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Anyway, “Relativity.”

Yeah, now this is more like it.

Oh, I can see people making a few not-unjustified arguments against this episode. It’s a time-travel episode, which inherently means it will annoy some people on principle alone. Worse, it’s a time-travel episode that once again brings the Federation’s timecops from the 29th century into play, and that diminishes the agency of the Voyager crew themselves. And there’s a concept introduced here that adds inexplicable new “rules” to the idea of time travel which don’t really jive with, like, every other instance of time travel in the history of Star Trek: Namely, the fact that if someone travels into their own timeline more than three times, they’ll start to suffer from aphasia and eventually go crazy.

It’s never explicitly said, but I guess the idea was that this rule has to do with the temporal teleporter that comes into play here, because otherwise Captain Kirk would have been a gibbering lunatic long before Star Trek IV. (Though that might explain season three of the original series.) Presumably the shields the timeship activates before making leaps through time protect its crew from that effect, somehow, but this is never stated outright, so I’m kinda guessing here.

Plot logistics aside, though… what a smart, fun episode. I love that it comes right after an episode that spent about 80% of its running time looking back into Janeway’s family history through flashbacks, because that connection creates something of a false impression of what this episode will do in the opening act. “Relativity” begins with a flashback to the days shortly before Voyager‘s maiden journey, including a very impressive flythrough of the Utopia Planitia shipyards above Mars (which we’ve heard about throughout the franchise but have never seen until now). It seems like it’s going to be a flashback to the events of the first episode of the series… but then, right before the introductory credits roll, the camera pans to reveal Seven of Nine sneaking around the bridge in a fleet universe. So all of a sudden, it becomes clear this story is going to be about something else entirely.

It turns out Seven has been recruited to help a Federation timecop crew on the U.S.S. Relativity prevent Voyager from being destroyed by a saboteur.  Since the saboteur traveled through time to plant the bomb on the ship, it becomes the Relativity‘s purview to resolve. Seven gets drafted to help because her Borg visual implants give her an edge on spotting the telltale signs of the secret bomb in the ship’s systems. But, in a second commercial break shock twist, the timeship beams her out of the Voyager under difficult circumstances and Seven dies on the transporter pad.

As often happens with time-travel episodes, “Relativity” explores some pretty abstract concepts, but it handles them well. Janeway factors heavily into this episode. For one thing, her hairstyle works as a helpful indicator for where in time Seven has landed — the more severe it looks, the further back Seven has traveled. Also, the opening scenes do a great job of reminding the audience of Janeway’s credentials as a scientist, which goes a long way toward justifying the fact that she keeps gumming up the works for Seven, unwittingly working at cross-purposes to the protection of Voyager by being vigilant about minor temporal anomalies on the ship that anyone else might shrug off.

This culminates in a great scene where second-season Janeway confronts Seven in the midst of a Kazon attack (a great reminder of how nice it is to no longer have the Kazon in the storyline) and gradually comes to believe this strange woman who claims to be a Borg member of the Voyager crew from the future. The Relativity command crew’s expressions as Seven gradually bumbles her way through smashing down the Temporal Prime Directive are great, but I like that Seven manages to win Janeway over by being extremely frank, if evasive, rather than by attempting to make an emotional appeal — it fits both women’s personalities.

(Also, the Kazon suck.)

The story’s real plot twist becomes clear at different rates for different viewers depending on how carefully you’ve studied your Voyager history, I suppose. The Relativity‘s captain turns out to be Braxton, the guy who got stranded in 20th century L.A. for 30 years way back in “Future’s End” — I didn’t recognize him at first, because he was played by two different actors there, and this actor (Bruce McGill) spent most of his time that episode wearing a bedraggled vagrant beard. Braxton was eventually repatriated and returned to command in Starfleet, where he seems earnest if somewhat embittered about Captain Janeway’s temporal excursions and their impact on his own life. His little Janeway speech, while not fraught with villainous overtones, definitely gives away the identity of the saboteur (it’s him!)… though that has more to do with the conservation of plot threads required for a 45-minute teleplay than a failure on the script’s behalf.

Eventually, yes, it turns out that Braxton from even further in the future is behind the temporal bomb on Voyager. (Incidentally, we do get to see the time-bomb’s effects, and while it leads to a weirdly unconvincing ship explosion effect, the writing around the sequence is entertaining; it involves different areas of the ship being out of temporal phase with one another.) Seven eventually stops him with Janeway’s help — though it’s actually present-Seven rather than the second past-Seven-taken-into-the-future; is this the first time in Star Trek where a character has met their own future/past version? — and Janeway seems a bit nonplussed by the whole thing. She appears understandably annoyed when the Relativity‘s first officer chides her to stop meddling in time, since both this incident and “Future’s End” were initiated by Braxton showing up out of nowhere to destroy the ship.

There’s one somewhat unsettling element about this episode, in that — like “Future’s End” — the whole thing amounts to a self-contained time paradox. Braxton came back to destroy Voyager in the first place because the ship was going to be part of a temporal disruption… which it was, but only because of Braxton’s actions. Likewise, future-Braxton wanted to sabotage Voyager for Janeway’s role in his being busted down the ranks from captain after working on Relativity… which only happens here because of his attempts to sabotage Voyager. Captain Braxton seems completely oblivious to his own future actions, understandably, and we see him here earnestly leading the mission to find the saboteur… who was himself… but would never have sabotaged the ship if he hadn’t decided in the future to sabotage the ship and catch himself? Causality loops are nothing new for time-travel tales, but what I found mildly alarming was the Minority Report-ish outcome: As soon as it comes to light that future-future-Braxton will become a saboteur, much to present-future-Braxton’s surprise, his first officer tosses him in the brig. That’s a bit too close to zero-tolerance on the sliding scale of justice for my liking. Maybe the Federation is bad, actually.

Anyway, despite some minor quibbles, I really enjoyed this one. It’s a nice, self-contained time travel story that also does a good job of touching back on several points in Voyager‘s past. Quality fare.

(Also, as with Deanna Troi, every time I see Seven in a standard crew uniform, I get a little more annoyed about the slinky costumes they made her wear the rest of the time.)

6 thoughts on ““Relativity”

  1. I’ve always thought the future time guys were one of the most criminally underexplored ideas in Star Trek. I’ve only seen a scattered handful of stuff with the temporal cold war in Enterprise, but it didn’t seem to be quite the same thing as far as I can tell.

    • I don’t know. The idea of people meddling in the past (or making sure things go a certain way) is interesting, but it runs the risk of eroding the autonomy and value of the main cast of the series in a show like this. I think they’re one of those ideas that’s best used sparingly — better to leave fans wanting more than leave them annoyed and exhausted.

  2. I was always amused by the timecop first officer who would bark coordinates to the crew as if it was the first time they were tracking Voyager. “Location: Delta Quadrant! Target: USS Voyager!” The guys at the controls had to be thinking “We know, Gary; this is the third time we’ve beamed Seven out of there.”

  3. Hey Parish, which Trek series do you enjoy the most? Voyager gets a lot of crap – and it certainly did have its share of terrible episodes – but I think in any ways it’s stronger and smarter than the other ship-based shows. My favorite is DS9 once they gave up on the tales about political religious strife on Bajor in the later seasons.

  4. “So why not be a pal and make an occasional comment?”

    Unfortunately I’m not always vigilant about checking my emails. So often by the time I do get around checking my email and seeing there’s a new post on Gamespite, by time I read the post it’s already closed to new comments. :(

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