First of all, I love the very premise of this one. A spaceship crew basically dipping their toes in another culture's River Styx is an interesting thing to do and I give them props for exploring both banks of that river--where do people go when they die/where do they think they go? I think it's interesting that, out of respect, Chakotay doesn't want anyone to touch the dead bodies (though, even as an anthropologist, I feel like not letting B'Elanna scan the bodies with a tricorder is a bit much) and that Janeway goes along with him. This is a compassionate crew.
This is the worst family meeting ever. I mean, I've been part of various dysfunctional families that tried to have meetings and they were awful--but this is worse. Families can make you depressed. It's a terrible thing when the people who are supposed to love you the most, the ones who are supposed to protect you and be there for you are the ones driving you to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. I've been there and it sucks. Thankfully, I never attended any family meetings where they all just looked at me and said, "I think it's pretty much time for you to get it over with."
That was a little heavy. Sorry about that.
The point though is that this episode is pretty heavy. Because, in Garan's culture, they really do believe that they really are going (their physical body and all) on to a better place. But, Harry Kim has been to the next emanation. He knows these folks aren't walking around and drinking tea and having a lovely time up there. They're corpses wrapped in cobweb. And when he (of course) blabs about how there's no afterlife, everyone gets a little worried and upset--especially the guy who's been convinced to kill himself.
Has Harry even been to Prime Directive School?
Anyway, this is a strong episode. It's a preview of the great, allegorical stuff Voyager will handle later. It asks big questions, explores the debate, and leaves it open-ended so that we can continue to ponder the ideas later. In this case, pretty much twenty years later.
Other Great Stuff About This One:
-I love that when the previously dead Vhnori woman awakens the first thing she does is ask where her brother is. It's a sweet, subtle touch. Of course you would be expecting to meet previously deceased family upon arrival in the afterlife.
-The alien doctor is played by Jerry Hardin (AKA Deep Throat from X-Files) and his performance here is excellent. He brings a lot of gravity to this one without being over dramatic and flashy.
-Jeffrey Allen Chandler (who also guest-starred on DS9's "Facets") is also great as Hatil Garand. His believable resignation and then fear regarding the afterlife are believable and I find him incredibly sympathetic.
-Janeway has her one of her first mom talks with Kim and it's a really, really nice touch.
-Seriously though, has Harry Kim ever even heard of Starfleet? Why does he just instantly blab about this stuff? Is he really an officer? Did he sneak in here?
-This episode marks the first time Harry Kim would legit die on his Voyager assignment.