The VoidBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 11:22 PM GMT
See Also: 'The Void' Episode Guide
In the middle of dinner, Voyager is sucked into a starless void, where several ships immediately start shooting and beaming away supplies. There are no gases in the void, so the crew has only about ten days' worth of deuterium left, and the 29 other inhabited ships all seem hostile. An alien named Valen hails, impressed with Voyager's firepower, to suggest trading supplies for weapons, but Janeway refuses to be drawn into a war of competition to survive. He says she'll change her mind once she realizes there's no way out, and she'll have wasted valuable resources.
Seven believes gravometric funnels inside the anomaly might provide a route to normal space, but they would need to reach warp 8.2 at precisely the right moment, which might be impossible with a weakened warp core. Janeway discovers that the aliens who stole their supplies have been raided and killed, but an intact warp casing remains on board, so she beams it over. Inside is an alien who can scatter his life signs, whom the Doctor and Seven teach to communicate via musical tones. Tuvok's scans reveal that Valen has Voyager's deuterium, so Janeway pursues and takes back her ship's supplies. Seven detects a substantial amount of food that could bolster Voyager's dwindling stores, but the captain refuses to steal.
Tuvok says logic suggests that the crew must be opportunistic to survive, and Chakotay points out that Social Darwinism works for Valen, but Janeway has been reading the Federation Charter, which says they must stick to their principles and die if necessary rather than become thieves and killers. She proposes a temporary alliance with other ships, offering food and medicine to anyone who will stop killing and stealing and will share technology, though Chakotay worries that their inventory will be wiped out before they can escape. "We won't lose who we are," the captain insists. (See Janeway's lecture at the end of "Alliances" if you need a refresher course on Sanctimonious Starfleet Speeches. See Andromeda for a more palatable version of this concept.)
Once aliens realize Voyager is offering food and supplies for free, they're willing to talk, though slower to join her alliance. When a new ship is pulled into the void, Valen and others attack, but Voyager comes to its aid and alien leader Garon comes in to back them up. A commander named Bosaal sounds interested in joining the alliance, though he disturbs Janeway when he threatens to exterminate all the aliens like Fantome -- the name the Doctor has given the mute alien, derived from The Phantom of the Opera.
Janeway hopes to demonstrate that cooperation and tolerance benefits everyone -- Voyager's replicators, for instance, have been greatly improved by one of the aliens -- but another species has overridden Tuvok's security protocols to spy on alliance vessels. Ultimately, Torres gets the polaron modulator she desperately needs when Bosaal kills the crew of another ship to get one. Janeway says her crew won't be accessories to murder and throws Bosaal off her ship, but several other aliens leave the alliance, calling her self-righteous. The spying alliance members discover Bosaal in league with Valen to attack Voyager, and prepares to make an escape attempt. Fantome and his people agree to help Voyager, beaming over to Valen's ship to disable it at a critical moment. Using their combined forces, Janeway and all the alliance ships escape the void. Janeway tells Chakotay it's almost like being part of a Federation again.
Most of that summary is pretty unnecessary, because we've seen "The Void" before, during Voyager's second and fifth seasons. "Alliances" and "Night" were on my "Bottom Five Episodes" list already. It was a phenomenally bad idea to combine them, but that's just the beginning of what makes "The Void" such a spectacularly awful episode. It starts on a horrible note as we discover that Seven, who has already proven herself to be a better captain, first officer, engineer, pilot, security officer, tactician, and navigator than anyone else on the ship, demonstrates that she's a better cook as well. And then we find out she's also more competent than the Doctor at discovering the mysterious syntax patterns of alien species! The Doctor puts on operas for his own pleasure, Seven realizes this means the not-yet-named Fantome can hear. Heck, throw the crew out an airlock and let her get the ship home. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Spatial anomalies are starting to remind me of telemarketers -- no sooner have you sat down to a nice dinner than one of them calls you to the bridge. It happened in "Timeless," it happened in "Shattered," you'd think the crew would start being afraid to eat. And then it's Welcome to the Hotel California, where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Janeway tries, of course, but she hates playing Survivor, and she just gets her hair mussed for her trouble. Neelix cleverly remembers that he used to make a living scavenging and offers to take a shuttle to go looking for supplies, but Janeway -- probably fearing a stunt like Chakotay pulled in "Maneuvers," since we're back in second season Starfleet mentality -- won't let him go alone. She takes her deuterium back from Valen, but she won't swipe any food, not even to make up for the food that was stolen from Voyager, which Valen's crew probably already ate. Chakotay and Tuvok reiterate their speeches from "Alliances" about how you can't preach Federation principles if you're dead. But Janeway insists there must be some nice murderers and thieves in the void, and -- because the writers don't want to make her look COMPLETELY stupid -- she's right.
Note: Kirk would have used brilliant tactics to get the aliens over a barrel, then given them the speech about sharing and cooperation after he'd left them no choice. Picard would have made the speech first, then let Data and Worf use brilliant tactics to get the aliens over a barrel and left them no choice. Sisko would have taken the food and fed his people before he made them expend their energy getting the aliens over a barrel so he could make the speech. There are captains worth following for seven years, and then there are captains who make you think you might be better off stranded in the void.
Janeway, who has obviously been reading Dylan Hunt's 300-years-outdated speech about why aliens should join Andromeda's Commonwealth, offers food and gets improved replicators that enable her to keep her promises. I won't ask how -- in a void devoid of matter AND energy, which is the whole reason it's called a void -- the replicators get enough protons or photons or quarks or whatever to make something out of nothing, because that would be nitpicking and this episode has bigger problems. Like Janeway getting defensive over principle just like in "Prime Factors," rationalizing to Seven that sharing rations with the chirping alien is just as "inefficient" as doing the same thing on a larger scale with potential allies, and telling Chakotay that she's sorry she foolishly let a bigot join their alliance. As if Kirk ever would have apologized to his crew for following principles. Chakotay says it's in the Federation charter that the crew has to compensate for the captain's mistakes -- the one intentional zinger of the episode that's actually funny!
The ship looks bad when they turn off most of the lights, but there's no real sense of desperation -- Torres still looks glowingly pregnant, and no angry crewmembers complain to Janeway about her decisions as they did in "Alliances." Some day someone may explain to me why it's OK for Voyager to benefit from alien spy technology, since they're above stealing and all manner of unethical behavior. All the so-called "plot twists," like Bosaal's treachery and Garon coming to Voyager's aid, are obvious for so long before they happen that Voyager's crew looks stupid for not being able to predict them. The little Fantomes add some refreshing humor -- not scripted, of course, but it's delightful to see them playing Simon together in sickbay as a form of communication, and the Doctor's C-3PO/R2-D2 routine with one would be quite enjoyable if he hadn't done pretty much the same thing with the bleeping weapon in Warhead.
And to top it all off, we never find out how the alliance members solve their technical problems to escape together -- that entire sequence takes place via montage, with cheesy soaring Trek music when it really needs a good alternative rock riff. I suppose I should be grateful for the lack of technobabble, but it sure seems like a sellout that all the aliens are as silent as Fantome when it comes to the hard work of collaboration. I'm just glad that, like Next Gen's exocomps, the Fantomes decide Starfleet has given them so much that they should repay in kind. Otherwise we might miss The Very Important Moral Of the Episode about cooperation, which fortunately is repeated several times, for those of us as dense as Voyager's writers.
This episode is a perfect example of why I don't give stars in my reviews. There's no good way to portray negative numbers. Let's just say "The Void" deserves as many stars as Voyager encountered there.
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.