Overall Ep :
First Aired :
13 Mar 1995
Season Ep :
Let's talk asteroids. Firstly, these things are orbiting a planet so they are not asteroids, they are moons. But these asteroids are a common type seen in Trek - class M 'roids, complete with breathable atmospheres and Earth normal gravity. To put this in perspective, a 1 km wide spherical asteroid with Earth gravity would average nine thousand times denser than Iron. How likely does this sound to you?
Great Moment :
The basic concept is a pretty neat one - our universe is the aline afterlife!
Body Count :
Strictly speaking, we see only one person die. But several bodies appear on Voyager, so you should really count them as well.
This episode presented some difficulties for the Voayger staff. Writer Brannon Braga and executive producer Michael Piller clashed over it, with Braga wanting to explore the philosophical implications and Piller wanting more conflict. There was also considerable debate about how to depict the ring system, as the effects for such a thing would be very expensive.
Voyager detects traces of a new element to add to the 246 that they already know. The element is present on a ring system around a nearby planet. Beaming down, the away team find that the asteroid is hollow and the inside is a sepulchre full of alien bodies. It is the bodies that are emitting the element as wispy strands which coat their corpses. A subspace vacuole forms, depositing a new body - and pulling Harry Kim off to another place, a planet, possibly another dimension. He wakes inside some sort of burial device, much to the shock of the assembled mourners. Meanwhile, Chakotay arrives on Voyager with the rest of the away team and an alien corpse.
Kim tries to explain where he has come from to the people around him, who he learns are Vhnori. However, they are greatly disturbed to hear about dead bodies decomposing in asteroids; their religion dictates that after death the body rises again in the afterlife, where they enjoy eternal life, health and youth with their assembled relatives. Kim decides to keep quiet, but word is spreading already about his revelations, prompting great concern.
On Voyager the EMH manages to revive the corpse, who died only a few hours earlier and is still in generally good condition. The woman is shocked to find herself on Voyager, rather than the expected afterlife. So great is her distress that she must be sedated.
Kim meets Hatil Garan, a Vhnori who has decided to end his life due to a crippling leg injury. The man thinks he is a burden to his family, a position they seem to agree with, and is quite content to be going to "the next emanation" where his injuries will vanish. Now he has his doubts, given what Kim has said. Kim tries to be non commital, fearing that his knowledge could be a violation of the Prime Directive if he reveals it to the locals.
Voyager comes up with a way to send the Vhnori woman, Ptera, back to her planet but the attempt fails and she dies. Janeway has the body beamed to an asteroid. Back on the planet Kim is told that he is to be moved to another facility for medical testing. He convinces Hatil to continue living and switches places with him - fortunately the Vhnori bodies are wrapped in bandages, mummy-like, making the switch quite easy. Hatil goes to live with a supportive relative, whilst Kim is transported to an asteroid. Voyager detects him just in time to beam him up and the ship is able to escape. In the aftermath Janeway discusses the event with Harry, advising him that it was a remarkable thing to happen and he should take some time to reflect on it. She also reveals that the ring system of the planet is very complex, and that the corpses in the asteroids seem to contribute to it in some way - and perhaps in this way, the Vhnori do live on after all.
A reasonable enough episode, there are some interesting ideas here. For the most part, we're given an interesting take on religion - what if Voyager finds unambiguous proof that the religion of an alien race is wrong? And what if they reveal this inadvertently? Harry makes a genuine slip up at the start, and from then on he tries to deal with the damage as best he can. I'd liked to have seen a bit more of this aspect explored - frankly the technobabble talk of subspace holes (or whatever the thesaurus throw up as a synonym for holes) is boring, and rather pointless. The reactions of the Vhnori are about what you would expect.
Two things annoy me. The first is Chakotay and his incredibly smug "let us do no harm" attitude in the asteroid. He disallows scans on the basis that it MIGHT be a desecration of the bodies by the standards of these people... he says instead they will just use their own eyes and senses. I suddenly had the impression of a shocked alien saying "You looked upon the dead?!?! BLASPHEMY!!!"
ANYTHING might be a desecration. Looking at the bodies might be. Your very presence might be. Hell, even Voyager being in this system might be. It is not only pointless to conduct yourself in a way that avoids anything that might be an offense, it is an absolute impossibility.
The second comes at the end. After setting up the "we've accidentally shattered your religious beliefs" plot, the episode then tries to have its cake and eat it at the end with Janeway's little "well there's this energy field..." thing. Now note, in the articles section I did an article where I laid my personal bias out; I am an atheist, and I am no fan of religion. But my criticism here is not "isn't it great to show a religion wrong! Ha, shove it in their faces!" I'd be just as happy if they wanted to do a story where somebody accidentally confirmed a religion, and so made it skyrocket in popularity - either one could make an interesting story. My complaint is that they chose to go down the road they did, and then try to reverse it at the end - undercutting what they've done so far. And even more than that, the statement Janeway makes is entirely nonsensical.
She suggests that Vhnori bodies give out energy - this energy being some sort of soul, presumably - and that these souls then live on in the planet's energy field. But that is NOT what the aliens believe! They clearly and unambiguously state that their afterlife involves getting their BODIES back in perfect repair and being in a PHYSICAL place with their relatives. What Janeway is talking about is totally different to that.
Imagine if a bunch of aliens turned up tomorrow. They turn around and announce "Hey, we've heard that you christians believe you'll be reunited with god in heaven after you die? Well actually, we've proved that you don't. But you know what? It's okay, you DO have souls and you reincarnate in another body on Earth, time after time, forever. Isn't that great?" Do you honestly think the average christian's response to this would be "Oh... well, so there is some kind of afterlife, then. Well that's a comfort." Janeway seems to think that people would be perfectly happy to have their religious beliefs trampled on so long as there is some sort of substitute. And no doubt some people would be okay with that... but oh my, to think that everybody would be okay with it is just a fantasy dreamland.