The crew ventures into a nebula to search for power supplies which may ease the burden on the limited energy supply. In the process, they encounter what seems to be a cosmic storm that traps them, and they are forced to blast their way out with weapons. Later, the crew discovers that the storm was not simply a natural phenomenon, but a lifeform that is probably now severely injured due to the Voyager's presence.
Well, the plot isn't much—it is in fact another derivative Misunderstood Lifeform Plot that TNG turned into a Trek cliché long ago. It's surprising that this fresh new series has yet to tell a fresh new story. If it wasn't for the character moments, "The Cloud" would be in trouble. But characterization is everything here. In fact, this story would probably have worked just as well if the plot wasn't there at all.
Do you care about the plot? To call it minimal would be an understatement. Voyager travels into the cloud, gets trapped, and has to use excessive force to escape. It isn't until hours later that Janeway realizes what has happened and decides she has to return to the cloud to save a lifeform. Unfortunately, when going back into the cloud, the Voyager is threatened again, as it spirals to its doom in a hurricane-like environment, portrayed by some rather cheesy-looking special effects. Naturally, the ship isn't going to be destroyed (in another iteration of the jeopardy premise), or else the series would be over. Voyager is able to escape without serious damage—and they are successful in healing the innocent lifeform.
So forget the plot anyway. The reason "The Cloud" ends up being the best episode of Voyager so far is because of the wonderful cast interaction. Aside from the moments dealing with this cloud, this show has an easygoing, relaxed pace, which is definitely in the show's favor.
The episode opens with a captain's log voice-over, in which Janeway considers her options as the role of leader in the midst of the unique situation of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Should she simply remain an official figure who distances herself from the day-to-day personal lives of her crew, or should she take the time to become a friend both on and off duty? It's a tough call and a relevant issue to touch on.
At the very least, it seems things have become a little more casual between Janeway and Chakotay. The spiritual first officer helps the captain take a visionary trip in search of her "animal guide," which may be able to offer insights into the personality. It doesn't sound like much, but this portion of the show is surprisingly absorbing, showing Chakotay's spiritual beliefs in a relaxed way that doesn't feel forced or underdeveloped.
We are introduced to Paris' slice-of-home holodeck program—a French pool hall where he invites people to hang out. My favorite Voyager interpersonal relationship, the always-amiable Paris/Kim friendship, gets further use here. One question this holodeck angle brings up, however, is why in the world the crew would be wasting power on the holodecks when they don't even have the power to replicate food. A bit of a logic hole, I would say, but nothing that detracts from the scenes or the show as a whole.
Kes shows continued improvement as a character with a refreshing, exuberant sense of adventure, who is glad to be aboard the Voyager and its crew of travelers. This is a new spin that is a relief to see, changing my view of what I originally feared the character was going to be—that of Voyager's token "Counselor Troi" character.
There's also the Doctor, who brings out the laughs with his sharp-edged sarcasm that has the greatest timing. He's blunt, and doesn't care that he's blunt. In response, Janeway is relatively quick to mute the speakers.
Neelix has some humorous lines of discontent as well, calling the Voyager explorers a group of idiots with a death wish. Nevertheless, he decides to lift the spirits of the crew during the moments of jeopardy by bringing food to the bridge and labeling himself the "morale officer." I'll have to admit, this is the first time I've seen anyone come to the bridge in the middle of a red alert carrying a food tray. It's a tad amusing in it's unconventionality.
"The Cloud" may best be described as a collection of seemingly random scenes that explore the characters. I say that's just fine. The optimistic final scene, where Janeway decides to join her crew in the holodeck for some billiards, sums up "Cloud's" intentions. The plot is merely a frame. The heart is the characterization, which couldn't be much better.