Star Trek: Voyager – Season 2, Episode 23 – “The Thaw” – Facing Fear

The Thaw (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom

     “The Thaw” is an example of quality early “Voyager.” This episode does a lot with less and manages to be both creepy and unsettling. For any person who is afraid of clowns, this is not an episode I’d recommend. As far as vibes, quite a bit of this episode feels like “Twin Peaks” and that only strengthens the overall narrative and stakes. This is an episode where a fantastic antagonist, drives the action of the story. Before I get into spoilers, I definitely recommend this episode to any “Voyager” fans.

The episode was directed by Marvin V. Rush and teleplay by Joe Menosky and story by Richard Gadas.

The story involves the crew following a distress signal and attempting to rescue 3 aliens caught in Stasis. They soon find themselves trapped with them as they face off against the A.I. created by the minds of the aliens and feeds off their fears.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is really neat as the idea of alien minds running a computer and from creating the threat that must be faced immediately has stakes. All the Clown that is fear needs is one mind and he can continue living forever and he is far more willing to kill than Voyager. The presentation of fear as being an ongoing carnival run by a clown and his minions is also sufficiently spooky.

The Aliens – The aliens we meet don’t have a name but they are the last of their race as their planet is desolate. All signs point to them being the last of their species making their plight all the more sad. For years all they’ve known is the terror of the clown and I enjoyed their interactions with one another. The biggest issue I have is also tied to them too. This species wasn’t even given a name.

Harry Kim – Harry Kim is active in this episode and is hostile to the clown. He gets punished for it having to relive his fear of being old and sick but he forever fights on. He is willing to die to defeat the clown and we get see just how brave the ensign is as he is the one who has to stay with the Clown when Torres is left out. I enjoyed learning about his past as it was visiting the sick with his mom as a child that made him fearful of it in the first place.

The Doctor – Robert Picardo is masterful in this episode. As a hologram the Clown can’t read his mind and this is used to a fantastic degree. The Doctor shuts down the Clown’s to control the situation and at one point serves as a distraction when Janeway tries to shut down the system. It doesn’t work but he continues to be the negotiator and remains the only being unphased by the Clown and his antics.

Captain Janeway – Captain Janeway is the one who outsmarts the Clown in the end as she comes up with the plan to connect her brain to the A.I. but send in a hologram in her place. It is here that it is revealed she has no fear and that her philosophy as relates to fear is revealed. She tells him he wanted to be defeated as in the end fear is there to be stopped and go away. It was well done and I love how she knows the embodiment of fear is afraid to die as the episode goes back. Kate Mulgrew gives such a fantastic heir of cold confidence, that works really well against the Clown.

The Clown – Michael McKean is brilliant as the A.I. created by the minds in stasis connected to the computer. He is fun, threatening and creepy. Creepy Clowns are popular in horror and his Clown is a great example of why this works. He has a guillotine he uses to execute people and by the time the crew discovers the survivors he had already killed 2 of 5 aliens who had died from fright. His final defeat is rewarding too as he trades the hostages for a chance to gain control over Captain Janeway. It is really well handled and how he negotiates for his survival makes him a great threat.

This is an episode that I’d highly recommend to any “Voyager” fan. The use of tension, horror and the strange work wonders here and McKean’s performance is compelling enough that he can play off any character from the crew. The only con I can really see against it is the fact that the aliens don’t have a name. If they’d been fleshed out a bit more we’d have a better idea of how the tech. came around in the first place, which in turn could give more elements to the Clown. Regardless, this is an episode I highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A favorite “Voyager” episode.

Star Trek: Voyager – Season 5, Episode 15 and 16 – “Dark Frontier, Part 1 and 2” – The Temptation of the Borg

   “Dark Frontier, Part 1 and 2” is one of the best stories to come out of “Voyager.” This is a story that explores Janeway, Seven of Nine, the Borg and gives us consequences of Voyager and their need to get home. I’m reviewing “Part 1 and 2” as a single episode since Netflix had it as one single watch and even Memory Alpha lists both episodes together rather than as a “Part 1” and “Part 2.” I think this worked for the narrative and really strengthens the story. This is easily one of the best episodes in “Voyager” and is one of my favorites.

The episodes were directed by Cliff Bole and Terry Windell and written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky.

When Janeway discovers an injured Borg Sphere she sees an opportunity to get them home faster with the Sphere’s transwarp coil. Things are not as they seem as when she puts her plan in motion Seven begins to hear the voices of the Collective as she investigates her parent’s research into the Borg.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Threat of the Borg – The Borg feel like a constant threat in this story. We see this first in how the crew who are supposed to hijack the transwarp coil from the Sphere keep failing. It is this failure of the Borg adapting too quickly that really raise the stakes and lead to Seven delving into the research into the Borg that her parents did into the Borg. These flashbacks presented with her parents also establish this threat as it is in them remaining off sensors that keep the Borg from assimilating them for a long time. We also see the threat in how Seven willingly gives herself up to the Borg in order to protect the crew and during her time on the Cube, an assimilation of a species. This story is really what I wish “First Contact” could have been. There are stakes in the Borg tempting Seven to come back and the stakes remain focused and high.

Janeway’s Plan – Janeway’s plan makes sense. Her ultimate goal is to get her crew home and a transwarp coil would cut down there time in Borg Space and in the Delta Quadrant immensely. This being a high stakes heist kept me engaged and I could see why Janeway came up with the plan in the first place. It was risky, but feasible and the pros would outweigh the cons.

The Temptation of Seven of Nine – Temptation has spent more of her life in the Borg Collective. We see this in that she was assimilated as a child and her parents were assimilated too…so in that way their voices were still always with her. This twisted connection is what the Queen uses to tempt Seven back to them and from here she offers Seven more of what she’s always strived for on Voyager, to be more and to grow. The Queen is lets her keep her free will but connects her to the Collective as she attempts to re-indoctrinate her and train her….it is never said outright, but I think to become a future Queen.

The Borg Queen – The Borg Queen feels like a threat in this. This is the first time watching her where she has felt like one. This is done through us seeing the crew fail in their holographic runs to take the transwarp coil, the fact that the Queen knows about their plan and her ability to use Seven’s empathy against her. I wish we could have seen her do this with Picard and Data in “First Contact.” She is Seven’s evil mentor in this, opposite of Janeway and she makes a good argument for the Borg by demonstrating their power and the Collective knowledge that they are. For this reason I can see why she has so many scenes with Seven. If only “Voyager” could have kept her this smart and cunning after this. I’m not a fan of the Queen and like the Borg as Collective Mind that is otherworldy and “We,” but I salute this episode for making the Queen compelling and a threat.

Captain Janeway – Captain Janeway is both mentor and mother figure for Seven in this. In this we see her deal with the conflict of the need to protect the crew as a whole versus her overall connection to any single one member…like Seven. In the end she of course chooses Seven as it was her decision to go forward with plan and let Seven be a part of it that lead to Seven going back to the Borg in the first place. I thought this was handled well and Janeway never felt overpowered or smarter than everyone else. She was flawed and human while also being courageous and cunning. This is a great Janeway episode.

Seven of Nine – Seven’s arc is what drives the story as we see her face the temptation of the world of the Collective she knew before versus her desire for freedom and individuality she’s been exploring on Voyager. Jeri Ryan is fantastic as we see her tackle her inner conflict as well as her complicated relationship to her parents, who were assimilated like her and where the reason she was assimilated because of how obsessed and reckless they were in relationship to the Borg. It is because of them most of her life was spent in the Collective and it is this temptation that the Queen uses to bring Seven back to them. From here we see the Queen seeking to mentor as Janeway did, except it is mentoring in how to become a Queen. It is the immoral act of assimilation and destroying species that lead to them clashing and why Seven returns back to the crew when they come to rescue her. I loved this arc. Seven and The Doctor are my favorite characters on “Voyager” and this story is a big reason why.

Okay:

The Ensemble Cast – The rest of the cast has things to do for Janeway’s heist and the later rescue of Seven, but we don’t really learn anything new about them. I’m not putting it as a con though as I appreciated everyone was given something to do over the course of this story. If some minor characters had been explored a bit more, whether pushing against Janeway’s plan or providing an alternative plan it would have been a perfect episode.

This is “Voyager” at it’s best. We have an amazing threat in the Borg, Seven and Janeway get developed and the stakes remain high through the entire 2 episodes. The only thing it needed was a little more exploration of some of the ensemble cast and it would have been the perfect 2 parter. It is a shame the Borg Queen will never feel this threatening or smart after this, as this is the only episode that I really saw the potential of what that character brought to the Borg Collective. If you are a “Voyager” or “Star Trek” fan this story is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A near perfect “Voyager” story.