Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Sacred Ground"


Air date: 10/30/1996
Teleplay by Lisa Klink
Story by Geo Cameron
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Mr. Neelix, you're wallowing... wallowing in useless remorse. I'll have to ask you to stop. It's bad for the patient." — Doc

Nutshell: Intriguing at times, but quite unfocused. An ultimately puzzling, ponderous, unrealized episode.

While visiting an alien planet, Kes inadvertently enters a sacred temple and is zapped by a "biogenic field" that leaves her in a bizarre comatose state which the Doctor can't treat or even comprehend. After discussing the matter with one of the planet's magistrates (Harry Groener), Janeway learns that Kes' state is one that almost always ends in death. The magistrate himself doesn't understand the spiritual concepts and the local monks refuse to discuss the situation because they are sworn to secrecy, but the magistrate does know that the temple has been a place where "the spirits" have taken lives in the past.

After some study of the planet's history, Neelix finds an ancient account of a king appealing directly to the spirits, asking them to spare his son. After the king went through a ritual of endurance, his son recovered from the coma. Since that case ended in survival and seems the only possibility of saving Kes, Janeway decides to visit the temple and undergo this ritual herself, to ask the spirits to spare Kes' life. The rest of the episode centers around Janeway's spiritual experience and the analysis of the resulting tricky questions.

To say I found "Sacred Ground" to be a mixed bag would be an understatement. This is among the most puzzling mixed bags of the entire series' run—at least, it seems that way to me. On one hand the subject matter is certainly unique and atypical for Voyager (especially for an apparent second season holdover episode, seeing Piller is billed in the executive producer credit), and the episode has obvious intentions as an allegory of real-life circumstances that sometime prove quite interesting. On the other hand, this is one of the most difficult episodes of Voyager I can remember; it can be damned frustrating at times because of some misguided ideas, its overall sense of dramatic uncertainty, and its unwillingness to actually take a stance on its questions. I watched this episode three times before finally coming to terms with my own analysis of it. And I can finally say that I believe I know what the creators were going for here, but at the same time, "Sacred Ground" attempts to have its cake and eat it too.

There are some significant problems here. First, although the story manages to be thought-provoking in its concluding passages, it somehow fails to be emotionally engaging. It's simply not very compelling or entertaining as a story. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed this episode. In addition to being frustrated at the story's lack of interesting dialog early off, I found myself bored for stretches, because the episode adopts a slow pace, and there are portions of the show that, under scrutiny, are fairly pointless.

Janeway's "ritual," for starters, just didn't work for me. The imagery and "symbolism" angle strikes me as pretentious and unconvincing. I can see that the attempt was to show Janeway's difficult challenge, and this made some sense later in the episode when Janeway's guide reveals that the ritual is based on certain expectations. Still, very little of this aspect really had much to do with the real core of the episode, so why spend so much time on it? I would've much preferred the story had concentrated on the issues it raised toward the end of the show, but, alas, it didn't.

Also plaguing the story's midsection are the scenes back on board Voyager after Janeway has begun the ritual. Doc's incessant, jargon-heavy medical updates on Kes' condition are excessive and distracting. And so are Neelix's very annoying reactions to every little beeping indicator in the sickbay pertaining to his precious Kes. (I did, however, enjoy Doc ordering Neelix to "stop wallowing"; it was well due.) On the other hand, Doc's monitoring of Janeway's biological signs was reasonable enough, as was Chakotay's concern for the safely of the captain. Some of the scenes make sense, but many of them should've been streamlined or filled with more relevant dialog.

Another, perhaps bigger problem here is that the true meaning of the episode takes until the final act to surface. After Janeway completes her ritual, the guide informs her that everything she has done is meaningless, but that she has everything she needs. Indeed; Janeway's medical readings recorded by Doc's monitor have given him promising insight on Kes' condition, and he prepares a cure.

Well it's not, as they say, that simple. (Good thing, too, since if it had been the episode would've been a complete failure; this is where things finally start to turn more interesting.) The cure backfires for reasons Doc can't understand. Just as the guide had foretold, everything Janeway went through proves ultimately meaningless. This leads Janeway to return to the planet for a second insight. And this time, as she tells her guide, she's confused, and doesn't know what to expect. "Then you're ready to begin," her guide responds.

The real point here, I think, is Janeway's own analysis of her discipline of scientific belief, and what she does when she sees her science failing to save Kes. As the three elders explain to her in the entryway, Janeway has always been dependent and interested only in concrete data and scientific solutions and answers. This, however, is not going to help save Kes in this case. Science has failed, so where can Janeway turn?

The payoff presented here is the age-old leap of faith question, as well as a science versus religion issue—both which prove somewhat intriguing in and by themselves but not, unfortunately, in context. There are some points that translate into real-life arguments under analysis, but the way Lisa Klink's script handles the entire subject as tied into the plot is questionable. Janeway's leap of faith as described by the elders must involve her carrying Kes back into the temple's biogenic field. They tell her if she truly believes, Kes will be cured; if she has the slightest doubt, she and Kes will both be killed. This precise description of a demonstration of faith strikes me as something we're supposed to accept at face value, but it brings up some questions of plausibility, like who exactly are these elders, and how do they know what Janeway needs to do? If they do have divine knowledge, why does the show discount it with a "real" analysis? I also found myself resisting this notion because it ventures too far into both (a) the obvious and (b) the irrelevant for the point that ultimately prevails. Still, it does allow for a conclusion that seems initially magical and spiritual before turning out to be a convoluted working of explainable science.

This is good and bad. On the good side, we have an example of an intriguing self-fulfilling prophecy. Because Janeway goes through with the act of faith, she stumbles upon the cure, which is later explained by Doc's science. This shows an interesting quality of faith—how it can affect a person's life in profound ways when tangible explanations aren't available. Also good is how Doc's "scientific" explanation leaves Janeway shaken. She undoubtedly wonders how the elders could be so certain of the temple's effects. Or perhaps she's sorry that Doc is able to explain such a spiritual event in worldly terms. (It's open to interpretation.)

On the bad side, also revealed under close examination, this teleplay twists some of its ideas to a convenient end. I do not, for example, believe Janeway really walked into that temple free of doubt as one of the elders said she would have to in order to survive. And according to Doc's science, I doubt it would matter whether she believed it or not, because the same miraculous scientific process would still take place. If that's the case then what exactly is the episode trying to say? If the story had addressed the issue it might've worked, but it didn't; it ignores this question, which I just don't think is a viable option.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all, this story just doesn't feel true. There's something about the entire process that feels contrived and manufactured, and when it ends, very little of it sits right. It's sneaky and manipulative. It wants to be a commentary, yet it still doesn't take any real stance on religion or science. It tries to have it both ways, by bringing up a question and then avoiding it, which is a big part of the problem, yet simultaneously permits some of the show's best moments, like Janeway's dilemma when she realizes the concrete nature of Doc's explanation. The story creates its own paradox—which is perplexing but not necessarily a flaw. Yet it also walks a fine line around the issue so carefully that it ends up saying surprisingly little—and that is a flaw.

It's tough to see exactly what Klink was trying to say. Dramatically, the story is all over the map. It brings up some interesting and valid points, but it doesn't even begin to combine them into a solid, effective story that has any resonating meaning. And it spends the least of its time on its strongest of ideas, which is a terrible shame. It doesn't pay to sit through forty minutes of unrealized drama leading up to a decent character insight that is only half-realized and still questionable—only then so you can realize how much better the show could've been had the entire episode been about that one insight.

The episode made me think, yes—which is commendable—but I wasn't enlightened by a point of view. The wishy-washiness of "Sacred Ground" left me unavoidably perturbed and not very entertained. It's an ambitious effort, but, unfortunately, ambition does not equate success.

Previous episode: Remember
Next episode: Future's End, Part I

Season Index

33 comments on this review

Gretchen - Tue, Nov 20, 2007 - 3:27pm (USA Central)
To quote that annoying lady:
This episode is meaningless.
Big Jones - Tue, Mar 25, 2008 - 1:05am (USA Central)
Oooph. Almost any Star Trek episode that attempts to delve into quasi-mystical or supernatural concepts fails badly.

Beyond all that though, it truly is a meaningless episode. It doesn't advance the story of Voyager at all, nor those of any of the characters involved. A real waste of airtime.
Dirk Hartmann - Mon, Apr 7, 2008 - 1:51pm (USA Central)
This review is spot on. I guess I only disagree regarding this:

"Also good is how Doc's "scientific" explanation leaves Janeway shaken. She undoubtedly wonders how the elders could be so certain of the temple's effects. Or perhaps she's sorry that Doc is able to explain such a spiritual event in worldly terms. (It's open to interpretation.)"

I think the ending is the only scene really well done. Janeway is shaken because she realizes that the belief that "everything can be explained scientifically" is true in a quite trivial way (that makes it immune to refutation and thus is *itself* not so scientific after all): Doc's behaviour shows that we just *insist* on giving "explanations" for each and every thing. The credibility of his final techno-babble explanation is, however, subtly undermined by the abysmal failure of his preceding theory (the truth of which he was so sure of).
Anonymous - Tue, Jun 17, 2008 - 5:07pm (USA Central)
Um, wouldn't Voyager need an overarching storyline, in the first place, before episodes like this could fail to "advance" it? It was a nice little filler episode in a series that was best when it didn't try to bite off more than it could chew.
Jim - Fri, Oct 17, 2008 - 1:25pm (USA Central)
Just wanted to agree with Dirk. The point of the episode is very similar to the film "Contact" - at some level science is as much of a belief system as any religion. Janeway's issue in the last scene is simply that all her training forces her to agree with the Dr.'s analysis, or at least the scientific principles behind his analysis, but she's been so shaken by the preceding events that she's begun to question the ability of science to answer every question.

The problem with these kind of science/religion equivalences is that science and religion function completely differently. While it's true that the concept "everything is scientifically determinable" is impossible to verify and thus exists at the belief level, the methods of science have had enormous success, both in terms of understanding the universe and in terms of putting this understanding into practice (aka technology). Because of this, belief in science is NOT the same as belief in religion or the spiritual realm. This is not to say that all religion or spiritual beliefs are wrong; perhaps not everything IS determinable scientifically. It is to say, however, that science demands that you investigate every belief system in detail so as to further knowledge, whereas religion demands that you take all of your beliefs on faith. It is also to say that everyone can see the results of science and technology all around us, whereas the powers of religion are much more murky and questionable.
Chris - Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
I thought this episode was very intriguing, and well done. Are religion and science really seperate entities? Or is science just another religion.
A brilliant episode
EP - Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - 8:50pm (USA Central)
Come on, folks! Any episode that has George Costanza's mom in it has to be gold!
Nic - Thu, Nov 12, 2009 - 7:22pm (USA Central)
Since the ritual was meaningless, think (ironically, perhaps) that it WAS necessary to spend some time on it, otherwise it would be a foregone conclusion. I think the episode made a very bold statement in this science-laden Star Trek universe: that both science and religion have a place in the world and that the two are not necessarily contradictory. I particularly enjoyed the last scene with the elders, perhaps especially because they didn't lay everything down on the plate (they kind of remind me of Garak). Still, it's far from a perfect episode, I'd give it 3 stars.
DeanGrr - Wed, Mar 3, 2010 - 4:35pm (USA Central)
As I have been exploring meditation, Buddhism and have also a scientific background, I really enjoyed this episode. Captain Janeway wanted to heal Kes by understanding the cause of her illness, but had to take a leap of faith in the 3 elder priests because she had no other alternative: this challenged her lifetime of "faith" in the ability of science (I agree with Chris' comment above).

The final scene in sickbay showed how revealing the magic behind a phenomena, takes away the sense of awe and mystery. I suspect there will always be some sense of mystery, because my (limited) understanding of quantum physics suggests at some level we cannot measure phenomena, they will be too small or too large, or the act of measuring will affect the result. Just like Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, we can only use probabilities for certain sciences.

Although, one thing rational measurement cannot provide is the sense of meaning, of emotion that we attach to parts of our lives. Some things you can't put a price tag on, or evaluate only on the basis of an objective measurement. Science is just one perspective on the universe, not the only one, which seemed to be what the priests were saying.
Adam - Fri, Mar 19, 2010 - 11:42pm (USA Central)
@Chris, DeanGrr & Jim: No offense, but I think you're all mistaken. Science isn't a "religion", "belief system" or a "perspective on the universe", it's a method of determining cause and effect. Calling it a "religion" or "belief system" or "perspective" is like calling observation a religon, belief system or perspective. I think you meant the idea that there's a purely materialistic explanation for everything and that the supernatural doesn't exist is a belief system or perspective (though I'm not sure it would count as a religion). Anyway, if there are gods, spirits, or what have you, how would that contradict the idea that science can explain everything? It would just mean that there were new mysteries for science to try to solve (such as how these supernatural forces worked, what rules they operated under, etc.).
Jeff - Thu, Jul 22, 2010 - 9:03am (USA Central)
The usual technobabble problems aside, I feel this is one of the better episodes of VOY and one of the better Janeway episodes supplying some true characterization and growth for her.

Considering how "on the job" Janeway usually is it makes sense that her childhood would have been spent in more mature educational pursuits.

And we as a species are always looking for the concrete answer to things. Why did this tragedy occur, how does this natural phenomenon work, etc. The answers are not always easy and sometimes we never get them or learn them.

While the casting of Estelle Harris is a little debatable (her performance is fine, but her voice just doesn't seem to match the character she's playing), I think the conversation between Janeway and the elders (I honestly thought those were the spirits) made a lot of sense. Janeway fully expected to have to go through all kinds of endurance rituals and she got exactly what she was hoping for.

And to realize that the answer was so much simpler than she could have expected or desired came as a pleasant surprise. I found it interesting that Chakotay (the most spiritual ST character next to Major Kira, IMO) would be on the side of scientific reason. Even early in the episode he seemed to have more of an open mind about the possibility of there being real spirits on the planet. But Janeway's life appeared to be at risk and I can see where that would have been his sole focus of attention.

It would have been nicer had Janeway simply gone through all of this out of curiosity. She learns that some people can pass through the gates and some can't and wants to learn the reason why. I say this because the "Kes is dying" subplot did nothing for me. Neelix's response was logical, but his behavior was ridiculous and I'm surprised the EMH didn't just kick him out from the beginning.

I enjoyed the final scene. The EMH is all proud of himself explaining to Kes how his initial failure led to his success in bringing her back while Janeway sits in silence still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

I think this is probably Mulgrew's best performance as Janeway.

Angular - Thu, Oct 20, 2011 - 1:26pm (USA Central)
The perceived conflict between science and religion is a non-issue, really, and that is why this episode is utterly meaningless. Science cannot be touched by religion, it just works, no matter what you believe in. All the evidence suggests this.

Religions, on the other hand, probably do not work and that makes people lose their "faith". In the end, faith is just a gamble, and a good gambler knows when to quit.
TheLaw - Mon, Oct 24, 2011 - 11:35am (USA Central)
I have to strongly disagree with the OP on this one. I thought the subject matter was handled in a mature and sophisticated fashion, and the the OP is over-thinking the room a bit here.

We can sense this phenomenon is our culture today. As we continue to advance in science and technology, having the constant access to information and resources at our whim with smartphones (which are really not too dissimilar from the tricoder), I think to an extent we lose our connection to our spirituality somewhat. We rely too readily on what is right before our eyes without giving deep thought to anything beyond the superficial. Imagine how much more so in a world with holodecks and replicators?

Considering this episode aired in 1996-97, I see this episode as a cautionary tale, for not letting our advances in technology not cloud our vision of the "big picture." Looking at where things are today, there is a strong argument to be made that we missed the point.
Elliott - Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - 9:59pm (USA Central)
List of negative comments in this review :

"it somehow fails to be emotionally engaging. It's simply not very compelling or entertaining as a story. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed this episode. In addition to being frustrated at the story's lack of interesting dialog early off, I found myself bored for stretches, because the episode adopts a slow pace"

"Janeway's "ritual," for starters, just didn't work for me. "

"Doc's incessant, jargon-heavy medical updates on Kes' condition are excessive and distracting."

"Perhaps the biggest problem of all, this story just doesn't feel true."

All of these are expressions of personal taste--I did not find the story boring, distracting or false. It might mean something for you to say this if you justified these complaints, but they sit in the criticism arbitrarily, truly meaning nothing beyond a statement of TASTE.

"t brings up some questions of plausibility, like who exactly are these elders, and how do they know what Janeway needs to do? "

How is their identity or motivation any different from the Bajoran prophets? In frankness, the Bajoran religion isn't really about faith at all since their gods are phenomenally provable--they exist and have corporeal substance. If any episode of Trek presents a culture with an actual faith-based religious system, it's this one--and because of this, you find yourself frustrated with the implausibility of it. Well that, sir, is the point,

"I don't know what I'm seeking." "Then, I believe you are ready to begin."

This is the core of the episode, presented plainly in the dialogue. I think it;s quite clear what the message is here: in order to move forward, to evolve, to progress and learn, one must act, at times upon faith. Janeway's science didn't exactly fail her--in fact it proved to be true in the end but as she says it requires one act withOUT understanding ("that's the challenge"). I'm not sure I agree with this idea--I haven't been through an ordeal difficult enough to warrant a meaningful opinion here, but to say that it isn't throughly compelling and intelligently adressed is foolhardy.

This is somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars.
Tobe - Thu, Jan 5, 2012 - 9:39am (USA Central)
In the Star Trek universe, where you can sit down in a waiting room (or in a wormhole) and have a face to face conversation with your gods, it might make sense to take a leap of faith.

That is however not the case in our real universe, where religion has spectacularly failed to produce cures for anything. So this episode might make an interesting point in a magical fantasy world, but in our real world I guess the writers of this episode are just enemies of reason.

The theme of finding what you expect to find, on the other hand, is very relevant (especially in science), and reasonably well handled in this episode.
DeanGrr - Wed, Mar 21, 2012 - 10:19pm (USA Central)
Science as a Perspective ...

Time, once thought a constant: now it depends on your relativistic point of view, ;). Once, Time was the purview of the gods (or God), and now something we check on our wrist, or smartphone.

I've just been watching "Inherit the Wind" about the Scopes trial for teaching about Darwin in the 1920s. Something Spencer Tracey's character says, about a price to be paid for scientific progress rings true: "you may conquer the clouds, but the birds will lose their wonder".

I think the discussions above are talking about several issues at once: that's why it's confusing. On the one hand with science can come knowledge, power and the ability to be like a god, with contempt for consequences. Captain Janeways shows an almost religious reverence for Science (i.e da Vinci hologram), but is also very controlling.

Yet, knowledge can be held with awe and humility at nature's beauty and its complexity. There's a fear here that with knowledge we will lose our sense of awe and humility, and the world will seem diminished, or be diminished because of our hubris. Absent the faith that the world may be more than we know, we become less, the world becomes lonelier.

For a moment, Janeway gave up control to others, the monks of the cave, which is probably her greatest fear. It's great that Kate Mulgrew is an artist that wears her feelings, yet her character is highly self-disciplined and analytical, hiding her sensitivity from her friends and crew.

Justin - Sat, Mar 24, 2012 - 8:18pm (USA Central)
Good thread.

This is why I have watched every incarnation of Star Trek available. There's always the potential for the brilliance of "City on the Edge of Forever," "Inner Light," "Far Beyond The Stars," "Remember," or "Dear Doctor." But besides that, even mediocre episodes like this one have the ability to provoke deep thought and intelligent conversation.
Lt. Yarko - Sat, Jun 15, 2013 - 8:37pm (USA Central)
Let's remove the science-built lights from those caves and let the wacko religious nuts try to find their way around with the help of the spirits. Oh, and let's take away their science-built robes, too.

This episode doesn't even belong in Trek. It belongs in some ridiculous, mindless new-agey piece like Battlestar Galactica.

Science is NOT a religion. It is a tool. Saying science is a religion is the same as saying a hammer or a toilet is a religion. Science proves itself regularly just as hammers and toilets do. Religion defies proving itself. It spits in the faces of people who simply want to be sure that it is reliable. Let's not get these confused.
Phil - Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - 9:47am (USA Central)
I interpreted the final scene differently.
I thought Janeway was through with trusting the Doctor's explanations on this one, but had no way of explaining the nonscientific alternative that she had already accepted, so she let it go.
Grumpy - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 1:49pm (USA Central)
Continuity question: did Janeway's insight about the insufficiency of methodological naturalism ever appear again? It might've been relevant in, say, the following season's "Omega Directive" (another Klink script). Not that lack of follow-up should be held against this episode. Every Trek character has had life-altering experiences that are never referenced again.
Ian - Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
This is the type of episode that Babylon Five does so well. Mixing science and religion was key to that show and I kept expecting someone to say "faith manages," just like the Minbari.
The fact is that at some point science DOES break down and all you have is faith. Either in yourself or someone/thing else.
Deep Space Nine actually did some of this better as well...
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 9, 2013 - 10:40am (USA Central)
I think this episode deserves more.

It does some personal growth from Janeway, has non-hard headed aliens, isn't simplistic story-wise, and as someone above said, it has George Constanza's mum!

I thought it was nice, and one of the better Voyager installments.

As for Doc and his memory loss, actually, we haven't seen him remember anything from his previous time up to now on Voyager, there's no reason to say that plot has been reset-buttoned.
Kevin - Wed, Dec 18, 2013 - 3:01am (USA Central)
For me, the episode worked. I don't think I would have said that when it actually aired, but now I found the meaninglessness of it to be meaningful. The arguments against religion on this thread are really arguments against a certain religiosity, with it's accompanying pomp and bombast. The episode anticipates that, and diffuses it with Janeway's self-inflicted trials, which are meaningless.

I laughed out loud at the final scene. Janeway has experienced something profound that she doesn't really understand. The Doctor does what Trek always does to these phenomena - technobabble. However, just this once, Janeway as a character actually hears it being just that. That final scene says this time she doesn't buy it anymore than we do, but if the Doctor wants to have his explanation, arguing the point would be meaningless.
Petrus - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 7:57am (USA Central)
>@Chris, DeanGrr & Jim: No offense, but I think >you're all mistaken. Science isn't a "religion", >"belief system" or a "perspective on the >universe", it's a method of determining cause >and effect. Calling it a "religion" or "belief >system" or "perspective" is like calling >observation a religon, belief system or >perspective. I think you meant the idea that >there's a purely materialistic explanation for >everything and that the supernatural doesn't >exist is a belief system or perspective (though >I'm not sure it would count as a religion).

Adam, unfortunately, this is not true. "Science," or at the very least, neo-Atheism, should absolutely be considered as one entirely fallible perspective among many. It may not have Gods, no; but it does have human beings (Darwin, Sagan, Asimov, Dawkins) who are regarded with a degree of positive bias that is every bit as emotive and irrational as religious reverence.

That the scientific method itself, very strictly speaking, works, is not something that I will disagree with. The problem, however, is the fact that none of "Science's" contemporary devotees are ever talking exclusively about the method, whatsoever. They are talking about the humanist pantheon, as mentioned, and also often the entire bias regarding the fact that only the mainstream, academic circle jerk are permitted to have an opinion about anything.

Those who genuinely know what science is, virtually never express emotional bias towards it, whether positive or negative. People who do, are not referring to science in any objectively provable or disprovable sense, but to a particular collection of dogma that has come to be falsely and euphemistically referred to as "Science," but which in reality, is anything but.
Amanda - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 11:41pm (USA Central)
I don't think this episode was meaningless. It showed character development for Janeway and another Alien race who I judged initially the way the crew did. Alien. It has become meaningless because we don't see or hear Janeway reference the experience ever again. An opportunity might have been Scorpion part 1 or Omega directive.

I thought it was a great addition on R.D.Mcneil's part, to add the scene where Janeway is disrobed to symbolize vulnerability by removing her science/suit of armor.

K'Elvis - Tue, Mar 18, 2014 - 8:50am (USA Central)
This episode seems like it could have been an orb experience with the Bajoran prophets. The Bajoran prophets are "wormhole aliens", but that doesn't stop the Bajorans from venerating them. Janeway goes through all the meaningless ritual because that was what she expects. Had she just sat down with the old people - whatever they really were - she would have had her answer much sooner. It's the old idea of eliminating preconceptions before you can move forward. The Bajoran prophets can be explained scientifically, but that doesn't mean they don't have valuable insights, and the same seems to be true for this planet's spirits.
Robert - Tue, Jun 17, 2014 - 12:24pm (USA Central)
Well, I please want to say how much I enjoy this website starting with Jammer's reviews and then on to all the other reviews contributed. Whenever I 've been really "into" something artistic I've loved reading and hearing the thoughts of how others have experienced and interpreted the same work. I find the reviews of others adds a lot to my enjoyment of the art, whether I liked or disliked the particular art, whether or not the reviews echoed my own thoughts or were completely the opposite.

So, in the spirit of the above paragraph, this is an episode which I really like a lot; I'd give it four stars. But that's just my opinion, no more or less than that.

I've seen this episode several times since it first came out, and each time I feel I get another further "zoing" out of it. For me there are many things I like about it, but speaking to the reviews above I'd like to tackle the "science" vis a vis "religion" themes of the show. I'll add that I just finished seeing the episode again after reading all the reviews above (not for the first time)i.e. the comments above were colouring quite vividly for me how I experienced the show.

So back to "science" and "religion". I think this is like comparing apples and oranges i.e. these are two very different things. By the same token there is some overlap between the two, as in they have both become "mystiques" by which I mean they have tapped into what appears to be the need of us humans (and I suspect of all living things) to have absolute answers to questions we may never find the absolute capital T True answer to.

Even in this era in which the "science/technology" mystique has risen to a great height of popularity there are vast numbers of people who are firmly wedded to the traditional religions. This includes some who are competent scientists and who see no contradiction between employing the method of science and being the member of their particular religious community.

Mystiques get bound up with power and politics, and I think are subject to the process of entropic decay to which everything seems to be subject. When scientists discovered that the earth was not the centre of the universe (i.e. that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa)the powers that be were revealed to be fallible. Predictably not well received by those whose "power wagon" was firmly hitched to the traditional view of things.

And so it has gone on. Numerous discoveries made by employing the scientific method have turned many religious dogmas on their ear. Thunder is not caused by the Gods playing bowling. Lifeforms are not static but have evolved and changed over approximately a billion years. Even the continents are now understood to float around the planet's surface like ice cubes in a glass.

But after the successes of science have come some major humble pie. I studied physics back in the day (the 70's) and we were all taught to be very careful about drawing absolute conclusions from whatever the scientific model of the day said was "true". Notwithstanding the stunning discoveries of our times (ex: the evidence of extra solar planets)there is vastly more to be discovered and I am confident many of today's scientific dogmas will be supplanted in the future by some new dogma.

Science as I understand it is a tool, not a cipher that will of necessity absolutely solve all the mysteries of existence.

I read a book by Stephen Hawking lately (don't remember the name but I think it was published c. 2005) that attempted to explain in plain language the state of the art, so to speak, on a couple of major questions; the origin of the universe, and the origin of life. As far as the the origin of the universe is concerned the models described run the clock back to a very tiny fraction of a second after the big bang. Stephen remains hopeful that some future model will "explain it all" but my gut instinct is this may never happen. So for now current models of physics explain a lot, but they have yet to explain everything, physics wise.

On the origin of life Stephen concludes that life must have originated by some random mashing of large organic molecules. He does show how a very simple system can evolve into surprising complexity. But this is not a very convincing concept to me to explain how DNA appeared. Keeping in mind the sheer size of the DNA molecule, think of the information it encodes; it interacts with it's environment to in a way instruct how to construct something that lives out of inanimate matter. This is another question that science may yet solve, but I tend to think not.

The point being that science is concept wise very possibly to be an endless process of discovery, subject to startling revisions as new data is perceived.

I can guarantee that I am not qualified to render a verdict on these matters, only to say that in my opinion the ultimate nature of nature is I believe an infinitely endless realm that I doubt will ever be 100% explained in absolute terms of our comprehension.

Back to religion. I certainly don't believe in things like immaculate conceptions. The concept of supernatural makes no sense to me. But I also think that a theory of everything is unlikely, and that still leaves lots for us to puzzle over.

Back to Voyager. The episode I think does a fine job of airing the idea that though science does explain (or perhaps more properly said describe) a lot it's an article of faith of sorts to believe with total conviction that everything will some day be explained by the method and attendant discoveries of science. I love it when one of the old folks in the waiting room tells Ms. Janeway that that if we could explain everything, there'll be no more mystery in life. The implication being that this may not be such a great state of affairs. The 'ole saying "be careful what you wish for, you might just get it". But I think the episode also doesn't go overboard in saying that we need "Spirits" to be able to understand reality. The Doctor finally comes up with his scientific explanation for what happens to Kes and Kathryn so he has no need to invoke the supernatural.

But Kathryn has had her mental cage rattled and that is the accomplishment; she has been forced to question her core beliefs and allow for some uncertainty in her perceptions of the universe.

As Orson Scott Card says in one of his "Ender" books, we question all of our beliefs expect the ones we really believe in, and that's what is really hard to do. And this I think is part of the Trekkian universe, which is we may get insights and make useful discoveries when we can somehow leapfrog over our assumptions, our biases, our prejudices.

Does this mean there will be a thunderstorm on the Moon this afternoon? Not likely based on what science has helped us to discover (not impossible mind you, I'm pretty sure we could concoct a set of circumstances where that happens). What we do know with pretty much absolute certainty is that the Moon is not made of green cheese.

And so it goes. We crave certainty, but it seems unlikely we will get it in an absolute, 100% for everything, kind of way. We may not like it if we did achieve that kind of absolute certainty.

That most certainly does not mean anything goes, that there aren't many things we can be sure of. Just that sometimes challenging our assumptions may be just what is needed to get the job done. And that definitely goes for me and all I have written above. And the previous sentence too. Etc.
Robert - Tue, Jun 17, 2014 - 12:57pm (USA Central)
::silently rubs my goatee in the corner::

@Robert - I really liked this episode too.

Janeway was, for the first time in Trek history, the captain of a SCIENCE ship. Kirk/Picard/Sisko, none of them had the science background Janeway did. I imagine her in a blue uniform as a Lt, taking a less traditional path the big chair.

Science may not be a religion or a belief system, but it IS something you can have faith in. You can have faith in anything. And our first scientist captain has faith in science. It's a nice idea and watching her have her faith shaken is awesome.

It's a quiet little episode with big character moments. If whoever characterized Janeway in this episode was the show runner VOY would probably be my 2nd favorite Trek. I think they tried to repeat this concept in S5's Night (except in this case she loses faith in the other half of her character... the leader), but it was a weaker showing.

I think somewhere along the way Janeway DID lose faith in all those early decisions and became more driven and less of a scientist/explorer/diplomat. I really liked early Janeway though. The one that was excited to discuss engineering problems with B'Elanna, who idolized DaVinci... how cool was it that the first woman captain was the scientist? I miss her.
Grumpy - Tue, Jun 17, 2014 - 9:33pm (USA Central)
A comment tangential to this episode... encompassing the whole series, actually...

Robert: "Janeway was, for the first time in Trek history, the captain of a SCIENCE ship."

Okay, and early episodes touched on the tension between "explore everything, as long as we're here" and "play it safe and just get home." But your comment makes me think the regular cast needed a blue-shirted science officer to represent that position, clashing with another member of the ensemble who embodies the "just get home" agenda. Janeway would instinctively sympathize with the blueshirt, but she'd have to weigh both perspectives. The debate, when it arose on occasion, was always handled abstractly; it needed faces to be properly dramatized. When Berman/Piller/Taylor were creating characters, they didn't anticipate they'd need mouthpieces to tell these kinds of stories.
Robert - Wed, Jun 18, 2014 - 8:36am (USA Central)
@Grumpy - That would have been interesting. Funny enough Seven eventually became the de-facto science officer in a way, and also the one that would most complain about the exploring everything.

I guess she became the mouthpiece for all of the stories....
Robert - Mon, Jun 23, 2014 - 7:08am (USA Central)
@Robert: Well said, I'm actually kind of jealous. You managed to say in 2 words what I was trying to say in 10. It's a kind of an anti talent I have to talk on way past the point I'm trying to make

@Robert and @Grumpy: Very cool idea of M. Grumpy, and nice riposte by M. Robert.

This gets me going on the Voyager series as a whole topic. I read a very well written review a few weeks ago (I don't remember the name of the reviewer or the website unfortunately) which suggested a thesis that struck a chord with me. As in, the reviewer didn't care much for Voyager when it first came out, but over time it grew on him. That's the way I've experienced the show too; didn't like it much initially but I've come to like it more and more as time has gone by.

There are definitely many episodes/scenes that I don't like much, some I can't stand. But over time those moments have diminished.

There is some data that could suggest this is a pretty general experience. Here in Canada it is TNG and V.; (V. more often than TNG) that are in reruns on the Space channel. I know there could be any number of reasons the Space channel programmers are only showing TNG and V but presumably (or possibly) that is because those are the shows that get the biggest audiences. If you saw some of the tripe they fill up their 24 hours a day with, you'd have to wonder why they wouldn't be showing other Star Trek series. Or for that matter Babylon 5. Or Battlestar Galactica, both the "old" and the "new" ones. Maybe it's demographics. But as V. is still on the air up here, maybe it's because of this idea that the show somehow gets more watchable over time; it still attracts an audience that keeps it on the air.

The best idea I can come up with is that the characters somehow grow on you with time. Maybe it's the "Lost in Space" premise of our little band of valiant heroes lost in the bad ass Delta quadrant. There's a kind of piquancy to seeing a small, resolute group struggling to get out of what seems to be an impossible situation.

First time around, I think the flaws well noted on this website are so numerous and in your face as to make it a challenge to stick with the show. But somehow on repeated viewing V. seems to get better, if not all better. At least for me and the unknown reviewer that I mentioned above.

From reading the reviews about ENT I gather this issue of lame and difficult to endure flaws was perceived as magnified by that series. Maybe ENT will yet resurface here in Canada in reruns, but judging from the feelings and opinions expressed on this and other websites it does not appear likely. Time will tell.

Back to M. Grumpy and the Science officer idea. Very impressive idea, as in I agree. Writers of future Sci Fi shows I hope take note. As in try to put as much effort as humanly possible into good storytelling/characterization. A defense I can think of for the writers is "they would if they could" as in they work under tight time and budget constraints. As in "there's no business like show business" but part of that is relentless pressure on the cost side and relentless pressure on the performance (getting an audience) side. How many series of all stripes have you heard of that have been cancelled, not because they were bad, but because the people that pay the bills were unwilling to risk more money in the hopes of building an audience down the road. My understanding is that's part of what happened to TOS (though not all of it; besides not getting the audience size and type the network wanted, TOS had mixed reviews at best out of the gate).

That's all for now, folks!
Vylora - Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - 10:24am (USA Central)
I can see what the writers were attempting with this episode for better or worse. Unfortunately, the whole thing boils down to the fact that the religious aliens would rather risk the life of Kes to protect their mysticism. Of course simply allowing some crew members to beam down for five minutes with proper scanning equipment would result in a very short episode.

What we got here isn't half bad, though. Some strong performances by Mulgrew. Some pretty interesting scenes and dialogue. I like how it conveys the concept of just because something can't be explained doesn't mean it never will be explained. However, it is a bit of a convoluted mess despite its watchability.

2 stars.
Skeptical - Sun, Feb 1, 2015 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
Well, this episode is insulting to both science and religion. Well done, Trek!

Let's start with the science part. The weird monks in the waiting room treated Janeway's commitment to science as a "faith." Except the amount of faith for science is very small, and what they were describing isn't actually science. The "faith" part of science is simple. If A and B and C produce D, then A and B and C will always produce D. If they produce E instead, odds are its because F was different between the two scenarios. That's it. That's how science works. All you need in terms of faith for it is that the universe is consistent.

Heck, you don't even need that. If you discover that the universe is crazy and random, that fits in science too! Because then that becomes a factor in your study, and you can work it in. Even if it means you can no longer predict what will happen, it does mean you can explain why. So no matter what happens, one can't lose "faith" in science, because science is just a way of searching for order in the universe. And since it is just SEARCHING for order, then any place where there is a lack of order won't kill one's faith in science, since that remains a possibility.

Analogy time! It wasn't that long ago that most scientists believed in a completely deterministic universe. All things only acted because of other forces, and eventually we would be able to explain all forces. Once you did, and if you could create a fancy enough computer, you could predict everything in the future based on present conditions, and you could recreate everything in the past. The universe was well defined.

And then came quantum theory, and suddenly it became clear that randomness and probabilities really did exist in the universe. It wasn't deterministic at all! The faith in a deterministic universe was shattered. And did that kill science? Was science humbled? Of course not. Sure, some scientists were sad and had trouble dealing with it, such things happen. But science marched on and incorporated this uncertainty into the models of the universe. Determinism died, but physics lived on.

But much like Vulcan logic, the Trek writers have no idea what they're talking about. Janeway didn't have faith in science, she was being a strict, well, not sure what the word is. Rationalist? Skeptic? She believed nothing outside of the known laws of the universe can exist. That's different.

And is being awfully close-minded of her. After all, she knows the Q exist. By everything we've seen, they operate above and beyond the laws of physics. Deja Q suggests that they can change the gravitational constant of the universe on a whim. Surely a Q could create a barrier that could only be passed if you believed in X. Is that likely? No, but it's a possibility. Which shows why Janeway's absolutism here is a bit dumb. Picard was much better in Devil's Due.

So there's the insult to science: this episode equates an understanding of science with narrow-mindedness, which isn't true. But what about religion?

In the final scene, the Doc says that they could have cured Kes much earlier if they were allowed to take tricorder readings of the barrier-thingy. The barrier was not hidden in a temple, it was out in the open. The tricorder was a passive scanner, they weren't actively dismantling the holy cave or anything. In other words, there's no real reason for the monks to deny the crew the ability to scan the barrier other than dramatic tension, and to be a bunch of big jerks.

Or, more likely, to imply that religion is anti-science and anti-knowledge. Well, maybe some are, but it doesn't have to be. Spirituality and reason can co-exist. Christianity (or at least some brands like Catholicism) is, at its heart, a rational belief system. The belief is that God is a rational being and made humans to be rational beings. Religion should not run away from reason or from discovery, it should embrace it.

So what is with these monks trying to hide from the truth? Religion is about the search for truth! Just what do they believe in if they hide from stuff? Especially since earlier they also made a big deal about not hiding anything.

Which also makes the whole mystic riddles that the monks bring to Janeway also annoying. Again, they are trying to set up the religion of these people to be anti-rational. That logic and understanding have no place in religion. Sure, one could claim that it's just this one alien's culture, but this was obviously set up as a deep and philosophical episode, which means the religion of these aliens must be similar to ours. Which means the writers are trying to claim that logic and reason don't mix with religion. Which doesn't seem very fair.

Of course, the whole mystic riddles thing may have just been them messing with Janeway since she was obviously not being respectful to these people and their beliefs. "Sure I'll jump through your silly hoops for Kes, but I'm not gonna believe any of it!" So maybe they were just being jerks back to her. Oh well, still doesn't help the theme of the show...

I guess anyway, what I'm saying is that it was a nice idea, but like so maybe Voyager episodes they really should have gone with another rewrite.

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