Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 4/29/1996
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Richard Gadas
Directed by Marvin V. Rush
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"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
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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120 comments on this post
Wed, Mar 12, 2008, 10:32pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Mar 21, 2008, 9:00am (UTC -5)
At the end VOY was far more popular than DS9. But thats the thing with Voyager. YOu either love it or you hate it.
Thu, Jun 12, 2008, 12:02pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jul 4, 2008, 1:53am (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 28, 2008, 12:06pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 21, 2008, 8:17pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 4, 2008, 11:13pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 8, 2009, 5:00pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jul 16, 2009, 5:24pm (UTC -5)
Sounds like you thought she was acting ;)
Sun, Jul 19, 2009, 8:52am (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Aug 8, 2009, 7:35am (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 3, 2010, 2:00pm (UTC -5)
Sun, May 30, 2010, 12:58pm (UTC -5)
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?
Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 6:20am (UTC -5)
Sun, Mar 27, 2011, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 15, 2011, 11:49pm (UTC -5)
Sun, May 1, 2011, 3:36pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 7:43am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Nov 27, 2011, 11:44am (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Jan 16, 2012, 4:18pm (UTC -5)
Other than that quibble, strong performances all around and a compelling theme to boot.
Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 4:16am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 4, 2012, 2:14pm (UTC -5)
Sat, May 11, 2013, 7:38pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Jun 13, 2013, 6:36pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 1:27pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jul 25, 2013, 12:48am (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Aug 27, 2013, 10:50pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 8:56am (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Nov 23, 2013, 11:02am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 25, 2013, 2:00am (UTC -5)
Well done, Voyager!
Oh and I hope they got to keep those stasis chambers as a reward. Score!
Fri, Jan 31, 2014, 7:34am (UTC -5)
It reminded me a bit of TOS , this one. When VOY wanted to, they were capable of producing a really damned good episode.
Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 2:52am (UTC -5)
Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 12:56am (UTC -5)
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...
Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 12:23am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 1:41am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 11:41am (UTC -5)
Yes. I absolutely love it. Hands down one of my favorite Trek episodes.
Fri, Sep 26, 2014, 1:30pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Jan 5, 2015, 8:16pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 2:29am (UTC -5)
Wed, Feb 18, 2015, 8:07am (UTC -5)
... 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.
Mon, Aug 10, 2015, 4:48pm (UTC -5)
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.
10 ten Voyager episode for me. Easy 4 stars.
Mon, Aug 10, 2015, 8:43pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 31, 2015, 1:01am (UTC -5)
Picardo and Lenny stole the show.
(Lenny is from Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame)
Tue, Sep 8, 2015, 6:52pm (UTC -5)
O-M-G!! I never realized that!!
Fri, Nov 13, 2015, 8:09am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 23, 2015, 9:26am (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Jan 9, 2016, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
Fear drives us to think crazy things. The end is perfect. Fear exist for only one purpose: to be defeated. Buh-bye fear!
Fri, Jan 15, 2016, 1:30pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Apr 2, 2016, 12:45pm (UTC -5)
Sat, May 21, 2016, 9:12pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jun 8, 2016, 1:06am (UTC -5)
Sun, Jul 3, 2016, 6:31pm (UTC -5)
"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.
Sat, Aug 20, 2016, 1:57pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 11, 2016, 2:22am (UTC -5)
Fri, Nov 11, 2016, 7:23am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Dec 4, 2016, 8:39am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Dec 4, 2016, 8:40am (UTC -5)
Mon, Jan 2, 2017, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
I enjoyed this episode despite these omissions. Mostly due to Michael McKean.
Tue, Jan 3, 2017, 1:35am (UTC -5)
Wed, Feb 8, 2017, 1:53pm (UTC -5)
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!
Sat, Mar 18, 2017, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jun 21, 2017, 5:53am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Jun 21, 2017, 9:15am (UTC -5)
Wed, Jun 21, 2017, 11:23am (UTC -5)
He was "Lenny" too.
Sat, Jul 22, 2017, 9:50am (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Jul 25, 2017, 12:14pm (UTC -5)
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
Sun, Aug 6, 2017, 2:14am (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Aug 21, 2017, 10:36pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 13, 2017, 1:57am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Oct 13, 2017, 10:34am (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Oct 14, 2017, 1:14am (UTC -5)
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
Sun, Nov 5, 2017, 1:07pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 13, 2017, 2:24am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Nov 22, 2017, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Nov 29, 2017, 10:25pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Feb 3, 2018, 12:21am (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Mar 12, 2018, 12:11pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 5, 2018, 11:13am (UTC -5)
My only criticism is that more episodes of voyager aren't this well directed and thought out.
Sat, Apr 21, 2018, 9:21pm (UTC -5)
Bland, weird, and boring!!
10 times worse than Treshold.
Mon, May 7, 2018, 9:34pm (UTC -5)
Thu, May 17, 2018, 8:52pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Jun 29, 2018, 4:35pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Aug 14, 2018, 11:34pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Aug 27, 2018, 1:09am (UTC -5)
Some good performances, but didn't overcome the awful. Would never rewatch.
Wed, Sep 19, 2018, 4:16pm (UTC -5)
Although the ending was its saving grace.
Fri, Sep 28, 2018, 9:11pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Oct 22, 2018, 4:11pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jan 30, 2019, 12:59pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Apr 9, 2019, 1:04pm (UTC -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.
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 : ****
Tue, Apr 9, 2019, 2:16pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 1:37pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, May 15, 2019, 11:56am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Aug 18, 2019, 10:18pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 20, 2019, 6:58am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 25, 2019, 1:31pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Mar 31, 2020, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Apr 1, 2020, 10:58am (UTC -5)
The whole thing works far better than it probably should. This episode was a pleasant surprise.
Thu, Apr 9, 2020, 8:09am (UTC -5)
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 timing....so 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.
Sun, Apr 19, 2020, 3:30pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jul 12, 2020, 11:37pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Jul 16, 2020, 3:06am (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 3, 2020, 3:09pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 21, 2020, 9:43pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Dec 16, 2020, 9:28am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jan 29, 2021, 1:29am (UTC -5)
Don't want to violate any policies so I won't post link here. Simply google. Good luck!
Mon, Feb 22, 2021, 4:14am (UTC -5)
Wed, Apr 14, 2021, 1:37am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 18, 2021, 7:21pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Jul 12, 2021, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Aug 17, 2021, 11:16pm (UTC -5)
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
4. Deep Space Nine
Tue, Sep 14, 2021, 8:59am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Oct 17, 2021, 10:47am (UTC -5)
Thu, Nov 25, 2021, 12:57pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 30, 2021, 7:22pm (UTC -5)
Baby and old Harry was wtf
Wed, Dec 8, 2021, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 12, 2022, 8:38am (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Dec 13, 2022, 12:00am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Dec 14, 2022, 1:24pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Dec 23, 2022, 2:15am (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 2, 2023, 4:59pm (UTC -5)
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.
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