Welcome to Star Trek: Parables, in which every week we retell one of Christ’s lessons through a sci-fi lens! Tonight, the Prodigal Son!
Harry’s found a wormhole, which just makes me miss Farscape. Tuvok says there’s a 75% chance it doesn’t lead to the Alpha Quadrant, which frankly seems low, and form what part of his ass exactly did he pull that number? Janeway’s all “1 in 4 ain’t bad odds.” She tells Paris to change course for the wormhole so that they can better scan it. Paris says if this pans out, they should petition Starfleet to designate the wormhole the Harry Kim Wormhole, which is nice and all, but from the proud looks on the bridge you’d think Harry was a seven-year-old who just spelled antidisestablishmentarianism right at a Spelling Bee, not potentially found them a shortcut home.
Credits. Pretty sure that planetary ring is made of skulls.
They reach the wormhole, but can’t see it. Janeway tells them to magnify the visual as much as they can, and they finally spot it. It’s teeny! It’s a baby wormhole! All right, everyone, line up single file, we’ll fire you through in torpedo tubes! Oh wait, it’s only about 30 centimeters in diameter. I guess they could beam everyone through one at a time?
Buuuut maybe they can send a message through, says Tuvok. He recommends launching a micro-probe into the wormhole, and I am fourteen years old, because every time someone says “micro-probe” I want to snicker. The probe wormholes on in and sends them back pictures, which sounds fake but OK. Everybody’s like “In my vast experience of wormholes this particular wormhole is unusual” and they decide it’s very old and in an advanced state of decay. Then the probe gets hung up in the gravitation eddies (“Er, who is Eddy exactly, then?”), and Harry says it’ll never break free, and he’s soooo emotional about it, and Janeway is soooo sympathetic, and what a WEIRD dynamic there is between these two. Does she think he is mentally challenged? I know he’s an ensign, but I don’t recall ensigns being treated like children in other Star Trek shows. Well, OK, Wesley, but that’s because HE WAS ACTUALLY A CHILD. Then the probe starts scanning, and finds something on the other side.
Kes is working with the Doctor in sick bay and it’s super boring. The guy they’re treating is rude to the Doctor, which frankly isn’t the worst thing, but it bothers Kes. Can we talk about how her new uniform is far inferior to the purple thing she was wearing a few episodes back? Or wait, maybe Kes will actually be getting wardrobe changes. That’d be revolutionary, considering that even Quark wore pretty much the same thing for seven years.
The Doctor doesn’t give a shit about being treated rudely, possibly because he is also sort of rude. Kes wants lots more homework, and she is polite to the Doctor when he gives it to her.
Senior staff briefing. Harry says someone on the other side is interested in the probe. Tuvok says they can’t rule out the possibility that a microscopic entity inside the wormhole is investigating the probe, which… sure, Tuvok, that’s possible. I dunno, writers, I’m not sure that Logical=”Hey I thought of this thing that might be happening in 0.3% of cases so I’m going to bring it up as some sort of weird counter-argument.”
Torres says the probe has 72 hours to live, or the way they’re anthropomorphizing, she may as well have said it like that. Meantime, Harry says, they can still use it. Janeway says they should use it to relay a message, so Harry and Torres start on it.
Tuvok is like “Harry has his hopes up blah blah failure” and again, Harry is not a child, just boring. Is this going to be a thing? This is going to be a thing, isn’t it? Fuck’s sake, people.
Torres and Kim are doing their reconfiguring, and Harry says the stakes aloud. “This has to work. It’s going to mean so much to the people back home, to know that we’re alive and heading for Federation space.” Then he talks about his folks and how he always called them at least once a week, and look, just because Harry misses his family doesn’t mean it’s OK to turn Janeway and Tuvok into his parents. Meanwhile Torres hasn’t seen her father since she was five, and has lost touch with her mother, because they didn’t get along. Wow, what a subtle nurture-equals-destiny throughline you’ve established there, you simplistic fuckwads. Harry is deeply disturbed that B’ellana doesn’t have anyone back home. To be fair, B’ellana plays it in a very poor-little-tough-girl way, but still, there are so many stupid assumptions in this scene, primary among them the idea that family is always good and desirable, and not something anyone feels a need to get the fuck away from.
Anyways the stupid probe is ready, and Harry notifies the bridge. They send a subharmonic test signal through, and everyone sits tense, waiting to see if there will be a response. It occurs to me that this episode is in some ways a good illustration of the scientific method–discovery, theory, test, theory, test, etc. Unlike an episode of Eureka, however, which at least for the first couple of seasons was both an exemplary demonstration of and celebration of the scientific method in action AND a hilarious skewering of scientific hubris, this episode is mostly pretty dull.
But! Someone responds to the signal in kind, and Tuvok is able to determine that the response is originating from the Alpha quadrant. HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW THIS, TUVOK? SHOW YOUR FUCKING WORK.
Janeway exposits that Harry is going to try establishing a voice link now, then is interrupted in her quarters by a visit from Kes. Janeway replicates them some refreshments, which–I thought just last episode we were running out of whatever powers the replicators? Who’s the continuity supervisor on this?
Kes wants Janeway to do something about the way the Doctor is treated. Janeway says, well, the Doctor is rude and brusque. “He’s only a hologram,” Janeway says, but Kes disagrees. Janeway agrees to look into it.
Here follows some dramatic stuff with the co-variant isolator, and Janeway transmits a message. After a bit they get some static, and after a few passes at it, they find out they have made contact with a Romulan cargo ship, who doesn’t believe them, and breaks transmission. Tuvok says it’s actually a science vessel, and probably feared being discovered doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. Janeway says they’re still their best bet for getting a message to the Federation, and tells Harry to keep hailing them until they pick up again.
Janeway leaves the bridge to Chakotay and goes down to sick bay to talk to the Doctor. She talks to him about the increased expectations on him and says that he’s now a full-fledged member of the crew. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do to help him. He says he just wants to be turned off when people leave. Janeway offers to give him control over his deactivation, and he says he might like that. She says they’ll look into it, and that he should think about whether he wants anything else.
Janeway is asleep in her quarters when Harry comms to say they’ve re-established communication with the Romulan ship. Janeway has the signal put through to her quarters, where she talks with the Romulan with the lights low, her hair down, and a satin-y pink nightie on. Regardless of intent (I could easily imagine that someone in the studio was pleading for them to “sex Janeway up” a little), this is actually a super feminist moment, and I am not joking in the slightest. She is also in charge when she chooses to be feminine, and that’s a good thing.
Anyways the Romulan is suspicious, because Romulans gotta Romulan. He wants to know what Voyager’s mission in the Delta quadrant is, and Janeway tries to reassure him that they are just lost. She asks him to relay a message–really a series of messages–to the Federation. The Romulan says he’d feel better if they could establish a visual link, and says he thinks he has the means to do so. He won’t promise that he’ll help them even if that works, though, and logs off after telling her to have her science officers contact him.
They are trying really hard to hit the emotional note of the Voyager crew’s isolation in this episode. They are providing us space to try to feel what the crew is feeling, and that’s wise. But there is other work that isn’t being done, and that is the work of showing us the private life that these Starfleet officers don’t have. In a way the entire history of Star Trek is working against them, because Star Trek has always been a workplace show, almost to the extreme of, say, the Law & Order franchise. Kirk’s friends were Bones and Spock; Data and Geordi hung out by choice; O’Brien and Bashir became best pals (still one of DS9’s biggest missteps; O’Brien should have hated Bashir through the entire run). So it’s hard for a longtime Trek viewer to feel the pathos of Harry not getting to call his parents or Janeway missing her dogs, because we never saw Harry’s parents, and the dogs haven’t been mentioned since the pilot, and this emptiness is entirely theoretical. I’m not saying it’d be easy to show this, but they’re not even trying; they’re telling us that everyone is sad, and expecting that to work. It doesn’t.
Back on the bridge they are ready for a visual link. The Romulan captain says his government is considering passing the message along. Janeway plays upon his sympathies by asking about the fact he’s been in space for over a year. He misses his daughter, who was born while he was in space. Janeway’s naked emotional appeal is kind of… gross. But I guess it works, because he says he’ll try to convince the Romulan senate to agree to Voyager’s proposal. The whole time he looks like having emotions is like constipation, which I guess is consistent for a Romulan, but is also very very silly.
Janeway tell Chakotay to have everyone prepare personal messages, in the hopes that the Romulans will agree.
Torres is super-excited, because the visual contact whoozis is just a few megahertz from a viable transporter frequency. Hey, I said that way up in the 4th paragraph! It’s risky, but Janeway tells her to see if she can figure it out. Obviously it’s not going to work and probably the wormhole will collapse and maybe they won’t even get the messages out, because hubris, but home has to stay super far away forever, or they have to change the name of the show. Janeway has her hopes up, and looks at a photo of her man and their dog. Hey, I called that one too!
To Kes and the Doctor. Kes enjoys studying anatomy, and thinks it would be interesting to see an autopsy sometime. Also she’s dyed her hair black and is sewing lace onto all of her sleeves. OK, not yet. The Doctor quizzes her, and it’s totally flirty, at least on her part. She tells him about the possible return to the Alpha quadrant, and the Doctor goes full Eeyore and says he’s fully integrated into sick bay and can’t go. Kes kisses him on the cheek and thanks him for everything, which I don’t know whether to read as parent-child/mentor-student-y, or if she honestly does have a crush on the guy. I mean if you were with Neelix wouldn’t you be looking for a way out? Anyways she promises to deactivate him if she does leave the ship, which we know she isn’t going to, and the Doctor looks existential as she walks out of sick bay.
The Romulan captain agrees to allow Voyager to beam a test cylinder through the wormhole; he’s a science guy, and he’s even excited about it. It’s a rocky transport, and for some reason they beam it to right next to the guy’s face, which seems TOTALLY safe in case something does go wrong. WTF, Voyager. But it eventually goes through after some megajouling by Harry and Torres. The Romulan is fascinated. I want to write fanfic about how this encounter changed this guy’s life, y’all. He’s so impressed that he volunteers to be a test subject, and beam over to Voyager and then back. He says the Voyager crew can’t transport to his ship because security protocols, but he can get a troop transport ship that will accommodate them, assuming everything works. Janeway agrees.
After 20 test transports, they bring the Romulan aboard. It ain’t pretty, but it works. The Romulan’s name is Dr. Telek R’Mor, and he’s excited by the breakthrough. Janeway is ready to evacuate immediately, but Tuvok is like “Hold up” and asks the Romulan what year it is. He’s from 20 years ago, so the wormhole is a rift in time as well in space. (“Is he. Is he.”)
Senior staff debates going back anyway, but briefly. Janeway gives the can’t-change-history speech. Dr. R’Mor suggests telling Starfleet not to send them here in the first place, but that won’t work either. So they have to send him back and ask him to relay their messages in twenty years.
Y’all, I hate that this is being resolved with more time-travel laziness. I’m not saying wormholes can’t work that way, or that actually getting them back was a feasible story twist, but what about that unstable wormhole? Wasn’t that a better way of shutting this door? I think so.
Anyways Dr. R’Mor goes back and is dignified and dramatic about it, and I think we’re supposed to feel sad about the lost chance at contact for the crew. And I do, a little, but not enough for the episode to have rested on that emotional weight.
BUT THEN IT GETS EVEN WORSE because Tuvok reports that he’s checked ship records, and Dr. R’Mor died four years before Voyager’s mission. (I guess I could still write that fanfic. It’d be EXTRA poignant.) The crew speculates that maybe he passed the messages on to someone else, or gave them to the Romulan government, and so they were somehow delivered. Tuvok is like “It is possible,” which you know is Vulcan for “Humans like to believe good things can happen.” Janeway hates this, and she says they should get going.
Sick bay, and the same douchebag from above is complaining to Kes about his hamstring, which he injured because if he doesn’t work out he’ll go stir crazy. The Doctor asserts himself and tells the guy to address him directly, and to be more careful working out, or the Doctor will have to speak to his superior officer. The guy looks at Kes but is basically cowed by this, which sure is an easy resolution. Also Kes is wearing her purple top again, thank god. The Doctor says that Captain Janeway made him realize that he has to think of himself less as an emergency replacement and more as a member of the crew, and Kes approves. He has a list of requests that he’d like Kes to pass on to the captain. Also, he wants a name… and on that note, the episode ends.
This was intended, clearly, to be an emotional episode, and I applaud the intention, but for the most part Star Trek handles emotions badly, and this is an example of that rather than an exception. Between that and the muddle that is Harry Kim, this is another not-good episode, albeit less maddening than some of the others I’ve seen thus far.
NEXT: The Doctor gets a name, and it’s… STRANGE.