"Prime Factors"


The following is a SPOILER Review for "Prime Factors." 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.


The crew of Voyager is offered shore leave by a planet of benevolent pleasure-seekers. They discover their hosts have technology that may enable them to return home, or at least get them a lot closer. Major points: the terrors of pleasure, the perils of the Prime Directive, and the importance of obeying Captain Janeway.

Jump straight to the Analysis


A word up front: I can't remember any episode-specific proper nouns from this episode. I only got to watch the episode once, and during much of it I was chasing my sister's birds around the living room. I'll watch it again this week, and if this first impression is completely clueless, I'll revise and resend.

Episode beginning: idle chat and gossip at breakfast. Torres and a Bajoran engineer are chatting about who's scamming who, and it slips out that the Delaney Sisters (of "Time and Again" reference) are linked to Harry Kim and Tom Paris (I liked how they tied in throwaway lines from prior episodes; it's minor, but I like the attention to continuity even in the trivia). (I can't tell, but I think Torres may be slightly jealous...she and Harry seem to get along pretty well, and he's one of the few Starfleet people she hasn't punched out yet.) Of course, they can't help but ask Harry, who is sitting nearby, and he seems a little discomfited by the attention. Tom Paris can't help but rib his friend a little, and revel in the Ensign's squirming. "We talked," he insisted...just before he fell out of the holodeck raft.

Giggles galore, and pan over to Janeway and Tuvok. Janeway is smiling; "I think it's finally happening; we're becoming one crew," she tells Tuvok, her science officer and closest confidant on the ship. It's taken ten episodes, but the crews seem to be relaxing towards each other, forgetting their old rivalries and what brought them here. As captain, she feels a mixture of relief and pride.

The Voyager is hailed by a ship, and they encounter a friendly looking people who invite them to their planet. These people offer shore leave, and rest from their labors. The planet is led by a Ricardo Montalban kinda guy with a slight Spanish accent, which gives the whole society a Fantasy Island feel. He takes an immediate liking to Captain Janeway, and woos her like a runaway train. She is not entirely unaffected.

The planet is beautiful. This people has heard of the Voyager, and its strange crew with its amazing and wondrous adventures. They lavish gifts of the galaxy on Janeway, et al., and seek to please them in every way possible.

Harry Kim notices one striking young woman playing what sounds like a musical instrument; she corrects him, stating that it is a weather detector (or something), and Harry impresses her with his intuitive grasp of the principles; she shows him how to work the device, and a new friendship (and more?) is forged.

Harry tells the woman stories, and she is entranced. Stories are very important to her people, as valuable as latinum to a Ferengi. To show her gratitude, she hustles him to a platform, and they transport to a beautiful world with two suns and a sunrise that exists only in Harlequin romances and holodecks. Harry, his curiousity overcoming the overt full-court-press seduction being levied against him (he has, after all, a girl back home, the Delaney Sisters notwithstanding) can't stop asking questions. Finally, she tells him that they're 40,000 lightyears from her home planet, and their transporter can take them pretty much anywhere in the galaxy within that radius.

Harry, excited by the news more than the surroundings, begs her to take them back. He has to report to Captain Janeway what he has learned...this people's technology could get them much, much closer to home. Perhaps all the way. Whoever Kim's Federation girlfriend is, she's a lucky woman; he won't rest until they're back home, and he won't mess around in the meantime.

Kim finds Janeway with Mr. Fantasy Island; he's applying a full-court press of his own. Breathlessly he reports his findings, and Janeway is intrigued. If Harry is correct, they've got a real chance to shorten the trip dramatically, by half or more. Seventy years is a bit hard to fathom; thirty years is almost manageable, considering the average lifespan of people in the 24th century. (Only Kes wouldn't make it at that rate.) The planetray ruler isn't quite as pleased with the discovery.

Shipboard buzz is overwhelming. Everyone who is anyone (ie, anyone with a name in the credits) is talking about it. Home in half the time, or less! We hear primarily from those we saw at breakfast, because that's how Star Trek works: the people you see in the scene before the opening credits are the ones you're likely to learn the most about during the rest of the episode. Still no sign of the Delaney sisters, though.

Of course, a way home for our intrepid craft and crew must have a plot complication, or we'd have one very short series. That plot complication must come in one of three forms: they cannot use the way home because (1) it's ultimately impossible; (2) it's ethically untenable; (3) it's only "half a loaf"--they'd end up in the right place, but not the right time, or the right dimension. We saw (2) and (3) in The Wormhole, where they discovered a way through to the Alpha Quadrant through the second smallest wormhole I've ever seen, but it leads to an Alpha Quadrant twenty years in the past. Physically, it was possible. But ethically, they could not. And it just wouldn't be the same.

In this case, the plot complication is twofold. Fold one is that the people who own the technology, or at the very least Mr. Montalban, do not wish to share this technology with the Voyager people, or use the technology to help them. This does not sit well with the crew, particularly Torres or her fellow engineers. Plot Complication (2) stands before them like a brick wall.

Here we have a conference of senior officers, who discuss their options. The Federation has the Prime Directive, which forbids them from showing their cool technology to people who don't have something at least roughly similar. This is the first time they've been on the "nyeah nyeah" end of that rule, and it rankles some. Janeway says as much. Yes, the Prime Directive has been broken in the past, and for good reason, but on the whole (Janeway and others argue) it's there for a reason, and the wisdom of preserving the Prime Directive has been borne out in the long run. Nevertheless, not everyone feels the same way. Particularly Torres and her Bajoran friend.

When home is within reach, if only in theory, melancholy and nostalgia hit home with cruel force. The Bajoran woman (again, my apologize for not remembering names) mentions to Torres that her brother's birthday is in only three days, and that she will feel terrible--like a liar and betrayer--if she misses their scheduled reunion. She also rekindles Torres' old Maquis sentiments; while they are partying on Pleasure Planet, their comrades are dying at Cardassian hands. She doesn't trust the judgment of the captain, she says; Janeway was clearly under the spell of Montalban. So they start thinking of alternatives. Meanwhile, they also eavesdrop on the hypercool transporter in use, and discover how it works, at least in theory. They can understand it, they can conceivably use it, they just need to generate the field necessary to survive the trip. They can't do it without the planet's help.

Harry Kim is brought back to the planet at the urging of the girl with the great taste in sunrises, and introduces him to another man, who shows Kim the device that enables their transporter device. They will give it to the Voyager, they say, in exchange for stories. Stories, in their society, are like currency...and political leverage. Give this man a Bullfinch Mythology and Norton Guide to Classical Literature, and they'll get the means to fly home in a neutrino envelope, folding space like origami until they're securely nestled in the bosom of Federation space.

Kim brings the word back to Janeway and the senior officers. They consider the implications: trade literature for technology. Their banks have the stories of a thousand worlds, covering millenia of history, mythology, and literature. Not to mention a SEINFELD episode or two, which as everyone knows is all about nothing...which is what the planetary leader seems to be happiest doing. Janeway decides that they must first exhaust all official channels, and that means making a similar offer to Montalban. She does, and though he will not consider trading technology for tales, he will consider (he says) speaking with the planetary council about using the technology to give them a shove in the right direction and halve their travel time.

It soon becomes apparent, even to Janeway, that Mr. Rourke has no intention of helping them leave fantasy island. In fact, Janeway comes to realize that the man is addicted to "the next coolest thing," that she and her crew are nothing more than the latest amusement. We see the inevitable culture clash, as she states flatly that such a life does not appeal to them. Montalban becomes insulted and asks them to leave his planet.

Crisis time.

Janeway returns to the ship, ready either to cry or to set phasers on Stomp. She feels betrayed, but she also feels a shipful of frustration over being so close, yet so far. She cannot allow herself to accept the rebels' offer, though. They will simply have to continue their journey as before.

Not if Engineering has anything to say about it.

Torres' sentiments are clearly divided. She has stated before that she doesn't really care if she ever gets home, since everyone she cares about is on board. But, her crew people beg her to help because only she can. They remind her of Janeway's promise to get them home "by any means necessary," something they say her currently clouded judgment has apparently forgotten. Torres is torn; it is a sign of growth in her character that she gives much thought to her loyalty to the captain and the trust placed in her. But ultimately she is browbeaten into compliance. They download the ship's literature into chips (not, we trust, Pentiums, or who knows how the stories would end?) and prepare to beam down.

This is a problem. Everyone else is beaming back up, on Janeway's orders, and beaming down is forbidden. They think they're tough, so they try to override. Unfortunately, they run into a snag, and discover that by trying to override they run smack dab into a trap laid by Tuvok, the ship's chief of security.

He arrives quickly, startling them all, explains what he did to catch them and why. He had been trying to download all the literature when he discovered that it was already being done, so he laid the trap so he could catch them before they did anything they would later regret.

Why? So he could do it instead. It was his intent to make the transfer and obtain the technology. We have some idea why he's doing this, but not the full reason. That comes later. He beams down, leaving a very confused engineering crew behind.

A few minutes later, everyone's back aboard, and Janeway wants to leave orbit in a few minutes. Engineering is mostly ready, but they haven't heard from Tuvok yet and they start to panic. But he shows up with the device, which (conveniently enough) fits right into one of their terminals. They give it a test run, and discover that the planet itself is part of the machinery; its planetary core helps create the neutrino envelope needed to perform the space folding. They can't use it if they leave orbit. Poor Torres is put into a real dilemma here, and slowly but surely each of her attempts to not turn the thing on are broken down. She has to let them try it. With a hasty explanation to Janeway that they blew a gasket but would be running soon, she throws the switch.

The envelope builds. Things are working pretty well, until antineutrinos (is this a Gingrich reference?) gum up the works. In fact, it threatens to cause a warp core breach and send them all to Valhalla long before it could send them to Vulcan. The device was, it seems, incompatible with the Voyager's equipment, and always had been. It couldn't have taken the ship home. (Plot Complication #1). Before the device--which is too stubborn to be removed or deactivated--can blow up the ship, Torres phasers it out of commission.

Now she faces a new dilemma. They screwed up big time, and her subordinates want to try to cover it up. But Torres can't do that; she's in charge, and she decides to take responsibility. This shocks her former Maquis compatriots, but she insists that it's something she has to do.

Cut to Captain's office. Torres and Tuvok stand stoically before a fuming Janeway. She reads Torres the riot act. Torres takes it all in, like an officer, showing remarkable maturity and grace. Janeway admits she would dearly love to throw Torres in the brig the rest of the voyage, but Torres is too valuable. However, Janeway says with a broken heart but iron will, if you screw up again, even in a small way, you'll be pulling weeds in Kes' garden the rest of the trip home, and you'll never see the engine room again. She dismisses a thoroughly humbled Torres, leaving only Tuvok, who took a share of the blame because he was doing for her what she could not do herself--keep her promise to the crew that she would get them home by any means necessary.

This whole final scene was very powerful. We have a history of captains facing difficult decisions and ethical dilemmas. Each handles such things in a different way. How will this series' captain deal with such things? We'd care no matter what, but because the captain is the first female, perhaps we pay even closer attention. At least I do. How does she react? Amazingly well, under the circumstances. She's furious, betrayed, hurt, and I think a little frightened. Tuvok has been her confidant for years, we learn. He's a friend, and the closest to a friend on the ship. He's likely older than she is, thanks to the "Ex Post Facto" episode, so he's probably a mentor and a pillar of strength to her as well. She is all alone out there, and she needs somene she can rely on absolutely. With his actions, despite the logic and intent, he has shaken her to the very core. She displays intense emotions, intensely contained, in front of her Vulcan friend for whom emotions are at best distasteful.

Her dressing down of Tuvok is much more restrained than the one she gave a moment before to Torres. She told him her views of logic, and its place. She told him frankly what she considered his role to be, particularly in terms of her. And she plead with him to never do anything like that again.

Tuvok's response: "My logic was not in error...but I was. I give you my word it will not happen again." Wow. This could become an issue in future episodes, when that word is tested.

The episode began on a cheerful, relaxed note, with Janeway basking in the relaxed mood of her crew. And it ends with her considering that two (and more) of her most trusted subordinates had fallen short of that trust. At that moment, she was the loneliest person in the Delta Quadrant. I was reminded of Picard's face in the final shot of the episode where Ensign Ro defected to the Maquis, and Riker reported that "her only regret was that she let you down." In that scene, Patrick Stewart's Picard sat absolutely still, said absolutely nothing, and expressed everything. Kate Mulgrew isn't to that point yet, but I felt much the same way watching her in this scene.


The basic story, IMHO, was kind of cheesy. On its surface, it's an indictment of the philosophy of Carpe Diem. The shallow, addictive quest for all things new and exciting and intolerance of anything truly lasting is laid bare. And the fact that there is an underground on this Edenic planet that does not feel the same way shows that even pleasure has its limits.

The real story, how the crew reacts when a way home seems tantalizingly close, is much more interesting. The happy crew was torn apart, and a rift (how wide, we don't know yet) between captain and crew has been introduced. Captain Janeway has principles she will not violate, principles she likely never thought she would be forced to consider violating, and their situation is providing these dilemmas. Expedience or integrity? And if you're the only one on board who is willing to stand for principle, what then? Her position is tenuous. Above all else, she must remain the captain, which means following the ideals that put her in that chair. And she is working with people for whom getting home seems to be more important than principle--people she had hoped would be nobler.

In the long run, hers is likely the more enlightened view. If there are forces that can breach long distances, such as the Caretaker, then they are the First Contact precence for the Alpha Quadrant, particularly for the Federation. If/when they do make it back, realistically the two quadrants will cross paths again--be it through other supernatural means or through enhanced technology. When the universe shrinks again and the distance is passable, what Voyager did the first time around will matter a lot. Who they helped, who they offended. The immediate needs of the Voyager crew to return home pale before the consequences of doing so at any cost. Not to vilify Captain Kirk, but the passage of time has given us several episodes in other series where Kirk's actions come back to haunt the Federation. What will the Delta Quadrant be like in two hundred years? How will the Federation be remembered? The Kazon ("Caretaker") declared them an enemy. The planet in "Prime Factors" probably contains two views--the current leader parted on bad terms, but the people who traded literature for technology may have different views. Or, with the massive works of Alpha Quadrant culture at their disposal, they may next decide that the Federation is a threat to be repulsed at all costs.

We learned more about Captain Janeway, Harry Kim, B'Elanna Torres and Tuvok in this episode, as well as some minor characters who don't appear frequently. Harry didn't do anything wrong, but it was through his curiosity and exuberance that caused the tragedies that followed. He was the catalyst, but was neither hero nor villain. Torres, though culpable and properly lambasted by the captain for her actions, showed tremendous growth from earlier episodes. Her willingness to take responsibility for her actions, and the actions of her subordinates, is an encouraging sign. We learn Tuvok's motivations, and his fallibility. He acted with the best of intentions, with tragic results. And we saw the vulnerabilities and the character of the captain in a variety of situations, both pleasant and painful. She's not Picard, but there's no question in my mind that he would deem her a peer.

My sister, who is not a Voyager fan, said last night, "Kirk would have just taken it." Possibly. For Kirk, little meant more than "my ship." Of course, had Kirk taken it, you can bet your warp nacelles that Scotty would have made it work. In Kirk's series, things worked in their favor. But for them, staying where they belonged was very important; they weren't about to become the next Lost In Space. Getting home by episode's end was a must. Thrust them into another dimention, hurtle them towards a dying planet, stick them into the center of the galaxy with no way out, and Scotty and/or Spock would figure out a way to break the rules, change the laws of physics, dance up to the precipice, pivot and j'ete back to safety. It was in the script.

With Voyager, we have the reverse. They can't get home, or at least stay home. The moment they do, the series is over. So they have to come close, but not too often (or too obviously) or we'll get mad at them, and the series will be over anyway. It's a fine line to tread. They will probably do what we've seen so far--one in every five episodes, if that often, they'll find what may be a way home, only to find out (due to Plot Complication 1, 2, or 3) that it won't work. The other 80% of the time, they'll explore strange new worls, seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly go where no Alpha Quadrant starship has gone before, find supplies, try to stay alive, and inch towards home. But no matter how much new stuff they find, how many new experiences they have, what really matters is how it changes them, and whether we care.

On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.50.

(Has Jim gone bonkers? Julia may shed some extra light on this episode.)

Copyright © 1995 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
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Last Updated: May 11, 1996
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