Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Timeless”

“Timeless”
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 5, Episode 6
Production episode 200
Original air date: November 18, 1998
Stardate: 52143.6

Captain’s log. It’s 2390, and two people beam down to an ice-covered planet, covered in protective gear. They find Voyager buried under a sheet of ice. We soon learn that the two people are Chakotay and Kim, both fifteen years older.

In 2375, Voyager attempted to get home using a quantum slipstream drive. While Chakotay and Kim made it, the rest of the crew crashed. It’s taken fifteen years for them to figure out where Voyager crashed and to actually get there—both of them have long since resigned from Starfleet.

Voyager is completely depowered, mangled, and the bioneural gelpacks are frozen solid. Kim goes to sickbay to try to reactivate the EMH while Chakotay goes to the bridge. They both encounter frozen corpses of their comrades. When Chakotay finds Seven on the bridge, he has their third, Tessa—who’s on the Delta Flyer—beam her back.

Kim activates the EMH, and then sticks the mobile emitter on him. The EMH asks for an explanation of how fifteen years have passed and the ship is frozen, but all Kim will say is that they’re here to change history.

We cut back to 2375: there’s a celebration in Voyager’s engine room. They’ve manufactured enough benamite to construct a new quantum slipstream drive. They plan to activate it the following day, hence the celebration tonight.

Paris, though, isn’t partying hearty. He thinks there’s a phase variance that will screw up the drive. So he and Kim go to the holodeck to test it out, and sure enough, the phase variance is enough to wipe out Voyager. This happens twenty-two times.

They bring this to the senior staff, and it seems they’ll have to cancel the test run. But Kim has a suggestion: the Delta Flyer goes ahead and “rides the rapids,” as it were, mapping the slipstream threshold and send the phase variance coordinates back to Voyager. The benamite has a shelf life, and the crystals they manufactured are starting to decay. It will take years to resynthesize them. Their window is now.

Janeway and Chakotay discuss it over dinner, and ultimately decide to give it a shot.

Star Trek: Voyager "Timeless"

Screenshot: CBS

In 2390, Kim and Chakotay explain to the EMH what happened. Kim sent back corrections that increased the phase variance and caused Voyager to careen out of slipstream and crash to an icy death. Chakotay and Kim made it back to the Alpha Quadrant intact, and were given a hero’s welcome. They’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to find Voyager—six as part of Starfleet, then for the last nine on their own after Starfleet called off the search and they resigned.

They finally found the ship in the Takara sector, just outside the Alpha Quadrant, stole the Flyer, and headed out, along with Tessa, who is Chakotay’s lover. Their plan is to change history by sending the right corrections back directly into Seven’s cortical node, using something else they stole: a Borg temporal transmitter, salvaged off the wreck of a Borg cube. They need the cortical implant off Seven’s corpse in order to determine the exact time that she expired, subtract a few minutes and then send the information.

They’re also on the clock, because the U.S.S. Challenger is looking for them and will track them down eventually. The EMH realizes that his former shipmates are now fugitives. They’ve already stolen technology, and are about to violate the Temporal Prime Directive. Kim gives the EMH a chance to back out, but he decides to go ahead with it in the hopes of saving his crewmates in the past.

Chakotay is having second thoughts of his own, as his relationship with Tessa will cease to exist if they’re successful, but Tessa knows that this is too important to him. She’s willing to take the risk.

Kim tells the EMH about the reception the pair of them received on Earth: parades, antimatter fireworks, a Vulcan children’s choir. It was a huge celebration, and Kim hated every moment of it. He attended endless therapy sessions to deal with his survivor’s guilt, but he never got over it, and when Starfleet gave up the search for Voyager, he and Chakotay went rogue to continue it.

Star Trek: Voyager "Timeless"

Screenshot: CBS

The EMH finds the right timestamp for Seven’s death, and provides it to Kim, who enters it into the Borg device. The EMH also expresses concern over the fact that they might create an even worse timeline, but Kim doesn’t see how it could be any worse—he was directly responsible for the death of the entire crew.

In 2375, Janeway records a final log entry before going into slipstream (a log entry that Chakotay will listen to fifteen years hence on a frozen bridge). Chakotay and Kim are in the Delta Flyer, leading the way. They go into slipstream.

In 2390, the Challenger contacts the Flyer. Captain Geordi La Forge tells Chakotay that the Federation Council has an offer for them: they’ll drop the conspiracy charge if they turn themselves in and return the Flyer and the Borg temporal transmitter. Chakotay refuses. Because he used to be a main character in a TV once, La Forge admits to Chakotay that he would probably be doing the exact same thing were he in Chakotay’s position. But instead, he’s in the position of being a starship captain, and he has to bring them in. Chakotay tells him he’s welcome to try.

In 2375, the first communication from the Flyer to Voyager enables Seven to fix the phase variance, but the variance returns in fairly short order, and Kim is unable to provide the compensatory data. The commlink between Voyager and the Flyer then goes down.

In 2390, while the Flyer is under fire, Kim sends the corrections back to Seven’s cortical implant. In 2375, Seven is confused by the receipt of them, but Janeway assumes that Kim found a way to send information to her cortical implant, and orders Seven to make the corrections.

They don’t work. Voyager comes careening out of the slipstream and crash lands on an ice planet. The Flyer continues on course toward Earth, unable to go back.

Star Trek: Voyager "Timeless"

Screenshot: CBS

In 2390, Kim is livid—it should have worked. He loses it completely, and it’s left to the EMH to (metaphorically) slap him and yell, “SNAP OUT OF IT!

Challenger puts the Flyer in a tractor beam. Chakotay gets out of it, but it destabilizes their warp core. They’ve only got a few minutes. Kim can’t understand why it didn’t work. The EMH then suggests that, if he can’t get them through the slipstream, have them never enter it. Stop the test flight from happening. Kim is able to send different calculations to Seven, which will cause the slipstream to harmlessly dissipate.

Kim sends it just as the Flyer’s warp core goes boom.

Seven receives the corrections, enters them, and Voyager and the Flyer drop into normal space. Eventually, Seven determines that the message came from some time in the future, from Kim—who also recorded a message for his younger self.

Voyager is now ten years closer to home. Janeway orders the slipstream drive dismantled until they can perfect it.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The slipstream drive only works with benamite, a plot-conveniently difficult-to-manufacture element that enables the writers to put the toothpaste back in the proverbial tube.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway decides that it’s totally worth risking destroying the ship for an attempt to get home that’s already been proven not to work. Sure.

Forever an ensign. Kim is utterly devastated by Voyager’s crashing, and becomes quite the embittered older person in the 2390 sequences.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix gives Torres a Talaxian furfly as a good-luck charm. He used to keep it in his engine room. It’s not clear if it’s a stuffed animal or a taxidermy furfly corpse…

Resistance is futile. Seven gets drunk on one glass of champagne.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH is a huge help to Chakotay and Kim, as they need him to dig into Seven’s cortical implant, giving the doctor a chance to go all Hamlet-and-Horatio with Seven’s skull.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Chakotay has found his one true love in Tessa, and he gives her up (and she does likewise) to save everyone. What a guy…

Star Trek: Voyager "Timeless"

Screenshot: CBS

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Paris and Kim test the slipstream drive on the holodeck and it crashes and burns twenty-two times. Yeesh.

Do it.

“Hello, Harry. I don’t have much time, so listen to me. Fifteen years ago, I made a mistake and 150 people died. I’ve spent every day since then regretting that mistake. But if you’re watching this right now, that means all of that has changed. You owe me one.”

–Kim’s words of wisdom to himself.

Welcome aboard. In addition to directing the episode, LeVar Burton reprises his TNG role of Geordi La Forge. Christine Harnos plays Tessa.

Star Trek: Voyager "Timeless"

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: This is the 100th episode of Voyager. LeVar Burton had already been hired to direct this landmark episode, when he was asked if he’d be willing to put a Starfleet uniform back on, as part of the commemoration of the milestone. The captain of the Challenger was rewritten to be La Forge when he agreed to do so. The character was last seen in First Contact, and will next be seen in Insurrection.

The U.S.S. Challenger is a tribute to the space shuttle Challenger, which was lost with all hands in 1986. The starship’s registry number, NCC-71099, is also a tribute, as Challenger’s registry was OV-099. The ship will be seen again in “Endgame” as one of the ships that meets Voyager when she arrives home.

La Forge is also seen in command of the Challenger in the novel Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee and the game Star Trek Online.

The quantum slipstream drive was first seen in “Hope and Fear.” This episode establishes the need for benamite, a rare element, apparently, to make the slipstream work. A paucity of benamite is why slipstream doesn’t become a thing even during the thirty-second century dilithium shortage chronicled in season three of Discovery.

The drive won’t be seen again, though Janeway will mention their inability to perfect it in “Think Tank.”

Janeway plays Brahms’s Intermezzo op. 117 no. 1 over her dinner with Chakotay.

This is the fourth shortcut Voyager has been able to make use of. Kes sent them 10,000 light-years ahead in “The Gift,” they used the vortex to shorten the distance through the Void at the end of “Night,” and they have now twice used the slipstream drive to get closer to home, once here, and once in “Hope and Fear.”

Several times in the episode people state that there are 150 people on Voyager, which is inconsistent with what’s been shown on screen—just two episodes ago, it was stated to be 128 (which is more compatible with the crew’s original complement and the number given by Janeway in “The 37’s”).

Star Trek: Voyager "Timeless"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “If we can’t get the crew home, at least we can save their lives.” Let’s start with what’s really excellent about this episode, which is Garrett Wang’s superlative job playing Crankypants Older Kim. This is a Kim who has utterly run out of fucks to give, and won’t rest until he fixes the mistake and ameliorates the guilt that has plagued him for a decade and a half. It’s an amusing contrast with Robert Beltran’s Chakotay, who is much calmer and more pragmatic—but also more outwardly emotional. Kim’s anguish is directed entirely inward, focused only on his own distress over what he did.

It’s shown particularly expertly in the differing reactions of the two when they first board the crashed, frozen Voyager. Every time Chakotay sees a corpse, it obviously pierces his heart—particularly when he finds Janeway. But Kim doesn’t even acknowledge the frozen dead bodies he comes across, just brushes past them without a thought.

The opening, with Voyager under a sheet of ice, with the dead bodies of all but two of the crew, and with the older Chakotay and Kim trying to fix the past and reactivate the EMH, is really powerful, but once the plot kicks in, the whole thing falls apart.

Where the episode particularly lost me is when Paris and Kim go to the holodeck to test the slipstream drive, and WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY DO THIS ALREADY??????? Why are they even considering the possibility of a practical test if they haven’t even done a simulation on the holodeck? It makes absolutely no sense that it wouldn’t even occur to anyone to do such a test before they decided to go ahead with a field test, and it especially makes no sense that they go ahead anyhow. Kim’s argument as to why they should try it is, frankly, imbecilic. The whole stalking-horse thing with the Delta Flyer is incredibly risky, and it makes no sense, none, that they would go ahead with so crazy a notion.

Trek has done tons of time-travel stories where the characters must go into the past in order to fix a screwed-up present, and they’ve dipped into this well so many times before that it’s hard to get too terribly excited about it. It’s what happened in “The City on the Edge of Forever,” in “Yesteryear,” in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” in First Contact, in “Past Tense,” and now here.

Having said that, the episode is fun to watch in the moment, with some spectacular visuals—Voyager under the ice, the celebration in engineering, Voyager crashing into the ice, the frozen interiors of Voyager, and so on—and truly the best work Wang has done on the show to date. Robert Picardo’s acid commentary is a nice balm to contrast with Kim’s angst. La Forge’s cameo is pretty pointless—he really could be any Starfleet captain, and there’s nothing there that requires it to be La Forge—but what the heck, LeVar Burton was already there…

The episode is a triumph of style over substance, and at least it’s a decent style. It’ll do for the hundredth episode, I suppose.

Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote a short story for the forthcoming charity anthology Turning the Tied, which features stories about existing characters in the public domain by some of the best tie-in writers in the business, including fellow Trek scribes Greg Cox, Robert Greenberger, Jeff Mariotte, David McIntee, Robert Vardeman, Aaron Rosenberg, Scott Pearson, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Derek Tyler Attico, and Rigel Ailur. Keith’s story is about Ayesha, the title character in She by H. Rider Haggard. You can preorder the book now from Amazon.

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