Mark Watches ‘Voyager’: S01E13 – Cathexis

In the thirteenth episode of the first season of 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 watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For consent issues, particularly relating to memory.

I’ve had a very intriguing week when it comes to critical analysis of Star Trek 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 on 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 the Star Trek universe.

I’ve accepted that Star Trek, in all its iterations, will always be an episodic series. Deep Space Nine has heavily toyed with this format, and SURPRISE: I LOVE IT. Voyager sits somewhere in between Next Generation and 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 plot or 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 actually do detect it.) Even worse, there’s a scene where Harry momentarily spaces out, and it looked exactly 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 that Voyager 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 that is 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 – Chakotay – 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 downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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