Clown: When your only reality is an illusion, then illusion is a reality.
Voyager encounters the last survivors of a planetary disaster who have remained in suspended animation years after they should have been revived. They soon discover that the survivors are trapped within a virtual world that's being controlled by an entity known only as The Clown, who turns out to be the personification of fear, trapping the survivors and whoever else enters his world for his personal amusement.
This episode provides examples of:
- Abstract Apotheosis: The Clown is a science-fiction personification of Fear itself, a product of the adaptive computer system meant to keep the people mentally healthy. Over months it eventually created this guy who usurped the whole system.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Some aliens went into suspended animation deep inside their planet to avoid the radiation and climate change created by a Solar Flare Disaster. When Voyager showed up, two of them were splatted, despite all evidence showing that the pod they were in was in perfect order. It turns out that the occupants were being held hostage by a computer program that manifested from their subconscious fear of being frozen and was now preventing them from leaving, killing any dissenters by scaring them to death.
- The Baby of the Bunch = Literal Metaphor: The Clown turns Harry into a squalling baby, as he hates being treated as the baby of Voyager's crew.
- Batman Gambit: By Janeway, who knows that fear exists to be conquered so the Clown will agree to her terms, knowing it's likely a deception.
- Big Damn Heroes: Harry is Strapped to an Operating Table and about to be cut up with a scalpel. The Doctor suddenly appears and plucks the scalpel from the Clown's hand, saying he's holding it wrong.
- Big Word Shout: The aliens yell "Stop!" just as the Clown is about to decapitate Harry and B'Elanna when they first enter the system. There's also a Big "NO!" from Harry as the Clown is about to cut him open with a scalpel.
- Black Bug Room: What the festival simulation has mutated into thanks to its Domain Holder being a program caught in a feedback loop to create unending fear.
- Broken Record: The Clown has the odd tendency to repeat himself when talking to the star fleet personnel when they first appear but this falls by the wayside about halfway through.
- Butt-Monkey: Not only is Kim singled out for torment by the Clown, the Clown also calls up an incident in Kim's childhood when a random horrifying thing happened to him, thus demonstrating that the universe had it out for Harry Kim long before he ever set foot on Voyager.
- Call-Back: Janeway's first idea is to create an artificial environment so the personifications can exist without harming anyone, as in TNG's "Ship in a Bottle" with the Professor Moriarty program.
- Ceiling Banger: Ensign Baytart in the next room bangs on the bulkhead in protest at Harry's clarinet playing. The fluid conduits in the bulkheads conduct sound.
- Cessation of Existence: What does fear itself fear most? When its conquered and fulfilled its purpose, it vanishes.
- Chekhov's Gun: There's a delay in processing the information from the brainwaves of someone in the cryotube before the Clown knows what they know. Also the Clown can't read the Doctor's thoughts. Janeway combines these two to outwit the Clown; turns out she's a holographic program downloaded into the system, while the real Janeway is placed in a cryotube but not put into suspended animation, so the system will detect her brainwaves and fool the Clown into thinking she's hooked up.
- Creepy Circus Music: For a Monster Clown presiding over a Circus of Fear, would you expect anything less?
- Cryonics Failure: Some aliens went into suspended animation deep inside their planet to avoid the radiation and climate change created by a Solar Flare Disaster. When Voyager showed up, two of them were splatted, despite all evidence showing that the pod they were in was in perfect order. It turns out that the occupants were being held hostage by a computer program that manifested from their subconscious fear of being frozen and was now preventing them from leaving, killing any dissenters by scaring them to death.
- Cut the Juice: Averted because it takes several minutes to revive the Human Popsicles without causing brain damage, so they can't just shut the system down without the Clown killing everyone.
- Dangerously Garish Environment: The simulation dimension in the minds of the people in stasis features a circus that looks fun because the characters wear colorful clothes and it has bright lights and objects. However, it is run by a program that has had a Abstract Apotheosis into fear itself!
- Deadpan Snarker: Loads of this from the Doctor.Clown: How am I supposed to negotiate if I don't know what you're thinking?
EMH: (deadpan) I have a very trustworthy face.
- Death Glare: Janeway enters the system in the final moments of the show with a mean look on her face. All business.
- Defrosting Ice Queen:Kim: Susan Nicoletti and I have been working on a new orchestral programme for the holodeck.Paris: Lieutenant Nicoletti? The one I've been chasing for six months? Cold hands, cold heart?Kim: (smirk) Not when she plays the oboe.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Janeway takes on the personification of fear. By the end, he's all but begging for mercy. She offers none.
- Distressed Dude: At least the Clown explains why Harry is such an enticing hostage — with a mind full of technical details, he needs to keep Harry close by because Harry might just think of a way to rescue the other prisoners. Being dragged to the guillotine and having his neck feathered-dustered before the chop is the final indignity.
- Digital Avatar: Janeway tricks the Clown into thinking he's got her when in reality he's only got a virtual reality similitude of her while she remains fully awake in the sleep chamber, being monitored.
- Double Take: When the Doctor corrects the Clown on the proper way to hold a scalpel the Clown nods in appreciation, and then the Doctor yanks it out of his hand and frees Kim. Cue Doubletake.
- Dream Apocalypse: The Clown only exists because there are living people connected to the pods. If they leave, he will inevitably vanish. This turns out to be his only real fear.
- Evil Is Hammy: The Clown (played with panache by Michael McKean). He already revels in his own sadism, so you can imagine his excitement at having new playthings.
- Evil Laugh: As evil clowns are wont to do.
- Fade to Black: An In-Universe version. Once Janeway tricks the Clown into removing all the people from the system and it no longer has anything to sustain its existence, everything fades into darkness.
- Famous, Famous, Fictional:Clown: [Janeway] would give me an ultimatum? Did Napoleon give an ultimatum after Waterloo? Did Chulak of Romulus give an ultimatum after his defeat at Galorndon Core?
- Fate Worse than Death: Harry says Janeway will risk killing the hostages rather than leave them in the system under the Clown's constant torment.
- Fright Deathtrap: The Clown and his comic chorus place a hostage on a guillotine and cut off his head, so the induced stress makes him die of a heart attack.
- Girls Like Musicians: In the opening scene, Harry Kim is practising with his clarinet in preparation for an "important performance" — which turns out to be a duet with Lt. Susan Nicoletti, whom Tom Paris has apparently been pursuing fruitlessly for six months. This prompts Tom to quip that he's always wanted to learn to play the drums.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The system was supposed to give the frozen survivors a Lotus-Eater Machine to keep their minds occupied. Needless to say, the whole thing turning into nonstop Nightmare Fuel wasn't part of the plan. Bit of a lack of imagination there.
- Good Is Not Nice: Janeway's demeanor is rather chilling as the Clown fades away into nothing.
- Grayscale of Evil: The color scheme for The Clown which makes him stick out like a sore thumb in the simulation.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Janeway volunteers to take the place of the hostages. Once she does, she subverts this trope to the utter horror of the Clown.
- I Know What You Fear: After a few seconds, anyway.
- I'm Standing Right Here: The Doctor doesn't take offense when B'Elanna says that an artificial brain simulated for the Clown wouldn't be as good as a real one. At this stage in the series the Doctor hadn't developed the sizable ego, and sense of his own rights, that would become an important part of his character.
- Inside a Computer System: The prisoners were intended to stay in a computer world until they woke up. Talk about Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Ironic Echo Cut:Janeway: Restore the entire programme. We've lost.Clown: We've won! We've won! We've won!
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Janeway offers no sympathy to the clown that had murdered several survivors.
- Large Ham: Justified with the Clown, given that he's the personification of an emotion.
- Living Lie Detector: Because all the hostages' brains are plugged into the system, the Clown knows when they're trying to deceive him. The Doctor is sent into the system to get around this, as he's a computer program.
- Little People Are Surreal: Patty Maloney plays one of the Clown's support cast.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: Which becomes Nightmare Fuel when it backfires.
- Malevolent Masked Men: All of the Clown's supporting cast.
- Master of Illusion: The Clown conjures up all manner of horrors to torture his prisoners, with a giddy smile on his face all the while.
- Monster Clown: Guess who! See Trivia section for more information.
- Mood Whiplash: The Clown is very fond of this. But then, so is the Doctor.(The Clown and his chorus are in a conga line when the EMH appears and the music stops dead.)
Clown: Well, you certainly know how to bring a party to a halt.
EMH: I don't get out very much.
Clown: I bet!
- Nightmare Fetishist: The Clown."We're his canvas, his blocks of marble. With us, he practices his ghastly art."
- No Respect Guy: Neelix suggests laughter is the best medicine and gets stared down by everyone, but that solution was used successfully in TOS "Day of the Dove" and "Wolf in the Fold".
- Off with His Head!: Harry Kim just can't catch a break.
- Oh, Crap!:Janeway: I'm not Captain Janeway.
Clown: (still smiling) Could've fooled me!
Janeway: I'm afraid I did.
Clown: (smile drops) ...Pardon?
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Janeway has No Sympathy whatsoever for the Clown, and rubs it in as he fades away into nothing.
- Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: B'Elanna's first response to being swarmed by the dancers is to slug her way out, but it has little effect on them.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: Janeway and Paris put on these when they first play the message left behind by the planet's surviving inhabitants.
- Rapid Aging: Also done to Harry as part of the Clown's mind games.
- Red Alert: The Clown shouts this when he realizes Voyager's crew is trying to delete him manually.
- Self-Disposing Villain: Janeway's hologram theorizes that the Clown allowed her inside because a part of him knew that she had the power to subdue him and wanted the simulation to end, since fear only exists to be overcome.
- Shutting Up Now: Neelix suggests making the Clown laugh — that ends fear, right? Everyone just stares at him until he sits down in embarrassment.
- Special Guest: Michael McKean as The Clown.
- Straight Man and Wise Guy: The interaction between the Doctor and the Clown; subverted in that it's The Comically Serious Doctor who often gets the funniest lines.
- Survival Mantra: Harry gives the famous Franklin D. Roosevelt quote as this, so the Clown has him Strapped to an Operating Table.Kim: (desperately) The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!
Clown: Keep repeating, Harry. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
All: (mocking) The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!
Clown: And how about There's no place like home. There's no place like home. (Evil Laugh) Try clicking your heels together three times. Oh, but your legs are restrained, aren't they?
- Take Me Instead: Captain Janeway offers herself as a hostage; in an inversion of what's usual with this trope (a Heroic Sacrifice which is contemptuously rejected by the villain) the Clown accepts the offer while the heroine is pulling a double-cross.
- Team Mom: Lampshaded by the Clown, who keeps Harry as a hostage "because [Janeway] would never kill you, would she, Harry? She's like a dear old mother to you."
- Transformation Discretion Shot: After being left in the simulation as a hostage, Harry is left on the receiving end of the Clown's limitless power over the virtual world, resulting in him being aged into an old man, then regressed to infancy, then back to normal again - each transformation being hidden by a cut back to the Clown.
- Villain Teleportation: The Clown startles B'Elanna when she turns away from him, only to find him standing in front of her.
- Virtual-Reality Warper: Now in complete control of the simulation, the Clown is capable of doing almost anything if it allows him to make his prisoners suffer: he can conjure up items, age or regress users at will, and even read the minds of people connected to the simulators - albeit with a slight delay. Worse still, he even has the power to kill the users by exposing them to enough stress to cause heart attacks.
- We Need a Distraction: The Doctor is sent in to distract the Clown with a false offer while B'Elanna tries to unplug the system. Unfortunately, the Clown realizes what's happening as his supporting characters start vanishing.
- Wham Line: "I'm not Captain Janeway."
- Your Mind Makes It RealB'Elanna: But none of this is real!Clown: Of course it's real, it's as real as a nightmare.Harry: The two we found dead, both suffered from massive heart attacks.Clown: Heart attack? Now what might cause a heart attack? Hmm... unmanageable stress, perhaps? Unmanageable FEAR? Fear of losing a head, perhaps?
- You Said You Would Let Them Go: Averted when the Clown keeps his word, though as Janeway later points out, that's because fear wants to be overcome.Janeway: The arrangement was that the others would be released.
Clown: You show remarkable trust, Captain. How could you be so sure I would keep my word?
Janeway: I've known fear. It's a very healthy thing most of the time. You warn us of danger, remind us of our limits, protect us from carelessness. I've learned to trust fear.