Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Projections"

****

Air date: 9/11/1995
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Did I program Mr. Paris to be so annoying?"
"Actually, I programmed him. I modeled him after my cousin Frank."

— Doc and Barclay

Nutshell: Brilliant. Easily the best episode of Voyager yet, with a witty script of twists, turns, and phenomenal dialog.

Now here's an absolutely fascinating show. This goes down as the series' best installment yet. Topping even TNG's "Ship in a Bottle," this episode delivers a mysterious sequence of illusions with a genuine sense of style and captivation. Finally, Brannon Braga has written a story that gives him a chance to do high-concept—his storytelling specialty—while shining with terrific character moments and witty twists and turns.

When the Doctor's program is automatically activated, he finds himself alone on the ship which, according to the computer, has been evacuated due to damage caused by a Kazon attack. But then there's a knock on the sickbay door. It's Lt. Torres. She says that she and Janeway stayed on board the ship to stop a warp core breach. Because of the attack, some officers on the bridge have suffered injury and need medical attention. Torres informs the Doctor of the new hologram emitters that have been rigged on various decks the ship, including the bridge. This will allow him to exist outside the sickbay.

Torres transfers him to the bridge where he treats Janeway's injuries, then Janeway transfers him to the mess hall where he helps Neelix subdue a Kazon intruder. Here, the Doctor gets hit on the head and then notices that he's bleeding and experiencing pain. He's rather dismayed, as pain and bleeding is not in his programming. Upon further analysis of himself, the Doctor discovers he has a heartbeat. And blood pressure. And brain patterns.

But there's more. The computer informs him that he isn't a hologram, but a real person named Lewis Zimmerman, with a real history. At the same time, the crew members he scans register as non-existent. Janeway, Torres, Neelix, the Kazon intruder—according to the tricorder, none of them are really there.

It seems like some sort of shipwide computer malfunction but it just doesn't add up, so Janeway attempts to shut down and restart the Doctor's program by deactivating all holographic images on the ship. When Janeway gives the computer this command, "Projections" takes a wild twist—Janeway, Neelix, Torres, and the Kazon all vanish into thin air. They are the projections.

What's really going on here? That's the question viewers will be asking as the show progresses. In retrospect, the ending seems light years away from where everything starts—it just seems to have traveled so far. But there no feeling of non sequitur here, because everything makes sense. This story is unique and completely unpredictable, and the manners in which plot points resolve themselves are so neat and tidy that it almost seems simple.

This episode is, in essence, a series of illusions. First the show has us believe the ship has been evacuated. Then it suggests that everyone is a hologram except the Doctor. After giving us three minutes to digest that, Braga's script throws another twist on us. Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) suddenly appears and tells the Doctor that his past six months aboard the Voyager have merely been a six-hour simulation on a Jupiter research facility designed to study the psychological effects of being isolated in deep space. And Barclay has plenty of remarkably sound evidence to back up his story.

Braga has every potential plot hole covered here, and it's amazing that this all holds together. This is more than just a string of bright ideas—it's also some impressive, well-tuned writing. And the execution couldn't be better. I'm not sure exactly how much responsibility Jonathan Frakes had in overseeing the implementation of such a convoluted plot, but everything works so nicely and efficiently that his directing hand is barely noticeable—which is exactly how it should be.

Picardo and Schultz both turn in exceptional performances and make a remarkable comedy duo. Their screen chemistry is one of the episode's many strengths, and Braga supplies them with some very funny dialogue. What two characters can you imagine would work better together than these two and their quirky mannerisms? The Doctor is fun with his usual sarcasm and dry humor mixed with being flabbergasted over such impossible circumstances. Barclay is, well, at his most Barclayness—always a joy to watch fidget under pressure.

Barclay tells the Doctor he is suffering from holo-transference dementia syndrome, something brought on by a radiation surge that is causing him to lose his sense of identity. If he doesn't leave the simulation soon, he will die of radiation poisoning. The only way to end the simulation, Barclay says, is to destroy Voyager, hence terminating the program. This gives the Doctor a rather hefty decision to make. What if destroying Voyager is really...destroying Voyager? Before making this decision, he must confirm that he is indeed a real person as Barclay claims.

The Doctor's search for the truth brings up a surprisingly engaging character core concerning the nature of his existence. But not only does all this make interesting science fiction, it's also a lot of fun. There's a hilariously well-realized sequence in which Barclay, trying to prove he's telling the truth, restarts the simulation to its beginning—back to when the emergency medical holographic program was first activated. This humorous recreation of "Caretaker" includes the Doctor literally deleting Paris and Kim from the simulation premise, and an exchange with Janeway where he informs her of the crew's imminent abduction by the Caretaker (or "Banjoman" he adds).

Braga's final twist happens when Chakotay suddenly appears and reveals the real truth—that everything, including Barclay and his arguments—is an illusion brought on by a computer malfunction on Voyager's holodeck. All the Doctor needs to do is sit back and wait for Voyager's repair crews to fix the problem.

But just when you thought it was all over, there's one more jarring illusion, just to prove how atypical this show really is. (Did I say the previous twist was the final one? Okay, I lied. This is the final one.) This scene uses a bit of visual disorientation and can be seen as a rather devious trick on the audience. But it's a very neat trick. I like it. A lot.

I like the whole episode a lot. "Projections" does everything just right. The camerawork is effective, David Bell's score is good, the performances are right on target, the pacing is precise, the dialogue is amusing, and the story is a sheer pleasure. It's an excellent hour of science fiction—definitely a very promising episode of Voyager. I'm game for more.

Previous episode: Initiations
Next episode: Elogium

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20 comments on this review

Nic - Wed, Jun 17, 2009 - 8:31pm (USA Central)
Wow, I find it amazing how most of the Voyager episodes you have rated four stars are my least favourite (and Voyager remains my favourite series, even though I have recently warmed to DS9). I thought this one started out good, though I wondered why The Doctor didn't find it incredulous that the Doctor's program was only activated ("when a ship-wide Red Alert was initiated", according tot he computer) AFTER the ship had been evacuated. But as soon as Barclay came in (and I love Barclay, by the way, but not here) it was so blatently obvious how the episode would end that I completely lost interest. And the "punch" at the end really felt like the script came out too short and they had to add something in just to meet the 43-minute episode length!

I guess it all goes to show that if you want to nitpick something, anything, you're always going to find material. And when you don't care, you can concentrate on what really matters.
Russell - Sat, Nov 21, 2009 - 6:11am (USA Central)
This episode was OK, but far from a four star rating. It's one of Brannon Braga's weaker efforts.
Jeff - Mon, Dec 14, 2009 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
Another case of disagreement Jammer. Sorry. Having watched this episode a second time, I'm able to understand the twists and turns better. And it is fun to Dwight Schultz again. But this is the type of VOY episode I care for the least: the holodeck/tech problem episode which has nothing to do with Voyager's "lost in the Delta Quandrant" situation.

It is a well-acted episode, but contributes nothing in the grand scheme of things (although that could be said about most VOY episodes). This would be an interesting idea on TNG, but for me I just feel overall this is a waste of an episode. Especially so early in VOY's run. Unfortunately, in the end, "Projections" come across (to me) as an example of just how quickly the writers were moving away from the series' original premise.
Will - Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - 6:03pm (USA Central)
"oh, piece of shit, it was supposed to be a bottle show... I was out the door". Nah, just kiddinng. That was Maurice Hurley's musings on "Shades of Gray". Very enjoyable episode, this one.
charlie - Sat, Feb 27, 2010 - 11:11am (USA Central)
Despite the weak ending where Janeway explains everything, this was a fun episode, with Picardo & Dwight Schultz making a delightful team.
I also liked the moment where Doc tells Kes that she's beautiful. I always suspected that he had developed feelings for her, similar to Odo's for Kira on DS9.
Sadly, this potential was undermined when TPTB got rid of Kes & not Neelix-UGH!!!!
edgeplay - Mon, Jun 28, 2010 - 2:32am (USA Central)
I liked this episode because it raises important questions in Artificial Intelligence. The main issue is "when does an AI entity know that it exists in the right space for itself". Allied to this is "how can an AI entity recognize and possibly communicate between multiple instantiations of itself. This story is closely allied to Vernor Vinge's award winning story "The Cookie Monster" and I suspect Vinge sketched an orignal story for this episode. But the original story would have had to deal with something more complex - "how does an AI entity know that what it is seeing is a projection from reality, even if that may be a holo-projection, or is actually a delusion generated inside its programming that has no existence in reality outside of its own program. I suspect this last aspect was considered too complex for the average viewer to grasp and was written out of the script. But its skeleton remains in the program having the roles of real people and holo-people reversed - a delusional variation that the Doctor would find very entertaining. At the end of the more complex version, the Doctor would have needed to have his delusional variants of himself deleted and some checks put in that he did not create any more alter-egos.

Kieran - Fri, Aug 13, 2010 - 7:48am (USA Central)
I like this episode (I like pretty much any episode that focuses on the Doctor) but the main problem with these kind of episodes is we know that none of it's really happening from the start which makes them hard to get into.
Ken - Tue, Feb 8, 2011 - 1:47pm (USA Central)
I didn't think this was a 4-star outing. There are much better 4-star episodes in Star Trek than this. Maybe for Voyager, it's 4 stars... but I can even think of several 4-star voyager episodes that absolutely crush this one: Timeless, Drone, and Living Witness. I would say these are the 3 best voyager episodes ever made. Projections is far worse.

The problem I have with this episode is that it really doesn't fit in with the series' premise, and is forgettable.

The ending is the real culprit - it has no impact at all. I just say there, thinking to myself: "Is that it?"

If there was some higher concept about a sentient being in a holographic program trying to come out... or his program becoming more self-aware... it was lost on me. The impact just wasn't there. I can think of many other episodes in TNG that did this kind of concept so much better.

This is a 3-star episode. It's interesting, and seeing Barkley is all well and good. The ending is so lack-luster that this alone creates an anti-climatic payoff that I don't think can be aware 4-stars at all.
Carbetarian - Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - 9:10pm (USA Central)
I have to join team disagreement over here too. This was a good episode. But, I don't think it was a four star episode.

I particularly agree with kieran. It's hard to get into an episode you know will inevitably be irrelevant to future episodes. Plus, this show could have been done on any Star Trek series. It almost feels like a hold over from TNG.

But, that said, I loved watching the Doctor and Barclay interact. They were wonderful together. I also liked the moment with Kes when he tells her she's beautiful. I even enjoyed the break neck twists at the end of the episode. All in all, I'd say this was one of Brannon Braga's better scripts.

This one gets three stars from me.
Dan - Mon, May 23, 2011 - 11:46am (USA Central)
I was able to buy into most of the explanations given for everything plot-wise. The radiation rationale within the program was well thought out, but the true nature of the problem was not. I would have liked a more specific reason for why the program malfunction was working towards convincing the Doctor to destroy the entire program. For example if it were a virus planted by some rival EMS holoprogram designer, that might work better for me. Simply having Chakotay say it was a malfunction seemed like a cop-out and anticlimactic. Other than that, I enjoyed the acting chemistry, humor, and 'ship in a bottle' theme.
Matthias - Sun, Aug 14, 2011 - 7:37am (USA Central)
I wonder if Barclay's cousin Frank is an intentional dig at late-stage Scrappy Doo-ish A-Team addition Frankie.

I agree with the four stars whole-heartedly. Every time you finally get a handle on things another layer of the onion is peeled off and you're left even more bewildered than before. The Doctor really shines as he tries to power through it all with logic even when confronted with premises that'd convince an ordinary man his sanity had abandoned him.
DeceitfulFish - Fri, Apr 6, 2012 - 3:14am (USA Central)
While this had the workings of a good episode, it was disappointing for a few reasons:

- As mentioned before, it's hard to get into because we know how it'll end. Clearly, the Doctor is not actually on Jupiter Station, but on Voyager. When you get down to it, there's no real conflict to be felt.
- So much talking. Barclay appears and more or less explains the entire plot in one sitting, then Chakotay does the same for a bit, then Janeway at the end.
- The mental turmoil and confusion caused by the Doctor's existential crisis and the struggle to figure out the truth is never really resolved. It's as if the writers said, "OK, show's over, just make all the bad stuff disappear."
- I saw the dream-within-a-dream thing a mile away.

In spite of that, the first half of the episode had me genuinely intrigued as to what had happened to the Doctor or the crew or who or what or WTF.
linguist - Sat, Aug 18, 2012 - 3:31am (USA Central)
This episode became a classic as soon as Chakotay posed the fate of the doctor's existence in terms of the doctor choosing what he (did not want to admit that he) wanted - being human so he could be with Kes - or choosing an unidealized existence. The pursuit of an idealized existence would have led to death, just like in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. This episode in fact rewrites Death in Venice as a comedy rather than a tragedy, since the doctor makes the ethical choice to avoid an idealization, and he thereby gains life, though it is just a "representation." (Hm, just like Kant affirms that empirically real objects are nothing but representations in his Refutation of Idealism of the first Critique...)
Lt. Yarko - Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - 11:22pm (USA Central)
This is one of my favorite episodes of all trek because of the humor and acting. The whole thing seems implausible, however. I really doubt that such a complex but mostly consistent simulated story (Barclay trying to prove to the doc that he should destroy voyager) would come out of a computer malfunction caused by radiation. And how exactly does Chakotay project himself into the holodeck from an engineering console? Anytime something goes wrong with my computer, I get random garbage results. Still, it's fun because of the replay of the first episode and the humor involved.
inline79 - Tue, Aug 20, 2013 - 3:56pm (USA Central)
Why all the bad vibes? Sure, it wasn't a proper "4-star" outing like The Inner Light or Yesterday's Enterprise, and at times it did feel a bit "Total Recall"-esque. But take a breath and a step back: this episode developed a character, was well acted, well directed, funny, and thought-provoking - everything we'd normally want from Star Trek.

3-stars. 3.5 if the writers had bothered to explain why the Doctor is sentient (he's a Moriarty-type hologram, that's why Barclay's involved!).
K'Elvis - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 8:21am (USA Central)
This episode would have been better if it had taken place later, after Voyager made contact with the Alpha Quadrant. The reason is that then it would be plausible that Zimmerman was running a Voyager simulation, so we wouldn't have been so sure that he really was the Doctor, and not Zimmerman.
Ric - Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - 4:11am (USA Central)
W-o-w! This is a true joy! One of the very best episodes any Trek has ever delivered. Not only because in fact Jammer is right and the execution was perfect, the script impressivly good.

But actually, becase it delivers one of the deepest episode dilemas I've ever seen in scifi show and in a very soft way. Why so deep? Well, when Kas makes the final joke with The Doctor, it just got clear that overall, he had just received in this episode the touch of humanity like the fairy gives to Pinoccio. Not because he will be really a human from now on, but because The Doctor will now know the most quintessential of human's things: the doubt. And among doubts, he will have the most quintessential of the humans'questioning: "who am I?".

For someone who is so certain of this and of his purpose in life - well, because he IS a programmed hologram -, having these certainties at least 1% transformed forever into questions is the closer to being human that any logical race (Spock), android (Data) or hologram could desire.

Fantastic. Absolut joy.
HolographicAndrew - Sun, Jul 20, 2014 - 2:14am (USA Central)
To me this is like TNG's Frame of Mind, in that it's a series of illusions that can be almost overwhelming to keep track of.

But for some reason I like this one a whole lot more. I liked that there's a lengthy build up at the beginning of the episode. I especially liked the callbacks to Caretaker.

Totally agree on the rating for this one.
Vylora - Tue, Aug 19, 2014 - 9:09pm (USA Central)
Even knowing how it ends, this episode is about pitch perfect in nearly every sense. I do not think its a slam-dunk classic but one of the closest yet for Voyager up to this point. Fantastic insight into the inner workings of the Doctor abound here. If that's not part and parcel to character growth, which is in turn inherently important to "the bigger picture", then I don't know what is.

Speaking of which, dismissing a whole episode just because it's a plot you don't want to see is not properly judging the episode on its own merits. There's a difference between "it's a bad ep because its not what I wanted" and "its a bad ep because writing, acting, dialogue, etc". No, the episode itself isn't part of the bigger picture, but then the majority of Voyager episodes aren't, anyway. What IS important here is the character insight and development which is a necessary part of great storytelling which, in turn, enhances the bigger picture, as it were. Just my two cents in response to a few above comments.

Anyway, great job here. Really enjoyable all around with fantastic performances and dialogue. The very last scene: Cutest Kes moment ever plus Doctor cautiously poking his arm into the corridor equals huge grin for me.

3.5 stars.
Skeptical - Sun, Nov 9, 2014 - 4:52pm (USA Central)
Glad someone else brought up Frame of Mind. But I disagree, I thought FoM was a better episode than this. And I'm trying to figure out why.

After all, in a way, this episode is more meaningful than TNG's version. FoM was a fluff Riker episode, giving him something interesting to do but not showing much of anything surrounding his character. Whereas here, we do get some sense of the Doc. He does seem to be a bit torn between his programming and his desire to be human. And although I still don't like the thought of the Doctor trying to become human or anything at this stage, at least that''s something a bit weighty.

But what about the rest of it? See, FoM was just a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, there was never any doubt that Riker was really a Starfleet officer, but the twists and turns worked very well anyways. We went back and forth between the Starfleet reality and the mental institution reality, with plenty of crossover between the two to make sure you never know what's going on (a fellow inmate claiming to be from Starfleet, the jailers showing up on the Enterprise, etc). But better yet, they weren't just false flags; it all makes perfect sense once you see the whole episode. And even better yet, they don't completely explain to you what went on; you have to figure out for yourself which parts of Riker's memories were real and which weren't and which ones ended up jumbled together. In short, the plotting was very clever.

And I think the plotting of the confusion was better there than in this episode. Although, really, it's pretty good here. The first act, before Barclay appears, is interesting enough, in which we try to understand what happened to the ship, while the plot sneaks in a few hints that something may not be right (scans not working on the crew, etc). Then we get into the Barclay part, and it becomes a bit more routine. We have the explanation, the initial dismissal, the eventual agreement, then the confusion, and the dramatic "which way will he choose" routine. That's the problem, it's routine. I mean, it's well scripted, but it ends up just going through the motions. If this episode had taken place later in the series (after Voyager had contact with Starfleet), then maybe we could have had some question about what really is real.

But I don't want to drag on this episode too much. What works? Barclay and the Doctor are very fun to watch. Chakotay's speech, as others have stated, was very good. The Doctor portrayed his confusion very well. And all the scenes were mostly entertaining to watch except when technobabble appeared. And heck, it was a pretty fun romp. But most importantly, the Doctor did, in fact, choose his programming. We don't really need another AI wanting to be human yet. Let's keep the Doc wanting to be a program for a little while longer. Even if he is wondering about what a different life would be, it's nice to see him actually be content with what he has. It's not the expected answer, so it works a bit more.

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