“Year of Hell, Part I”
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 4, Episode 8
Production episode 176
Original air date: November 5, 1997
Captain’s log. A Krenim vessel piloted by Annorax fires on a technologically advanced planet. The weapon causes all the technology to disappear, leaving the world a verdant space untouched by sentient alterations. This was a Zahl colony, but the temporal incursion Annorax just caused did not alter the target event as expected. So Annorax instead decides to wipe out the Zahl all together, not just their colony.
On Voyager, they inaugurate the new astrometrics lab constructed by Kim and Seven. The EMH gives a rather lengthy benediction that has everyone squirming with awkwardness. Then Ensign Lang on the bridge contacts Janeway, which comes as something of a relief.
A Krenim ship is challenging Voyager, though its armaments are poor and pose no real threat. Seven had informed them that this was Zahl space, but the Krenim commandant insists that it’s in dispute. Voyager ignores them and continues on, though remaining at yellow alert.
Three days later, they meet with a Zahl delegation, who assure Janeway that Voyager may travel safely through their space. The Krenim ships then return and challenge all of them. In the midst of the confrontation, a temporal shockwave hits them. The Zahl all disappear, the Krenim ship is suddenly much better armed, and Voyager is at red alert and battle stations, with the ship very badly damaged after days of battle. The timeline has been changed, and nobody remembers the previous iteration at all.
The Krenim have chroniton torpedoes that their shields can’t stop, as they are slightly out of phase. Voyager flees, having taken heavy damage.
On Annorax’s ship, Obrist reports that they’ve achieved 98% restoration of history. It’s the greatest percentage of restoration they’ve accomplished after two hundred years of temporal incursions. However, they did not restore the colony at Kyana Prime—while most of the Krenim Imperium’s territory is theirs once more, Kyana Prime is outside their current borders. Annorax stares longingly at a lock of hair in a glass pyramid and orders Obrist to make calculations for another incursion, over Obrist’s objections.
A month later, Voyager is still being pounded by Krenim warships. Tuvok has been unable to defend against the chroniton torpedoes. (Why they aren’t using the intelligence provided by Kes in “Before and After” is left as an exercise for the viewer.) In the latest attack, a power overload takes out all of deck five (which includes sickbay). The EMH leads the abandoning of the deck, and is forced to close the bulkhead even as two people are running toward it, as they would never make it in time. The mess hall becomes the new sickbay.
Since torpedo launchers are offline, Janeway orders Tuvok to deploy torpedoes like mines. This works, and Voyager is victorious, though it’s a pyrrhic victory, given the damage the ship has taken.
Chakotay proposes the notion of abandoning ship, taking escape pods and shuttlecraft to separate and try to get around Krenim space in smaller groups and rendezvous on the other side. Janeway refuses to abandon Voyager, and Chakotay admits he wasn’t thrilled with the notion either, but he had to propose it.
A fortnight later, Torres and Kim are trapped in a turbolift. They play a trivia game to occupy themselves (and keep the badly injured Torres alert) until Seven rescues them. Paris proposes tranverse bulkheads honeycombed through the ship to protect against hull breaches. He got the idea from the Titanic, which gives everyone pause given that ship’s final fate, but Paris insists he’s made improvements. Paris then goes to the mess hall to help the EMH treat the wounded, including Torres.
Seven finds an undetonated torpedo in a Jefferies tube. Tuvok joins here there and they determine that it’s about to detonate. Seven needs to determine its phase variance (1.47 microseconds, which they should already know from Kes’ report in “Before and After“), which she does right before it detonates. Tuvok is able to erect a force field to protect the rest of the ship, but the light from the explosion blinds him.
Eighteen days later, Voyager is a mess. Seven decks are uninhabitable, environmental controls are failing, the replicator system is badly damaged, and it’s also Janeway’s birthday, something the captain herself lost track of. Chakotay had replicated a pocket watch for her long before they encountered the Krenim and gives it to her now. She coldly tells him to recycle it, as they can’t afford luxuries right now. Chakotay looks like someone kicked his puppy.
Seven has taken it upon herself to be Tuvok’s aide in his newly blind state. She has also come up with a way to defend against the chroniton torpedoes, as just changing the phase variance in the shields hasn’t done the trick. She thinks that altering the deflector array to the inverse of the variance might succeed. Before they can go test it, another Krenim ship attacks. Seven goes to deflector control while Tuvok reports to the bridge, which now has a tactile interface for him.
The new shield modifications work, and the chroniton torpedoes are completely ineffective. Voyager is able to run away, and the Krenim ship follows, but doesn’t fire, as their weapons are now useless.
Then another temporal shockwave approaches (though the crew is encountering it for the first time from their perspective). Again, the timeline changes—but this time, Voyager is unaffected. They watch as the Krenim ship becomes a smaller, less threatening ship, and all the local Krenim colonies and many of the nearby Krenim ships are gone—and the few of the latter that remain are of the less-impressive variety of the one they’re facing.
Annorax is stunned to learn that his latest incursion, which has wiped out the Garenor, has reverted the Krenim to this weakened state. Obrist determines the x-factor: Voyager with its altered shields. Annorax orders a course plotted to rendezvous with Voyager.
It takes five days to bring astrometrics back online. Seven and Janeway are able to call up sensor scans from before the shockwave and compare them to current sensor readings: it’s radically different, and Krenim territory is much smaller. They trace the shockwave to the Garenor homeworld. To Seven’s confusion, the Garenor do not appear to exist, even though Voyager passed by their homeworld three weeks earlier.
Before Janeway can set course, the ship is fired upon: Annorax has reached them. He kidnaps Chaoktay and Paris and then intends to hit Voyager with a temporal incursion. Voyager’s shields are, at best, a stopgap against Annorax’s weapon, and sooner or later, they will collapse and Voyager will be erased from history. Seven points out that Annorax’s ship cannot exceed warp six, though Tuvok cautions that travelling at warp speed will cause severe damage.
Janeway risks it, and reluctantly leaves Chakotay and Paris behind, and goes at warp seven. That gets them away from Annorax, but the outer hull takes spectacular amounts of damage.
Three days later, Janeway is forced to implement Chakotay’s plan. Voyager can no longer sustain its crew. She orders all but a skeleton crew (that, by a startling coincidence, consists of the remaining people in the opening credits) to abandon ship, to work their way through Krenim space, try to find allies and faster ships, and rendezvous on the other side.
The escape pods all bugger off.
To be continued…
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? After Janeway orders the ship to flee at warp six early on, Tuvok reports that main power is down and the computer is offline and they don’t have long-range sensors. How it is possible to travel faster than light without main power (or a computer) is left as an exercise for the viewer.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway initially refuses to abandon ship, not doing so until she’s forced to in time for the cliffhanger. She also refuses to accept Chakotay’s incredibly sweet birthday gift, even though I can’t imagine the mass of a pocket watch would be enough to make a significant difference in their supplies.
Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok does everything he can to get Seven out of the Jefferies tube before the torpedo blows, and is only partly successful, and is blinded for his trouble.
Half and half. Torres apparently failed interstellar history at the Academy. She also has seen holographic versions of 20th-century films (I suspect the influence of dating Paris there) and knows professional Parrises Squares trivia.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. After Tuvok is blinded, Neelix becomes part of security. Since the mess hall is now sickbay, and he probably can’t really acquire foodstuffs (and Kes’ old hydroponics bay is probably long gone after all the Krenim attacks), his job as cook is a thing of the past.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH prepared an obscenely long speech to commemorate the opening of astrometrics. He also is forced to close a bulkhead on two crewmembers, which makes him fairly testy for much of the rest of the episode.
Forever an ensign. Kim and Seven have finally finished their astrometrics lab, just in time for the Krenim to kick the shit out of it. Kim is also apparently a sports aficionado, as he knows the answer to Torres’s Parrises Squares quiz almost instantly.
Resistance is futile. Seven does the exact same thing Kes did in “Before and After,” and determines the phase variance of the Krenim torpedoes. She also becomes Tuvok’s helper, willing to go so far as to shave for him (he cuts himself shaving at one point), but Tuvok apparently has too much pride for that…
“Who would’ve thought that this eclectic group of voyagers could actually become a family? Starfleet, Maquis, Klingon, Talaxian, hologram, Borg, even Mr. Paris.”
–The snarkiest part of the EMH’s rather lengthy benediction for astrometrics
Welcome aboard. After playing three different Ferengi on TNG (in “Ménàge à Troi,” “Suspicions,” and “Bloodlines”), Peter Slutsker appears here with much less makeup as the Krenim commandant. Regular extra Sue Henley gets a name—Ensign Brooks—and a line of dialogue, as she is Seven’s roommate in the beat-up Voyager. Deborah Levin makes her final appearance as Lang, Rick Fitts plays the Zahl, and John Loprieno plays Obrist.
But the big guest is the great Kurtwood Smith in his third of four Trek roles, having previously played Federation President Ra-ghoratreii in The Undiscovered Country and Thrax in DS9’s “Things Past.” He will also voice Clar in “Veritas” on Lower Decks.
Smith, Slutsker, and Loprieno will all be back for Part 2.
Trivial matters: This episode was inspired by one of the future bits experienced by Kes in “Before and After.” Brannon Braga reportedly loved the image of Voyager having the shit kicked out of it by Krenim chroniton torpedoes—originally just meant to be the vehicle for Kes’ backwards time travelling in the episode—and he and Joe Menosky built this two-parter around it. Originally intended to be the season-spanning two-parter before it was decided to do the Borg for that, Braga also reportedly wanted this to be a season-long arc, but neither UPN nor Rick Berman would have agreed to such a thing.
Kes’ departure and Seven’s arrival already made the future of “Before and After” consigned to the realm of an alternate time track, but there are some similarities: Neelix joining security, an undetonated Krenim torpedo in a Jefferies tube providing intelligence, and sickbay rendered inoperable.
While trapped in a turbolift, Torres and Kim play a trivia game, and the answer to Kim’s final quiz before Seven rescues them is the Phoenix, Zephram Cochrane’s ship that made the first human faster-than-light journey, as established in the original series’s “Metamorphosis” and seen in First Contact. Seven comments that the Borg were present for that mission, adding that it’s a complicated story.
This episode also debuts astrometrics, the improved stellar cartography lab that combines Starfleet ingenuity with Borg knowhow. This set will become an important part of the ship for the rest of its run.
Janeway states that they’re now 65,000 light-years from home, and Seven plots a course that will get them home five years sooner than their current estimate.
Set a course for home. “This is turning into the week of hell.” I love and hate this two-parter in equal measure, though my biggest issue with the storyline is mostly seen in Part 2, so we’ll talk about that in more depth on Thursday. But suffice it to say, this episode encapsulates what Voyager really should have been all along. Even granted that they have replicator technology, it should take a very long time for them to repair damage, yet the ship is always pristine and in perfect working order by the next episode. (This was particularly galling after the ship suffered catastrophic damage in “Investigations” and “Deadlock.”)
Except in this two-parter, anyhow. It’s fantastic to see the crew actually dealing with real hardship and difficult decisions. Being stranded half a galaxy away should be a nightmarish existence, one fraught with difficulty and danger, and far too often we see a bunch of people on a luxury liner playing dress-up on the holodeck and never wanting for anything significant.
For these two episodes, at least, that changes, and it’s impressive as hell. Janeway’s determination to get them through, Chakotay’s compassion and morale boosting, Seven’s ruthless efficiency, leavened by her growing concern for her crewmates, Tuvok’s stoicism, Paris’s improvising.
Plus we have Kurtwood Smith being awesome, though his best work is saved for Part 2. For now, all we see is someone ruthlessly determined to achieve perfection, and a willingness to commit genocide many times over to do it. Annorax is one of the most brutal villains in Trek history, and in this part what we see is just the brutality expressed by Smith’s hard face and stentorian voice.
Having said all that, there’s one other issue with this episode in particular that keeps it from being quite the perfect episode it should be: at the end of “Before and After,” Kes dashed off to write up a full report on everything she learned from her time-travelling odyssey in general and about the Krenim in particular. Yet the crew doesn’t seem to recognize the Krenim, or even note that they’ve been told about them. Much more to the point, though, is that one of the things Kes learned was the phase variance of the chroniton torpedoes. Indeed, that piece of information was crucial to saving Kes’ life in that episode, so it’s not something she was likely to forget about or leave out. So why the hell didn’t the crew know about it until Seven obtained it at the cost of Tuvok’s eyesight? (And yes, it’s possible that Annorax’s time-travel shenanigans affected the timeline, but that doesn’t make it feel any less like a plot hole.)
Even with that, though, this is a great episode of Voyager on its own, with a devastating ending, as dozens of escape pods eject the battered remnants of the vessel…
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido is very proud of himself for not making a “year of hell” joke about 2020 in this rewatch entry.