Friday, 30 May 2014

Review: Voyager 2.23: The Thaw

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The Doctor banters with Fear. From Wikia
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode Twenty-Three - The Thaw
Written 29/11/13

Oh, Voyager. I love you. Sometimes after a long line of slightly boring or weird episodes, a work of pure genius comes along that makes everything right again. We already had one such episode with Meld earlier in the season, but now we hit upon an episode whose simple premise manages to take a goofy villain and use him to tap into the darkest recesses of the human soul. It's episodes like these that really help me justify my love for this little show - for where else in Star Trek could you find an episode in which our intrepid heroes must do battle with the idea of Fear itself?
     An exploration on a devastated planet reveals a group of survivors from the planet's civilisation - a group of people meant to have woken up from their self-imposed stasis four years prior to their discovery. Noting that two of the five stasis chambers contain dead inhabitants, Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres are sent in to the stasis chambers' virtual world to find out what's up - leading to the discovery of Fear (Michael McKean), an embodiment of the occupants' anxiety who is holding them hostage as a safeguard against the threat of his own non-existence. Fear punishes his hostages by torturing them with their most primal fears - not helped by the fact that he can read all of their thoughts, and kill them in the real world by decapitating them in their dream state. After sending in The Doctor to negotiate and not having much luck, Janeway tricks Fear by sending in a hologram of herself while simultaneously linking her thoughts to the system, leading Fear to face his own worst nightmare - oblivion.
      From the off, Janeway takes the situation as a challenge - she almost seems delighted, a more cunning and playful Picard. It is for her something of an opportunity - to quite literally fight Fear on its own terms. While she approaches it as a conflict, Michael McKean's Fear does his best to mimic the metaphorical properties that emotion has. His character is paranoid and possessive, passing swiftly from irreverent to draconian at the drop of a hat. He mocks and tears at his captive's mental defences, both in subtle ways and in obvious ones. The to and fro between the two is quite fabulous across the episode, with the final confrontation being a perfect scene in which Janeway reveals that instead of fighting fear head-on, she has managed instead to simply trick it out of existence.
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Don't be afraid. From Wikia
       This was also a sorta-centric for Harry Kim, who as ship butt-monkey ends up trapped in with Fear for the longest. Fear was seen to pick on many things - his crippling insecurity, his fear of being helpless, and his childhood fear of hospitals. (Feelin' ya there, Harry.) We also got some fun moments for The Doctor, whose dead-pan provided the perfect straight-man for some of Fear's funnier moments. Yes, funnier moments - that was part of the episode's charm, in the way that it balanced the terrifying concept with a script which found a way to spend most of the downtime milking the funnies from McKean's performance.
     When it's good, it's good. That's the impression that Season Two has given me, and The Thaw is yet another week where, if you ignore one or two moments that don't work, the show doesn't put a foot wrong. It had charm and grace as well as a fluency with its characters which gave it a shroud of confidence - one that Voyager very rarely gets to put on. Thanks to a combination of a fantastic script, a bally good concept and one of my favourite of the early show's guest stars, The Thaw managed to fight off the lingering fears that I had for the show - for a while, at least. Just wait until next week.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We discuss morality, the Devil's Advocate, the true nature of the self and whether the writers were on crack when they came up with Tuvix.

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