For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.
Episode Overview – While exploring a deserted planet, the crew of Voyager are hailed by a recording from the remnants of a long-lost civilization. As Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres investigate, they find themselves trapped in a virtual reality, face-to-face with the embodiment of Fear.
Episode Score – 9/10. One of the most unique episodes in all of Trek, let alone Voyage, this second season episode is a wild ride through the fertile fields of imagination. With the main arc of the story being set in the alternate reality created by the Kohl survivors, the sky is the limit for creating this showdown against Fear. Michael McKean is brilliantly cast as the Clown, the embodiment of Fear itself. His over-the-top antics steal every scene he is in, and his chemistry with the main cast is perfect. Surrounding him is a surreal group of what can best be described as carnival performers from Bizzareland. These actors were actual Cirque du Soleil performers, and added a level of authenticity to the mood. The story is well told, the set has a tone to it that nostalgically reminds me of the Original series, and the acting is great. I only wish more of the crew had a bigger part. It would have been interesting to see Chakotay or Tuvok mix it up with the Clown.
Relevance – 0 points. As great as this episode is, it is a true stand-alone episode. If you have never seen it then it will have no bearing on anything else in the Trek universe. That is not a bad thing for an episode, but it will not score you points for this section.
Continuity – 2 points. Character continuity is a check. Harry, B’Elanna, the Doctor, and Janeway all act in a consistent manner. Universe continuity is respected, so a point is scored there. As for story continuity, this episode has no connection to Voyager’s overall story, so I can’t give it a point.
Character Development – 3 points. The Thaw provides a wonderful examination as to how different characters face fear. Harry Kim’s insecurities are definitely explored in this. The friendship between him and Torres is brought a little further along. The Doctor is used in one of the first instances that does not require a medical professional. Acting as a negotiator allows him to further evolve his character. Most of all, we see Kathryn Janeway at her best as she goes toe-to-toe with Fear. This is definitely a character driven story, and it is done extremely well.
Social Commentary – 3 points. Fear is a universal concept, and facing our fears is something we all must do. Sometimes we give into our fears and become its prisoner. Sometimes we fight against our fears and triumph. I think the most poignant moment is at the very end when, as the Clown faces his fate, expresses his own fear of the unknown. His last bit of dialogue with Janeway is excellent.
Cool Factor – 3 points. Michael McKean’s performance is so good in this episode. I love it. Cool point #1. Also, listen carefully to the giant Spectre that is in the Clown’s entourage. We hear him more than we see him, but he is played by Carel Struycken, better known as the often seen but rarely heard Mr. Homm. Another cool point scored. Third point goes to the Cirque to Soleil performers as the members of the Clown’s carnival. They really added a lot to the feel of the episode.
Rank – Captain (20 points). An excellent Voyager episode. The fact that it is a stand-alone episode is good in that you can watch it and enjoy it, but you don’t have to watch it in any particular order with any other episode. The downside is that due to this fact it is easy to overlook it. Because of how well done the episode is, I recommend that you do not skip it, but watch and enjoy.