Airdate: January 23, 1995
2 of 168 produced
2 of 168 aired
Voyager encounters a spatial anomaly with a ship apparently trapped in it. Moving to lend a hand, they discover the ship trapped is themselves, and every attempt they make to leave leads them back to the singularity. Meanwhile, Janeway much choose a new Chief Engineer, and she must manage more than the usual personnel problems when Chakotay recommends B'Elanna Torres for the job. Though she certainly has the engineering skills, there remains the question of how her colleagues would accept her in that role, especially given she just broke one of their noses.
I'll make you chief engineer, but only on one condition. Tell me where you got your hair done.
Kevin: Is this a perfect episode? No. I think it does however, depending how I end up feeling Enterprise's second episode, come out as the strongest second episode of the franchise. Every series started at least reasonably strong, but then we got TOS' "Charlie X," TNG's "Naked Now," and DS9's "Past Prologue." Save for some hot Crusher/Picard action, none of these rank in the upper echelons. This episode manages to do what the other episodes on that list kind of fail to do. It continues the established tone of the premier, provides moments of lasting character growth, and manages to be at least reasonably entertaining the whole way through. The others manage only two out of three. So, despite my eventual concerns about Voyager, stumbling out of the gate is not one of them. What I particularly like about this episode, and what I will loudly miss when it goes, is watching Janeway have to manage her hybrid crew. She does not have the luxury of imprisoning people and she can't ignore the talents of the Maquis crew, even if it risks alienating her Starfleet one. I also liked seeing Chakotay having to toe kind of the same line. He can't ignore the concerns of the crew he used to captain, but he can't be their secret second captain, with them running to Dad after Mom has already said no. I also enjoyed the soft sell Chakotay made for B'Elanna. He puts her name on the list and then gently maneuvers Janeway into including her in a meeting. No shouting, no threats, and very little in terms of speeches. It lets the drama of Janeway's decision play out more subtly and organically.
Matthew: Yeah, this episode was really encouraging in its character and situation building aspects. Chakotay's scene with Janeway really crackled with energy, and it's too bad Chakotay and the Maquis stuff in general were moved to the background bit by bit over the next few seasons. I really liked Chakotay's talking B'Elanna down from her rage, and the reactions of the Maquis crew members early in the episode. This is the sort of interesting dramatic stuff that the setup provides, and this episode really hit it out of the park on what I guess we'll call the A story. I loved the ending scene of Torres and Carey extending olive branches to each other upon her promotion.
Kevin: Other things I like about this episode, and I am now officially dropping the pretense of not taking every opportunity to bash the Abrams movies, but this, THIS, is how you depict a non-graduate of the Academy achieving a high-ranking position, even over career officers. We've established she was the engineer, and a good one, for the Maquis, and that is actual experience, and in the meeting with Janeway, we also acknowledge that being Chief Engineer requires more than being the best engineer. It also requires following the rules and being able to manage personnel. I always took it as read that even Janeway acknowledged that Torres was a better engineer per se, but that there was a legitimate question about her ability to lead a department. It may make me an enormous nerd to find complex personnel decisions to be rife with drama, but here we are. It also gave B'Elanna a chance to really and credibly portray the self-sabotaging streak that she bundles into her Klingon identity. There's something about the way she stormed out of the meeting with Janeway that just screams, "I want the job, but don't want to make myself vulnerable by admitting it, so I'll torpedo myself before you have a chance to pass me over for it, even though I do really want it and know better than to pass up an opportunity like this." Again, with a minimum, and dramatically justified amount, of shouting, we learn a lot about the character and the character interactions.
Matthew: When Janeway says "most of these people have spent their entire lives working to earn their Starfleet commission," a little part of me swelled with joy. Aaaah. Such a relief to be in the real Star Trek universe again. It's the kind of line that resonates with realism and import, not to mention drama. As part and parcel of being a member of a career military/exploratory organization, Janeway thinks it is untenable to elevate Torres over another engineer who has paid his dues. The drama ends up being how she might have to choose Torres for reasons of the greater good, and how she will have to justify it. I agree completely that Torres was given a lot of nice development, especially in her ready room scene with Janeway, but also in the shuttle. She reads like someone who is afraid of success, who pushes opportunities away. We all know people like that, and it's a really resonant archetype. Now, along with Paris, we have two screw-ups on board, and that's aces for drama. Janeway is also developed in that she doesn't give Torres a pass, she busts her balls a bit, telling her that this ship operates under the same system that Torres has rejected. It's all just so, so good, and it's so much in contradistinction to the thing you mentioned, which I shall not mention again.
Kevin: On the negative front, the singularity plot was the worst and blandest kind of techonobabble problem. I've been thinking about it, and you can have a contrived set-up or a contrived solution, but not both. We've praised episodes like, say, "Inner Light," where the idea of an otherwise agrarian society sending a telepathic ceramic rocket into space seems silly, but the resolution of the episode is so profoundly moving, that we're willing to forgive it. Alternately, the neatness of "Sleep, Data. Sleep," in no way diminishes the dramatic power of Picard's assimilation. You just can't get into and out of a problem with deus ex machina. It kills the tension. Also, there was about three too many metaphors running around this episode. I am reminded of the genius parody on Futurama, "Where No Fan Has Gone Before," where Fry tries to summarize a problem, "Like a balloon with too much air in it," and later in the episode, "Like a balloon and something bad happens." It was a problem I didn't much care about with a solution that felt pulled out of a hat. It's not distractingly bad, it's just not that exciting either.
Matthew: This is the first in a long line of what I will call "Anomaly of the Week" stories. On the one hand, I do like the possibility of exploring real science in the Star Trek setting (See the Murasaki Quasar from "Galileo Seven"). But, as you say Kevin, there is always the danger of having the anomaly of the week just be a pointless story obstacle with no discernible rules. I don't think this quite sinks to that level, as there are rules to this thing. But it kind of makes no sense. The understanding of what a singularity and an event horizon are seems a bit dodgy. An event horizon isn't an energy field that needs to be broken through. It's simply a theoretical line past which a ship should not enter if it hopes to escape. Also, what's a warp particle, and do they really have any to spare? But hey. At least they didn't blow up their warp drive to escape the singularity.
Kevin: Lastly, and it is episodes like this that make me understand why Kelly ranks this as her favorite series, but the interactions between B'Elanna and Janeway are just gangbusters. There's an internet meme called the Bechtel Test, where it rates a movie on three criteria. Is there more than one woman? Do the two women interact? And is it about something other than man? It's a simple to see how absent three-dimensional women characters are in entertainment, and this episode is the exact opposite of that. Particularly in the briefing room scene, when they were lobbing science excitedly at each other, it was great to watch.
Kevin: I still think Dawson has her Klingon set to boil and not simmer, but it's nowhere near as bad as Shouty Kira, it's just not as good as it's going to be. I'm adding Mulgrew to the list of Andrew Robinson and Colm Meany where a great performance is just taken as read. I'm gonna say I don't think there's a single scene in the series where I think she's phoning it in or misses a mark. I understand and appreciate her conflict and all her scenes with B'Elanna, from the interview, to problem solving, to grudging resolution, all sing.
Matthew: Mulgrew definitely completely inhabits the role. It's the sort of performance where you totally believe her as captain, and never think about the actor making choices or missing a mark. She is Captain Janeway, and Captain Janeway is someone I'd respect completely. Dawson improves upon her performance in Caretaker, giving Torres the shades of complexity we talked about above. The audience isn't going to root for her if she's just snotty and dour. She's not, she is endearing, and it owes a lot to the actor.
Kevin: Robert Picardo is a gifted actor and a gifted comedian, no two ways about it. I'll get to video toaster effects in a second, but if you can make me laugh even through that, you're doing something right.
Matthew: Robert Beltran has gotten two good scripts in a row, and he has delivered his scenes with aplomb. Josh Clark's Joe Carey is also a good performance. He perfectly embodies the Starfleet career officer, both with the (perhaps deserved) snobbery, but also the open mindedness.
Kevin: This was a pretty bland and shapeless spatial anomaly. It wasn't bad but it wasn't good either. I did like the shot of the two Voyagers and I liked getting to see the shuttlecraft. The Okudagrams were good too. My only real complaint was how obvious it was they were just taking normal video footage of the doctor and morphing it on the screen. It made the background look weird, and it was a giveaway. It was obviously just stretching the image. It looked chintzy.
Matthew: The anomaly was just OK. It wasn't as bad as some we've seen previous to this in the franchise, but it was pretty mundane. The "rip" in the "even horizon" (sigh) was just so-so, too. I did like the "warp particle" lighting effect. One really neat effects shot was the flying of the shuttle into the shuttle bay. Showing the reflection on the glass while looking at the characters was a really novel shot, and it looked good.
Kevin: In terms of new sets, we got B'Elanna's quarters and the conference room. We do love us a good conference here at Treknobabble, and it's a good room with a neat table. The only complaint is that the movement of the star field is wrong for how the room must be oriented. Drives me crazy. Also, little production note: When the image on the view screen resolves, Paris exclaims, "It's the Voyager." (emphasis added) I wonder when they will drop the definite article. What? This pedantic attention to minutiae is why we're here.
Matthew: On the one hand, they call them the Enterprise and The Defiant. On the other hand - this episode isn't consistent within one script. Paris drops the article on every subsequent mention of it. As far as the starfield goes, I wonder why it wasn't the purpley blob, anyway. The conference room is a nice set. The table... I find myself wondering what the shapes are for, even while I basically enjoy them. It kind of reminds me of the Aldean instrument from "When the Bough Breaks."
Kevin: This is a solid 3 for me. The character interactions are great, and Torres and Janeway get some great moments together that really gel the beginnings of one of the series most satisfying character arcs. The technobabble problem and solution keeps this from anything higher, but like I said, Voyager is apparently staying stronger out of the gate, for now, than it's franchise siblings. And again, JJ, this is how you show someone skipping a few steps on a career ladder, by otherwise establishing their qualifications and clearly explaining the basis for the decision.
Matthew: I totally agree on the 3 for a total of 6. Let's put it this way - if the anomaly story had been utterly awful, the character stories would have redeemed this into a 2. But the anomaly stuff wasn't awful, it was just mediocre. Therefore, the terrific character story puts us squarely in average episode territory. It's when you string together a few shows like this that you really start to care about the characters, and that will earn you a lot of leeway as a television show. Trust me, Voyager's going to need it while they're in Kazon territory.