Star Trek 582: Barge of the Dead

582. Barge of the Dead

FORMULA: Coda x Klingons

WHY WE LIKE IT: Builds on Klingon mythology.

WHY WE DON'T: The heavy metal album matte shots.

REVIEW: Though Ron Moore only co-wrote this episode, you can most see his stamp on it. After all, the man was the Klingon architect on both TNG and DS9. After this, he left the show, claiming frustration with the writers' room's atmosphere. I think that certainly says something about Voyager's writing, though these first few (post-Equinox) episodes are actually rather good. Did Moore have a hand in steering things towards more character-based stories? There's no way to know how much influence he had, or if it was even his doing. His last true collaboration is definitely a success though.

No one wants Voyager to explore the human afterlife (see Coda for why), but the Klingons' is fair game. In fact, the Klingons are so iconic and popular, that it's almost a shame that B'Elanna has rejected that part of her heritage. And if "imaginary stories" that at best happened in a character's head and at worst definitely state that the afterlife exists or doesn't aren't your cup of tea, this episode can be forgiven because it fills in a lot of information on Klingon religion. And that's fascinating. We meet the first Klingon, doomed to be an acerbic Charon no the River of Blood. We see why dutiful Klingons really do have reason to fear their family's dishonor. We see the gates of Gre'thor, looking rather cheesy and papier maché, but then, what did we expect? Still, could have looked a little less like the Spawn movie.

B'Elanna's family life has been largely unexplored up to now, so this is also an excuse to meet her mother (has she died and been doomed by B'Elanna's dishonor?) and reopen those old wounds. Though she's trying to make things right and save her mother, her plan remains a dishonorable one - cheating death, essentially - and so the argument continues after death. In the end, the whole escapade is probably all in her head (ambiguously: perhaps a divine vision?) unless hell really is tailored to each person's reality (for B'Elanna, it's a Klingon-happy Voyager crew). The hopeful note at the end is what gives it away. But regardless of how "real" it is, Barge of the Dead is a strong character-building episode for B'Elanna. The source of her perpetual anger here is revealed as rebellion against expectations. The implication is that she resents anyone imposing any role on her, whether it be Klingon, Starfleet officer or, in Tom's case, lover. Her fear is not meeting those expectations, plugging into her natural - mongrel, if you want to be unkind - self-loathing. All the surreal shenanigans melt away before this moment of catharsis. Well played. We can only imagine what arc Moore had planned for B'Elanna had he stuck around.

LESSON: Hell is other people.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: A great big Klingon extravaganza with unusual visuals and a real character moment for B'Elanna.


De said...

Did Moore have a hand in steering things towards more character-based stories?

He certainly tried. Not sure if you read the "tell-all" interview back in 2000, but you can see part of it here.

I personally think a lot of Moore's initial ideas for the new Battlestar Galactica stemmed from how he thought Voyager was supposed to be.

rob! said...

"Barge of the Dead"--isn't that the next Romero film?

Siskoid said...

Battlestar certainly has a similar premise, so that would make sense.


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