Voyager finds a planet inhabited by descendants of human abductees from Earth.
Plot Summary: Voyager discovers a Ford truck from early 20th century Earth in space and brings it aboard. After starting the truck, Paris turns on its radio and picks up an S.O.S. that leads the crew to a nearby planet. Because interference makes it impossible to get clear readings or send down a shuttle, Janeway decides to land the ship in order to discover who has sent the distress call. Paris sets Voyager down near a Lockheed Electra from the 1930s whose controls have been modified to send out the S.O.S. In a nearby cave, the crew discovers the cryogenically frozen bodies of several humans whom Janeway decides to revive in order to learn how they were brought to the planet. Two of the humans turn out to be Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, who were abducted during their round-the-world flight in 1937. Noonan is drunk, suspicious, and belligerent, but Janeway wins Earhart’s trust and persuades the humans that they really have awoken in the 24th century on a planet across the galaxy. When Earhart asks to see the starship, the group leaves the cave, though they are attacked by natives who also prove to be human – descendants of others taken from Earth centuries before. The natives explain that their ancestors were enslaved by a Delta Quadrant race but were able to drive them off, and in the generations since, they have built peaceful cities, where they invite both the newly awakened “37’s” and Voyager’s crew to remain and create homes. Though Voyager will not be able to function if many crewmembers decide to remain, Janeway decides that she must let the crew decide whether or not to stay and help build a human civilization in the Delta Quadrant. Though all of the 37’s elect to remain among their descendants, not one of Voyager’s crewmembers chooses to depart the ship. Relieved at this proof of her crew’s dedication to getting home, Janeway leaves Earhart, Noonan, and the other 37’s among the human inhabitants of the planet.
Analysis: One of my colleagues and I had a discussion about whether labeling “The 37’s” as the first episode of the second season constituted reviewing the series out of order, since it was originally intended to be Voyager‘s first season finale and indeed aired as such in several countries not following UPN’s schedule. I opted not to try to restore the original season one episode order because it significantly throws off the tone of season two, whose schedule was set with the final four episodes originally intended for the first season mixed among the new installments. So I’ll refrain from belaboring the ways in which “The 37’s” would make a more appropriate season finale, with its emphasis on nostalgia and appropriate ends for journeys, than a season premiere. The biggest giveaway that we’re looking at a concluding episode is that we don’t get a single glimpse of the supposedly gorgeous cities built by the Delta Quadrant humans; budgetary constraints must have made even a matte painting too difficult. I suppose that this serves the story, in that it’s easy to believe no one is convinced to stay planetside when we don’t have any visual reference for what they’re giving up. But it’s frustrating, because if Janeway’s impressed enough with the planet to be able to see the appeal of remaining – especially when Earhart is proud to count herself among those humans – other people on the crew must be as well, particularly former Maquis who have no idea what will happen when they get home. Chakotay’s memories of the Arizona desert and the Gulf of Mexico seem charming but naive, since no matter how hard Janeway might be willing to fight to keep him free, he may be facing several years in prison for his activities as an enemy of Starfleet. I can’t help reading his message to Janeway as whither thou goest, especially combined with, “No matter what happens, we’ll make it. Remember that.”
Thus, during the scene in sickbay between Earhart and Noonan when the navigator thinks he’s about to die and declares his love, I can’t help but think that there are parallels with another female captain and the man whose role particularly in this episode is to act as her navigator, helping to steer her in the direction that Voyager must ultimately take back to the Alpha Quadrant. It’s not my fault that the trope is pervasive. A romance makes for a happier ending than the probability that a couple went down in the Pacific (or will go down in the Delta Quadrant) blaming one another for being lost, and that remains true whether I’m reading drippy fan fiction or Jane Mendelsohn’s award-winning novel I Was Amelia Earhart, in which Earhart and Noonan end up much happier stranded together on an island than they were as they tried to set distance flying records. Even though the real Noonan had a new bride while Earhart’s husband was devoted to her success and devastated by her loss, the star-crossed-lovers story downplays that reality. In contemporary movies, Noonans played by Rutger Hauer (The Final Flight) and Christopher Eccleston (Amelia) are wild about their Earharts – why, yes, I am an Earhart fan, why do you ask? Voyager promotes another popular legend about the aviator, that she was secretly conducting aerial surveillance on the Japanese as they built ships for World War II – something not relevant to “The 37’s” except that it gives Earhart a covert military mission as well as a role as a female aviation pioneer, just like Janeway. I can only assume the Earhart/Noonan love story shows up to hint at one more thing they may have in common.
Some fans speculate on plot holes like how Paris could start a truck whose gasoline and oil had been frozen in space in its pipes for centuries; some fans speculate on why Chakotay seems more interested in Janeway than in his Maquis crew or in getting home. Chakotay leads the team to rescue Janeway when the 37’s take her hostage the same way Noonan leads the charge to protect Earhart when Voyager’s crew pulls weapons. Chakotay claims he’s concerned about which crewmembers may decide to depart the ship, yet during the scene in the cargo bay when they discover that no one will be leaving, his focus is on his captain and her emotional reaction rather than expressing his own relief. Even now, when I have much less investment in these characters than I did upon first viewing, I can’t help noticing details like this. Jeri Taylor co-wrote “The 37s” and she’s also behind all the flirting in the upcoming “Elogium” and “Coda” so you’re never going to convince me that it’s entirely accidental. Yes, it’s corny, but so is a setup that throws Janeway and Earhart together in the first place, and that comes from the time-honored Trek tradition of letting Kirk meet Abraham Lincoln and Picard meet Mark Twain. It’s lovely to see one of the most famous female explorers in American history join forces with Star Trek’s first series lead female captain, and I’m probably more disappointed than Janeway that Earhart doesn’t accept her offer to come travel the quadrant with the crew. We’re given the impression that, just like Chakotay with Janeway, Noonan will follow her lead.
Janeway may believe she’s doing the crew a favor letting them decide whether or not to stay, but I wish someone like Torres or Kes would mention what it would be like to be a non-human stranded in such circumstances. There may be a thriving human colony, but how welcoming would those people be to a pushy Talaxian? How would a Vulcan face pon farr there? What about the Doctor? For all the times in later seasons that I wish Janeway would allow the crew more input into their fates, this is one time when I’m not sure it’s the right call to let the majority rule. She doesn’t ask for input when she decides to take the risk of landing the ship on the planet. It’s the kind of gamble Kirk would take, but Kirk’s in a quadrant with a lot of other Starfleet ships if something happens to his own, whereas Janeway can’t even get replacement bio-neural gel packs. The gamble ends up paying off in terms of knowledge, but if there’s no evidence of a space-faring civilization around the planet, the odds are always against them finding a quick trip home. It’s nice to see her enjoying the process of exploring strange new worlds and meeting new civilizations, but she’s always going to be wearing that bittersweet expression when she finds someplace she can imagine setting down roots. Giving her crew the choice to remain on the planet provides a bigger payoff to go along with the risk, demonstrating how much she trusts their judgment and likely winning their loyalty in a way she couldn’t do with any order, but I’m still not convinced that someone like Dalby with little to lose on the ship or back home wouldn’t jump at the chance to remain on the planet. It suggests a very high level of optimism and confidence that everyone decides to stay with Voyager. I’m trying not to think about what they all have ahead of them.