The following is a SPOILER Review for "The 37's." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright, who watches the episode no more than twice before preparing the review. This gives me the opportunity to review and recap with a combination of memory and creativity (when memory fails). The result is an experience that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the actual episode. Consider it a revival of the ancient oral traditions passed on through the generations. I make no claims as to accuracy, but I hope I got enough of it right to keep your attention.
After encountering a 1936 Ford pickup truck in space, Voyager travels to a planet where they find a deep-frozen Amelia Earhart and a bunch of insignificant extras--and their descendants--which gives the crew a tempting alternative to a continued search for a way home. Notable event: Voyager sets down on a planet, to my knowledge a Trek first for a Federation starship.
Jump straight to the Analysis
"Rust?" an incredulous Captain Janeway asks as the episode begins. Rust and space are an unlikely combination, so Voyager investigates. Soon they encounter a flying Ford pickup truck, 70,000 lightyears and 400+ years from Detroit. Nobody's driving, so they impound it.
The truck has survived its lengthy space voyage in remarkable shape. Oil in the crankcase, water in the radiator, gas in the tank, and the battery's still sufficiently charged that even after who-knows-how long in near absolute-zero temperatures, that baby fired right up in the cargo bay under the gentle ministrations of Voyager's antique car buff, Tom Paris, while Captain Janeway discovers horse manure in the back (editorial comment deleted). (My 1989 Hyundai has trouble starting when the temperature dips below +40 degrees Fahrenheit. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.) Even the AM radio still works, and pulls in a signal that Voyager's own sensors hadn't detected. It's an SOS, they soon discover, an ancient Earth distress signal from the Morse Code days.
There's only one way a Ford Pickup could be in the Delta quadrant, they reason: someone brought it there. And if it could import cars from the Alpha quadrant, it might be able to export them back to their home system. Our intrepid crew then pumps up the volume and heads towards the source of the distress signal, avoiding bridges so as not to lose the AM signal.
They soon arrive at the planet broadcasting the signal, and discover that the technobabble in the atmosphere makes transporters and shuttles inadvisable. Janeway then announces, "we'll land the ship." Even the normally cavalier Tom Paris admits, "I've never landed a starship before." "Neither have I," Janeway responds. Paris squares his shoulders, Tuvok announces a shipwide Blue Alert, and down we go where no Enterprise has gone before, except in flames--through the murky atmosphere and to the surface of the planet. It's rough going, and a few static discharges generate some sparks on the bridge, but they manage to land mostly unscathed.
With a climate as unpredictable as Utah's, the air looks terrible on the way down--imagine Los Angeles during rush hour--but by the end of commercial break it's a beautiful, sunny day, and the crew has left the ship to search for the source of the SOS. Janeway and Kim soon find the source: an old Earth-style airplane, twin engine propeller. Attached to the radio is a fusion generator--undoubtedly not original equipment, they conclude.
Chakotay beeps them and says they've found something odd, so a quick scene change and soon our heroes are 100 meters underground, staring at six frozen human-looking things, all dressed in 1930s garb. We see a Japanese soldier, a black farmer (whose truck was picked up by Voyager), a Hindu woman, a Scandanavian fisherman, Tackleberry from the Police Academy films...
...And Amelia Earhart. She of the Lost Elektra, one of the earliest and certainly most famous females of the Airplane Age. The stuff of legend whose plane was never found and who was believed to have been abducted by aliens. Naturally, she's a hero to Captain Janeway, but Ensign Harry Kim has never heard of her. They briefly discuss Amelia Earhart and her fateful journey, and some of the speculation about her disappearance, and then Tom Paris suggests they simply revive the earthsicles and ask them how they got here. Nobody objects, so away they go.
Soon the preparations are complete, and after relieving the Japanese soldier of his firearm, they hit Defrost, and within moments we have six alert but disoriented people, wondering what in the heck is going on.
What surprises me is how well the newly-revived people got along with each other--far better than most people in the 1930s got along with each other. The only ones doing much talking were Earhart and Tackleberry--oops, sorry--Fred, Earhart's loyal but unstable navigator. Earhart's a natural leader, with physical characteristics not unlike Janeway's--clearly, we're meant to look at these two and think, "twin daughters of different mothers, cut from the same cloth, destined to be bosom buddies forever." Fred, on the other hand, is the poster child for the Ugly American, swigging from his hip flask of Liquid Courage and packing a little concealed heat of the type the Brady Bill now discourages. He brandishes his weapon and demands to speak with J. Edgar Hoover when Chakotay checks up on the away team, now being held hostage. They're told that everyone in the room can talk with each other, thanks to the Universal Translators; the Japanese soldier wonders how everyone speaks Japanese, and Amelia wonders why everyone's speaking English (a stupid question; everyone in the universe speaks English, don't they?) This begs the question of what happens when the Federation folks go away; how will this motley crew of 20th century captives talk with each other or with the planet people, whose language has no doubt modified in the 400+ years since their capture?
Fred is soon liquored up, giving Janeway a chance to talk some sense into Amelia, telling her things about history's take on her mission that she believed was top secret--that her trip was bankrolled by the U.S. government to spy on the Japanese. Janeway described her starship and the advances women have made as a result of trailblazers like Earhart. It could have come across as mere flattery, but I thought it was a powerful moment, and Earhart is finally persuaded to at least give Janeway a chance to prove what she's saying. Janeway and Kim and Earhart and Fred and the guy with the well-traveled Ford head to the surface to check out the starship after Amelia grabs Fred's gun and reminds him who wears the pants on this mission. (Anyone get the idea that this was not an episode for men?)
Meanwhile, Chakotay and Tuvok plan the rescue of the away team. They break out the phaser rifles and head outside, but are pinned down by some funky humanoids in sensor-flummoxing outfits of which Darth Vader's tailor would have approved. A firefight ensues, and it soon seems obvious that sharpshooting wasn't taught in Starfleet academy or in the aliens' equivalent. When Janeway and company reach the surface, they are also attacked, and Fred gets shot in the chest. Janeway then commands Chakotay to lay down phaser fire, and she flanks the baddies, sets her Spank Ray on stun, and soon has the enemy all nicely wrapped up.
But they're not aliens...they're humans, with names like Evansville and Kara Berlin. They are descendants of "the 37s," people taken from earth in the 1930s by a people called the Bundegi (I forget the real name, but we never meet any, so it probably doesn't matter) and bred for slavery. [Actual name: "Briori." Bundegi is a Korean snack item similar to Ferengi grubworms, only deader.] (Why someone would travel 70,000 lightyears each way for 300 humans from the 1930s--and their vehicles--is beyond me. But then again, we were in the midst of a worldwide depression--perhaps they needed the work.) Evansville explains that the Bundegi were jerks, and that they eventually revolted and destroyed their taskmasters, who never returned. Fifteen or so generations after first arriving, they now have three cities and 110,000 people, and they live in relative peace.
But they're also furious. Here come these Federation types to disturb the shrines and steal the last remaining "37s", a place and a people so revered that none have ventured into the chamber in generations. Janeway tells him that the 37s were not dead, just frozen, and they are now thawed out and doing quite nicely now, thank you very much. Evansville is skeptical, but when he shakes hands with a warm and friendly Amelia Earhart, his anger turns to joy.
Let us not forget poor Fred, drunk off his hiney and suffering from a gaping chest wound one of his descendents gave him (did the Menendez kids tag along?). He's stuck in sickbay with our still-unnamed Holodoc looking at him disapprovingly. There's a hole in the man's heart, and the alcohol level in his blood isn't helping matters. While Fred gives his deathbed confession of love to Amelia, doctor patches Fred up good as new...if good is the operative word. Doc tsk-tsks Fred one final time and boots Fred and his newfound love Amelia out of sickbay.
Amelia asks how fast Voyager can go; Tom Paris says "Warp 9.9, which works out to about four billion miles per second"--making warp 9.9 about 21505 times faster than the speed of light. Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but there are two problems, one minor and one significant. The first is, in the pilot episode "Caretaker," we were told that Voyager was capable of a top speed of Warp 9.975, which would make the ship even faster than that. I can accept that Paris was simply rounding down.
What bothers me is that, if you do the math, Voyager is 70,000 lightyears away from home. If light travels one lightyear in a year at the speed of light, then at warp 9.9, they'll travel 21,505 lightyears in the same amount of time. That works out to three years, not seventy. And that's not even traveling at maximum warp.
I'm simply speculating here, and I'm sure I'm missing something--like the ship can't travel that fast all the time or it'd blow up or something, or that Paris was exaggerating, the little puke. But at least theoretically, at 4 billion miles per second they could be home in less time than the original Enterprise five year mission took, and Kes would only be in her middle age. By giving a concrete number, they're begging the people with too much time on their hands to Do The Math, and that's dangerous. Maybe most people don't care, but somebody's got to.
Okay, rant over, back to the story.
On second thought, on to the next rant.
There was way too much stuff going on in this episode. First, we have the discovery of human life where it ought not be, and the hope of getting home through similar means. Then we have the Stardate of the Woman celebration, not bad in itself but a little too transparent even for Trek. Then we have the "Starfleet is so stupid" plot, where a drunken human from the 1930s hold three highly-trained Starfleet officers (and one Ocampa youngster) at bay with a hand pistol while five others pretty much just mill around and look multicultural, then later three of their descendants pin down an entire Starfleet security force armed with phaser rifles. Each time, it takes Captain Janeway to save the day, with her quick wit and steady aim. Then there's the religious and Prime Directive issues, where Janeway adopts a Kirkian approach to muddling in the affairs of alien and underdeveloped civilizations, by thawing out their shrines and introducing themselves to a form of ancestor worship nobody was quite prepared for. And then...
Well, let's continue. Let's just say this could have been a two-parter and still been too short.
The humans descended from the 37s are proud of their little civilization, and with just cause. They show the Voyager crew around, and suddenly it's decision time. Janeway and Chakotay discuss the situation. The people of this planet are kin, and not rubes; they have a civilization worth staying in, and Janeway knows it. And so do many of the crew. The prospect of 70 years of travel doesn't thrill most of them, and it would be easy to settle here and help thoroughly establish a permanent human presence in the Delta quadrant. Chakotay, though, can't stop thinking of Home, and home is where the heart says it is. He wants to see an Arizona sunrise and swim in Baja California waters again. (And this episode glosses over one significant point: there are a lot of humans on Voyager, but there are also Bajorans, Vulcans, half-Klingons, maybe a few more Cardassian spies, and at least one Bolian (the blue guy from Learning Curve), as well as a substantial number of Maquis for whom the Alpha Quadrant wasn't exactly pleasant. If living in peace is the idea, this planet has a lot to offer, but having a Human settlement probably doesn't exactly thrill most of the non-humans. In short, only one group of people on Voyager would see this planet as a home away from home.
Nevertheless, it is considered tempting by many, and Janeway decides to let everyone make up their own mind. We learn that there are 152 people currently serving on the ship, and that it can't operate with fewer than 100. We'll have to count bodies; I believe we've lost two so far, Seska (Cardassian spy now with the Kazon) and Durst (killed so his face could grace the Phage people (Vidians?) in "Faces"). If they lose personnel like Kirk did, they'll soon have to draft cabin boys from unsuspecting planets in order to finish the journey.
All of the "37s" decide to stay behind; they feel a connection to the people, Earhart explains to Janeway in a bonding moment near episode's end. Meanwhile, the crew discusses their options. Harry Kim considers it seriously. B'Elanna Torres thinks about it, but seems more at home on Voyager. Neelix, without reservation, is staying with his captain, Janeway. Some are leaning heavily towards staying. Everyone at least thinks about it.
As Janeway and Chakotay head toward the cargo bay where those who choose to stay behind are to meet, they discuss who they expect to stay on the planet. Some, they think, will stay for the adventure. Others, they surmise, will stay because they didn't really like serving on the ship anyway. But of course they don't want to lose anyone. You pretty much know what's going to happen, the way they build it up, but it's still a warm and fuzzy moment when they open the cargo bay doors and find it empty. Whether it's Janeway's leadership or the fact that it's the only ride home, they all opt to stay with the ship.
Janeway returns to the bridge, looks around, and gives the order to lift off, and as Amelia Earhart
and Mr. Evansville look on, the starship Voyager flies off into the sunset.
Despite my objections, I liked this episode. It was action packed, it had doses of humor and the irony of seeing how the people of the 24th century (2391, to be exact) look back on the 1930s, and what they deemed worth remembering. (From the Next Generation, Riker had a fondness for jazz and Picard loved Dixon Hill, both early-20th-century constructs. Sherlock Holmes films were also big in that period, though the books began earlier.) It wasn't surprising that Paris, the crack pilot, is a car buff. (So, in similar ways, was Sulu.) Janeway was well aware of the accomplishments and mythos surrounding Amelia Earhart, in whose footsteps she seemed to be following. (Janeway also knows horse manure, but I won't read anything into that.)
It was also cool to see them at least consider the possibility that they may never get home, and have stumbled across the Next Best Thing, and what do we do now? This, to me, was the most intriguing part of the whole episode, and I wish it had been longer and we'd heard from more of the major castmembers. I want to know why Paris decided to stay, in particular. For him, the Alpha quadrant doesn't offer much. He's earned Janeway's respect for the time being, but he's still primarily a parolee whose Starfleet commission is strictly for the duration of the trip. He's got loyalty to Janeway, and he is probably never truly happy unless he's piloting a ship, but this planet offers him the opportunity to start completely over.
I'm assuming this is one of the episodes that was scheduled to be shown last season, but was held back to get a jump on the new season. I've heard it from both sides, but going by the Stardate system, the date listed at one point in the episode was 48975.1, which would put it at the tail end of season 1. (Season 2 episodes should have 49xxx as stardates.) It could be a hybrid, I guess, or they could have just made a couple of mistakes and forgot to change the voiceovers. As a season opener it was pretty good, particularly for landing the ship (a first for the Trek universe; usually a starship hits the ground only if it doesn't have a choice in the matter, and it's strictly a one-way trip). Decent effect, though the grounded Voyager looked pretty cheesy if you ask me.
I had a very hard time swallowing the concept of a car being pulled from the freezing vacuum of space and being started shortly thereafter. I was also a little irked by the whole 2001 Monkeys at the Monolith approach they seemed to be taking towards the car, sniffing the horse doodie and kicking the tires when a computer scan should have been able to give them a complete report long before they pulled it aboard.
I've also been a bit fuzzy on the whole warp speed and distance concept dealt with in the Trek universe. In the original series, the Enterprise could travel 70,000 lightyears in a matter of weeks (though we can probably attribute that to writers picking numbers out of a hat, long before rabid Trekkies whipped out the slide rules and TRS-80s to verify the numbers). I've never seen the formulae for the Next Generation-era warp numbers, but they seemed to travel around the galaxy in less time than it takes most of us to navigate rush hour traffic between inner city and the suburbs, turning the NCC-1701D into the galactic equivalent of Rescue 911. 70,000 lightyears sounds like a lot, but 1,000 lightyears in a year seems awfully slow given the distances the Next Generation folks seemed to be racking up.
Like I said, I could be completely up in the night about this, and be basing my numbers on a faulty assumption. If so, fine. But when I heard that Warp 9.9 equals 4 billion miles a second, it's not that hard to do the math and figure out how many lightyears per year that is. And I'd thought that Voyager was designed to be able to cruise at sustained speeds of Warp 9.975, which ought to get them home in less than a year if they don't dawdle. But perhaps the ship can't handle that kinda speed (my Hyundai used to top out at over 140mph; now I'm lucky to nurse it to 65) and has to limp home, which makes the trip that much longer.
Sorry. I'll leave that alone for now.
Next is the idea of the native human population on the planet. For an advanced race, they sure are supersticious. We don't know how advanced they are, but they seem to have the ability to mask their whereabouts, perhaps transport, and I'd assume they have decent medical stuff. But they still have a closed eye to the source of their past. I'm surprised they didn't tear apart the other stasis chambers and figure out how they worked, as they had the other alien technology. And that they seemed to selective about the technology they took from their oppressors, particularly the spaceflight stuff. Why wouldn't they have been desirous to go home? They know who they are and who their ancestors were. How long ago did they chase away their oppressors? Are their others like that, and will we run into them again? If so, why didn't they come back and slap the humans back into submission?
Then there's my personal prejudice against Police Academy actors. Fred will always be Tackleberry, the gun-happy rookie pal of Steve Guttenberg. When he whipped out the pistol, I laughed. And his line delivery had definite Tackleberry elements.
This was definitely a Janeway episode. Kate Mulgrew had a variety of roles to play: negotiator, warrior, strategist, moral leader, adoring fan holding herself back from asking for an autograph, soulmate to a kindred spirit from four centuries before her birth. Mulgrew handled the tasks capably, and often movingly. There was a good Chakotay moment when he expressed his passion for returning home. Paris had less enthusiasm during the Ford Truck scene than I'd have liked, but he still seemed to be enjoying himself. Kim was underutilized, but Torres, in her one big scene, hit a grand slam. Neelix was about average; I've never really warmed up to him, though I've tried to and I'm still hoping it will happen eventually. Sharon Lawrence as Earhart was moving, and she and Mulgrew developed good chemistry. The guy who played Evansville was a bit too earnest for the part, but not too bad. Most of the "37s" were little more than backdrop, saying little or nothing. The Japanese soldier and the black farmer weren't bad, though I expected to see a lot of animosity between the soldier and the Americans, considering the state of the world when they were taken.
In short: Brought up a lot of questions it doesn't answer well, but the episode moved quickly and there were good character moments. The landing of Voyager was very cool, and as a season opener it got my blood pumping.
On a 0 to 10 scale, I'd give this a 7.50. This will be the benchmark for the season.