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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Bliss"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode Bliss. If you haven t seen the show yet, beware. Nutshell: Three words: Archetypes done
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 1999
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "Bliss."
      If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.

      Nutshell: Three words: Archetypes done entertainingly.

      Plot description: The Voyager crew is lured into a giant space creature
      that consumes starships as food, and only Seven and the Doctor may have the
      ability to save the ship.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Bliss"

      Airdate: 2/10/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty
      Story by Bill Prady
      Directed by Cliff Bole

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "I'm something of a renaissance EMH." -- Doc, on his multi-skills

      "Bliss" probably shouldn't be half as good as it is. Here's a story
      involving a lifetime's worth of cliches borrowed from Voyager standbys,
      cinema archetypes, and general derivatives of derivatives. How many
      different standbys can we work into a single episode? Let me count the ways.

      1. Voyager finds an anomaly that appears to be a wormhole offering A Way
      Home [TM]. Naturally, this supposed way home is not at all what it appears
      to be.

      2. The ship is Threatened With Destruction [TM] by said anomaly.

      3. A lone crewman, in this case Seven of Nine, our former-Borg heroine,
      finds herself The Only Hope [TM] for preventing said ship's destruction.

      4. The Kid [TM], Naomi Wildman (note how Seven will *never* use her first
      name without the last name or vice versa; it's a noun whose existence
      *requires* both words), is one of the few left who is useful to Seven, and
      provides the heroine with assistance.

      5. We have The Beast [TM], a monster that will eat you, or in this case
      your entire starship, a basic standby for science fiction from here to eons
      before I can remember, I'm sure.

      6. We have The Alien Helper of the Week [TM], who also serves as the Cinema
      Archetype of the Week [TM]--a character inspired by Quint from "Jaws," and
      cheerfully plugged into the story as an expert on said monster. He even
      gets A Sobering Monologue About the Past [TM] that, although nowhere near
      as good as Quint's USS Indianapolis monologue, is meant to provide the
      character with a depth explaining his obsession.

      7. Lastly, in a sentiment that almost pokes fun at the series itself, we
      have nearly every character in the episode existing as a shallower version
      of themselves, which is explained by the Weird Unexplainable Properties
      [TM] emanating from The Beast, which affects the crew's judgment and, with
      bait that looks like A Way Home, lures them into entering the belly of The

      Now before anyone accuses me of being harsh and cruel and cynical and
      unfair toward this cheerful assemblage of reliably derivative puzzle
      pieces, let me hasten to add that I liked this episode. I really did. It's
      "comfort" entertainment done well. Given the extent of the recyclical
      nature of the storyline, common sense predicts I would resist this episode.
      But given the execution, resistance was futile. (I know, I know--that was
      obvious. But it was too hard to pass up. If the episode can use cliches,
      why can't I?)

      And before anyone accuses me of being too generous and forgiving and
      shallow and blind to criticize an episode that's hollow and pointless, let
      me say that some stories need not necessarily be original or thoughtful or
      dramatically important to be worthwhile. It simply needs to know what it is
      and do what it does well. Ultimately, either it works for you or it doesn't.

      Somehow, "Bliss" knows exactly what it is, and although it doesn't begin to
      challenge any of its cliches (because it needs them for the story to work),
      it *does* have the sense to embrace the lunacy (and sometimes the banality)
      of its plot pieces rather than succumbing to them. It's weirdly clever
      about how it does what it does. It's just manipulative enough to explain
      away the usual criticisms I would have with such a plot, yet not too
      manipulative as to feel like an audience insulter.

      A big reason for this is because it tips off the audience in advance that
      it knows where it's going. For example, The Way Home--which we know from
      the first scene (because the story shows us) is actually a trap--is greeted
      not with the credulity on the part of the Voyager crew, but with instant
      skepticism. ("What's wrong with this picture?" Janeway says immediately.)
      But then, a few scenes later, Janeway's attitude pulls a 180, and the whole
      crew is acting strange. This set off alarms in my on-board mental plot
      analyzer, but because it also set off alarms for Seven--who sees the entire
      crew falling for what is obviously a deception--it's perfectly all right.

      In a way, the story resembles a sort of conspiracy against Seven, who, as
      the only member of the crew thinking objectively, finds herself sabotaged
      at every turn by the other crew members, who attempt to undermine her
      efforts to approach the situation with caution.

      I liked the way the episode approached this idea. We can see the progress
      Seven attempts to make, but we also see the mindset of the rest of the
      crew, which is under some weird spell projected by The Beast.

      Letters from Starfleet apparently come trickling through the wormhole, and
      everything is too perfect: The Maquis Voyager crew members are offered a
      full pardon. Chakotay and Paris are offered great opportunities. Janeway's
      old fiance may have become available again. Torres believes the Maquis are
      still alive. Yet no one can see through the trap; it has all become a weird
      sort of intoxication that can't be denied. And as the crew is certain
      they're headed straight for Earth, we see goofily exaggerated grins on the
      faces of Janeway, Paris, Kim--which is done in a strangely surreal way that
      borders on mild self-referential mockery. ("We're getting home! Again!"
      Well, no, of course you aren't.)

      The way Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok constantly undermine Seven's attempts
      to stop the ship from heading into this "wormhole" is interesting, with a
      subtle underlying sense of humor. They do so with tricks that have the
      pretense of having "good reason"--and we can also see that they believe
      everything they're telling Seven, even though Seven can see every one of
      their actions threatens to shut down her solo resistance operation.

      Along the way, Seven recruits The Kid, which is good for some lighthearted
      fun, including a scene where Seven explains to Naomi how to sustain a force
      field by blocking commands coming through from the bridge. The way Naomi
      looks to Seven as a role model is one of those weird, quirky sitcom
      cliches--yet still believable. The Kid befriending the former-Borg is an
      idea that has always existed at least partially for the "cute" motive, but
      works fairly well here as a vessel for the plot.

      With the whole crew unconscious and only Seven and Doc left to save the
      ship, the rest of "Bliss" is primarily plot tactics and style. Mission:
      Escape The Beast before it digests the ship, avoiding its illusionary
      abilities in the process.

      The creature of "Bliss" is a life form inspired by the huge "ameba" in
      TOS's "The Immunity Syndrome," except that the goal of evolved sensibility
      here is to give it an upset stomach rather than destroying it. Okay by me.

      The alien who offers assistance, with his 39-year vendetta against The
      Beast, is named Qatai, and is performed by W. Morgan Sheppard in one of
      those gruff-voiced, scenery-chewing performances that simply is what it
      is--a cheerful homage to every other character that he resembles. This guy,
      whose ship is a battered piece of garbage that can barely stay together,
      and who refuses to say die, is a likably obsessive fellow. So who cares if
      he's recycled? He's recycled with conviction.

      Of course, "Bliss" also has its share of implausible silliness. For one, I
      find it a little tough to swallow the notion that this creature operates
      merely on "evolved instinct" yet has the ability to manipulate the thoughts
      of the crew to such an extent and, further, create environs that set off
      the ship's computers to alert the crew of such realistic-seeming illusions.
      It seems a bit magical.

      And then, of course, is the usual convenience of one person being able to
      sustain the entire ship from one station. It makes me wonder if a crew of
      100-plus is really even necessary. What do they all do? Never mind; I care
      not. Any episode where Seven saves the ship, and then afterward tells the
      captain, "I will file a complete report in the morning, after I have
      regenerated," is a show that knows where it stands in terms of its pitch.
      If for no other reason, "Bliss" succeeds simply because it knows what it is
      and knows better than to take itself too seriously, and plunges ahead with
      lighthearted whimsy.

      Other than that, what is there to say? It's not deep or meaningful, it
      doesn't have that much to say about the characters, and in the end it
      really isn't all that plausible. But nor does it intend to be scrutinized.
      It exists to be simple, straightforward, and pleasantly entertaining. On
      those levels, it delivers, and does so skillfully.

      Next week: Double your Borg quota, double your fun.

      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.epsico.com/st-hypertext/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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