the story: Janeway must perform a series of elaborate rituals in order to find a cure for Kes, who has inadvertently transgressed on an alien planet.
what it's all about: The part about Kes, above, sounds like Next Generation's "Justice," one of the worst episodes of the franchise. Fans also tend to rate Enterprise's "A Night in Sickbay" that way, and it's got a similar plotline. But I love "Sickbay," and what "Sacred Ground" is missing is a truly relevant character point for Janeway, who's the most science-heavy lead in a Star Trek series to date and yet somehow experiences something that contradicts her instincts without really resulting in anything but her deciding, at the end of the episode, that maybe just this once science doesn't define her outlook. It's kind of an episode that should've been centered around Chakotay, who's a spiritual guy but who hasn't always been able to figure all of it out for himself ("Tattoo"). This would've been a great experience to advance him along a little, but of course the third season's the one where he'd lost all forward momentum, the big victim of the producers listening to fans complaining about the first two seasons...
Anyway, it really is a fun episode, and it's a fun episode for Janeway, too, the beginning, I think, of the series finally figuring out that she's better when filled with doubt. It's the start of the path to "Scorpion," where she doesn't just make another calculated risk, but finally accepting it on a level she has to personally contend with and not just as a matter of principal. Here, she's forced to endure the rituals because she's got to help someone, failing the first attempt because she's still too caught up in herself succeeding in the second because her determination to help Kes pushes her past her doubts, which actually lead to bigger doubts...
I think it's a soft start to something bigger, something obviously more important, but it's there.
- franchise - Part of a troubled tradition of explaining what happens next when cultural rules are broken.
series- Signals the start of a shift in character for Janeway, but itself does not actually try to accomplish anything.
- character - So it becomes merely a fun episode for Janeway.
essential- Had the producers wanted, they could've used the lessons learned here more directly, but instead it becomes just another episodic experience.