We discover just how far Janeway will go for a cup of coffee.
“The Cloud” hangs a lot of character scenes off a very slight plot: its energy reserves low, Voyager pops into a handy nebula to charge itself up. Bad news, the “nebula” is actually a life form, and Team Voyager have to repair the damage they caused.
That’s all very straightforward; the point of this episode is the characters. Six technobabble-heavy episodes in, it’s a good time to check in and see what people are up to.
Kes and Neelix
Kes: TOTALLY INTO THIS EXPLORING THING.
Neelix: REALLY SUPER NOT.
But Kes talks him around with some guff about how romantic it all is, and then there is kissing. Girl, please, ditch the hedgehog. You can do so much better.
More entertaining is Neelix’s claiming of the title of morale officer, complete with turning up on the bridge with snacks. I, too, worry about the blood sugar levels of the bridge crew.
Being Neelix, he still goes from “mildly entertaining” to “slightly embarrassing” way too fast, but this is a big step up from his first scene in this episode, which I’ll discuss below.
Harry and Tuvok
Turns out the bridge has a system for officers at separate stations to have sotto voce conversations. This is a wonderful concept and I’m sad we never see it again, because Harry gives Tuvok sass, and it’s great.
Tom and Harry
Back in my teens, what I really wanted from Star Trek was to see a friendship like Tom and Harry’s, but between women.
Deanna and Beverly were close, but it always felt like the writers had gone, “Well, they’re the only female regulars, of course they’re besties!” And Kira and Dax had a different vibe.
Now, finally, I have Michael Burnham and Sylvia Tilly, BFFs In Space (With Bonus Mentoring). And, as a great big nerd who likes to go to bed early, I have to say, I think Michael is a better friend than Tom.
- Tom’s kind of a dick in the way he shoots down Harry’s suggestion that they invite the captain to join them for breakfast. His sense of protocol isn’t wrong, but he’s unnecessarily patronising.
- What kind of asshole breaks into a person’s quarters and wakes them up to go to a (fake) nightclub?
- IF ANY OF MY FRIENDS EVER DID THAT TO ME, I WOULD MURDER THEM.
- (Luckily all my friends know that, and I could fill a whole zine with “Cool things my friends did after I went to bed at 9, and I wish them well and have no regrets because have you tried this sleeping thing? It’s so great”.)
- Tom’s all, “Loosen up! Drink holographic booze and objectify holographic women with me!” and I’m like, dude, maybe you should respect Harry’s boundaries and also stop objectifying holographic women.”
Michael would never–
Okay, she’d absolutely be patronising as she explains to Tilly that
ensigns cadets don’t invite captains to join them. Then Tilly would ignore her and commence a monologue that starts, “Will you join us for breakfast, Captain Janeway?” and end some minutes later with, “and also teach me everything you know about being a captain and also how you do your hair and have I mentioned yet that I love you?”
(Dear universe, please provide me with this fic. I’ve read all the other Disco/Voyager crossovers, and I need this. Thank you.)
Anyway, Tom is not in a great place right now, and Harry knows it. And doesn’t push, because Harry is a good friend.
They also have a conversation about Harry’s mother’s womb, which is weird and silly, and felt organic in a way that a lot of Voyager‘s dialogue doesn’t.
Tom and B’Elanna
She calls him a pig, and it’s great.
I can’t believe they’re gonna get married. I can’t believe they’re gonna get married, and I’m not going to hate it.
B’Elanna and the Doctor
Their involvement is mainly plot-related and heavy on the technobabble. I wish we knew more about where B’Elanna’s head is at right now, but on the other hand, we get to see Janeway muting the Doctor.
God, if only that functionality wasn’t completely incompatible with his status as a sentient lifeform.
Janeway and Neelix
Neelix takes it upon himself to mansplain command to Janeway. Before coffee.
The miracle is that he lives to the end of the episode, let alone the next seven years.
Janeway and Chakotay
A lot of “The Cloud” is about Janeway figuring out how to be a leader in a situation where the old protocols not only don’t apply, but might actually impede crew morale. She’s always been comfortable maintaining a level of distance between herself and her subordinates, but that was when she had peers to confide in.
Chakotay proposes the Native American spiritual practice of consulting with one’s animal guide, and offers to teach Janeway how to do that. What results is both shippy — he shows her things he has literally never shared with anyone — and deeply #problematic.
I’m not knowledgeable about Native American religion, but I do know that, as far back as the nineties, First Nations people were criticising these scenes as a generic mishmash of different Native American cultural traditions.
And they haven’t gotten any better with age — honestly, Janeway comes across as treating the whole concept with only marginally more reverence than a Buzzfeed quiz. Add in the Racist Pan Pipes that always appear when Chakotay’s heritage is explored, and —
Look. I’ll give the team points for trying to be inclusive and respectful, and it was the nineties and a different time and all that. And then I’ll deduct points for Racist Pan Pipes, using a “consultant” who had already been outed as a fake, and all the rest.
The one good thing about these scenes: Chakotay refers to “our scientists” developing technology that replaces psychotropic herbs in rituals. Too rarely do we see First Nations cultures — of any country — depicted as evolving.
Janeway and coffee
The most pure and enduring relationship of the entire show.
Janeway and her rank
We conclude with Janeway finding a balance between professional distance and getting too chummy with the plebs — Harry casts protocol aside and invites her to the holodeck, where she proceeds to hustle her crew at billiards. Your fave could never.
(I mean, provided your fave is Captain Picard. It took him seven years to get to this point!)
The issue will be revisited now and then over the years, but the real achievement here is that Kathryn has made a connection with her crew. She trusts them, and they trust her (although maybe not when it comes to billiards). These people can depend on each other. They’re becoming a family.
- Tom’s holodeck program is a #metoo scandal waiting to happen. I honestly don’t understand the appeal of interacting with holographic “people”, let alone being sexually harassed by them.
- So they’re desperately low on energy, but also running the holodeck. “Parallax” contained a throwaway line about the holodeck systems being separate and incompatible with the rest of the ship’s energy network, but I do not believe for a moment that B’Elanna couldn’t fix that before breakfast if she wanted to.
This is one of those points where the desire to make Voyager TNG 2.0 meant losing an interesting angle for stories and conflict. What if only one holodeck was left online, and its use was strictly rationed? Illicit holodeck use. Communal programs only, and limited to settings, not artificial people. This could have been a whole thing, is what I’m saying.
- Even Tuvok is hanging out on the holodeck. I bet Harry invited him, too.
- Concept: Harry Kim is a better morale officer than Neelix.
Would I recommend this to the newbie Disco fan in my head? Not wholeheartedly — like, fast forward through the Janeway/Chakotay stuff*, but the rest of the character development is great. And Voyager has always been more about character than plot.
Three coffee nebulae out of five, except for the Janeway/Chakotay scenes, which deserve only one coffee nebula.
* Can’t believe I just said that.