In the sixth episode of the first season of Voyager, a seemingly harmless venture to gather more energy turns… well, not-so-harmless. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of misogyny, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation.
This is an incredibly bizarre format for an episode, but I’m also struck by how much I enjoyed it, flaws and all. It’s got an uneven pace, which is both to its detriment and to its benefit. Am I complicating this already? Oh, YOU KNOW IT. But this is a complicated thing! It’s an episode devoted specifically towards character development in order to show us that the Voyager crew is going to be completely unlike the crews we’ve seen in past Star Trek shows. Thus, some of the main story and the secondary plot suffers from lack of detail or it’s just plain weird. Yet “The Cloud” ends up being remarkably charming to me, an example of the potential that Voyager holds for unique stories within this fictional universe.
I saw the “main” story as merely a means to an end. Voyager is lost in space, more or less. Granted, they’ve got a voyage home planned out that’s going to take most of these people’s lifetimes to complete, but the logistical issues feel like elements of the “Lost in Space” trope. They have limited energy; they’re eating rations; emotionally, many are grieving the fact that they may never see home again. And I love that the writers are consistently addressing this in each episode, even if it’s only in a small way. Here, it’s the focus of everything. In order to hopefully top off their energy reserves, Janeway has the Voyager enter a nebula. And, in true Star Trek fashion, IT’S NOT A NEBULA BUT A LIFE FORM AND THEY JUST DAMAGED IT, POSSIBLY SO BADLY IT WILL NEVER HEAL. The conflict of “The Cloud” follows the crew’s attempt to right their own wrong, and it’s yet another example of what a fantastic leader Janeway is. There’s no question in her mind that they need to help this organism heal, and I adore that about her.
In seeking a solution, the writers find a way to include pretty much everyone in the process, which is pretty cool, but I think the emotional ramifications of this problem are more fascinating than the technical details or logistics.
All right, so I feel a little better about Neelix and Kes after this episode, and I think I’m getting a better sense of their relationship than I had before. Neelix has a strange role onboard Voyager anyway, and I feel like this episode is about him asserting a place for him on the crew. While he and Kes are local “guides” to the Delta Quadrant, there’s only so much help they can provide in this context. The writers had hinted at Neelix’s love for cooking, and even if he doesn’t necessarily provide the kind of food most humans are used to, his willingness to have fresh-cooked food ready throughout the day is admirable and thoughtful. Look, I really respect that he’s willing to do his part around the ship, even if sometimes he forces his way into roles. Like with being the Morale Officer, for instance. It’s not that the ship doesn’t need it. If anything, all the subplots here reinforce the idea that much of the crew does need a boost of sorts. But Neelix isn’t the kind of character who asks permission before doing anything, you know?
Plus, he’s also not in Starfleet, so the idea of most of the “missions” that Janeway sends the ship on are bogus to him. Thus, he very loudly protests any threat to his own safety. Which I get! Even if he is contributing a great deal, he still doesn’t quite feel like he’s part of a greater family. He just wants Janeway to head in one direction and make as few stops as possible.
Which Janeway is not going to do. At all.
I think it would have been easy to write Harry Kim as naïve and leave it at that. Indeed, this is all part of his very first space flight ever, and he’s got to learn how the application of Starfleet protocol works in real life versus how he was taught. There’s always going to be a difference between the two, and that’s especially the case in this specific context. Yet as Paris and Tuvok try their hardest to show Kim how things are supposed to be – don’t be chummy with the captain, don’t make emotional statements in front of junior officers – Kim resists. He points out that Tuvok basically says the same thing on the bridge. He completely ignores Paris’s advice and invites Janeway to Paris’s holodeck getaway. None of this makes him a lesser Ensign or ruins morale.
Bravo, Harry Kim.
Janeway / Chakotay
Let “The Cloud” stand as the most perfect evidence that Janeway is absolutely nothing like any Starfleet captain we have ever seen. She is funny, vulnerable, emotional, brilliant, and personable all at the same time. Her flexibility as a leader is part of the reason that “The Cloud” works so well despite the flaws (which I’ll get to in the last section). It’s realistic of the show to give us a chance to see what her inner monologue is like, especially since her main concern here is necessary. She was taught to be a distant and forceful captain, and while that’s worked for her in a number of ways, she’s now in a situation where those guidelines might not work. Her crew is a lot more raw and vulnerable in the face of the long journey ahead of them. Would it be to their benefit if she did not seem so unreachable?
That’s why I loved “The Cloud” as much as I did. Within the very first batch of episodes, Kathryn Janeway has already changed and adapted to her predicament. She tries to socialize more with her crew or at least appear more in their presence so that she doesn’t come across as hopelessly distant. She reaches out to Chakotay for his take on crew morale, which leads her on a special journey all her own.
Which is both a mess and endearing at the same time. Writers, please stop using “Native American” as a catch-all when specificity would work so much better. I’m pleased that someone who is part-Native (Beltran) is playing an actual, canon Native American on this show because… WELL, HOW OFTEN DOES THAT ACTUALLY HAPPEN. It is exceedingly rare! And within the context of the episode itself, I think there’s a decent depiction of cultural exchange happening here. That’s a much different process than cultural appropriation. Janeway enquires about Chakotay’s cultural practice involving animal guides (though it’s frustrating that there is no tribe mentioned here at all. You can’t just assume every Native American has the same tradition), Chakotay invites her to participate in the process, and Janeway appreciates it respectfully.
It’s a little shakier once you analyze from the perspective of the writers, given that it feels a little less like an actual cultural exchange. It’s still not the worst thing involving Native Americans that Star Trek has done before, and it’s certainly far more respectful. Yet it’s still an odd choice.
Talk about odd choices, JESUS CHRIST. From the staccato pacing to the visual awkwardness to the overwhelming straightness of it all, Tom Paris’s role in this episode is basically to be really gross? You know, there might have been a chance that I could have at least forgotten about how straight this entire fictional universe is, but Tom exists to remind me that dudes write this show and still think sequences like this are remotely entertaining. Let me start here: WHY THE FUCK DID TOM WAKE UP HARRY KIM FOR A HOLODECK SIMULATION??? I thought that something incredible had happened due to the nebula, since Tom insisted that Harry just had to see this thing. Tom was so excited about it, and then I find out he just wanted to show him his pervy Holodeck program? That’s it? A program that doesn’t change and is stored forever within the computer just had to be seen in the middle of the night???
And let’s break that down, too. Tom programmed everyone in Chez Sandrine based on his experience at the Marseilles Starfleet base. Is this what he thought that place was like? Did he perceive that every woman there fought over him or did he just wish they would? The whole thing is an utter nightmare, not the charming extracurricular program Tom wants us to think it is. Like, he invites MULTIPLE PEOPLE into his WEIRD SEX FANTASY and not one person seems to question it??? He literally programmed two women to fight over his dick, y’all. L I T E R A L L Y. Okay, so one person does question the program: B’Elenna. And while her criticism is very plain and simple, there’s also no sense that anyone on the writing staff actually thought this was a problem. Instead, Tom is written off as the “wacky” officer who just has “wacky” sexcapades on the Holodeck.
It certainly doesn’t help that the first Holodeck scene is dropped into the middle of this episode with no segue or narrative sense. It totally mucks up the pace! Ugh, did we really need Riker #2 on this crew?
The video for “The Cloud” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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