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Star Trek: Voyager – Non Sequitur (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Non Sequitur is a Brannon Braga script touching on familiar Brannon Braga concepts – big ideas like time and space and reality and existence. Harry Kim wakes up to find himself in bed with his girlfriend, Libby. The two are living in San Francisco on Earth. Ensign Harry Kim never served on Voyager, instead working in Starfleet Engineering on Earth. Unable to explain what has happened, Kim finds himself struggling to cope with the situation.

Luckily, in true Star Trek: Voyager fashion, everything is conveniently reset at the end of the episode.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

Non Sequitur isn’t a bad episode, but it’s not a good one either. It’s a very interesting high-concept for the show, but it never really clicks in the way that it needs to. Harry’s predicament never seems real enough for the audience to engage with his plight – knowing the Harry Kim won’t be left on Earth, the viewers spend the hour waiting for the other shoe to drop. Non Sequitur plays like a techno-babble mystery with only one solution. Most of the episode feels like it’s marking time before the eventual reset.

Non Sequitur suffers for a number of reasons. Most immediately, it suffers because Projections was held over for the start of the second season. As a result, these two metaphysical Brannon Braga scripts air pretty close together – both episodes about a member of the main cast reflecting on the reality of their predicament. However, that scheduling quirk aside, Non Sequitur also airs in the same season as Deadlock – another story about alternate realities and time streams and so on.

Dammit Tom, hit the big button marked "reset!"

Dammit Tom, hit the big button marked “reset!”

Of those three second season existential episodes written by Brannon Braga, Non Sequitur is undoubtedly the weakest. Non Sequitur lacks a strong central performance like Projections. Garrett Wang was woefully underused by Voyager, but he hasn’t yet developed to the point where he can plausible carry an hour of television. Robert Picardo was able to anchor the existential crisis of Projections. Even if we knew the outcome to the story, we cared about the character at the heart of it.

We don’t really care about Harry Kim. Part of this is down to the fact that Wang is probably the weakest member of the ensemble, and he is being asked to carry an hour of television on his own. However, part of it is also down to the script from Brannon Braga. What does Non Sequitur tell us about Kim? It might be interesting to know that he considered being an engineer, but that doesn’t inform his character on the show; it seems like a convenient way to justify the runabout that he steals.

Shipping away at his idealism...

Chipping away at his idealism…

There’s a lot of potential here. This is, after all, the first time that Star Trek: Voyager has been back to (real) Earth since Caretaker. And it unfolds on an alternate world where Voyager still disappeared – it’s not as if Kim has found a reality where Voyager never left. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine hasn’t even explicitly acknowledged the fact that Voyager went missing in the badlands. So this is an opportunity to explore what the disappearance of Voyager actually means.

After all, one would like to believe that the disappearance of a starship investigating terrorism is not something that gets forgotten or glossed over. We see touches of that idea here. “The memorial service was only two months ago,” Libby tells her boyfriend, finding his discussion of the mission to be in bad taste. When Harry begins to investigate the disappearance, he is immediately suspect of being a Maquis spy – suggesting that perhaps Starfleet suspects the Maquis were involved in the disappearance.

Harry always had big plans...

Harry always had big plans…

This would be a nice opportunity to look at how Earth reacts to the loss of a starship. Do people believe it was lost with all hands? Are there some people who believe that Voyager might still be out there? Has this led to heightened security on Earth? Was there an investigation? Are there counselling groups? Star Trek has never really explored what the loss of a ship looks or feels like, and Non Sequitur feels like brushes against the idea.

It might have been nice to have small touches like memorial bands or support groups or even an on-going investigation. After all, Non Sequitur is the first time that Voyager has taken the viewer back to the present day Alpha Quadrant, and it has taken us back early enough in the journey that the disappearance is still recent – the loss is still raw. The show would eventually do an Earth-based episode about those left behind with Pathfinder, in it sixth season.

"It's very lucky that my species operates a lucrative coffee franchise, eh?"

“It’s very lucky that my species operates a lucrative coffee franchise, eh?”

The casualness with which Non Sequitur treats a visit to Earth is surreal. It never feels like Harry has suddenly found his way home after a year in another part of the universe. There’s no sense that this is pretty big deal. Indeed, part of the problem with the first two seasons of Voyager is that Earth never feels that far away. A Romulan appeared in Eye of the Needle. Barclay guest-starred in Projections. The production team wanted Troi to appear here. Q and Riker appear in Deathwish. A Cardassian missile stalks the Quadrant in Dreadnought. And that’s to say nothing of the holodeck’s recreation of Earth.

In short, Non Sequitur contributes to the sense that Earth really isn’t that far from Voyager and that the ship isn’t charting new territory – in a literal or a figurative sense. One of the problems with Voyager is that Earth never feels that distant from our heroes – and so their isolation is never palpable. Everything is too easy and too comfortable. When Harry decides to return to the Delta Quadrant at the end of Non Sequitur, the decision carries little weight. We suspect he’ll get another opportunity to visit a version of Earth before long – even if it’s just the holodeck.

Paris isn't playing ball...

Paris isn’t playing ball…

There’s also a sense that we’ve seen all this before. Part of what’s so frustrating about Non Sequitur is the way that the episode treats itself like a puzzle-box waiting to be solved rather than an experience to be explored. The characters within the story all offer plausible Star Trek plot devices that could account for this situation. When Harry wakes up, he checks the date. “So this isn’t the past,” he deduces. “It’s the present. San Francisco. This can’t be a dream, it’s too real. It’s too clear. So what does that leave. A holodeck? A hallucination?”

Lieutenant Lasca – who seems less like a character than a plot function, not to mention a pretty crappy friend – runs through some of the other possibilities. “Harry, I don’t doubt for a minute that you believe you’re telling the truth, but we have to consider all the possibilities,” he remarks. “Like you could be delusional, or you could have had your memory centres altered so that you think what you’re saying is the truth. Or you could be an alien masquerading as Harry Kim.”

"It's probably completely unethical to let your friend and partner sit on this review board, but you don't get to be Admiral without learning how to abuse authority..."

“It’s probably completely unethical to let your friend and partner sit on this review board, but you don’t get to be Admiral without learning how to abuse authority…”

It is nice to see that Starfleet has obviously learned how to deal with this sort of situation – even if it’s odd that he doesn’t mention Changelings – but listing off bizarre possibilities so brazenly underscores the idea that Non Sequitur is a riddle waiting for the right answer. Harry has to figure out how he ended up on Earth and how to get home. The episode isn’t interested by questions outside that – like whether he should go home, or how he would react to being home, or what Earth would be like.

As an aside, it is strange that Harry accepts that he has to get back to Voyager so readily. It makes sense that Tom might want the better – and more meaningful life on Voyager. And it seems like redeeming Tom Paris is a major reason why Harry decides to leave Earth. Weirdly, Non Sequitur plays as the story of a man who would rather get trapped in the Delta Quadrant with his male friend than contemplate marriage to his girlfriend. The relationship between Harry Kim and Tom Paris was one of the more interesting relationships in early Voyager, and it’s a shame that it fell aside in later years.

Not everything is in tune...

Not everything is in tune…

However, while returning Harry Kim to the Delta Quadrant and resetting the time line makes sense from Tom Paris’ selfish perspective, it seems rather short-sighted on Harry’s part. In this alternate reality, Harry Kim knows that Voyager wasn’t destroyed in the Badlands. Harry has the ability to let Starfleet know that the ship is still out there, and to give the families of the crew some measure of hope about their relatives.

While it’s questionable whether he could successfully convince Starfleet of his story, he could at least work to get Voyager home from Earth. Non Sequitur never broaches this idea. Instead, Harry’s desire to return to Voyager is predicated on two things: his interest in redeeming Tom Paris, and; his sense of honour and devotion to the crew. It ultimately feels rather short-sighted. I wonder whether any of the crew thought to raise the issue with Harry afterwards.

Where the streets likely have names...

Where the streets likely have names…

It is worth noting that Non Sequitur seems rather sceptical of Starfleet as an institution. Without tying it into the Dominion threat on Deep Space Nine, Non Sequitur suggests that Starfleet is a pretty oppressive and borderline totalitarian regime. Certain, Tom Paris feels victimised. It’s telling that – in this reality – it was Starfleet rather than Janeway that kick him off Voyager. “Janeway tried to get me released but my parole was revoked by Starfleet Command. Voyager left without me.”

More than that, Tom is actively paranoid about being used or exploited by Starfleet. “You’re not getting me to set foot inside Starfleet Headquarters,” he warns Harry. “So you tell whatever admiral or captain who sent you that I’m not interested in being another pawn in one of their games.” This seems like a character sick of being caught in the middle. Wile it might be tempting to dismiss his thoughts as bitter paranoia, the rest of Non Sequitur seems to support them.

To be fair, if Harry didn't already suspect this was an alternate universe, the idea of a promotion to lieutenant would have been an indicator...

To be fair, if Harry didn’t already suspect this was an alternate universe, the idea of a promotion to lieutenant would have been an indicator…

In a meeting with Starfleet, Harry is informed that they’ve been keeping tabs on him. “Starfleet knows what you’ve been doing,” Lasca offers. While his access to information on Voyager seems like the kind of thing that Starfleet should know about, they seem to know a lot more. When Harry references meeting a friend, they know exactly which friend. “You have poor taste in friends,” Admiral Stricker observes. “Thomas Paris is a convicted traitor and a Maquis sympathiser. Now, what did you talk about with him?”

When Harry responds that he needed help, Strickler reveals that he knows the content of their conversation. “His help to run a shuttle simulation?” Strickler offers. While it’s possible that we’re joining the conversation later and Strickler is merely repeating what Harry already confessed or stated, this makes it seem like Starfleet has been keeping tabs on him. Harry is immediately given a monitoring bracelet, without so much as a preliminary hearing and with no legal council present. The security guards also seem pretty unpleasant and antagonistic, rather than simply officers doing their jobs.

Pooling their talents...

Pooling their talents…

There’s a sense that Voyager is trying to tap into the paranoia and mistrust of authority that was ubiquitous in the nineties. Certainly, Deep Space Nine was quite fond of suggesting that Starfleet was a morally questionable operation. It’s very interesting to see this side of Earth on Voyager‘s first trip back. One would imagine the temptation would be to portray Earth as a romanticised paradise to underscore what Harry Kim is missing. However, after Non Sequitur, perhaps it’s for the best that Janeway is operating as a lone wolf with no real accountability.

Still, Non Sequitur is interesting in how it defines the relationship between Tom Paris and Harry Kim. In Caretaker, Tom Paris is defined as the experience traveller who takes the eager rookie under his wing. While there’s a sense that Paris might be drawn to Harry’s earnestness and enthusiasm, Non Sequitur makes it explicit. Without Harry at Quark’s Bar, there’s nothing to stop Paris from getting into a bar brawl.

"By the way, you won't be able to remove your pants until we solve this thing."

“By the way, you won’t be able to remove your pants until we solve this thing.”

Indeed, one imagines that this version Paris was simply reacting to all the negativity around him – the sort of prejudice he faced from the original first officer and medical officer on the ship. Harry’s friendship softens his edges, helps to make him a better person. While it’s not dealt with on-screen, it does at least rationalise the shift in the portrayal of Paris’ character over the early years of the show.

Ex Post Facto was a first season episode built around the idea that Tom Paris has terrible judgement. While he’s never entirely level-headed, his judgement does improve over the course of Voyager. He goes from being the kind of person you can’t trust around a lonely housewife to a bona fides family man. Non Sequitur suggests that a lot of this is down to the friendship of Harry Kim, offering us a version of Tom Paris who has even poorer judgement than the one featured in Ex Post Facto.

He left his heart in San Francisco...

He left his heart in San Francisco…

Non Sequitur is a reasonably solid little episode, but it feels like it should be more of an event. It should be a bigger deal. This is Voyager getting a chance to go home. This is a member of the main cast setting foot on Earth. It really should be more than just a techno-babble reset button adventure with some nice location work.

6 Responses

  1. I’ve been rewatching Voyager recently and was struck by the rather blandness of this episode upon repeating viewing. I’ve not rewatched much of Voyager since it initially aired and to be honest, this episode wasn’t a memorable one from my initial viewing.

    I think part of it is the episode missed an opportunity to see Harry conflicted about whether he wants to stay on Earth in this life or he wants to be marooned out on Voyager, away from Libby. At this point in the series, I feel like much of the crew would be a bit more eager to be back home and not stuck on in the Delta Quadrant, under constant threat of the Kazon and facing the issue of how they would survive day to day. So, if Harry had been more tempted to stay with Libby and a “cushier” life than is the reality on Voyager, it might have had more of an impact and been a better character study for Harry and better material for Garrett Wang.

    • Hi Michael,

      It’s odd, because I liked this one a lot more when I was younger. I think it may have been because of the then-thrill of seeing Harry land back on Earth. However, when I re-watched it to review, I remember being struck at how… bland it was. It should have been a much bigger moment, and a much bigger dilemma.

  2. Emanations, Non Sequitur, Deadlock, Timeless; there seems to be a running theme of Harry Kim shifting into parallel realities, dimensions, timelines, doppelgängers etc. And this whole episode came about from Garrett Wang feeling underused in S1; there’s just no pleasing some people! Maybe Cosimo should have named his coffee shop Starbucks being an alien but is that too on the nose? “Paris isn’t playing ball”; but he is playing hardball.

  3. Just saw this for the first time since Sky One reruns a long time ago. I concur with your criticisms but must add: every word out of Libby’s mouth was dreadful! I don’t know if it was writer, director or actress at fault, but nothing she said sounded like what a real person says.

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