Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Parallax"

The powers that be could have gone two ways with VOY’s second episode. They could have presented a high tension story in which the crew encounters a difficulty they have never seen before in order to emphasize the Delta Quadrant is exotic and dangerous, or they could have gone with a bottle show to explore characterization. The4 former was chosen, and I think we are better off for it. The problem the crew is facing, which has some serious scientific inaccuracies, is incidental to dealing with the Starfleet v. Maquis tension.

While “Parallax” is ultimately a Torres episode, Chakotay earns his first time in the spotlight. Out of all the characters introduced in the pilot, Chakotay was the least developed. All told, he had twenty minutes of screen time during which he played second fiddle to whichever other character with whom he was sharing the screen. Why was he leader of the Maquis? Why did they respect him so much? Why did Janeway so willing make him first officer? We had to just assume there were good reasons for it until “Parallax.”

We finally see the fine line Chakotay has to walk in his new role. When the episode begins, he has to smooth ruffled feathers over an incident in which Torres struck Casey, the highest ranking Starfleet officer in engineering, out of frustration. Tuvok wants to put her in the brig and begin court martial hearings. Chakotay advocates patience because of the Maquis learning curve in adjusting to the new status quo. A few minutes later, Chakottay is approached by a couple Maquis who suggest they would support him in a mutiny if Torres is put on trial. He warns they will be disciplined if he hears any similar suggestions in the future. Chakotay scolds Torres for her behavior, but later recommends her for chief engineer to Janeway. All in the first act, we have seen Chakotay deftly use his leadership skills to patch over issues in order to integrate the crews while going to bat for them as well.

Chakotay’s balancing act is not going to last long, but it is good while it does. The conflict between Janeway in him over her immediate distrust of the Maquis should have been a more prevalent running element. He expresses irritation that she only made him first officer because he has command experience in Starfleet. As far as she is concerned, he is going to be the token Maquis officer because she can excuse his new position by hoping his Starfleet training will keep his loyalties in line. She quickly thinks she has made a mistake when she yanks him back for assigning Torres to solve an immediate emergency rather than Casey. It is a tense give and take that rarely arises in future episode. When it does, shippers often credit it to sexual tension. The fantasy is a far bigger stretch than any Mulder and scully romance theories.

But ’Parallax” is a Torres episode. She has a chance to prove her mettle to Janeway when the ship is trapped in a quantum singularity after answering a distress call from another ship. The other ship turns out to be Voyager as well Whatever actions the other ship takes are the ones the real Voyager took moments ago. For the only time in the series, Janeway shows a knowledge and enthusiasm for quantum physics and quickly bonds with Torres as they discover a way to widen a crack in the singularity enough for the ship to pass through. Having earned Janeway’s respect, Torres is made chief engineer. Not that the two will not be at each other’s throats multiple times over the years.

“Parallax” establishes two major themes of dealing with problems that will run throughout the series, too. One is techno babble solutions that are completely fictional and two, scientific illiteracy. Here, the episode says an event horizon is an energy field that can be physically manipulated by widening a crack. An event horizon is actually the distance from a singularity in which light can no longer escape it gravity well. The more you know about science, the worse VOY gets.

But ’Parallax” is all about the characters, so I will let it slide. While I have talked mostly about Chakotay and Torres, the Doctor and Kes have their moments, as well. Their friendship is established as she becomes the first to treat him like a real person, even going so far as to suggest he choose a name for himself. It never occurred to him he would be around long enough to need one. Hence, he has his first growth towards being a person in his own right.

“Parallax” is a good way of introducing characters on an intimate level after all the rushed, slam bang action in "Caretaker." It holds a lot of promise that does not pay off as well as one might hope. Nevertheless, a long term plan is evident. In addition to what I have already mentioned regarding budding relationships, Seska makes her first appearance. She is not what she appears to be…

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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