While Janeway and Chakotay argue about who should replace the dead chief engineer, Voyager spots a ship caught inside a quantum singularity.
Plot Summary: Acting chief engineer Carey arrives in sickbay with a broken nose, furious because Maquis engineer B’Elanna Torres hit him when he refused to listen to her advice. Chakotay warns Torres that Tuvok would like to court-martial her and the Maquis crewmembers are ready to mutiny in her defense. He believes that she is qualified to be the chief engineer of Voyager, but doesn’t think Janeway will consider her if she behaves so badly. The crew picks up a signal from a ship trapped in a quantum singularity, but when Voyager moves closer to try to help, they are also sucked in by the singularity’s gravity. When Chakotay asks Torres for suggestions, Janeway insists that Carey should be making engineering decisions and tells Chakotay that none of the former Maquis crewmembers can be put in high-level positions because of their lack of training, to which he replies that he won’t be her token Maquis officer. He tells Janeway to consider Torres for the top engineering post because Torres is the most qualified person despite the fact that she dropped out of Starfleet Academy. A distrustful Torres refuses to tell Janeway why she left the Academy, but has a better idea than Carey how to investigate the singularity. This leads Torres and Janeway to realize they’re trapped in a causality loop where Voyager itself is the ship they detected sending out a signal. Because Voyager would have left a subspace rift when it was pulled toward the event horizon, Janeway and Torres conclude that they can use warp particles to find their point of entrance. Janeway takes a shuttle to widen the rift so that Voyager can safely pass through it, bringing Torres along and telling the engineer that her Academy professors were impressed with her intellect. Though they disagree on where Voyager is, since a sensor echo makes it look like there are two ships, Janeway identifies the correct vessel and gets Voyager away from the singularity. She appoints Torres chief engineer, which Carey accepts with professional respect and Chakotay acknowledges with gratitude.
Analysis: There’s no getting around the fact that “Parallax” has a pretty weak plot, reminiscent of a half-dozen Next Gen anomalies of the week, requiring lots of exposition to tell the audience both how such a singularity would appear and what sort of sci-fi creativity could help a spaceship escape. Poor Tom Paris, who acquitted himself so nicely in “Caretaker” by rescuing Chakotay and piloting Voyager during a battle, here finds himself relegated to the guy who doesn’t understand temporal causality loops and gets sent off to train as a field medic even though he graduated from Starfleet Academy, while Neelix, who apparently never went to any sort of academy, gets to summarize Hawking’s theories while bragging about his own dubious exploits in space. The proceedings would be quite silly if this cast didn’t have immediate chemistry that makes them fun to watch no matter what absurdities occur onscreen, and there are many – Harry Kim stumbling around with a headache, the Doctor reduced (quite literally) to helplessness as his holographic emitter malfunctions, Janeway all sparkly-eyed over warp science while her ship is in critical danger. Even with the pop science quotes, Paris’s doubt about how the ship could have responded to a hail they only sent because they picked up their own signal in the first place makes more sense than most of the supposed engineering brilliance that wins Torres the top job in that critical area. But oh, it’s fun to watch two women banter scientific terms back and forth while the men in the room stare at them cluelessly, something that’s rare enough today, when men still dominate most scientific and technical fields, and was even more rare when Voyager first went on the air in the ’90s. In later seasons when I’m grumbling about Seven of Nine’s catsuit, please remind me that having three women of such obvious intelligence on one series makes them all wonderful role models no matter what they’re wearing or how their positive interactions are undercut by the dynamics of the show.
The first time I reviewed “Parallax,” the first thing I said was, “I really could fall in love with this woman.” I don’t know whether to be sad or delighted that when I think about this episode in isolation from everything that follows, I still feel the same way. It’s pretty ridiculous for Janeway to go off and begin her own analysis of the singularity when she has a ship full of trained scientists. Though she mentions the lack of an astrogation expert, she must have some people on board who are familiar with black holes and gravitational anomalies; they were after all planning to navigate through the Badlands to find Chakotay. But her actions provide an immediate contrast with Picard, who’d call a full staff meeting pretty much every time a bug flew past the windshield (yes, I know, no insects in space, but you know what I mean), and with Sisko, who was as likely to seek meaning from the Prophets and Bajoran scripture as he was to summon a team of Starfleet analysts. Clearly Janeway loves science and is comfortable with her ability to use it to her advantage. She expresses no fear for her ship or crew stranded so far from home, even though the anomaly is making some of them sick and Torres tells her that the gravitational waves will crush the ship if they can’t get free in a few hours. She doesn’t seem terribly worried about getting home despite the fact that there’s no starbase to perform needed repairs and maintenance. She may be a bit concerned about discipline among the Maquis crewmembers, but it doesn’t occur to her that some of her Starfleet officers might object to investigating every anomaly and ship that might be in distress. It’s nutty that she gets into the shuttle with Torres instead of delegating the job of widening the spatial rift, but it’s a very Captain Kirk thing to do. I remember when we were putting some of her lines from “Parallax” on buttons at conventions: “Sometimes you just have to punch your way through.” “One of the nice things about being captain is that you can keep some things to yourself.” I’m a little bit tempted to add a string of <3 <3 <3 s. Because of her confidence, it's even fun watching Janeway argue with Chakotay, who's initially more defiant than any other second-in-command we've seen, including Kira in the early days when she scarcely trusted Sisko at all. They're both obviously strong-willed and opinionated, yet there's no underhandedness, no pulling rank on her part nor threats of rebellion on his. Clearly they already respect and really listen to one another. Okay, and flirt. I see that Janeway winks at Paris too, but there's a whole different energy when it's Chakotay for whom she's grinning. I'm trying not to watch these early episodes with the rose-colored Janeway/Chakotay glasses that delighted then disgusted me the first time I watched the series, but the Chakotay who insouciantly asks, "Would you have served under me?" very much resembles the Chakotay who will tell Janeway that it bothers the hell out of him when Q starts propositioning her, several months further along in the journey. Of course, there are also fans who think Paris is flirting with Janeway, deliberately playing dumb on the science so she'll talk to him, and fans who think Janeway and Torres have smoking chemistry - which they do, particularly getting all excited about warp particles together, though I'm also very fond of the way Janeway mentors Torres, insisting on understanding what makes her tick personally and professionally even after Torres tries to push her away for fear of disappointing them both. We see engaging interactions among many other crewmembers, including the apparent long friendship between Torres and Chakotay, the ongoing distrust between Chakotay and Tuvok repressed for the good of the crew, the couple of ex-Maquis who are going to be trouble later in contrast with Carey, who turns out to be the best kind of team player, and whom Chakotay and Torres resent not because he's Starfleet but because she's a more creative and quick-thinking engineer. Neelix is too buffoonish - it's obvious the writers created him mostly for comic relief - yet Kes is a calming presence. The moment when she asks the Doctor's name is poignant...a reminder that several early promises of Voyager will never be fulfilled.