Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Timeless"

The numbering on the labels is off by two because I have combined a couple two hour episodes into one, but “Timeless” is the one-hundredth episode of VOY. Perhaps because VOY was a prime time series, the powers that be opted to make it an event rather than just another installment like TNG and Ds9 had done. They did a surprisingly good job with it. ’timeless” has some implausible elements beyond its techno babble pseudoscience, but it is quite good.

The story shifts between contemporary times in which Voyager is about to utilize Borg technology to create a quantum slipstream in order to traverse the distance home in a few minutes and fifteen years later, where an aged an embittered Harry and Chakotay are plotting to fix the mistake that killed everyone when the ship fell out of the slipstream and crashed, killing everyone on board. The latter is far more compelling than the former, even though there is a tension over what is about to happen.

Oddly enough, Chakotay is not that different in the future. Perhaps that is a sign he is already emotionally damaged due to his Maquis days. There is even a point here where he turns to his girlfriend, Tessa, and asks if she really wants to go through with the plan to alter history, as their relationahip will be erased if successful. It has suddenly dawned on Chakotay that his own potential happiness is worth more than preserving the lives of 150 people. But remember, chekotay was the guy who did not want to rescue his child from the Kazon because, as he openly admitted, he did not care about his infant son. Tessa lines up his priorities for him now just as Janeway did back then.

Harry, however, has beaten himself up brutally over the years. It was his miscalculation that caused Voyager to fall out of the slipstream, so he blames himself for the crew’s deaths. I have never praised Garrett Wang for his acting prowess, and with good reason. The Chinese Olivier this guy ain’t. but his Future Harry is not just Young harry with grey streaks in his hair. You genuinely believe this is a man who has not had a peaceful moment in fifteen years because of his guilt over one, little mistake that had very tragic consequences. Savor the acting chops on display. Wang will not stretch those thespian muscles quite like this again.

Chakotay and Harry’s plan is to retrieve the Doctor from the ship buried beneath the ice of a frozen Beta Quadrant planet, have him autopsy Seven to discover the precise moment she died, and then transmit a message to her implants in the past with the correct coordinates via some Borg communications technology Starfleet intelligence discovered. The plan works, but not perfectly, so we still get a good CGI shot of Voyager crashing on the ice. I am not kidding about the CGI being good. It is a more exciting effects sequence than the crash of the Enterprise in Star Trek: Generations. If there is one thing I thought was off about Wang’s performance, it is the emotional breakdown he suffers when he realizes history has not changed. It strikes me as more of a childish tantrum, and that is pretty much what the Doctor tells him it is before he straightens up and realizes the problem is that he is trying to get them home rather than save their lives. Future Harry transmits coordinates to Seven through time again. The ship does not crash in the Beta Quadrant, but it does wind up ten years closer to home.

There are significant plot holes. If the crew is using Borg technology devised by Seven to create the slipstream, why are they relying on Harry for calculations? Should seven not know how to calculate them precisely herself? The crew is already having a party over the impending successful trip before they test it to see if the slipstream even works. How did Harry and Chakotay find Voyager buried on a remote planet when Starfleet looked for seven years without success? How did they know intelligence had recovered a borg communications device when neither of them have been in Starfleet for over a decade? How did they manage to steal the device, not to mention the Delta Flyer, once they found out about it? There is not so much as a hint Tessa had anything to do with it--she is not even identified as having any association with Starfleet--but I suppose that is what we are to rationalize. A throwaway line saying as much would have been nice.

I can overlook a lot of flaws in an episode I otherwise enjoy. There is a lot to like about “Timeless,” such as Future Harry’s demeanor (mostly) and the CGI crash. Also cool is the appearance of Geordi La Forge as the Starfleet captain sent after Future Chakotay, Future Harry, and Tessa. “Timeless” aired less than a month before the premiere of Star Trek: Insurrection, so his inclusion is some cross-promotion. Hey, I will even praise the appearance of Christine Hamos as Tessa. Hamos is best known for playing Dr. Mark Greene’s b8tchy ex-wide on ER. It is totally satisfying to see her erased from the timeline.

“Timeless” is one of the best episodes of VOY, and it is the best Harry-centric episode. I classify as that if for no other reason than Hard Luck Harry gets to redeem himself for once rather than slink off while someone else saves the day. The acting is kicked up a notch. So are the special effects. The writing still leaves something to be desired, considering how obvious it would have been to fill in the plot holes simply by saying Tessa was once in Starfleet, so she was the catalyst for finding Voyager, the Borg communications device, and the Delta Flyer, but the writers let that dangle instead. It goes to show you cannot win them all. But “Timeless” wins more than usual.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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