Star Trek: Voyager

"Sacred Ground"

2 stars

Air date: 10/30/1996
Teleplay by Lisa Klink
Story by Geo Cameron
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Mr. Neelix, you're wallowing... wallowing in useless remorse. I'll have to ask you to stop. It's bad for the patient." — Doc

Nutshell: Intriguing at times, but quite unfocused. An ultimately puzzling, ponderous, unrealized episode.

While visiting an alien planet, Kes inadvertently enters a sacred temple and is zapped by a "biogenic field" that leaves her in a bizarre comatose state which the Doctor can't treat or even comprehend. After discussing the matter with one of the planet's magistrates (Harry Groener), Janeway learns that Kes' state is one that almost always ends in death. The magistrate himself doesn't understand the spiritual concepts and the local monks refuse to discuss the situation because they are sworn to secrecy, but the magistrate does know that the temple has been a place where "the spirits" have taken lives in the past.

After some study of the planet's history, Neelix finds an ancient account of a king appealing directly to the spirits, asking them to spare his son. After the king went through a ritual of endurance, his son recovered from the coma. Since that case ended in survival and seems the only possibility of saving Kes, Janeway decides to visit the temple and undergo this ritual herself, to ask the spirits to spare Kes' life. The rest of the episode centers around Janeway's spiritual experience and the analysis of the resulting tricky questions.

To say I found "Sacred Ground" to be a mixed bag would be an understatement. This is among the most puzzling mixed bags of the entire series' run—at least, it seems that way to me. On one hand the subject matter is certainly unique and atypical for Voyager (especially for an apparent second season holdover episode, seeing Piller is billed in the executive producer credit), and the episode has obvious intentions as an allegory of real-life circumstances that sometime prove quite interesting. On the other hand, this is one of the most difficult episodes of Voyager I can remember; it can be damned frustrating at times because of some misguided ideas, its overall sense of dramatic uncertainty, and its unwillingness to actually take a stance on its questions. I watched this episode three times before finally coming to terms with my own analysis of it. And I can finally say that I believe I know what the creators were going for here, but at the same time, "Sacred Ground" attempts to have its cake and eat it too.

There are some significant problems here. First, although the story manages to be thought-provoking in its concluding passages, it somehow fails to be emotionally engaging. It's simply not very compelling or entertaining as a story. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed this episode. In addition to being frustrated at the story's lack of interesting dialog early off, I found myself bored for stretches, because the episode adopts a slow pace, and there are portions of the show that, under scrutiny, are fairly pointless.

Janeway's "ritual," for starters, just didn't work for me. The imagery and "symbolism" angle strikes me as pretentious and unconvincing. I can see that the attempt was to show Janeway's difficult challenge, and this made some sense later in the episode when Janeway's guide reveals that the ritual is based on certain expectations. Still, very little of this aspect really had much to do with the real core of the episode, so why spend so much time on it? I would've much preferred the story had concentrated on the issues it raised toward the end of the show, but, alas, it didn't.

Also plaguing the story's midsection are the scenes back on board Voyager after Janeway has begun the ritual. Doc's incessant, jargon-heavy medical updates on Kes' condition are excessive and distracting. And so are Neelix's very annoying reactions to every little beeping indicator in the sickbay pertaining to his precious Kes. (I did, however, enjoy Doc ordering Neelix to "stop wallowing"; it was well due.) On the other hand, Doc's monitoring of Janeway's biological signs was reasonable enough, as was Chakotay's concern for the safely of the captain. Some of the scenes make sense, but many of them should've been streamlined or filled with more relevant dialog.

Another, perhaps bigger problem here is that the true meaning of the episode takes until the final act to surface. After Janeway completes her ritual, the guide informs her that everything she has done is meaningless, but that she has everything she needs. Indeed; Janeway's medical readings recorded by Doc's monitor have given him promising insight on Kes' condition, and he prepares a cure.

Well it's not, as they say, that simple. (Good thing, too, since if it had been the episode would've been a complete failure; this is where things finally start to turn more interesting.) The cure backfires for reasons Doc can't understand. Just as the guide had foretold, everything Janeway went through proves ultimately meaningless. This leads Janeway to return to the planet for a second insight. And this time, as she tells her guide, she's confused, and doesn't know what to expect. "Then you're ready to begin," her guide responds.

The real point here, I think, is Janeway's own analysis of her discipline of scientific belief, and what she does when she sees her science failing to save Kes. As the three elders explain to her in the entryway, Janeway has always been dependent and interested only in concrete data and scientific solutions and answers. This, however, is not going to help save Kes in this case. Science has failed, so where can Janeway turn?

The payoff presented here is the age-old leap of faith question, as well as a science versus religion issue—both which prove somewhat intriguing in and by themselves but not, unfortunately, in context. There are some points that translate into real-life arguments under analysis, but the way Lisa Klink's script handles the entire subject as tied into the plot is questionable. Janeway's leap of faith as described by the elders must involve her carrying Kes back into the temple's biogenic field. They tell her if she truly believes, Kes will be cured; if she has the slightest doubt, she and Kes will both be killed. This precise description of a demonstration of faith strikes me as something we're supposed to accept at face value, but it brings up some questions of plausibility, like who exactly are these elders, and how do they know what Janeway needs to do? If they do have divine knowledge, why does the show discount it with a "real" analysis? I also found myself resisting this notion because it ventures too far into both (a) the obvious and (b) the irrelevant for the point that ultimately prevails. Still, it does allow for a conclusion that seems initially magical and spiritual before turning out to be a convoluted working of explainable science.

This is good and bad. On the good side, we have an example of an intriguing self-fulfilling prophecy. Because Janeway goes through with the act of faith, she stumbles upon the cure, which is later explained by Doc's science. This shows an interesting quality of faith—how it can affect a person's life in profound ways when tangible explanations aren't available. Also good is how Doc's "scientific" explanation leaves Janeway shaken. She undoubtedly wonders how the elders could be so certain of the temple's effects. Or perhaps she's sorry that Doc is able to explain such a spiritual event in worldly terms. (It's open to interpretation.)

On the bad side, also revealed under close examination, this teleplay twists some of its ideas to a convenient end. I do not, for example, believe Janeway really walked into that temple free of doubt as one of the elders said she would have to in order to survive. And according to Doc's science, I doubt it would matter whether she believed it or not, because the same miraculous scientific process would still take place. If that's the case then what exactly is the episode trying to say? If the story had addressed the issue it might've worked, but it didn't; it ignores this question, which I just don't think is a viable option.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all, this story just doesn't feel true. There's something about the entire process that feels contrived and manufactured, and when it ends, very little of it sits right. It's sneaky and manipulative. It wants to be a commentary, yet it still doesn't take any real stance on religion or science. It tries to have it both ways, by bringing up a question and then avoiding it, which is a big part of the problem, yet simultaneously permits some of the show's best moments, like Janeway's dilemma when she realizes the concrete nature of Doc's explanation. The story creates its own paradox—which is perplexing but not necessarily a flaw. Yet it also walks a fine line around the issue so carefully that it ends up saying surprisingly little—and that is a flaw.

It's tough to see exactly what Klink was trying to say. Dramatically, the story is all over the map. It brings up some interesting and valid points, but it doesn't even begin to combine them into a solid, effective story that has any resonating meaning. And it spends the least of its time on its strongest of ideas, which is a terrible shame. It doesn't pay to sit through forty minutes of unrealized drama leading up to a decent character insight that is only half-realized and still questionable—only then so you can realize how much better the show could've been had the entire episode been about that one insight.

The episode made me think, yes—which is commendable—but I wasn't enlightened by a point of view. The wishy-washiness of "Sacred Ground" left me unavoidably perturbed and not very entertained. It's an ambitious effort, but, unfortunately, ambition does not equate success.

Previous episode: Remember
Next episode: Future's End, Part I

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91 comments on this review

Gretchen
Tue, Nov 20, 2007, 3:27pm (UTC -5)
To quote that annoying lady:
This episode is meaningless.
Big Jones
Tue, Mar 25, 2008, 1:05am (UTC -5)
Oooph. Almost any Star Trek episode that attempts to delve into quasi-mystical or supernatural concepts fails badly.

Beyond all that though, it truly is a meaningless episode. It doesn't advance the story of Voyager at all, nor those of any of the characters involved. A real waste of airtime.
Dirk Hartmann
Mon, Apr 7, 2008, 1:51pm (UTC -5)
This review is spot on. I guess I only disagree regarding this:

"Also good is how Doc's "scientific" explanation leaves Janeway shaken. She undoubtedly wonders how the elders could be so certain of the temple's effects. Or perhaps she's sorry that Doc is able to explain such a spiritual event in worldly terms. (It's open to interpretation.)"

I think the ending is the only scene really well done. Janeway is shaken because she realizes that the belief that "everything can be explained scientifically" is true in a quite trivial way (that makes it immune to refutation and thus is *itself* not so scientific after all): Doc's behaviour shows that we just *insist* on giving "explanations" for each and every thing. The credibility of his final techno-babble explanation is, however, subtly undermined by the abysmal failure of his preceding theory (the truth of which he was so sure of).
Anonymous
Tue, Jun 17, 2008, 5:07pm (UTC -5)
Um, wouldn't Voyager need an overarching storyline, in the first place, before episodes like this could fail to "advance" it? It was a nice little filler episode in a series that was best when it didn't try to bite off more than it could chew.
Jim
Fri, Oct 17, 2008, 1:25pm (UTC -5)
Just wanted to agree with Dirk. The point of the episode is very similar to the film "Contact" - at some level science is as much of a belief system as any religion. Janeway's issue in the last scene is simply that all her training forces her to agree with the Dr.'s analysis, or at least the scientific principles behind his analysis, but she's been so shaken by the preceding events that she's begun to question the ability of science to answer every question.

The problem with these kind of science/religion equivalences is that science and religion function completely differently. While it's true that the concept "everything is scientifically determinable" is impossible to verify and thus exists at the belief level, the methods of science have had enormous success, both in terms of understanding the universe and in terms of putting this understanding into practice (aka technology). Because of this, belief in science is NOT the same as belief in religion or the spiritual realm. This is not to say that all religion or spiritual beliefs are wrong; perhaps not everything IS determinable scientifically. It is to say, however, that science demands that you investigate every belief system in detail so as to further knowledge, whereas religion demands that you take all of your beliefs on faith. It is also to say that everyone can see the results of science and technology all around us, whereas the powers of religion are much more murky and questionable.
Chris
Tue, Dec 30, 2008, 6:10pm (UTC -5)
I thought this episode was very intriguing, and well done. Are religion and science really seperate entities? Or is science just another religion.
A brilliant episode
EP
Thu, Feb 19, 2009, 8:50pm (UTC -5)
Come on, folks! Any episode that has George Costanza's mom in it has to be gold!
Nic
Thu, Nov 12, 2009, 7:22pm (UTC -5)
Since the ritual was meaningless, think (ironically, perhaps) that it WAS necessary to spend some time on it, otherwise it would be a foregone conclusion. I think the episode made a very bold statement in this science-laden Star Trek universe: that both science and religion have a place in the world and that the two are not necessarily contradictory. I particularly enjoyed the last scene with the elders, perhaps especially because they didn't lay everything down on the plate (they kind of remind me of Garak). Still, it's far from a perfect episode, I'd give it 3 stars.
DeanGrr
Wed, Mar 3, 2010, 4:35pm (UTC -5)
As I have been exploring meditation, Buddhism and have also a scientific background, I really enjoyed this episode. Captain Janeway wanted to heal Kes by understanding the cause of her illness, but had to take a leap of faith in the 3 elder priests because she had no other alternative: this challenged her lifetime of "faith" in the ability of science (I agree with Chris' comment above).

The final scene in sickbay showed how revealing the magic behind a phenomena, takes away the sense of awe and mystery. I suspect there will always be some sense of mystery, because my (limited) understanding of quantum physics suggests at some level we cannot measure phenomena, they will be too small or too large, or the act of measuring will affect the result. Just like Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, we can only use probabilities for certain sciences.

Although, one thing rational measurement cannot provide is the sense of meaning, of emotion that we attach to parts of our lives. Some things you can't put a price tag on, or evaluate only on the basis of an objective measurement. Science is just one perspective on the universe, not the only one, which seemed to be what the priests were saying.
Adam
Fri, Mar 19, 2010, 11:42pm (UTC -5)
@Chris, DeanGrr & Jim: No offense, but I think you're all mistaken. Science isn't a "religion", "belief system" or a "perspective on the universe", it's a method of determining cause and effect. Calling it a "religion" or "belief system" or "perspective" is like calling observation a religon, belief system or perspective. I think you meant the idea that there's a purely materialistic explanation for everything and that the supernatural doesn't exist is a belief system or perspective (though I'm not sure it would count as a religion). Anyway, if there are gods, spirits, or what have you, how would that contradict the idea that science can explain everything? It would just mean that there were new mysteries for science to try to solve (such as how these supernatural forces worked, what rules they operated under, etc.).
Jeff
Thu, Jul 22, 2010, 9:03am (UTC -5)
The usual technobabble problems aside, I feel this is one of the better episodes of VOY and one of the better Janeway episodes supplying some true characterization and growth for her.

Considering how "on the job" Janeway usually is it makes sense that her childhood would have been spent in more mature educational pursuits.

And we as a species are always looking for the concrete answer to things. Why did this tragedy occur, how does this natural phenomenon work, etc. The answers are not always easy and sometimes we never get them or learn them.

While the casting of Estelle Harris is a little debatable (her performance is fine, but her voice just doesn't seem to match the character she's playing), I think the conversation between Janeway and the elders (I honestly thought those were the spirits) made a lot of sense. Janeway fully expected to have to go through all kinds of endurance rituals and she got exactly what she was hoping for.

And to realize that the answer was so much simpler than she could have expected or desired came as a pleasant surprise. I found it interesting that Chakotay (the most spiritual ST character next to Major Kira, IMO) would be on the side of scientific reason. Even early in the episode he seemed to have more of an open mind about the possibility of there being real spirits on the planet. But Janeway's life appeared to be at risk and I can see where that would have been his sole focus of attention.

It would have been nicer had Janeway simply gone through all of this out of curiosity. She learns that some people can pass through the gates and some can't and wants to learn the reason why. I say this because the "Kes is dying" subplot did nothing for me. Neelix's response was logical, but his behavior was ridiculous and I'm surprised the EMH didn't just kick him out from the beginning.

I enjoyed the final scene. The EMH is all proud of himself explaining to Kes how his initial failure led to his success in bringing her back while Janeway sits in silence still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

I think this is probably Mulgrew's best performance as Janeway.
Angular
Thu, Oct 20, 2011, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
The perceived conflict between science and religion is a non-issue, really, and that is why this episode is utterly meaningless. Science cannot be touched by religion, it just works, no matter what you believe in. All the evidence suggests this.

Religions, on the other hand, probably do not work and that makes people lose their "faith". In the end, faith is just a gamble, and a good gambler knows when to quit.
TheLaw
Mon, Oct 24, 2011, 11:35am (UTC -5)
I have to strongly disagree with the OP on this one. I thought the subject matter was handled in a mature and sophisticated fashion, and the the OP is over-thinking the room a bit here.

We can sense this phenomenon is our culture today. As we continue to advance in science and technology, having the constant access to information and resources at our whim with smartphones (which are really not too dissimilar from the tricoder), I think to an extent we lose our connection to our spirituality somewhat. We rely too readily on what is right before our eyes without giving deep thought to anything beyond the superficial. Imagine how much more so in a world with holodecks and replicators?

Considering this episode aired in 1996-97, I see this episode as a cautionary tale, for not letting our advances in technology not cloud our vision of the "big picture." Looking at where things are today, there is a strong argument to be made that we missed the point.
Elliott
Tue, Oct 25, 2011, 9:59pm (UTC -5)
List of negative comments in this review :

"it somehow fails to be emotionally engaging. It's simply not very compelling or entertaining as a story. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed this episode. In addition to being frustrated at the story's lack of interesting dialog early off, I found myself bored for stretches, because the episode adopts a slow pace"

"Janeway's "ritual," for starters, just didn't work for me. "

"Doc's incessant, jargon-heavy medical updates on Kes' condition are excessive and distracting."

"Perhaps the biggest problem of all, this story just doesn't feel true."

All of these are expressions of personal taste--I did not find the story boring, distracting or false. It might mean something for you to say this if you justified these complaints, but they sit in the criticism arbitrarily, truly meaning nothing beyond a statement of TASTE.

"t brings up some questions of plausibility, like who exactly are these elders, and how do they know what Janeway needs to do? "

How is their identity or motivation any different from the Bajoran prophets? In frankness, the Bajoran religion isn't really about faith at all since their gods are phenomenally provable--they exist and have corporeal substance. If any episode of Trek presents a culture with an actual faith-based religious system, it's this one--and because of this, you find yourself frustrated with the implausibility of it. Well that, sir, is the point,

"I don't know what I'm seeking." "Then, I believe you are ready to begin."

This is the core of the episode, presented plainly in the dialogue. I think it;s quite clear what the message is here: in order to move forward, to evolve, to progress and learn, one must act, at times upon faith. Janeway's science didn't exactly fail her--in fact it proved to be true in the end but as she says it requires one act withOUT understanding ("that's the challenge"). I'm not sure I agree with this idea--I haven't been through an ordeal difficult enough to warrant a meaningful opinion here, but to say that it isn't throughly compelling and intelligently adressed is foolhardy.

This is somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars.
Tobe
Thu, Jan 5, 2012, 9:39am (UTC -5)
In the Star Trek universe, where you can sit down in a waiting room (or in a wormhole) and have a face to face conversation with your gods, it might make sense to take a leap of faith.

That is however not the case in our real universe, where religion has spectacularly failed to produce cures for anything. So this episode might make an interesting point in a magical fantasy world, but in our real world I guess the writers of this episode are just enemies of reason.

The theme of finding what you expect to find, on the other hand, is very relevant (especially in science), and reasonably well handled in this episode.
DeanGrr
Wed, Mar 21, 2012, 10:19pm (UTC -5)
Science as a Perspective ...

Time, once thought a constant: now it depends on your relativistic point of view, ;). Once, Time was the purview of the gods (or God), and now something we check on our wrist, or smartphone.

I've just been watching "Inherit the Wind" about the Scopes trial for teaching about Darwin in the 1920s. Something Spencer Tracey's character says, about a price to be paid for scientific progress rings true: "you may conquer the clouds, but the birds will lose their wonder".

I think the discussions above are talking about several issues at once: that's why it's confusing. On the one hand with science can come knowledge, power and the ability to be like a god, with contempt for consequences. Captain Janeways shows an almost religious reverence for Science (i.e da Vinci hologram), but is also very controlling.

Yet, knowledge can be held with awe and humility at nature's beauty and its complexity. There's a fear here that with knowledge we will lose our sense of awe and humility, and the world will seem diminished, or be diminished because of our hubris. Absent the faith that the world may be more than we know, we become less, the world becomes lonelier.

For a moment, Janeway gave up control to others, the monks of the cave, which is probably her greatest fear. It's great that Kate Mulgrew is an artist that wears her feelings, yet her character is highly self-disciplined and analytical, hiding her sensitivity from her friends and crew.

Dean
Justin
Sat, Mar 24, 2012, 8:18pm (UTC -5)
Good thread.

This is why I have watched every incarnation of Star Trek available. There's always the potential for the brilliance of "City on the Edge of Forever," "Inner Light," "Far Beyond The Stars," "Remember," or "Dear Doctor." But besides that, even mediocre episodes like this one have the ability to provoke deep thought and intelligent conversation.
Lt. Yarko
Sat, Jun 15, 2013, 8:37pm (UTC -5)
Let's remove the science-built lights from those caves and let the wacko religious nuts try to find their way around with the help of the spirits. Oh, and let's take away their science-built robes, too.

This episode doesn't even belong in Trek. It belongs in some ridiculous, mindless new-agey piece like Battlestar Galactica.

Science is NOT a religion. It is a tool. Saying science is a religion is the same as saying a hammer or a toilet is a religion. Science proves itself regularly just as hammers and toilets do. Religion defies proving itself. It spits in the faces of people who simply want to be sure that it is reliable. Let's not get these confused.
Phil
Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 9:47am (UTC -5)
I interpreted the final scene differently.
I thought Janeway was through with trusting the Doctor's explanations on this one, but had no way of explaining the nonscientific alternative that she had already accepted, so she let it go.
Grumpy
Thu, Jul 4, 2013, 1:49pm (UTC -5)
Continuity question: did Janeway's insight about the insufficiency of methodological naturalism ever appear again? It might've been relevant in, say, the following season's "Omega Directive" (another Klink script). Not that lack of follow-up should be held against this episode. Every Trek character has had life-altering experiences that are never referenced again.
Ian
Tue, Jul 16, 2013, 10:14pm (UTC -5)
This is the type of episode that Babylon Five does so well. Mixing science and religion was key to that show and I kept expecting someone to say "faith manages," just like the Minbari.
The fact is that at some point science DOES break down and all you have is faith. Either in yourself or someone/thing else.
Deep Space Nine actually did some of this better as well...
T'Paul
Mon, Sep 9, 2013, 10:40am (UTC -5)
I think this episode deserves more.

It does some personal growth from Janeway, has non-hard headed aliens, isn't simplistic story-wise, and as someone above said, it has George Constanza's mum!

I thought it was nice, and one of the better Voyager installments.

As for Doc and his memory loss, actually, we haven't seen him remember anything from his previous time up to now on Voyager, there's no reason to say that plot has been reset-buttoned.
Kevin
Wed, Dec 18, 2013, 3:01am (UTC -5)
For me, the episode worked. I don't think I would have said that when it actually aired, but now I found the meaninglessness of it to be meaningful. The arguments against religion on this thread are really arguments against a certain religiosity, with it's accompanying pomp and bombast. The episode anticipates that, and diffuses it with Janeway's self-inflicted trials, which are meaningless.

I laughed out loud at the final scene. Janeway has experienced something profound that she doesn't really understand. The Doctor does what Trek always does to these phenomena - technobabble. However, just this once, Janeway as a character actually hears it being just that. That final scene says this time she doesn't buy it anymore than we do, but if the Doctor wants to have his explanation, arguing the point would be meaningless.
Petrus
Sun, Mar 9, 2014, 7:57am (UTC -5)
>@Chris, DeanGrr & Jim: No offense, but I think >you're all mistaken. Science isn't a "religion", >"belief system" or a "perspective on the >universe", it's a method of determining cause >and effect. Calling it a "religion" or "belief >system" or "perspective" is like calling >observation a religon, belief system or >perspective. I think you meant the idea that >there's a purely materialistic explanation for >everything and that the supernatural doesn't >exist is a belief system or perspective (though >I'm not sure it would count as a religion).

Adam, unfortunately, this is not true. "Science," or at the very least, neo-Atheism, should absolutely be considered as one entirely fallible perspective among many. It may not have Gods, no; but it does have human beings (Darwin, Sagan, Asimov, Dawkins) who are regarded with a degree of positive bias that is every bit as emotive and irrational as religious reverence.

That the scientific method itself, very strictly speaking, works, is not something that I will disagree with. The problem, however, is the fact that none of "Science's" contemporary devotees are ever talking exclusively about the method, whatsoever. They are talking about the humanist pantheon, as mentioned, and also often the entire bias regarding the fact that only the mainstream, academic circle jerk are permitted to have an opinion about anything.

Those who genuinely know what science is, virtually never express emotional bias towards it, whether positive or negative. People who do, are not referring to science in any objectively provable or disprovable sense, but to a particular collection of dogma that has come to be falsely and euphemistically referred to as "Science," but which in reality, is anything but.
Amanda
Sun, Mar 9, 2014, 11:41pm (UTC -5)
I don't think this episode was meaningless. It showed character development for Janeway and another Alien race who I judged initially the way the crew did. Alien. It has become meaningless because we don't see or hear Janeway reference the experience ever again. An opportunity might have been Scorpion part 1 or Omega directive.

I thought it was a great addition on R.D.Mcneil's part, to add the scene where Janeway is disrobed to symbolize vulnerability by removing her science/suit of armor.
K'Elvis
Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 8:50am (UTC -5)
This episode seems like it could have been an orb experience with the Bajoran prophets. The Bajoran prophets are "wormhole aliens", but that doesn't stop the Bajorans from venerating them. Janeway goes through all the meaningless ritual because that was what she expects. Had she just sat down with the old people - whatever they really were - she would have had her answer much sooner. It's the old idea of eliminating preconceptions before you can move forward. The Bajoran prophets can be explained scientifically, but that doesn't mean they don't have valuable insights, and the same seems to be true for this planet's spirits.
Robert
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 12:24pm (UTC -5)
Well, I please want to say how much I enjoy this website starting with Jammer's reviews and then on to all the other reviews contributed. Whenever I 've been really "into" something artistic I've loved reading and hearing the thoughts of how others have experienced and interpreted the same work. I find the reviews of others adds a lot to my enjoyment of the art, whether I liked or disliked the particular art, whether or not the reviews echoed my own thoughts or were completely the opposite.

So, in the spirit of the above paragraph, this is an episode which I really like a lot; I'd give it four stars. But that's just my opinion, no more or less than that.

I've seen this episode several times since it first came out, and each time I feel I get another further "zoing" out of it. For me there are many things I like about it, but speaking to the reviews above I'd like to tackle the "science" vis a vis "religion" themes of the show. I'll add that I just finished seeing the episode again after reading all the reviews above (not for the first time)i.e. the comments above were colouring quite vividly for me how I experienced the show.

So back to "science" and "religion". I think this is like comparing apples and oranges i.e. these are two very different things. By the same token there is some overlap between the two, as in they have both become "mystiques" by which I mean they have tapped into what appears to be the need of us humans (and I suspect of all living things) to have absolute answers to questions we may never find the absolute capital T True answer to.

Even in this era in which the "science/technology" mystique has risen to a great height of popularity there are vast numbers of people who are firmly wedded to the traditional religions. This includes some who are competent scientists and who see no contradiction between employing the method of science and being the member of their particular religious community.

Mystiques get bound up with power and politics, and I think are subject to the process of entropic decay to which everything seems to be subject. When scientists discovered that the earth was not the centre of the universe (i.e. that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa)the powers that be were revealed to be fallible. Predictably not well received by those whose "power wagon" was firmly hitched to the traditional view of things.

And so it has gone on. Numerous discoveries made by employing the scientific method have turned many religious dogmas on their ear. Thunder is not caused by the Gods playing bowling. Lifeforms are not static but have evolved and changed over approximately a billion years. Even the continents are now understood to float around the planet's surface like ice cubes in a glass.

But after the successes of science have come some major humble pie. I studied physics back in the day (the 70's) and we were all taught to be very careful about drawing absolute conclusions from whatever the scientific model of the day said was "true". Notwithstanding the stunning discoveries of our times (ex: the evidence of extra solar planets)there is vastly more to be discovered and I am confident many of today's scientific dogmas will be supplanted in the future by some new dogma.

Science as I understand it is a tool, not a cipher that will of necessity absolutely solve all the mysteries of existence.

I read a book by Stephen Hawking lately (don't remember the name but I think it was published c. 2005) that attempted to explain in plain language the state of the art, so to speak, on a couple of major questions; the origin of the universe, and the origin of life. As far as the the origin of the universe is concerned the models described run the clock back to a very tiny fraction of a second after the big bang. Stephen remains hopeful that some future model will "explain it all" but my gut instinct is this may never happen. So for now current models of physics explain a lot, but they have yet to explain everything, physics wise.

On the origin of life Stephen concludes that life must have originated by some random mashing of large organic molecules. He does show how a very simple system can evolve into surprising complexity. But this is not a very convincing concept to me to explain how DNA appeared. Keeping in mind the sheer size of the DNA molecule, think of the information it encodes; it interacts with it's environment to in a way instruct how to construct something that lives out of inanimate matter. This is another question that science may yet solve, but I tend to think not.

The point being that science is concept wise very possibly to be an endless process of discovery, subject to startling revisions as new data is perceived.

I can guarantee that I am not qualified to render a verdict on these matters, only to say that in my opinion the ultimate nature of nature is I believe an infinitely endless realm that I doubt will ever be 100% explained in absolute terms of our comprehension.

Back to religion. I certainly don't believe in things like immaculate conceptions. The concept of supernatural makes no sense to me. But I also think that a theory of everything is unlikely, and that still leaves lots for us to puzzle over.

Back to Voyager. The episode I think does a fine job of airing the idea that though science does explain (or perhaps more properly said describe) a lot it's an article of faith of sorts to believe with total conviction that everything will some day be explained by the method and attendant discoveries of science. I love it when one of the old folks in the waiting room tells Ms. Janeway that that if we could explain everything, there'll be no more mystery in life. The implication being that this may not be such a great state of affairs. The 'ole saying "be careful what you wish for, you might just get it". But I think the episode also doesn't go overboard in saying that we need "Spirits" to be able to understand reality. The Doctor finally comes up with his scientific explanation for what happens to Kes and Kathryn so he has no need to invoke the supernatural.

But Kathryn has had her mental cage rattled and that is the accomplishment; she has been forced to question her core beliefs and allow for some uncertainty in her perceptions of the universe.

As Orson Scott Card says in one of his "Ender" books, we question all of our beliefs expect the ones we really believe in, and that's what is really hard to do. And this I think is part of the Trekkian universe, which is we may get insights and make useful discoveries when we can somehow leapfrog over our assumptions, our biases, our prejudices.

Does this mean there will be a thunderstorm on the Moon this afternoon? Not likely based on what science has helped us to discover (not impossible mind you, I'm pretty sure we could concoct a set of circumstances where that happens). What we do know with pretty much absolute certainty is that the Moon is not made of green cheese.

And so it goes. We crave certainty, but it seems unlikely we will get it in an absolute, 100% for everything, kind of way. We may not like it if we did achieve that kind of absolute certainty.

That most certainly does not mean anything goes, that there aren't many things we can be sure of. Just that sometimes challenging our assumptions may be just what is needed to get the job done. And that definitely goes for me and all I have written above. And the previous sentence too. Etc.
Robert
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 12:57pm (UTC -5)
::silently rubs my goatee in the corner::

@Robert - I really liked this episode too.

Janeway was, for the first time in Trek history, the captain of a SCIENCE ship. Kirk/Picard/Sisko, none of them had the science background Janeway did. I imagine her in a blue uniform as a Lt, taking a less traditional path the big chair.

Science may not be a religion or a belief system, but it IS something you can have faith in. You can have faith in anything. And our first scientist captain has faith in science. It's a nice idea and watching her have her faith shaken is awesome.

It's a quiet little episode with big character moments. If whoever characterized Janeway in this episode was the show runner VOY would probably be my 2nd favorite Trek. I think they tried to repeat this concept in S5's Night (except in this case she loses faith in the other half of her character... the leader), but it was a weaker showing.

I think somewhere along the way Janeway DID lose faith in all those early decisions and became more driven and less of a scientist/explorer/diplomat. I really liked early Janeway though. The one that was excited to discuss engineering problems with B'Elanna, who idolized DaVinci... how cool was it that the first woman captain was the scientist? I miss her.
Grumpy
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 9:33pm (UTC -5)
A comment tangential to this episode... encompassing the whole series, actually...

Robert: "Janeway was, for the first time in Trek history, the captain of a SCIENCE ship."

Okay, and early episodes touched on the tension between "explore everything, as long as we're here" and "play it safe and just get home." But your comment makes me think the regular cast needed a blue-shirted science officer to represent that position, clashing with another member of the ensemble who embodies the "just get home" agenda. Janeway would instinctively sympathize with the blueshirt, but she'd have to weigh both perspectives. The debate, when it arose on occasion, was always handled abstractly; it needed faces to be properly dramatized. When Berman/Piller/Taylor were creating characters, they didn't anticipate they'd need mouthpieces to tell these kinds of stories.
Robert
Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 8:36am (UTC -5)
@Grumpy - That would have been interesting. Funny enough Seven eventually became the de-facto science officer in a way, and also the one that would most complain about the exploring everything.

I guess she became the mouthpiece for all of the stories....
Robert
Mon, Jun 23, 2014, 7:08am (UTC -5)
@Robert: Well said, I'm actually kind of jealous. You managed to say in 2 words what I was trying to say in 10. It's a kind of an anti talent I have to talk on way past the point I'm trying to make

@Robert and @Grumpy: Very cool idea of M. Grumpy, and nice riposte by M. Robert.

This gets me going on the Voyager series as a whole topic. I read a very well written review a few weeks ago (I don't remember the name of the reviewer or the website unfortunately) which suggested a thesis that struck a chord with me. As in, the reviewer didn't care much for Voyager when it first came out, but over time it grew on him. That's the way I've experienced the show too; didn't like it much initially but I've come to like it more and more as time has gone by.

There are definitely many episodes/scenes that I don't like much, some I can't stand. But over time those moments have diminished.

There is some data that could suggest this is a pretty general experience. Here in Canada it is TNG and V.; (V. more often than TNG) that are in reruns on the Space channel. I know there could be any number of reasons the Space channel programmers are only showing TNG and V but presumably (or possibly) that is because those are the shows that get the biggest audiences. If you saw some of the tripe they fill up their 24 hours a day with, you'd have to wonder why they wouldn't be showing other Star Trek series. Or for that matter Babylon 5. Or Battlestar Galactica, both the "old" and the "new" ones. Maybe it's demographics. But as V. is still on the air up here, maybe it's because of this idea that the show somehow gets more watchable over time; it still attracts an audience that keeps it on the air.

The best idea I can come up with is that the characters somehow grow on you with time. Maybe it's the "Lost in Space" premise of our little band of valiant heroes lost in the bad ass Delta quadrant. There's a kind of piquancy to seeing a small, resolute group struggling to get out of what seems to be an impossible situation.

First time around, I think the flaws well noted on this website are so numerous and in your face as to make it a challenge to stick with the show. But somehow on repeated viewing V. seems to get better, if not all better. At least for me and the unknown reviewer that I mentioned above.

From reading the reviews about ENT I gather this issue of lame and difficult to endure flaws was perceived as magnified by that series. Maybe ENT will yet resurface here in Canada in reruns, but judging from the feelings and opinions expressed on this and other websites it does not appear likely. Time will tell.

Back to M. Grumpy and the Science officer idea. Very impressive idea, as in I agree. Writers of future Sci Fi shows I hope take note. As in try to put as much effort as humanly possible into good storytelling/characterization. A defense I can think of for the writers is "they would if they could" as in they work under tight time and budget constraints. As in "there's no business like show business" but part of that is relentless pressure on the cost side and relentless pressure on the performance (getting an audience) side. How many series of all stripes have you heard of that have been cancelled, not because they were bad, but because the people that pay the bills were unwilling to risk more money in the hopes of building an audience down the road. My understanding is that's part of what happened to TOS (though not all of it; besides not getting the audience size and type the network wanted, TOS had mixed reviews at best out of the gate).

That's all for now, folks!
Vylora
Sun, Aug 24, 2014, 10:24am (UTC -5)
I can see what the writers were attempting with this episode for better or worse. Unfortunately, the whole thing boils down to the fact that the religious aliens would rather risk the life of Kes to protect their mysticism. Of course simply allowing some crew members to beam down for five minutes with proper scanning equipment would result in a very short episode.

What we got here isn't half bad, though. Some strong performances by Mulgrew. Some pretty interesting scenes and dialogue. I like how it conveys the concept of just because something can't be explained doesn't mean it never will be explained. However, it is a bit of a convoluted mess despite its watchability.

2 stars.
Skeptical
Sun, Feb 1, 2015, 8:41pm (UTC -5)
Well, this episode is insulting to both science and religion. Well done, Trek!

Let's start with the science part. The weird monks in the waiting room treated Janeway's commitment to science as a "faith." Except the amount of faith for science is very small, and what they were describing isn't actually science. The "faith" part of science is simple. If A and B and C produce D, then A and B and C will always produce D. If they produce E instead, odds are its because F was different between the two scenarios. That's it. That's how science works. All you need in terms of faith for it is that the universe is consistent.

Heck, you don't even need that. If you discover that the universe is crazy and random, that fits in science too! Because then that becomes a factor in your study, and you can work it in. Even if it means you can no longer predict what will happen, it does mean you can explain why. So no matter what happens, one can't lose "faith" in science, because science is just a way of searching for order in the universe. And since it is just SEARCHING for order, then any place where there is a lack of order won't kill one's faith in science, since that remains a possibility.

Analogy time! It wasn't that long ago that most scientists believed in a completely deterministic universe. All things only acted because of other forces, and eventually we would be able to explain all forces. Once you did, and if you could create a fancy enough computer, you could predict everything in the future based on present conditions, and you could recreate everything in the past. The universe was well defined.

And then came quantum theory, and suddenly it became clear that randomness and probabilities really did exist in the universe. It wasn't deterministic at all! The faith in a deterministic universe was shattered. And did that kill science? Was science humbled? Of course not. Sure, some scientists were sad and had trouble dealing with it, such things happen. But science marched on and incorporated this uncertainty into the models of the universe. Determinism died, but physics lived on.

But much like Vulcan logic, the Trek writers have no idea what they're talking about. Janeway didn't have faith in science, she was being a strict, well, not sure what the word is. Rationalist? Skeptic? She believed nothing outside of the known laws of the universe can exist. That's different.

And is being awfully close-minded of her. After all, she knows the Q exist. By everything we've seen, they operate above and beyond the laws of physics. Deja Q suggests that they can change the gravitational constant of the universe on a whim. Surely a Q could create a barrier that could only be passed if you believed in X. Is that likely? No, but it's a possibility. Which shows why Janeway's absolutism here is a bit dumb. Picard was much better in Devil's Due.

So there's the insult to science: this episode equates an understanding of science with narrow-mindedness, which isn't true. But what about religion?

In the final scene, the Doc says that they could have cured Kes much earlier if they were allowed to take tricorder readings of the barrier-thingy. The barrier was not hidden in a temple, it was out in the open. The tricorder was a passive scanner, they weren't actively dismantling the holy cave or anything. In other words, there's no real reason for the monks to deny the crew the ability to scan the barrier other than dramatic tension, and to be a bunch of big jerks.

Or, more likely, to imply that religion is anti-science and anti-knowledge. Well, maybe some are, but it doesn't have to be. Spirituality and reason can co-exist. Christianity (or at least some brands like Catholicism) is, at its heart, a rational belief system. The belief is that God is a rational being and made humans to be rational beings. Religion should not run away from reason or from discovery, it should embrace it.

So what is with these monks trying to hide from the truth? Religion is about the search for truth! Just what do they believe in if they hide from stuff? Especially since earlier they also made a big deal about not hiding anything.

Which also makes the whole mystic riddles that the monks bring to Janeway also annoying. Again, they are trying to set up the religion of these people to be anti-rational. That logic and understanding have no place in religion. Sure, one could claim that it's just this one alien's culture, but this was obviously set up as a deep and philosophical episode, which means the religion of these aliens must be similar to ours. Which means the writers are trying to claim that logic and reason don't mix with religion. Which doesn't seem very fair.

Of course, the whole mystic riddles thing may have just been them messing with Janeway since she was obviously not being respectful to these people and their beliefs. "Sure I'll jump through your silly hoops for Kes, but I'm not gonna believe any of it!" So maybe they were just being jerks back to her. Oh well, still doesn't help the theme of the show...

I guess anyway, what I'm saying is that it was a nice idea, but like so maybe Voyager episodes they really should have gone with another rewrite.
Peter
Mon, Jun 1, 2015, 1:24pm (UTC -5)
I'm a little shocked at all the positive reactions to this episode. I thought it was not only insulting to the viewer's intelligence, it was also a startlingly boring piece of television. Well over half of its runtime is consumed with a completely meaningless sequence. The ritual scene means nothing, does nothing, accomplishes nothing. You can wave your hands and say 'well that's the point' as much as you want, but there's a difference between the sequence being meaningless from Janeway's perspective and it being meaningless from a narrative perspective.

Even a sequence where the characters do not accomplish anything can be narratively meaningful; it can provide opportunities for character development, for the development of crucial themes, or introduce concepts which will be important later in the story. If nothing else, it can at least be entertaining. The ritual scenes in this episode (or at least, the ritual scenes which do not involve the waiting room) accomplish none of these objectives. Nothing happens in them, except that time is filled so that when the reveal that all of it was pointless, it doesn't feel too abrupt. While that's certainly important for the overall story to function, it's a grotesquely inefficient use of runtime. What's worse, the ritual scenes are duller than dishwater.

All of that could be forgivable, though, if it weren't for the fact that the philosophical point the show is trying to make is completely braindead. Yes, if you boil science down to its absolute basics, it does rest on the assumption that the universe is rational, that it behaves in predictable ways, and that any phenomena which seems to behave otherwise simply is not yet fully explained. Since we can't actually know that without knowing everything in the universe, including that we know everything in the universe, this assumption could indeed be considered a form of belief not unlike those underpinning a religion. Unfortunately, this episode does not even try to engage with science on that level, because the writer clearly does not understand science in any way.

When a religious tenet someone holds dear is challenged, it can cause an existential crisis. This is because religion is ideological in nature; it must be believed, and remain unquestioned by the believer, or it does not function. Of course, this is not to say that someone's religious viewpoint is immutable; people change their beliefs all the time when they conflict with their surroundings. But a religious tenet, once adopted, is not easily discarded. Even relatively simple adjustments can involve a great deal of soul searching.

This is simply not true of science. When a hypothesis is found to be untrue, it is discarded immediately, and an alternative sought. Science is not ideological, it demands questioning. When a scientist says "everything should be working, but it isn't. I don't understand", as the Doctor does when the first attempt to treat Kes's condition fails, the next question is not "is science a lie?", it is "there must be something I'm not seeing or haven't accounted for. What is it?".

So! When a single attempt to cure Kes fails, and Janeway (the scientist) is suddenly struck with an existential crisis as a result, this doesn't tell me anything about the relationship between science and religion. It tells me that the episode is being written by someone who does not understand what science is or how it functions. "Science is a religion" is something said only by particularly ignorant religious people who aren't happy with the results science is giving them.

The episode fails to wrestle with the philosophy of science because it doesn't understand it. It refuses to address science on the level where it might actually have some semblance of a point, and instead sticks to the surface level where all it can provide are platitudes so inapplicable that they border on non sequiturs.

Trek has a really rotten track record where religion is concerned. It's just not set out for it. TNG knew enough to steer well clear of the topic, while DS9...well, the closest the franchise has come to handling religion effectively (apart from Q, but you'll note that nobody ever actually treats Q as though he were a god; merely as a highly advanced being) was in the first half of DS9, where the show focused not so much on the existential questions raised by the existence of godlike beings but on how people react to them, and the role religion play in their lives. DS9 managed to make this reasonably palatable by hiding behind the paper shield of 'wormhole aliens', leaving it ambiguous whether the Prophets were really Gods or not, so that they didn't immediately and violently clash with the setting. Unfortunately, whatever goodwill the show built up from that was utterly wasted by the series' back half, where the Prophets became more and more blatantly supernatural and the Bajoran religion more and more literal...and goofy.

I bring this all up to say that this episode is the worst of the lot - yes, including the Bajor portions of DS9's endgame. It is without question the most hamhanded, goofy, poorly-conceived, philosophically bankrupt, and (perhaps worst of all!) dull religion story in Trek history.
SusieQ
Fri, Jun 19, 2015, 10:23am (UTC -5)
I appreciate some of the comments made by TheLaw and Elliot above. But Tobe fFor me the best part of this episode was the elders/spirits insistence that Janeway wait with them. As a spiritual person myself I know that understanding comes when waiting in God's presence. It was only when she waited and entered into conversation with them that she heard what she needed to do. Her own ritual actions were meaningless. The first scene with the elders /spirits had them insisting she sit and wait with them. Taking time to do that simple thing would have enlightened her so much more. The scene where she first meets her guide and is impatient and frustrated by her babbling is powerful too. Both speak to me of the importance of being present and seeing every one and every moment in life as precious. Stillness and simplicity come when we see being as more important than doing.
Yanks
Wed, Aug 12, 2015, 4:33pm (UTC -5)
Great great exchanges here. I love it when trek does this.

Robert, Skeptical, SusieQ - all great discussion.

I don't see this as a Science v. Religion episode.

Never have.

This episode is all about our Captain.

We know she's a scientist. Born and bread. She lives science. It's her armor, it's her spear, it's her life. We love her for that.

This episode is all about her sacrifice for a member of her crew. She left herself completely defenseless, unarmed and vulnerable. ... and under those mental hurdles, took a leap of faith for Kes. She did all this for Kes. She got naked for Kes.

If I'm a member of Voyager, I'd follow her anywhere after this demonstration of selfless dedication to her crew.

I think the Science v Religion angle here misses the boat completely.

Easy 4 star episode in my book.
Robert
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 7:46am (UTC -5)
I popped over to read your review and I'm really shocked Jammers only gave this a 2. I don't know where I'd hit it exactly (I'd need to watch it again), but you're closer.

Also, I agree it's a Janeway episode. I think the people discussing the science/religion themes might miss that the theme was science AS a religion or thing to have faith in. I think they were connected in this episode, not opposing.
Yanks
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 11:31am (UTC -5)
Agree Robert.
Diamond Dave
Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 5:08am (UTC -5)
I'd agree that this is a Janeway focused episode rather than anything else. If nothing else the set up requires her to put her scientific background to one side and take a leap of faith in order to reach the desired goal. That the final scene provides a scientific explanation is the classic open ending - what does Janeway take away from this experience?

As interesting as this premise is in theory, that doesn't make it a riveting hour's television. Yes, we have to have the meaningless ritual. But it doesn't make it any more exciting to have half the episode taken up with something tossed aside. The gnomic, Yoda-esque, guide is something of a cliche. For me, 2 stars.
Void
Tue, Mar 29, 2016, 8:28pm (UTC -5)
I have to agree with the science guys here. From the beginning of the episode it was clear that it was no supernatural phenomenon, but just a not yet understood process. They immediatly deduced that it was a force field, and started working on a cure based on that.

I rewatched the episode, just to make sure, and Janeway does indeed say yes to the question if she believes that science, or rationality can explain everything. But she doesn't act like it for the rest of the episode. The question was phrased rather mockingly, and after that, the other monk equates science with a belief system, and Janeway does not comment on that. The worst part is the end of the episode, when the Doctor presents his explanation, and Janeway seems torn apart because she can not tell him that she believes that it was something supernatural. She says "Your explanation was perfect. Very ... scientific", which makes it sound like she just says so, but thinks something else. She said to the three monks that while she may respect their beliefs, she does not intend to make them her own, but she goes on and does exactly that. The message that stuck with me from the episode was "Science is just another form of belief, and can not explain everything". But wasn't Star Trek supposed to be a Science Fiction show, not a Religion Fiction? The message should have been "Even if Science can not explain everything right now, it will, someday".

This episode would have worked far better if Chakotay did the ritual. He was introduced as the spiritual guy from the start, and he would have had no problem with doing something without expecting an explanation. Then, at the end, Janeway and the Doctor can come in, and explain it rationally, and Chakotay would, as he sometimes did, irrc, say something along the lines of "Well, that is one less unexplained mystery. I guess the purpose of the journey was not to understand how it works, but what it means for oneself", roll credits. That would have worked. But now all the episode tells us is that "Science doesn't have all the answers, Space Jesus did it". Not that it states that exactly, but in the way it is presented. Janeway as the defender of science that gets converted to a believer. I don't know if that was the intention, but that is what stuck with me.

Fortunatly, nothing of this is ever mentioned again, and rightly so. I always held the opinion that Star Trek at least tried to make commentary about real world issues (Kirk kissing Uhura being the prime example, and I am sure you know many more), presenting the left wing, open minded and rational perspective, but it failed miserably here. "You just have to believe without question and everything will be fine, just don't ask questions" is just about the worst message you can send to anyone.
Yanks
Wed, Mar 30, 2016, 11:26am (UTC -5)
Void,

"But now all the episode tells us is that "Science doesn't have all the answers, Space Jesus did it". Not that it states that exactly, but in the way it is presented. Janeway as the defender of science that gets converted to a believer. I don't know if that was the intention, but that is what stuck with me."

I think this is the wrong way to look at it. She doesn't get converted into anything, she just sheds her belief that science is the answer here. She doesn't have to understand it, she has to exhibit faith in something, something she doesn't understand in order to save Kes. This probably should be considered the toughest thing she's ever done.
Robert
Wed, Mar 30, 2016, 12:45pm (UTC -5)
100% agree with Yanks. The ending is meant to imply that science DOES have the answer, the Doctor DOES figure it out, but too late. Sometimes you don't have time to wait for all the information and you have to make a choice. Take a leap of faith.

Janeway is the scientist captain and that was a hard thing for her to do... to take that leap before the facts were in order. I particularly like her characterization in this episode.

They don't even present it as a character flaw... merely a trait that doesn't serve her in this ONE situation. Everybody has a personality and occasionally they are put in a situation that is a bad fit for their personality and they have to "stretch". This is possibly my favorite Janeway episode, although I'm sure I'm in the minority.
Vance
Wed, Apr 20, 2016, 4:10pm (UTC -5)
I wonder how events would have unfolded if Tuvok were the one who had to be in Janeway's shoes? Would his journey have been psychologically the same as hers?

One other (unrelated thing) that I don't understand: At the end, Janeway doesn't actually get through the barrier, does she? She and Kes just get bounced back. So what does that mean? Did Janeway actually, ultimately, not have enough "faith" to make it to the other side of the barrier? (Clearly there was enough faith that Janeway decided to come so close to the barrier to save Kes's life that she risked endangering her own.)
Yanks
Thu, Apr 21, 2016, 8:44am (UTC -5)
Vance,

Interesting query. I'm not sure it would have been the same for Tuvok. I would think that his need to meditate (and experience doing it) might be significant for his reaction to this puzzle.

She went through with Kes.

"EMH: The metabolic treatment I administered protected you against the full impact of exposure to the field when the Captain took you through. That exposure functioned like a natural cortical stimulator and reactivated your synaptic pathways."
dipads
Mon, May 23, 2016, 12:14pm (UTC -5)
I presume Kes mental abilities was turned off for this episode. Normally she would have been aware of the danger.
Yanks
Mon, May 23, 2016, 12:32pm (UTC -5)
dipads,

I don't think Kes' powers worked like that.
dipads
Sat, May 28, 2016, 10:48am (UTC -5)
Yanks,

In the episode "The Gift", Kes senses that something is wrong, and uses her abilities to send an electrical surge that stops Seven. Maybe I'm wrong, but it does seem she can forecast danger.
Yanks
Tue, May 31, 2016, 7:56am (UTC -5)
Kes hadn't experienced these powered yet. (I believe)
Marianne
Wed, Jul 6, 2016, 1:34pm (UTC -5)
The way I saw this, the ritual wasn't about saving Kes, it was about Janeway questioning her beliefs. They knew she would go with expectations the first time (getting the readings she needed to make herself and Kes immune to the field) then return for the leap of faith (second part of the cure). Purpose of ritual: show Janeway that under specific circumstances even her absolute faith in science could be compromised. That's why she looks so shaken at the end.
I agree with Jammer, though, that only the last 5 minutes or so have any kind of payoff.
Peter G.
Wed, Aug 10, 2016, 1:45pm (UTC -5)
@ Yanks,

"I think this is the wrong way to look at it. She doesn't get converted into anything, she just sheds her belief that science is the answer here. She doesn't have to understand it, she has to exhibit faith in something, something she doesn't understand in order to save Kes. This probably should be considered the toughest thing she's ever done."

If this is a moral to take take away then it might be worthy - for some other show. Whatever disagreements Trek fans have about what Trek's 'real' values are, and what Gene 'really' wanted to say about the future, I don't think there's much disagreement about the fact that Trek is exactly about thinking every problem through and trying to understand the people one encounters. This isn't to say that faith has no place in Trek. I've mentioned elsewhere that I think faith in Federation values is a strong part of the Trek world, and that includes faith in ideas like IDIC, the Prime Directive, and so forth. But in terms of problem-solving and dealing with new encounters...no, faith is not in Trek's purview in how to approach these. It's a secular humanist show, not a show about being fair to all points of view in the world.

As others have mentioned, "science" just means using rational thought to try to understand natural phenomena or other beings. Shedding one's belief that science is the answer here is equivalent to saying one should shed one's dedication to using the mind to understand the universe. That's not even a question of a 'scientist' character versus a 'religious' one; it's more like, a smart person versus a stupid one. Smart religious people I know would never say to put one's rational thinking aside and to use 'faith', as if the latter is some kind of problem-solving tool. It's really an affront to what faith is to suggest one should just adopt it in order to get past a challenge. To even suggest that faith is based in utility is to undermine the object of that faith in favor of a mechanistic explanation of its usefulness. "Be faithful because it gets results!" But that's exactly what faith is NOT about, and therefore such a message about faith is inadvertently anti-faith (as Skeptical, above, intimated).

Agreed with the others who say this episode is insulting to both science and faith. Or more specifically, that the writers were just unschooled in both subjects but still thought they could write about what they don't know. That's a sin against writers who do actual research for their work.
mephyve
Sat, Aug 20, 2016, 6:24pm (UTC -5)
Another hospital show...no thanks
George Monet
Wed, Aug 24, 2016, 12:36am (UTC -5)
This episode didn't work for me. This is Star Trek, so magic doesn't exist. Therefore everything does have a scientific explanation. The only reason why Janeway failed to discover it is because she lacked the tools needed to do so. The constant attempts to say that science can't explain everything comes across as disengeneous and antithetic to Star Trek. The "spirits" are clearly just long lived energy beings, they don't belong to some nonexistent spirit realm. If they did, then every planet and race would have the same spirits and knowledge of the spirit realm. Since every species in the galaxy has its own religions and rituals, we can know for a fact that they are all fake. Our world has lots of religions and rituals because they are all fake. if there was a real religion then we would have only one religion and not many fake religions as the religion would be proveably true and would need to exist everywhere rather than in a single country or planet.

So to my mind the episode was constant at odds with the reality of the show. And that prattling little woman who is constantly trying to make Janeway feel small for looking for the scientific explanation got on my nerves because she was wrong. There is a scientific explanation, she was just too blinded by her faith to accept the reality. Or perhaps she knew that if they temple let science study the "religion" then it is the monks who would be the ones whose entire lives were "meaningless". That's why the monks don't like to talk to anyone about what occurs in the temple, because science would cast light on all the shadows that the temple is trying to sell as something more than hocus pocus. The energy beings annoyed me for the same reason. Just because they have better technology they conned the whole planet into believing they were some actual spirits. Starfleet has strict codes against that, and yet Janeway never points out Starfleet's superior morals compared to these con artist energy beings.

The only reason why the Munchkins believed the Wizard was a great and powerful sorceror is because they lacked the ability to study and understand the science the wizard was using. It was only Dorothy, who came from the same world as the Wizard, who was able to reveal the Wizard for the con man he was. The same is true here. I'm sure that Q would laugh at Janeway for believing these energy beings were really spirits.

And the whole meaningless ritual thing just fell flat even by itself. Why would they create this entire series of rituals and rooms and corridors if they were all pointless from the getgo? How would such a thing even come about? Wouldn't the first couple of people who made it through this house of mirrors tell everyone it was just smoke and mirrors the moment they finished? Or were they all just so embarrassed that they pretended something profound happened?
George Monet
Wed, Aug 24, 2016, 12:43am (UTC -5)
As to the way the episode ends, this felt incredibly out of character for Janeway. As I said above, the only reason why Janeway couldn't explain what was going on was because she lacked the technology needed to study it, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible and Janeway would not believe that it wasn't possible or that it was magic simply because she lacked the technology needed to study it. She would say, as a scientist, that they currently lack the ability to study what was occurring but believed that in the future humans would be able to understand even things like this.
grumpy_otter
Mon, Sep 19, 2016, 12:01pm (UTC -5)
@George Monet -- it cracks me up that you mention The Munchkins, because i had another Wizard of Oz insight about this piece of crap show.

At the end, when Glinda explains to Dorothy that she didn't tell her the magic shoes would take her home because "You wouldn't have believed me," my reaction is to scream, "Are you freaking kidding me?" This is a magical critter who flies around in bubbles, and the little earth girl would have looked down at her newly-acquired witch shoes and said, "Nah, I don't think they will take me home. I'm heading down this road."

It is the same idiocy in this episode. The elders KNEW what needed to be done for Kes, but instead they send Janeway through this ridiculous journey of faith or whatever. For what point--to learn something about herself? Well thanks, but that's not why she was there, you religious whackjobs.

I have no tolerance for people who appoint themselves your teachers without you asking for it. Sometime yes, it is valuable to go through a learning process rather than to just be given the answer. But when someone is dying, don't mess with me.
Nothingoriginal 55
Thu, Oct 20, 2016, 12:36pm (UTC -5)
Three yrars on Voyager and Neelux still doesn't know how to work a communicator...
Mikey
Sat, Oct 29, 2016, 6:49am (UTC -5)
@Nothingoriginal 55: I was going to say that!

Honestly, I quite enjoyed this episode (3 stars) but this comment thread is much better. Congratulations to all involved. It's nice to see contentious topics discussed with intelligence.
Anjune
Tue, Nov 22, 2016, 12:20am (UTC -5)
Janeway's skepticism and reliance on the scientific method have to be worn down by seeming "nonsense" to get her into the right frame of mind to achieve a result that can, in fact, be explained scientifically -- it's just that knowing this in advance would have kept it from working, much like all the data you could possibly collect about a spiritual experience isn't going to make you have one. In the end, Janeway seems reluctant to accept that she *won't* have to adjust her world view to allow for her experiences -- Doc's perfectly sufficient analysis feels hollow in that it can't capture the profundity of what she's been through. It's not a critique of science or a defence of religion at all, IMO; it's not saying that sometimes you just have to rely on faith... or if it is saying that, then that's not what I like it for. I guess I like it for reconciling and acknowledging these two contradictory approaches without damaging my own largely Janewayese world view.

One of my favourite episodes. And yes, it's still hella contrived.
RandomThoughts
Sat, May 6, 2017, 6:53am (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!

My first thoughts on seeing this one again were good, as I'd kind of liked it first run. This time around, as soon as the fellow mentioned that this was a sanctuary that honored their Ancestral Spirits, I wondered where Chakotay was. As has been mentioned above, he's the one that is big on spiritual things, and perhaps they didn't want to further typecast his role, but it seemed to me he'd be very interested in their tour.

I somewhat thought that towards the end, Chakotay was out of character a bit, talking about science when he is the one who would normally be talking about faith. Perhaps the episode would have been too easy to wrap up if Chakotay had been on point instead of Janeway, because he might have just rolled with it, whereas Janeway needed to be convinced.

For myself, I liked the ritual, and that she only had to go through so many trials and tribulations because that is what she expected (what she needed to expect was she had to sleep on fluffy clouds, but I suppose that would have been too boring). And I liked how she ended up with the three again, sitting in the little room, after zooming past them initially. It also worked for me that her guide was the person working on the light bulbs.

The look on Janeway's face was perfect as Doctor was explaining to Kes what he thought had happened, in a seemingly endless stream of techo-babble. She seemed to have felt she had done something purley on faith, perhaps nearly spiritual, and listening to Doctor try to dissect it was disquieting to her. Oh, and I believe they had Doctor go on for so long on purpose to show us the lengths they had to go through to attempt to explain what had happened, while giving Mulgrew the time to put on a 'thousand-yard stare' and zone out a bit as Janeway looked at things from her own perspective.

In conclusion, I was actually pleased this one was next in the queue. It is not a blockbuster, but is good enough for a small thumbs-up from me...

Enjoy the Day Everyone... RT
Rahul
Wed, May 31, 2017, 9:39pm (UTC -5)
Thought this was a slow, confusing and convoluted episode. One that attempts to shed light on some deep questions - faith in science/religion - but that doesn't really move the ball anywhere. I think Jammer's review is excellent and lays out my criticisms better than I ever could.
I guess first of all, why does Kes act like a total idiot and break away from the tour guide, run into the field and get zapped - has she no respect for the temple? That aside, Janeway's acting is the strong point of the episode as she has to question her beliefs in science and attempt to truly act based on faith. She will do whatever she can to look after her crew and that is portrayed very well.
But all the slow "meaningless" test she go through are tiresome to watch.
Anyhow, it's a different kind of episode but one that is not very well handled I think. I'd give it a weak 2 stars out of 4.
Caedus
Thu, Jun 29, 2017, 1:38pm (UTC -5)
Not a bad ep.
Caedus
Wed, Jul 5, 2017, 2:07pm (UTC -5)
Having rewatched this episode at least four times my opinion of it has increased dramatically.

We have Janeway an unreligious almost certain atheist going through a spiritual experience. Her dissatisfaction with the doctor's "scientific" explanation at the end of the episode was very moving.

I also liked seeing her with her hair down and in the robe-early Janeway often lacked a soft feminity but this episode really shows it.

3.5/4.

Also good score-appropriately deep.
Mertov
Wed, Aug 9, 2017, 1:31am (UTC -5)
I know my comment will be very superficial compared to the dozens of great comments above, but...

... Neelix was so annoying that it ruined some of my joy of watching this episode. What a terrible alien to have chosen as a regular on a Star Trek series. It would have been nice to see him leave the show early... Ugh...
William B
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 5:13pm (UTC -5)
Whew, a controversial one. A few quick points:

1. I don't think that the episode is exactly saying that belief in science in general is equivalent to belief in religion. The relevant dialogue is here:

OLD WOMAN: So it's inexplicable. A miraculous non-recovery.
JANEWAY: We haven't found the reason yet.
OLD WOMAN: But of course you will. You'll find all the answers eventually, with enough time and study, and the right sort of tools. That's what you believe isn't it as a scientist?
OLD MAN 1: Be honest.
JANEWAY: Yes, that's what I've always believed.
OLD MAN 2: Even when her science fails right before her eyes she still has full confidence in it. Now there's a leap of faith.
OLD WOMAN: Unconditional trust. Now that's promising.

I'd say that Janeway is wrong here, not to believe in a rational universe which can be investigated by science, but in believing that she necessarily will "find all the answers eventually, with enough time and study, and the right sorts of tools." There is presumably an explanation for Kes' condition, but there is no guarantee that Janeway and her crew will be able to find it, particularly not in the time before she dies. And yet, this is sort of a straw man. How many crew members have died in the series so far? Janeway surely does *know* that there are some problems which cannot be solved on any reasonable time scale with the tools that the ship has available, and it would be a radical development to suggest that she suddenly doesn't now.

I guess what the episode is more properly suggesting is that she is still attempting to use "scientific tools" to solve this particular problem, because it "looks like" a scientific problem, but is not. So, for example, Janeway does not attempt to use "scientific tools" (tricorders, etc.) to solve diplomatic or moral or strategic problems. She didn't bust out her gas chromatograph to determine which Q's favour she should rule in in Death Wish. She assumes that the rituals which these people perform are valuable for purely physiological/rationalistic reasons, but it's not as if Janeway *only* ever assumes that. So why does she here?

2. Why does Janeway think that the Ancestral Spirits aren't "real"? In particular, how does she know that they aren't alien life forms of some sort?

There are Bajorans on Voyager, and Voyager left from DS9 in that show's early season 3. She should know about the Prophets. She knows about the Q. In Tattoo, unless Chakotay kept it all to himself, the similarly-named Sky Spirits turned out to be Delta Quadrant aliens whose tech wasn't even that much more advanced than Voyager's is now. In Emanations, Janeway made some mutterings about how maybe that ring of energy around that moon or whatever was the spirits of the dead and cut through Harry's skepticism with a kind of agnostic "who knows?" perspective. Apparently it was possible for Chakotay to look around and see things while he was a disembodied spirit in Cathexis (though I understand blotting that one out). Trek has lots and lots of telepaths -- who can read thoughts.

So when Janeway indicates that she'll just figure out what biological, physiological changes are needed in the ritual for her to be able to make contact with the "Ancestral Spirits," and says "of course not" dismissively to charges of them having any kind of existence, she's ignoring her rational understanding of the universe, which is littered with all kinds of aliens, many of them disembodied, many in parallel dimensions, and many of whom also have telepathy and so would be able to know she's harbouring sarcastic and dismissive thoughts.

3. On the difference between religious beings and aliens --

And yet, you know, there is a difference between Gods as Gods and aliens with godlike powers. No one worships Q. The Bajorans worship the Prophets, but probably they "shouldn't." This episode seems to ask us to make a leap of faith to believe that Janeway is encountering the divine in some way, here, when she deals with the Ancestral Spirits. And here it might be useful to clarify. If the people on the planet said, with absolute certainty, "Of course there are no aliens. The Ancestral Spirits are not beings of noncorporeal energy. They are Ancestral Spirits! They cannot be reduced to any of what you are attempting to describe as life forms," then I could see how Janeway would dismiss (2) and default to a secular outlook. Janeway can "believe in" Q without believing in God, because they are fundamentally different *categories*: God has absolute moral authority, whereas Q has power beyond that which humans can understand, but still must be treated as a sentient being, albeit a powerful one.

So for this episode to work, we sort of have to blot (2) out, and almost pretend this is a universe *without* Q's, wherein it would break the mechanistic laws of the universe as such for there to be such beings as Ancestral Spirits, so that they must necessarily be outside the "laws of science" or whatever.

4. Janeway's leap of faith:

One difficulty I have in stories about a Leap of Faith is that I am often unconvinced by the...epistemology of a person's belief. How do they know to choose to believe in that? Now as (e.g.) Peter points out above, it takes a leap of faith to believe in Federation values. In fact, we can say that the whole series is about Janeway's faith in Federation values and the idea of returning to Earth, both of which are regularly assaulted. That I do understand. I talked about Harry's faith in the importance of laying down his life for Tom's in The Chute. And I understand that people have faith in things that they believe in, as a result of their religious beliefs, or other social, personal, political beliefs.

In this episode, though, what happens is that Janeway "believes" she can solve the problem "with science," and then eventually opens up to learning alternatives. At this point, we get:

JANEWAY: All right. If you're saying that science won't help Kes, what will?
OLD MAN 1: You won't like it.
JANEWAY: I'm willing to do whatever's necessary.
OLD MAN 1: Kill her. She's as good as dead already, finish the job! Give her another jolt of that what do you call it, biogenic field.
OLD WOMAN: That would do it.
JANEWAY: It would do what, exactly.
OLD MAN 1: There you go again, always looking for a rational explanation. Well there isn't one. Your orbital scans and medical research have given you the facts, and they tell you the biogenic field is lethal.
OLD WOMAN: If you believe the facts.
OLD MAN 2: Let all of that go, Kathryn. Take Kes back into the shrine and trust the spirits to return her soul.
JANEWAY: The ritual I went through is meaningless, and Kes has done nothing to prepare herself. How could either of us be ready to go through the field?
OLD MAN 2: If you believe you're ready, then you are. There's no more to it than that.
OLD MAN 1: But if you go in with any doubt, with any hesitation, then you're both dead. So, what are you going to do, Captain?
JANEWAY: You know I won't stand by and watch Kes die if there's anything I can do to save her. I want to believe it's possible. I'm going to try.

So what Janeway has faith in can be summarized as, she has faith that those old people in that waiting room are telling her the truth.

Given that she's exhausted all other options, this is hardly that remarkable. She trusts that those people, who gave her the runaround earlier, are nevertheless not lying to her, and probably know better than her, even if they are not able/willing to expound on why. This doesn't really strike me as a particularly good way of representing divine insight -- unless it really is just staying that you can learn to have religious faith by obeying instructions from your elders. Still, it's hardly in opposition to rational belief for Janeway to trust that she's supposed to do what she's told, by people who seem to be in a better position than her to know what to do in this situation. Having exhausted all other options, and with time running out, Janeway decides to give "trust the old waiting people are not BSing me" a try. However, "do whatever the last person who talked to you told you to do" is not really as great a message for an episode, I guess, and so it goes back to religious faith.

The problem, I guess, is that this episode has no time to develop any kind of *doctrine*, so that when Janeway decides to make a leap of faith, she cannot actually fall back on any *known* doctrine, or even any known moral principles which the religion asserts. Why exactly does God / do the Ancestral Spirits "want" Janeway to return Kes to that biometric field thing? There's no reason Janeway would ever think of that, so she simply has to be told it. In good "leap of faith" stories, the poetry of the situation can nudge the character to a conclusion, but here there isn't enough time.

I guess if the old people actually *were* manifestations of the Ancestral Spirits, it would make sense -- Janeway just has to pay attention to them, since they are...them. Otherwise, how did they know what she's supposed to do, if there was only ever one case in the planet's history where someone was revived? More generally, it raises the question of why these people were only willing to consider helping Kes once Janeway agreed to beam down.

5. I think that the basic idea of the jerking-around "ah yes...this ritual is meaningless!" stuff was to remove Kathryn's internal protections, a sort of elaborate hazing wherein Janeway wore out all her defenses and was prepared to accept whatever The Old People said uncritically. I sound now like I'm more critical than I want to be. Janeway's initial arrogance with the "of course their religion is a sham" line to Chakotay is something that I can understand needed to be stripped away a bit. And yet, you know, the ending *still depends on Janeway being told what to do and then doing it*. The Guide seems to repeatedly suggest that Janeway ~shouldn't want to~ be told what to do or that it's not a simple math problem or whatever doesn't actually seem to match up with what the episode showed. And here, you know, I think if the episode had been able to portray a more ambiguous leap for Kathryn to make -- or one whose poetics made more sense to me, I guess -- I could buy all the breaking down of Kathryn's Type A expectations of how she *NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING* as for the good.

I guess what still works is that Kathryn initially is not sufficiently humble to think to ask the Old People in the Waiting Room what they want. That humility is what she gains over the course of the episode, from having her defenses gradually removed, and so I do like that aspect of the story.

6. I do like the very ending. People seem to read it differently, but my take: the Doctor patters on with his explanation, and Janeway doesn't buy it, but knows that she would have bought it not long ago. The rational world is restored, but Janeway has experienced something different from temporary contact with the divine. It reminds me of a discussion I saw before where a part of the brain was identified as being activated when people have religious experiences. One person (an atheist) identified this and said that this proves that religious experiences are just a part of the material world, rather than being in any way supernatural; another (a religious believer) said that they saw it as evidence of how it was that God worked through the human brain to connect, a physical manifestation of His divine presence. The existence of a scientific explanation does not negate that there were other forces at work, and I think that's what Janeway is thinking.

7. Why *didn't* they just let Janeway et al. make tricorder readings?

8. The acting is good. Always nice to see Harry Groener (who played Tam Elbrum in Tin Man, and Mayor Wilkins on Buffy), here as the magistrate. Estelle Harris, best known for playing George Costanza's mother on Seinfeld, is good as one of the waiting old people. And Becky Ann Baker was strong as the guide, I thought.

9. So anyway. That the Ancestral Spirits are meant to be deities (or ambiguously so) seems to be the episode's aim, and I don't think you can get away from that by positing that they are "simply" ordinary aliens. Of course, we have to ignore a lot of history for no one to have suggested the possibility of there being (non-divine) powerful aliens at work. I think the recognition that there are limits to scientific reasoning as a way to solve problems is accurate, but I'm not sure I like the way the episode went about it. And I'm unimpressed by the set-up for Janeway's "leap of faith" resolution.

I'm not necessarily opposed in principle to the themes of this story, and there are a lot of things I like about the episode. I might revisit it to see if I feel differently at some point. For now, though, I'm going to agree with Jammer and say 2 stars.
Skackle
Wed, Oct 25, 2017, 2:50am (UTC -5)
I first want to ask, why didn't the Doc put Kes into a holographic body like he did the Vidiian so they had more time to figure out how to cure her? And I know the answer. Because this is Voyager and they forget everything that ever happened in a previous episode.

And everyone here and in the episode itelf saying that what Janeway went through was meaningless is complete nonsense. Because going through all of that, lifting the stone to increase her neuropeptides, and getting bitten by the whatever it was in the basket, which created a new amino acid, all changed her biochemistry, along with all the data she sent back which allowed the Doc to give Kes the treatment he did (which failed at first). Both of which, Janeway's biochemistry and Kes' treatment, are exactly what save her and Kes when they went back into the temple.

EMH: The tricorder readings Commander Chakotay took at the shrine revealed traces of iridium ions, which we could have known about sooner if we'd been permitted to take those readings in the first place.
KES: And iridium ions are significant?
EMH: They caused a temporary dielectric effect in the outer epidermal layers which neutralised some of the biogenic energy. Not much, but enough to make the Captain's altered biochemistry an effective defence.
KES: Then how was I cured?
EMH: The metabolic treatment I administered protected you against the full impact of exposure to the field when the Captain took you through. That exposure functioned like a natural cortical stimulator and reactivated your synaptic pathways.

So clearly, everything she went through in the ritual was necessary for someone to enter the temple without dying, and also to save someone who had gone through and been hurt, and was completely scientific in every way. Otherwise the Doc couldn't and wouldn't have explained it that way.

Also since all those different biochemical changes were needed to enter the temple, every ritual must be the same, or very similar, and not based on what Janeway expected the ritual to be. And it also must be real, and not some hallucination or vision or something.

There isn't a hint of religion in any of that, except the con game that the 'spirits' are dishing out with all of their religiobabble about 'meaninglessness' and 'faith' and 'beliefs' and so on.

The whole episode confirms only that science is the answer, at least in this case, and that anything religious is what is actually meaningless.

Now I'm willing to bet a billion bars of latinum that the writer didn't even realize that they did that, and were instead trying to make it what other posters were arguing about, religion vs. science, and failed miserably.

And I don't want to get into a huge debate, but I would think it's fair to say that most real scientists are athiests, and the fact is, athiesm is 100% just as much a religion as christianity or judiasm or any other standard religion. Anyone claiming that god doesn't exist because there is no scientific proof, is a fool. Lack of proof of the existence of something isn't the same as proof of the nonexistence of something. Also belief in the scientific theory of the big bang as the origin of the universe proves in and of itself the lack of proof of the origin of the universe, if you see what I mean. :P The big bang theory states that there is no way of knowing what came before it or what caused it. All the laws of physics completely break down when we reach the singularity of the big bang. So where did the universe come from? Maybe it was a spontaneous creation of matter in the quantum improbability soup. Maybe it was god. Maybe it was Q. Maybe it was a really smart mouse with a tiny beard and a magic wand. No one can or ever will know the answer to that.

Also due to the theory of relativity, the earth could very well be the center of the universe. But it most likely isn't.

And there is no point in arguing about science in Star Trek at all, since the laws of physics are broken in every single episode, usually by the warp drive. But also by Q, The Traveler, Organians and many other things and entities.

But I digress. This episode was truly horrible and pointless and didn't even know what it was trying to accomplish, and whatever it was trying to accomplish, it was done badly anyway.

zero stars.
Skackle
Wed, Oct 25, 2017, 2:58am (UTC -5)
I meant to say 'probability soup' not 'improbability soup', but when it comes down to it what's the difference I suppose? The probability of this episode being good, as soon as it started on a religious path was zero, and the improbability of it being bad was infinite.
Skackle
Wed, Oct 25, 2017, 3:01am (UTC -5)
I should just shut my mouth and leave well enough alone, but 'infinite' should also have been 'zero' :D

I do actually know what I'm typing most of the time, believe it or not, but my fingers get ahead of my brain sometimes.
Startrekwatcher
Wed, Nov 15, 2017, 10:09pm (UTC -5)
2 stars. Quite tedious and not at all entertaining. Lisa Klink was one of the worst writers
Ben e.
Sat, Dec 2, 2017, 6:22pm (UTC -5)
I have to give this a 0. The entire story felt contrived and none of the characters seemed true to themselves. Kes is not so stupid that she'd run into a sacred shrine. I thought they were going with a psychic thing where she could hear the spirits, but that's never explored and so it just flows like one random event following another for a frustrating 45 minutes. This is the first episode of the show I've had trouble sitting through. If it all is explainable by science in the end then the monks scolding her ends up being meaningless.
Ruth
Sat, Dec 9, 2017, 9:18pm (UTC -5)
I think it’s odd to see this as a science vs religion episode. At several points it’s made clear that neither Janeway nor the spirits/elders see that as a meaningful distinction. The guide, we first see her repairing advanced technology. Without Janeway’s knowledge, she was scanned on entry to the shrine and they instantly found all her hidden tech and knew what it was used for. These people are extremely scientifically advanced, perhaps moreso than Voyager. I also wondered if the woman was chosen to be Janeway’s guide because they were similar in that way.

Janeway is extremely good at leaps of faith. She does that at the end of several episodes when she sets a course for home. It was a new take on her beliefs but not a revelation of new character details. In Resolutions too she was exactly the same: given sufficient time and tools no secrets are out of my reach. That’s her beliefs. These are already established character traits.

I like this episode a lot. I don’t see it as an attempted attack on belief or science, much less a successful one. It’s about dedication more than anything else, to me. Her dedication to science, her dedication to Kes, her dedication to doing the ritual ‘properly’ once she had committed to it.
Sillyk
Mon, Feb 19, 2018, 9:18am (UTC -5)
I always has a different take on this whole episode--- that the entire thing was contrived, perhaps even starting with Kes's initial injury.

It was quite clear the aliens had Janeway's number right from the get-go, and it was also made amply clear they were quite technologically advanced. Perhaps they had even heard of Voyager already before it arrived.

Voyager and Janeway often have way more than a little quasi-Ugly American "walk around like we own this quadrant" attitude and certainly Janeway's "I'll just do your little endurance ritual thing" is extremely condescending.

If the entire setup was contrived, that makes the repeated "it's all meaningless" even more on the nose. Certainly it seems like a possible lesson and I would bet that Janeway pondered this event many times later on.

So I'm suggesting ultimately that the aliens simply cured Kes and protected Janeway when she carried her up the temple.
legraf
Mon, Apr 2, 2018, 10:39pm (UTC -5)
So many wonderful comments above; at least this episode sparked excellent discussion.

I won't go into the big questions, but instead a small one: the scene where Harry and B'elanna have just beamed Kes & Neelix back and are confronting the magistrate came across as outrageously confrontational and completely unlike any behaviour we've seen in similar past situations. Kes screwed up and got hurt (really, couldn't the monks have a little rope-barrier in front of the certain-death machine)? Harry & B'elanna had no information yet on her condition, they had no way of knowing that the Doctor would need more information about the energy field, but they flew right off the handle and practically threatened the magistrate with military action if they couldn't start studies immediately.

It was lousy writing - it could have made sense after Kes' condition had puzzled the Doctor, but absolutely not here. And even without that, I could almost stretch enough to accept that Torres would react so belligerently, but not Kim.
Springy
Thu, Aug 30, 2018, 6:57am (UTC -5)
Eh, ok, mostly tedious. Just not that engaging.

On the comment above about why doc didn't put Kes in holographic body - he could only do that with Danara because she had that gizmo on her head.

On the comment about Janeway's belief that it was possible to "find all the answers eventually, with enough time and study, and the right sorts of tools:" I don't think this was meant to mean she specifically believes SHE could find all the answers, just that if you can't find the answers, it's not a failing of science . . . It's that you need more time or more advanced tools or more smarts or more info . . . she believes there's no question that science can't (eventually) answer. And there, IMO, she's wrong. And that, IMO, is what she's struggling with.

I don't think this is particularly well done here and it's just a turn off, though. Confusing and dull set up. 1 star.
Caedus
Mon, Mar 4, 2019, 1:19pm (UTC -5)
This is an episode that really deals with Janeway's own belief system and the issue of faith, religious experience and the relation to science thereof.

Also I really like Janeway's hair style and clothing during the ritual-its more feminine and warm than her usual somewhat harsh style in this regard.

I really like this episode 3.5 stars
Trish
Thu, May 16, 2019, 11:14pm (UTC -5)
I think a lot of the negative reactions come down to "There shouldn't be religion in Star Trek!"

Well, that's obviously not true if "should" means what the writers did in fact put there over the years. You want a series untainted by religion, hey, write your own. This episode just is what it is, and if you enter into its "universe," then it means something. If not, then it doesn't.

What I found most fascinating on my most recent viewing of this episode was Chakotay's repeated resistance to the whole thing. At first, it seemed out of character. After all, isn't he the designated "spiritual one" on the crew? But as the episode went on and for the first time I paid special attention to his apparent attitude, it began to make sense, and to be very consistent indeed with his character. He seemed practically offended the whole time by the captain's willingness to throw herself into an alien spiritual rite, almost as if he thought, "If she won't convert to my religion, which is the one and only REAL one, then why is she embracing these stupid and dangerous alien superstitions?"

If you didn't see that when you watched it, try watching it again, and see if it jumps out at you.

It would have been interesting to see him make a "journey" of his own by confronting this reaction, and question why he could not accept another culture's spirituality as he would have liked others to accept his. Of course, this was a Janeway episode rather than a Chakotay episode, so he didn't make such a journey, just kept having the same reaction from beginning to end.

That happens in real life, too.
Luke
Sun, Jun 2, 2019, 12:08am (UTC -5)
To be frank, this episode feels like it's an episode written by atheists trying to justify religion, but their heart isn't into it.

As a result their "justification" feels like forced contrivance. It doesn't make sense because it doesn't make sense. Stop asking questions.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Sun, Jun 2, 2019, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
Gotta say, that as a person who is both a rationalist and a theist, I appreciated what this episode was trying to do.

But I also agree with Luke that it looked like the story was written by a person who never actually *experienced* these dilemmas first hand. It's like the writers understood the point intellectually, but didn't have the personal experience required to bring that point to life.

As a result, the episode falls a bit flat.

@Trish
"He seemed practically offended the whole time by the captain's willingness to throw herself into an alien spiritual rite, almost as if he thought, 'If she won't convert to my religion, which is the one and only REAL one, then why is she embracing these stupid and dangerous alien superstitions?' "

I
Interesting.

You're right that Chakotey seems pretty miffed about the whole thing. But I d

The "My religion is the only true one" thing sounds completely out-of-character to me. That's not the Chakotay we know.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Sun, Jun 2, 2019, 5:06pm (UTC -5)
Oof... keyboard problems.

Continuing my post about Chakotay:

If he seemed offended, it's probably because of Janeway's insincere attitude toward the whole thing. As a spiritual person, it must have driven him nuts to see her jumping through all these crazy hoops while completely missing the point.
David H
Tue, Jun 4, 2019, 2:52am (UTC -5)
Very fine episode - underrated by Jammer (though that's almost a given when it comes to Voyager). I especially enjoyed its puncturing of the arrogance of scientism - not science, but scientism, which if anything has only become more prominent since "Sacred Ground" was first broadcast.
Sleeper Agent
Sat, Jun 8, 2019, 4:16pm (UTC -5)
@David H (Tue, Jun 4, 2019)
Agreed.

Very clever writing. Overall the portrayal could've been more entertaining, but I really like how the story wraps it up; ending in a most eloquent and stimulating way. On the contrary to most comments I believe, with exception of Neelix's presence, it was anything but meaningless, especially for Janeway.

A solid 3 star rating.
Nigel Tufnel
Sat, Nov 30, 2019, 4:41pm (UTC -5)
Any episode in any incarnation of Star Trek with a “spiritual journey”? Yeah, I’m out. I did watch it but it was just as much a waste of time as I knew it would be.
Jason
Fri, Dec 6, 2019, 7:10pm (UTC -5)
Wowza this might be my favorite Trek episode. My only issue is that going forward the Captain wasn't changed more by it.
Smith
Tue, Apr 14, 2020, 8:04am (UTC -5)
This came close to working for me, but just didn't quite. One of the concepts was cool... In spirituality there is a troupe about wisdom being where one escapes hidden patterns and "sees through"/transcends the test behind the test. But another troupe is acceptance. Both of which contradict each other and it was fun to see these two concepts do battle in the episode. Was the right thing for Janeway to do exactly as she was told? Or was the right thing for her to take the initiative and challenge the premises given to her?
Andersonh1
Thu, Apr 16, 2020, 1:17pm (UTC -5)
DS9 treats religion with a good deal of respect and uses the different worldview of the Bajorans and the humanistic Federation to good effect. Voyager rarely ventures into that same territory, but I always enjoy an episode where our humanistic, so certain of themselves protagonists are challenged in their beliefs. I agree that portions of this episode were slow, but I think ultimately it's worth the journey to see Janeway's almost smug confidence break down and to see her ultimately willing to trust in something she can't be sure of, and to take that proverbial leap of faith.

I took the final scene to mean that even with the Doctor's explanation about how Kes's life was saved, Janeway still believed there was more to it. He was so sure of his science the first time, but it failed. Why should his second explanation be automatically accepted? It shouldn't, and I think Janeway didn't buy it any more than I did.

This isn't one of my favorite episodes, but I got more out of it on this viewing (a pattern I'm seeing all through my current Voyager rewatch) than I did before.
Sarjenka's Brother
Wed, Apr 22, 2020, 3:02pm (UTC -5)
I like Kes. And I like these science/religion themes.

But I never got over the annoyance of Kes foolishly walking up to that shrine to begin with.

Also, why do so many "Trek" episodes happen caves? They are in caves all the time!
Elliott
Sat, May 9, 2020, 11:41am (UTC -5)
Teaser : **.5, 5%

To my surprise, the Voyager has made contact with *another* non-hostile species whom we shall call the Constanzas for reasons that will become clear later. The crew is taking shoreleave and exploring the cultural sites. We immediately establish that these people are religious (“spiritual”) as Torres, Kim, Neelix and Kes are being shown through a sacred cave. Some (possibly) diegetic chanting is heard and there are people in white robes because spiritual, QED. Voyager hasn't tackled the topic of religion very much, especially compared to her sister series. We had a pretty good exploration of the trappings of credulity in “Emanations.” And we've had a number of brushes with the Rubber Tree People. Most of those offerings were offensive for reasons that have nothing to do with religion per sae, but if we parse them out, Voyager has been very careful to keep Chakotay's spirituality contained to, well, his spirit.

CHAKOTAY: How much faith do you put in Adam and Eve? Hasn't science proved that all humans developed from a single evolutionary process?
JANEWAY: That's what I was always taught. On the other hand, none of my teachers ever spent much time in the Delta Quadrant.

And that is important, because in the humanist Star Trek universe, non-fraudulent religious belief that exceeds matters of personal enlightenment is anachronistic. Chakotay's religion is akin to secular Judaism or Deism; it holds personal meaning for him because it is received from a cultural heritage he values and it offers answers to questions that CANNOT be answered by science or reason. I am going to have to make comparisons to DS9 as we go on because that series has an especial affinity with the topic and usually handles it poorly, but I bring it up not to bash the other show, which I generally like, but because I think it's important to illustrate the differences.

During their tour, Kes and Neelix are distracted by an icon and their own saccharine flirting. They step away and observe a Stargate or something—Neelix calls it a shrine—which Kes approaches, struck by its beauty. She steps inside and is *literally* struck by some sort of energy pulse that renders her unconscious.

Act 1 : **.75, 17%

MAGISTRATE: You mustn't be here. This shrine is protected.

Well then why is it so fucking easy for alien visitors to step on inside. Yeesh. Kes and Neelix are beamed to the sickbay while Torres and Kim want to scan the shrine for data that might explain what happened. For arbitrary reasons (I'll come back to this), Tinman Magestrate tells them that scanning equipment would be disrespectful to the Ancestral Spirits and the monks who hang around here. He also informs them that Kes' injury is actually a punishment, a death sentence issued by those same spirits. Capricious lot it seems.

Janeway pops into the sickbay where the EMH informs her that Kes is basically in a coma but can't explain exactly what has happened to her. Neelix asks her if he can be useful for a change of pace, and so she assigns him to do some research on the Costanzas and their religious history.

Soon after, she meets with Tinman in her readyroom.

JANEWAY: Kes is still alive. Surely there's some way to treat her? Can't you insist that the monks meet with me?
MAGISTRATE: We have an agreement with Council. They don't involve themselves with government and we don't interfere in their spiritual matters. It's been that way for centuries and it's always worked well for us.

This is refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, there is a thematic element here that I'll elaborate on at the end. Second, societies in Trek are pretty much always depicted as either Agnostic like the Federation or the Romulans, or with some degree of theocracy like the Bajorans or the Klingons. These people are self-consciously *secular*, which is a welcome novelty. They are a very religious people, but their religiosity is compartmentalised away from matters of state, of realms in which its implications would be inappropriate or harmful.

Janeway flexes her diplomacy muscles and learns that the monks are able to enter the shrine unharmed after some sort of ritual prepares them to speak with the Ancestral Spirits. But her scientific inquiries keep getting shut down by, well, Tinman's ignorance. The flipside to the social positives from secularism is that they simply have no scientific data on the phenomena that undergird their religious practices.

She returns to the sickbay where the Doctor informs her that their long-range scans were able to determine that the shrine is protected by a “biogenic field,” which at least partially explains what happened thanks to technobabble. Kes is hanging on by a thread and Neelix isn't able to provide any real data from his research. However, he did come across a myth that sets a precedent for how one might be “forgiven” by the Ancestral Spirits. There's a ritual that allows one to beseech them for mercy. Janeway makes the request of Tinman directly, that she might be allowed to perform the ritual and he, impressed with her insight into his culture, accepts.

Act 2 : **.5, 17%

In Chakotay's office, Janeway explains to him that she hasn't had some sort of overnight conversion, but expects that the monks' ritual causes a physiological change that should provide them with scientific data to treat Kes. Janeway's self-confidence in her incredulity about all this isn't lost on Chakotay.

JANEWAY: I imagine if we scratch deep enough we'd find a scientific basis for most religious doctrines.
CHAKOTAY: I remember when my mother taught me the science underlying the vision quest. In a way I felt disappointed. Some of the mystery was gone. Maybe the Nechani have chosen not to lose the mystery.

*Chosen* not to lose the mystery. We'll come back to that. Tinman calls up to inform her that the monks are intrigued and eager to put Janeway through the ritual. The script continues to make efforts to keep the Costanzas diplomatic and sympathetic, which I appreciate. The Doctor fits Janeway with a subdermal probe which will feed him data on her biochemistry and provide a means of emergency transport. She refuses Tuvok's offering, a phaser, on the grounds that taking a gun to church is fucking dumb. Right? What kind of absolute morons would arm themselves in church? I can't imagine any normal patriotic people being so completely lobotomised as to think carrying guns into places like churches, grocery stores or conspiracy-driven political protests is anything less that criminally stupid. Not in the year of our Lord 2020.

She beams down and is greeted at the mouth of Plato's cave by her guide. Well, “greeted” is the wrong word. There's a woman hammering away at a light source (“chromodynamic,” don'tcha know?) who asks for Janeway's help in repairing the light. She steals Janeway's tricorder, informing her that she isn't going to need it where's she's going. Janeway is stripped and painted. The guide informs her that they're well aware of her scanning device and that it doesn't bother them at all. They just need to know that she's fully committed to this ritual.

She's led into a chamber where Estelle Costanza and two other old farts are waiting, seated on a bench. Janeway asks them how long they've been waiting, to which Estelle replies that they can't remember having done anything else.

Act 3 : **.5, 17%

The four of them have an amusingly ponderous conversation. Janeway keeps asking simple questions and the old folks keep psychoanalysing her questions, then asking her in turn to relax and wait patiently with them.

OLD WOMAN: Seems to me she could be friendly and sit for a few minutes.
OLD MAN 2: Oh no, she knows what she wants to do. She's not the kind to sit around when she has a mission to accomplish.

Eventually, Janeway knocks at the door and her guide happily leads her on to the next task. The pattern continues.

JANEWAY: I'll do whatever you ask of me.
GUIDE: I see. So you think this is just a matter of doing what you're told....You do realise that all of this is meaningless. That the only thing that matters is finding your connection to the spirits.

JANEWAY: I didn't come here for personal enlightenment. I'm trying to save a member of my crew.

Janeway continues to be put through a number of tasks, all of which seem almost parodic in their aping of religious rituals—staring at a stone, finger painting, climbing sheer cliffs.

All the while, the Doctor is meticulously collecting data. You never know what piece of information is going to be important.

JANEWAY: When other children were outside playing games I was doing mathematics problems.
GUIDE: Mathematics. I can see why you enjoyed it. Solve a problem, get an answer. The answer's either right or wrong. It's very absolute.

Eventually, the strain of all he activity prompts a brief hallucination. Janeway is rewarded for all her hard work by sticking her hand in a basket where an alien creature bites and poisons her. She is laid in a tomb.

Act 4 : **.75, 17%

Despite what appears to us to have been a death sentence, the Doctor informs Chakotay and Tuvok that the *data* is clear that Janeway is in no immediate danger. Interesting, this conflict in perspective.

While Janeway waits for death, she has another hallucination in which she's standing on a beach. William B noted that he found it odd that she wouldn't consider the possibility of some sort of Prophet-esque aliens existing here whom the Costanzas call the “Ancestral Spirits.” But in this hallucination, that's exactly what she's doing, calling them “other beings.” At the moment, it appears that Janeway is having the Nachani equivalent of an Orb experience, and she's responding in kind.

GUIDE: You want proof that we exist.
JANEWAY: That would be helpful.
GUIDE: It's irrelevant.
JANEWAY: I don't want to be disrespectful. I've gone through every part of the ritual that I've been asked to.
GUIDE: Everything you've gone through is meaningless. You've been told that.

She's told to make her request, and she does. Upon learning that “she has what she needs to save Kes herself,” we see that Janeway beams brightly, elated by the news. That's important. The experience ends and Janeway is brought out of her tomb. She thanks her guide for her help and returns to the Voyager. The Doctor informs her that he's learnt the poison/drug in her system is what provides immunity against the Zeus lighting in the shrine. He develops a treatment for Kes based on this data and confidently proceeds to administer it.

EMH: I'll carry out the treatment in stages to reduce the physical stress from the metabolic changes.

This appears to be a mistake as Kes' remaining vital signs being fluctuating. Eventually, the EMH has to abandon the procedure.

EMH: I'm sorry, Captain, but it appears that everything you went through was meaningless.

That serendipity prompts Janeway to return to the cave and confront her guide again. Janeway admits that she entered the ritual with a set of expectations which the monks simply fulfilled. It meant only as much as it needed to to fit Janeway's own preconceptions. And so, she's returned to the waiting room where Estelle and co. are still sitting patiently.

Act 5 : ***, 17%

JANEWAY: There is no real ritual after all.
OLD MAN 2: Real is such a relative term. Most of the challenges in life are the ones we create for ourselves.

Remember what I noted earlier about Chakotay's religious belief: it holds personal meaning for him because it is received from a cultural heritage he values and it offers answers to questions that CANNOT be answered by science or reason. In other words, religion is valuable in the same way psychotherapy is valuable. Or in the same way art is valuable. There is an irrational aspect to life. There is a dimension to our existence that eludes deductive reasoning. Religion is one of many ways we can form relationships with the numinous. But it is important that we *do* form and maintain this relationship.

The old folks excoriate her for “believing” in her science even when it fails her—Kes hasn't recovered, has she? They tell her the only answer to her troubles is an irrational one. She's going to have to take Kes into the shrine, which should kill them both, and ask the Ancestral Spirits to return her soul. This is a sticking point for many in this episode; if you're a religious person, it is likely offensive because many religious people are still secular in their daily lives. Only extremists shun modern medicine and when it comes to matters of science, devout people still trust their doctors. And if you're an atheist, you'll remember that scientific discoveries usually take time. Just because an answer isn't forthcoming doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The conflict here is arising from the urgency of Kes' condition. So Janeway being manipulated into this irrational behaviour can be frustrating on that level as well.

If the old folks were the last word on the subject, I would agree, but the episode isn't over yet. Against the objections of Chakotay and even Neelix, Kes is brought back to Plato's cave and Janeway takes them both into the shrine. The gods strike them both and Kes opens her eyes. Miraculous, huh?

We are meant to think so for the moment. BUT

EMH: The tricorder readings Commander Chakotay took at the shrine revealed traces of iridium ions, which we could have known about sooner if we'd been permitted to take those readings in the first place...They caused a temporary dielectric effect in the outer epidermal layers which neutralised some of the biogenic energy. Not much, but enough to make the Captain's altered biochemistry an effective defence...The metabolic treatment I administered protected you against the full impact of exposure to the field when the Captain took you through. That exposure functioned like a natural cortical stimulator and reactivated your synaptic pathways...
EMH: Captain? If there's something about my analysis you disagree with.
JANEWAY: It's a perfectly sound explanation, Doctor. Very scientific.

Janeway is disappointed to learn that her original conceit turned out to be completely correct. Remember:

JANEWAY: I imagine if we scratch deep enough we'd find a scientific basis for most religious doctrines.
CHAKOTAY: I remember when my mother taught me the science underlying the vision quest. In a way I felt disappointed. Some of the mystery was gone. Maybe the Nechani have chosen not to lose the mystery.

In order to save Kes, the crew have indeed scratched deeply enough to uncover the scientific basis for the Costanzas' religious doctrine. It's all pretty straightforward actually: the creatures in Plato's Cave have evolved a bioelectrical immunity to the Zeus lightening which can be passed on to humanoids through their bite. Everything else is pretty much meaningless. So why is Janeway so disappointed? She was right all along. Well, it's because of that big smile in Act 4. Janeway had a religious experience and it brought her a kind of joy she hadn't experienced before. Much like the ending of “Tuvix,” a lot of the meaning in the story is conveyed visually, through Mulgrew's acting, the lingering camera shots, and the music. Television is a visual medium—it's not all in the script.

Episode as Functionary : ***.5, 10%

This episode is almost universally misunderstood (including by me the first time I commented on this page), both by those who like and those who hate it. What we eventually discover is that, given time, a scientific inquiry into the caves would dismantle the religion of the Costanzas completely. And it is that which Janeway mourns in the end. She was forced into a situation where her access to information was artificially restricted, and in that state, she had a religious experience. It was moving for her. And that's because the ability to have those kind of transcendent episodes relies upon a certain degree of detachment from reality, of purposeful ignorance. Janeway learns that it can be meaningful to intentionally enter Plato's Cave, chain oneself up and observe the shadows on the walls. They can be really beautiful, those shadows.

Remember the set-up here. The Costanzas are a secular society. Tinman is very proud that they keep matters of state and faith separate on their world. It all seems very enlightened, but this creates its own set of problems, allegorised by Kes' condition. If we don't want people to die from Zeus lightening, they either have to adopt the religious rituals and belief system of the monks or they have to conduct a scientific examination of the Cave (which is what the Voyager crew ended up doing). But in so doing, the transcendence afforded by those beliefs, the insight into one's own character presented to Janeway in the waiting room is lost. Either way, it's a sacrifice. Janeway didn't realise she was missing something in her life until she went through all this. And that's the lesson here. Unlike with the Bajorans on DS9, the episode isn't advocating for contrived leaps of faith for their own sake. The episode is just as critical of that kind of ignorant credulity as “Who Watches the Watchers” was. However, “Sacred Ground” recognises that the loss of faith is emotionally costly. In order to be complete people, we need some sort of connection to the transcendent. We cannot live our lives completely within rational dimensions.

But the episode doesn't confuse transcendence with an advocation for credulity. And that is so important. Remember that while Janeway was having her trip in the tomb, when she was beaming on the beach in communion with the spirits, the Doctor was observing, plain as day, that she was not in mortal peril, that she was just hallucinating. Unlike the Prophets who, despite being intentionally manipulative of Sisko and the Bajorans, utilising religious beliefs to further their own agenda, are framed as somehow always being right, the old folks and the guide are shown to be WRONG. There's no bullshit line like Kira's “that's the thing about faith. If you don't have it you can't understand it, and if you do - no explanation is necessary.” Nope. Janeway is crushed by the news that her experience has a scientific explanation. She doesn't go looking for ways to rationalise her belief, she doesn't will herself back into ignorance. She simply mourns the loss which is beautifully tragic.

Despite the dynamite ending and message, the episode is far from perfect. There are some minor contrivances, such as the fact they didn't just equip Janeway with a scanning device that would give the EMH the data he needed instead of monitoring Janeway's lifesigns, or that despite the fact that these caves are deadly, Tinman didn't think to warn his alien guests. Additionally, the first three and a half acts, while important to the theme, are rather tedious to sit through. It all works in the end, but it's somewhat less than entertaining.

Final Score : ***
William B
Sat, May 9, 2020, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
@Elliott, interesting take, and one which seems internally consistent.

I don't remember the episode that well, and am not dying to revisit it. My memory of the final Janeway beat is different. I interpreted Janeway not as sad but not fully accepting the rational technobabble explanation supplied by the Doctor; rather, I thought that she more or less was accepting the religious explanation as paramount, and the scientific explanation as the process by which the numinous process occurred in the world. This sends a different message than the one you argue, which is that the "miraculous" can occur through rational process, and the religious dimension is less believing in events that could have only been explained in religious terms so much as believing that the primary, more important explanation is the religious one. An equivalent would be that if a person believes that life exists on Earth because of a divine creator, and that the observable physical processes are how that divine will manifests. However, as I say, I don't remember the scene clearly enough to stand by that interpretation.

Regarding my point about whether Janeway should see the spirits as Prophet-like aliens, I may have overlooked the scene you referenced. But it also is maybe a general point not specific to this episode. Part of the general difficulty with the religion vs rationality stuff in Trek is that if you take the whole continuity seriously then, like, Apollo literally exists, the Rubber Tree people were given alien god upgrades, there is a superpowered race in the Q judging humanity which can make apparently impossible things happen, Beverly had a family sex ghost, etc. In each case that they must still live by some rational laws, albeit ones we don't understand, is still clear, but if Q wanted to make a whole human race out of Adam and Eve and then make it look a few generations later like we evolved from single celled organisms, he probably could. Thus that there might be beings of conscious will who wish to be appeased should always be on the table, and it's only because this takes the form of religious devotion that it is dismissed. The key thing is that because superpowered beings exist and make demands does not confer moral authority onto them, which is why Kirk usually blows them up.

With this episode, I guess the issue is that it feels like of the three options

1. Purely scientific and non-conscious phenomenon
2. Purely scientific consciously willed phenomenon by superbeing with its own agenda
3. Nonscientific phenomenon willed by God with divine moral authority

there's the sense that the episode (maybe?) mostly considers it 1 or 3 and Janeway is only intermittently considering 2. On the other hand maybe she considers 2 more than I recall, or maybe she shouldn't be considering 2.

And of course, you know, that Apollo was an alien is one of those things from TOS that are necessarily not incorporated into the day to day life of people in the Trek verse. There has to be some room to flex to different kinds of stories without the implications of every one affecting every other. And even then, we can maybe conclude that even though apparently lots of human "gods" were actually aliens this is actually super rare and *most* planets in Trek that worship gods are not worshipping physically existing aliens with their own wacky agendas.
Elliott
Sat, May 9, 2020, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
@WIlliam B

I just want to say that I admire how cogent and thoughtful your stream-of-conscious responses and reviews are. When I write up reviews I jump around, piecing together bits from from old posts and double checking other episodes, rewinding and fast-forwarding, moving text from here to there--all in an attempt to make a coherent argument out of a review.

As far as this one, yeah, it's not very enjoyable to sit through--it's not awful either, it's just pretty bland for most of it. And without that final scene it would have pretty much failed as an episode in my opinion. I do encourage you to rewatch that final scene as it reads very clearly to me what Janeway is feeling. On some level she wasn't fully aware of (likely due to the exhaustion of her experience), she hoped the miraculous (non)explanation given to her by the monks was true; she was ready to start believing in things instead of being the consummate scientist. The episode becomes and indictment of believing in things because you want them to be true, because they appeal to your emotions. I found it quite strong on those terms.

For me, this also helps to reconcile the other points you bring up about the seemingly endless array of godlike aliens that keep crossing our heroes' paths. If there were some sort of alien beings whom the people here worshipped as gods, Janeway wouldn't have any sort of crisis in making attempts to communicate with them to save Kes. She would endure the rituals, she would (as she tried at first) "respect" the cultural perspective of the locals while being fully aware of the reality of the situation. That's been done before. To get where she got, Janeway needed to actually undergo a fundamental change in the way she conceptualises the universe.

"And even then, we can maybe conclude that even though apparently lots of human "gods" were actually aliens this is actually super rare and *most* planets in Trek that worship gods are not worshipping physically existing aliens with their own wacky agendas."

This immediately made me think of Ardra. If the new series were more...Star Trekky, I think this would make a great premise for an episode (or an arc, I guess); maybe there's a rogue sect of Q who go around the galaxy impersonating deities.
William B
Sat, May 9, 2020, 4:37pm (UTC -5)
@Elliott, thank you! I admire the care with which you're doing these write-ups and the philosophical consistency with which you're approaching it (and which you are attempting to apply to Trek).

I will probably check out that last scene. Certainly if makes sense that Janeway genuinely became something of a Believer, and needed to for the episode to have its impact, and that Janeway was pretty broken down to get to that point also makes sense.

"This immediately made me think of Ardra. If the new series were more...Star Trekky, I think this would make a great premise for an episode (or an arc, I guess); maybe there's a rogue sect of Q who go around the galaxy impersonating deities."

That's a cool idea. It makes me think too how much even bad Trek used to be Star Trekky, because it makes me think of that TOS captain choosing to make a planet into Nazis for some reason (essentially making them worship him) or Nikolai manipulating the villagers with weather tricks in Homeward. They weren't exactly brimming with responsible or well thought out takes on the material but seemed to be...sort of in the neighbourhood of these themes anyway.
William B
Sat, May 9, 2020, 4:41pm (UTC -5)
Ds9 spoilers

It also makes me think of the potential in a story where Dukat didn't for a moment buy into the Pah-wraith thing but realized he could use Bajoran religion to finally gain Bajoran worship, which is actually *so close* to Covenant but yet so far. I know Peter should offer some advantages to what we got, but it's interesting to think about anyway.
Peter G.
Sat, May 9, 2020, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
I think there's another option for interpreting Janeway's reaction other than that she actually wanted to believe in the miraculous. Her MO here and elsewhere is that she's the scientist: things have rational explanations and she loves solving them. However the thing about solving something is you risk making it smaller than you, whereas an unknown is bigger than you. In her experience in the supposed miracle I'm not sure we're supposed to understand that she had an awakening about religious experiences per se, but more an exposure to 'the great mysteries'. It's not clear to me that she would ascribe the mystery to supernatural causes, even tacitly. I wonder whether the issue at stake isn't more than love of science should be predicated on love of the unknown for its own sake, not just solving it and boxing it up. Like William B, I'd need to watch it again to confirm my guess, but I suspect that there's a thrill for someone like Janeway to know there are still things science hasn't solved. It may not be so much that Janeway wants an experience that she can compartmentalize as religious, but rather that she wants the mystery of the unknown to be a part of her active life, whereas more often than not they are charting anomalies and star systems whose properties are pretty well-known to them.

I might be reading too much into this, but I can imagine increasing advances in science rendering most everyday experiences as completely explainable and lacking the allure of the chaotic world of the Ancient Greeks where everything was gods. It's not that we want to *pretend* to believe on occasion while being atheists for the most part; it's that we like it when the world is larger than we are and in a sort of immersive sense we're subject to its mysteries rather than it being subject to the might of our technology. It doesn't feel good to be subject to some random illness, of course, so the mysteries come at a steep price; all in all I'd prefer good medicine to the thrill of some random herb actually working for a chance and marveling at the mysteries of nature. But as Elliott mentions, there's lossage that comes with power.

This issue of de-mystifying scientific phenomena has a good place in a discussion involving Q. One thing great about Q is he's essentially a total cipher, and at best we can infer his motives, but never his nature. Things go downhill for the mythos of the Q when we begin to learn actual details of their 'society' and their limitations. We didn't want to know that! Or at least we shouldn't if we want them to remain grand and wondrous (if impish). Sure, presumably the Q are not actual gods but are godlike-aliens who exist outside of time, but if we reduced them to their (extremely advanced) nuts and bolts they'd be no fun anymore. It's not that we want to experience the Q *as a religious mystery*, but we do like it when we don't know what they are and are faced with something just beyond us. Feeling small like that can be a good thing even though it can also kill us.

Maybe this episode is about that? That science gives with one hand and takes with the other? I'm not sure I ever got from this one that Janeway regrets the lack of mysticism in his life, and I'm also not sure I agree with Elliott's thesis that it's particularly meaningful to intentionally accept as amazing mysticism stuff that out of the other side of our mouth we cynically know is just nuts and bolts. I think it's probably best in this context not to confuse belief in what we might call metaphysical (or theological) truths, with that feeling we get when in the presence of something awesome. The latter atheists can have without also tricking themselves into thinking it's a religious experience. But the former cannot be reduced to a mere emotional experience at something you don't understand.
William B
Sun, May 10, 2020, 8:19am (UTC -5)
Another interesting take, Peter. I will say that that sense of wonder is also something that Janeway really emphasized Emanations, to Kim, so I'm not sure that it would be so great a shock to her system on its own. But it's also very different being abstractly aware that there are wonders beyond understanding and actually experiencing one.

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