Mark Watches ‘Voyager’: S07E21 – Friendship One

In the twenty-first episode of the seventh season of Voyager, holy shit, this is fucked up. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Wow, it’s like the universe wanted to counter a point I made in the last review. The Doctor’s intent behind Photons Be Free mattered to the story, but intent plays a different role within “Friendship One.” What if the wonderful thing you intended caused something horrific and traumatic? It’s not that intent doesn’t matter in either of these contexts; but sometimes, your intent cannot rectify a disaster. It cannot act to give justice. It cannot solve a problem.

So what do you do then?

I know comparatively very little about the early days of Earth’s experiments with space travel, or what it was like in the beginning for Starfleet or the Federation. Thus, I don’t often have to think about the consequences of that time. We’re hundreds of years into the future, and these people have figured out how to mitigate crises before they even begin! (I realize the irony in saying that, given that Voyager is just one crisis after another.) There’s a reason the Prime Directive exists; there’s a reason there’s protocol for First Contact. But when Friendship One was sent into space in 2067, none of that was on the minds of the humans who were eager to explore space, to determine who else was out there in the galaxy. And when that probe landed on that unnamed planet in the Delta Quadrant, it set in motion a cascade effect that led to a nuclear winter. The instructions encoded within the probe led to this society trying to build technology they weren’t prepared for, causing said nuclear winter.

Thus, this becomes a story about perspective. The people aboard Voyager thought that Friendship One was an emblem of nostalgia, a throwback to an exciting and frightening time in human history. But when they arrive on this planet, they learn that Friendship One was the beginning of the end for these people. Even worse? It represented a vicious and cruel means of wiping out an entire civilization, all so that humans could take the planet for themselves without a fight. And from their perspective, the arrival of Voyager is the final step towards genocide! That’s not an irrational conclusion, either, because these people were operating both on limited information while suffering. I don’t begrudge them for mistrusting the Voyager crew at all, and I didn’t get the sense that this episode blamed them either.

Where this gets messy is in Verin, the de-facto leader of these people, who believes that a hardline stance – complete with hostages and assassination – is the only way forward. We understand why he behaves as he does. (Otrin even says so later in the episode.) But as Janeway and the others try to do their best to make up for a horrific situation, everything seems impossible. A relocation of all 5,500 citizens would take three years to complete, though, again, not the fault of these people. They deserve a world free from radiation, especially after Earth was inadvertently responsible for what happened here. But Verin wants revenge as much as he wants restitution, and I felt that “Friendship One” was trying to say that you can’t have both. As soon as Verin kills Carey, Janeway was ready to leave these people behind. (That felt a tad uncharacteristic at first, but I saw it as a moment where she was so angry that she felt she had to just get her crew out and leave. Note how quickly Neelix and Tom are able to convince her otherwise.) It didn’t matter that Otrin might have the means to actually enact some of his theories to clear up the atmosphere; never mind that Tom saved that one woman’s child; never mind that Seven and the Doctor helped Otrin with a treatment for his radiation sickness.

Granted, trust is hard to build. It has to be earned, and at the very least, this episode demonstrated why it’s so difficult for even the first step to happen. It’s sad that Carey was the cost of this endeavor, though, and the end of “Friendship One” has a rather bleak message. It’s appropriate, though, because exploration can quickly turn dark if we are not careful. Unfortunately, no one considered what Friendship One‘s affect would be on the universe, and this is where we end up.

The video for “Friendship One” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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