Overall Rating: 7.2
Thought provoking and well written, but with a muddled message against the evils of rigid beliefs that leaves much to be desired.
Memory Alpha has the details.
Quoth Torres: "Maybe we can get a look at this element in its natural environment. It looks like most of the asteroids in these rings support class M atmospheres."
I'm sorry...I cannot let this technical gaffe go. I just can't. The official definition of an asteroid: "Any small and chiefly solid body below the size characteristics of a planetoid - namely, too small to have enough gravity to make it round." This was known even in the 90s when Voyager episodes were being promulgated on an unsuspecting public. I ask you...how can a body small enough to have a rugged, non-rounded shape be large enough to hold an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere to its surface and how can an object in a ring system around a gas giant filled with what looks like ice in the establishing shot possibly be warm enough to keep that atmosphere from precipitating out even if it was that large? For that matter...how can MOST of the objects have that atmosphere? I'm picturing the spectacular awe of a planet surrounded by other planet-sized rocks with atmospheres...dense enough to form a RING of such objects...OH THE HUMANITY!!! Holy bananas, King Kong, this is just so annoying that I cannot go on with the episode...I need a minute...(inhales stiff shot of whiskey)...OK...I'll try again...
Actually...when you (somehow manage to) get past the glaring scientific mistake that opens the episode, there is a very interesting story that requires a truly focused mind to completely absorb. Here's what I get out of this one - the Voyager take on how Starfleet would view the afterlife is almost RELIGIOUSLY agnostic. It appears to me that the writers profess faith in the irrelevance of faith and believe that to have a concrete belief is to be closed minded and exclude possibilities that lead to irrational behavior. Where, on TNG, there seemed to be a concrete acceptance of the materialist/physicalist perspective that what happens after you die is a matter best left ignored in the pursuit of what happens while you're alive and that organized religions promoted backward thinking and violence; on Voyager they condemn outright atheism in favor of agnostic open-mindedness. It's not OK to expressly believe that when you die, you are reincarnated in the next emanation (because if you believe that, you might come to worship death and do all manner of evil things in its name like force your loved ones to kill themselves because they're a pain in the ass around the house), but it's also not cool to say that such a belief is wrong, because how can we really know for sure! If we firmly believe that there is no afterlife, we might do all kinds of evil things in the name of staying alive and worse yet...we might find death an impossible emotional challenge.
I am not going to be too hard on this episode on the message front, even though I disagree with the modern liberal cliche that it's wrong to be certain about a belief (open-mindedness is a pernicious cliche not to be confused with tolerance and scholarship - open-mindedness in modern America means it's never cool to say anything I do or think is wrong or to have firm convictions of your own), because at least they come down on the right side of the issue when it comes to assisted suicide and many of the things said to Katera are actually very well written and very sensitive. I appreciate that they at least tried to show respect to people of faith, and I want to make sure I give the episode the credit it deserves on other fronts. But my criticism still stands...according to modern Hollywood logic, I'm a closed-minded zealot for believing with absolute clarity that murdering your own child because they won't stop crying is reprehensible and morally outrageous. How can I have any firm belief if the reason for having that value is not firmly underpinned by a philosophy that is solid in foundation? Moral relativism sounds like groovy open-mindedness if you don't think it all the way through, but we all recognize that there are things that clearly wrong and things that are clearly good, and no relativistic framework can account for those things. And the fact is...anyone who claims that they are just being open-minded is really scolding you for disagreeing with them in their own firmly-held convictions. The brain is wired to have beliefs and to believe that its own understanding is right and all contrary evidence is wrong. Don't let the jargon fool you...they're just as ideological as you are.
One final note of criticism. I can't hammer Trek too hard for this every time I see it, because the show is utterly SWAMPED with this basic understanding (all iterations of the show), but I don't think it's a sufficient analysis of death to go around claiming that the mind and body are separate and that the mind becomes untangled from the body when we die. Whether you want to call it neural energy or a higher plain of existence, the mind/body dualism thing doesn't satisfy me. If you believe that mind and body are separate and the mind is what survives to the afterlife, then you should also think that it's best to escape the body as soon as possible...and that is a VERY dangerous thing to go around telling people.
BUT...as I said before I started complaining about the philosophical implications of this episode, they had a very stimulating story idea and much of the writing was well-done and demonstrated a certain respect and sensitivity that should be praised, so...
Let's Go With It!
All you really have to do to make this episode a well-above-average offering in my eyes would be to remove the idiotic gaffe about M-class planetary rings and send them down there with space suits on (it's not that hard, guys!)...and then frame the discussion about the next emanation, rather than around dogmatic belief in skepticism, on the dangers to worshiping death. Pick one thing to worry about...and attack it. Or if you really wanted us to think about our own belief in an afterlife, offer up a more diverse set of perspectives from around the clue and leave out the speeches from Janeway that make clear what you, the writer, believe. Real open-mindedness means placing yourself in another man's perspective for a moment and really trying to understand his or her beliefs. It's a good exercise for writers and it makes the viewer's experience more rewarding.
Some of the dialogue in this episode rivals DS9-level content for felicity of expression and intelligence, not to mention genuinely charitable expressions of tolerance toward religion...gotta give them credit when they do it right.
I didn't think much of the dude playing the head death-ologist, and Garrett Wang whiffed in a big way in a couple of his scenes where he was supposed to show big emotions (especially when confronted with the truth about the forced suicide), but Kate Mulgrew was actually pretty darned good in this episode, so it evens out.
In grand Voyager tradition, I am agnostic on what score to give this one for message...there are things I like and things I don't. It all leaves me feeling uneasy, but not annoyed, so I'll give it a par score.