In the yesteryears of the mid 90s, Paramount Pictures looked to continue the Star Trek boom begun by Star Trek: The Next Generation (which had recently ended) and expanded by Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Wishing to both return the series to its adventurous roots while breaking new social boundaries, they premiered the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager on January 16th, 1995. Featuring a female captain and a surprisingly diverse helping of crew members (by the end of this episode, at least), Star Trek: Voyager would continue on for six years and offer the setting to one of the best Star Trek games ever released (Editor’s Note: This was not a part of the agreed introduction, Tim.) (Tim Response: Don’t care, my phasers are set to frag!).
Every Monday we share a roundtable discussion about a Voyager episode featuring experts pulled from the close group of friends we could easily bribe. This week’s group consists of Seth, film/tv critic Ryan and yours truly. Naturally, spoilers are a matter of course with this territory, and portions of our conversation drew on our knowledge of other episodes of both Voyager and other Star Trek shows. You have been warned.
This week covers the seventh episode of Season 1, “Eye of the Needle.” Ryan jump starts the conversation by spoiling the bias held by one of our roundtable members…
Ryan – Tim, didn’t you say this was one of your favorite Voyager episodes so far?
Tim – Yes, I really enjoyed this episode. I thought the twist at the end was really bittersweet, and I kinda’ rather enjoyed watching the hopes of the Voyager crew get dashed upon, well, the twist. It played to my already-established preference for sadness and “dark” drama that I enjoy. What did you guys think?
Ryan – I am curious what Seth thought too before I bring my wave of disdain crashing down.
Tim – How did I know, Ryan! How did I know!
Ryan – Really? Well, now I have to know why Tim knew I’d wrestle this episode to the ground.
Seth – I think the premise was an interesting one, and I think it confronts what is going to be a central tension in the series, namely that the characters are constantly trying to undo its very premise. I mean, it’s obviously way too early in the show to have any real shot at getting home, which kind of undercuts the suspense in the plot. And some of the acting was a bit stilted
Ryan – That’s a great point to start on. Can we talk about the inane screenwriting decision of using a “maybe they found a way home” plotline mid-season?
Seth – Yeah, it’s a rather boneheaded decision. No one’s seriously going to wonder if they’ll get home already and this’ll just be TNG all over again
Ryan – I can’t say I ever felt any tension. The premise was deflated by the show’s episodic structure before it even had a chance to pick up steam.
Tim – Hmmm…that’s all an actually fair enough point. I suppose part of my enjoyment came from never really considering the plotline in light of the whole series, which I don’t think redeems it at all.
Ryan – I’d like to clarify I really wanted to use the phrase “wave of disdain” and would more accurate describe my reaction to this episode as being swept away on an undertow of ambivalence. I think Tim mentioned this earlier: the time-traveling Romulan twist was a nice touch and I did like the mild political wrangling between the Romulan ship and a Federation vessel. I just think even the big twist they were working up toward (the fact that he would die before having a chance to relay the messages to their families) radically defanged by the lack of momentum the storyline carried leading up to it.
Seth – I think once they scaled it back from “a way home” to “a way to let people at home know we’re alive” they had the potential for some real suspense, but they had lost quite a bit of time by that point.
Ryan – I don’t know, are we as the viewers really that invested in crew members letting their families know they’re alright, reminding them to water the garden, take out the trash, etc.?
Seth – I think we could have been made invested in it if they had worked at it a bit more; there’s a lot of potential in that angle, but they don’t have enough time to let us see what messages people are sending
Ryan – It seems a nice gesture, but sort of a hollow stab at sentimentality. Other than Janeway’s generic beau, we don’t really have a connection to their loved ones back home. No cutaway scenes of spouses receiving notes or flowers placed around memorials.
Seth – An episode involving different crew members struggling with what they can fit into a brief message that may or may not get home could have been really compelling and would have given us that connection to loved ones back home.
Ryan – Exactly.
Seth – Hell, they also have to inform Starfleet about all the crew members that died in the first episode, but that doesn’t even come up.
Tim – Which is somewhat surprising. You would think that Janeway would maybe feel a bit more connected to her former first officer – or did we already establish that the entire crew was cobbled together and not familiar with one another?
Seth – To my recollection, it’s not really clear how much of the crew already knew each other at the start of the series.
Ryan – I think that underlines how little thought the writers appeared to have put into the joint Maquis/Starfleet crew dynamic. Even they’ve forgotten the original members.
Seth – I’ve always found the political maneuverings between the Federation and Romulans interesting, though. That said, a less charitable person might raise an eyebrow at them recycling (yet) a(nother) plot device from the other series so soon.
Ryan – What series was this from?
Seth – Several seasons of TNG dealt heavily with the relationship between the Romulans and the Federation and the difficult maneuverings that have to happen as a result. And DS9 is also using it as this is airing in the form of difficult intelligence sharing agreements between the Federation and Romulans re: the Gamma Quadrant. Sending the Voyager to the Delta Quadrant only to have them practicing detente with the Romulans yet again is kind of weird.
A sudden gust of cold air strikes the votive candles adorning the roundtable, bringing with it a shudder as Ryan leans forward. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim, that’s not what happened. TIM NOTE: I DON’T CARE!)
Ryan – So, Tim, I’m still curious what made you think this episode wouldn’t sit too highly on my series best list.
Tim – Well, really it comes down to reviewing our previous discussions. You’ve usually got a way of dissecting the sci-fi plots in a reasonable way and making what, to my first glances, are pretty nifty ideas and…well, evisceration isn’t the right word. But you are certainly able to point out the ridiculousness of some of them, usually with some sardonic wit to back it up. So with this episode and its time-travel twist and such, I really felt it was 25/75 whether it would sit well with you or not, given my own first reactions. I hope I didn’t offend!
Ryan – No offense at all! I was genuinely amused and wanted to gauge how my reactions to the show had been being received.
Tim – Jumping back really quick to the comment about seeing what the crew members felt was important to share, a bit of trivia I found was that that, in fact, was an idea that was bandied about by the show’s writers. According to them, “It was certainly something we talked about. But we decided that to leave it unspoken might be more powerful.” I think we could all agree that we didn’t feel that leaving it unspoken was a really successful move, though.
Seth – Yeah, I think their second-guessing worked to their detriment in this case.
Ryan – We needed more information to go off of then the framed picture of Janeway’s dog. I think we heard a little bit about Kim’s family, but then Torres even mentioned she really didn’t have anyone waiting for her – and wouldn’t many of the Maquis expect to be facing charges of some kind? They were rebels…
Tim – And not just rebels, but rebels in a rebellion that was probably still ongoing at this point.
Seth – Yeah, the Maquis are still in DS9 at this point, though they aren’t coming up as much as they used to. On the other hand, the Federation has shown a willingness to offer clemency/pardons in the past, especially when the criminal acts in good faith
Tim – I keep having to remind myself that the Federation is, basically, a Utopic idea, no matter how much I might want that to be undercut.
On the next page, we’ll talk about the Doctor and the place he is shaping up to have in the series.