While this is obviously a terrible episode - its' primary failing is that it's a bad idea executed sluggishly and with no passion, rather than that it's insulting or otherwise obviously idiotic.
A multidimensional communication "ring" ensnares Voyager and turns it into a Halloween house of mirrors. See the bizarre description here, thanks to Memory Alpha.
This is yet another in the long series of paper-thin high concept sci-fi pitches flung by the desperate in-house writers that centers on a "what-if" scenario that sounds cool on the surface and then, when you actually try to make it work, falls flat because there's nothing to it other than a movie slogan or a lame bit of Homer Simpson's shifty-eyed dog (all tone and atmosphere, no substance). I can hear the pitch for this episode now - probably spear-headed by Brannon Braga and Kenneth Biller (who eventually would get "credit" for the teleplay). I think it went something like this:
BRAGA: I want to do another mind-fuck episode but I haven't had time to come up with something cool - Ken, whataya got?OK...I know there are two non-staff writers who are given credit for this episode's story, which means someone else was actually as stupid as Braga and Biller. But my way is more fun. :) In reality, this episode is bad enough that it just had to be a group effort. Here's the problem with their premise - I mean aside form the fifty billion little plot holes and logical inconsistencies we've come to expect from Voyager's attempts at high concept science fiction. This plot REQUIRES that we spent a butt ton of time randomly walking around in nondescript corridors and seeing random bis of the set for 30 minutes before people realize what's really going on. It's an absurdest piece, so I won't make fun of the whole notion that any alien race would need to create such a zany way to do a data transfer with Voyager, or point out that they keep calling it a RING, which implies two-dimensional space...why can't Voyager fly UP or DOWN to escape a RING? :) But if you're going to do something totally absurd, nothing can be ordinary about the presentation.
BILLER: Um...well I don't know, you know I'm not so good at ideas.
BRAGA: Well...what elements of Voyager's workaday reality do we take for granted? The best way to mind-fuck the audience is by screwing with their conception of reality!
BILLER: Well we already did the whole "which reality is real?" schtick and the "haunting that turns out to be helpful" routine and there is already a detailed plan in place for a malevolent representation of fear in psychographic projection form. I'm out of ideas. I guess we could just fuck with the layout of the ship and watch everyone scramble around getting lost...nah that's stupid.
BRAGA: WAIT! You're a GENIUS! What mundane thing has never been screwed with in Star Trek? The layout of the ship! Well there was that TNG episode where the various parts of the ship were cut off from each other by natural disaster, but this'll be different...it could be like a Mobius strip folding everyone into one spot on the ship!
BILLER: Seriously...you're running with that? I was joking!
BRAGA: Oh no no, Kenny, my boy! I'm a producer! I pick which scripts I write and I'm doing the evil clown of fear! You get to do this one, and I have every confidence in you!
The only-OK Farscape episode in which Moya is turned into four Moyas and each one has a different color - that was an absurdest piece that had script problems and was pretty cheesy, but, because they did the presentation correctly and kept the viewers alert with the special look they gave every shot, you could be fooled into being entertained. But this piece of crap included ZERO interesting cinematography. It was 42 minutes of people walking around corridors and hanging out in a holodeck simulation - with the ship being crushed and twisted, none of the corridor shots was crushed or twisted! Their perceptions were normal even as rooms started arriving out of place. You can't do an absurdest artwork without making the reality ABSURD! It's as though not one of the members of this production team has even the slightest clue on how to present their material effectively!
But, beyond that, they start the creation process on Voyager with the wrong initial question, and it is never more obvious that when they try to do something "creative" like this. They don't ask the question DS9 writers almost always did - why should I tell this story? They aren't looking for what value they can add to the lives of the viewers. They always...ALWAYS...seem to start each Voyager episode with the question "wouldn't it be cool if...?" The first question forces the author to consider character motivation (things like - why would an alien race need to communicate in this frightening manner and what would be the point of that communication?), long-term character arcs for the regulars (things like Neelix and Kes perhaps learning the value of trust over fear - they tried to do this but spent no actual time on it save for one scene), long-term plot sequences (things like maybe this advanced alien life form can be a player in this quadrant...I'm stretching here with a high-concept episode about as thick as tissue paper), and themes (what is the lesson of the episode? What are we trying to tell the viewers?). The question Voyager writers always ask fails to encourage such deep and probing thought and instead causes the writers to triage their own thin ideas with technobabble and filler dialogue that goes nowhere and has no repercussions beyond any given episode.
The result this week is 42 minutes of boredom punctuated by terrible (and often annoying) dialogue and totally absent any shred of logic. But...it's a puerile, banal, harmless sort of drab. I'm not as likely as SFDebris to get totally and completely sidetracked by bad science and bad logic, nor the first to flay Neelix when he acts like the child he so obviously was written to be. He's young, goofy, pathetic, and, as a result, a notable underdog. I like underdogs, and I generally treat Neelix like a child who is trying too hard to please and learning as he goes...on that level, I can tolerate his idiotic behavior in this episode better than SFDebris can. So I dislike this episode not because it pisses me off the way it does SFDebrisd...but because it's bland and wafer thin. Such a flaw can be fixed, so...
Let's Go With It!
This episode needed two things to be, at least, par (it's sad that the best they could really hope for here was par - the basic storyboard isn't ambitious enough for better) - it needed a lead writer capable of doing character work for Neelix and Kes. Since the flimsy character stuff they were doing began with Kes's second birthday and Neelix's insane jealousy, and the theme of the episode centered on getting lost (and losing someone you care about), this should have been their story exclusively and everything else should have been ancillary. There should have been 30 minutes of Neelix begging for help reigning in his jealousy and perhaps doing a bit of soul searching while he was lost and stranded away from the crew. There should have been at least a few scenes in which Kes was able to show her loyalty to Neelix - including risk-taking to save him.
On top of that sort of character study (and less focus on the cause for the twisting), the show needed to be shot at angles, with unusual lighting and effects making each room look increasing bizarre and twisted as time passed. Every scene should have become increasing frantic and off-kilter, and every shot should have taken on increasing distortion, until, when they all realized they were done for, the room should have become hopelessly discolored and twisted and even the people should have started to blur together or pull apart. That final scene was completely pathetic - with the crew sitting in an ordinary looking holodeck and our only clue that something was closing in on them for most of the scene being the SOUND of the encroaching irregularity. Such laziness would get directors fired from even low-budget Hollywood films. I don't usually argue that flash and cinematography can make an episode - I want substance - but this one specifically needed to live up to its title.
Bland, lifeless dialogue leading to no lasting character growth and a paper-thin plot leading to an unusual level of boredom and a tendency to fixate on technical/logical inconsistencies that shouldn't have been noticed in an absurdest work and topped off by incredibly sloppy and lazy direction leave this episode unsalvagible.
Even the acting is off - Biggs-Dawson, McNeil, even Lien and Phillips appeared not to care about this script.
I gotta ding this one half a point for being cliche while trying to be avante garde. That kinda grinds my gears as an art lover.