Saturday, April 16, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Year of Hell, Part II, Season 4
"Year of Hell, Part II"
Airdate: November 12, 1998
76 of 168 produced
76 of 168 aired


Chakotay and Tom find themselves prisoners on Annorax's time ship. But they are at odds over how to proceed - to fight with every method at their disposal, or to collaborate with him. In the meantime, Janeway is pushed to her limits by the ordeals Voyager and her crew are suffering.

 We're not drinking any ****ing Merlot!


Matthew: This installment focuses more on character conflict, and to that extent, I think it improves on the first part, which was excellent in its own right. The most successful conflict is between Chakotay and Tom Paris. As with the best conflicts, both sides have a point. I really like that Chakotay has the moral flexibility to see the utility of working with Annorax, and the scientific mind to ponder the possibilities. Paris, on the other hand, sees things in absolutes,and is this dead set against Annorax. But this isn't the only successful conflict. Janeway and the Doctor have a fruitful antagonism, with the captain showing how frazzled she's become, despite his completely rational attempts to intervene. Annorax butts heads with Chakotay and Obrist in entertaining ways, too.

Kevin: My favorite scene by far was the scene with Janeway and the Doctor. My complaint about Voyager generally tends to be that the show never seems to really dig into the idea that Voyager is alone without resources and see what kind of impact that has. At best, the needed material provide's for one episode's MacGuffin. Here, we really get to see Janeway put through the wringer and it's fun to watch. The same "do whatever it takes" attitude we normally laud in a Captain tips into mania more quickly than you'd think. I loved when Janeway apologizes to the Doctor for threatening him, it had just the right mix of genuine apology and clear attempt to get out of the situation that really underscored how far Janeway has gone.

Matthew: As far as the plot goes, things progress crisply and in interesting ways. Chakotay's journey from hoping to work with Annorax to no longer trusting him was developed well. The plot really turns the screws on Janeway, too, progressively amping up her sacrifices. The little scene with the mournful music cue, in which Janeway stays with the ship while the others depart really worked well as a pacing breather. I liked the final confrontation with the time ship, and Janeway's willingness to sacrifice herself. I did not quite understand why she was so certain that destroying the time ship would reset things... but it still was a good character moment. Either way, I didn't feel that it was terribly cheap to "Reset" things in this way. Better an actual plot reason (if ill explained) than just a hand-waving dismissal by the next episode.

Kevin: I liked that final scene precisely because it was so unclear. She was making a Hail Mary pass and I think she knew it. I think she was just hoping that it would work. I agree too, though, that this instance of the reset button is actually pretty good. For whatever flaws we've identified, the episode earned it. Also, I would say at least in this case, there literally was no way forward. Kind of like in Cause and Effect. You can't actually destroy the Enterprise, so watching how they end up not doing that is fun. Most of the other uses of the reset button just easily repair relationships or undo interesting character growth.

Matthew: OK, question time. Why does destroying the time ship reset the timeline? The best I can do in terms of explaining this is imagine the time ship as some sort of always existing temporal vortex, which if it is destroyed at one point, is destroyed at every point along its history. This might explain (though not entirely) why time doesn't pass normally for those on it. But none of this was given by the story or dialogue, it is merely assumed that it would be so. Speaking of time passing on the ship - why don't the crew of the time ship go insane? How does the weapon work? We've been given no indication that the ship itself can travel through time to the past or future, just that its weapon can erase things, including their own pasts and futures. So, if the only way the time ship interacts with things is to erase them, how could they ever hope to restore things to some point before the first erasure? Annorax himself says that species have been erased, brought back, and erased again. How is this "bringing back" effected? Does Annorax stop himself from erasing them? If Annorax needs a fancy doo-dad to preserve his wife's hair, why doesn't he need the same to preserve all the remnants of dead civilizations? Are we to take it that Annorax will replicate his work? I think it would have been better to have Annorax convince himself somehow not to invent it, or to wipe himself out.

Kevin: I agree the episode would have been well served to answer these questions, but it's to the episode's credit you don't start really digging into them until after it's over. It manages to keep dramatic tension and momentum from the characters' interaction and conflict. The episode could answer these questions, but it doesn't have to to make the episode work. It's a balancing act that not even Braga and Moore in their heyday landed every time, so well done, people.


Matthew: On the one hand, having only the main cast remain on the ship rings a tad artificial. But on the other hand, it works to give us a look into how they respond to adversity. To a person, everyone performs admirably. Oddly enough, I think this ends up being a good Neelix show - ever since he's been freed from deeply creepy scenes with Kes, Ethan Phillips has been able to craft Neelix into a charming, solid presence in the crew. Tim Russ played blind quite well. He added a very fine layer of pain and annoyance to his normal stoical Vulcan.

Kevin: I liked Seven and Tuvok's relationship. She hasn't really interacted with anyone outside of Janeway at this point, and I like the idea that the two cooly logical characters would bond in a crisis, and I liked the undercurrent that her helping him might (though neither would admit it) guilt over not leaving the Jeffries tube faster.

Matthew: Kurtwood Smith's Annorax was complex and interesting - talking about lost dishes, inspirations late at night, time's moods and anger - he gave so many colors to his scenes. His scenes with Robert Beltran in particular really worked, and gave Beltran a real opportunity to show us some of Chakotay's complexity, moral flexibility, and occasional steel, too.

Kevin: The episode lives or dies on how good a villain he is, and he totally delivers. And he did it all without shouting. Imagine that.

Production Values

Matthew: Voyager's degradation was taken to even further extents here, and though the shots are obviously CGI, they are not dated to the point that they take someone out of the story, even today. They do what hey need to do - show how wrecked Voyager has become. On the bridge (which again, is way too messy for my taste) there are two takes on a wrecked viewscreen - one with an industrial background, and one with the bulkhead sheared away, showing open space through a force field. Both shots worked.

Kevin: I really dug the industrial work behind the viewscreen. It reminded me of being at the Omnimax theater at the Museum of Science and Industry and they'd turn on the lights to show the sound rigging behind the huge domed screen.

Matthew: This is going to sound like a bit of a nitpick - but with so many great Okudagrams on the Krenim ship, the control panels were disappointingly static. It was clear that they were just paintings, not even made with lucite to give the reflective sheen that post-TNG Trek has led us to expect from "computers." That said, the rest of the interiors were really nice, and the spread of foods at the beginning was both foreign-seeming but realistic.

Kevin: The ships at the end showed their CGI age just a bit for me, but I really liked the shot of Voyager crashing into the timeship. Was it 90s CGI? Sure, but they timed everything right to give the right sense of size and inertia.


All in all, this episode doubles down on the strengths of the first part. The stakes get higher, the character conflicts get deeper, and the time-bending aspects (typified by the comet scene) are developed further. So it's hard to see anything but another 5 for this. I wish they had answered some of my questions above, but these do not detract from the excellent character stories and crisp pacing on display. This is how to do an interesting time travel story - not with arcane alternate histories that rely on someone's familiarity with continuity, but with character drama that flows from the possibilities presented.

Kevin: The episode manages to pack an interesting, layered villain with an almost sympathetic motivation with some great one-on-one conflicts on both the timeship and Voyager. Like I said back in the first part, I kind of figured after Sickbay got blown up, they would eventually find a way to fix everything, but I absolutely enjoyed the entire trip to get back to where we started. I agree with the 5, for a total of 10.



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