Nutshell: Mostly pointless, even when considering this series' attitude on the big picture.
Without Neelix's running narration, "The Haunting of Deck Twelve" would probably be the lamest Voyager outing of the year. With Neelix's narration, it fares a bit better, but it's still not nearly enough to redeem an hour of mechanical plot plodding.
This is an example of style over substance. Of course, that's assuming you equate style with a smattering of photographed flashlight beams, darkened corridors with constantly blinking lights, pervasive (and persistent) clouds of deadly gas, and Jay Chattaway pounding away at the score to manufacture intensity where there isn't any.
This episode features far too many bland, pointless scenes. I'm reminded somehow of second season's "Twisted," which was essentially about people wandering the ship's corridors for an hour. To be sure, "Haunting" isn't as bad as "Twisted"; it at least knows enough to darken the lights and move the camera around a lot. And in addition to wandering the ship, the characters run diagnostics and do other mechanical things. Unlike "Twisted," there's at least an ostensible purpose here, even if not a real one. And it may not be a particularly compelling example of technique, but there's an effort to punch up the action and atmosphere to compensate for the woeful lack of material worth caring about.
But even in a series with no real goals beyond giving the characters a problem to solve each week, "The Haunting of Deck Twelve" manages to come off as filler. Maybe that's because it has so many filler-like scenes that don't seem necessary, while the rest of the story is uninteresting dreck.
I mean come on, people. This is an episode on autopilot: Establish a bizarro alien of the week (in this case, one that is an "electromagnetic lifeform"), have it take over the ship, and exercise all the usual clichés in addressing the crisis. (Of course, don't kill it, because this is Star Trek.) But before we can address the crisis, we first must identify or find it, which seems to take most of the hour. In the meantime, we have lots of scenes where people are running diagnostics or roaming the corridors—things that just don't seem very important.
The sole saving grace here is the story's take on a "creepy campfire tale," which is occasionally cute with Neelix sitting in a darkened cargo bay with the four Borg children. (And while I don't expect babies to listen to campfire stories, I still do want to know—whatever happened to Borg Kid #5, the infant?) The episode's action is told in flashback by Neelix. The justification for why he is telling this story seems contrived, but that's okay. What's not okay is that the contrivance makes no sense as presented. Much is made of the fact that the ship is being completely shut down. Of course, we never really find out why this is necessary. It's a plot point lost in sketchy scripting. The whole idea of shutting down the ship exists for no dramatic purpose aside from the fact the story needs darkness around which to frame its narration device.
In a way, the idea here is another analysis on the concept of telling a story. This was done a few weeks ago in "Muse," and I assure you in that case it was done much better. If "Muse" was a reflection on the Star Trek ideal, then "Haunting" is a reflection on pure schlock (which itself was done last year—and more humorously—in "Bride of Chaotica!"). There's a whiff of self-mocking in the notion that Neelix's story is a campy one, but not nearly enough to overcome the fact that the story being told isn't interesting.
Back to the problem with this episode: Neelix's source for the story, or in other words, the real plot. Umm ... who cares? It features another random alien intruder, an EM intelligence that can exist inside the Voyager computer and take total control of the ship. Sure. Talk about your ghosts in the machine. It's a glorified plot device that serves to get the crew running aimlessly all over the ship.
I say, if we're going to have a ghost-in-the-machine episode, at least make the villain a bad villain. Not the case here. The villain is a displaced but allegedly sympathetic entity that blames the Voyager crew for destroying its home, a nebula that the ship had been inside in the interests of deuterium collection. All it really wants is to go home. In a scary story, it might at least want to kill everybody and then move on to its next ship full of prey—bwahahahaha. But I forgot—we need our Starfleet philosophy to shine through, as Janeway is determined to make First Contact with this Alien Lifeform. Unfortunately, the story wants to have it both ways. When Janeway's efforts to help fail, the alien gets Real Mad and decides now it's ready to kill everybody. Up until this point, the attitude is see no evil, hear no evil. And in this case, breathe no evil.
Except for the fact that Seven at one point in the action breathes the gas created by the lifeform. It's only defending itself, of course. But what I don't get is Seven's inability to run away from danger. She's determined to walk calmly away from danger. Sure, she may be a Borg, but don't you think running away from a potentially deadly cloud of gas might be prudent? I guess I forgot Borg Rule #1: drones don't run.
Whatever. This is an episode that's not built on flowing logic but rather a slew of disjointed scenes—some of which I'm guessing would've been on the cutting room floor if there'd been enough worthy material. I liked, for example, that they brought back Crewman Celes (Zoe McLellan from "Good Shepherd"), and even that Seven treats her like the screw-up she was established to be in that episode. But the writers go overboard with Celes' goofy dialog, and the character sinks. Her motormouthing in the corridor with Harry about the ship being taken over by aliens is an overlong, pointless scene that had me wondering why we stopped so long to bother with it. (One would hope Neelix didn't halt his story to explain this exchange in detail to the Borg children. They'd likely fall asleep.)
I could go on with the plot, but why? It's all laborious, arbitrary, and meaningless, and as what I'm sure comes as a huge surprise, Everything Is Okay at the End—but not until after an evacuation that seems so hastily and unnecessarily established that it leaves one's head spinning. Janeway is able to successfully convince the lifeform to be merciful and trusting (although its change of heart at the Last Possible Moment is not of much interest), the crew finds the lifeform a new home, and it's on with business as usual.
In the meantime, we get some more Tuvok/Neelix banter, which managed to do little but remind me how much more I cared when Spock and Bones had discussions. Also, we get our Invented One-Hour Character Trait—the notion that Captain Janeway talks to her ship. We've never seen this before, and we'll never see it again. It's this week's random quirk, but I'll give the writers credit for trying to inject some humanity into their characters. For that matter, we also get Seven looking 2 percent disheveled when we see via close-up that several dozen strands of her hair are out of place.
My favorite moment in this episode is when Neelix is wandering the corridor outside the mess hall. He's all alone in a weird, dark situation. At the end of the hall, the turbolift doors are opening and closing, oscillating rapidly like something out of a supernatural film. (It's goofy but somehow cool-looking.) He looks curiously at the doors, and then suddenly turns around and behind him is ... TUVOK WEARING AN OXYGEN MASK! (Gasp!) It's among the oddest, cheapest, goofiest horror-movie-inspired moments I've seen on this series. And, somehow, I think everyone involved in making the scene knew that. And even if they didn't, oh well—I laughed long and hard.
If only "Haunting" had realized it was a genre comedy and played up the fun rather than the boring corridor-traipsing and systems-tinkering, they might've had something here: Voyager does Scream. Now there you go. Alas, it was not to be. And too bad—the stage hands operating the pulley on those turbolift doors really put in the effort for that one scene. I hope they got paid time and a half.
Next week: Borg + VR = ? Find out in the season finale.