Saturday, June 11, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Eye of the Needle"

There were two promises about the dramatic tension that was to drive VOY. One was the Starfleet/Maquis animosity was going to make cooperation in order to survive difficult. The other was being stranded 75,000 light years from home would create a sense of isolation and exotic danger. The Starfleet/Maquis tension was pretty much canned after the second episode. It will only be revisited once or twice a season when a story calls for it, then dropped unceremoniously again. The latter tension survived for seven whole episodes.

While I have complained about the Starfleet/Maquis tension evaporating too quickly, it is a forgivable offense. Stranding a standard 24th century crew of morally perfect humans on the other side of the galaxy has dramatic possibilities, assuming the powers that be accept the DS9 philosophy that the said perfection of humanity is due to the comfort of environment and not growth as a species. No such luck, but we will deal with that later. The latter problem of introducing familiar elements from home is different.

I vividly remember watching “Eye of the Needle” and joking to myself the show was going to porph into Voyager: Gilligan’s Island. You know the drill: the crew finds some possible way of getting home. While there is enough doubt among the characters to make their attempt feasible, it looks like a cannot miss. Therefore, something has to come along and eliminate the chance for success. It is boringly formulaic in the first place, but gets far worse when the rationale for failure is the VOY stand by of a moral dilemma. A flimsy one at that.

Harry stumbles across a wormhole which he says is microscopic, but later measures as thirty centimeters in diameter. Thirty centimeters is approximately a foot. While that is too small for a starship to fly through, it is far from microscopic. It is one thing to present bad science to a general audience who likely do not know what an event horizon is. It is something else to make a claim any fourth grader decent in math could point out as untrue. Harry thinks the wormhole could still be used to send messages to the alpha Quadrant, assuming that is where the wormhole leads. Tuvok points out there is only a 75% chance the wormhole leads anywhere but the Alpha Quadrant. Janeway urges him that a one in four chance sounds much better. There is in reality know way to know if the wormhole leads to any useful location anywhere. But as luck would have it, they contact a Romulan vessel.

It takes some doing before convincing the Romulan scientist their story of being stranded is true, but he is convenient into taking their messages when janeway appeals to his loneliness from working far from his family. Torres excitedly announces she thinks it is possible to beam the entire crew over to the Romulan vessel, leaving Voyager behind, and making them all political prisoners, but they think that is a fantastic idea. Neelix is right. They are idiots.

As a test, they beam the Romulan onboard. It is successful, but unfortunately, they discover the wormhole traverses both space and time. He is from twenty years in the past. While he agrees they cannot beam back with him because they might pollute Romulan history, he offers to notify Starfleet in twenty years not to send Voyager on its maiden mission. Chackotay is the one who nixes the idea by claiming they have had too big an impact on the Delta Quadrant to not let history take its course. Instead, the romulan will deliver messages to the crew’s families on this precise date. Of course, he dies thirteen years before he can do that. Just like all those people who visited the Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, something always keeps them from telling all.

I said above it is a flimsy rationale to say the crew has had too much of an impact on the Delta Quadrant to never have come in the first place, and it is. Voyager is not supposed to be there at all, but it has been for a couple months. Thanks to Chacotay, it will be there for up to 75 more years leaving an undue impact the entire time. By his own rationale, Chacotay says it is better to preserve two months damage by extending it decades. Furthermore, the crew will travel through time throughout the series run to effect the past and future with no compunctions whatsoever. Janeway will claim several times she is willing to face court martial for her actions if those actions get Voyager. in other words, they have to come up with any dumb rationale to stay stranded in the Delta Quadrant. So they do.

Technically speaking, ’Eye of the Needle” is not a bad episode. It is perfectly reasonable to assume the series will feature episodes in which a way of getting home is presented. But they need to be done later in the series once much more of the dynamics have been established. What is the use of establishing the lonely desperation of the crew if possible rescue may come in any given episode? You know that nothing is going to work, so the episodes lose something because of these stories. Why give fans suspicion so early in the series this sort of thing will happen all the time? So the serious failure of “Eye of the needle” is its timing. It leaves a bad taste for what future episodes will be like.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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