Voyager encounters a wormhole which leads to the Alpha Quadrant, but when the crew sends a message through, it is received by a Romulan.
Plot Summary: Harry Kim discovers a wormhole which is in an advanced state of decay. The crew is disappointed to learn that it is much too small for Voyager to travel through; even a microprobe becomes trapped in its gravitational eddies. But the probe attracts the attention of a ship on the other side of the wormhole, which scans the device, and after Torres adapts its transmitter, the crew is able to send a signal. The reply has a Romulan signature and the recipient at first accuses Janeway of lying about Voyager’s location, but when Kim is persistent in contacting the Romulan, he tells Janeway that his own analysis has confirmed that her ship is in the Delta Quadrant. Initially, Janeway only hopes that the Romulan officer will get his government to agree to transmit her crew’s messages to their families back home, but Torres discovers that since she can send a visual transmission through the probe in the wormhole, it means she can also send a transporter signal, which could allow the entire crew to beam to the Alpha Quadrant. Everyone is thrilled about this news except the Doctor, who informs Kes that he will be stranded along with the ship. Because Romulan astrophysicist Telek R’Mor can’t allow any Starfleet crewmembers to beam aboard his ship until he has permission from his government, he agrees instead to beam aboard Voyager. Once R’Mor arrives, Tuvok discovers that the decaying wormhole is warping time as well as space, for the astrophysicist has arrived from 20 years in Voyager’s past. The effects on the timeline could be devastating if the crew returns to an earlier Alpha Quadrant or allows R’Mor to alter history by warning the Federation not to send Voyager on the mission that brought them to the Delta Quadrant. So Janeway decides that she will ask only for R’Mor to tell no one of their encounter and to deliver their messages to Starfleet two decades in his future. But once R’Mor has returned to his own time, Tuvok reveals that the computer has a record of R’Mor’s death four years before Voyager’s launch. Only the Doctor is not saddened by this development, telling Kes that since he must now serve as a member of the crew, he would like a name.
Analysis: Though I think it would have been a more dramatic episode if it had aired later in Voyager‘s run, “Eye of the Needle” remains the best of the early anomaly-of-the-week stories. This time, instead of the crew dashing off to investigate a phenomenon largely for its own sake – making laudable efforts to boost energy reserves and help others, but adding more time to an already daunting journey – the ship takes a detour to see whether Kim has found them a shortcut home. Of course the audience knows this isn’t going to work out from the beginning, given that the show is in its infancy, and as Torres points out, it’s likely that neither Starfleet Command nor the crewmembers’ families have given up hope yet that they’ll return. That makes the installment less poignant than if it had aired several months later, and suggests that this will be only the first of many such stories in which the crew tries to send a message home, only to be faced with uncertainty or failure. But we need to see evidence of the period of mourning that Chakotay mentioned in “The Cloud” – really, we’ve seen not only professionalism but a surprising degree of chipper excitement to be lost out in the Delta Quadrant, particularly from Maquis crewmembers who might have started rebelling much sooner – and it makes sense to flesh out the characters’ backstories by giving them reasons to reflect upon the people they’ve left behind. I’m not sure “Eye of the Needle” does enough of the latter, since most of the focus in that regard is on Kim and Torres; it’s interesting to learn that she doesn’t particularly have people she wants to get back to in the Alpha Quadrant, considering her enthusiasm for returning home here and in the upcoming “Prime Factors” when she disobeys Janeway’s orders to try to obtain a device that will drastically shorten the voyage. Neelix doesn’t even appear in the episode, a strange twist since one would think a Delta Quadrant native would have something to say about the looming probability of leaving it, while Kes is already speaking of getting “back to Federation space” as if that is her true place in the universe, though Kes is likely to die long before the ship gets there.
Since we already know that Harry has a girlfriend, it’s interesting that he’s more worried about his mother missing him and more ecstatic about the possibility of seeing his parents than anything regarding his love life, which is not the usual choice Star Trek writers make when it comes to young male crewmembers. Tuvok sticks to logic about their situation – we don’t discover anything about his family or his feelings about getting back to them – and Paris doesn’t seem terribly anxious either way whether the crew gets home or not, while the Doctor is horrified at the thought of being abandoned even by officers who treat him with so little respect that Kes goes to the captain to ask that something be done about it. Unfortunately, we get very little information about Chakotay, which considering his prominent position on the ship is starting to look like an oversight. When R’Mor suggests that the Romulans could tell Starfleet not to launch Voyager – leaving a gigantic question mark about what the Romulan leaders ultimately will do with the information on Voyager that R’Mor has already passed on to them – Chakotay is quick to jump in and point out that changing Voyager’s mission would change the impact they’ve had on the Delta Quadrant. This is true, and Janeway undoubtedly agrees with him since she doesn’t contradict his analysis, but one could make the opposite argument, that Voyager never should have been in the Delta Quadrant to interfere in the first place. It’s mostly a good thing for Chakotay’s crew that it turned up because his little Maquis ship would have been stuck there forever if it even survived the first Kazon encounter. Chakotay looks quite content in his new life, serving an organization he renounced on principle. Does he want to get home? Is he worried about the Maquis there, or more worried that he could be arrested as soon as they arrive, possibly by Janeway who has never explicitly stated whether she has the authority to grant pardons to Maquis crewmembers? Maybe he’s just hoping to catch a glimpse of her in her nightgown.
Ah, The Nightgown. Back in the day, in Kate Mulgrew’s fan club, “Eye of the Needle” was known as “The Nightgown Episode.” Yes, we loved Janeway for her leadership qualities – her infectious joy when the wormhole was discovered, her determination in persuading R’Mor to help them, her fortitude in accepting that they had to move on – but everyone’s favorite scene was The Nightgown. There’s a level of what I call Real Woman B.S. surrounding that scene and many others involving Janeway during this first season, as if the writers are afraid we’ll see her as too masculine, too aggressive, too butch, too scary because she’s a woman in command, so they decide to soften her up, the same way Troi and Crusher were forced into traditional women’s roles as therapists and nurturers and mothers on Next Gen (occasionally DS9’s writers even tried this with Kira, though it generally backfired in spectacular fashion). We see Janeway awkwardly placed in proximity to what the writers apparently feel must interest all ladies, like cooking and lipstick and men – especially men. Hence, although she’ll be sleeping alone for the foreseeable future and may be summoned to the bridge at a moment’s notice, we see that Janeway goes to bed in clingy pink nightgowns. It is to Mulgrew’s credit that such scenes end up being assets rather than embarrassments in this male-dominated franchise; she embodies traditional womanly loveliness, graceful gestures, curves on display, while she’s proud and forceful talking to her adversary. And I love that Janeway uses a domestic argument to sway R’Mor, appealing not to his position as a commander or a warrior, not even as a fellow scientist, but as a husband and father. It’s something I can’t imagine Kirk or Picard doing, nor Sisko even though he defines himself as a husband and father just as much as an Emissary and a Starfleet commander. This is Janeway at her most glorious, taking what are usually dismissed as feminine values – the love for family, the desire to protect and nurture – and demonstrating that not only are they important to her, but to other people, even those from what we’ve seen portrayed largely as warrior cultures.