Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"The Cloud"

***

Air date: 2/13/1995
Teleplay by Tom Szollosi and Michael Piller
Story by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"B'Elanna is the only one I know who tried to kill her animal guide." — Chakotay

The crew ventures into a nebula to search for power supplies which may ease the burden on the limited energy supply. In the process, they encounter what seems to be a cosmic storm that traps them, and they are forced to blast their way out with weapons. Later, the crew discovers that the storm was not simply a natural phenomenon, but a lifeform that is probably now severely injured due to the Voyager's presence.

Well, the plot isn't much—it is in fact another derivative Misunderstood Lifeform Plot that TNG turned into a Trek cliche long ago. It's surprising that this fresh new series has yet to tell a fresh new story. If it wasn't for the character moments, "The Cloud" would be in trouble. But characterization is everything here. In fact, this story would probably have worked just as well if the plot wasn't there at all.

Do you care about the plot? To call it minimal would be an understatement. Voyager travels into the cloud, gets trapped, and has to use excessive force to escape. It isn't until hours later that Janeway realizes what has happened and decides she has to return to the cloud to save a lifeform. Unfortunately, when going back into the cloud, the Voyager is threatened again, as it spirals to its doom in a hurricane-like environment, portrayed by some rather cheesy-looking special effects. Naturally, the ship isn't going to be destroyed (in another iteration of the jeopardy premise), or else the series would be over. Voyager is able to escape without serious damage—and they are successful in healing the innocent lifeform.

So forget the plot anyway. The reason "The Cloud" ends up being the best episode of Voyager so far is because of the wonderful cast interaction. Aside from the moments dealing with this cloud, this show has an easygoing, relaxed pace, which is definitely in the show's favor.

The episode opens with a captain's log voice-over, in which Janeway considers her options as the role of leader in the midst of the unique situation of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Should she simply remain an official figure who distances herself from the day-to-day personal lives of her crew, or should she take the time to become a friend both on and off duty? It's a tough call and a relevant issue to touch on.

At the very least, it seems things have become a little more casual between Janeway and Chakotay. The spiritual first officer helps the captain take a visionary trip in search of her "animal guide," which may be able to offer insights into the personality. It doesn't sound like much, but this portion of the show is surprisingly absorbing, showing Chakotay's spiritual beliefs in a relaxed way that doesn't feel forced or underdeveloped.

We are introduced to Paris' slice-of-home holodeck program—a French pool hall where he invites people to hang out. My favorite Voyager interpersonal relationship, the always-amiable Paris/Kim friendship, gets further use here. One question this holodeck angle brings up, however, is why in the world the crew would be wasting power on the holodecks when they don't even have the power to replicate food. A bit of a logic hole, I would say, but nothing that detracts from the scenes or the show as a whole.

Kes shows continued improvement as a character with a refreshing, exuberant sense of adventure, who is glad to be aboard the Voyager and its crew of travelers. This is a new spin that is a relief to see, changing my view of what I originally feared the character was going to be—that of Voyager's token "Counselor Troi" character.

There's also the Doctor, who brings out the laughs with his sharp-edged sarcasm that has the greatest timing. He's blunt, and doesn't care that he's blunt. In response, Janeway is relatively quick to mute the speakers.

Neelix has some humorous lines of discontent as well, calling the Voyager explorers a group of idiots with a death wish. Nevertheless, he decides to lift the spirits of the crew during the moments of jeopardy by bringing food to the bridge and labeling himself the "morale officer." I'll have to admit, this is the first time I've seen anyone come to the bridge in the middle of a red alert carrying a food tray. It's a tad amusing in it's unconventionality.

"The Cloud" may best be described as a collection of seemingly random scenes that explore the characters. I say that's just fine. The optimistic final scene, where Janeway decides to join her crew in the holodeck for some billiards, sums up "Cloud's" intentions. The plot is merely a frame. The heart is the characterization, which couldn't be much better.

Previous episode: Phage
Next episode: Eye of the Needle

Season Index

23 comments on this review

Jasper - Tue, Jan 13, 2009 - 11:35am (USA Central)
Just to note, I do realize that I am putting a comment at an article that was written fourteen years ago. However, I have seen a certain misconception so often, that I really wanted to respond to it.

The review states:
One question this holodeck angle brings up, however, is why in the world the crew would be wasting power on the holodecks when they don't even have the power to replicate food.

Well... the producers simply wanted the holodeck, so right in parallax, they adressed this issue by stating that the holodeck power was incompatible with the other systems.
Jammer - Tue, Jan 13, 2009 - 12:35pm (USA Central)
^ Which is simply a lame explanation. If the point of being stranded is the crew will have to "rough it," then there shouldn't be holodecks to rely on as a story device in the first place.

But the story instead wants to have it both ways.
Seraphim - Tue, Aug 25, 2009 - 5:33am (USA Central)
Mmm, I really can't see any starship lugging around a reactor or whatever built just to power the holodecks (which must take a hefty amount of power to run) and if the ship's power is converted into incompatible 'holodeck energy' then it came from a central source anyway and holodecks would be the first to be taken offline in the event of such a crisis as being stranded far from home. Gaping holes in logic aside, the character moments and development make this episode very watchable.
Jay - Sat, Sep 5, 2009 - 12:02am (USA Central)
Sorry...I'm with Jammer. With all the constant "reroute power to so and so" that excuse is beyond lame. Power is power.
Eduardo - Tue, Jan 5, 2010 - 4:10pm (USA Central)
Rerouting power was always an easy way to solve a story issue. Both Ron Moore and Brannon Braga admitted they actually wrote "tech the tech" in dialogue between Picard and LaForge, during the ST Generations DVD commentary.

This explanation only works the first time around. Abusing it becomes tiresome, as is dropping the term EPS conduits in every episode.
Carbetarian - Wed, Apr 6, 2011 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
I'm also with Jammer on this one. It's ridiculous that they can't replicate food, but they can run the holodecks.

I hate to admit this, but I kind of agreed with Neelix and his "these people are idiots" speech. For me, the weakest part of Voyager was always that they continued exploring in the Delta Quadrant as though they were back home. I get that they're explorers and I get that the need to find supplies. But, seriously, when you're 75 years away from the nearest star base with no way to be sure you can repair damage to your ship, it is kind of stupid to just go flying into random nebulas like that. Don't they still have shuttle crafts? Wouldn't it be a better idea to risk one of those to check out the nebula instead of just taking the ship in and hoping for the best?

Anyway, this was an ok episode. I didn't like it as much as Jammer did though. For me, this one was two stars. Maybe two and a half, at best. The stuff between Chakotay and Janeway was great. Kim and Tuvok had a funny scene together. The doctor was hilarious, as per usual. But, I thought Tom's holodecks program was stupid and the cloud creature was totally lame and forgettable.
Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 2:09pm (USA Central)
Carbetarian is right...if VOyager just headed straight for home and didn't look back, there's no way they woyuld have suffered the various Kazon attacks in Season 2...VOyager is faster and they never would have caught up with them. They lope and meander so much that Ensign Ballard was able to catch up with them in a shuttle in just 6 months...
Nathan - Thu, Oct 27, 2011 - 1:54pm (USA Central)
This must be the prequel to "Threshold", where we see Janeway become her animal guide.
Ravo - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 1:41am (USA Central)
The best part about this episode is Neelix's rant. It was like he read my mind. This is one of the biggest problems I have with VOY as a whole. The constant pointless risk taking and extremely convenient plot lines that seem to encourage even dumber stunts. When you are stranded in the middle of nowhere with limited resources you don't waste them on stupid excursions like... well, like this episode.

It's ironic that the writers included Neelix's rant in the episode. It's like they were acknowledging "Yeah this is a pretty stupid idea but hell we can write some fairies and unicorns into the story and everything will turn out dandy".
Dork Knight - Thu, Feb 21, 2013 - 3:22am (USA Central)
I may be late to the party, but this is my first go around with Voyager and so far I'm woefully underwhelmed. Does it remain this frustratingly stupid, or are these the typical first-season hiccups Trek seems to go through?

If there ends up being season after season of zany holodeck nonsense, but Janeway still can't replicate a cup of coffee, I'm going to be pretty livid, and I doubt I'll make it through the series.
Paul - Thu, Feb 21, 2013 - 11:16am (USA Central)
Voyager grows up a little. The second season was a bad attempt at a continuing storyline and season four's addition of Seven of Nine spices things up.

But you should prepare to be frustrated. Voyager certainly had its moments, but its lack of continuity on things like dead crewmen, shuttles and torpedoes becomes incredibly annoying.

Voyager is unique among the second-generation Star Trek series in how little it developed and improved. A first-season episode of TNG, DS9 and even Enterprise seem much different than a fourth-season episode.

Other than Seven's presence, character hairstyles and the sometimes the Paris/Torres relationship, there's little or no character growth (certainly no believable or entertaining character growth) for seven years! It's kind of amazing.

Finally, Voyager had the most interesting premise and did next to nothing with it. By season 3, it's essentially TNG in the Delta Quadrant. Jammer is pretty hard on the series -- and he's absolutely right to be that way.
DavidK - Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - 8:45am (USA Central)
@Paul "Finally, Voyager had the most interesting premise and did next to nothing with it. By season 3, it's essentially TNG in the Delta Quadrant."

That's a good point actually. In retrospect if Voyager had been essentially TNG v2.0, set in the Alpha Quadrant, I think people would have been kinder to it. "More of the same" accusations would have been levelled against it but I think it would have been a smother ride for everyone.

I'm genuinely puzzled about the whole Delta Quadrant thing. If you don't want continuity, that's fine, but why saddle yourself with a premise that demands it? And if they regretted the setup, which I suspect they did, why not send them home at the first opportunity? It almost feels like the writers were either saddled with a plot they didn't want or, if it was their idea, were forbidden from drastically altering the premise during the run of the show.

I actually don't mind Voyager that much, it definitely has its moments, but I think even big fans would agree it's curious the writers would pick such an ongoing scenario and then ignore it. I mean as much flak as DS9 gets for the Maquis, I believe they were developed for Voyager's premise, but it's barely ever an issue.
Dork Knight - Tue, Feb 26, 2013 - 4:39am (USA Central)
@DavidK & Paul -

I feared as much. The idea of a ship on a long journey having to hold its own with no starbases, conserve its weapons and manufacture/refine its own fuel is a cool one, and I'm sure there's a good way to do it (ahem BSG ahem), but aside from some throw-away lines in the first season, the writers seemed to forget that it was any kind of issue. "Only 35 Photons left" my ass.

Plus, the crew... I feel bad, because I'm sure most of it has to do with the writers giving them absolutely nothing, but aside from Chakotay and Tuvok (both of whom get no stories, it seems), I really don't give a shite about any of these people. I'm 3 seasons in and I honestly don't care if any of them die (even though it's become painfully obvious that the writers don't have the balls for that kind of move).

It's a far cry from the feeling of familiarity and affection for pretty much every primary, secondary, and background character who putters around DS9. Hell, I feel like I have a better grasp on the clear-headed Captain Boday than I do anyone on Voyager, and he never actually showed up on screen.

Such a good premise that (so far, though it seems unlikely to change) went completely to waste.

I suppose on the plus side, it at least took the brunt of Berman and Braga's awfulness while DS9 was left alone to be awesome...
Paul - Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 4:15pm (USA Central)
@DK: I agree with a lot of what you said. But even BSG was bad on certain points of continuity.

Notably, I never understood where the characters on BSG got all the booze they drank! It's kind of amazing -- they're eating algae for like two years but they have more whiskey than they'll ever need? WTF?

Also, the civilians -- Roslin, Lee in the later seasons and Zarek, among others -- sure have a lot of nice dress clothes. After a point, shouldn't the non-military folks be wearing rags? This was actually addressed early in the series (Roslin says something about having three changes of clothes in the first season) but dismissed.

And, of course, the Galactica seems to have a large supply of vipers and raptors.

BSG, of course, was much better about this kind of thing than Voyager. But even BSG played fast and loose sometimes.
Baltar - Thu, May 16, 2013 - 12:49pm (USA Central)
I suppose Galactica might have been tougher about the clothing supply, but if you have almost anything biological, you can make booze. Scotch is made from peat, after all.

I think one of the major differences here is that Galactica had many, many episodes about scarcity-finding water, finding food, training pilots, a dangerous mining operation in order to set up a Viper factory. Not every episode was about scarcity, not remotely, but it was an overarching part of the plot, a real factor for every character on-screen and the society overall.

On Voyager, they had a couple of throwaway lines of dialogue and then headed back down the immaculately clean corridors with brushed-steel trim to have their holodeck adventures for the afternoon.

Okay, I should probably stop touting Galactica on a Trek website and go back to lurking now...
Jack - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 11:29pm (USA Central)
Jay is right...if Voyager had maintained a course home...not even a nonstop one, but just that general course, then they would have kept ahead of the Kazon's clutches and they'd have been unable to constantly harass them the way they did in the first two seasons.
Caine - Wed, Oct 9, 2013 - 4:10pm (USA Central)
A lot of very good points made by you guys!

One thing keeps popping into my mind, though:
Sure, if the crew had headed straight for the Alpha Quadrant, and stayed (more or less) on course, they could've kept their nose (more or less)clean of trouble. BUT ... if they didn't snoop around, they wouldn't have a snowballs chance on a hot summer day of finding technology or natural phenomena that could help them get home much, much faster - or, at least, find resources to help them survive and keep flying. I mean ... why fly for 70-75 years when each fuctioning wormhole has (roughly) a 25 % chance of getting you back to your home quadrant? Or when each technologically advances civilization has a small chance of having some wild travelling tech?

I do agree, though, that the crew (especially the captain, of course) took some pretty crazy chances once in a while ... one sometimes gets the impression that Janeway had a deathwish ... but, all in all, I think that - where I the captain - I'd be eager to stick my nose into every other nebula as well. You never know what you find ... plus ... "human curiosity is an basic trait of ..." and all that.
Caine - Wed, Oct 9, 2013 - 4:26pm (USA Central)
I really enjoyed this episode due to the nice amount of character moments. It seems this episode tries to catch up on some of the issues that really should have been part of the first 2-3 episodes. While the lack of character exposition/moments/handling in the first episodes was very frustrating, this episode kind of make up for that - a bit.

I really enjoyed Janeways inner monologue about keeping a distance to the crew or getting closer to them. An excellent way for us to get "closer" to the character! The way Mulgrew plays it - a bit awkward and hesitant when talking to her crew in personal situations at the beginning - is very endearing. The same word - eadearing, that is - would also describe Ensign Kim's reaction in the mess hall. The fact that his attitude is so warm and human actually - for the first time - made Kim seem like a character I'd like to root for ... so far he'd just seemed boring or slightly annoying to me.

I wasn't aboard with Jayneway's and Chakotay's "buddy buddy" relationship, though. Why are they acting like old friends who have a deep mutual understanding and respect? Yargh! It's WAY too early in the series for that! Give me some "Maquis vs. Starfleet" maladjustment, awkwardness and conflict, PLEASE! Oh well, that ship had sailed already in the pilot ... too bad! A HUGE missed opportunity for great suspense and energy on this show ...

So far, the Chakotay-character seems extremely underused and .. well .. superfluous, really. I hope that changes - the character has a lot of potential - and I even like the actor!
Trent - Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - 3:37pm (USA Central)
I'm struck by how much better Voyager's CGI work seems to be when compared to DS9 and TNG in the same period. Did they have larger budgets? I think in the very next episode we then get elaborate CGI asteroid rings.
Vylora - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 2:55pm (USA Central)
Here's the lightweight character piece to get to know the crew a bit better with another sci-fi anomaly thrown in for good measure. And as far as that goes, it's pretty decent.

A lot of discussion about holodecks and arguably unnecessary exploratory detours from the trip home. The former I can understand to an extent. I can see how a holodeck could be a powerful tool if needed. I'm not entirely convinced that R&R for whomever whenever is a good idea when energy usage is a concern, though. The latter, on the other hand, never was an issue for me. Stopping to explore a potential new energy source (in the case of this episode) or to find an opportunity for a way home is not a waste of time.

Standard, but not bad. An amicably done Star Trek episode that's worth watching for nicely written dialogue here and there. Only negative here is that the lightweight nature of itself is atypical to a fault despite the somewhat neat sci-fi element.

2.5 stars.
Grumpy - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 11:09pm (USA Central)
DavidK: "...if they regretted the setup, which I suspect they did, why not send them home at the first opportunity?"

Cruising around the Alpha Quadrant (presumably starting with Season 6, after DS9 ended) would've been an admission of defeat for the series. However, with the benefit of 15 years of hindsight, here's what they should've done: fling Voyager to another galaxy altogether. Barring a miracle, the crew would have no hope of getting home. Luckily, they arrive on the doorstep of a friendly federation of planets, which welcomes them as one of their own. New adventures, new setting, but without the Lost In Space setup the writers found so tedious.

Except here, in "The Cloud." This was a good example, along with "Eye of the Needle" and "Prime Factors." And then they quit caring.
Jack - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 7:09pm (USA Central)
Voyager was full of missed opportunities to be sure, but I think its somewhat unfair to compar eit to TNG and DS9 because those shows were syndicated, rather than being on (and essentially carrying) a network. The latter required Voyager to be slave to all sorts of gimmicks and ridiculous advertising and otherwise left it at the constant whim of executive suits. If Voyager were syndicated it could have come far closer to living up to its premise.
Tim - Fri, Nov 7, 2014 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
Yes. It might've been smarter to just cruise along at Warp 9 non stop. But would that have been an interesting show to watch? "This week, Voyager cruises at Warp 9. And next week the exciting two part cliffhanger where Voyager cruises at Warp 9.1"

Would you want to be on that ship? Nothing but high speed travel? Yeah, you might get to Earth in 70 years instead of 75, but how freaking boring!

And yes BSG was fine drama. But where was the sense of adventure and fun? Down to 50,000 humans, Cylons always trying to kill us unless they want to occupy our new planet. Yay, we found the Battlestar Pegasus! Oh wait, the captain is a psycho bitch. Down to 45000 humans. Nothing to eat but algae. The first officer is a Cylon? We found Earth! But it's a desolate poisoned planet! Down to 40000 humans! I think we found a new Earth, but we're gonna throw out all our technology and split up into small groups so we can be as helpless as possible. But, by golly, we aren't gonna do any unbelievable story like have the Holodecks running when we can't make coffee

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