Star Trek: Voyager

"Persistence of Vision"


Air date: 10/30/1995
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by James L. Conway

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"My programmers didn't clutter me up with pithy Earth trivia. They programmed me with far more important data." — The Doctor on proverbs

Nutshell: The alien sci-fi setup is reasonable and much of the imagery is clever, but the ending is unfocused and doesn't really work.

When the Voyager tries to pass through space claimed by xenophobic aliens, the crew suddenly finds itself in over its head with visions and illusions—but no explanations.

There's a sci-fi freshness to this story that I've only felt one other time so far this season on Voyager—that being the standout episode "Projections." Narratively speaking, however, Jeri Taylor's teleplay is uneven—lacking focus and direction while jumping from character to character as it tries to resolve itself. Still, "Persistence of Vision" is a vast improvement over the last four Voyager offerings.

The episode initially starts as a stressful day of scheduling for Captain Janeway, leading the Doctor to order her to run her holodeck relaxation program. But when Janeway begins seeing holodeck objects (and then later holodeck characters) outside the holodeck, the episode seems to be turning into a "Janeway goes insane" show, something which is quite entertaining for the first three acts.

Unfortunately, when the plot begins to take form in the latter two acts, the story suddenly shifts directions and tries to tackle every character by giving him or her something interesting to do. Taylor's script seems all over the map. However, thanks to some interesting imagery and a cool-headed direction by James Conway, the plot holds together and the story continues along at a reasonable pace.

The plot: Somehow, in an attempt to take over the Voyager, a mysterious alien presence is manipulating the thoughts of the crew; distracting them with elements of their own past. This causes any crew member who is unable to resist this mind control to fall into a useless, catatonic state. Such distractions include Janeway seeing her fiance Mark, Tuvok talking to his wife, Paris being called a loser by his father, and Torres allowing herself a passionate affair with Chakotay. Before long, the entire ship falls under the spell, except for Kes and the Doctor. Meanwhile, three ships come out of nowhere and surround the Voyager.

This leaves it up to Kes to attempt to reverse the alien's mind control by executing a technical procedure Torres had set up in engineering. Here, the mysterious alien takes the form of Neelix and tries to take over Kes' mind as well. Kes is able to fend off the alien's mind attack by turning it against him with her own mental powers. This causes the mysterious alien to fall unconscious long enough for Kes to revive the crew.

Once revived, Janeway goes to engineering to negotiate with the alien. "Why did you do this to us?" she asks him. He replies flatly, "Because I can." At that, Janeway threatens to lock him in the brig to prevent him from preying on other travelers. Here, the episode throws a rather unexpected and interestingly unsettling twist: The alien replies, "But, you see, I'm not really here," and then vanishes into thin air. The three ships vanish, too.

Now this kind of alien threat is fresh. It's bizarre and different—characteristic of what we should be seeing in the Delta Quadrant. It's just too bad the alien's motives are so vague and underwritten. It's also too bad Taylor's script doesn't see Janeway through the end as the episode's storytelling conduit. It should have been Janeway saving the ship in the episode's finale, not Kes. While this had the potential of being a really good Janeway episode, Taylor instead decides to spread it around. The result is a story that gives everybody some good material, but doesn't have a strong sense of narrative.

Nevertheless, I'll gladly accept "Persistence of Vision." It has some good sci-fi elements, and considering the long drought Voyager has been experiencing, this light rain is the first step to alleviating it.

Previous episode: Parturition
Next episode: Tattoo

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28 comments on this review

Thu, Oct 29, 2009, 1:45am (UTC -5)
I think you're forgetting to ask one very important question: how often do Star Trek characters go to the holodeck to masturbate?

At the end of this episode, Torres is surprised to see the Captain - isn't this the day you go to the holodeck - she asks. Clearly Janeway does this weekly.

Some people find all the role-play etc. unbelievable in a world where you can just call up an image of Jeri Ryan if you're feeling horny. But I like to analogize it to the Internet. Sure there is a ton of porn on the web, a ton of *free* porn, but still: how much of your time on the web do you actually spend on porn sites? Exactly. Not that much.

When this episode aired, less than 10 percent of Americans had access to the net. Today that number is over 80 percent! And the amount of porn on the web is exponentially more. Yet today porn is just about 1 percent of total commerce over the internet. That's right, a tiny, tiny 1 percent.

So it seems perfectly normal that a very small amount of holodeck time will be devoted in the future to masturbation (even by sexually frustrated female captains far from home). So more pool games in France (is there a french pool Facebook app?) and less porn. A starship is, after all, a place of work.
Sun, Apr 11, 2010, 11:39am (UTC -5)
I must admit, I did take delight in seeing Janeway go crazy. Too bad the episode couldn't end with her in a straightjacket-where she belongs.
Sat, Apr 16, 2011, 9:40pm (UTC -5)
I liked the aliens, and I liked some of the character moments. I also enjoyed watching Janeway slowly lose her marbles. This episode also gets points for letting us watch Neelix suffer for a few minutes, even if it wasn't real.

HOWEVER, what is up with Janeway's ridiculous British nanny holonovel?!? I couldn't believe they used that concept the first time it showed up, let alone that they've made it a recurring theme! Are we to believe that in Janeway's deepest, most enjoyable, fantasies she is having an affair with some random widower while being a servant to his entitled brat children and facing daily shank eyes from his creepy... What is the other female character in the holonovel supposed to be, anyway? The head nanny? Janeway fantasizes about being the underling of a power hungry 40 year old virgin in the British countryside? Really? I'm not buying any of this.

It's almost as if the writers of this show are trying to say that even the most powerful women secretly want to be motherly types who are kept by rich men. I understand that they wanted Janeway to be more maternal captain than Kirk, Picard or Sisko. But, something about this approach feels vaguely sexist. I don't know; the British holonovel just sucks. Worst concept ever.

The rest of the episode was good though. I felt it was a little better than two and a half stars. But, it wasn't quite up to three either. So, I suppose I concur with Jammer's two and a half stars on this one.
Mon, Aug 15, 2011, 9:56am (UTC -5)
Now now, lord Burly (it's very hard to even type out without laughing) isn't a virgin, he has totally gotten laid at least twice. Also he's a complete douche of a father and I wish Janeway would deck his muttonchopped ass for trying to bone the nanny instead of at least trying to console his daughter.

I guess they didn't go with the hot and steamy affair with an Italian underwear model holonovel because they didn't want to knock the ever-lucrative nerd demographic out of their comfort zone.

Speaking of nerds getting knocked out of their comfort zone: that scene where Kes is doing some science to a console only to suddenly emit a blood-curdling scream and develop gross pestilent sores all over nearly gave me a heart attack for just how quickly and unexpectedly it went from Trekbusiness as usual to things being horribly wrong. Not recommended viewing at one in the morning.
Tue, Oct 11, 2011, 12:29am (UTC -5)
@Matthias: I think Carbetarian was referring to Mrs. Templeton, not Burleigh. I don't mind this holo-novel nearly as much as others seem to--in fact, Voyager's holographic creations number among the only fantasy worlds in Trek I myself might actually like to participate in : this one, Captain Proton, Fairhaven...

The other series' holodeck (or suite) programmes tended to rationalise their existence by their creators too blatantly--Data wants to learn about the complexities of human intrigue, so we get Doyle and Shakespeare; Bashir wishes he were a secret agent, so we get James Bond (more or less); Sisko likes baseball, so we get that dreck of an episode, "Take me out..."

Janeway isn't a secret masochist who enjoys being the victim of Victorian misogyny, she's interested in the quieter drama of household life--something denied her in "real" life.

@Carbetarian : Mrs. Templeton is the head maid. She's in charge of the house. Janeway's character is in charge of the kids, the nurse.
Sat, Oct 29, 2011, 4:37pm (UTC -5)
The holonovel feels like a ghost story - the maybe-not-dead mother perhaps playing the piano. And two of the three episodes it's been in so far were supernatural stories of a sort (Cathexis and this). According to Memory Alpha this is the last episode with it, so I guess we'll never know.
Chris Harrison
Fri, Nov 11, 2011, 2:38pm (UTC -5)
It's all very simple, and mentioned in the dialogue: Templeton is the house keeper and Janeway is playing the governess.
Fri, Mar 2, 2012, 11:10am (UTC -5)
I liked the part when Janeway wanted to exit her room, and the door didn't open, and she got panicked!
Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 11:05am (UTC -5)
You guys should have paid more attention in your British lit classes. Janeway's holonovel is a poorly disguised allusion to Jane Eyre: Young governess who works for the mysterious Rochester, who has his crazy wife locked up in the attic. Eyre is a strong female character in a time when females had no rights. The novel appeals to women because there is mystery, romance, fancy dresses, and British accents. Not the same type of fantasy men seek, but educated women love it. It fits Janeway's character.
Mon, May 27, 2013, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
Unlike most Star Trek fans, I've known many educated women, and they preferred more contemporary literature to masturbatory fantasies in the 19th century.
Wed, May 29, 2013, 6:46pm (UTC -5)
I am an educated woman (BA, BSc, MA, PhD) in history and math AND a Star Trek fan. However, anyone who would consider works by any of the Brontes merely "masturbatory fantasy" has not read them and is also being offensive. Perhaps you can consider them part romances, but its certainly not fantasy. I do not read them in a British accent, and the central characters (ie Jane Eyre, Lucy Snow, Heathcliff) are usually too poor to be wearing fancy dress. In these novels, usually a person is alone trying to survive in a grim, cruel world. Class conflict and the threat of poverty are front and center, but the writing is beautiful and plots very compelling. Perhaps some cheap gothic romance novels have been fashioned after these worlds, but the Bronte novels are true literature.
Sun, Jun 9, 2013, 3:14pm (UTC -5)
Damn! I gotaa say, the comments on this one trump both Jammer's review AND the episode itself!!
Tue, Jul 16, 2013, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
Amen, sapira. I have a PhD in literature and I am currently teaching a university summer class on the Brontes' novels and poetry, with a focus on how their plots illustrate the complex interactions between gender and class structure in the 19th century.

Sintek, if you cannot be bothered to actually read literary works, at least read their Wikipedia summaries before making pronouncements about them. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing very ignorant. (Also, please refrain from speaking for "educated women" in the future. We would rather speak for ourselves.)
Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 2:25am (UTC -5)
Maybe this Bothan does this because he's angry at everyone over his many relatives that gave their lives to bring the Rebels the plans to the Second Death Star...

Awesome telepathy battle. The women rock this episode!
Thu, Nov 14, 2013, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
The only thing I could think about watching this is how everyone on the ship must snicker anytime someone goes to the holodeck, because EVERYBODY (ok, every man at least) HAS to be using for sex.
I know I would.
angry woman
Sun, Mar 16, 2014, 11:06pm (UTC -5)
" and is also being offensive."

the hell is this
Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 12:00am (UTC -5)
The mental control war was interesting, but came a bit late for me. I mean, I was already hopelessly bored/annoyed with the silly begining. I am with the ones who think the holodeck world created for the Captain plays out to be ridiculously executed. And for me, the captain-goes-crazy was not effective at all. We do not have the same formal impressions about her yet that we had towards Picard, so it was not strong.

Besides, although I love most of The Doctor plots so far, I am getting sick of him being the only one left: "This is The Doctor to anyone on this ship, if you can hear me please reply".
Not to mention that this episode's plot once again felt like reused plot from older Trek. Blah.
Tue, Aug 19, 2014, 11:58pm (UTC -5)
Sometimes, in fiction, it is quite alright to not be given any answers. This is one of those times. I found most of the scenes to be quite effective in slowly building a sense of delusional paranoia. I agree with Jammer in that the spreading of the hallucinations among the crew slowed the dramatic momentum a bit. However, it also allowed for a few interesting scenes. Whether they were necessary additions or not is debatable.

This is a breath of fresh air after the last few clunkers and a pretty good showing in its own right. The whole "only the Doctor can save us" premise (with Kes in this instance) doesn't bother me when it's done as well as it is here. Only downside is the reasons for some of the crew slipping into a catatonic state showed a weaker willpower on their part than I would like to think that they should have.

3 stars.
Fri, Nov 21, 2014, 10:57pm (UTC -5)
The question of the quality of this little Bronte-esque holodeck novel is irrelevant. It could be the greatest work of literature imaginable, and it still shouldn't be included in the episodes.

Imagine, if you will, that you bought a novel, say, The Adventures of Joe Schmoe. A couple chapters in, the character Joe Schmoe picks up another novel, say, The Tale of Bob Mcgoo, and starts to read it. So for 5-10 pages or so, you are forced to read the fictional Tale of Bob Mcgoo instead of the Adventures of Joe Schmoe like you wanted to. Then Joe Schmoe's phone rings and it goes back to him for a few chapters, but then he starts up Bob McGoo again.

Does this sound like a book you would enjoy? It doesn't matter what the plot of Joe Schmoe or Bob Mcgoo is; it's ridiculous to try to read a story within a story like that. Oh sure, there are ways that it works out: Joe Schmoe is just a framing device and Bob Mcgoo is the real story, the themes of Bob Mcgoo parallel the themes of the real Joe Schmoe story, the plot of Joe Schmoe reading Bob Mcgoo is highly relevent to the story, etc. But if it's just because the author of Joe Schmoe wanted to tell the Bob Mcgoo story at the same time, it won't work.

And that's what we have with Janeway's holonovel. Ask yourself, do you know what the plot of any of Dixon Hill's adventures were? No! TNG just tossed a bunch of film noir cliches together and called it a day. It was used to introduce us to the holodeck (Big Goodbye), comedy (Manhunt), and to provide the theme of the story (Clues). We weren't supposed to care about the plot itself, and Picard certainly didn't carry a mystery novel across multiple episodes just to fill time. For all of TNG's many uses of the holodeck (and DS9 as well), none of them were to tell an alternate story for THAT story's sake. At worst, it told an alternate story using Trek's characters (like Our Man Bashir or Fistful of Datas).

That was why Janeway's holonovel is dumb. If you need to just show her relaxing, fine, do that. But do it quickly with a few cliche scenes, don't try to build up the whole dumb plot. Because we don't care. Nor should we care. If Jeri Taylor wanted to write a story about a British governess and a maybe-ghost mom, then she should have done it on her own time, not shoe-horned it into Trek. And I would feel the same way about any other holodeck storyline that just focused on the crew member acting out a play for its own sake, not for the sake of a greater episode.

But whatever, time to move on.

I'm kinda the opposite of Jammer here. The first part seemed to drag to me, but the latter half was great. Part of the problem is, looking back, the first part doesn't make as much sense as it should have. What was really happening? Was the alien just trying to make Janeway go insane first in order to get her out of the way? Or was he calibrating his psychic abilities? I don't know, I guess either story makes sense. All I know is, the paranoia of Janeway having hallucinations like that feels like something that we've seen before. The latter half, the war of wills, was new.

I like that they showed quite a few of the hallucinations from different members of the crew. It was cool to see Tuvok be one of the first people to succumb; one would expect him to hold out more. But his role as security officer meant he was probably more concerned with what was going on the screen than most, and thus fell first. I liked that Chakotay disappeared off the bridge filled with purpose, but never made it out of the turbolift. I liked seeing how Janeway and Paris tried to avoid their hallucinations, and did well for quite a while. And then Torres... well, that one seemed to come out of nowhere, but everyone else's temptations were fine.

I liked that Janeway ultimately failed. She wasn't telepathic or whatever or any more powerful than anyone else on the ship. The "iron will" idea is hard to believe, and seeing her human works better.

I liked Kes and the Doctor's team up. Seeing two people not used to technobabble have to deal with it was a nice tough, and it was enjoyable watching them awkwardly fuddle their way through it. And while it might get annoying seeing the Doctor constantly save the day, well, that's the price you pay for a character like that. The same thing happened on TNG with Data. And anyways, the back and forth between Kes and the alien was fun. Sure, we could assume that all her visions were not real, but you could see how Kes might be tempted. And the sores... yow! That was well directed. It got me to jump.

I like that nothing got resolved. I like that the crew nearly lost and had nothing to show for it. They are supposed to be isolated, alone, and stuck in a dangerous environment. If they could nearly all turn into zombies by this one person, and can't even catch him at the end, how are they going to survive? I think it fits the tone of the episode, providing even more paranoia. Would he ever come back? Would they have to live in perpetual worry that they will suddenly become zombies again? Of course, it's just a reset button, but still. Ignoring that, the end worked.

That said, the reset button did annoy me a bit. Neelix's comments at the beginning suggest that this was a pretty large expanse of space, and that lots of ships had trouble. So... is this a whole race of troublemakers? Or just one sociopath? If so many people were worried about this area in space, wouldn't this guy try again to prove himself? A part of me wished that this guy would have eventually been revealed as an Ocampa, as that might explain why Kes could reflect it. And it might have made the revelation quite dramatic and shocking. I don't know, it's just an idea. Either way, something more interesting should have happened in a follow up.
Chris S
Sun, Mar 15, 2015, 11:38am (UTC -5)
As far as some of the people talking smack about Janeway's "fantasies" is it not possible that this is, in fact, a "holonovel" the way it is portrayed?

Not every holodeck program is a procedurally generated made-on-the-fly-by-the-computer simulation. No, there are HOLONOVELS. Which may actually be written by PEOPLE! I figure Janeway found the novel in the database, and thought it would be a fun one to experience. The name she loads is probably what she titled her "saved game" or something.
Thu, Aug 6, 2015, 10:22am (UTC -5)
Kind of going from memory here, my Voyager DVD's (or my DVD player) are temperamental at times and I could get this one to play.

I remember liking this one. For those that think every minute of an episode needs to be "gripping", you should watch some old Godzilla movies. I LOVED the most recent Godzilla because the didn't show everything the entire movie.

Ah, I remember now, this is the Kes marshmallow-face episode! :-)

I thought the ending was pretty cool. Kes' powers prevail and are remarked upon by someone other than Tuvok. "You're a powerful little thing."

Technobabble didn't save the day, our little Ocampan did.

I thought "and I'd like to be able to accommodate you but you see, I'm not really here." was new and fresh and caught me off guard.

I'll go 3 stars here.

I agree Jammer, we needed a shot in the arm. the most recent group of Voyager episode weren't very good.
Fri, Oct 30, 2015, 8:56am (UTC -5)
This episode was pretty enjoyable, especially the surprise that not Janeway but Kes saved the ship, except for the ending which pretty much declared that the events should and will be subsequently forgotten.
Sun, Dec 20, 2015, 6:15pm (UTC -5)
What I don't get is where that Torres/Chakotay fantasy came from? I don't ever recall there being any hint of that. They were close from serving together of course, but sexually? Nah. And what even worse, but not suprising for this show, its never mentioned or plays any part ever again. Torres goes on to marry the helmsman and Chakotay gets to "service the Collective". I think it'd have been more realistic if Torres was hip deep in dead Cardassians or even better, wishing she was the fully human version from "Faces".
Diamond Dave
Sun, Jan 10, 2016, 6:40am (UTC -5)
An episode loaded with potential that doesn't quite deliver. There are a number of really nice misdirections - eg the possibility it's the Doctor's repositioned holodeck emitters that are causing the problems early on - that builds on a nice slow burn to an off centre climax in which Kes unexpectedly saves the day.

That said, it's all a bit scattergun as it spreads the character focus around thinly. That works for Janeway, who at least gets explored in some depth, but the Torres and Paris themes seem perfunctory. The ambiguous conclusion also slightly undermines the proceedings in my view. "I'm not really here" indeed. 2.5 stars.
Tue, Mar 15, 2016, 1:54pm (UTC -5)
I have a hunch that the *real* purpose of this episode was to give a little boost to everybody's character development, and that illustrating Delta quadrant weirdness was secondary. We've got a bit of Paris and his father, Janeways struggle with loneliness and feelings for her husband, Torres' crush on Chakotay, a little glimpse into Tuvoks relationship and desires (which he otherwise can't reply express as a Vulcan), etc.

The quick ending and lack of explanation for the aliens, as well as Janeway and torres' final conversation (focusing on their feelings rather than the aliens), is evidence for this intent. Same with the mostly faceless alien. It's as if the alien was written to be as non distracting as possible, and specifically set up to not have the potential to become a memorable recurring species.

But if that's the case, it still wasn't well done. The problem was that too much time was spent building up the encounter and the hallucinations. The consultations with Neelix were irrelevant as was the aliens policies towards outsiders. We didn't need screen time for that. We didn't need half the episode of the captain in sickbay trying to figure out what was wrong, we didnt need the extended build up, we didn't need kes' dragged out attempt to thwart the aliens. This was all a waste of screen time when it *should* have been dedicated almost entirely to various characters hallucinations and their effects.

Either that or the episode should have dropped the character development completely and gone the direction of developing a new Delta quadrant species instead.

Either way, it didn't do justice to any purpose. Jammer was spot on with the observation that the writing was all over the map.

I didn't dislike this episode, but I do think it was a wasted opportunity because of its lack of commitment to any specific direction.
Wed, Aug 17, 2016, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
When janeway's boring holodec program started spilling on to the ship I knew I was going to fall asleep. boring psychological snoozefest
Sun, Sep 4, 2016, 10:42am (UTC -5)
It's kind of funny that in the early seasons there was complaining that the episodes were too much ensembles rather than focusing on a particular character while in the latter years the episodes were criticized for focusing too much on only one character, usually Seven or the Doctor (but to be fair I think Jammer is consistent and prefers and is more positive to the latter style).
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 5:56am (UTC -5)
I feel Jammer has undermarked this one. It has a freshness and a pace about it not seen thus far in Voyager. This and Projections are the best episodes so far, so for me this at least a 3 star ep. I'm going higher - 3.5 stars.

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