the story: The crew discovers a culture seemingly capable of giving them a good boost home, but which refuses to help.
what it's all about: Let's just get out of the way that any complaints about "Prime Factors" usually involve the alien culture. For supposedly enlightened people, I often have cause to remark that Star Trek fans can be surprisingly bigoted and petty. Enough of that.
This is the first of an incredibly strong end run for the first season, where the supposedly neglected premise of the series was handled with remarkable finesse. While "Factors" shares with the earlier "Eye of the Needle" a kind of fake-out ending and tease, it also demonstrates that the crew will have to work extremely hard to find a solution to the problem of getting home in a reasonable length of time (read: soon).
And it gives a lot of good material to a lot of characters. Harry has an excellent spotlight, in stark contrast to the previous episode ("Emanations"), where you get to see his remarkable, eager young mind at work, how in any other circumstances his career would've advanced rapidly (that he never gets promoted during the course of seven seasons is likely a symptom of a lack of upward mobility, considering no officers above him have anywhere else to go, either; only Tuvok and Tom Paris advance in rank).
Besides Harry, B'Elanna Torres remarkably collaborates with Lt. Carey, with whom she'd fought over the role of chief engineer in "Parallax," as well as Seska, for whom this foreshadows developments in the next episode ("State of Flux"). Everyone else who rebels against Janeway's and Starfleet expectations does it for the good of the crew; it's Seska who proves the bad apple.
Tuvok has perhaps his most notable moment of the whole series when he elects to join the conspiracy. His relationship with Janeway would end up being one of the most neglected aspects of the series, but they have a powerful moment as Janeway expresses disappointment in the Vulcan who somehow managed to out-stoic even the famously stoic Spock, rarely breaking discipline except when confronting Neelix. This makes "Factors" kind of the final episode necessary to understand how the crew functions the rest of the series, why Tuvok never questions Janeway again. The weakness, if there truly is one in the episode, is the absence of Chakotay offering any significant contributions to the proceedings. But like Seska he'll be in "Flux" to a greater degree.
- franchise - Casual fans will want to take note on how the episode reflects the premise of the series.
- series - See the above.
- character - Harry, Torres, Tuvok, Janeway...a lot of characters make a positive impact on the proceedings.
- essential - In a lot of ways this could've functioned as a season finale, so strong is its statement on both the series and the characters who populate it.
Martha Hackett (Seska)
Josh Clark (Carey)