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Kes is injured when she accidentally commits sacrilege on an alien planet; in order to save her life, Janeway must go through a mysterious ritual that challenges her faith in science.



"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 crew of the USS Voyager accepts an invitation from a humanoid race called the Nechani to take shore leave on their planet. To learn more about the Nechani culture, several of the crew members take a tour of some of the Nechani religious sites and caverns. Curious about a particular shrine, Kes attempts to enter it and is knocked unconscious by a biogenic field at the entrance.

Act One

B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim quickly transport Kes to sickbay and demand to know more about the shrine, and are anxious to remain on the planet to analyze the field and gather information that may be able to revive Kes from her comatose state. However, the Nechani feel that Kes is being punished by the Ancestral Spirits for inappropriate behavior. They state that there is simply nothing that can be done about it.

The Doctor stabilizes Kes and determines she's undergone severe neuroleptic shock and is in a kind of coma. He will need more information about what happened before he can treat her. Captain Janeway must try the diplomatic route and talk to the Magistrate while Torres and Kim scan the area from the ship. Neelix insists on helping, so she has him find information on the shrine in their records.

Her pleas to the Magistrate to let them back to the surface so that they can take some scans of the shrine in order to find answers to Kes' condition are rejected. He claims further he is not a spiritual leader, and does not know why the spirits do what they do. Unfortunately, those that do, the Nechisti Council, consider the matter closed.

Back in sickbay, The Doctor unfortunately must tell Janeway that he has no answers, and the ship's scans can't be clear through the rock. Fortunately, Neelix has some information in the form of a story about a king, Nevad, whose son made the same error as Kes: To save his son, this king decided to undergo the ritual that the monks endure in order to enter the shrine without harm. The king was successful with his plea and able to see his son awaken from his "death sleep." Janeway decides to try this approach in order to covertly gather scientific data about the shrine. She tells the Magistrate what she's found, and insists that she can claim the same kind of relationship Nevad had and go through the same ritual.

Act Two

Janeway prepares for the ritual, fully not expecting to talk to spirits, but rather some kind of physiological change as a result of some physical test of endurance, by reviewing these kinds of rituals in the Federation database. Chakotay notes to have some precautions ready, but also reminds her that maybe the Spirits really do exist there. Just then, the Magistrate has called in with an answer: The Council is fascinated by Janeway's proposal and eagerly awaits to help her. He adds that he is deeply troubled by what's happened, and will be very pleased if it is successful.

The Doctor and Kim have prepared an implant to monitor Janeway's biological readings and help the transporter to lock on to her if needed. Tuvok offers a phaser, but Janeway would rather not appear hostile.

A guide meets Janeway at the entrance to the cave at sunset. She is seemingly friendly, though tricks her into giving her the tricorder. She brings her to a few others who change her clothes into a robe and give her markings on her skin. Interestingly, the guide says she does not know what happens in the ritual, but cryptically says she will guide her through it. Then, she leads her to a room full of elderly people who invite her to join them as they wait. When she asks them how long they've waited, they squabble and bicker among themselves, and, oddly, reply that they have been waiting for as long as they can remember.

Act Three

Janeway doesn't understand the comment, as she's seen young monks there, so they haven't been waiting that long. She grows impatient, not planning to wait for half an eternity, and tries to open the other door. The guide answers, and allows her to leave. She leaves the room – eager to begin the challenges that might lead to a cure for Kes. Her guide informs her that everything she does during this ritual will be meaningless, and that the only thing that matters is finding her connection to the spirits. Yet Janeway is eager to go through each of the physical challenges imposed on her – believing them to be the key to a cure for Kes. The guide asks her to hold a rock and Janeway tells her what she sees.

Meanwhile, on Voyager, The Doctor is monitoring the readings, but so far nothing jumps out. As Janeway is next asked to finger-paint freely and then rock-climb, she becomes increasingly exhausted from the physical exertion. The Doctor then sees her neuropeptide levels rise to an abnormal level, possibly creating a natural barrier to the biogenic energy.

Finally, she is asked to place her hand inside a container that houses a hissing creature called a nesset; it bites her, and she soon feels hot and falls unconscious. She wakes in a kind of hole, and states she is dying. The guide simply replies "everyone dies eventually" and the doors close.

Act Four

Chakotay is getting impatient, and considers going down to get her, but The Doctor insists he sees no reason for alarm. Further, he's getting more interesting data on what's happening, particularly from a certain amino acid which is changing the flow of neurotransmitters to create an hallucinogenic effect. However, she is conscious and capable of signaling them via the implant if she chooses. Chakotay has a hard time believing it, but, as Tuvok points out, she would want to complete the ritual.

Janeway finds herself on a seashore, where her guide ostensibly acts as the voice of the spirits, who tell her that her request to have them reawaken Kes is inconsequential as Janeway possesses all the information she needs to help Kes. She relates what happened to the guide, and she gives her back her uniform.

Janeway returns to Voyager confident that she finally got all she needs to help Kes. The Doctor seems equally confident, believing that the immense amount of data gathered can be utilized to find a cure. He states that the toxin from the creature's bite appears to have been the key, for it creates a biochemical immunity to the energy burst that hit Kes. He has a treatment prepared and is ready to use it on Kes. Strangely, although the 'cure' works and restores her biochemical levels to normal, Kes still doesn't wake up and the Doctor is forced to discontinue the treatment to avoid causing internal damage. He tells Janeway that everything she went through was 'meaningless'.

Janeway returns to the planet to question her guide; after all, she did everything that the guide told her. But the guide tells her that she in fact didn't lead Janeway anywhere, for this was Kathryn's ritual: she herself set these challenges, the guide simply fulfilled Janeway's expectations as Janeway would have simply settled for nothing else. Janeway admits that when she started the trial she had some preconceptions about what it would involve, but now she doesn't know what she is seeking but still won't give up. The guide tells her that now she is finally ready to begin.

Janeway returns to the waiting room, where the elderly people greet her again.

Act Five

Now, Janeway asks more from these people about what she's supposed to accomplish in the room. They in turn derisively banter about her reliance on reason. They know that she is the kind of person who believes that she will eventually find the answers to Kes' situation with enough time, study and the right sort of tools. After all, that is what she believes as a scientist, even when her science fails right in front of her eyes. Janeway acknowledges that she is willing to try another path if science doesn't work, so they tell her to take Kes through the energy field again, to kill her. They can't tell her what it will do because the biogenic field, according to Voyager's scans, is lethal. They ask her, however, to let go of all her beliefs about the facts and simply trust the spirits to return her soul. If she believes she is ready, she is. But if she goes in with any doubt, with any hesitation, they will both be dead.

Janeway orders Commander Chakotay and Neelix to beam Kes back to the shrine. There, Chakotay realizes she intends to take Kes back into the field, in the belief that it will awaken her. Chakotay reiterates the uncertainties and asks for more time for scans, enough to the point where he's considering declaring her unfit for command. Janeway says she can't explain it, but she now believes it. So she carries Kes through the field, where a burst of energy hits them. However, they remain unharmed and Kes finally awakens.

Later, in sickbay, The Doctor goes into elaborate detail and gives a plausible scientific explanation for why taking Kes through the biogenic field again, combined with the ritual Janeway went through and the toxin released into her body saved Kes' life. Janeway nods and listens – somewhat absentmindedly – to The Doctor's explanation, stating that it is indeed very plausible and scientific. Yet she walks out of sickbay unsure really whether it was the science or her faith that was at work here.

Memorable quotes

"We aren't going to stand by and do nothing."
"There's nothing you can do, she's been punished by the spirits, she's going to die."

- B'Elanna Torres and the Magistrate

"I don't suppose you know anything about chromodynamic light, do you?"
"No, not really. I suppose I could look at it."
"That device you've got, what is that?"
"It's called a tricorder. ... it's a scanning device."
"Aah, atmospheric readings, energy field analysis, full technical data base. This is certainly a convenient thing to have."
"I'll need that back."
"No, you won't."
"You're my guide."

- Captain Janeway and The Guide

"I'm sure there is spiritual significance behind the challenges involved."
"Challenges? That's what you expect."
"I don't have any idea what to expect."
"I'm willing to do whatever is necessary."
"I don't doubt that. But do you realize that all of this is meaningless?"

- Captain Janeway and The Guide

"Your request is inconsequential. You have what you need to save her yourself."

- The Guide, to Captain Janeway

"I haven't led you anywhere, Kathryn. You've taken me along wherever you wanted to go. This was your ritual. You set these challenges for yourself."
"It's true that I came here with certain expectations. Are you saying that you simply fulfilled my expectations?"
"You'd have settled for nothing else."

- The Guide and Janeway

"A test? She thinks we're a test! What is she talking about?"
"She must like tests. I suppose tests make sense to her."

- The Spirits

"Even when her science fails right before her eyes she still has full confidence in it. Now there's a leap of faith."

- The Spirits

"Let all of that go, Kathryn. Take Kes back into the shrine and trust the spirits to return her soul."
"The ritual I went through was meaningless and Kes has done nothing to prepare herself. How could either of us be ready to go through the field?"
"If you believe you are ready, then you are. There's no more to it than that. But if you go in with any doubt, with any hesitation, then you're both dead. So, what are you going to do, Captain?"
"You know I won't stand by and watch Kes die if there's anything I can do to save her. I want to believe it's possible. I'm going to try."

- The Spirits and Captain Janeway

"I don't know about this, Kathryn."
"Neither do I. That's the challenge."

- Chakotay and Captain Janeway, just before Janeway enters the shrine with the comatose Kes

"Captain? If there's something about my analysis you disagree with...?"
"lt's a perfectly sound explanation, Doctor. Very... scientific."

- The Doctor and Captain Janeway

Background information

Story and script

  • The predicament in which Janeway found herself in freelance writer Geo Cameron's plot concept, which provided the basis of this Star Trek: Voyager installment, was what appealed to Voyager's writing team so much that they bought this episode's story. Staff writer Lisa Klink explained, "That story was pitched by a freelancer named Geo Cameron. We took the concept, Janeway going through this ordeal that kind of forces her to deal with things in a non-scientific fashion, because that seemed like a very interesting thing to do to her character." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 95)
  • Lisa Klink thereafter struggled with the writing of the installment's teleplay. "It was tricky," she admitted, "because obviously it was very talky, and philosophical, and you really had to pay attention to keep up with what was going on. That was one of the harder scripts that I've ever written." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 95)
  • The episode's final script draft was submitted on 5 March 1996. [1]
  • In summation of the episode's theme, Lisa Klink remarked, "The point of the episode is that you can't explain everything. That's really what faith is about." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 95) The spiritualism that Klink attempted to imbue the episode's script with was obvious to other members of production personnel, including supervising producer Brannon Braga and director Robert Duncan McNeill. Braga once jokingly referred to this episode as "kind of A Man Called Horse with Janeway," adding, "she has a spiritual journey." (Star Trek Monthly issue 20) Robert Duncan McNeill described the episode as "an extremely spiritual show about Captain Janeway having to let go of logic, take a leap of faith and consider the magical, mystery, godlike elements of the world." (Star Trek 30 Years, p. 48) McNeill also commented, "It's the kind of episode that's very much a thinking person's, moody piece. It's not a big shoot 'em up. It's a story of ideas, of feelings, of character journeys." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 11) In addition, McNeill said of the episode, "It had a real spiritual kind of story–a real character-driven story. It wasn't a big action show." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 107) McNeill also felt that this episode presents no easy answers. "It kind of leaves it up to the viewers and to the characters to contemplate, and decide what they think about faith and religion," he related. "It's a very different kind of show for Star Trek. It's almost like an X-Files show. It sort of presents two answers – one is a scientific solution and the other is a mystical solution – and it doesn't say one way or another." (Star Trek Monthly issue 20)
  • The degree of uncertainty about this episode's teleplay extended to the production personnel. "On the page, everyone kind of questioned it," Robert Duncan McNeill recalled. "Everyone thought, 'Is this gonna work? There's no action in it. It's all Janeway by herself. We don't have the other guys doing much.'" (Star Trek Monthly issue 28, p. 59)

Cast and characters

  • Regarding how this episode tasks Janeway with taking a leap of faith, Robert Duncan McNeill commented, "As a scientist, this is not easy for her to do." (Star Trek 30 Years, p. 48) Likewise, Lisa Klink mused, "[Janeway] is someone who has great faith in the ability of science to explain everything. This is kind of a reminder to her that there's a lot of really weird stuff out there in the universe. It's just a question of keeping an open mind and allowing herself to just accept some things without being able to actually pin it down, and scan it, and measure it, and explain it all in a nice little burst of technobabble." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 95) Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew noted about her character's spiritual journey here, "Janeway went through a lot in that one." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 14, p. 32)
  • As Robert Duncan McNeill had a very good relationship with Kate Mulgrew, he was pleased that she was the central performer of this episode. He commented, "I was thrilled that she had the story for [this] episode. We have such a great relationship. We were able to discuss the scenes in more depth than the average directors might." McNeill was also delighted by Mulgrew's acting in this installment. "I thought it was one of Kate's best performances," he noted. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 107)
  • Kate Mulgrew herself counted this as one of her favorite installments of Star Trek: Voyager's third season. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 14, p. 32)
  • Robert Duncan McNeill appears in his usual role of Tom Paris in this episode, but he has no lines of dialogue.
  • B'Elanna Torres appears only briefly in this episode. Actress Roxann Dawson recalled, "I had about 30 seconds of screen time in 'Sacred Ground.'" (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 12)
  • Robert Duncan McNeill thought highly of the supporting characters and the guest performers of this installment. He opined, "It had a lot of wonderful characters in it. It had great guest stars." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 107)
  • Guest star Harry Groener (the Nechani Magistrate) previously appeared as Tam Elbrun in TNG: "Tin Man" and would go on to feature as Minister Nathan Samuels in the Star Trek: Enterprise two-parter "Demons" and "Terra Prime".


  • This episode was the first (in production order) of four episodes that were produced during Voyager's second season but intentionally held back for inclusion in its third season, the other episodes being "False Profits", "Flashback" and "Basics, Part II". (Star Trek: Voyager Companion (p. ?))
  • This was the first Star Trek episode directed by Paris actor Robert Duncan McNeill. He had first approached executive producer Rick Berman about directing in March 1995, after which McNeill had studied the various aspects of production on Star Trek, visiting the Paramount Pictures lot even on days when he had not been playing Tom Paris. (Star Trek 30 Years, p. 48)
  • The task of directing this episode was originally assigned to Jonathan Frakes. Robert Duncan McNeill noted, "Frakes [...] backed out in order to direct Star Trek: First Contact – so they gave his slot to me." (Star Trek 30 Years, p. 48) McNeill also explained, "What happened was Jonathan [Frakes] was scheduled to direct an episode of the show and when he was offered the feature he had to step out and couldn't direct an episode for us. When I heard that I thought about it long and hard and went to Rick with my list and said, 'Here is what I've done and I think I'm ready. I don't have any expectations, but I want to get on the list of people to take that spot.' That was the only [episode] available, everything else was booked up. We had a good conversation and I walked away feeling that he did believe that I was ready." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 94)
  • Privately, however, Robert Duncan McNeill believed that the episode he would be asked to direct would not be this one, but one produced in the third season. "I didn't really expect to get the episode," McNeill remembered. "I was pushing that one thinking I would get one early next season." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 94)
  • On a weekend day – one or two weeks after requesting this episode, and almost a year to the day of his original discussion with Rick Berman – Robert Duncan McNeill was appearing as a guest at a Star Trek convention in either Cincinnati or Cleveland when he received, indirectly, word from Berman (who wanted to speak to him about this installment, although McNeill had no way of knowing that, at the time). (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 11; Star Trek 30 Years, p. 48; Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 94; Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 107) While checking out of a hotel, McNeill received an emergency message to call his wife, who – when he did – told him that Berman had called that morning and wanted McNeill to phone him back as soon as possible. McNeill's wife was distraught, as she suspected the news was that her husband had been fired. "She said, 'Why would he call on a weekend unless there's something really wrong?' I said, 'OK, don't worry. I'll call him now and I'll call you right back.' So, I did," McNeill recalled with a laugh. "Rick said some things in scheduling had gotten a little screwy and there was a directing slot available in two weeks, was I ready to start? I said, 'Absolutely.' I didn't have much time to get nervous." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 11) McNeill additionally remembered, "He called me [...] to say that they had a meeting about it and wanted to give me the shot." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 94)
  • The imminence of the episode's production start date somewhat flustered Robert Duncan McNeill, even though he was simultaneously happy to have been given the directing assignment. "It was about a week or two from shooting, at that time, so I wasn't prepared for it initially," he remembered. "I hadn't expected to direct quite that quickly, or have an assignment with such short notice, but I was really thrilled." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 104)
  • Robert Duncan McNeill felt that this episode was fitted to his own personal directing skills. He remarked, "I was thrilled to get 'Sacred Ground' because it was an actor's show. Jonathan [Frakes] is much more extroverted. He has a great mastery of the room. I'm more introverted. I do better one-on-one. I love to go talk with each actor." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 112, p. 56)

    Robert Duncan McNeill during production on this episode

    McNeill also noted, "It was wonderful for me to have that as the first episode because I got to focus on the actors." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 11) Additionally, he related, "That episode was the perfect first episode for me because I think it had what are my strengths." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 104)
  • Working on this episode was a definite learning experience for Robert Duncan McNeill. Regarding his level of preparation when he came to direct the episode, he recalled, "I had every shot in my book, everything planned." However, he added, "I learned from directing ['Sacred Ground'] that there are some things you just can't plan." (Star Trek Monthly issue 27, p. 14)
  • Due to this episode being so character-driven and introspective, Robert Duncan McNeill found that dramatizing the mental processes of the characters was challenging. He commented, "It's not an action show which is a blessing and a curse for me actually [....] Logistically, action shows are very complicated, but because this is a real internal story for Janeway, it became more of a challenge how do you make these thoughts and ideas and philosophy more dramatic?" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 94)
  • Another difficulty for Robert Duncan McNeill was tackling the episode's unusual ambiguity. "It was a very tricky episode," he said, "because [although] Star Trek usually ends their stories with a nice moral and a nice lesson to learn [...] this story explores religion and faith without offering any clear answers at the end." (Star Trek Monthly issue 20)
  • Robert Duncan McNeill took contributions from all involved. "Everybody contributed," he said. "I tried to incorporate everyone's ideas." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 11)
  • The task of directing the episode was such that Robert Duncan McNeill felt no need to embellish the installment with any elaborate camera work. "I don't have any outside agenda other than to tell this script that they have given me as best as I can. I don't think there are any sort of old thoughts that I've had that now that I have a chance I can throw this in," McNeill conceded. "It's enough work just to tell the story they have given me, much less squeeze in my own thing. All I want to do is make it as exciting a show as I can to keep the audience there." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 94)
  • Ultimately, Robert Duncan McNeill believed that the uncertainty concerning the episode's script was made up for, during production. He commented, "Sometimes, an episode that reads very weak on the page makes you work that much harder, and therefore you end up with a better episode [....] I saw [something similar] as a director on 'Sacred Ground' [....] It wasn't a shoot-em-up show, but everybody focused and tried to fill out every moment of that episode, and it paid off." (Star Trek Monthly issue 28, p. 59)
  • Roxann Dawson, Kate Mulgrew and Lisa Klink were wowed by Robert Duncan McNeill's work on this installment. Dawson noted, "I was impressed with what Robbie did." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 12) Mulgrew stated, "I thought Robbie McNeill did a very nice job directing [it]." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 14, p. 32) Klink agreed, "I thought he did a very nice job with it as well." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 95)


  • Despite being the 7th episode in this season, the stardate establishes the events of this episode as having occurred after the season premiere "Basics, Part II" but before the next five episodes ("Flashback", "The Chute", "The Swarm", "False Profits" and "Remember").
  • When consoling Neelix, who is worried for the unconscious Kes, The Doctor says he does understand what it's like to feel helpless. This may be a reference to "Heroes and Demons", where The Doctor has to watch his holographic love interest die from a sword wound.


  • Ultimately, Lisa Klink was very proud of this episode in general. She noted, "I was very pleased with how it came out." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 95)
  • Robert Duncan McNeill was also highly satisfied with the episode's final form. He remarked, "I thought it turned out to be one of our better episodes, because it was different." (Star Trek Monthly issue 28, p. 59) He also noted, "I'm really happy with it." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 11) Partly due to this – prior to the initial airing of Voyager's third season – McNeill was hopeful that the episode would have a good viewer response. He remarked, "Everyone seems really happy with it so far, [...] and I think it's a good show [....] I'd love to direct some more episodes this season, so I really hope viewers like it." (Star Trek Monthly issue 20) Following his work on this episode, McNeill eventually directed three further episodes of Voyager (including the later third season installment "Unity") and four of Star Trek: Enterprise, as well as other projects.
  • This episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 4.6 million homes, and a 7% share. [2](X)
  • Executive producer Jeri Taylor thoroughly enjoyed this episode when she watched a rerun of it. A week later (on a Thursday in June 1997), she commented, "I happened to see 'Sacred Ground' just last week when it re-ran and I loved it. I just thought that it was everything that Star Trek should be; it was provocative and profound, and it said something, and it did unexpected things. I really think it worked. It is not the kind of episode that I think many of our core audience respond to, because it was very introspective. There was no action, there were no phaser fights, there was none of that kind of thing. It was a thoughtful kind of episode, but there's absolutely room for shows like that in the mix [of Star Trek: Voyager's stories]." (Star Trek Monthly issue 31, p. 12)
  • Cinefantastique rated this episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 92)
  • Star Trek Magazine scored this episode 4 out of 5 stars, defined as "Trill-powered viewing". (Star Trek Monthly issue 25, p. 60)
  • The reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 147) gives this installment a rating of 7 out of 10.

Video and DVD releases

Links and references


Also Starring

Guest Stars

Uncredited Co-Stars

Stunt Double


adenosine triphosphate; advisor; amino acid; Ancestral Spirits; artist; biochemistry; biogenic energy; biogenic field; bio-scanner; bloodstream; Brother; Chakotay's mother; chromodynamic light; combadge; cortical stimulator; data; Delios VII; dielectric effect; doctrine; electrolyte; epidermal layer; extensor muscle; Federation; fertility symbol; guide; hallucinogenic effect; holodeck; hour; immunity; iota; iridium ion; Janeway's sister; Karis Tribe; king; lactic acid; lectrazine; magistrate; megajoule; monk; muscle strain; Nechani; Nechani homeworld; Nechisti Council; Nechisti shrine; Nechisti Order; neodyne light; nesset; neuroleptic shock; neuropeptide; neurotransmitter; Nevad; phenomenon; physical conditioning program; physiometric program; plasma discharge; poison; psychoactive drug; pulse; purification; respiration; sanctuary; shaman; shore leave; soul; spiritual leader; subdermal bioprobe; spirit realm; sunset; synaptic pathway; tarchee cat; thoron radiation; toxin; tricorder; vision quest

External links

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