In the third episode of the first season of Voyager, everything is awkward. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
You know, I can see the eventual creation of Battlestar Galactica by Ronald D. Moore out of this episode. While I’m certainly not saying that’s the sole reason it happened, but the bare-bones intensity of space travel can be found in “Parallax,” especially since the episode deals almost entirely in the logistics of this journey. There’s a story here – and it’s a creepy look at an event horizon – but it’s just the means to explore a major difficulty the Voyager crew must face.
How the hell are these people going to get along for seventy-five years?
Maquis vs Starfleet
See, I didn’t necessarily think the very next episode would address the Maquis complications IMMEDIATELY, but I think it’s a perfect choice to follow “Caretaker.” It puts Janeway, Chakotay, and Torres at the center of this conflict in a way that forces all three characters to consider their own shifting loyalties. And I understood why the Maquis fleet were uncomfortable with this forced arrangement! While I think that it might have been confusing to someone who had never seen any other Star Trek shows, I knew enough about the Maquis to immerse myself in “Parallax.” These people had no desire to be a part of Starfleet, and in B’Elanna’s case, she long ago dropped out of the organization. While the show does portray the Maquis crew as feeling slighted and on the receiving end of prejudice, the writers thankfully don’t turn this into some clumsy metaphor. Instead, it’s just an uncomfortable reality. The Starfleet officers did everything by the book to get to this point, and suddenly, there are non-Starfleet officers surrounding them. So I understood that sense of conflict, too.
It’s a much more personal source of friction for Chakotay and Torres, of course. Chakotay still thinks of his crew as “his” people instead of part of a singular team, and it’s entirely reasonable for him to do so, especially if these same people are going to be ignored or mistreated by the Starfleet officers. It’s through Chakotay and Janeway, however, that we see most of the emotional development. They’re headstrong people, but the show doesn’t portray either person as impossible or stubborn to a fault. They each have strong feelings on the staff choices that need to be made, and their initial confrontation isn’t disastrous, but it’s contentious. HIGHLY SO. Yet both characters are given room to see the other side. Chakotay gets to appreciate Janeway’s leadership ability and her insight; Janeway watches B’Elanna closely and understands why Chakotay speaks so highly of her. IT’S SO SATISFYING TO WATCH.
But this episode’s shining light is the INCREDIBLE character development given to B’Elanna Torres. I don’t think the pilot episode did all that much with her, but here, we get to see how she deals with her temper as well as the emotional fallout from dropping out of Starfleet. It is not an easy journey, and she did not make it easy for Janeway or Chakotay, either. Like, breaking a Lieutenant’s nose is not a good start. I DARE SAY IT’S A TERRIBLE ONE. So when Chakotay insists she’s the best choice for Chief Engineer, I didn’t think it was strange at all that literally everyone else thought it was a bad idea.
And as difficult as B’Elanna found this experience, there was an element of self-sabotage at work here. She didn’t believe she was capable of leadership, of working within a rigid structure, or of being what Janeway required. And it certainly didn’t help that Lieutenant Carey (who understandably did not actually like B’Elanna) made it clear that he didn’t want B’Elanna to speak up for herself during senior staff meetings. Yet Janeway gave her the chance to express herself, and I adore her for it. LOOK WHAT HAPPENED WHEN JANEWAY RESPECTED HER AND TRUSTED HER. They turned into MASSIVE SCIENCE NERDS. Y’all, those sequences were THE BEST THINGS EVER. I just love that Janeway gets to be excited. It’s such a rare emotion to see from a captain, especially since most of them aren’t really written this way. It’s also great because the moment is a demonstration of B’Elanna’s creative quick-thinking. She’s able to problem solve and improvise under pressure, and given the nature of Voyager’s ongoing mission, it’s a perfect skill to have. Unfortunately, B’Elenna had assumed that this kind of work was impossible for her. She dropped out of Starfleet, everyone hated her there, and she can’t possibly be officer material, right?
For only the second full episode of the show, Voyager is already delivering it, y’all. This was satisfying from a character standpoint, and that’s not even talking about the event horizon plot. I’m actually glad that the main plot wasn’t even the focus of “Parallax” because I don’t think it could have been sustainable without all the emotional shit. It’s a cool story – Temporal reflections! Not knowing which Voyager is real! – but I want to see how these people react to their surreal predicament. Again: They have a seventy-five year journey ahead of them. How the hell do you deal with that?
Slowly and carefully.
The video for “Parallax” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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