Nutshell: Technobabble terror colliding with more action clichés than I can count. Ugh.
I don't like the trend I've been seeing in Voyager the past few weeks. It's starting to show evidence of "season two syndrome." Silly plots and brainless action are taking precedence over real drama and intelligent storytelling. "The Q and the Grey" may have been a misguided clash of ideas, but at least it had ideas. "Macrocosm" is about as brain-dead as Trek can get (or so I hope). Not good, people.
"Macrocosm" (yet another installment pointlessly advertised as "special") is a downright silly episode; yet another mishmash of parts that has no idea what it wants to do aside from supplying a host of action clichés and mundane plot advances.
Returning from a diplomatic mission in a shuttlecraft, Janeway and Neelix rendezvous with a darkened, empty Voyager. Communication with the ship is impossible, because there are no signs of the crew at all. The first half of the episode revolves around Janeway and Neelix's attempts to track down the crew, and they eventually realize there are about 30 human life signs on the upper decks. Crawling through the Jeffries tubes on the powerless ship, Neelix is attacked by an unknown lifeform and apparently hauled away. Janeway now finds herself the sole crew member to save the ship from an apparent alien takeover. The second half of the show explains what's going on, as the Doctor (one of few functional members of the crew) explains to Janeway what has transpired—that of a "macrovirus" that grows until it exists on the visible scale rather than the microscopic scale.
These macroviruses were inadvertently beamed onto the ship and began multiplying "at an exponential rate." After infecting the crew and making everybody extremely ill, they then grow to be huge, until they're big enough to attack you like the aliens in, well, Alien. Basically, this plot boils down to a rip-off of Alien meets Outbreak. Hence Janeway's attitude change to Sigourney Weaver mode (always carrying a big gun and appearing to be in pain) and Doc's line, "Oh no, the macrovirus is airborne!" There's very little in terms of intelligent writing here—it's just a clothesline to hang some lackluster stunts and standard action scenes on.
Watching the first two acts got very old very fast. I got tired of watching Janeway tentatively pointing her phaser around the corner after about the tenth of fifty times. And the presentation of about a million "action" clichés is weak—so poorly disguised that it's very hard to feel anything but cynical from the start. The scene in engineering where Janeway takes off her jacket and takes up arms is, for lack of a better word, poor. It's so false, so pretentious, so much wanting to hammer home the idea, "Look, Janeway can be a badass!" that it falls flat on its face. I like Captain Janeway (sometimes I feel like I'm the sole Janeway fan in a group of unreceptive Voyager viewers), but I don't watch Janeway for potboiler cheesiness like this. I watch Janeway for her dialog, practical leadership and intelligence.
Mulgrew is a good sport through this mess, but she's trapped in a thankless position—if you think about this show for a more than five seconds, it's just a cheap rip-off of clichés. It's really tough to do Alien on the budget of an episode of Voyager.
Then again, Alexander Singer is no Ridley Scott, either. A lot of the shots are frankly dull, and there's just not much atmosphere in the Voyager corridors that lends it to Alien milieu. That's not to say that Singer's direction is completely without merit; I thought some of the macrovirus' point-of-view shots were effective, and Dennis McCarthy's somewhat eerie score was quite good at times, as were some of the CGI macrovirus effects. But those scenes were countered by other thrill-less endeavors like the stale ending where Janeway blows up all the aliens in the holodeck with a laughable "movie bomb," that is, a bomb with a red digital readout that counts down while beeping. And the explosion was terribly unconvincing—in fact, it looked like the fireball from "Basics, Part I" retouched to look green.
The episode is also painfully uneven and filled with tons of—you guessed it—forgettable technobabble. The number one rule in creating suspense, broken here big time, is that you don't interrupt the tension. The whole middle of the episode where Doc explains how the macrovirus got aboard the ship, told using a badly placed flashback device, only further sabotages any hopes for this show to be exciting. For that matter, what in the world was the point of the bizarre alien ship whose captain wanted to exterminate the virus by incinerating Voyager? And what was up with that crazy, quirky captain? He's probably the strangest thing I've seen on this show in quite some time, but I unfortunately mean strange only in the most laughable of senses. The writing itself here seems to be beaming in from the Delta Quadrant.
This story is interested only in cheap thrills, and the thrills are just that—cheap. No logic, no thought, no planning, no brain. Perhaps that would explain why it is Neelix vanishes without a trace but is never found or seen again in the episode. Where did he go? Did a macrovirus carry him off to Never Never Land? Was he ever found again? (I might take comfort in this if he weren't seen in the next new episode, but I know that's just my optimism speaking.) And just where exactly was the rest of the crew if there were only 30 or so people in the mess hall? Where were the other 100 crew members? The episode doesn't care.
"Macrocosm" was written by who I am, as of today, indulging to label the notoriously two-faced Brannon Braga. Here is a writer who has worked on absolutely stellar character-driven stories like Star Trek: First Contact as well as amusing, witty dialog shows like last season's "Projections." Yet he'll also bring us abysmal technobabble terror like "Cathexis" and "Threshold." "Macrocosm" seems to have come from the latter Braga.