Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Once Upon a Time"

**

Air date: 11/11/1998
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by John Krechmer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace [in death]."
"If that's another Vulcan saying, Tuvok, I'll stick with 'live long and prosper.'"

— Tuvok and Paris

Nutshell: Not a total loss, but ill-conceived. Easily the season's weakest episode so far.

New Voyager staff writer Michael Taylor seems to enjoy looking for the emotional truth in his stories, as evident in his previous work on DS9. His stories center around personal torment as caused by the deaths of others, whether it was Jake's father in "The Visitor," Odo's guilt over allowing Bajoran executions in "Things Past," Sisko facing the "death" of his Federation morals in "In the Pale Moonlight," or even (admittedly, to a lesser degree) Kira reflecting on the death of Bareil in "Resurrection."

Alas, Taylor's first Voyager entry, "Once Upon a Time," doesn't find that truth. This episode fails for most of the reasons "The Visitor" was so fantastic. It has too much manufactured sentiment based on tired cliches, ws, whereas "Visitor" came alive and rang true with a strong, focused emotional core.

"Once Upon a Time" begins with a Shuttle Crash [TM]—or, more specifically, a Delta Flyer Crash [TM pending]—when Tuvok, Paris, and Ensign Wildman (Nancy Hower) are caught in an ion storm and forced to crash-land on a planetoid, where they find themselves buried under tons of rock. I don't have a problem with the loss of a shuttle (even if it's casually brushed aside as no big deal) as long as it's part of a greater purpose. But I am sick and tired of the silly setting where we're supposed to care about characters who are bottled up and stranded inside a shuttle.

Maybe it's time, for lack of better things to say about this plot device, to recap the times characters have been forced into "intense" or "survival" situations because of a shuttle crashing or blowing up, usually on a "desolate" planetoid. Let's see—there was Chakotay and Kar in "Initiations"; Paris and Neelix in "Parturition"; Tuvok and a red-shirt in "Innocence"; Janeway and Chakotay in "Coda"; Chakotay in "Unity"; Tuvok and Neelix in "Rise"; Torres and Paris in "Day of Honor"; and Chakotay in "Nemesis." (If I've left any out, that's okay—you get the picture.) This of course doesn't count shuttles destroyed or disabled where characters were rescued by a last-second beam-out, such as "Non Sequitur" or even "Drone" from three weeks ago.

Suffice it to say the shuttle crash is a firmly established plot device in Voyager lore. Hell, it's so established it should have its own internal classifications. I'm waiting for the day Janeway turns to one of her officers (one who is not stranded in a shuttle, naturally) and gives the order to begin the procedures for a "class 3 shuttle salvage operation." Perhaps the class distinction could be determined by who is on board the shuttle. A "1" might mean Chakotay; a "2" might mean Paris and Neelix; a "3" might mean...

But seriously, folks, who for a second thought the away team would not be rescued at the Last Possible Moment, when oxygen was running out—two minutes left, one minute left, 30 seconds left. Please. Is this supposed to constitute suspense? I would hope there's more to the story than the suspense angle, and fortunately for "Once Upon a Time" there is, but why even bother milking such a foregone conclusion for such false excitement? Granted, the setting brings about the story's real issues back aboard the Voyager, but on its own the setting is virtually worthless. I say get on with the real story and quit dumbing it down with "suspense" scenes in an attempt to cover up the fact your primary storyline is in essence only mediocre.

The primary story is also a derivative concept, looking at the situation of how to break news to a child that her mother might never come home again. While derivative and obvious at times, it isn't completely unpalatable. Ensign Wildman's daughter Naomi (Scarlett Pomers), who like all Trek children seems to be much older than she possibly can be (she shouldn't even be three years old), plays a significant role in the story, and Neelix provides a surprisingly watchable center to the story.

Some of this angle of the story worked decently. I thought Janeway and Neelix's discussion on informing Naomi about the crash was one of the episode's highlights. It's nice to be able to take Neelix halfway seriously for a change, and the sequence in Janeway's ready room was performed with sincerity. The use of Neelix's past also helped bring a more understandable personal angle to Neelix's dread for Naomi's potential loss.

I also thought the writers' depiction of Naomi was nicely conceived. As Janeway puts it, "she's an astute girl," and her perceptiveness makes sense. Children are na•ve, but not stupid, and the episode seems to know that.

On the other hand, the fantasy holonovel sequences didn't do much for me. While I try to keep an open mind, these silly holo-characters are not the reason I tune into Trek, and the amount of screen time devoted to "Flotter" (Wallace Langham) and "Trevis" (Justin Lewis) and their goofy hijinks was just too much for its own good. The episode seemed far too proud of its cleverness in creating cute characters that would appeal to the very young demographic of Voyager viewers (if there is one), than it seemed interested in analyzing Naomi's struggles as the only child growing up on a starship. I can understand that Naomi would like these guys, but I can't in all honesty get past the fact that I don't really care.

Even though some of the Neelix/Naomi sentiments work okay, none of this, unfortunately, can save a story that's so fundamentally tired. There's never any doubt the crew members will be rescued, so the scene where the stranded officers make final statements to their loved ones is merely manipulation that rings false. And it's not interesting because the characters aren't permitted to say anything interesting. I did like the idea of Tuvok making his final statements in writing, but Tom's last words to B'Elanna are lame bittersweet jokes about Captain Proton and leftover pizza, with the disappointingly un-heartfelt sign-off, "So long." Talk about affection.

Wildman's final message to her daughter was also disappointing and simplistically conveyed—heavy on TV sentiment but lacking in common sense. (I found myself asking, "Is that all she has to say?", and then realized this would've worked better if done mostly off-screen.)

And, after a harrowing experience of almost dying, when Ensign Wildman was reunited with her daughter, I must say I was so moved I wanted to throw up.

Not to be a completely cynical, cold-hearted person who can only derive an emotional response from tragedy and darkness, but this predictable ending was just so sweet, syrupy, and happy with itself being happy that I couldn't help but feel that the episode would've been more interesting and poignant if Ensign Wildman actually had died from the injuries she sustained in the crash. Consider the implications: As Naomi's godfather, Neelix would suddenly have the responsibilities of a full-time parent thrust upon him, and we might actually get to see a whole new side to a currently underdeveloped character.

But, nah, we can't have that kind of unhappy ending ... it would be way too much of a downer.

I'm not saying I wanted to see Samantha Wildman so casually killed off (she could potentially offer a unique perspective as the only parent with a child aboard the ship if she were utilized more than once or twice a year), but in the confines of this particular tale, her death might actually have been more meaningful to the story's underlying point—namely, that Voyager is a dangerous place where people can and do die—than an oh-so-happy reunion.

But I'm just throwing ideas around here. "Once Upon a Time," which has a few palatable moments between Neelix and Naomi, isn't a total loss, but with its hopelessly dumb plot and predictably thin payoff, I can't shake the feeling that this episode was flawed from the moment of conception—even though it pulled off a few reasonable isolated moments. There's probably a story somewhere in this material that could be compelling, but "Once Upon a Time" doesn't find it.

Next week: Voyager celebrates its 100th episode with a time-travel story.

Previous episode: In the Flesh
Next episode: Timeless

Season Index

33 comments on this review

mlk - Thu, Jan 17, 2008 - 9:38am (USA Central)
wow Naomi is gonna be one screwed up girl, not only is she butt ugly, and grows up on a desolate ship with no children friends. No guy will ever like her with those horns on her fore head



Good job mom
Jakob M. Mokoru - Mon, Jan 21, 2008 - 11:07am (USA Central)
I would have given this episode a 2 1/2 star rating, being the first episode with a child as guest star that did't annoy me! Scarlett Pomers is doing her job really good!

And, considering the "rapid-growth-factor": Voyager could have been the first series were this actually could have made sense if - yes, if Naomi would have been the child of Kes and Neelix, concepted in 1st or 2nd seasons "Elogium".
Jasper - Fri, Jan 16, 2009 - 3:42pm (USA Central)
It's been 'bout a year since you posted your responses, but:

mlk: I beg to differ. She's cute and has a character that I have fallen in love with. It's indeed no good she is missing friends of similar ages.
(For those who don't understand, no, I wouldn't dream of anything of her age, I was just saying that I liked her character a lot)

Jakob: She's actually older than Kes when she came aboard Voyager, so that would make no sense at all. In "Mortal Coil" it is said that it's due to her being half-Ktarian. As found on Memory Alpha:
It is mentioned in this episode that Ktarians, like Klingons, are prone to growing faster than Humans.
Paul - Thu, Feb 25, 2010 - 6:30pm (USA Central)
Good point about Tom's last message. 'So long'?

Do they even like each other?
DeanGrr - Tue, Mar 9, 2010 - 7:14pm (USA Central)
I felt like reliving childhood myself at times watching this, and while as a teenager I would not have liked this episode, I do now. Ah, the wonderment of being a child, exploring a fantastical world (not that different from watching Voyager now in some ways, :)

Neelix's desire to protect Naomi, and the pain he showed at memories of his family was moving and believable, as well as Samantha's reunion with Naomi at the end. Tom's farewell, was it poor writing or was he just irritated and exhausted? I will admit Voyager did not do character driven stories nearly as well as DS9, but it still had its moments.
Michael - Mon, Jun 28, 2010 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
OMG, how B-O-R-I-N-G!!! This episode (I managed to plod thru a half of it so far) is basically about a kid who either (1) misses her mommy and everyone is trying to console and/or distract her, or (2) spends a ridiculous amount of time (from the perspective of the viewer) indulging in a preposterous fantasy world on a holodeck. The first five minutes of the episode I was like WTF, did I tune in to goddamn Sesame Street!?!

Yet again: Too much trite human "drama," introspection and exploration of "feelings" and shit, at the expense of the sci-fi aspect.

*snore*

I hope I manage to wade thru the other half of the show but it's not looking good...
Cloudane - Mon, Nov 29, 2010 - 2:29pm (USA Central)
I half thought she was actually going to die, then remembered this is not DS9 :)

Ah the classic Trek miracle growth child. She's 3 and using words like "re-liquify" (meanwhile Molly O'Brien went from 0 to about 6 in a year in TNG then stayed at 6 - time travel episode aside - for the run of DS9). Strange stuff! If they would've said something about accelerated growth characteristics of her father or whatever it might not seem so grating.

There were some moving moments, but I must admit to being a bit soft with these things. I particularly liked Janeway's chat with Neelix in the ready room - the delicate mix of assertiveness and kindness made her seem deserving of the title of Captain in a way that hadn't really come across since Picard, and that's something I wouldn't mind seeing more of. It's also nice to see her coming out of her shell again after the first 3-4 episodes of the season when she was looking fed up and barking 2 word orders; if I didn't know better when it comes to Voyager I'd think it was a subtle echo and gradual recovery from her depression/breakdown in the first episode.

The holodeck characters were irritating on a level not seen since the infamous Lwaxana/Alexander TNG episode. No more, please! No more! (In the style of Zorn from Encounter at Farpoint)

Tom's farewell seemed perfectly in character to me. His character is mostly irritating, but still :) Lieutenant Sitcom would be cracking jokes right to the end of the universe so it didn't seem off to me.

Generally a likable episode if you don't expect too much, as is par for the course of Voyager as a whole at this point, and at least had some nice moving character moments.
Pete - Wed, Jun 22, 2011 - 4:40am (USA Central)
When I read the episode blurb for this one on Wikipedia, I really, really came close to skipping it. I mean, for real, think about this:

"Neelix looks after Naomi Wildman when her mother is injured on an away mission."

Barf. A Neelix episode AND a little kid episode. How annoying could you get? But, because I'd like to eventually be able to say I've seen every episode of Star Trek, I watched it, and you know it wasn't too bad. It wasn't a good episode, but given how horribly annoying it could have been, I've got no complaints.

As far as Flotter goes, I actually thought it was kind of interesting that Samantha, Harry Kim AND Janeway all apparently played with the same holo-stories as kids. One of those rare moments on Star Trek where we see a snippet of 24th century culture. I wish they would have done that a bit more.

Another thing this episode calls to mind is how impoverished Voyager really was in terms of supporting characters. Who's there been?, Samantha Wildman, Michael Jones, Seska, Vorik...Naomi... Leonardo da Vinci, I guess. Um, I'm halfway through season 5 and that's it. (I guess there's the Delany sisters in stellar cartography that we've never actually seen). Voyager's a small ship...in reality, everyone should have been thick as thieves by the fifth year - that clique of main characters just isn't realistic at all. Adding a handful more familiar faces in the mess hall or engineering could have really added a richer dimensionality to their milieu and storytelling.
Iceblink - Mon, Jul 25, 2011 - 4:00am (USA Central)
Star Trek and children usually don't mix. The only exception I can think of was DS9, as both Jake and Nog worked as characters and weren't irritants as kids usually are on Trek. That said, the actress portraying Naomi is inoffensive and quite charming, but I could still live without her. This episode isn't a total loss, but it's hardly a masterpiece either. The plot is very basic and the characterisation, although passable, isn't exactly riveting.
Jess - Sat, Oct 8, 2011 - 8:56pm (USA Central)
"The episode seemed far too proud of its cleverness in creating cute characters that would appeal to the very young demographic of Voyager viewers (if there is one)..."

My 5-year-old daughter has been watching through Voyager and definitely did find this episode appealing. ;) Her favorite episode so far. Not exactly highest praise, though--her prior favorite was "Tuvix."
Nathan - Mon, Nov 7, 2011 - 6:43pm (USA Central)
Going through and rewatching the series, I could have sworn Samantha Wildman died at some point. Probably because you never see her again, but Naomi does appear at least a few more times...
Captain Jim - Mon, Mar 5, 2012 - 11:02pm (USA Central)
Nathan,
Samantha does appear again after this, she's also in "Fury" in season 6. Altogether she appeared in eight episodes over the course of seven seasons and was mentioned several other times as well.

As far as the episode was concerned, eh, I think everybody's being a bit hard on it. Far from being one of the best, of course, but I thought it was a solid "average."
Nic - Tue, Mar 13, 2012 - 9:41am (USA Central)
Samantha did appear in "Fury" but only in scenes set during the first season. So chronologically this episode turned out to be her last appearance. All the more reason why it probably would have been better to kill her off. Her absence for the rest of the series (especially in "Homestead") was downright puzzling.
Justin - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 1:44am (USA Central)
I think people tend to forget that Star Trek and Voyager in particular is a family show. Having child characters around every once in a while is by design to attract kids as audience members.

And it works. My daughters loved this episode and they adored Naomi. They also loved Neelix and Seven, who would forever in our house come to be known as "The Borg Lady." They were also intrigued by the idea of Flotter and Friends and wished they had a holodeck to play with instead of a dusty old Game Cube.

This is by no means a brilliant episode, but it's a fun one for me and it brings back fun family memories.
Jelendra - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 7:03am (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode, because we get to see someone other than the usual "Senior Officers" at work. I also liked the character of Naomi Wildman. I found the holodeck characters interesting, a great look at what life in the Federation is like aside from The Bridge, Engineering or the Mess Hall...

I would have liked to have seen more episodes with Naomi and her mother...it would have added a different view to what the Voyager crew was going through...
dan - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 12:55am (USA Central)
i couldn't get into this episode. the girl was annoying and all i kept thinking while watching the older jake was commander kern
Captain Jim - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 7:31am (USA Central)
dan,
Are you sure you're talking about the right episode? Sounds like you watched "The Visitor" on DS9, not "Once Upon a Time" on Voyager.
Jack - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 2:34pm (USA Central)
A cavern filled with fluorine gas seems odd...it's been awhile but if I recall my chemistry, elemental gas is about the last form that fluorine want to be in...
Grumpy - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 3:45pm (USA Central)
Good catch, Jack. DS9's "Starship Down" has the same goof. They paid a science advisor for what, now? These aren't even cases of suspending disbelief for the sake of drama. (If it had been, say, "snorine gas," no problem.)
Jo Jo Meastro - Sun, Jun 2, 2013 - 10:04am (USA Central)
I couldn't even finished this episode as it was so false, mind-numbingly bland and boring. As soon as you see half the crew sitting there in the shuttle along with Wildman, it becomes screamingly obvious that nobody is going to die and the manufactured drama and gag-inducing "cuteness" will end in a big sickly sweet happy ending that even Barny The Dinosaur would be proud of. After reading this page I was right not to have wasted my time.

I'm all for genuinely emotional, humanly raw and warm stories that have a beating heart at their centres....unfortunately this was cold mechanical "drama" anything but. Also I hate cuteness, or at least Star Trek trying to be cute (Cost Of Living, anyone?). 1/4.
Nancy - Sun, Aug 4, 2013 - 7:18pm (USA Central)
I agree that this episode was largely a boring waste of time but I vehemently disagree it would've been better if Naomi's mother were killed off. I don't watch Voyager to see a four-year-old orphan sobbing over her mother's corpse, nor do I find the prospect of episodes featuring Neelix playing daddy to a traumatized child appealing.
Domi - Fri, Aug 9, 2013 - 8:51pm (USA Central)

"What's a mitochondria?"
"The warp core of a cell!"

I liked this episode for the way Neelix and Naomi were used and the chemistry between those two characters. I also enjoyed seeing Samantha Wildman again and am disappointed they didn't use her more.

The holodeck scenes were visually stunning, and looked just like you would expect a children's holodeck program to look--very lush and colorful. But the Flotter (it rhymes with water, get it, hahaha) theme became inane quickly.

One scene that was really cool was when Naomi wondered onto the bridge. We got to see the bridge and hear the captain talking from a naive outsider's perspective.

But yeah, they just built the Delta Flyer what, the very last episode? And they crashed it already? It would have actually been vastly superior storytelling to have the crash been due to some type of design or construction flaw, rather than an ion storm, considering they built it in less than a week. It would have not only added continuity and made it felt more serious rather than a cliche plot device.

A minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but I had a little trouble believing Janeway ran that holodeck program as a little girl. Surely holodecks were in their infancy then?
Tom - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 11:16am (USA Central)
I think they addressed somewhere that Naomi is a hybrid and her father's age grows up VERY fast.

On another note..Naomi's mom showed up so rarely that for a long time I thought she'd been killed off in season 1.
Tom - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 11:17am (USA Central)
*Race
Tom - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 11:23am (USA Central)
Domi,

I know it's nitpicking, but it is cannon: the Enterprise NX-01 was the first Federation star ship to encounter replication technology. Furthermore, replicators are based on transporter technology, which was well established in Kirk's day. I think it's safe to say that by the time of the Enterprise B they had replicators. Holodeck tech couldn't have been too far off, and in some ways would be simpler than replicator tech. (aside perhaps from the sophisticated AI required to make semi-sentient holograms)

Ok, gonna go get a life now :P
Jos10 - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode. The look into how a children's world in TNG and their fairy tales added a bit more to the social milieu of ST.

On the big HD screen there were amazing colors in the fairy tale land that may not have not been seen earlier. To me the story seemed very Ozish. Flotter (flowing water mix?) character was the scarecrow, Trevis reminded me of the tin man (somehwat), and the fire ogre was very wizardish.

The rest of the story? Killing off the mother would have been interesting. I thought that maybe some kind of development between seven and the child would have been interesting.

I did like the child's point of view of the bridge, as well. The rest of the story... well it could have been better.
Ren C - Sun, Oct 20, 2013 - 7:33pm (USA Central)
"I don't have a problem with the loss of a shuttle (even if it's casually brushed aside as no big deal)"

Just wanted to say that the Delta Flyer was not lost. They couldn't detect any lifesigns inside the shuttle to lock on to so they beamed the whole lot (shuttle & all) back to the launch bay.
Caine - Wed, Nov 20, 2013 - 6:24pm (USA Central)
To me, this episode was quite brilliant!

It set out to let us see Voyager through the eyes of a child, and I enjoyed that fresh perspective. I think it was very well written, very well directed (especially the scenes involving Naomi) and very well acted.

I really liked the addition of the "classic holonovel that every child knows and loves". It just made sense. The fact that a character in the program recognized Sam Wildman - now all grown up - was very sweet (was that a tip of the hat to Peter Pan?) - although entirely illogical.

The girl playing Naomi was absolutely wonderful! Stellar performance and screen presence!
A lot of details centering around her perception of the world where great - such as her attitude towards 7 of 9.

All in all a traditional story of the acceptance of loss (Neelix) told from a refreshing new perspective (Naomi) - and given the eyes through which we saw this story play out, I'm not at all disappointed with the happy ending.
Susan - Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 9:22pm (USA Central)
When Tom Paris is in a situation where he's running out of oxygen he talks continually. Day of Honor - Tom and B'elana, Demon - Tom and Harry, Once Upon a Time, Tom, Tuvok, and Ensign Wildman, to name 3. And every time, they get a message saying something like "Warning oxygen depletion is xx minutes" Tom can't shut the hell up, lol.

Anyone else notice that?
Jack - Tue, Jan 7, 2014 - 3:21pm (USA Central)
Tom sez:

"On another note..Naomi's mom showed up so rarely that for a long time I thought she'd been killed off in season 1."

Quite the trick that would be, considering Naomi wasn't born until Season 2.
Jamie Stearns - Thu, Feb 6, 2014 - 1:14am (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer, Samantha Wildman really should have died here. One of Voyager's biggest problems was sticking too tightly to the status quo; this would have been a great opportunity to shake things up. It also would have necessitated a follow-up episode dealing with Naomi's reaction to he mother's death, but story arcs are one of those things Voyager needed more of anyway.

That said, I doubt that would have affected the story too much and would have made later plot developments make sense: Ensign Wildman never showed up again anyway, and Naomi seemed to find a surrogate mother figure in the form of Seven of Nine, just like Neelix effectively replaced her absent father.

Actually, "Naomi warms up to Seven during the grieving process" would have at least made for an interesting subplot in the aforementioned follow-up episode and served to set up their interactions in "Dark Frontier".
Amanda - Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - 8:34pm (USA Central)
I am just glad they brought in Naomi. She wasn't a discarded character unlike her mother. She didn't join the borg baby in the Forgotten Crew Dimension!

Ric - Sun, Apr 20, 2014 - 2:21am (USA Central)
This episode was mostly boredom disguised as a profound piece of episode.

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