The following is a SPOILER Review for "Parallax." 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.
Voyager gets stuck in the event horizon of a singularity, and Janeway has to pick a new chief engineer. Save the ship, get the job. Also sets the tone for the problems the ship is likely to face in the series. [This is a repeat of the first episode after the pilot; I'm redoing the review to follow the current review format.
Jump straight to the Analysis
In sickbay, a man with a nasty face wound is complaining to Chakotay and Tuvok, while the holodock shows his incomparable bedside manner. Lieutenant Carrey, the senior officer in Engineering, apparently had a disagreement with B'Elanna Torres over how the engine room should be run, and she punctuated her position with a swift right to the nose. Being half Klingon, half Latino and all Star, the blow broke his nose, produced a fair amount of blood, and provides an excellent opening (so to speak) to the question, "how well can two crews with distinctly different shipboard cultures work together?" The answer, in non-pilot episode #1 of this series is, "not too well. But give them time."
The report given to the First Officer and the Security Chief, Chakotay and Tuvok leave sickbay. Tuvok wants to throw Torres into the brig; Chakotay wants to promote her, but she's not giving anyone a reason to want to. Chakotay has a very rough day; first he has a bloodied Lieutenant Carrey yelling for her hide, then he fights an extradition order from Tuvok. Next, he is confronted by two of his former Maquis colleagues, who offer their full cooperation if he decides to take over the ship, and he has to dress them down with threats of mutiny charges.
Chakotay is in an unenviable position. He was the captain of the rebel Maquis ship that started this whole mess, getting two ships flung 70,000 lightyears from home. He then sacrificed his own ship to halt the attack by the Kazon, a militant reggae band and Delta Quadrant power, forcing the Maquis crew to merge with the Starfleet crew of the Voyager, the people who were sent to bring them back to justice. So while you can't expect things to be champagne wishes and caviar dreams from the get-go, you can't envy those who are given the task of bridging the gaps between the crews until they are "a crew." Janeway and Chakotay are the two who will bear the brunt of this transition, particularly Chakotay--the first Maquis to be given a position of leadership on the ship, and the highest-ranked Maquis to boot, though not the highest-ranked officer. So he still gets crap from both sides. He has the advantage of both Starfleet training and command experience, and the authority to look out for the best interests of both the ship and his former crew. His is a unique perspective, one he has to convince everyone he is trying to use honorably.
Finally, Chakotay has to confront Torres herself, who fortunately has as lousy control over her pitching arm as she does over her temper; a heaved ashtray (I'm guessing) doesn't come close to hitting him as he enters her quarters. Torres is fuming; Carrey is an idiot, she raves. Chakotay gives her Carrey's medical report and chews her out for ruining his day. He tells her she'd better shape up and start trying to play nicely with the other engineers, and orders her to pay particular attention to patching things up with Carrey. Why? Because he intends to make her the chief engineer on Voyager. Torres looks at him like he's crazy, but he insists it's not his twisted sense of humor at work; he believes she is the best engineer on the ship, and that she deserves the job. Of course, there's a small matter of clearing this with the captain....
...Who, as might be expected, does not immediately warm to the idea.
As beginning segments go, this baby hit the ground running. We get to see Chakotay dealing with just about the entire "name" cast in the first five minutes, displaying the challenges of leadership with engineers, security, medical, problem children and eager mutineers. We see just how great Chakotay's task is, and that the task really is his alone. Fortunately, Robert Beltran seems to have what it takes to give Chakotay dignity, steel, and compassion. He's a good choice for the role.
Cut to the first senior staff meeting. We get introduced to the various problems the ship faces -- power problems, malfunctioning replicator units, diminishing food rations. I missed this the first time, but they mention here that the Holodeck has its own power reactors, but that they are independent of main power and cannot be tied in to main power. (Thus, even though people can run out of food, they can chow down at Mardi Gras on the holodeck to their hearts' content, without guilt. More on this later.) Thus, their challenges are laid out: they must seek out sources of power, food, and replacement parts to get their ship operational, or they won't live long enough to make the trip all the way home.
Kes and Neelix arrive unexpectedly. Janeway protests that this is a "senior officer meeting," but Neelix states that he is the senior member of his race, and Kes is the senior member of hers. (Doesn't make much sense by Starfleet standards, but Neelix hasn't read the manual recently.) Janeway finally consents and lets them into the meeting. They immediately make themselves useful; Kes suggests that they create a hydroponic garden and that the Voyager start growing its own food. Because it was her idea, she gets drafted to be in charge of it. And Neelix boasts that he's a great cook, and volunteers for the position. Janeway agrees to both, and they decide that Cargo Bay 2 would make an ideal South Forty.
Next, figuring out how to fill out the duty rosters. The chief medical officer was killed in the Plot Complication that brought them to the Delta Quadrant, and the Holodoc is declared to be woefully deficient in bedside manner. Janeway drafts Paris to begin training as Holodoc's assistant. He had two roughly applicable classes at the Academy, which for this ship was as close as anyone came to being qualified. Paris didn't seem at all pleased by the assignment--and, as subsequent episodes proved, he wasn't up to the task. Whether it's because he just wasn't qualified or because he effectively practiced passive resistance, I don't dare venture to guess.
Next, Chief Engineer. Janeway prefers Carrey, who is next in line on the official Starfleet org chart. Chakotay suggests that Torres be considered, because he believes her to be the better engineer. Janeway is almost amused; "isn't Torres the one who put Carrey in sickbay?" she asks. "Well, yes, but in the Maquis you sometimes have to push others out of the way to get the job done." Thus begins a debate over the integration of the crews. Janeway is a starfleet diehard and true believer, who expects that things will be done the Starfleet Way. Chakotay argues that if strict seniority is applied in every case, "his" Maquis crew will never gain any positions of leadership, and he sincerely believes this would be a disservice to the ship as well as to the people. He suggests that positions should be considered as much on merit as on seniority, at least at first, so the best people fill the positions. To her credit, Janeway considers his argument and agrees to consider Torres for the position.
Torres is summoned to Janeway's office. Janeway has dug up Torres' record, a combination of Tuvok's undercover intellligence work and Starfleet Academny records. It seems that Torres had attended the Academy, but left before she could graduate. She had stacks of complaints and reprimands and official wrist-slaps for her impertinence, argumentative nature and tendency to break noses when she didn't get her way. In short, she didn't appear to have the temperment for the job of Starfleet officer, and Torres admitted as much; she bristled against the rigidity and heirarchy of Starfleet. Janeway announces that Starfleet rules apply on her ship. Torres doesn't think she's an actual candidate for the job--how could she be?--so she's surly and uncooperative, and the interview is not a great first impression. She storms out of the office, and Janeway seems inclined to give Carrey the job of chief engineer. By her own admission, Torres considers herself a great engineer but a lousy leader and a lousy officer, and being chief engineer means more than just solving problems; the CE has to be a leader and an example. (Torres' growth in these areas can be seen in Prime Factors, the previous weeks' episode.)
Enter Plot Complication.
Voyager hears a distress call, follows the signal...and gets sucked into the rim of a singularity. But only a little. They think. They notice that another ship looks REALLY stuck in there, and they decide to try to rescue it. The only problem is, singularities are normally pretty hard to get out of.
Unless you've got yourself a really kick-butt engineer.
First attempts at communicating with the ship fail; there's a lot of interference. Janeway asks for options, one is given, and Chakotay calls down to engineering and asks for Torres' opinions. She offers some, and he tells her to get on it. Janeway then calls down to engineering and explicitly tells Carrey that he's in charge of doing what Chakotay just ordered Torres to work on, and asks Chakotay to follow her into her ready room.
Janeway then chews out Chakotay for being out of line. Chakotay protests that he was simply working with the person he knew could get the job done. They argue some more about the chain of command and seniority and crew integration, and Chakotay makes the point that unless Torres has been completely disqualified from consideration for the position, she should treat them both as candidates. Janeway bristles a bit, but Chakotay tries to assure her that he really is working in the best interests of Voyager and its "crew"; it's not a perfect world, and the crews are nowhere near ready to be considered one crew yet, so he's acting as the bridge. It's a nasty job, but he's willing to accept the responsibility for it, even if it means taking some serious abuse for awhile from all sides.
They soon realize that they can't rescue the ship on their own, and at Neelix's suggestion they head out to a nearby star system to get assistance...only to find themselves back where they started. They keep trying to escape, and keep finding themselves well and truly stuck in the singularity. And other things are happening; the holodoc is shrinking, and crewmen are reporting severe headaches. The former, nobody really seems to care about other than Kes, who is the first to notice. The latter makes people worry.
A senior staff meeting is called for later in the day; Janeway decides to take a look at the data herself (she is apparently a very competent scientist and engineer herself, but someone has to be Captain) beforehand. Chakotay asks who to invite from Engineering; she says Carrey. Chakotay states that unless Torres is no longer being considered for the position, she should also attend. After a brief pause, Janeway agrees.
Carrey, of course, lords his apparent seniority over Torres, and condescends to her enough that half of Engineering seems to root for her to break his nose again. Torres, however, seems to be slightly unnerved from her previous encounter with the captain, and isn't in a mood to break anything at the moment. Torres isn't all spitfire and right hooks; she has some skeletons in her closet she hasn't shown anyone yet. Could it be that the Klingon Tsunami is actually...suffering from low self esteem?
Nah, couldn't be.
Soon, we're in a staff meeting. Carrey seems to have the upper hand, and Torres seems awfully quiet, until forced to "speak now or forever hold your peace." Carrey offers a possible solution, and Torres agrees to follow those instructions...."but it won't work." She then explains her theories of what's going on, and Janeway gets to see Torres at her best--solving problems. And since Janeway is an engineer type herself, she recognizes a good thinker when she sees one. They begin talking to each other at modem speed, leaving everyone else in the room, in the dust. Torres successfully sells her plan of action, and as they shuffle out of the room, Janeway gives Chakotay a very encouraging look.
Score one for the good guys.
They follow Torres' suggestions, and soon they're able to establish some semblance of contact with the ship that's really stuck in the singularity...and hear "This is Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager...do you require assistance?" Oops. They establish video contact, and sure enough they're looking at themselves. This is not good.
Back to the conference room, Torres is fully in charge of engineering. She and Janeway throw ideas and stuff back and forth, giddy with the new discovery of a compatible spirit. Torres doesn't even have to break noses anymore to be heard. It seems the ship is probably the "way the heck down there" ship, and that they've been stuck for several hours...and as the ship gets sucked further in, everyone will get headaches and the holodoc will shrink down to Limbo Champion status and eventually the ship will be crushed like a Yugo at a monster truck rally. Tom Paris asks what the heck they're talking about--"we got the signal before we got stuck...how's that possible? Am I making any sense here?" To which Janeway replies, "no. But that's okay." She pats him on the head like a good little Gump and gets back to chatting at warp 9 with Torres. (I'm not bothering to pass on the science, because it gave me a headache trying to follow it. I'll side with Paris on this one; just look cute, keep your mouth shut, and be ready to drive fast when given the word.)
They decide there must be some way to get out, and decide on a way to "flash the brights" at the singularity to see if there's a crack in it. (After all, if they got into it, they can get out the same way, right? Well, it's in the script, anyway.) They shine the brights, and sure enough, they find a crack. But it's too small to fly through. So Torres suggests a way to widen the hole. It can be done, but it'll take a shuttlecraft to do it. Paris, eager to redeem himself after being shut down in the staff meeting, offers to fly in there. Janeway says Nope, we need the scientists. Me and B'Elanna will go." Plus, it will further the original plot; we need closure on the Chief Engineer thing.
Cut to the shuttlecraft. Torres apologizes profusely for blowing up in Janeway's office before, and confesses she left the academy because she didn't think she could cut it. Janeway then admits that she did some more reading of Torres' academy record, and discovered many letters of recommendation from her former professors. The people she thought hated her the most, turned out to be her biggest fans. Janeway here does an excellent job of bolstering the confidence of the young officer, calming her fears, revising her self-image. Janeway tells Torres that nearly all of the instructors held her in high esteem, and would eagerly sponsor her should she choose to return to the academy. They saw much promise in her, and the qualities necessary for leadership. She was a raw talent, but the talent was unquestionably there. Torres brightened considerably.
They do the job of widening the crack in the singularity's event horizon, and though they cut it close, they give the Voyager enough room to fly through. On the way back, they encounter two Voyagers, and a disagreement ensues over which is the real Voyager. Torres argues passionately, but Janeway is also a bright scientific mind, and she also has the rank to back up her position. She picks the ship, and they fly into it...
And land on solid matter. Janeway guessed right. Torres still has room for improvement, but at least she's got her foot in the room.
The crack is big enough, but shrinking fast. Before they get there it's technically too small for them to fly through. But Janeway, who's got an attitude to match her intellect, orders Paris to ramp up the shields and ram her through. Paris, surprised by the order, nevertheless complies with a wicked glimmer in his eye.
Crash. Clang. Boom. Rattle. Hum.
And they're through. Tarnished, but untorn. Janeway orders Paris to get them the heck out of Dodge before they do a damage report.
The Plot Complication solved, we return to engineering. Torres has the job, and she's got her work cut out for her. Chakotay gives her a tall order for Engineering to complete, and she dives right in, shaky but determined. The first to offer his hand in congratulations and support is Lieutenant Carrey, as Chakotay and Janeway look on.
The transition is not painless; two crewmen have already complained about her promotion. But Janeway has made her decision, and she seems content with it. Chakotay asks Janeway what she would have done were their positions reversed, and she had been faced with the need to integrate her crew into a Maquis ship. She chuckles and says, "one of the perks of command is not having to answer that question."
And Voyager continues its trek home through the stars.
For the most part, I liked this episode. Even more so after seeing where they've been since then. I much preferred the primary plot--Torres' rise from the brig to the chief engineers' spot--to the "event horizon" bullstuff. It existed to further the real plot, but it didn't stand well on its own. The episode would have been better with a different plot-furthering crisis, I think. But I'm not into Trek for the science; I'm in it for the people. Attempts at hard science usually fail to sway me, unless the character interaction is furthered thereby. At least it did the job of moving the people along.
The episode begins looking most like a Chakotay episode, and though Torres and Janeway feature prominently, it's Chakotay who really shines. He's got the job of first officer, and here he shows that he intends to be the best first officer possible. He encounters a lot of distrust, misunderstanding, and general poopstorms from both Starfleet and Maquis crewpeople, who don't yet seem to have let it sunk in that they are in a very unique situation. Chakotay has been in both worlds and knows that melding the two will not happen overnight. He is thus willing to cut the Maquis people some slack (on the Starfleet side), but also to beat them senseless (on the Maquis side).
In a purely Starfleet ship, Torres would have been arrested and courtmartialed for striking a fellow officer. According to regulations, this seems the prudent course; the Starfleet people only know that she won't follow the chain of command and will inflict damage on those who get in her way. But on the Maquis ships, this is how things were done. Starfleet: seniority; Maquis: meritocracy. Both sides gotta give, and Chakotay is the first to realize it and in the best position to help others realize it.
As Torres goes through the episode, we see her progress through Chakotay's eyes. Her success is his success, and the ship benefits. He proves himself a loyal and effective first officer by promoting the best person for the job, and not giving up until the decision is made. And he supports the captain by not simply being a toady; he's a leader in his own right, and still gives deference to the chain of command.
Janeway's rules and principles are laid out pretty plainly here. In subsequent episodes, she's proven quite faithful to them. She's got some bending to do, but only if and when it makes sense to her to do so. She does reward excellence, and she does not much tolerate disobedience. She will flay her best friend if he crosses her; she is Captain, and she has devoted herself to the organization that made her Captain. On a ship full of Starfleet she is in her element; in this strange situation, far from home and with half a crew that isn't really hers--yet--she is caught off guard. She needs Chakotay to help her transition, but she still is the one with the vision of how things will ultimately be. She envisions a day when Voyager is a full-fledged, well-oiled Starfleet crew of the kind she's used to working with. Just as Chakotay makes a great first officer, Janeway seems an ideal Captain.
In the Next Generation series, Picard had a similar conundrum: he found himself the captain of a vessel that included non-Starfleet personnel, including children. He recognized from the beginning that he was ill-suited to dealing with children, and relied heavily on Riker to assist him. As the series progressed, he became better with children, through some interesting episodes that forced him to confront his discomfort. We have seen, and will likely see, more episodes where Janeway has to confront and deal with her prejudices and shortcomings as relates to the Maquis crew and her own leadership style. Chakotay will make an excellent assistant for her, if she (and the writers) are smart enough to use him.
Torres has the most growing to do here. She starts out in huge trouble, and ends up in charge. She has a gilgameshian journey of self-discovery, as she is forced to confront her past and come to terms with it, and take on responsibilities she never expected to. She proves herself capable, but not perfect. I like that in her. Unlike most incarnations of Trek, all of the characters are "fish out of water" in one way or another, but she (and Holodoc) are the two who have the most potential. Holodoc is the first of his kind, and thus fills the Data/Spock/Odo role as someone struggling with their humanity (Spock sought to deny his; Data yearned to become human; Odo tolerates humans but is developing friendships, even crushes). Torres is also a lot like Spock--a half-human, half-Klingon who despises one half of her heritage (in this case, her Klingon side) and needs to come to terms with all aspects of who she is. And like Spock, she seeks to control the side of her that is least in control. Unlike Spock, whose Vulcan side gave him superhuman control, Torres' human side isn't quite enough to reign in her inclinations to temper. This makes her interesting. But though she's a hellion, she's also intelligent and skilled in her chosen field.
We also get to meet Carrey, Torres' rival in Engineering; a Bajoran/Maquis engineer who is fitting into the Voyager crew even less well than Torres; and we see the first "date" between Kes and Holodoc. It's a very short scene, given mainly to introduce the incredible shrinking holodoc, but it's significant in terms of later episodes. Kes activates Holodoc and asks for soil samples for the hydroponic garden. Holodoc is annoyed, but for the first time someone doesn't respond with annoyance; Kes treats him kindly, and it throws him off guard. She asks his name, and he admits he doesn't have one. It's a simple moment, but it establishes one of the more interesting relationships of the series; after seeing it, I wanted to see much more interaction between them.
Paris doesn't have a lot to do here; he gets to look stupid in a meeting, grimace when assigned to be Holodoc's nurse, and drive the starship through a crack in an event horizon like Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder. But the fact that he's included in everything is a vast improvement from the general snubbing he got through most of the pilot--he was, after all, the only guy on the ship to be given the Bird and the Boot by both Starfleet and the Maquis, the only jailbird, the only guy who had to re-prove himself to everyone to get any respect at all. He's back in the chain of command, but it was a long journey (pun intended), and in a way I am concerned that they haven't treated him with the same sort of general mistrust that the Maquis people have gotten. Perhaps it's because he knows everyone distrusted (perhaps still distrusts) him, and he's got to be on his best behavior, but at least socially he has been as roguish and renegadish as before. Great pilot, but no rocket scientist. It turns out that he, and not Kes, is the gratuitous Dumb Blonde on the show.
A word about the holodeck: it was mentioned in this episode, but not used until The Cloud. When the holodeck was used in The Cloud, I wondered why a ship that couldn't spare the energy for a decent cup of coffee could generate a bottle of fine house wine in a Marsailles pool hall, as well as the pool hall and its seedy patrons. I think it's a flaw that they didn't mention this in The Cloud, but at least they mention it here. The holodeck, we learn, is entirely self-contained -- it has its own power plants, and they were apparently unharmed by the events that brought them here. (This was intentional; on a seventy year journey, they're gonna need some entertainment.) The power generators of the holodeck cannot be shared by the rest of the ship, so even though the replicators can't spare the power, the holodeck's got energy to burn. Or ferment, in the case of the fine French wines at the pool hall Paris whipped up.
I know the Holodeck and its capabilities have been discussed at length on TNG and at least some on Voyager, but I still wonder a few things. You can eat Holodeck food, drink Holodeck wine. But does it count? Can holodeck cheesecake make you fat, but only until you leave at which time all those holocalories get yanked from your system? (That would be cool. ) I know you can eat and drink Holofood without any ill effects, but I don't know what its properties are. Is it all flavor and no substance? Paris says you can't get drunk on holodeck wine, but is that just his brand of holodeck wine? Could it be programmed to be exactly like the real thing?
With the Moriarty episodes of TNG, we know that a consciousness can exist in the holodeck, but we don't know yet if they'll ever be able to get a holodeck creation to survive outside the holodeck. We've also seen holodeck body organs function within a body (Neelix's lungs in "Phage"). The question is, how close is holodeck food to replicated food? We know both can be eaten. If the crew is in need of sustencence, just set up the mess hall in a holodeck. (But that wouldn't leave Neelix with much to do.) At least we know that the Holodeck can be used more or less indefinitely. But if it could serve an actual purpose, that would be nice.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't like the event horizon as a plot device. That may just be me, but I think that the "technobabble" is often overused in Trek, and ill-used to boot. They try to make it just plausible enough to be usable, without being steeped in actual science. (This is entertainment, not graduate physics.) I know you need to use high technology in a series like this, but the abuse and overuse is sometimes distracting. I prefer the old Trek, in an example like the Naked Time, where the engines get shut down and they need to cold boot them and Scottie says "I canna change the laws of physics!" and Spock manages to come up with a formula that might make it work...but he doesn't bother to tell us what that formula is, because we don't give a flying fig what the formula is; we just want to know that there is a formula, and that they're gonna try it out. The science talk was kept to a minimum, and we got only what we needed to know. I remember Kirk saying more than once, "repeat that in English, please." Kirk wasn't an Engineer. In Next Generation, it was assumed that everyone knew what they were talking about. At least in Voyager we've got Tom Paris to give the blank stare and ask what the heck the eggheads are talking about. He knows how to steer, but he just does it.
As a plot forwarder, it did the job. It presented a puzzle to be solved, and the puzzle was the catalyst for solving the real dilemma of the episode. What they were saying about looking at yourself in a pool and cause following effect wasn't as important as watching Janeway warm up to Torres as they puzzled through the problem. (In a similar way, I liked the early episode in The Next Generation where a cocky engineer from Starfleet wanted to test his new warp theories, and came on board the Enterprise for the next phase of the tests. He spouted off a bunch of technospeak, and the other characters looked at him like he was full of it. Turns out it was a being called The Traveler doing most of the work, and he got the moving mainly by wanting to. Personality over textbooks....)
I did like the scene near the end where there were two Voyagers and Torres and Janeway argued over which was "theirs" and which was an echo of where they were before. It couldn't be deduced by science, so they had to resort to logic, and Janeway's logic won out.
Sorry. I do ramble. This was an excellent first episode (pilots rarely count as first episodes particularly two-hour movie pilots; the first episode is the true test of where a series is going) and it shows promise for the series. Character-wise, there is maturity and professionalism in the Voyager cast that took Next Generation several seasons to achieve. I know many people don't like Janeway (the major complaint is that she sounds like she's been chain-smoking since her first cell division, and that at times it's like listening to Captain Bea Arthur) but I'm warming up to her; she comes off as intelligent, sardonic, and tough as a starship's hull. This episode promises good things, or at least the possibility of good things, in the future.
On a 1-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.50.
(But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. See what Julia has to say about this episode.)