Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Parallax”

“Parallax”
Written by Jim Trombetta and Brannon Braga
Directed by Kim Friedman
Season 1, Episode 2
Production episode 103
Original air date: January 23, 1995
Stardate: 48439.7

Captain’s log. Deputy Chief Engineer Joe Carey is in sickbay with a broken nose, having been punched in same by Torres. Carey is livid. Tuvok wishes to confine Torres to the brig, while Chakotay just has her confined to quarters for now. He wants to make Torres chief engineer, a notion that Tuvok is dubious about, but Chakotay orders Tuvok to let him handle it. Tuvok agrees, but will make a note in his security log.

Jarvin and Seska, two Maquis crew, say they’ll back Chakotay if he wants to take over the ship; Chakotay’s response is to say if he hears talk like again, he’ll toss them in the brig for mutiny.

Chakotay goes to Torres and explains that she has to behave herself if he’s going to make her chief engineer. Torres thinks this is a worse idea even than Tuvok thinks it is.

In a senior staff meeting, Janeway discusses power-consumption issues and repairs that need to be done despite the lack of a starbase, and also personnel issues. Because the EMH can’t leave sickbay, they need some kind of medical staff, and Janeway volunteers Paris and his two semesters of biochemistry to train as a field medic under the EMH. Meanwhile, Neelix and Kes crash the meeting, and Kes suggests a hydroponics bay be created so they can grow food, since the replicators are apparently down. Kim suggests Cargo Bay 2, and Janeway assigns a surprised Kes to handle it, since it was her idea.

Janeway and Chakotay also discuss the issue of who will be chief engineer. Chakotay wants it to be Torres, while Janeway wants it to be Carey, as he’s next in line, and he knows Starfleet procedure. But Chakotay doesn’t want he himself to be the token Maquis officer, and Torres is the best engineer he’s ever seen.

Voyager gets shaken around by a nearby singularity, and pick up a distress call inside it. They head toward it to try to effect a rescue, but sensors can’t make out the configuration and there’s too much subspace interference to hear the distress signal. Chakotay asks Torres for a suggestion, and she recommends a subspace tractor beam, which takes a few hours to set up. Carey agrees it’s workable after Janeway asks for his input.

Kes goes to the EMH for some soil samples. She notices that the EMH is shorter now than he was.

They try to tractor the ship, but the emitters blow out. Janeway meets with Torres, reassures her that she’s not pissed about the tractor beam not working. She wants to get to know Torres better, given how highly Chakotay speaks of her. Torres eventually stomps out of the meeting saying she wants nothing to do with Starfleet (that’s why she quit the Academy after two years), and is only sorry she’s stuck with them now.

Janeway has taken Neelix’s advice and set course for a nearby planet that might be able to help, but then Voyager finds themselves back at the singularity. No matter where they go, they wind up back at it.

The singularity is having an adverse effect on several crew members, including Kim, who are suffering headaches and dizziness and nausea. In addition, the EMH’s emitters are malfunctioning and the doc keeps getting shorter, to the point where he won’t be able to reach his patients.

In a staff meeting, in which both Torres and Carey represent engineering, Janeway and Torres start nerding out over technobabble figuring out how to get out of the singularity, leaving everyone else in the room to just sort of sit there with their mouths hanging open.

B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) and Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Torres and Carey install a dampener around the deflector dish and manage to clean up the signal from the other ship: it’s Voyager! They’re sending the message that Janeway sent at the top of the episode. Torres and Janeway nerd out some more in fast-and-furious STEM-speak, with Kim tossing in some notions. There’s a crack in the event horizon that they need to expand so they can get the ship through. A dekyon beam would do it, but Voyager‘s own warp field would interfere with it, so they take a shuttle. Janeway and Torres head over.

En route, Janeway discusses Torres’s Academy career—Tuvok provided full dossiers on Chakotay’s entire Maquis cell as part of his infiltration—and she reveals to a surprised Torres that Professor Chapman would support her reenlisting in the Academy. Torres thought Chapman hated her, but Janeway explains that some professors like being challenged.

They use the dekyon beam to widen the fissure just enough for Voyager to get through, then they have to guess which of the two Voyagers they’re picking up is the right one. Janeway guesses right. (Torres says, “If you’re wrong, we’ll have plenty of time to debate it.”) Paris manages to get them through the fissure, and they’re home free.

Torres is given a field commission to lieutenant and made chief engineer. She tells Carey that she’ll be counting on him to backstop her, especially since she’s not up on Starfleet protocol or on the eccentricities of this particular warp engine. Carey welcomes her aboard and promises to never give any less than his best.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Neelix explains to Kes that an event horizon is a force field surrounding a singularity, which is so totally what it isn’t. This wouldn’t be so bad—I remember one person telling me years ago that this was just what Neelix thought it was and he was talking out his hat to Kes—but (a) none of the bridge officers correct him and (b) much more to the point, the rest of the episode treats the event horizon like a force field, when it is, in fact, just a “point of no return” orbiting a singularity that has no mass or shape.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway was a science officer at the lower ranks, and she and Torres quickly bond over technobabble, finishing each other’s sentences, and routinely passing the Bechdel Test.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok wants to put Torres in the brig and court-martial her for striking Carey. Chakotay talks him out of it.

Half and half. Torres is a brilliant engineer, but she’s not sure she’s suited to lead a team. She also hates Starfleet. What could possibly go wrong?

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH keeps getting shorter, and is frustrated at not being told things like the fact that they’re near a singularity, which would help him diagnose all the patients he’s been getting.

The Doctor (Robert Picardo) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix crashes the senior staff meeting with Kes, as he figures he’s the senior Talaxian and she’s the senior Ocampa. For no compellingly good reason, Janeway lets them stay, though Kes is the only one who does anything useful.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Apparently holodeck power isn’t compatible with ship systems so holodeck power can’t be used to power the ship, a lame-ass handwave so they can keep doing holodeck episodes.

Do it.

“Am I making any sense here?”

“No, but that’s okay.”

–Paris speaking for the audience, and Janeway speaking for the writers.

Welcome aboard. Josh Clark is back as Joe Carey, who actually gets a name in this episode, and is also passed over as chief engineer by Torres. He will continue to recur throughout season one, and then make periodic reappearances here and there.

We meet two more Maquis crew, one the recurring role of Seska, played by Martha Hackett (last seen as the Romulan T’Rul in DS9‘s “The Search” Parts 1-2, and who will continue to recur throughout the first three seasons, and reappear again in an alternate timeline in season seven), the other Jarvin, played by Justin Williams, who only appears in this episode, but will be mentioned again in “The 37s.”

Trivial matters: The shuttlecraft Janeway and Torres take is the Tereshkova named after the cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

Set a course for home. “This isn’t another singularity—it’s the same one!” Gene Roddenberry had always wanted Star Trek to at least be a vaguely believable future. Yes, there was plenty of made-up science, but he at least consulted with futurists, and tried to make things at least vaguely plausible in the original series. He didn’t always succeed, but he tried. By the later years of TNG, however, the technobabble had gotten a bit out of hand, with one bit of made-up science often used to solve another bit of made-up science.

This is far worse when they use real stuff and get it wrong, and the thing that drove me crazy about this episode two-and-a-half decades ago, and again now, is the portrayal of an event horizon of a singularity—which is a real scientific phenomena—is so totally wrong. It is not a force field!

Brannon Braga, who scripted this episode, is quoted in Cinefantastique as saying, “Though ‘a quantum singularity’ is a mouthful, I decided to use it anyway; but I literally could have called it ‘a quantum fissure,’ ‘a quantum sinkhole,’ anything. And who cares? Who really cares?” It’s honestly hard to believe that two decades after this, Braga would help shepherd a new version of Cosmos into being, given his cavalier attitude toward science here.

USS Voyager in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Having said all that, I love watching this episode anyhow, not because of the terrible science, which is spectacularly terrible, but because of what Braga has always been good at, going back to his time on TNG: character development. It was mentioned in “Caretaker” that Janeway was a science officer back in the day, and we explore that. One of the things I like about the various Trek spinoffs is that each captain has a different background, and Janeway’s being a science nerd is a fantastic thing, aided by her bonding with Torres. Science stuff in Trek has previously mostly been the purview of men (with the notable exception of Jadzia Dax), and it’s nice to see Janeway and Torres doing the same nerding that Spock and Scotty did on TOS and that Dax and O’Brien did on DS9 and La Forge and Data did on TNG.

We’re also promised some nice tension, and while the follow-through on that wasn’t great, the use of it here is superb. Chakotay’s speech to Janeway about how he refuses to be the token Maquis officer with the rest of his crew being subordinate is a good one. It’s not like they can afford to be that fussy, considering that the conn officer is a criminal and the ops officer is twelve years old…

Chakotay is well used here, doing what a first officer is supposed to be doing, which is speaking for the entire crew to the captain. Yes, he’s putting more emphasis on his Maquis crew, but it’s early days yet, and he needs to facilitate the integration or this is never going to work.

Warp factor rating: 6

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 “Remembrance,” the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard went up this past Friday.

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