Monday, June 13, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Emanations"

“Emanations” is the first Harry-centric episode. As such, it establishes his reputation as Hard Luck Harry, the guy everything bad that could possibly happen, happens. The motif is almost as prominent as his underlying sexual confusion, though I chalk that problem up to poor writing. We will explore that later. “Emanations” also explores the eternally important question of what happens after death. But since the script is written by Brannon Braga, it is quite underwhelming.

Harry discovers what may be a new element on a remote asteroid. When an away team beams down to investigate, they find themselves in the middle of a burial ground. The alien corpses emit the new elements as part of their decomposition process. Chakotay urges not to disturb the tomb because they do not understand the funeral rituals of this species. Janeway agrees, but before they can leave, a flash of energy sweeps over the away team as they beam up. Harry disappears and a female corpse appears in his place on the transporter pad.

Harry finds himself banging on the lid of a coffin. Fortunately, it is at the funeral, so there are plenty of people there to let him out. These aliens are the Unori. They now believe Harry has come back from the dead,.. Therefore they are keen to find out what the afterlife is all about. They are disappointed to learn the afterlife is an asteroid where corpses are dumped.

Equally disappointed is Ptera, the woman who replaced Harry on Voyager. In spite of her previous decision to leave the corpses alone, Janeway allows the doctor to cure the woman’s terminal disease and bring her back from the dead. She is disappointed to learn her afterlife is a federation starship commanded by Janeway. On the bright side, now the Unori have a concept of hell. The devil, too, if you are not a Janeway fan.

Meanwhile, Harry has to stay at the funeral/home/science lab/suicide center to protect him from everyone who has a stake in their interpretation of the afterlife which he has just ruined. There he meets Hatil, a disabled man who is going to kill himself in order to spare his family the burden of caring for him. He was expecting the afterlife to be wonderful compared to current situation. Thanks to Harry, he now suffers skepticism.

That is all the set up we have for the exploration of death and the afterlife. Ptera is disappointed she is not a happy spirit living with her loved ones. Hatil he is going to wind up plopped unceremoniously on a remote asteroid as a reward for putting up with his selfish family. Harry is frustrated because he cannot answer the Unori’s questions about what lies beyond., and everyone is mad at him because their beliefs in the afterlife have been destroyed by his arrival.

The resolutions to all thissues is a dud. Torres comes up with a way to beam ptera out during one of those energy dumpings of corpses. Unfortunately, it does not work, and it kills her. Without the slightest fanfare, I might add. Harry and hatil arrange to secretly switch places so harry can be sent to the asteroid while Hatil runs off to hide in the mountains away from his selfish family. Wait..if he can live alone, why is he a burden to his family? There is a Braga script for you. In the end, no one is satisfied with how events wound up because the afterlife, if it exists, is still undefined.

I do not anticipate a random episode of a science fiction series to offer up answers to unknowable questions. Even the most faithful religious peple have doubts about what happens when they die. Any who tell you otherwise are being dishonest. But if an episode is going to explore a profound issue like belief in the afterlife, it ought to pick a perspective and deal with it. “Emanations” cannot decide on anything. Janeway agrees disturbing the burial site is wrnong, then has a corpse revived. When the corpse returns to lifwe, she is so upset, she is willing to risk death in order to escape. She does die, but without any real sense of closure. Hatil believes the afterlife is going to be great, then hauls off to become a hermit when he learns from harry it is not. Harry cannot figure out anything regarding life after death to suit anyone.

If there is a point to any of that, I missed it. I am not even certain if hatil’s situation with his family’s reaction to his disability is supposed to be a comment on euthanasia because it is presented so dryly. The episode is completely devoid of emotion by all parties. The closest we get is ptera, who is so mad to not see her long dead brother, she wants to go home and everyone who told her the afterlife was paradise a piece of her mind. Even the crew is cold. Harry is tom’s only real friend, but we get no reaction whatsoever from him over his loss. The crew has no idea how to recover harry, either. He just has a flash to go through the energy flash transport to see if it works. They are ready to leave withot him within a matter of hours.

A better, more focused writer than Braga probably could have done something with an idea like tis. There will be subsequent episodes dealing with faith and death which deal with those issues far better than ‘Emanations.” in fact, I suspect those episodes are intended to make up for the mistake that is “Emanations.” Do not look to this one for any profound exploration of life after death questions.

Fans of The X-Files can look for Jerry Hardin , Deep Throat himself, playing a brief role as a scientist. The X-Files Now there was a show worth reviewing.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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