In the fourteenth episode of the fifth season of Voyager, I LOVE THIS EPISODE A GREAT DEAL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For unreality/manipulation and gaslighting.
Sometimes, the things we want most are the worst things for us to have. There’s a cruelty inherent in “Bliss,” but it’s one-sided; at no point is it ever clear if the “pitcher plant” creature is ever trying to ruin the lives of everyone it tricks. Yet after four and a half seasons of this crew trying to get home, it’s heartbreaking to watch them all fall so deeply for this insidious and creepy manipulation.
And that’s just one aspect of this episode. It’s a story about a “pitcher plant” alien in space that uses telepathy to trap its prey. It’s also about the heartbreak of hope. It’s also about how Naomi Wildman and Seven of Nine will never quite fit in because they have no attachment to Earth. IT’S ALSO A GIANT REFERENCE TO MOBY DICK and y’all. Y’all. Somehow, this script pulls all of this off effortlessly. There’s a shot towards the end of the episode where Naomi, Seven, the Doctor, and Qatari are standing next to one another, and it felt so bizarre. How is it that those four characters were the focus of this? But that’s precisely why “Bliss” works so well. Stripped of the normal heroics, these outlier characters end up being the ones who save the day.
Yet before we get to that moment, we have to watch the unthinkable. The script for “Bliss” is brutal in its application of the horror that unfolds. Every single crew member but Naomi and Seven falls utterly and completely for the telepathic gaslighting here, believing a reality that simply is not true. Not matter how vehement Seven is, she is never believed, not even once. (And I honestly thought that Tuvok would be most in-tune to her logic, but even he falls victim to this nightmare.) Part of why this is so unnerving is the contrast. These people are being controlled, and yet the same thing is on everyone’s faces: bliss. Uncontrollable joy. Hope. It’s so crushing to see because the audience knows it isn’t real, and we know that every step Seven takes will be thwarted by this manipulation.
And into the belly of the whale we go. The introduction of Qatai as the obsessive hunter only made this episode better, which is a feat given how thrilling and creepy the first half of “Bliss” is. It’s fascinating that he’s contrasted so heavily with Naomi, the character with the least life experience onboard Voyager. Yet the four people immune to the majority of the creature’s manipulations work together brilliantly, complimenting each other’s styles. I’m also biased because I am obsessed with the relationship between Naomi and Seven, SO THERE’S THAT. I didn’t think I’d be into a kid being a recurring character on the show after that whole Wesley Crusher thing, but Scarlett Pomers is just so goddamn good at this role. She manages to strike the perfect balance between childlike wonder and innocence and a sort of realistic humor for someone her age.
Anyway, the pieces all fit together expertly in this episode. That’s basically what I’m trying to say. It’s a difficult thing to balance all of this, but I’m enthralled by what this episode says about its characters, both new and old. Naomi and Seven may never have the same enthusiasm for Earth as the others, and I suspect they’ll have to deal with that in the future. It’s a source for bonding between them throughout “Bliss.” Qatai, on the other hand, has a more metaphorical role within the episode. Like Ahab, he’s devoted his life â€“ thirty-nine years of it, to be exact â€“ to finding a way to destroy this creature. He’s failed, over and over again, and the final haunting image of “Bliss” is of Qatai returning to the mouth of the beast once more. Who can say whether he’ll succeed? Or even want to succeed? Why not just give up?
We’re defined by our experiences more often than not. Qatai made a decision long ago that set him on this path, and I don’t know if he knows anything other than being this specific hunter. Seven and Naomi, on the other hand, cannot define themselves by their experience on Earth because they don’t have any attachment to it. It’s new. They have a palate of choices before them, and “Bliss” gets me excited to think about what they may do. For now, though, I can appreciate this episode for what it is: a thrilling and challenging look at what we do in impossible situations.
The video for “Bliss” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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