NightBy Edward James Hines
Posted at April 12, 2000 - 9:20 PM GMT
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by David Livingston
Whereas season four's finale, "Hope and Fear," ended optimistically with Voyager jumping closer to home via Arturis' quantum slipstream technology, "Night," the season five opener, swiftly sobers the elation by depicting Voyager trapped for two months inside a seemingly endless, starless Void. The quickest way out is through a spatial vortex that is being guarded by the Malon, an alien race that has been dumping antimatter waste inside the Void, killing the indigenous "night beings."
Adding to the Voyager crew's understandable stir-craziness is the problem of Janeway's sudden reclusion, prompted by her unalterable belief that she stranded her people in the Delta Quadrant because of an error in judgment four years earlier. Longtime friend Tuvok observes that "Guilt has been her constant companion," and while this may be privately true, Janeway has never publicly displayed her depression until now.
Herein lies the problem with Braga and Menosky's story and their mishandling of Janeway. While no one can deny her the right to experience the range of emotions that every human feels, it is within her overriding purview as a starship captain to put aside those considerations in favor of an optimistic, confident comportment at all times for the benefit of her crew. Back in TOS's "Plato's Stepchildren," Uhura confessed that Kirk's solid composure often helped her through fearful times. Situations like the Void in "Night" should have found Janeway leading the struggle against the doldrums, perhaps even giving inspirational "fireside chats" to help the crew. Instead, as Chakotay bluntly states, "You've picked a bad time to isolate yourself from the crew. This ship needs a captain — especially now."
Diminishing, perplexing and contradictory characterizations are the reasons why Janeway often takes heat from the fan community. "Night" surely opens the floodgates for those who would comparatively criticize that "Kirk never hid away" or "Picard never locked himself in his room" or "Sisko never put his own feelings ahead of the crew's." Gender issues being completely irrelevant, there are remedies built into the system whereby starship captains can get things off their chests when they need to. All Star Trek captains have had other characters who acted as confidantes. Janeway is no exception — she has Chakotay and Tuvok. By failing to show her taking advantage of her support system in such a critical time, Braga and Menosky have inadvertently suggested that Janeway is somehow "above" the need to discuss her problems, and also that she apparently doesn't think much of Chakotay and Tuvok's ability to help her.
With a little thought toward positive character reinforcement, "Night" could have been restructured slightly and still depicted Janeway as feeling blameworthy without showcasing her as a haughty, brooding shut-in. As it is, however, the final problem presents an interesting parallel to the quandary in "Caretaker" — to strand or not to strand the crew again. Janeway's single-minded decision to atone for all that has befallen her crew would have trapped only her in the Void, had not Chakotay and Tuvok teamed against her (an interesting counterpoint to the Janeway/Tuvok junta against Chakotay in season two's "Investigations"). While Janeway the starship captain has the prerogative to sacrifice herself to save her crew, in this instance, her motivation is unfounded and her sacrifice unnecessary. Her obstinacy casts doubt on her belief in the crew's ability to develop alternatives that benefit everyone.
More significant, however, but never redressed are the aftereffects of Chakotay and Tuvok's little mutiny. Make no mistake; this is conspiracy of the highest order — conspiracy to usurp a captain's mastery over her ship and crew. In the Alpha Quadrant, Chakotay and Tuvok would be incarcerated and court-martialed soon afterward. In the lawless Delta Quadrant, however, where Starfleet principles occasionally fall by the wayside, and because Braga and Menosky have written themselves into a corner, Janeway must submit to Chakotay and Tuvok's decision — well-intentioned though it may be — and laugh away the entire altercation. Does the end justify the means? Are Chakotay and Tuvok's actions permissible in the face of Janeway's outright pigheadedness? Does this dangerous precedent pave the way for a "constitutional" command of Voyager, with Janeway's orders subject to the approval of the crew? Whatever way you look at it, this much is clear: Janeway's authority is severely compromised. Braga and Menosky are the real culprits, of course, but by allowing such malfeasance to go unchallenged and undisciplined, Janeway is forced to eat a lot of crow and forsake more respect than she deserves to. This should make her more depressed.
Other than the Janeway mischaracterization, "Night" is a compelling environmental story about the problems of waste disposal and, more important, the lengths to which a society must go to handle it safely and responsibly. Controller Emck (Ken Magee), in an allegory about the "almighty buck," rejects Torres' cleanup tips because they would be too much of an effort for Malon society and, more significantly, put him out of business.
"Night" also affords several interesting spotlights for the supporting characters. Paris' latest 20th century infatuation is with old movie serials. His "Captain Proton" holodeck scenario, which is beautifully photographed in black and white, is clearly based on "Flash Gordon" and includes a role for faithful sidekick Kim, who plays "Buster" (unnamed on screen but clearly dubbed in honor of actor Buster Crabbe, who played Flash Gordon in the old serials). Captain Proton even has its own versions of "Ming the Merciless," in the form of "Doctor Chaotica" (Martin Rayner), and "Dale Arden," in the form of "Constance Goodheart" (Kirsten Turner).
By himself, Kim not only returns to playing his clarinet and composing the gloomy "Echoes of the Void" solo, but also begins standing a bridge watch, which he will do again later this season. Torres, who is strangely not included in her boyfriend's holodeck scenario (thus making it a "guys only" outing with Kim, a la Bashir/O'Brien or Data/La Forge), is left with little more to do than argue with Paris and lash out at Emck.
Two rare moments of levity come from Voyager's two most serious characters: Tuvok and Seven of Nine. The Vulcan, who has been meditating in the Astrometrics Lab before an artificial star field, quips that the view from his quarters has been "less than stellar lately." Seven, perplexed while briefly standing in as Constance Goodheart, swiftly deactivates "Satan's Robot" and informs Paris perfectly deadpan, "The robot has been neutralized. May I leave now?"
As seen with the Captain Proton scenario, the depressing effects of the Void mean that Voyager's two holodecks are in high demand and almost constant use. Possibly taking a cue from the Hirogen's efforts in season four's two-part "The Killing Game," Neelix suggests installing additional holoemitters in Cargo Bay Two to create a third holodeck; however, no one seems to recall that this area also serves as Seven's quarters, and she most certainly would have something to say about such an imposition.
Neelix also suggests rotating assignments to add variety and keep the crew sharp. If ever Voyager needed a ship's counselor, it is now, and it is curious that no one was ever assigned the task. On a ship of 150 people, surely there must be someone who is a good listener and can provide helpful advice. One wonders why Kes was never retained for this job, or perhaps even Ensign Samantha Wildman should be recruited. Hell, why not Neelix himself?
A technical curiosity occurs during the shipwide power loss. The holodeck running the Captain Proton scenario loses illumination but does not end the program. Because the holodecks (along with the environmental controls) are an independent subsystem, the hologrid simply freezes the program (in black and white, no less). While there is no power to open an airlock hatch that is set within the holodeck program, Paris is strangely able to activate a holographic flashlight, and Seven uses Captain Proton's holographic laser gun to stun an invading night being. Even more curious is that, during the blackout, the computer can deactivate the holodeck safety protocols without needing Seven's security clearance in addition to that of another officer. In TNG's "Descent," Data recalled that deactivating a holodeck's safety controls required the code clearances of two senior officers. Apparently, this programming has changed on Intrepid-class starships.
One unaddressed blooper involves Emck's two visits to Voyager. The first time, he is asked to remain in the transporter theater because he is "leaking" theta radiation; on the second visit, he is escorted through Main Engineering without as much as a word.
The Void itself recalls the alien space amoeba's "zone of darkness" from TOS's "The Immunity Syndrome."
Chakotay invites Janeway to play "Velocity," a game that she and Seven debuted in "Hope and Fear."
The gray T-shirt fatigue debuts in "Night," worn by Janeway and Chakotay, and will reappear throughout the season (and on DS9's seventh season as well).
Janeway refers to the handwritten logbook she started keeping in "Scorpion, Part II."
Finally, to effect her escape from Voyager, Janeway calls for a "class-two shuttle" to be made ready, but it is unclear as to what craft she is referring since shuttles are normally referred to by "type."
Copyright Edward James Hines
3 April 2000
Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.