Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Caretaker”

“Caretaker”
Written by Rick Berman & Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 1, Episode 1
Production episode 101
Original air date: January 16, 1995
Stardate: 48315.6

Captain’s log. A crawl explains the existence of the Maquis, who are rebels against a Federation-Cardassian treaty that ceded disputed territories to each side regardless of who was living there. Gul Evek is chasing a Maquis ship into the Badlands. Maquis engineer B’Elanna Torres takes the weapons offline to add impulse power so Chakotay, the cell’s leader, can get into the Badlands. Tuvok of Vulcan thinks this is a bad idea, but goes along.

Evek follows them into the Badlands, to Chakotay’s surprise, and is damaged. Chakotay avoids a plasma storm, but then is hit by a tetryon beam of unknown origin.

At the New Zealand Penal Colony, Captain Kathryn Janeway approaches a prisoner, Tom Paris. (Janeway served under Paris’s father, now an admiral, on the al-Batani.) A Starfleet washout who hired himself out as a pilot for the Maquis, Janeway offers Paris help with his sentence in exchange for help finding Chakotay’s Maquis ship—Janeway’s chief of security is undercover with his cell, and he hasn’t checked in for a while. They’re in a newly commissioned ship, U.S.S. Voyager, which was designed to better navigate the Badlands—powerful enough to withstand the storms, but maneuverable enough to get out of the way of the ones it can’t withstand.

Paris is flown to Deep Space 9 by Voyager’s conn officer, Lieutenant Stadi, with whom he utterly fails at flirting. At Quark’s Bar on the station, Ensign Harry Kim buys a drink, and then Quark tries to sell him a sounvenir. When Kim begs off, saying they warned them about Ferengi at the Academy, Quark is outraged at slurs against his people being perpetrated by Starfleet. Kim hurriedly agrees to buy some rare gems to make up for it, but then Paris jumps in and points out that the gems are a dime a dozen around these parts.

Kim and Paris exit the bar, leaving behind a dejected Quark, with Paris asking, “Didn’t they warn you about Ferengi at the Academy?”

Paris and Kim report to Voyager and go to sickbay, where the chief medical officer turns out to have history with Paris. They then go to Janeway’s ready room, after which Kim takes his position at ops. Also on the bridge are Stadi at conn and Ensign Rollins at tactical. First Officer Cavit, who is also cold to Paris, takes them out toward the Badlands.

Paris enters the mess hall to see Cavit and the doctor talking to Kim and then leaving. We learn that Paris was responsible for an accident that killed three people, and he would’ve gotten away with it until he confessed out of guilt. After being cashiered out of Starfleet, he joined the Maquis and was captured on his first mission.

They arrive at the Badlands and encounter the exact same tetryon beam as Chakotay’s ship, and sustain tremendous damage. Cavit, Stadi, the chief engineer, and the entire medical staff (at the very least) are all killed. Kim determines that they’re 70,000 light-years from their previous position, in the Delta Quadrant, proximate to a huge array of some kind. Janeway supervises repairs in engineering, leaving Rollins in command of the bridge, while Kim and Paris go to sickbay and activate the Emergency Medical Hologram. The EMH asks when replacements will arrive, a question they can’t really answer.

Then the crew all disappears off the vessel, to the confusion of the EMH.

They rematerialize in a setting that looks like a rural American dwelling, complete with food and socializing. This is an illusion designed to put them at ease (not sure why a mid-20th-century Earth setting would put a multispecies 24th-century crew at ease, but whatever), and they’re actually inside the array. Every attempt to find out what’s going on is stymied, but eventually they penetrate the illusion, and also find other life-signs—likely Chakotay’s crew. One of the farmers, who plays a banjo, refers to “the debt that cannot be repaid.”

Suddenly, they’re rendered unconscious and placed on biobeds and injected. Most of them stay unconscious when injected—the only one who doesn’t is Kim, who screams in agony.

They all wake up on Voyager with only Kim unaccounted for. Chakotay’s ship is nearby, and Janeway contacts him to ask if Kim is there by mistake—he isn’t, but Torres is also missing. Chakotay agrees with Janeway that they should put their differences aside and try to find their missing crewmembers.

The array is sending pulses of energy to a nearby planet, so they set a course there.

Kim and Torres awaken in a hospital of some sort. They’re both covered in lesions. They’re being cared for by the Ocampa, a telepathic species, who don’t really know why Torres and Kim are there. But the Caretaker wants them to be cared for, just like the others. However, the others all died.

Chakotay, Tuvok, and Ayala beam over to Voyager, at which point we learn that Tuvok is the infiltrator. He and Janeway are old friends and comrades, and Janeway is glad to have him back. Chakotay is less than thrilled, though he forgives Tuvok, as he was only doing his duty as an officer—he’s less happy about seeing Paris, whom he assumes sold them out for latinum.

They head to the fifth planet, encountering a Talaxian salvager named Neelix along the way. Neelix offers to guide them to the Ocampa city on the fifth planet, which is likely where they’ve been taken.

Neelix comes aboard where he is overwhelmed by transporter and replicator technology, especially as it allows him to bathe for the first time, well, ever. Water is apparently hard to come by, er, somehow, in this region of space.

They beam to the planet with crates of water on standby and a bottle of water as an example of the merchandise. Only after they beam down does Neelix reveal that they’re meeting with the Kazon-Ogla, one of many nomadic tribes of the Kazon species. Maje Jabin leads this group on the surface of the Ocampa homeworld. They’ve been trying to get through to the underground where the Ocampa are—as is all the planet’s water—but with no luck. However, the occasional Ocampa has snuck through the surface, including their current prisoner, Kes.

Jabin takes Neelix and the crew hostage. Janeway has the crates of water beamed down and Neelix also offers to take Kes off their hands. Jabin is interrupted in mid-negotiation by Neelix putting a phaser to his neck, and then using it to blast open the water crates. With the Kazon distracted by all that running water, the away team is able to beam back with Neelix and Kes. Only then do we discover that Kes is Neelix’s lover.

Grateful for the rescue, Kes offers to take them to the Ocampa city below the surface. The Caretaker has taken care of the Ocampa for a thousand years, but none of the Ocampa seem to have any idea why the Caretaker keeps kidnapping people and infecting them.

Torres and Kim have escaped, with the help of one of the Ocampa. Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, and Tuvok beam down with Kes and Neelix, where Kes is reunited with her people. Kes herself is gripped by curiosity and the need for exploration, not content with living underground.

The array changes from energy pulses—which have increased in frequency of late—to weapons fire, which is sealing off the conduits. Tuvok theorizes that the Caretaker is dying. The increased energy pulses are to provide the Ocampa with a surplus, and the conduits are being sealed for their protection. The “debt that can never be repaid” is to the Ocampa.

They split up to try to find Kim and Torres. Paris, Neelix, and Kes find them on their way to the surface, and Janeway instructs them to keep going. Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok follow.

However, the Caretaker’s weapons fire causes a collapse of a staircase. Paris and Neelix go back for the rest of the team, while Kes beams back to Voyager with Kim and Torres. Neelix gets Tuvok and Janeway to safety while Paris rescues Chakotay, whose leg is broken. Paris asks if there’s some Indian thing where he can change into a bird, and I have no idea what Chakotay said in response, because I ran to the bathroom to throw up. (Paris also says some nonsense about how Chakotay’s life is now Paris’s because he saved his life, showing an understanding of a culture that would make a 1960s American blush, much less an enlightened 24th-century human.)

With everyone back on Voyager, they head back to the array, Chakotay back on his ship. Janeway and Tuvok beam over to see the dying Caretaker. He’s sealing the conduits to protect the Ocampa from the Kazon, though in five years the energy will run out, and they’ll have to go to the surface, and the Kazon will kill them. His people are explorers from another galaxy, and they accidentally rendered the Ocampa homeworld a desert. Two stayed behind, but the Caretaker’s mate grew weary of playing guardian and left. He’s been snagging ships from all over the galaxy trying (and failing) to find someone genetically compatible who can take over the array. Tuvok examines the equipment, and it would take hours to re-set it to send the ships back to the Alpha Quadrant.

Several Kazon ships enter the system and head for the array. Voyager and Chakotay’s ship take them on, with Chakotay ramming his ship into the main Kazon vessel, destroying both (he evacuated his Maquis crew before starting the ramming run and beamed himself out at the last second).

There’s no way to rejigger the array in time, the Caretaker himself is now dead, and they can’t let the Kazon get their hands on the technology of the array. So Janeway destroys the array. Jabin declares that they’ve made an enemy today and buggers off.

Chakotay agrees to become Janeway’s first officer, with the Maquis crew incorporated into Voyager‘s crew to replace those who were killed (though the crew who were killed don’t actually get mentioned or a memorial service or anything). Paris is also given a field commission to lieutenant and made the conn officer.

They set a course for home, hoping they’ll find a wormhole or a spatial rift or the Caretaker’s mate or a being of pure energy or some damn thing to get them back to Federation space.

The USS Voyager in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Caretaker uses a tetryon beam to transport people across the galaxy. Also, somehow, the people in the section of the Delta Quadrant near the array consider water to be a valuable resource, despite the fact that the stuff is literally everywhere. (I mean, seriously, just cut chunks off a comet and melt it…)

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway has a boyfriend back home named Mark Johnson, who takes care of her Irish setter Mollie when it’s discovered she’s pregnant. He sounds like someone who’s used to the chaos of dating a Starfleet captain. 

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok infiltrated Chakotay’s cell on Janeway’s behalf, but is actually her chief of security. He left a wife and children back home, whom Janeway insists are worried about him despite Tuvok’s objections to so emotional a response.

Half and half. Torres has a tendency toward seat-of-the-pants engineering, and also has trouble keeping her mother’s side of the family’s temper—her father is human, her mother Klingon.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. In the series bible, the EMH was going to be referred to as “Doc Zimmerman,” after the creator of the program. This was changed to having him simply referred to as the Emergency Medical Hologram or, simply, by the title “Doctor.” (Robert Picardo is listed in the opening credits as playing “The Doctor.”) Several early Voyager tie-in novels referred to the doctor by the name Zimmerman, as that was what the series bible said. Lewis Zimmerman himself will later appear in a few episodes of Voyager (as well as an episode of DS9).

Forever an ensign. Kim is almost fleeced by Quark and then gets to snark off Torres when they’re in the Ocampa hospital—Torres bitches that Voyager was sent to capture them, and Kim sardonically says that she’s captured, by way of reminding her that they both have bigger issues.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix offers himself as a guide to the region, and also as a cook.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Neelix and Kes are lovers, and Neelix manipulates the Voyager crew to get her rescued, though he tries to take sole credit for her rescue. He only agrees to help Voyager get to the Ocampa city at Kes’s insistence.

The Doctor (Robert Picardo) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Do it.

“Is the crew always this difficult?”

“I don’t know, Doc, it’s my first mission.”

–The EMH being cranky and Kim not helping.

Welcome aboard. Armin Shimerman wanders over from DS9 to reprise his role as Quark, continuing the tradition of all the Trek spinoffs to date having a star from the previous show in their pilot (DeForest Kelley as McCoy in “Encounter at Farpoint,” Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard in “Emissary“). This is the tradition’s swan song, however, not surprising given that Enterprise took place two hundred years prior to Voyager, Discovery took place a hundred years after Enterprise, and Picard takes place a hundred and forty years after Discovery (or its first two seasons anyway). Cha cha cha. Richard Poe also plays Gul Evek, reprising his role from various episodes of both TNG and DS9.

Two recurring regulars debut here: Josh Clark (last seen as an Enterprise tactical officer in TNG’s “Justice“) as Joe Carey, the deputy chief engineer, though he won’t be named until “Parallax”; and Tarik Ergin, an extra who would very occasionally get a speaking part, as Ayala, one of Chakotay’s Maquis crew, and who is the only non-opening-credits regular to appear in both this episode and the finale, “Endgame.”

Various doomed members of Voyager’s crew include Alicia Coppola as Stadi, Jeff McCarthy as the chief medical officer (never given a name for some strange reason), and Scott Jaeck (uncredited for some strange reason) as Cavit. McCarthy was last seen as Roga Danar in TNG’s “The Hunted,” while Jaeck was last seen as a Kataan administrator in TNG’s “The Inner Light.”

In addition, Scott MacDonald plays Rollins (his only appearance, though the character is mentioned again in the future; MacDonald also appeared as various aliens in DS9’s “Captive Pursuit” and “Hippocratic Oath,” TNG’s “Face of the Enemy,” and throughout Enterprise’s third season), Gavan O’Herilhy plays Maje Jabin, Basil Langton plays the Caretaker, Angela Paton plays Adah, and assorted Ocampa are played by Bruce French, Jennifer Parsons, David Selburg, and Eric David Johnson.

Tuvok (Tim Russ) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters. The first airing of this episode debuted the United Paramount Network. Affiliated with several local independent stations, UPN was an attempt to create a TV network to eventually compete with the venerable CBS, NBC, and ABC, as well as upstart fourth network FOX, which had gone from also-ran in the 1980s to an equal partner with the “big three” by 1995. Warner Bros. started a similar network four days earlier, the WB; neither of the new networks was a complete success, leading to the two merging in 2006 to form the CW. It is, perhaps, not a coincidence that UPN’s final collapse, as it were, came after it no longer had a Star Trek show as its flagship, as Voyager and then Enterprise ran from 1995-2005.

The Maquis were created during the seventh season of The Next Generation and the second season of Deep Space Nine to set Voyager up, with a multistory arc that ran through “Journey’s End” and “Preemptive Strike” on the former show and “The Maquistwo-parter and “Tribunal” on the latter show.

Geneviève Bujold was originally cast as Janeway, but the film actor had difficulty with the rigors of television production, with lessened rehearsal time and the need to get things done on a tight schedule, and quit after a couple of days of filming, replaced by Kate Mulgrew.

This episode was novelized by L.A. Graf, continuing the tradition of Simon & Schuster novelizing “event” episodes of shows, including pilots, already done with Encounter at Farpoint by David Gerrold and Emissary by J.M. Dillard.

Co-creator/executive producer Jeri Taylor wrote two novels that provided backstory for the main characters: Mosaic, about Janeway, and Pathways, about the rest of the crew. Those backstories were used while Taylor was show-runner, but ignored after she left the show.

Several works of tie-in fiction gave adventures of Chakotay’s Maquis cell prior to this episode, including your humble rewatcher’s The Brave and the Bold Book 2 (which told how and why Tuvok infiltrated the Maquis), John Vornholt’s Quarantine (part of the Double Helix miniseries), and Susan Wright’s The Badlands Book 2 (which told of the days leading up to “Caretaker”).

With their appearances here, Armin Shimerman and Richard Poe join the ranks of actors who have played the same character on three or more Trek TV series, the others being Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, John deLancie, Michael Ansara, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Brent Spiner.

Chakotay (Robert Beltran) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “It’s not crunch time yet, Mr. Kim.” As a pilot setting up an ongoing series, this is quite good. The premise is put in place very nicely, with the crew sacrificing their own ability to get home in order to keep the Ocampa safe, a very Star Trek setup.

Kathryn Janeway is a good, strong captain, with her own distinctive personality. She reminds me particularly of the way William Shatner played Jim Kirk in the earliest days of the original series, when it at least hinted at being an ensemble show. Kirk was the leader of the ship, but he also was friendly with the crew, playing chess with his first officer, hanging out in the gym, not at all being above-it-all or aloof (the way Jeffrey Hunter played Pike).

Janeway is similar, but where Kirk was like the uncle you always liked to see, Janeway is more like the nifty Italian matriarch who always made the best Sunday dinner, always ran things, but whose bad side you never wanted to be on. I have a lot of relatives (my great grandmother, several aunts and great aunts, my mother) whom Janeway reminds me favorably of, and this has nothing to do with their age relative to Mulgrew, who was 40 when Voyager debuted, but with their no-nonsense personality that mixed great and loving affection with unquestionable authority.

And she has the same quality that Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks before her all had: the charisma. The moment she walks in the room, you absolutely know that she’s in charge. (As someone who has hated Trek’s tendency toward masculine honorifics for all its personnel regardless of gender, going all the way back to “Mr. Saavik” in The Wrath of Khan, Janeway’s eschewing of “sir,” and also, mostly, of “ma’am,” in favor of the more general “Captain” is greatly appreciated, and also delightfully delivered.)

In general, the cast is pretty strong, starting with Mulgrew, though neither Robert Beltran nor Roxann Dawson nor Jennifer Lien nor Robert Picardo get a hell of a lot to do in this initial outing. Picardo, at least, gives a strong impression of what we’ll get from the EMH, which is tremendous amounts of snark, sarcasm, and impatience, all of which Picardo plays to perfection. Dawson sets up her character nicely in her banter with Kim (they will keep calling each other “Starfleet” and “Maquis” to adorable effect as the show goes on), and at least we get to hear Lien’s great voice.

Tim Russ shines in his debut as Tuvok, giving us a proper Vulcan, to wit, a total snot. Every Vulcan we met on the original series, starting with Spock, was sassy and snotty and arrogant and sarcastic, and Leonard Nimoy in particular did yeoman work in giving us a character who isn’t unemotional, but rather suppresses his very turbulent emotions. Russ takes those lessons to heart. (The line where he recommends Neelix take a bath is a rhapsody in dry wit that still makes me laugh my ass off two and a half decades later.) Garrett Wang does a fine job as the every-ensign, the young officer eager to do well on his first mission, and the bromance between his Kim and Robert Duncan McNeill’s Paris is off to a great start here.

McNeill himself is a bit more problematic, as is Ethan Phillips. The latter’s Neelix is trying a bit too hard to be The Comic Relief Character, and it falls flat. Phillips is a better actor than this, and the character is at his best when he has an edge to him, like when he tricks Voyager into helping him rescue Kes from Jabin.

Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

As for McNeill, he has the same problem here that he had in the similar role of Nicholas Locarno in TNG’s “The First Duty“: he’s too skeevy. Paris is pretty much the same character, which is problematic, as McNeill was unlikable the last time, and isn’t much better here. His flirting with Stadi and with one of the Caretaker’s illusions probably was intended as manly in 1995 but comes across as creepy in 2020 (and honestly, I didn’t much like it in 1995 either, as every time he talked, I felt like I needed a shower). This wouldn’t be so bad if the character was meant to be a shit, but the entire arc of “Caretaker” is Paris’s redemption. Way too much time is spent in this pilot episode on Paris’s redemption arc, and I’d much rather have seen more of almost any other character than watch this dudebro caricature try to turn himself into a good officer. They hedge their bets, too, as the two crewmembers who are most cranky about his being on board are conveniently killed off, the person who does what he does best is also killed off, and the nice young ensign seems to like him. Oh, and the one person who hates him who’s left is Chakotay, whose life he saves.

Speaking of which, we have one of the worst parts of the episode, one that would dog the series: the cringe-worthy portrayal of Chakotay. These complaints were made at the time the show was first aired, and 25 years has only made it look worse. Chakotay’s character is given a hodgepodge of generic Native American stereotypes, with Paris making snarky comments about turning into a bird and blood debts and other stereotypes that wouldn’t have been out of place in a movie made ten years before the original series debuted. At one point, Chakotay says, “Wrong tribe,” which begs the question of what the right tribe is—we never do find out in the episode. (The show will later establish Chakotay as descended from Indigenous Peoples in Mexico/Central America, but bases him within a thus far fictional tribe.) It’s an appalling way to treat the first Indigenous main character in Trek.

But that’s not the worst thing about this episode, and it made me even angrier now than it did two and a half decades ago.

Okay, if there was a TNG episode in which Riker, Ro, La Forge, Crusher, and Ogawa were all killed, it might, y’know, get mentioned once or twice. In fact, it would devastate the crew and have repercussions from which the characters would struggle to recover.

Yet the equivalent characters on Voyager are all killed, and by the second hour nobody seems to give a shit. Janeway’s waxing rhapsodic about talking to Kim’s parents and how he forgot his clarinet, and Kim’s just missing for a bit. What about your first officer who died? What about Stadi? What about the entire medical staff, who aren’t even given the dignity of names, or the chief engineer, who isn’t given the dignity of a name or a face? (And hey, did they just keep all those dead bodies in stasis for seven years?)

Voyager’s journey through the Delta Quadrant has on its foundation an appalling number of deaths, yet those characters are utterly forgotten about by the second hour of the pilot and never even mentioned again over the next seven years, which is despicable and unintentionally makes the characters out to be uncaring shits. There isn’t even a memorial service for those crewmembers. It’s not good when the characters act like they know who has billing. One of the reasons why Discovery’s “The Red Angel” was so powerful is that Airiam wasn’t an important character to the viewer, but she was part of the crew, and was therefore important to the characters, and deserved a memorial service.

The same consideration was not given to Cavit, Stadi, the medical staff, or the chief engineer, and that’s wrong. (Speaking of that, the episode implies pretty heavily that the medical staff consisted of one doctor and one nurse and, um, no. There would have to be at least two doctors on board, preferably three, as you need backup, plus the doctor needs to sleep sometimes, plus a bunch more nurses. The EMH is a useful backup also, but two people is an insufficient medical staff for a ship of 141 people.)

Also: water as a rare resource? It’s possible they could have picked something more ridiculous, but it’s unlikely. Water is frikkin’ everywhere. There’s just no way it would be a rare and precious thing.

Having said all that, while the details are sometimes fudged, this is a good intro to the series, a strong pilot that sets Voyager on its journey through a new quadrant.

Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido has already done rewatches of Star Trek The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for this site. He’s also reviewed every episode of Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks to date, and his review of the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard will go up tomorrow.

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