One Small Step

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 10:20 PM GMT

See Also: 'One Small Step' Episode Guide

On October 19, 2032, the first manned mission to Mars is exploring the planet. Lt. John Kelly sits restlessly in the command module in orbit above, wondering whether the Yankees can pull out the World Series against the London Kings. Communication problems disrupt the conversation with the crew on the surface, and Kelly realizes a large object is closing on the module. "It's no solar flare," he reports before being engulfed by the anomaly.

Chakotay's late-night reading is disrupted by Seven of Nine's controversial modifications, which disrupt ship-wide communication, the automatic doors, and several other systems. His demand for an explanation is interrupted by a power drain that has nothing to do with her work. Heading to the bridge with an annoyed Janeway, he sees a phenomenon on the viewscreen identified as a graviton ellipse, which follows electromagnetic objects. Seven says the Borg tried to study the phenomena. Janeway says only a few have ever been observed. Chakotay can name one instance: the Mars mission of 2032 disappeared into a graviton ellipse. Realizing that this is the closest anyone has ever gotten to such a phenomenon, the captain tells Chakotay to launch a probe before the ellipse vanishes into subspace.

Tuvok and Seven discuss ways to study the phenomenon, but Seven is scornful; she believes the risks outweigh the potential for discoveries. However, the two find material in the phenomenon's core that appears to be made of an alloy created on Earth in the 21st century - pieces of the Mars capsule. At a briefing, Chakotay reveals that he knows the entire history of the Mars mission. He wonders whether Seven can use Borg techniques to get inside the ellipse. Seven reiterates the risks, but after Chakotay volunteers to lead the away mission, the captain urges her to discover the rewards of exploring the past, particularly her own human history.

Watching Kelly's logs in astrometrics with Chakotay, Paris remarks that he thought he was the Mars buff. Chakotay replies that Kelly was one of his childhood idols, a man who kept exploring in the last moments of his life. Seven comes in and sneers at their hero-worship, conceding that she will accompany them on the Delta Flyer because they need her expertise. The Doctor asks her to record images for himself and the rest of the crew, waxing poetical about away missions as he recalls his first: "One small step for a hologram, one giant leap..." Seven sneers at his derivative romanticism, too.

The Delta Flyer enters the ellipse, reporting back to Voyager on the "mood lighting" inside. "I wish you could see it," Chakotay tells Janeway. "It's the perfect romantic getaway," Paris adds for Torres' benefit. Janeway asks Seven what she thinks, leading the ex-Borg to acknowledge reluctantly that there is some very unusual material. The flyer is surrounded by debris from all over the galaxy, leading Chakotay to rename the ellipse "the kitchen sink anomaly," but they're having trouble locating the Mars module because their scans are being refracted. A gravometric surge rocks Voyager, and Janeway warns the away team that they have only five hours before the ellipse drops back into subspace.

Seven of Nine is annoyed with Chakotay's excitement when she locates microbes with metallic membranes. He always believed there might be metallic life forms, and suggests that she could be holding the origins of life. The first officer reveals that he wanted to be a paleontologist from the time he was six years old, then gave into responsibility and entered Starfleet. Seven confesses that she wanted to be a ballerina before she was assimilated. Paris interrupts to tell them he has located the module, which is mostly intact and much larger than expected - they will have to tractor it back to Voyager.

Just then, Voyager is jolted by another gravometric surge, leading Janeway and Torres to discover a dark matter asteroid pulling at the ellipse. Janeway orders Chakotay to return at once, but Chakotay insists that the tractor pull the capsule with them, which slows the Delta Flyer. Paris and Seven express their concern, but Chakotay insists, "We're not leaving without that module." The dark matter hits the ellipse, a power surge rocks the anomaly, the Flyer experiences a plasma charge, Chakotay falls back from his panel unconscious. In the Flyer's small sickbay, Paris tells him that he has a concussion and internal injuries, the shuttle's engines are down, they've lost contact with Voyager, and the anomaly will return to subspace much sooner than they originally expected.

Seven sneers at Chakotay's orders, saying that he chose to disobey the captain's order to return which is why they are now adrift with his precious module. Chakotay concedes that he made a mistake, but tells her to continue her work without the attitude. When he agrees that he put the mission at risk, she exclaims, "You put our lives at risk." Then Janeway hails them unexpectedly, using a probe to relay communications. Torres believes the Flyer crew can use the Mars module's ion distributor to act as a plasma manifold if they can recover it from the ancient vessel.

As Seven puts on an environmental suit because Chakotay's too injured to go and Paris has to fly them out, Chakotay comments on the irony that she will get to do what he has always dreamt of. "You'll be stepping into history." Icily she replies, "History is irrelevant." Chakotay denies this vehemently, asking her to do him a favor and take a look around while she's on the Mars module. He also wants her to download their database, but she says only that she will try if time permits. Beaming onto the old craft, she brings the computer online and stumbles across John Kelly's personal log. While she retrieves the ion distributor, Kelly's final entries play for Paris and Chakotay.

The 21st century astronaut was surprised at the calm inside the anomaly, but knew he had to find a way out. He continued to speak to his partner, explaining that he felt like Jonah inside the whale. All the while he was collecting data, though he could not see the stars. He knew the fast-moving anomaly had probably moved him a long way from Mars, but he promised to get home. Looking out a viewport, he was shocked to see another spaceship with a hull made of an unknown alloy. Though his final engine burn failed and he knew he was destined to die inside the anomaly, he had no regrets. The site of the alien craft proved to him that exploring space was worthwhile, because he had proof humankind was not alone. He decided to take life support offline so that the imager could keep running, recording data on the massive phenomenon. He asked whoever found the recording to take the data he'd recorded and put it to good use.

As she tries to remove the needed equipment, Seven listens to Kelly's final words, stopping to pick up the photo he placed beside him when he tried his final engine thrust. Despite the time, she downloads his database, then places her comm badge on his body, asking Paris to beam them both to the Flyer. The modified plasma manifold works, and Voyager is able to tractor the shuttle just as the anomaly drops back into subspace.

At a full-honors funeral for Lt. John Kelly, Janeway speaks about how space connects the worlds of everyone on her crew, saying that the Mars pioneers paved the way for them all to live in space. Seven adds that she did not know the man, but she learned from him. Kelly's remains are launched in a torpedo tube into the starlit vacuum.


Again an episode which reminded me of an original series concept - in this case the discovery that Voyager VI had gone off to become V'ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture - but very well-done, if inconsistent with previous Trek histories of the space program. I resisted liking "One Small Step" because this Seven-grows-as-a-human storyline felt about as contrived as the last Seven-grows-as-a-human storyline, but in the end it was impossible not to be moved by John Kelly's story. This episode captured what I think of as the spirit of Starfleet, which has been sorely lacking in Trek this generation: Kelly seems a lot closer to Kirk and his peers than does recent Janeway, with her fearful behavior around Omega particles and her panicked response when any of her crew come up with their own approaches to dealing with unknowns.

Janeway didn't punish Chakotay for disobeying orders and trying to tractor the module, which I'm sure many viewers will criticize, but I was delighted. I am sick and tired of watching the first officer threatened with confinement to quarters, and Paris with being busted in rank, while Seven of Nine gets barely a scolding when she violates the Prime Directive and the captain doesn't even acknowledge that she's done so. Sure Chakotay took a chance with the lives of the crew. So did Janeway, way back in "The Cloud" and "Time and Again" and all those early episodes when she wanted to lead the away missions herself.

I adored Chakotay in this episode, and what made it that much better was that he had a consistent character for the first time in years. In "Future's End," he revealed to Torres both an interest in archaeology and an interest in Mars - OK, so it was human cultures he wanted to dig up and piloting he wanted to do around the red planet, this is still the closest we've gotten to constant canon for anyone in ages. "I feel like I went ten rounds with an Andorian," he joked, referring to his boxing hobby - OK, it's still a weird thing for a man like him to do, but at least it's ongoing. Chak had some nice interaction with Janeway both when she predicted he would want to lead the away mission (as he anticipated she would) and over the comm link from the Flyer. Plus he had some solid bonding interaction with Paris. And he finally stood up to Seven, without resorting to snarky remarks - while acknowledging that he made a mistake, no less. This is the best I've liked Chakotay since "Future's End." Let's keep this guy around.

Seven could have ruined this episode for me, with the lights over her nipples on the environmental suit lighting her way on the module. But after very over-the-top confrontational scenes about not wanting to take risks exploring - hello, is this the woman who revived an unknown alien last week? - she was very understated in her reaction to Kelly's experiences, which made the effect much more powerful. I have some gripes with director Bob Picardo's staging of the cluttered briefing scenes, but the ending was terrific. So was Phil Morris, a veteran Trek guest star, in the role of Kelly.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

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.