Two-Year Mission: I sense a theme with these titles.
“Once Upon a Time”
I feel like this is the kind of episode the noisier (and more noisome) fans on the internet like to complain about it. It’s a harmless little bit of filler fluff centered primarily around Neelix and Naomi, the half-human girl who was born (and technically died!?) waaay back in season two’s “Deadlock.” Her hybrid genetics have caused her age and mature pretty quickly, since she seems to be about 7-8 years old three years later, but I guess it’s tough to tell many interesting stories about a normal three-year-old. Naomi has the distinction of being the only child on Voyager, which suggests that Starfleet is cool with birth control. 150 people locked in the same ship for four years and she’s the only space baby? Really now.
Anyway, “Once Upon a Time” explores the reality of life for a child whose mother works as an explorer on a starship well out of its depth in hostile space, as Naomi’s mother (Ensign Wildman) ends up being caught in an ion storm with Tuvok and Paris aboard the Delta Flyer, raising the possibility that she just left her daughter an orphan. There’s a happy ending for all, though not before Neelix nearly makes a hash of it from being overprotective (triggered by him projecting way too much of himself onto Naomi’s situation). It’s a so-so story, and the fact that Wildman is trapped with two primary cast members means there’s never any concern that she’s not going to survive. The plot tries a little too hard to raise the stakes by giving the Delta Flyer survivors a few minutes of air and causing another ion storm to arrive and threaten Voyager as their oxygen dwindles. Oh well.
One thing I did appreciate about this episode was the fact that the tacky kitschiness of the holodeck felt justified for once: Of course it’s a bunch of guys overacting while wearing bad costumes in garish environments. It’s a kid’s story. And this kid’s story turns out to be pretty decent thanks in large part to how Naomi is written: She’s mature and smart without being annoyingly precocious, a very difficult line to walk with children. So while, yes, she’s doing research on how to reconstitute a water-based creature who’s been vaporized, she’s still anxious about her mother’s well-being and hurt by Neelix’s dishonesty. She’s believable in a way that young kids usually aren’t on Star Trek, and that saves this episode from being painful.
This, on the other hand, is more like it. Everything about “Timeless” was great, from the literally cold opening in which two arctic explorers find Voyager trapped beneath a sheet of ice to the reflective final scene.
“Timeless” revolves around Harry Kim in his eternal role as Voyager‘s whipping boy. He’s this series’ equivalent of Miles O’Brien, always getting the raw deal. This time around, though, his problem is of his own making: Overconfident in his ability to nudge Voyager through a potentially disastrous new warp drive technology (derived from the crew’s encounter with the fake Starfleet prototype craft in the season four finale), Kim encourages the Captain to throw caution to the wind and make use of the new engines. When worse comes to worst, he miscalculates the engine corrections and Voyager is lost. 15 years later, he and Chakotay — the only survivors, besides the Doctor — find the wreckage as part of their plan to use stolen Borg technology to change the past and prevent the accident.
The problem? This is all very much against Federation policy and the Temporal Prime Directive, and their theft of the Delta Flyer along with their pilfering the Borg temporal emitter turns them into instant criminals. It might remind you of Star Trek III, except there’s one big difference: Rather than presenting the pursuing Federation force as pompous and unsympathetic bureaucrats, “Timeless” instead puts Kim and Chakotay at odds with Captain Geordi LaForge.
The use of a familiar face as Kim’s “opponent” works like a gut-punch here. I mean, who doesn’t love Geordi? But more importantly, it helps to humanize the alternate view. We know Geordi, and we know that he was involved in his fair share of time-altering shenanigans… so clearly he’s sympathetic to Kim’s efforts. At the same time, having such an even-tempered and likable captain in pursuit of the Delta Flyer gives weight to the timeline Kim hopes to erase. Yeah, it sucks that the Voyager crew died, and that it’s Kim’s fault. But is it fair to erase (or at least reset) the reality of trillions of beings across the galaxy in order to save 150 people? Maybe what’s done is done, even if the outcome is personally terrible for a few.
Kim doesn’t relent, though, and goes ahead with his effort to prevent Voyager‘s demise. In a surprising twist, it doesn’t work. The new calculations Kim transmits to the past still can’t keep Voyager from spinning out of control and crashing into the ice. But just as all seems lost, he sends over a formula that will simply shut down the new engines, beaming it through time to Seven of Nine’s Borg implants. The ship is saved, Geordi may or may not get to be a captain, and Voyager‘s failed experiment still shaves a decade off its journey home. Not a bad outcome, even if Kim has to come to terms with his failure regardless. There’s one big logical flaw here — if Kim could transmit a video log to Seven’s brain, why not just send a message saying, “Hey, don’t activate the quantum slipstream drive”? — but other than that, this was a gripping and provocative episode.
Some great little moments worth noting here:
- Drunken Seven of Nine is hilarious, and I want her to hang out at more parties.
- The use of exterior space pursuit visuals to place a scene in the present or future is brilliant. The first time the episode does this, you go from a present-day interior scene in the Delta Flyer cockpit as Kim and Chakotay are about to lead the Voyager into the slipstream. The camera then cuts to space, where the Delta Flyer zooms past, followed by a starship a moment later. But the pursuing ship moves ponderously into view, lumbering into frame like a Star Destroyer, which seems out of character for the relatively nimble Voyager… because, in fact, it’s LaForge’s much larger Galaxy-class cruiser, in the future. It’s a smart, subtle moment that makes you do a second take as you parse the change in setting, while also subverting expectations by depicting a “hero” ship (or one that at least resembles Enterprise) out to stop the protagonists.
- Seriously, though, those opening scenes with the reveal of Voyager’s wreckage followed by a survey of the frozen interior with familiar characters preserved by frost… memorably bleak.