Some episodes of Star Trek stick with you forever. Sometimes that’s because they are incredible stories that manage to address difficult subjects in clever ways. Sometimes it’s because they just disturbed you to no end. This one is the latter. Originally broadcast on April 29, 1996 this is
The One With The Creepy Clown The Thaw.
Captain’s Log Stardate undetermined. The Thaw
Janeway and crew find a group of aliens in stasis only to discover that the aliens are trapped in a nightmare computer simulation.
As Harry Kim and Tom Paris debate the merits of Kim’s clarinet playing and it’s impact on dating aboard Voyager they are called to the bridge where it seems the ship has encountered a planet that has recently experienced a dramatic ecological disaster. It seems that although signs of a previous civilization are there nearly all of the 400,000 colonists have perished thanks to a solar flare. Just as they are about to leave, however, they are hailed from the planet.
Answering the unexpected hail from the dead planet, they learn that a group of scientists have placed themselves into stasis with the hopes of reviving the planet at a later date. Their date, however has come and gone four years prior so Janeway agrees to beam the stasis chamber to the ship in order to investigate this new mystery.
With the stasis chambers aboard, Janeway, Kes and Kim begin their investigation. They soon notice that two of the five scientists has died but the others have their brains connected to an advanced computer system inducing a dream-like state to keep them ‘alive’. Calling the senior staff together, Janeway begins discussing the merits of thawing out the scientists and why they have not left their simulated environment at their planned time. The Doctor suggests that the colonists might be trapped in their dream like state after discovering that the two deceased colonists both died of heart attacked brought on by mental stress caused by fear. Tuvok determines that the only way they can be sure it to go inside of the program themselves and discover why the scientists have not left yet.
Kim and B’Elanna prepare themselves for entry into the virtual world with Kes monitoring their health from outside. Janeway ensure them that this will be a five minute exploratory mission but as soon as they are in, something seems wrong. Nearby they hear music and laughter but when they arrive they find a bizarre party consisting of colorfully dressed people led by a rather creepy clown dressed in muted colors. Soon chaos erupts when Kim and Torres ask to find their ‘friends’ with the clown and the motley crew of creepy denizens placing Harry in a guillotine. Just as they are about to execute Harry, the three scientists arrive yelling for the Clown to stop.
Virosa, the lead scientist, argues that killing Kim would only result in the program being shut down. The Clown realizes that this would mean his death and stops the execution. The Clown informs Kim and Torres that he runs this world and knows everything they know. He soon makes it clear that they can not remove the scientists or the Clown and his cast of characters will vanish although it seems they have become somewhat sentient. When Kim and Torres attempt to leave, The Clown threatens to kill one of the scientists if they do. Revealing that he was the one that killed the other two scientists, Torres and Kim realize that they are trapped in this virtual world. Outside of the dream-scape, Janeway attempts to revive her people but discovered that they cannot when someone cancels the recall command. After some debate, The Clown agrees to send back Torres but keeps Kim hostage.
Now out of stasis, Torres explains the situation at hand. The crew soon come to the determination that the Clown is the manifestation of Fear and they must find someway to defeat him in order to save the trapped people. Janeway asks B’Elanna to see if they can find a way to allow the program to run without a direct link to a brain while they try to find a way to get everyone out. In the program, Kim soon discovers what fear is when he finds that the evil being punishes the young man for his thoughts of escape. Turning him old and then an infant, The Clown brings Harry’s fears of helplessness to the surface.
Although scared, Harry continues to resist the Clown of Fear only to find himself strapped to a gurney with the Clown preparing for surgery on the young Ensign. Just as it looks hopeless, The Doctor arrives as Captain Janeway’s representative. The Clown is shocked that he can not ‘read’ him and the two begin discussing the matter. The Clown refuses to discuss terms with the Doctor forcing the Doctor to return and inform Janeway of the situation. In their discussion they realize that Virosa may have given them a clue when he mentioned Optronic Pathways in an earlier discussion. It seems they might be able to remove the environment from the hostages instead of the other way around.
Janeway send the Doctor back in to act as a distraction to fear just as Fear begins the ‘insect game’ to torture the hostages. The Doctor begins using a promise of hiding the Clown and his people via a cloaking device so that they are never bothered again. As the Doctor distracts The Clown, B’Elanna begins taking parts of the environment from the Clown’s world. Just as it begins to look promising, the Clown notices the changes and starts to combat it by threatening Viosa with death. Locking B’Elanna out of the system they successfully execute Viosa resulting in the scientists death forcing Janeway to restore the program.
Returning to the system, The Doctor informs The Clown that Janeway has agreed to enter the system in exchange for the remaining hostages. The Clown reluctantly agrees believing himself to have won the war. Janeway enters the simulation allowing Kim and the scientists to leave safely. Soon, however, Janeway reveals that she is not actually there but a hologram of Janeway being projected using her own actual brainwaves. The Clown is shocked but Janeway informs him that Fear’s greatest wish is to be defeated as she understands Fear more than most. He realizes the truth in her statement and admits the he himself is afraid to be alone. With that, he and the room around him vanish.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
Wow, just wow. This is one of the most intense and clever episodes that, while at first seems like a silly adventure, this episode takes a rather ominous and thought provoking turn. The idea that a virtual world would begin to use your own fears and anxieties against you creating a villain that dominates you in a physical manifestation is pretty incredible. Not completely unlike the Id monster from Forbidden Planet, this creature is made from the very depths of the brain and was very much in control. Until of course, Janeway and her crew arrived. I have to imagine that, had they remained longer in ‘Fear’s realm’ that there were much darker and more destructive things lurking in the shadows. I mean, The Spectre himself was pretty frightening but who knows what other evils lurk in the minds of men?
What really makes this episode work is the incredible job by Michael McKean as The Clown. This is an actor who has been in Hollywood for over 40 years staring is such productions as Laverne & Shirley, Clue, This is Spinal Tap, The X-Files and many many others, so to get this seasoned actor to join an episode of Voyager was a major coup for the series. That being said, the first time I saw this, his character was immediately the creepiest and most frightening thing I had ever seen on Star Trek at that point, which is fitting seeing that he actually played…Fear. From the muted grey-scale makeup to the manic clown nature, McKean dominated the screen in every moment he appeared up until the closing moments where Fear admitted that it was really afraid as well.
Now, to say that McKean was the only solid actor on this episode is not entirely true. The rest of the cast were fantastic in their interactions with The Clown and with one another but, once again, we got to see Kate Mulgrew really step out as Janeway showing us that this Captain was not afraid of anything. Despite having moments of doubt from time to time, if anything this episode really establishes how incredibly strong-willed and powerful Janeway herself really is. I don’t believe we have ever seen a Star Fleet Captain literally face down fear in such a literal and definitive way.
Additionally, this has a much deeper meaning to many of the other characters as there is no doubt that the crew is dealing with a significant amount of fear and anxiety having found themselves 70+ years from their homes. In a way, this episode is a statement, a line in the sand, stating that this crew is no longer afraid of what is to come. Sure they will have moments where they will be frightened or stressed but having defeated the personification of Fear The Thaw sets this crew up to be able to face pretty much anything and everything to come…and boy do they.
Overall, one of the most frightening, thought provoking and interesting episode of Voyager so far, and this is just the closing episodes of season two!
Gleanings and cool bits.
- 0 photon torpedoes fired, 32 remaining.
- 0 shuttlecraft lost or destroyed, 5 remaining.
- We never do find out what happened to the two remaining scientists. Hopefully Voyager didn’t just drop them off on the dead world wishing them well. Besides…how the heck did five scientists think they were going to bring back civilization on their own. I mean….that gene pool would have gotten muddled fast!
- There is an awkward moment where Neelix suggests telling Fear a good joke…needless to say it doesn’t go over well.
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: Tuvix
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Late To The Game 6/29/2020
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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