Voyager rewatch 5.05 – “Once Upon A Time”

A sickly-sweet truffle with a war crimes centre

Calling “Once Upon A Time” a bad episode feels like bullying. Like disemboweling a Teletubby or decapitating Barney. It can’t help that it was an episode written at the last minute by a group of people who had no children, in an era of particularly anodyne and awful children’s television.

Nevertheless. This is a bad episode, and everyone involved in it should feel bad.

This episode of Bluey is called “war crimes”!

A title card from "Bluey" with "War Crimes" where the real title should be.

According to Memory Alpha, the original concept for this episode was that it would take place almost entirely on the holodeck, with glimpses of the outside world that reveal Voyager is fighting a war. This was nixxed at the last minute by Rick “I hate epic plots and big ideas” Berman, who was concerned audiences might somehow get confused with DS9.

I respect this as an interesting concept, and one that is not inherently bad. But I gotta say, I feel like we dodged a bullet. A whole episode with Trevis and Flotter and the bad pastiche of bad children’s television? I’d rather face the Ogre of Fire, or better yet, actual death.

Truly, the most interesting things about the Trevis and Flotter “stories” are on the worldbuilding side:

  • It’s clearly conceived with the idea that we can’t just let kids PLAY, we have to Teach Them Important Lessons, Specifically About STEM. This is incredibly depressing, yet somehow in keeping with everything we know about the Federation.
  • The holodeck was brand new technology in TNG, but a lot of the adults on Voyager have fond memories of the Trevis and Flotter games, and Flotter even recognises Samantha Wildman. Which means this is a whole franchise, interactive storytelling across a variety of media.
  • Honestly the kids of the Federation deserve better.

This is actually a Neelix story

It’s been a while since we checked in on Neelix’s tragic backstory, and you know what? He’s not doing great!

On paper, I like the idea that a shuttle accident and the potential death of Naomi’s mother is triggering Neelix’s grief, guilt and trauma. That feels very realistic, along with his attempts to shield Naomi — to the point of lying to her — and the loud argument he has with Janeway when she calls him on it. This is all good.

I just … you know. The cloying holonovel. Again. Everything about it cancels out all the good stuff in this episode.

So I’m gonna talk about the good stuff!

First of all, Naomi Wildman is one of Star Trek‘s standout kid characters. It helps that her age is ambiguous — I mean, chronologically she’s three, but clearly her father’s DNA, and maybe her very very long gestation, has given her the size and cognitive abilities of a six or seven-year-old.

Depictions of kids on TV in this era were about as bad as the TV being made for them. (Trust me, I’m into season 6 of ER and was blown away by having two talented kid actors in well-written roles in consecutive episodes. Played by Shia LeBeouf and the late, lovely Anton Yelchin, if you were curious.) But Naomi manages to be funny and clever without being unbearably precocious.

It helps that Scarlett Pomers was genuinely good, and had good chemistry with all of her scene partners. But solid writing helps.

ALSO — previously in Star Trek, little girls have mostly been dressed in pretty party dresses with puffy sleeves and a lot of frills. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in its place — I loved a pretty party dress when I was Naomi’s age. (I still do!) But it’s not exactly an outfit you can play in — Naomi gets sensible overalls in a vomitous colour scheme which (a) really tells you that Neelix is a big part of her life; and (b) I think I saw in the shops last week.

The very best scene in this episode has nothing to do with the plot at all — it’s the thirty-second conversation between Naomi and Seven. Clearly the writers agreed, since they’ll become a double act going forward.

I actually like the shuttle side of things, too

At least, I like the bit where Tuvok tells Samantha that he doesn’t worry about the children he left behind, because he knows they have good values and were aware of his logical feelings for him. The rest is merely fine (listening to Tom’s farewell message for B’Elanna, I do have to ask what he actually brings to the relationship), but that was a highlight.

Other observations

  • Janeway’s hair remains voluminous. It’s full of childhood wonder.
  • Let’s all imagine this episode, but with Doug Jones’s sexy fish man replacing Flotter. Is that better … or much, much worse?
  • Now let’s talk about the lack of female characters in the Forest of Forever.
  • Ugh now I’m annoyed again.
  • This episode is notable for the fact that the writers forgot they didn’t kill Samantha Wildman, so she gets to join Beverly Crusher in the Female Characters Who Don’t Get To Parent Their Own Children box.

In conclusion

Are you a Neelix stan? Are you a Naomi Wildman completist? Do you have a lot of feelings about ’90s children’s media? Then you will love this episode. Otherwise, I’m giving it two Ogres of Fire out of five.

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