Attention on heck! Don’t try to adjust your viewscreens, person-hell and boo-tenants! What you’re seeing isn’t a creepy clone, a hellish hologram, or a strangely specific alternate universe! For the month of October, we’ll be taking a spine-chilling stroll through Trek’s most horror-iffic outings and spooky adventures! Now why don’t you sit back and try not to let that green blood of yours run cold! If things get a little too intense, don’t hesitate to ask Scotty to SCREAM you up! Hehehehehehehehehe!
Star Trek: Voyager – Season 4, Episode 5
Star Trek: Voyager was the first Trek series to feature a holographic character as a main cast member, so it makes sense that the show would get a ton of mileage out of holographic characters of all stripes – holographic lovers, aliens posing as holograms, other holographic doctors, etc. The story of “Revulsion” takes this theme and heads into dark territory with its chilling premise: what if a hologram went nuts and killed people? And more importantly, what if you were trapped on a small, dimly-lit ship with it?
The episode is not coy with the particulars of this killer hologram, opening with him dragging a dead body and furiously scrubbing away the bloody stains on the walls. He then sends a distress call for help, identifying himself as a “HD25 isomorphic projection” (named Dejaran). So from the start we know that he’s dangerous, which creates tension for our unsuspecting crew.
On Voyager, the crew holds a ceremony for Tuvok’s promotion to lieutenant commander. Tom and Harry recount one of their many pranks they played on him, and Janeway recalls him dressing her down for making some mistake upon their first meeting. Tuvok accepts the promotion with his characteristic stoicism, and remarking on the public humiliation involved.
Which is… kind of correct. Star Trek’s conception of platonic friendship seems to boil down to “people being dicks to each other” a lot of the time. That can certainly be a part of it, but many of the shows seem to revel a bit too much in the pranks/joshing/insulting component of friendship. It can be funny in small helpings, but the extent to which it’s used can also be cloying and broad. In this way (and many others), this is clearly a show written by men whose idea of kinship (among other things; see below!) seems a little juvenile. But anyway.
One thing that struck me about this episode was how many running plot lines it references. Voyager was never as serialized as Deep Space Nine, but it had more long running plot threads and character development than The Next Generation. The Doctor’s mobile emitter was still a new-ish development at this point in the show and its unknown particulars are referenced (Janeway is wary of letting the Doctor stray too far from Voyager). The Doctor, no longer having Kes as his nurse, conscripts Paris to be his medical assistant. Torres and Paris simmer in the awkwardness of their mutual attraction made explicit a couple episodes earlier before having their first furiously passionate kiss. Chakotay assigns Kim to help Seven start revamping the astrometrics lab (which will become a major component of the setting/show). Overall, it’s nice to see and gives the sense that a lot is going on with the ship and characters. I wish this level of character activity and serial-ness had been sustained throughout the series, instead of everyone outside of Janeway/Seven/the Doctor getting sidelined. Voyager is an insular and self-contained little society and there’s a lot going on presumably, but we almost never get a sense of that. BUT ANYWAY.
Voyager receives Dejaran’s distress signal, and the Doctor is fascinated by the existence of a hologram out there needing help. He convinces Janeway to let him and Torres tool out in a shuttle to go help, and she agrees. Dejaran is played by character actor Leland Orser (in one of several Trek appearances), and he brings his trademark crazed neurotic intensity to the holographic character. His performance runs the gamut from stuttering awkwardness to frantic screaming and murderous rage; he’s a big ham and always fun to watch.
Torres and the Doctor arrive and don’t detect any life signs on the small ship. They beam aboard, and Dejaran stalks them from the shadows with a hammer in hand, ready to holo-murder again until he overhears that the Doctor is a hologram. Appearing before them, he nervously introduces himself and is fascinated by the Doctor. He lies about the crew having died from some virus, and his program glitches as he speaks. Torres begins work on repairing him, but he seems to want to keep her out of the lower decks, claiming there’s bad juju/radiation down there.
Dejaran chats with the Doctor, and is amazed that he has a mobile emitter that lets him go anywhere. He, on the other hand, is considered to be merely a piece of technology used only for the most hazardous jobs on the ship. He expresses his frustration at being confined to a single area of the ship and regarded by the flesh and blood crew as a tool and not a person. The Doctor sympathizes, as he felt the same way when he was first activated aboard Voyager. But he explains how much he’s grown as a person and is confident Dejaran can do the same. As they’re talking, Dejaran notices a blood stain he missed and frantically scrubs it away while the Doctor’s back is turned. Oh, you murderous scamp!
Later on, he sneaks up on Torres to offer her some food. His emotional state here oscillates from self-hatred to psychotic rage and it’s really something. He notes how she eats like a fish (wut) and starts ranting about the disgusting nature of mechanical digestion, and organic life in general – leaving hair, skin flakes, and residue everywhere. Working himself into a unhinged lather, he calls her a filthy animal and in an increasingly furious, quivering voice screams his absolute disgust and hatred for all organic life. He just goes from 0 to 100 nuts in a minute or two and it’s quite a crazed, tour de force performance.
Torres is speechless in response, having been literally backed into a corner during his rant and there’s something intensely uncomfortable about the scene. Dejaran realizes he’s said way too much, and sheepishly dials back, claiming he’s been mistreated by the organic crew and has a lot of resentment as a result. Torres calmly keeps her tone in check and slides past him to get away. Any woman who’s had to placate a potentially violent man to protect herself would no doubt see a lot of themselves in this scene. Torres is a fighter and can pretty much beat the crap out of anyone, but not a hologram (who has no physical body to injure). So the scene really creates a queasy tension by taking whatever physical advantages she has off the table and making her vulnerable to this deranged individual.
She immediately runs to the Doctor and explains how much of a lunatic Dejaran is. Disappointingly, he mostly dismisses her experience, knowing firsthand the frustrations of a hologram (MEN, AMIRIGHT). But she explains that Dejaran lied about the lower decks of the ship being filled with radiation, and she sets out to go down there and figure out what’s going on. The Doctor agrees to keep him occupied while she investigates. Dejaran shows the Doctor a holographic fish he created, which is equally cute and creepy.
It’s not long before Torres discovers the dead crew, and the visual of their bodies shoved into the walls is creepy. She accesses the controls to his program, but Dejaran immediately senses it and reappears before her. Plunging a hand into her chest, he fucks around with her heart while she grasps for the control to turn him off. It’s a pretty common horror/action trope – strangling the hero while they struggle to reach their weapon. She’s able to slap the button and Dejaran screams as he dematerializes.
The Doctor tends to her injury but needs to get her back to Voyager to fully repair the damage. As they’re about to leave, he notices that the fish is still activated, despite the holo-emitters supposedly being shut down. It’s a clever bit of plotting, but the tension could have been drawn out a little more effectively. The Doctor turns to see Torres knocked out and Dejaran standing over her. The Doctor tries to reason with him, but Dejaran yells at him like a madman (the way Orser’s neck bulges as he screams is unsettling; the guy seriously looks like he’s going to pop something – it’s impressive how hard he goes for it). He wants the Doctor to join him and explore the galaxy together, but obviously that’s not gonna happen, ya crazy.
He then takes a swing at the Doctor with his hammer, but it passes through the Doctor’s body. In response, the Doctor throws his medical bag through Dejaran, remarking sardonically, “Well, this could get tedious.” Heh. But THEN! Dejaran knocks the Doctor’s mobile emitter and is able to deactivate him. He picks up the device and salivates over the idea of sweet freedom. Torres wakes up and struggles to run away. Dejaran silently follows her, a cruel and creepy stare on his face. Passing through a door, he’s about to make the kill when she electrocutes him with a live power conduit. It somehow destabilizes his program and he finally(?) dies. Reactivating the Doctor, she’s eager to get the F off this ship and back to Voyager.
Later in sickbay, she’s recovered and flirts with Paris. The Doctor detects dangerous levels of hormones this his tricorder, lol. He jokingly expresses disgust with organic life and all their residues. “Just kidding,” he chirps, and goes on to say that a touch of organic warmth would do sickbay well. It’s a silly and flippant end to the story, but it does establish that although he’s a hologram, the Doctor isn’t totally beholden to a strictly holographic way of thinking. As is the theme of Star Trek, accepting all the qualities of other life forms – good and bad – is essential to being a well-rounded and compassionate person. The End.
Now, about that subplot.
Holy hell, this is bad. It’s just… oh, it’s so bad. I mean, it’s Star Trek doing a romance/attraction storyline, so you already know that you’re going to have to raise your cringe shields. But fuck, it is particularly embarrassing and awful.
It doesn’t actually get terrible until the very end; up until that point it’s just meandering and pointless. If I had the opportunity, I would’ve asked the writers “What was the intent here?” As stated earlier, the episode does a lot of table setting and checking in with other plot threads, so this subplot seems like it’s setting up another over-arching storyline.
At Tuvok’s promotion party, Chakotay assigns Kim the task of redesigning the astrometrics lab, and pairs him up with Seven to do so. Harry is visibly uncomfortable with this and Chakotay notices, but he presses on anyway. At this point, Seven is still a new character. Her place among the crew and everyone’s attitudes toward her are still being established. It’s always interesting to see the initial stages of an actor finding the character – there’s usually some unevenness in the beginning before they settle in. The way Ryan is playing Seven at this point in the series is noticeably softer and even playful, especially in her interactions with Harry. She charming in a delightfully deadpan way.
I brought up what I would ask the writers because for the life of me, I do not know what they were going for here. Kim meets up with Seven in her cargo bay to get started on the project, and of course he’s awkward as hell. Seven amusingly brings up their last interaction as cause for his fumbling, when her Borg implants regenerated and she konked him over the head and tried to escape the ship (the fact she shows no remorse or bashfulness over this is really funny in itself; she’s just so matter-of-fact about assaulting him). But of course that’s not REALLY the reason – it’s because he’s attracted to her. Which, I mean, yeah. Ryan is a beautiful woman who was brought onto the show for primarily sexist eye candy reasons (but who fortunately was a great actor and turned into one of the deepest and best characters of Star Trek).
As Seven talks to Harry, she stands uncomfortably close, framed claustrophobically by the camera. It makes a certain amount of sense that she’s not experienced in the social graces, and doesn’t know that standing like six inches in front of someone while maintaining intense eye contact is a little awkward. Later on they’re in the cramped bowels of the ship. Kim points out a mistake she made in her adjustments, to which an initially annoyed Seven admits that her humanity must be reasserting itself. Her deadpan delivery is great and it’s a surprisingly effective joke from her. But she tries to grab a conduit with all sorts of crazy voltage surging through it (believing her Borg implants would provide adequate protection), and Harry immediately pulls her back to protect her. Again, the camera frames them uncomfortably close, and there’s an awkward lingering of his hands on her shoulders.
So for the third time I must ask: what is the point of this plot thread? Kim is physically attracted to Seven and is developing an attraction to her as a person, sure. Fine. He’s always crushed on women pretty readily but is pretty hapless with them in general, so this tracks with that. But do we really need to see that played out again? Do we really need the show to illustrate its mocking dislike of Harry Kim’s character while playing into the unfortunate stereotype of the sexless Asian man (despite the fact that Garret Wang is pretty good looking and has been literally awarded for it)? Ha ha, our boy Harry is once again falling for a woman who won’t give him the time of day! LOL, what could she possibly see in this handsome guy who’s smart and an overall good person? Ryan alllllmost conveys some mutual rapport in these scenes with Kim that we could almost believe the feelings might be returned? Their scenes seem meant to establish some sexual tension, but it seems almost entirely one-sided. And thus pretty pointless. The show went out of its way to make Seven’s character as inexplicably and distractingly sexy as possible, but still feels the need to underline her seductive allure with all this? Like OK, we get it, guys.
During their work, Seven accidentally cuts her hand, and seems distraught over her newfound vulnerability. Kim takes her to sickbay to get it fixed and Paris is an absolutely insufferable dick about it. Harry rightly calls him out on his callousness, as Seven is feeling vulnerable over it. Tom is like “yeah whatever, she’s just a Borg brah” in that delightfully dickish Parisian way of his and Kim goes a little too far in defending her qualities. Paris realizes he has a crush on her and references some of his past romantic mishaps – “What was it last time? A hologram?” he asks (which is honestly kind of funny). But he correctly states that Harry barely knows her, she hasn’t even been human for very long, and that he should forget about it.
In his log entry, Kim states that Tom is right and that anything more than friendship with Seven is a bad idea. OK, fine. Sounds reasonable, although it prompts me to once again ask why the fuck we did this whole subplot in the first place since it kind of seems like a waste of time. But the plot quickly goes Warp 10 speed from “meh” to “holy fucking hell” in an awe-inspiring blaze of crap.
Despite what he told the computer, Kim has set a goofy and cringe-inducing thirst trap for Seven in the mess hall. Calling her there in the middle of the night (oh boy), he claims he had an inspiration for the design of the new astrometrics lab. She immediately points out the illumination levels are too low (aka “why is it so dark in here for this work meeting, you weirdo?”). “It’s relaxing!” he fucking says, and then invites her to a romantic date on the holdeck. What is happening.
But wait, there’s more! Seven bluntly calls out his repeated attempts to engage her in idle conversation, and even how his pupils dilate when he looks at her body. Uhhhhhhhhh. She asks if he’s in love with her. Does he wish to copulate? (actual dialogue – mother of god) Seven bizarrely recounts how biological sex wasn’t necessary in the Borg Collective, but she is willing to explore this aspect of humanity. She orders Harry to remove his clothing. “Don’t be alarmed, I won’t hurt you,” she says to a terrified Harry.
Gentle readers, I don’t… you see… hnngh.
OK. There’s just so much that’s wrong with this scene and it all happens so quickly. Like a car accident. Everything about Harry’s conduct up until this scene is fine and innocent enough. But this final, doomed act of seduction is not only inexcusable, it’s La Forge-esquely bad. And again, “completely not understanding how humans act in romantic situations” is par for the course for Star Trek (but why? Are all the writers inexperienced virgins who have never dated or been with anyone romantically?). But this is embarrassing for absolutely everyone, including the viewer. And most importantly: me!
I want to believe that Seven is just fucking with Kim and trying to punish him for being a creep. Some of her bone dry humor in this episode does support her ability to do that, but Ryan plays it absolutely straight and I unfortunately have to believe the writers intended her offer to Harry as a genuine one. And that this is all supposed to be funny. It’s not.Oh boy, is it not. It does make a certain amount of sense that she wouldn’t have the same hangups we do concerning sex – it’s just another aspect of humanity she’s unfamiliar with, like eating or attending social functions She doesn’t know it’s this inherently awkward topic with so much baggage. But it majorly smacks of some cringey male wish fulfillment – an imposing, aggressive, physically perfect female sexbot just ordering you to do her now, no strings attached. She just needs to be holding Harry’s favorite magazine in one hand and a plate of donuts in the other for the scene to be complete.
Mortified beyond belief, Kim declines and scurries out. Which is also dumb. Because if there’s one thing that’s scarier than a Borg trying to assimilate you, it’s a sexually confident and forward woman! Eww, plot an escape course, maximum warp! You know you can get cooties from a girl being on top? Yeah, true story. Happened to a guy I knew.
I mean, the idea of men always being ready and available for sex is of course a singularly toxic idea, and Harry not wanting to bone down in the mess hall right then and there doesn’t make him a wuss or anything. But it just represents this dumb-as-hell sitcom-level trope where a man who is aggressively pursuing a woman the whole time suddenly gets completely flummoxed when she actually responds in an assertive way that throws him off. God forbid a woman should step outside of being demure and submissively receptive to a man’s “charms.” It’s just soooo juvenile. Like, this was all cooked up, scripted, filmed, and broadcast on TV. Unbelievable.
We’re not quite done yet, because Kim reports to Chakotay that the initial planning stages for the lab are done. He tries to weasel out of doing the actual work, but Chakotay isn’t letting him off that easy. He demands to know what his problem with Seven is, and he mumbles something about Human-Borg cultural misunderstandings. I don’t want to give this plot any credit, but it does go out of its way to let us feel every inch of Harry’s embarrassment and anxiety. Which is just awesome, thanks for doing that. I totally deserve it! “That’s not what she said,” Chakotay states, and Kim’s head almost explodes. But it turns out Seven didn’t actually mention any of the sexual harassment Kim committed, so all’s well that ends well! Kim swallows his embarrassment and agrees to help Seven finish the work.
Ha ha, cool. Love it. Kill me.
Ultimately, the subplot is completely unnecessary for so many reasons – it doesn’t move the characters forward in any meaningful way, it’s literally painful to watch and unnecessarily embarrasses a character/actor who’s been a punching bag already (and playing into an uncomfortable stereotype/cliche), it’s all too illustrative of some of Star Trek’s deepest flaws, and takes a lot of time away from the more engaging main plot. The tones of the two storylines are at complete odds with one another – this isn’t the first time in Trek we’ve seen a deadly serious A-plot mashed together with an absurdly light-hearted and tone deaf B-plot. Why on Earth, Vulcan, or Risa do they do this shit?
There are lot of unanswered questions concerning the killer hologram, as well as some potentially horror-iffic setpieces that could have been accomplished/expanded with more time. Like, why did Dejaran kill his crew? He’s a psycho obviously, but what was the final straw? And more importantly, how did he kill them? I want graphic violence! How badly did they treat him to make him snap? Did they really at all? Why is his program so unstable and is it the cause for his volatile personality? Was the glitching related, and if not what was causing it? What do they do with the ship full of dead bodies at the end? Is the hologram even dead/deleted at the end, for that matter? That’s all pretty crucial material to the plot, but instead we are forced to watch Harry Kim’s fumbling interactions with Seven that result in absolutely nothing good or worthwhile.
Deep breath. All right, let’s regroup here…
I had totally forgotten about the subplot when I selected this episode for Spooky Trek, so admittedly this turned out to be an odd choice for the month’s theme! It’s half a horror story and half… also a horror story, albeit an unintentional one. The threat presented by Dejaran essentially boils down to “murderous ghost” – which is pretty scary – although in execution the plot seems to borrow from horror classics like Psycho and Misery. Being trapped in an enclosed space with an unstable individual is a tried-and-true terror story of escalating chills. Despite the psychotic murders that are at the heart of the episode, there’s still something Trek-ian about it all. For if not for his presumed mistreatment at the hands of his masters, Dejaran might not have become a monster. The notion of creating one’s own demons (either intentionally or otherwise) is a classic theme of horror. It also illustrates Star Trek’s overall credo of treating all life with respect, especially that which you create. To do so is the humane and just thing to do, but also safe – because you never know what a being is capable of when you push them too far.
- The Doctor jokes about being a psycho at the very end, but of course this actually happened already in “Darkling” when he tried to add some new subroutines to his program and accidentally created an evil alter ego. And he victimized Torres! So… maybe not the best choice there, Doc.
- Fortunately, Harry would eventually be allowed to have sex in “The Disease.” But of course it turns into a publicly mortifying ordeal for all. Oof.
- Harry requests to be taken off the astrometrics lab project, and Chakotay all but refuses. Taking everything else off the table, if an officer is clearly uncomfortable to be working with another, is forcing them to be together really the best course of action? This seems like it’s be par for the course for the military, but I’d expect the enlightened Starfleet to be a bit more charitable about this sort of thing.
- Tuvok gets promoted but doesn’t have to walk the plank or anything goofy like that? Boring.