This review is cross-posted from The Tolerability Index with permission from the author.
Season 1, Episode 2: Parallax
At the end of “Caretaker” Janeway goes out of her way to point out that the two crews, Maquis and Starfleet, will be serving as one on her ship – as a Starfleet crew. It’s a pointed comment sent in Chakotay’s direction, and the first episode proper of Voyager deals with the ramifications of that sentence. Although there’s a bit of threat in the shape of a Type-4 Quantum Singularity (oh right, one of those!), it’s mostly an externalized threat which allows us to witness the beginnings of the crews interactions with each other, and for us to see just how this group of characters are going to work together (and in what capacity).
We’re early on in the series, so old hand Brannon Braga is on standby to turn in something that gets us off to a decent enough start. This being a Brannon Braga script, that plot involves lots of “time delayed reflections of ourselves”, paradoxes, effect preceding cause and so forth. We might as well get this out of the way now – the science here doesn’t make a lick of sense, even by Star Trek standards. It also doesn’t really need to, since its all background stuff to provide a framework for the character integrations to hang off, and it’s possible to see Voyager (the TV show, not the ship) trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
As with “Caretaker”, one of the big surprises of “Parallax” is just how effective Chakotay is here. Robert Beltran actually turns in what ranks as one of his best performances in the show. Early on in the episode, after B’Elanna breaks the nose of Lieutenant Carey, he and Tuvok have an animosity-filled discussion regarding disciplining her, where Chakotay eventually forces Tuvok to back down. What’s great about this exchange (other than Beltran and Russ, who are both terrific) is that Chakotay does it without having to undermine Tuvok – he has authority, it’s his call and he makes it rationally but equally without being intimidated by the Vulcan. Chakotay’s parting, “you do that” after Tuvok informs him he will make a full report in his log, just provides a great capper. Beltran also lets a little of Chakotay’s slightly old-movie-star charm come through, not just in this scene but throughout the episode and the interplay between that and his determined side work very well for the character.
Even more surprising, however, is that Chakotay gets to do the same with Janeway later in the episode, and he comes off the victor again. The Chakotay written here is exactly how the character should be used – passionate in his defense of what he believes, reasonable but unbending in the approach he takes, and unflinching when someone tries to back him down. Janeway can’t get round anything Chakotay says in this scene because again, ultimately, he’s right. Janeway wants the crews to work together, therefore she must actually make them work together, rather than merely paying lip-service to it. Later in the episode, when Janeway allows B’Elanna to try her idea to screen out interference, the quiet nod she gives to Chakotay says everything without a word of dialogue – Chakotay was correct, but more than that, Janeway’s respect for him clearly grows as well. It’s a smart use of both characters.
Janeway herself gets to develop her relationships as well, most directly with B’Elanna. Though it takes nearly half the episode for them to start interacting, as soon as they do there’s an immediate spark between both actors and characters. During the briefing, when they’re bouncing ideas off each other before simultaneously declaring “warp particles!” when searching for a way out of This Weeks Spatial Anomaly they both deliver their lines like they’re acting in a bafflegab-laden screwball comedy and it’s immediately successful as Dawson and Mulgrew throw ideas back and forth. Yet the slower scenes they share together (especially in the shuttlecraft towards the end), also give their fragile, burgeoning relationship space to breathe. Later, this will mature into a sort of mother/daughter relationship as Janeway’s desire to make the crew her family really takes root, but here she gives genuine support to someone who needs it, especially after Chakotay has put Janeway her in her place. It shows a more open-minded side to Janeway – she’s prepared to admit she could be wrong about B’Elanna and give her a chance – but her being wrong about B’Elanna is never played as a weakness, only that she needs to learn more about the crew she now finds herself dealing with and the circumstances which they are now trapped in.
And of that crew, the Maquis get a slender representation at the start of the episode, with a handful of crew members threatening mutiny, only to be bitch-slapped into place by Chakotay. This is really where what was originally planned for Voyager (two antagonistic crews sharing the same ship) and what Voyager became (Janeway’s desire for one crew – a Starfleet crew – running things) diverge. As was mentioned at the start of the review, this episode sees Voyager play with what does and doesn’t work, and it’s clear from this little contretemps why the production crew chose not to go down this road – the mutinous crew is boring. Three extras in Starfleet uniforms champ at Chakotay’s heels, looking for an excuse to kick off, he slaps them down, and that’s that. There are logical reasons in-universe why this crew are better as a Starfleet crew – experience, knowledge, stability, sheer numbers – and the idea of two crews being at each other’s throats is essentially laid to rest here, though there will be periodic resurgences of it. It makes little sense for the two crews to be at each other’s throats when they’ve been thrown so far away from home – they have more than enough challenges just surviving in a new environment without endless scenes of internal squabbling – and this thread is very much backgrounded from here on out (with the occasional aforementioned exceptions).
As this episode is essentially a collection of character vignettes hung off a slightly improbable main plot, almost everyone gets some screen time. Kim trying to get gossip out of Tuvok is never not funny, and as with “Caretaker” Tim Russ’s delivery and just-barely-restrained frustrations are perfectly delivered. But we also get to see the start of the friendship between the Doctor and Kes. The Doctor is largely played for laughs in this episode as he gradually shrinks in stature, though Robert Picardo’s impeccable comic timing means this is hardly a criticism, but the couple of scenes he has with Kes, as she investigates the setting up of a hydroponics bay, allow him slightly greater scope, and it’s refreshing to see just how good Jennifer Lien is here. The mentor/tutor relationship that develops over the course of the first season can already be seen to be starting here (and it nicely parallels the Janeway/Torres mother/daughter relationship), and the compassion Kes offers for the Doctor (“you’re very sensitive, aren’t you?”) and his subsequent slight befuddlement is really well played by Lien, gentle but thoughtful. It’s a shame she didn’t get more of this kind of material to work with.
By the time the episode ends, two conclusions have been reached. Firstly, they’ve escaped from Anomaly-a-go-go, which wasn’t ever in doubt, yet thanks to some good direction (Kim Friedman turning in some above-average work, and she’ll be back a few times this year) and performances still manages to be fairly tense (though the less said about the “which ship is the real one” that B’Elanna and Janeway face when trying to return in the shuttle, the better – not Braga’s finest piece of writing). But much more importantly, the initial shakedown of the crew members is over. Janeway promotes B’Elanna to Chief Engineer over Carey’s head, meaning Chakotay made his point with Janeway and got his way. The final scene – both Carey’s someway cheesy “You’ll never get less than 100% from me” after he’s been such a jerk for the rest of the episode, and Chakotay and Janeway’s final “would you have served under me?” – allow a sense that the shift throughout this episode, as the two crews come together, is going to be permanent. It wasn’t perhaps the most obvious thing to take such a slow approach as the first main episode of the season but it’s one that pays off in plenty of unexpected ways. Voyager didn’t often do character vignettes like this one, but when it did, it worked well.
• Seska, who we will be seeing a lot more of in episodes to come, makes her relatively low-key debut here as one of the would-be mutineers at the start of the story and actually works a small Engineering console on the bridge later in the episode. She’s not too annoying. Yet.
• The idea of the ship being taken over by the Maquis will be revisited in the season three story “Worst Case Scenario”. Apart from being a contender for one of the best holodeck-gone-wrong stories in Trek (I know, not a hotly contested award), it also demonstrates why this approach doesn’t work in a Star Trek series – it just doesn’t give the show anywhere to go. If Starfleet wins, we never see another member of the Maquis, if the Maquis wins there’s basically no show. Battlestar Galactica though? That’s a different matter.
• During the revelation that they have actually been trying to rescue themselves, Tom stands up and declares, “it’s us! It’s the Voyager!” It feels very peculiar to hear Voyager referred to as the Voyager, in the same way it would be the Enterprise or the Defiant. It’s the only time in the whole of the seven seasons I can recall it being referred to with a definite article.
• Carey really is a patronizing dick throughout most of the episode (well, until his corny end-of-episode capper) – I don’t blame B’Elanna for having a go at him.
• Roxanne Dawson pronounces the name Chakotay throughout this episode as if it’s a Spanish rather than a Native American name. It sounds very odd.
• Turns out holodeck power isn’t compatible with the rest of the ship, so the holodecks carry on functioning even if replicator power is down. That’s convenient.
• “I am the embodiment of modern medicine!” Long pause. “How much dirt do you need?”
• “Am I making any sense here?” “No, but that’s OK.”
Season 1, Episode 3: “Time and Again”
Paradox was part of the (relatively minor) problems the crew faced in the previous episode. How could they have picked up a transmission before they had sent it? It was present but not really, well, important. Voyager’s third episode dives right into the heart of paradox by structuring the entirety of the episode around it. The plot – which could easily have been from TNG or TOS (and I very much mean that as a compliment) – pivots around a paradox. A whole planet is destroyed by a polaric energy explosion, caused by Voyager attempting to rescue two crewmembers stranded in the past who only became stranded because they came to investigate the explosion. As Janeway declares, “our own rescue caused the explosion.”
The definition of “paradox” from the Oxford English Dictionary is, “a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true”. That last part is significant (especially in light of Janeway’s declaration) – the truth of the destruction of an entire planet rests entirely on the contradiction. Voyager’s presence in the Delta Quadrant causes the explosion – but it also resolves it as well. Janeway makes a conscious choice – she fires at the attempted rescue, aborting it and restoring equilibrium – and she is able to resolve the paradox. What was once “may well prove to be well founded or true” (uncertainty) is changed into immutable fact (the paradox is resolved), and it has been resolved through choice – consciousness beats out contradiction.
The society Janeway and Paris find themselves in is… well let’s say the devil is in the detail. The problem with being lost in the Delta Quadrant, as with TOS exploring strange new worlds every week, is that new planets, new sets and new cultures are expensive to produce on a TV budget, even one as relatively generous as Star Trek’s. This episode takes a pragmatic approach to this – sets are seen both before the polaric explosion and after, allowing a fair amount of doubling up. It’s effective in terms of the continuity between the two time frames. The details of the society are, however, well realized but very much in the background. We hear of “Kalto province”, we see different fashions, there’s talk of continental transports – the details are there but never lingered on, allowing a picture to be painted of a world without belaboring it. We even see timepiecies and in a nice nod to societies developing at different rates, most of what we see of this world is reasonably well-developed in terms of a technological but pre-warp civilization, but their timepieces are big clunky things you could smash in a window with.
As with “Parallax” we again see pairings of the crew that demonstrate the series trying on different approaches, this time foregrounding Paris and Janeway. It’s not a bad choice – Mulgrew still radiates on-screen presence while McNeil’s boyish, slightly laconic charm provides a nice contrast. We also get to see what is the first in a long line of Janeway volte-face’s when, after providing a long lecture to Tom about the Prime Directive she suddenly, and unexpectedly, abandons it. There’s a lot to be said about Janeway’s approach to the Prime Directive – especially when comparing it with the approach taken by Kirk (similar) and Picard (rather less so), who are the closest points of comparison. I’m not going to dwell on them too long here – we’ll get to them later, believe me – but it’s certainly fair to say that, as scripted, Janeway’s decision to tell the locals who they are and where they’re from doesn’t really stand. Even Picard declares (in the otherwise insufferably terrible “Justice”), “there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute,” and what is the Prime Directive except another law? What’s a little frustrating about this is that within the bounds of the episode as it exists there’s reason enough for Janeway to make that call. Once she saw that they have arrived at the power plant, for example, and puts the pieces together, it might make more sense for her to decide that this was the moment to ‘fess up in the hopes of trying to avoid a planet-wide cataclysm, even if it does mean technically breaking the Prime Directive. Yet the moment she does choose to do it – before they’ve even left the building they’re being held in – make it seem rather capricious.
There is also a moral question here too – does it make sense to sacrifice the population of an entire planet (literally the annihilation of a whole species, since they’re pre-warp) just to stick to a principal that was designed to actually protect people in the first place? Wouldn’t breaking the Prime Directive in this case actually serve to aid those who are otherwise doomed? Another draft of the script might have addressed some of these questions and avoided some of these issues, but as it is it makes Janeway’s decision look… strange – it’s not enough (not nearly enough) to derail the episode but it could have been more elegantly handled (when Tom questions her about her change of heart and she declares “I don’t think it applies any more” this has all the hallmarks of a writer that’s seen a problem but lacks either time or ability to correct it – either way it’s a clumsy attempt to paper over the problem). Equally, had attention not been drawn to the Prime Directive issue in the first place it’s doubtful anyone would have minded that much since it’s a well written, well-paced episode as it is without needing to start a debate the episode doesn’t have the time to finish.
Of the remaining crew, the most interesting development, improbably, belongs to Kes. The rest of the crew get on with doing their thing – they beam down to investigate the subspace fractures, B’Elanna comes up with a rescue plan, all the usual we’re-not-part-of-the-main-storyline bits, but Kes actually gets a proper bit of development. The shock she feels when the whole planet is wiped out, and her palpable relief once time has been reset even though she can’t identify why, helps give more dimension to the character. Neelix’s slightly patronizing fawning over her doesn’t do him much good, but Kes is starting to emerge as an interesting character, albeit in small doses – she’s naïve and inexperienced compared to either Neelix or the Voyager crew, but she’s also determined, smart and perfectly intelligent, and her experiences of being dismissed or humoured for her beliefs on Ocampa which we saw in “Caretaker” are leading her to be firm in her own beliefs now. All of this plays very much to Jennifer Lien’s strengths as well, and while it’s a minor part of the episode, it’s also one that gives the character a little forward momentum.
The resolution of the paradox – Janeway aborting B’Elanna’s rescue attempt through conscious action – resets the clock. The explosion is halted, the planet is saved, and the experience never happened. Except for Kes’s reaction. There are many episodes of Voyager which are rightly criticized for the reset switch but since this episode rests entirely on the resolution of a paradox this isn’t one of them, but nevertheless by the end of the episode, Voyager is able to observe a planet, log it, and move on. The crew are left unaware of their actions, and the debate over the Prime Directive is never really settled. But nobody is even aware of this. Except for Kes…
• Oh good, a child actor in Star Trek! Actually in this case it’s not that bad, though Tom’s declaration near the end of, “it’s OK, the kid and me are old friends now” after Tom takes a bullet for him, is inexcusably cheesy.
• The local fashions on this planet are ghastly – though it’s an interesting but unremarked-on detail that Janeway and Paris are able to barter their uniforms for the local clothing (their uniforms are visible in the shop window after they emerge).
• We never actually find out what the saboteurs at the plant are trying to do. After they break in Janeway sees them fiddling with a console, and she assumes they’re trying to disrupt the power, yet when questioned they tell her they’d never be so stupid because of how dangerous polaric power is. So what were they doing? They never actually tell us.
• Again there’s some nice directorial touches, especially when Tom is drifting in and out of the subspace fractures which eventually drag him into the recent past. On the other hand, the scene where he wobbles around in front of a grassy bank waiting to be shot while trying to protect the boy is…less well handled.
• Tom trying to corrupt Harry and get him to come on a double date with the Delaney sisters – not quite as funny as the writer seems to think it is, though Wang and McNeill do their best to sell it.
• Janeway stepping forward and calmly announcing at the power planet that she’s being held hostage is a great moment for her.
EDIT: Note from your WeStreamTV Admin– These reviews began at TI a few months ago, and are only now being cross-posted. For the first 3 reviews (of the first 6 eps), if you’d like to comment then the best place to do that is probably TI, where a discussion is already ongoing. Beginning with Episode 7, the cross-posting will happen within
a day days of the original and you’re welcome to comment here.