WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Star Trek: Voyager"'s latest episode, "Time and Again". Be warned.
In brief: Not a bad bit of plotting ... but where were the characters?
Brief summary: The "Voyager" crew investigates a planetary catastrophe that destroyed an entire population, only to see Janeway and Paris vanish into the past ... just before that catastrophe takes place.
"Time and Again" is an interesting contrast to "Parallax". In "Parallax" last week, I had some problems with weird plot points, but thought the characters were superbly written and that the character-related plots were terrific. Here, on the other hand, I think the plotting was a bit sharper, but the characters were
Let's start with the plot, as it's both more interesting and easier to describe. :-) Aside from the complaint a co-worker of mine asked in anguish, namely "is effect ALWAYS going to precede cause on this show?", I thought the idea of the crew's own investigations causing the damage they were investigating was a neat one. It strikes me as the temporal equivalent of one phrasing of the uncertainty principle: by observing a system, you're inevitably disturbing it. (In this case, of course, the disturbance was a bit more pronounced.) Some of the routes used to get to that plot were a little tortuous for my liking (subspace "icebergs"? Effects propagating back in time that are nevertheless fallen into in the future? Um ... check, please), but nonetheless I thought the basic plot was intriguing, and many of the "catches" in the rescue (such as the fact that each attempt was extremely localized and a one-shot to boot) were sound.
What's more, I liked the way in which Janeway and Paris were stuck in the trap. The cleverest moment I saw in the show, in many ways, had to be when the protesters noted Janeway's own exposure to polaric radiation, and pointed out that either they'd been present at a polaric disaster bigger than any the planet had seen, or that they were lying about never having been in the power plant the day before. I love seeing characters get caught in Catch- 22's (except when they're the result of artificially dumbing down the characters, but this didn't), and this was no exception -- they were stuck either exposing their situation (thus violating the Prime Directive, and probably not being believed in any case, as was later shown), or letting the protesters believe they'd been infiltrated.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Janeway's rush to judgment, however. Her immediate conclusion of "we've made them move up their timetable, so therefore we must have caused the accident" seems very silly -- for all we know, moving up their timetable might make them successfully sabotage the plant before something goes wrong inside of it. Now, if she'd said that there was a good chance their actions had now contributed to the accident, and that chance was good enough to justify exposing their identities, that's fine; but she presented it as the only possible option. That seems a little much to me, particularly since it was never acknowledged later that she was dead *wrong*. The fact that she was wrong, however, is a nice plus; it's good to have captains human enough to screw up! (It's also worth pointing out that their actions clearly *were* changing things, so it might be worth it to try to change them back regardless; but again, that point wasn't made.)
Although I'm sure not everyone did, I also appreciated Janeway's defense of the Prime Directive, and her emphatic point that no, it might *not* be for the best to save this particular planet. (My unspoken thought was "what if these guys turn out to be the next Borg?" or something similar. Yes, it would be best for this planet were it to be saved -- but if they destroyed themselves, it might not be best for the region to save the planet from itself.) Although there are certainly situations where the PD is questionable, I think the point here was relatively clear-cut given their initial assumptions, and it was good to see the policy given some respect.
Finally (in terms of plot), there's Kes's breaking out into telepathic abilities. This one has me a little worried, because I see the possibility of Kes being neglected the way Deanna Troi was on TNG. Hopefully, this won't be the case -- I'd love to see a telepath done *well* in Trek, and I think Jennifer Lien's already shown that she can emote a bit better than Marina Sirtis did initially. However, if Kes is to be a Troi-figure, she really does need to be handled more deftly than Troi was, and I'm not sure "Time and Again" suggests that such will be the case. [I did, however, like the justification that Kes's extensive time in space might be causing her brain to adapt differently from other Ocampa. That makes some sense to me.]
In terms of characters, however, I'm far less satisfied with "Time and Again" than I was with either of the two episodes before it. The only people who really had any life in them, so far as I could tell, were Paris and Janeway -- everyone left behind to deal with the problem was shackled hand and foot to the plot, with the result that no one got to be particularly unique. With only a couple of exceptions, there was nothing in the characters' actions that felt *wrong* from what we've seen of them -- it just did nothing further to tell us who these people are, and this early in the series I'd be more comfortable seeing that.
One very positive exception to that statement, however, was the doctor, whom I'm finally beginning to like. In particular, I adored his reaction to hearing about Kes, the Maquis, and Janeway's disappearance all in one: "Seems I've found myself on a voyage of the damned." We just lost it after we heard that. :-) (Hopefully it will turn out not to be a "meta-line", that being a line applicable to the series as a whole.)
One *negative* exception, to counterbalance that, was B'Elanna referring at one point to the place "where the captain and Tom disappeared." Tom? This near-feral person who's disliked most things about Starfleet we've seen so far, who wouldn't even call Harry Kim by name after a day with him, is calling Paris *Tom*? It's only a word, granted, but it's one that jumped out at me as not fitting Torres as a character at all.
The other character I found myself intensely disliking was Latika, the kid who ends up in the middle of Janeway and Paris's mess. While I'm not sure whether he was written particularly badly, the actor had a sneering way of talking that I really, *really* found annoying. After he was caught by the protesters, I found myself agreeing with Lisa, who answered the protester's question "what should I do with him?" with a simple "Twist." I'm not sure why the character was used in the first place, except perhaps for the hostage situation, but I hope to see the series relatively free of annoying kids like him.
That leaves us with the ending, which unfortunately left me a little cold. While Janeway's matter-of-fact "I am a hostage" gambit was an excellent one, it's not at all clear to me just what the heck happened when she managed to derail her own rescue attempt. Were all of the Voyager crew thrown back in time? Were we just seeing history "resetting" itself? Was the show short a minute in time, forcing us to see the same scene a second time? :-) What exactly happened? While I don't like comparing different episodes to each other directly most of the time, this ending felt a *lot* like TNG's "Clues", except that "Clues" did it a lot more smartly.
[I also thought Janeway took her own sweet time going after the protesters. Geez, Kathryn, time's a-wasting; stop speechmaking and GO already!]
That pretty much covers the main points. So, some short takes:
-- The Paris/Kim scene was fine (as long as we don't see something like it every week). I liked the fact that "pairing off" is getting mentioned given the long time they have before they get home, and I particularly liked Paris's offhand "so who are they gonna check it with?" response to Kim's indignation.
-- Another from the "Tim Servo and Lisa C. Robot" file of talking back to the show:
Kes: "I saw them burn...their bones turning to ash!" Me: "No, no, that was the T2 video we saw last night -- what about your *vision*?"
-- I liked seeing Janeway's and Paris's uniforms on sale right after they bought new clothes. That seemed very fitting.
-- I also liked the parallel scenes with the combadges; very cutely done.
-- Interestingly, "Voyager" seems to have departed from normal Trek format, in that we're seeing a *four*-act structure instead of five. Intriguing; I wonder why.
-- And, lastly, just because I feel like causing trouble, I should point out that the preponderance of humanoids *here* as well makes many of the plot points in "The Chase" pretty forced at best. Ha. :-)
That's about it. So, wrapping up:
OVERALL: Call it a 6.5; a little bit lower than "Parallax", but not much.
NEXT WEEK: Neelix loses his lunch ... sorry, *lungs*.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "So where's the child?" "We ate him. Because we *are* demons, and we *eat* children, and I haven't had my *supper* yet!" -- Latika and Paris 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 <email@example.com> Last modified: Sun Aug 25 21:36:57 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.29