Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Macrocosm"

*1/2

Air date: 12/11/1996
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I thought Klingons didn't get nauseated. You have a redundant stomach." — Paris to Torres

Nutshell: Technobabble terror colliding with more action cliches than I can count. Ugh.

I don't like the trend I've been seeing in Voyager the past few weeks. It's starting to show evidence of "season two syndrome." Silly plots and brainless action are taking precedence over real drama and intelligent storytelling. "The Q and the Grey" may have been a misguided clash of ideas, but at least it had ideas. "Macrocosm" is about as brain-dead as Trek can get (or so I hope). Not good, people.

"Macrocosm" (yet another installment pointlessly advertised as "special") is a downright silly episode; yet another mishmash of parts that has no idea what it wants to do aside from supplying a host of action cliches and mundane plot advances.

Returning from a diplomatic mission in a shuttlecraft, Janeway and Neelix rendezvous with a darkened, empty Voyager. Communication with the ship is impossible, because there are no signs of the crew at all. The first half of the episode revolves around Janeway and Neelix's attempts to track down the crew, and they eventually realize there are about 30 human life signs on the upper decks. Crawling through the Jeffries tubes on the powerless ship, Neelix is attacked by an unknown lifeform and apparently hauled away. Janeway now finds herself the sole crew member to save the ship from an apparent alien takeover. The second half of the show explains what's going on, as the Doctor (one of few functional members of the crew) explains to Janeway what has transpired—that of a "macrovirus" that grows until it exists on the visible scale rather than the microscopic scale.

These macroviruses were inadvertently beamed onto the ship and began multiplying "at an exponential rate." After infecting the crew and making everybody extremely ill, they then grow to be huge, until they're big enough to attack you like the aliens in, well, Alien. Basically, this plot boils down to a rip-off of Alien meets Outbreak. Hence Janeway's attitude change to Sigourney Weaver mode (always carrying a big gun and appearing to be in pain) and Doc's line, "Oh no, the macrovirus is airborne!" There's very little in terms of intelligent writing here—it's just a clothesline to hang some lackluster stunts and standard action scenes on.

Watching the first two acts got very old very fast. I got tired of watching Janeway tentatively pointing her phaser around the corner after about the tenth of fifty times. And the presentation of about a million "action" cliches is weak—so poorly disguised that it's very hard to feel anything but cynical from the start. The scene in engineering where Janeway takes off her jacket and takes up arms is, for lack of a better word, poor. It's so false, so pretentious, so much wanting to hammer home the idea, "Look, Janeway can be a badass!" that it falls flat on its face. I like Captain Janeway (sometimes I feel like I'm the sole Janeway fan in a group of unreceptive Voyager viewers), but I don't watch Janeway for potboiler cheesiness like this. I watch Janeway for her dialog, practical leadership and intelligence.

Mulgrew is a good sport through this mess, but she's trapped in a thankless position—if you think about this show for a more than five seconds, it's just a cheap rip-off of cliches. It's really tough to do Alien on the budget of an episode of Voyager.

Then again, Alexander Singer is no Ridley Scott, either. A lot of the shots are frankly dull, and there's just not much atmosphere in the Voyager corridors that lends it to Alien milieu. That's not to say that Singer's direction is completely without merit; I thought some of the macrovirus' point-of-view shots were effective, and Dennis McCarthy's somewhat eerie score was quite good at times, as were some of the CGI macrovirus effects. But those scenes were countered by other thrill-less endeavors like the stale ending where Janeway blows up all the aliens in the holodeck with a laughable "movie bomb," that is, a bomb with a red digital readout that counts down while beeping. And the explosion was terribly unconvincing—in fact, it looked like the fireball from "Basics, Part I" retouched to look green.

The episode is also painfully uneven and filled with tons of—you guessed it—forgettable technobabble. The number one rule in creating suspense, broken here big time, is that you don't interrupt the tension. The whole middle of the episode where Doc explains how the macrovirus got aboard the ship, told using a badly placed flashback device, only further sabotages any hopes for this show to be exciting. For that matter, what in the world was the point of the bizarre alien ship whose captain wanted to exterminate the virus by incinerating Voyager? And what was up with that crazy, quirky captain? He's probably the strangest thing I've seen on this show in quite some time, but I unfortunately mean strange only in the most laughable of senses. The writing itself here seems to be beaming in from the Delta Quadrant.

This story is interested only in cheap thrills, and the thrills are just that—cheap. No logic, no thought, no planning, no brain. Perhaps that would explain why it is Neelix vanishes without a trace but is never found or seen again in the episode. Where did he go? Did a macrovirus carry him off to Never Never Land? Was he ever found again? (I might take comfort in this if he weren't seen in the next new episode, but I know that's just my optimism speaking.) And just where exactly was the rest of the crew if there were only 30 or so people in the mess hall? Where were the other 100 crew members? The episode doesn't care.

"Macrocosm" was written by who I am, as of today, indulging to label the notoriously two-faced Brannon Braga. Here is a writer who has worked on absolutely stellar character-driven stories like Star Trek: First Contact as well as amusing, witty dialog shows like last season's "Projections." Yet he'll also bring us abysmal technobabble terror like "Cathexis" and "Threshold." "Macrocosm" seems to have come from the latter Braga.

Previous episode: The Q and the Grey
Next episode: Fair Trade

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36 comments on this review

Dirk Hartmann - Fri, Apr 11, 2008 - 4:23am (USA Central)
I rarely disagree with a review you post, but I do regarding this one. Even though it is absolutely true that the episode is Voyager's try on the "Alien/Outbreak" theme, and thus of course chliched, it manages to succeed in this venture quite well.
The dark atmosphere on the deserted Voyager, for example, reminded me quite a bit of "Resident Evil 2" (the game, not the movie). Mulgrew was up to the challenge of having to be the *sole* actor on screen for a good part of the story. It was also wise to not include a B-story in this episode, which would have subtracted from the tension. Yes, it's true that the level of tension was a bit reduced during the part where Doc explains how the situation came about (it just was a bit too lengthy), but otherwise I was constantly on the edge of my seat until the resolution.
This may not have been a very brainy episode, but it was different from the standard fare and I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was.
Deathcrow - Sat, May 31, 2008 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
I agree with Dirk.

If you rate this episode as a typical Star Trek episode it may be horrible. But if you see this as a venture into another genre, while staying true to the Star Trek universe/formula it does quite a good job.

Its not brilliant (as dirk mentioned, there are some lengths, etc), but not as bad as you claim.
Fido - Thu, Jan 8, 2009 - 5:07pm (USA Central)
THIS WAS AWESOME! Janeway going all Sigourney Weaver / Linda Hamilton...was just amazing! This actually showed as the season premiere in the UK...what a way to start. I think I fell totally in love with Voyager after this one.

I ADORE Janeway. :)
Jay - Sat, Aug 1, 2009 - 2:12pm (USA Central)
I rather enjoyed the episode as well, and took little exception to what jammer did. My beef is at the end, when Chakotay mentions several of the crew skiing in the holodeck. Voyager made a mockery of the spatial constraints of the holodeck. When a group of people use it, the action in the holodeck is where the group of people are, and more distant objects are sensorily expressed by the walls, but people can't be there. Voyager regularly portrayed the holodeck as someplace where crewmen could be much farther away from each other than the spatial dimensions of a holodeck could ever allow...I could never get past the ridiculousness of it.
Janetsy - Wed, Nov 11, 2009 - 9:50pm (USA Central)
This was an awesome episode. My 1 little nit pick, a technical oversight which seems to happen at least once per episode on this show.

When Janeway needs to get all the way down to engineering from deck 2, they spend 15 minutes of the episode on this. Why Janeway didn't think to just go to the shuttle bay, and use the transporters on one of the shuttles to beam to engineering..... *shrugs*
John Pate - Mon, Dec 21, 2009 - 3:03pm (USA Central)
Just watched it. Quite entertaining. Reference was made to the macroviruses collecting the crew members in the Mess Hall and Cargo Bays (presumably it saved on extras, not having to have the entire Voyager crew in one scene). It's safe to assume Neelix was carried off to be parked in a cargo bay.
Jake - Tue, Feb 9, 2010 - 8:10pm (USA Central)
Why are the Tic Tak so annoying?
James - Fri, Mar 5, 2010 - 12:49am (USA Central)
I can see I'm in the minority, but I think 1 1/2 stars is generous for this episode. Almost everything is off - the characterizations, the acting, and that out-of-place flashback half way into the episode. You can hear the boredom in the actor's voices as they drone on about arbitrary technobable. Random action scenes that seem to have no point don't help either. The way the script was I don't think a better execution could have saved this one even if the actors had sounded sincere and if they used all the CG tricks the budget would allow. To me, not one of Voyager's better shows.

@ Jake: They struck me as autistic for some reason. That in itself isn't annoying but I couldn't help seeing similarities. As for why... Probably because this wasn't a very good episode. :P
Jhoh - Sat, Jul 3, 2010 - 11:43am (USA Central)
This episode seems more like a zero star one, it's so incredibly intensely stupid.
Nic - Wed, Jul 14, 2010 - 8:59am (USA Central)
I'd like to say something to defend this episode, and I really did enjoy it on the first viewing, but I can't think of anything.
navamske - Tue, Sep 28, 2010 - 8:36pm (USA Central)
Man, them things was gross.
LWG - Sat, Apr 16, 2011 - 10:49pm (USA Central)
I couldn't help but be entertained by this episode. That said, from the standpoint of character interaction and plot development it accomplished practically nothing. It was cheap thrills all the way, and I don't blame Jammer for slamming it with this review. I did expect a low rating. You can get away with this kind of show every now and then, but I do expect more from Star Trek typically. It reminded me quite a bit of TNG's Genesis, also fun in a guilty way.
Destructor - Tue, May 3, 2011 - 11:19pm (USA Central)
Star Trek is all about a wide variety of genres. You've got your cerebral episodes, and you've got your action episodes. This is clearly one of the latter, and as an actin episode, it works. You might not like the genre they're trying to explore, but you can't deny that it's a good example of it.
Elliott - Fri, Oct 28, 2011 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
The action and Janeway badass-ness, etc is fun throughout most of the episode--it's just absolutely brainless. I enjoyed some of the jokes and goofiness more than, apparently, you did. My biggest issue (other than the gaping plot-holes [which really matter in an episode which is all about stealth and manœuvering]: good, she stabbed the virus...) is with the Tic tacs--not their stupid form of communication, but that they literally massacred the other aliens with the infection and nothing is made of it. Wow. About spot on. I think 1 star is enough for this jolly little mess.
Victor - Mon, Nov 21, 2011 - 5:13pm (USA Central)
Aside from one Macrovirus bomb not being thorough enough, a good episode. It's nice to see an enemy that isn't just another humanoid.
Chris - Thu, Mar 15, 2012 - 5:17am (USA Central)
I really hope that the bomb in the end destroyed that stupid Neelix holoprogram once and for all.
Alex - Sat, Mar 24, 2012 - 1:56am (USA Central)
This is going to be a bit off topic, but I'm starting to see a bit of Enterprise in Voyager (given that I saw the more recent show first). In this episode, the score is reminiscent of Enterpise, especially the horns. In Future's End we had precursor to the Temporal Cold War, and in Fair Trade we have some kind of an "expanse".

Of course, this is to be expected, given the chronological proximity of the two shows and similarity in setting.
Justin - Wed, Mar 28, 2012 - 10:15pm (USA Central)
More or less mindless fun. It's not an episode I seek out, but I'm never compelled to turn it off either.

One nagging question. Once Doc made it to the shuttlebay and managed to hide inside a shuttle, why didn't he just use the shuttle's transporter to get to Engineering? Oh, right. Captain Ripley - I mean Janeway - wasn't done being a badass yet...
Sel - Wed, Apr 11, 2012 - 8:18pm (USA Central)
Look, I don't mind technobabble if the babble is at least somewhat intelligible. Virus + Human Growth Hormone =/= Giant flying tentacle monsters. That's asinine. If this show had a science adviser, they should be ashamed of themselves.
duhknees - Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - 9:16am (USA Central)
Sometimes sci-fi is just fun, and this episode was. Taking off her jacket may have recalled Ripley, but it was also a rational act, given the temperature. I've always wondered why characters don't shed those things faster. She didn't strip down to her undies, thank God. The insect nature of the villains made sense in a year when Independence Day was the summer movie. And the large versions of the virus were actually interesting interpretations of what we usually see as two-dimensional. I appreciated the lighting and camera angles; the editing could have been crisper. Finally, I'm tired of Neelix bashing, just as I was with Quark-bashing. These characters are written to remind us to stop taking everything on the series so seriously. It ain't Shakespeare, much as Patrick Stewart would have liked.
gordon - Fri, Jan 4, 2013 - 6:18am (USA Central)
"It ain't Shakespeare"

Which is another way of saying it's supposed to suck?
navamske - Tue, May 28, 2013 - 7:32pm (USA Central)
@Jake

"Why are the Tic Tak so annoying?"

Because they don't toe the line.
Lt. Yarko - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 4:21pm (USA Central)
I like strong, sweaty women with big guns.
T'Paul - Tue, Sep 10, 2013 - 8:34am (USA Central)
I for one enjoyed the tak tak...

And I think this was a bit silly, but fun too...
Jons - Fri, Nov 29, 2013 - 2:07pm (USA Central)
Oh come on, this was silly but entertaining. And I really liked the TakTak. Finally a culture that isn't EXACTLY LIKE HUMANS and where there are cultural issues.
Tricia - Mon, Dec 9, 2013 - 1:45am (USA Central)
I didn't mind the premise, and I thought Janeway made a pretty good badass. There were a few incongruities that bothered me though. First, why don't their transporter buffers automatically purge themselves when a virus is detected? Isn't that the point of the buffer? Second - why do the virus's only try to impale the Captain and the Doctor? If anyone else had been impaled there would be blood everywhere, and people in the mess hall would have severe injuries. Third - why aren't there any patients in sickbay? I know deck 2 was quarantined, but why wouldn't anyone else go there? The doctor didn't have one single patient, not even Kes.

I actually liked the flashback scenes, it was more interesting than just having the doctor describe what happened. And it was good to see the doctor expanding his horizons.
Kevin - Sun, Dec 22, 2013 - 2:30am (USA Central)
I've got to chime in with the supporters on this one. I liked that the TakTak were so weird and, well, alien. That was refreshing, although I'm glad we didn't have to endure a whole episode of that. It reminded me of Darmok a bit, but I don't think Voyager could pull that off.

As far as the main plot, again, I liked that the alien was so unusual. Yes, it was an implausible explanation, but there is a good likelihood that such things may exist (there are giant single celled organisms right here on Earth, after all) and it was an interesting idea. The story was very "Alien"-esque, but it mostly worked.

I thought that the flashback was too long and involved. It could have been tightened up by focusing only on what the Doctor actually witnessed, dropping the pointless banter and such. The ending felt rushed, again probably because of the flashback eating so much time. But for my vote, I'd say this was a solid 2.5 out of 4 - a little better than average with a few standout moments and some nice ideas.
Todd - Fri, Feb 7, 2014 - 9:03am (USA Central)
I think this was at least a 3 star effort. The Tak Tak (or whatever) were a change from the standard humanoid of the week aliens. The macro viruses were truly originally and weird without being so implausible as to be laughable. The scenes were appropriately suspenseful for me.

One faulty criticism of Voyager is that we know the ship won't get home/be destroyed/whatever during each episode. That's true of any weekly show. That was true of Galactica during each Cylon attack on BSG. It's a limitation of the format.
DLPB - Sat, Mar 8, 2014 - 6:41pm (USA Central)
It is scientifically impossible for something that small to grow that big that soon. And without any real nourishment.
Londonboy73 - Sat, Mar 8, 2014 - 6:53pm (USA Central)
DLPB - which is why this is Science Fiction.......

The clue is in the name mate!
Amanda - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 11:46pm (USA Central)
I remember liking this the first time now, wth was I thinking? Probably what any 14 year old girl thought: girl Capt kicking ass for a change.

I could have lived without the close up of Chakotay's infected colony ridden neck. *shudders*
DLPB - Sat, May 3, 2014 - 7:11pm (USA Central)
DLPB - which is why this is Science Fiction.......

The clue is in the name mate!
--------

No, it means it isn't a serious and well written show. If it is set in our universe, it has limits on what it can get away with. The clue is in good writing.
Robert - Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - 9:54am (USA Central)
This episode is what I call "CritterTrek" and as an outing in this genre, I'd rate it as OK, say 2.5 stars. I liked Janeway channeling her inner Sigourney Weaver / Linda Hamilton. I liked the macrovirus concept.

I did choke on some of it. How big the macrovirus got inside the force field with nothing to eat except air. Overly lengthy explanation by the Doctor of how they got into such a fine mess. Etc.

re: the Tic Tak: I'm with those who find them annoying. And I felt that the casual way they wipe out the miners, and are on to Voyager next, doesn't speak well of them (at least after the crisis has passed they apologize). But I also felt it was nice to see aliens that were different from the regular humanoid. It must be a really hard job for writers to come up with interesting aliens, not to mention stories, week after week. But I suppose that's their cross to bear.
Yanks - Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - 5:05pm (USA Central)
Wow, I haven't seen this one in quite awhile, but I don't remember hating like some here do.

I thought it was a fun romp with Janeway getting to play the badass for a change.

I didn't read too much into it.

Loved Kates remarks on this one. "This is my muscles episode" (or something to that effect.)

I'll give it 3 stars because it was fun and I really don't want to think too much about it :-)
Vylora - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 6:53am (USA Central)
A few isolated interesting moments within a mundane chore of an episode with nothing new, nothing relevant, nothing smart, and nothing fun. The best part of the episode was actually the Doctor's rundown of events halfway through. Every single aspect of this showing has been done to much better effect in ST. The idea of a macro-virus and how it operates is the only thing here that was truly intriguing and, even then, was brought to life by cringe-worthy CGI that was horrible even by 1996 standards.

The pacing was a mess and the direction laughable in most scenes. I've had a greater sense of tension watching my cat sleep. Taking everything into account including the obligatory plot-holes (Where the hell is Neelix? Is he okay? Where is the rest of the crew? Why not at least attempt using transporters? Every single macro-virus large and small went into the holodeck from other areas of the ship? Like, through doors and bulkheads and such?) there really is almost nothing good about this episode.

Not the worst Voyager or ST has done, but it is pretty god-awful. As I've said, the idea of how the virus exists and evolves is interesting and the flashback with the Doctor was a breath of fresh air.

1 star.
parachutingpidgeon - Sun, Sep 28, 2014 - 10:42am (USA Central)
this was a very entertaining episode! I enjoyed it very much!! The only downside was that neelix survived.

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