In these times of self-quarantine and social distancing, most of us are spending our days stuck in our homes, looking furtively out the window and yearning for our next taste of the outdoors. For Trek fans, it’s not hard to imagine ourselves trapped inside those much-vaunted ‘bottle episodes’— cost-cutting adventures that took place mostly inside the confines of the Enterprise or other existing sets. Space is dangerous, after all, and even Starfleet’s finest can find themselves trapped with no place to go, whether by themselves or with a few trusted companions.
While we’ve already whipped up a pandemic-friendly watch list, we thought we’d also give focus to the times our beloved heroes were trapped indoors, either by choice or circumstance. Here are 10 of the most watchable ‘bottle episodes’ in which we can find solidarity while trapped indoors.
If you’ve felt the walls slowly closing in on you throughout quarantine, you might find some common ground with this classic Original Series episode, in which the dreaded Tholians spin an energy cage around the Enterprise, which threatens to destroy the ship if completed. That, plus the mysterious case of the universe-shifting Defiant, make this iconic Trek outing particularly thrilling.
When the Enterprise is hit by a mysterious outside force, the crew is split in various places throughout the ship, with only their wits to help them survive. Disaster stories are always exciting and tense, particularly so when set against the vacuum of space; here, many of the Enterprise crew have to get resourceful with only the tools they have to save the ship, stay alive, and (in Worf’s case) deliver Keiko’s baby.
A month into coronavirus quarantine, and you’re likely going a little stir-crazy right now from the isolation. If so, you’ll certainly relate to the plight of Dr. Crusher in this third-season episode, when she suddenly finds that crew members throughout the ship are disappearing without a trace. Eventually, she’s left to wander the Enterprise all on her own, in a sight all too familiar to those of us who’ve paced the length of their apartment for hours on end the last month.
If anyone could have learned important lessons not to panic, scapegoat, or gather in large crowds, it was the crew on Deep Space Nine in this early episode. After a Bajoran aphasia virus hidden in the replicators is accidentally unleashed (isn’t it always the way?), it spreads through the station faster than the crew can contain it. In fact, it’s only by hijacking the scientist responsible for creating it (and one of those last-minute miracle cures so common to Trek) that the station is saved.
“Attention Bajoran workers!” Much like “Disaster”, this Deep Space Nine bottle episode splits its crew up to solve a bunch of little problems in a classic disaster adventure. “Civil Defense” sees the crew of DS9 setting off an old Cardassian security program, which puts the station on lockdown. Come for the split-off teams of crew members solving problems in their own isolated pockets of the station, stay for a smug Gul Dukat, who transports onto the station to gloat before getting wrapped up in the danger right along with them.
Most of us are getting through quarantine thanks to online services like Zoom, Skype, and others, which help us reach out and touch someone on the other side of the world (or even next door) when we’re not supposed to be physically present. For stranded Starfleet officer Captain Lisa Cusak, a time-delayed transmission to the Defiant proves soul-saving for both her and the Defiant crew, in a touching hour that shows the power a friendly voice can have on our sense of well-being.
Quarantine can feel like a prison at times, so who better to relate to your plight than the Maquis’ very own principled serial killer Lon Suder? Confined to quarters for the duration of Voyager’s 75-year mission back to the Alpha Quadrant, Suder has a lot of time on his hands; so do we, which makes this episode particularly timely to watch.
Sure, it’s one thing to get lost in the halls of an empty Enterprise, or shut off in a room somewhere, but the cramped confines of a broken shuttlepod more accurately simulates the confines of self-quarantine. Not only that, watching Trip and Reed waste away the hours, bickering and shouting and drinking and losing their minds, feels like where many of us are headed in another weeks’ time. Break out the bourbon and cuddle up with a space blanket; we’ve got a long way to go.
Much like Crusher in “Remember Me,” Dr. Phlox spends much of “Doctor’s Orders” by his lonesome on the NX-01, as the rest of the crew are put in stasis so they’re not affected by a trans-dimensional anomaly they’re navigating. Sure, T’Pol’s with him most of the way to help him through the isolation, but as we soon learn, she’s been a figment of his imagination the whole time. (See also: Voyager’s “One,” where Seven goes through a similar predicament.)
Harry Mudd’s attempt to time-loop-jack the U.S.S. Discovery isn’t just one of the bright spots of the show’s furtive first season, it’s a bottle episode that forces Michael Burnham and crew to interact with only a select few people to save the day, with only hours to shoot their shot at besting Mudd before the timeline resets. What’s more, it’s the first real example of the crew working together as a team to defeat a common foe. How better to weather our own self-quarantines than to realize that we’re all in this together?
Clint Worthington (he/him) is a Senior Writer for Consequence of Sound and editor-in-chief of The Spool, and you can find him on Twitter at @clintworthing. He lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.