Thursday, 24 October 2013

Review: Voyager 1.9: Emanations
Harry awakens on the Vhnori homeworld.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Nine - Emanations
Written 1/6/13

Star Trek was founded on somewhat uniquely humanist philosophies, with Gene Roddenberry's secularism translating to a future without religion. The 24th Century series (TNG, DS9 and VOY) have since found ways to explore religious themes in varying levels of agreement with the show's original brief. This episode is surprisingly serious for Voyager, and your interpretation as to whether it follows Roddenberry's original intentions is very much left up to you.
     Having found a new element (THAT'S NOT HOW CHEMISTRY WORKS), the crew find what appears to be an alien cemetary in a graveyard. A magic space whatsit appears and Ensign Kim is swapped with a fresh corpse, transported to the homeworld of the Vhnori, a people who have come to believe that the space whatsits take you to a luxury afterlife. They get understandably distressed when Harry reveals that they just sorta die and decompose, which leads to him having to team up with doubting corpse-to-be Hatil, who swaps places with him in order to let Kim go home.
     As a secularist myself, I find the episode to act as a perfect demonstration as to why faith is fundamentally damaging, not just on a personal level but on a societal one. The Vhnori culture has become stagnated and is more obsessed with creating technology to euthanise people than it is in actually treating them, and people treat Death as an enlightening promotion prospect instead of the end of a life. Hatil's death is chosen by his family without him having any say in the matter, and the woman who gets swapped with Harry is unable to continue living there because of her trauma over there being no afterlife. Death is the end - there's no question about that, no need to quibble, because the human consciousness is the hologramatic output from millions of electrochemical signals, and once they're gone, you just don't exist any more.
     Although, that apparently wasn't the intention. Apparently this episode was supposed to be a commentary on Euthanasia. The eagerness to die in their society isn't the main part of the problem, it's the fact that they're doing it based on faith and not a scientific certainty - all they know is that pockets appear in space that whisk them away, they have nothing to say it's an afterlife. Euthanasia in a scenario where the afterlife was a certainty isn't necessarily a bad thing if said afterlife exists, but there's no evidence for the Vhnori to believe that there is and yet they do it anyway.
Funny forehead aliens with little concept of reason.
    Movng away from the political debate, I will thus declare this Kim Death Count - 1. This is a Harry Kim episode, alright, and for the first time the character gets to do something besides look amazed and say damn weird shit. (He remembers being in his mother's womb, apparently.) His reaction to the culture of the Vhnori was a little lily-livered and I wish that he'd had an overall reaction that wasn't just a regurgiation of everything the audience was supposed to be thinking, but I did like that he chose to risk permenant death in order to get home and allow Hatil to escape from his painfully overbearing family.
     Emanations may not cover a lot of its issues with the required tact and grace, but it is an episode that makes you think, and that is what all good sci-fi should do. Harry Kim got a good airing for once, and despite a few points of contention here or there, this episode did cover a great many philosophical rguments regarding death, faith and the afterlife that makes it really stand out in the otherwise humdrum first season.


NEXT WEEK: Janeway turns down an offer to get home because reasons. Tuvok is the Vulcan equivalent of pissed, helps lead a rebellion. It's Prime Factors.

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