Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Bride of Chaotica!"


Air date: 1/27/1999
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Story by Bryan Fuller

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Think of it as Starfleet's first encounter with Planet X." — Seven to Janeway, advice on first-contact situations in the holodeck

Nutshell: Schlocky is as schlocky does.

The last thing I expected from "Bride of Chaotica!" was for it to come off as routine. I mean, it's a throwback to the 1940s serials, shot in black and white, and the title even contains an exclamation mark, for heaven's sake. How can you have a title with an exclamation mark for an episode that plays itself nearly as straight as any other standard offering?

Simple style aesthetics and common sense insist that I write the title of this show "Bride of Chaotica!" Even so, I tend to think that the idea behind this episode was "BRIDE OF CHAOTICA!" The intentions behind what would warrant a cheerful, all-uppercase assault are clearly present. Unfortunately, the net result of this offering can never muster anything that deserves more than "Bride of Chaotica!" or perhaps just "Bride of Chaotica" sans exclamation mark.

Episodes like this one tear down that cinematic "fourth wall" in our minds. We're aware that this isn't a story being told so much as a meditation on much older cinema. The point of the episode is to show the cast and crew of Voyager paying homage to an idea, perhaps so we'll experience vicariously the fun they had in making an unconventional installment.

Well, I'm all for it. I loved the self-referential humor of "Trials and Tribble-ations" and got a great deal of enjoyment out of other holodeck comedies/spoofs like "Our Man Bashir" and "Take Me Out to the Holosuite." And although I'm no expert on 1940s serials, I am familiar with them, and they do appeal to my enjoyment of schlocky cinema: I've seen all 12 chapters of "King of the Rocket Men," and I still enjoy an occasional episode of MST3K on the Sci-Fi Channel.

All of which is why I find it so hard to believe "Bride of Chaotica!" struck me as so flat. What went wrong?

Well, to be an optimist, I'll first answer the question of what went right.

Item #1: A workable nod to the 20th century. Tom's been a history buff of sorts, even if he tends to look at old cars and entertainment as history in a more superficial and playful context (as opposed to, for instance, Sisko, who took interest in the 21st century for what was decidedly more socially relevant reasons). Old sci-fi is, like I said, something that might serve as a good source of juxtaposition for Trek in the '90s.

Item #2: Shot mostly in black and white. This was a good idea back when the Captain Proton holo-program first appeared in "Night," and it still is.

Item #3: Flawless re-creation. Although I'll admit that it looks like a lot of money went into some of the Captain Proton sets (which certainly wasn't the case with serials), the production team did a great job with props, costumes, and art design to make the setting look as cheesy as it should've. David Bell's tinny, bass-free score is also perfectly appropriate.

Unfortunately, the writing staff just couldn't trust the audience to enjoy the concept on its own terms. (It's the same sort of attitude that required a holodeck jeopardy premise be made out of "Worst Case Scenario," a story that would've stood just fine on its own.) Fuller and Taylor felt compelled to merge Captain Proton with a technobabble plot—which would've been okay if done carefully. But "Bride of Chaotica!" makes a fatal mistake by taking itself—and especially its tech plot—too seriously.

One could probably argue similarly about the crew-in-jeopardy setup of "Our Man Bashir," but the difference is that "Bashir" had the ability to embrace its own silliness and just go with the flow. Something about "Chaotica" just can't pick itself up and break free. The tech plot becomes a huge liability.

And about the technobabble—it's the epitome of annoyingly arbitrary Voyager technical gobbledygook. The basic premise is okay—Voyager is visited by aliens who exist as "photonic" (i.e., holographic) life forms, who mistake Tom's program for an actual planet. The idea could've been compelling if the aliens were permitted to have a more interesting and substantive perspective in this dilemma, which, alas, they aren't.

But all the flab concerning the ship being stuck in space and trapped by gravimetric forces (or whatever)—who freakin' cares? Not me. And I wouldn't have let it get in the way of my enjoying the rest of the episode if it weren't for the fact there's so much of it. Every time the episode seems to be building its momentum in the holodeck's black-and-white sessions, along comes color and technobabble to interrupt the flow.

What's particularly funny to note is that the "actual" plot of this episode is about as schlocky as the Captain Proton story; it's just more updated schlock. Unfortunately, the writers didn't seem to notice the fact enough to parody it. They simply present it as straight as any other Day at the Office.

And yet, these complaints would've been irrelevant if the holodeck games would've been hilarious. Simply put: They aren't. What this episode sets out to do is all too rarely realized. The gags are surprisingly tame.

As I watched this episode, I realized that what they did here was not easy. The careful mimicking, the attention to detail—all expertly done (Kroeker deserves kudos for the directorial effort). But what's missing is pure enjoyment and exhilaration. This episode never quite takes off. I wasn't laughing much. Occasionally I was chuckling. Some of the gags are perceptive, but they don't dare to be brashly satirical. The lesson to be learned here, I think, is that skillful imitation alone is not enough. There has to be an attitude, an edge, brought to the material. In "Our Man Bashir," a great deal of attitude arose from the sharp banter between Bashir and Garak. There was a sense—despite the alleged seriousness of the plot's situation—that the actors and characters knew their setting was ridiculous.

That isn't the case here, and as a result, the humor doesn't flow, although it drips occasionally. The holo-plot is absurd (as it should be): The evil, holographic Chaotica (Martin Rayner) opens war on the alien beings (because he is one-dimensional, programmed evil, you see), which means Janeway must enter the holodeck, pose as the irresistible Arachnia, and stop his evil plan. (Standard contrivance of course dictates that the holodeck cannot be simply turned off, but never mind.) The performances are good but somehow not all that funny. Mulgrew chews the scenery well, but her incessant twitching is merely bizarre near the end.

Doc looks at home in the role of "President of Earth," but his negotiation with the aliens is so brief that it feels like an opportunity wasted. There are some other good moments, particularly the nods to the familiar comic-book goofiness ("NOT THAT BUTTON!"), but given the potential, the show seems to play the whole game awfully safe. There are sarcastic side-comments, sure, but they don't push far enough into parody to make the episode funny. For an unconventional episode, it sure manages to be awfully conventional.

To me, the whole subtext of the Captain Proton holodeck series this season has been to analyze the difference between the corny science fiction aimed at kids in the '40s and '50s versus the post-Star Wars era of commercial science fiction that appeals to large audiences looking for something more magnificent and significant (or at the very least seeing something blow up more realistically).

But based on what this Voyager offering gives us, the lesson seems to be that science fiction has come so far that we don't need solid ideas beneath the slick, high-budget exterior. Schlock has evolved into an art form toward which we can throw money in mass quantities. We can't get to the center of why there's reason for juxtaposing today's sci-fi with the old stuff, but, doggone it, we can certainly replicate the old stuff down to the last detail if we want to.

That may perhaps be a harsh interpretation of "Bride of Chaotica!" Maybe I expected too much from this show; in its defense I must admit that it aspires to simply be light rather than significant. But it's somehow hard to laugh at schlock condescending to schlock. I suppose we can grin.

Next week: "Shuttle Crash, Part XXIV." Let's hope characterization is the key, 'cause it don't look like plot is.

Previous episode: Latent Image
Next episode: Gravity

Season Index

32 comments on this review

John Pate - Tue, Jan 20, 2009 - 11:43am (USA Central)
I agree they didn't quite make this as good as it seems it ought to have been but it was still a lot of fun with some impressive production design.
Markus - Sat, Aug 8, 2009 - 7:19am (USA Central)
this episode was one of the most important along the course of star trek! we get to know that there are toilets on board (Neelix mentions that in the mess hall when the ship is stuck in this subspace rift)
Michael - Thu, Jul 1, 2010 - 11:20am (USA Central)
*sigh* The very opening shot has that RIDICULOUSLY STUPID Captain Proton business going again. A surefire indication we're in for a dumb and dull episode.

WHY, WHY, WHY did the scriptwriters feel the need to come up with this entire Captain Proton nonsense??? *despair*

This has put me off Voyager; I'll watch the remaining 44 minutes of the episode tomorrow.
Michael - Thu, Jul 1, 2010 - 2:17pm (USA Central)
"Death ray," "fortress of doom," "dungeon of pain," "master of the universe," black-and-white mid-20th-century T.V. environment... WTF!?!

Without a doubt, THE single worst episode of any Star Trek series, ever, period. I had to fast-forward through 90% of it; that's how idiotic it was. Nearly had a brain hemorrhage. It's too fatuous to even attempt to critique. Voyager really plumbed new depths with this abomination. Is it possible to give it MINUS five stars?

Bride of Idiotica, more like.

On a tangentially related notion, the entire holodeck concept should be dumped. Other than a few instances where it's employed for useful simulations, it's either a source of problems or shamelessly used by the scriptwriters to pad the episode with meaningless tripe. And when problems occur, guess what: "The controls are offline; we can't shut down the program."

PhoenixFyre - Tue, Aug 17, 2010 - 7:28am (USA Central)
Geez you guys are such buzz kills, This is one of my favorite episodes to be honest. It was meant to be a homage to the early 1930's sci-fi and I thought they pulled it off very nicely. Janeway's performance as Arachnia was awesome, as she certainly pulled of the old school characterization. besides of which how many episodes of TNG was set on the holodeck? quite a few as I recall. It allowed the crew and actors to be able to play in roles that most certainly could not be attempted in space. You guys are party poopers to say the least. Go watch some of the early sci-fi and you will see that the episode was indeed quite the homage. I give it 5 stars, but I guess I am in the minority. Thats ok though I don't mean to be insulting, not everyone is going to like the same thing as someone else. I guess being an older viewer I can appreciate it more than those unfamiliar with the concept they were making :)
Kieran - Thu, Jan 6, 2011 - 4:54am (USA Central)
Not as funny as I was hoping, but still brought a smile to my face. I loved that idiot robot. He should have replaced Neelix as a permanent character.
Nick - Fri, Apr 1, 2011 - 2:55pm (USA Central)
Couldn't agree with PhonixFyre more! This episode had me laughing out loud at several moments. My personal favorite moments are when Chaotica calls Queen Arachnia an IMPETUOUS HARLOT and when Janeway graps the microphone and whips the cord! A truly groan inducing Voyager attempt at comedy in my opinion is "False Profits". An awful throwback to early TNG episodes like "Menage a Troi" and "The Last Outpost".
Elliott - Sat, Apr 16, 2011 - 3:08am (USA Central)
There's no accounting for taste, but keep it out of your ratings would you? "Our Man Bashir" ticked me off, because to me there characters weren't remotely charming or endearing enough to warrant the goofy adventure. It came off as self-indulgent masturbatory fluff. The Voyager characters are like family to me and the fun of this episode was absolutely infectious. These characters have earned the right to this kind of episode. Does anyone care about the danger premises in any episode of ST? Do I actually fear the Dominion or the Borg? Of course not. This is mythology--the plots are relevant only as much as they suite the characters. I too would have liked to have heard more from the aliens, and that's this episode's true shortcoming, but everything else is perfect. Every scene outside the holodeck is useful at least (whether you buy the premise or not) and often as hilarious as what's going on on Planet X.
Iceblink - Tue, Aug 2, 2011 - 4:37am (USA Central)
I really enjoy a lot of the holodeck eps from TNG and DS9 (Our Man Bashir is one of my favourite DS9s - so incredibly fun!). Alas, the holodeck overusage in Voyager has sickened me by this point. Captain Proton is fun, but is best in very small doses and simply can't sustain an entire episode. I liked the idea of aliens mistaking a holodeck simulation as reality, but this absolutely lacks the sense of fun and humour it needs. It's a bit of a bore actually...

Also, I don't know what's up with Janeway this season but she's becoming unbearable. She's become a sour-faced, gravel-voiced authoritarian monster - the boss from hell basically. And though I recently praised Mulgrew's acting, it can just as easily swing the opposite way. I wasn't impressed here. The scene in the conference room prior to her joining the simulation made me realise how fake Mulgrew's nuances can be at times, she very much comes across as an actor being an actor (in this scene trying to be funny - but it's too telegraphed to work). The coffee scene with Neelix was probably meant to be fun, but made me realised just how much I'm coming to despise the woman.
Elliott - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 2:44am (USA Central)
"The point of the episode is to show the cast and crew of Voyager paying homage to an idea, perhaps so we'll experience vicariously the fun they had in making an unconventional installment."

Absolutely wrong. The underlying self-referencial idea here screamed at me the first time I saw it, and that isn't it;

In 60 years (well, now 50), Star Trek, Star Wars and all the rest will seem as schlocky as the 30s era "Proton"-esque sci-fi of our past. In fact, Star Wars already seems a bit schlocky to me. However, the charm and durability of the genre lies in its ability to tap into the core of our psyche the way only mythology can. There is something ineffably "true" about Star Trek and Captain Proton, in spite of, or perhaps because of their obvious naïvety. Things aren't as simple as we wish them to be (see the scene where Constance Goodheart is found dead--"she isn't supposed to die! Something's wrong here."). Roddenberrian economics and social conjectures are, perhaps, equally naïve and a symptom of wishful thinking. But that isn't the point; the power is not in plausibility (whether that be economical, technological or even *gasp* within a show's given continuity)--the power is in the hope, in the dream, in the myth which means more to us than the depressingly unimaginative reality of the world around us. That is art, my friends.
Ian - Thu, Dec 1, 2011 - 10:42pm (USA Central)
Chris Harrison - Sun, Jan 8, 2012 - 7:45pm (USA Central)
Absolutely, Iceblink. In the coffee scene with Neelix, she is unnecessarily rude. She also puts her own desire for coffee above the energy needs of the community she is supposed to be guiding.

Compare this to the enlightened scientist, and inspiring leader Janeway was in the first and second seasons.
V - Mon, Jan 30, 2012 - 1:22am (USA Central)
I liked this episode. It's as if showing star trek isn't quite as different as the b&w's. A lot of poking fun to itself. Our man bashir was awesome too. Both unfortunately has stupid Premises of how they got into the situation. I think TNG did better when they did i think the title is elementary my dear Data where Moriarty became sentient sort of. All of them fun nevertheless. Episodes like these arent supposed to be taken seriously. Don't be a party pooper ;) .
V - Mon, Jan 30, 2012 - 1:25am (USA Central)
Oh and yeah, they should've kept satan's robot as permanent cast member walking around voyager with the mobile emitter ;). He was an awesome robot that can be regenerated next to 7of9 lol.
David - Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 10:54pm (USA Central)
Glad to read that many posters liked this episode as much as I did, and more than Jammer (though that's a given at this point). I'm really tired of his denigrating Voyager while elevating the ponderous DS9 to mythic status, and critiquing the Voyager trailers as much as he does the episodes (which seems pretty silly now that a decade has passed and they are long forgotten). Anyway, this was a classic homage to sci-fi serials, wonderfully acted. And every time I watch the scene where the robot yells "Invaders!" and Tom punches him and says "quiet", only to have to robot repeat "Invaders" under its breath- for me it's the funniest scene in the series. Makes me laugh every time. I agree with the poster who would have exchanged the robot for Neelix.
Captain Jim - Sun, Mar 18, 2012 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
As I'm re-watching these episodes 13 years after they first aired, there aren't too many that I remember at all. This one stuck out in my mind for some reason. I didn't remember any of the details, but I had positive feelings associated with it. However, this time around, I found much of the episode (especially after Janeway entered the holodeck program) to be positively boring. I thought I'd come out appreciating this more than Jammer, but darned if I don't think he was right on the money.
Jay - Sat, Apr 14, 2012 - 6:33pm (USA Central)
Invaders from the Fifth Dimension, but Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis were nowhere to be seen...
Justin - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 11:30am (USA Central)
This episode is an absolute riot. It's not annoying like the endless Ferengi DS9 episodes, repeating the same joke over and over. It's fun on its own terms and doesn't deserve to be picked apart because it was "too much of this" or "not enough of that." Quit raining on the parade, buzzkillers.

I agree with David that it's a classic homage to '40s sci-fi cheese. I also agree that Satan's Robot dejectedly muttering "invaders" under its breath is the funniest moment of the episode.

It's the kind of parody SCTV was so hilariously good at. Is it as funny? No, but I can just picture Joe Flaherty or Dave Thomas as Chaotica and Catherine O'Hara as Constance Goodheart. And of course, John Candy going in for the triple-take 3D closeup...

@Jay, I guess the Moon was not in the Seventh House and Jupiter was not aligned with Mars.
Chip - Tue, Jul 10, 2012 - 10:26pm (USA Central)
Well produced and well written episode. A very nice change of pace episode.

This was indeed homage to Flash Gordon serials. Chaotica acting like, and looking like, Ming the Merciless; Constance Goodheart a copy of helpless, screaming Dale Arden, and of course Captain Proton being Flash.

And Janeway getting a chance expand herself, and vamp, was a lot of fun.

A most enjoyable episode.
milica - Fri, Oct 19, 2012 - 11:26am (USA Central)
Couldnt they have pulled out the plug in the holodeck? :) An unconvincing, but fun episode.
Dale Sams - Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - 10:49pm (USA Central)
I haven't read every single comment, but i haven't seen it mentioned, and surprisingly not in the review:

What killed this peisode for me is, THERE ARE ACTUAL SENTIENT BEINGS DYING HERE FOLKS. And the episode is supposed to be a comedy?
Jo Jo Meastro - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 10:24am (USA Central)
I'm with those who really enjoyed this episode, however I do agree with the review that it would have benefited from letting its hair down even more and dwelled even deeper into the outrageous silly 1940s fun. Every time we got pulled away from the holodeck to give attention to the standard Voyager "crisis", I was impatiently waiting to get back to the goldmine of the episode which was Captian Proton. In the end it balanced out fine though. It had the potential to be a classic yet only reaches 3 stars IMO, if only the writers were willing to go one step further with the black and white glorious silliness!
skadoo - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 10:01pm (USA Central)
@Jay - LOL!

I liked this episode, not as much as I wanted to but enough. It is a fun throwback to 1930's serials.

Although does anyone else thing that the naem Chaotica sounds like a girl?
Nick - Sat, Nov 9, 2013 - 2:23pm (USA Central)
A nearly 20 paragraph review of this incredibly weak holo-deck episode?

A pale shadow of Data as Sherlock battling Moriarty .
Caine - Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - 8:12am (USA Central)
I absolutely loved this episode! A fun premise with lots of laugh-out-loud details, like Janeway as Arachcnia and the panicky robot.

Sure, not everything worked (backing out of the anomally at an increasing speed of quite a few meters per second and STILL being stuck after a minute? Voyager is only supposed to be 344 meters long, right?!) - but the things that DID work worked extremely well, at least for me.

On a sidenote: am I the only one who found Tom Paris seemed quite indifferent to what was going on whenever he was playing Captain Proton? It seems Harry Kim was much more into playing a part in the story than Tom was.
Elliott - Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - 10:41am (USA Central)
@Caine: that always struck me as era-appropriate bravado from the star (John Dille, for example) more concerned with being handsome a flirting with the camera than committing to the rôle.
Susan - Wed, Feb 12, 2014 - 3:11pm (USA Central)
Hated it. Hated it. HATED it. Worst episode ever. Absolute worst. If I wanted to see an old-timey black and white TV show I wouldn't be watching star trek I'd be watching I love lucy or andy griffith Stupid stupid episode. Hated it.
Corey - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 6:29pm (USA Central)
I like cheesy 1950s SF (Invaders from Mars etc), liked this when it first aired, and usually agree with Elliott over Jammer re Voyager, but this episode just didn't connect with me second time around. I wanted more jokes and more Janeway chewing scenery.
RIKER - Tue, Apr 8, 2014 - 12:00am (USA Central)
ROFL I just found this review I think it's crazy and speaks volumes that it took nearly 10 years for the first comment to be made.

For the episode I think it's one of my favorites, considering I love Flash Gordon, this was great.

Anyone remember the Captain Proton Poster from Star Trek Communicator?
Ric - Tue, Apr 22, 2014 - 1:12am (USA Central)
Quite funny one. As a comedy, it works well, achieving to amuse without having to push for it. Although, at the same time, in some moments it did just tried too hard to be funny.

The black-and-white option is indeed still very smart and welcome. There were also some smart plays, like the fact that the aliens believe our reality is just as unreal as we believe the holograms are (what is, btw, a slap on the face of some comments'authors at the previous episode review).

Also, I say once again. I agree with Elliot when he points that it does not matter whether or not the danger for Voyager's crew is credible. I always get bothered when I see someone, mostly Jammer, complaining that the danger didn't felt believable in an episode, since in all Trek it NEVER did or does. And so what?

The other hand is that I don't think this episode achieved much more than fine amusement - what is ok. Fair entertainment may be enough sometimes. However, Voyager crew is not family for me and therefore they did not earn from me the right of having pointless episodes without receiving some criticism. So, here I am: it was a bit fun and certainly funny. But mostly too empty for my taste and a bit too forced here and there. Therefore, a bit wasted. A score of something around 7 out of 10 would be fairer than the underrated stars.
The Professor - Tue, May 27, 2014 - 10:57am (USA Central)
Not a fan of Jammer's definition of 'history'. Even in the university, history has expanded to look at food and other things traditionally considered less 'relevant'.
JWH - Fri, Sep 12, 2014 - 12:17pm (USA Central)
I both agree and disagree with Jammer.

The agreement: We spent far too much time with the technobabbling Voyager crew. I didn't need the subspace sandbar metaphor. I also didn't need the extraneous, hackneyed "ship is in danger and running out of power" scenes. "We can't move the ship because CHAOTICA! is at war with photonic life forms and we can't turn off the holodeck AGAIN" should have been enough.

The disagreement: I thought the humor was pretty darn good. The guest stars chewed black-and-white scenery with gusto, and Kate Mulgrew's expressions during her conference with Paris (and during her performance as Arachnea) were a scream.

If anything, I wish we'd seen more interaction between President Doctor and the photonic aliens. I also would have liked more from Tuvok. Tim Russ was a scream as the Vulcan straight man to 1930s sci-fi cheese.

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