Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager



Air date: 2/10/1999
Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty
Story by Bill Prady
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I'm something of a renaissance EMH." — Doc, on his multi-skills

Nutshell: Three words: Archetypes done entertainingly.

"Bliss" probably shouldn't be half as good as it is. Here's a story involving a lifetime's worth of cliches borrowed from Voyager standbys, cinema archetypes, and general derivatives of derivatives. How many different standbys can we work into a single episode? Let me count the ways.

1. Voyager finds an anomaly that appears to be a wormhole offering A Way Home [TM]. Naturally, this supposed way home is not at all what it appears to be.

2. The ship is Threatened With Destruction [TM] by said anomaly.

3. A lone crewman, in this case Seven of Nine, our former-Borg heroine, finds herself The Only Hope [TM] for preventing said ship's destruction.

4. The Kid [TM], Naomi Wildman (note how Seven will never use her first name without the last name or vice versa; it's a noun whose existence requires both words), is one of the few left who is useful to Seven, and provides the heroine with assistance.

5. We have The Beast [TM], a monster that will eat you, or in this case your entire starship, a basic standby for science fiction from here to eons before I can remember, I'm sure.

6. We have The Alien Helper of the Week [TM], who also serves as the Cinema Archetype of the Week [TM]—a character inspired by Quint from Jaws, and cheerfully plugged into the story as an expert on said monster. He even gets A Sobering Monologue About the Past [TM] that, although nowhere near as good as Quint's USS Indianapolis monologue, is meant to provide the character with a depth explaining his obsession.

7. Lastly, in a sentiment that almost pokes fun at the series itself, we have nearly every character in the episode existing as a shallower version of themselves, which is explained by the Weird Unexplainable Properties [TM] emanating from The Beast, which affects the crew's judgment and, with bait that looks like A Way Home, lures them into entering the belly of The Beast.

Now before anyone accuses me of being harsh and cruel and cynical and unfair toward this cheerful assemblage of reliably derivative puzzle pieces, let me hasten to add that I liked this episode. I really did. It's "comfort" entertainment done well. Given the extent of the recyclical nature of the storyline, common sense predicts I would resist this episode. But given the execution, resistance was futile. (I know, I know—that was obvious. But it was too hard to pass up. If the episode can use cliches, why can't I?)

And before anyone accuses me of being too generous and forgiving and shallow and blind to criticize an episode that's hollow and pointless, let me say that some stories need not necessarily be original or thoughtful or dramatically important to be worthwhile. It simply needs to know what it is and do what it does well. Ultimately, either it works for you or it doesn't.

Somehow, "Bliss" knows exactly what it is, and although it doesn't begin to challenge any of its cliches (because it needs them for the story to work), it does have the sense to embrace the lunacy (and sometimes the banality) of its plot pieces rather than succumbing to them. It's weirdly clever about how it does what it does. It's just manipulative enough to explain away the usual criticisms I would have with such a plot, yet not too manipulative as to feel like an audience insulter.

A big reason for this is because it tips off the audience in advance that it knows where it's going. For example, The Way Home—which we know from the first scene (because the story shows us) is actually a trap—is greeted not with the credulity on the part of the Voyager crew, but with instant skepticism. ("What's wrong with this picture?" Janeway says immediately.) But then, a few scenes later, Janeway's attitude pulls a 180, and the whole crew is acting strange. This set off alarms in my on-board mental plot analyzer, but because it also set off alarms for Seven—who sees the entire crew falling for what is obviously a deception—it's perfectly all right.

In a way, the story resembles a sort of conspiracy against Seven, who, as the only member of the crew thinking objectively, finds herself sabotaged at every turn by the other crew members, who attempt to undermine her efforts to approach the situation with caution.

I liked the way the episode approached this idea. We can see the progress Seven attempts to make, but we also see the mindset of the rest of the crew, which is under some weird spell projected by The Beast.

Letters from Starfleet apparently come trickling through the wormhole, and everything is too perfect: The Maquis Voyager crew members are offered a full pardon. Chakotay and Paris are offered great opportunities. Janeway's old fiance may have become available again. Torres believes the Maquis are still alive. Yet no one can see through the trap; it has all become a weird sort of intoxication that can't be denied. And as the crew is certain they're headed straight for Earth, we see goofily exaggerated grins on the faces of Janeway, Paris, Kim—which is done in a strangely surreal way that borders on mild self-referential mockery. ("We're getting home! Again!" Well, no, of course you aren't.)

The way Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok constantly undermine Seven's attempts to stop the ship from heading into this "wormhole" is interesting, with a subtle underlying sense of humor. They do so with tricks that have the pretense of having "good reason"—and we can also see that they believe everything they're telling Seven, even though Seven can see every one of their actions threatens to shut down her solo resistance operation.

Along the way, Seven recruits The Kid, which is good for some lighthearted fun, including a scene where Seven explains to Naomi how to sustain a force field by blocking commands coming through from the bridge. The way Naomi looks to Seven as a role model is one of those weird, quirky sitcom cliches—yet still believable. The Kid befriending the former-Borg is an idea that has always existed at least partially for the "cute" motive, but works fairly well here as a vessel for the plot.

With the whole crew unconscious and only Seven and Doc left to save the ship, the rest of "Bliss" is primarily plot tactics and style. Mission: Escape The Beast before it digests the ship, avoiding its illusionary abilities in the process.

The creature of "Bliss" is a life form inspired by the huge "ameba" in TOS's "The Immunity Syndrome," except that the goal of evolved sensibility here is to give it an upset stomach rather than destroying it. Okay by me.

The alien who offers assistance, with his 39-year vendetta against The Beast, is named Qatai, and is performed by W. Morgan Sheppard in one of those gruff-voiced, scenery-chewing performances that simply is what it is—a cheerful homage to every other character that he resembles. This guy, whose ship is a battered piece of garbage that can barely stay together, and who refuses to say die, is a likably obsessive fellow. So who cares if he's recycled? He's recycled with conviction.

Of course, "Bliss" also has its share of implausible silliness. For one, I find it a little tough to swallow the notion that this creature operates merely on "evolved instinct" yet has the ability to manipulate the thoughts of the crew to such an extent and, further, create environs that set off the ship's computers to alert the crew of such realistic-seeming illusions. It seems a bit magical.

And then, of course, is the usual convenience of one person being able to sustain the entire ship from one station. It makes me wonder if a crew of 100-plus is really even necessary. What do they all do? Never mind; I care not. Any episode where Seven saves the ship, and then afterward tells the captain, "I will file a complete report in the morning, after I have regenerated," is a show that knows where it stands in terms of its pitch. If for no other reason, "Bliss" succeeds simply because it knows what it is and knows better than to take itself too seriously, and plunges ahead with lighthearted whimsy.

Other than that, what is there to say? It's not deep or meaningful, it doesn't have that much to say about the characters, and in the end it really isn't all that plausible. But nor does it intend to be scrutinized. It exists to be simple, straightforward, and pleasantly entertaining. On those levels, it delivers, and does so skillfully.

Next week: Double your Borg quota, double your fun.

Previous episode: Gravity
Next episode: Dark Frontier

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23 comments on this review

Greg M - Sat, Jul 26, 2008 - 2:57am (USA Central)

As always good review and I liked this episode too. It was fun, and the stuff between Naomi and Seven was cute. However, there was one thing that made me chuckle. Seven of Nine lives in a cargo bay with phasers and other weapons. Now given past history, one would think that her accessability to weapons would be limited, but there was a phaser for her to use. I guess the crew finally did earn her trust in that short time.
John Pate - Tue, Jan 20, 2009 - 11:57am (USA Central)
Solid entertainment and accessible to SF fans and non-SF fans thanks to its themes. One of things I like about "Voyager" is that (admittedly this is anecdotally from people I know that I've chatted with) it's the non-Trekkies favourite Trek precisely because there's a level of comprehensibility built in because of what you call "derivative" but I could call "cultural references." The "Voyager" writers generally erred on the side of the obvious in terms of story and plot. For popular entertainment that is not really a bad thing, even if it's not high art. DS9 may be more satisfying artistically in some ways because of the way its stories and arcs were carried forward throughout a season but it also made it less accessible to non-Trekkies and occasional viewers.
gion - Wed, May 6, 2009 - 1:19pm (USA Central)
Very enjoyable story. I quite like Naomi Wildman and it's not often I appreciate a child character (hated Jake Sisko and Wesley Cresher with a passion).

Regarding the observation whether a crew of +100 plus is really necessary: it seems to me there isn't any need for a crew at all. The AI obviously exists to commandeer a ship since the Doctor has illustrated on numerous occassions that he's able to be adaptive, think creatively and makes decisions on his own. Naturally, Star Trek wouldn't be as interesting if starships would be run by computers.
matt - Wed, May 6, 2009 - 10:52pm (USA Central)
nice review, nice episode, always enjoy this one, any episode with a lot of seven and the doctor can not fail
Jay - Mon, Aug 3, 2009 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
I agree that the Beast had more powers than could be explained.

It's the same as in TNG's Devils' Due, where at the end they tried to tidily explain away all of the "parlor tricks" as just so many illusions, while they never explained how she was able to defeat security, cut off intraship communications and affect the "tricks" she made in Picard's quarters, which were more than mere illusions.
Michael - Thu, Jul 1, 2010 - 3:30pm (USA Central)
The Doc: "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."
The "monster expert": "Your ship is being devoured."

Gotta love the "monster expert's" faux-Australian twang. I guess the Universal Translator does accents now, too.

How come Naomi Wildman, "subunit of Ensign Samantha Wildman" (hehehe), did not get bewitched by the "beast"? (BTW, that kid is becoming quite annoying: One minute she can pilot a shuttle; the next she's scared of the dark. Give me a break.) How did the "monster expert" escape it? Besides, that guy acts like he couldn't steer a fishing trawler, let alone operate a spaceship.

The Doc: "Star Fleet is not in the habit of killing life forms." Oh brother... No, let's join hands with the creature and sing Kumbaya instead. But O.K., they manage to escape the creature without killing it (how New Age enlighteningly progressive!), but leave it there for thousands of others to perish in it? *bangs head against the wall* I'd have torpedoed the mofo to smithereens. But then, I'm just a 21st-century hillbilly.

And finally... - a...MONSTER!?! What next: Narnia?

Still, a decent episode.
navamske - Mon, Aug 9, 2010 - 7:02pm (USA Central)
"But O.K., they manage to escape the creature without killing it (how New Age enlighteningly progressive!), but leave it there for thousands of others to perish in it? *bangs head against the wall* I'd have torpedoed the mofo to smithereens. But then, I'm just a 21st-century hillbilly."

Point taken, but the closing voiceover has Janeway saying that they deployed some warning buoys.
Jay - Sun, Nov 21, 2010 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
^ But, isn't the Beast mobile? Can't he move away from the buoys? Or eat them?
Cloudane - Sat, Dec 11, 2010 - 2:03pm (USA Central)
Feeling the criticism of readers at this point Jammer? :) I wouldn't worry about it, you can't please everyone. Some want everything to be sunshine and rainbows, others want deep cutting cynicism and deconstruction. I think in the main your reviews are pretty well balanced.

So the episode... I didn't mind the clich├ęs either. And The Kid (TM) cute factor really works... Naomi was epically cute, as she often is. The miracle growth and ridiculous intelligence thing still needs an explanation, but in any case this is definitely one of the best child actors to grace any Trek. Not that she's been up against much competition with Alexander, Wesley or the vacant staring of Molly "Draw with me daddy" O'Brien!

I'm glad the crew I.e. Janeway was kept unconscious, leaving the decision making to the Doctor. Janeway would probably be like the Monster Expert, all "what do you mean don't kill it, it's eaten us, fire at will" as per her ruthless nature. Instead we got to see the Starfleet ethics being upheld.

I also enjoyed the Monster Exper, nice character, and I hope he features again. He's a named guest star so maybe he does.
Jack - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 6:30pm (USA Central)
The biggest hmmm about this episode is the origin of this creature. And more importantly, why is there only one, and IS there only one?
Jack - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 6:31pm (USA Central)
And again with the ridiculousness of a deuterium shortage. First in Demon and now here. Deuterium is heavy hydrogen. Crank up the ramscoop and have at.
Jack - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 6:48pm (USA Central)
And how convenient was it that after 7 shot B'Ehlanna, the other engineers in the room were so slow to react that 7 could leisurely shoot them one by one as they turned around...
Jack - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 6:52pm (USA Central)
Look how comforatbly everyone collapsed once they entered the "wormhole"...should have been some skulls cracked open...
Jeff - Sat, Dec 31, 2011 - 10:59am (USA Central)
I just find it interesting that in Naomi's conversation with Seven she doesn't express any interest in the possibility of finally meeting her father. As a child of two different species, and having grown up her entire life aboard Voyager I can see why Naomi may not have any interest in seeing Earth specifically (although even then you'd think she'd have some interest in seeing the planet of her mother's birth), but how can she not have an interest in finally meeting her father? That conversation would have been a perfect place to have a mention made of that. Oh well.

And also a missed opportunity by the writers in having Naomi be allowed to use the astro lab all by herself with no supervision. Had Seven not come in I don't think anyone would have checked on her. It would have been nice to see mother and daughter have this conversation together while watching images of Earth.
Captain Jim - Tue, Mar 20, 2012 - 10:47pm (USA Central)
Michael asked:
"How come Naomi Wildman, "subunit of Ensign Samantha Wildman" (hehehe), did not get bewitched by the "beast"? How did the "monster expert" escape it?"

As far as Naomi is concerned, I assumed that it was for the same reason that Seven was not: neither one of them was interested in going to earth.

The "monster expert" said at one point that he had developed some immunity to the beast over the years.

I thought this was a very entertaining episode, btw and agree with Jammer's rating.
Justin - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 4:15pm (USA Central)
Derivative, formulaic, and predictable, but loads of fun. Another example of why VOY was on a roll at this point during its run. If this had been S3 it probably would have been a dud.

Plus, Naomi is just so darned cute. She reminds me of my oldest daughter at that age - smart, snappy, emotionally manipulative, and always trying to ingratiate herself to all the "cool" adults. And succeeding.

I do find it a little vexing, however, that this episode gets 3 stars for being formulaically competent, yet the ambitious moral dilemma/character study, "Latent Image," gets the same rating and only gets a marginal recommendation.
azcats - Mon, Aug 5, 2013 - 3:56pm (USA Central)
I think at this point of the series, Jammer started to get a soft spot for Voyager. There was nothing special about the episode, it was just mildly entertaining. If this was season 2. and the 2 characters were Neelix and Kes, Jammer would have given this a 2 star or less episode. One thing that got me was that this was another episode that pretty much featured the Doc and 7of9. seems like they depended on that too much. reminds me of "One."

also, did it seem to you guys that Janeway had a LOT of makeup on during her scenes? and her smile was utterly creepy.
Nancy - Thu, Aug 8, 2013 - 1:30am (USA Central)
Qatai was a great character. I loved the Ahab reference. I was afraid they would just kill him off, but instead they had him turn around and continue to follow his obsession. Nicely done. An entertaining episode.
domi - Wed, Nov 6, 2013 - 7:35pm (USA Central)
I don't agree that the 5th season is the best season of Voyager so far. I feel that the show has become shallow and that the characters become more and more like cardboard cutouts with each passing episode.

With that out of the way, although this episode had good production value and special effects ("I don't think that's Earth"), the plot was a blatant rehash of several previous offerings, most notably Persistence of Vision.

I liked the conspiracy theory angle, and wish the writers had played that up and made it a major theme of the episode instead of one plot point. After all, how many episodes have we had to endure in which 7 of 9 betrays the Voyager crew? Too many to count. It would have been cool to see the contrary.

Likewise, I wish the audience had not been let in on the secret at the beginning of the episode, and instead had only been presented with events from Seven of Nine's POV. (Actually, I missed the first part of the episode the first time around--and seeing Janeway's log where she says the wormhole is an "elaborate deception" was kind of chilling because I didn't know any better. If only the episode had been written that way.)

It's hard to give this episode a high rating when there were so many others like it. 2.5 from me.
Chris P - Mon, Feb 3, 2014 - 8:25pm (USA Central)
This was a 2* episode on paper turned into a 3* episode on film because of four charming actors and solid special effects.

Qatai was a rare treat in a ST:Voy episode with his surly but likable personality. Star Trek is very "open minded" and its protagonists almost always exemplify this trait to an extreme degree so it was fun to have a good guy who was also hateful and bluntly realistic with his answers to Naomi's questions.
Amanda - Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - 8:22pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed this. love the guest star.

I found it all too convenient for Naomi and the drone not to be seduced. At first, I fell for their reasons, but why couldn't this telepath show them what THEY desired?
You mean to tell me the beast can't handle multiple orders?

example : wouldn't Naomi be under spell too of say, her mom being present in her life(hehe) or being a captain s assistant? No, I guess not. One vast connected dream per bite for the beast.

Ric - Wed, Apr 23, 2014 - 12:47am (USA Central)
Repetitive plot (everyone blacks out, leaving the Doc alone - only this time he had Seven as well). Repetitive anomaly of the week. Repetitive ending. But as Jammer has precisely captured, there is something that makes it sort of good. Quite fun at least.

Maybe it was the grouping of good acting, just as others have said above. Anyway, surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, though, there were other episodes in this very same season that deserved 3 stars more than this and did not get them.
Nesendrea - Mon, Jun 16, 2014 - 12:45pm (USA Central)
Much of the relevant points about this episode have already been covered. It's a fun and engrossing story, blending Moby Dick, Jonah and the Whale, Jaws, and a number of other tales and cliches. Interesting that "Captain Ahab" Qatai survived the ending; usually characters of that archetype die or are ruined by the final act as an allegory on the futility of pursuing obsession. I was expecting him to sacrifice himself to get Voyager out, dying happily in the knowledge that he had given his life to deny his hated nemesis a meal.

There are, however, two major plot holes here:

1) Like Jammer, I can't sign on to the notion that this creature isn't sentient. Reading the minds of an entire crew of intelligent life forms and crafting pleasing fantasies based on the information you find there isn't something you can do without complex, reasoned thought. I understand that the writers had to address the issue of the creature's intelligence, and I get that they didn't want it to be smart. It would elevate Qatai's Ahab-style obsession to the more dignified level of a genuine rivalry, and of course it would raise the thorny issue of the creature's moral awareness, rather than keeping it a dumb beast that doesn't even understand that a survivor of one of its feeding attacks harbors personal hatred for it. In short, it would rip the soul out of the show's primary guest character and introduce complications that don't work to the story's benefit. But at least poor Moby Dick was just swimming around randomly, looking to eat; an unintelligent creature's ability to intelligently mess with people's heads severely strains credulity.

2) Ok, so I can accept that Seven of Nine is immune to the creature's influence. She's a former Borg drone who isn't even 100% sure she doesn't want to rejoin the Collective, and while there she literally had no individual wants at all. So it's believable that none of the wants which may have developed since she left are strong enough to fall prey to Moby Mindreader. I like how the beast even gave it the old college try by throwing the letter from her aunt at her, and failed, only then seeking to KO her when it became clear she wasn't going to play ball. The message being that even if you had the power to root around inside Seven's head and read her emotions directly, the one thing you'd find that she longs for more than any other is to have a family, and even that ranks under "meh" for her. But none of this should apply to the little subunit. Naomi is a child, and children are both gullible and possessed of intense, simplistic desires. The creature probably could have gotten her on-board by telling her the alpha quadrant was full of puppies and candy. Instead, so far as we're shown, it didn't even try. And unlike with #1, I'm not sure why. The Seven/Naomi interaction was certainly cute, but hardly essential to the story. Naomi's role could have been entirely filled by the Doctor with no ill effect. Totally glaring and unnecessary plot hole.

But, I don't mean to hate. As I said, it was a good episode, and deserves its 3 stars.

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