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Star Trek: Voyager – Future’s End, Part I (Review)

In a very real way, the third season of Star Trek: Voyager begins with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

After all, the episode airs directly after Sacred Ground. Although mixed into the broadcast order with a bunch of episodes that had been produced during the third season, Sacred Ground was the last episode of the second season production block to be broadcast. (Basics, Part II had been the last episode to be produced.) Sacred Ground was the last episode of Voyager to be tied to producer Michael Piller, who had been working on the franchise since the start of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is some sense of symmetry there.

Tuvok and roll.

Tuvok and roll.

Sacred Ground feels like an appropriate place to draw a line under the first two seasons of Voyager, to suggest that the earlier incarnation of the show is finished and that a new era is beginning. After all, Sacred Ground was really the last gasp of the New Age mysticism that Michael Piller had tried to infuse into Voyager through episodes like The Cloud or Tattoo. (Piller would return to that New Age fascination with Star Trek: Insurrection.) Sacred Ground even featured something of a rebirth of Captain Kathryn Janeway.

However, if Sacred Ground represents the end of the second season, what about the start of the third season? What makes Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II such an effective new beginning?

Feels like going home.

Feels like going home.

Part of it is purely timing. The second season had been a difficult time for the staff working on Voyager. Michael Piller had departed the show around halfway through the first season to work on his own UPN series, Legend. However, the series did not fare particularly well in the ratings and did not survive past its first half-season. As such, Piller returned to Voyager at the start of the show’s second season. Despite the fact that Jeri Taylor had been running the writers’ room in his absence, Piller was eager to impose his own vision on the show.

It seems fair to suggest that Piller’s vision of Voyager was an unmitigated disaster. Piller sought to turn the Kazon into a recurring adversary and to stoke the fires of Maquis conflict on board the ship. However, Piller was hindered by a number of factors. The most obvious was that the Kazon were simply not interesting enough to justify such an intense focus. However, there was also a sense that the writing staff had little interest in following those particular threads. The result was a second season that felt like a tug of war.

It's amazing how much you can learn about Voyager's troubled production history on the internet.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about Voyager‘s troubled production history on the internet.

When Michael Piller left at the end of the second season, things settled down somewhat. With the broadcast of Sacred Ground, the producer’s influence over the series had been completely excised. The result was that a lot of the conflict that defined the writers’ room in the second season was lifted. Interviewed by Cinefantastique, Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga talked about Future’s End, Part I as something of a new beginning for the series:

With the airing of holdovers from second season, it wasn’t until the November sweeps two-parter Future’s End that season three began in earnest.  “It was very high concept. It was the show that kind of really began to swing us back to a more adventure-oriented sense of fun,” said Taylor. Supervising producer Brannon Braga liked the show’s new direction. “I’m happier now than I’ve been since my last year on Next Generation. Future’s End, although it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, was a critical success, and a rating’s success in a big way.”

Indeed, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II represent a fairly sizable shift in the creative balance of power on Voyager. With Michael Piller gone, Jeri Taylor is very much in charge of production. However, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II confirm Brannon Braga as heir apparent on the writer staff. A veteran of The Next Generation, Braga would go on to succeed Taylor on Voyager and oversee the creation of Star Trek: Enterprise.

End times.

End times.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II could be argued to be the point at which Voyager finally and truly crystalised. It was the point at which Voyager seemed to reach the end of its creative evolution. To be sure, there would be any number of changes in the show’s remaining four-and-a-half years on the air; the addition of a cast member in Scorpion, Part II, the departure of Jeri Taylor with Hope and Fear, the recruiting of new writers like Michael Taylor and Bryan Fuller. However, this epic two-part adventure sets the tone for what follows.

In many ways, every evolution in popular culture exists as either an extension or a reaction, building upon or rebelling against what came before. After all, a lot of what makes Star Trek: Deep Space Nine so intriguing and so effective is an exploration (and subversion) of many of the assumptions underpinning The Next Generation. In that respect, the version of Voyager that arrives in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II is very much a reaction against the troubled storytelling of that second year.

"This is no time to argue about time."

“This is no time to argue about time. We don’t have the time.”

This bold new vision of Voyager moves away from the clumsy experiments with continuity and long-form storytelling that haunted the second year. After the spectacular misfire that was Investigations, it seems like the creative team are not interested in serialisation. Similarly, any hint of tension or disharmony among the crew is downplayed from this point onward, barring episodes like Worst Case Scenario or Thirty Days or Repression. In many ways, Voyager becomes a much more generic and episodic show from this point onwards.

Similarly, the third season rather consciously avoid introducing recurring antagonists like the Kazon or the Vidiians. The Borg are seeded in episodes like Blood Fever and Unity, but the Borg Collective only appears en masse in Scorpion, Part I. The Borg will becoming a recurring adversary, but never at the centre of an arc similar to the Kazon arc of the second season. Later seasons will feature recurring foes like Species 8472, the Hirogen or the Malon, but never to the extent that the first and second seasons focused on the Kazon and Vidiians.

Not the first clue that Starling is a bad guy, but a pretty big one.

Not the first clue that Starling is a bad guy, but a pretty big one.

However, Voyager would find its own stylistic sensibilities. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II serve as a great example of this new Voyager aesthetic. In Uncharted Territory, Brannon Braga argued that he was really taken with the idea of doing gigantic two-parter episodes:

One of the things that I knew I wanted to do was… I got this crazy idea in my head that we would make it a tradition to do great epic two-part episodes. I think after the first two-parter we did together, which was a time travel show called Future’s End, it was just so much fun, to paint on a bigger canvas. … Another thing that I set out to do was to tell more plot-driven stories and tell bigger stories. You know, get these characters on big, grand, epic sci-fi adventures. And just kinda push our production team to their limits and see what we can accomplish.

Indeed, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II set up a template for big sweeping mid-season two-parters. Voyager would return to that model a number of times; Year of Hell, Part I, Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I, The Killing Game, Part II, Dark Frontier, Part I, Dark Frontier, Part II.

"And we still can't get UPN out here!"

“And we still can’t get UPN out here!”

Of course, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II are not the first two-parter of Voyager’s run. The show had bridged its second and third seasons with Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II, although both episodes had been produced at the end of the second season production block. However, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II represent an entirely different beast. Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II were intended by Michael Piller to serve as a climax to his time on Voyager, a culmination of two years of storytelling involving Seska and Chakotay, Voyager and the Kazon.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II represent something very different. They are not the culmination of anything. They are not resolving any dangling storythreads. To be fair, there are some very minor references to character back story, particularly in Future’s End, Part II; the EMH has a throwaway line about the events of The Swarm while Chakotay reflects on his time as a rebel. However, the two-parter is drawn rather broadly. There is very little in the episode that is specific to Voyager.

Earth-shattering.

Earth-shattering.

After all, the episode should represent a major milestone for the characters. Future’s End, Part I represents the first time that the entire ship has returned to Earth, despite teasing glimpses of the planet in episodes like Non Sequitur or Death Wish. For a show based around the premise of a lost starship returning home, this should be a bigger deal. Even returning to Earth in 1996 represents a significant victory for the characters. One imagines Janeway should have stellar cartography planning a slingshot maneouvre around the Earth’s sun as a way to get them home.

Instead, only the faintest lip service is paid to the idea that this might seriously represent a journey home. When Captain Braxton reappears at the end of Future’s End, Part II, Janeway gingerly broaches the idea that Braxton could return the ship to Earth in the twenty-fourth century. He shrugs it off, “I’m sorry. Temporal Prime Directive. I’m afraid you’re on your own.” Janeway seems to accept that. It is in many ways a reminder of how inconstant Janeway is as a character; other versions of Janeway would not tolerate such shenanigans.

"Computer. Late-twentieth century civilian clothing."

“Computer. Late-twentieth century civilian clothing.”

The lack of fanfare around the return to Earth would seem to be a point of the exercise. There is none of the angst and soul-searching that one might expect, which informed episodes like Eye of the Needle or The Cloud. Indeed, Brannon Braga cited this lack of angst or trauma as part of the episode’s appeal in The Star Trek: Voyager Companion:

Voyager started its turnaround for us, personally and creatively, when we did the very first two-parter because we said to ourselves let’s start having fun. What’s fun to write is fun to watch and we’ve been toiling with the Maquis storyline and we’ve been having these angst-ridden characters deal with being lost and it’s not much fun to write anymore and we felt that it couldn’t possibly be all that fun to watch. Let’s let it all hang out and do something insane… What seemed more insane back then – but if you hear about it now it sounds ridiculously antiquated – Voyager in 1996! And we conceived of big action sequences and big concepts with an epic villain. Henry Starling was our first geat Voyager villain. It sounds like a pat on the back, but I think we created great single individual villains and that was the first one, played by Ed Begley Jr. And we crafted big action set pieces like the chase between a Mack truck, a shuttlecraft, and a Volkswagon van. Things that we never would have thought of even attempting on The Next Generation or in the early days of Voyager. It’s crazy, but we did it and we pulled it off and it was a charming, fun episode.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II consciously avoids being too specific or too particular to Voyager. The two-parter does not feel like a story specifically tailored to the basic premise of Voyager. It is not a story that requires the crew to be stranded far away from home. It is not a story that relies upon the divide between the Starfleet and the Maquis crews. It is very much a story that could be told using any crew in the franchise.

"Yes. This will do nicely."

“Yes. This will do nicely.”

This very much set the tone going forward. Voyager had struggled with its own identity over the course of its first two seasons, trying to determine whether it wanted to be unique or generic. Would it stand apart from the other shows in the franchise? Or would it follow the path of least resistance? With Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, it seems like the decision has been made. Voyager knows what it wants to be, and has committed to that vision. Voyager wants to become the most generic version of Star Trek imaginable.

This is very much a value neutral statement. The very best and the very worst thing that can be said about Voyager is that it aspires towards (and succeeds at) being “generic Star Trek.” It is packed full of familiar archetypes and images, concepts and plot beats, themes and motifs. Voyager is in many ways the most “Star-Trek-y” of the franchise series, the television show that is most likely to offer the casual viewer a sense of the franchise. While Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise all have their own flavours, Voyager is the franchise vanilla.

Man out of time.

Man out of time.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II abandon any sense of long-form storytelling or continuity, and hint of Voyager as a show driven by a unique premise beyond “being a Star Trek show.” There is a sense that the writing staff have decided that Voyager should be a show about the core ideas and themes of Star Trek, more than a series with its own central premise driving the action or motivating the crew. Getting home is at best a secondary objective, beyond the storytelling expected of Star Trek.

With this commitment to being a generic iteration of Star Trek comes a rather casual attitude to the specifics of the franchise. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II only pays the most glancing attention to the core premise of the show, but it also stoked controversy by explicitly contradicting established Star Trek continuity. Early in the run of the original Star Trek, the episode Space Seed suggested that the nineties had been dominated by “the Eugenics Wars.” It was a safe prediction for a show airing in 1967, but it posed a challenge for the franchise.

Does not compute.

Does not compute.

Later in this same production year, the writers on Deep Space Nine would fudge the details of that fictional conflict in Doctor Bashir, I Presume. However, in taking the cast back to 1996, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II completely ignored that piece of continuity. Ronald D. Moore confessed to Cinefantastique that he was a little confused by the decision:

“I was a little surprised when they didn’t mention them in the Voyager episode. But on Deep Space Nine it was just a mistake.” Added Moore, “What looked like the distant future in 1967 is not so distant any more. I don’t blame them for not having the foresight to see that in 30 years this would become important in the series. That’s the way it is. The continuity of the series, of all the series, is to me a really pleasant and cool thing. I like the fact that the Star Trek universe hangs together as well as it does. But it’s not perfect. There are some internal contradictions. And OK, so what?”

When Janeway is sent back to Earth in 1996, she finds no sign of the global devastation wrought by Khan Noonien Singh and his rivals. There is no indication that Voyager has arrived in what Spock described as “the era of [our] last so-called World War.” Everything looks pretty normal. This is very much the world as it appeared to viewers watching at home; the real world rather than the Star Trek universe.

A pizza the action.

A pizza the action.

That is, of course, the point of Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. After all “Janeway travels back in time to the present day” is a markedly different story than “Janeway travels back in time to the heart of a brutal conflict that was mentioned in a few lines of dialogue in the late sixties.” One of those stories is an accessible premise aimed at a broad audience, while the other relies heavily on the inner workings and minutiae of the Star Trek universe. One is big and broad, the other is narrow and specific.

While the writing staff could perhaps have made a winking nod towards the continuity issues generated by thirty-year-old production decisions, much like Worf’s “it is a long story” when asked about Klingon foreheads in Trials and Tribble-ations, it seems perfectly reasonable for the production team to avoid getting so tangled in continuity. There is a sense that this storytelling decision speaks to the priorities of the writing staff working on Voyager. Slipping in a sly reference to a late first season episode of a thirty-year-old show is not anywhere near the top of the list.

Snow big deal...

Snow big deal…

After all, Brannon Braga was an executive producer who took a great deal of pride in not having watched the original Star Trek. Indeed, Gene Roddenberry had valued that about the young writer, famously asking Braga not to watch the classic show so that he might bring something fresh. On the audio commentary for Star Trek: First Contact, writer Brannon Braga outlined why the production team decided to ignore this particular continuity minefield:

You know, the continuity thing you were mentioning is… interesting. Because it’s a tightrope. Because you want to utilise the continuity and exploit it to come up with stories. You don’t want to violate it. But there are times when you either must ignore or contradict certain continuity elements, if they’re fairly obscure. Like, you know… the whole… the Eugenics Wars. Well, the Eugenics Wars were in 1996. It’s a reference in the original… it’s a line. In Voyager, we did an episode that took place in 1996. “Are we going to do the Eugenics Wars?” Well, no. Because it would just be kinda strange. But then, later, in the show that’s on the air now, we’re doing the Eugenics Wars. So there’s this flip-flopping of continuity that you just have to kinda say… “Look, we’re playing around with it a little. Don’t take it too seriously.”

It should also be noted that Braga’s script for Flashback honoured the thirtieth anniversary by by jumping back to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the most recent of the Star Trek films to feature the original cast. (Released only half a decade earlier, in real time.) This is an entirely defensible choice. It also speaks to the ways in which the generic nature of Voyager could play to the show’s strengths.

The hippie-dippie shakedown.

The hippie-dippie shakedown.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II essentially demonstrates the type of Star Trek towards which Voyager aspires. It is not the fine-print continuity of individual episodes like Space Seed. Instead, it is the broad and sweeping populist version of Star Trek embodied by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Indeed, there are points at which the episode feels like a tenth anniversary celebration of that time travel caper film, and is arguably as much a part of the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary celebrations as Flashback or Trials and Tribble-ations.

The episode’s plot owes a lot to The Voyage Home. The characters are thrown back in time in response to a disaster threatening Earth in the future; the whale probe in The Voyage Home and the explosion in Future’s End, Part I. In both stories, the characters are drawn to modern-day California, befriending a nerdy young woman who falls in love with one of the leads. Tuvok even gets to ask Paris “what does it mean, groovy?”, in a nod to Spock asking Kirk “what does it mean, exact change?”

"You'd be surprised how thirty years trapped in the twentieth century can really focus the mind."

“You’d be surprised how thirty years trapped in the twentieth century can really focus the mind.”

It is worth pausing to reflect on why Voyager should choose to build its first big sweeping mid-season two-parter around The Voyage Home. After all, fandom would generally argue that the best Star Trek film was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Indeed, Enterprise would dedicate an entire three-part episode (Borderland, Cold Station 12 and The Augments) to riffing on that particular episode and Star Trek Into Darkness would borrow rather liberally from the sophomoric film effort. There is a tendency to gloss over how beloved The Voyage Home actually was.

After all, The Voyage Home was the most financially successful film in the franchise before the release of Star Trek in 2009; it is still the third highest grossing film in the franchise adjusted for inflation. Indeed, the movie was responsible for spurring the creation of The Next Generation and the return of Star Trek to prime-time live-action television. Although fandom seems relatively fond of The Voyage Home, there is a sense that it is underappreciated by certain sections of the base. After all, it is much sillier (and more embarrassing) than The Wrath of Khan.

The time traveler who fell to Earth.

The time traveler who fell to Earth.

However, The Voyage Home is arguably the Star Trek film with the largest pop cultural footprint among the wider public. It represents the Star Trek franchise at its most accessible rather than its most esoteric. It is a film with a very simple high concept, which showcases many of the best aspects of the franchise; a social conscience, iconic and archetypal characters, a sense of humour that might fairly be described as “cheesy.” While it is quite easy to mock the film’s “save the whales” earnestness or its admittedly loose plotting, it is hard to overstate its impact.

In fact, it is quite easy to forget that part of the appeal of First Contact as the theatrical release for the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary was the way in which it blended together elements of The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. Retrospectives and discussions tend to focus on the former more than the latter, and understandably so. In the years following the release of First Contact, the Star Trek franchise became increasingly fixated upon The Wrath of Khan as the be-all and end-all of the franchise. (This period also coincided with the franchise slipping from the mainstream.)

Crack your own joke.

Crack your own joke.

There is certainly something to be said for a version of Star Trek that picks The Voyage Home as its point of reference. Indeed, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II make a fairly convincing case for Voyager‘s new storytelling model. Light and poppy high-concepts that play almost as blockbuster movies on a television budget. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II lays out a vision of Star Trek that is not too far removed from the JJ Abrams reboot, broadly drawn and accessible stories with an impressive sense of scale couched in familiar iconography.

The structure of Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II is very much that of a blockbuster film. The concept is broad, yet intriguing. There is a singular bold science-fiction idea underpinning the two-parter, the idea of bringing the crew back to modern-day Earth; Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II would put Voyager through the eponymous annus horribilis while The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II find the crew forced to play war games for the amusement of their Hirogen captors.

Starling is shorting futures.

Starling is shorting futures.

Similarly, the two-parter is built around a singular antagonist, with the plot contorting in such a way as to allow the characters a chance to square off. Henry Starling is a fantastic creation, particularly as brought to life by Ed Begley, Jr. Future’s End, Part II seems almost ahead of its time, running through a version of the now-familiar “capture and escape” plot beat favoured by modern blockbusters blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Skyfall; all so Janeway and Starling can have a head-to-head confrontation in Sickbay.

Henry Starling is something of an anomaly as Star Trek villains go. Up to this point, Star Trek has largely steered clear of pitting its characters against individual antagonists. Khan Noonien Singh is perhaps the most notable exception, squaring off against Kirk in Space Seed and even staking a claim in the title of The Wrath of Khan. However, Star Trek has typically approached its antagonists as representatives of alien empires rather than individuals. Kor, Koloth and Kang all represent the Klingon Empire. Even Gul Dukat spent several seasons representing Cardassia.

"Yep, she's definitely been posting negative comments about Star Trek."

“Yep, she’s definitely been posting negative comments about Star Trek.”

Starling is something very different. In terms of how the two-parter is written, Starling is presented as something equivalent to a Bond villain. He feels very much like he was lifted from a mid-nineties blockbuster, the kind of murder-happy authority figure that populates films like Chain Reaction or Enemy of the State. Casting Ed Begley Jr. only solidifies the sense that Starling is meant to be a “big bad.” He feels more like a supervillain than a Star Trek antagonist. The character loves to monologue; at the climax of Future’s End, Part I, Janeway has to cut him off mid-sentence.

Unlike characters like Kor or Koloth (or Tomalak), Starling is very much acting in service of his own agenda. Unlike Dukat or Madred, he does not attempt to hide that fact behind a veneer of patriotism. Even the trappings surrounding Starling suggest that the character wandered out of an action film. He keeps his time ship and future tech hidden in a secret hangar hidden behind a map of the world etched in glass. Dunbar is very much a stock action movie henchman, with his distinctive business suit and his willingness to get his hands dirty in service of his employer.

"You know, I did suggest a gimmick, but Dunbar just wasn't into it."

“You know, I did suggest a gimmick for completeness’ sake, but Dunbar just wasn’t into it.”

Ed Begley Jr. does great work in the role, his mannerisms helping to turn Starling into a particularly memorable antagonist. Indeed, the actor recalls his guest appearance on the show rather fondly:

That was just great. It was a good show, it was a really good part, and to be part of the Star Trek franchise, even years on from the original show, which I was a huge fan of. Back when the original show was on, I was in my mid-teens. I was the perfect Trekkie candidate. I loved the show. Not so much that I actually went to conventions or anything, but I sure did love it. So to be on Star Trek: Voyager, I felt really blessed.

Voyager had a knack for casting these sorts of guest roles, as the second season had demonstrated with performers like Brad Dourif in Meld and Joel Grey in Resistance. The fourth season would get just as lucky in casting Kurtwood Smith as Annorax for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Putting the "execute" in "executive."

Putting the “execute” in “executive.”

Starling is very much a prototype for how Voyager will approach the antagonists in these stories. Whereas other Star Trek shows tended to build up cultures and characters through repeat appearances, Voyager develops a fondness for memorable one-shot baddies. This is particularly true in the various two-parters across the run of the show; Annorax in Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, Turanj in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, Iden in Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II.

(Although the Borg Queen is introduced in First Contact, she is perhaps the best example of this tendency within Voyager. Although Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II feature the Borg Collective on its own terms, the Borg Queen becomes the focal point of the later Borg stories. The Borg Queen provides a single opponent who can butt heads with Janeway and Seven of Nine in episodes like Dark Frontier, Part I, Dark Frontier, Part II, Unimatrix Zero, Part I, Unimatrix Zero, Part II and Endgame. Voyager‘s fixation with singular antagonists consumes even the Borg.)

"Like the glass plate? I picked it up from Hippocrates Noah."

“Like the glass plate? I picked it up from Hippocrates Noah.”

In keeping with the sense that the two-parter is establishing “blockbuster Star Trek, but for television”, the episode makes a point to touch on the grand sweeping themes of the franchise. It seems unlikely that any viewer would single out the adventure as the perfect expression of the franchise’s optimism or humanism, but writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky make several nods towards these core values. There is not a lot of depth, but there is a sense that the writers are making a point to keep the episode “Star-Trek-y”, even amid the action movie trappings.

After all, Starling is presented very much as the avatar of capitalism. He is a man who stumbles upon something beautiful and wonderful, but whose first impulse is to exploit it for his own gain. When Janeway tries to convince him that his unchecked greed runs the risk of literally destroying the planet, Starling falls back on the refrain of the industrialist, “Without me there would be no laptops, no internet, no barcode readers. What’s good for Chronowerx is good for everybody. (Which nicely sets up a fantastic Janeway zinger, “Chronowerx’s stock… is about to crash.”)

The man of tomorrow... today!

The man of tomorrow… today!

It is worth pointing out that Starling is very much defined as a child of failed sixties utopianism. The character is introduced in the teaser to Future’s End, Part I camping in the High Sierras in 1967, just in time for the end of sixties utopianism. He may have arrived straight from the “Death of the Hippie” ceremony in October 1967. The summer of love is over. With his long hair and his bright clothes (and his “far out”), Starling is immediately presented as a hippie. The crash of the Aeon perhaps serves as an end of that sixties dream.

Starling sells out, using the technology from the ship to transform for hippie to yuppie. In someways, the High Sierras is an ideal setting for this transformation; the region serves as an effective metaphor for the commercialisation of hippie culture, with the region once known to house private marijuana farms for personal use now home to industrial-scale cultivation for financial gain. Starling is so effectively transformed by his greed that the rose tattoo on his inner arm is the only clue as to who he once was.

"Robinson's not going to play ball."

“Robinson’s not going to play ball.”

As such, even though Starling is very clearly positioned as a contemporary action movie antagonist (a hugely influential industrialist with advanced technology and a homicidal manservant), he is still contextualised within the history of the franchise. Starling is a character who might once have believed in utopian idealism and the greater good, the optimism that seemed to be taking root in the sixties. However, he cynically turned his back on that in pursuit of fortune and power. Starling represents a betrayal of the franchise’s roots.

Indeed, Starling fits very much within the larger framework of nineties popular culture, and its anxiety about emerging tech companies. Starling is very much presented as an evil version of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, a slightly less psychotic twist on the villain that Christopher Walken played in A View to a Kill. He represents a lot of the nineties (and contemporary) uncertainties about the executives that drive Silicon Valley, the kinds of people that Greg Ferenstein described as “hippies who dig capitalism and science.”

Groovy, baby.

Groovy, baby.

The Voyager crew are very much positioned in opposition to Starling’s selfish materialism. That is what draws Rain Robinson to Paris. “All this running around you do, your mission,” she reflects. “You’re so dedicated, you know? Like you care about something more than just your own little life.” Paris seems almost surprised that Rain would comment upon it. “Is that so unusual?” he wonders. Rain responds, “Yeah.” It might not be as overt as the environmental subtext of The Voyage Home, but it does suggest that the franchise’s utopian is alive and well.

(Indeed, this theme even bubbles through the truncated subplot that finds Chakotay and Torres trapped in a militia compound. As with Starling, there is a recurring sense that twentieth century mankind has a long way to go before it reaches this utopian future. Again, it is framed in overtly political terms. “There are two forces at work in the world,” Porter boasts. “The drive toward collectivity and the drive toward individuality. You are the former, and I am the latter.” Given that the Federation is all but explicitly socialist, he is more right than he knows.)

"What's the racket?"

“What’s the racket?”

Much like Starling, Rain Robinson is an interesting character. Much like Starling, the production team got very lucky with their casting. Sarah Silverman is obviously a lot more famous now than when she was cast, in what the comedian acknowledges as her first major dramatic role:

Actually, I was in a two-part Star Trek: Voyager, and I was a scientist in a study lab with a half-shirt and a push-up bra. And I was like, what the—this isn’t how scientists dress! And they’re going, “Uh, yeah. It’s Star Trek: Voyager.” But I went to an acting coach for it and everything. This fancy acting coach. And I remember him looking at the material and just going, “Look, sometimes when you’re running from lasers, you just gotta pretend you’re running from lasers.” And I thought, yeah, okay, right. Like, you gave me license to just pretend. Acting is pretending. You can’t draw from your childhood for running from lasers on Star Trek.

Silverman is immensely likeable as Robinson, bouncing well off McNeill and Russ, adding a slightly more grounded perspective to events. Unlike Starling, Robinson is not particularly well-defined beyond “wide-eyed wonder” and “deflating observations”, but Silverman elevates the material like a pro.

"If you don't come down from there, I'm turning this van around and taking us right back to the twenty-fourth century."

“If you don’t come down from there, I’m turning this van around and taking us right back to the twenty-fourth century.”

Robinson is very much positioned as a counterpoint to Starling. If Starling is the sixties idealist who sold out at the first opportunity, then Robinson is the idealist who refused to give up hope. Although Robinson is much too young to have lived through the sixties, she drives a Volkswagen van, one of the most iconic representations of the era. She also still looks to the stars in hope, recalling the wonder and excitement of the sixties space program that informed so much of Star Trek in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, Brannon Braga half-considered adding Rain Robinson to the show’s regular cast. According to Bryan Fuller, “It was Brannon’s desire to bring Rain on board because he enjoyed writing for Sarah and the freshness she brought to the show.” It is certainly a valid point, although it’s interesting to wonder how things might have turned out had Braga followed through on that idea. After all, Voyager would look at adding a new regular cast member at the end of the third season. Ultimately, that character would be developed as Seven of Nine.

"What does it mean, flirting?"

“What does it mean, flirting?”

Given that the addition of Seven of Nine to the Voyager cast at the start of the fourth season represents the biggest transition in the show’s future, it is interesting to wonder how things might have been different had that new character been Rain Robinson instead. Of course, it is impossible to accurately predict how things might have been different. After all, there are an infinite number of variables. It is impossible to know whether Sarah Silverman would have accepted the offer, had it been made. Still, it is fun to wonder.

Would a twentieth-century human seemed any less cynical an addition than a former Borg drone? Would Robinson have come to dominate the show’s dynamic in the same way that Seven did? Would Mulgrew have reacted as strongly to another female character if that character weren’t as heavily sexualised as Seven was? How would Silverman have affected the precarious workplace environment on the show? How would being a regular on Voyager have affected her long-term career prospects?

Growing the beard.

Growing the beard.

Still, even if Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II did not change the opening credits, they still had a sizable impact on the show going forward. The two-parter seems to outline a new vision for Voyager. The future has only just arrived.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the third season of Star Trek: Voyager:

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23 Responses

  1. Sarah Silverman in Trek!

    Oh, and I like this two parter, even if its not one of my favorite episodes, I do love how its actually not very corny and makes fun of the whole time paradox issue and even makes a jab at television, which Trek strangely did from the time to time, strange since you know, its a tv show…

    I like how our technology we take advantage of is in Trek due to some bizarre time travel scenario, kind of like Amelia Earheart being on an alien planet. Eh, actually I don’t like that episode…

    • Yep. Although the paradox aspect of the plot makes me wonder if any of the plot actually happened. If Braxton could travel back in time to take Voyager home, surely he wasn’t stranded in the twentieth century, and so Starling couldn’t have the timeship and invent the moder world, so surely that all happened naturally?

      Oh no. I’ve gone cross-eyed.

      • Yeah, how did this paradox even get started? When everything is fixed at the climax, Braxton shows up completely unaware of any problem and behaving like a rational, reasonable human being. If he can’t remember what happened, wouldn’t he still be a raging loon screaming “no time!” and starting the loop again?

        Voyager is where time travel in Trek goes completely fiddle-faddle.

      • Yep.

        It’s best not to think about time travel in Voyager. Or in Star Trek.

        Yet somehow Braxton remembers being trapped in the past in Relativity. Oy.

      • LOL

        For me, seeing the Voyager crew in normal clothes and not in their goofy futuristic jumpsuits is more jarring…

  2. Sarah Silverman being a regular on Voyager sounds awesome, but Seven of Nine is my favorite Voyager character, so Im happy with how that turned out

  3. I know this is a minority opinion, but for me season 3 represents the nadir of Voyager. Season 1 was trying to do some interesting things, and Season 2 is easily the most memorable season, albeit because most of it is memorably bad. Still, the Kazon and Viddians are the most memorable Voyager species, not the best just the most memorable, and at least there is an attempt at using Voyager’s premise to tell interesting stories. Season 3, however, is incredibly unmemorable, and adds little to nothing to Voyager’s mythos. The doctor gets his mobile emitter and Kes breaks up with Neelix, which won’t even be relevant after Season 3. Really, the viewer could skip to Scoprion and not miss much. Furthermore, there is no Seven of Nine whose stories along with the Doctor’s managed to elevate the generic season 5-7 from bad to ok.
    This episode has one of my favorite moments of bad dialogue in which Captain Braxton fires on Voyager, they ask him why he is doing this, and replies “no time!” despite the fact that he is on time traveling ship, so he really has all the time he could ever want.
    I also have to disagree with you when it comes to Sarah Silverman. I found her incredibly annoying, as many of her line reads come off as overly whiny. She seems to be meant to be very similar to the Catherine Hicks character from Star Trek IV, but that character was actually intelligent and had some good lines. Hicks also had chemistry with William Shatner, while Silverman has very little with Robert Duncan McNeil.
    All that being said I do enjoy aspects of this episode. I like how Captain Braxton becomes a bum, and I do enjoy some of the out of fish water scenes.

    • I think we’ve had this conversation before, but I actually have a bit of a strange fondness for the weirdness of the third season. Any season of television that can do something as weird and wacky as Macrocosm and Darkling while finding room for Future’s End and Scorpion cannot be all bad. (Although maybe my fondness for the fifth season of DS9 is rubbing off on it.) And I’d argue that the third season of Voyager has the luxury of not having anything as obviously cringy as Alliances or Tattoo, although Displaced might as a well be Trump commercial.

      (Also: Remember! And Distant Origin! And Worst Case Scenario!)

      • Yeah. I’m not as crazy about Remember as you are, primarily because I have trouble remembering it, pun not intended. Whenever I rewatch it I find it a perfectly serviceable piece of Star Trek, but not a must see. I can’t get over the idea that Dinosaurs apparently built a ship and flew away after the meteor, so that hurts Distant Origin in my eyes though I appreciate the pro-evolution message. Worst Case Scenario is a very well done holodeck gone awry story, but it is still yet another holodeck gone awry story, which gives it a slightly stale air in my opinion. Macrocosm is a love or hate it kind of episode, and the bad CGI makes so many scenes just so silly. It is like something out of the end of the Langoliers. Darkling is somewhat enjoyable in seeing Robert Picardo get to completely ham it up, but other than that is not a good a episode.
        Furthermore, none of these stories actually add anything to a deeper understanding of the characters. DS9 season 3 peeled back the layers of Dukat, Garak, the Jem-Hadar, as well as Odo by finally showing where he came from and his feelings for Kira. We also got the defiant, along with a new much bolder Sisko. Even TNG season 3 revealed things about the characters: Worf’s love-hate relationship with his people deepened in Sins of a Father, Geordi being hopeless at love was first introduced, and Picard is assimilated by the Borg.
        All that being said there is nothing as repugnant as Tattoo or Alliances. I completely agree with you here, I just find Season 2’s attempts at long term story telling kind of charming in its awkwardness, and I give it points for trying to actually take advantage of Voyager’s isolation. After all, a few years down the road Voyager will be taking care of Borg cubes like they are run by Pakleds, so I have to take the actual sense of danger whenever I can get it.

      • Oh yeah. Well, comparing any season of Voyager to any season of DS9 will leave Voyager in the dust. Ditto comparing any season of Voyager to any season of The Next Generation following the second. But, on its own terms, I enjoy the third season much more than either of the first two or the last two. And probably more than the fifth, although it’s likely closer than I recall.

      • Distant Origins is one of my favorite Voyager episodes, one of the few Voyager episodes I’d be comfortable saying is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I agree with Trekspertise that the plotline is untapped and should be revisisted

    • I’m glad that Sarah Silverman didn’t become a regular because I think she works better in smaller doses, much like Neelix, Wesley Crusher or Naomi Wildman.

  4. I have to admit when I first saw this episode as a teen I was very much smitten with Rain and it makes me sad to hear she might have stayed on. Getting a 20th century view on the Federation might have worn thin after a while true, but I agree Silverman had real likability going for her.

    • Yep. And I imagine that – like most concepts on Voyager – the show would happily have discarded Rain’s “20th century perspective” the moment that including it began to feel like work.

      Jaysus. I sound really cynical this weather.

      • Well, that’s what fanfiction is for. 🙂

        Besides whatever the flaws of the show, sheer on screen charisma and talent pushed certain characters above the material – true the Doctor and Seven had interesting hooks but I think it was mostly thanks too their actors that they worked so well. Silverman’s Rain might have stood a similar chance.

      • Oh yep. The reason that the show came to focus on Mulgrew, Picardo and Ryan is that those three stand head and shoulders about the rest of the cast in terms of ability. To be fair, Phillips probably comes close, but he’s stuck with an unworkable concept.

      • That’s true, however Seven of Nine’s premise wasn’t ditched immediately, and was used throughout the series, alongside the EMH, the two best characters, probably the two only characters I actually like from the show, so it wasn’t a given.

      • Yep. Seven’s premise wasn’t ditched because it worked and the writing staff were comfortable with it.

        I suspect it could have gone the way of the Maquis if they struggled with it.

      • I think Tim Russ is also a talented actor, Darren. If only the series had been willing to do more with him.

      • Yep. I think he’s certainly far from the weakest member of the ensemble.

  5. BTW, for some odd reason, I thought this was the season two finale and season three opener, and remembered it being very bad, but I got confused with that last Kazon episode where they take Voyager. I’m not even 30 yet and having lapses of memory…yep

    • Basics, Part I is not so bad, although it relies on some shocking contrivances and gaps in logic to get to its pre-determined cliffhanger. But Basics, Part II is diabolical.

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