Sunday, 6 September 2009

Star Trek Voyager: Waking Moments

This is the second of my posts focused on dreams on TV, to mark hopefully the last month of writing my thesis on dreams in ancient literature (I’ll go back to focusing on the ancient world in my next post).

‘Waking Moments’ appeared about halfway through season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager, which I think is the best season of Voyager. I’ve nothing against Kes, but I also like Seven-of-Nine, and in her first season, we hadn’t all got fed up of her yet! This episode appears after ‘Year of Hell’, Voyager’s best two-parter, and immediately before ‘Message in a Bottle’, which is not only one of their best episodes (another being ‘Living Witness’ a few episodes later) but something of a turning point in the series, as the ship makes contact with Earth for the first time.

The dreams in ‘Restless’ were designed to look and feel like real dreams, full of bizarre set-ups and lots of movement, drifting between locations in physically impossible ways. But these dreams were so carefully designed, with every detail (Cheese Man notwithstanding) designed to signify something particular about the dreamer, that they weren’t really like a dream you might actually have – no one would have a dream in which every element symbolised something deep and meaningful about themselves.

‘Waking Moments’ opens with a series of dreams experienced by various crewmembers which are almost the exact opposite. They look less like dreams in terms of camera movement, setting and so on, mostly because the writer has gone for the old trick of trying to get the audience to think they’re watching the characters’ reality at first, before revealing that the sequences are all dreams. But these dreams are all based on the sort of ‘typical’ dreams that a lot of people regularly experience.

I think typical dreams are really interesting. Freud based a lot of his dream theory on them – the Oedipus complex is based on the idea that sleeping with your mother is a typical dream among all men (in fact, Bremmer has suggested it might be a typical dream in certain cultures but not all) (and hey look, something Classics-related!). Typical dreams do seem to vary between different societies, cultures and time periods, with the naked dream (where you’re naked in public) common in some areas, and other dreams, like being chased, most common in others. Oddly enough though, people have reported dreams about their teeth falling out for at least two and a half millennia.

So ‘Waking Moments’ opens with a sequence showing typical dreams being interrupted by the Bumpy-Headed Alien of the Week. We see Harry have a sex dream (though this is Star Trek, so its just kissing; these are pretty common in all cultures), Paris has a generic dream about being attacked, Janeway has a slightly more specific dream about not getting her crew home (this would fit with dreams about things that are bothering you, which are very common, rather then being a typical dream itself) and Tuvok has the naked dream. The sequence is cleverly done; the first weird thing we see is Seven kissing Harry, which is fairly plausible (they had flirted earlier in the season), the first creepy thing is the dead crewmen in Janeway’s dream, which is odd but not impossible in Star Trek, and the moment that reveals to the audience that these are dreams is the moment when Tuvok appears naked on the bridge and everyone (including those involved in the other sequences) laughs at him. (Tim Russ wore a large plastic prosthetic, getting a genuine reaction out of everyone). Then they all see the alien and everyone except Harry wakes up.

Creepy dead crewmembers

The next morning (after the credit sequence) everyone swaps dream stories (it’s a long, dull journey home!) and realises firstly, that they’ve all dreamed about the same Bumpy-Headed Alien and secondly, that Harry is still in bed. (There’s a great exchange between Janeway and Tuvok where she quizzes him about his dream and, when he is forced to reveal the detail, gives him a distinctly appraising look up and down). No one can wake Harry up and they realise that the Bumpy-Headed Alien seems to be attacking them through their dreams. Unsure how to approach this (and I would make a witty comment about Nightmare on Elm Street here if I’d seen it, but I haven’t, so make up your own), they are forced to try to stay awake while Chakotay makes an attempt at lucid dreaming, to try to find out what the alien wants and how to make it go away.

I have to say at this point that I know nothing about either lucid dreaming (no evidence for it from the ancient world) or Native American rituals or vision quests (a similar thing that Chakotay embarks on every now and again; an extremely cheesy early episode had Janeway try one, in which she sat on a beach chatting to a lizard). So I’m not in a position to judge the depiction of Native American practices or of an attempt at lucid dreaming, and it’s all mixed up with technobabble technology anyway (according to Chakotay, in the 24th century, people use little computer pads to somehow replace psychotropic drugs – goodness only knows how).

Chakotay creates a symbol to let him know he’s dreaming so he will gain control – Earth’s Moon (capital letter to show it’s Ours!). This gives us a rather nice shot of the Moon, seen through one of the windows in the mess hall. He dreams about hunting a dear, which turns into the Bumpy-Headed Alien. The two of them have a quick fight and a quick chat and the alien tells Chakotay that, if he flies a certain distance away, everyone will wake up and be left in peace. He also explains that his race exist in a state of sleep and that this is their reality, and explains the attack as a pre-emptive strike against any waking species who wanders into their space.

The clearest picture I could find of the Bumpy-Headed Aliens of the Week

Chakotay wakes himself up, passes on the message and they fly off as directed. Everyone wakes up and there’s some more swapping dream stories, leading to more embarrassment as Seven walks in just as Harry was about to tell his. There’s also a sweet conversation in the mess hall, where Neelix speculates that a Vulcan nightmare would involve a planet where laughter is the only method of communication. But then – duh duh daaaaa! – the aliens turn up and attack! And take over the ship! (I love Janeway, and I really want her to be a great female role model so badly, but my goodness that woman lets her ship get taken over a lot. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two occasions when she ends up in her own brig and another two when the entire crew get dumped on another planet, and I’m pretty sure there are more). So everyone ends up being kept prisoner in a cargo bay.

Seven starts a fight with Harry to distract the Bumpy-Headed Aliens (and this is not just sarcasm – they’re actually never given a name) while B’Elanna and Chakotay go to do [TECHNOBABBLE] with something, and as Chakotay goes over to one of the ship’s little computer screens, he sees..... the Moon! This time he really does manage to wake himself up, and the Doctor (immune by virtue of being a hologram) informs him that everyone is asleep, and has been for two days. Soon he will have to start feeding them (and presumably stimulate their muscles in some way). According to the Doc, everyone’s REM patterns (or brainwave patterns, or something) are identical, which Chakotay thinks that this shows that they’re all having the same dream, each from their own point of view (in which case, surely, their REM patterns would all be slightly different, as they’re doing different things in different places.....? OK, my specialisms are Classics and dreams, not Star Trek technobabble, so I’m just going to give up now and let it lie). Doc gives Chakotay a powerful stimulant and Chakotay changes course to fly towards the Bumpy-Headed Aliens’ planet and sort them out.

Meanwhile, Chakotay’s mysterious disappearance has puzzled everyone else, and Tu
vok comes to same conclusion as the Doc and Chakotay. Seven refers to the situation as ‘collective unconsciouness’, which unfortunately has nothing to do with Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, but is a reference to the Borg’s collective consciousness.

There actually are odd references to group dream experiences, by the way, but they’re extremely rare (probably because they never really happen). One story involved an entire army dreaming the same thing.

Janeway decides to test the theory by walking into an antimatter explosion. This is wrong on several levels – mostly because, as Tuvok points out, there are better ways to test that theory. You might expect that, like in The Matrix, bad things they imagine happening to them would really affect them, but that isn’t the theory they’re following here. Interestingly, Voyager actually covered that idea in an episode that predated The Matrix, the extremely creepy
season 3 episode ‘The Thaw’. However, whereas that episode took place in a virtual reality (exactly like in The Matrix), this episode is based on actual dreaming, as in reality, just with the added elements of the collective dream, and the Bumpy-Headed Aliens. So, just as when something fatal happens in a real dream, we don’t die, nothing happens to Janeway (though normally you would wake up at the point of actual death...)

Captain Janeway (possibly making come-to-bed-eyes). Somewhat reckless when it comes to anti-matter explosions.

There’s another bit of misdirection as we think that this has allowed Janeway and the others to wake up, but then there’s another lovely shot of the Moon through the main viewscreen and it is revealed that no one except Chakotay has had any luck waking themselves up, and this time he needs some help from the Doctor. Chakotay reaches the Planet of the Bumpy-Headed Aliens and finds the huge hall where their entire population apparently lives in a state of sleep (how do they eat? How do they reproduce? How... how... how... I give up).

Janeway confronts the Chief Bumpy-Headed Alien, who taunts her about how their bodies are dying (blissfully unaware that Holodoc could probably keep them alive for a pretty long time). It’s really not clear what exactly the Bumpy-Headed Aliens actually want – perhaps they need to steal Voyager in the dream world (but why not dream themselves a ship.... Argh!)

Chakotay wakes one of aliens with the last of his stimulant just as he himself falls asleep again, and informs Chief Bumpy-Headed Alien that if they don’t all wake up in a few minutes, Holodoc will blow up the whole place, himself included. So the aliens let them go, and that’s pretty much the end of that, except that everyone comes down with a bout of severe insomnia (and we get to see Tuvok in a rather snazzy pair of Vulcan pyjamas).

Much as it might not be obvious from the above commentary, I actually love this episode! It may not make much sense, but it’s sweet and funny and I like the idea of being attacked via a communal dream. Not knowing quite how to end these situations is something of a common theme – the problem being, once you’ve established that everyone knows that they are dreaming and, more importantly, that they can’t actually be harmed, its hard to know where to go with the plot. I think Voyager does slightly better than Buffy in this respect, as it is clearly Chakotay’s threat to the aliens that solves the problem, rather than Buffy’s rather odd moment of simply deciding to wake up.

What this episode does really well is the good natured, friendly interaction between crew members and gentle humour, which is one of the reasons so many people don’t like the show, but one of the reasons I like it so much. A lot of people prefer a bit more conflict and drama in their inter-character relationships, and that’s no bad thing (and Voyager has rightly been accused of wasting a good plot line by resolving the conflict between the Starfleet and Maquis crewmembers too early). But I happen to like a bit of fairly light, warm and cozy entertainment every now and again, and Voyager does that perfectly (while still occasionally offering up a darker episode or tackling bigger themes).

Voyager did use dreams again a bit later, for the two-parter ‘Unimatrix Zero’, but that wasn’t so good, so I’ll leave on that high note and return to Classics and Ancient History-related blogging next time.

8 comments:

  1. I think Voyager got a lot of undeserving rap! Sure it wasn't as good as Next Gen or DS9 but I really enjoyed it (most of the time)! And give Janeway a little credit, she lost her ship a couple of times, but was always up against new foes she knew nothing about! :p

    I don't remember A Nightmare on Elmstreet well enough to comment, but I do remember when seeing this episode that I thought it was a pretty obvious ploy that Chakotay hadn't really woken up that first time...

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  2. I love Voyager, it is by far my favourite Star Trek series and the only I've seen every episode of. I like Next Gen, never really got into DS9 or Enterprise, and I love the Original Series movies but the actual TV series is mostly interesting as a document of social history! I would say its better than TNG or DS9 - but I know I'm in a minority there! I'm a bit cautious about declaring the Voyager love sometimes as it often leads to lengthy and dull arguments about why the other person thinks I'm wrong...

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  3. I so loved voyager. You made me visit the official website (startrek.com). It has a virtual tour of the voyayer spacecraft there.

    As for the dream of teeth falling, I have seen it, it's a bit shocking really.

    Marsia

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  4. This reminds me of why I never really warmed to Voyager, even though I wanted to like. They were just never really comfortable with their technobabble and often had much larger plot holes than their predecessors. (We shall neither speak of nor acknowledge Enterprise) But in some ways, what this episode (or at elast your recap) makes me think of is the "Better Than Life" episode of Red Dwarf, which while not dealing with dreams does at least treat subconscious wish fulfillment.

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  5. Wasn't the entire Voyager series just "Gilligan's Island" in space?

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  6. I've never seen Gilligan's Island, I'm constantly perplexed by American references to it. I guess the Voyager writers had though.

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  7. Arguably everything is just a version of something else, plus, Voyager was pretty great TV for a good long while.

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  8. http://www.boreme.com/boreme/funny-2009/enterprise-star-trek-dog-p1.php

    Dsve

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