Star Trek: Voyager

“The Thaw”

3 stars.

Air date: 4/29/1996
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Richard Gadas
Directed by Marvin V. Rush

"How am I supposed to negotiate if I don't know what you're thinking?"
"I have a very trustworthy face."

— The Clown and the Doctor

Review Text

Nutshell: Very bizarre, but it works. Scores points for being different, featuring intriguing surreal qualities.

The Voyager crew comes across a planet that has been destroyed by a natural disaster. Janeway beams up from under the planet's surface a five-person computer-controlled biological stasis system protecting the few remaining survivors of the colony that had been wiped out because of the disaster 19 years earlier.

According to a recorded message, the system was scheduled to revive the survivors four years ago. But for unknown reasons the survivors have not reawakened, and equally puzzling is why two of the five aliens are dead. There is no evidence of a malfunction or system failure. Ensign Kim studies the system and discovers the survivors' brains are all active—in a sort of 19-year-long dream state monitored by the computer system. Because pulling the plug and forcing the aliens out of their stasis could cause irrevocable brain damage, Janeway approves another option: Torres and Kim themselves go into bio-stasis to communicate with the computer system and the other alien survivors.

What they find on the other side is a strange, surreal, carnival world run by a crazed entity known only as the Clown (Michael McKean). The Clown is a computer-manufactured character comprising the aliens' fear of their own situation. In essence, the Clown has become fear itself—and holds the aliens hostage in the fantasy world. He has but one demand—to exist. Like Professor Moriarty (of TNG's "Elementary, Dear Data," "Ship in a Bottle"), the Clown is a computer simulation that has somehow taken on a sentient awareness and a desire to exist. Unfortunately, he exists only in the hostages' minds. If they were to leave, he would cease to exist.

He has the ability to literally kill the hostages by "scaring them to death" and causing deadly heart attacks. In the fantasy world, this is symbolically represented as the Clown executing the hostages via guillotine. (This is precisely what he did to the two dead aliens.) Another strike against Kim, Torres, and the hostages is the fact that the Clown can read minds (since he's tied directly into their minds through the computer). Now that Torres and Kim have shown up, the Clown demands that they stay—threatening to kill one of his hostages if they leave.

Yes, this was written by Joe Menosky, the guy renowned for his very weird concepts. And, yes, "The Thaw" is fairly weird. It's an effective mix of colorful goofiness and some interesting arguments surrounding the question of how to defeat fear itself. The weirdness is evident in the surreal production design of the Clown's fantasy world, and its population of circus-like characters and distinctive, geometrical objects.

The Clown, while a pretty funny guy, is obviously demented and unstable, and has a mocking nature that tends to push the other characters' buttons. Like with Q, everything is a joke to him (although B'Elanna and Harry are most definitely not amused), but at the same time, he will resort to deadly force when he feels his existence threatened. McKean is perfect for the role, bringing just the right mix of annoying humor and buried depth to the character.

The Clown agrees to release Torres so she can take his message of intent back to Janeway. Subsequent communications bring Doc into the picture, since he cannot be held hostage by the Clown. Some of the show's funniest moments involve Picardo and McKean facing off with their arsenals of dry sarcasm. Other scenes feature humor that is just downright bizarre. Take, for example, a scene of building intensity where the Clown is about to perform "surgery" on Harry but is suddenly interrupted by the Doctor, who appears out of nowhere and immediately says something that changes the entire mood of the scene. Another goofy laugh comes during Doc's delivery of Janeway's ultimatum for surrender: The clown and his entire group of misfits break into unrestrained laugher at Doc's notion, then stop on cue just as abruptly as they started. Very weird, but also very amusing.

The episode has a sense that might best be described as somewhere in the realm of Alice in Wonderland. While the Clown and his characters are cartoonish, they still manage to come across as fairly threatening. (In fact, the only missed opportunity is that the writers fail to supply the Clown with the line "Off with their heads!")

Although much of "The Thaw" is unrestrained dementia, there is also a solid story percolating somewhere in here. The last act in particular finds success in evaluating fear and its intangible qualities. Janeway's analysis of the topic is particularly well-written. The questions she raises ("Isn't there more to fear than a simple demand to exist? Why do people enjoy dangerous sports or holodeck adventures with the safety off? Why, after all these centuries, do children still ride on roller coasters?") make a lot of sense, and contribute a believable, logical line toward the episode's denouement. The conclusion, where Janeway tricks the Clown into releasing the hostages in exchange for herself—revealing later that she is merely a holographic image—is a neat gimmick that makes a surprising amount of sense under the circumstances. Particularly impressive is the final thirty seconds of the show, as the Clown fades away into nothingness as Janeway remarks that fear's only reason for existence is to be overcome—such that it eventually vanishes.

This episode is a pleasant surprise. It manages to be goofy, strange, and humorous, and still holds up to a reasonable amount of scrutiny. I'll have to admit that the madcap nature that seemed to be imminent once the characters entered this bizarro world had me in a certain dread at first. (It's hard to execute concepts like this without looking quite silly.) But, fortunately, "The Thaw" pulls everything together and makes it worthwhile.

Previous episode: Innocence
Next episode: Tuvix

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Comment Section

126 comments on this post

    i totally disagree with this review. i've been a star trek fan for 30+ years now, and when i think of "worst episode ever," this is the one that always comes to mind. never mind "spock's brain." forget "imaginary friend." this one takes the poop cake. an evil clown. an EVIL CLOWN. from the DELTA QUADRANT. redefines "worthless" and "embarrassing." it's 7 seasons of VOY crap like this that killed the franchise. totally abominable.

    VOY didn't kill the franchise. Capt. Archer took care of that.

    At the end VOY was far more popular than DS9. But thats the thing with Voyager. YOu either love it or you hate it.

    I just watched this episode for the first time in re-run and I have to agree with you on this one. I loved the atypical nature of this one and the ending was well played. All too often, the show has to hit a magic reset button because things went boom, so it's nice to see a subtle ending for once.

    I could never put my finger on why I liked this episode so much, but I think Jammer sums it up nicely.

    I found this one decent. The "evil clown" -thing (a BIT of a cliché, I might add) has been done so much better in other tv and movies. Besides, my fear isn't grey and middle aged. Fear is young, virile and energetic - dressed in black with touches of red or yellow.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who appreciates this episode. I thought it was very well done, turning the aliens' unconscious fears into a surreal manifestation used to keep them in fear. I also loved Janeway throughout as well as the Doctor/Clown interaction. Especially, I loved the denouement ... "It was very un-Starfleet of her!"

    I agree that Picardo & McKean were nicely matched. I wonder, though, why didn't anyone suggest that Suder stay with the Clown? I also wonder why the Clown is so adamant that ALL the hostages stay with him ("If that one gets sick & dies... NO! I need them all.") and then changes his tone when the Doctor says that Janeway will be the only person who'll stay with him (I'd say the Clown had the hots for her, but he never even lays eyes on her until the episode's end).

    This episode was awesome. Especially Kate Mulgrew's cold-hearted portrayal of Janeway in the last scene. :)

    @ fido ; "portrayal"

    Sounds like you thought she was acting ;)

    I think this episode is a masterpiece! Definitely in my top 5 of Voyager... and Top 10 of all Star Trek. Getting to the heart of the human experience... facing of a personification of our most primal emotion. Just brilliant!

    P.S. Jake, remember that as the Clown can read people's thoughts, he has learned a lot from Janeway by looking at Kim & Torres' memories of her. So it is very possible that he had the hots for her before meeting her... or that, as her hologram suggested, he sensed that she had the power to subdue him.

    Whoa. My first time through Voyager and I just hit this episode. Easily one of my favourites so far (I think it will be hard to beat), with superb performances (McKean is always great, though... I was thrilled to see him here). Janeway is SO "un-Starfleet" but for once it serves her character well rather than make her seem reckless and stupid (but why couldn't she show this kind of utter ruthlessness with - say - the Vidians or Kazon?!). TNG's Picard could be tough when he needed to be, but this episode is perhaps the best schance to show that Janeway and the Delta Quadrant could give us a VERY different sort of captain. The ending is dark, and not just literally, and wonderfully played and paced (I was floored that they ended THERE, and not with some trite follow-up "we defeated our fears" speech at the end). I was also surprised and impressed that they let the poor "messenger" die and didn't save him "in the nick of time" as Trek normally might. All in all, impressive and very cool.

    This episode has one of the best endings in all of Trek. It's up there with DS9's "Sacrifice of the Angels".

    The story here is decent enough, but the overall look is so spare (read: cheap) that it significantly affects the viewing experience. In fact, the set design of "The Thaw" reminded me of ST: TOS, where any given room on any given planet or spaceship, was ridiculously austere: a couple pieces of angular furniture and no wall hangings to be seen! Throw in a host of funny-looking extras wearing garishly bright costumes and you have a recipe for chaos.

    It might sound like I am being too nitpicky, but the devil is in the details. We have seen more or less contemporaneous episodes of DS9 where the DS9 station is transformed into the past, nightmarish world of Tarok Nor through dramatic lighting, refugee costuming, and a strong sense of cinematographic vision. "The Thaw" needs more style in order to enhance the existential crises embedded within its narrative. Actually, just from a logic point of view, more style is needed. How can one suspend disbelief and accept an advanced alien culture (a culture that can not only place its people into stasis but provide virtual reality as well) that is unable to design a techno-reality that rises above a bad mime performance?

    Just saw this episode for the first time. What I would have liked is a bit more ending with what happened to the rest of the population on this planet. Are all the people(except the 2 in stasis)dead? The fade to black left me wanting. As far as the clown, he just reminded me of Q and one of his games he played on TNG.

    This episode is a bit draggy and frustrating at times (couldn't the Clown have spent a bit more time, oh, I don't know, SCARING people?) but the ending is *excellent*. I wouldn't have changed that final blackout scene for anything, it was absolutely perfect for the episode and really, apart from the premise, is it's saving grace. I will forget the draggy parts, but that ending is something I think of often.

    Deems to be a very polarizing episode. Had I not watched the original series, I probably wouldn't have liked it. But this episode is such a throwback to the original series. In a good way.

    damn. just watched this...holy hell..McKean would've made a damn good Joker methinks.

    and it's episodes like this that are what make watching Voyager so infuriating.

    When they wanna ramp up the intensity, the Voyager team does a damn good job at it.

    The videogame Fallout 3 recycled the basics of this setup for a segment where you become trapped in an endless idealized 50's style suburb ruled by a sadistic AI intent on making the people in stasis torment each other endlessly. It was a lot of fun and a highlight of the game for a lot of people (it's even in black and white, and you get the option to buddy up with the AI if you like by doing some tormenting of your own.).

    Where was I? Oh yeah, Voyager. The whole endless carnival was suitably nightmarish but all that waffle on the concept of fear was completely extraneous. As soon as the one hostage mentions the lag between thinking something and the AI becoming aware of it you know there's a vulnerability there big enough to drive a (hover)bus through and all the stoner-level philosophy is just delaying his inevitable undoing.

    Just caught part of this on Atlantic... eh I dunno, I was never really fond of this episode.. it's a bit TOO weird, the clown guy a bit too annoying and it revolves a bit too much around the hapless mr. Kim.

    Ha, interesting point on the Fallout 3 scene. I actually enjoyed that but I think it had a good balance of surreality, fear etc and never got to a point where it was "annoying". Plus it had a major plot development attached to it.

    I thought that this episode was excellent, and my only critique is that the set design does look like it's from the late 1980s. Although I suppose that it is difficult to portray something that is both "surreal" and "abstract" (read: computer-generated) with much verisimilitude.

    Other than that quibble, strong performances all around and a compelling theme to boot.

    An above average episode that was truly different from the norm- The ending scene with Janeway and the Clown is epic!

    I've made poop that was more creative that this episode. Clowns are creepy and disturbing anyway, but this one is unwatchable. Suck it Voyager.

    Interesting how people the only people who dislike this show are the ones who seem unable to articulate why. I'm all for diverse opinions, but if you can't back your opinion up, it's stupid.

    The only exception is the one comparing this episode to TOS sets, but that's just a matter of missing the entire point. The episode was supposed to look that way--mysterious and sparse. It's only a problem if it were in the real world, which it wasn't.

    And to dumb all this down for the haters: Smart people seem to like it, but dumber people don't. Interesting.

    >> i've been a star trek fan for 30+ years now, and when i think of "worst episode ever," this is the one that always comes to mind.

    I know there is no accounting for taste, but you, sir, are out of your gourd. When was the last time you watched The Squire of Gothos or any of the many just-as-crappy original series episodes? A similarly clownish but malevolent super-being plays around Q-like with the Enterprise and her crew, but then finally just turns out to be a whimpering spoiled child? You have GOT to be joking that that was better than this.

    (I know I am responding to a comment from 2008.)

    Anyway, I liked the episode for its weirdness and for McKean's performance and interaction with the doctor. Yeah, the tech was in a nowhere land, but I didn't care because the surrealism of it was entertaining.

    Just seen this for the first time in a decade. Still amazing, stands up better than ever. A true high-concept tour de force - superb script, superb performances, superb direction and productionn. By turns hilarious and profound. Without a doubt one of Voyager's top 10, and one of the must-watch episodes of Trek as a whole. It stands alone as a piece of drama, of theatre, on its own terms.

    I didn't find this episode enjoyable at all. Instead of finding "Fear" frightening, I found him campy and annoying. The "scary clown" concept is trite and tiresome. The threat of "scaring to death" with a guillotine as punishment was also laughable; people don't automatically have heart attacks in the face of execution, even when it's real. Plus, if "Fear" is so determined to have the maximum amount of people in stasis to prolong his existence (as he himself states), why would he kill any of them? When the story begins, he's already killed 2 of 5. Along those same lines, as someone else pointed out, it also makes no sense that he's suddenly fine with having one hostage as long as it's Janeway. There is no effort to explain this, forcing those who appreciate the episode to engage in fan wanking in order to attempt a justification. Also, the saving of only five of a civilization and what happened to them is given next to no explanation. Those are just a few of the problems; there are many more.

    However, unlike trlkly, I do not have the arrogant presumption to declare that everyone who disagrees with my assessment is less intelligent than I am. I find that those who are truly intelligent understand concepts such as subjectivity and thus treat differing opinions with respect. On a more personal level, I daresay I could hold my own intellectually with a poster whose devastating critiques consist of calling other posters "dumb," "stupid," and "haters."

    Back to the episode: I did enjoy the final scene, simply because it meant I would no longer have to endure that wretched clown.

    I think the reason that the Clown so easily accepted Janeway as the sole hostage (after earlier refusing to remain with only one because that one could get sick or die) is that Janeway is new to him.

    Up to this point, he's known the minds of only the five aliens, but after a decade, he may have grown tired of them. Perhaps that's why he killed two of them—in part to punish them for trying to leave, but in another part in order to give the remaining three a fresh experience of fear. You can even see the Clown's reaction when he first starts sensing Janeway's mind, almost like a euphoric high from a drug.

    If I'm right, though, I do wish the writers had made the reason clearer.

    I ended up really enjoying this episode!

    It started out with me facepalming when the bridge crew on Voyager used the sensors to determine everything that had happened to and on the newly discovered planet down to the total number of people that had lived there long ago. Wow ... bitchin' sensors!

    I started groaning when we first saw the "nightmare" - it looked so crappy that I was close to stop watching the episode.

    But then we met Mr. Fear. What a charismatic performance by Michael McKean! To me, he's what carries this episode more than anything else. Through his character I started getting into the whole nightmare concept, and it dawned on me that the set design kind of looks like a twisted version of a children's show (like Teletubbies or Barney).

    I can understand why many people would thing this episode sucks - it seems to be one of those "either it seduces you or it makes you vomit" kind of episodes, and so much hinges on how you react to the look and "feel" of the set and Mr. Fear. I, for one, ended up being seduced by it.

    I really liked the ending - Mr. Fear slowly vanishing into oblivion as Kim and the two aliens slowly got eased out of the program, waking up.

    This episode DID make me wonder why Janeway would so easily accept "killing" Mr. Fear - a sentient being fighting for survival - without any speeches about the Prime Directive. Sure, Mr. Fear was the Bad Guy here, but he is also a unique "lifeform". What makes the aliens, or even Voyager's own crew members, more important than his continued existance in the eyes of the Prime Directive?

    All in all, though, a very different, quirky and good episode.

    I almost alway agree with these reviews but the thaw was one of the worst episodes, second only to sub rosa in my opinion.

    Someone above remembered Suder - but I don't think the Clown would have gone for someone like him vs Janeway. Courage defeats fear, and that's what the Captain should have more than anyone else.
    Well done, Voyager!

    Oh and I hope they got to keep those stasis chambers as a reward. Score!

    I really enjoyed this one. Very good episode. Something different, and surreal, and cleverly written. McKean was both amusing and terrifying as the Clown. I especially enjoyed the final scene of the episode, with Janeway's deception.

    It reminded me a bit of TOS , this one. When VOY wanted to, they were capable of producing a really damned good episode.

    @ Adam, yes, this one definitely reminded me of TOS. It was original for sure, and it had that same off the wall sort of good but cheap look to it, and it was definitely wierd, TOS did a lot of weird, lol

    Not many Star Trek episodes give me the chills. This one did, just like with The Next Generation's "Frame of Mind", where Riker seems to go insane. As the clown faded into the dark, and then finally the episode, I started laughing, and only had one word to say. Awesome.

    I thought the clown accepted the Dr.'s ultimatum because of the threat of ending the program, not necessarily from knowing or wanting to know the captain. Perhaps because the fear controlled them, but I didn't see why those help captive thinking other thoughts wouldn't or couldn't dissolve the representation of fear. I actually was thinking the episode might end differently, with Tuvak going in and being able to control his emotions so well and to help the others calm their thoughts as well.

    I thought the idea of wanting to stay (either from fear or from pleasure) in a dream instead of the physical world was definitely a worthy theme. Having your brain connected to a computer to get input and being able to interact with others within a dream, who are also dreaming, is definitely a tech-enough idea for an episode. Even though there were silly clowns...

    One thing the episode did well was to keep you unsettled. In the simulated reality, things aren't always where they are supposed to be - it doesn't have to, because it isn't real. For example, the dwarf is standing next to Kim one moment, and then across the room the next.

    The Clown didn't feel like fear, more like a psychopath having fun at other people's expense. It's more like it used fear for it's own entertainment. The clown can't afford to kill people. It's not a parasite that can move onto a new host. It only can live as long as it's hosts live. Then again, perhaps it can't help itself, and is too irrational to act in its own best interest.

    I don't see why the one alien died: so what if he had a heart attack? Get him out and get him to sickbay. 24th century medicine should be able to take care of a heart attack, and it wouldn't really have affected the story.

    "I thought the clown accepted the Dr.'s ultimatum because of the threat of ending the program, not necessarily from knowing or wanting to know the captain."

    Yes, this was my understanding too.

    Interesting, the level of polarization around this episode. I'm basically with Jammer: three stars. So I don't quite get the POV of those who name it one of the best episodes ever, but I'm closer to them than the ones who call it "worst. episode. everrrr."

    McKean's performance was absolutely key here: in a vacuum, the "scary clown" schtick has definitely been overdone and usually not well. But he really nailed it. Good script too and well done by Mulgrew and Picardo. Garrett Wang did a good job with Harry Kim this episode--fleshed out the character more than usual.

    Intriguing, strange, entertaining, brilliant. The amalgamation of fear is utilized in its many aspects from creepy to sinister to terrifying with doses of black humor in the range of subtle to outlandish. Fantastic performances and dialogue and an incredible ending. Very risky episode, indeed, but they pulled it off in spades.

    Yes. I absolutely love it. Hands down one of my favorite Trek episodes.

    4 stars.

    Didn't care for this much the one time I saw it, but there are so many positive responses above I may have to give it another shot (been several years since I last saw it).

    One thing that I do remember about this episode was that one of Harry Kim's fears was never being able to hit the high G-sharp in the Mozart concerto. Funny thing is, the Mozart clarinet concerto has no high G sharp - it maxes out at a high G, which Juilliard trained Harry should be able to hit easily. Harry Kim-as-great clarinetist is always an amusing thing for me when watching Voyager.

    Love it or hate it episode, huh? Well, I love it. I loved it way back when, and upon rewatching it I find that it still holds up. Easily my favorite Voyager episode so far. I never really thought of it as being a TOS-style episode before, but after reading the comments it does kinda make sense. But it's a TOS-era episode done right (as opposed to season 1 TNG). It takes some of the same themes and visuals for TOS, but also creates a compelling drama. And it's all done with using Voyager's setting and characters well.

    For starters, I like the minimalistic setting. Yes, it harkens back to TOS era, but it fits pretty well with the theme here. Fear has the tendency to focus your attention on it; that's the whole point. It's a way to heighten your senses, but only about the perceived dangers that the emotion brings you. Anything else is irrelevant. And that's what we have here: the dangerous people are brightly colored and loud, forcing you to pay attention to them. And likewise, the rest of the simulation fades to the background as the fear elements grow. So we have a minimalistic set, but there seems to be a reason for it.

    I like the character of the Clown. He is basic, simple, almost child-like. Basically, he is fear incarnate. Fear is basic, simple, primal. It is not capable of deep complex thinking. It reacts quickly to stimuli and in fairly predictable ways. And that's pretty much how the Clown acts in every single interaction he has. His way of negotiating is very basic and direct. He wants what he wants, and refuses to listen to alternate options unless forced to. The Clown is devilishly entertaining to watch, perhaps, but it's a consistent and logical characterization for him. Smart writing on their part.

    I also like the fact that the technobabble solution failed! This is so common on Voyager: the solution relies on Torres or Kim waving their little wand around beeping lights with a countdown to a disaster. See Dreadnought for an example. And don't forget all the bridge shaking with someone shouting what the shield's are down to. Voyager's technobabble plots are fake drama; it doesn't matter what is actually going on, it's just fake whateverness. But here, it's in the middle of the episode, and it fails. Someone dies because of it. Janeway has to stop the technobabble, not because it was wrong and they needed a different technobabble, but because someone else was fighting back in a distinctly non-technobabble way.

    Sure, the ending was technobabbly too, but in a logical way. The solution didn't rely on a magic solution, but rather a clever way to fool the clown. The technobabble was only there to work with the solution. We can explain what happened in simple, real words, not inverse tachyon beams or whatever. It also relied on clues we learned before hand. Human-like programs can enter the simulation. There is a delay in time between what the people think and when the Clown can reach them. And that is why the ending works far better than most of the stories do, even without the dramatic fadeout.

    A couple scenes I like:

    The Doctor's first appearance in the simulation is utterly hilarious. Totally came out of nowhere and totally worked in every way. And what's best? After the Doc saved Harry with his sarcastic wit, explaining the proper methodology of holding a scalpel, the Clown nods along in academic interest for a moment first before moving the plot along. One of the funniest, most bizarre scenes in the entire series.

    Likewise, the final scene. I'm not talking about the haunting finale fade to black, everyone always talked about that. But it ends with the Clown quietly saying "drat". Again, it kinda came right out of nowhere in the whole creepiness of the ending; it made me laugh. But again, it fits with the fear concept. How do you kill fear? By acknowledging it's existence and moving on. You recognize the danger you are in, but diminish it by determining the best method to eliminate the threat. Accepting the dangerous situation exists is the first step in moving past it. And when working towards a solution to your fear, whether it be solving a problem or accepting your fate and the unpleasantness that will come, the fear dissipates as you move on. And that was the moment that the Clown disappears. The moment he accepts his fate, he accepts the fear. Probably not their intention, but it was still an awesome line regardless.

    Finally, one quick note to the folks questioning the Clown's reason for accepting Janeway. This is explained very clearly. Janeway gave the Clown an ultimate: accept her as the only hostage, or die. She (through the Doc) said that she would pull the plug on the other hostages and risk brain damage if he didn't capitulate. So of course he does.

    A very effective episode. The Clown, as someone else said, is campy and annoying--but not so much that one can't appreciate what he's SUPPOSED to be: a reprehensible creation, as anything born of blind fear would be, and a very unique villain. The episode overcomes uneven mood and execution with a brilliant ending. I like this one about as much as Jammer does.

    If you are sitting next to a friend who's never watched Start Trek, and you tell them this is one of your favourite shows, and this comes on...

    ... then put a bag over your head and bow in shame.
    ... then admit that you were adopted as a child and have issues.
    ... tell them you hate star trek and try to act "cool".
    ... never speak to that friend again, because you lost all credibility.

    Worst Episode Ever

    Also - if fear is this much fun, then The Exorcist and those devil horror movies like The Grudge should be a laugh riot to you.

    The only thing to fear is ( not fear itself ), but watching this episode and LIKING it, because its the proof of what your life has come to, and if you liked this episode then ... that's just sad.

    Also - cute midget chick in a ballerina dress. I'm sure that is an accurate portrayal of the future.


    Bingo! I think you're right on the mark here. The techno-babble solution that more than often works (not just in Voyager either) didn't and there was serious consequences. Janeway had to regroup and outsmart the villain here.

    .... and she did.

    Loved your review Jammer, you mention everything I love about this episode.

    I'm a TOS fan (or course) and this could have easily been a classic back in the 60's.

    Michael McKean is amazing here. Just silly enough to be a clown and whacko enough to be real scary at the same time.

    The ending capped of an incredible episode.

    "CLOWN: I'm afraid.
    JANEWAY: I know.
    CLOWN: Drat."

    10 ten Voyager episode for me. Easy 4 stars.

    Lenny did it, he allowed a real TOS episode to appear in VOY. This is what Star Trek was always about. A good story not just techno it's way out of everything.

    Picardo and Lenny stole the show.

    (Lenny is from Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame)

    Someone who I eventually got into Trek as a whole had this as their first Voyager episode (and one of their first Trek outings overall) because it happened to be the episode playing when we turned the TV on. I'm still surprised they stuck around.

    "This ship was built for combat performance." No it wasn't. Intrepid-class ships are science vessels; that's been stated since episode 1. Top notch writers keeping up with their own continuity right there!

    TOS's over-the-top characters and colorful settings are definitely in full force here. If it wasn't for the meaningful plot, I'd have laughed and turned off the TV a long time ago. At least we didn't have to see Kirk in this one.

    I agree with Nic. This episode is brilliant! All the crazy stuff that happens in the hostages' minds is the very definition of fear.

    Fear drives us to think crazy things. The end is perfect. Fear exist for only one purpose: to be defeated. Buh-bye fear!

    File this in the trash for me too. It's not so much that there aren't some really nice ideas and performances in here - the party pooper deadpan Doctor being a particular joy - it's just that the delivery of the campy 60s style surrealist nightmare and those scenery chewing performances set my teeth on edge in the way a million fingernails on a blackboard would do. It's a personal thing, but I can't stand it.

    The final scene is one step away from genius - if it finishes:

    CLOWN: I'm afraid.
    JANEWAY: I know.
    (fade to black)

    it's perfect. The final "drat" throws the whole thing out the window for me. 1.5 stars.

    I haven't seen this episode since it originally aired in the 90s, but it has stuck with me. I came looking for it because I think it the explanation for Donald Trump is in there somewhere.

    Totally agree with rob. Probably my worst Trek episode of all. Should have been filmed as a Twilight Zone segment. The only scene worth of mention is when we see Kim as an old man. Kudo to the make-up dept.


    "The Doctor's first appearance in the simulation is utterly hilarious. Totally came out of nowhere and totally worked in every way. And what's best? After the Doc saved Harry with his sarcastic wit, explaining the proper methodology of holding a scalpel, the Clown nods along in academic interest for a moment first before moving the plot along. One of the funniest, most bizarre scenes in the entire series."

    Perfectly said! I absolutely loved that moment. The direction of this episode makes it really stellar.

    @Starik, I'm a huge fan of Death Note! I'd say much of anime is comparably bizarre.

    I didn't really like this episode. I don't like clowns. I'm not scared of them, I just don't find them entertaining or funny, just annoying, especially the way they were portrayed here as dancing, singing, gyrating performers. Adding the sinister aspect just made this even more uncomfortable to watch. I will applaud that they went a pretty dark route, having characters we got to know actually die (and what a horrible way to die: being scared to death) and Janeway threaten to allow Harry Kim and the other hostages suffer brain damage rather than let the program continue was pretty badass. It was an ok episode, but I wouldn't put it as a top Voyager episode at all.

    This episode scared me as a kid. The clown was a sadist, and his realm was akin to hell. The moment Kim and Torres went over there, they were led by the sound of laughter to be brutally executed and only just escaped fate.
    Consider, this episode depicts torture, the killing of hostages, it was totally off the rails and one of the darkest ever (that's not to say it's not a good watch).

    It did remind me of Batman's Joker - this product of nihilism, boredom and infinite selfishness that exists only burn and consume things. It's also a frightening reality that as virtual reality and artficial intelligence develops, this element of the human psyche may manifest in frightening ways. Imagine if "Twitter" had an emergent personality and use of a guillotine for example.

    Fun episode, very TOS, in a good way.

    Agree with Diamond Dave when he said:-

    "CLOWN: I'm afraid."
    "JANEWAY: I know."
    (fade to black)
    it's perfect. The final "drat" throws the whole thing out the window for me."

    Although I' still give it 2.5 to 3 stars.

    Also love episodes where the doc is used in unusual ways. His intro in this episode is superb, as is his easy going confidence during that part.

    The biggest failing of this episode was the missing information. Only five people left on a planet? No one tried to rob the planet in all those years? Why didn't they think of sending in the Doctor in the first place? Just blindly send in your crewmen to a situation where there was clearly something wrong with the system. I wanted to see Voyager get something out of their kindness from the planet.

    I enjoyed this episode despite these omissions. Mostly due to Michael McKean.

    This is one of those episodes I always thought of as a joke and didn't take too seriously when I saw it originally. I find evil clowns compelling (don't ask), so there was that.

    But rewatching it many years later I feel it holds up well as a weird high concept experiment. The story isn't without holes (as others noted) but the execution is just compelling.

    The fear character was funny, threatening, even scary. The doctor's appearance is one of the funniest moments in the series and is delivered with perfect comedic timing. Even little touches like the starfleet insignia appearing on Fear's chest after he assimilates Bellana and Harry and his cries of "RED ALERT" had me smiling.

    Janeway's thesis at the end about fear's ultimate motivation doesn't make a huge deal of sense in context but I still liked it - and enjoyed how Janeway turns the tables on the Clown. That's right bucko - she's a STARSHIP captain not some spaceship captain so don't mess with her!

    Very good episode, that stays with you years later. Just watched it again for the first time in maybe 10 years and it's better than I remembered. Fantastic turn from Mike McKean and it's episodes like this that really get you on-side with Janeway. I find her a difficult character sometimes with her motivation and characterisation swinging wildly from one extreme to the other, but I thought she was fantastic here. I loved the line "Starfleet Captains don't succumb easily to fear".... I'd push the score up a notch - 3.5 stars

    By far one of Trek's outstanding episodes. Been watching early Voyager and I forgot how good it was from the get-go, unlike DS9 which was boring and TNG which was unbearably naff.

    The end goes down with Pale Moonlight as one of the best Trek endings, the clown is never less than terrifying, the way Janeway outsmarts him is brilliant.

    This is another Voyager episode that makes the moaning, complaining haters look like the muppets they are.

    I was watching the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul recently with my wife and noticed something intensely familiar about the Charles McGill character. Holy shit, he's Fear!

    Famous Star Trek reviewer and book writer Mark Altman wrote, about twenty years ago, that "This may be the worst Trek episode of them all, bar none," and then rattled off a list of reasons to support the conclusion. His chief criticisms were that 1) There was no reason for Voyager to beam get involved with the stasis chamber revivals in the first place, and that 2) the premise, which Altman said "cried out for bizarreness," "is handled in a completely pedestrian manner."
    Point 1 is valid, although it is one of those "I wont't suspend my disbelief" points that attack a premise instead of atracking what matters more-the execution.
    Point 2 is factually debatable. The camera setups, the laughter on cue, the circus-like music, all to me make it difficult to concur with his observations that the execution was "pedestrian."
    For the commentors who derided this as "Evil Clown in Space," again, that isn't a valid criticism-or at least a thoughtful one. It assumes a doofy idea cannot be handled well. Not so. This episode is hardly one of the best of the 725 episodes that were Star Trek TV, but it is nowhere near the worst. If anyone above who said this was the "worst Trek" ever has actually seen all 724 others, I would love to hear what your runners-up are.

    1.5 stars

    This one was really bad. The whole VR environment was just way too campy and Fear was a joke. Just too silly for my tastes with no ability to generate tension or jeopardy. I'm always amazed that people actually like this episode

    I liked this episode but not enamored with it like some others seemed to be. The pros have already been commented on, so I will just point to what I considered to be a couple of setbacks.

    I don't know why the idea of sending a holographic image of Janeway (or anybody else) is considered so brilliant. That was the first thought that crossed my mind about 10 minutes into the show. I literally thought "Can't they just send a holographic image?" as soon as it was revealed that it took the clown a few minutes to read the hostages' thoughts. It seemed so obvious.

    Also, with regard to the assumption that the clown represents fear (some commenters are even referring to him as "fear"), I will simply copy/paste K'Elvis's astute observation from 2014:

    --"The Clown didn't feel like fear, more like a psychopath having fun at other people's expense. It's more like it used fear for it's own entertainment. The clown can't afford to kill people. It's not a parasite that can move onto a new host. It only can live as long as it's hosts live. Then again, perhaps it can't help itself, and is too irrational to act in its own best interest."--

    Jammer says Joe Menosky wrote this episode, but I the original story was by Richard Gadas. So, I am not sure how much of the weirdness can be attributed to Menosky. Some for sure but not all of it.

    I LOVED this episode, because it reminded me of some of the best fantasy written 'human conundrum' episodes from the original series (as well as the eye-insulting color scheme). One of the best hours of any of the franchise's episodes, as I found myself completely immersed in the story line.

    They come across this message that says basically 'leave us alone'. It's 4 years overdue, but then they determine (somehow) that the people within the virtual reality can wake up when they want to and might stay in longer. Two of them had died from fear (because that's a real medical diagnosis), but they had no idea why. Maybe they wanted to die. Who knows? Anyway, that is when Voyager should have left. End of show. If only it were.

    Then Janeway decides to risk two people's lives, to go into what they think may be a very dangerous situation, to save three people that may or not be in danger and who had expressly sent them a message to 'leave them alone'.

    And when they get there, it's an earth carnival with jugglers, and midgets, and fire-eaters, and clowns. Of course it is. An alien species from the other side of the galaxy would create an earth carnival to spend 15 years in. Of course they would.

    So they find out that the clown is actually Fear. And Fear manifests itself as an insane megalomaniacal stand-up comic clown. Of course it does.

    And they send in the Doctor to negotiate. How? Do they upload his entire program into the stasis computer thingy? And why would he appear there at all? The program creates this virtual world based on the thoughts of the people linked to it through the stasis tubes. How does that permit the Doc to just show up and do whatever he wants? This world isn't a holodeck. And Fear can't detect other's thoughts for several minutes after they think them, so how did he realize immediately that he can't detect the Doctor's thoughts?

    And throughout the episode, they totally ignore the whole, can't detect thoughts for minutes, until the very end. He is responding to everyone's thoughts instantly throughout the whole show.

    So they program a holographic Janeway in about five minutes somehow, and send her in to talk to Fear. They have a little conversation where the holo-Janeway acts all arrogant just like the real one, so they did a good job in five minutes.

    And if everyone was disconnected from the program except for holo-Janeway, why didn't the virtual reality world shut down, since that's how the stupid thing worked in the first place, by integrating with the minds of the hostages?

    Janeway tells Fear - 'You know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose. To be conquered.'
    Janeway earlier - 'The ability to recognise danger, to fight it or run away from it, that's what fear gives us.'

    So I guess it has more than one purpose.

    At the end...

    JANEWAY: ...Isn't that why you allowed Captain Janeway to come here? Because you sensed she had the power to subdue you.
    CLOWN: No. She lied. That was very un-Starfleet of her.
    JANEWAY: Starfleet captains don't easily succumb to fear.

    Which completely makes it sound as though Fear clown was defeated by Janeway and her super Starfleet non-fear powers, when it was actually because they disconnected everyone from the program. So that's totally cheesy.

    The whole episode was gimmicky, annoying, abrasive, ridiculous, plothole ridden nonsense from start to finish.

    I can honestly say that of all the Star Trek episodes and movies, and yes I've seen all of them (except the animated series), that this is the one sole episode that I absolutely HATE. This is my second time watching it, and I hated it the first time, but I gave it another chance, because I thought maybe I was too harsh. But no, no I wasn't. It's a trainwreck wrapped in a steaming wet turd wrapped in a dried out turd.

    ZERO stars.

    @ Skreebles,

    Every single thing you say is accurate, I agree with your conclusions entirely. And yet I give the episode four stars. Ha! I think this is one of those cases where it's so stupid you either love it or hate it. I loved it when I first saw it and think that at the very least it's imaginative. It reminds me somewhat of TNG's Phantasms - not in terms of plot, but in terms of having a funny/creepy atmosphere and making me interested despite the story being bonkers. "RED ALERT!" is just as memorable to me as "With mint frosting." I have to give both of these episodes that. If there are quotable lines and I like remembering parts of them, that's a big win. And yet it's a stupid episode. So I agree with you but give it the opposite rating. Funny, that.

    @Peter G.

    I can see your point, and I like Phantasms somewhat, but this episode just grates on my nerves and annoys me like no other ever has, and hopefully ever will. I'm glad someone liked it I guess.

    To each his own. :D

    I really enjoy this episode. It's not written extremely well, but it's a good example of how performances can raise an average script. McKean, Picardo, and Mulgrew all give great performances at various parts of the episode. It's probably my favorite episode of the first two Voyager seasons.

    I'm really surprised to see so much love for this episode. To me it is--while not one of Trek's overall worst--probably this season's low point (yes, even worse than Threshold).

    The similarity to some TOS episodes has been mentioned, and I don't think that works in its favour, because stuff like this is what was wrong with TOS. Now as awesome as TOS was in parts, as full of BS it was much of the time, and I never felt like I wanted to have that back, even for nostalgic reasons.

    TOS aside, it seems I completely missed the "humorous" parts. Now I love good humour, also bad humour if done right, but here's an episode that apparently tries to be goofy but to me feels remarkably lame and unfunny. Also the clown doesn't work at all for me, I found him only annoying and nothing else.

    As for the philosophical/psychological questions raised about the nature of fear, I found them really basic and trite, like stuff you find on motivational posters. VOY can be much deeper--from the same season, Meld, Death Wish and Tuvix are just those that come to my mind right away.

    1 star.

    Thanks, Jammer!

    It's nice to see that someone else gives this episode the respect it deserves. The idea of being trapped in the Clown's virtual reality Fellini nightmare for the rest of my life is chilling. Classic Trek and excellent horror in my opinion.

    I've been watching through Voyager for the first time and just hit this episode. All I can say is, what an ending!

    Definitely one of the most out there episodes so far, and it's a nice break from Kaison (sp?) diplomacy storylines. The clown world was truly unsettling and he really makes a great nemesis. His interactions with the doctor we're legendary.

    The ending is what really makes the episode though. It's a dangerous line between being a powerful examination of human emotion and the purest level or Star Trek corniness, but The Thaw hits the mark so well and it really resonated with me.

    Hoping the series keeps being awesome! Definitely my favorite Star Trek series so far.

    Intriguing, somewhat thought-provoking and distinctly Voyager is "The Thaw" -- I enjoyed it a fair bit. Yes, the clown is something most people (including myself) don't like, but as a representation of fear brought about by the 5 people initially in stasis, it works. What I don't get is why that 1 emotion overwhelms everything else such that their existence in the stasis is pure misery. Perhaps because that fear drowns out any other rational thoughts after a certain point? The 3 aliens were basically being tortured for 19 years...

    Mulgrew and McKean are both great in this episode. It's good that the clown seems to be written in the same way as Q. But as for Mulgrew, she acts well in trying to understand fear and then confronting it -- the final scene as the clown fades away was well done.

    Loved the interactions between Doc and the clown also. And the technobabble "made sense" although coming up with a hologram of Janeway was done faster than I think it would be possible.

    Initially upon seeing the clowns environment -- like a Cirque du Soleil -- I was disappointed as I thought any semblance of intelligence of plot might be gone. And when one of the hostages actually was killed causing Janeway to concede temporary victory -- now that was a twist I wasn't expecting. It didn't just come down to a basic race against time plot with Torres getting her job done on time. That's a good thing that separated this from the mediocre 2 star episodes. And I also liked how Janeway recognized the sentience of the clown and initially tried to preserve its existence.

    Good enough for 3 stars -- turns out to be a pretty clever episode, solid guest performance from McKean as a clown (curious as to his grey attire -- should this symbolize fear somehow? And why was he not like the clown from "It"?). Not sure we can necessarily take away anything about dealing with fear, but it came down to tricking the clown who actually kept his part of the bargain. Voyager tries some weird stuff and when it works, it can be brilliant, which this one nearly is.

    Amazing... Michael McKean is just the best. He makes the clown charming, morbidly funny, and terrifying. The lighting, pacing, and script are great. A nice foil for Harry, the Doctor, and Janeway.

    Wait, why only 3 stars??? This was easily the best episode so far. I loved the clown. I loved the makeup and the setting. The demented carnival vibe. I loved all the acting. Even Kim's wasn't so bad. It was creepy and freaky and a little bit scary. Dammit it was a perfect episode.

    My only criticism is that more episodes of voyager aren't this well directed and thought out.

    I actually enjoyed this episode immensely. I have struggled with fear all my life and as such I welcome the idea that fear is just an emotion to be conquered. And McKean is sublime as the very emotion that hurts on a daily basis.

    {{ i totally disagree with this review. i've been a star trek fan for 30+ years now, and when i think of "worst episode ever," this is the one that always comes to mind }}

    Agreed. This was irredeemably awful in every way. It looked like they mashed a bunch of awful elements together from some of the worst of TOS. It's not the worst ever, but it's HORRENDOUS. Half a star at most.

    This is far from being the worst episode in any of the series. If number of years as a fan is suppose mean something, I've been for 48years. The worst episode of all is STNG's 'Shades of Grey'. Talk about phoning it in. This episode presentation shows the nature of fear in all its glory to the bitter end. It's a very interesting episode. The approach is similar to the late '60's show - The Prisoner.

    The first time I saw this episode it stood out. Just plain creepy and unable to be forgotten. I anticipated it when watching Voyager again. It’s all about being stuck in a bad dream or nightmare...for 19 years. Can you imagine? And then knowing that you could die if something happens in the dream. Voyager peeps did a great job on this one.

    Anyone feel bad for baby Harry though? That poor kid had to experience the fear for real. Sure hope the real life set was a whole lot different that what we saw on video.

    Boring and annoying. That clown environment reminded me of that place on the holodeck Lwaxanna Troi visted with that little girl. Except that was just a little part of the episode. It was unendurable for the whole episode. I started to feel like I'd been trapped there for 19 yrs.

    Some good performances, but didn't overcome the awful. Would never rewatch.

    Been working my way through Voyager over the last month or so each night before bed. Took three attempts/ three evenings to get through this episode. Brutal viewing! Really really cheap set and annoying characters. Soundtrack was even worse.

    Although the ending was its saving grace.


    This episode has the look of a bad, low budget TNG season 1 episode. But I thought the clown, the score and the writing all worked together to make it feel like an average Twilight zone episode which converts to a slightly above average episode of Voyager. Janeway basically murders a sentient life form that only seeks the right to exist. Picard would have a highly well acted, boring dialogue with someone about the ethical implications. Loved the part where hologram Janeway just wastes the clown like she’s an angel of justice. Liked the ending even if it rips off 2001: A space odyssey.

    And with that there shall be no more discussion of Star Trek: Voyager episode 224 “The Thaw”. It’s all been said. No further comment is needed.

    A most excellent episode with a sufficent amount of emotional, intellectual and acting heft to be up there with the best of TNG. A real 'what might have been' had this standard been maintained and built on throughtout the rest of Voyager's run.

    This one was so great and I enjoy it with fear in my heart and felt the rush of adrenalin in my veins. I do not want to be too logical or critical about it since you are suppose to be entertain and feel involved with the characters when you watch a movie and this did it for me. If you are looking for logic go to a library and read a science book.
    No one thinks of the flowers.
    No one thinks of the fish.
    No one wants to believe the garden is dying,
    that its heart has swollen in the heat
    of this sun, that its mind drains slowly
    of its lush memories of fear.

    Teaser : ***, 5%

    We begin with Harry playing a little classic jazz on his clarinet. What appears to be a private recital for Tom [fan fic fan fic fan fic fan fic...] is actually bleeding through the bulkheads, causing some other ensign to bang on the walls. It seems those amazing gel packs that can get sick from cheese infections have the added benefit of conducting sound. Of course, what this tedious scene is actually about is reminding us that Tom and Harry are totally not gay, because they're both chasing the same girl, someone called Nicoletti. She plays the oboe, you see. Mhm...

    With that out of the way, the senior staff are summoned to the bridge. The Voyager has encountered a planet which has been devastated by natural disasters, but is in a state of ecological recovery. Despite an absence of lifesigns, they receive a hail from the surface. How refreshing to have a set-up like this; minor mystery with some light characterisation. I feel like I'm watching TOS.

    Act 1 : ***.5, 17%

    The hail turns out to be an automatic message from what we assume is this planet's leader, a man called Viagra or something.

    VIORSA: A few of us have managed to survive in a state of artificial hibernation, programmed to end in fifteen years from the date this was recorded. At that time, when the eco-recovery has begun, we will attempt to rebuild our settlement. Please, do nothing to interrupt our timetable.

    Well, they're way past the expiration date on that time-table, so Janeway has Kim scan for suppressed metabolic activity which he discovers underground. Intrigued, she orders a stasis pod containing three hibernating aliens and two dead ones to the cargo bay.

    One of the hibernators is Viagra himself and there don't appear to be any malfunctions to explain the two deaths. Further scans reveal that the minds of the occupants have been interconnected by a sophisticated computer.

    JANEWAY: Years ago, Starfleet used a technology to assist deep space travel that kept the body in stasis, but provided a mental landscape to keep the mind active and alert.

    The mystery deepens: the occupants were given control over their own hibernation, as the planetary conditions would be transmitted to their “mental landscape” periodically. They ought to have emerged from stasis many years ago. The EMH's autopsies reveal that the dead aliens were literally scared to death (heart failure) by whatever imagery this system is providing. Tuvok determines that the only option, save fucking off and leaving these people to their fate (I'll get back to that), is to enter the system themselves using the empty pods. They will use their own stasis technology to isolate themselves from the alien system as much as possible. So, Torres and Kim are put under ice and given five minutes to check things out.

    Up until now, the mood aboard the Voyager has been very subdued. The dialogue is sensible, but dry, the pitch moderate; no red-alert klaxons, no phaser fire. The mystery is interesting, but in a purely intellectual way—there's almost no character behind the lines of dialogue; the crew are performing their functions in expected ways, but it's all detached and professional.

    Then, we enter the Matrix...I mean the system.

    The atmosphere is garish—the set made deliberately to look like a very large black-box. The computer-generated characters are pulled straight from the Commedia dell'Arte. The music has a flare of anachronistic medieval timbre. Nearly everyone is in a mask, adorned with make-up; there's fire, there is dancing, bright colours, and constant movement.

    Hovering over this scene is a unique figure, a monochromatic clown whose smile is deeply unsettling. Eventually, the clown ropes Torres and Kim into a feverish dance. The carnival atmosphere recalls such pop-culture touchstones as “The Killing Joke” or maybe “Falstaff.” And at the centre of the “town” is a wonderfully absurd PINK guillotine whose Folsom Street Fair attendant dutifully shows off by chopping a log in twain, ending the dance. Torres and Kim try to make their exit, but the carnival goers aren't yielding. With those terrifying smiles still plastered across their faces and their schoolyard taunts cascading about, the Starfleet Trek-fu laughed off as completely ineffectual, Harry is captured by the mob and cuffed. They cart him off to the guillotine. The camera makes note of the Grey Clown observing, seemingly from everywhere, enthralled by the terror on Harry's face.

    What makes this scene so very effective is the contrast. These characters are violent, sadistic and invulnerable, but their behaviour is childish, playful and giddy. As with the aforementioned Batman rogue, this may be a cocktail we're familiar with nowadays, but Voyager executes it extremely well, and the effect is nothing short of terrifying.

    Act 2 : ***.5, 17%

    Before the choppy-choppy, Viagra and his two companions enter the square and warn the Clown that executing these aliens will likely illicit retribution from their companions in the waking world. The Clown is visibly terrified by this prospect and wastes no time in ordering Harry set free. Again, his sentiments are childish, basic and primal. There are no ethics guiding his thirst for entertainment, but threaten him, and it's fight or flight.

    VIORSA: Who knows what kind of people they are? Who knows what will happen to this world if you hurt them?
    CLOWN: I do. I know.

    The Clown demonstrates that he is beginning to understand his new guests, as he mocks Torres for her temper and mixed heritage. He laughs at Harry's technical-minded analysis. The theatricality in the blocking and directing never lets up, even when the dialogue becomes intimate. The Clown will dance around, amused by Harry's ignorance and the remaining cast of characters dances with him, chanting in unison. The Clown will become deadly serious, upset with Viagra for disrupting his fun, and the cast will be shown behind him, solemn and menacing. What's so great about this is that it demonstrates an understanding of what theatre is and why it works as an artform. This is TV; you can create mesmerising special effects and optical illusions. Think of all the smoke and mirrors bullshit from “Move Along Home”! But here, in the mindscape, we are using the tools of the live theatre; masks and choreography and costume. The effect is to make one feel drawn in the world itself, for being at once so impossible and so real. This also lends an air of timelessness to the world and to the episode. Even now, 30 years later, you wouldn't want to do much differently in terms of production.

    The Clown and his world will disappear, that is cease to be if the humanoids are disconnected from the system. The Clown's desire to exist (accompanied by that over-the-top crying gesture from the whole town) indicates that he/they have achieved some level of sentience. The recall subroutine is activated and Torres and Kim make to escape:

    CLOWN: If you leave, one of them will die. One of them will die. Try it and see.
    TORRES: How is that possible?
    CLOWN: I cut off their heads.
    TORRES: But none of this is real.
    CLOWN: Of course it's real. As real as a nightmare.

    And so, Harry relents and cancels the recall, but he makes it clear that if the Clown wants to continue to exist, he had better give them the chance to inform the Voyager. While the Clown and his, erm, clown possy deliberate, Kim and Torres have a brief moment to confer with the alien trio. Herein, we learn that there is a small delay before the Clown and the system can process their thoughts, which might be their only advantage in this world. They hypothesise that the Clown is a manifestation of their latent fears, created accidentally by software too smart for its own designers. Isn't that always the way?

    The Clown determines that Harry is to stay behind as a hostage, but Torres will be permitted to leave and convey the Clown's demands to Janeway.

    Act 3 : ****, 17%

    Back in the conference room, whose dark grey and quiet hues are, ironically, a relief from the Clown's garishness, the senior staff consider their options. Janeway wants to reduce the number of hostages.

    JANEWAY: All we have to do now is decide how to negotiate with an emotion. With a manifestation of fear.
    TUVOK: Fear is the most primitive, the most primordial of biological responses.
    JANEWAY: The ability to recognise danger, to fight it or run away from it, that's what fear gives us. But when fear holds you hostage, how do you make it let go?

    In keeping with this story's deftness, Neelix' ridiculous suggestion of trying to combat fear with humour is met with impatient glares from Janeway and co. It's an understated and hilarious moment in an otherwise pensive and quiet scene. We're left to wonder what they'll come up with.

    Meanwhile in Carnival Hell, Viagra expresses his regret to Harry, for dragging him and the others into this mess. Viagra just tells him that hope is a lie and that after a few months, he'll give in to Fear and his endless whims. Cue a side glance from Folsom Street Man. I SAID HE'S NOT GAAAY!

    KIM: Why does he do it?
    KOHL MAN: We're his canvas, his blocks of marble. With us, he practises his ghastly art.

    Sensing Harry's transgressive desire to escape, the Clown determines to punish him. He's made into an old man, helpless and decrepit. Then, of course, he's turned into an infant (“Koochy Coo!”). The Clown plays Michael Jackson with baby Harry for a few moments, but quickly grows bored. In one of many favourite moments, the Clown utters a deep-sounding truism:

    “When your only reality is an illusion, then illusion is a reality.”

    For a second, we're thinking: that's a little obtuse, isn't it? But then, the Clown snaps his finger and a cartoonish gong is hit, like a 1960s Hanna Barbera “Confucius Says” moment. The fact that Harry is Chinese makes this all the more subversive and I love it. Anyway, the Clown finally taps into a memory that really disturbs Kim; when he was nine years old, he witnessed a radiation disaster, sick and dying people, and a little girl receiving some sort of emergency surgery.

    And then just as quickly, the EMH appears and corrects the Clown's grip on his little scalpel. I can't possibly recreate the comedy with my wordy review here, but the Picardo/McKean double act is one of the most hysterical performances in the history of the franchise.

    CLOWN: How am I supposed to negotiate if I don't know what you're thinking?
    EMH: I have a very trustworthy face.


    Ahhh, anyway the EMH has been sent by “a miracle of technology” (bless the Maker we didn't have to endure any technobabble to explain this miracle) to act as Janeway's representative. Janeway suggests replacing the hostages with a simulated brain to provide input for the Clown's existence, but the Clown suspects this is impossible. Viagra is hauled over to corroborate his fears, but says something cryptic about the optronic pathways which is dismissed instantly as a lie. Despite his trustworthy face and bedside manner, the Doctor is unable to get the Clown to budge.

    Act 4 : ****, 17%

    When the Doctor reports to Torres the message from Viagra, Tuvok realises that he must have been trying to communicate something else to them. Clever. They determine that they can dismantle the environment using the optronic pathways without disrupting the hostages or their brain functions, removing the threat of execution. The EMH is tasked with distracting the Clown while they work. It's a desperate move, but that's where we have landed.

    So the plan begins. The EMH bullshits with Michael McKean while Torres begins disconnecting the characters from the simulation. Of note here is how the Doctor has grown as a character, able to improvise and lie—tricks he has learnt from his experiences in “Heroes and Demons,” “Projections,” and to some degree in “Lifesigns.” For a tense couple of moments, we dare to hope that they might succeed, but before Torres can finish, the Clown sees through the deception and he knows exactly whose fault this is. Poor pathetic Viagra is dragged to the guillotine. The Doctor tries his best to live up to his oath, but there's nothing they can do, and Viagra is beheaded. In the real world, his heart gives out and Janeway has no choice but to relent and restore the programme. Amid the carnage, the Clown and his people dance in celebration, as if you expected anything else.

    Act 5 : ****, 17%

    Janeway is reeling from her failure.

    JANEWAY: Have I misjudged him somehow? Is there another way to reach him? Isn't there more to fear than a simple demand to exist? Why do people enjoy dangerous sports or holodeck adventures with the safety off? Why, after all these centuries, do children still ride on roller coasters?
    EMH: Fear can provide pleasure. To seek fear is to seek the boundaries of one's sensory experience.
    JANEWAY: But what does fear seek at the end of the ride?

    For the third and final time, the Doctor interrupts the party (“I don't get out very much.”) and explains Janeway's final terms. There's a mention of the Galorndon Core for the nerds, but the EMH is deadly serious; Janeway will allow the Clown to keep one hostage and one only, but that hostage will be Janeway herself. The Clown is hesitant, but sensing (from Harry, we surmise) that Janeway is very much willing to go through with risking brain damage to the hostages if it comes down to it and destroy him, he accepts.

    And indeed, we see Janeway being hooked up to the system as the Clown prepares for her arrival. Finally, the extraneous characters vanish and Janeway appears before the Clown. While the interactions between Picardo and McKean were hilarious, this new dynamic between Mulgrew and McKean is something else entirely. With the eerie, Ligeti-esque score backing them up, the scene is almost sublime. Harry and the aliens are released, and the Clown tucks in for an eternity with his new plaything.

    ANEWAY: Would you be honest with me?
    CLOWN: Fear is the most honest of all emotions, Captain.
    JANEWAY: You really want this to end as much as I do, don't you?
    CLOWN: Now, now, don't even think about leaving. I'm not going to let you go, not after all this. Mirror? Don't we make a beautiful couple, Captain?
    JANEWAY: I'm not Captain Janeway.
    CLOWN: Could have fooled me.
    JANEWAY: I'm afraid I did.

    As the Clown becomes aware of the truth of Janeway's deception (the one he's talking to is a hologram), the world itself begins to spin out of control around him. Literally.

    The final moments of the episode are spectacular. We resolve the lingering question, “What does Fear seek?” The answer of course, is to be conquered. As the world dissolves into nothingness, there's a chilling musical cue—the return of those carnival accordion chords that add the perfect touch of macabre whimsy to this dark finale.

    CLOWN: I'm afraid.
    JANEWAY: I know.
    CLOWN: Drat.

    Episode as Functionary : ****, 10%

    I think I know why this episode is so polarising. I don't agree with the comment above that this is an episode “for smart people,” but there is something in that instinct that's worth examining. This is not an episode that faithful viewership of Star Trek prepares you for. People try and intellectualise the disparity by saying that things are “weird” or “over-the-top” or “campy.” And those might be true but not particularly useful descriptors. Like the very best of Star Trek (which this is), we are dealing with an idea and how that idea relates to the human condition, examined through a sci-fi lens. The reason this story had to be “weird” is because the idea we are dealing with, fear, is by its very nature irrational. When you're in a dark room and feel panicked, you lose the ability to rationally consider your environment. It's the same damned room whether or not the lights are on, but our inability to see what may or may not be there invites wild speculation, turns our imaginations into overdrive and makes our hearts race. The Clown's environment is extremely uncomfortable and it is superbly irrational. Most of the holographic environments we see in Trek do their best to simulate reality in some way, but this one, this one is designed to feel like a nightmare. In a nightmare, you can't crawl out of the hole no matter how hard you try; the water will always drown you; you can't stop falling even though you don't remember when you fell; your loved ones will hate you; you will always fail.

    So, I think those who dislike or hate this episode do so for the same reason many people dislike horror films, even good ones. They are very uncomfortable, and intentionally so. But beyond the horror elements, this story is pure theatre. The scenes aboard the Voyager itself, deliberately subdued and utilitarian (save some excellent dialogue), are little more than a framing device for the madcap theatre that is the simulation. This was something hinted at in “Frame of Mind,” to similar effect, although its purpose was quite different.

    There's room in this story for some character elements. Harry's fears of dependency and being coddled are explored. Mention is made of how much he misses Libby and his parents, but what we learn here is that he is embarrassed to admit how much he does. This isn't the result of a carefully laid character arc, mind you, but Menosky manages to take what was a weakness in the development of Harry's character and transform it into an asset. That's real skill, and not the last time he will be called upon to do this for poor Harry. The EMH is primarily a deadpan foil to the Clown's exuberance, but there are some touches that reflect how he's grown, but that also remind us that he is still not regarded as a sentient member of the crew. The notion that a simulated brain—like his—could satisfy the Clown is dismissed as impossible. And the Doctor owns his own limitations. I believe that if not for the fact that 1. the plan depended on the Clown believing he had captured Janeway and 2. the fact that they still need a doctor, Janeway would have been willing to sacrifice the Doctor to the Clown as she did her own hologram.

    Speaking of Janeway, let's remember that this is the captain who did *not* end up sacrificing her crew because she got curious about the mysterious visitor in “Deadlock.” This is the other one. Thus, we see the curiosity overriding the crew's wellbeing motif repeated, but this time Janeway isn't trifling. In “Deadlock,” her counterpart ordered Harry to the alt-Voyager to save his life, a recompense for her mistake. Here, she has decided to murder a sentient albeit malevolent lifeform to save Harry. The conflict between her blue-shirted and red-shirted selves are coming into greater relief.

    I don't need to gush about the acting in this episode, but save some tepidness in the teaser and a few missteps from the guests, everything was marvellous. McKean, Picardo and Mulgrew were all delicious in different ways and even Wang managed to step up his game a bit. I like that they found a use for Kes in all this, who's been a bit forgotten since “Cold Fire.”

    How should we be able to forget those
    ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
    princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
    who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
    everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
    that wants help from us.

    Final Score : ****

    Hahaha, Elliott, we have never been in more agreement. This was a 4-star episode from the moment it aired when I fell off my couch laughing during it. I'll never forget that. The Trek-fu futulity is one of the best lampoons of Trek hand combat I've ever seen. Along with Scorpion and The Meld I'd call this the best episode in the series.

    This is a great one, I agree, and it's very TOS-y in the best way. I really need to revisit this one soon. McKean is so fantastic, funny and scary; one of the best one-off guest stars in the franchise. And in all that it still depicts something serious, that experience of being hijacked/trapped by (irrational) fear, and pointing towards a way out.

    I thought that the bit with Neelix suggesting they fight fear with laughter was very funny, and was also a bit of an homage to Wolf in the Fold.

    Since they already knew that fear was an issue, they should've at least considered sending Tuvok to the clown.

    Apart from that, this episode absolutely blew me away. Twisted and unique; it had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

    I tip my hat.

    4 Stars

    Loved this one, reminded me a bit of The Prisoner, very much a throwback.

    I rolled my eyes when I saw the design, thinking Dr. Who's Celestial Toymaker and DS9's Move Along Home, but was impressed by the ending.

    This one totally couldn't wound up as a zero or half-star episode. I can't tell how it didn't, but frankly, it's a miracle.

    I had never seen the episode and was somewhat dreading it. I'm more of a fan of straightforward "Trek," like when Data contacted by big sister, Sarjaneka.

    That's said, this was really good! It was like "Twilight Zone" meets "Batman" (1960s TV show) meets "Matrix" meets "Star Trek: TOS."

    It definitely works! Three point five stars for me. Just short of a classique! But very well done. Great performance by Michael McKean.

    It's Michael McKean that makes this episode work so well for me. His character is just a nicely realized and performed villain, and this is one of those stories where the villain makes or breaks the plot, which is otherwise not all that different than a holodeck malfunction episode mixed with a hostage situation. The stagey environment works because it's all meant to be artificial anyway. The episode really does manage to generate some creepy tension out of the weird characters and circumstances. When Harry and B'Elanna first arrived I was rolling my eyes a bit at the circus imagery, but it didn't take long before they sold the idea that this whole situation is a real nightmare. I can believe that the characters trapped there are exhausted and hopeless. It's surprising that they've retained any degree of sanity, given what they have to cope with.

    The whole thing works far better than it probably should. This episode was a pleasant surprise.

    I thought this was a good episode...very creative and different with some unique directing...but fun.

    Some things bug me though. If the characters KNOW they are in illusory bodies then why would they die of fear when their illusory body is killed? It would be like being killed in a dream. Remember when Spock in the Hatfield/McCoy episode convinces the crew they couldn't be harmed because they were in a simulation? That same angle could have worked her...and perhaps better then the technical gimmick they invented.

    The other thing that annoyed me was the occupants requires 10 minutes to recoup, otherwise they are brain damaged? Yet, when the occupants leave in the end they do so in well under 10 minutes. Also how does "the joker" have the ability to instantly sense that Janeway is hooked up into the system but not deceiving her? How does he know that this new presence isn't say Chakotay? It's just too convenient that he can instantly detect and identify occupants...but there is a delay in his reading their thoughts...yet this delay is less then the recovery time it takes to safely leave the simulation.

    Brilliant episode, one of my Voyager favourites. It's mad and clever and I could easily see it fitting into TOS or TNG.

    This has been my least-favorite episode of Voyager since the day it first aired, so unbelievably, embarrassingly bad that I have never watched it since.

    It happened to be on H&I tonight and I decided to see if it was as terrible as I remembered. It was close. I might give it half a star instead of the 0 I have always given it in my head.

    Ultimately this is the embodiment of the absolute worst of Trek. There are a couple rare moments of inspiration, but they're completely drowned out by the over-the-top campiness. I see what they were aiming for with the ending, but after spending nearly an hour with "Fear" and the other bizarre characters grating on me, I was far past the point of taking any of them seriously. I agree with the commenter that was just glad to be done with the character.

    Joe Menosky has written a lot of good episodes and even some great ones, but this ranks with "Masks" as his worst.

    Great episode. It's a minor thing but I don't think it quite works to say fear itself wants to be conquered. The child riding a roller coaster may wish to conquer his fear - but that's not the same thing as the fear itself having an independent wish to be defeated.

    People should give Voyager a break. When Voyager does something derivative, people criticize it for being unoriginal. When Voyager does something weird, people complain it's too weird. If Twilight Zone or TOS had done something like this back in the psychedelic late '60s, people would have loved it. And this episode was kind of like a Twilight Zone episode. And it came out years before the Matrix, which has the same basic idea. It was a weird and stagy show, but interesting.

    This one had its moments, but some parts of it strained my suspension of disbelief. I thought the creepy, nightmarish feel of the episode was good. The Doctor's abrupt interruption of Kim's "surgery" with his dry humor gave me a good chuckle.

    The ending was ok. It was not really surprising or profound, but it seemed like it was trying to be. I don't see how a sadist clown is the embodiment of the concept of fear, and if the ending was supposed to make some kind of insightful statement about fear, it missed me. The metaphor doesn't seem very well formed.

    The idea of the victims being "scared to death" is a little hard to accept. As a previous poster said, Starfleet medicine should easily be able to revive people after a heart attack (especially since it can already be done with today's technology).

    Also as another poster said, it didn't make much sense to risk Kim and Torres when the doctor could have been sent in to investigate from the very beginning. Somehow the always logical Tuvok was the one who suggested risking people's lives when there was a much safer option. The option they chose involved pulling out the corpses of people who suffered heart attacks and showed signs of severe psychological stress and then immediately putting some Starfleet officers in their place. Sounds safe, right?

    I also wondered if they could send the doctor in, why couldn't they send in an entire AI army?

    Overall I thought it mostly succeeded at creating a tense nightmarish atmosphere in the simulation contrasted with some good humor provided by the doctor. The character of "Fear the clown" was well acted. The setup was flawed, and the ending was straight out of the TOS playbook: captain wins by tricking the bad guy. As with many Voyager episodes, they don't show what happens after the conflict is resolved, so who knows what happens to the survivors or the planet. I give it 2.5 stars.

    I watched this episode on Netflix 2 months ago.... I cannot stop having detailed dreams about The Spectre. I have an extremely strong urge when I wake up to find/have/wear the costume. It has become an obsession controlling all parts of my life. Does anyone have any information about where the prop may have ended up? Money is no issue.

    Hi Eric S. I first watched Voyager on netflix also. Have you researched that "It's a Wrap!" auction? I have seen many obscure props pass through there
    Don't want to violate any policies so I won't post link here. Simply google. Good luck!

    This is a great review Jammer I agree with everything you said. The Thaw is one of those episodes you either absolutely hate or absolutely love, I'm the latter. It's weird, fun, creepy all at the same time and not many episodes can pull that off. The entire last scene to the fade out damn near gave me chills! Leave it to Janeway to overcome fear.

    This episode is nightmare fuel. If I’ve got Voyager in the background while I try to sleep, this episode will wake me up and I’ll hit the skip button. It’s a bottom 10 episode for me, regardless of series.

    Definitely one of the worst Voyager episodes for me. Although, saying that since I love Voyager so much I have sat through this one several times on complete all-season re-watchings.

    The story is far too silly/simplistic for me to be plausible, especially for a crew that gets stranded in the Delta Quadrant and has dealings with alien technology.

    Watched "The Thaw" in three installments. Just couldn't do it all at once. Read people's comments and was frankly put off by the widespread acclaim it received. To each his/her own. I was quite bored. That was two days ago.

    This morning I realized that much of the episode seemed to have been derived from the series finale of that old spy show "The Prisoner." Lots of masks; lots of minimalism. In fact, it's Minimalism to the max in this one, to guarantee points for artfulness. Shades of Farpoint Station too, which also drew from The Prisoner, particularly by utilizing the unforgiving peanut gallery of twisted sycophants. That lot is reminiscent of TOS' Miri with its creepy, malodorous kids, but long before that, such a pack of worthless souls was handled in Dickens' A Tale of ....I can't bring myself to say it. I also can't abide its resemblance to some awful recent realities.

    An unforgettably awful episode. Glad Janeway put it to rest.

    2021...and i've seen this episode for the first time. It is VERY good. Full stop.

    Oh, and those who for some reason think 'Enterprise killed the franchise'....probably just hated the opening theme music. It some ways, it is the best and best written.

    The new CBS production...only seen 3 episodes thus far. It is promissing.

    1. Star Trek (perhaps it's the sentimentalist in me...)
    2. The Next Generation
    3. Enterprise
    4. Deep Space Nine
    5. Voyager

    The first time I saw this episode, I thought it was an undiscovered gem; a sort of trippy, gaudy, TOS-styled-nightmare in the vein of "Empath" and "Plato's Stepchildren."

    Watching it again today, I think it's lost some of its mad power. The "evil clown" seems less effective, and the sets less massacre than I remembered (strangely, the even cheaper TOS sets seem to hold up better for me), though the plot remains clever. Janeway's outsmarting of the computer, and its death, remains an arresting scene in particular.

    "Three shawarmas, earthlings! And don't skimp on the tahini!"

    Interesting, but a few things I don't get about this episode. 1st, if everyone inside the simulation knows it's just a simulation, would they really be so terrified of everything the clown did to them? They know they can't really die, so why would they have heart attacks? Unlike a real nightmare, where you don't know you're dreaming, here, they knew they were dreaming so would they really be that scared? 2nd, it has been shown (in this century) that the brain needs trillions of calculations to process the environment and do basic calculations, yet apparently the system only needed 40 pathways to generate the environment. Maybe each one processed billions of neural impulses? 3rd, it's hard to believe that an advanced society like that wouldn't take into account the obvious possibility that the computer would manifest their negative emotions as well as positive ones. 4th, why would sudden disconnection cause brain damage? Being woken up out of a deep dream state doesn't cause brain damage (although sleep deprivation itself can) but this wasn't the same. Great, fantastic episode though, and it was the very first episode I saw on TV that got me into Voyager! Have bought the entire set and seen every episode as of today.

    This was nearly as bad as, "Threshold." Season 2 had two of the worst episodes of the whole series. This is so baffling bad, only good part was the Doctor scenes (as usual), when he saves Harry telling the clown how to hold the scalpel.

    Baby and old Harry was wtf

    In my opinion the worst episodes are 30 days, Nothing Human, Memorial, Threshold, and Fair Haven.

    An excellent episode!

    I didn't appreciate it when I was younger but with age and a greater appreciation of psychology, I see how thought provoking and intellectual this episode is. Star Trek at its best.

    Before that I just thought it was a silly and cringy attempt at horror and comedy.

    One of my very favorite episodes of my 2nd least favorite Trek series. To me it's an ode to old style TV minimalism and surrealism a la The Prisoner, Twilight Zone and the best of TOS. It has a very dreamlike and surrealistic quality that to me rivets attention on the characters in the scenes rather than the background scenography. This is high theatre portrayed on TV rather than accurate portrayals of a realistic setting. It has a dreamlike flavor rather than a realistic one. It is a stage setting with minimalist sets designed to convey atmosphere and emotion rather than the rational science oriented world. This may be why so many abhor this episode. It clashes with the "hard" sci-fi ethos of many Trek fans. It is more akin to Bradbury or Vonnegut rather than say Asimov or Heinlein.

    Ultimately this concept only can work successfully if the actors successfully portray the surrealism of being caught in a Kafkaesque world. Nothing is settled. Indeed, literally everything is unsettling. It is not orderly. It is not sequential. To borrow famously from another Trek series "It is not linear". Here I think McKean, Picardo, and Mulgrew shine in navigating choppy waters. McKean in particular gives a riveting portrayal of a malevolent force rather than a specific character. He is very much akin to a manifestation of Shakespeare's Tempest made into an actual character. Picardo brings his sublime dry wit to contrast with the mercurial McKean and Mulgrew gives a wonderful understated performance that shows the deadly earnestness of a dedicated and resolute Starship Captain.

    Others have made some comments identifying McKean's clown as a poor man's Q. This to me is not accurate. He is not Q merrily trying to teach his flock a lesson that helps broaden our understanding of reality. This clown plays a more deadly game. It is one of subjugation. While Q's actions can result in blood, as people do occasionally die, the Clowns stakes are in some ways higher for us as individuals. They can cost us our soul and the essence of our being if we give in to his fear. To quote again another Trek line "I cannot defeat this Klingon. I can only kill him, and that no longer interests me." Because once we submit to fear we can truly become lost in the labyrinth. The price of submission is not just our life, it is our immortal soul.

    When I first saw this episode I ranked it very near the bottom of Voyager, and I'm not that big a fan of Voyager in the first place. I can't remember if I would've put it in the bottom two or three (Threshold is definitely last) but it was certainly the bottom 10. The cheap cheesy TOS set and madcap theater feel just did not sit well with me at all.

    Since then I've come to appreciate it more. I wouldn't put it in the top 10 or anything, but credit is absolutely due for being one of those format-breaking episodes like 11:59, Far Beyond the Stars, Badda Bing Badda Bang, First Contact, or Lower Decks.

    Michael McKean knocked it out of the park, and his interactions with Robert Picardo are stellar ("I have a very trustworthy face"). The Clown actually comes off very similar to Kivas Fajo, played by Saul Rubinek, who kidnapped Data in TNG's The Most Toys. They both have this childish demeanor, quick to anger but needy and vulnerable, while also being terrifyingly ruthless with their power over the situation.

    The cheesy set and theater-esque feel works in-universe. What's more scary than being stuck for eternity on the set of a cheap kids' show like Bozo the Clown? Since it's not real and it's meant to be unsettling, it works. If it weren't for the great performances and effective conveyance of fear and existential dread, this would've just been another Move Along Home.

    I do very much enjoy the ending. We never see anything quite like that on Star Trek. Though I am firmly anti-drat. Fading out after Janeway's "I knoooow" is a much more solid take IMO, but it doesn't ruin it for me.

    Regarding the set design, I HAVE to believe it was intentionally a tribute to TOS and other 60's campy shows like Batman. The stark design, the colors, the costumes, the camera angles, even the lighting were direct references to all those weird worlds in TOS that had to be portrayed on a single soundstage. The similarities are unmistakeable.

    I guess some people are fascinated by evil clowns, and some aren't. I'm not. At all. Absolutely despised this episode, and skip it every time it comes on now.

    And it's not just the evil clown thing. I find that at a deeper level, I don't like the message. Fear is not something we should ever WANT to vanish from our lives. Its purpose isn't just "to be overcome." It's a warning light that serves a healthy, legitimate purpose for our survival. I didn't like the premise of making the character of Fear a villain who ends up being vanquished. I would have been far more interested in seeing Fear initially act in unhealthy ways because it had been kept from performing its valid purpose, then becoming an ally against true evils when put into the right perspective. I realize that would have been a completely different story. But that's the story I would have believed in.

    This story was just irritating.

    This episode was on again a couple days ago, and there are some serious plot holes:

    1. If they all knew it was artificial/fake, why would they be so terrified. If they could still feel pain and everything that would make sense, but you would have thought they would have put safeguards in the system to orevent that.

    2. The main thing I don't get is when Torres was disrupting the optronic pathways, she said there were only 40 pathways, yet for each one only a small decoration was getting removed from the world at a time. You would think by the time she deleted 30 out of the 40 pathways, most of the characters, the guillotine, and likely the clown would have been gone by then, yet 95% of the world was still functioning like nothing was happening. She also could have done it faster if all she had to do was point a device and push a button. Should have taken like 50 seconds, not 2 minutes!

    3. I can't understand how simply a computer generated manifestation of an emotion would have such a strong will to live and survive, as if it was a conscious lifeform, not a simulation. What was stopping them from just all running to the wall with the recall subroutine and just quickly hitting the buttons? Further, why couldn't they have wished up some counter-characters that could defeat the clown. The story that the fear overpowered everything else and the computer let it torture them for 15 years non-stop is absurd.

    4. An interesting question, let's say the fear of getting guillotined wasn't enough by itself to cause a heart attack, would he have continued being conscious after having his digital head cut off? It's as if the system itself killed him when it detected the head being cut off at the same time, not the fear. And if the clown was really teasing and torturing them for so long, they all should have died years ago. They survived for 15 years yet that one execution gave them instant heart failure? Seems off.

    5. They have no clue how to modify the system or deprogram it yet they modified the pods to allow a middleground interface where you didn't have to enter it fully, like Janeways hologram mind did, in a few minutes?

    6. Very fun episode, 4 stars, but they could have made it somewhat more logical and the whole circus atmosphere being the only thing generated was ridiculous. What was the point of that?

    This is one I've really came to appreciate as time has went on. Like a user above, I used to rank this in the bottom five episodes but watching it now, it's aged well.

    Aired on UK TV last night, don't recall ever seeing this one before, and I am sure I would have. Thought it was brilliant. Very The Prisoner in style, with great performances and the best traits of Janeway and The Doctor, while Michael McKean was riveting.

    I really liked this one. Another good concept with fear being a teasing, baddie clown, and not some monster. I would think using Tuvok to banish the clown by mind melding with the comatose people would work, but their idea was interesting too. I like these kinds of episodes. No objectionable content, and good storytelling

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