Sunday, July 21, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: Parallax

Voyager, Season 1
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.

Production Values

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.


  1. This seems like another good example of how you guys are so much harder on the Abrams movies than anything else in Star Trek. I'm not fond of how each character gets to their position in the movies, but I didn't really care for the character development in this episode either. You acknowledge that the plot about the anomaly is just technobabble, but that's what gives meaning to B'Elanna's arc. She's supposed to be showing her engineering expertise, and proving herself to Janeway, but her struggles, and how she overcomes them is completely incoherent to the audience. They never really explain why she's so violently angry, although I suppose we can imagine. Carey extending the olive branch at the end seems completely unearned and unexplained, except that I guess Carey is a really nice guy. I liked Past Prologue and Enterprise's 2nd episode, "Fight or Flight", better than this one.

    1. I disagree that the nature of the anomaly and its solution are integral to the character story. As far as the character story is concerned, it needs to be a generic peril that the character surmounts through ability. It could have been fixing the warp core, jury rigging a power source, whatever.

      Is the story better when both the obstacle to be surmounted *and* the character story are rock solid? Absolutely. If this had been a real science story about an existing astronomical phenomenon that made sense, the episode might be a 4 or even a 5.

      In the new movies, both the science and the characters made no sense. I won't go into either set of problems here, I'm sure we covered them adequately in our reviews of same.

      I don't think we're being unfair. If the character story here had been on a par with "These Are The Voyages" or something, we'd call it like it is. This is a half great and half mediocre episode.

    2. I don't really understand what you mean when you say the solution to the anomaly isn't integral to the character story. B'Elanna has to prove herself to Janeway, that's the character story. She proves herself to Janeway by solving the anomaly problem. They're completely integral. Granted it's very difficult to illustrate a character's engineering expertise, but her arc didn't have to be dependent on that. It could have been more about her learning to not be a psycho, going around punching people. Interestingly Past Prologue and Fight or Flight also try to tell larger themes in the series through one character in the second episode, so I look to them for examples. In Past Prologue, Kira has to wrestle with her Bajoran-resistence sentiments and the new direction of Bajor. This conflict is told in an entirely coherent and sympathetic way. In Fight or Flight, we get another character that is apparently a genius, Hoshi, but the story isn't completely about that. They decided to reiterate the exploration theme by showing the fear that goes with it. While I think they went too far with making Hoshi afraid of pretty much everything, they did a decent job of creating situations that create dread, and a logical, although predictable, way of showing Hoshi coming to terms with the mission and gaining some confidence. Just to be clear, I don't hate Prallax. I don't think you've been unfair in rating it. My point was just that you've been unfair to the Abrams movies.

    3. Let me use an example to explain what I mean when I say the anomaly itself isn't integral to the character development.

      In "Hollow Pursuits," a character is introduced and shown to have a serious problem. Then, he is shown to contribute an insightful solution to an otherwise intractable engineering problem. Thus, we are shown why he's around in the first place, and why we wouldn't be remiss in rooting for him.

      The point being, it doesn't *really* matter that Barclay discovered invidium contamination in multiple systems shipwide. He could have solved a problem with the warp drive, the impulse engines, the holodeck itself, whatever. The nature of the problem isn't integral to his development.

      Thus, similarly, I don't think the anomaly plot here, which we call out as kind of mundane, really undercuts or contributes anything at all to the Torres character development. Heck, they could have cut the entire plot and just said that she had solved some otherwise unspecified problem, and the development would be the same.

      It would be a better episode if the anomaly had been more interesting. But the anomaly as is doesn't undercut her development. It's not integral to it.

      Our criticism of the new movies is that neither the character stories nor the science fiction elements were entertaining or edifying, not that one undercut the other.

    4. Hollow Pursuits is a good example of how I was suggesting Parallax's character development could have been handled. Showing the audience that someone is good at engineering is hard, so they should've made the story focused on something else. Hollow Pursuits is mainly about Barclay dealing with his holodeck problem and his seclusion, and only partly about his finding the solution to an engineering problem. In the same way, Parallax could've been about B'Elanna learning to act more responsibly, or learning to get along with people, and only partly about her finding the engineering solution. The really sympathetic parts of Hollow Pursuits was Barclay's struggle, which is completely coherent. B'Elanna doesn't have a struggle. The character development is just how she earns the role as chief engineer, and she earns that role by proving herself to Janeway through an arbitrary engineering issue. Like you said, it's basically the same as if they just tell us that B'Elanna is a gifted engineer, she solved a problem, and now she's the chief.

    5. Actually, I change my mind. It would've been kind of lame if B'Elanna learned to be responsible in this episode. It's kind of fun seeing the feisty B'Elanna anyway. I guess another alternative would be to do something like having Janeway give a Maquis member the chief engineering position in a compromise. Maybe prolong the Maquis/Starfleet conflict a little more. Eventually she'd reach the mature B'Elanna perhaps like in "Prime Factors", and she would earn Janeway's respect.

    6. I guess I saw this episode as being as much about learning who Janeway is as a captain as it is about B'Elanna. Janeway says she wants people who will challenge her, and I think she sees that in B'Elanna. There could be a temptation for a Chief Engineer working for a captain who is a great engineer herself to go along with all of the captain's suggestions, and Janeway wants someone who can go toe to toe with her, which is why she eventually chooses B'Elanna.

      Also, I don't think B'Elanna was just feisty in the episode. In the conference room scene she did wait to be asked a question directly as Carey requested. She didn't fight to give her suggestion; she made it like a competent professional.

    7. Yeah that's true, I like the episode in regard to Janeway. It's also kind of funny how excited she gets when working through the problem. B'Elanna calms down and stops punching people, but they don't really make any effort to explain the change in her

  2. Great review. The character development in this show is a prime example of why I love the Voyager series so much.

    1. Thanks! We'll keep writing them if you keep reading them. :)

  3. I think the difference between an episode like this, and the Abrams movies is that when the plot device fails, which we acknowledge it does here, the show can fall back on a certain amount of good will created by the universe at large. The conversation in Janeway's office alone indicates the writers are aware of the internal life of the story they are telling. On some level, expecting 700 perfectly executed mini-plays is a pretty unreasonable expectation, so when they falter, my entertainment value is found in how much I enjoyed the trip, and that is enhanced by a fully realized world. The Abrams movies lack that. If (when) the plot fails, I am left with a universe that doesn't really have an internal life, or existence beyond the view of the camera. I understand movies are different in scope and time and resources, but on some level, while this episode is certainly not "great," any failures are in spite of an attempt to tell a fully realized story with characters with fully realized ambitions and histories. 2009 and Into Darkness feel like failures because they didn't try.

  4. When you guys reviewed the 2009 movie, I think it gave your criticisms a lot of credibility when you acknowledge the good things about the movie (like the intro being pretty cool). When you talk about Into Darkness not being an enjoyable trip, or not having good character writing, it doesn't help your cause, because these aspects of the movie are so clearly better done than, say, all of TNG movies. Especially since you're ranking Star Trek V as better than Into Darkness, it might help your case to focus more on you finding the movie insulting, rather than it being bad writing. I don't understand the insulting line of reasoning either though. The insults to TNG in their movies were much worse than the insults to TOS in the Abrams movies. You also take the line of reasoning that it's the fully realized universe that you like. This is fine, but again you give Parallax a lot of slack in this regard. Given everything you know about Starfleet and the Mauqis, do you really think this episode portrays a fully realized universe? I mean their conflict is essentially resolved by the 2nd episode (although it resurfaces a few more times). Although there is the one conversation in Janeway's office acknowledging the far-fetched plot point that is about to take place, in both the Abrams movie and in Parallax the character is promoted because they're some kind of genius, and we get no further "development" other than to take their word for it that they're a genius. I suppose in the Abrams movie there's also something going on about it being their fate or something. Whatever.

    1. Well, for one thing, we haven't gotten to Nemesis yet. Trust me when I say that Kevin and I find it just as, if not more, insulting to TNG than the Abrams movies are to Trek in general. On the other hand, claiming that either movie is "better" qua movie than First Contact is a pretty big claim. I have problems with certain aspects of FC on Trekkie grounds, but purely evaluated as an action adventure sci-fi flick, I think most would agree it stands toe to toe with some of the greats of the genre, such as Aliens or T2.

      I agree with your general criticism that we didn't highlight the good aspects of Into Darkness. I do think I mentioned that the intro aliens looked cool, and that the basic revenge story is at least recognizable to an audience, albeit sabotaged by idiotic storytelling, such as having Kirk appoint Chekov chief engineer on his mission for revenge. The effects were generally quite excellent, at least when the camera wasn't shaking violently back and forth to indicate "drama."

      I don't think B'Elanna is made out to be a "genius" (a la Wesley). I think she's made out to be extremely competent and sometimes gifted with insight (a la Geordi).

      I also agree that the Maquis thread is taken as solved way too soon by the series. But that isn't a valid criticism of this episode, it's a criticism of future ones. "Parallax" was a terrific episode as far as showing us Starfleet/Maquis tensions.

    2. Yeah, you're right about the Starfleet/Maquis criticism being more fitting for other episodes. I like First Contact, but except for the "fully realized universe" issue, most of your criticisms of Into Darkness apply more so to First Contact.

  5. The Star Trek movies by Abrams are a dumbed down version of something vaguely resembling Star Trek to fit the attention span of the Jersey Shore generation. Let's face it. The "characters" we encounter in the reboot(s) are not characters, but mere caricatures of the actual characters we have gotten to know.

    There is panty creamer "Kirk" and logical, pointy eared, pedantic "Spock" and the Asian guy and the "Russian" dude at the helm and the Scottmans with his accent blah blah blah, but they are nor really Kirk, Spock, Checkov or Sulu or any real characters, they are caricatures.

    I mean here (first movie) you got the flag ship of Starfleet going on a tactical assignment to save a planet or half their fleet or some shit, and half the major crew on that ship in charge are a bunch green behind the ear cadets and recent graduates. The whole set up and bridge scene felt like a playground where a child (Kirk) was getting to play captain or something. Absolutely ridiculous. The fact that pretty much nothing else made sense about this piece of garbage movie - from the "magic" red matter - oooohhhh - to Spock apparently fucking his subordinate and Nero's stupid, baseless revenge to annihilate the GALAXY and vulcan and everything in between - wuaaahhh - because of faulty intelligence essentially, just really left nothing redeeming for the intelligent viewer. S oyou got dumb characters and an even dumber plot line. The fact that so many people like this and Into Dreckness is, i suspect, mostly because these movies are NOT Star Trek but some sci fi show with hot characters reciting Star Trek jargon. if you like Transformers, you like the reboot too.

    And the script feels more like it was written by the marketing department than by people who actually like and even know Star Trek. In fact, I believe none of the people involved in doing the reboot of Star Trek are actually Star Trek fans or even remotely care for it and they have all confirmed that on various interviews. They all just did this for the money and it appears as though a bunch of executives at Paramount sat down and decided to milk the franchise for all it's worth, so they hired someone who is damn good at making marketable junk.

    The script of both movies is idiotic, devoid of substance and, quite frankly, insulting to the whole premise of Star Trek and it does Star Trek s huge disservice. It is as if Abrams and his screenwriters prepped for the task by pulling a bunch of Star Trek terms and jargon from Memory Alpha and previous movies (and with that I mean Wrath of Khan, which seems to be the only Trek movie these two screenwriters have ever seen and which they keep pathetically plagiarizing from) to give this movie the resemblance of Star Trek without anyone of them having actually bothered to find out what Star Trek is about (hint: having a few conversations with Leonard Nimoy mostly to bait traditional fans to the box office, dodnt count).

    That said, internal consistency IS important. That characters and plots and their actions flow from some established traits and plot elements is important. You cannot just make shit up as you go and then try to justify it by saying "it is science fiction" or employ strawman and false analogies "but TNG isnt perfect." That is not an argument for why a shitty script should be embraced.

  6. People who keep defending the Abrams reboot stuff as the greatest thing ever remind me of Tom Paris in the episode "Worst Case Scenario" when he says that in his version of the story he will make it so that Janeway comes back and executes all the Maquis and casually blows it off as "oh come on, it is not real, but fiction" (ispo facto everything goes). The reboot feels as if the writers did just what Paris did: make it up as they go, half ass and then say to each other "who cares, it is sci fi." But sci fi doesnt mean magic and that characters need not to behave in a way that makes sense. yes, we all suspend disbelief but to a certain degree.

    And the truth is, you dont put some cadet who was expelled for cheating in charge of the flag ship of the Federation, logic and internal consistency and things like rank be damned, just because it serves your plot and helps you take Kirk where you need him to go - i.e. the greatest captain in the history of the greatest captains blah blah yawn.

    In this episode, just as Matt and Kevin have pointed out, I like that Janeway doesnt make up some rules and gives the position of chief engineer to B'Elanna, because she is part of the principle cast and surely therefore "deserved" to get the job so she can be in every episode. I, too, like how she made her convince her that she can do the job and fought Chakotay on the matter.

    And that B'elanna is hot headed and angry totally makes sense. We have already seen she has a temper in the pilot. And there is also her Klingon half. So that she would throw shit fits and assault Carrey is nothing new or surprising. Therefore, her traits, unlike the traits of the caricatures in the Abrams reboot, have not just been pulled out of the writers' asses to serve the plot, they absolutely make sense and in fact they write the plot.

    Finally - Matthew: I disagree that you guys did not highlight the good aspects of Into Dreckness. I love your guys' review of both and I think you really did a great job pointing out the issues. If there was not enough praise for them, then it is because frankly, it is UNDESERVED. That movie wouldnt make sense even if it was called something else and not Star Trek (for the reasons you mention in your review and which I dont need to point out again). Into Darkness is a bad movie, period. Even as a stand alone and even if it were called Revenge of the Disgruntled Space Man. It is terrible star trek but a bad movie in general. And plus, I mean really, what are we 12 years old? Oh please say something positive about Into Darkness cause it is so mean and heart breaking and hurts the feelings of the fans? Give ma break.

    1. Poppy, we want Treknobabble to be a forum in which people can tell us how they REALLY feel. Stop holding back so much! ;-)

    2. im sorry. Are my comments too long? If so, I will make it a point to not be so elaborate next time. :)