Sunday, July 24, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Future's End, Part I"

That is what 24th century Starfleet officers consider going native in 1996 Los Angeles. The outfits are absurd, but fit right in with the wild theme of the ’Future’s End” two part episode. I am a sucker for time travel stories. So much so that I can generally cast aside my cynical, nitpicking nature regarding the physics and paradoxical problems involved. But I can only do that when the story itself is engaging. Fortunately, in spite of some flaws, ’Future’s End, Part I” is engrossing enough to excuse them.

This being VOY, we start with a problem right off the bat. A time ship from the 29th century Federation appears in the Delta Quadrant and begins firing on Voyager without explanation. Now we know the 29th century Federation has adopting Janeway’s gun barrel diplomacy as standard policy. She has no time to appreciate her legacy, as the crew rigs a techno babble solution to temporarily save themselves from the attack long enough to communicate wit the other ship.

It is piloted by Braxton, a character who has become so popular among younger Trekkies there were rumors he might turn out to be Future Guy from ENT. Skepticism reigns with that, I have a hunch why he is popular, which I will address in a moment. Braxton reluctantly explains an explosion in his century will destroy earth’s solar system . Some debris from Voyager is found after the explosion, so they get the blame. Braxton insists he has no time to discuss the issue further and attacks again. His attack opens a temporal rift which entraps both ships.

I have already addressed the shoot first and do not worry about questions at any point tactic Braxton uses, but one has to be amused that a time traveler claims he has no time to explain things. You would think he has all the time he wants. With that time, he could actually meet with Janeway and explain things instead of--and this is something he should have foreseen with even a moments that--engaging in a rash action which is the catalyst for the solar system’s eventual destruction. Gene Roddenberry would be proud to know how far his advanced 24th century humans have regressed by the 29th.

Thankfully, the plot set up is the only really bad part of the story. The rest follows through in entertaining fashion. Braxton and Voyager arrive in Earth’s solar system at different times. Braxton loses his time ship to a hippie named Henry Starling in 1969. Starling uses the technology to become a billionaire computer mogul by 1996 when Voyager arrives. The crew is unaware of the time ship’s fate, but they beam down incognito looking for Braxton.

The away team splits into two. Jane way and Chakotay, unaware the Sonny Crockett look died in 1989, track down Braxton, who is now a formerly institutionalized homeless man who has no resources to stop Starling. Tom and Tuvok are off to erase any evidence of Voyager existence from a astronomer’s observatory run by Raine Robinson, who is played by a far less vulgar than usual Sarah Silvermen. Paths intersect when Starling, who has been on the lookout for visitors from the future looking for his technology, sends goons to get rid of Robinson, tom, and Tuvok.

Starling is on the verge of unveiling his time ship to the public. The attempt to stop him ends in disaster when his 29th century technology proves too much for Voyager’s 24th. He disables the ship and steals the Doctor the episode ends on a meaningless cliffhanger in which news footage of camcorder video of Voyager flying about airs on a local news broadcast. It is a weather balloon, folks. Nothing to see here.

If you got any impression ’Future’s End, Part I” mimics the plot to Back to the Future III, go to the head of the class. Not only does the plot line up, but when Janeway and Chakotay discover Braxton, he channels Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown when explaining everything that happened, right down to drawing it all out in chalk with brown’s inflection in his voice. This is what I hinted at above it the likely root of his popularity. Other obvious homage involve Starling acquiring technology as a ‘60’s hippie to become a wealthy businessman as opposed to Biff Tannen being given a sports almanac as a ’50’s greaser to become a wealthy businessman. Both modern day Starling and Tannen are on constant watch for anyone from the future whom they might have to eliminate with extreme prejudice. Ironically, Back to the Future II is far darker the “Future’s End, Part I” even though it is a comedy. I am not criticizing the similarities, either. While they do stand out, it does not feel like VOY ripped the movie off. Your mileage may vary.

As a set up for the second part, the episode does its job. Aside from Braxton’s frankly dumb actions to set events in motion, the story flows logically and entertainingly. Oftentimes the first part of a two part episode does not feature enough pay off without seeing the second part to be worthwhile in itself. Not so here. I expected the often weak writing staff to ham up the fish out of water elements of the away team’s situation to unbearable levels,, but am pleasantly surprised that was kept to a minimum.

If there is a weak point, it is Silverman. She is there to provide eye candy for the fourteen year old virgins watching. They even made her an astronomy geek with a taste for geeky toys and bad science fiction movies to boost her appeal. I will grant that she was pretty cute back then before I knew much about her obnoxiously vulgar comic persona, but is largely irrelevant to the story. The attempt to kill her comes across as manufactured solely to give Tom and Tuvok an action sequence instead of erasing computer data of Voyager existence and calling it a day.

A small gripe, but there you go. “Future’s End, Part I” is fun enough to overlook its flaws, including the puzzling like of Eugenic War that is supposedly raging at the time according to trek lore. Nevertheless, it is a cannot miss that compels one to watch the conclusion. That is what a good first part is for.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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