the story: The ship travels through a desolate region of space that leaves Janeway brooding about her original decision to strand it in the Delta Quadrant.
what it's all about: Usually a season premiere, like a season finale, is a pretty splashy affair that makes a bold statement. "Night" is one of the rare examples where something else was attempted, and done so quite brilliantly: it's a moment of reflection, and a definitive one at that.
For four seasons, Janeway pressed ahead almost without question with the decision she made way back in the pilot ("Caretaker"), but she finally finds a scenario where there aren't any distractions to occupy her time, and suddenly she's no longer convinced that she did the right thing. In fact, she beats herself up quite badly. She isolates herself, and finally convinces herself that the crew would be better off without her.
For a series lambasted for never following up on the potential of its premise, this is a bold statement, and once again something few fans would have ever thought Voyager would even consider doing.
There's a lot of interesting things going on around this central element. One of them is the region of space itself, a void where there's nothing to see, which is the reason Janeway becomes so moody. Another is that the crew meets a couple of alien species anyway. One of them is mere plot device, while the other is the Malon, who appear a few more times and thus become unexpected signature members of the series menagerie, a sort of ugly reflection of toxic industrialism that environmentalists are still battling today.
Ah! And the debut of Captain Proton! This is sort of the apex of Tom Paris, in a lot of ways. It's an old school (in black and white!) depiction of science fiction as it emerged in Hollywood, well before Star Trek set it on a new track, and before Star Wars exploded it, the old serials that inspired both of them and subsequently lost all their appeal. Except in nostalgic appeal. Picard had Dixon Hill; Tom's Proton is arguably just as iconic...But then, "Bride of Chaotica!" later in the season kind of helps solidify that...
franchise- This one's not really for casual fans.
- series - But it's must-see for dedicated ones, on a number of levels.
- character - A harrowing look at Janeway at her weakest moment.
- essential - Whether it's Janeway or Captain Proton, it's hard to underestimate how important this one is to the series.
Martin Rayner (Chaotica)