Voyager rewatch 2.10 – “Cold Fire”

Kes meets more space elves. It goes poorly.

(This is going up a day late, because I’m still on my summer break and, um, forgot what day it was.)

“Cold Fire” is not a bad episode. It’s just not a good one.

The premise: way back at the end of the very first episode, Janeway was told that the Caretaker once had a mate, and that she was somewhere out there in the Delta Quadrant.

Betcha didn’t think they’d find her only ten months later, right? Surprise! She’s here … and she’s named after an iconic horror movie of the ’70s, which cannot possibly be a good sign.

Getting the smallstuff out of the way

It really does feel petty to point out the ways this episode is let down by budget limitations. Oh, I’m sorry they didn’t have an unlimited bucket of money to throw at this episode of television. How terrible that corners had to be cut, for the very first time in Star Trek‘s entire history.

But hey, it’s my blog, I’ll be petty if I want to — and it really is a shame that we only see one of the Ocampa whose ancestors took off with Suspiria three hundred years ago. And though he claims that Voyager is sterile and lifeless compared with the Ocampa civilisation aboard Suspiria’s array, the only glimpse we get of his home is a … bland, unremarkable office.

Anyway! It’s a Kes story!

All season, I’ve wanted a Kes story that didn’t also revolve around the men in her life. And here it is!

But maybe that wish-granting monkey’s paw was faulty, because … well, it just doesn’t quite come together for me. For one thing — and I hate even thinking it — I’m not sure Jennifer Lien was up to the job here.

In fairness to Lien, she has to spend a lot of time reacting to inanimate objects, and gazing with wonder at props, and that’s a challenge for any performer. But this is meant to be a story about Kes being tempted by the possibilities of her psychic powers, to realise that she can both create and destroy, and I never believed Lien’s performance. There were scenes when I genuinely didn’t understand why Kes was reacting in a particular way, but then the dialogue would tell me she was meant to be conveying something quite different.

I don’t think she’s helped by Gary Graham’s performance as Tanis, Kes’s Ocampan would-be mentor. Graham comes across as a major creep, and I kept wondering why Kes wouldn’t see the red flags. (Answer: because we already know she has the worst taste in men in the entire quadrant.)

Would “Cold Fire” have worked better if Tanis had been played by a woman? Very possibly — it would have neatly paralleled Janeway’s mentorship of Kes (and foreshadowed the rivalry between Janeway and the Borg Queen over Seven of Nine), and the Kes-Janeway-f!Tanis-Suspiria quartet could have been quite interesting.

Or maybe f!Tanis would have come across as an ugly predatory lesbian stereotype. Who can say?

The good bits

We know that Tuvok has been coaching Kes in the use of her mental abilities, but now we get to see that in action. And it’s great! The opening scene, with Kes telepathically eavesdropping on Neelix’s haircut, is funny, and then we get the darker twist later on, where she literally boils his blood.

I know I spend a lot of time going, “Tuvok, you guys, he’s just so great!” But I completely overlooked him in … every single Voyager viewing up until now, and I’m making up for lost time.

But also, he’s just so great. “You are probably feeling the emotion known as remorse. Possibly guilt.” Bit passive-aggressive, eh? On the other hand, Kes just SET HIS BLOOD ON FIRE, I guess he has the right.

There was also some technobabble

We’re overdue for a B’Elanna episode. Roxann Dawson has been criminally underused so far this season.

The Nacene mystique

Despite attempts to make Suspiria creepy — she manifests as a pretty little blonde girl, but she’s voiced by Majel Barrett — I feel like “Cold Fire” didn’t use the female Caretaker concept all that well.

The technobabble didn’t help, of course. But “Caretaker” presented us with a mysterious, powerful being whose motivations were consistent but not always comprehensible. Suspiria comes across as petulant, throwing tantrums over the death of the ex she broke up with years ago. And dubbing her voice — which is never convincing — didn’t exactly give her gravitas.

I’m not exactly disappointed that we never see her again, but I feel like, with just a little bit of refinement, the execution could have been improved. And it’s not as if you can’t recast her.

Ship! Of! Death!

“Cold Fire” introduces the notion that Voyager has a serious PR problem. I love this, both as a plot device and as a means of demonstrating how stories can change depending on context. That tiny ship of plucky nerds? Aggressive, dangerous idiots, the lot of them.

Another thing I liked … and it involves Neelix?

Neelix has not, let’s put it politely, covered himself in glory so far in the series, but he takes a small step forward in “Cold Fire”, mostly by virtue of the writers ignoring everything he’s said and done to date.

Where, in “Time and Again”, he was dismissive and mansplainy about Kes’s abilities, here he is respectful and encouraging. And, where he spent most of the season chucking tantrums if Kes so much as glanced in the general direction of another man, now he seems extremely chill about her relationship with Tanis.

Let’s call this a rare example of Voyager‘s slack continuity working in its, and Neelix’s, favour.

Other observations

  • Are there privacy concerns around having a trainee telepath on board? Is the crew aware that Kes is learning to listen to their thoughts? Is there a waiver you have to sign when you come on board?
  • Back in season one, Chakotay was very concerned about not inadvertently desecrating alien gravesites. But now he’s totally cool with rigging a compass up out of the Caretaker’s remains.
  • And we’re just gonna pre-emptively build a weapon to use against this alien we’ve never met before, just in case, and no one’s even going to raise an eyebrow? Guys.
  • Costume watch: my flatmate, a connoisseur of ugly mustard outfits, was quite impressed by Kes’s mustard-on-burgundy-on-more-mustard ensemble, and bought the same stretchy-crumpled undershirt at Uniqlo last month.

In conclusion

“Cold Fire” is harmless, but skippable. Two out of five space elves.

Going forward

This is the last Voyager post for the next few months. I’m skipping next week’s blog post, as I’ll be in Brisbane, and I’m not certain how reliable the internet will be in my AirBnB, and anyway, it’s a holiday.

And then Discovery returns! And I have to switch from nostalgia-based blogging to … oh, I’m sure I’ll have something to say about each episode, I’ve never had a problem finding ways to talk about Star Trek before!

With episode releases moving from Mondays to Fridays, I suspect my posting schedule will also change — but we’ll see how we go.

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