In the first episode of the fifth season of Voyager, the night is dark and full of terrors. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.Â
Trigger Warning: For discussion of nihilophobia (phobia of nothingness), colonization/imperialism.
BRAVO, VOYAGER. Holy shit, this is absolutely one of the coolest fucking episodes of the whole show. Like many of the best of Voyager, it’s got a million pieces that shouldn’t work at all, and yet the execution of it is so goddamn satisfying. CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS.
While the show doesn’t commit to forcing the crew to withstand two years in the Void, I’m perfectly fine with this decision because of the other story that comes to the fore. Still, for nearly the first half of “Night,” the writers craft a hellish experience for Voyager: they spend two months crossing an expanse of space without stars, systems, planets, moons, or any life. Compared to the previous four years of chaos, it’s a shocking contrast. The view outside of the ship is pitch black, and it is an eerie sight to behold. Even for the viewer, it’s not something that’s easy to adjust to. The writers and the production crew build an entire world out of this, and it’s so impressive to watch it executed in such a short span of time. There’s a higher demand for the two Holodecks, given that they’re the only form of entertainment available to the entire crew. Many of the characters here are quick to snap at each other, and it’s not limited to just B’Elanna and Tom. (Who I expected this from.) The entire crew is on edge because of the circumstances. And I really appreciated the depiction of nihilophobia in Neelix because it felt both realistic and genuine. It’s not here for a joke or gag, and his fear is treated as a perfectly reasonable development.
And this is all before the unnamed aliens invade their ship.
JUST… HOLY SHIT. In practically no time, this show manages to introduce a conflict beyond the eternal darkness that’s terrifying and morally complex. It’s easy to see a commentary on pollution and imperialism within the Malon, given that Emck dumps his society’s garbage in the Void because it’s both an easy solution for him and a massive money-making endeavor. But there’s another angle to this: the Malon solve their waste problems by literally sending it out of sight. They don’t care what Emck and his buddies do with it. As long as they don’t have to personally experience the ill-affects of theta radiation poisoning, then why care? It’s one of the key horrors of colonization and why so many people are complicit in what their empire does for them.
So what’s Voyager supposed to do? Allow the Malon to continue to murder the Void aliens without consequence? Wipe their hands of it and use the vortex to skip over the Void?
Look, if that had just been the episode, I would have felt satisfied by “Night.” That’s such an interesting story! But y’all, Janeway. JANEWAY. I found it compelling for this episode to address her major flaw as a captain, but they do so with sympathy. She’s not the only person existentially tormented by the Void, and you need only look in Neelix’s direction to see another manifestation of its affects. (Harry, Tom, and B’Elanna all have their own ways of coping with it, too! Hell, even Tuvok turns to meditation in Astrometrics in order to calm his mind.) It felt appropriate for the show to take a look back “Caretaker” and how it influenced Janeway’s development. The show uses the Void to give Janeway a crisis of her own: Was it fair of her to subject her crew to this journey? Had she made a decision that was cruel and selfish? Is compassion worth it if others must suffer because of it?
Thus, it made sense to me that Janeway would start isolating herself from the crew as they pushed further into the Void. How could she face them? How could she possibly ask them to keep their spirits up if she was responsible for what they were going through? I’m usually not a fan of character insights revealed through anecdotes, only because it can come off as sloppy and lazy, but I was fascinated by Chakotay approaching Tuvok over his concern for Janeway. Here, a First Officer consulted Janeway’s best friend, and we learned that guilt is a major driving force for Janeway. That’s not surprising, of course, and her stubbornness played into her behavior in this episode. If this had been a surprising reveal, I would have called foul. Instead, it just added a new layer to a character we know well.
It’s why she decided that it was best for her to remain behind and close the vortex by herself. That sort of sacrificial act is totally in-line with Janeway as a character. However, her crew rejected it. They refused her decision â€“ which technically counts as mutiny!!! â€“ because they were willing to survive for two years in the Void as long as she was still at their side. Is your heart exploding MINE IS. And it gives way to the most scientifically ridiculous yet visually pleasing sequence in a while: Voyager blowing up a giant bigot jerk and then riding a wave through a vortex in space.
The video for “Night” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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