Voyager, Season 3
Airdate; November 6, 1996
49 of 168 produced
49 of 168 aired
After a near-disastrous encounter with a ship claiming to be from the 29th century, Voyager finds itself flung out of time and space to 1996 Los Angeles.
Time to invest in Beanie Babies and slap bracelets, dawg!
Kevin: I like this episode a lot. I would go so far as to say it's the first truly great episode of the season. I'm saying that now because I want to get my writing quibbles out of the way first. The set up of the Federation starship from the 29th century is really contrived. All they have is pieces of Voyager, and they've jumped to the conclusion that Voyager is responsible? If we are apparently fine messing with the timeline to save future Earth, why not find a non-fatal way to avert Voyager's path? There's some implications about the kind of organization the Federation may become, but we don't really explore it. I also was not a huge fan of the idea that the modern information age was some recursive loop of time traveling technology. It seems to hew against the grain of one Rodenberry's core ideas, that humans are capable of wondrous achievements all on their own.
Matthew: One annoying aspect of introducing characters who have solid control over time travel, coupled with the ability to "scan" time, is that you set yourself up for innumerable hard-to-explain story issues. If they can scan time, don't they already know that Braxton will be unsuccessful? Can't they make allowances for the pulse that disrupts his weapon? Don't they know that their intervention is what causes the temporal change? Can't they send a second ship to succeed where Braxton will fail? A line in which Braxton says he was played for a dupe would help, since it would explain why he is sent on a mission which must be doomed to fail, but we won't get it in this episode or the next.As far as the other issue of a temporal incursion being responsible for the computer age, I can think of it a few ways. One is that though the machinery makes Starling successful, it doesn't represent the totality of the wave of innovation, and Janeway/Chakotay are just overstating things a bit. The second is that this is an offshoot, a la "Parallels," a different version of the universe created by the incursion. The third is that the progress of the two-parter ends up nullifying such a change. I think I prefer the first, though I think the third interpretation might be supported by some of the Future Braxton dialogue in the second part. All that said, I think it's somewhat lazy to introduce such an idea (presumably to give Starling motivation) without cleaning up the loose ends of ideas it raises.
Kevin: Now that that's out of the way, this episode was FUN! wasn't it? The fish out of water and numerous fine grain errors the crew made in navigating the 90s was darling. Much like Star Trek IV, the fact that they just had to create their modern era made sure that a lot of small details were effortlessly included, and I enjoy the episode now as much as a time capsule for the 90s as I do a piece of Star Trek. It's fun seeing Janeway out of uniform but still very much in charge. It's also a hoot watching Paris and Tuvok spar and watching Paris try to charm Rain.
Matthew: Yeah. All of the various scenes of Voyager crew interacting with the past work well, but the best must be the Paris/Tuvok interaction with Rain Robinson. It parallels Kirk/Spock with Gillian, but it doesn't seem at all like a retread, owing probably to the fact that the dialogue between Paris and Rain fits their characters quite personally, and the Tuvok/Paris relationship is totally different than Kirk/Spock, since Tuvok is in the position of superior. This was a great Paris episode, really, since it cashed in on prior character work (e.g. his nostalgia) in a really organic, story-advancing way.
Kevin: Starling himself is a fun villain. There's an intensity that works but never crosses the line. The office full of his own magazine covers is a nice touch. He also felt pretty competent, the downfall of so many villains. He's resourceful, and despite using Windows 3.1, he is quick to counter Voyager's efforts, and it all reads as making the villain more credible. I would have preferred a little more shading indicating that he at least subjectively thought he was doing good.
Matthew: I wonder how much Starling was consciously modeled after either Gates or Jobs. This was a bit before both were lionized, but of course both were still very public figures as of this episode. I agree that they did a good job making him competent but not a ridiculous super-genius. They pitched him well as a gifted opportunist. You know what worked really well? Braxton in the past, being thought insane, being a homeless guy. It makes lots of sci-fi sense for the character, and it leads to some good comedy. "You quasi-Cardassian totalitarian!"
Kevin: Lastly, the bit about Kes and Neelix watching TV is charming as all get out, and the discovery of Voyager in the flyby really gives the episode a fun midpoint.
Matthew: Having Voyager be a UFO sighting is a terrific cliffhanger. It does a great job of capturing the zeitgeist of the time - a time of distrust of government, increasing belief in supernatural and extra-terrestrial stuff, and the ramping up of the 24-hour news cycle.
Kevin: Mulgrew is her usual more than competent self. It was fun watching her navigate such an odd situation and keep her sense of command. McNeill is the other main cast standout. Mining the character's previous affection for the 20th century, he really feels most acclimated, but he also really landed all the little jokes, like anachronistic uses of the word "groovy." Russ also does a great job as the straight man.
Matthew: McNeill carries a lot of water in this episode. He is the primary character we identify with, engages in the romance, and advances the plot pretty well. His chemistry with Tim Russ and Sarah Silverman both was aces. Mulgrew was particularly impressive when she stood toe to toe with Begley, who is nearly a foot taller than she is and is no shrinking violet in terms of screen presence. Her Janeway is funny, imposing, and on the ball.
Kevin: Sarah Silverman can act, who knew? I find her career as a comedian either painfully funny or painfully uncomfortable, which I can say about a lot of the bigger comedians actually. I bring it up because it's really to her credit what a good job she did of making the character seem so normal but not boring. There's an ease to her performance, even in the technobabble stuff that is just really engaging. Ed Begley Jr. also really overcomes his name recognition. I don't think about that fact I am watching a recognizable actor after the first few minutes.
Matthew: I don't know if she's a good actress or just good at acting like herself. Either way, I totally agree. Both big guest stars are really terrific. Begley made his character one you love to hate, not just one that annoys you. Silvrman did a really nice job of seeming incredulous, but also interested in Tom, without being just a dopey "love interest."
Kevin: The use of outdoor shots is really the highlight of the episode. They really took advantage of what they had. The variety of locations was totally there, even if somewhat predictable. The Griffith Park Observatory is the Vasquez Rocks of any non-science fiction piece of entertainment based in LA. Shooting the majority of those shots in wide vistas on cloudless days also really helped separate the scenes. The sense of color and space was really well achieved.
Matthew: I've been ragging on Voyager a lot lately for alien towns that seem underpopulated. Filming on real locations completely obviates this criticism. Not since, well, Star Trek IV, have we seen a location that seemed like such a real place, populated by real people going about their lives. The set dressing of the Starling office and the observatory were really excellent too, seeming like real, lived in places, as opposed to the DS9 sets in "Past Tense." The computers were unusually well done for Trek. The night shot driving the VW Bus was superb.
Kevin: The costumes are great, too. Captain Janeway wants you to know she owns 51% of this company. It's a flattering suit per se and is almost shockingly on point for 1996. Also, I love that ponytail. It's similar to how they start doing Terry Farrell's over on DS9, with the hair pulled back and up before being set with broad clip, and it's really flattering on women with strong cheekbones. Paris' shirt is eye-searingly accurate in a way that makes me feel ashamed of when I came of age. The only really odd not for me was the shot of Voyager in Earth orbit. The planet did not look like Earth and the composite was weirdly flat in composition.
Matthew: Indeed, Janeway's suit kicked ass and took names. But everyone else was dressed really well. No period outfits stuck out as seeming fake. Tuvok in a do-rag? Love it.
Kevin: Lastly, that shot of the flyby was expertly achieved. The homemade footage and distance really help solve any resolution issues, and the overall effect was quite convincing.
Matthew: What really impressed me was the shaky-cam (hey, an appropriate use for it!) and the graphical overlays. They totally looked like something you might see on Fox 32 circa 1995.
Kevin: This episode has a slightly wonky set up, and sure it doesn't really reach for any grand morality tale, but dang it if this episode is not just delightful. The acting is enthusiastic and engaging, and the producers really milked the real world sets for all they're worth. This gets a 4 from me.
Matthew: This is so close to a 5 it's not funny. But sadly, I agree that the creaky set-up and its plethora of unanswered questions is enough to keep this in 4 territory. That makes it an 8 overall.