Tuvok tries to explain the situation to the photonic emissary (who is understandably upset that fifty-three of his people have been killed), but biochemical life is so alien to him that it’s not exactly an easy conversation. This is only exacerbated when Satan’s Robot decides to attack, though it only gets shot for its trouble. In the briefing room, the senior staff is, well, briefed on the situation playing out on the holodeck. Because biochemical lifeforms seem as artificial to the photonic aliens as holodeck characters do to the Starfleet crew, Seven suggests sending the Doctor to establish contact. As a hologram, he can only seem more real than the average human. Paris also suggests that they can defuse the situation by keeping the program running and helping the photonics defeat Chaotica by disabling his death ray. In order to do so, they’ll have to first lower the lightning shield protecting the Fortress of Doom. Once the lightning shield is down, Paris (or rather, Captain Proton) can use the destructo-beam on his rocket ship to take out the death ray once and for all. But they need someone on the inside to lower the lightning shield. Their best bet is Queen Arachnia. As Dr. Chaotica has not only been seeking an alliance but has fallen in love with Arachnia, she’s the only person he’d trust enough to get close to the shield’s control console. They’ll just need someone to take on her role, and who better than Janeway? The captain reluctantly agreed. In sickbay, Torres helps the Doctor modify his appearance for the mission. As she does so, he shares his fascination with the notion of an entire universe populated by photonic life. Meanwhile, Paris gives Janeway a crash course in thirties-style movie villainy, including some tips on how to deal with Chaotica and alerting her to the existence of Arachnia’s irresistible potion – pheromones that can bend Chaotica to her will. On the holodeck, Chaotica is alerted to a fresh series of defeats and powers up the death ray – just as Queen Arachnia makes her entrance.

Chaotica leads Arachnia on a tour of the Fortress of Doom, showing off everything from his throne (where she pockets the bottle of pheromones) to his death ray. She pledges her fleet of spider ships to his aid, but expresses disappointment that the lightning shield prevents them from first paying homage to Chaotica. Though Chaotica is enthralled by Arachnia, he is nonetheless wary of lowering the shield, as it would leave him vulnerable even to an ally. He ultimately agrees, on the condition that Arachnia become his queen. Meanwhile, the Doctor (in his guise as President of Earth) arrives on the holodeck and greets the photonic beings. He proposes an alliance, explaining that they have a common enemy in Chaotica, and also a champion in Captain Proton. But the photonic beings’ weaponry poses a threat to Proton’s rocket ship, and thus they’ll need to hold their fire when it’s time for Proton to make his approach. The photonics agree. On the rocket ship, Paris and Kim prepare for the attack, with Satan’s Robot assisting (in the loosest sense of the word). Back in the Fortress, preparations are underway for the wedding, but the lightning shield remains active. Before Arachnia can convince Chaotica to lower the shield, Captain Proton begins his attack, forcing the queen to take matters into her own hands. Chaotica seethes at the betrayal, trapping her within his confinement rings. He assures her he wouldn’t kill his bride, activates the death ray, and opens fire. With Proton under attack, the alien weapons fire increases. This causes the distortions to grow and threatens to pull Voyager deeper into subspace.

Despite her restraints, Janeway manages to uncork Arachnia’s pheromones and convince Chaotica’s minions to release her. Grabbing a ray gun, she blasts everyone save for Chaotica, who she orders to lower the shield. With the lightning shield down, she shoots Chaotica, cancelling the wedding and signals Proton, who opens fire with his destructo-beam. With the death ray destroyed, the distortions close and Voyager is finally able to clear the subspace sandbar.

As with most holodeck episodes, I would hesitate to describe ‘Chaotica!’ as an all-time classic, at least in the sense that it’s not an episode you’d hand someone if you wanted to show them what ‘Star Trek’ was all about. But make no mistake, it’s a damn good one, easily one of the most memorable holodeck shows and a standout hour of  ‘Voyager’ to boot. If you have any affection for classic sci-fi serials, though, you owe it to yourself to give it a look. Because the bottom line is that ‘Bride of Chaotica!’ does a wonderful job of capturing the look and even the sound of B-grade sci-fi of a certain vintage. In fact, the sets and costumes in the holodeck scenes are a wonder to behold. It’s almost a shame we never get to see them in full color, but at the same time, the black and white photography is a great touch that really helps those scenes nail the feel of thirties sci-fi.

As is so often the case in these episodes, the cast is clearly having a blast during the Captain Proton scenes, none more so than Kate Mulgrew. But is not just Mulgrew’s deliciously haughty take on Janeway-as-Arachnia. There’s also Tuvok’s reaction to Satan’s Robot, the rocket ship, and really the whole Captain Proton milieu. It’s understated – as any Vulcan reaction should be – but nonetheless, you can practically hear him rolling his eyes. Another standout moment – one of my favorites in the episode, actually – comes in the briefing room when Paris is explaining the situation on the holodeck to Janeway. The utter sincerity with which he says “Yes ma’am. His army of evil.” perfectly encapsulates the simultaneous gravity and absurdity of the situation.

On a more metatextual level, the episode takes on a bit of a surreal quality when you realize that it is essentially the ‘Star Trek’ take on the sort of serials that directly inspired ‘Star Wars’. That’s not a bad thing, to be sure, it’s just a bit weird in that ‘Trek’ and ‘Wars’ are such different beasts. Imagine a ‘Star Wars’ movie doing a riff on ‘Forbidden Planet’ and you might begin to get a sense of what I mean. Regardless, it’s really cool (not to mention fun) to watch ‘Star Trek’ pay homage to this particular flavor of science fiction. Like many of these genre pastiches, ‘Bride of Chaotica!’ is very much a labor of love on the part of writer Bryan Fuller and Michael Taylor. And it shows.

That’s it for ‘Bride of Chaotica!’. Did you have as much fun with the episode as I do? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!