As they draw near the nebula, Janeway asks Chakotay about the mental state of the crew as they acclimate to being marooned in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay laments their lack of a ship's counselor and notes that his people consult animal guides for guidance. Intrigued, Janeway makes plans with Chakotay to find her own animal guide. Once inside the nebula, however, things take a poor turn. The crew find themselves blasting through barriers and getting their energy drained. By the time they escape, they've lost 11% of their power reserves. Janeway orders Torres to investigate the particles that have coated the ship's hull.
In the evening, Paris shows Kim his holodeck program of a French poolhall, complete with lowlifes and floozies. Meanwhile, Chakotay takes Janeway through the ritual to find her animal guide, which turns out to be a lizard. Before it can talk to her, however, Torres arrives with her report: the compound coating the hull is organic, meaning the nebula is a living creature that they injured by punching the ship through it. Sensors indicate that omicron particles are now leaking from it, indicating that it's injured. Aghast, Janeway orders the ship to fly back inside to heal its wound. Neelix wants no part of this reckless plan, but Janeway is firm.
This time, the nebula creature's immune system is ready for the ship and attacks it with polaric charges. The crew figure out that its thrusters are triggering the response, so they go into drift mode and surf in the nebula's circulatory system. In the midst of things, a repentant Neelix arrives with Kes and serves snacks, proclaiming himself Chief Morale Officer. Their planned treatment has little effect on the nebula creature, so the Doctor suggests using the ship itself as a suture. Due to her experience caring for her dog, Janeway anticipates that they'll need to distract the nebula while they work to prevent it attacking them, and the treatment is a success.
With consciences clear but energy reserves even more depleted than before, the ship sets out for a new source of fuel. Janeway arrives at Paris's pool hall and lets herself be instructed in how to play the game. But after sinking numerous balls on the break and quickly sinking the 8-ball, she proves herself a pool hustler.
"There's coffee in that trope list!":
- Analogy Backfire: A Downplayed example, and mostly because the terms "Jonah" and "whale" are completely lost on Neelix.
- Animal Motifs: Averted; Chakotay's animal guide isn't a bear and Janeway's isn't a coffee beetle.
- Artistic License – Military: Lieutenant Tuvok tells off Ensign Kim for his I've Never Seen Anything Like This Before because "it makes the junior officers nervous". Both ranks are regarded as junior officers, as is anyone below the rank of Commander. This confusion may be due to them both being department heads (Kim in charge of Ops, and Tuvok in charge of Tactical/Security). However, Janeway also refers to them as "senior Bridge officers", so Starfleet may be different in this regard.
- Artistic License – Religion: A Vision Quest is traditionally undertaken by young Native American males as a Rite of Passage to adulthood, involving several days of fasting and isolation. Chakotay would not be teaching it to B'Elanna or Janeway as a therapy tool unless Native American culture has changed significantly in the last few centuries.
- Badass Armfold: Janeway ordering the launch of a photon torpedo.
- Bad Guys Play Pool: A mild version when ex-con Paris creates the Chez Sandríne holodeck program, with floozies and pool hustlers.
- Bears Are Bad News: Not for Chakotay; when Janeway suggests his animal guide is a bear he takes it as a compliment, though that isn't the case.
- Bold Explorer: Janeway thinks diverting from the Yellow Brick Road to do some exploring will raise morale. Neelix doesn't quite get the Starfleet attitude on this. His girlfriend however is all for it.Kes: If I were Captain, I'd open every crack in the universe and peek inside, just like Captain Janeway does.
- Call-Back: Janeway's quip about "a man of unlimited talents" refers to the spiel Neelix used to persuade Janeway to let him join the crew in the pilot episode.
- Casanova Wannabe: Two in Tom's program. Janeway seems mildly amused, but B'Elanna isn't.B'Elanna: Paris, did you program this guy [referring to Gaunt Gary]?
Tom: Yeah, why?
B'Elanna: He's a pig, and so are you.
- Cat Fight: Sandríne vs. Ricky.
- The Chains of Commanding: Janeway's personal log entry discusses the burden of responsibility she feels as the commanding officer in such extreme circumstances.
- Closest Thing We Got: As Voyager was only supposed to be on a short mission, they werwn't assigned a Ship's Counselor. The role is filled by Chakotay's Vision Quest and Neelix appointing himself Chief Morale Officer.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: People still don't explicitly complain about the flavor of Neelix's cooking, just that it's bizarre and gives them indigestion. Those who partake of his morale snacks seem to appreciate them (even Janeway, who was earlier shown to be dismayed by his coffee 'substitute'), showing that he can create tasty dishes.
- Deadpan Snarker: The Doctor of course, but surprisingly Harry gets in a shot at Tuvok as well.
- Death Glare: Janeway glares at Neelix when he says it's inappropriate for the captain to use her replicator rations on coffee!
- Drugs Are Bad: Chakotay says his people used to contact the spirit realm using psychoactive herbs, but as it wouldn't be a Family Friendly Aesop to have Captain Janeway coping with The Chains of Commanding by getting stoned on mescaline, an Applied Phlebotinum called an akoonah is used instead.
- Europeans Are Kinky: The gigolo; Sandríne also shows signs of this (more so in later episodes). It's one reason why Tom loves France.
- "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: Voyager goes inside a nebula, which happens to be a living creature of cosmic dimensions. When they realize it, they return inside it to heal the wound caused by their entry.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: When Harry brings Janeway to Chez Sandrine, she behaves as if she's ignorant about the differences between billiards and pool (even to the point of calling Chakotay's pool cue a "stick"). But as soon as she takes a perfect pool stance and grip, you just know she's about to show off.
- Foreshadowing: Our first mention of Lewis Zimmerman, creator of the Emergency Medical Hologram. When the idea of the Doctor programming himself arises, he muses that he might create a family or raise an army. The Doctor also gripes about being left on again, one of his complaints to Janeway in the following episode.
- Funny Background Event:
- The Doctor is on a viewscreen in the background giving information about a nebula, and then starts ranting about how the ship's presence is affecting it. Janeway "mutes" the viewscreen, then she and the other officers continue discussing about the nebula. At first, The Doctor continues ranting about the nebula, until he realizes he's on "mute". He gets annoyed and starts pacing around his office for a good minute and a half and waving his hands◊ before Tom Paris informs Janeway that The Doctor is still on viewscreen. Janeway finally "un-mutes" him.
- Janeway hunts in the background for coffee while Tom and Harry give exposition.
- Get Out!: "Dismissed. That's a Starfleet expression for 'get out'."
- Half-Human Hybrid: The gigolo. Half French, half Daliwakian.
- Heroes Love Dogs: Paris and Janeway. Janeway's like of and ownership of dogs would be brought up again several more times on the series, but it is never mentioned again in regards to Paris.
- Hidden Depths: Janeway shows her crew why trying to hustle her at pool is not a good idea.
- Hypocritical Humor: Ensign Newbie Kim gasps "I've never seen anything like it!" as they enter the nebula, and is quietly told off by Tuvok. When Tuvok says something similar later on, Harry calls him out on it.
- I Kiss Your Hand: Harry Kim is introduced to Sandríne, the owner of a holodeck French bistro. She offers her hand for a kiss, but Harry awkwardly shakes it instead. Played straight when the gigolo hits on Janeway; fortunately she's rather amused.
- In Harm's WayNeelix: These people are natural born idiots if you ask me. They don't appreciate what they have here. This ship is the match of any vessel within a hundred light years and what do they do with it? "Well, uh, let's see if we can't find some space anomaly today that might RIP IT APART!"
- It's What I Do: When Ricky complains about the gigolo hitting on her, he simply says, "It's what I do, Tom. Nothing personal."
- I've Never Seen Anything Like This Before: According to Tuvok, saying this on The Bridge in front of junior officers isn't recommended. Not that it's stopped anyone before. Or will stop anyone in the future.
- Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Tom's holodeck girlfriend Ricky, that he puts in all his programs.
- Lonely at the Top: Janeway muses about this in her Captain's Log, wondering if her crew need her to be larger-than-life on their journey. She eventually decides that no, they need to see she's just as normal as they are.
- Longing Look: Janeway sees a crewman staring out the window at the stars (towards home, one assumes).
- Mildly Military: There's no way a real military ship would allow the cook to bring snacks to The Bridge during a crisis. Janeway lets it slide (at least, this time) but draws the line at holding a sing-along.
- Moment Killer: Kes introduces Neelix to the joys of kissing in a nebula — and then a Screen Shake starts.
- Momma's Boy: Kim uses a blindfold because he claims it reminds him of being in the womb.
- Must Have Caffeine: After a shipwide hunt for coffee, Janeway orders the ship into a nebula that can provide an additional energy source, and quips, "There's coffee in that nebula!"
- The Night Owl: Harry says his roommate at Starfleet Academy was one of these.
- No Infantile Amnesia: Harry says that he can remember being in his mother's womb. Tom doesn't buy it.
- No Sense of Personal Space: At the start of the episode Janeway is keeping her distance, walking in her hands-behind-back posture, but during the crisis she pats Tom's shoulder a lot. Chakotay also places Janeway's hand on the akoonah instead of just telling her to do so.
- Noodle Incident: Turns out Janeway wasn't the first person that Chakotay offered to help find their "animal guide".B'Elanna: I hope that you had better luck with yours than I had with mine.
Chakotay: B'Elanna's the only one I know who tried to kill their animal guide.
- Oh, Crap!: After being scolded out of using one of her replicator rations to get a cup of coffee by Neelix, Janeway reluctantly agrees to try a cup of Neelix's coffee substitute, and immediately looks horrified at how the "coffee" looks more like mud when he pours it into a cup, leading to her jumping at the chance to head to the bridge when receiving a message from Chakotay when all he wanted to do was inform her of something the ship's sensors picked up.
- Only Sane Man: Neelix, of all people, rants over these mad Federation people who interrupt their journey home to go joyriding through nebulas. Also the Doctor; "Why pretend we're going home at all?"
- Railing Kill: After Inertial Dampening is knocked out, someone in Engineering goes flying over the warp core's upper railing. No indication of fatalities though.
- Ramming Always Works: The first time, yes. The second time, not so much.
- Reverse Polarity: Of the shields. It doesn't work against the cloud creature's defenses.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Torres goes to the sickbay to get a second opinion about some readings from the EMH, upon which his snark and her standoffishness lead to what can only be described as a "sass-off." Their respective deliveries really sell the whole exchange.Torres: (startled) Why do you always have to say that?EMH: I can only speculate about my programmer's motives. Perhaps he thought I would be summoned for... important reasons?Torres: Under the circumstances, don't you think you ought to change your program?EMH: Now there's an interesting concept. A hologram that programs himself! Now what would I do with that ability? Create a family? Raise an army?Torres: I know a little about holographic programming. I could probably reprogram you!EMH: That makes me feel particularly confident.Torres: Has anyone ever told you you have a lousy attitude?EMH: If you don't like the Doctor's attitude, there's a man sitting at a console in the Jupiter Station Holo-Programming Center you can write to. His name is Zimmerman. He looks a lot like me, actually.
- Space Clouds: Except it's not just a space cloud.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Neelix says that the Voyager crew are "natural-born idiots" for flying into a Negative Space Wedgie.
- Team Mom: Janeway starts the episode wondering if she should adopt a more 'hands off' command style, but at the end of the episode joins everyone in Chez Sandríne for some pool.
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Neelix serves two trays of food that go uneaten. He does however, sip the uncoffee that Janeway abandoned.
- Trespassing to Talk: Someone breaks into Harry Kim's room, a sinister shadow appears over his sleeping body... It's Tom Paris, who wants his best buddy to check out his new holodeck program, Chez Sandríne.
- Uncoffee: Neelix's rather thick "better than coffee" substitute. Leads to an epic Jaw Drop from Janeway.
- The Unreveal: What question was Janeway going to ask her animal guide?
- Utopia: Harry's surprised when Tom mentions someone picked his pocket in Marseilles, but he says they just do it as local color for the tourists.
- Verbal Backspace: Janeway is dictating to her Captain's Log, commenting on the larger-than-life role The Captain has to adopt in the eyes of her crew, which she doesn't feel up to. She then tells the computer to delete the last part.
- Vision Quest: Our introduction to Chakotay's vision quest.
- Voodoo Shark: Indirect Trope Namer (as in his review of this episode, SF Debris coined the name for this trope). In the midst of an energy crisis, the crew begins running the holodeck as much as they like. Why isn't this a problem? Because in "Parallax", it was established that the holodeck's power systems are incompatible with the rest of the ship. This naturally brings up even more questions of why someone would design a ship that had two completely incompatible power systems, or why they don't find a way to use the holodeck generators to meet their power needs. After all, the Trek franchise is rife with completely alien systems being integrated with little problem.
- Weird World, Weird Food:
- Neelix offers Janeway his own substitute for coffee, a black sticky mess which glops out of the thermos. Janeway seizes on an opportunity to run to the bridge.
- And then there's whatever Tom and Harry are eating that makes Tom comment about indigestion.
- We Need a Distraction: A microprobe is launched to engage the attention of the cloud's defenses, while Voyager tries to repair the damage.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Neelix makes some uncharacteristically accurate criticisms of Janeway as a captain."You don't "care a great deal" about your crew and introduce them to the spectre of death at every opportunity."