Thursday, June 15, 2017

Voyager 1x1/1x2 "Caretaker"

rating: ****

the story: Janeway goes hunting for the Maquis and her ship ends up stranded in the Delta Quadrant.

what it's all about: What an incredibly strong beginning.  I think that's really the problem fans had with Voyager, that it had such a strong push out of the gate, subsequent episodes that seemed to take forever to be relevant to the first episode (it's really not until "Eye of the Needle" five episodes later that episodic material gives way to series-specific matters again).  Context is really the key, here.  Fans had gotten used to Deep Space Nine's interest in continuing arcs, which at the point Voyager premiered was a series at the midpoint of its third season, when the Dominion had already appeared numerous times.  It had also, along with Next Generation, spent some time laying the groundwork for the concept of the Maquis, whom fans thought would make a significant impact on the dynamic of Star Trek storytelling, introducing more conflict between characters.  And in "Caretaker," that plays out nicely, but after "Parallax" (the first regular episode of the series) it seemed to fade into oblivion (always something of a myth, really).  That, and the franchise had lost the genre mandate among the fans, who had begun embracing Babylon 5 as the first of many viable cult alternatives, and of course that was a series built on serialization. 

Every character has a good reason to be where they are in the premiere, and some of them have surprises that couldn't be seen coming (Tuvok as a Starfleet spy among Chakotay's Maquis crew).  Torres and Kim play wonderfully against each other.  (Of course, that's a dynamic that largely vanishes from the rest of the series, as too does any resentment about Tuvok's double-turn.)  It's expected that the common problem of the need to return home against incredible odds thoroughly unites them, setting aside most differences...After all, this is still Gene Roddenberry's hopeful vision of the future, right?

And that's really what's at the heart of all the complaints about Voyager, a growing disconnect between concept and audience.  The long-existing fans had begun to grow restive at the prospect of embracing new material, and the newer ones had begun to move on.  And both blamed their lack of interest in Voyager on the show itself.  See any problems with that kind of logic?

The concept was always supposed to be key, here, a way to rejuvenate the simple exploration imperative of the franchise while also embracing some of the ethos that had cropped up during Next Generation, having plot threads that propelled interest forward, a compelling drama like the Klingon political intrigue or problems between Cardassians and Bajorans.  Voyager couldn't possibly have been conceived more cleverly to fulfill those objectives; its crime was not committing to the extent that fans were coming to expect, which would have only further alienated older fans...Basically a no-win scenario, which ironically was a classic Star Trek concept, too. 

Every character gets a clear introduction in the episode, which was following in the tradition set by Deep Space Nine's "Emissary," but where someone like Bashir was only suggested to be fresh out of the Academy, Harry Kim was depicted as so completely inexperienced he was almost taken in by, of all people, Quark, who even Bashir was never snookered by.  Tom Paris, meanwhile, is a kind of replacement for a similar character found in Next Generation played by the same actor (Robert Duncan McNeill), the bridge between Starfleet and the Maquis, really, the explanation as to how any of the Maquis could end up in a Starfleet uniform.  Where fans ended up assuming all Maquis were hopeless degenerates (a startling conclusion, considering the most famous and successful groundwork Maquis episode was Next Generation's "Preemptive Strike," which saw the beloved Ro Laren join the cause), Paris and Chakotay embodied redemptive arcs, which Torres (in "Parallax") would best illustrate, so that it wasn't so much where we first meet them that defines them but the reasons they ended up there, and how "Caretaker" gives them a second chance to make things right.

And there's the Doctor, and Neelix, and Kes, and the Kazon.  Fans hated the Kazon, too, considering them Klingons who'd fallen on hard times.  And would that really be such a bad thing?  The Delta Quadrant was supposed to be fresh territory.  In the breadth of the series, in hindsight, it's clear that the only unifying presence there is the Borg Collective, and that everyone else basically avoids each other or lives desperate lives, or both, or merely keep to themselves.  The Kazon are an excellent introduction to that concept, and if they are Klingon analogs, so much the better.  We think the Klingons are awesome because they were always presented as the Federation's opposite number.  But what if there was no Federation?  That's what Janeway's crew had to contend with, too, wasn't it?  Well, it's true of the Kazon as well.  They suddenly gain a lot of momentum with Voyager around, something to rally around, an enemy

Well, I always liked the series.  But the pilot even if considered in isolation is a heck of a concept.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The clearest pilot of a Star Trek show to date.
  • series - Sets up the concept nicely.
  • character - Everyone gets a turn to shine here.
  • essential - Everything you need to know, or will need to reference, or figure out about this show, can be found in the premiere.
notable guest-stars:
Richard Poe (Gul Evek)
Josh Clark (Carey)
Scott MacDonald
Armin Shimerman (Quark)

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