Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Year of Hell, Part II”

“Year of Hell, Part II”
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Mike Vejar
Season 4, Episode 9
Production episode 177
Original air date: November 12, 1997
Stardate: 51425.4

Captain’s log. After we get a summary of Part I, we see that Voyager—which is now down to a skeleton crew consisting only of the people in the opening credits (minus the still-kidnapped Chakotay and Paris), which strains credulity approximately 100%—hiding in a nebula while Torres struggles to effect repairs.

Kim and Janeway have to manually vent gas from one deck, which causes damage to their lungs. Janeway refuses to sit still long enough to be properly treated.

Annorax has had Chakotay and Paris prisoner for two months, poking, prodding, and interrogating them. Now, he cleans them both up, gives them Krenim clothing, and invites them for a feast. All the food is from civilizations that Annorax has wiped from the timeline. He calls his ship a museum of lost histories. (Pointedly, Paris stops eating once he realizes that his dish is the last remnant of a civilization.)

Annorax makes the two an offer: He will try to restore the timeline and also spare Voyager. He might even be able to get them closer to home. But he needs detailed information about their travels.

Paris calls him out, saying he’s only taking this step because he’s lost track of Voyager. He also says they won’t help him wipe out civilizations. But when he gets up to walk out, Chakotay tells him to sit back down, and offers to help Annorax if he can find a way to fix the timeline without wiping out any more civilizations. Annorax agrees.

Over the next several weeks, Chakotay learns how the timeship works, and how to make a temporal incursion. He tests his first notion, getting rid of a comet that Voyager had to avoid, which changed their course. Without it, they likely would never have encountered the Krenim. However, when he runs a simulation, he discovers that bits of that comet making planetfall was responsible for creating plant species that was a major step in the evolution of civilizations on those worlds—which, in the simulation, are now gone from history. Chakotay is now starting to understand the enormity of what Annorax is trying to do.

At last, Annorax gives his origin story: he used the ship to wipe out the Rilnar after the Rilnar supplanted the Krenim as the major power in this region. But the unintended consequence was that a plague killed millions of Krenim in a year. Annorax has spent the last two centuries trying to fix that mistake.

A month-and-a-half later, Voyager has left the nebula, but is now stuck in a micrometeor shower. Janeway goes to deflector control, which is on fire, to restore the navigational deflector. She is successful, but she suffers burns over much of her body. The EMH is able to heal her, but he no longer has a working dermal regenerator, so she is still scarred. The doctor also tries to relieve her of duty, as she refuses to rest from her injuries, but while the chief medical officer has that authority, he also has no means of enforcing it, given that the brigs are long-destroyed, and security consists of a blind Vulcan and an unqualified Talaxian. Janeway agrees to be court-martialed when they get home, mostly because that will mean they got home…

A month later, Janeway and Neelix are touring the ship to assess damage, and she finds, in what’s left of Chakotay’s quarters, the pocket watch he’d replicated for her birthday. Overwhelmed by his disobeying orders, Janeway fastens the watch to her pants and continues onward.

Star Trek: Voyager "Year of Hell, Part II"

Screenshot: CBS

Paris has been making friends among Annorax’s crew, especially Obrist, playing games with him, and learning that the crew is getting seriously fed up with Annorax’s obsession. Chakotay, however, is unwilling to support a mutiny just yet—he wants to try Annorax’s plan to restore the Krenim and save Voyager without bloodshed.

This lasts right up until Annorax engages another incursion, which wipes out the Ram Izad, to Chakotay’s horror. Chakotay confronts Annorax, who insists that a civilization is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but Chakotay insists that one civilization, that one life, is significant.

That calls Annorax’s bluff, as he reveals that it really is one life he’s trying to save here. His first incursion that wiped out the Rilnar also removed the Kyana Prime colony from the timeline, taking with it Annorax’s wife and children and grandchildren. He has spent the last two centuries trying to restore them, but no matter what he does, Kyana Prime never comes back.

Now that it’s clear that Annorax had no intention of stopping his genocidal ways, Chakotay tells Paris to go ahead with his mutiny plan. Obrist can contact Voyager and give them their location, and Paris will sabotage the temporal core, which will leave Annorax’s ship vulnerable to conventional weapons, because it will no longer be out of the space-time continuum.

Over the next month, Voyager has gathered allies against the Krenim: the Mawasi and the Nihydrons. A fleet of five ships—Voyager and two each from the other two nations—is going to the coordinates provided by Paris’ clandestine communication. Voyager has shared the temporal shielding with their new allies. Janeway sends Kim and Torres to the lead Nihydron ship, while Tuvok, Seven, Neelix, and the EMH are to report to the lead Mawasi ship. Janeway insists on staying on the tattered remains of Voyager.

Annorax is unconcerned with the fleet’s approach at first, but Chakotay assures him that Janeway wouldn’t be attacking if she didn’t think she had a shot at success. Obrist signals Paris to start his sabotage of the temporal core. However, he is unsuccessful, and Krenim erases the Nihydron from history.

Star Trek: Voyager "Year of Hell, Part II"

Screenshot: CBS

Obrist has had enough, and takes the temporal core offline himself. Annorax is furious, and relieves Obrist, but the damage is done and the ship is now in regular space-time and is vulnerable. Annorax had counted on his being temporally out of sync to defend himself, so his shields are comparatively weak. As soon as the temporal core is offline, he has to revert to conventional weapons and is vulnerable to fire.

However, his ship still isn’t a pushover, and he makes short work of the Mawasi, with one vessel crashing into Voyager. Left with no other option, Janeway does a kamikaze run at Annorax’s ship, destroying it and Voyager both—

—and then the timeline resets. Voyager is heading toward Krenim space, having just finished the astrometrics lab. Janeway and Chakotay discuss the possibility of a ceremony to officially open it. They’re hailed by the same Krenim commandant, who politely urges them to go around Krenim space. Janeway agrees.

Cut to the Kyana Prime colony two centuries ago, where Annorax’s wife urges him to stop working and enjoy the day. He sets aside his calculations for temporal incursions and goes off with his wife.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Annorax’s weapon can erase anything it fires on from history, but there are always ripple effects. It also keeps the ship out of the space-time continuum, making it difficult to fire on it. However, that means its actual shields are pretty lame…

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway refuses to rest, refuses to heal, refuses to give up, refuses to surrender. And, of course, like any good captain, she goes down with the sinking ship.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok tries to convince Janeway not to go down with the sinking ship, and also expresses disdain for the human concept of anthropomorphizing ships.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. It makes zero sense that Neelix stays on Voyager, since his most useful skill at this point is as an ambassador, and he should be out in a shuttle trying to scrounge up allies, not staying on Voyager being useless.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH tries and fails to relieve Janeway of duty. His frustration is surprisingly subdued, especially given how cranky he was in Part 1.

Star Trek: Voyager "Year of Hell, Part II"

Screenshot: CBS

Resistance is futile. Seven questions Janeway’s orders in a staff meeting, earning her a gentle rebuke from Tuvok. Though even Tuvok admits that the captain isn’t really always right…

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Chakotay never recycled the pocket watch he replicated for Janeway, and once she finds it, Janeway wears it for the rest of the episode as a remembrance/totem. It’s rather sweet.

Do it.

“If that ship is destroyed, all of history might be restored. And this is one year I’d like to forget.”

–Janeway providing spoilers for the ending.

Welcome aboard. Back from Part 1 are John Loprieno at Obrist, Peter Slutsker as the Krenim commandant, and the great Kurtwood Smith as Annorax. Lise Simms also appears as Annorax’s wife.

Trivial matters: Annorax’s story has echoes of Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s Vingt Mille Lieues Sous les Mers: Tour du Monde Sous-Marin, and Paris even refers to Annorax as “Captain Nemo” at one point. The name Annorax is likely a tribute to that novel’s narrator, Professor Aronnax.

Paris also references the mutiny against Captain Bligh of HMS Bounty when discussing Annorax’s crew’s disaffection.

While the Krenim, the Mawasi, and the Nihydrons are never seen or mentioned again, they are seen again in the future of Star Trek Online, all as part of the Krenim Coalition, an alliance of species in this region of the Delta Quadrant. In addition, the novel A Pocket Full of Lies by Kirsten Beyer shows Voyager’s first contact with the Nihydrons in the mainline timeline.

Star Trek: Voyager "Year of Hell, Part II"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Time’s up.” Parts of this second installment are brilliant, and most of those parts are on Annorax’s ship. Kurtwood Smith is even more spectacular here than he was in Part 1 because his psychopathy is given an explanation that almost makes him sympathetic: he’s trying to rescue his family from oblivion. The pyramid with the lock of hair that he was staring at last time is all he’s got left of his wife, and everything he has done, all the appalling acts of mass murder he’s committed, have all been in the service of correcting that one arrogant mistake he made, thinking he could save his people from the Rilnar, and instead condemning his wife to oblivion.

On top of that, both Chakotay and Paris are well used here. Chakotay, ever the anthropologist, wants to try to find a way to accomplish Annorax’s goal without any further bloodless bloodshed. He doesn’t want to see anyone else wiped out, and he believes that he might be able to use Annorax’s ship to make things better for everyone. His mistake is one you can’t really fault him for: he believed that Annorax was sincere in his desire to do no more harm, that there was still a shred of decency left in him. Once he realizes that Annorax was just humoring him (or maybe he was serious, but got tired of waiting for Chakotay to find a less harmful incursion), he goes along with Paris’s mutiny plan. As for Paris, I like the role he plays here, as he’s very much the McCoy to Chakotay’s Kirk, and it works. Plus, Chakotay makes it clear that the final decision is his, and he will take Paris down if he disobeys. It’s to the credit of both characters that Paris takes Chakotay seriously and follows those orders.

The stuff on Voyager is less effective. Janeway being a macho idiot is, well, boring. Worse, though, is the decision as to who would remain on board: the people who have billing. This makes absolutely no sense. Neelix should be off with the escape pods and shuttlecraft trying to drum up allies. Torres should have more help than Seven and Kim to make the extensive repairs that are needed. (It probably wouldn’t take her three weeks to repair a nacelle if she had at least a minimal staff present.)

And then Voyager shows up with two allies out of nowhere. Instead of endless scenes of Janeway being stubborn and continuing to work when she’s not physically capable, why didn’t we see the process by which she made these allies? Better yet, why didn’t one of the escape pods or shuttlecraft come back with those allies, given that that’s what Janeway charged them with when they left? Oh, right, they’re not in the opening credits, so they don’t matter…

One of the things I’ve admired about Janeway is that she usually doesn’t succumb to the macho idiocy of her male predecessors (and successors). Yet here she is pushing herself to the limit for no compellingly good reason and having moronic conversations with the EMH about being fit for duty.

Mind you, this doesn’t apply to the climax. Her staying on board Voyager while everyone else goes to greener pastures makes perfect sense. The fact that she does it while wearing Chakotay’s pocket watch is just a perfect touch. And her last-minute desperate kamikaze run also makes sense, given how few options are left.

Which leads us nicely to the worst thing about the episode, which is the inevitable reset button. But its inevitability doesn’t make it any easier to take. This isn’t like “Yesterday’s Enterprise” where the reset button has to be hit because history has been so radically altered, or “Children of Time” where hitting the reset button was an awful choice with nasty consequences. This was hitting the reset button because they were so in love with utterly kicking the shit out of Voyager that they wrote themselves into a corner that could only be gotten out of by resetting everything.

Reportedly, writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky tried and failed to come up with a way for the characters to actually remember the year of hell so it could mean something to them. On the one hand, I wish they had come up with a way, as the events of this two-parter should have been consequential, dammit. On the other hand, who were they kidding?  Consequences just aren’t a thing Voyager does, so even if they did remember it, it would be consigned to the same dustbin as the EMH’s memory loss, all the prior catastrophic damage that magically got fixed between episodes, Kes’s report on the Krenim, and Tuvix.

“Year of Hell” remains, in isolation, a great example of what Voyager could have been. True, it probably wouldn’t have been sustainable to be this heavy and nasty all the time, but there should’ve been a middle ground between this and the good-parts version of being stranded halfway across the galaxy that we mostly got.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido talks about Star Trek: Voyager on the 397th episode of The Sci-Fi Diner Podcast, which has been going through each Star Trek pilot one by one. Check out their talk on Voyager in general and “Caretaker” in particular…

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