Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by David Livingston
Season 4, Episode 15
Production episode 183
Original air date: February 11, 1998
Captain’s log. Voyager receives a garbled transmission from Starfleet Command, being sent through the Hirogen communications network they found last time. Kim is able to clean it up a little, and he also determines that the full transmission is lodged in one of the arrays. They set a course.
Idrin’s ship detects the message and Voyager’s imminent arrival at the array. Idrin orders a course change to intercept, and then puts a stripe of white paint on his helmet.
On Voyager, the bridge crew speculates wildly about what the transmission from Starfleet could be, an indulgence Janeway permits. They’re also concerned that they were already mourned when declared missing a year previous, and now their loved ones have been told that they’re alive again.
En route, they find a one-person ship with a dead body that has had its skeleton removed. Seven recognizes the technique from past Borg encounters, though they never determined the party responsible.
The array that has the messages is powered by a small singularity, and it’s emitting gravimetric waves that make it difficult to approach. Seven continues to download the messages from the array, which turn out to be letters from home.
Chakotay hears from Sveta, the person who recruited him to the Maquis, who informs him that the Cardassians wiped the Maquis out with help from their new allies from the Gamma Quadrant. He shares this with Torres, who is livid.
Tuvok learns that his oldest son has undergone pon farr and had a child, whom they named after his mother.
Janeway gets a “Dear John” (“Dear Jane”? “Dear Janeway”?) letter from Mark informing her that he has moved on with his life and has married one of his coworkers.
Kim waits not-very-patiently for a letter from his parents. (There is no mention of Libby for some reason.) Neither Torres nor Paris expect any letters, so the latter is surprised to learn that he’s getting one from his father.
Seven also detects a large, encrypted datastream and starts downloading it. She also reports that the message is degrading due to the interference form the singularity. She requests to take a shuttlecraft, which can get closer to the array than Voyager can, to try to stabilize the field around the array. Janeway agrees, but instructs her to take Tuvok with her, saying she isn’t in the habit of sending crew on away teams by themselves. Seven later asks Tuvok if this is really true of Janeway, and Tuvok says that it’s not just her thing, it’s standard Starfleet procedure.
After they stabilize the field, they’re attacked by Idrin, who renders them unconscious, beams them onto his ship, and restrains them. It becomes clear that Hirogen society places a high value on hunting and on worthy prey. The hold where Tuvok and Seven are held is filled with skeletons and weapons of Idrin’s previous prey. Idrin places a streak of blue paint on his prisoners’ foreheads, indicating that they’re relics of the hunt. Tuvok, recognizing that diplomacy isn’t gonna work with these guys, instead adopts an aggressive posture, making it clear that Janeway will kick his ass if the Hirogen don’t free the pair of them. Idrin’s response is to announce that they will be killed, starting with Tuvok, so Seven can watch how she will die.
The Hirogen attack Voyager. Janeway hits on the notion of destabilizing the field around the array, thus subjecting them to the singularity. They manage to beam Tuvok and Seven off the ship. The Hirogen ships are destroyed, as is the array—and the entire network. Their way of communicating with home has been cut off. But at least Starfleet knows where they are and they did promise to work to bring them home.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Janeway uses the singularity that powers the array to suck the Hirogen ships to their doom, using a warp field around Voyager to help protect it from the same fate.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is cautiously optimistic about hearing from Starfleet, saddened at the news of her fiancé now being married to someone else, and rather devastated when the Hirogen network is destroyed.
Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok resists reading his letter from T’Pel until after he is done with his work, despite importunings from Neelix (who also read the first couple of paragraphs). He also handles himself very well while a prisoner of the Hirogen, even managing to hurt one of them while bound.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Janeway gives Neelix the task of distributing the letters from home to the crew.
Half and half. Torres is livid upon learning that the Maquis have been wiped out. Her solution is to throw herself into her work, taking over Seven’s downloading duties, making sure to deliver Kim’s parents’ letter to him personally, and trying to get Paris’s letter as well.
Forever an ensign. The look of sheer glee on Kim’s face when Torres delivers his letter from home is delightful.
Resistance is futile. Seven works tirelessly to download the messages, avoiding regenerating so she can continue to work. She is also taken aback by the notion proposed by Janeway that she might have some family on Earth.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH goes on at great length about what a hero he is for having made first re-contact with the Alpha Quadrant in the previous episode. However, the person he goes on to is Seven, who bluntly says it’s more likely that he’ll be deactivated and replaced with a newer model when they get home.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Torres teases Kim about his crush on Seven, but Kim insists he’s over it. Meanwhile, Janeway admits that she was holding onto the notion of Mark waiting for her as an excuse to not try to get involved with anyone in the Delta Quadrant. She, of course, has that conversation with Chakotay, ahem ahem.
Do it. “Aren’t you going to read it?”
“I mean, aren’t you going to read it now?”
“I’m finishing my weekly tactical review. When it’s completed, I’ll read the message.”
“You’re going to wait until you finish the tactical review?”
“Do you have any reason to believe the content of the message will change during that time?”
Neelix failing his saving throw versus patience and Tuvok bringing the sass.
Welcome aboard. Tiny Ron is back for the second week in a row as Idrin, the alpha Hirogen. Roger Morrissey plays the beta Hirogen.
Trivial matters: This episode is a direct sequel to “Message in a Bottle.”
Just as last episode had several DS9 references, so too did this one, most notably Chakotay’s letter from home informing him that the Maquis were wiped out by the Cardassians’ new allies, the Dominion, as established in “Blaze of Glory.” Chakotay also makes explicit reference to the Bajoran wormhole.
Mark’s letter to Janeway was seen being written in your humble rewatcher’s “Letting Go” in the Distant Shores anthology. Mark’s last name of Johnson was seen onscreen for the first time in this episode, one of several items from writer Jeri Taylor’s novels Mosaic and Pathways that were used in this episode, including the names of Tuvok’s mother and eldest son, Admiral Paris’s first name, and the fact that the person who first recruited Chakotay into the Maquis was named Sveta.
Torres’s annoyance over the death of her Maquis comrades will be explored again in “Extreme Risk.” The coded message from Starfleet will be decoded in “Hope and Fear.”
Among those who receive letters from Neelix in the mess hall are the extras played by Christine Delgado, establishing that she is the previously mentioned Susan Nicoletti, Kerry Hoyt, given the name Fitzpatrick, David Keith Anderson, establishing that he is the previously mentioned Ashmore, Kelli Coloma, given the name Dorado, and the female Bolian seen in several episodes, played by various extras, establishing that she is the previously mentioned Golwat. Neelix also has letters for the oft-mentioned Kyoto and Parsons, but neither is present in the mess hall at the time.
Set a course for home. “You were pathetic prey.” Let me start by saying how much I love the Hirogen culture as established in this and the next episode. Writer Jeri Taylor and director David Livingston and the set directors all combine to quickly and concisely create a fascinating culture in which hunting is revered and ritualized. There’s the little touches like dabbing paint to indicate the status of a hunt or the status of the captured prey, not to mention the trophy room full of various skeletons, a striking visual that conveys everything you need to know about how nasty the Hirogen are. (With the added bonus of the corpse Voyager found earlier in the episode.)
On top of that, we’ve got more contact from the Alpha Quadrant. Now that the EMH has let Starfleet Command know that Voyager is out there, their families get to be in touch with them. What we actually get works beautifully, though I’m disappointed in what we didn’t get.
Janeway’s letter from Mark is a strong hit, because Mark has barely been a factor—and yet, he’s also a major part of our first impression of Janeway. One of her earliest scenes in “Caretaker” is the delightful conversation between the two of them about Mollie. The two have a fantastic relationship that was perfectly conveyed in a brief conversation, and the periodic reminders of it, from occasional looks at the picture she has of him to the image of him seen in “Persistence of Vision,” were a nice touch, though there’s been very little of it since season two. And then there’s finally the hope of contact, and she finds out that he’s moved on—except, of course, in a sense, she’s moved on as well, but it’s always nastier when it’s on the other foot. Kate Mulgrew does amazing work here, showing the range of emotions as she goes through Mark’s letter (which starts, based on the abstract we see briefly, with news about the dog and her puppies), all the way to her frank talk with Chakotay about the possibility of pursuing a relationship. (Which is followed by the two of them walking out arm in arm, and we all remember that Taylor also wrote “Resolutions.”)
Paris’s ambivalence about receiving a letter from his father also tracks nicely with both “Caretaker” and “Persistence of Vision,” where it was clear that relations between Paris père et fils are not great. And Paris is in a unique position because he’s thrived more on Voyager tens of thousands of light-years from home than he ever did at home, where he was a spectacular fuckup. Unlike most of the rest of the crew, he doesn’t have any connections to the Alpha Quadrant, or at least not any good ones. Though, as he realizes over the course of the episode, mostly by being kicked in the ass by Torres, there may be a chance with his father.
Speaking of Torres, the letter that hits hardest is the one that folks who were watching DS9 alongside Voyager as they aired were waiting for. By the time this episode came around in 1998, the Dominion War was raging on DS9, but in two 1997 episodes it was established that the Maquis were basically toast, starting in “By Inferno’s Light,” when Dukat declared that one of the Dominion’s first targets after Cardassia joined them would be the Maquis, and confirmed in “Blaze of Glory” that showed that the Jem’Hadar wiped the Maquis totally out.
Chakotay and Torres’s response to this is a reminder that they, too, left something behind, but unlike the Starfleet crew, they no longer have something to go back to. Their cause is gone, their friends are dead, and they’re both devastated. It’s a part of their lives that hasn’t had much of an impact, but it’s also what they were theoretically trying to get home to, and now they know it’s gone.
What’s missing, though, is something that doesn’t really ruin the episode or even damage it overmuch, but it really stands out for me and is something that would’ve made an already strong episode several orders of magnitude more powerful.
There is no acknowledgment at any point in this episode (or in “Message in a Bottle” for that matter) of the people who’ve died. Some of Chakotay’s crew likely didn’t make it through the Caretaker’s array intact (that was never really made clear), but we know that Cavit, Stadi, Durst, Bendera, Darwin, Jonas, Bennet, Hogan, Suder, Martin, Kaplan, and more than half-a-dozen other never-named crew have all died since the last time Voyager was in touch with Starfleet. It would’ve added so much pathos and drama and meaning to the episode to see Janeway composing condolence letters to their families.
(I find myself reminded of Stargate Atlantis‘s “Letters from Pegasus,” which was all about the letters home that the Atlantis crew wrote when they had brief contact with the Milky Way galaxy, and the most powerful part of a very touching episode was when Dr. Weir composed condolence letters to the families of those lost—except for Colonel Sumner, whose letter was written by Major Sheppard.)
Still, even without that aspect, this is a fantastic episode that introduces a nasty new foe and does some fantastic character work.
Warp factor rating: 9