Voyager rewatch 4.14 – “Message in a Bottle”

Voyager is sending out an SOS, sending out an SOS…

I have to be honest. I watched this way back on Sunday 22 August 2021. I hit the “add a new post” button on Thursday 9 September because it’s only now that I feel like I have something to say about “Message in a Bottle”.1

Which is kind of a bummer, amiright? This is a big deal of an episode! Voyager makes contact with Starfleet! New antagonists are introduced! There’s a Very Special Guest Star!

And it’s funny! I remember watching this for the first time, just a few days after I had my appendix removed — in open surgery, mind, this was before laparoscopic appendectomies were routine — and laughing so hard that I was afraid I’d burst my stitches.

My friends, watching it on that cool Sunday afternoon, I barely cracked a smile.

I don’t think that makes this a bad episode. As a general rule, I don’t find comedy terribly rewatchable — and maybe comedy in which two incompetent, egotistical white men bumble their way to success isn’t something that appeals to me anymore. I mean, we all know that a little of the EMH goes a really long way with me, and Andy Dick seems like a deeply unpleasant person all around, in ways which make it hard to enjoy his work.

Buuuuuuuuut that doesn’t actually make this a bad episode. It’s just very much not an episode for me. At least, it wasn’t on 22 August 2021, and it isn’t right now.2

And that’s okay! Maybe it will click better on my next rewatch!

Here’s what I did like

Okay, yes, it’s frustrating that B’Elanna and Seven are constantly butting heads and learning from each other without ever quite becoming friends. GUYS, I FRIENDSHIP THEM SO HARD!

But it has an element of realism, I guess (she said, reluctantly), and I thoroughly enjoy any B-plot which consists primarily of Janeway, Seven and B’Elanna doing engineering and diplomacy with varying levels of skill, success and intent to harm. In fact, I’d happily watch a whole episode where that was the A, B and C plots and the only other character who appears is  Tuvok.

Also also also

Janeway and Chakotay talk about writing letters home to their loved ones, and definitely not their relationship.

Look, sometimes “eye contact” is enough to make me happy. I’m easily pleased. Except by the Doctor.

There is also a “comedic” C-plot

Concerned that the Doctor won’t make it back from the Alpha Quadrant, Tom persuades Harry that they should try to create a new EMH.

This is … fine. You could run it as an A-plot on Lower Decks without changing a single thing. It mostly didn’t work for me because, well, you never want to think too hard about holotechnology, because you end up going, “Okay, but if Tuvok can create simulacra of the crew which are almost identical to the real thing, and then Seska can reprogram Tuvok’s fake Doctor to torture people, how hard can it actually be to create an EMH? Just walk  onto the holodeck and go, ‘Hey, computer, I need an Emergency Medical Hologram.'”

Then you might start thinking about how the Doctor isn’t really treated like a piece of software as we know it — they can’t send a copy of the Doctor to the alpha quadrant, or even on away missions, while leaving another copy in sickbay. Is the EMH subject to copyright protection? I bet getting around that would be a lot easier than trying to create a new version from scratch. The whole first half of season one of Halt and Catch Fire is basically about that! Except with a BIOS instead of an EMH, but how different can it be, really?

And THEN you think, wow, I am way overthinking this, and also not paying any attention whatsoever to what is happening on screen.

Other observations

  • I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I can’t believe I even thought it, but I don’t know that the Romulans really added much to this episode?
  • Look. I am not representative of mainstream fans, let alone the general wider audience. I would totally love a whole story from the perspective of Starfleet Command as they get this weird message from a dude who claims to be the Emergency Medical Hologram on a ship everyone knows was lost years ago. Does Starfleet even have a form for that? I’d love to find out!
  • The Hirogen are gonna be a big deal for the next few episodes, and I love that their introduction is actually pretty low-key, and doesn’t really tell us what their deal is.

In conclusion

I’m pretty sure this is a good episode. And it’s definitely an important one. So while it only gets two and a half EMHs out of five from me, it’s absolutely one to check out, and chances are you’ll have more fun than I did, because I hate joy or whatever.

  1. Yes, it is July 2022. Stop looking at me like that.
  2. “Right now” meaning “last September as I sit here in July 2022, I SAID stop looking at me like that! Anyway, all these feelings still stand.

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