Saturday, April 1, 2017

Episode Review - Caretaker (Voyager, Season 1, Pilot)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – Captain Kathryn Janeway takes command of the USS Voyager, sent on a mission to capture the Maquis leader Chakotay. Recruiting disgraced former Starfleet officer Ton Paris, she and her crew disembark from Deep Space Nine and head towards the Badlands. A mysterious force propels her and her crew to the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant, over 70 000 light years away. The crew find themselves at the mercies of a strange alien life form known only as the Caretaker. The Caretaker has been bringing ships from all over the galaxy in search of a compatible individual who can help restore control of a large array that provides assistance and protection to the Ocampa, a race of short-lived humanoids. In an attempt to get themselves home, Janeway and Chakotay join forces. Assisted by local scavenger Neelix and his Ocampan companion Kes, Janeway is forced to make a choice between returning home and protecting the Ocampa from the Kazon. Thus we begin the 70 year journey of the USS Voyager.

On the Ocampan homeworld

Score: 8/10 – This is arguably one of the strongest Trek series pilots. A solid story that establishes the characters and the main premise of the series. We are introduced to a strong captain, and the first time a woman helms a new series. There is a great balance between humor, action, and mystery. We have some great visual effects and some intriguing new characters. We see a new ship design in Voyager, the Intrepid class vessel. New technologies are introduced that add some new elements to the Trek universe. Most notable among these is the Emergency Medical Hologram, which we will get to know better as, simply, the Doctor. Most interesting in this series is the merging of two different crews. Taking a page from Deep Space Nine’s book, the Maquis and Starfleet crews take the two crews-one ship/station theme to a new level. As the Maquis are largely former Federation citizens that are considered to be traitors to Janeway’s people, this provides the potential of some interesting conflict. There are a few things that could have been better. Some of the dialogue is a bit contrite (I’m thinking mostly of the farm scenes), and as always there are a few of the actors that are still trying to find their legs in their new characters. Still, “Caretaker” is a great episode that starts off the series with strength.

Some of the soon to be replaced Voyager bridge officers

Relevance - 3 points. Let us set aside that this episode sets the stage for the next seven seasons and look at how the pilot episode of Voyager is relevant to the rest of the Trek universe. We have Gul Evek, seen on DS9 and TNG. The Maquis, which were introduced in DS9 and featured in TNG, are part of the backbone of the new crew. In fact, they were created with the intent that they would play an integral role in Voyager. All of the Cardassian/Maquis conflicts helped set up for this “Lost in Space” version of Star Trek. Added to this the introduction to all the main cast members for the next three seasons, plus a fun cameo by Armin Shimmerman as Quark, and Relevance scores all three points.

Quark makes Kim an offer

Continuity - 3 points. Character continuity gets a point here, but that is hardly surprising as the pilot lays the groundwork for the characters. Even the familiar characters (Gul Evek, Quark) are true to themselves. Story continuity works. Trek universe also gets a point here.

Chakotay and Torres avoiding the Cardassians

Character Development – 3 points. Another strength of a pilot episode is laying the ground work for this cast of characters. Janeway, of course, gets the primary focus. Her fierce determination is balanced with compassion. She is a professional officer that has a heart full of curiosity about the unknown. She is dedicated to the principles of Starfleet and the Federation, which is demonstrated as she attempts to broker peace with the Kazon through diplomacy, and then resorts to force to protect the Ocampans when diplomacy fails. Added to this, we learn a lot about Tom Paris, a disgruntled failed officer who is most at home behind the navigation console of a starship. Harry Kim is the eager to please ensign fresh out of the Academy. Tuvok, as is typical for Vulcans, is logical, loyal, and intelligent. Chakotay shows a great mix of freedom fighter courage tempered with Starfleet training. B’Elannna Torres, the half-human half-Klingon Maquis showcases her conflicted personality. Kes is curious and adventurous, eager to explore the universe in her short lifespan. Neelix is quirky and resourceful. The Doctor gets a great start as one of the more unique characters. His dry wit and sarcasm promise us some great moments to come.

Neelix comes aboard for the first time

Social Commentary – 2 points. I think the biggest topic addressed here is the idea of when to sacrifice your own needs for the greater good of someone else. Janeway could have left the Ocampans to their fate in order to get her crew back to the Alpha Quadrant. It was a great sacrifice to destroy the Caretaker’s array that would ultimately come with a steep price, one that grew with each passing casualty. While Janeway has received much criticism for her choice over the years, she was ultimately staying true to herself and her sense of morality.

The Caretaker's true form

Cool Stuff – 3 points. One point for the Caretaker, which is an intriguing lifeform. Another point scored for the EMH. What a brilliant idea to turn a temporary holographic character to be used as the vessel used to explore the human condition. Finally, a point scored for Scott MacDonald, who appears as his only human character out of five memorable characters (so far) in the Trek franchise. If that is not enough, the entire Quark’s sequence is a lot of fun, and is one of the best pilot episode cameos.

The crew being screened for compatability

Rank – Admiral (22 points). Of course this is a must see episode. Not only is it the pilot, it is very well made. More than any other pilot in the Trek series, this made me the most excited for the show that was to come.

Voyager and the Caretaker Array

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