In the thirteenth episode of the first season ofÂ Voyager, Chakotay suffers a terrible accident as a hostile alien begins to invade the ship and crew. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For consent issues, particularly relating to memory.
I’ve had a very intriguing week when it comes to critical analysis ofÂ Star TrekÂ episodes. I think by sheer coincidence, I’ve twice been provided with a chance to explore a certain topic by virtue of episode order. I got to talk about the ways in which a story allowed the cast to challenge themselves over onÂ Deep Space Nine. Now, I’m realizing that because “Cathexis” followed “Heroes and Demons,” I can use this as a way to discuss the kind of stories we routinely get in theÂ Star TrekÂ universe.
I’ve accepted thatÂ Star Trek, in all its iterations, will always be an episodic series.Â Deep Space NineÂ has heavily toyed with this format, and SURPRISE: I LOVE IT.Â VoyagerÂ sits somewhere in betweenÂ Next GenerationÂ andÂ Deep Space Nine. There’s clear serialization in the whole “journey home” plot, but at the same time, in just thirteen episodes, the writers have also managed to pull off a number of unconnected one-offs. It’s within those one-off episodes that I’ve observed a pattern: the episodes I enjoy the most are either extremely character heavy or emotional, or they’re an Experience.
See? It gets a fancy title and everything because it is Important and Totally Serious. I’d designate an Experience episode as one that does little or nothing to advance a larger serialized plotÂ orÂ any character development of the cast. So why is it enjoyable? Because the writers commit to showing us how these people adapt to a singular event. Personalities might clash, and each character has their own dynamic that they bring to the story, but it’s mostly a static adventure. While I’ve certainly complained about a reliance on these Hit-The-Reset-Button stories, I still think they have value.
“Cathexis,” for me, is a strong example of that. We’re given a perplexing mystery that gets more and more complicated, and then the writers throw in a unnerving gimmick: the alien within this story can possess and control the mind of anyone. It can move from person to person without any apparent way to detect its presence. (Hell, by the end of the episode, they never actuallyÂ doÂ detect it.) Even worse, there’s a scene where Harry momentarily spaces out, and it lookedÂ exactlyÂ like a mind possession. Janeway vocalizes how unnerving this is because she recognized how easy it was for everyone to turn on one another.
I got the sense thatÂ VoyagerÂ dipped into a bit of the horror genre here on purpose. The writers came up with a scenario to test the loyalty and paranoia of the crew, and it’s a damn terrifying one. At the same time, I think it works as a way to demonstrate to the audience what kind of family has been built through this experience. Despite that these characters have every reason to suspect one another, they never truly turn on their crewmates. Instead, they try to devise a system to give the Doctor absolute command in case things go to far. B’Elenna helps to determine a way to at least temporarily locate the alien with a magneton scan. And when Tuvok is revealed to be responsible for the most recent batch of events, there’s never a sense here that any of these people would do anything but stun him in order to regain control.
I suppose thatÂ isÂ character development, but it’s a subtle thing. “Cathexis” is much more about the thrill of the mystery and then the thrill of the resolution. There’s even an AMAZING twist near the end that allows for the comatose character â€“ Chakotay â€“ to play a major part in the entire story. Granted, he doesn’t speak until the final scene, but he’s there the whole time, trying to use his newfound ability to “possess” minds in order to steer the ship away from danger. It’s such a strange battle of the wills, but that weirdness makes for a hell of an experience.
The video for “Cathexis” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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