Star Trek: Voyager: Sacred Ground   Rewatch 
June 19, 2017 6:41 AM - Season 3, Episode 7 - Subscribe

First, one must contemplate the Rock of Requirement; next, one must practice the Fingerpainting of Flabbergastation; then, one must undertake the Rockclimbing of Really Radical Requirement; then, one must contemplate the Rock again--sheesh, if this ordeal were any more complicated, it would be a Klingon bachelor party!

Memory Alpha says, do or do not, there is no try, and fear is the little mind-killer:

- In summation of the episode's theme, Lisa Klink remarked, "The point of the episode is that you can't explain everything. That's really what faith is about." The spiritualism that Klink attempted to imbue the episode's script with was obvious to other members of production personnel, including supervising producer Brannon Braga and director Robert Duncan McNeill. Braga once jokingly referred to this episode as "kind of A Man Called Horse with Janeway," adding, "she has a spiritual journey." Robert Duncan McNeill described the episode as "an extremely spiritual show about Captain Janeway having to let go of logic, take a leap of faith and consider the magical, mystery, godlike elements of the world." McNeill also commented, "It's the kind of episode that's very much a thinking person's, moody piece. It's not a big shoot 'em up. It's a story of ideas, of feelings, of character journeys." In addition, McNeill said of the episode, "It had a real spiritual kind of story–a real character-driven story. It wasn't a big action show." McNeill also felt that this episode presents no easy answers. "It kind of leaves it up to the viewers and to the characters to contemplate, and decide what they think about faith and religion," he related. "It's a very different kind of show for Star Trek. It's almost like an X-Files show. It sort of presents two answers – one is a scientific solution and the other is a mystical solution – and it doesn't say one way or another."

- Regarding how this episode tasks Janeway with taking a leap of faith, Robert Duncan McNeill commented, "As a scientist, this is not easy for her to do." Likewise, Lisa Klink mused, "[Janeway] is someone who has great faith in the ability of science to explain everything. This is kind of a reminder to her that there's a lot of really weird stuff out there in the universe. It's just a question of keeping an open mind and allowing herself to just accept some things without being able to actually pin it down, and scan it, and measure it, and explain it all in a nice little burst of technobabble."

"A test? She thinks we're a test! What is she talking about?"
"She must like tests. I suppose tests make sense to her."
- The Spirits

"Even when her science fails right before her eyes she still has full confidence in it. Now there's a leap of faith."

- The Spirits

"Let all of that go, Kathryn. Take Kes back into the shrine and trust the spirits to return her soul."
"The ritual I went through was meaningless and Kes has done nothing to prepare herself. How could either of us be ready to go through the field?"
"If you believe you are ready, then you are. There's no more to it than that. But if you go in with any doubt, with any hesitation, then you're both dead. So, what are you going to do, Captain?"
"You know I won't stand by and watch Kes die if there's anything I can do to save her. I want to believe it's possible. I'm going to try."

- The Spirits and Captain Janeway

Poster's Log:

Well. I was pretty underwhelmed by this episode, which is a damn shame, because I'm usually a sucker for a good rite-of-passage story, but even though that's how it's presented, that's not what the episode is really all about: it's about Janeway trying to save Kes, and being willing to jump through whatever hoops she needs to jump through, including "admitting" that maybe science isn't everything. What it doesn't do is actually prove that science isn't everything, because, as the Doctor says at the end, his treatment, while not initially successful, was crucial to Kes being revived. (There's also the matter of the handicap of not being able to take a tricorder reading of the sanctum.) Put in that light, the smug insistence of the temple people that "her science fails right before her eyes" is really just bullshit; even though science doesn't know everything, the usual answer to that is more science. Go too far in the other direction, and you end up with "fucking magnets, how do they work?"

It's really too bad that they didn't focus on what the episode really did prove, which is that Janeway was willing to gamble her own life to save Kes', and we've seen that she's willing to risk her neck for her crew and we'll see it again (right up to the end of the series, in fact). Taking that kind of irreducible risk is part and parcel of the franchise, as it's one of the themes of TOS' "The Corbomite Maneuver", and something that Q repeatedly emphasizes to Picard. Similarly, matters of faith and how that's reconciled with science--or not--are woven throughout DS9, and we'll see it come up again in this series with other characters. Part of my disappointment with this episode is that the presentation of this religion is very thin and unconvincing. In particular--and this is central to the plot--doesn't it seem very odd that their most sacred place is completely unguarded, and the hazards therein left unprotected from by any sort of barrier or warning sign? Most sacred sites on this world have some sort of security involved; I'm pretty sure that, if Vatican City is still standing in the 24th century, the futuristic Swiss Guards would interfere if visiting aliens from Otolaryngologia IV, whose main sense is taste, tried to lick the Sistine Chapel ceiling. (They have very long tongues.)

Poster's Log, supplemental: A pity that the guest stars didn't have better material to work with, since it's surprisingly deep for such a small bench--you have Lindsay and Sam Weir's mom, Mrs. Potato Head, Grand Moff Tarkin (radio), a Keebler elf, and the mayor of Sunnydale.

Poster's Log, supplemental, bonus: It should go without saying that the whole rite-of-passage thing can also be played for laughs; this was largely the case with the Klingon kal'Hyah in DS9's "You Are Cordially Invited", and there's also the training montage in Mystery Men, in which the Sphinx (who is a parody of the Native American wise man/shaman stereotype that VOY tried to saddle Chakotay with, but which seems to have been dropped by this episode) takes the misfit superheroes through a number of "trials" which seem suspiciously like group bonding exercises from a corporate retreat, and lead to this exchange with Mr. Furious:

Mr. Furious: Okay. Am I the only one who finds these sayings just a bit formulaic? "If you wanna put something down, you gotta pick it up". "If you wanna go left, you gotta go right". It's...
Sphinx: Your temper is very quick, my friend. But until you learn to master your rage —
Mr. Furious: Your rage will become your master? [The Sphinx freezes, caught] That's what you were gonna say, right? Right?
Sphinx: ... Not necessarily.
posted by Halloween Jack (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
even though science doesn't know everything, the usual answer to that is more science

Yeah. I strongly disliked the way the spirituality vs. science "conflict" was handled in this episode, in part because it felt awkwardly manufactured and in part because scientific inquiry is not the opposite of spirituality. The two can coexist quite nicely. If a scientific explanation doesn't immediately present itself, that doesn't mean science has failed and is now discredited as a way towards understanding, leaving blind faith as the only remaining path. It simply means an answer isn't immediately knowable and more research, hypotheses and investigation are warranted. By contrast, blind faith can be a dead end, not a solution.

Look, we're watching a science fiction show. Arbitrary plot devices are routinely tortuously manipulated to provoke some drama. We can certainly handle some suspension of disbelief and this didn't have to be an insurmountable problem for the script. But the way it was handled made everything feel contrived, and I found that frustrating. Janeway is told by the spirits that if she harbors any doubt, that will kill them both. I buy a determined Janeway. I buy a Janeway who will do anything to save Kes. But I don't buy our Captain turning her brain completely off.


One benefit of this rewatch, I've found, is that there are depths to Neelix' characterization that I didn't quite understand or pick up on during the first run through the series. Neelix is presented inconsistently (and most frequently as super annoying,) but he has at least three exceptionally strong episodes during Voyager's run: "Jetrel," "Mortal Coil" and "Rise." We haven't seen the latter two yet and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. But there's a common theme to all three in that we see what happens when he begins to unravel.

Here his distress is played for laughs. But it fits his character -- hidden in Neelix is a bit of pain and darkness which we won't see unearthed again until later in the season. When it does, it's episodes like this which provide the groundwork that make the bigger stories richer and more believable. Even if he's currently just a punchline.

I'd actually love to see a supercut of the Talaxian which shows scenes like this with the comedic element stripped out. Perhaps interspersed with scenes from "Once Upon a Time" or "Mortal Coil." Much as O'Brien was DS9's every man and Data was an android observing humanity and other organic beings, Neelix is Voyager's annoyingly cheery mascot -- and therefore functions as a bit of an outsider to the crew and the Federation. Episodes where each character had to deal with a personal crisis turned out to be quite compelling.
posted by zarq at 8:35 AM on June 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

For some reason the people on the bench always remind me of some of the more esoteric writing by Ursula Le Guine, particularly Changing Planes.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I concur with you both about the false science-v-faith dichotomy herein. And I'll add that this one bugs me on an additional level because it almost feels like VOY is trying to tell the audience "Hey, we're not quite AS Star Trek as all those other Star Treks! Please watch." Like Jeb Bush might. Only crafting a story that conveys that message really awkwardly. (Like Jeb Bush might.)

In fact, in my last rewatch, I skipped this one because I remembered how much it bugged me. It may have been the only one where that happened; I didn't even skip "Threshold."

It's really too bad that they didn't focus on what the episode really did prove, which is that Janeway was willing to gamble her own life to save Kes'

I thought the same thing. One wants to like this episode on that level, but there's just not enough there there.

Plus I feel like the casting was off on Mrs. Culty McJudgment.

Sphinx: Your temper is very quick, my friend. But until you learn to master your rage —
Mr. Furious: Your rage will become your master? [The Sphinx freezes, caught] That's what you were gonna say, right? Right?

Damn I gotta see that movie again. Been too long.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:05 PM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Particle of the Week: Biogenic fields. Special mention to iridium ions. Thoron particles were mentioned again too. (Thorons, is there anything they can't disrupt?)
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Star Trek Online lets players make challenges for themselves in the Foundry, some of which are positively fascinating. They run a spotlight feature on ones that get good ratings with the playerbase, even. (I still want to make a mission that just involves punching Franklin Drake over and over again in various time periods, but I think that's against the terms of service.)

Ongoing Counts: Rolled forward again.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 24.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 47 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

* Mayor Wilkins can't help Kes, but gosh darn it, he wishes he could.

It was distracting seeing Harry Groener here, but I'm glad he got the work. I'll also always think of Estelle Harris as George Costanza's mom. I appreciate you looking up the others too, Jack. :)

* Yet another case of nobody doing due diligence.

An awful lot of Star Trek stories are framed as 'entirely avoidable accident was not avoided.' I think the most egregious example is still probably TNG's Justice, but Sacred Ground is up there: as Jack notes, the deadly sacred shrine is directly along the tourist path, without so much as a velvet rope or verbal warning.

At the same time, Neelix and Kes aren't at all worried about maybe breaking a local law and getting fined/jailed/etc. for touching glowing stuff. (I totally wouldn't be expecting lethal consequences in their shoes either, but I *would* be worried about minor civil consequences for pawing at local religious shrines.)

* Weird characterization choices.

It never ceases to boggle me when Tuvok wants people armed in situations where that would escalate a conflict. I know he's chief of security, but he's a Vulcan. In this particular case, taking a phaser would've been highly illogical, since it was a plea for audience and aid. I did like him extending Janeway the benefit of the doubt when Chakotay wanted to pull her - shows off the trust in that relationship - but the phaser thing was a weird choice.

I also find it bizarre that Chakotay's stuck in the role of rational skeptic here. I mean, this is the guy who borrowed a shuttlecraft to do fake magic Native American stuff and personally met the 'Sky Spirits.' I feel like they should've given his skepticism to the Doctor and had him be supportive and open-minded here. As ever, I don't feel like anybody really had any kind of handle on the character.

* Another case of Jennifer Lien being given nothing to do.

Using Kes as a literal prop after seeing her performances on rewatch was sort of hurtful.

* I want to like this story, but the writers don't making it easy.

The Voyager writers are completely wrong about faith, and are indulging in the tired old trope of 'religion vs. science.' You two already summed that up really well, I feel:

> even though science doesn't know everything, the usual answer to that is more science

Yeah. I strongly disliked the way the spirituality vs. science "conflict" was handled in this episode, in part because it felt awkwardly manufactured and in part because scientific inquiry is not the opposite of spirituality.

So... that's really frustrating. I generally hate stories that are about the value of faith because of that tired old false dichotomy.

However, there's an unintentional result here that I actually did like: when Janeway goes in to take the trial, she lies about having no preconceived notions. She totally had a ton of them, and that bit her in the ass, which is a recurring theme in Voyager: they barge into someplace thinking they know how things work, they don't, they suffer as a result, they learn nothing. Despite authorial intent, I sort of like the message that rather than study a bunch of Alpha Quadrant cultures, she probably should've taken five minutes to listen to the old people, and she definitely should've actually heard the spirit guide's message about 'no really, we don't have to do this.'

Basically, taken as a story about faith, this is a terrible and annoying story. However, taken as a story about 'pay attention to your unexamined biases,' it could've worked.

So, in closing: this could have been a deep outing, but the writers missed a better point they could've focused on.
posted by mordax at 2:35 PM on June 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Off-topic, from the MA main page:
"The airing details for Star Trek: Discovery's first season have been announced. The series will premiere on 24 September 2017, with the first episode being broadcast on CBS at 20:30 EDT, whilst the second episode will be available on CBS All Access alongside it. Subsequent episodes will become available on All Access on successive Sundays until 5 November 2017, when a mid-season break until January 2018 will begin."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:38 AM on June 20, 2017

So we're doing that concurrent with Voyager, right? I admit I don't recall.
posted by mordax at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2017

Don't remember it being discussed? I'm good with whomever doing it, doing Voyager is enough for me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2017

I'll do them, unless anyone really really wants to. :)
posted by zarq at 3:52 PM on June 20, 2017

I think it's safe to say that I will be way too busy to do two series at once. It's even possible that I'll be too busy to watch the freakin' show when it airs. But if not, I may be able to serve as a relief pitcher on occasion.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:51 AM on June 21, 2017

I can do Fanfare posts if that'd help, but mine tend to be a little more spare than the amazing posts you guys are doing for Voyager.
posted by mordax at 8:13 AM on June 21, 2017

We won't have extensive Memory Alpha archives to rely on for the new show, the way we do for older series. There will be far less post complexity with shorter show analyses.

We'd probably be looking at posts more like what we can create for Doctor Who once a new episode has aired.
posted by zarq at 8:28 AM on June 21, 2017

I've been too busy lately to find time to say anything much in depth, yeah, I know you're all disappointed, so I'll skip over most of the issues surrounding the choice of plot here as it's already been covered well by everyone, and just add that it's a nagging irritant that these plots always seen to revolve around some sciencytype character finding faith and almost never the opposite, where some faithlover finds rationality. It's one of those dreary attempts at finding "balance" that becomes a tired trope. I would have liked to have Janeway go into all the "god" encounters they have had and explain why faith alone wouldn't be an adequate response to the all the various encounters with great powers they've had. But, whatever, they aren't going to push their viewership too much, so they go the "it's both" path.

That said, Mulgrew does an excellent job this episode, showing the path Janeway goes down from general skepticism to something more complex in the end. If nothing else, that alone keeps the episode from being too much a drag. Phillips and Picardo do some decent work here too. Some of the choices for Neelix are a bit hard to accept, but Phillips does well within those boundaries and only has a couple brief moments of irritating behavior that can be, perhaps, written off as necessary connections to his development previously.

The supporting alien cast is a fun group and does well enough with the stuff they're given, but it's hard to be too enthused by it all given the root problems at hand.

Not sure what to think about Chakotay's role here. In the beginning he seemed to be on track, but as the show went on I started to wonder about where they were going with him as it didn't seem to fit his character all that well. But I didn't see fit to reflect on it too deeply, so it just threw me in the moment, but I couldn't pin point any definite reason why.

All in all its an episode that I don't hold as one of the better ones, but for what it was, it wasn't bad. Which is pretty close to damning with faint praise I suppose, but it isn't so much that as just suggesting episodes like this are inevitable in a show structured like Voyager, so it doesn't bother me since they have to fill the time slot with something and not every show can be an outlier obviously.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:25 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and none of that, by the way, is to suggest Trek needs to be "rah rah science!" all the time either since science certainly can't explain things like the Q continuum either, more that the universe of Trek makes the alleged dichotomy between faith and science somewhat silly to begin with, so trying to examine it under those rules is a fool's errand.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:34 AM on June 22, 2017

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