Overall Rating: 6.2
One major structural flaw prevents this episode from escaping mediocrity.
Here are the details, courtesy of Memory Alpha.
This is a Janeway episode - most of those suck for me because Janeway is not a consistently written character, and the writers aren't impartial when they craft the narrative. It's like watching MSNBC - you expect one story based on the facts of previous events and you get something completely different, and the total discord is frustrating. But this Janeway episode had a real shot at being good...they were so close to impressing me with the character work they were trying to do for Janeway and then something happened. At precisely 36:13 into the episode, it suddenly became a Kes episode. Right before the last commercial break, Janeway falls for her delusion and we never hear from her again until a final moment with Torres. They spent 36 minutes delving into the mind of a hopelessly lost and stressed Captain who desperately wants to be faithful to her Earthbound lover but can't deny that she is lonely and in need of human contact out here in the Delta Quadrant. And then they (sort of) paid that off and resolved the episode without her. Um...why? Why was Janeway the first to see the hallucinations? Why were holodeck delusions attacking her? And why would Janeway give in to a delusion of her far flung lover in the middle of a crisis - it's not like she would have made time for him while her ship was under attack in the Alpha Quadrant, so why now? I'll get to what I would have done in a bit - it wouldn't have required major changes to the basic plot and we could have learned so much more. What we actually got is a weird cross between a bad soap opera romance plot and a sci-fi mystery involving telepathic aliens.
Some of you may be wondering why I'm not hammering Jeri Taylor for inserting that goofy mystery theater back into the story, and I'll tell you why. The story is actually useful here. It serves the plot - it's all about what we desire in the recesses of our minds, and that is, after all, what the holodeck is there to recreate, no? That is how you use imaginative stories that are outside your genre to add color to your universe. You do not insert the story at random into an episode for five minutes and fail to mention it again for the remaining 38 minutes, just to prove you're creativity and indulge your desire to write period mysteries. This time, the freakishness of the mystery plot and the romantic subplot within BOTH contribute to Janeway's later mental distress, and the two stories from the holodeck could have come together beautifully inside Janeway's final delusion. Here's how you make all of this happen and deliver a well above average character piece that would have added something important to the franchise.
Let's Go With It!
OK...I would propose that you need change absolutely NOTHING about this story right up until 36:13 - they had me intrigued right up until the show jumped the shark. I get that they wanted a dramatic act-out moment showing the Captain trapped by her delusion. Cool...I can go with that. The rest of the episode should have been entirely in JANEWAY'S mind...not out on the succumbing ship with Kes and the Doctor. OK...I would change one thing prior to 36:13 - Janeway should not have given in to a romantic delusion - she should have given in to a combative, mean-spirited manifestation of her lover expressing his grief and rage that she abandoned him and is off smooching holograms for kicks now. She should have gotten pulled into a heated argument...said argument to consume much of the remaining show time (at least a good few minutes) until such time as Janeway realizes that this delusion cannot be real and breaks free of it. Within that final confrontation, we could have (a) done what Taylor loves to do and establish once again that Janeway puts the safety of her ship and crew above her own needs, (b) learned that Janeway is feeling a deep guilt for having stranded herself far away from her lover and, simultaneously, giving in to her loneliness and, even for a moment, enjoying her holodeck fantasy, (c) allowed us to bring the period mystery elements back into the closing sequence to heighten the dramatic tension and really make good use of the whole holonovel concept (d) revealed a more personal motivation for the telepathic aliens that might explain why Janeway was targeted first and complete a story sequence centered on her. Perhaps these aliens target ships' captains to get the information they need to disable them, or perhaps they sense which people are in the most pain and target them because they are the most vulnerable. As is, the whole attack comes from nowhere, is never completely explained, and does nothing to really further Janeway's character. It's a Janeway story...make it about Janeway. That's all I ask.
They actually had a really interesting idea here...they were so close to creating a good episode, but then they settled for a slapdash finale that didn't jive with the rest of the story and felt more like the five-second scripts that get churned out for soaps than quality science fiction.
Kate Mulgrew does some fine work here - and Jennifer Lien fills in well when she gets into the final act (though that final act annoys me) - some of the remaining cast members are unconvincing in their delusions - especially Dawson.
I'm dinging them half a point because they took a good idea for a character study focusing on the painful sacrifices of command and turned into a cheesy smooch-a-thon for Torres and CHAKOTAY (EW!) and Janeway and her far flung lover (that would seem to be character assassination to me given Janeway's single-minded focus on Star Fleet principles and getting her crew home).