Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Waking Moments"


Air date: 1/14/1998
Written by Andre Bormanis
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"...and the next thing I knew, I was being boiled alive in a pot of my own leota root stew."
"Talk about a nightmare."
"But it was perfectly seasoned."

— Neelix and B'Elanna

Nutshell: A reasonable diversion, but not a whole heck of a lot more.

An alien appears in the dreams of the Voyager crew members. By what can't be a coincidence, everybody has nightmares on the same night, and the same alien appears in everybody's dreams. Ensign Kim and several other crew members are locked in sleep—physically fine, but the Doctor can't wake them. What does it mean? Chakotay goes to sleep to find answers, to ask what this alien wants, if anything. Using pseudo-hypnosis, he devises a way of forcing lucid dreaming (that is, knowing that a dream is really just a dream) so that he can wake himself up when he has the answers, hopefully avoiding the fate of Kim and the others.

Chakotay finds the alien, a person from a race that, when asleep, apparently exists as combined figments of their own and other people's dreams. Sound implausible? It is. Border on fantasy? It does. The episode avoids discussing how this existence is possible. But I'm not going to hold that against "Waking Moments." You sort of have to take these things on the given terms. Besides, I have bigger fish to fry.

Like "Random Thoughts," "Waking Moments" is the type of Voyager offering that seems to indicate what the series sees itself as: an hour-long diversion that specializes in featuring this week's (somewhat) unique alien race which bears a (somewhat) unique property, which leads to a (somewhat) interesting plot-based adventure for Our Heroes. Unlike "Random Thoughts," however, this installment doesn't ask a whole lot of questions, so all we're left with for critical analysis are the superficial plot machinations and their pure intrigue level.

"Waking Moments" is what they call "average." It's agreeably fun, but it doesn't have enough meat to it to be the slightest bit more than that. The plot turns are certainly watchable, but not really all that compelling. And even though I can't think of a source reference offhand, this premise seems strangely familiar and could probably be accurately called "derivative." (And now that I think about it, shades of TNG's "Night Terrors" come to mind.)

The basic question I think "Waking Moments" is getting at here goes something like, "What if a society existed in reality as a mental state that we consider fantasy?" The question has possibilities. Unfortunately for this episode, the lame answer supplied seems to be, "They'd commandeer the starship Voyager for no discernible purpose."

I think that about sums up my biggest complaint about "Waking Moments"—there's simply nothing substantive about these aliens that justifies their actions (beyond perhaps extreme paranoia). As the plot progresses and takes on some intriguing complexity, it turns out the Voyager crew members have all fallen asleep and are dreaming the same dream from their own point of view—interacting in a web of unified thought that Seven aptly labels "collective unconsciousness." But can somebody tell me why the aliens, who apparently control the entire dream-like state with some sort of technology, stage the dream as a shipwide takeover? What is their motivation for holding the crew captive in sleep? I've tried to find one, but as far as I can tell, it's inexplicable. It's yet another example of the Hard-Headed Alien of the Week Syndrome [TM]. The whole episode builds to a finale that lives or dies on "how is it can we defeat the cardboard bad guys this week?"

My fault; the alien does, technically, give Chakotay a reason for why his people have decided to take Voyager's crew captive: "For centuries you've come and found us in a state that you call sleep and tried to destroy us. But not any more. One by one you will fall asleep and enter our reality, where it is you who will be destroyed." You decide what it means; I'm calling it an unintelligible utterance of bad dialog. I was practically waiting for an Evil Laugh after the alien said this.

The whole "motivation problem" dominates most of the story if you think about anything for more than 0.68 seconds (as Data once put it). Under scrutiny, the plot begins to fall apart. The only way this works is if you turn off your brain and go with the flow. If you can do that, "Waking Moments" comes with some stuff to recommend.

For starters, this episode has fun bending reality. I suppose it can be said that the real reason for the aliens' takeover of the ship is so that the story can sidetrack us with a false plot long enough so that when the real truth comes around we'll get novelty out of the shock value. Chakotay wakes up from his dream—and then later he wakes up again. It can be confusing if you don't think about it; but if you do think about it a lot of the plot pulls together on its own terms by the time the show ends—until your thinking process begins finding the gaping holes in the aliens' logic and contrived motivation.

The plot does a reasonable job of explaining itself so that we always know pretty much what's going on (even though the explanations aren't always believable), and every once in a while comes a time when Chakotay has to question whether he's dreaming or really awake. I like shows that bend reality (such as "Projections" and TNG's "Frame of Mind" and "Ship in a Bottle" and DS9's "Whispers"); they can be fun—although "Waking Moments" doesn't push the idea far enough for it to really take hold and overcome the stupidity of the takeover scheme.

But for what this episode is, it was very nicely executed by director Alexander Singer. The pacing is up, which keeps the show watchable even though it's shallow. The episode opens with one of the most interestingly assembled teasers in recent memory, as the story crosscuts between each different character and their respective dreams ... and only slowly reveals that what we're watching are dreams.

Also, the use of Earth's moon—as a mental image to alert Chakotay that he's sleeping—really worked for me. When Chakotay saw the moon in the cargo bay (after believing he was already awake), the show generated a spark of creativity that made me take notice. Chakotay's subsequent awakening (Doc: "You're awake!" Chakotay: "Are you sure?!") also had me eagerly awaiting to see where the story was headed—too bad it took such a conventional road, because the possibilities for something much better were there. The most effective use of the moon comes when Chakotay sees it on the viewscreen—and after he wakes up he sees the alien planet on the viewscreen instead. I'm not sure why, but I was quite taken by the transposition. It felt very genuine, and at that moment I could fully identify with the confusion Chakotay was feeling in trying to identify reality from unreality.

Another good idea that could've been taken farther (but which still benefits the episode even in its limited use), was the idea of the way the brain skews reality when dreaming. Things are always off-kilter in dreams, but you rarely notice the off-kilter elements until after you wake up. There's a moment concerning a warp core breach that touches upon this (a breach should destroy the ship, but in this dream world it doesn't). Touching upon the idea was good, but why wasn't there a lot more of this? The whole episode could've been a puzzle of characters trying to determine what was and wasn't real around them—and, because it was all a dream, having them accept as real what we the audience would see as obviously not real. It may have been a riskier story idea conceptually, but it would've been much more interesting than another routine takeover plot.

A few quick asides:

  • Not to nitpick, but the "identical brain waves" clue that is supposed to account for the fact that everybody is having the same dream doesn't seem plausible to me, even on Trek-level plausibility terms. Everybody's having the dream from their own perspective, so why would their brain patterns be the same?
  • If you look closely at the scene where B'Elanna exits the smoke-filled engineering set, you will briefly glimpse a very pregnant Roxann Dawson. Shooting around Dawson's pregnancy is a technical concern that proves amusing if you look at the way the she's cleverly positioned on the screen in every scene. Maybe we should dub this game the "B'Elanna watch." Okay, maybe not.
  • Torres: "And if the aliens try to stop us?" Janeway: "Then we turn this dream world of theirs [grabs a big, bad gun] into a nightmare." ARRRRGH! No, no, no. This line takes the cake as awful B-movie lines that try to be Badass Taglines [TM]. I actually laughed at how bad it was. It's a miracle that Kate Mulgrew was able to deliver the line with a straight face—but then again, she's had lots of practice, as the writers give all the lines of this type to her. (Cf. "These lab rats are fighting back," "Time's up," etc.) Enough already.
  • What are those strange pins on B'Elanna's uniform supposed to denote? I realize the uniform itself was created to hide the actress' pregnancy, but what, if anything, are the pins in story terms?
  • I was amused by a lot of the light character dialog—and especially the notion that Tuvok's nightmare is showing up for his duty shift naked. Who hasn't had that dream?

That's about all from this corner. "Waking Moments" is like last season's "Displaced" in many ways. The show lives and dies on plot execution, the storyline is more or less routine, the aliens are stubborn and paper-thin, and in the end we're supposed to pat Our Heroes on the back for their ingenuity. Unlike "Displaced," however, "Waking Moments" maintains its entertainment value with a brisk pace and good execution, as well as benefiting from some nicely worked-in character moments.

This is the epitome of so-so.

Next week: Romulans, an LMH, and alien predators. Is this part one of a Voyager story arc? We'll see shortly...

Previous episode: Mortal Coil
Next episode: Message in a Bottle

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28 comments on this review

LitBolt - Sat, Nov 17, 2007 - 12:55am (USA Central)
Also, the music in this episode sounds STRAIGHT out of DS9. The entire time I was thinking, "didn't I just hear this in Sacrifice of Angels?," heh.
EightOfNine - Thu, Dec 27, 2007 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
Also, this episode finally established what everyone already suspected: seeing as his nightmare consists of kissing a beautiful woman, ensign Kim must be gay.
mlk - Sat, Jan 5, 2008 - 7:39am (USA Central)
The 'pins' on B'elanna's uniform were assorted pencils and mathematical instruments. Nothing an engineer wouldn't have
indijo - Tue, Mar 25, 2008 - 5:49pm (USA Central)
"Unfortunately for this episode, the lame answer supplied seems to be, "They'd commandeer the starship Voyager for no discernible purpose.""

I think I know the answer to this one. The discernible purpose was to alleviate boredom.
Dirk Hartmann - Tue, Apr 29, 2008 - 4:58am (USA Central)
I have to admit that this is still one of my favorite standalone episodes in Voyager. I think it's as underrated as "scientific method".
Michael - Mon, Jun 21, 2010 - 12:00pm (USA Central)
It's quite a good episode. The only thing that really annoyed me was Chakotay with his "Acushla moya, we're far away from the buffalo" or whatever crap. Enough with this Native American nonsense already!!
Jeff - Mon, Jul 12, 2010 - 5:53pm (USA Central)
Regarding B'Elanna's jacket: I know Dawson wore it to cover her pregnancy, but I thought the jacket was a neat look for her regardless. I wish she had kept wearing it for the rest of the series.

Also, I don't think those are pins she was wearing. I thought they were little tools in a breast pocket.
Tijn - Sat, Dec 4, 2010 - 11:04pm (USA Central)
I really liked Tuvok's 'unsettling' dream.

He's my favorite character.
Bobbers - Thu, Dec 30, 2010 - 6:42am (USA Central)
EightOfNine has hit the nail on the head.
Captain Jim - Thu, Apr 14, 2011 - 10:40pm (USA Central)
I got a kick out of Jammer's complaint that this episode written by Trek's science adviser was scientifically implausible.
Occuprice - Fri, Apr 29, 2011 - 12:18am (USA Central)
Watching this again, I got a real kick out of some moments that just had me say "Inception." The whole am-I-dreaming stuff was the best part of the episode... and 10 years later Inception comes to fully exploit it.
Nic - Mon, May 16, 2011 - 8:23am (USA Central)
I will admit this was one of my favorite episodes as a kid, and I still get a kick out of the dreams vs. reality bits. Watching it again now, I see that it's a predecessor to "Inception". And yes, David Bell reused his score from 'Sacrifice of Angels'.

You gotta love the 'acute insomnia' scenes at the end. It just makes so much... sense!
Justin - Mon, Apr 16, 2012 - 10:28pm (USA Central)
Apparently the laughter on the bridge during Tuvok's "nude" entrance was genuine because Tim Russ put a rather large..ahem..."apendage" over his groin.

They should have just written Roxann Dawson's pregnancy into the show. Tom knocks up B'Elanna. End...I mean beginning of story. Anything to get rid of that dorky overcoat with the pocket protector. She may be an engineer, but she's still half-Klingon. There is no honor in nerdliness.
Jeff O'Connor - Fri, Jul 27, 2012 - 3:02am (USA Central)
Well, I guess they were saving the pregnancy for later... er. Yes. That's right. Or something.

Anyway, I just watched this one for the first time since it premiered, and oh my goodness, I agree with this review regarding Janeway's cheesy-arse line. She had a lot of them this season, didn't she?
Elphaba - Mon, Oct 1, 2012 - 9:32pm (USA Central)
Voyager: Inception. I liked it. Fun and sometimes goofy.
Bryan - Thu, Oct 4, 2012 - 3:15am (USA Central)
I liked this episode and it seems to me that the viewers who didn't like it was for petty reasons- Music, pins, wrong science, gay crew members,... Lol. It's science fiction so let's just all lay back and enjoy the episode for what it's worth: Fun entertainment.
stargazer - Tue, Oct 23, 2012 - 1:55pm (USA Central)
I think the episode is quite good. Quite interesting, actually. The possibility that someone, in this case an alien species, intrudes on other peoples' dreams is an interesting idea, and I'd say it's not so farfetched. I don't think it "borders on fantasy", as the the reviewer suggests. Dream telepathy is something that has been tried by people and examined in experiments. People often tend to dismiss something as impossible if it's not in accordance with what they know or are capable to imagine.

I agree, however, that the motivation of the aliens appears somewhat simplistic and not
very intriguing. But, hey, who knows, maybe they are just xenophobic. That would largely
explain their behavior and actions. We had something like this before in Star Trek.
Check out the TNG episode "Clues".

But what doesn't make any sense in this episode (Waking Moments) is that the Doctor - after he's been given a direct order by Chakotay to fire photon torpedoes from the bridge and *kill* him and other sleeping aliens on the planet - simply agrees to execute this order, without even a slight protest. This really makes no sense. Because the Doctor would definitely be prevented from doing that by the Hippocratic oath, which
namely says 'do no harm'. You simply can't kill. Period. This would be murder, and I'm sure his ethical subroutines wouldn't allow him to go along with this even if he wanted to. It would be illogical and unethical for Doc to do that, even if it meant saving the crew (by the way, we don't really know if this is the only way to save the crew... Doc's still there, after all). Chakotay, obviously, didn't alter the EMH in any way, so Doc agreeing wholeheartedly to obliterate him and the aliens (sentient lifeforms!) is very much out
of character, not to mention illogical. This, to me, is a major flaw in logic. But I guess there was no time in this episode to deal with Doc's ethical dilemmas. :)
Jo Jo Meastro - Sun, Apr 14, 2013 - 12:17pm (USA Central)
I'm back to watching Voyager after taking a bit of a break from it. I'll probably be trying to finish season 4 a bit sooner than I normally would to tie it up before my 2 week holiday at the end of this month. I'll comment as I go if I feel I might have anything to add or contribute.

Anyways, I found this episode to be a little too average. I agree with the review with how mundane it is that the plot takes a standard alien take-over route. The set-up seemed to promise something much more distinctive and interesting. But there is enough character moments, good ideas and fun even if it stays settled firmly on average.

I also agree with Micheal a few comments up about Chakotays' characterisation being far too heavy handed with the Native American stuff. And this is coming from someone who holds a keen interest in Native Americans! Its a bit silly and unrealistic for Chakotay to be so rigidly defined by his heritage that its pretty much hs only defining feature. The writers need to inject more of a distinct personality into him and work on devoloping him in more satisfying ways so that he's not so bland and repetitive. His heritage can still remain an important part of who he is, without it becoming close to the ONLY thing about him. The novelty of having Native American culture in such a tech-filled sci-fi environment has run its course. Time for something new from Chakotay, I'd say.

To stargazer, I noticed that problem too with the Doctors' non-reaction to being ordered to basically kill a load of people. The only thing I can think of is that there was an off-screen conversation between Chakotay and the Doctor explaining this is playing the aliens' bluff rather than a real intention to harm them (with Chakotay adding something like "if the aliens still don't want to play ball, give them a 'warning shot' to try to convince them to give up the ghost!"). That's the way I try to rationalize it. I guess this would take some excitement out of the climax so maybe this is why the writers didn't bother to iron this out.

To conclude, before I go too much off-track, I'd give this episode a 2.5/4 as well. It's got some good moments, but it's just a bit too standard given its promising set-up.
Lt. Yarko - Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - 9:24pm (USA Central)
>>the lame answer supplied seems to be, "They'd commandeer the starship Voyager for no discernible purpose."

They couldn't even have done that. All they could have done was starve the crew to death. I guess they just really hate awake people.

The senselessness of the enemy species aside, it was a fun episode. I loved how the entire crew was all bunched up to laugh at Tuvok when he walked onto the bridge, and I loved when Seven started kicking Harry's a$$. Too funny.

I fail to see how Harry having a dream about an attractive woman makes him gay. I have had many such dreams and I am not gay. Actually, I find that comment a bit offensive. So what if Harry is gay?
Lt. Yarko - Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - 9:26pm (USA Central)
I just figured out the Kim being gay thing. I get it now. Never mind. :)
ian - Sun, Jul 7, 2013 - 12:34am (USA Central)
@ Lt Yarko:

Actually Ensign Kim "gets it too..."

Actor Garrett Wang IS gay in the "real world."

So, another gay asian in Star Trek... first George Takei and now Garrett Wang....hmmm....a pattern?
Caine - Fri, Nov 8, 2013 - 5:37pm (USA Central)
So ... all actors of Asian origin in Star Trek is gay?

Linda Park from "Enterprise" is gay? That just put some images in my mind that totally saved my day ... thank you!

PS: W`ho cares anyway? Aren't we past that already?
Ric - Tue, Apr 15, 2014 - 11:03pm (USA Central)
I actually think this is episode is quite good. Sure, not really deep, good quality entertainment. Fun, funny, and with a fresh way to deal with the mind control, parallel reality stuff. Just for that summed to the good dialogues, it deserves more than 2.5 stars in my perspective.
Vylora - Thu, Aug 28, 2014 - 8:46pm (USA Central)
Some memorable character moments are the sole bright spot in an otherwise trite and tired haze of mundane plot mechanics. I would be able to work with the high-concept idea of the aliens themselves if they weren't written as so severely one-dimensional and lacking in any form of motivation whatsoever. Since the character moments are so directly effected by the plot; they in turn unfortunately lose their luster. However, there is entertainment value to be had here and the direction ably moves things along.

Watchable enough overall but also lacking.

2 stars.
Mashedpotatoe - Sun, Aug 31, 2014 - 12:48pm (USA Central)
I really liked this episode. The Only thing I don't understand is why the alians need those stasis chambers. or do they usually live being awake and just use stasis pods now, so they can attack people.
karatasiospa - Sun, Nov 9, 2014 - 2:00pm (USA Central)
well this takes 8 out of 19 for effort ( for trying to do something different) but only 3 out of ten for the result! It reminds me of the silly episodes of TOS's season 3.
karatasiospa - Sun, Nov 9, 2014 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
i meant 8 out of 10!!!
Jen - Wed, Dec 31, 2014 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed the episode. It's not very deep or thought provoking but there are entertaining moments with Tuvok on the bridge and Chakotay trying to figure out what is real. I agree with Jammer's critique that the alien's motivations for doing this are a bit thin. Other than that, I like the ensemble nature of this episode.

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