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The Trek Nation - 11:59

11:59

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 4:07 PM GMT

See Also: '11:59' Episode Guide

Neelix asks Captain Janeway about the Great Wall of China; she counters with a story about another structure visible from space, the Millennium Gate - a self-contained eco-system which served as a model for the first Martian colony - which her ancestor Shannon O'Donnell helped build. O'Donnell, one of the first female astronauts, was an entrepreneur invited by the Governor of Indiana to be a part of the project.

Then we see the reality, however, set on December 27, 2000: Shannon O'Donnell drove a beat-up station wagon and narrated her diary into a portable tape recorder. Her car broke down in Portage Creek, Indiana, and she didn't have enough money to have it repaired. The only store not going out of business was a local bookshop so she went inside to keep warm, learning that the curmudgeonly owner - Henry Janeway, with a son named Jason - despised the Millennium Gate project and was refusing to sell his historic family business like his neighbors so that what he perceived as a giant modern shopping mall could be built on the property. O'Donnell managed to convince him to give her a couple of days' work using her laptop computer so she could pay for her car repairs. Later he took her out for a drink, telling her that he preferred the ancient era to the present, disagreeing with all the advances she cited.

O'Donnell explained that her own job was in a transitional period but that she always liked to keep on the move; Janeway was the opposite, he had always worked in the family bookstore like generations before him. As they talked, construction equipment rolled in, but the project manager announced on the news that if the one local holdout refused to agree to the Millennium Project by midnight on New Years' Eve, they'd leave Portage Creek to go build in a town in Ohio. "This is our past," Janeway insisted, but the locals resented his impeding their own futures.

Kathryn Janeway calls Seven of Nine to astrometrics, asking for help in researching her ancestor. Seven demands to know if it's relevant to their mission. "It is to me," the captain stresses, telling Seven that Shannon O'Donnell inspired her when she was a girl and was the reason she became a Starfleet captain. Neelix finds a family photo in a Ferengi database of O'Donnell and her descendants which Janeway wants to frame. She explains that the entire town was against O'Donnell but she fought for the Millennium Gate.

Back in the past, the head of the project told O'Donnell that it was a shame she was cut from the astronaut training program and that she lost her job in the aerospace industry. He made her an offer: he said he would recruit her as an engineer on the Millennium Gate project if she could change Janeway's mind about selling his property. That night she dreamed of the moon landing which happened when she was eleven years old, waking to find Jason on her computer playing Matrix of Doom. She inquired about his mother - who died years before. When Henry Janeway returned, O'Donnell pointed out to him the value of a self-sustaining city which could teach scientists about the environment - much more than the huge retail space he perceived the project to be. "You're living in the past," she insisted, telling him about her job offer. He told her to get going to Ohio because he wasn't going to move.

On Voyager, Harry tells the crew about a relative who went on a mission aboard a sleeper ship to what turned out to be a sensor ghost rather than a destination. Paris said that one of his relatives flew the first orbital glider on Mars, but looked puzzled when Janeway asked whether he'd heard of her relative O'Donnell; Paris had studied all the Mars missions from the 1970s onward, but did not recognize the name. Later, Chakotay finds the captain poring over history databases, fretting about how hard it is to extract the true past from all the biased accounts of it. Janeway has learned that O'Donnell claimed to be an astronaut but never made the cut; she never worked on any Mars mission, and the local population in fact supported the Millennium Gate when the man she ended up marrying was the one who resisted. "Don't be too hard on her," Chakotay teases, reminding the captain that her ancestor didn't know she needed to live up to the burden of Kathryn Janeway's expectations.

O"Donnell told the project leader that she was off to Florida, but he invited her to come work for him in Ohio when the project moved, despite her failure to sway Janeway. Just then Jason rushed in: picketers were outside his father's shop and the situation looked ugly, but O'Donnell insisted that the man could take care of himself. She started driving in the snow, joking that she could stop to see Da Vinci's Last Supper recreated entirely out of corn, but while reflecting on Janeway and eating a cookie, she turned around.

Reaching town just as the project leader announced on the news that they were heading out, she went into Janeway's store and told him he'd made his point about the past: now he needed to look up from books to see what was right in front of him. She wanted to stay with him but couldn't see herself in a bookstore for the rest of her life, so since she was stuck in the future and he was immersed in the past, she suggested they meet halfway. When O'Donnell agreed to stay in Portage Creek if she could be an engineer, Janeway said he supposed he could move his bookstore into the new mall monstrosity. At 11:59 p.m. on New Years' Eve, Janeway announced that he would close his shop and move.

Neelix calls a brooding Captain Janeway to the mess hall. "It's April 22 - Ancestor's Eve," a holiday he has just invented, announces the Morale Officer, who has assembled the senior staff. The Talaxian presents to the captain a framed photo of her ancestor and family, but Janeway says she's not sure that photo has a place in her ready room any longer. Seven of Nine disagrees - if stories about O'Donnell inspired Kathryn Janeway, then she certainly has a place. The Doctor demands that all assembled pose for a "family photo" as well, and Janeway toasts them.

Analysis:

There are two reviews I could write about "11:59." One is about how wonderful it was to see Kate Mulgrew get to play a character with some depth and dimension, an offbeat sense of humor, some human warmth, some weaknesses which make her seem to be growing as a person instead of falling apart. The other is about what a silly episode this was, inconsistent with previous Star Trek history and Janeway history, slow-paced, entirely predictable. Sadly, given the kind of season Voyager has had, I'm inclined to stick with the former, because despite the latter I enjoyed this episode very much.

When I first started watching Voyager, I admired how at home Mulgrew seemed in the captain's chair (which Picard and Sisko did not, at first); now, however, it strikes me how much more comfortable she seems in a bar or a bookstore. This performance was so natural that I kept forgetting I was watching a fictional character. Her interactions with both Henry and Jason Janeway were low-key, witty, genuine, with none of the forced maternal gestures we get from Kathryn Janeway and no captain-like posturing we've seen increasingly in the past two seasons; some of that relaxation crossed over into the final scenes, which I liked very much, and I hope the trend stays. She looked like she was enjoying this episode, and she was in virtually every scene so it must have been a long shooting week - even if the plot had silly anachronistic moments, I'd rather watch good dialogue than technobabble any day.

Ironically I thought O'Donnell had better chemistry with the son than the father, mostly because the script never gave us any compelling reason to see why she'd fall in love with the old man, which he seemed much more because of his attitude than his white hair. Stable and centered is one thing, but all those cliches about the good old ancient days - which largely sucked for women, as she should have pointed out - started to drive me bananas. The kid was terrific in his few brief scenes, especially stomping out on his father and explaining that none of the classical heroes grew up in a nuclear family anyway; I am tempted to make a crack about how Dad's right not to want him to play Fortress of Doom since we all know computer games lead to every vice and evil in the minds of teenagers today, but I'm too relieved to know that in just two years, laptop prices will have come down so much that even a woman who sleeps in her car which she can't afford to repair, who can't even afford a microcassette recorder, will have a portable PC!

I am a bit confused (especially given that exec producer Brannon Braga wrote Star Trek: First Contact) because the dates on Harry Kim's ancestor's travel on a sleeper ship make no sense given when warp was supposedly achieved. I can handle having fake Trek history revamped if there's an important character reason to do so. Despite the events of Mosaic and "Coda" which posited Janeway's interest in exploring as stemming from her father the Admiral, I am delighted to know that Voyager's captain became a Starfleet officer because of a female role model in her family. And I also liked her discovery that her family heroine wasn't all her hype made her seem; it always makes me uneasy when familial dynasties are portrayed as the road to success, since many of us don't have ancestors who were astronauts, etc. (It is odd that she referred to someone from the 1990s as one of the first women in space; from the perspective of her era, O'Donnell would have been one of the first PEOPLE in space, but a significant number of women have already been out there and I don't want to see the real progress of Kathryn Janeway's predecessors belittled.)

The best line was Chakotay's telling Janeway that O'Donnell didn't know she'd have to live up to her great-great-great-great-great granddaughter's expectations. Not only was it a nice insight about Janeway and the perfection she expects from everyone around her, it was a nice character moment between the two of them, and a nice reminder of "Future's End," when Kathryn commented that a chick on skates could be her ancestor and Chakotay promptly added, "She does have your legs." Shannon O'Donnell certainly did.


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Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.