Star Trek: Voyager: Macrocosm   Rewatch 
July 6, 2017 3:08 AM - Season 3, Episode 12 - Subscribe

You see, Starfleet is less a military organization than a scientific one—committed to seeking out and understanding new forms of life, however different they maAAUGH GOD KILL IT WITH FIRE

Memory Alpha is abuzz with details on this episode:

- The inspiration for the Tak Tak's unique form of body language was the fact that Kate Mulgrew, as Janeway, had a habit of placing her hands on her hips. Thus, it is an inside joke in this episode when Janeway and Neelix refer to the gesture as a gross insult to the Tak Tak.

- Episode writer Brannon Braga commented, "Sometimes Star Trek can be a little high-and-mighty, talky, moralistic. Sometimes it's just time to have fun. The intention actually began, on my part, to do an episode with no dialogue. I wanted to just do a purely cinematic episode with Janeway and a bunch of weird creatures, these macroviruses, viruses as life-sized creatures. Unfortunately it was impossible to do, and I ended up having to put a couple of acts of dialogue in. I just wanted to do something that felt and looked and smelled differently than most shows."

- The action in this episode is so prominent that executive producer Jeri Taylor noted, "The story is basically Janeway as Rambo." The episode's depiction of Janeway has also been compared to the character of Ripley from the Alien film series. Kate Mulgrew joked, "It was Sigourney Weaver time." However, Brannon Braga clarified, "It was not an attempt to make Janeway look like Ripley."

- The macroviruses in this episode were based on real algae. Visual effects producer Dan Curry explained, "When we were coming up with the design of those, I was inspired by the design of diatoms, which is a microscopic organism on Earth that is used as part of a swimming pool filter system, diatomaceous earth. And to make them look nasty and threatening, instead of having the normal rigid exoskeleton that a real diatom has, we changed the prongs on its tetrahedral shape to grasping tentacles."

- To capture certain shots of the macroviruses being splatted, the crew spent time exploding some of the alien mock-ups. Ron Moore recalled, "[We] filled them up with goo, disgusting goo, out on the back lot here one day, and filled them all up with explosives. I had them hose down the blue screen so it was wet. Goo went everywhere." Moore also remembered, "I really enjoyed it, going outside; just out on the back lot, one time. We took a blue screen and we hung it up, and we got to take these creatures and fill them up with slime and explosives. And we just spent the day blowing them up. It was terrific. I mean, we had guts and stuff, slime... everywhere. We shot them inside of a Jefferies tube we had made, and we just hung them up on the wall. There were people all over the lot coming and watching as we'd blow these things up; it was just terrific fun."

- Neelix's "Good Morning, Voyager" show in this episode appears to be the same program as A Briefing with Neelix, which appears in the second season Voyager episode "Investigations". According to "Macrocosm"'s shooting script, Neelix talks, in the program here, about some "interesting space anomalies in the coming weeks," mentioning an inversion nebula. Voyager encounters such a nebula in the next Voyager episode to be produced, "Alter Ego".

- Some continuity points in this episode include a reference to "Neelix's missing lung" (referencing events of VOY: "Phage") and that holodecks run on a separate power source (as is established in VOY: "Parallax").

- This is also the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager to air before the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "Rapture," where the Starfleet uniforms are redesigned to the new Starfleet uniforms.

"I may never put my hands on my hips again."
"You had no way of knowing you were making one of the worst insults possible."

- Captain Janeway and Neelix, on her habit of putting her hands on her hips

"As for the larger versions of the virus – what I have termed the macrovirus – I would suggest a flyswatter."

- The Doctor on one possible means of defense

"Well... one down, ten billion to go."

- The Doctor

"What's that?"
"You don't want to know..."

- Tom Paris and The Doctor, in the mess hall hearing macroviruses at the door

Poster's Log:
There's a sort of interesting bit on the MA page about how the effects team was disappointed in the end result of the macroviruses, but Braga and Taylor et al. were impressed and pleased. (I didn't include all of the details because it was one of those cases where MA is needlessly verbose.) From a 2017 point of view, I can sort of understand both opinions. The effect is pretty dated now, but still effective. I have to call out some pretty good action-horror moves by the editors and the actors—good for Star Trek, at least. (TNG, I maintain, was effectively scary much more often than any other Trek, but it tended not to be actiony-scary.)

Speaking of action: despite the blatantly imitative beats w/r/t Action Janeway, right down to the tank top and the almost Raimi-esque gearing-up sequence, I can't really begrudge them for wanting to do a Die Hard episode—TNG did it with the baryon-sweep episode (also starring Tim Russ, and in his Trek debut!) and it was pretty solid. So's this, but IMO it's in large part because of the creepy enemies. The tiny flies coming out of the wound is YYYEAH really quite serious body horror.

I also *love* the cold open with Neelix and the Tak Tak. Not only is that a truly funny joke, but it's the sort of joke only Voyager could do, and not just because they're in unknown space—so was TNG a lot of the time, but they were usually too dignified to get quite this silly (in a way, "Darmok" was the serious version of this gag). And DS9 didn't have a suitable Neelix-type character to participate in such a joke. (Plus, the one time DS9 went all-in on silly, the results were "Move Along Home"—speaking of horror.)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
I have to quibble with Memory Alpha on one small nerd point. It claims that the next episode, "Fair Trade," roughly coincides with the introduction of the new 2373 uniform style back in the Alpha Quadrant, and it uses as its basis the fact that the airdate of "Fair Trade" followed that of "Rapture," the DS9 episode where they made their initial non-First Contact appearance. However, my own checking on MA tells us that the stardate for "The Darkness and the Light" (the DS9 episode that follows "Rapture" and, unlike "Rapture," lists a stardate) precedes "Macrocosm"—"Fair Trade" gives no stardate, apparently. This means that the uniforms the Voyager crew wears were definitely out of date before the events of "Fair Trade," but since stardates prior to "Darkness and the Light" are slim pickings (the next one MA gives prior to "Rapture" is "The Ship", which is quite a ways back), it's impossible to know how long before "Fair Trade" they were. My own rough estimate, based on the intervals of time that we normally see between episodes, would put the debut of the new uniforms somewhere around this episode or the previous two or three.

Even more nerdily: I've used this conjectural, fan-made stardate calculator a lot for my RPG campaigns and (although the shows themselves are not always consistent with stardates) it seems surprisingly accurate, albeit not with TOS-style stardates. Using this tool and the airdate order of these episodes, we get "The Ship" in January 2373, "Rapture" sometime in late spring or early summer 2373, "Darkness and the Light" at June 1st, "Macrocosm" at June 5th, "Fair Trade" not long after that, and First Contact in November—all of which strongly suggests somewhere between February and May of 2373 for the new uniforms. Can you tell I'm avoiding doing real work right now.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would like to point out that Neelix gets dragged off by a macrovirus and is never heard from again.

Best episode ever.
posted by zarq at 6:08 AM on July 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I read that quote from Braga before rewatching the episode, and started having my doubts when Janeway and Neelix weren't able to raise anyone on the ship when they were returning (shades of Hadley's Hope on LV-426 going dark), but when I saw the hole in the transporter pad lined with gunk, I was like, oh, come on, who are you kidding? They did make a point of saying that the organic stuff was "mucilaginous" instead of acidic, but that would mean that the macrovirus would have to have punched through by brute force, something that it would be unable to do during the rest of the episode when it was behind one door or another. But anyway. The space-snot made for an effective vector and kept the comparison with you-know-what from being obvious, if not litigable; less facehugger/chestburster, more Ghostbusters-by-way-of-Nickelodeon. Besides, we still had The Talented Captain Ripley's gearing-up scene, and the POV-of-the-critter shots, although that's really more from Star Trek: First Contact, which came out shortly before this episode (per the discussion of the new uniforms above), and which would come to influence this series in future seasons via a recurring enemy. Plus, of course, innumerable other action movies; I was hoping during my original watch that they'd find an excuse to put a shotgun-type slide on the phaser rifle to accompany Janeway minting a catch-phrase: "This ship has an infection... [ka-chik ka-chak] ...and it's about to get a shot of Janeway in the ass."

Plus, of course, the Tak-Tak, aka the Interpretive Dance People ("This dance communicates my existential despair, as well as my desire to negotiate for sixteen gross of self-sealing stem bolts"), were great, although they seemed to drop their need for/aversion to certain gestures when the shit commenced to go down, and a hint of Naomi Wildman, who is apparently a toddler by now. (Too bad that they didn't age her even faster than they did, because then she could be not-Newt hiding in the Jeffries tubes and going, "Janewaaaaaaaaaay!")
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by Naberius at 7:12 AM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Neelix: Well, that's great. That's just fuckin' great, man! Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We're in some real pretty shit now, man!
Janeway: Are you finished?
Kes: I guess we're not gonna be leaving now, right?
Janeway: I'm sorry, Kes.
Kes: You don't have to be sorry. It wasn't your fault.
Neelix: That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?
Tuvok: Perhaps we should build a fire. Then, we could sing songs.
Kes: We had better get back. It will be dark soon and they mostly come at night. Mostly.


I actually did enjoy this episode, once I was done eye-rolling over the idea that a virus could grow to a Brobdingnagian size, fly around the ship and terrorize the crew. Action Captain is a good look for Janeway. The story was very light on dialogue and exposition. It was mostly horror and action movie cliches and Janeway Goes Bug Hunting with a No Bag Limit. Which is fine with me. I like that movie genre and they did a decent job of keeping things suspenseful.

But I would have paid good money to see Neelix as Hudson from Aliens.
posted by zarq at 8:05 AM on July 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also, in this reboot, Torres will be playing Apone.
posted by zarq at 8:37 AM on July 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, also, I liked the Doctor (Dietrich?) and his explanation of how the virus escaped confinement was good, as it shows them actually taking sensible precautions (The Doctor wants to do the compassionate thing, but Chakotay says nuh-uh; compare/contrast with the first Alien movie, where Ripley wants to quarantine Kane and the others in the away team, but gets overridden) that turn out not to work, and the gel-pack turning out to be Patient Zero for the rest of the crew. It kind of slowed down the flow of the action, but showed the plot as being non-dependent on someone carrying the idiot ball.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Particle of the Week: There's a strong argument to be made that the macrovirus should win this this week. I mean, to the fullest extent this is a real category, anyway.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Never saw the macroviruses in STO - making a whole new character model for them probably would've been prohibitively expensive. (Plus, it makes sense given that the Doctor does invent a cure in this episode, and STO is about thirty years later. If I were the Tak-Tak, I'd be mass producing the cure ASAP.)

Ongoing Counts: Down one bio-neural gelpack.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 23.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 46 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.

* The Tak-Tak are hilarious.

I didn't remember that portion of the episode from my initial watch, so when the guy wouldn't even look at Janeway, I was expecting a misogyny thing. Getting 'she put her hands on her hips and basically flipped them off' instead actually got a laugh. That was pretty good. It also felt pretty plausible - *someone* would have to be doing interpretive dance as a language.


Plus, of course, the Tak-Tak, aka the Interpretive Dance People ("This dance communicates my existential despair, as well as my desire to negotiate for sixteen gross of self-sealing stem bolts"), were great, although they seemed to drop their need for/aversion to certain gestures when the shit commenced to go down

Agreed. I liked that he was willing to drop that when the stakes were high enough, much like most humans would overlook being flipped off given a problem like this.

* I too am in the 'aw c'mon' camp.

I read that quote from Braga before rewatching the episode, and started having my doubts when Janeway and Neelix weren't able to raise anyone on the ship when they were returning (shades of Hadley's Hope on LV-426 going dark), but when I saw the hole in the transporter pad lined with gunk, I was like, oh, come on, who are you kidding?

Right? I get that unconscious plagiarism is a thing, but this was pretty on the nose.

That said, it was mostly effective: the monsters are indeed sufficiently creepy, (another spot where their homework paid off). The story of how they got on the ship does, as Cheeses points out, get them aboard without anybody really Idiot Balling it. Action Janeway actually works in this context, much like Action Picard did in his outing.

My main complaint is actually that there's no body count - the main difference between this one and the aforementioned Starship Mine is that a plausible number of people do not survive Picard's Lawyer Friendly Die Hard story. (Indeed, that episode marks Picard becoming my favorite character on TNG.) I also did like the notion of using the holodeck characters as bait. (A similar ploy with holographic bait occurred in, of all things, Jason X.)

Anyway, the main problem here is that everybody's fine by the end of the hour, and that just doesn't ring true as a story beat to me, given how horrifying the macrovirus was up until that point. I would've appreciated a couple of redshirt deaths or something to keep the tone where it belonged. (Plus, as zarq joked about, this was the moment to lose Neelix.)

Overall, that left the whole thing pretty middling for me. It was fun, but it felt a little too lightweight to me the second Janeway found all the people alive in the mess hall. (I'm not sure why TNG's similar story Genesis worked a little better for me, but I think it might be just how Aliens this one looked, while that was more clearly its own thing.)
posted by mordax at 9:16 AM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

(....this was the moment to lose Neelix.)

We should stop the recaps here and savor the moment for a while.
posted by zarq at 9:25 AM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I laughed when he didn't take off his monster-gooped shirt, too. I would've wanted that thing as far away from me as possible, and Neelix just... left it on. To soak through. In the heat.

Another point I'll give them: a lot of space visual media get the heat thing wrong, but in another unexpectedly accurate moment, Voyager correctly posits that the ship should get hotter without life support. I appreciated that.

Oh, last thought for now: I also laughed when Janeway obtained a combat knife from anywhere on that ship. Sure they have one. Haha.

Anyway... yeah. RIP Neelix.
posted by mordax at 9:28 AM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anyway... yeah. RIP Neelix.

The irony is, I actually thought he was decent here and not as annoying as usual. He served a valuable purpose and was able to jump in when Janeway screwed up the diplomatic negotiations. The dialogue included a continuity nod to the fact that he now has only one lung.

Plus he gets slimed in a turbolift and subsequently dragged off. Perfection. ;)


I also enjoyed some of the little moments. Doc putting a phaser to Janeway's throat as she tries to break into sickbay. The holocarnage. The Doc: "Who designed this ship anyway?" Etc.

Another point I'll give them: a lot of space visual media get the heat thing wrong, but in another unexpectedly accurate moment, Voyager correctly posits that the ship should get hotter without life support. I appreciated that.

Unfortunately, they blame the heat on the warp core, not the fact that there is heat in space when one is near a star. This was the line:

Janeway: When environmental controls fail, heat from the warp plasma conduits can't be vented. Expect a heat wave before long.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

The next episode, "Fair Trade" is a Neelix story. No spoilers from me, but it's quite good.

So I've gotten all my digs in today. :D

posted by zarq at 9:51 AM on July 6, 2017

Unfortunately, they blame the heat on the warp core, not the fact that there is heat in space when one is near a star.

Nah, I'm actually with them on this one: Starfleet vessels run plasma all over the place for... some reason. EPS references 'electro-plasma,' and we see consoles exploding routinely when sneezed on over it. So they totally have warp plasma running everywhere.

If that was running but life support (for thermal venting) wasn't, it seems reasonable to posit the ship getting hotter instead of cooler just from internal sources.

... wow, weird to defend anything technobabble said on Star Trek. I'll stop now.

The irony is, I actually thought he was decent here and not as annoying as usual.

Yeah. Really, his worst stuff was around Kes, and even that had been toned down a bit before the unceremonious possession-dumping.

All the same, it's a funny visual.
posted by mordax at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Action Janeway actually works in this context

Action Janeway is an available character variant in the Star Trek Timelines game. She's a 3* (out of 5) character and has nice combat and command traits, but is easily outclassed by the 4* Captain Janeway.

Do any of you play this game? Should we form a MetaFilter fleet?
posted by Servo5678 at 5:03 PM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tell me about this... game that you play.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:49 PM on July 6, 2017

I haven't.

(I honestly haven't even been in STO since they nerfed Omega Kinetic Shearing and caused, like, ~16% DPS loss to my preciousss T'varo stealth bomber overnight, but I always come back sooner or later. Those Borg won't kerplode themselves.)

Is it good?
posted by mordax at 8:01 PM on July 6, 2017

Here's the developer page for Star Trek Timelines.

It's a little tactical RPG for iOS, Android, Facebook, and coming soon to Steam (I was in on the beta). You recruit and level up characters from all over Star Trek from TOS to VOY (no Kelvin timeline or TAS). Main characters have multiple iterations. For instance, there's 1* Stargazer Captain Picard, 2* 1701-D Captain Picard, 4* Dixon Hill Picard, and 5* 1701-E Captain Picard. Minor characters have just one version (Sybok, for instance, and he's 4*). Each character has skills in up to three of five categories: command, combat, diplomacy, medicine, and engineering. You use these characters to complete away team missions, space combat, gauntlet challenges, and other things.

Some of the characters in my collection include: 5* Pah-wraith Cultist Dukat, 4* Captain Q, 5* Borg Queen, 4* Chancellor Martok, 3* Commando Crusher (from TNG "Chain of Command"), 5* Tempted Data (from Star Trek: First Contact), 1* Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher, 5* Admiral Riker (from TNG "All Good Things"), 2* Promoted Sisko (from DS9 "The Adversary"), 4* Mirror Phlox (from ENT "Through A Mirror, Darkly"), 3* Geordi LaForge, 3* Lwaxana Troi, 4* Temporal Agent Seven of Nine (from VOY "Relativity"), and 5* Locutus of Borg.

It's a fun diversion and there's flavor text on each mission that makes it feel like a mini-episode of a Trek show. The story involves a space anomaly that has merged timelines and alternate universes, so characters like Captain Kirk and Chancellor Gowron and Shran all co-exist. Q brings everyone together to try and repair the damage to space-time (and they got John DeLancie to record new dialogue for Q!).

It's free to play, and while you can buy your way to success if you have a deep enough pocket, you can't outright buy specific characters to gain an edge. If you want to buy characters or equipment, it's done as a random draw. If you want specific characters, you have to earn them by playing the game, and the game tells you up front who you are trying to earn. It's balanced fairly and while you start out with 2* characters, you can earn the big 4* and 5* characters without paying any money. For instance, this month the game is running a four-part Klingon storyline where you can earn 4* Dahar Master Kor and 5* Kotar just by playing. No money required.

So if you like Star Trek, I recommend you at least try the game and see if it's for you. There's no definitive end to it and they keep adding new characters and story events, so you really get as much out of it as you want.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:32 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Huh. I'll be interested in revisiting this topic when it hits Steam, then. That has potential. :)

(Sounds a little like Eldritch Horror for gameplay - the cards all have little stories and challenges that various investigators have to overcome, generating a unique story on each playthrough.)
posted by mordax at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2017

Is this…like Monster Rancher with Star Trek characters?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2017

Now I want to put together an S-team consisting of Spock, Sela, Sisko, Seven, and Shran.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:03 PM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know anything about Monster Rancher, but if it's like Pokemon... you can send characters to fight other characters, but that's a recently added mode that is still kinda shallow. The bulk of the game is picking teams of 3 characters to send on missions like decontaminating a water table, assisting in peace talks, or evacuating settlements before the Borg arrive (character stats determine success). Basically, you learn to read the mission text in the voice of a Trek captain. Anything about peace talks or archeology is based on TNG. War and betrayal? Right out of Sisko's logs. Malon or the Kazon murderhobos causing trouble? Janeway's got this one. Kirk is for the really bonkers stuff like a rogue space entity making everyone reenact Earth's Prohibition era. And Archer... eh, I don't read as him very often.

It's also fun to send characters who hate each other on missions together. Imagine Sisko, Dukat, and Eddington in a shuttle together off to do a thing for three hours and what kind of conversations are going on in that cramped space.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:55 AM on July 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

So they just literalized the idea of a "bug' hunt then eh? Really punny of them.

I'm not gonna "aw c'mon" them too much since, notwithstanding what Braga said, or had to say perhaps, it reads as such an obvious homage that it couldn't possibly have been intended to fool anyone into thinking the antics were wholly original. It struck me as a more playful comparison between Janeway and Ripley then anything else. I get that such a thing can't be explicit without risking legal trouble, but they pushed the parallels about as far as they could right up to that line. Which is, in itself, kinda fun.

It was a fun episode, though somewhat more satisfying on first watch than repeat since there isn't a lot more to it than some so-so action and variable effects for the bulk of the story. The opening is excellent. The Tak Taks are a lot of fun, and don't overstay their welcome, something Voyager should keep in mind, both in brevity and interest. The Tak Tak are a species that should get some love at conventions, so much fun could be had with them. (Hell, for all I know maybe they are popular, if not, people are really missing the boat on them.)

Neelix is given some use and isn't too annoying, which is nice, although there is maybe some more to say about his character here, I think next episode might be better for that discussion. Let it suffice to say then that there is a sort of logic to Neelix's annoying sycophantic behavior they seem to continue to build on, which is sensible in one way, less so in some others, and no less irksome for being potentially purposeful. Still, in this episode he evokes some sympathy for his reaction to the ambassador idea, which is a subtle way to lead into the next episode and an idea they'll come back to, and his nervous conversation in the turbo list works better than most previous instances of his chatter too. So he's not bad here.

I also enjoyed their use of Neelix's holoprogram, although it does come off as a bit cruel in a funny way, since the use gained a boost from the previous uses of the program in the preceding episodes, another subtle way to build continuity without running afoul of the exec producers' wishes. Little things like that are nice new touches they seem more intent on providing this season, and they do add some real value to the show. Even the Tom and B'Elanna sparring seems a bit like they're already looking ahead for how those two characters will develop since their exchange is given a bit more weight/space than the story alone required.

I'm a bit less keen on the direction they're moving in with the doctor. This episode isn't really a bad use of him or anything, but it seems to be a strong initial showing of what they intend for him, which causes some really mixed for me. His eagerness to go on the away mission and overenthusiasm for detail is great, the more impetuous actions, bordering on carelessness and some of his manner of acting is less satisfying, but that's seeing this as an indicator of what's to come, and not actually a huge problem here other than some of his exchanges with Chakotay seem debatably iffy to me in terms of who the character is, or at least has been up to now. I guess I have some mixed feelings about the mobile emitter, (which, by the way, doesn't make a lick of sense to me) and where getting that device takes the character. I think I might be in the minority on this though. Whatever the case, it's something that will make more sense discussing in any detail at a later time.

I gotta side with the effects team on the macroviruses. Up until they reach full size the idea was the right amount of creepy, but the big versions just didn't quite work for me and the cast actions and eyelines were often just off enough to be distracting. It wasn't terrible or anything, just a bit of a miss that could have worked better.

The Picard TNG version, more Die Hardy as mentioned, I think worked a little better since that added some layer to Picard that this doesn't quite do for Janeway since her actions here don't seem surprising at all given what we've seen of her before this point. That's what left this episode being somewhat less satisfying on rewatch. It doesn't feel like its adding anything much to the series or characters, a little on the margins, but not enough to provide more than some fun short term distraction. That's okay though, fun is welcome too.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:22 AM on July 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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