Star Trek: Voyager: Course: Oblivion   Rewatch 
January 18, 2018 3:27 AM - Season 5, Episode 18 - Subscribe

The crew of Voyager must overcome a deadly threat involving sentient, diseased goo …which means that only Odo and Bashir can save them! (Too bad they're not in this show.)

Our soggy heroes will live on in Memory Alpha:

- This episode is a sequel to the fourth season outing "Demon", which ends with the biomimetic duplicates of Voyager's crew being left – by the real Voyager – on the "demon class" planet referenced and seen here. Supervising Producer Joe Menosky reflected, "Bryan Fuller came up with the idea, what if we followed the adventures of those people that we left on the Demon planet?" The idea for the mimetic aliens had originally been the subject of a proposed two-parter that had an entirely different storyline (in which the crew of doppelgängers reached Earth), was often considered but was ultimately never produced.

- After Bryan Fuller thought up the story idea for this installment, Brannon Braga forwarded the plot. Supervising Producer Kenneth Biller recalled, "Brannon wanted to do a tragedy about these people who are struggling to come to terms with who they were, and what home meant, and trying to embody the impossible images of these people who they've been created to resemble."

- Settling upon a conclusion for the episode involved some debate. "There was some discussion about whether it was too bleak at the end," said Ken Biller. "I had written a version where they actually get that time capsule out. The real Voyager does come along, and the [duplicate] ship is gone, but they find the time capsule." Nick Sagan, a supporter of ending some episodes tragically, offered, "There was some resistance [to the final version of this episode's conclusion]. One of the original things we talked about was that our Voyager would originally make contact with them. It would be a moment that would lead it a little bit more towards conventional Trek, like encountering aliens, and then, oh my gosh, there's a moment of understanding. I was adamant about the importance of the near miss, that they don't actually meet, sort of 'There but for the grace of God go I.'"

- The writers also wanted to leave certain issues unresolved. "We didn't want to answer a lot of questions," Ken Biller stated, "like, how long has that ship been out there? Some of the episodes that we saw earlier in the season, was it that crew? Or was it the real crew? It's kind of intriguing to think about."

- This is one of the rare episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise which don't feature any credited guest stars, with the credits proceeding straight into the production staff after the opening titles.

- The mimetic copy of Paris carries the rank of lieutenant, having not experienced the events of "Thirty Days" in which the real Paris is demoted to ensign.

- This episode is somewhat controversial, particularly its relevance or lack thereof. "I think it's an episode people either love or hate," observed Nick Sagan. "The 'hate' category seems to say, 'Why do we follow a crew that isn't even our regular crew?' and they feel cheated. But it really is the story about the poignancy of Voyager's journey. There's something about trying really hard and not being quite able to achieve it, which is a reality to a lot of people [....] [The episode's] about a need to be remembered, a need to be recorded, and that's the special tragedy about making a log, a kind of capsule – we know that the 'Demon' crew dies. It's about loss and remembering, death and grief." Sagan was personally very pleased with this installment. "It's one of those wonderful 'What if?' episodes," he enthused. "And one of the things that I liked about the episode is that here's a couple [namely, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres] and they've been trying to get together for the longest time and they're not able to achieve it – but the mimetics are able to achieve it. There's something about that crew that I like in many ways more than the real crew. They're trying to be the best that they can possibly be, and it's just unfortunate that they're very good at what they are, but they're not real [....] The scene where [the mimetic Torres] dies I find is a very moving scene [....] It's great to see [her wedding to the Tom Paris duplicate], because it adds something to the chronology, even if it isn't real." Sagan also remarked that he considers the death of the mimetic Torres on a par with a scene from the earlier Season 5 outing "Drone", in which the Borg drone designated One dies.


"B'Elanna has asked me to forgo the rigors of Klingon painstiks in favor of a more traditional ceremony."
"They're saving the painstiks for the honeymoon."

- Captain Janeway and Harry Kim (mimetic)


"Congratulations."
"For what?"
"You may not want to know."

- The Doctor, Seven of Nine, and Tuvok (mimetic), after Seven catches (mimetic) B'Elanna Torres's bouquet


"We've lost Commander Chakotay. Duplicate or not, he was real to me and he was a fine Starfleet officer, and he was a friend who wasn't afraid to let me know when I am wrong."

- Captain Janeway (mimetic), informing the crew that Chakotay (mimetic) is dead


"We received a distress call at 0900 hours... arrived at the vessel's last known coordinates at 2120. The ship was destroyed. Cause unknown. No survivors."

- The original Captain Janeway


Poster's Log:
Trust Bryan Fuller to come up with such a twisted, dark story concept. No wonder I like it.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I disagree with the criticism often lodged at "Course: Oblivion," which is that once we figure out this is a duplicate crew, the whole hour loses its dramatic heft. Now, maybe this is one of those "have-to-be-hardcore-Trekker" things, but Trek has done rich story stuff with duplicates before (e.g. Tom Riker), and so, to me, the end of this episode is the tragic failure of A crew (which happens to closely resemble Voyager's) to weather a bizarre and deadly danger of space travel. It's got that Jack London thing going on, to me. Maybe that's too much of a meta-reading.

I guess the only things that trip me up here are a couple of huge leaps in plausibility the episode asks us to make, such as:
- The suggestion that these Silver Blood people, after Carbon-Voyager left, did the following, which must have been in this order: (1) immediately gooped-up a new Voyager, (2) somehow forgot that they weren't the actual crew, and (3) left the planet. They didn't even throw any pseudosciencey Treknobabble against the wall to try to explain this, and it might not have taken a lot. "The neural patterns of carbon-based lifeforms are so much more dense and potent than the Silver Blood's native neural patterns that the process of duplication, unbeknownst to anyone, caused the duplicated memories to replace our original memories" or w/e.

(Of course, that still leaves open the question of Goo-Voyager's memory banks, which clearly "function" before it dissolves and could well have been copied from Carbon-Voyager—but why no record of, for example, how freakin' toxic the Demon planet is to supposed humanoids? That was the whole big reveal in "Demon"—"oh look, Harry's out of his suit and he's just fine! WHAAAH?" The whole Goo-Crew should have had that WHAAAH moment and arrived at the same conclusions their counterparts did.)

- More critically, since "Demon" established the Silver Blood as a form of deuterium, how do they have antimatter? Or do they just THINK they have antimatter? But that way lies madness. (Antideuterium was established in "TNG: Night Terrors".)

Maybe the simplest explanation is that the Demon planet itself is sentient, and was just playing the liquid-deuterium equivalent of "The Sims," editing the perception and memories of its pawns with the liquid-deuterium equivalent of the NRaas Master Controller whenever it was convenient to do so. (In other words, cheating—as the writers did.)

So it doesn't hold up as well on rewatch, I think—the shock of the ending wears off, but the implausible parts endure—but I for one appreciate its boldness and melancholy in spite of all that.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Ya know, stick an exclamation point on the end of the title, and you've got a Captain Proton episode.

Here's the link to our discussion of "Demon".

Borrowed Star Wars Name Tally: 6 (Gree, Botha, B'omar, Quarren, Akrit’tar, Ord Mirit)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (36 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
From David E. Sluss's "Cynics Corner" review from 1999: "BAD DIALOGUE OF THE WEEK: No contest. The duplicate Tuvok and Chakotay discussing their past missions. "Yes, the Demon planet! That was one of our more interesting missions!" To say that dialogue was comic-booky is an insult to comic book writers, but I kept expecting to see an asterisked caption: "* In Star Trek: Voyager #424!""
posted by Servo5678 at 6:45 AM on January 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


I can't believe I'm saying this. but they needed more technobabble. Because if we even look take too long a glance at the house of cards the writers created with this premise, it collapses under its own stupidity.

The conversation between Tuvok and Chakotay is a recap of sorts: The original bio-mimetic silver goo sampled the crew's DNA and created duplicates. Okay, but Voyager is not a "bio" to be mimicked. Seven's borg implants aren't either. If you use DNA to recreate the crew, you get that crew without anything organic. We can scifi fudge a little on the clothing. Maybe it's an organic compound. We can fudge a little on the people. Although realistically everyone's experiences, (such as their memories, life experiences, knowledge, language, scars, and metal implants) certainly aren't going to be copied into clones.

But recreating Voyager from DNA? No way. The episode featured The Doctor, computers, tricorders, holo-emitters and replicators. How exactly did silver goo duplicate any of those things? Oh, yeah, and a WARP DRIVE. Which is apparently faster than that of the real ship, because Voyager took a transwarp conduit in Dark Frontier and....
Captain's log, Stardate 52619.2. We got another twenty thousand light years out of the transwarp coil before it gave out. I figure we're a good fifteen years closer to home.
Who needs continuity anyway?

If you turned your brain all the way off, it was an okay if depressing episode.
posted by zarq at 7:30 AM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


From David E. Sluss's "Cynics Corner" review from 1999

Oh wow. I forgot this existed, and can't believe it's still around.

From the Year of Hell Part II review:

RIPOFF OF THE WEEK: So the "Year of Hell" lasted only 257 days? I want my money back. I guess the title sounded better than "Eight Months of Hell."

Gonna have to re-read them all now. :D
posted by zarq at 7:41 AM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I thought that this was a fantastic episode; about the only really negative aspect of it is that it makes some of the other episodes frustrating by comparison, as it shows what the show can be when it's firing on all cylinderswarp coils. The whole "it's all Silver Blood" thing doesn't bother me because, in the end, you have to throw up your hands and say "it's space magic." Silver Blood can duplicate Tom and Harry through their space suits, including their clothes, but not their space suits. If it worked off their DNA, you'd have two naked guys with long hair and beards standing on the Demon planet. Voyager touched down on Demon, so the Silver Blood read the entire ship through its landing pads. Yes, it did. If you're going to push back against that, well, how about the Founders? Your tricorders can pick up a tribble fart on the other side of a planet but they can't tell that someone standing right next to you is just a pile of goo that looks human? Forget it, Jake (Sisko), it's space magic. Laas in "Chimera" could assume a form that could travel at warp speeds, so could SB-Voyager.

(Also, and this is not to criticize anyone here who enjoys his stuff, but I have no use for David Sluss' critiques. He gave "Timeless" an F, didn't even bother to review "Far Beyond the Stars"--seriously? Are you shitting me?--and doesn't seem as smart as he thinks he is. From that YOHII review: "In the end, when we are back supposedly in the original timeline, still no one remembers Kes' warning about the Krenim. Has Kes been erased from Voyager's history?" Uh... I think that it was pretty obvious that "The Gift" erased all the future events of "Before and After", which means that then-present Kes didn't have knowledge of the Krenim any more. Hence, the scene in YOH in which it's Seven who goes to disarm the chroniton torpedo instead of Kes. Maybe it's best that Sluss didn't review "Far Beyond the Stars"...)

Anyway, on a more positive note, great episode. Works on more than one level, as it serves as a critique of the whole gotta-get-home orientation of the series (and Janeway's mania for same), as well as the decisions made by the writing team; SB-Voyager takes a different path and has different adventures. There's a sort of perfect storm of events detailed here: SB-Voyager actually came up with a workable form of transwarp drive, which had been their goal since the beginning, but it also ended up killing them. SB-Tom talked to SB-Harry about whether they would be welcomed if they got back to the Federation, but it was likely that they'd be talked about in the same breath as Zefram Cochrane. (You could imagine a Starfleet ship showing up in the Delta Quadrant a few years later, tracking down C-Voyager, and giving them the instructions for converting their warp drive to the enhanced version, along with the news that their carbon copies had stolen their thunder.) If they'd launched their message buoy earlier, C-Voyager might have gotten it. If they'd turned around earlier, they might have met C-Voyager soon enough to save themselves and/or given the enhanced warp drive plans to them. If they'd made it back to Demon soon enough to save themselves, they could have made and sent a non-SB unmanned probe either to C-Voyager or to the Federation. And so on. I may be wrong, but I can't help but think that someone on the staff was haunted by all the things that they could have done on the show.

And, ultimately, the show is about the fragility of the ship and its crew; we've seen the C-Voyager and its crew get worn down and broken in "Year of Hell", and we'll see it happen to another crew in "Equinox." And--especially Given Recent Events IRL--it's good to see the SB crew hold on to some measure of dignity and determination in the face of what seems to be sheer hopelessness and existential despair.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


this is not to criticize anyone here who enjoys his stuff, but I have no use for David Sluss' critiques

No offense taken, and his criticisms definitely have issues (they get exceedingly juvenile as time goes on and are often angry for the sake of being angry and edgy), but that bit about "see issue 424" has always stuck with me.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:11 AM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The whole "it's all Silver Blood" thing doesn't bother me because, in the end, you have to throw up your hands and say "it's space magic."

I'm okay with suspending belief to an extent. But when an entire episode -- in this case more than one -- is based around something that has only been thrown in to sound scienc-y because the writers couldn't write their way out of a paper bag, it grates. It becomes far more difficult to turn a blind eye and call something space magic when you know that the science they are referring to doesn't actually work that way.

They could have made up a particle or process or had a character say they don't really understand how something is possible with a nod and wink to the audience. Or even used an existing concept (like Discovery's time crystals) and added context to help the audience make a conceptual leap to plausible deniability. (believability?) But when the writers take something that actually exists in nature, which we happen to know a hell of a lot about (DNA) and force it into a plot point that goes well beyond reasonable, it makes the show sound stupid and ridiculous. Worse, it shows contempt for the audience's intelligence.

Of course, this is nothing new. We've already seen that the writers have no understanding of biology. Or evolution. Or chemistry.

Silver Blood can duplicate Tom and Harry through their space suits, including their clothes, but not their space suits. If it worked off their DNA, you'd have two naked guys with long hair and beards standing on the Demon planet. Voyager touched down on Demon, so the Silver Blood read the entire ship through its landing pads. Yes, it did. If you're going to push back against that, well, how about the Founders? Your tricorders can pick up a tribble fart on the other side of a planet but they can't tell that someone standing right next to you is just a pile of goo that looks human? Forget it, Jake (Sisko), it's space magic.

For that matter, transporters should require a pad at either end, yes. This isn't an old complaint, and I obviously think that suspension of disbelief is possible for a scifi show. But we shouldn't be required to lobotomize ourselves in order to do it.

Laas in "Chimera" could assume a form that could travel at warp speeds, so could SB-Voyager.

Yes, and it was kind of ridiculous. But my point is, they didn't try to explain it to the audience in terms of how his DNA allowed him to create a warp core. They also didn't show that Laas' form had a warp core, with antimatter, containment, coolant, phase inducers, and all the usual warp drive accoutrements. We got a surprised "it's traveling at warp" and no other explanation of how it was possible. But here, we're asked to believe that a bunch of goo touched a landing pad and because of it's magic DNA, duplicated an entire ship, down to every last component?

No. Bridge too far, etc.

We've been through this before in other episodes. DNA doesn't house memories. You can't clone a person from their DNA and wind up with Borg implants. They're mechanical add-ons to the organism you're duplicating. If you clone Seven of Nine, you don't get former Borg drone. You get a tabula rasa Annika Hanson. It's bad science. Give me the magic. Don't give me execrable science.

I'm not saying that suspension of disbelief is impossible. I'm saying that contorting the definition of existing science so much that it makes no sense makes that suspension impossible. Mention a basic scientific concept and give it some context so we can reasonably handwave it. Or better yet, don't mention it at all.
posted by zarq at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Sorry. This: This isn't an old complaint, Should read, "This is an old complaint" or "This isn't a new complaint"
posted by zarq at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2018


Mention a basic scientific concept and give it some context so we can reasonably handwave it. Or better yet, don't mention it at all.

I would not disagree with this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I see where you're coming from, I really do, and I absolutely agree the explanation given is woefully ignorant and detracts from the episode. That said, I still don't think it's a big deal, not in the context of Star Trek.

"It sampled our DNA and reproduced the whole ship!" is indeed a dumb explanation, as you've clearly demonstrated. That said, I could just as easily imagine them saying "It sampled our molecular structure and reproduced the whole ship!" which is exactly as far-fetched but differs in that it is not as immediately wrong. How does a silver ooze flawlessly determine the exact states of an innumerous number of atoms and molecules and effortlessly reproduce them? Probably the same way a transporter does, I.E. in a manner completely outside the realm of possibility, and yet it happens as a matter of routine on Star Trek.

It was often the case that first pass scripts would just say "It [tech] and reproduced the ship!" because while the writers knew science was an important part of science fiction it's the fiction part that they're truly concerned with, and that's what they focused on here. They wanted to tell a story of loss and failure that you don't normally get to tell in this kind of program because there needs to be another episode next week. In that way they were successful. I'm sorry they dropped the science ball so thoroughly that it damaged your ability to enjoy the episode, but frankly Star Trek has never been a place where science wins out over a good story.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:41 PM on January 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


Particle of the Week: The silver blood.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Doppelgangers are a huge part of the metaplot of Star Trek Online, but not usually unwitting or decent ones.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 1.
* Crew: 134.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 10. I'm counting the two ships nearly bumping into each other, even though that is not technically what the count is for - basically, they should never have been that close and not known about each others' existence.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* The technobabble is madness inducing, even moreso than before.

You guys have been over this. I am - surprising no one, I suspect - team zarq, here: they shouldn't have gone on about DNA, they should've left this alone.

I'm sorry they dropped the science ball so thoroughly that it damaged your ability to enjoy the episode, but frankly Star Trek has never been a place where science wins out over a good story.

The way that I think about this is: the willing suspension of disbelief is propped up by a number of factors, including:

1) Just getting details right. If there's nothing wrong, there's nothing to nitpick. This is obviously a high bar and nobody clears it 100%, but it never hurts to offer a token effort out of respect for the audience.

(To offer a recent example: Travelers recently had an episode featuring EMDR therapy. My SO - a psych buff - scoffed audibly while watching this, and told me all about how EMDR sucks. However, I was still impressed because the writers went to the trouble to use something modern instead of going back to Jung and Freud. Like, someone bothered to know anything at all, and I applaud that even if it's not 100%.)

2) Just eliding details, or what I personally think of as 'the Doctor Who method.' The more you do this, the more the story slips from 'science fiction' to 'science fantasy,' but the more magic the thing going on, the better it works. A lot of times, a script would benefit from just not even trying to explain stuff.

The comparison between Laas and Silver Blood Voyager is apt: I didn't ever think to be annoyed about Laas, but I was irritated by the warp drive stuff here. They're equally implausible, but one story took the time to highlight that implausibility while the other just noted it and moved on immediately, which brings me to the third and thus far untouched issue:

3) If you keep a story engaging enough, everyone will be too busy to care. A fast moving story doesn't give people time to think about dumb stuff in it. (See: all the good Star Wars entries.)

4) If a story plays by its own rules, it's easier to ignore it breaking the ones in the real world. (Stargate SG-1 is king of this one, IMO.)

As an entire franchise, Trek's not - as you rightly point out - good at Door #1. Voyager in particular is especially bad at Door #2: I still remember Janeway's explanation of how rain works in Caretaker. She chalked it up to 'radiogenic particles' instead of the water cycle, like everybody and their dog learns about it in, like, middle school natural science. Voyager loved to wallow in extra stupid technobabble for some reason.

That only leaves them #3 and #4, and Course Oblivion messes both of those things up at least a little: in Demon, there's no reason to imagine the duplicates would forget they were duplicates once they knew, and then the episode is slow enough in a couple spots to let the audience think about why the story doesn't work. In particular, the scene with Chakotay and Tuvok figuring this out is a speed bump in an otherwise pretty respectable offering.

tl;dr: if someone complains about a dumb detail, it's still on the writers because if nothing else, it means the audience had time to think about it. (I am speaking as a writer there, not strictly a consumer.)

* The ending is dumb.

Not for being bleak - I loved that - but for Voyager nearly bumping into them. That put me off it. They should've either gotten the probe out or died alone and unnoticed - the near miss just rankled.

* I mostly like this one despite spending a ton of time discussing complaints above.

The wedding's pretty great: I love the juxtaposition of sweet, funny camaraderie with the creepy image of the rice going through the deck. That was legitimately effective. The story ratchets up the despair pretty well. I particularly enjoyed Neelix threatening to remove Janeway from active duty as the shiny new CMO. Heartbroken Clone Paris is maybe best Paris.

This was good stuff, by and large. As I mentioned above, they should've tightened it up a bit and just shut up about DNA, but it mostly works.

One thing that struck me in particular: the clones are better at their jobs than Real Voyager. They figured out some kind of enhanced warp drive. Tom and B'Ellana got married sooner. It... dunno, it amused me greatly that they were doing better than the originals until everything fell apart because it feels like an unintentional jab at our real protagonists.

Also, this offers a weird Fantastic Whale Aesop: the moral of this story appears to be 'follow the Prime Directive' IMO, intentional or not, because this is the fault of the original crew for interfering with a new life form. Some part of it suffered and died because they gave it a gift that it wanted. (I'm not saying they were wrong to do so - I don't really think Janeway had much of a choice at the time - it's just an interesting fantasy extrapolation.)

Anyway... yeah, mostly liked it, though I share zarq's frustration with magical DNA.
posted by mordax at 2:37 PM on January 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I still remember Janeway's explanation of how rain works in Caretaker. She chalked it up to 'radiogenic particles' instead of the water cycle

My favorite is still "photonic radiation", aka light.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:52 PM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Another favorite of mine, from Thirty Days:
SEVEN: The creature is emitting biothermic discharges.
KIM: It's like some kind of electric eel
Argh 'thermal' is heat, Voyager!
posted by mordax at 8:03 PM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you're going to declare this episode's science too farfetched to believe, it's kind of surprising you can enjoy any other episode of the franchise.

When the goo duplicated the crew, complete with their memories, it may have been down to the subconscious level. The ship we see here could be a recreation based on the memories of the hundreds of people who are serving on the original ship and know it very well, and not so much on the goo being in contact with the ship. (Or maybe Janeway allowed the goo to explore the ship some more, offscreen.) The goo crew's ship could actually be a large life form that only looks like a ship. (Or maybe the ship and the crew are all just one life form, and it's convinced itself it's lots of separate things.) All of this tech, down to Seven's Borg implants, could be organic. The minds of the goo crew are so complete that they've forgotten they're not the original people, and it may be that all of their sensors and so on aren't giving them accurate info either. Sentience is new to this species/entity, and I can see how, once they wake up with all the memories of a person, they believe that they are that person. Unless somebody tells you're a goo duplicate (or "gooplicate") of another person, why would you ever think you were?

My point is that there's all kinds of ways to explain this stuff, if you're willing to go with the show. And I don't feel like the show had to throw a lot of explanations at us to make this an effective and affecting episode.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:35 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh, jeez. This is what I get for commenting on an episode I haven't seen in like 10 years. (I saw it plenty in reruns, but apparently not enough to commit some basic details to memory.) I got curious and looked at the Silver Blood page on Memory Alpha, and it sounds as if they do indeed replicate technology and not just make an organic version of it. That being said, it may be that they're basing some of it on the memories of the crew, or even that this version of the crew is more metal than meat. They're space goo, who knows how it works?! I got a lot wrong, but I stand by the point that instead of wondering how they eat and breathe and other science facts, maybe we should repeat to ourselves it's just a show, and really just relax.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:24 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


(As a side note, I appreciate that some people took the time to screencap and document all of the silver blood duplicates on that Memory Alpha page. "Silver Blood copy of an operations division officer" INDEED!)

This is one of those episodes I can come back to every now and then, but mostly for the concept. It's a good concept! Science aside, I like the core idea. I kinda wish it was more serial – that could have established a while ago that this wasn't our Voyager crew, and if people just started decomposing one-by-one, or in groups, that could have been more compelling. The ending of the thing that actually aired is, again, good but lacking the deep emotional punch I wanted... but that's because we just didn't spend time with this crew in the same way. As far as we know.

Again, good idea.
posted by hijinx at 7:58 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I got a lot wrong, but I stand by the point that instead of wondering how they eat and breathe and other science facts, maybe we should repeat to ourselves it's just a show, and really just relax.

To be perfectly honest, one of my main takeaways from this rewatch has been a dawning, disappointing realization that Voyager offered the audience bad science in subtle and not so subtle ways more frequently than I realized. As in, it wasn't just Threshold. They made egregious, easily-correctable mistakes.

I don't care about the usual conceits. Universal translators. Warp drive, Transporters. Tricorders. Various aliens that almost all look humanoid. :) Every scifi show has stuff like that, and they're usually part of what makes them fun to watch. Some of the best scifi is kind of soft on the Moh's scale, and that's okay!

But some of the stuff they tried is just... ugh. I mean, like "Sonic Disruptors in space" bad.

(For those who don't remember, the planetary defense systems that attack the Enterprise in A Taste of Armageddon are sonic disruptors. Which gives us the memorable line: "Screens firm, sir. Extremely powerful sonic vibrations. Decibels eighteen to the twelfth power. If those screens weren't up, we'd be totally disrupted by now.")
posted by zarq at 7:59 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Personally, I liked this episode. I like the futility. We are all blobs of goo spinning through space. We are all trying to get somewhere we're not sure about. We'll eventually become nameless debris in space.

But, yeah this episode is fairly ridiculous. I think 2 things would have made this better.
1. make them a group of the baby Founders. They met their first lifeforms when they met Voyager. Somehow they thought they were supposed to go back to the Alpha Quadrant.

2. Set this story far in the future. Hundreds, maybe thousands of years. The Silver Blood thinks it is Voyager. They are heading home. They find evidence that Voyager has already passed by. They start to wonder who they are. You could even end it more positive by letting them realize who they are and finding a home where they can thrive. Memory Alpha suggests the writers considered letting the Silver Blood Gang make it all the way to earth. That would have been interesting, but complicated.

The most annoying thing to me was the Silver Blood Gang were able to catch up with Voyager? After real Voyager made a huge jump with the trans-warp coil. I mean this Silver Blood is the most amazing life-form in the universe. It can replicate genes, tech, memories. Wow. It replicated the Billions? Trillions? of parts and processes that a starship requires to go to warp? Amazing.
posted by hot_monster at 8:12 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


To me the most memorable thing about "Course: Oblivion" happened in 2012.

Wikimedia was trying to help out professors who use Wikipedia-editing as a student exercise by introducing a Course namespace on English Wikipedia (basically wiki pages starting with "Course:" the same way that discussion pages start with "Talk:" or policy pages start with "Wikipedia:"). Because of the English Wikipedia page on this particular episode, the developers learned this would not work and temporarily disabled the new extension; we renamed the namespace to "Education Program" (example).
posted by brainwane at 9:18 AM on January 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


To be perfectly honest, one of my main takeaways from this rewatch has been a dawning, disappointing realization that Voyager offered the audience bad science in subtle and not so subtle ways more frequently than I realized. As in, it wasn't just Threshold. They made egregious, easily-correctable mistakes.

I don't care about the usual conceits. Universal translators. Warp drive, Transporters. Tricorders. Various aliens that almost all look humanoid. :) Every scifi show has stuff like that, and they're usually part of what makes them fun to watch. Some of the best scifi is kind of soft on the Moh's scale, and that's okay!

But some of the stuff they tried is just... ugh. I mean, like "Sonic Disruptors in space" bad.


This. Basically, the problem with the DNA stuff here is: it's so stupid a kid should know it, it doesn't serve the story (the way that FTL/translators/etc. do), and it is sitting in the middle of a heavy, serious tragedy.

Basically, it's like this: imagine that you're in the middle of a performance of Hamlet, except that for the entire performance, Hamlet is wearing clown shoes. Nothing else is different: period costumes, serious tone in the dialogue. Also: fucking clown shoes.

It's tonally dissonant, comes out of nowhere and yanks you right out of the story for absolutely no reason. It's poor craftsmanship. It raises questions like 'what's wrong with these people?' along with 'are they trolling me?'

Basically, if you're trying to tell serious stories - and it's clear the writers took themselves seriously - don't put clown shoes on Hamlet.

If you're going to declare this episode's science too farfetched to believe, it's kind of surprising you can enjoy any other episode of the franchise.

The other thing about this: it's okay to critique stuff. You seem to be coming at this from a 'love it or leave it' point of view, and that's... you know, not how some of us engage with fiction as a rule. I literally never have, even as a kid.

It's possible to appreciate what Star Trek is trying to do while taking some space to try and figure out which parts worked and which parts didn't, and that isn't the same as hating it or not belonging in the audience or whatever.

Some stuff in Voyager is pretty uniformly great. Some stuff was okay. Some stuff was clown shoes on Hamlet. Some stuff was so racist I'm still tempted to send someone an angry letter.

Voyager is a land of contrasts, and I'm not sure what's served by handwaving that.
posted by mordax at 10:48 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, separated out because two entirely different issues:

2. Set this story far in the future. Hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

While this is basically the same idea as Living Witness, I still love it.
posted by mordax at 10:52 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's okay to critique stuff.

Well, was it not clear I was quoting the theme of MST3K? I was hoping for some goofy humor there, but I can see how it might sound like I was saying we just shouldn't criticize genre stuff at all, and I certainly don't believe that. My attitude to art (including Voyager) is that it's fine to critique stuff, and sometimes the science of a thing is too stupid for me to enjoy it. But I tend to be much more hard on stuff for bad drama, and much more lenient for iffy science. I'm still pissy about how the Star Wars prequels handled the original trilogy characters and I could argue about that all day long, but I don't really care about how you can hear all those explosions in space.

But I was spinning all those ideas about how the Silver Blood science might work by way of saying, Look, maybe you're making too many assumptions. (And this is a general "you," I'm not trying to start a dust-up with any one commenter.) When people get mad about Star Trek science it can be frustrating because sometimes we're dealing with alien weirdness from half a galaxy away, and we can't assume it follows all the laws of science as we know them in 2018.

Might an alien creature fly through space, as Laas did on DS9? Well, how do changelings even work? We know they can turn into fog, and IIRC they can also turn into fire. I've heard theories that they may be multi-dimensional beings, able to shift some of their mass into another dimension so they can become bigger or smaller in ours. The show never SAYS that, but I don't recall anything that contradicts it either. So was Laas taking on the form of a creature with a warp engine in his belly, or was he doing some weird multi-dimensional Lindy hop across the stars? We don't really know how warp engines work, or what Laas can do, so maybe he CAN make a little warp engine. If he can turn into fire, who knows what else he can do, or how he does it?

I get the feeling these Silver Blood people are copies down to the cells. I don't pretend to be an expert in brain function, but isn't it possible that if every single neuron is being copied, the memories would be copied too? Maybe the Silver Blood is a kind of embryonic goo Q, a species/creature of staggering, cosmic power that had never used it before because they had simply never encountered consciousness and had no reference point for how to do anything. If we can accept the replicator, which can make a chocolate sundae as well as a phaser, why shouldn't we accept that a weird alien species might be capable of doing the same thing? I'm not saying that any of this stuff is right, only that if we're willing to run with the premise there are probably ways to make it kind of work. It's space magic!

While it can be fun to argue about this stuff, it's also why I made a policy to not take part in the Voyager threads. I have some pretty serious health issues going on and it's made me all too aware of the fleeting nature of life. I knew I'd be in the minority as a Voyager booster and I could easily spend a LOT of time defending the show, so I opted out. I read the threads and sometimes I just can't resist jumping in, but it's an instinct I must try to resist.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:49 PM on January 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Well, was it not clear I was quoting the theme of MST3K? I was hoping for some goofy humor there, but I can see how it might sound like I was saying we just shouldn't criticize genre stuff at all, and I certainly don't believe that.

That came off as 'don't critique,' yes.

But I was spinning all those ideas about how the Silver Blood science might work by way of saying, Look, maybe you're making too many assumptions.

That's not what I'm talking about, though. I'm not focused on DNA or photons up here.

I'm getting at 'here are ways the willing suspension of disbelief may be established, and if the writers did not succeed, here are some avenues they should consider in the future.'

At the end of the day, it isn't about 'maybe DNA works that way,' it's about 'a story can either have correct details, no details or earn a pass on bad details through excellence somewhere else.'

To bring this over to Star Wars a minute: the Force works more or less the same way in all the movies. I like it fine in the OT/TLJ, but hate the way it's framed in the prequels.

In the first case, the movies give us a vague handwavey explanation of what's going on: it's a connection between living things, and wielders of it can do a pretty well-defined list of paranormal feats. This is good: as the audience, we now understand the dramatic stakes and limits of the story, and they've given us no specifically incorrect details to nag at us. The whole thing is very effective.

In the prequels, they attempt to overexplain with midichlorians, and that's a failure to communicate properly with the audience. It shows they don't understand what we want (Jedi and Sith being awesome), and are giving us something we do not want (extended nonsense words in place of more action or drama). They might have gotten away with that, but the movies themselves didn't land for most of us who went and saw them, so we end up focusing more on the nagging bad details than we would have if the movies had been more awesome.

It's not about 'maybe midichlorians are how it works over there,' it's about 'they added a flaw and I'm also annoyed enough to care.'

Odo and the Founders are mostly OT/TLJ. The Silver Blood explosition veers into midichlorian territory, risking audience rejection. They're accomplishing the same dramatic ends, but Course: Oblivion offers a detail that detracts from the story rather than building it up.

... and actually, that would've been a more concise way to explain this:

My grandmother was a pro writer, and when I was a kid, she told me 'grudge the page every word.' Not even a single word should appear in a story that doesn't serve a function. Extended gibberish explanations aren't bad because they're bad science, they're bad because they're bad storytelling, if that makes sense?

Each of us has our own internal boundary about where the willing suspension of disbelief ends, of course. I understand you're willing to cut them more slack about this than zarq and I are, and that doesn't mean you're wrong, it just means our lines aren't the same.

I'm more trying to work out 'hey how's that line work in the first place? Why here and not there?'

I have some pretty serious health issues going on and it's made me all too aware of the fleeting nature of life.

I'm sorry to hear about your health. :(

I knew I'd be in the minority as a Voyager booster and I could easily spend a LOT of time defending the show, so I opted out. I read the threads and sometimes I just can't resist jumping in, but it's an instinct I must try to resist.

I think you're looking at that all wrong: this isn't mostly an adversarial process where some of us are arguing 'Voyager is crap!' while someone else should argue 'No it wasn't!' (I've had an argument or two in here where I felt the writers were doing something downright evil, but we avoid real arguments as best we can.)

Mostly, it seems to me that we're just trying to work out what we did and didn't like about these stories because that's really interesting in retrospect - this is an exercise in expression, rather than persuasion. Trek is a unique opportunity to really study a franchise that way because of its longevity, cultural importance and huge encyclopedia. There are very few things even remotely like it.

If you have the time and energy, it'd be great to hear about the things you liked in these threads.

Would you mind going on awhile about what was good about this story? Odds are, I'm right there with you - note in the post I linked above, I actually do think this is a good story from a dramatic point of view (note that I chose to compare it to Shakespeare in my clown shoes example), I just think zarq's point is a fair one too.
posted by mordax at 4:13 PM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was going by some of the, uh, spirited debates in the old DS9 threads. With that show I felt like we were all mostly in agreement that it was pretty great TV, but we were arguing about the particulars of what did and didn't work. Even then, it could get frustrating for me at times. (I got kind of tired of having to argue that Bashir wasn't awful.)

Voyager doesn't have DS9's cult following, it doesn't get a lot of love. I expected every thread to be people talking about how much they hated it, and frankly I didn't think it'd last much beyond the first season. There is definitely more respect and affection for the show than I was expecting here, and that's nice to see. But when I do see stuff here that I strongly disagree with, I have to ask myself if I want to spend a couple of hours arguing about it. (And it mostly likely would be a couple of hours for a whole thread, when I factor in stuff like reading old Memory Alpha articles to shore up my points.)

I have found Metafilter to be an increasingly unwelcoming, contentious place, but I can't say that's so of Fanfare threads. Arguing about pop culture keeps things more fun here, I don't see a lot of the smug put-downs I see on the main site. It isn't that I think a feisty Fanfare thread is a waste of time. It's that I feel like I get too hetted up over stuff that doesn't really matter that much in the grand scheme. I mean, not to get over-dramatic, but I really don't know how much longer I've got on this planet. I only have so many hills to die on, and I don't want to make too many of them arguments about a show nobody will ever agree about anyway.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:28 PM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hmm, overall, I'm with Jack in thinking this is a fantastic episode. From the start showing Tom and B'Elanna getting married and setting up the successes of this Voyager, then moving to the ultimate failing of its journey. MacNeill is particularly good here and the rest of the cast does a fine job as well and the story gives ample opportunity to contrast this Voyager with the real one in what they believe and accomplish.

As to the debate, I've no problem with people disagreeing over what strikes them as off or acts as a circuit breaker on the story since we undoubtedly all have our own areas of interest that we want to see upheld as meaningful or at least not shown as ridiculous by whatever show. Over the series run we've had some disagreements over some of those issues, where I might find something more or less an irritant than someone else, or find the larger concept more or less meaningful than some details, but that's not to say that the opposing side is wrong for finding some detail more or less significant than I do, just that our individual engagement is informed by different experience and interests. To take the Star Wars example, the midichlorians are silly, but I didn't care all that much because I never found the Force all that compelling to begin with so however they handwaved it didn't matter as much as my larger lack of engagement with the series. I couldn't care about midichlorians because I didn't care that much about Star Wars in general to get worked up about details. (I thought the first movie was fine, the second okay and disliked the rest pretty strongly for the record.)

With Voyager or Trek in general, I think it's fun to sometimes nitpick the concepts, even more so because that is such a central part of Trek fandom, and I do agree that adding explanation when none is needed is almost always a bad idea, but beyond that I largely don't care much about the technobabble since it mostly can't make sense anyway, just sound better or worse, and my relation to the history of the franchise is much more modest than many fans so I don't have a strong concern for franchise continuity, though certainly some for series continuity. It isn't an all or nothing issue. I'm generally satisfied if the bigger story and metaphorical elements work in a way that provides some sense of accumulation of meaning or in finding some meaningful dissonance overall through events depicted or character action. My feeling on what is or isn't successful in this regard obviously won't, and hasn't, always matched that of the others, but that's for the good as the discussion over the areas of disagreement are themselves interesting and can better inform my perspective. There's not much point in talking about these things if we already all agree on all the details, even as it is good that we do also share values over how we'd like to see the show fit real world concerns.

Anyway, back to the episode, personally I was fine with the idea that the Q-goo could mimic everything about Voyager and didn't need much explanation for it having happened so I wasn't thrown about their discussion of it since it simply didn't bother me as a concept given what they'd already shown back in Demon. I mostly just tune out the sciency gobbledegook since that almost never interests me about the shows, but I can certainly see why it would bug others. As a device the coming apart of Voyager worked quite well, particularly in how they set it up as seeming to almost come from the rice joining Tom and B'Elanna together. It made for an interesting follow up to the last episode that also used a couple joining and ship coming apart for metaphoric effect. This one works much better I think, but the two next to each other work even better still, where the doubling of the metaphor manages to pass almost unnoticed given the larger differences in storylines, but the ideas still manage to come through without being overburdened by symbolic weightiness.

The most interesting character turn here I think has to be faux-Janeway's determination to reach the alpha quadrant even in the face of knowing they're from the Demon planet. It's an odd touch in a way given it suggests her wrongness of approach, being corrected by Chakotay in a manner similar to Scorpion, but there is something about it that also goes towards the real Janeway's determination, likely her strongest continuing attribute throughout the series, that also gives her duplicate's actions some sense when seem as reflection, or maybe that should be vice versa, where the duplicate's mistakes inform the real Janeway's persona. It's odd because it as much critiques her determination as weakness and strength in a way that seems unusual for a Trek captain, but this isn't something new this episode to explored, more just the clearest example of this being how the writers see Janeway, making those past moments of questionable choices seem more purposeful in hindsight. I'm not sure what I think about that entirely, but I do find it interesting.

Paris too gets a good workout here, showing something of how the writers see him "deep down" and B'Elanna, Chakotay, Harry, and even Neelix get a dab of that as well which goes to how they see those characters innate characteristics, or at least how Fuller and Braga seem to. Holding this episode up to the real Voyager then helps make this story even more compelling than a simple tragedy of a faux-crew, but both together are what makes it one of my favorites from the series.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:37 PM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's odd because it as much critiques her determination as weakness and strength in a way that seems unusual for a Trek captain, but this isn't something new this episode to explored, more just the clearest example of this being how the writers see Janeway, making those past moments of questionable choices seem more purposeful in hindsight. I'm not sure what I think about that entirely, but I do find it interesting.

I hadn't thought of it that way, and I think you're right at least as far as the idea that the episode's conceit allows the writers to delve into what they think these characters are deep-down. If that was their conscious goal, then one almost wishes they'd done it a season or two earlier, before the (documented) Doctor/Seven myopia began to set in, so that the ramifications of this episode's "delving" could resonate more afterward.

Even if the writers did consciously intend that, I'm inclined to doubt that they set out to make us view Janeway's prior decision-making seem less bipolar; I suspect that that level of retconning, by these writers, wouldn't have been subtle enough to force us to wonder whether it's there or not. But you're quite right that it's interesting, and we should indeed take note of it. (Yet we would probably also be wise not to draw TOO many conclusions from Goo-Janeway's actions, since the Goo-Crew experienced all manner of Interesting and Exciting Episodes Missions that we didn't see, which could have changed them in undetectable ways.)

Paris too gets a good workout here, showing something of how the writers see him "deep down" and B'Elanna, Chakotay, Harry, and even Neelix get a dab of that as well which goes to how they see those characters innate characteristics, or at least how Fuller and Braga seem to. Holding this episode up to the real Voyager then helps make this story even more compelling than a simple tragedy of a faux-crew, but both together are what makes it one of my favorites from the series.

In relation to mordax and Ursula's discussion: this thread has changed my position a bit on this episode. I too like it, but I like it more now that I've had my attention drawn to a couple of elements I missed, or forgot about—one of which relates to your point here: this is one of the series' big Ensemble Episodes, and I've mentioned before (IIRC) that I think VOY does them well. I've always felt (and said so in the "Caretaker" thread) that the series' greatest strength is its cast, so giving them all stuff to do in one episode is rarely gonna result in a sucky episode, unless the script's a total train wreck of course.

And this one definitely isn't—again, it's bold and risky, and if VOY were still on I'd cheerlead this episode well beyond my actual affection for it, on Twitter or something, in the hope of encouraging the writers to do this kind of thing more often—but I cannot join you in calling it a "favorite," and really that's only because of the stuff zarq and mordax pointed out. I teach writing, film studies, and literature, and I find myself talking a lot about how writers (fiction or non) create expectations. And this is a franchise that has from the beginning been consistent in either explaining, or pointing out the inexplicability of, the strange new phenomena they encounter (even if it does end up taking the form of Sonic Disruptors in Space).

So when an episode introduces a phenomenon with almost no in-universe comparison (Laas seems to be all we can come up with), then leaves big implausibilities hanging out there and doesn't even meet the franchise expectation of throwing out a "Maybe it's…"? Well, it's a problem, to some degree. (At least for the franchise's fans; Rando UPN Channel-Flippers might never have had a moment's pause with this one, and we know that sometimes their needs were prioritized more than ours! Lousy Randos…).

Some Trekkies'll happily look past such a problem, some (like me) will squint at it but still largely enjoy the episode, and some will be quite affected by it. I think there's an element of betrayal, though that's way too strong a word, going on here—like when your expectations about a movie based on its marketing end up way off base because of a second-act twist.

Just coming from my own standpoint on "Course: Oblivion," I feel like the "Hamlet-with-clown-shoes" analogy might overstate the case. It's not as though the writers set out to distract and befuddle us; we know that they usually tripped up in this way because they were either in a rush, or were distracted by the other elements of a script (and in this case, it being an ambitious ensemble show, you can see why). So it's not so much clown shoes as an inadvertent element that some viewers find difficult or impossible to look past. Maybe a more apt analogy could be "Hamlet directed by Brett Ratner and starring Louis C.K." or something. No, that's probably not quite there yet either.

I only have so many hills to die on, and I don't want to make too many of them arguments about a show nobody will ever agree about anyway.

On this point, Ursula, I'm with mordax: we very rarely actually ARgue in the at-all-acrimonious sense. I'd say that mostly we engage, and challenge, the text—and engage, and sometimes challenge, one another.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:27 AM on January 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


So when an episode introduces a phenomenon with almost no in-universe comparison (Laas seems to be all we can come up with), then leaves big implausibilities hanging out there and doesn't even meet the franchise expectation of throwing out a "Maybe it's…"? Well, it's a problem, to some degree.

I don't really disagree with any of that, the expectation element is an important factor in giving story worlds consistency in whatever media. My only difference is that I never really held Trek franchise "science" explanations to a very stringent standard myself since the franchise always seemed to leave as many holes as it covered with most of their explanations so I just ignore the specific claims for larger effect. Why they say something did or didn't work in sciency terms being less important to me than in how or if the thing itself changes the dynamic of the series its involved in overall.

That, again, isn't to say people more invested should feel the same of course or that those who wish to tie the various arms of the franchise together don't have reason to question or dislike, just that my interest in some of these areas is limited given the amount I find useful to invest in the franchise overall. I like Trek, but within some pretty serious limits. It just isn't going to give me the same kinds of rewards that other works I admire do given those limitations so my overall expectations are pared down accordingly and my impressions are of how something works, or didn't, for me within that narrower range.

In crude and simplistic terms, I use IMDb as a catalog of the things I've seen so I can reference the information later if needed. I "rate" the movies and shows as a guide to basic impressions, not as a deeply serious endeavor. With a show like Voyager, most of the episodes are rated between 4 to 6 stars as that is roughly how they stack up with the other things I've seen, most episodes being roughly equivalent to decent but unexceptional movies and shows, with some being better, some worse. That's pretty much the case for most tv shows. There are only a handful that get beyond the middling range due to the limits of what TV series could do in that form. Rightly or wrongly, I find there's no point in expecting more since it couldn't be delivered in that format. Whether that has dramatically changed in recent years is open for some debate, but the ongoing series formula seems almost inherently circumscribed by its methods judging from my experience with the form thus far.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:32 AM on January 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hey guys. I'm not watching all of these but thought I'd drop by for this episode.

Course: Oblivion was included on a DVD set I had purchased for the TNG episode The Inner light and the DS9 episode The Visitor - My two favourite trek episodes.

When I watched the other episodes in the set, I was reminded of why I struggled through for a long time with Voyager. There was so much potential that the series struggled to realise.

I feel like this episode was a hard one to do well - it was ambitious and I'm grateful that they attempted it. The danger was that when we found out that this was not the real Voyager and crew we would stop caring about what happens to them.

With the most recent series of Black Mirror there's been some examination of the digital doppelganger concept (or digital copies of whole people.) Without going into spoilers, there's been some fairly handwavy stuff on the science part of sci-fi. In that series I've been much more willing to forgive it because the philosophical aspects have been so fun to think about and discuss.

I feel like the meat of this episode comes when they discover they're copies. The characters endure crises of identity and purpose. If I'm not me am I not bound to the rules and relationships of the past? Are our feelings real? Why should we mourn the death of the copy B'Elanna? The episode answers this by saying it's our relationships with each other and our actions (what we do) that define us.

I feel like I was a bit unsatisfied that there wasn't enough time to go deeper into the philosophical underpinnings that drove the dramatic tension. I guess a two-part episode would have been difficult to sustain and even more difficult to pace. I liked this one but, like I said before: potential.
posted by Start with Dessert at 1:23 PM on January 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


I feel like the meat of this episode comes when they discover they're copies. The characters endure crises of identity and purpose. If I'm not me am I not bound to the rules and relationships of the past? Are our feelings real? Why should we mourn the death of the copy B'Elanna? The episode answers this by saying it's our relationships with each other and our actions (what we do) that define us.

Yeah, that strikes me as pretty much the case. The difficulty coming from their need to set the story as being relative to the series as a whole, something, for example, Black Mirror and other anthology series don't have to deal with. For this episode to work best it sort of requires that the viewer already has followed the show for some indeterminate amount of time, not only with the tie to Demon, but so there is sufficient familiarity with the characters and show for the switch to gain the most meaning. That's what, for me, makes it a good episode in the series but also leaves my feelings towards it reliant on my feelings towards the series as a whole and how they developed the characters to this point, something that is much more fraught with conflicting emotions as mordax mentioned above.

That something the ongoing debate about Voyager keeps running into, the desire for the show to have better embraced the continuity aspects of long form story telling, or to have better embraced the anthology perspective where each show might be freer to delve into interesting parables. Voyager tries a bit to do both, but as much does neither, splitting the difference and ending up frustrating many viewers. I tended to find some of the more parable like episodes to be some of the best work on the show, going to the strengths of the writers, but there's no denying the frustration of seeing so many hints at possible long term arcs ignored or given short shrift as well.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:21 PM on January 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Apologies for the jumbled order on all these thoughts:

So it's not so much clown shoes as an inadvertent element that some viewers find difficult or impossible to look past. Maybe a more apt analogy could be "Hamlet directed by Brett Ratner and starring Louis C.K." or something. No, that's probably not quite there yet either.

Oh, I have it:

Hamlet wearing the actor's street shoes. They just... didn't have Hamlet-shoes, and the actor wore his sneakers instead. It's not malicious, but it speaks to a certain slipshod element is all.

(I went with clown shoes because Voyager does the clown shoes thing a fair bit too though.)

There are only a handful that get beyond the middling range due to the limits of what TV series could do in that form. Rightly or wrongly, I find there's no point in expecting more since it couldn't be delivered in that format.

I think one reason a lot of us tend to be hard on Voyager here despite the era was that DS9 was succeeding at a lot of this in the same timeframe, mostly.

Your point's fair though - like, your perspective on 'Trek was never gonna do [x, y, z]' is perfectly reasonable.

this is one of the series' big Ensemble Episodes, and I've mentioned before (IIRC) that I think VOY does them well.

Agreed.

I feel like the meat of this episode comes when they discover they're copies. The characters endure crises of identity and purpose. If I'm not me am I not bound to the rules and relationships of the past? Are our feelings real? Why should we mourn the death of the copy B'Elanna? The episode answers this by saying it's our relationships with each other and our actions (what we do) that define us.

I agree with this. As gus has talked about, my favorite two takes here are Janeway and Paris: Janeway seems to be trying to deflect the existential crisis by doubling down on her original's mission, while Paris' grief is leading him to reject the premise. Every other reaction feels pretty reasonable, but the rest of them are sort of in between the two more intriguing extremes.

I have found Metafilter to be an increasingly unwelcoming, contentious place, but I can't say that's so of Fanfare threads. Arguing about pop culture keeps things more fun here, I don't see a lot of the smug put-downs I see on the main site.

I sympathize. There's a reason I'm pretty much only on Fanfare anymore.

Just remember that you're always welcome and wanted here. Whether people agree with any particulars that you have to say, you're one of us.
posted by mordax at 6:37 PM on January 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


So on the previously mentioned DVD set there's a fourteen minute featurette called "Alternate Lives: Part 2" that includes Bryan Fuller talking about this episode. The memory alpha page doesn't seem to mention it and I can't find a YouTube link or transcript so I'll just bang this out:
One or the great things about writing alternate realities is that you're not confined to our reality to tell a story. So you can kind of break down the walls and the limitations that you would normally encounter when you're telling a story with our characters in our world and you can take them places that they would never go because in alternate realities they're not necessarily the same people that they are that we know and love.

Course: Oblivion was-- It ties to The Twilight Zone. And one of the inspirations for Course: Oblivion was the episode "The After Hours" with Anne Francis. And in that episode we see this normal woman walk in to a department store and then realise that she's in fact a mannequin who gets a day pass to go out and be a normal person.

And in these alternate-reality episodes and in the concept of alternate realities you have to ask the question, "How normal are we?" Since alternate realities have so much to do with identity and our perceptions of ourself, that frequently in those alternate-universe episodes or those parallel-universe episodes we get to meet characters who are ourselves but who are not ourselves. It's the path we didn't take that we could have taken if circumstances in our lives would have been different.

Course: Oblivion started with-- The original episode was a sequel to an episode that we did the season prior called "Demon Planet." And the demon-class planet was, you know, an inhospitable planet that we went down to explore and we would encounter this memetic fluid that would duplicate our crew.

And when we first started talking about the idea of this memetic element that we would encounter, we had a much more aggressive, horror-movie inclination for the story. We were going to have these memetic people spitting, like, biomedic fluid on people's faces and they would fall and writhe and then they would be duplicated. And it was much more Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Then it became something a little more thought-provoking and a little less horror-movie oriented and became much more science fiction and did what, I think, Star Trek does really best, which is explore the nature of human beings.

I wrote this episode with Nick Sagan who is the son of Carl Sagan and the voice of the Voyager probe welcoming all aliens to Earth, which-- hopefully they've arrived. And so it was a fun collaboration with Nick and it was a story that we had developed from the original episode, Demon Planet. And we kind of rolled up our sleeves and we wrote in the room together and we wrote separately and it was a pretty great experience.

There was little clues that we wove into the storytelling where Lieutenant Tom Paris, who had a demotion and was now Ensign Tom Paris, we got to see-- or the careful viewer would get to see those clues and know that something is slightly off about this world. And not just to do with the rice that falls through the deck plating, it has to do with, these characters are familiar and they're characters that we've grown to love, but something is slightly off about them and we-- it sets us off, it gets us in a slightly paranoid-- a sense of paranoia that creeps into the world where we're wondering, what's the next twist? If this is the first inkling that something is off in the world, what's going to be the next?

One of the funnest things about Course: Oblivion was the makeup effects that we got to put the cast through when they were melting. It was something that was very subtle and simple and Michael Westmore did a fantastic job.

And this episode... It's always really funny when you work on a show and you look for those episodes that are "get well" episodes, where you're like, "Okay, we're gonna film this all on standing sets, we're-- we don't have to build anything new, we don't have a large cast, we're using all of our regulars," and then we tend to get-- to have so much fun with the details that those "bottle shows" as we call them, never end up being as cost-saving as we want then when we set out. So the makeup effects turned out to be expensive, and there was a lot of them.
posted by Start with Dessert at 8:48 PM on January 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


And when we first started talking about the idea of this memetic element that we would encounter, we had a much more aggressive, horror-movie inclination for the story. We were going to have these memetic people spitting, like, biomedic fluid on people's faces and they would fall and writhe and then they would be duplicated. And it was much more Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I've lost track of how many times a Voyager script started as a horror movie and turned into something else, but I still want to read their scrap heap with all this stuff.
posted by mordax at 10:00 PM on January 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've lost track of how many times a Voyager script started as a horror movie and turned into something else, but I still want to read their scrap heap with all this stuff.

Heh. Yeah, "Hannibal" Fuller in particular seemed to really want to go that route. Ironically perhaps he did end up writing one of the show's most horrifying episodes, Retrospect, but the horror there wasn't the same kind at all.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:34 PM on January 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interesting stuff, Start with Dessert, thanks for posting it!

And not just to do with the rice that falls through the deck plating, it has to do with, these characters are familiar and they're characters that we've grown to love, but something is slightly off about them and we-- it sets us off, it gets us in a slightly paranoid-- a sense of paranoia that creeps into the world where we're wondering, what's the next twist? If this is the first inkling that something is off in the world, what's going to be the next?

Huh. Apart from the fact that they go to slo-mo during the rice-throwing sequence, I got none of that feeling of paranoia on my first viewing. But then, I also failed to notice that Tom was a lieutenant again until after I knew to look for it :)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:11 AM on January 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Paranoia is a bit much or slightly odd behavior from a show that hasn't been all that consistent with its characters, but there were some elements that I think they tried to emphasize as "off" from the real Voyager crew. The marriage itself happening so suddenly being foremost. Seven arguing against marriage from the perspective of her having to forgo seeing multiple partners and B'Elanna asking her about an interest in Harry, which I assume they think we should see as a dead issue by now. Chakotay and Tuvok talking about their important past missions, none of which we'd seen.

The pairings themselves of Chakotay with Tuvok and B'Elanna with Seven and how they were reacting to each other as if more familiar or closer than their Voyager counterparts I suspect was meant to be seen that way, with Beltran and Russ definitely channeling a different vibe than usual, but one hard to exactly pin down. It's all pretty minimal but I think that's the stuff being referred to.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:24 AM on January 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Paranoia is a bit much or slightly odd behavior from a show that hasn't been all that consistent with its characters, but there were some elements that I think they tried to emphasize as "off" from the real Voyager crew. The marriage itself happening so suddenly being foremost. Seven arguing against marriage from the perspective of her having to forgo seeing multiple partners and B'Elanna asking her about an interest in Harry, which I assume they think we should see as a dead issue by now. Chakotay and Tuvok talking about their important past missions, none of which we'd seen.

Yeah, that's definitely the impression I got reading that excerpt: they were throwing a lot of dissonant details at us, but a general lack of consistency on the show lessened the impact. Going back, I can see a ton of minor stuff that was wrong, but the only thing that had much of an emotional/gut reaction from me during viewing was the sudden wedding.

This can be a problem even when you have been consistent too - when I used to run tabletop games, the rule of thumb was 'give at least three times as many clues as you, the omniscient narrator, believe your audience needs, and do more if you can.' It isn't so much that audiences suck as it's very hard to predict what minor details will stick out to any individual person, so you want to toss a bunch of softballs if you're trying to subtly lead them to a particular realization.

(This also tracks back to the whole 'sneakers on Hamlet' thing - one reason writers can skimp on this stuff is that they won't attend to details they wouldn't personally notice. Seeing what details they put in shows us what the writers thought would jump out, which is also interesting in retrospect.)

Also, I should've said this sooner, but thanks for taking the time to type that out, Start with Dessert!
posted by mordax at 11:17 AM on January 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like it that they can do all kinds of things with the duplicate crew that they could never do with the real crew. JaneWay, Tom, B'Elanna, Chakotay, the Doctor ... none of them can die or even be disfigured or maimed. When they appear to die, we know it's a dream/fakeout/will somehow be reversed. Having the duplicates means being able to have a real sense of risk - as much of a sense of risk as you can get with a mimetic crew.
posted by bunderful at 6:05 PM on February 2


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