There’s just nothing to say here. Every beat is predictable and we get nothing to ameliorate the predictability. Seven’s actions with the Borg are just her repeating what we’ve seen her learn since she came on board, Ryan Spahn’s First is a tiresome whiny teenager, and the other four don’t really make much of an impression in their inaugural appearance (though Manu Intiraymi shows signs of the interesting character he’ll become).
Jeri Ryan and Tim Russ are both superb, as always. Russ in particular does excellent work with Tuvok as good sounding board: from his semi-amused pointing out that the silence wasn’t awkward to his more direct pointing out that dying for entertainment isn’t really a viable alternative to killing for entertainment to his final reminder that remorse and guilt are very human. And Ryan plays Seven’s struggles with her usual restrained emotion.
I want to single out Ethan Phillips for praise here, because he particularly plays Neelix’s PTSD supremely well, from his rapid-fire nervous chopping vegetables, to his losing it at the slightest noise, to his asking Seven about how she deals with what she did as a Borg, to his impassioned plea to not shut down the obelisk. It makes sense because, as established way back in “Jetrel,” Neelix’s own background is very similar to that of the Nakan, and as shown in that same first-season episode, Phillips can really bring it when dealing with his character’s trauma.
There’s nothing redeeming about the Qomar. From the minute we first see them as the show opens, they’re obnoxious, condescending, arrogant, high-handed, and insulting. They fulfill many of the most negative stereotypes of science fiction fans, and then they double down on it by throwing in more negative stereotypes, from the hero worship to the tricks to get close to the famous person to the fan mail.
But the episode is sold on some excellent quick-and-dirty character development by scripter Joe Menosky. We see several sets of two people—the shaman and the guy making sacrifices, the protector and his erstwhile mentor, the two guys at the telescope, and the two astronauts—who create instant, lasting impressions. These are people we come to care about, even though they’re all dead within seconds of our encountering them.
The setting is just revolting, indulging in all kinds of tired stereotypes, most of which have their root in racist assumptions made about Irish immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries here in the United States: drunken, lazy, philandering, etc. (Plus, of course, they were Catholics, coming to a country dominated by Protestants, an issue faced by Italians who immigrated to the U.S. as well.)
Those two elements combine to make this an excellent Star Trek episode, because it sets Voyager in a place it rarely goes: within the history and setting of the greater Trek universe. This is only the third time Voyager has made contemporary contact with the Alpha Quadrant (caveat necessary thanks to “Eye of the Needle”), and of the other two, one happened off camera (the EMH’s report to Starfleet in “Message in a Bottle”) and the other was one-way: letters from home (“Hunters”) and an encrypted message from Admiral Hayes (“Hope and Fear”). This is real contact that, unlike the others, has the promise of more.
Welcome aboard. I started doing Trek rewatches exactly ten years ago yesterday, with the Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch debuting on the 9th of May 2011. A month later, when I did the rewatch of “Haven,” I noted with surprise that the character of Wyatt Miller was played by Robert Knepper, an actor I knew well from his later roles in things like Carnivale and Prison Break, and had never realized that he was on TNG back in the day with a mullet.
And now we’ve come full circle, because here we are a decade later, and we have a Robert Knepper moment with the actual Robert Knepper! After spending ten years using my shock at his appearance in “Haven” as the basis of a running gag about being surprised by actors showing up, he surprises me again by showing up here! Knepper plays Gaul.
It’s not really a surprise watching this episode to learn that Roxann Dawson has become a heavily in-demand director to the point where she hasn’t done any acting work in a decade, but has more than fifty directorial credits in that same span. In her inaugural turn behind the camera, we see excellent use of closeups, strong performances from all the actors, and some beautifully framed shots. This feels like one of the better outings from Jonathan Frakes or Winrich Kolbe, which is high praise indeed.