Star Trek: Voyager – 3×07 – “Sacred Ground”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Sacred Ground”
Originally Broadcast October 30th, 1996
Reviewed by Chakoteya

The Story

Stardate: 50063.2

‘Captain’s log, stardate 50063.2. We’ve accepted an invitation from the Nechani to take a few days shore leave on their world. We’re enjoying the opportunity to learn about their culture.’

The Magistrate is showing Kim and Torres, Neelix and Kes around the local equivalent of a cathedral, where monks worship the ancestral spirits. Kes’s interest is piqued by a strangely lit shrine and goes to investigate, only to be struck down by some sort of energy field. As Kes and Neelix are beamed to sickbay, the Magistrate explains that this is a very sacred area and that she is going to die for offending the spirits. He turns down their demands to scan the area to find out what happened and suggests they return to the ship before they offend the monks further.

The EMH has no idea how to treat Kes, and the crew are scanning the sanctuary from Voyager (in violation of the no-scanning order). Neelix is sent off to research the shrine and what happens there while Captain Janeway talks with the Magistrate in her Ready Room. It turns out that it is the most holy place in the sanctuary. Monks go through a ritual and then enter safely through the energy barrier to the shrine to talk to the spirits. He tells her that she has his sympathy, but that there is nothing more to be done.

The scans have revealed a biogenic energy field so strong that Kes is lucky not to have been killed outright. Neelix has not found any scientific information, but he has come across a legend of King Nevad who went through the ritual in order to be able to plead with the spirits to restore his son, who had wandered into the shrine accidentally, just as Kes did. The Magistrate is impressed with the research, and agrees to ask the monks to let Janeway go through the ritual as the King did. After all, the Captain is responsible for her crew just as a father is responsible for his son.

Janeway discusses her plan with Chakotay in his office, sure that there will be a series of ordeals that alter the body chemistry to allow her to pass through the barrier. Chakotay cannot persuade her that there may really be ancestral spirits at work. The Magistrate calls to tell her that the request has been granted, and that the ritual starts at sunset. With a sub-dermal bioprobe-cum-homing beacon in her arm, Captain Janeway beams down to the sanctuary. There is supposed to be a guide waiting for her, but she doesn’t see anyone, so she gets out her tricorder and starts scanning. A woman trying to mend a light asks for her help and Janeway reluctantly goes over to see. She borrows the tricorder, admires it then confiscates it. Captain Janeway has met her guide.

In a nearby area, Kathryn is undressed, decorated, and dressed in a robe for the ritual. She is quizzed to make sure that she is determined to go through with this, and told that the bioprobe has been detected, but that it will make no difference to what happens. Then she is shown into a room where three old people have been waiting for as long as they can remember. Kathryn does not want to wait and decides that this is a test of her determination in face of their distraction to sit and be sociable. The trio assess her perfectly – driven, determined, on a mission and thinking herself clever. She hammers on the door and her guide allows her to continue on.

They go to a room and Kathryn paces around, giving away her expectations to be taken through a series of tasks while denying that she has any preconceived ideas at all from her research. The guide tells her that it is all meaningless, that all that matters is connecting with the spirits, then leads her to the first ‘challenge’ – standing holding a rock and staring at it until she sees something else. Up on Voyager, the EMH and Chakotay are monitoring the bioprobe readings, which show light muscle stress at present. It is all being put into a programme to try and find a treatment to Kes.

Next is finger painting, not Kathryn’s forte. She prefers the absolute right or wrong of mathematics. Then rock-climbing, then staring at the stone again when for a moment it glows, and Kathryn has a moment of doubt. Did she really paint and climb or just have an hallucination? The EMH picks up very high neuropeptide readings, that may be an indication of a possible treatment.

The guide brings Kathryn a drink, and a basket containing something that hisses – a nesset. It is a gatekeeper to the spirit world, and Kathryn is invited to put her hand in the basket. She steels herself and does, only to be bitten on the arm. The venom burns through her body, making her chest tight. As she collapses, she sees flashes of recent events and hears Kes calling to her. Kathryn is laid in a vault and the lid closed shut over her.

Chakotay is concerned about Janeway having been poisoned and being awake for three days. The EMH is monitoring her and is sure that if she wanted to be beamed out, she could tap the homing signal. In the meantime, the reactions of the toxin in her system are proving very informative in a medical sense. Kathryn is really hallucinating this time. She sees herself with the guide on a beach by a cliff, and asks if she can see any spirits that might be there. The guide reminds her that it is all irrelevant and meaningless. Kathryn makes her request for the spirits to save Kes, and is told that she has what she needs to save her herself.

It has been 39 hours when Kathryn emerges from the ‘tomb’ and is handed her uniform. Hugging it to her chest she leaves the sanctuary. The EMH pronounces the Captain in good shape and that he is ready to treat Kes based on the effects of the nesset toxin. However, his best laid plans go awry, and an increasingly anxious Neelix gets in his way as Kes fails to wake up despite everything being as it should be. He stops the treatment and tells Janeway that everything she went through was meaningless.

Realising that she had been told the truth all along, Kathryn goes back to consult her guide. She had set all her own challenges, and would have settled for nothing else. Now she is back and does not know what she is seeking. The guide believes she really is ready now, and sends her into the waiting room. The old folk are not surprised, they have seen people do extraordinary things to themselves in pursuit of the spirits. However, they point out that not everything can be explained scientifically. Kes hasn’t got better, and yet Kathryn believes that an explanation will eventually be found, even though her science has failed before her eyes. She has unconditional trust in her chosen belief system, which is promising. Then they suggest something that she could do – an irrational, unreasoning act which goes against all the facts. Take her back into the shrine, to the biogenic field, believing that she is ready and that it will save Kes, not kill her. It is her last hope, and Kathryn says that she will try.

Janeway contacts Chakotay and tells him to get Kes down to the sanctuary. He beams down accompanied by Neelix and she meets them to explain what she plans to do. Chakotay’s tricorder still says that entering the energy field would be lethal, so he threatens to relieve her of duty if her judgment is impaired. The guide says that no one knows what will happen to them until they enter the shrine. Kathryn realises that the challenge is not understanding what is happening, and picks up Kes. At the top of the steps she pauses them moves forward. They connect with the energy field with no ill effects, and Kes opens her eyes.

Back on Voyager, the EMH explains that Chakotay’s tricorder detected iridium in the field, which helped dissipate some of the effects of the energy. The treatment Kes had already received simply required a jolt from the energy to make it work, like a natural synaptic stimulator. Captain Janeway’s eye’s glaze over. She is not convinced by this very scientific explanation, and walks out.

Review

This story was produced immediately after Basics, and sits uneasily in among the Season three Kirk/Janeway stories. The whole thing is supposed to point up the contrast between ‘religious faith’ and ‘secular faith’, or the lack thereof. The Captain is a worshipper at the altar of Science, and believes that there is a rational explanation for everything. Even when it fails in front of her eyes, she knows that it is only because there is something else to be discovered which will make sense of it all. Which makes a slight mockery of her closing words in Season One’s ‘The Cloud’ when she has found her spirit guide and asks ‘perhaps there is one powerful being who will embrace this good crew and give them the answer they seek.’

In all, the episode is vaguely dull. The resolution is so clearly telegraphed from the start, that Janeway will have to take a leap of faith to heal Kes, that the only question is – how often can the viewer stand to see her be told the obvious without it sinking in? As for having Chakotay (of all people) beam down into the sanctuary with a forbidden tricorder and start using it, well, is this really the First Officer whose respect for other cultures was so clearly stated in Emanations? I’ve heard of character development, but that was a change too far. You might as well get him to ask the EMH to laser off his tattoo if you are really going to alter the character that much.

The old folk (spirits?) in the waiting room are wonderfully portrayed, as is Janeway’s guide. I really took to her as a spiritual mentor.

There are some beautiful shots, and I’m sure some people enjoy the sight of Naked Janeway getting her body painted, but these alone cannot rescue the episode, which is a pity as it is Robert Duncan McNeill’s directing debut. Hopefully he’ll get better stories to work with in the future.

Grade: 4/10

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