Eye ofthe Needle", the latest episode of "Voyager

WARNING: This article contains spoiler information regarding "Eye of the Needle", the latest episode of "Voyager". Those not wishing to follow the thread of the article to the spoilers are advised to seek greener pastures.

In brief: A little thin getting going, but the first real test of a major part of VOY's premise -- and a test it passes handily.

Brief summary: The crew attempts to communicate with the Alpha Quadrant via a small wormhole, only to find unexpected complications when the receiving ship turns out to be of Romulan origin.

I said back in my review of "Voyager"'s premiere that the "stranded in the Delta Quadrant" premise could lead to two types of stories probably best left avoided: stories where they find a way home but somehow screw up and miss it (i.e. "Gilligan's Island" stories), and stories where they find a way home but must for some reason choose not to take it (i.e. "Land of the Lost" stories). "Eye of the Needle", I think, falls pretty firmly into the latter category.

However, this doesn't mean the story was a failure. It's possible to do "nobly avoid the solution" stories correctly, *if* you're careful about the reasons you can't solve your problem. And I think the particular anti-solution chosen, namely that the wormhole turned out to be a time rift as well, worked quite nicely, for two reasons.

First, it was a fairly non-obvious choice, and one that managed to take me (and most other people I've talked to about it) by surprise. I tend to like twist endings, provided that they're sensible after the fact -- and given some of the clues dropped, I think this was. (I don't mean the "phase variance" line repeated ad nauseam, but the fact that on at least two occasions the Romulan captain was surprised by Federation technology; of *course* he was, if it's twenty years ahead of where the Federation was at his time.) I also liked it because, despite the "don't pollute the timeline" reasoning being sound, it's the sort of argument that some people *will* protest -- and my estimation of the show jumped up a notch when Harry Kim did just that.

So, the basic premise of the episode was on fairly firm footing. The details were a somewhat mixed bag, though, both in plot and in characterization.

In terms of characters, there were two main things I noticed. The first was the feelings that the crew had to be going through as the situation re: the wormhole changed from hour to hour. The emotional roller-coaster ride was displayed pretty well, I thought, particularly with Kim and with the Janeway/Torres scene where Torres has just figured out that a transporter beam might work. The layer of calmness that the officers are supposed to have was cracking a bit, but in all the expected ways here -- and that worked well. [Tuvok's reticence to get involved was also very workable, and I thought Janeway's alternating elation and disappointment was wonderfully evident.]

What did *not* work well was the sudden absence of any sort of Maquis-related tension. Torres calling Kim "Starfleet" again, aside, there was nothing suggesting any sort of difficulty integrating the crews -- or more to the point, nothing suggesting that they'd even come from two different ships in the first place. This popped up when Chakotay was vetoing Telek's suggestion that he hint to Starfleet that they abort the mission which ended up sending Voyager out to the Delta Quadrant. While his point that they'd already had an impact there that couldn't be turned back was a valid one, there was a much stronger one that *someone* from the Maquis ship, be it Chakotay or Torres, had to make, namely "Well, gee, that's all well and good for YOU, but some of us would then be even more stuck out here, without even a decent-sized ship to use for the trip back!" The fact that neither one seemed to even consider that Telek's solution would strand the Maquis even worse suggests that the Fed/Maquis issue was forgotten, and it shouldn't be.

In terms of the plot, I've a few concerns. The first is simply that it took a bit of time to really get going; while the second half of the show was interesting and compelling, the first half was a bit sluggish. The rest, however, are story problems, either within the show or rather strongly ignoring past continuity under the rug. For instance:

-- Last time out, replicator energy was so scarce that everyone was on rations. This time, Janeway orders up something for herself and Kes with no problems. Was she awarded unlimited points or something?

-- Janeway leaves the bridge while Kim is trying to raise the Romulans again. That's no problem, but I have to wonder why she chose that moment to talk to the doctor about his own problems. The timing just struck me as very odd for some reason.

-- Janeway made a big mistake while talking to the Romulan from her quarters. (By the way, the fact that the Romulan was suspicious of their story was completely understandable, and a nice touch.) They'd told her they were a cargo vessel; the only reason Janeway knew they were a science ship was from Tuvok's analyses. Given that the Romulans were already convinced that Voyager was a surveillance ship, it seems like an unwise move to let on that you know they're a science ship.

-- Telek's offer of a troop ship to transport them home, so that they don't have to board Telek's own ship was nonsense. As was stated repeatedly, there was a lot of time pressure at work here, and there's no way Telek could get a troop ship there that quickly. A better solution would have been for Janeway and company to offer to come aboard and surrender; perhaps not as sound from a military standpoint, but eminently more practical.

-- Lastly, I have to wonder why no one had spotted the "temporal displacement" effect that gave Telek away in the test cylinders. Since they came from Voyager itself, it could be that the effect canceled itself out, which would explain it -- but that would imply they never tried beaming anything one-way, from the Romulan ship to Voyager. Hmm. (On the other hand, maybe such displacement is really only noticeable in living beings. Sure, I'll buy that this time. :-) )

Despite all of these glitches, though, I have to say that I found "Eye of the Needle" one of the stronger shows "Voyager"'s done to date. There's nothing like a powerful ending to help a show -- and the final scene in the transporter room, where the crew realizes that not only are their dreams of home on indefinite hold, but that they don't even know if the messages they sent ever reached Starfleet or not, was stark and painful. That sort of meat lets me overlook at least a few smaller problems.

I should also mention the "make the doctor a real crewmember" subplot we had running. While the general idea was a good one, and most of the scenes, particularly Janeway/Doc and the final scene in sickbay, worked fine, bits of the execution were screaming "'The Measure of a Man' Lite!" to me -- so "lite", in fact, as to be downright fluffy. That sort of "sure, he's programmed, but he's still a person" issue has been done _to death_ with Data -- unless we end up seeing new avenues of it explored (which I wouldn't mind), it'll get tired very quickly.

That seems to about do it. So, some shorter takes:

-- Speaking of replicator energy, a lot of people have responded to my complaint in "The Cloud" about Paris using the holodeck. The statement was made earlier in the season that "holodeck energy is incompatible with the rest of the ship's systems", and apparently this is to be taken as permission to use the holodeck all the time. While I'm glad that the attempt was at least made, I think that particular claim is absurd. It's like saying "oh, we can't read by the air conditioner, so let's use it all the time and we don't need to worry about electricity for the lights." Unless the holodeck possesses both an independent power source _and_ a perpetual motion machine somewhere creating all this energy, it's a drain.

-- While Janeway's playing upon Telek's feelings to get him to speed up the Romulan bureaucracy was understandable and reasonably well done, I found myself saying "I had an Aunt Em myself once!" by the end of it. :-)

-- In the "now you're one race, now you're not" category: Vaughn Armstrong, who played Telek, was also Korris, the first Klingon we saw in TNG other than Worf, way back in "Heart of Glory". Now if he ends up as a Cardassian, we're all set.

-- Kes: "It would be interesting to see an autopsy someday." Be careful what you wish for...

That would seem to do it. "Eye of the Needle" had a few glitches that marred it, but on the whole was the first sound test of the "stranded" portion of the show's rationale -- and seemed to be on solid footing.

So, to wrap up:

OVERALL: The feel of the show was so solid that I think it's an 8 despite problems. Nicely done.

NEXT WEEK: Paris finds out how the other half dies.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"And I think you'd be convinced that [the messages] are nothing more
than the heartfelt words of some ... very lonely people."
			-- Janeway
Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38