Friday, July 26, 2019

Voyager, Season 6: One Small Step, Season 6
"One Small Step"
Airdate: November 17, 1999
123 of 168 produced
125 of 168 aired


Voyager encounters a strange anomaly that contains a relic from the early days of human space exploration.

Handsome Astronaut Man Meets Giant Space Lemon


Matthew: Voyager seems to have developed a yen for stories set in the past of the current continuity. Not only have they gone to the Sulu-era Excelsior, but they've done 11:59 and now this episode. I like that impulse, when done tastefully (full on prequels? Not as much...).And I do think this lands i n the "tasteful" category. I do have questions, but generally, this story satisfactorily answers the "should it exist" question by giving us character development and growth for Chakotay and Seven of Nine. They had a nice tension in the episode, with Chakotay advocating for exploration and discovery, while Seven advocates for restraint and practicality. Chakotay is given a lesson when he maroons the Flyer in the anomaly (does he learn? Hard to say...), while Seven gains a deeper appreciation for humanity and spirit when she sees Astronaut John Kelly's determination and grit in his final video logs. I do think Chakotay comes off rather badly here, but Seven of Nine's arc has some real feeling to it.

Kevin: My main problem with Chakotay here is that its another round of Give Chakotay a Hobby, the Delta Quadrant's most boring game. Paleontology, boxing, and now early human interstellar flight. Given that Janeway had a stated interest because of a family connection (even if it wasn't what she thought it was) and Paris is a self-professed Mars buff, shoehorning Chakotay in feels like contractual obligation more than anything. Even the dialogue setting exploration against pragmatism feels like a fight written for Janeway and hastily edited. That all said, the payoff was pretty nice. I bought Seven's arc if nothing else, I have to say that Seven quietly delivering the final baseball score was surprisingly effective.

Matthew: With all that said, I have a lot of questions. Firstly, in some ways this depiction of Mars missions seems too advanced. Now, granted, it was the 1990s, and they're forecasting 40 years in advance. But the writers and show runners should have recognized the 30 years of stagnation in space exploration since Apollo, too. There is also the problem of WWIII, which by varying in-canon accounts stretches from as early as 2026 to as late as 2056. It's a mess, and it is something this episode elides entirely. Then, we have the anomaly. There is something about anomaly of the week stories that seems fine when set 400 years in the future, but which chafes when set a mere twenty or thirty. The best analogy I can think of is the idea of miracles. Miracles are events that defy the known laws of nature. Why do they all seem to happen 2,000 years ago, in an era before history, record keeping, and recording technology? Well, it seems obvious that the answer is because they were fanciful misapprehensions propounded by the uneducated and the self-interested. So you can see why such a violation occurring in the "present" would strike someone as weird. There would need to be a lot more portent and hand-wringing if a scientific organization were to witness a giant Space Lemon capable of these feats - it would be akin to seeing the Red Sea split in two. It also raises the question of how common these sorts of events are. Why don't they happen more frequently in Earth's history? We've called this the "small universe problem," a lazy storytelling trope in which everything seems to revolve around Earth in some manner, or around the crew of our particular show.

Kevin: That's a problem I'm going to revive with the Friendship One probe in a season. How much early human spaceflight can Voyager theoretically find? They shouldn't find this much if their goal was to spend their careers in the Delta Quadrant looking for it, let alone find that much by random chance, all while making a beeline out of the area. That said, I almost don't mind the continuity problems, at least not a lot. Just as it was fun in retrospect to see the 60s thoughts on the 90s, there's a fun time capsule feel to seeing the 90s thoughts on the 2030s, and era. I do agree that "Gigantic Space Vacuum thing" should have made a bigger impact on Earth's conception of the cosmos. I think this would have been more fun using a different foundational race of the Federation. Like some early Vulcan astronauts finding something. It would have freed up that element of the story, but I suppose would have lost a little familiarity. My only other problem with the anomaly is it's one of those that has not even the faintest grounding in real science and is reverse engineered to create exactly the plot conflict it did. It's incredibly dangerous and completely invisible except for the two seconds that it's not. It will obliterate you, unless it happens to cocoon you for four hundred years. It's all too neat. They may get black holes wrong in the details, but at least the guts of "big and lots of gravity" have some grounding.


Matthew: Jeri Ryan did a great job transitioning from obstinate and headstrong to slightly chastened and reverential. Her work really sold the character from the outset, and this episode is a good example of her range. Robert Beltran was present, and I believed his misty-eyed sentimentalism.

Kevin: I was kind of blah on Chakotay, but that may be a general prognosis. I agree totally on Ryan though. She really planted that last line in an effective way when it really could have gone schmaltzy.

Matthew:  Phil Morris has one of those faces. He is just a solidly handsome guy, and he can act, too. I believed his astronaut, from the breezy chatting about baseball to the grim determination in the face of his death. Did you know that he has appeared in three series and a movie? He was one of the kids  in TOS "Miri," he was the cadet asking about parades in STIII, and he played both a Klingon and a Jem'Hadar in DS9. It's easy to see why he kept getting asked back.

Kevin: Since we just passed the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I was listening to some of the audio files ( - an amazing resource good for hours of nerdy fun) and I have to say they really landed the feel of the chatter between the orbiter and landing crew.

Production Values

Matthew: The space exterior shots around Mars were exceptional, especially for their time. The interior of the spacecraft was good, not too futuristic. It reminds me a bit of a cross between the cryo-ship in TNG "The Neutral Zone" and the aesthetic from Enterprise. It really played well and helped to mitigate some of my concerns listed above. With that said, the anomaly effect kind of looks like a big space lemon. Is it supposed to be fiery? Glowing? Just yellow for some reason?

Kevin: My pedantic production quibble is why the hell did they have the memorial on the bridge? Was the mess hall getting remodeled? It's just always seemed weird to me.


Matthew: I think this is a solid 3. I have some concern conceptually, slotting yet another Trek-style disaster into early space history, where it just sits uncomfortably (other examples: Star Trek TMP, TNG The Neutral Zone, TNG The Royale). But the character story works, and the guest star is solid.

Kevin: Wow...yeah. I didn't realize just how many early human spacecraft play a role in the 24th century. It's not quite the same thing, but the Bird of Prey totally ices a Voyager-style probe in Final Frontier too. Anyhoo, I agree with the three. Some solid acting carries an okay story. That makes a total of 6.

1 comment:

  1. I think you guys are unnecessarily hard on this episode. This is an episode that I would easily give a 4, and it is among my top Voyager episodes.

    I do agree with your criticism of the writing doing a disservice to Chakotay, as he ends up being more of an unreasonable prick than usual. But it was in service of the plot... I guess.

    The character growth of Seven is very important, I think. Her growing understanding of humanity just shines through.

    The guest star is also phenomenal, and I find myself caring deeply for him, even very early in the episode. Guest stars in the Star Trek Universe tend to have a difficult job, especially this late in the series. It's difficult to get a regular viewer to feel deeply about a new character, but he really accomplishes it.

    Finally, while I think it is complicated to write history in a period that we're rapidly approaching, if nothing else, it gives me hope and optimism that we may have humans on Mars in my lifetime (ugggggh, I'm old).