Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Prime Factors”

“Prime Factors”
Written by David R. George III & Eric A. Stillwell and Michael Perricone & Greg Elliot
Directed by Les Landau
Season 1, Episode 9
Production episode 110
Original air date: March 20, 1995
Stardate: 48642.5

Captain’s log. Janeway and Tuvok are in the mess hall observing Torres, Seska, Kim, and Paris gossiping about relationships, with an emphasis on Kim’s disastrous date with one of the Delaney sisters. Janeway is grateful that the Maquis and Starfleet crews are getting along, and Tuvok allows as how that will increase efficiency.

Voyager receives a distress call from a Sikarian ship—but the Sikarian on the other end, Gathorel Labin, says there’s no emergency, and Voyager is the ship in distress. They offer shore leave on their world. Neelix knows of the Sikarians, and they are legendary for their hospitality. In addition, they’re known for their excellent edible plants, and Neelix would love to get some seeds from them. Labin beams aboard and provides some yummy food as a temptation, and eventually Janeway accepts Labin’s offer. Voyager follows his ship to Sikaris.

Labin, who is a Sikarian magistrate, part of the ruling council of the world, shows Janeway around personally, taking her shopping and leering at her a lot. He insists on creating an entire wardrobe of clothes made from local fabrics (spun from a flower that only grows in moonlight, which is either incredibly romantic and poetic or incredibly cheesy and absurd, but whatever). Janeway tells him to slow his roll and just asks for a scarf. He also says there will be a celebration in their honor that evening.

Kim meets a woman named Eudana, who is doing weather forecasting with a device that Kim at first thinks is a musical instrument. They bond over science.

That night at the festivities, Kim is telling Eudana the story of how they got stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Eudana is very grateful, and asks Kim’s permission to tell the story to others. Kim agrees, thinking it no big deal, but stories are highly valued on Sikaris. In return for this, she takes Kim to a platform that takes him to a tropical location that Kim assumes is elsewhere on the planet. But then he sees the dual sunset—Sikaris only has the one sun. Eudana explains that they got on a spatial trajector that folds space, and they’re on Alastria, which is 40,000 light-years from Sikaris.

Kim urges Eudana to return to Sikaris, as this technology might enable them to get home sooner. They go to Labin and Janeway. Labin and Eudana regretfully explain that the Sikarian Canon of Laws strictly forbids sharing their technology with any other species. Once it’s out of their control, they don’t know what will happen to it, and they can’t risk it.

Janeway meets with the senior staff and they comment on the irony of being on the wrong side of a Prime Directive scenario. Tuvok, however, proposes the notion that Labin’s refusal could have been the first step of a negotiation, and it might be worth asking if there’s wiggle room. Kim mentions that stories are highly valued, and they’ve got a library full of literature that none of them have ever encountered.

Over pecan pie—which Labin loves—Janeway offers the ship’s library of literature, in exchange for the technology. They could promise to destroy the trajector after they use it once, or have the Sikarians use it on them and not actually give them the technology.

Labin says he’ll take it up with the other magistrates, but he seems way more focused on his yummy pie.

In engineering, Torres and Seska start speculating about the trajector. Carey comes over, and Torres tenses up, but Carey says he’s on her side—he wants to get home to his wife and kids. The three of them start spitballing how the thing might work.

On the planet, Eudana takes Kim to meet Jaret Otel, one of Labin’s aides, who informs him that Labin has no intention of giving up the trajector, and he’s leading Janeway on. But Otel is willing to exchange the trajector for Voyager’s library, which will improve Otel’s standing in Sikarian society significantly.

Kim returns to the ship. While waiting for his meeting with Janeway, he talks about it with Paris, Seksa, and Torres. Paris recommends going with whatever Janeway wants. After Kim goes off to meet with the captain and Paris goes to bed, Seska informs Torres that a plan is underway to steal the technology if Janeway refuses—which Seska thinks is likely, given the way she and Labin are making goo-goo eyes at each other. Torres is resistant at first—she’s a senior officer now—but eventually agrees.

After Kim tells Janeway and Tuvok, she dismisses him, and discusses the issue further with Tuvok. Contrary to Seska’s opinion, Janeway agrees with Otel—she doesn’t think Labin has any intention of helping them and is stringing them along. She’s on the horns of a dilemma. She said when they were stranded that this would be a Starfleet ship run on Starfleet principles, but how does she face the crew and tell them that her principles are more important than going home?

She beams down to see that Labin has lost interest in certain things that he waxed rhapsodic about only a couple of days ago. She pushes him on the subject of whether or not the magistrates would approve her proposal, and he puts her off. Janeway realizes that the hedonistic Labin just wants the experience of having the exotic crew around, and has no interest in helping them get home. Labin thinks they should all just stay here and have fun. As soon as Janeway sees through his bullshit, he gets hostile and says he wants her to leave.

Janeway beams back and orders Chakotay to cancel shore leave and bring everyone back up. They’re leaving. However, the crew is scattered all over Sikaris, and it’ll take several hours to round everyone up.

The captain refuses to violate Sikarian law by taking Otel up on his offer. In response, Torres, Seska, and Carey enact their plan to meet in secret with Otel and exchange the library for the trajector. However, the transporter is locked out—by Tuvok, as it turns out. The trio assume they’re about to be thrown into the brig, but then Tuvok shocks everyone by saying that he saw that the literature library had already been downloaded when he was downloading it. He will make the exchange with Otel.

Tuvok returns with the trajector. Torres installs it, and the engineers soon realize that it’s powered by the mantle of Sikaris itself. They have to operate it from orbit. Torres fakes a malfunction in thrusters that will keep them from breaking orbit and then they try to activate it—but it’s completely incompatible with Voyager’s systems, and almost causes a warp core breach. It becomes fused to the console, and Torres removes it by blowing it up with a phaser (just in case we forgot that she’s half-Klingon).

Seska wants to cover it all up, but Torres refuses. She made the choice, she’ll face the consequences.

In fact, Torres takes all the responsibility, including for acquiring the trajector, but Tuvok doesn’t let her fall on the entire sword, as he accepts responsibility for his part.

First Janeway informs Torres that she only isn’t going in the brig because she needs everyone on the ship to do their jobs or they’re screwed, but one more transgression, even a minor one, and she’ll no longer be an officer on the ship.

As for Tuvok, Janeway is completely gobsmacked by his behavior. He says he did what he did to spare Janeway the ethical dilemma. She has stated often that the primary goal of Voyager was to get home, and his actions were the only logical way to allow her to fulfill that goal without violating her own principles.

Tuvok (Tim Russ) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The spatial trajector seems to work similarly to the dimensional shift from TNG’s “The High Ground,” but longer distance and without the deleterious effect to human tissue.

There’s coffee in that nebula! To her credit, Janeway sees through Labin’s creepy leering pretty quickly. She resists his more overt advances, focusing mainly on the crew’s comfort. She does enjoy his company, but she very obviously doesn’t take it as far as he wants to go. And she sees through his prevarications about the other magistrates pretty quickly, and his own response is to pout and send them away.

Half and half. Torres proves she’s still got plenty of Maquis in her as she ringleads the acquisition and installation of the trajector, but she’s also becoming more Starfleet, as she accepts responsibility for her actions and takes her medicine. That the medicine isn’t really all that much is beside the point.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok, in the fine tradition of Spock in “The Menagerie” and Valeris in The Undiscovered Country, uses logic to justify spectacularly illegal behavior.

Forever an ensign. Kim is the first person to use the trajector, and is the one Otel uses to propose a solution to the ship.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. At least Neelix gets some seeds out of it, so they can continue to eat Sikarian food on the journey back. (No word on whether Janeway ever actually fulfilled her promise to provide Labin with the recipe for pecan pie.)

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Labin is all over Janeway from jump, with Janeway herself keeping it platonic. Meanwhile, Kim and Eudana flirt adorably.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. A double date with Paris and Kim and the Delaney sisters ended in hilarity. They went to Venice on the holodeck, and Kim fell out of the gondola he shared with Jenny Delaney.

Do it.

“That’s beautiful. Are you a musician?”

“This isn’t a musical instrument, it’s an atmospheric sensor. The frequency of the chimes indicates changes in weather conditions.”

“Then it must work on a principle of non-linear resonance, adjusting to the dynamic variables in the atmosphere.”

“That’s exactly right! Are you a scientist?”

“In a sense. Can you show me how to operate it?”

–Kim and Eudana meeting nerdy.

Welcome aboard. The main guest is Ronald Guttman, the great Belgian character actor, as Labin, with Eudana and Otel played, respectively, by Yvonne Suhor and Andrew Hill Newman. Plus we’ve got recurring regulars Josh Clark as Carey and Martha Hackett as Seska.

Trivial matters: The story for this episode is by David R. George III and Eric A. Stillwell. George, Stillwell, and Armin Shimerman also pitched several stories to DS9, but none of them were bought. However, Shimerman and George reworked one of those pitches as a Trek novel and sent it to Simon & Schuster, which was published in 1999 as The 34th Rule.

In the two decades since, George has become a prolific Trek novelist, with eighteen novels and one short story to his credit, among them the original series trilogy Crucible, done in 2006 to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary. (Full disclosure: George is a friend of your humble rewatcher, and also a colleague—that one short story was commissioned by me, “Iron and Sacrifice” for the anthology Tales from the Captain’s Table.)

As for Stillwell, he was a production assistant on TNG from its first season, and he continued to work on or near the franchise, both for the Trek TV shows and as Michael Piller’s assistant, for many years. He also co-wrote the story for TNG‘s “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

George and Stillwell’s original pitch had Voyager encountering the Aegis, the people who sent Gary Seven to Earth in the original series’ “Assignment: Earth.”

Scripters Greg Elliott and Michael Perricone would come back in the fourth season to write the episode “Unforgettable.”

The Sikarians were originally conceived as the third recurring species Voyager would encounter repeatedly in the Delta Quadrant, the others being the Kazon and the Vidiians, but while the latter two did recur throughout the early years of the series, this is the only appearance of the Sikarians.

While Tuvok has been referred to consistently in dialogue as a lieutenant, his uniform has had the pips of a lieutenant commander (two solid and one hollow). After this episode, he only has the two solid pips, leading some to believe that he was demoted after his actions here. However, lieutenant commanders are usually referred to as “commander” in abbreviated form, not “lieutenant,” so it was probably a costuming error that was fixed.

This episode establishes that Carey left a wife and two sons behind in the Alpha Quadrant. They have been given three different sets of names in different tie-ins: wife Anne Carey and sons J.J. and Patrick in Mary Scott-Wiecek’s “The Ones Left Behind” in Strange New Worlds III, wife Dina Carey and sons John and Josh in the videogame Starship Creator, and wife Abhaya Parekh and sons Devraj and Michael in your humble rewatcher’s “Letting Go” in Distant Shores.

Seska (Martha Hackett) Joseph Carey (Josh Cark) and B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “My logic was not in error—but I was.” This is the first episode since “Parallax” that even acknowledges that Voyager’s crew is mixed Starfleet and Maquis, and what I love about it is that it shows how blurred the lines have already become. Tuvok and Carey are both right there with Torres and Seska in violating Sikarian law for the good of the ship, and Torres is uncharacteristically resistant to being all rebellious and stuff. (Having said that, I love that her solution to the jammed trajector is to shoot it.) There’s a missed opportunity here to involve Chakotay—this is a great chance to show his divided loyalties. However, he’s removed completely from the story, focusing instead on Torres’s role as a conflicted Maquis and Tuvok’s role as Janeway’s confidant. That we’re already at this point less than ten episodes into the series is a bit frustrating, but one takes what one can get.

I adore the notion of Starfleet on the wrong end of a Prime Directive situation, especially since the Sikarian restriction makes sense. The trajector is technology that is hugely open to abuse, and I would be very fussy about who I gave it to. And given how wide-ranging the galaxy is, it’s likely safer to not trust anyone with it.

I also adore the notion of storytelling as currency. Stories are the basis of every culture, truly, and the fact that the Sikarians have, in essence, monetized it is a lovely touch.

Ronald Guttman has been a favorite of mine since his role as the chief engineer in The Hunt for Red October all the way to his recent brilliant turn as an old man turned into a vampire in Preacher, and he’s perfect here. He’s a hedonist, and he is all over Janeway, but he also offers the crew something they desperately need. Honestly, he’s the perfect predator, which is exactly what the role calls for. Indeed, all the Sikarians are to a degree, as they are hungry for new experiences, and are willing to manipulate people and give them pretty gifts in exchange for it, whether it’s Labin’s offer to give Janeway tons of clothes, Otel’s offer of the trajector, or Eudana taking Kim to another world.

And as soon as Janeway sees through it, he gets pouty and angry and throws a tantrum, blaming her for harshing his mellow. It’s classic predator behavior, and Guttman just nails it. To Janeway’s credit, the minute he shows his true colors and makes it clear that there’s no longer a benefit to her crew to stay, she packs up and leaves.

Tuvok’s actions here are fantastic. As I said above, this is in keeping with other logic-based craziness we’ve seen Vulcans indulge in, and it reminds me of a great line from Doctor Who in 1968: “Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.” Tuvok is incredibly wrong here, but you see how he’s rationalized it, sacrificing his own freedom—he expresses a complete willingness to subject himself to punishment—in order to spare his captain and friend an ethical dilemma and still get everyone home. That it didn’t even work just makes it worse.

Janeway’s response feels toothless, but there are limits. They’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, and she can’t afford to put Tuvok or Torres (or Carey, or Seska, though it’s not clear if Janeway even knows of their involvement, as the chief engineer and security chief both insist on taking full responsibility) in the brig for the whole trip home. Still, one wishes Janeway could provide nastier consequences for their actions than a stern talking-to. But her appeal to Tuvok is quite powerful, as she relies on him in much the same way another human captain relied on a pointy-eared senior officer, and she needs him to be her counsel, not her crazy-ass proxy for hard stuff.

I’m sorry we didn’t see the Sikarians again, as I would have loved to have seen the consequences of Otel’s actions on their society, not to mention their response to seeing Voyager again (and vice versa). But their one appearance is a nice inversion of the usual Prime Directive storyline, and one that digs into the Maquis/Starfleet conflict in a way that applies directly to Voyager‘s situation of trying to get home while maintaining Starfleet principles.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Farpoint 2020 this weekend in Cockeysville, Maryland, just north of Baltimore, his first convention appearance of the year. He’ll be there as an author and musical guest, doing panels, readings, and autographings, as well as a concert with his band Boogie Knights. Other guests include Trek actors Mary Chieffo (L’Rell), Penny Johnson Jerald (Kasidy Yates), and Anthony Montgomery (Travis Mayweather), and fellow Trek scribes Derek Tyler Attico, Peter David, Dave Galanter, Allyn Gibson, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, David Mack, Aaron Rosenberg, Howard Weinstein, and Steven H. Wilson. Keith’s full schedule can be found here.

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