Mark Watches ‘Voyager’: S05E18 – Course: Oblivion

In the eighteenth episode of the fifth season of Voyager, I will never recover from this episode. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For body horror

I have a thousand things to say and nothing at all and I’m numb and mostly…

Mostly, I’m impressed. I’m impressed and almost… I don’t know. Honored? If that’s the right word, so be it. This is not the kind of episode you see on shows like this, nor is it something I would have expected from Star Trek as a whole. Maybe Deep Space Nine? Yet I can’t imagine a version of this unfolding on Deep Space Nine, either! This script is so intrinsically tied to these characters, to their journey, that I can’t separate it at all. It’s a Voyager episode in every sense.

And it’s one of the most tragic things I’ve ever seen. Thinking back on how bold this all was… y’all. This show went there and then SHOVED US ALL OFF OF A CLIFF. The hints were there the whole time, and every single one of them went right over my head. “Course: Oblivion” opens with a bewildering scene that I chalked up to bad writing. See, we’d never heard about B’Elanna’s and Tom’s wedding prior to this episode, and it felt rushed. But hey, these things happen on Star Trek, don’t they? Since the majority of these episodes aren’t heavily serialized, we get plot updates like this in a haphazard manner. Indeed, I adjusted to the sudden nature of this wedding pretty quickly.

This episode relied on the audience not questioning certain things. As the ship began to de-stabilize, I knew we’d seen a version of this before. Things would get frightening for a moment, it would all be stressful, and then a solution would be determined at the last possible moment. Hell, I’d argue that Bryan Fuller’s story is absolutely based on exploiting those assumptions. A great example of that? The scene where Chakotay and Tuvok investigate all their past missions in order to find the possible source of the molecular degradation. As it was unfolding, I figured that the show was doing that thing where they just reference a bunch of missions that have happened off-screen. Same goes for the reveal that they’d get home in just over two years: off-screen development. Indeed, I was fully ready for “Course: Oblivion” to reveal that the cause of this degradation was from an away mission that had never been part of an episode. Therefore, while B’Elanna’s death was sad (FUCK THAT SCENE WHERE SHE AND TOM DISCUSS WHAT THEIR HONEYMOON WOULD HAVE BEEN), I wasn’t sure how to react. I even said so on camera! Because surely B’Elanna wasn’t just killed off in the middle of season five, right?

I’m still floored by how quickly this episode turns into a long form nightmare. My brain simply could not wrap itself around what I was seeing: B’Elanna was really one of those biomimetic lifeforms from last season’s “Demon.” THIS WAS A SEQUEL TO THAT EPISODE. Except… the worst thought crept into my mind. If this Voyager and its crew were all those lifeforms, then… holy shit, WHERE WAS THE ORIGINAL CREW? Had they never left the Demon planet? And if that was the case… OH GOD, NONE OF WHAT I’VE SEEN SINCE THEN ACTUALLY MATTERS.

Look, Star Trek as a whole has gotten much better on this point, but I started freaking out. How could the show give us a twist that would negate nearly twenty episodes of development in these characters? What about Seven’s journey towards accepting her humanity? What of Naomi Wildman? Tom’s demotion? HOW COULD THIS BE POSSIBLE?

I didn’t figure it out until it was outright stated, which at least puts me in line with tradition, since this happens SO OFTEN. Once I realized that the real ship had left the Demon planet and was somewhere out there in the Delta Quadrant, the true stakes of this episode were heartbreaking. That meant B’Elanna – this version, at least – was really dead. EVERYONE COULD DIE. And because these copies retained all the memories and experience of the Voyager crew up to “Demons,” that meant that this still felt like the actual characters dying on-screen. When Chakotay and Janeway argued about whether to return to the Demon planet or continue to Earth, it hurt. When Janeway refused to give up her promise to return everyone to Earth, I believed her. I suddenly cared deeply about these characters because even if they lived a different life than the people I’d been observing thus far, they still mattered.

I wonder, then, if the final scene is what initially inspired this whole story. Once you view this through the lens of our Voyager crew, then this is about some meaningless interaction they had while on their way home. The whole interaction is a few minutes long and is written off as an unfortunate end to a distress signal. We, however, are witness to the entire tragedy as the crew dies off and Harry Kim, acting captain, does everything he can to save his version of Voyager from destruction.

He fails. No one will ever know their history and their accomplishments but us. I AM NOT GOING TO BE OKAY WITH THIS EPISODE FOREVER, HELP ME.

The video for “Course: Oblivion” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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