Sunday, December 2, 2012

Classics: Voyager 2:23 - The Thaw

Overall Rating: 8.3

I think this one deserves special attention even though I am not as fond of it as some of the fans.  It represents an attempt at serious, thoughtful examination of the human condition and the best efforts of the production team simultaneously, and it has therefore rightfully garnered high praise even among Voyager's harshest critics.

Plot Synopsis:

Find the specifics here, courtesy of Memory Alpha.  In short, an alternate reality programmed to fulfil the needs of a handful of survivors of a planetary-scale natural disaster while they waited in stasis for their world to be ready for their return goes awry when the computer senses their need to indulge their darkest fears, codifying them into a tyrannical clown whose deadly weapon is fear itself.

The Skinny:

Some comments from established Voyager reviewers to help set the general tone of fan reaction to this Hugo-nominated frightfest:
Particularly impressive is the final thirty seconds of the show, as the Clown fades away into nothingness as Janeway remarks that fear's only reason for existence is to be overcome—such that it eventually vanishes. -- Jammer
This is the one time where Janeway's dictatorial, domineering nature is a virtue - where she must conquer fear itself with an unflinching eye like any good military commander. -- SFDebris
I have one major problem with the fans' reaction to this episode.  They all seem to think Janeway kicked fear's ass...that she was impressive in her show of strength and resolve at the end.  But here's the thing.  She was never in danger.  She knew going in that she was not really in the dream world and wasn't, therefore, at risk of becoming stuck in the dream with fear incarnate.  You don't get to take credit for bravery unless you had something to fear.  They had the right idea here...they wanted to explore fear - why we feel it, why we seem to need it, why it exists at all.  They had some very on-the-spot observations.  This quote:
"Isn't there something more to fear than a need to exist?  Why do we enjoy playing dangerous sports or going on holodeck adventures with the safeties off?  Why after so many centuries do children still ride roller-coasters?"
Followed by:
"I think you wanted to be stopped - fear's only reason for existing is to be conquered.  You had to know that as a Star Fleet Captain, I don't often give in to fear."
I would take issue with the notion that the ONLY reason we seek out fear is to overcome it.  Actually, it's a vital evolutionary tool as Janeway mentions earlier in the same scene, and people keep going to greater and greater lengths to be frightened because there is something life-affirming in the recognition of our mortality (the ultimate fear).  But I don't want to pick at the nits TOO much.

They gave this one the old college try, that's for sure.  The production values were phenomenal - creative settings, brilliant direction, and well above average guest-acting, particularly by the Clown (Michael McKean).  The script was "on the right track" - but not without room for improvement.  We didn't, for example, get enough of a chance to hear about or witness what life was like for fear's first victims.  Nor did we establish how fear came to dominate the other needs of the survivors.  And then there's the biggest problem.  Janeway shouldn't have needed to trick the clown.  She should have gone into the simulation body and soul (not that that's a terribly brilliant thing to do), because the trickery invalidates her message.  She should have defeated the clown by simply refusing to give in to fear.  Have the clown cut off her head and let her keep right on talking with the guillotine dividing her head from her shoulders.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer did this when Buffy just "decided" that the first slayer couldn't hurt her in the group's shared dream featured in the 4th season finale "Restless."  When you realize that unfounded fear is the manifestation of human frailty and that you can beat it through faith and personal conviction, this is the only ending that really sells the message well.

Don't get me wrong, this is still an above average Trek episode with a lot of things going for it...but I was not nearly as impressed with the ending as most seemed to be.  But that is my only major complaint.

Writing: 8.0

Good effort - I don't think they had the FULL understanding of the many uses for fear and the way to defeat it, and I don't like the trick ending, but otherwise, Joe Menosky's teleplay leaves little to be desired.  Wow...a good episode from Joe Menosky??

Acting: 9.5

This is where the episode gets much of its richness.  As previously noted, McKean was the ideal choice for The Clown (only Heath Ledger might have been better, but at the time, he was in rehab...and I don't think he would ever have stooped so low as to appear on Star Trek...LOL).  The performances all do a fine job of creating an atmosphere of foreboding and insanity.

Message: 7.5

They were about half right on the meaning and utility of fear and missed completely the spiritual element to overcoming it...but I'll still give them an above average message score for getting that far.

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