Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Cold Fire"

**1/2

Air date: 11/13/1995
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Anthony Williams
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"If you want to succeed in honing your telepathic abilities, you must learn to control these emotional outbursts."
"Outburst? It was a giggle!"

— Tuvok and Kes

Nutshell: Some good moments in an almost-reasonble episode, but the ending is purely silly.

The Voyager comes across another space station array—a smaller version of what brought them to the Delta Quadrant ten months earlier in the pilot episode, "Caretaker." On this station they find a small community of Ocampa residents—the descendants of Ocampa adventurers who, centuries ago, went against tradition by leaving their homeworld for space travel.

The leader of the Ocampa community, a man named Tanis (Gary Graham) takes to Kes and offers his guidance in developing her mental abilities. Before long, Kes is able to telekinetically move teacups across the table, cause water to boil, and even, in one rather bizarre scene, accidentally begin to boil Tuvok's blood. (If there's one thing this scene proves, it's that Jennifer Lien was definitely not hired for her screaming ability.)

Through Tanis, Kes is able to fully utilize a full range of her mental abilities, and experiences her dark side emerging when she takes pleasure in killing a room full of plants. Tanis invites her to live on the space station with the other Ocampa so that she might realize her full potential, which gives Kes a big decision to make.

Speaking of the array, Tanis has more to offer than just education for Kes. He also knows about the Caretaker. In fact, the Caretaker's mate (whom Janeway hoped would be able to send the Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant one day), protects Tanis' array. The "Caretakers" are actually from a race called the Nacine; Tanis' Caretaker is a Nacine named Suspiria. Janeway hopes Tanis can arrange for her to meet Suspiria.

Unfortunately for Janeway and the crew, the Voyager has obtained a bad reputation. Many, Suspiria included, think Voyager killed the Caretaker when they destroyed his array. Kes' connection with Tanis ties into the plot rather tidily—as she begins to sense the bond between Tanis and Suspiria, she becomes aware of Suspiria's intense anger—and the fact that Suspiria wants to destroy the ship.

This leads to the inevitable final act where Janeway's first meeting with Suspiria is crosscut with the coinciding scene where Kes learns of Suspiria's motive. This revelation works fairly well assuming you don't know what Suspiria is up to. Unfortunately, the idea that Suspiria wants to destroy Voyager is not a surprise simply because the previous week's preview gives it away.

Once the episode reveals what Suspiria is doing, the episode gives us a horror-style ending, in which Janeway walks into engineering to find Torres and Tuvok hanging unconscious in mid-air by Suspiria's superior powers. Dennis McCarthy has some fun with the violins this week, creating a creepy tone. But the creepiness turns to hokiness when Suspiria's powers are subdued, causing Tuvok and Torres to fall 15 feet without serious bodily injury.

Really, if you think about any event in this ending for more than about ten seconds, you're bound to scratch your head. The manner in which Janeway traps Suspiria is clumsily handled and hardly believable. The connection between Tanis and Suspiria makes an obvious plot device, but has no real justification or explanation. And why is it Tanis so desperately wants Kes to come live on the array? Why is he so taken by her abilities? What does she offer his people? And why does Suspiria prove so stubborn and refuse to negotiate? And what exactly happens to the array and its inhabitants after Suspiria and Tanis retreat into subspace? Too many plot points are left unresolved; others feel forced and unclear in this unimpressive finale.

This is too bad. The story is certainly agreeable for its first four acts as Kes uncovers her hidden powers. But everything else rides on the conclusion, which, unfortunately, prompts just one question: What is the point of this episode? The only discernible answer is that the writers want to introduce the Nacine as Voyager's potential chance to get home, because other than that, there's no impact on any of the characters. Kes' powers disappear as soon as Tanis leaves, illustrating another example of Reset Button Plotting—how to change characters just so they can change back 30 minutes later.

Introducing the Nacine could have been done any time, and the writers should have done it at a time when they had a knockout story to deliver. Instead, they squander a promising card on an average story. I was looking forward to seeing another from the Caretaker's race, but not really in an underwhelming story like this.

Voyager is still having a generally disappointing season thus far, and there's only one consistent reason—the writing. "Cold Fire" is a prime example. Here's a premise that could have (and should have) been a reasonable turning point in the season. Instead, it's another mediocre installment which proves even more disappointing because of what it could have been.

Previous episode: Tattoo
Next episode: Maneuvers

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20 comments on this review

Admirable Chrichton - Thu, Sep 18, 2008 - 3:04pm (USA Central)
This has to be one of the most anticlimatic follow ups to a major plot line I've ever seen. It basically runs as "Use the force Kes, oh look a remake of the Caretakers array, use the force sommore Kes on some tea, plants and a Vulcan security officer. You killed my mate, no we didn't, oh right then, toodleoo." That is honestly about the upshot of it. It was only today why I discovered they did make it at all (as Jammer asks in the review), as a "get Voyager home" card should the show be cancelled (which was a possibility back then.) In that context, this ramshackle outing makes sense.
Jay - Mon, Aug 3, 2009 - 11:22am (USA Central)
Too much silliness and corny words in this episode...I couldn't get past them.

At "Exosia" I could take no more.
Ken - Mon, Feb 7, 2011 - 10:31am (USA Central)
I know I really bash these episodes on all of the seasons, but there is actually things to like in this episode. The relationship between Tuvok and Kes was fantastic. The whole susperia plot was really stupid and pointless, but the I'd like some of the character moments in this piece. Hey, at least they did *something* right as opposed to botching everything...
Elliott - Sat, Feb 12, 2011 - 1:22am (USA Central)
The ending is certainly hokey, but I would think that the events of "Scorpion" and "The Gift" would explain Tanis' interest in Kes...
(but boy they sure don't bother with continuity do they?)

This show is about characters and ideas, it's not the Dungeons and Dragons style plot machination show that DS9 and late TNG were. The plots exist solely to serve the character arcs which (except for Kes) move very slowly and carefully across seven seasons (wow). In other shows (ahem), characters change back and forth so wildly, it's a good thing there are big plots going on to distract one from the oscillation.
Destructor - Wed, Mar 16, 2011 - 11:26pm (USA Central)
I saw this for the second time last night and quite enjoyed it- lots of great resonances from this episode to 'The Gift'.

A pity they never concluded the Suspira story arc, however.
Carbetarian - Sun, Apr 17, 2011 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
Kes's raptor scream had me rolling in laughter! Haha, what was that??? I couldn't take Tuvok's exploding head scene seriously because I was too busy cracking up. Ha, did I just write "I couldn't take Tuvok's exploding head scene seriously"? Ridiculous.

Anyway, yes, I agree with Jammer. The consistent problem on Voyager was the writing. I think all the actors are both competent and very likable. There are even moments when I don't hate Neelix! But, the writing... Oh boy, the writing is awul!

However, sometimes the terrible writing provides some unintentional comedy, such as when Janeway went crazy and started speaking in tongues a few weeks ago in "twisted". In an odd way, I appreciate those moments. They keep the show from getting boring. Of course, it would be better if the show could be kept from being boring by actually being good. But, I digress.

Two stars for this episode from me.
Matthias - Tue, Aug 16, 2011 - 8:49am (USA Central)
All sorts of weird crap happened so I was thoroughly entertained. The screeching KFC crispy strip was unintentionally hilarious.

Ocampa dude's BIG TWIST was ruined by the same problem that's plagued every single betrayal in voyager to date including Seska's: he just looked wildly untrustworthy from the get-go. I don't know whether it's a casting thing or what but he might as well have twirled his mustache at us.
CeeBee - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 6:30pm (USA Central)
The ocampans heard detailed stories about Voyager's ravaging, but not about saving their own frickin' homeworld form the Kazon? How dim can you be.

This other caretaker should have know that her fine friend over at the Ocampan home world was randomly abducting, torturing and abandoning people, leaving Voyager and its inhabitants stranded, 70 years away from their loved ones, for a lot probably never to see their families again - ever.


That's why you do the "I mean you no harm routine", of course in true Janeway style followed up by immediately "weaponizing".

It's frightening to know the more evolved species become in Star Trek, the more violent they become. Even in our society families of victims sometimes meet (and forgive) the victim's murderer(s). Alas, at the time you're a superbeing, you kill at first sight. Let's redefine "civilization".

It should have been a fierce discussion between the crew and this Suspiria about the horrors her mate back at the array did to Voyager and its inhabitants - not to mention all those others we never saw. And maybe this Suspiria could have reached out by hurling them a few extra thousand of light years way home or so. But no.

A depressing story.
Grumpy - Sun, Jan 6, 2013 - 1:32am (USA Central)
"Unfortunately for Janeway and the crew, the Voyager has obtained a bad reputation."

What was it they were called? Oh yes: "Ship of Death." This point is emphasized in the review at SF Debris, noting that it came up again two weeks later in "Resistance." Now that I think about it, this "legend of Voyager" was a recurring motif throughout the series. For example, in "Future's End," Voyager is infamous for destroying the timeline. The motif features most prominently in "Living Witness" and, a few weeks after that, in "Hope & Fear." It's found somewhat in "Distant Origin" and arguably in "Course: Oblivion," in both cases with Voyager as a forgotten ancestor (inverted as the "Ship of Life"?). By "Think Tank," Voyager's reputation was so bad that they couldn't figure out which of many enemies might have a vendetta against them.

Voyager-as-legend is seen most often in Season 6: "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" (faulty intelligence exaggerates Voyager's power); "Pathfinder" (Barclay's obsession with the simulated crew) followed two weeks later by "Blink of an Eye" (Voyager inspires a religion) and "Virtuoso" the week after that (Doc becomes a celebrity); and "Muse" (Voyager's tale inspires a poet). All of those are reiterated in Season 7's "Author, Author."

While the Suspiria plotline was never revisited, the "Ship of Death" motif, and more broadly the idea of Voyager's reputation preceding it, is one of the core themes of the series.
William B - Sun, Apr 7, 2013 - 5:30am (USA Central)
I just watched this for the first time -- this is the only episode of Voyager I had never seen before (I missed it both on its original run and in reruns).

The episode does some important work establishing a backdrop of Kes' powers, as well as suggesting reasons why Kes really will have to leave the ship eventually. While she doesn't end up seeing the Voyager crew as "pets," it's not hard to imagine a superpowered Kes post-"The Gift" feeling that way. (I suppose having total power and difficulty controlling rage is what leads to "Fury," but I don't really know what to make of that episode.) This also does some nice work for the Kes/Tuvok relationship. And I like some aspects of the Kes/Tanis scenes -- the reveal of the dead plants is creepy, for example, and I like some of the ideas if not their representation.

At core I think one of the issues of the episode is whether philosophical exploration necessarily leads to being disconnected from other people's experiences -- Tanis' discussion of how he and Kes can see the true deeper reality whereas those around them stay on the surface seems to me to be more centrally about this topic. And that's a fascinating issue to explore, and I applaud the episode for devoting so much of its time to dialogue scenes. Still, these scenes, almost to a fault, just involve Tanis stating his views and Kes halfheartedly disagreeing if he says something anti-the crew or nodding in excitement if he says something that doesn't seem objectionable. There isn't much interesting development of the ideas of Tanis, and while there is some effort to visualize these ideas (like the saturation, the shots of the molecules) they are not insightful enough to carry these long scenes.

While the episode has some value as part of Kes' longterm arc, I really don't think there's enough story to sustain this episode. Tanis is too obviously untrustworthy early on for it to be in doubt what Kes should do, and I don't think there's really a need for it -- the suggestion that Kes will eventually see her non-Ocampa friends as being below her, and the question of whether she should explore her power to the exclusion of her current family, with all that entails, could have been dealt with without Tanis eventually nearly killing Neelix just because he interrupted or without him also working with an entity set on destroying the ship.

I like Grumpy's rundown of the ways in which the ship's reputation is a recurring theme throughout the show. So that is some good on a series-wide basis to come out of the Suspiria story. But that's very little. The Suspiria story has no real development, running as a handful of lines and moments through the main Kes/Tanis plotline before heading to the big climax which is over before it's even begun. I don't care that much about plot details, but the idea that Suspiria and Tanis and the whole space station of Ocampa couldn't use their psychic powers to determine whether Janeway is telling the truth about not having killed the Caretaker somewhat bothers me; the whole plot hinges on a misunderstanding which Suspiria of all entities should have been able to clear up right away.

I dunno, 2 stars? 1.5?
William B - Sun, Apr 7, 2013 - 5:36am (USA Central)
I always post these comments too soon and think of more things to say.

It is weird how much of a nonentity Suspiria is to the story. The opening narration by Majel Barrett Roddenberry even reminds us of the Caretaker's destruction and its mate, and the early scenes suggest this will be the main thing of import in this episode. While Suspiria is important to the story insofar as she is the reason given for these Ocampa to have developed their telekinetic powers more strongly, she herself is an extreme cipher who only has impact in the final act, which is goofy and quickly dispensed with. None of the emotion of this story is related to Suspiria, and she only worsens the Tanis/Kes material by making Tanis that much worse.
inline79 - Tue, Oct 1, 2013 - 1:54pm (USA Central)
Another Bad Captain decision! You mean no harm, then incapacitate and confine the subject???

Worst of all, Bad Captain then releases the best chance they've had to get home in the past 10 months without any negotiations at all!

I understand the writers were under pressure to insert this, but that final act was a real let down compared to the excellent content in the rest of the episode. Jammer's got this one spot on.
Caine - Sun, Oct 13, 2013 - 8:00am (USA Central)
"Susperia" ... really? Well, at least they didn't call her "Disturbia".

At the very end of the show Janeway (in voiceover) tells us that she'll be looking for a way to find Susperia again so that she can bring the ship home. Okay.

Um ... why not ask the remaining 1999 Ocampa in that space array thingie? Wouldn't they be bound to know stuff about where Susperia and Tanis went? Couldn't they offer clues or advice?

Tanis gave the distinct impression that no one on the array wanted to be in vcontact with Voyager, true ... but to just abandon the array withoput even TRYING to communicate and get some answers?

Lame!
DLPB - Tue, Mar 4, 2014 - 9:23pm (USA Central)
Tuvok's head was fried. His blood was risen over 30 degrees. And he is fine.

Yup. Magic wand of Trek writing.
Dave in NC - Fri, Mar 7, 2014 - 1:08am (USA Central)
Kes's raptoresque screams crack me up.
Ric - Sat, Mar 22, 2014 - 2:33am (USA Central)
How incredibly unethical it is to teach Kes how to control her abilities by randomly trying to read the crew's thougths! Preposterous.

Sure, it was an ok episode with a really enjoyable horror tone. I really liked how it looked sort of creepy. The scene with Tuvok was nice, hehe. But DLPB is right: he surviving this feels like the magic wand of Trek writing... Besides, what a lame ending, Jammer is completely right on this one. As Caine has said above, the captain is to leave without even trying to comunicate again? Oh yes, and how easy it was for a young untrained Ocampa like Kes to hurt a trained master and, by consequence, to weaken the mighty Susperia. Blah. Very lazy writing. Worst, now Kes lost her new abilities just because... oh never mind. Everything that happens is for nothing, right?

Of course this one certainly had important character develoment. But please, it is obvious that so far (I never watched Voyager before and do not know about the future episodes) Voyager does not bother too much with continuity. One episode that touches character development is certainly not in contradiction to that.
Shane - Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - 7:53am (USA Central)
How freakin' creepy is that when Kes boils Tuvok's blood?!
DPC - Sat, Apr 26, 2014 - 12:39pm (USA Central)
Everything about this episode was great - until the quickie lockup of Susperia. And her release. And her being quick to learn, trust, and forgive.

Especially when it's revealed that Kes didn't have any powers after Tanis leaves.

I took it at face value that this Ocampa colony wanted to take her in, to save her when they let Susperia enact her revenge. But here's Tanis, teaching her how to use powers he was giving her (as opposed to training her to use any innate powers SHE had), and she uses them on him so conveniently yet he doesn't throw his off switch?

Such wasted potential... more time, more thought, maybe a 2-parter as most of the material was built up extremely well, just to be unraveled at the end out of convenience.

Part of me was hoping Tanis would get her to apply to the ship what he trained her to do with the plants - fry 'em with kindness. Again, a 2-parter could have fleshed out so much more.

And, yup, how could Tuvok - or any organic life form - sustain a 30 degree (celcius) change instantly and for that long... it was a chilling scene, but - yup - all is well.

Voyager definitely was influenced by TOS, including the scribbled writing and "next scene later, we're all fine" routine. ("The Deadly Years" being a perfect example, or the number of times Scotty gets killed only to be revived in an instant...)
Vylora - Wed, Aug 20, 2014 - 2:09am (USA Central)
This showing is a prime example of why Voyager, as a series, frustrates the hell out of me. We get a fantastic recap opening scene to set up a potentially great episode. This scene is followed by a few acts of nicely done character growth for the oft under-utilized Kes. All of it involving the ever reliable guest star Gary Graham and the hope for further insights into the Nacine. Plus an opportunity to learn more about the wayword Ocampa.

After a pretty satisfying, yet lengthy appetizer tasting menu, we're prepared for the main course. The plate is set before us which consists of simply dried, moldy bread slathered in what seems to be actual shit.

Enjoy what you can; just make sure to satiate your appetite before the last course here at the Unfulfilled Potential Restaurant and Bar.

2.5 stars.


Skeptical - Sun, Nov 23, 2014 - 4:39pm (USA Central)
"Enjoy what you can; just make sure to satiate your appetite before the last course here at the Unfulfilled Potential Restaurant and Bar."

Heh, I know what you mean. That said, I think I'm becoming immune to Voyager's problems. Of course this episode is a lost opportunity. Of course the reset button was annoying. Of course the plotting wasn't as good as it could have been. But still, I generally liked it anyway. Part of the reason for that is that, by focusing on the Ocampa rather than the Caretaker, we got a better story. Yes, it's unfortunate that we couldn't spend more time with Susperia as well, but the Ocampa was better.

Let's face it, so far the Ocampa were basically sentient tribbles without the reproduction aspect. They are cute, cuddly, harmless, innocent little creatures that you just can't help but try to hold and protect them. All we saw of the Ocampa was the neutered version that the first Caretaker had, sterile people that were just sitting around slowly waiting for extinction. Then we have Kes, the childlike innocent one who is always eager to learn and help out and always perfectly kind and sweet to everyone. It's not a surprise that we anthropomorphize the Ocampa to be "good guys". We see them the way we want to see them, as the tribbles, a perfectly harmless bunch of elves.

And now, we find out that they can kill you with their brain. Not so harmless now, are they?

I mean, I thought the raptor scream was silly too at first, but I do think it does work. If it was a normal scream, Kes would be no different than any of hundreds of actresses in horror movies. We would see her as human. But in that scene, she should be alien instead. She's the one setting Tuvok on fire, after all, and she's the member of the species we are finding out is much more terrifying than initially thought. It should be a bizarre, unsettling scene. So maybe the raptor scream was a bit silly, but I can see the logic behind it. It's a bit unfortunate that so many people saw it as just a joke.

But the scene of Kes killing the plants was even better. Again, I don't know if the actual execution was that great, but the idea was smart. First of all, it was unexpected. It started out with Kes feeling the plants, something tender and kind. And then, she killed them all. And scariest of all, she didn't seem to mind. Her little garden was something she cared deeply about, and wanted to grow and nurture those plants. And yet she killed them all without a thought. And enjoyed killing them. And felt no remorse, no concern afterwards. Again, this is contrary to the standard expectation we had of the Ocampa and of Kes. It's frightening and disturbing. It's completely alien to us. And yet it remains all the same.

DPC was right, Tanis should have used this approach at the end. I mean, the "these puny humans are beneath you" thing has been seen dozens of times before. Tanis should have reminded her of the rapturous joy she felt in destroying those plants. He could remind her that she had never felt closer to the plants, had never felt them as deeply and emotionally as when she brought the fire. And in that instant, she felt more connected to those plants than she had ever been with anyone. Closer than with Neelix, closer than with Tuvok. If she truly cared about the crew of the Voyager, if she truly wanted to be close to them, there was only one way to do it.

Of course, Kes would protest. We would expect nothing less. Perhaps she can even turn it back on Tanis. If that is true, after all, why doesn't Tanis kill the people closest to him? Then Tanis could reveal that he DOES, that all of the Ocampa on this array do. When they reach the end of their lifespan, their closest friends and family gather around them and use their telekinetic powers to euthanize the elderly. Tanis did it to his father, and it was a beautiful, heartwarming moment for him. He looks forward to the day that his children will do it to him. But Kes will not outlive her friends on Voyager. She will never truly know Neelix. She will never feel the beautifully of becoming one with the people she kills. Unless she does it.

(I'm reminded of Stranger in a Strange Land here: the Martians in that novel eat their dead in order to fully "grok" them. Something like that is what I'm trying to get at; an act that is truly horrifying for us but is perfectly natural and loving to the alien.)

The rest of the episode would continue on as it did here. Except at the end, Kes' powers wouldn't leave. She'd simply refuse to use them anymore, out of fear of hurting anyone accidentally again. And just as scary to her, out of fear that she would enjoy it. She felt something inside her when she hurt Tuvok, and a part of her does wonder if Tanis is right, that she is missing out on something complete by not fully understanding her shipmates. Tuvok can tell her of his own emotions, and the Vulcan use of logic to control them. And it can end on much the same note, with Tuvok helping her to control these feelings and to move forward.

So yes, it's a wasted opportunity and that's unfortunate. But I like what this episode did for Kes. There's some depth in there, even if the episode failed to follow up on it. So yes, I like the episode despite its flaws. Like I said, I think I'm becoming immune to Voyager's problems. I guess we'll see how immune I get the next time they have some sort of massively ridiculous piece of "science" like a hole in the event horizon...

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