The following is a SPOILER Review for "Caretaker." 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.
In Part II, Voyager makes new friends and enemies, kicks butt and gets its butt kicked, and blows up its quickest chance to get home.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Captain's log, supplemental. We've discovered a debris field near the array, with one intact ship and a humanoid life form aboard. We and the Maquis ship are changing course to investigate.
Janeway strides onto the bridge from her ready room. Paris is in the pilot's chair. "Hail them," she says.
They get something on visual, but they have no idea what it is. It looks like a big pile of junk, covered with netting of some sort.. Janeway isn't sure what to think, until the debris starts falling away with a clatter, and the shadows behind the junk is more visible...ultimately to reveal a character not terribly unlike a Tellarite in appearance, but with subtle differences.
He has eyebrows like former Speaker of the House, Jim Wright--twin dishwater-blonde monstrosities of Troll(R) hair glommed above his eyes. The eyebrows are matched by a receding slicked-back Mohawk hairdo. Mangy tufts of sideburns shoot out from either cheek. His bulbous nose has a slit down the crown, providing an obscenely Joe Camel effect. What on a human would resemble jaundiced liverspots cover the bald parts on his skull and what is visible on his neck. His clothing looks rough-hewn and designed more for utility than for fashion. He looks like a scavenger--and not a wildly successful one at that.
In short, the first non-holographic alien they've encountered in the Delta Quadrant is not much to look at.
He's also a little ill-tempered. He grabs the camera with both hands, presses his Kennedy-like schnoz to the lens and makes his meanest face. "Whoever you are, I found this waste zone first!" he yaps like the junkyard dog he so closely resembles. Not very intimidating, but you gotta admire his spunk.
Janeway tries to hide her disgust with the creature. "We're not interested in this...debris," she says, waving a dismissive hand, "Mister..." she adds, prompting him to introduce himself.
The ill-attired warthog is surprised. "Neelix," he answers. "And since you're not interested in my...debris, I'm delighted to know you." He gives what he thinks is an ingratiating, toothy smile.
"Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager," Janeway introduces herself with expansive formality.
"An impressive title," Neelix says. "I have no idea what it means, but it sounds very impressive." Janeway smiles at the jovial rodent.
Janeway asks if he knows the area well. "I am famous for knowing it well," Neelix confides in a voice heavy with nasality. Paris shares a look with Tuvok. Perhaps their fortunes are improving.
Janeway asks him about the array that's pumping energy bursts at the fifth planet of the solar system. "I know enough to stay far away from it," Neelix says. He pauses, then asks if they were "whisked away from another part of the galaxy and brought here against your will." Janeway's eyes widen. "I take it you've heard this story before." Oh yes, says Neelix, thousands of times. Well, hundreds of times. Okay, maybe fifty. Would you believe--
Janeway's mouth twitches in a mix of amusement and irritation. Neelix notices and changes direction. "Anyway, the Caretaker has been bringing ships here for months, and--"
"'The Caretaker'?" Janeway asks. Neelix says that's what the Ocampa call him. They live on the fifth planet (the same one that--ah hah....) "Did he kidnap any members of your crew?" Neelix asks. Janeway, fully interested now, admits that he had. Neelix says it's not the first time.
Her voice plaintive now, Janeway says she'd appreciate any help he could provide in leading them to the Ocampa. Neelix feigns disinterest--there's just so much cool stuff he has to sort through already, he just doesn't have the time. Janeway, realizing what he's after, assures him his assistance would not go uncompensated. Neelix repeats that there's likely nothing she could offer him...unless...well, if they had any water to spare...
Janeway, recalling the utter lack of water on the 5th planet of the system, understands immediately that this is a bargaining chip she has in abundance, as long as the replicators are working. She leans into the viewscreen. "If you help us find our missing crewmembers," she says deliberately, "you can have all the water you want."
ka-ching! Neelix sputters at the news, managing finally to eke out "sounds reasonable." Janeway smiles. She tells Tuvok to go to Transporter room 2 and beam "our new friend" aboard. She also orders Neelix's ship tractored into a shuttlebay.
Neelix gives her a curious look. "Beam?" he says, unfamiliar with the term. She explains that they have the technology to transport someone from ship to ship, probably violating the prime directive in the process--but Neelix looks harmless enough...and at 70k lightyears from Starfleet, who's going to rat on her? She asks Neelix if it's okay to beam him over, and he holds up his hands as if they're going to lower a rope ladder for him. You gotta admire his willingness to try something so revolutionary, even considering Janeway's assurances that it's perfectly safe. Janeway chuckles softly at their first contact with the mere mortals of the Delta Quadrant.
Tuvok enters the transporter room and orders Energize. Within seconds, Neelix is aboard, with his hands in the "I am a Tree" position. When the tingling stops, he starts checking to make sure all his body parts are still where he left them. He seems satisfied. More than satisfied. "Astonishing!" he yells. "You Federations are obviously an advanced culture."
"The Federation is made up of many cultures," Tuvok says. "I am Vulcan."
"Neelix!" Neelix introduces himself, and wraps Tuvok up in a bear hug. "Good to meet you!" he shouts. The Vulcan does not return the gesture. No surprise there.
Neelix runs around the room, amazed at the pretty, shiny, blinking stuff he sees all around him. His curiosity knows no bounds. He asks what it all does. Tuvok says it would take too long to explain it all just now, that they should be getting to the man's quarters. Perhaps, he adds behind Neelix's back, a bath.
"A what?" Neelix asks. I think this says it all.
Tuvok seems less than thrilled with Neelix. Bad first impression, I guess. He dresses loud, talks loud, thinks aloud, and seems to exude a stench that could fell a mugatu from fifty meters. Oscar and Felix were a better match.
You just know they'll be fast friends eventually.
In a white, low-ceilinged, sterile-looking room, Harry Kim is awake and sitting up on his bed. The other bed in the room holds a sleeping B'Elanna Torres, the kidnapped half-Klingon Maquis. He is lost in thought. At the sound of another energy burst from the Caretaker reaching the planet (or so I assume), Torres wakes up and is immediately on guard. Harry puts out a restraining hand and says it's okay. She seems less Postal than the last time she awoke and had to be sedated, but still has the caged animal look to her.
Torres asks who he is. "The name is Kim...Harry Kim," he says. "I'm an Ensign aboard the starship Voyager. I was kidnapped from the Array just like you were."
B'Elanna demands to know what Starfleet was doing at the Array. "Looking for you, actually." You were trying to capture us! B'Elanna spits. "Oh, yeah, consider yourself captured," Kim snorts. "I must have left my phaser in my other suit, though." Torres tells him she's not amused and starts pacing the room. She pounds at the door with her fists. Harry yells at her, asks if she wants to be sedated again. After a few more grunts of rage, Torres clenches her fists.
"You're right, Starfleet. It's my Klingon side; it's hard to control it sometimes." She sits back on her bunk, frustrated with herself and her situation.
Harry approaches her cautiously and kindly. "What's your name, Maquis?" he asks. "B'elanna," she says. "B'Elanna Torres." Now properly introduced, the two, shaken in the Stir, wallow in their individual misery.
They don't have much time. The door slides open to reveal one of the white-hooded medical types. He has some clothing in one hand and two pair of sensible shoes in the other. He seems nice enough, but we've seen how quickly they can reach for the Dreamland Doses if they don't like your attitude.
Torres whirls on the grey-haired gentleman demanding to know why they're being held. Harry restrains her, but she's holding herself back well enough. The old guy says they're not prisoners, but rather honored guests. They are merely concerned about the young aliens' medical condition. He says the Caretaker sent them to this place, and as long as they're not violent they're free to move around as they please.
Harry demands to know what the disfiguring marks on his hand and chest are. The man says they don't know, and he sounds sincere. He asks if they'd like to grab a bite to eat.
As they walk through the pristine white-latticed high-ceilinged corridors (kinda like a modern mega-mall) Harry is the first to notice. "We're underground!" The man says they've been living underground for over 500 generations; they lived on the surface until The Warming began, and the surface became a desert. The Caretaker opened up the way for them to escape down into the subterranean caverns of their world, and has provided generously for their needs ever since. Harry notices that the view is breathtaking--it may be undeground, but it does not suffer for want of light, or vegetation, or peace or prosperity.
Harry and B'Elanna notice a crowd has gathered around them. The Ocampa are dresed plainly. Flowing robes and gowns mostly. Many wear thick neck stockings, and some cover their mouths with them. Their guide asks Kim and Torres to forgive them for gawking; they've never seen the Caretaker, and when He sends people to them, it's a cause for curiosity. (There also appears to be apprehension and other emotions on the faces of some in the crowd.) he leads them onward. Some eyes follow their departure, their intent unknown. One, a young female with a shock of red hair, catches my interest.
He takes them to the food processors. Two bowls of something dark and gooey emerge, which he hands to Kim and Torres. "Does the Caretaker provide your meals as well?" Torres asks. Yes, he says; the Caretaker designed and built this city for us after the Warming began. The food processors provide nutritional supplements every 4.1 intervals. "It's not the more exotic stuff the young folks crave these days, but it keeps you healthy," He assures them.
They enter a large room with chairs and some huge-screen monitors, which show what could be the surface of the planet. But I wonder, since the SkyCam shows clouds, and lots of them--which should not be possible on a planet with absolutely no water. Harry asks if this is some sort of communications array with the Caretaker. The guide says that the Caretaker doesn't speak directly to them; they simply try to interpret his actions.
They take some seats, and Harry and B'Elanna learn the bad news. They aren't the first to come here, nor are they the first to have the skin breaks. The guide tells them he believes they were brought here for the protection of their crews, to prevent the spread of "the disease." He admits that of all those brought here so far...none have survived.
* * *
The Maquis ship, flying below the immensely larger Voyager, approaches the fifth planet, flying so as to avoid the incoming energy pulses. The planet's surface looks uniformly brown, barren, and dead.
Tuvok strides through Voyager's corridors, stopping at a doorway. He hits the controls, and is confronted by a blast of humid air and funk, and the strains of off-key singing. He steels himself before entering. In the front room, Tuvok notes with disgust the Waterglass Waterfall of several Big Gulp-sized glasses, and the nearby pile of mostly-eaten food. It's a good guess he won't be asking Janeway to make them roommates from the look on his face. Clothing is strewn everywhere, and a cloud of steam comes from the back room. He walks haltingly towards that doorway, passing nearly a dozen other empty and near-empty waterglasses on the way there. (Could Neelix have been a roadie for a heavy metal band? He trashed the room pretty good....)
Of all the people on Voyager to see naked, Neelix would not have been my first choice. Neither would it have been Tuvok's. But Neelix made that decision moot. Reclining in a big-tubbed bubble bath (in the first bathroom on a starship I've seen, as far as I can recall) Neelix is awash in luxury, and loving every minute of it. He's as hideous looking below the neck as he is above the neck. He's...lumpy. Those splotches seem to go all the way down. He's got what look like the remnants of old injuries. And despite the bath, he still looks dirty. Tuvok turns his head immediately, as much for his own comfort as for Neelix's privacy.
For his part, Neelix is loving his new surroundings. He can't say enough about the food replicators, or the freely-available water. "All we had available for hygeine was a good sand scrub," he says, tossing another cold glass of water in his face, not minding that only a fraction of it actually reaches his mouth.
Tuvok reminds him that they need his assistance, and they have now reached the fifth planet. Neelix asks him for a towel, and Tuvok does his best to keep his lunch down in the process as Neelix steps into it. Neelix mentions a range of extinct volcanoes that might be a good place to begin the search. Tuvok asks if their people will be there. "Not impossible...maybe...perhaps not. But we will find them," Neelix assures him. He suggests they bring vats of water for barter and Tuvok nods.
Neelix finally asks if the replicators can whip up clothing as well, and Tuvok says Yes. "Can they make me a uniform like yours?" he asks hopefully. "It most certainly will not," says Tuvok. (Who knew then that this would become one of Neelix's fondest desires?) He frowns now, but lets the denial pass for now.
The Ocampan world's surface looks a little like Neelix's bare shoulders. Both are in dire need of moisturizers of some sort. The camera pans up from a closeup of the ground to a view of the distant mountains, and the sky (which has clouds--I'll have to write my congressman about this little gaffe.) Five flashes of light appear, and resolve into five figures--three Starfeet, one Maquis, and one leisure-suited Neelix. Janeway's hands are on her hips (soon to be a standard Janeway gesture).
As the away team surveys its surroundings, they discover a nearby settlement, and note that their arrival has caused a bit of a commotion. It's not a clean, orderly place like the Ocampa settlement we've seen. It's dirty, squalid, and none too inviting. Paris wonders why anyone would want to live here; Neelix says there's some good ore deposits here for mining. Janeway asks if the Ocampa do much trading; Neelix corrects her. "These are the Kazon-Ogla."
Janeway whirls on him and demands to know who they are; she doesn't like surprises. Neelix explains: "the Kazon are the dominant force in this area, split into sects on various worlds. Some have ore, some have food, some have water. They trade--and they kill--for what they need." We get our first look at the Kazon--they look like a Reggae band that's fallen on hard times. All sizes, shapes and colors, but with similar clothing and hair. Their hair is quite distinctive--way too much hairspray, to the point of large boulder-like protrusions, gunk-bergs if you will, floating around in their coifs. They also don't look very friendly.
"I thought you said the Ocampa had our people!" Janeway hisses, but they've reached the first of the Kazon-Ogla settlers. Neelix waves his arms cheerfully and greets them as friends.
They pull Neelix off his feet and carry him on their shoulders. But it doesn't look like a hero's welcome. The Kazon also grab everything that looks like a weapon from the Starfleet types and herds them further into the camp. Janeway doesn't look at all pleased.
Neelix, being carried towards a building, continues to speak as if he's expecting this welcome. "I'd like to speak to your Maje, Jabin!" he chirps. They throw him against the wall of the building and train their weapons on him. "Destroy him!" we hear from one of the nameless, faceless, offscreen extras. Neelix tries not to look too scared.
On a catwalk, we see a large and imposing man, with more gunkbergs in his hair than the rest. He must be the Maje. Neelix throws a hand out towards Jabin, imploring him. Jabin looks impassively, allowing the firing squad to do its will, until Neelix says the magic word.
"Water!" It seems Neelix "borrowed" some a while back. He promises to replace it all...and more. Jabin calls a halt to the execution. Neelix spills a bit too much info: these people, he says indicating Janeway and company, have technology that can create water. Jabin moves toward his new captives, and Paris produces a canister of water. Jabin uncorks it, smells it, tastes it. Satisfied, he asks if they have more. Janeway taps her combadge and says Engergize.
Two large containers of water, each as large as a dorm rooom, materialize a few meters from the campsite. The natives get restless, awed by this show of wizardry.
"We need your help," Janeway says. "We're trying to find the Ocampa." Speaking of which, an Ocampa appears behind Neelix in the nearby doorway. It's a young girl, appearing to be in her late teens. Thin as a whip, dressed in rags, her elfish ears and close-cropped blonde hair do nothing to conceal her split lip and blackened eyes. She looks awfully sad. She has not been well treated.
Maje Jabin looks at Janeway with contempt. "you can make water out of thin air and you need our help? The Ocampa are worthless. They live nine years, they make lousy servants...look at her." He says they caught her when she wandered to the surface.
Janeway's ears perk up. "The surface?" she asks. Jabin explains that the Caretaker, the same creature who provides energy and food to the Ocampa, also gave them sole access to the only water on the planet, two miles below the surface. Janeway says the entity (caretaker) abducted two of their crewmen and they're trying to get them back.
Janeway tries to steer the discussion into more productive directions, but the big-haired lug is clearly in charge of the conversation. Neelix interjects, asking if they could question the Ocampa girl about how to reach the underground settlement. Jabin says it's a waste of time; "I've tried every means I know to persuade her to talk, and she's refused." Neelix suggests Jabin might be willing to trade the scrawny little girl for some more water.
Jabin, despite the humble surroundings, is clearly not an idiot. He knows that water, despite its value to his people, is nothing compared to the means of making it. He wants that technology. Janeway doesn't mention the Prime Directive (that bad habit comes later); she just says it's integrated into her ship's systems (thus raising the stakes to the limit: "you want the technology? You'd have to take the whole ship." She might as well have double-dog dared him to declare war right then and there.) He knows what's valuable, and he's not above using force to get it. In fact, he seems the type to prefer it.
So, apparently, is Neelix. He pulls a weapon and puts it to Jabin's throat. Within seconds, the tide has turned; he gets Jabin to call off his troops, pulls the young Ocampa to him, and tells Janeway she'd be well advised to get them the heck out of there. Janeway wastes no time, though she's seething--at Jabin, at Neelix, at herself for a truly pathetic First Contact experience. She and Chakotay (whose tattoo must have been applied shortly before this--it's a vivid shade of black) and the rest of the away team grab back their weapons.
Jabin, despite the humble surroundings, is clearly not an idiot. He knows that water, despite its value to his people, is nothing compared to the means of making it. He wants that technology. Janeway doesn't mention the Prime Directive (that bad habit comes later); she just says it's integrated into her ship's systems (thus raising the stakes to the limit: "you want the technology? You'd have to take the whole ship." She might as well have double-dog dared him to declare war right then and there.) He knows what's valuable, and he's not above using force to get it. In fact, he seems the type to prefer it.
Neelix warns the Kazon off with his weapon and fires on the water canisters. The people immediately do what they can to save this precious fluid, grabbing whatever they can to hold the water before it seeps into the parched ground. They are far too concerned with their own survival to pay heed to the away team, which beams to safety--with the Ocampa.
When they arrive back on board, Janeway steps off the platform, eager to put this whole sordid affair behind her and look for a good way to get below the surface to the Ocampa settlement. She's too angry to give Neelix much heed...until she hears him cooing to the Ocampa girl. "My dearest--didn't I promise I'd save you?"
She and her ship and technology had been put in danger for a rescue mission. Normally, they don't mind--but they like to know up front that's the idea. Heck, the Kazon are not all that technologically advanced--it wouldn't have been much trouble, had Neelix been straight with them, to search the encampment from orbit, find the non-Kazon lifesign, and beam it aboard.
Neelix loses several hundred good-faith points with this stunt. He can't be blamed for his affection or devotion, but he screwed up big time for not telling them what they were in for.
in the Ocampa settlement, which from an aerial view is quite huge, we see Torres and Kim hanging out in a darkened corridor, feeling none too sociable. Torres is without much hope, despite Kim's assurances that Janeway will look for them and not give up so easily. She scoffs, but his faith in his captain and the Starfleet ethic is undaunted. She feels a twinge of pain in her neck; Harry asks if she's okay, but B'Elanna is too proud to accept either pity or assistance.
A young Ocampa approaches them. "Are you in pain?" she repeats. Torres, again leaping to an attack position, demands to know if they're still being followed, and really are prisoners after all. The Ocampa girl says she's not, but she did bring something that might help. She hands Torres a vial containing a mossy substance.
We learn from this young woman that there is not a monolithic Ocampa groupthink; there is a breakoff colony of folks who aren't so enamored of the Caretaker, who want to be a little more self-sufficient. They grow their own food, and have discovered some medical properties in some of the plants. She seems kind, and is willing to answer questions their recent guide did not. The breakaways don't like what's been happening lately to the Caretaker--he's been acting strangely, sending them far more power than they need (they have enough to last another five years, at least), abducting people and sending them to the Ocampa, and so on. The Elders of the people are too enamored of the Caretaker to question His motives, she says. But they feel the time may be coming to start making it on their own.
The girl also mentions that some of them have found routes to the surface, through the old tunnels that brought them here, 500 generations before. They're not safe, and there are plenty of natural and technological barriers in the way, but some have made it. Harry and B'Elanna, naturally, want to try that means of escape. The girl is not inclined to help them in this way, at least not yet. "Conserve your strength for now," she urges, and leaves them with a new thought, and a new hope.
Holodoc tends to Kes' wounds while Tuvok, Chakotay and Janeway glare at Neelix. Tuvok tries to explain to Neelix that if he'd been more forthcoming, they could have anticipated his "irrational" behavior. "Hey, we got out of there, didn't we?" Neelix protests. From his perspective, it seemed reasonable--he's used to doing things on his own, and his quadrant of the galaxy does not appear to be the cooperative type. You band together long enough to get what you want, then you make tracks. He had no idea the Federation (or the Maquis) preferred to think in terms of teams and long-term goals.
Kes, her wounds healed, springs up and begs them not to be too hard on Neelix. Doc seconds that. "This is a sickbay, not a conference room. Everyone but the patient will leave immediately." His voice will brook no argument.
Janeway, her arms folded, her eyes blazing white, looks six inches past the Doc. "Computer...end emergency holographic program." Doc looks at her in surprise and shock, too stunned to reply before disappearing. The protoplaser he'd been holding falls to the ground.
Kes apologizes. "I should never have gone to the surface. I'm too curious; I'm told it's my worst failing," she says, as the still pissed-looking Janeway, disgruntled Chakotay, and curiously aroused Paris approach the table where Kes sits. Neelix disagrees, his eyes full of affection. "It's a wonderful quality," he assures her. Janeway's anger drains a tad as the import of Kes' words sink in. She came from the underground; she could take us there. Plus, she seems to be taken with the cute-as-a-bug's-ear Kes.
Janeway asks if Kes would be willing to help them find their missing crew. Kes says Jabin was right; there's no way to get down there. The passage she used has since been sealed. Janeway, smirking, says she has no need of her puny tunnels; they can beam directly into the subterranean caverns. They just need a little directional assistance.
Tuvok reports that their sub-surface scans have not been successful so far, and that the Caretaker's measures may be preventing them from finding the city, or beaming there. Kes, apparently more willing to think creatively for Janeway than for Jabin, says there might be breaches in the security where the tunnels have begun to decay. That's enough for Janeway, who instructs Tuvok to have the transporter teams scan for any breaches as a first step.
Neelix tells Janeway that Kes will do what she can to help them find a way underground. But now that she's safely with him again they'll be leaving the system together. They won't be going with the mighty Voyager or the proud Maquis ship. Kes, though, tells Neelix they aren't going anywhere. "They rescued me; we owe it to them to help them."
Neelix protests; "I rescued you!"
"With their help," she says slowly, letting the words sink in. "It would be wrong not to help." Janeway takes note. So does Tom Paris. This may be a very young, waif-like creature, but she's no dummy--and she's got plenty of brass. Neelix's concern for her gives way to his eagerness to please her, and he grudgingly nods.
We get another view of the Ocampan underworld. It's an impressively large world; the Caretaker didn't skimp.
Kes leads Janeway and the away team to a small Ocampa settlement, no doubt one of the breakaway colonies. One of the men, a gardener, rushes to embrace Kes, as Neelix seethes a bit in the background. There seems to be a bit of affection between these two, but whether it's platonic or something more, we can only guess by the way they hold hands and their eyes lock. They don't kiss, though. His name is Daggin, or some such.
After the welcomes, Daggin asks how Kes made it back. She points to her associates and says they rescued her from the Kazon. (Question--if those who make it to the surface never return, and those below the surface don't have much contact with the surface except through the Caretaker--how do they know about the Kazon?)
Daggin smiles at that news; friendly aliens must be a rare commodity here. She says they're here to rescue two of their crewmen who were sent here by the Caretaker and asks if anyone knows where they're being kept. Daggin says the Central Clinic. Janeway asks if they can take her people there.
a voice in a wind tunnel says No. Two new figures appear from a cave--one sporting a fu-manchu outfit and, the other a bald dude wearing one of those ski mask thingies. Kes chews them out; "they can't speak telepathically; talk aloud," she chides.
The two newcomers, whose bearing suggests they are Ocampan priests or Elders, switch to voice. "We didn't mean to be rude." But they repeat that they can't go. A brief philosophical disagreement ensues, in which the Elder (Tosca?) complains of Kes' heretical views and actions--going to the surface in defiance of the Caretaker's wishes; arguing forcefully that the Ocampa have become sheep, domesticated and dependent, by the Caretaker's constant attention; pale shadows of their ancestors who had full use of their mental faculties, of which telepathy is but a tiny example. Tosca says she's speaking of apocryphal legends, nothing more; their mental abilities are fine, and those of their ancestors are greatly exaggerated. It's clear they've had this argument before.
Surprisingly, Kes gets the upper hand, at least in terms of results. Tosca's urging to realign himself with the Path are ignored; Kes says boldly that she has seen the sun, basked in it, and considers the Caretaker's largesse to not be worth the cost of that denial. (Hey, cool; we're not even past the pilot, and we're already getting the Allegory of the Cave. Culturally, this bodes well. It's not quite the soliloquy that gave us "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky," but it's impressive for a first effort.) We see more of Kes' steel; the battered little girl Jabin called worthless, is apparently far more than he had the capacity to appreciate. She has curiosity, courage, morals, and the faith of her convictions. I half expect Janeway's ready to adopt her by now.
Tosca tries one last time, but Kes basically blows him off. "I'm going," she says; "who's with me?" Not a few volunteer. The kid's got spunk....and Janeway feels assured she's in good hands.
* * *
Armed with flashlights and some digging tools, Kim and Torres hike up to one of the silo-like caverns to the surface. It's a daunting prospect--two miles, straight up. And remember, these two are infected with something, and the ladders ain't exactly in top repair. Torres inhales sharply, then says, "let's go."
They scale the steps a while, both clearly struggling. Kim finally sits on a step and says, "no mas." Torres tries to shame him back to his feet, but no go; finally, she takes a break herself, clearly relieved despite hear eagerness for freedom.
"Perhaps I'd be doing better if I had Klingon blood in me," Harry offers with a half-smile. Torres tells him it's more trouble than it's worth.
Harry laughs bitterly. "You know, I spent my whole life preparing for Starfleet. And on my first mission, I'm going to die." Despair is creeping into his voice.
"We're not finished yet," Torres says. "I learned a few things Old Sneezy never taught in his survival course."
"Sneezy?" Kim asks, curious.
"Commander Zakarian," she explains. "I think he was allergic to everything." Harry is surprised; "you went to the Academy?" She says she actually made it to her second year before...a mutual decision was made that she should leave. Harry thinks for a second, then says, "I never liked Commander Zakarian."
The sounds of energy arriving from the Caretaker are increasing rapidly now. Torres shushes Kim a moment, and notes the fact. They get moving again.
Janeway and the away team, riding an escalator in downtown Ocampa, also notice the speedup. Then they notice its cessation. She hails the ship and asks what's happened. A crewman (Rollins?) says that the Caretaker has stopped sending energy bursts, and is realigning for something. Janeway says to keep her informed.
They reach the mezzanine level of the clinic, and note that the Ocampa are in a state of frenetic activity. They rely heavily on the Caretaker, so this new development is significant, and worrisome. Kes and Daggin approach them, saying the doctors haven't seen Kim or Torres for hours. Janeway asks where they might have gone. Kes says if they want to escape to the surface, the same route she took--one of the tunnels--is logical. Janeway sends Paris with Kes to check out the tunnels; she wants to talk with the doctors to find out what she can.
The ground shakes; she hails the ship and is told that the Array is firing on the surface, apparently in an attempt to seal off the energy conduits.
As they walk, Tuvok says he believes he has enough data for a hypothesis. He believes the Caretaker is dying. He points out that the Array has given them enough energy for five years, then sealed the conduits to prevent the Kazon from accessing the undeground through them. Tuvok further notes that the Caretaker has been caring for these people for over a thousand years, kept referring to "the debt that can never be repaid" and referred specifically and repeatedly to running out of time. It's a logical assumption.
It's also a disconcerting one. "If he dies, how the hell are we supposed to get home?" Janeway wonders aloud.
Paris, Neelix and Kes reach one of the tunnels. Paris checks his tricorder. "They're in this one," he says. They start climbing, and he hails Janeway with the news. She tells him to call for transport when they find the missing crew. She then hails the ship and orders and immediate beamout of herself, Tuvok and Chakotay. Rollins says they can't;the Array's weapons fire has irradiated the surface, and they can no longer find the security breaches to punch through. Janeway cuts the channel and says they have only one choice: follow Paris into the tunnels and reach the surface the old-fashioned way.
The weapons barrage continues, destabilizing the tunnels even further. Paris and Kes and Neelix continue to climb. Janeway hails paris and tells him they'll need to find and get past a security breach in order to be transported out, and that they're right behind him. Paris acknowledges and keeps climbing. Soon they're close enough to spot Kim and Torres, who don't look well at all. They rush to help them, struggling to stay on their feet.
Paris reaches Kim. "Took you long enough," Kim says, his words slurred. "How could I let down the only friend I've got?" asks Paris, hauling the Ensign to his feet. "Friend? What makes you think I'm your friend?" Kim asks, but it's an unconvincing protest. Paris just shakes his head and resumes climbing the stairs. He hails Janeway and says they've got the crewmen. Janeway says not to wait for them, but get the patients to safety with all speed. You don't have to tell Paris twice. Kes assures Torres that she knows how to breach the barrier.
Soon they reach the barrier--a golden shower of electroforce. Kes goes through first, telling them, "whatever you do, don't touch it--it'll burn your skin off." Considering the skin lesiions Kim and Torres have, that doesn't sound so bad, but better safe than sorry. They watch Kes, then follow. It's a tight squeeze, and the women of Voyager can thank their lucky stars that the Original Series requirements for bust sizes and torpedo bras were not rigidly adhered to here. Torres is helped through.
Janeway and the rest continue to climb, not far behind now. They manage to keep their footing--more or less--despite the hammering the planet is taking.
Paris searches the tunnels, now past the barrier, and thinks he's found the closest thing to the surface they're likely to get. when Neelix catches up, Paris tells him to pull out his phaser (or the Delta Quadrant equivalent) and "Blow the roof off this joint." Twin beams of energy lance out towards the top of the cave, and immediately debris and dust explode downward. When it settles, Paris steps into the light streaming from the hole they just made.
A hand rises into the light, grasping the cracked and wasted ground. First Paris, then Kes, then Kim, then Torres, then finally Neelix. Paris hails Voyager and asks if they can lock onto them now. Yes, he's told, but they've got only five readings. Paris says the remainder are still below the barrier.
Paris notes with alarm an incoming explosion--not nearby, but big enough not to matter. "Get down!" he yells, as the ground shakes yet again, far harder than before. Below the surface, the ladders begin to collapse. Large chunks of heavy things fall on Janeway, Tuvok and Chakotay.
Paris tries to hail Janeway and the others, but fails. He hails Voyager again and tells them to beam up everyone but him. Neelix, knowing Paris' intentions, asks what the hell he's thinking; Paris says nothing, but his intentions are clear. Neelix, so far not the most trustworthy type, hesitates for a moment, then says, "if a fool needs company..." He tells Kes to take care of those people, and that he'll be back soon, putting on his best brave face. Or perhaps it's the company that's ennobled him. Paris as well seems a lot more heroic than the cocky inmate Janeway sprung from New Zealand. Paris accepts the assistance, grabs Neelix's combadge and hands it to Kes. "Make that three to beam up; lock onto the other comsignal and energize now." Kes holds Kim and Torres' hands, and soon they're gone.
On the stairway to the surface, Chakotay howls in pain. Janeway seems okay, but Tuvok looks dazed. Chakotay tells Janeway his leg is broken; he can't move. Janeway orders him to hold on. He doesn't have long to wait; Paris and Neelix arrive. Janeway tells Neelix to help her with Tuvok; the three limp upward. Paris says he'll get Chakotay.
Chakotay, it seems, is in no mood to be Got. Least of all by Paris. (For those playing the home game, there is no love lost between these two. Paris may have some admiration for Chakotay's principles, but he has reason to resent Chakotay's ill regard for him, deserved or not.) Chakotay tells Paris to back the hell off and get to safety; if he tries to save Chakotay they'll likely both be killed. "Maybe," says Paris, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, "But if I save your butt, your life belongs to me." Must be some Indian thing. "Isn't that some Indian custom?" Paris asks, reading my mind. Chakotay shakes his head. "Wrong tribe." Paris laughs. "I don't believe you." Despite the rocking, rolling, roiling and falling of their surroundings, Paris manages to scale himself downward and reach Chakotay, helping the guy up, seeming to really enjoy the situation despite the danger. Chakotay still seems not to be helping much.
Paris states the obvious. "you'd rather die than let me rescue you," he says, a mixture of wounded pride and amusement. Chakotay doesn't argue, but finally gives in to the reality of the situation. "Fine, be a fool," he says, letting go of the railing and grabbing Paris by the neck. "At least I'll have the pleasure of watching you go with me."
Paris, realizing that goading Chakotay may be the best way to keep him interested in his own survival, struggles up the stairs with the bearish Maquis. "Don't you have some sort of Indian trick where you can turn into a bird or something?" he asks. "You're too heavy," Chakotay says.
Something's too heavy. The stairs, hanging by a mere thread of metal, finally gives way, and the whole section plummets down the tunnel.
* * *
Voyager and the Maquis ship are now ducking weapons fire from the Caretaker (though I imagine the energy pulses would have been just as destructive). All are now safely aboard, including Paris and Chakotay. (apparently that falling piece of ladder didn't include them.) Sickbay is teeming with activity. Holodoc's a busy guy for the moment. Chakotay's leg is patched up, and somehow Torres and Kim are no longer infected by the Caretaker's cooties. Everyone's in their uniform of choice, though Chakotay is now barefoot.
The bridge hails sickbay and reports that two Kazon ships are now closing in on the Array. Janeway orders an intercept course. Chakotay and Torres, still technically too weak to be discharged, leave anyway, irking the Doc to no end. "Is the crew always this difficult?" Doc asks to nobody in particular, though Ensign Kim is the only one apparently listening to him. "I dunno, Doc," Kim says, jumping up and heading for the bridge. "This is my first mission."
The sickbay is now completely empty except for the exasperated Doc, feeling completely unloved, unheeded, and underappreciated. "Doesn't anyone know how to turn me off when they leave?" he asks, plaintively, to nobody in particular. Poor guy.
The bridge is hopping when Janeway, Paris and Kim arrive from the turbolift. Before she is two steps onto the bridge she's calling for battlestations, her eyes blazing with intensity and anticipation. She's got her ship underneath her feet; she can feel the surge of dilithium-generated power at her command. Despite her reduced numbers, she feels the confidence of a captain in the people she commands. "Red alert," she barks, and when the lights dim, the crimson alert claxons only serve to accentuate the redness of her mood.
Her boots are polished. Time to kick some serious Delta Quadrant Hiney. The two Alpha Quadrant ships arrive at the array about the same time as the two Kazon ships. The Kazon hail Voyager; it's Jabin. He asks if they're here to investigate the Array's strange behavior as well. "We're here to get home," Janeway says. "We're about to transport to the Array to see if we can arrange it."
I can't permit that, says Jabin. We have no dispute with you, says Janeway. "I have a dispute with anyone who dares to challenge us," Jabin says melodramatically. In Parentspeak, this means "you can't because I say you can't."
Janeway puts her hands on her hips. Jabin may as well write his last will and testament now.
Listen, you snotnosed little puke, Janeway begins cordially. I don't have any intention of challenging you.
And I have no intention of letting anyone with your technological know-how board the array, says Jabin.
Janeway tries to be reasonable, but you can tell Maje Jabin's a man used to getting his way. Well, so is the good Captain. So when Jabin cuts her off in mid-sentence (she was asking if they could discuss things like civilized *click*), Janeway moons the viewscreen. "You wanna play it that way?" she asks. "Welcome to my playground."
The Kazon ships fire. Their puny weapons are nothing to the mighty Starship. Janeway orders return fire, but she's apparently not mad enough yet to order any serious buttkicking; their shots seem to do little to the gnat-like Kazon vessels. But in comparison, their weapos are a lot brighter than the Kazon's as well; they can keep this up all day, one would guess.
The four ships start dogfighting. Janeway hails the Maquis vessel and asks if they can keep the Kazon busy. Chakotay says of course. Janeway tells him she's going to the Array with Tuvok. To everyone's surprise, she hands the Conn to Paris. Paris swallows, hesitates, then says Yes Ma'am. Everyone heads in the appropriate direction.
Janeway and Tuvok head for the barn on the Array. They're in the right place; they hear the Caretaker's banjo, and their tricorders find the computer core. She tells Tuvok he knows what to do. He nods and they split up.
Janeway heads for the music, and finds the Caretaker, looking wan and tired. He chuckles weakly. "You're nothing if not persistent," he says. She tells him he needs to send them back. He says he can't; he's barely strong enough to complete his work. Janeway mentions his sealing of the conduit. "If I don't, the Kazon will steal the water," the Caretaker says. Then he sighs. "It doesn't matter anyway; in five years, they'll run out of energy and will be forced back to the surface, where they won't be able to survive."
Janeway asks if this was the debt that could never be repaid--somehow turning that planet into a desert. The Caretaker nods, defeated in spirit. "We're explorers from another galaxy. We had no idea that our technology could be so destructive to their atmosphere," he confesses. "Two of us were chosen to stay behind and care for them."
Janeway asks if there's another like him here. "Not anymore; she went off to look for more interesting places," he says.
Janeway asks what the deal is with kidnapping folks and infecting them with fatal diseases. "It wasn't a disease," the Caretaker says, shocked. "I was looking for a compatible bio-molecular structure." Janeway finally gets it; "you were trying to procreate!" she exclaims. He nods; he needed someone to replace him, to carry on his work of caring for the Ocampa.
Janeway grabs a seat and leans toward the Caretaker. "Did you ever consider letting them care for themselves?" The caretaker scoffs; "They're children," he says.
Children have to grow up, Janeway points out. She whips out Shatner Discourse #14, required reading at the Academy, and lectures the Caretaker on something he should already know--explorers got that way by treading through adversity, overcoming challenges, growing stronger by working up to ever-more-complex tasks. Janeway, having seen the Ocampan heretics in action, and knowing of the inconquerable spirit of at least one--Kes--she suggests to the Caretaker that they have a better shot at survival than he's given them credit for. It seems to comfort the old guy.
Kim hails Janeway. "We've got problems here," he says.
Those Kazon wuss-rockets were apparently not the best they had to offer. A huge, pissed off Space Acorn, dwarfing Voyager as it dwarfed the other Kazon vessels, is rocking Voyager with coordinated volleys of electric death. People on Voyager are dying.
"The Kazon got some backup," Kim says in a classic understatement.
Janeway tells him to give her a few minutes.
From the Maquis ship, the pounding Voyager is taking takes on new meaning. The shields are lit up like a christmas ornament under continued kazon barrages, and she is being pushed backwards by the force of the attack. Chakotay reads off Voyager's damage report. Their weapons array is down.
Torres points out that neither ship has enough firepower to take on that behemoth. Chakotay already has a plan for that, but it will require evacuating everyone to Voyager while he flies his pride and joy right down the enemy's gullet with the engines set to go Foom. Torres doesn't like that thought one bit, but she acknowledges without argument.
Chakotay hails Voyager and explains his plan. Paris acknowledges, but says that Chakotay's intended kamikaze mission does not make them even; "your butt is still mine, Tonto." Paris cuts the channel.
"Bite me, kemosabe," Chakotay mutters. If it weren't for the Maquis already migrating to the Federation vessel, he might be half tempted to let it get pounded a whole lot more, just so Paris can suffer.
Voyager continues to get the hell blasted out of it. Paris's first command is rapidly going up in smoke. Torres and the other Maquis soon arrive on the bridge. They watch and scan and feel their hopes drop as both they and Chakotay's ship get pounded again and again. Paris orders Chakotay beamed out.
Chakotay isn't ready yet. Sure, his ship is on fire and he's screaming like an irate Hale Bopp comet irked by the 39 new tenants making their own beds on the Lido deck and making squeaking noises with their Nikes every time they walk. But Chakotay knows what he's doing. Or what he wants to do. We get one of the coolest effects ever shown on Star Trek: a pilot's eye view of incoming fire, multiple explosions, and the rapidly-approaching monstrosity. He yells again and again, "Not yet!" and the Voyager crew can only argue occasionally, hoping against hope that he can get closer before he becomes nothing but a galactic grease stain.
Finally, Chakotay's ship is too close for comfort. "NOW!!!" he shouts above the din of impending annihilation. We see from over his shoulder, what he sees, just before being beamed out.
"You know the last thing to go through a fly's mind when he hits the windshield? His butt!" Fortunately, we don't know what the last thing to go through Chakotay's mind would be when he hits the Kazon mothership. We see him disappear. He's not fully dematerialized when the back of the ship joins the front and things start to explode. I'm sorry folks, but I just can't put it properly into words--suffice to say it's damned impressive. Imagine having a camera at ground zero. It was cool.
We then see the exterior view. The little Maquis vessel that could...did. The Kazon ships don't seem to know the meaning of the word "shields." The ship blows into and right through the bulbous head of the main Kazon ship. it immediately starts to glow, spark, and fly apart. the Ogla will have a lot fewer plates at the table tonight. The ship plummets, blazing, toward the Caretaker's array. Chakotay, meanwhile, is safely aboard.
Tuvok returns with a report; he found what it takes to send them back, but it will take several hours to make it happen. Janeway turns to the Caretaker. "Unless you help us." The Caretaker says that ain't gonna happen; he can't let the Kazon have this installation. So he's set the self-destruct in motion. He tells them to get back to their vessel.
The Kazon mothership smacks into the Array...conveniently disabling the self-destruct.
As Janeway and Tuvok marvel, the barn flashes in and out of existence, to be replaced by the real look of the Array. So does the Caretaker. The old banjoy guy is no longer visible, but his true form--a massive, undulating, multihued Jell-O mold--now is. There are a lot of dark patches in the mold, though; it doesn't look at all healthy.
Janeway hails Paris and asks what happened. Paris notes the destruction of the Kazon ship and its collision with the array. They're still taking weapons fire, but it's the wimpy small ships now--nothing they can't handle on their own.
Janeway listens as the Caretaker, its voice fading, again pleads with them to not let the Kazon have this array. But because the self-destruct has been destroyed, he cannot do it on his own. As he talks, he shrinks, until his voice fades completely, and he has shrunk and solidified to a single lump of inanimate sporocystian quartz.
Janeway hesitates for a second, then picks it up. She wonders aloud what they should do. She doesn't want to turn the station over to the Kazon, which they'd do by default if they left. Tuvok argues that to destroy the array or to assist the Ocampa further would violate the prime directive and alter the balance of power in the sector. Janeway says that they didn't ask to be involved, but they are, and they can't simply walk away now. Her voice is hollow; she undestands the implications of her decision.
Janeway and Tuvok exit the turbolift as Paris' hands fly over the controls under the weapons barrage. Janeway orders Tuvok to dust off the tricobalt bombs and await her instructions. She hails the Kazon and puts Jabin on screen. He warns her that he's called for additional ships. She warns him to haul his annoying Kazon butt away from the Array because she intends to nuke the puppy. He protests that she can't do that.
"Watch me, hair boy." She cuts off transmission.
Torres loses it. She confronts the captain; "you have no right to destroy that thing; we need to get home!" Janeway, her voice soft and even, sharp enough to cut DNA, levels her gaze on Torres. "I'm aware that you have families and loved ones back home; so do I. But we're going to have to find another way home. I'm not going to trade away the lives of the Ocampa for our convenience." Janeway whirls around and marches to her chair. Torres isn't satisfied with the answer, and follows Janeway; "who do you think you are to make this decision for us?" she demands.
Chakotay grabs her by the arm and whirls her around. She repeats the question to Chakotay, demanding to know by what authority Janeway makes such unilateral decisions. "She's the captain," he says. Torres' jaw drops, but she says nothing further.
Still rocked by weapons fire from the Kazon, Janeway holds her ground against, it seems, everyone. Tuvok reports that the tricobalt devices are locked and loaded. Paris reports that they're in position. The camera swoops in on Janeway's face, the orchestra swells, and the word of the day is uttered with the finality of the squad leader at a firing squad.
Three bright blue-and-white orbs sweep towards the Array. I've never heard of these things, but I bet they could take down a planet if need be. By the time the fireworks subside, there's not enough left of the Array to gather for souveniers.
The bridge crew looks on in silence. Their first, easiest, best hope for getting back to the Alpha Quadrant just went up in a blaze of glory, a Viking honor funeral. But they're too stunned to think of what lies ahead.
Kim is the first to talk; his board is flashing. "Incoming message from the lead Kazon vessel," he reports. Janeway, still absorbing the implications of her actions, swallows hard before ordering it put onscreen.
Jabin looks even more ashen than the Federation and Maquis crew. He may not even have believed them capable of disabling the array, much less blowing it straight to hell. "You have made an enemy today," he says simply, and ends the call. Despite his arrogance, he seems to realize that Janeway is not an enemy to be taken lightly. She has the technology, the firepower, and the ruthlessness necessary to make his life a whole lot more complicated.
Tuvok reports that the ships are withdrawing. The Kazon may have declared their enmity, but they're smart enough not to stick around long enough to annoy a woman like Janeway. Janeway, for her part, says nothing.
In her quarters, Janeway stares out the window into the new configuration of stars she has to fly through. A picture of Janeway with Mark and her dog, Molly Malone, sits on her desk. It's a pastoral scene she will likely never repeat. The door chimes, and in comes Paris. "You asked to see me?"
Janeway moves toward her desk and takes a seat. "You have a problem, Mr. Paris," she says without fanfare. This piques his curiosity. "Oh?" he asks. She tells him that she's making the Maquis a part of the crew; considering they sacrificed their ship, she says, it seemed the resonable thing to do.
half-smirking, Paris asks if she'll be assigning him a bodyguard. "You already have one," Janeway says, with an enigmatic smile. Mr. Chakotay, she says, seems to feel that his life is in your hands. He'll be taking responsibility for your safety.
Paris smiles a little too gleefully, folding his arms smugly. "I think I'm going to enjoy this," he says.
"Don't be so sure," Janeway says. "I'm also making Chakotay my first officer. Everyone on board will report to him. Including the Lieutenant assigned to Conn."
Paris looks confused for a few moments until her tone sinks in. He finally ekes out, "me?" Janeway switches on her official voice. "I've entered into the ship's log that on this stardate, I'm awarding a field commission of lieutenant to Thomas Eugene Paris." She stands and extends her hand. "Congratulations."
Paris' mouth works furiously, but nothing comes out. Finally he composes himself. "For the first time in my life I don't know what to say."
She smiles broadly. "You've earned this, Tom." As they walk to the door, she says she only wishes his father were here to hear the good news. "Oh, he'll know," Paris says. "When we get back." He's beaming from ear to ear.
Paris is hardly out the door before Neelix and Kes fly through it. He's eager to speak with her. "We've supplied your ship with water, Neelix, you're ready to go," Janeway says, a mix of graciousness and dismissal in her voice. Neelix thanks her, but has a request: can we stay? Janeway says they aren't a passenger ship; Kes protests that they don't want to be passengers, but colleages.
Janeway seems intrigued by the idea. "Colleagues?" she asks. Neelix picks up the ball. "You're new here. We're natives. It will be our job to provide you with that which you need. You need a guide--I'm a guide. You need to find supplies? I know where to get them, and who to talk to. You need a cook? I can whip up a batch of brownies that will make you change your religion. It's my job to provide you with the answers to the questions you don't even know you have yet, and the first thing you need is...me."
Kes chimes in with, "we want to be a part of your journey, Captain." They both look like eager, dedicated workers, and both have already proved their worth in their short association. Janeway finally smiles and nods, and they break out into a Happy Dance.
The bridge is crowded. All are manning their stations, standing at attention, as Captain Janeway, her hair ratcheted down to its Command Formal bun, announces the purpose of the adventure ahead. I quote verbatim.
"We're alone. In an uncharted part of the galaxy. We've already made some friends here, and some enemies. We have no idea of the dangers we're going to face. But one thing is clear. Both crews are going to have to work together if we're to survive. That's why Commander Chakotay and I have agreed that this should be one crew...a Starfleet crew. And as the only Starfleet vessel assigned to the Delta Quadrant, we'll continue to follow our directive, to seek out new worlds and explore space. But our primary goal is clear. Even at maximum speeds, it would take 75 years to reach the Federation. But I'm not willing to settle for that. There's another entity like the Caretaker out there somewhere who has the ability to get us there a lot faster. We'll be looking for her. And we'll be looking for wormholes, spatial rifts, or new technologies to help us. Somewhere, along this journey, we'll find a way back."
"Mr. Paris? Set a course...for home."
[Originally written way back when, in the first season.] Generally speaking, I hate pilots. Particularly when you're dealing with an ensemble series and you want to "introduce" as many characters as possible the first time out, as well as what to generally expect from the series. This was no different, though there were many good moments. More, if I may be so bold, than the pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation contained. All in all, it shows promise, and fewer rough edges than I feared. And the ship looks like an inverted toilet bowl or Asian soup spoon, depending on my mood.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.00. This is the baseline for the rest of the season.
* * *
Here's the new analysis. I'm writing it toward the end of the third season, so some hindsight will be inevitable.
The acting was a bit forced at times (Paris' exaggerated way of saying "friends," for example) but overall I'd say this is a fine ensemble cast that did surprisingly well its first time out. It also set the expectation bar high for the series. I remember being somewhat disappointed with the TNG premiere, "Encounter at Farpoint," and a little bit happier with the DS9 premiere, "Emissary." But both seemed to have a bit too much Roddenberry Grand Vision to them (like the first ST motion picture and pilot that started it all, "The Cage,"--heavy on the philosophy, heavy on the mysticism, heavy on the triumph of humanity...in a word, heavy. Beautiful, fraught with meaning...but too much art, not enough drama.)
Those other pilots were the sort of thing you could appreciate a few years into the series. Voyager's "Caretaker" has plenty of meat to go with the gilded frame, and considering what it needs to accomplish in its two hours, it does the job with impressive skill. In fact, it may have been too good for its own good; it took a few episodes to approach the quality of the premiere, and they lost some momentum and a great deal of fan mindshare. Check out the Internet and you're likely to find people who still think of Voyager as a waste of videotape.
I'm not one of them. I've watched every episode of every series, and though other series may have had some phenomenal offerings, I've found myself attracted to Voyager from the beginning. Rooting for its success. Looking for reasons to like it, and rarely coming up empty.
Okay. That little editorial aside, let's talk about the review that has kept my in-box full for the last several months, from kind but concerned folks who wonder JUST WHERE THE HELL THE REVIEW FOR CARETAKER IS DANGIT!!!!
Wish...granted. Sorry I dragged my feet. I really have been busy, though.
Anyway. I said I'd review both halves here, so I will. The first half basically got the Maquis and Federation vessels to the Delta Quadrant, introduced them to the Caretaker, and ended with Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres still missing. The stakes are raised--missing crewpeople, and a long way from home. We meet most of the internal protagonists and antagonists; we get a whole lot about Tom Paris' bad reputation, and his not-quite-successful efforts to ignore them. Deep down, Paris wants to be appreciated. He wants to be needed. He wants, in short, to be a hero. But the stars so far haven't been aligning themselves in his favor. He's got a lot to prove. He's also found himself in a position to do so.
He also finds himself without the only friend he's managed to make so far, Harry Kim--the ever-so-green Ensign fresh out of the Academy, falling for Ferengi scams and unable to comprehend an existence that doesn't involve Starfleet and Starfleet personnel being the best, brightest, and most honorable. It's inevitable that they'd become fast friends.
We end the episode with the initial objective of Voyager completed: find the Maquis vessel and recover her security officer, Tuvok. Mission accomplished, captain...but couldn't you have done it a bit closer to home? It took me a few viewings to catch this fact: they accomplished their original mission, despite the circumstances. Now she finds herself faced with the consequence of her success: getting home to make the report.
Chakotay and Torres, the two most visible Maquis, both attended the Academy. We learn that Chakotay is a patriot, who left Starfleet to fight for his homeland. He'd probably still be in Starfleet otherwise, and a dang good officer. He's a natural leader, a gung-ho warrior, and a handsome man, thus making him prime Captain material. Torres, the hot-headed half-Klingon, half-Latina (I don't know which is scarier when her temper flares) also attended the Academy, but left before she graduated. Instant story potential there. There are other Maquis--how many, they never really say--but they'll be introduced later--most likely as cannon fodder. But that's covered in future reviews.
Part II is where the new mission begins, and the denizens of the Delta Quadrant begin to introduce themselves. We never learn Neelix's race here, but we do learn his name, and for now that's good enough. He's sticking around, so we have time. We learn quite a lot about him--he's impetuous, strong-willed, looks out for #1, but can be heroic when the need arises, assuming he acknowledges the need. And he looks butt-ugly naked.
Kes, the tiny tot from a race with a single-digit lifespan, is far more than she initially appears--the Ocampa answer to Cosette from Les Miserables. Dirty, beaten, and sad...it's all a mistaken first impression. Clean her up, give her a new outfit, and she'll outargue a priest, whip the timid into action and argue with passion and the skill of Plato. She's a bit of an enigma: a peace-seeking, warrior elf, who prefers exploration but can also weep for the lost glory and independence of her people, yet have the maturity to let them find their own way, hard as it may be for them in the long run. Not bad for a kid less than a year old.
We meet the Ocampa, a race we can't expect to see much of, outside of Kes herself. They have a beautiful, tranquil civilization, cared for by a guilt-ridden Caretaker, but lulled into false security and complacent dormancy. It's a lifestyle that won't last much longer; they have five years at best. But we already see signs of hope in the Ocampan Underground, among those who reject the spoon-fed existence and are striving to master their envioronment instead. It willbe they who rebuild when the gravy train stops.
We get a quickie introduction to the galactic Kazon power structure, and of one particular sect--the Ogla. They are everything bad that the Ocampa are not, with little of the good. They are survivors, and conquerors, and scavengers. They take offense easily, they are used to getting their way, and are willing to do some damage to ensure that they do. they don't take kindly to a shiny white ship coming along and making them look bad. They aren't bright, but they are fierce, and they have the means to hurt Voyager; technology only takes you so far when you're battling entire dreadnought ships. Voyager is not the Defiant; it's got power, but its purpose is exploration (good thing) rather than sheer firepower.
So they made some friends, and some enemies, on their first day. No big surprise. the big surprise was how badly they erred. They trusted Neelix a bit too implicitly, and it was probably his doing that got them on the Kazon's bad side. A simple scan of the area where Kes was could easily have led to a "magical" disappearance of Kes, which would have been chalked up to something, and Voyager could most likely have gotten away long before the Kazon even knew who they were.
Then again, I remember thinking early on that perhaps it's refreshing that this Starfleet crew isn't the paragon of perfection that made TNG a little too hard to believe, let alone see yourself serving on. (this was just a personal gripe; all we ever saw Picard and company doing was Shakespearian plays and string quartets. Way too much classical entertainment going on for my taste. It's fine in its place, but it seemed the whole Picard Experience was an aristocratic European feel. A country club, almost. The Enterprise WAS the flagship, and diplomatic missions were high on their list of assignments. But when I think of deep space and Starfleet, I think Navy. And when I think Navy, I don't think of Shakespeare.
I think of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Don't get me wrong; I liked TNG very much, once the cast and writers warmed up to their possibilities. But I was hoping for something a little less clinically perfect. Something more attainable. Something flawed but still pretty darn good. Something that needed some work. A Federation fixer-upper.
Throw together two crews from wildly different backgrounds, blow the ship half-way to purgatory, strip them of some of the vaunted technological advances that made the Federation so impressive, and you're virtually guaranteed that will be the case. They'll have to prove themselves all over again. The Federation mettle will be tested in a whole new flame. You want them to succeed, but not TOO well. You want them to struggle for their kudos.
This episode does promise this. The First officer is a recent renegade. The guy at Conn is an ex-con with a past that makes both crews despise him. The Ops guy is greener than Ensign Chekov, though on the bright side he doesn't pump up Mother Russia in every conversation. Add to this two completely new aliens with an utterly new perspective on life, and we know there's a whole lot of growing pains ahead. Forget the journey home; the real challenge will be getting everyone to get along so they don't kill each other long before their first rest stop.
At the center of it all is Captain Janeway. In the premiere she proves herself an action-based captain, ready to jump into the battle ahead of everyone, to lead the charge. She's bright, a former science officer, but her real talent is for command. And she believes completely in herself. She's a bit of a rebel, despite her devotion to Starfleet; she's willing to bend the Prime Directive when it makes sense to (a pattern I wish she'd been a bit more willing to stick to during the first and second seasons, but glad she managed to get back to during the third). She seems to know which buttons to push on people to get them motivated. Soft when she needs to be, firm when the situation calls for it, Janeway is not perfect but she's got plenty of skill. She should be fun to watch. But her hairstyle doesn't do much for me here. Way too tight for my tastes. I think it may have clouded her judgment with Neelix the fist time around.
Okay. That's the elements. The characters are interesting, the challenges many, the successes so far costly. The acting is decent, and in the pilot I'd say I was particularly impressed with the natural acting of Mulgrew, Jennifer Lien, and Ethan Phillips. In terms of line delivery, I give them the highest marks. The others slipped here and there, but were generally quite good, and the friendships and the tensions seen on screen seemed amazingly genuine for a pilot episode. It was a good deal less stilted than "Encounter at Farpoint." Though I must say they owed a great deal to all the shows that had gone on before them. They didn't start from ground zero. They had an awful lot of help from DS9 and TNG, setting up the Maquis and the Cardassians and Starfleet and so on. By the time Voyager aired, we already knew a whole heck of a lot about most of the elements in place. Voyager, more or less, was a known element, despite the technological advances (the Holodoc, the gelpacks, the new space-friendly warp nacelles). I doubt the pilot could have been nearly as successful if they'd have had to show this pilot as the first new series. Too many assumptions could be (more or less safely) made.
Anyway. All in all, the best pilot yet, with "Emissary" ranking a close second. The action was there in spades, the special effects and camera work absolutely stunning, the acting above average for a pilot and the drama absolutely spectactular for a pilot, and not too bad for even a mid-season episode. There was even some philosophy of the sort Trek loves so much, with the question of the Ocampa's civilization, and the cost of the Caretaker's assistance.
I originally gave this three stars. But I'm going to knock that up to an 8.0, or (* * * *), for Part II. The first part had the hard part--introducing most of the people. Part II had to do some of that as well, but it had more opportunity to USE the characters, and it did that in spades. I'd give it 4 stars just for the shot of Chakotay flying into the Kazon ship.
It's one for the shelf. If you don't have it, buy it. It's not as bad as your loser anti-Voyager friends have been trying to tell you. Even Tim Lynch liked it, way back when.
And with that, I consider myself caught up.
Next week: Janeway picks a new Chief Engineer.
(Think I'm out of my ever-lovin' mind with this review? Sometimes you need a second opinion...and Julia's got one.)