So, normally, when I get to an episode of Star Trek from this period, the episode may focus on one particular character, and that character will somehow find a way to save the day from the threat of the week.
This episode notably did not do that. I am not sure how I feel about that.
Voyager is headed towards the Botha’s territory. Not much is known about these guys aside from the fact that many ships that go in never come out. Janeway wants to try and negotiate her way through, but she’s also doing something like fifteen things at the same time, and when an experiment to send the Doctor to Engineering with some holo-emitters ends with a Barbie-doll sized Doctor standing in Engineering, he does what no hologram has ever done before: exercise his power to overrule a captain on all matters of medical necessity and orders Janeway to go do something relaxing, specifically to do more with her holonovel where she plays a governess to two children in Victorian-era Britain for some intense nobleman who is falling for the governess and…wait, that sounds like Jane Eyre. I can kinda get why Picard’s “Dixon Hill” might be a thing since some of the classics of noir detective fiction might still have been under copyright, but Charlotte Bronte has been dead for a very long time, and it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal to make Janeway’s whole experience be as “Jane Eyre” instead of this knock-off.
Say, if Janeway decides to go off-script, does that change how the story goes? And Janeway…Jane Eyre…that seems almost lazy.
Eh, it doesn’t matter. I actually like Jane Eyre. Now Wuthering Heights on the other hand…
Never mind. Small things from Janeway’s holonovel begin to appear outside the holodeck, first in the form of cups and sandwiches, and then the little girl from the story. Likewise, Janeway thinks she hears her boyfriend Mark and possibly their Irish setter while she’s along in her room before being attacked by the hostile cook from her holonovel. There’s no evidence of what Janeway is seeing. No one else can see these things (with one exception). The Doctor can’t find anything wrong with her physically. Sure, the Botha representative, whose face is hidden in shadows, seems hostile, and the demands he makes are a bit too much, but why would Janeway be seeing things?
Well, she isn’t. Kes can also see them.
See, here’s the swivel. This isn’t an episode where Janeway saves the day. This is one where Kes, who plays a relatively small role for most of the episode until the last 15 minutes or so, saves the day. Janeway is just the first target of the Botha attack. They’re a powerful telepathic race, one that one by one causes the different members of the crew to essentially freeze in place as they either see the person they love most in their minds looking for some good times or, in Tom Paris’s case, the person he has the most tension with (Paris’s father) essentially challenging his will to go on. Perhaps to show how powerful this attack is, Tuvok and his disciplined Vulcan mind is the first name character to go down, seeing his wife and homeworld and that’s that. Even knowing what’s going on, as Janeway certainly does, only allows a person to keep themselves active for but so long.
There are, of course, two people on the ship who seem to be OK. One is the Doctor, but he can’t leave Sickbay. He and Kes knows there’s something in Engineering that Torres set up to shut down the attack. Kes just needs to go down there and turn it on. She ignores an injured Paris in a corridor when he won’t just go to the nearby Sickbay, and when Neelix shows up to get her to stop and run away with him, this one is different since he at one point turns off the console the Doctor is using to talk to Kes. Basically, this fake Neelix is physical, and when Kes decides to keep pushing forward, he does something to make her think she’s covered in radiation burns and sores and the like, but Kes, well…she’s strong enough to push it right back.
It turns out this Neelix was a Botha hiding in plain sight the whole time. Or he was a telepathic projection. All I know is, dude was an asshole because, when Janeway asked why the Botha were doing what he did, he just said it was because they could.
So, a subconscious attack on the crew, one that deeply affected everyone, leading to Janeway and Torres to reflect on it a bit on what happened. But really, this was a stealth Kes episode, and she barely reflects on anything at all. I think I know why the character doesn’t make it to the series finale.