Thursday, March 17, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Year of Hell, Part I, Season 4
"Year of Hell, Part I"
Airdate: November 5, 1998
75 of 168 produced
75 of 168 aired


Voyager enters a region of space dominated by a race called the Krenim - except when it isn't. Something is altering the history of this region, and Voyager is being swept up in and damaged by the results.

 Chakotay, the best present you could give would be getting rid of that bad teenage mustache.


Kevin:I remember watching this episode and thinking there were a lot of things here I wish had been there since the beginning of the series. I think the thing I enjoyed most about this two-parter was watching Voyager really get put through the wringer and seeing how the ship and crew respond. It will pay more dividends next week, but watching Janeway get worn down is interesting to watch. Chakotay and Tom were good choices to put on the time ship as well. Janeway is missing the literal and figurative crew she relies on to help her guide the ship. The plan to abandon ship and its FTL drive and ability to make food seems like a Dramatic Decision rather than one called for strictly by the plot, but I can't deny the image was evocative.

Matthew: What impresses me most about this episode is the science fiction ambition. If you could really travel back in time, what would you do? Why not try to tweak world history in the service of some larger goal? This story creates an interesting scenario (Voyager runs afoul of someone doing just this), peoples it with interesting characters (Annorax and Obrist), and uses the conceit to create interesting problems for our crew. While it wasn't really addressed in this show, my ethical mind was also tickled by the problem of erasing species from time. Are you really doing something wrong if they never existed, and thus never suffer? I liked very much the conceit of marking "Day 47" and so forth on screen, it's a nice shortcut to indicate the passage of time, and add weight to the story. Since you mentioned it, I also fail to understand abandoning ship. Like, I get it as a last resort, but Chakotay's plan makes no freaking sense. How does putting dozens of people into rickety lifeboats with no warp drive or weapons increase their chances for survival?

Kevin: The other half of the episode, that of Annorax and the time ship is also really well handled, for several reasons. First, they show, not discuss, Annorax's history and motivation. Small touches like the lock of hair or his reaction to the news of Kyana Prime. Nothing is over-exposited and it kept me interested. Moreover, his crew, primarily represented by Obrist has the normal reactions a person should have to the situation. Wouldn't you accept a 99% after a century of trying? His ambivalence sets up his helping Tom and Chakotay really well later on, since it feels earned. The episode also balanced the timeline techonobabble well.

Matthew: The timeline changes were well represented. Showing us the Krenim warship before and after was really good. The story also handled the Voyager crew's awareness of changes well - they were unaware the first time, but their temporal shielding leaves them aware of the changes the second time around. If the story logic isn't perfect (see below), it still shows a good amount of effort to have things make sense, and that's really all I ask.

Kevin: In terms of quibbling critiques, I think the destruction of the entirety of Deck 5 and thus Sickbay telegraphed a little early we were in for a bit of a Reset Button by the end of the episode since we know that the aren't abandoning one of their biggest and best sets.

Matthew: My quibbles are of a more scientific nature. Obrist mentions that they have been at this for two centuries, and that all of their relatives are long dead. Of course, from a story perspective, these people may be rabid patriots and willing to make such a sacrifice. Whatever, I can do without it, although I think this is an interesting angle that could have been given a few lines. But just how are they "insulated" from the passage of time? If they can do things, talk to each other, move around, think thoughts, make plans... then time is passing for them. It may be at a different rate, but it's passing nonetheless. And they even say 200 years. Is that 200 years of ship time? 200 years of non-insulated time? If they have been metabolizing food and atmosphere for all that time, they should all have died of natural causes long ago. I also don't quite get what Annorax's motivation is, given this story aspect. Does he want to see his great-great-great-great grandchildren? He's not getting his wife back, unless they can also travel back in time to 200 years ago. This is not mentioned. By the way, Kelly will never forgive me if I don't mention her critique - no one mentions Kes and her predictions about this period.


Kevin: Kurtwood Smith is a very good actor, and I know I bring up his role as Red Foreman on that 70s show every time he's on, but it's really a compliment. Sure, all his characters are shades of hard-ass, but he really knows how to inhabit the universe. He really projected gravitas and authority during the incursion sequences and gave his motivation some depth. Sure, the deletion of billions of sentient beings can't be justified, but I can't say as I don't understand him.

Matthew: Kurtwood Smith has tons of range and can deliver sci-fi dialogue with conviction, as is made obvious here. But you know what? Soap Opera stalwart John Loprieno really holds his own against Smith. I really bought his weariness and frustration, kept in check under a slightly cracking veneer of respect and reverence for his boss.

Kevin: The main cast did a really good job too. A lot of little notes like the Doctor's regret at the death of the crewmen, or Tuvok's blind acting and his relationship with Seven really sketched in the fine details of the episode.

Matthew: Yeah, I'd say that they Doctor/Paris scenes were the highlight, but I also enjoyed Janeway/Chakotay and Seven/Tuvok quite a bit, too.

Production Values

Kevin: The incursion effects were well done.This is certainly some of the best CGI we've seen in any of the franchises. I loved the torpedo in the Jeffries Tube, I also really liked the hull plating buckling. I think the texture of the hull of the time ship looked a little too CGI. Looking back, it evokes the same mottled texture as a lot of Babylon 5, and thus really shows its age.

Matthew: I agree on the VFX. They were great for their day, and are so-so, but not embarrassing, for today.  I hate strobing lights to indicate damage. They didn't go too overboard here, but there were one or two minutes where I wanted to look away from the screen. The set dressing for damaged rooms was pretty good. I think they erred in not having it cleaned up a bit more here and there - one would think over the course of a year that here would be downtime to remove some of the larger chunks to a cargo bay or something - if only to reduce tripping hazards.

Kevin: I want to give a particular shout-out to the timeline diagram on the ship. It's a great example of using a new technology to really infuse the universe with some reality. Even a few years ago, that would have been a static lucite screen, and it would have looked great, but the interlacing lines changing shape and size really managed to be both pretty in its own right and go a good deal of the way of making the mechanism described by Annorax make sense.

Matthew: This was a great episode for Okudagrams. The 3-D representation of species territory in Astrometrics was superb. How do they measure political boundaries with sensors? Who knows? But it sure looked neat.  I completely agree on the timeline diagram. That visual alone helped to sell and even explain the concept of the show.


Kevin: This is a solid 5. I was left at the end of the episode really curious to see how the ship would get out of the situation, and all of the character moments really sang. It's well acted, well paced, and probably most importantly, the villain is interesting and well developed.

Matthew: I'm with you on a 5. I don't know that it's top 20 material (or even better than its sequel), but it's certainly in the top decile in terms of acting, pacing, production values, and sheer ambition.  That brings our total to a 10.



  1. I want to apologize for the delay in posting this. Without getting into too much detail, it's on me, not Kevin. I've had a lot going on and blogging has slipped in priority. But rest assured, devoted fan(s), we will continue!