Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Coda"

**

Air date: 1/29/1997
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Nancy Malone

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Maybe I could stand with an apple on my head and you could phaser it off."
"Sounds great. If I miss I get to be captain."

— Janeway and Chakotay, discussing "Talent Night"

Nutshell: A 100% typical exposition on the "dead captain" theme. No, thanks.

"Coda" is an episode based on an idea that has been done many times before—and much better—on Trek. The general idea is to temporarily kill a major character—in this case the captain—and milk it for all the emotional pathos it's worth.

Personally, I think I've seen this story rehashed enough times already. If you want a really good example of this theme, then you should watch DS9's "The Visitor," a tour de force on just about every level. "Coda" has none of the resonating emotion or epic moments that "Visitor" had. I think the overall problem is that once "Coda" figures out where it's going, it unfolds completely as expected and never comes close to being anything but pedestrian.

That is, of course, only after it has found its direction. The first two acts of the episode bombard us with a multitude of different ideas out of the Trekkian bag of tricks. Shortly after the episode opens (after a completely routine Neelix scene that has me suspecting we won't likely see a new Neelix come out of the recent "Fair Trade"), Janeway and Chakotay take a shuttlecraft to the surface of a planet (for reasons that are never explained). Well, no points for guessing that the shuttle gets caught in a storm and crashes, a la the unfortunate reversion to the reliable second season cliche: In the event that a premise cannot be created from a fresh idea, simply crash another shuttle and put the characters into a tough situation that way. (What is this, the fifth shuttle the Voyager crew has lost? Perhaps sixth? I've lost count.) Janeway is critically injured in the crash, but Chakotay revives her; then the two are attacked and killed by some Vidiians, at which point the scene cuts back to the shuttle where the sequence of events repeats.

At first, I figured we were in for a rehash of the time loop story—something along the lines of TNG's "Cause and Effect." The sequence begins again, but differently. This time the Vidiians attack and destroy the shuttle. Repeat again. This time Chakotay pilots the shuttle back to Voyager, where Doc reveals that Janeway has contracted the Vidiian Phage and is suffering from symptoms which caused her to hallucinate the time loop. After working 40 hours searching for a treatment, Doc gives up and tells Janeway the only humane choice is euthanasia. Practically before she can protest, he kills her with a toxic gas.

Cut back to the shuttle with Janeway and Chakotay and... well, I think you begin to get the idea.

As these events progressed and reality continued to get more confused, it seemed anything was possible. My curiosity began to percolate at this point, because the episode was just acting so weird. But just as things start to get interesting, the plot settles down into an unimpressive "exposition on Janeway's death" direction that proves less than compelling because of its predictable plot advances.

Basically, the plot boils down to a standard ghost story in which Janeway dies but her "spirit" (or whatever you wish to call it) remains to observe the crew in the aftermath. How do we know she's a spirit? Because her long-deceased father (Len Cariou) appears out of a white light and tells her she is, that's why. Janeway, being a scientist and skeptic like her father taught her (one of few nicely drawn ideas from a past episode, "Sacred Ground"), looks for every other possible scientific "phase shift" and "dimensional displacement" explanation to fit the situation.

Some of the individual ideas that Jeri Taylor's script throws us are nicely handled and performed. The idea of Kes sensing Janeway's presence with her unique mental abilities makes sense and supplies the plot a needed momentum boost. And Janeway's inability to accept that now that she's dead and her crew will go on without her is relevant, even if completely derivative.

The obligatory funeral scene is a shameless and manipulative attempt to tug at the emotions. Though somewhat necessary given the story's specifications, it feels at times like an annoying kid tugging at your sleeve. Actually I sort of liked it in a way. It made for an intriguing "what if" scene; I'm sure that, deep down, all of us have wanted to be the proverbial fly on the wall to hear what others would talk about us when remembering us. Dawson's portrayal of Torres paying respect was particularly nicely conceived and performed.

Still, none of this is really new material. We've all seen this done more effectively. And the big problem is that the story's conclusion undermines all the actors' attempts to convey a genuine sentiment.

To put it bluntly, the "revelation" that Kathryn's father is really an alien trying to coax Kathryn's consciousness out of her dying (but still slightly alive) body and into his "matrix" is stale, stale, stale. Worse yet, anyone would see it coming about a mile away, because the way the show is structured makes it probably the most predictable episode of Voyager this side of "Basics, Part II." Did I believe for a second that Janeway's father was a real spirit? No, because I just know better. Voyager doesn't believe in ghosts or ghost stories; the writers strive to explain near-death anomalies in "sci-fi" terms. Hence the alien of the week.

Once Janeway began suspecting that her father wasn't really her father, the show may as well have been over, because Cariou and Mulgrew face off in a "fiery" dialog scene that's overstated and overacted. Janeway would need to be a fool not to see through the alien's ruse given how obvious and desperate his persuasion attempts turn. Some subtlety would've been nice, but the ending certainly doesn't supply it. (Janeway's "Go back to hell, coward," fell rather flat, too. It was simply excessive.)

Another big problem is that the entire episode is really just a battle inside Janeway's mind brought on by the alien's influence. This means that nothing in the episode really happened. Everything Harry and B'Elanna said at Janeway's wake; Tuvok's solemn log entry; Kes' hope to find her captain—all imaginary happenings that never took place. The fact that all the characterization in the show is a dream proves quite frustrating.

(Before I get people telling me that "The Visitor" didn't really happen either, let me quickly point out that "Visitor" was based on a time anomaly and not an arbitrary alien-induced figment of imagination. Besides, "Visitor" was about 25 times more moving than "Coda" is, and the real issue here is that there are good ways to use a premise that exists outside conventional reality and bad ways. "Coda" is not an example of the good way.)

Also, in retrospect, what is the point of the time loop motif? A closer look reveals that the idea just doesn't fit in with the rest of the story, so why do it? It apparently serves no purpose beyond a MacGuffin to confuse the audience early on. If the whole episode would've followed this lead into a maze of convoluted surrealism I probably would've enjoyed it much more, but it didn't; it transformed into a by-the-numbers drama with a disappointing ending.

Hey, the show isn't a total loss. Some of the acting is decent stuff. Roxann Dawson's speech during the wake and Robert Beltran's scene when Janeway dies in his arms are notable standouts. Also, some of the chemistry between Janeway and Chakotay in the opening and closing are among the show's best scenes (perhaps because they were among few scenes that actually happened). I'm not saying we need to see an affair between these two characters, but the amiably-portrayed affection is definitely nice.

But if I have to witness the crash of one more shuttle on Voyager, I'll be forced to slay somebody.

Previous episode: Alter Ego
Next episode: Blood Fever

Season Index

22 comments on this review

AJ Koravkrian - Thu, Nov 8, 2007 - 10:39pm (USA Central)
I just have one question. What possible away mission could require both the captain and the first officer to go by themselves in the same shuttle ? Star Fleet doesn't permit that in the Alpha quadrant, let alone in the Delta quadrant where the senior officers are almost impossible to replace. And anyway, it sounds like they were collecting some chemical compounds. What, they just wanted to hang out with each other ?
Dirk Hartmann - Mon, Apr 14, 2008 - 1:03pm (USA Central)
They really should have sticked with the time loop motive. It somehow seems the writer unsucessfully tried to turn some ideas for different episodes into one show.
Jeff - Thu, Sep 3, 2009 - 3:48pm (USA Central)
"Coda" is yet another (in a long list of) examples of mediocre VOY episodes. Once again the premise of the series is completely ignored and worse, it very poorly copies in the beginning, a vastly superior TNG episode. The time loop in "Cause and Effect" (as far as I can tell) is a unique concept. It probably has been used before in other sci-fi medium, but for me at least, I've never seen it used anywhere else. The fact that "Coda" uses the idea can only smack of copying from one's self. Although it was interesting that it took Chakotay and Janeway roughly 2 seconds into the loop to realize what it took Picard's crew 17 days to figure out.

Another wasted opportunity is the chance to get some background on Janeway. The alien of the week assumes the guise of her father, and because of his mental link with her he's able to pull out some biographical info. But her father's first name? Who knows. Her sister's? Who cares.

One of the things I dislike about modern TREK is how a wonderfully personal dramatic scene gets interrupted for the sci-fi anomaly plot of the week.

My point being this. After I watched the episode last night I felt a better idea would have been to have Janeway sustain injuries in the accident, and have a vision of her father. Something similar to "Tapestry", not that she needed to change something in her past, but she could fight for life while coming to terms with her father's death. Or we could do a straightforward flashblack a la "11:59."

I think the reason I like VOY characters the least is because the writers were rarely fair with them. Kim's continued naivete, Paris never growing up, Torres alternating between over the top temper to maternal and soft.

Another missed opportunity: Janeway laments how she'll never get to see Kes grow and mature. Sadly, neither did we.

I can see (I believe) where Jeri Taylor was going with this. Set up a lot of confusing and mysterious circumstances to keep the viewer hooked. It works, but not in the way I think they intended. Rather than think, "I can't wait to see what happens next" I was thinking "Where in the world are they going with this?"
Jason - Tue, Jan 19, 2010 - 2:02am (USA Central)
This episode had a lot of potential up until Janeway becomes a ‘Ghost’. I would have liked the repeating deaths to have gotten more and more ‘over the top’, but the show sort of wimped out.

On a side note I loved the exchange at the beginning between the Captain and Neelix. Is it just me or did it sound like they were talking about an orgy? Some of Janeways expressions and lines during this opening are classic, including the assertion that Vulcans may not make good orgy participants. It deserves 3 stars just for that!
Mal - Sat, Jan 30, 2010 - 1:04am (USA Central)
@Jason

that wasn't the type of talent show they were talking about...
Jake - Fri, Mar 12, 2010 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
Like "Resolutions," this episode is basically a love letter from Jeri Taylor to Kathryn Janeway. Whereas both Picard & Sisko gradually & believably earned the respect of their respective crews and audiences, Voyager seemed, almost from the beginning, to slam the idea of "JANEWAY IS AWESOME" over our heads over & over again, thus making her a 2-dimensional, cardboard character.
Matt - Sun, May 23, 2010 - 8:35pm (USA Central)
Jeff: "Coda" is yet another (in a long list of) examples of mediocre VOY episodes. Once again the premise of the series is completely ignored and worse, it very poorly copies in the beginning, a vastly superior TNG episode.

Exactly. The reason DS9 was good (save for its disappointing final season) is that it didn't obsessively try to duplicate TNG. By Voyager's third year, though, it became clear that it merely interested in being a TNG clone instead of the tale of hardship & survival it should have been
navamske - Fri, Aug 13, 2010 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
This is another in a line of "Wait, which is the reality" episodes, like "Projections" and that one (the name escapes me) where the aliens are asleep all the time and Chuckles has to keep tapping his wrist three times whenever he sees Earth's moon. As such, it raises questions about the content and provenance of some of what Janeway experienced. For example, Torres's eulogizing speech clearly never happened. Does this mean what we saw was Janeway's fantasy of what B'Elanna would say at her funeral? More to the point, there was a quite affecting scene (kudos to Robert Beltran) where Chuckles hugged the dead Janeway to his chest and wailed, "No, you can't die!" If that didn't happen, then is it a fantasy of Janeway's that her first officer has feelings for her? This is something Janeway should have been interested in exploring -- indeed, something the show should have explored.

Apropos of Chuckles' tapping his wrist three times, one of the scenes of the shuttlecraft descending toward the planet in the teaser looked very much like Dorothy's house falling into Munchkin Land.
Nic - Thu, Oct 7, 2010 - 6:17pm (USA Central)
Wow, Jammer, I think you were feeling generous this week. This episode is a total mess! It's almost as if they took one act from each of the most popular TNG episodes and stitched it together without explanation or logical flow. Why would the alien create a hallucination of a time loop? Or of getting the Phage? Or of having Kes sense her (which would give her hope rather than encourage her to leave this life)? And speaking of Kes, if she was able to sense Janeway when she passed through her, why didn't Janeway try it again? I guess there's no point in asking all these questions, because I don't think it's supposed to. AS you said, the actors turned in worthy performances (I was moved by Torres' speech even though it wasn't real), but it is a failure on almost all other aspects (including visual effects).
Paul - Sun, Apr 24, 2011 - 5:48pm (USA Central)
Of course you spotted the continuity error?
Alien boy wearing an old uniform but new comm-badge? Janeway should have spotted that one straight off...
Matthias - Sun, Aug 28, 2011 - 3:18am (USA Central)
Check out the giant strand of saliva flying from Chakotay's mouth when he's holding her dead body, mad props to Mulgrew for staying limp in those circumstances.
Ken - Mon, Nov 7, 2011 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
A Horrible episode.

It never seems to amaze me that when characters go off into a shuttle to 'explore' light years away from Voyager that something bad happens. I never quite understand why the characters insist on using their shuttles most of the time.

This episode is even more suspect. Why is both the captain and the first officer on a shuttle so far away from Voyager for? This would NEVER logically happen.

Looking back, most of the reasons the writers give for sending out these shuttles is incomprehensible. Let's not mention the repeated risks. Every time they send out a shuttle and go off in another direction, something really bad happens. Sometimes limited crew members die.

So to me, any show that starts off like this - and believe me, there's a LOT - it needs to dig itself out of a huge hole. Unity is a show that managed to do it, but most do not.

Frankly, the whole "let's send a shuttle many light years away from the main ship" is a huge writer crutch they never stop using throughout the 7 years this series was on.

Anyway, the story here is pure drivel. I find it amazing that Janeway and Chakotey know they are in some kind of a time loop after only 1 repetition. It took the TNG crew numerous times to figure it out.

But essentially, the whole thing is a wash. The writers throw every gimmick possible in the first 10 minutes of the show to try and disorient you, and the show isn't serviced better for it.

The speeches the crew gave in Janeway's honor after they finally accept their death were simply horrible. Who writes these speeches? The acting was also quite terrible, but I don't blame the actors. They were probably thinking the same thing. They came off as very inauthentic, and at times, forced.

Lastly, DS9 did the spirituality/science mix the best, because all of the religious/spiritual aspects to the show had a basis in some kind of science. In this show, however, it tries to cross the line by incorporating a bit too much mysticism.

When you watch a show like "Who watches the Watchers" from TNG, you get a clear sense that mysticism and gods and the afterlife are a thing of the past - and the very idea of these ideas being practiced sends Picard into anger. So it seems rather odd that Janeway's character buys into it. We are even given clues as to how she was in her youth... and that sounds like how something would act TODAY, not in the era of Star Trek. Frankly, I think attitudes towards mysticism and the super-natural would be much different for the common person by then. It doesn't fit.

Of course, the whole episode is a huge waste of time, because none of it really matters. It leaves no lasting impression, other than that, "Why the hell did I watch this for?"
Ian - Thu, Dec 8, 2011 - 11:15pm (USA Central)
The thing that really freaked me out about this episode is the idea that the alien actually was doing that "you are dead come with me," routine to others. Imagine people not really being dead but going along with "him?"
That would have been an interesting avenue to ponder or explore...
Ryan - Wed, Aug 22, 2012 - 6:32pm (USA Central)
Wow, I must be the only one that likes this episode. I'm not sure that this episode was intended on being a "loss of our beloved main character" episode. I viewed it more as a really sick and disturbing horror story with a little religion mixed in. Am I the only one that associated Cariou's character with the Devil? I mean think about the gruesome ways Janeway dies. Gives me the creeps every time I watch it... That's why I think it's so good. At least 3 stars for me.
Elphaba - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 12:42am (USA Central)
You're not the only one. I liked this episode as well. I too would have preferred if they continued with the time loop deaths and made them get crazier. But the emotional payoff was there. Sure they were milking it, but I earnestly felt it. Katie Mulgrew is a strong presence for sure. That raspy voice really helps to solidify that.
Michael - Thu, Mar 28, 2013 - 9:01pm (USA Central)
This episode reminded me of the time I saved my game a few seconds before I was wiped out by a particularly tough enemy in Skyrim, then I kept respawning and being killed instantly. Obviously, that's what happened to Janeway and Chakotay.
Phil - Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - 9:40am (USA Central)
Maybe the mourning scenes weren't just a dream sequence in Janeway's head; maybe the alien had to show her consciousness an alternate dimension where she did die, to show her convincingly that she was dead.
Nancy - Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - 11:59am (USA Central)
I was impressed by the acting here, especially by Mulgrew and Beltran. I was affected by the speeches after Janeway's "death." I even teared up with Kim during the memorial service.

That's why I was so angry about the cop-out ending where it was revealed that all of those moving moments were hallucinated by Janeway. As Jammer states, these kind of episodes where a main character "dies" have been done before and I knew she wouldn't stay dead, but what a rip off to discover that Chakotay's heart wrenching reaction and the tributes to her were actually made up BY her? It ruined all I enjoyed about the episode up until that point.

Plus, the whole "maybe all near death experiences are actually evil aliens sucking people's consciousness into a matrix for nourishment" is another one of those cringe-inducing attempts to explain away spiritual experiences with a grossly inadequate sci-fi trope....another cheapening of the emotions I felt earlier.

If it weren't for the skill of the actors, this episode would be worthless. However, they were able to make me feel something despite the inadequacies of the plot, so for that I agree with the two star rating.
Riprake - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 6:42pm (USA Central)
I agree with Ryan on this one. "Coda" was basically a "maybe it's the afterlife, maybe just the alien-of-the-week" plot which is deliberately left unresolved. The initial time-loop sequence, in addition to being a red herring, was there to suggest that whichever it was, this fellow come to claim Janeway did have some control over time and he WAS showing her a possible future.

What nobody seems to notice is what I think is the best part of all: the ending in which Janeway basically tells her log she sure HOPES this was just another one of those bizarre alien anomalies local to the Delta Quadrant and that she's left him behind for good now, but that considering what she's heard of other near-death experiences back in the Alpha Quadrant, there's really no way she can ever be sure. Might Janeway really have met a demon come to drag her to Hell?

Good question, though of course the episode has to close without answering it in order to keep from saying for sure whether Satan or something like him really does exist in the Star Trek universe, which would in turn raise complicated questions of whether that means God is there too and what kind of dealings with each of several million different sentient species in the Milky Way alone such a God would have. (Is the same guy in charge of Sto-Vo-Kor and the Divine Treasury, or are Heaven and Hell franchises or something?)

One reason I like this kind of episode so much is it's the very kind of story that the hopelessly naive humanist Gene Roddenberry never allowed while he was alive for fear of losing his foolish faith in humanity's supposed inherent goodness. "Go back to Hell, coward!" indeed!
Looper - Thu, Oct 17, 2013 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
And what's with the alien's "matrix" anyway? If there's one thing i don't like -and it seems to happen quite frequently- is to have some random, nasty alien causing trouble just for the sake of it, and as to their motives, we get no explanation, it's just "what they do". That's lame.
Jay - Wed, Dec 4, 2013 - 11:25pm (USA Central)
Why would Chakotay and Paris have to take duty stations?...there is a crew of some 150.
Mike - Wed, Jan 15, 2014 - 12:10pm (USA Central)
Didn't HATE the episode until the alien/father went all 'villain' at the end. If he HAS to convince his victims to join him, why would he tell Janeway "just you wait, you'll die and I'm coming for you...and oh by the way it'll be horrible!"

Keeping it ambiguous would've been at least potentially interesting.

Annoying about the reset button, however...as many note, the Kes stuff, the funeral stuff...none of it happens.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer