the story: Janeway remembers an ancestor's crucial involvement in a turn of the millennium project.
what it's all about: "11:59" was patently an attempt at a prestige story, and I always thought it succeeded. Enterprise later echoed this kind of storytelling ("Carbon Creek," "First Flight"), in which a main character reflects on the past, but what makes "11:59" special is that it challenges not only Janeway's assumptions about her ancestor, but the viewer's belief that Star Trek automatically celebrates progress for the sake of progress, that it's a franchise about the cool gadgets of the future. When it in fact has always been about people. I admit, it's easy to mistake the core message. When people talked about Star Trek's legacy during the 50th anniversary, all over again it was rehashed how communicators helped drive the development of today's cellphones, and how the iconic technology featured in the original series is still the stuff engineers chase today. Fans still argue that the next movie or the next TV show ought to "go further into the future," so we can see more of that. But that's really the dog chasing its tail. Star Trek has become inescapable. Of course it will have an impact like that in the real world. It's just, that's never been the point.
That's why a story like "11:59" is so important. Janeway's ancestor in the story is actual two people, the woman who's played by Kate Mulgrew (of course, just like Janeway), and the man played by Kevin Tighe (surely fans of Lost will be surprised to watch this one...!). The woman, whom Janeway thought was heavily involved in construction of a millennial tower project and went to Mars, didn't do any of that. The man stuck his boots in the mud and wouldn't budge, the last holdout, to make way for the tower. Together, they move aside for the project, having connected on a profound level, and...that's really the point. It's not the fancy tower, or the fact that this was an episode kind of trading on millennial fever (it originally aired in May 1999), but the two people, who aren't involved in anything more complicated than human interaction, finding that despite their differences they have more reasons to connect than reject each other.
It's ultimately a quiet, piercing story, and quite a profound one. It accomplishes exactly what it set out to.
- franchise - Reflects the sometimes neglected heart of Star Trek.
- series - A successful bid to present a prestige episode.
- character - A fascinating study of Janeway.
- essential - A deceptively simple tale.