Written by Jeri Taylor & Brannon Braga
Directed by James L. Conway
Season 2, Episode 1
Production episode 120
Original air date: August 28, 1995
Captain’s log. Kim picks up traces of rust, which is unusual to say the least. They track it to a 1936 pickup truck that’s inexplicably floating in space. Paris recognizes the make and model, as he has a heretofore unknown and plot-convenient love of old vehicles.
They pull the truck on board, and Paris manages to start it up, er, somehow (gas would bubble off in a vacuum, but never mind). The truck’s AM radio picks up an SOS on a radio frequency, which Kim is able to track to a planet that has some manner of technobabble interference that prevents transporters, and is too dangerous for something as small as a shuttlecraft to fly through. But Voyager itself can handle it, so they land the ship, thus blowing the budget for the entire episode for the sake of a glory F/X shot.
They arrive on the planet, which is sunny and bright and clear and gives no indication of any kind of atmospheric interference. They explore the surface, and find a Lockheed L-10 Electra, which is the source of the SOS. Janeway is skeptical that the battery on the plane is still running, and sure enough, it’s hooked up to a power source of alien design.
The away team also finds a cavern that is filled with what Torres recognizes as cryostasis chambers. Many of them are empty, but there are five occupied ones, all humans who look like they come from the early twentieth century—the same era as both the truck and the airplane. One of them is wearing a nametag that reads, “A. EARHART,” and Janeway realizes that she’s just solved a very old mystery.
Returning to Voyager, Janeway briefs the crew on Amelia Earhart, one of the first female aviators, and who went missing along with her navigator while trying to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed L-10 Electra. Neither the bodies nor the wreckage were ever found, and lots of outlandish theories propagated—including the apparently correct one that they were abducted by aliens.
Because the method by which they were abducted and taken aaaaaaaaaaallllllllll the way to the Delta Quadrant might give them a way home, Janeway decides to awaken the five humans, but only with human crew (the exception being Kes, who can hide her funky ears, who’s needed to check their medical status).
The revived humans are all very confused, because for them, 1937 was an hour ago. The last thing any of them remember is being taken away, and the next thing they know, they’re facing the Voyager away team. One of the humans is a Japanese soldier, whom they disarm, but Earhart’s navigator, Fred Noonan, is also armed, and he holds the away team hostage with his revolver, wanting answers.
Janeway patiently explains the reality of the situation, which they all have trouble believing—except for Earhart, who starts to believe it, especially when Janeway reveals that it’s generally believed that she and Noonan were on a secret mission for the government. Earhart thought nobody knew about that, but for Janeway, it’s ancient history.
Eventually, Earhart is convinced to let the away team take them to their ship.
Meanwhile, Chakotay and Tuvok lead a security detail to attempt a rescue, but they’re ambushed. Janeway takes Earhart and Noonan into that same ambush, but they manage to turn the tables on their attackers—
—who turn out to be humans! And they’re surprised to see that the away team aren’t Briori.
Eventually they figure it all out. The humans who ambushed them—one of whom is named John Evansville—are descendants of the people in the empty stasis chambers. The Briori apparently abducted more than 300 people from Earth in 1937 and made them slave labor. For whatever reason, Earhart, Noonan, and the others were never taken out of stasis, and after the slaves revolted and got rid of the Briori, they kept “the 37s” in a shrine as monuments to their ancestors who were enslaved. They also thought they were dead, and Evansville is rather stunned to realize they could be so easily revived. Earhart’s SOS signal was also preserved as a monument to the 37’s, hence the alien generator attached to the Electra.
Noonan was wounded in the firefight. He’s brought to Voyager where, convinced he’s going to die, he declares his unrequited love for Earhart. He never said anything because she was married. (Of course, her husband, George P. Putnam, has been dead for 421 years, so not really an issue at this point.) The EMH then cures him in seven seconds flat—it would’ve been two seconds flat, but Noonan has so much alcohol in his blood it inhibited the medical tools. Once he realizes he’s going to live, an embarrassed Noonan begs Earhart to forget everything he said.
Evansville offers to show off the city they’ve built since getting rid of the Briori. The crew and the 37’s are quite impressed, and we have to take their word for it, because they blew the budget on landing the ship, so we don’t get to see the city. At all. Not even a little bit.
Evansville offers homes for anyone who wants to stay. Unfortunately, whatever technology the Briori used to bring them here from Earth was lost during the slave revolts that gave the humans their freedom.
Janeway is torn—she doesn’t want to force anyone to stay on board, but they can’t afford to lose too many crew members. She says that anyone who wants to stay on the planet should assemble in the cargo bay. She and Chakotay head there to find it empty, to the surprise of her, Chakotay, and the viewership.
An even bigger surprise is that all the 37’s want to stay there also. So they leave the 37’s behind and head back toward home.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway totally nerds out over getting to meet Earhart, and it’s kind of adorable.
Forever an ensign. Kim talks with Torres about the possibility of staying. He says he’s iffy on spending the rest of his life on a starship.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH wows Earhart and Noonan with the capabilities of twenty-fourth-century medicine, snarking away the whole time, of course.
Everyone comes to Neelix’s. Neelix does the best he can to prepare familiar dishes for the 37’s in his galley. He also assures them that he’s staying on Voyager because Janeway would be lost without him.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Noonan has had the hots for Earhart all this time, but never said anything out of deference to her marriage to Putnam (who promoted much of Earhart’s aviation work).
“Captain, I think I should tell you I’ve never actually landed a starship before.”
“That’s all right, Lieutenant, neither have I.”
–Paris expressing reservations and Janeway failing to reassure him.
Welcome aboard. It’s Great Character Actor Theatre in this one, as we have Mel Winkler as Hayes, James Saito as Nogami, John Rubinstein as Evansville, and the late great David Graf as Noonan. Graf will later appear as the snotty Klingon Leskit in DS9’s “Soldiers of the Empire,” and Rubinstein will appear twice on Enterprise as a Mazerite (“Fallen Hero”) and a Vulcan (“Awakening” and “Kir’Shara“).
But the big guest is Sharon Lawrence, taking a break from her career-making role on NYPD Blue as Sylvia Costas to play Amelia Earhart.
Trivial matters: Originally intended to be the first-season finale, it was instead shifted to the second-season premiere. Since there were no plans to do a season-spanning cliffhanger, this decision didn’t affect things overmuch, though it did leave the first season ending with a rather wimpy episode, all things considered.
Voyager landing was part of the conception of the show from the beginning, but the opportunity to show it didn’t present itself until this episode. Unlike the Enterprise-D’s saucer separation, which was almost forgotten about over the course of TNG, Voyager’s landing capabilities will be returned to several times.
The planet scenes in the episode were filmed in Bronson Canyon, a location used many times by the original series, TNG, DS9, and Voyager once before as well, in “State of Flux.” It will be used thrice more on Trek, once on DS9, once on Voyager, and once on Enterprise.
This is the first of four episodes directed by James L. Conway, a Trek veteran who would eventually helm eighteen Trek episodes, including DS9‘s “The Way of the Warrior” and Enterprise‘s pilot “Broken Bow.”
Set a course for home. “I think you’ll find that’s manure.” Let’s see, what is there to like about the episode? Well, Sharon Lawrence is fantastic as Earhart. She does a wonderful job embodying the great aviator, and Kate Mulgrew is equally fantastic as a Janeway who is totally fangoobering her.
And Voyager landing is a cool-looking effect.
Yeah, that’s about it. This would’ve made a terrible season finale and it’s an even worse season opener, just a spectacularly dumb and unconvincing and idiotic episode from ground up and from the roof on down the other side.
Let’s start with the very opening, where it seems like Paris is the only one who recognizes the truck. Yeah, okay, it’s 400 years old, but you know what? If I saw a horse-drawn carriage from the late 1600s, I’d know what it was when I saw it.
Worse, the truck’s reason for being in space is never ever explained. Never mind that, if it’s been in the low-pressure vacuum of space for any length of time, the gas would be long gone, so it shouldn’t start, how the hell did it get there?
The middle part of the episode is a warmed-over rehash of TNG’s “The Neutral Zone,” with only two elements that make it stand out and improve on that 1988 episode: the aforementioned fangoobering and that Lawrence, David Graf, James Saito, and Mel Winkler are all really really really good actors.
Then the ambush happens and it all goes to hell. After the initial misunderstanding, everyone’s friends, and John Evansville offers to show off the wonderful city—which we never get to see. The end of the episode sets up this difficult choice the crew and the 37’s must make, but it’s hard to invest in the choice, because we don’t see any of the city. We don’t even get the vaguest hint.
And the reason why we don’t get a hint? Because they blew the budget on showing the ship land—which was completely unnecessary. That Voyager lands is meaningless to the storyline, and if Voyager was in orbit, and they used transporters—or, if they wanted the transporters not to work so the hostage situation would be convincing, have the atmospheric interference mess with transporters and just use shuttlecraft—it wouldn’t have changed the story one iota.
To make matters worse, we’re given no good visual reason for it. The ship lands in a bright, sunny clearing in beautiful weather. Supposedly the interference was so great that shuttlecraft couldn’t even be risked, and I’m expecting something like Galorndon Core or the Mab-Bu VI moon or some other storm-wracked planet, but no, we get a sunny southern California location that makes the need for landing even less convincing than it already is.
That production decision, to do the cool ship-landing bit, helps ruin the episode because we have absolutely no context for the crew’s decision-making process.
Then, to make matters worse, the script provides us with the most unconvincing possible permutation: every one of the 152 people on Voyager stay on the ship and all the 37’s stay on the planet. I didn’t buy that for a single, solitary microsecond.
Having all the 37’s remain makes even less sense. Keeping in mind that this is an Amelia Earhart whose transatlantic flight was only five minutes ago subjectively speaking, there is absolutely no way, none, that she would stay on the planet when the alternative is to get to fly through space in a spaceship. This is one of the pioneers of air travel at the height of her career as an aviator and there is no way, none, that she would make any other decision than to join Voyager.
But she couldn’t because the actor playing her had another gig. Sigh.
While the script was done in by production decisions, it wasn’t all that to begin with. Why were those last few 37’s never taken out of stasis? How did the truck wind up in space? Why did the truck still function? How did 300 people from 1937 manage to dope out advanced technology enough to evolve to a community of 100,000, especially since 300 isn’t enough of a diverse gene pool to avoid genetic stochastic drift? This was a point that was understood by a truly terrible TNG episode, “Up the Long Ladder,” so it’s even more embarrassing that “The 37’s” doesn’t get that right. (Then again, in “Up the Long Ladder,” Picard and Riker knew what an SOS was, too…)
And ugh, that ending. I get what they were going for, to end the first season (or start the second season, as it wound up being instead) with an inspiring choice showing the crew’s unity in trying to get home. But I just didn’t buy it. Even the incredibly muted version of the conflict between Starfleet and Maquis that we’ve had so far indicates that at least some of the 150-odd people left would want to say “fuck it” and stay on this nifty planet with this great community of people on this technological marvel of a world (that we only see three members of and none of those technological marvels, but whatever).
Plus, Earhart would definitely have come along for the ride back to the Alpha Quadrant. But external circumstances dictated it, just like they did everything else, and they served to utterly ruin what could’ve been a great episode. I mean, you’ve got Mulgrew and Lawrence being brilliant across from each other, and this is the best script you can give them?
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be contributing to three Crazy 8 Press anthologies later this year: Bad Ass Moms, edited by Mary Fan, a collection of short stories about mothers you don’t mess with; ZLONK! ZOK! ZOWIE! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66—Season One, edited by Jim Beard, with Rich Handley, a collection of essays about the first season of the Adam West TV series; and the third volume of the shared-world anthology series Pangaea, edited by Michael Jan Friedman, a collection of stories about an alternate Earth where there was only ever one continent.