster's Log:

An interesting variation on the holodeck malfunction subgenre of Trek, sub-subgenre It Can Read Your Mind (Or Can It?), which even predates holodecks themselves, as seen in the TOS episodes "Shore Leave" and "I, Mudd" with their entertainment complexes/androids that were a little too responsive to their guests and a little too insistent that the party never end. The Clown isn't so much scary (notwithstanding his ability to tap into your deepest fears, whoa-oh) as he is very canny and also extremely obnoxious, but given that he was formed out of the fears of the interconnected Kohl, he works as a metaphor for any group of people who are willing to endure a nearly unbearable dysfunctional relationship out of fear of change. (It was depressing thinking of the survivors returning to their devastated planet, until I remembered that that was a colony, implying that there are more of their species elsewhere. Still pretty depressing, though.) There's an implication at the end that even The Clown didn't want the situation to go on forever. Big props to Michael McKean, who does well with these sort of alpha jerk characters (Chuck McGill, Jr. on Better Call Saul, that agent guy on The X-Files, even David St. Hubbins in This Is Spinal Tap, to an extent) and also to Robert Picardo for playing off of him. (His chill in the face of the Clown's capering and threats reminded me of mordax's suggestion in the previous episode discussion that Tim Russ gets sidelined in favor of Picardo, since it would seem that Tuvok, as someone who can manage his emotions very well, might have been a better choice to go in there, but since the whole premise of the episode is that it took organic people time to get out of the consensus, it does make more sense to send the Doctor in instead.)

Poster's Log, supplemental: Some interesting musical group connections there, since I associate monochromatic clown makeup with KISS and Insane Clown Posse, and The Spectre looked like he could hang with GWAR.
posted by Halloween Jack (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Particle of the Week: Skipped.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: In the intro, Paris claims that Voyager 'was made for combat.' Bullshit, show. Bullshit. Star Trek Online more properly categorizes the Intrepid class as a long range science vessel, which should definitely have some more thought put into crew quarters than seen in the opening scene with Paris and Kim.

Ongoing Equipment Tally: Rolled forward this time.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 27
* Shuttles: Down 3
* Crew: 146
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: Holding at 7.

Notes:
* I've been looking forward to this one for awhile now.

I really like this episode. There are some wicked plot holes that I'll come to in a moment, but I want to preface this with: I really love The Thaw. The performances are loads of fun. I often rave about Voyager casting - it's probably the single biggest thing I appreciate more on rewatch, and McKean is awesome. The bit monsters in the masks remind me of nothing so much as "Shia LaBeouf."

As Jack discusses above a bit, I found it impossible to watch this without picturing the Fear Clown as Chuck from Better Call Saul and vice versa though. I can just picture him being all "I can't let Harry go! The simulation is TOO IMPORTANT!" or "My allergy to warp fields is real!" I love McKean's reasoning to join up.

Love all the minor characters. They're legitimately creepy, as are his shenanigans with Harry. I love knowing where most of the extras came from too - that's awesome. Voyager really did know how to do this part right.

* First plot hole: why touch the stupid thing to start?

This feels like a Prime Directive situation. The residents of Planet Deathclown were clearly just intended to fail. They didn't ask for help - they specifically requested that their timetable not be interfered with. I don't hold out high hopes for them returning home - it'd been extra years and nobody checked up on 'em. They seem screwed, IMO. Voyager should've moved on. (Honestly, I would've understood if they'd scavenged, but I feel like the letter of Starfleet policy would've been 'move along, nothing to see here.')

* Second plot hole: why not send Tuvok if you're going at all?

Vulcans have a lot of tools to handle emotion. I mean, that's been a plot point since TOS, right through the very previous episode of Voyager. In The Spectre of the Gun, Spock is able to not only shrug off a similar illusion/fright induced death, but use a mind meld to prevent it from working on several other crewmen.

Plus, he's security, and they were sending crew into a situation where people were literally scared to death. This seemed like Tuvok's day to shine.

* The meditations on fear are sort of tedious.

Voyager's not really deep, and I wasn't impressed when it tried to be.

* I'm counting this as a 'weird shit happens to Harry' episode.

It's not as self-contained as the classics, but the clown turned him into a baby. This totally counts.

* The Doctor is awesome here.

This is, of course, an opportunity for Picardo and his deadpan delivery to really shine. He's fun the whole time, inside and outside the simulation. I laughed out loud when he corrected the clown's scalpel technique.

* Janeway is more awesome than the Doctor.

The final 30 seconds of this episode stand as one of my favorite moments in all of Star Trek. It's hard to out-badass Janeway sitting alone in the dark with a demon clown... and *she's* the scary one. I love the line reading on:
Clown: I'm afraid.
Janeway: I *know*.
That thing made the entire hour worth it. Honestly, even if I hadn't enjoyed the rest, that would've fixed it right up for me. I *love* that scene.

So... A+ for Janeway being the scariest thing in an episode devoted to primal fears.
posted by mordax at 7:05 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


One of us
One of us
One of us


So this one, I've never liked. I disliked it less on this rewatch, but I still dislike it. Which is weird in a way, because I like horror, I like demented shit, and I like Michael McKean.

* The meditations on fear are sort of tedious.

Voyager's not really deep, and I wasn't impressed when it tried to be.


This might have a lot to do with why I'm left cold (har!) by "The Thaw."

I buy the idea that being surrounded by obnoxious capering and compelled to watch it (not to participate, it seems) would drive the aliens batty given years and years of it. I don't buy that Harry would seem to be on the precipice of despair, looking like a torture victim, after a few hours of it.

I'm not sure how to put it except that the episode's concept is a few ratchets too high for the script to pull off.

Plus, he's security, and they were sending crew into a situation where people were literally scared to death. This seemed like Tuvok's day to shine.

I will always advocate for more Tuvok, but even setting that aside, your argument here is hard to counter. I guess we could retcon it insofar as maybe Janeway was still thinking about the events of "Meld" and figured "Ehhhhhhhh…maybe the Vulcan needs more time before being plunged into another horrific mental phantasmagoria."

Honestly, even if I hadn't enjoyed the rest, that would've fixed it right up for me. I *love* that scene.

It is indeed a shining Janeway moment, but as the guy who didn't enjoy the rest, it didn't completely redeem the episode for me. It helps a lot, though.

Joe Menosky, who was living and working in France when he wrote the script.

That explains a lot.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:53 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


So this one, I've never liked. I disliked it less on this rewatch, but I still dislike it. Which is weird in a way, because I like horror, I like demented shit, and I like Michael McKean.

Actually, that makes some sense.

I'm grading this on the rubric: 'how does this stack up to similar Star Trek outings?' by which I feel it's pretty good.

I could see someone who wanted to see horror going, 'they took the time to get Michael McKean and Cirque du Soleil, and that was all they did with either? Surely network TV could've supported something weirder and better.'

I think both perspectives have merit, and am presently terribly curious where everybody else was at with this. :)
posted by mordax at 1:15 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I totally forgot this episode existed but immediately watched it as soon as I saw this thread and was reminded. This is definitely my favorite episode that I totally forgot existed. In a way it reminds me of the TNG episode "Where Silence has Lease" which terrified me as a kid unlike any other and also features a Starfleet captain successfully negotiating with an entity that's holding all the cards.

I agree that Tuvok could have been better used in this episode (in Voyager in general), perhaps as the person who initially enters the simulation with Kim. I would've liked to see The Clown's reaction to a Vulcan's mental control. The moment where Kim is saved by scalpel technique is fantastic, though, now that I remember this exists I'd say it's one of the best episodes for the Doctor (but there are so many).
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:02 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


This is a weird one. If there was one episode I'd be almost positive I wouldn't like from a detailed description of it, it'd be this one. But, somehow, I like it even so.

The story is pure TOS with its extra heavy dose of metaphor, minimal, silly sets, an over the top "alien" encounter and heavy reliance on crew character traits to sell its idea. It's that last item, along with McKean, that really makes the episode work. A welcome relief after the lack of success in that area last episode.

The doctor and Janeway, as already noted, are particularly strong. I only wish they'd held this and Deadlock as templates for those two going forward as they still manage to lose sight of their strengths as performers and characters repeatedly over the rest of the series at times. We're in a little streak of episodes showing Janeway as a tougher more determined captain. The last one, at least, tried to do that, with not so great results, and the next one will do well with that to a more chilling outcome, but none the less effective for that. This episode does cheat on her character a little bit by having it only a computer generated representation of Janeway at the end delivering the key lines, but I'll give that a pass for her coming up with the idea and it being suitably representative. I won't add anything to what's already been said about the doctor, as I agree with those extolling his use here. It's really a great use of the character, managing to capture his best qualities without overdoing it.

The dilemma itself is just nutty and probably best not dwelt on given that, especially given the oddly low stakes involved with just three colonists left alive at the time Voyager finds the planet. That in itself is hard to parse with it formerly being a major trading hub and it makes their existing in that circumstance for 20 years pretty unbelievable really, I mean even for Trek standards of believability which are pretty out there, literally in both the right and wrong sense of the term I guess. The concept, evidently, is to simply provide a method for the embodiment of fear to take form and become a character in itself. I can't say the view of fear we see would come close to matching what I'd imagine for it, I mean it seems more an embodiment of creepy and annoying than fearsome, but I'm willing to go with it as I can at least see some markers for more genuine fear in the design. McKean too isn't so much capturing the idea of fear in the flesh as he is more a spokesperson for the unsettling, the Kellyanne Conway of a fear regime perhaps, well, other than it being established that fear, at least, tells the truth. So while McKean manages to bring out quite a bit from the dialogue and give his character some nice depth, I'm seeing it less as representative of fear as the tension of uncertainty under a unstable autocrat. That certainly can be related to fear, but doesn't quite capture the same thing as fear itself, though, again, I'm willing to give that a pass due to how effective McKean was in the role and how still relevant living in dread of unsettling times still remains. (With that, even the obviousness of a circus atmosphere becomes something of a bonus for how banal and expected that visualization is, which provides a nice match for the routine base of unsettling events.)

This is definitely another weird shit happens to Harry episode and a borderline "B'Elanna gets experimented on" one too. Harry and B'Elanna together off Voyager almost guarantees both will happen. (Something about seeing Dawson strapped down really seems of special consideration for the writers sometimes, at least until Seven shows up.)

I have no problem with Janeway involving Voyager in this as it both suits her character, curious about what the deal is, and as it's years past their resuscitate date so there is some element of acting to assist involved that isn't necessarily countering the no involvement issue. Not using Tuvok is harder to write off though. I can accept, perhaps, that he wouldn't be sent in first on that five minute see what's going on immersion they send Harry and B'Elanna on as that reads as they saw this more as a mechanical or engineering issue, at least on the surface, but that doesn't really hold up if you think about it longer as it would also be a first contact situation and one where the possibility of mental issues of some sort being involved would be hard to ignore, and Tuvok would be the more ideal candidate in addressing either of those things.

Whether or not Tuvok would respond to fear is a separate issue, one where his lack of use here becomes clearer as putting him under would have, by necessity, made the episode more about him than they wanted. If Tuvok succumbs to some underlying fear he's been repressing, than that is significant and becomes a centerpiece of the episode, whereas if he is able to withstand fear than the rest of the episode requires reworking to deal with that and get past it or have Tuvok remain the center of the show. It's easier to simply use the doctor and avoid the extras involved in explaining Tuvok's reaction one way or the other. This though obviously does point out clearly how the doctor and Tuvok are drawing off the same character ideas, in some instances, and needed better differentiation in order for each to work effectively in the show.

I'll give some added points to the episode for finding a way to make Kes more useful, having her as the "away team" medic certainly could have been used much more had they kept her around, and that could have provided some further spark for the character. But, alas, too little, too late. Nonetheless it's good to see a writer actually think about all the characters like that, even giving Neelix a little business in a couple early scenes just to get his voice out there. Again, good character work all around this time.

Oh, and I almost forgot how nice it was starting out the episode with Tom and Harry just hanging out talking at the open, that built a lot of good will for what followed as it is such a nice easy interaction and one already established, so returning to it provides some important continuity in other ways as well.

I was just a touch disappointed that they didn't decide to send Lon Suder in to deal with fear at the end, that could have been fun, but then Lon gets a better return later so I'm cool with it.

All in all the episode wasn't one I'd consider a favorite, but it's one that is sooo Trek that I like it almost despite itself. Speaking of that, the next episode, I think, is another that I fully expected to hate based on the description alone. More on that later though...
posted by gusottertrout at 2:24 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


In a way it reminds me of the TNG episode "Where Silence has Lease" which terrified me as a kid unlike any other and also features a Starfleet captain successfully negotiating with an entity that's holding all the cards.

Agreed. That was a great early example of TNG being able to really send a shiver up your spine in a way that Trek otherwise tended not to succeed at.

Whether or not Tuvok would respond to fear is a separate issue, one where his lack of use here becomes clearer as putting him under would have, by necessity, made the episode more about him than they wanted.

I'm sure that was the creators' thinking, assuming they considered Tuvok at all for this. Sometimes (and this happens in lots of series, of course), their writerly needs overrode the needs of the story's situation. The next episode is another one IMO where that happened, and where it was far less forgivable than here.

Speaking of that, the next episode, I think, is another that I fully expected to hate based on the description alone.

I mean, don't get me wrong: I would say exactly the same thing for them both. And I certainly don't hate either episode, and I do think they are mostly successful and certainly interesting installments. But they do have in common, in my view, critical conceptual errors that hobble the rest of their impact.

In defense of "The Thaw," though, it has to be said that even if its concept is "sooo Trek" (and it is), it is BALLS-OUT BATSHIT in a way that one would not really expect from VOY. DS9 tried it and faceplanted painfully with "Move Along Home," TOS did it a few times (perhaps "Plato's Stepchildren" being the most memorable) but it was the '60s so it doesn't stand out as much, and TNG seems to have basically tried to avoid this kind of thing altogether. So I give VOY points for not being afraid (har!) to get weird.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:20 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


The dilemma itself is just nutty and probably best not dwelt on given that, especially given the oddly low stakes involved with just three colonists left alive at the time Voyager finds the planet.

This is something that had occurred to me; it may be a sign of the crew's idealism that they're willing to stick their necks out that far for just a few people. (We'll eventually get to see, in "Equinox", what it's like when a Starfleet crew loses that idealism.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:51 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I've never liked this episode. It's always instilled in me a deep visceral unsettling feeling that I can't even begin to explain to you. It disturbs me.

The acting is great though, I agree!
posted by INFJ at 7:42 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Off-topic, but I think it's safe to say that the first publicity photo from Star Trek: Discovery is not quite what you expected
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:14 PM on May 17


... huh. Yes, that seems a safe assumption.

(I'm going to watch Discovery as open-mindedly as possible, but I don't have high hopes for that show.)
posted by mordax at 1:28 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Here's the first trailer, which looks very J.J. in terms of visual style and, POSSSSibly, story. But there are some surprises.

Orphan Black fans will recognize Ferdinand, who's playing Sarek. I just put up an FPP too (we'll see if it sticks around).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:17 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


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