Star Trek: Voyager

"Emanations"

**

Air date: 3/13/1995
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"What we don't know about death is far, far greater than what we do know." — Janeway

Whoa, Janeway's above quote is some understatement. That's got to be one of the most insightful, meaningful quotes in the entire series. And excuse my sarcasm there.

One of the great mysteries of life is what happens to us when it all ends. It ranks right up there with "Why are we here?" "Emanations" is Star Trek's attempt at a provocative analysis of this question—a polemic on death and the afterlife. Unfortunately, five acts of repetitive, mundane pondering about a subject whose questions cannot be answered is all that comes out of this pretentious hour of hardly profound and unmoving drama.

When an away team discovers an alien burial ground on an asteroid, a subspace vacuole snatches Ensign Kim away and replaces him with a deceased alien woman (Cecile Callan) from a race that calls themselves the Uhnori. The crew beams the Uhnori aboard the Voyager. The Doctor is able to revive her since her death occurred just moments before. Upon awaking in sickbay, the Uhnori, who we learn is named Ptera, believes she has reached the afterlife.

Meanwhile, the subspace vacuole takes Kim to the Uhnori's planet. Simply put, Kim and Ptera have switched places. Ptera had just been sent to the "next emanation," as the Uhnori call it. By activating a device, the Uhnori send their dying people into what they believe is an afterlife where the deceased meet their fellow dead and evolve into a higher form of consciousness. In reality, the device forms a subspace vacuole that sends them to an asteroid where they instantly die and decompose.

Kim's evident appearance from the next emanation sparks a lot of excitement (as well as fear) on the Uhnori world. They believe he has returned from the dead, and his descriptions of what awaits at the next emanation—an asteroid with a bunch of bodies—don't exactly provide them with a comforting view of life after death.

While searching for a way back, Kim meets Hatil (Jefrey Alan Chandler), a disabled man whose family has persuaded him to commit suicide to ease their burden. Hatil has always been a little bit skeptical to "prematurely send himself into the next emanation" (i.e. kill himself), and Kim's appearance and descriptions of the afterlife lead Hatil to reconsider his options.

Back aboard the Voyager, the crew attempts to locate Kim, using Ptera as the best resource for answering questions about her home world. Ptera, however, has some understandable emotional problems. At first she thinks she's dead and her afterlife is not as it should be. After Janeway convinces Ptera she is still alive, Ptera begins to fear death, having lost confidence that waiting in the next emanation is a new existence.

What we've basically got here is the same question posed over and over again. It's neither compelling nor mystifying. Kim tells the people over and over that he doesn't know what death means. All he knows is that there were bodies on the asteroid. It is entirely possible that they have souls that exist outside their non-corporeal remains, he tells them. Ptera spends much of the B-story walking around the Voyager stating that she can't live out her life away from her people.

The resolution of Ptera's situation is so underwhelming it's appalling. The crew attempts to send her back through the subspace vacuole using the transporter and some reliable technobabble procedures. But her transporter pattern breaks down and she dies in the process, end of story.

Meanwhile, Kim faces being stuck on the Uhnori's world forever. They want to keep him for interrogation so he can solve the puzzle of death for them—something he can't do anyway.

Kim comes up with a plan to escape. He decides to help himself and Hatil by taking Hatil's place at his death ceremony. This way, Hatil can live out his life in the mountains without breaking tradition, and Kim can return to the asteroid and be rescued by the Voyager without the Uhnori suspecting he's gone. The ceremonial wrapping of a death shroud to hide Kim's body so no one can tell it's Kim and not Hatil being buried strains credulity. Nice to see the old switcharoo still works in the 24th century. Clever, Harry. Too clever.

There's not much in terms of interesting character interaction either. Again, Chakotay doesn't get the screen time he deserves. Neelix doesn't even make a single appearance. They put off giving the Doctor his name yet another week. And they miss a major opportunity with Paris, who should've been allowed to display some sort of emotion in dealing with the potential loss of his best friend. Janeway does come off rather nicely, remaining a pleasure to watch in action as ship's humanist. The reassuring closing scene between Janeway and Kim is more impacting than anything else in the episode.

Next week: Mutiny aboard the Voyager! Now that sounds interesting.

Previous episode: Ex Post Facto
Next episode: Prime Factors

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31 comments on this review

Mal
Mon, Oct 19, 2009, 1:17pm (UTC -5)
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow...

-

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

-

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

-

Death is pretty important stuff. Maybe Star Trek isn't exactly the best forum for examining the afterlife - although I can hardly think of somewhere more scary to boldly go - still, TNG's The Next Phase at least tested Ro's faith a little bit, Transfigurations talked somewhat about evolving to the next phase, and in DS9's Shadows and Symbols, the gang goes on a mission to ensure Jadzia's place in Sto-vo-kor.

Not exactly Phaedo, but these still, evidence that Star Trek can be slightly more nuanced than this wasted hour...
Diederick
Mon, Jan 24, 2011, 5:16am (UTC -5)
I found Kim's solution for Hatil odd: wasn't the man a burden to his family for medical reasons? He even showed off his leg "braces". How could he survive on his own?

But what liked even less was the pseudo-scientific spirituality. What's there to know about death, in any practical sense? And what is neural energy, and how do you measure it's "activity?"
Elliott
Thu, Feb 3, 2011, 4:35pm (UTC -5)
Classic Trek has an unfortunate tendency of turning fans into Dawkins-style atheist a**holes. What I really like about this episode is how religious dogma so often blinds us to the real wonders of the Universe.

The story opens with a very tech-y interest in this new element and it turns out in the end that it is this element which allows for a remarkable change in energy state which may encompass a change in perception for an entire race. Having become bogged down in ritual (see the shroud), the Uhnori have lost any real sense of wonder about death or life. They see a life as dispensable if it becomes burdensome. In and out of religious contexts, this is a depression which is very real and to which admiring the strange beauties of nature can be a remedy.

It's a quiet story, but I think you severely underestimate it. There's perhaps a little too much whispering going on, but overall the direction and pacing were excellent. I particularly loved how the Uhnori's world was filmed in such a way as to appear distorted and other-dimension-like.
Destructor
Sun, Feb 27, 2011, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
It may not have been a success, but I certainly appreciated the effort to at least try and tell a story about death and what it means- a subject most American TV shows (Six Feet Under being the big exception) scrupulously avoid.
Carbetarian
Thu, Apr 7, 2011, 11:13pm (UTC -5)
This episode was all kinds of unenjoyable for me. Personally, I think two stars is mighty generous. Beyond my own admission that I don't want to think about death while watching Star Trek, this episode is unbelievably boring.

The episode starts off already rubbing me the wrong way when Chakotay starts getting uppity about poking around the bodies on the asteroid. Now, don't get me wrong, I entirely agree with him that they should leave the bodies be and avoid any accidental desecration of their graves. But, where I was left scratching my head is his insistence that they not use tricorders. Umm... Isn't it worse to go stomping around all over the place to investigate things by hand? Wouldn't it be less intrusive to just scan them from a distance? His logic makes no sense to me at all.

Then Harry gets pulled off to planet snooze button. I kid you not when I say I just watched this episode and yet can't remember a single thing of importance about these people other than that they are ok with committing euthanasia. I was bored to tears during all of Harry's scenes with the foreheads of the week.

Then there was Ptera, who was equally boring due to her basic repetition of the same boring stuff her fellow forehead of the week aliens were telling Harry. Jammer is absolutely right. The same questions asked over and over again, particularly one that none of us know the answer to, is frustrating, annoying and incredibly dull.

Jammer is also absolutely right about all the missed character opportunities. Was Tom Paris even in this episode? The only thing I might argue with Jammer about is his seeming disappointment that Neelix isn't in this episode. In my book, doing an episode without Neelix is never a bad thing.

This story tried to comment on euthanasia towards the end, and I do appreciate what they were going for. But, the whole thing just really wasn't nearly as deep or profound as what they wanted it to be. Likewise, their discovery of a specific radiation in the planets rings was a sort of half baked attempt to show that the afterlife the aliens were looking for could exist. But, I sort of felt like the show was trying to have it's cake and eat it too. It felt cheap and made the episode seem even more pointless to me than if they had just left the issue of whether or not an afterlife could be real completely alone.

In the end, the Janeway quote Jammer uses to head this article is, of course, true. I don't think any of us will ever know what happens to us when we die until we actually do. But, that's exactly what's wrong with this episode. An hour of asking the same unanswerable question does not make for an entertaining story.

This episode gets one star from me.
David H.
Sun, Oct 16, 2011, 12:33am (UTC -5)
Well, you may think that Janeway line is worthy of ridicule, Jammer, but for Star Trek, it's a positive revelation. As one of the earlier comments pointed out, the Roddenberry atheist rules are still in place, and religion only exists among the less evolved species, something that the enlightened Starfleet crews have long since outgrown - unless you're an Indian, of course. I'm not saying the episode is brilliant, but it's a refreshing change from the "Who Watches the Watchers" type of arrogance that is usually directed toward issues of faith.
Skeezyfish
Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 10:15am (UTC -5)
There is one slightly striking moment to this episode: the contrast between the dismay Ptera felt and the comfort Harry felt in awaking in sickbay, one in an alien environment and the other surrounded by friends. That contrast I think spoke well to the fact that our lives are defined so much by those with whom we choose to share it. Not terribly profound--and possibly not even intended--but charming for a moment.
navamske
Sat, Jun 1, 2013, 8:40pm (UTC -5)
@Carbetarian

"I kid you not when I say I just watched this episode and yet can't remember a single thing of importance about these people other than that they are ok with committing euthanasia."

Also, one of them was Mark Twain from TNG's "Time's Arrow."
inline79
Wed, Jul 31, 2013, 2:15pm (UTC -5)
To put a positive spin to all the above, fully justified, "bleh" attitude towards this episode, I want to call attention to the really nice space sequences. There are some shots of Voyager with the planets, rings, and rocks that are at angles, and levels of detail that we have never seen before on a Star Trek episode. Clearly there were no "reused" space objects. On the DVDs, the quality is excellent. If there is ever a blu-ray for Voyager, the justification to upgrade from the DVDs will be tough.
Jons
Sun, Nov 10, 2013, 8:07am (UTC -5)
As for me I liked that episode. Not the greatest, but I enjoyed it, as I always do with episodes about other cultures.

The one thing that made it "blah" instead of good for me however is the cop-out at the end. It would have been so much more powerful to indeed make these people realize that everything they've always believed is just wrong and there's nothing after death. Not only that would have been interesting (how would that society break up? what would happen?) but it would also have been a strong message by the show:

Yes, Christian heaven or any other Earthian "afterlife" fantasy is probably like this planet's afterlife beliefs: Just a stupid fantasy, wishful thinking that has no basis in reality or fact. But of course, that show is American, and it couldn't have afforded to potentially offend the religious in this country, so it had to cop out at the end, with a stupid suggestion that heaven is actually possible...
Jack
Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 12:18am (UTC -5)
Hatil says that the death shroud has been in his family for generations, but...how? If it's worn to get transferred to the asteroid...who is retrieving it afterwards?

Plus...Harry is like twice Hatil's size. Even wrapped, it's obvious that Harry was way too huge to be Hatil, and the others should have noticed it before sending "him" off.
Tricia
Sun, Dec 1, 2013, 2:30am (UTC -5)
Doesn't anyone on that planet ever die accidentally? Or all alone, where their body wouldn't be found for a while? It doesn't make sense that they're so shocked that their bodies decompose after they die.
Susan
Tue, Dec 10, 2013, 9:32pm (UTC -5)
Jack - who said "Hatil says that the death shroud has been in his family for generations, but...how? If it's worn to get transferred to the asteroid...who is retrieving it afterwards? "

I was going to say the same thing, but it occurs to me, maybe by "shroud" he doesn't mean that particular shroud, but "shroud" meaning that particular weave and color and perhaps the way it's wrapped, maybe other families used a different type/color material, and instead of ace-bandage type wrap for another family it would be a bag type shroud. I think that was the way it was meant to be taken anyway.
Trent
Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 11:50am (UTC -5)
Elliot's intelligent comments on Jammer's site have provoked me into finally watching Voyager episodes. I'm almost at the end of Season 1. You know what...it's actually a very good series once you ditch the preconceptions. I like the ethical bent some of the episodes have.
Trent
Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 7:48pm (UTC -5)
This was a botched opportunity I think. The writers had the potential to set up a very contemplative episode, perhaps in the vein of an Ingmar Bergman movie, but the hokiness of the alien race derails the whole thing.

This plot would work better without the aliens entirely. Why not create a small existential episode aorund the young Ensign Kim? No need for that silly looking planet at all.

K'Elvis
Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 1:02am (UTC -5)
The episode was OK, but it didn't seem to know what it wanted to talk about. It flirts with being about people pressured by their families into euthanasia, cover-ups, and the ability or inability to adapt to your worldview being overturned. The episode over and over repeats that just because this particular belief is incorrect - the belief that their bodies come out alive on the other side - that it doesn't mean that death is the end. It seems they realized that this episode had the potential to upset people.

I thought Ptera's story didn't work very well, except to provide information to the people in Voyager. It would have been interesting to send her back. When they wanted to send Harry to some lab to keep him "safe" it was pretty clear that he was coming back, he was going to be quietly tucked away where he wouldn't be inconvenient. Ptera may well have been tucked away just as easily.

It seemed odd that they let Kes declare Ptera dead, that's the sort of thing that you have a doctor do, not a semi-trained medic. But I suppose it saved time.
K'Elvis
Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 5:35pm (UTC -5)
I've had a chance to think about this more, and this is really something very much like ancient Egyptian funereal rites. The bodies look like mummies, and they go into something very much like a sarcophagus. Here on Earth, it's been thousands of years and the mummies haven't come back to life yet. The ancient Egyptians might have been just as disturbed to learn that the mummies would sit there for thousands of years.

BTW, when I wrote above "It was pretty clear he was coming back" I should have written "It was pretty clear he wasn't coming back".
Ric
Mon, Mar 3, 2014, 2:18am (UTC -5)
Nice episode, with deep debating underneath the surface.

But the blunt violation of the Prime Directive when they decide to revive the body of the alien was... disappointing. So far Voyager was making me happy, as I have watched the whole DS9 first and got mad with how much they corrupted the Federation and the Starfleet portrayal in the end. I was glad to see characters respecting the basic ideals in though moments. But here, crew just so easily decide to revive a dead alien to make a first contact even when they didn’t know if it would be violating the directive!

Worst, Kim seems to be completely untrained for his first mission. How the hell he starts talking to the aliens about his ship, where he came from and so on when he didn’t know whether he would be interfering in the new aliens’ usual beliefs? More, it was blunt that he would interfere and even though he first reaction was to give a damn, until too late realizing that it would be better to not talk freely anymore. Common, he deserves to be released from duty when they arrive home….
Peter
Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 3:12pm (UTC -5)
I just watched this episode and agree that it is kind of disruption of the season 1 episodes.

I also feel that even though I'm glad that a Star Trek show would have a show about death, I feel "Emanations" came along on Voyager way too early in the shows run. And I feel that is the basic problem with this episode and why it comes across at best rather fuzzy in terms of what the writers wanted to express in regards to death.

I would actually feel this episode might have worked better near the beginning of season 3 (before the two-parter "Future's End", before the doctor got the mobile emitter, but after the crue had dealt with others deaths -- this episode is very woeful when compared with the actual head-on episode about euthanasia season 2 episode "Death Wish".) I feel the timing of this episode was way off with season 1 being a shortened season (usually a major look at death doesn't occur in most shows, not specifically about the subject, until very late in a first full season or in one where the first season is shortened, the 2nd season -- see "The Next Generation" late season 1 episode "Skin of Evil" for that one.)

Also by the way this episode might have actually been better, and a rare exception on that for a season 1 and 2 episode of "Voyager" if Neelix had been one of the featured players. Don't forget Neelix actually deals with very many of the same issues in the 4th season episode, "Mortal Coil", when Neelix is brought back to life with the help of a technique developed by Seven of Nine and her Borg gained thought. In that episode both Ethan Phillips, the actor, and Neelix really were superb and you really felt for the character more than you normally would (Phillips also states that was one of his favorite acting shows on "Voyager".) Would have loved to have seen Neelix' reaction to them reviving a dead alien in "Emanations" and might have been interesting to see that tie-in to what would later happen on "Mortal Coil" (notice in that episode, that this episode gets totally forgotten about -- when if it had happened and aired later in the run -- as I write above in the early half of season 3, it might not have forgotten about.)
Vylora
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 10:07pm (UTC -5)
Interesting enough in some pieces of the story. Especially the aliens belief in their afterlife allowing for support of euthanasia for reasons other than terminal illness. Could have been a great backdrop for how religions utilize their illogical beliefs to affect public and political opinion. Could have also been a great backdrop for the aliens questioning beliefs and looking for real answers. Could have been any number of things. Instead we get the cute "the aliens release neural energy that becomes all dynamic and stuff" ending with a one-cliche-fits-all speech by Janeway.

So the aliens are a bit different and have some pretty unique things that happen when their particular species dies. The speech at the end makes everything brought up before in the episode arbitrary. Everything brought up in the episode makes the ending condescending.

Just because our evolution has brought us to this level of consciousness and self-awareness does not mean an afterlife magically formed for our benefit. This episode should have focused on that or done something more interesting with the unique concept put forth at the very end. As it is, it's a pandering, jumbled mess. However, it's not a complete loss and on its own terms is a watchable hour with some decent character moments with the aliens. Harry Kim especially shows improvement here but is, up to this point, quite noticeably rough around the edges.

2 stars.
navamske
Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 9:27pm (UTC -5)
@Vylora

"So the aliens are a bit different"

Yeah, they have four nostrils. Do they live on The Planet of the Extra-large Handkerchiefs?
Jay
Wed, Oct 15, 2014, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
Paris took them 0.6 ly from the ring system in what apparently just less than a minute. At that speed, they should have been able to travel 70,000 light years in about 12 weeks...
Yanks
Tue, Aug 4, 2015, 1:42pm (UTC -5)
Wow, a Star Trek episode that doesn't spit on religion or religious beliefs. It actually dealt with them very respectfully here.

It's also a culture that has embraced the Doctor Jack Kevorkian as their role model! :-)

Wait, I'm in pain and a burden to my family, so let me end it all...

Interesting for a Trek episode.

I think Chakotay was right to respect the site as a burial site, but he might have went a little far with:

"The sanctity of these bodies should be respected. I recommend we make visual observations only. No tricorders"

As far as "sanctity" goes, what's the different between looking and conducting passive scans?

Love the exchange at the end where Janeway is telling Harry to take a couple days off and reflect.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised about this:

"JANEWAY: I wouldn't be so sure of that, if I were you. That neural energy their bodies release, it becomes part of the ambient electromagnetic field surrounding the planet. Our readings also indicate the energy's unusually dynamic. There's a great deal of variation and pattern complexity, quantum density.

KIM: Are you saying you think they do have an afterlife? That the energy field is where they exist at a higher level of consciousness, just like they believe?

JANEWAY: I'm not certain, but I am certain about this. What we don't know about death is far, far greater than what we do know. See you in two days, Ensign."

Can anyone hear Picard talking like this? Relating a possible scientific release of energy to confirming a religious belief? I like it, she's her own self/Captain.

I'll have to go a solid 3 stars here.
Robert
Wed, Aug 5, 2015, 7:24am (UTC -5)
@Yanks - I'd agree on all counts. Loved the episode. Loved the ending. THIS Janeway is what was missing from later seasons. She's SUCH a scientist that she's not willing to dismiss anything, even religious things.
Yanks
Wed, Aug 5, 2015, 11:04am (UTC -5)
That's TWO!! Write it down, Robert agrees with me on all counts!!

:-) :-)
Robert
Thu, Aug 6, 2015, 6:54am (UTC -5)
We may disagree on other stuff, but honestly you and I have very, very similar taste in Trek with a few exceptions. Enjoying your VOY reviews.
Yanks
Thu, Aug 6, 2015, 9:02am (UTC -5)
Robert,

No one agrees with anyone on everything. But, here like other sites I've been to, trek seems to find common ground for it's fans. One of the reasons I love trek.
Diamond Dave
Thu, Dec 10, 2015, 1:46pm (UTC -5)
Nothing really so much wrong with this episode apart from the fact it is just painfully, painfully slow and dull. For addressing such large philosophical questions the whole thing just seems very small. And even though it's probably appropriate that we don't get any answers, in some ways leaving the question open feels like a cop out.

Perhaps the best part was when the Doctor cheerfully pointed out they had been "strolling through dead bodies". 1.5 stars.
MartinB
Fri, Dec 18, 2015, 5:52pm (UTC -5)
Chakotay was prat in this episode. Yes let's not passively scan these dead bodies from a distance, let's walk around and touch and disturb them instead. The bodies were dumped unattended on a barren rock, why does he think there's are ritual element to it at all? The Klingons for one don't give a crap about the bodies after they die.

So Ptera dies, ends up on Voyager, is revived but the attempt to send her back kills her so... Janeway beams her body to the asteriod. Er... You revived her once just after she died already why aren't you doing it again? She Ptera died... Because Janeway was lazy!

And if the webby stuff is a by product of the aliens decomposition, why was Ptera covered it seconds after dying?

But to be honest, if I was Captain Janeway and my Ensign Kim disappeared and was replaced by a dead body, I'd be counting my blessings and warping out of there at Warp 9 hoping he doesn't find a way to come back. The dead body would have made a far more interesting character for the show anyway.
JC
Sat, Mar 12, 2016, 5:20pm (UTC -5)
I really, really liked the initial premise of this episode. I loved the concept of this entire races religious beliefs being challenged by the appearance of somebody from their "afterlife". I loved the idea of deaths unknowns being viewed from the other side and of the potential conflict it puts Kim and the Voyager crew in.

But then it took a different direction. None of this conflict was really that adequately explored. Valuable screen time was wasted by bodies appearing on the ship and an irrelevant jeopardy. (It was not interesting to focus on dangers to the ship from subspacd vacuules. We didn't need that. Far more interesting was the implications to Kim and this culture.) The episode turned into a fairly routine quest to trg and get Kim back.

I am reminded somewhat of the TNG episode First Contact and the way the Federations arrival challenged the Malcorian way of life; and the internal conflicts that society had and the weight of the compromise that was reached. Of course that was not about religion exactly - in that culture it was a challenge to the Malcorian view of their place in the universe - but the general concept of the core beliefs of a society being deeply shaken was handled well and with great depth. I was sad to not see this episode get a similarly in depth treatment. We didn't even get to see the impact Kim had here.

A strong start but went the wrong direction with an unremarkable finish.
icarus32soar
Tue, Apr 26, 2016, 11:19am (UTC -5)
One of the stupidest wastes of an hour's worth of TV, ST or not. Good grief is my only reaction to this inane nonsense.

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