“Equinox, Part I”
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by David Livingston
Season 5, Episode 26
Production episode 220
Original air date: May 26, 1999
Captain’s log. We open with the U.S.S. Equinox, a Nova-class starship with heavily modified shields, being menaced by creatures that appear in fissures in space. Captain Rudolph Ransom orders their weakened shields to be lowered and reinitialized so they’ll be back at full strength, though that will take forty-five seconds, according to his first officer, Commander Max Burke. They do it, firing phaser rifles at the creatures as they materialize on the bridge, one of which kills one of the crew.
Voyager picks up a distress call from the Equinox. Janeway and Chakotay are gobsmacked to find a Federation starship here in the Delta Quadrant, and wonder if they were sent to the DQ to find Voyager—though that seems unlikely given the class of ship.
They change course and send a rescue party over to the ship after extending their shields around the smaller vessel. Kim and Seven rescue Crewperson Noah Lessing, whose legs have been crushed, while Janeway finds Ransom on the bridge. Ransom asks if Voyager was sent to find them in the DQ, and they both soon realize that they were both kidnapped by the Caretaker.
Within a week of Equinox’s arrival in the DQ, they encountered the Krowtownan Guard, who fired on the vessel for violating their territory. They lost half their crew to the Guard, and took severe damage. They’ve only made it this far due to finding a wormhole—they were also lucky enough to avoid the Borg all together.
Ransom holds a memorial service for the crew they’ve lost to the creatures in the Voyager mess hall. Janeway and Ransom then start the work of coordinating their crews and repairing Equinox. We also discover that Burke is Torres’s ex—they dated while she was at the Academy.
Ensign Marla Gilmore asks Chakotay if they can take Jefferies Tubes to engineering instead of the turbolifts. The Equinox crew has avoided turbolifts, as there’s nowhere to hide if one of the creatures shows up in one of them, and now Gilmore suffers from some serious PTSD and claustrophobia.
The creatures are still attacking the shields, and they’re weakening them by .03% with each attack. The creatures can only survive in our reality for a few seconds. Seven suggests finding a way to hold them, and Burke says they did create a method of holding them in a force field in their lab—but the lab itself is inaccessible, flooded with thermionic radiation. Burke, however, offers to get the schematics for it.
Ransom asks Janeway how many times she’s broken the Prime Directive since being stranded, and Janeway says she’s bent it a few times, but never broken it. (This is an outright lie, given that Voyager violated sovereign territory in “The Swarm.”) Ransom then says it’s been the same for him, which—given the way he phrased the question, assuming that Janeway had broken General Order #1—is probably a lie.
They also find Equinox‘s dedication plaque on the deck and restore it to its place on the bridge.
Ransom goes to Burke in the mess hall, where the latter is enjoying a real meal for the first time in forever. Ransom tells him not to enjoy it too much—if Janeway is any indication, he says, the Voyager crew won’t understand what they’ve done.
The creatures almost penetrate the shields, having changed their tactics to focus their attention on a single part of the shields. It almost works, and they now have less time to figure out a solution.
The only way they can get the force field up and running is in fourteen hours. However, if they only have to cover one ship, it’ll take less time, which is necessary, as the creature will penetrate the shields before those fourteen hours are up. Ransom doesn’t want to abandon his ship, but Janeway insists, and Starfleet regulations are on her side, as in a combat situation with two vessels, command defaults to the captain of the ship with tactical superiority. Ransom, therefore, agrees to follow Janeway’s orders.
Ransom later meets with his crew on the bridge. He orders them to take the field generator once it’s up and running and abandon Voyager. They all agree readily.
Tuvok and Seven discover that the Equinox lab is still flooded with thermionic radiation, which should have dissipated by now. It turns out that several EPS junctions are being directed into the lab—Ransom is flooding it deliberately, probably to keep people out. Janeway orders the EMH to beam over, where he discovers the crystallized remains of one of the creatures, which is emitting a ton of energy. The Equinox crew have been using the force field Burke mentioned to capture and kill the aliens and use them as a power source.
Janeway has Tuvok take Ransom into custody. He admits that they are using the creatures’ corpses to power their warp drive. They encountered a race called the Ankari, who spoke of “spirits of good fortune,” referring to the creatures. Discovering that the creatures had a massive amount of antimatter, Ransom captured one in a force field to study it, but it died—but its corpse proved a massive power source. So they captured a bunch and killed them, enabling them to get 10,000 light-years in two weeks.
Janeway is, to say the least, appalled. Ransom insists he had no choice: their dilithium was gone, they were stuck at thruster power. It was this or be stuck forever. Janeway confines all the Equinox crew to the brig, except for Gilmore, who decrypts the data for the engine modifications. On Equinox, the EMH decrypts the data on the force field, but can’t access it without authorization from the Equinox EMH. He activates it (it’s another Mark 1 like him), and they compare notes. The Equinox EMH (let’s call him EMH-E for clarity) is surprised to see the Voyager EMH able to roam free, and the EMH is surprised to learn that the EMH-E designed the force fields that killed the creatures. The EMH-E reveals that they disabled his ethical subroutines right before he knocks the EMH’s mobile emitter off and takes it for himself. He then beams to Voyager and pretends to be their EMH while freeing Equinox’s crew.
Seven has beamed over to Equinox to dismantle the engine modifications with Gilmore, but Gilmore renders Seven unconscious while Ransom and his crew beam back to their ship. Burke sabotaged the field generator (hiding it from sensors using a trick Torres taught him). Voyager’s shields fail and the creatures start to attack. Ransom orders the field generator beamed to Equinox, and they bugger off, leaving Voyager helpless against the creatures, which all start materializing, including one that goes right for Janeway…
To be continued…
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The creatures apparently contain antimatter—which may be why they can’t survive in our universe for long—and their corpses can supercharge a warp drive like whoa.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway’s insistence that she hasn’t broken the Prime Directive is a bit unnerving, but whatever Janeway might have done pales in comparison to committing mass murder to get home faster. Her anger at Ransom is palpable.
Mr. Vulcan. At one point, Tuvok admonishes Seven, “There are times when perfection hinders efficiency.” Of course, right after that, her perfectionism discovers that Ransom is deliberately keeping the science lab from Voyager’s prying eyes, so maybe Tuvok could be less snotty. (Probably not, though…)
Half and half. Torres and Burke were a couple at the Academy, and Torres had expected Burke to wash out like she did, but instead he stuck it out, eventually becoming first officer on Equinox. They banter like a former couple…
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Apparently you can delete the EMH’s ethical subroutines. Who knew?
Resistance is futile. Seven says at one point that she welcomes the chance to observe more of humanity in the Equinox crew. Gilmore later apologizes to her for not being a sterling example, but Seven says that she’s learned a lot from studying them. Not enough, though, as that’s just a few minutes before Gilmore renders her unconscious. In the end, she’s stuck on Equinox as they abandon Voyager.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Burke called Torres “BLT,” a reference to both the sandwich and her initials. Paris acts more than a little jealous despite protesting a bit too much that he isn’t, and Kim slaps him on the back and calls him “Turkey Platter.”
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Equinox either doesn’t have holodecks or doesn’t have power to them or something, as their substitute is a VR device that they got from the Poneans. Gilmore describes meeting them as one of the few good things that has happened to them since they were stranded.
“You and your crew will be confined to quarters.”
“Please, show them leniency—they were only following my orders.”
–Janeway laying down the law, Ransom trying to protect his crew, and Janeway having none of it.
Welcome aboard. Some fantastic guests in this one. The biggie at the time was the great John Savage as Ransom. The biggie now would probably be the superlative Titus Welliver, currently being amazing as the title character in Bosch, as Burke.
We’ve also got Rick Worthy as Lessing; he last appeared as the android in “Prototype,” and also was in DS9’s “Soldiers of the Empire” as Kornan and Insurrection as an Elloran. He’ll also have a recurring role as the Tellarite Jannar in Enterprise’s third season.
Olivia Birkelund plays Gilmore and recurring regular Scarlett Pomers shows up as Naomi.
All of the above save for Pomers will be back in Part II.
Trivial matters: This episode and Part II were novelized by Diane Carey. The novel was released in time for the airing of Part II in the fall of 1999.
Thermionic radiation is the latest bit of fictional radiation Trek has given us, this one first established in “Demon.”
The Krowtownan Guard is unfamiliar to Janeway, which makes you wonder why Equinox encountered them when Voyager didn’t, but it’s also possible that Neelix warned them away from the Guard, an advantage Ransom didn’t have, and Janeway just didn’t recall the name five years later.
Titus Welliver reportedly took the role due to both being a longtime Star Trek fan and being a longtime fan of John Savage and wanting to work with him.
It’s not clear how much truth there was in Ransom’s early discussions with Janeway about their journey given that he was hiding their souped-up warp drive, though it’s perfectly possible that they did also find a wormhole, which, if nothing else, would explain how they’ve avoided the Borg, as that wormhole could’ve leapfrogged Borg territory.
Set a course for home. “We can’t let Voyager stop us now, not when we’re this close.” This is a really good concept, one that, frankly, we should’ve seen more of. Given that it was established way back in “Caretaker” that the titular character was kidnapping ships from all over the galaxy to find a successor, it’s more peculiar that they’ve only encountered one other refugee ship in five years.
And through the Equinox crew, we get to see the show we could have gotten if the executive producer and the network weren’t so utterly afraid of rocking the boat on their flagship show. We’ve been down this road before in places like the “Year of Hell” two-parter, “Deadlock,” and “Course: Oblivion,” where the show actually embraced the notion of being stranded far from home as being a hardship rather than just another day at the office, but did so in a manner that had no real consequences for the crew. That holds true here, too, as it’s the Equinox that suffered all these hardships and made horrible moral decisions.
The problem is, the script doesn’t quite do what it needs to do to be effective. There are no shades of gray here: the Equinox crew are pretty close to irredeemable. They’re engaging in mass murder of sentient beings in order to get home faster.
Now, I will give them credit for showing the desperation of the crew. We’ve seen this before on the show, where our heroes have tried all sorts of crazy-ass shit to get home faster. And Gilmore in particular is obviously suffering some serious PTSD from what they’ve been through.
But what they’re doing to the alien creatures is (a) beyond the pale and (b) counterproductive and stupid. They lost five crewmembers in the attack that Voyager rescued them from, and they’ve only got less than forty people on board at this point. The creatures are very obviously not going to leave them alone, and at this rate of attrition, there’ll be nobody left on board to make it home.
The casting kinda works against them, too. Neither John Savage nor Titus Welliver are known for playing nice people, and the very act of casting them makes you not trust the characters very much. Mind you, they’re both superb—Savage sells Ransom’s desperation and dedication, and Welliver is never anything less than brilliant in anything he does.
I find myself wishing that they hadn’t gone full murderer with them, making it a bit more nuanced. Maybe if they just captured the creatures instead of killing them. As it is, it’s hard to stomach what they’re doing, especially when we see Gilmore going from fragile with Chakotay to casually and calmly rendering Seven unconscious and leaving Voyager to their fate. The depraved indifference the Equinox crew shows to our heroes makes it even harder to sympathize with them in any way. They should be grateful for Voyager’s presence, regardless of how they’ve become morally compromised, and instead they leave them to die.
I will give this episode credit for one thing: it works on its own quite well. Far too many two-parters spend the first part doing all setup, but “Equinox, Part I” is a story with a beginning and a middle and an end that tells its own complete tale—albeit one that ends in a cliffhanger.
In addition, I must sing the praises of the performances. Besides Savage and Welliver, Olivia Birkelund does an excellent job with the emotionally damaged Gilmore, as does Robert Beltran in his interactions with her as Chakotay. Roxann Dawson banters beautifully with Welliver, and Kate Mulgrew’s slow burn as she goes from rescuer to fellow captain to captain who disagrees with Ransom and has to pull rank to get him in line to his captor is a sight to see. It’s in this last mode that that slow burn turns into an inferno, as Janeway is (understandably) pissed. And Robert Picardo is superb as two different versions of the EMH. I especially love the casual way the EMH-E says that his ethical subroutines were deleted right before he knocks the mobile emitter off his counterpart’s arm.
Still, this stacks the deck a little too much to work as well as it should.
Warp factor rating: 6