Emanations tries to deal with a profound and delicate theme. Unfortunately, the plot is a bit clunky and I’m afraid that the overall result is not a memorable episode…
The USS Voyager approaches a group of asteroids to examine a new element which is apparently unknown in the Alpha quadrant. Commander Chakotay teleports into one of these asteroids along with B’Elanna Torres and Ensign Kim and makes an incredible discovery: there are humanoid corpses scattered around the cavities of this space rock! Here I found it interesting to see Chakotay speaking of respect for the lifeless bodies mentioning his Native American roots, as opposed to the practical Kim who instead wants to do some research right away. But all of a sudden here comes the inevitable accident: some sub-space issues, an emergency beam out… but Kim doesn’t make it to Voyager where an unknown corpse materializes in his place!
From then onwards, the story follows two parallel tracks: in one, Kim is hailed as an emissary of the world of the dead by four or five members of a civilization (the Vhnori) who believe that death leads to a higher state of consciousness. In the second story, the Doctor brings the recently deceased Vhnori called Ptera (Cecile Callan) back to life to try to figure out where Kim could be to bring him back on board.
So, on the one hand we have the classic storyline that centers on the questions “Do you come from beyond?“, “No, I’m from outer space!“, and “Is there life after death?“, “I don’t know, I’m from outer space!“, and it’s not the first time we see something like this Star Trek. On the other hand, on Voyager everyone is trying their best to find Kim even using the frightened Ptera (not a very memorable character, anyway), but to no avail. In the end, everything is solved in a daring way with Kim replacing a soon-to-be-corpse Vhnori and the Doctor who brings him back to life. Luckily Kim’s bet was a safe one, the Voyager crew was there just waiting to save him!
What about this episode? I liked the thanatologist character (I just discovered that thanatology is the study of death and subsequent modifications of the body) Neria just because the actor is the legendary Jerry Hardin that is, Deep Throat of the first season of The X-Files. Then, the best moments are offered by the interaction between Kes and the Doctor, by Chakotay’s initial arguments on respecting alien cultures, and by the final dialogue between Janeway and Kim with the former showing some empathy with her subordinate: after all, he just died and resurrected, it doesn’t happen every day!
But unfortunately Emanations feels like a wasted opportunity (although the story comes directly from Brannon Braga) and doesn’t have any interesting message on the evolution of the species so strongly present in the Vhnori culture and which could well have been linked to the various dialogues between Q and Captain Picard, for instance. After all, the philosophy of Star Trek predicts that the humanoid races should aspire to become something deeper, perhaps incorporeal (see also what happens to Wesley Crusher in Journey’s End, seventh season of The Next Generation). In this episode there’s none of that. We just have to continue our journey home… ciao!
PS: The Delta Flyers podcast shoutout: Robert Duncan McNeill and Garrett Wong talk at length about David Livingston, the Star Trek-veteran director who worked on Emanations. Apparently, Livingston was a perfectionist and liked to use alternative lenses such as wide angles and lenses capable of focusing on two different planes at the same time. McNeill (who’s now a director himself) remembers the conflicts between Livingston and Marvin V. Rush, the director of photography who was forced to change all the lights on the set to allow the director to use wide angles that showed much more of the set than normal lenses!
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