Voyager rewatch 5.18 – “Course: Oblivion”

B’Elanna dies on her wedding night, which is sad, but better than the alternative.

What, exactly, is the point of “Course: Oblivion”?

In 1999, the answer was obvious: to troll Paris/Torres shippers. The promotion was all about the P/T wedding, and a lot of shippers were popping the biggest bottles, only to have the rug pulled out.

Suffice to say, it’s all been a bit controversial since. Is it 44 minutes of pure nihilism? Or a tribute to those whose achievements are unrecognised and ultimately forgotten?

For me, I respect the attempt to tell an ultimately hopeless story, to capture the bittersweet quality of Voyager‘s whole run in just one episode. The silver blood Voyager crew have had adventures, met people and touched lives, and now they’re gone, and our ‘real’ heroes don’t even know. But at the same time, it’s not an episode I enjoy, and frankly, it doesn’t stand up to even the slightest amount of scrutiny.

Building starships is easy, right?

Like. “Demon” ends with Voyager lifting off the planet and leaving their duplicates behind. The new lifeforms have no technology, nothing at all but their sentience, their bodies, and a powerful urge to stay exactly where they are. In fact, “Demon” tells us that they can’t leave that planet at all.

And yet, here we are, picking up their adventures on a duplicate Voyager, just two years (!) away from Earth. And yes, leaving their planet and using an experimental faster-than-warp drive ultimately kills them, but …

Look. This is an episode which uses Voyager‘s lack of continuity in its favour. B’Elanna’s gone fully blonde? Tom’s a lieutenant again? The audience has been trained to accept that Voyager is a bit sloppy in that regard, so we know to handwave things a little, and in this one instance, it will make sense in the end. Except for all the things which don’t, because this script completely contradicts the one it’s meant to follow.

The reset button

I think by this point, we can safely say that Voyager has a consequences problem. That is, it rarely has any. There’s the literal reboot in “Year of Hell”, but think of all those other times the ship is trashed, only to be shiny and pristine again a week later. Not to mention the character development that happened in stops and inconsistent starts.

These days, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is praised for that sort of thing, but I remember watching this in 1999 and thinking, “But television doesn’t have to be like this anymore. It can be better. Why is it not better?”

“Course: Oblivion” feels like the ultimate expression of that episodic style. Nothing in this episode matters. You don’t have to think about it again.

The characters

One thing that “Year of Hell” gave us, despite its reset, was amazing characterisation. A glimpse of how our people would act in the worst possible scenario.

“Course: Oblivion” does that, too, but … not as well? Or maybe Janeway in a tank top and pocket watch is simply more aesthetically pleasing than watching her face melt?

There’s shippy content, of course — B’Elanna dies in Tom’s arms! Janeway and Chakotay have a disastrous dinner date! But does it tell us anything new? Is it satisfying? Interesting?

Man, but those P/T shippers were pissed back in 1999. We heard their rage all the way from the J/C mailing lists!

One bit of character detail that I liked very much: way back in “Demon”, Harry Kim (simultaneously with Tom) was the first silver blood duplicate. Now he’s the last to die.

Of course, that Harry was also desperately determined not to leave the planet, so, I dunno. There are times when it’s fun to over-think Star Trek, but here it’s more frustrating than rewarding.

I think we can do more with the fact that for ten months there were two Voyagers out there

Like, we can safely assume that any standalone episode between “Demon” and “30 Days” happened to the alternate Voyager. For example, I choose to believe that the reason we never had any follow-up on the Species 8472 invasion of Earth was because it was the silver blood Voyager crew who handled that. Heck, they can have “Once Upon A Time”, too.

One bit I wholeheartedly liked

The moment where Chakotay says, “I don’t believe the real Captain Janeway would risk her crew’s lives on a foolhardy ambition that no one else shares.”

Buddy, I realise the answer is no, but have you met Kathryn Janeway?

Other observations

  • B’Elanna’s hair is extremely blonde and also MASSIVE
  • The whole “ball and chain/can you imagine anything worse than having to spend your time with the woman you love?” routine had me going, ARE THE STRAIGHTS OKAY? But this was co-written by Bryan Fuller, so I assume he was doing his best impression of a straight man … no, I really do have to ask: are the straights okay?
  • Seven’s face is SO melty, yet her catsuit is SO tight, I’m not saying we needed a full-body melt, it just looked weird

In conclusion

I know some people think really highly of this episode, but for me, it just encapsulates everything I find frustrating about Voyager. One bag of rice (that’s really silver goo) out of five.

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