**** (4 stars out of 5)
The Cloud". THE Cloud? Try A Cloud. The Creature from the Mediocre Title resembles a nebula, like the one in "One of Our Planets is Missing" or "Lonely Among Us" or V'gr or the Vampire Cloud. And, no offense, but with a Starfleet library at their fingertips, why are Kim and Tuvok fighting over who hasn't seen something like this the most? Why aren't they hurriedly googling 'cloud creatures' like the four I just named off the top of my head? When things called 'VAMPIRE CLOUDS' exist, you'd think you'd want your tactical and ops guys to know about it...
That whining achieved, the strength I credit this episode with is ALL in the character work, not the cloud. Writer Michael Piller makes Good Filler, as I have always just said for the first time. To whit:
1. Janeway's Quest For Coffee and some friends to drink it with. Plus, she's got a good leadership moment laying the smack down on Neelix's yellow streak. (Even though his request to leave in his own little ship every time Voyager goes somewhere dangerous makes a certain amount of sense... at least then SOMEONE would survive to tell the tale. And if you accidentally forgot to retrieve him... would that be so wrong?)
2. Chakotay's practical approach to a ship without a counselor. The 24th century medicine bundle and animal guide vision was pretty cool! He's clearly making an enormous effort to trust and get along with his captain. And is this actually some FORESHADOWING that Janeway's spirit guide turns out to be a lizard? Emphatically NO, it is not. You'll see it when we get there, but no, it's not. Shut up.
3. Tom's friendship with Harry in the dive bar in Marseilles holoprogram, placing slightly more emphasis on sexual innuendo and pool than on drinking, which is for the best. My favorite bit is when Tom says his wallet got stolen outside the real Sandrines. Harry's incredulous that this could still happen on EARTH. 'They just do it for the tourists," Tom soothes. "They give it back. Most of the time."
4. The Doctor's sarcastic response to B'Elanna's surly suggestion that he could be programmed to be self-modifying. "What would I do with that ability? Raise a family? Build an Army?"
It COULD be argued, (and I have done so myself in the hypothetical while pondering where Voyager may have got it wrong), that the crew is becoming friends TOO well, TOO quickly, and the tone is therefore silly. But damn it all, I LIKE fluff. I don't WANT them literally at each other's throats. Let me have my stupid sci-fi fun. Rack 'em up, Voyager!