Thursday, September 29, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"11:59"

Do you folks remember thr Millennium Bug? Civilization was supposed to crumble as computers all were to malfunction at the stroke midnight, January 1, 2000? Down here in the Bible belt, there was millennial anxiety of another kind. My roommate and I were traveling on New Year’s Eve from Columbia halfway across state to Greenwood for a former college classmate’s party. Literally every church we passed along the way was packed with people. I had heard a teacher once claim entire countries converted to Christianity in 999 over fear the Rapture would occur in 1000. Forget computer issues. I was surrounded by people with more ancient concerns.

Which is appropriate for “11:59.” It is a very small, subdued story about the clash of philosophies between those who respect the past and those who look towards the future. It is the most unusual VOY episode of the series. There are no aliens, explosions, techno babble solutions to extraordinary problems. Egad, Seven does not even learn anything new about humanity. It is all about Janeway talking about an ancestral hero of hers and learning she was just an ordinary person.

Because of that theme, I could not help but think of the end teasers of Welcome Back, Kotter in which Kotter would tell his wife some obviously untrue story about a fictitious relative of his just to set up a corny joke. Of course, Janeway would have to be more sinister.

“Chakotay, did I ever tell you about my caveman ancestor, Bok?” Janeway asks.

“No, Captain. I don’t believe you have,” Chakotay replies with a smile.

“He invented human sacrifice.” There is a long silence during which Chakotay waits for the punch line. When it does not come, he prods Janeway.

“Aren’t you going to finish the joke? I’m expecting a big payoff.”

“No joke,” Janeway replies. “Just telling you how the family business got started.”

Dead silence. Literally. The woman has racked up a body count in the thousands through her actions in the Delta Quadrant--and does not care. Do recall “Hope and Faith.”

I am playing around with the review for “11:59" because there is not much here. It is a 400 year flashback in which Janeway talks about her ancestor, Shannon O’Donnel, and brilliant engineer and childhood hero. O’Donnel’s car breaks down in the small town of Portage Creek, Indiana, which is not to be confused with carbon Creek, Pennsylvania. According to Star Trek writers, every other town in 20th century America has “Creek” in its name. O’donnel agrees to work in an independent bookstore owned by Henry Janeway, also staying at his home, in order to earn the money to repair her car. O’Donnel learns a corporation wants to build a futuristic community called the Millennium Gate. The townspeople are eager, but Henry is the lone holdout. He refuses to sell his bookstore. If he does not sell by 11:59, December 31, 2000, the deal is off.

Thus sets up the conflict between O’Donnel and Henry. She is a forward looking person who embraces new technology as progress. Henry appreciates the past and thinks it should not be dismissed so easily. Unfortunately, their debate is not over those who forget the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Henry is instead a semi-Luddite who believes man creates technology, then has to spend too much time fixing all the new problems it causes. He is a sympathetic character well played by Kevin Tighe, but at not point are we to ever get the impression he has a point. The episode loudly sings the praises of gene Roddenberry’s idea that advanced technology means social progress for humanity.

It is not so, even superficially in a society in which one junior high kid will murder another for his iPod. How anyone believes the prospect of efficiently exploring space because of warp drive engines will change human nature is beyond me. Soon, there is going to be no one left alive who walked on the moon. No one really cares. No one really cared then, either, other than the desire to win the space race. You certainly cannot call competing with the Soviets uniting humanity in a project to explore space. Nowadays? Even if a kid wants to be an astronaut, I imagine his teachers discourage him because there is no space program of which to speak. So much for advanced technology advancing the human race along with it. The ironic part? Roddenberry signed off on the Borg, a n alien race obsessed with integrating advanced technology into themselves, but without a hint of virtue. In fact, they were terrifying for a long while there. I guess Roddenberry was too business cashing the checks to notice the contradiction.

I got off on an unintended rant there. The thing is, I sympathize with Henry in a lot of ways. I am something of a Luddite myself. I need compelling evidence new technology has value before I will learn how to use it. Many times I discover I like it, but I always have that fear not only is technology getting away from us, but we are losing something valuable in the process. It is not just the notion that we should forget the barbaric past in favor of a brighter future--I vehemently disagree with that--but things lack henry’s bookstore and books in general disappearing in favor of Kindle, etc. I keep my melancholy largely to myself. As a politicall conservative Christian, my ideas are dismissed as a yearning for a mythic vision of the past at best and a new dark Ages at worst. Why bother explaining myself when I have to work against those bad assumptions?

There is a review for “11:59” somewhere here, I promise.

The problem with “11:59” is its lack of heart. So much of it feels scripted rather than natural. The minute you hear Henry’s last name is Janeway, you know everything that is going to happen. It all happens by the book, too. In spite of their differing viewpoints, O’Donnel and Henry hook up. It all happens suddenly, too. Henry changes his mind to sell the bookstore without any real build up to it. O’Donell bites into a chocolate chip cookie and decides she is too connected to Henry and the Millennium Gate, which she is conveniently offered a job working on, to ever leave. A to B to C, solely because that is what the plot demands. It is difficult to buy into it because events do not flow naturally.

An odd bit is that Tom, who has been listening to Janeway’s talk about o’Donnel as some major presence in history, has never heard of her. Convenient that he is such a history buff for 20th century events. I am sure you know lots of people so well versed in 16th century lore they can tell you some random person you name was not a Renassaince painter as you claim. Janeway does more research and discovers o’Donnel was a minor player in the Millennium Gate and future projects. The discovery is not a revelation a childhood hero has feet of clay, but seemingly one that you cannot trust history. The conclusion does fit in with the episode’s misguided message.

At least “11:59” acknowledges the new millenium began on January 1, 2001. Other than Ray Bradbury’s fustrated attempts to get the message through, there were not a lot of mainstream sources promoting that fact. It was too tempting to promote a nice, round number like 2000 as significant. Stuff like that is how history gets revised. I really despise the mixed messages this episode sends.

Nevertheless, I still like it. The powers that be were willing to try something different. Not many shows are willing to experiment in such a way. A lack of writing talent kepps it from being great. The episode has not aged well. It is through no fault of its own. As I noted above, there was not a notable millennium craze. The computers did not fail. The Rapture did not occur. Do you remember anything special about that time/ I do not. Worse yet, any hope for the future was dashed by 9/11. It is hard to think we are advancing when a group of cave dwellers in the desert successfully destroy prominent symbols of modernity like the world Trade Center. Hope for the new millennium when medieval barbarism dominates the first decade of it? Hardly.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

No comments:

Post a Comment