39 – The Thaw

Grade: C-

The Thaw (1996) on IMDb


Voyager stops by a planet which has suffered an environmental catastrophe. The entire planet is frozen, but a few people have been saved inside personal stasis chambers. They should have come out of stasis four years ago, but since they haven’t, and two of them have died, Janeway decides to put Kim and Torres into the stasis tubes to see if they can find out why the other two died and why the live ones haven’t come out of the tubes yet.


First things first – what was good about this episode? Well, Michael McKean’s acting was pretty good. I really don’t know anything about this character actor, but he has been appearing in over 200 TV shows and movies since 1977 – he obviously has considerable talent, and he does a good job playing a very unlikable character in this episode as well. Unfortunately, the rest of the acting is just standard. I thought Garret Wang was particularly bland – more than usual, in fact. Kate Mulgrew rarely impresses me with her acting, and she did nothing to impress me in this one.

But I really liked it that near the end of the episode, they pulled out the Reset Button but put it away. It shows up when Janeway asks the Doctor if they could just pull out all the people from the stasis tubes and when he says they might suffer brain damage as a result, Janeway asks if he could correct it. Honestly, I don’t see why he couldn’t. After all, he’s able to re-write someone’s DNA and restore them to whatever health they had at the time of their last scan. In fact, he mentioned this very thing in the previous episode when the Drayans visited Sickbay. But I was relieved to hear that there are some limitations to what the Doctor can do. It was good to see at least one instance of when they didn’t get to use the Reset Button. I like it when they have to come up with something more realistic and creative to solve their problems.

So much for what I liked about this episode. Now let’s talk about what I didn’t like. First of all, the entire episode looked cheap to me. It was obviously filmed on a sound stage, just like most of the episodes of the Original Series. Not that it’s bad to film this way, but it just didn’t look like a place that would be controlled by the limitless imaginations of the people in the pods. It’s not that big of a deal, really, but it just seemed weird. In a place where everyone’s deepest fears are portrayed, it’s odd that everyone is scared of dancing clowns in brightly colored costumes.

I also didn’t like the way Janeway was portrayed in this episode. So she comes across a planet that looks like it has been dead for 20 years, and instead of just moving on to the next one, she decides to check for life signs. OK, so they find a few people alive but in some kind of stasis tubes. And then she decides to beam them up onto her ship so she can find out why they haven’t been awakened from their long naps. Then they find out that two of them are dead, presumably having suffered heart attacks, and she then decides she has “no alternative” but put two of her own crewmen into harm’s way and into a potentially life-threatening situation. Now hold on a minute here. Why does Miss Prime Directive herself think she has no alternative but mess around with these things? And why does she think she must put Kim and Torres into those tubes where two aliens have died? This makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I can’t believe for one second that the Janeway we’ve seen up to this point in the series would have made this decision. But the story demands that we set aside well-established character traits so there can be a 43 minute episode.

I guess you could argue that Janeway wanted to help these people come out of stasis as their solution was originally designed, but she really has no knowledge of why it hasn’t worked. So without knowing anything at all, she decides to potentially sacrifice two of her crewmen to try to save the life of three sleeping aliens. Remember, those two aliens died in those two chambers. There’s no way to know why they died. Maybe those chambers were defective. I can’t imagine any real captain in any navy in the world would have decided to potentially sacrifice two of their own officers in this way. And the worst thing is, this isn’t even brought up. Nobody even asks Harry if he’s willing to die for these people they’ve never met.

Once Janeway comes up with her first plan and it fails, she asks “could I have misjudged him somehow?” I could not believe this line. Either Janeway is completely arrogant and doesn’t realize maybe she’s not infallible, or the script is just awful. Who says a line like this except a megalomaniac? Of course she misjudged the clown. That’s why her plan failed. Duh.

The ending (with the picture fading to black) is often mentioned as one of the best in the series. I agree it’s a powerful ending, but I disagree with its usage in this episode. The story isn’t over yet. What’s going to happen to those two people who were left alive? Are they the only two left from the entire planet? Are there others like them who are also still asleep? To me, it just felt like there were parts of the episode that were missing. It’s an abrupt ending, and maybe that was unexpected and effective, but I don’t think the story was actually complete.

Here’s one last thing that bothers me about this episode. This entire environment was created by the brains of the sleeping aliens. They died as long as they were scared to death – and I might add, as long as they were scared OF death. Since they knew they were asleep, and they knew they were dreaming, and they knew they would only die if they were sufficiently scared, then in theory, nobody should have died at all. All they had to do to prevent from being killed was not be scared of anything. It wasn’t the pain that killed them, but the fear that did it. And they already knew they couldn’t die without being scared, so why didn’t anyone simply refuse to be afraid? Well, the answer to that is that sometimes it’s easier said than done, but seriously, if I know that I’m dreaming and only in danger if I allow myself to be scared, I’m going to try my hardest not to be, since I don’t want to die.

Well, I could say much more, but I really don’t want to think about this mediocre mess masquerading as a masterpiece. This isn’t Shakespeare. In fact, it’s not even average.

Of Note

In the first scene, Harry Kim mentions a Lt Nicoletti. I had no idea, but she’s actually mentioned or appears in many Voyager episodes – even a few of them that aired before this one. Impressive for a minor character that to my knowledge, never has any lines.