WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Star Trek: Voyager"'s latest episode, entitled "Parallax". Proceed no further without awareness of that fact.
In brief: Generally good, particularly on the characters -- but oh, the bogus physics hurts.
One-line summary: The Voyager finds itself near a "quantum singularity", with another ship nearby in distress -- but circumstances soon take a turn for the bizarre as they realize that the other ship is *also* the Voyager...
Sigh. Sometimes I feel like I'm caught in a Catch-22. On the one hand, I don't particularly care for the overuse of technobabble that modern Trek has fallen prey to over the last few years; good storytelling shouldn't need doses of eighty different fictional particles to move the plot forward. On the other hand, I like it even less when established terms are used in utterly bogus ways -- and such was very much the case with "Parallax". When Neelix told Kes that "the event horizon is a powerful energy field" surrounding a singularity, I winced: visibly and loudly. (Never heard of a loud wince? That's your problem. :-) ) The event horizon is a well-defined concept, and it has nothing to do with anything this episode made it out to be. [What it is, to use a _very_ quick and dirty definition, is the "point of no return" boundary around a black hole, within which the escape velocity is too high to let anything out, even light.]
"So," I can hear some people asking, "that means you must have hated the show, right?"
Wrong. I actually like the majority of it apart from that, and all that would be needed to solve the above problem would be to replace the words "event horizon" with "doohickey field" every time they appear in the show. Since I've decided to do that mentally from now on, I'm simply going to use the show as an educational tool. :-) [I do have to say, however, that I wonder exactly what science consultant Andre Bormanis's job actually *is* in the Trek franchise. For anyone versed in the physical sciences, this wasn't a tough issue to catch. And given some past Trek history, we can be pretty sure his background's not in the biological sciences...]
The show had two real plots: the "escape from the singularity" plot, and the "who'll be running Engineering?" plot. I'll tackle the first first.
The general idea, as B'Elanna laid it out to the crew, is a fairly interesting one: being trapped in a situation where you're seeing a reflection of yourself that moves, not as you are currently, but as you once did, has some meat in it. (I personally wonder why the time-delay is there, given that sensors are working at a speed far past that of light, and why the time-delay was *variable*, but that's my own background at work, I think.) There were, however, some elements to the story that I had real problems with.
Firstly, there's the shuttle trip at the end. While the shuttle trip itself seemed well set up and necessary, the agonizing over "which Voyager do we go back to?" was contrived well past any point of sanity. It was smart thinking to include the line about the communications being out (which removes the "why not just hail them?" objection), but the most obvious choice that leapt to my mind, even before hailing, was for the shuttle to simply _go through_ the rift they'd just widened and meet Voyager on the other side. If time is of the essence, don't wait for the shuttle to come all the way back to you; just head on through yourself and pick them up once everything's clear. That felt decidedly odd to me.
The second point has to do with B'Elanna's briefing. The explanation as given made some sense -- but Tom Paris's question about how they were hearing an echo of something they hadn't even sent out yet *also* made a great deal of sense, in my opinion. Janeway's response of "no, you're not making sense, but that's because this is a difficult concept" seemed not only a little patronizing of Paris, but felt like the audience was being condescended to as well -- it seemed the equivalent of the writer (either Jim Trombetta or Brannon Braga, who wrote the story and teleplay respectively) throwing up his hands and saying "no! I can't explain this objection either, so just don't make it!" While I appreciate the honesty :-), I think the point needed to be addressed in a different way.
Other than that, though, the "jeopardy" story was basically fine, if a little reminiscent early on of TNG's ancient "Where Silence Has Lease". On, then, to the character-centered plot.
That plot, as a good sign for the character mix "Voyager" has on board, worked beautifully. While I'm hoping that B'Elanna's tendency to beat something or someone up every time she's annoyed is something she manages to deal with successfully reasonably soon -- even Worf, a full Klingon, managed not to punch holes in walls or engineers most of the time :-) -- I think her passionate defense of what she knows is right is a major strength of the character. What's more, the backdrop of the Starfleet/Maquis distrust hanging over this entire plot was beautifully done. Nothing felt forced -- not Chakotay's objections to Tuvok's wishes, not the mutiny rumblings we saw early on, and not even the way B'Elanna ended up proving herself ready in the end.
A few moments in particular stood out within this half of the episode. The first would have to be Chakotay's confrontation with B'Elanna at the very start. Friends and comrades though they may be, B'Elanna had screwed up big time -- and Chakotay had no problems letting her know it. The tension in the scene was nicely laid out, and I particularly enjoyed Chakotay's answer to how long B'Elanna was confined to quarters: "The rest of the trip -- 75 years." I've been tempted to give similar answers on occasion, so that felt particularly true to life.
The Janeway/Chakotay argument about "his people" was another superb moment. This was the scene that turned the issue into something larger than who was going to be Chief Engineer -- and once again, Chakotay had the quote that summed a lot of it up. "I have no intention of being your TOKEN Maquis officer" is a line that made me wince -- but unlike the "event horizon" silliness, it made me wince out of empathy for Janeway, as that must have stung. Regardless, I thought some of Janeway's points about the discipline necessary to hold some of the positions open were good ones -- and this was primarily a case where neither person was totally right. Excellent work from all concerned, I think.
The early Janeway/Torres scene in the former's ready room was okay, if a bit "standard". However, the briefings both participated in were much more telling, and brought something interesting to mind, namely this:
Much was made in fan circles and in the press about how this captain was going to be a woman. However, *nothing* was made about the chief engineer also being a woman, nor was any attention paid to the fact that the two biggest scientific intellects on the ship are both female. Coming from a scientific background (and a male-dominated one at that; astronomy is still *very* one-sided in that regard), I find it ... "fascinating" that we've got a scientist as captain, and that we have two female role models on the show that are not only strong characters, but good *intellects* as well. (The closest attempt we've seen to a strong female scientist on a regular basis has been Dax ... and frankly, that side of her character hasn't really been dealt with much.)
Given all of that, I absolutely adored the end of the second briefing, where Janeway and B'Elanna were tossing ideas back and forth at each other, rapid-fire, while the rest of the crew looked on, totally confused. I've been in meetings very much like that on more than one occasion -- and when you get a brainstorm like that going, my experience has been that you let it run its course. A scene like that could easily have become a little silly or cliched, and I for one am quite glad that it didn't.
The resolution to the conflict was, while somewhat expected, nicely done. (Certainly, far worse choices could have been made; I half expected Carrey to get killed during the escape attempt or something. After all, it's how Chakotay and Paris got *their* jobs. ;-) ) More to the point, however, it allowed for one more excellent scene between, you guessed it, Chakotay and Janeway. The question Chakotay asked ("if things had happened differently, and we were on the Maquis ship now instead of Voyager, would you have served under me?") was a good one, and one that I'm sure had been weighing on his mind for quite some time -- and Janeway's non-answer also felt very much in character.
So, in terms of character development and plots relating to the characters themselves, I think "Parallax" is a good piece of work. In terms of the jeopardy angle, it was reasonable, but not wonderful.
So, some shorter points:
-- The effects got somewhat strange on occasion, at least while on board the ship. In particular, something about the film quality seemed to change about two-thirds of the time we saw the "crew shaken around" effects. It was very jarring. (On the other hand, it was very nice seeing a reflection of the shuttle bay while the Voyager shuttle was docking.)
-- I've decided that I definitely like the opening theme to the show. A lot. It reminds me of something, though, and I'm not sure what.
-- The final "sometimes you have to _punch_ your way through" speech was more than a little stilted. I'm hoping not to see much of those.
-- I liked the points made about how the holo-doctor is forced into situations he/it didn't expect to have to deal with, but the "Incredible Shrinking Doctor" plot left me cold.
-- I'm also pleased to see that Kes will actually have a purpose other than as Neelix's love interest. I also like the fact that we're seeing people with minimal training forced into roles they wouldn't have wanted, owing to the loss of life on board. This should prove a learning experience for all concerned.
-- One strangeness in the Janeway/B'Elanna issue: Janeway's knowledge of B'Elanna's past Academy history was a bit much. Yes, she's entitled to know much of her history given that she was going out chasing them -- but she seems to know B'Elanna's past better than that of her own crew! That felt a little forced to me.
That would seem about it. So, wrapping up:
OVERALL: A bit less than "Caretaker", but not by much. Call it a 7.
NEXT WEEK: A truly cheesy ad, and Voyager's first Prime Directive show.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) email@example.com "I am the _embodiment_ of modern medicine." -- Doc "Here I am, brain the size of a planet..." -- us Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <firstname.lastname@example.org> Last modified: Sun Aug 25 21:34:21 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28