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Star Trek: Voyager – Relativity (Review)

Relativity is perhaps the most Star Trek: Voyager episode that ever Star Trek: Voyaged.

Of course, there are better episodes of Voyager. Of course, there are episodes of Voyager that more effectively showcase the cast and the premise. Of course, there are episodes of Voyager that do a lot of things that Relativity does, only better. However, there is a sense the episode’s crushing mediocrity is a large part of what makes it so indicative of the show as a whole. Those other stronger episodes stand out from the crowd, and rank among some of the best episodes that Voyager ever produced. In contrast, Relativity is just kinda… there.

Ship of the line.

Relativity clearly belongs to the familiar Voyager subgenre of “timey wimey” action adventures that include epics like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II and Timeless. In fact, the subgenre could be extended to include The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, even if no literal time travel takes place. Relativity also borrows from the “let’s blow Voyager up!” school of plotting that includes Deadlock and Course: Oblivion. The episode also leans on the “reset” button that has been in integral part of Voyager dating back to Time and Again.

There is a sense that Relativity is a heady cocktail of Voyager storytelling tropes, a reiteration of many stock storytelling elements that have been employed in a variety of important and notable episodes earlier in the run. However, these episodes count among the finest example of Voyager‘s blockbuster storytelling. Relativity is most notable for taking all of these bombastic larger-than-life elements and finding a way to integrate them into a rather lifeless and stale piece of television. In this sense, Relativity is a quintessential Voyager episode.

Keeping those balls in the air.

Relativity is a very light piece of television. It is so light, in fact, that writer Nick Sagan has conceded that the episode is essentially a big ball of fun arriving late in the fifth season:

I think that might have been the easiest one I worked on, because the goal is simply to have fun. With the others I felt a lot of different loyalties to character this, character that. For some reason that one came together very quickly, and it was such a joy to write because we were just trying to please ourselves. I don’t think it’s an episode that needs to be studied, per se, or ruminated upon, you just go with it like a rollercoaster ride.

This is certainly a fair observation about Relativity. In fact, Relativity feels like a very traditional Voyager episode in that there is a real sense that the script was written by the seat of the creative team’s pants.

“No time to argue.”

The Voyager writing staff have a tendency to prioritise plot ahead of all other concerns in terms of storytelling. As a television series, Voyager never seems particularly invested in what is happening so much as the fact that something is happening. Watching Voyager, it can often seem like an episode is being written on an act-by-act basis, with a given episode radically changing direction and focus and story from one block of script pages through to the next. There is always a sense that the writing staff hope that the scripts might move fast enough to conceal these radical shifts.

Episodes of Voyager feel like they have been stitched together from various half-stories, ideas that were interesting on their own merits but were deemed incapable of supporting a full forty-five minute episode of television. Sometimes this element is an incongruous subplot, seemingly inserted into character-driven episodes to satisfy some imaginary minimum threshold of stock “science-fiction” story elements; the Vidiian story element in Resolutions, the alien menace in The Swarm, the strange anomaly in Real Life.

In the neck of time.

However, there are episodes where the primary plot has no attention span. Alter Ego starts as a story about Kim in love with a hologram, then develops into a story about a hologram in love with Tuvok, then becomes a story about a deep-space voyeur remote viewing via the holodeck. Coda begins as a grim variation on Groundhog Day before transitioning into a blend of Tapestry and The Next Phase. Worst Case Scenario begins as a return to the Maquis premise, evolves into a meditation on authorship, then becomes a run around featuring the return of Martha Hackett.

Waking Moments begins as a weird existential mystery about weird visions, and evolves into a standard “hijacked ship” narrative. Demon begins as a story about low resources, develops into a story about Kim learning to assert himself, becomes a weird story about a strange substance that affects the crew, and then reveals itself to be a tale about duplicates and copies. Some of these episodes work better than others, but there is always a strange sense of desperation and urgency to these scripts, as if the audience is watching the writers work through their writers’ block.

Time for a time out.

Relativity has that same strange structure, where every act seems to radically change the concept of the episode in such a way that the plot is always moving sideways rather than in a forward linear progression. Relativity opens with the killer story hook of a time-displaced version of Seven of Nine on Voyager before the events of Caretaker. She is trying to find a bomb hidden on Voyager, which adds an interesting tension and mystery to the episode. It helps that the entire episode is built around a play on the phrase “time bomb.”

However, as soon as this iteration of Seven is killed, Relativity jumps back to Voyager in“real” time, towards the end of the fifth season. Seven of Nine is no longer the episode’s focal character, with the episode instead focusing on a string of weird occurrence on board; Seven has trouble with her vision, the EMH receives a time-displaced summons to the messhall, Janeway sees three versions of Chakotay, Paris witnesses his table tennis ball frozen in midair, time starts moving at different speeds in different sections of the ship.

What a racket.

All of this is vaguely interesting, in that it would be possible to build a potentially interesting episode about all of these strange uncanny distortions culminating in the destruction of Voyager. However, that episode does not belong wedged into the middle of Relativity. The problem is that this section of the episode exists in marked contrast to the rest of Relativity, creating a narrative dissonance with the rest of the story being told while slowing the pace of the instalment to a crawl.

In terms of focus, this transition to fifth-season Voyager means that Seven gets lost in the shuffle for an entire act, despite being the central character. It isn’t a clever or elegant transition, instead feeling like a distraction or an interruption. Seven is very much the central throughline in Relativity, and the second act loses sight of the character. In terms of pacing, the earlier scenes had already established that Voyager was destroyed by a temporal weapon, so the entire act feels like unnecessary exposition. What is the point of beginning with action, if the story is going to cut back to set-up?

The science of storytelling.

Compounding this sense that Relativity was written in a fit of desperation is the sense that the plot makes no actual sense. To be fair, time travel has always been a complicated narrative device, one that can be used both inventively and haphazardly. Any number of narratives propose any number of alternate models of time travel. Even that Star Trek franchise have never quite settled on one consistent approach to time travel, from the cataclysmic consequences to the single timeline of The City on the Edge of Forever to branching multiverse of Star Trek.

As such, it would be unreasonable to expect Relativity to hang together perfectly. Time travel has always been an elastic concept within the Star Trek universe, and so it makes sense that there would be minor inconsistencies within Relativity. It makes sense that Relativity might recast Captain Braxton from Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, trading up from Allan Royal to Bruce McGill. It might even be excusable that Captain Braxton somehow recalls being stranded on Earth in Relativity when he explicitly stated he had no recollection of that timeline in Future’s End, Part II.

McGill is the bomb.

However, there are certain storytelling mechanics that need to remain in place for a story to hang together, even one built around a device like time travel. To be fair, Star Trek understands this. The franchise has constructed any number of compelling and effective time travel narratives. Producer Brannon Braga is a deft hand at this sort of narrative trickery, as demonstrated by scripts like Cause and Effect or All Good Things… Those scripts are cleverly constructed so that the story flows logically for the audience even as time swirls around the characters.

Cause and effect, action and reaction, event and consequence. Time travel stories allow writers to disentangle these concepts from one another, but there must be some thread of logic running through the narrative that the audience can follow. Otherwise, a story risks becoming a sequence of events, a chain of causes that never have any real effect. Then again, this feels like a perfect embodiment of Voyager‘s narrative style, a series of actions in rapid succession that never seem to lead to a reaction.

Time’s up.

Just in terms of logic, the mechanics of Braxton’s “temporal disruptor” are frustratingly vague. Seven of Nine hunts for the device in two separate time frames; before the events of Caretaker, and then around the events of Alliances. In purely chronological terms, the events of Alliances occur after the events of Caretaker. However, when Seven of Nine visits the ship before Caretaker, she discovers that the time bomb is already in place. This is not necessarily a problem. After all, this is an episode about time travel; it is interesting to imagine non-linear weapons.

However, this makes no real sense when another version of Seven jumps forward to the time period around Alliances. She moves to the location where her predecessor had found the device during sequences set before Caretaker. However, in a twist, the device is not present. She reports, “There’s no sign of the weapon.” How does that work? Obviously, this is an indication that Seven has arrived before the bomb was placed, but then the fact that the bomb was present in the earlier time period suggests that before is an abstract concept for this sort of weapon.

Time bomb.

This raises any number of questions. When future!Braxton plants the bomb, does it extend backwards in time as well as forwards? If the bomb’s existence extends backwards in time, what about the time before Voyager was constructed? After all, the bomb has clearly moved more than seventy thousand light years with Voyager, but does the bomb exist across history tethered to the elements that will be used in the construction of that Jefferies Tube junction? If all of this is true, how does the bomb appear over a year before it was planted, but not ten minutes?

All of this suggests an arbitrary approach to the rules of time travel, revealing that the episode’s restrictions upon time travel are driven more by plot convenience than by anything resembling logic. The answer to any of those questions is “… because the plot wouldn’t work otherwise.” After all, the real reason that the bomb is not present ten minutes before it is planted is so that there is a very straightforward and easy way for Seven of Nine to know that it is about to be planted. This also explains why the bomb waits over three years to detonate.

“Best out of seven?”

It also explains the seemingly arbitrary limitations on how many times Braxton and Ducane can abduct Seven of Nine. “We’ll have to recruit her again,” Braxton reflects after the previous version of Seven of Nine dies in transport. Ducane is horrified. “Sir, a fourth jump?” he protests. “She could suffer neural damage, even temporal psychosis.” This is all nonsense, of course. After all, there is no logical reason why Braxton and Ducane shouldn’t be able to abduct a version of Seven of Nine from earlier in the timeline, except that the plot needs some dramatic tension.

In many ways, this is archetypal Voyager. The script creates a problem through exposition by stringing a bunch of words together in an effort to generate dramatic stakes, and then allows its characters to transcend that particular problem in the hopes of creating a satisfying dramatic climax. However, none of this is rooted in anything tangible or relatable. Voyager uses a series of pseudo-scientific words to tell the audience about a problem, only to (more often then not) use another combination of pseudo-scientific words to resolve the problem. It is not good drama.

“We’re out of time.”

The most obvious question marks surround the literal “time bomb” set by future!Braxton. future!Braxton apparently sets the bomb on Voyager during a Kazon attack at some point in the second season. However, for some reason, Braxton sets the device to go off half-way through the fifth season. Why? What is the point? It might make sense for future!Braxton to set the bomb to explode after Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II to avoid a paradox, but why in the space between 11:59 and Warhead?

More than that, why set a time bomb at all? Why not beam a device on to Voyager in the middle of the Hirogen attack that happened shortly before The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II? That would be a lot cleaner, and would leave a lot less room for error. After all, future!Braxton is a former time agent. He understands that placing the bomb in advance would simply allow regular!Braxton an opportunity to stop him. On that point, why doesn’t future!Braxton remember trying to stop himself?

Brax to the future.

To be fair, Relativity obliquely and winkingly nods towards possible answers to these questions. At one point, Ducane and Seven discuss “the Pogo Paradox”, which is “a causality loop in which interference to prevent an event actually triggers the same event.” The name of the paradox seems to be a reference to Walt Kelly’s iconic comic strip. Given the mechanics of the paradox, it seems to be an allusion to Kelly’s iconic observation that “we have met the enemy and he is us.” This adage is literalised in the reveal that a future version of Braxton is behind the attack.

future!Braxton is a literal embodiment of that trope. future!Braxton is a science-fiction twist on the old cliché of a detective who is really investigating himself. It is one of the oldest twists in genre fiction, a very easy way to layer a seemingly procedural story with deep psychological or philosophical undertones. There is a reason that Charlie Kaufman’s script for Adaptation mercilessly skewers the trope through Donald Kaufman’s script for “The Three.” (To be fair, films like Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 also play with this narrative convention in a science-fiction setting.)

His own worst enemy.

However, the Voyager staff were inordinately proud of the twist. Before the broadcast of the episode, Brannon Braga proudly boasted to Cinefantastique:

Braga, who did a lot of rewriting on the episode explained, “Relativity is a time travel romp. It’s an incredibly fast-paced, mind-bending, fun, time travel story. [The identity of the bomber] will be a real shocker.”

The identity of the bomber is anything but a shock. A more innovative (but still hackneyed) twist on the trope would be to make the bomber Seven or Janeway.

“Logic really has very little to do with any of this.”

Still, the allusions to “the Pogo Paradox” in the context of Relativity seem to half-heartedly tease the idea that Braxton is his own worst enemy, that perhaps the actions of his future self are what cause that same future self to come into existence. “Listen very carefully,” future!Braxton advises his younger self. “The circumstances of your life are going to change in the next few years. You’ll be sent into rehabilitation again, forced to retire, and it’s all because of Voyager.” It seems entirely possible that future!Braxton is warning his younger self about the events of Relativity.

After all, almost as soon as future!Braxton is revealed as the bomber, Ducane takes regular!Braxton into custody. “I’m sorry, sir,” Ducane insists. “I’m taking command of this vessel, and I’m relieving you of duty for crimes you’re going to commit.” Ducane makes it clear that this is not a procedural matter. regular!Braxton is sent to the brig. When Ducane ends up with three versions of Braxton in custody, he explains, “They’ll all be reintegrated in time for the trial.” So the events of the episode roughly fit with future!Braxton’s warnings.

The next phaser.

This is a very superficial version of a “smart” twist, in that it plays with the ironic reality that attempts to prevent horrific events can often contribute to them. (For example, the War on Terror was originally intended to prevent more terrorist attacks, but led to a series of events that raised both the profile and the recruitment of organisations that it was intended to destroy.) This is an interesting idea to weave into a story about time travel, where cause and effect can become literally confused and entangled. However, Relativity never commits to the idea and fudges it in a number of ways.

Most obviously, the ending of Relativity is structured in such a way that the events of the episode never actually happen. In the episode’s final act, almost as an afterthought, Ducane sends Janeway back in time to apprehend future!Braxton before he can plant the bomb in the first place. “Needless to say, we need to clean up the timeline,” Ducane explains. “Someone must go back to the beginning and prevent the chain of events from occurring in the first place.”  So, Janeway is sent back to push the reset button.

“Dammit. I thought I had a better line for this. Do over?”

It is a curiously limp sequence, in terms of both execution and in terms of what it does to the episode’s narrative flow. Janeway apprehends future!Braxton without any trouble, in a scene that lasts about thirty seconds without any real tension. It feels very tacked on to the end of the episode, a narrative idea that might be interesting in the abstract but lacks the space necessary to develop into anything interesting. More than that, the intervention would seem to create a paradox rather than prevent it.

Janeway apprehended future!Braxton before the bomb was planted, then why did regular!Braxton and Ducane recruit Seven of Nine in the first place? If they did not recruit Seven of Nine in the first place, how did Kathryn Janeway become involved? If Janeway was never involved, then how could Janeway apprehend future!Braxton before the bomb was planted? There are also other questions raised by implication that the arrest of regular!Braxton for future!Braxton’s crimes created future!Braxton in the first place; if future!Braxton never planted the bomb, how could he be caught?

Carrey on, regardless.

More than that, Relativity is quite explicit about the complete lack of stakes within this final go-round. Janeway’s final trip back in time feels perfunctory and limp. “Deck four, section thirty eight,” future!Braxton confesses. “I’ll stumble over a wounded crewmember. That will be your chance to capture me.” Ducane quickly warns Janeway, “Don’t miss it, or we’ll have to do this all over again.” This the worst cliché of time travel stories, explicit confirmation that this futuristic technology eliminates dramatic tension.

There are next-to-no consequences if Janeway messes up. If Janeway fails to capture future!Braxton, the episode suggests that all Ducane has to do is adjust a few settings and try again. That is hardly satisfying for a hot-shot time agent, but it is also not the end of the world. This is one of the challenges in crafting stories about time travel. What is to stop the protagonists from simply using time travel to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place and to retroactively fix any problems that they might encounter along the way?

“Feels like going home.”

There is a bitter pointlessness to this last-minute tidy-up. It wipes the events of the episode from continuity, but without any sense of irony or tragedy; the major players involved in this incident still remember it. Rewriting history so that future!Braxton never places the bomb in the first place also opens up all sorts of moral questions that Relativity has no interest in answering. That ending means that regular!Braxton is no longer being charged for something he will do, which seems questionable enough from a standpoint of justice; he is now being held accountable for something he won’t.

There are any number of interesting directions in which this story might branch. After all, Philip K. Dick had built the premise of his short story Minority Report around a similar dilemma. That would serve as a cornerstone of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation three years after the broadcast of Relativity. There are interesting things to be done when narratives play with the logic of cause and effect, asking tough philosophical questions about how people and societies make sense of the world. Unfortunately, Relativity does nothing with any of these ideas.

Past excited.

That said, there is a sense that Relativity is in some ways about Voyager. Indeed, the episode’s time travel motif might be seen as an intrusion from outside the narrative. After all, time travel has frequently been used as a metaphor for stepping outside of the Star Trek narrative. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was as much about television characters entering the real world as about characters thrown back in time. On Star Trek: Enterprise, the Temporal Cold War played like an extended metaphor for the intrusion of forces external to the production.

The episode repeatedly puts Braxton and Ducane in the perspective of audience members watching a drama unfold on television. When Seven is apprehended by Janeway and Tuvok, Braxton spends most of the scene providing commentary, even after the communications channel is closed. “Don’t say anything,” Braxton urges. Ducane interjects, “She can’t hear you, sir.” Nevertheless, Braxton remains engaged with the drama unfolding, almost like a viewer watching drama unfold on television.

“Dammit, Ducane, I figured out who the mad bomber was by the second ad break.”

With that in mind, it makes sense that Braxton and Ducane should serve as enforcers of the status quo. They are essentially dedicated to ensuring that nothing unforeseen or unpredictable happens to Voyager. They are guardians of the timeline, but they are also sworn protectors of the show’s internal continuity. Braxton and Ducane become time travelling enforcers of the “reset button”, even taking care to tidy up the events of this episode so that nothing lingers that might clutter the show going forward.

Because future!Braxton is captured before he could plant the bomb, none of the weird drama of the episode seems to have happened. Janeway does not remember meeting Seven of Nine before the events of Scorpion, Part II, while there are no records of a stranger skulking around Voyager while the ship was in dry dock. Of course, Seven and Janeway remember what happened, but they are quickly sworn to secrecy. “Remember the Temporal Prime Directive,” Ducane advises them. “Discuss your experiences with no one.”

“There. Set the recorder for Discovery.”

Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of Relativity is the way in which the episode is structured so that Seven of Nine is essentially navigating three different versions of Voyager. The character is not really moving between time periods so much as crossing over between different iterations of the series itself. One of the big recurring issues with Voyager was the sense that the writers never settled on a consistent identity for the series beyond a generic Star Trek series.

Voyager was several different television shows at various points in its existence. In fact, Janeway was arguably several different character. Janeway is perhaps the least well-defined series lead in the history of the Star Trek franchise, in large part due to the difficulty that the production team had in establishing a core personality for the character. James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard and Benjamin Lafayette Sisko all had strong and distinctive personalities. Janeway arguably had three different personalities.

Board to death.

Relativity navigates between these three versions of Janeway and these three versions of Voyager. The early parts of the episode hint at the character of Janeway as imagined by writer and co-writer Jeri Taylor. This is very much “Janeway as scientist”, a broad archetype that exists in contrast with “Kirk as adventurer”, “Picard as diplomat” and “Sisko as builder.” This version of Janeway shines through in episodes like The Cloud or Heroes and Demons, with Janeway expressing a keen scientific interest in the wider universe.

In the teaser to Relativity, Admiral Patterson makes a point to test Janeway’s memory and recall. She is not off the transporter pad before she is answering questions about constellations and molecules. “I wasn’t expecting a pop quiz,” she admits. Patterson explains, “Just wanted to make sure all those pips haven’t made you forget you’re a scientist first.” There is some small irony in this opening scene, as Janeway drifted away from this persona in the years that followed the first season, barring an occasional relapse in episodes like Concerning Flight.

Making patter with Patterson.

The early seasons of Voyager occasionally suggested that Kathryn Janeway was never the perfect choice to lead this crew on this journey. Unlike Kirk or Picard or Sisko, Janeway came up through the science division rather than the command division. Unlike Picard, Janeway was not a seasoned commanding officer with a wealth of experience under her belt. In Caretaker, Janeway’s briefing was a simple mission of search and recovery. Janeway was not commissioned to command Voyager as part of a long-term mission, let alone a seventy-year mission.

On paper, this set up any number of interesting ideas and possibilities. After all, Janeway’s lack of command experience should have made her command more precarious when the Maquis were incorporated into the crew. Chakotay might not have been a Starfleet officer any longer, but he had more experience leading his crew on dangerous missions. In these early episodes, Janeway would seem to exist at a remover from her crew. Janeway was not a mother figure, often retreating into herself (as in The Cloud) or the holodeck (as in Cathexis).

Luckily, the crew roast to the occasion.

The early sequences in Relativity allude to this early version of Janeway, acknowledging that neither Starfleet nor Janeway could conceive of what would happen in Caretaker. Unlike Kirk’s five-year mission, Picard’s seven-year mission, or Sisko’s long-term brief, Janeway was handed a short-term assignment. Somewhat ironically, Janeway complains to Patterson, “I wish Starfleet would give me more than three weeks. With a little more time we could really explore the Badlands.” Of course, Janeway will get to spend significantly more than three weeks exploring.

Of course, this version of Janeway and this version of Voyager would not last long. It was quickly superseded by Michael Piller’s vision of Voyager. When Piller returned to the show in its second season, he returned with a very strong vision of what the show should be. Piller wanted Voyager to be bolder and more experimental, to embrace some of the grittiness baked into the concept of a lone Federation ship on the far side of the galaxy populated by a loose alliance of Starfleet and Maquis. This generated some tension on the writing staff, to say the least.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back by whatever twenty-fourth century Christmas is.”

Piller’s vision of Voyager threw the show into chaos, leading to mangled long-term arcs. The Kazon became a focal point in episodes like Initiations and Manoeuvres. A traitor emerged on Voyager itself in episodes like Alliances and Threshold. In the meantime, Tom Paris began acting out in episodes like Meld and Investigations. Piller had a very clear idea of what he wanted Voyager to be, but that vision was not shared by the rest of the writing staff. As a result, the show struggled to find its footing, halfheartedly committing to terrible long-form storytelling.

So it is no surprise that when Relativity throws Seven of Nine into the middle of the second season, she emerges in the heat of battle. Seven visits the second season of Voyager during a Kazon raid, suggesting a time of strife for both the ship and the series. This version of Janeway is a little more aggressive and assertive than her earlier counterpart. The earlier version of Janeway was a scientist investigating a mystery, while this version of Janeway is a commander hunting a threat.

Oh, it is Kazon.

It is appropriate that future!Braxton plants his time bomb at some point in the second season. There is a credible argument to be made the second season of Voyager represents the moment at which the series lost its way, that the second season represented the point at which the creative team made a number of important decisions that would define the rest of Voyager and the first two seasons of Enterprise. The second season of Voyager set the franchise on a course that would lead to a decline and erosion that was beginning to be felt during the fifth season of Voyager.

The second season of Voyager represented the series’ only real sustained attempt at long-form storytelling. To be fair, there were nice threads running through the middle stretch of the fourth season with the Hirogen from Message in a Bottle to The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, but there was never anything as ambitious as an attempt to tell a single complex story across a full season of television. The spectacular failure of the Kazon arc seemed to scare the production team away from any further attempts at serialisation.

“Detecting no dangling plot threads.”

Deep Space Nine embraced the potential and possibilities of serialised storytelling, but it would prove something of an evolutionary dead end in the larger context of the Star Trek franchise. Ronald D. Moore would briefly join Voyager in its sixth season, but none of the writing staff involved in the running of Deep Space Nine would have a long-term impact in the direction of the Star Trek franchise. Voyager was the primary evolutionary branch of Star Trek, leading directly into Enterprise. However, Voyager‘s storytelling had frozen somewhere in 1995.

As such, it seems fair to suggest that the second season of Voyager effectively set a time bomb near the heart of the Star Trek franchise. Those creative missteps led to an overreaction that trapped Voyager in amber, preventing any real sense of evolution or forward momentum. Relativity suggests that this time bomb was on the verge of exploding towards the end of the fifth season, perhaps reflecting the franchise’s dwindling cultural cachet. Star Trek: Insurrection was hardly a breakout hit; ratings were noticeably in decline; the vultures were circling in the press.

Down the tubes.

Of course, the truth is that the second season of Voyager did not plant a time bomb at the heart of the franchise. Instead, a cancer took root that would slowly eat away at the Berman era. The Star Trek franchise remained locked in place, as the rest of popular culture marched right on by it. When Voyager came to an end, the franchise was still popular enough for UPN to commission Enterprise. However, the ratings and cultural attrition continued through the first two seasons of Enterprise, leading to a radical retool and reinvention in the third and fourth seasons.

By that stage, it was too late to save this iteration of the franchise. Star Trek could not make up the ground that it had lost. The Berman era did not end in a catastrophic explosion. Instead, the Berman era withered away over an extended period of time. The Berman era died at some point over these seven seasons, but so gradually that nobody really noticed. The Berman era would shuffle on as a zombie during the four seasons of Enterprise, before everybody came to accept that this iteration of the franchise was dead.

Detecting key structural flaws.

In some respects, this shifting realisation is reflected in the changing face of time travel across Voyager and Enterprise. In Voyager, the future was regarded as relatively stable. Episodes like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II, Timeless, Relativity and Endgame all assumed that there would be a version of Starfleet that existed into the far future that took some responsibility for policing the timeline. As far as Voyager was concerned, there would always be a future, even if the finer details of that future could be rewritten and changed.

In contrast, Enterprise imagined a more precarious and uncertain future. Through the Temporal Cold War, it often seemed like the very future of the Star Trek universe was being thrown into chaos. The first and second seasons of Enterprise were bridged by Shockwave, Part I and Shockwave, Part II, when it seemed like the utopian future of the Federation had been wiped from existence. The character of Daniels would show up in episodes like Azati Prime, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II to insist that the very future of Star Trek was in question.

“What’s up?”

These differing views of time travel reflected the differences between the end of the twentieth century and the start of the new millennium. Voyager was broadcast against the backdrop of the long nineties, and imagined a future where the crew had already arrived at “the end of history” and the the future of mankind could be extrapolated from the present in a linear and straightforward manner; there was a Starfleet in the twenty-fourth century, so there would be a Starfleet in the twenty-ninth. Enterprise coincided with the War on Terror, so its future was more uncertain.

However, these shifting views of the future also give a sense of where Voyager and Enterprise see themselves in the grand Star Trek pantheon. While the final seasons of Voyager seemed more introspective and reflective than the earlier years, Voyager seemed to imagine that the future of the Star Trek franchise was relatively stable no matter how many times Voyager exploded. In contrast, by the time that Enterprise was broadcast, the future of the entire Star Trek franchise seemed to be in doubt.

“Have you talked to a counsellor about these annihilation fantasies?”

It should be noted that the fifth season of Voyager was particularly preoccupied the destruction of Voyager, as demonstrated by the icy death trap in Timeless, the slow decay in Course: Oblivion and the ticking time bomb in Relativity. At the same time, the fifth season of Voyager was also intrigued by its weird potential shadow selves. The darkest of these shadow selves is lurking at the end of the season in Equinox, Part I, but alternate versions of Voyager can be seen in episodes like The Disease, Course: Oblivion and even Think Tank.

In keeping with the sense that Seven of Nine is not so much traveling through time as shifting between three different versions of Voyager, Relativity is built around the idea of iterations of three; three time periods, three versions of Braxton, three versions of Janeway. The audience gets to spend time with three different versions of Seven of Nine, deputised by Braxton and Ducane. Indeed, Ducane suggests that it is only possible to make three time jumps safely, and that any more jumps could lead to the dreaded “temporal psychosis.”

“Please, don’t judge me by this. Certainly don’t replace me with a hair-trigger-tempered terrorist who didn’t even graduate the Academy.”

Relativity literalises the idea that Voyager was three different series and that Kathryn Janeway was three different characters. Towards the end of Relativity, Ducane suggests that it should be possible to bring those three different iterations together. Noting that he will have three different versions of Braxton in custody by the end of the episode, Ducane assures Janeway and Seven, “Don’t worry. They’ll all be reintegrated in time for the trial.” Interestingly, Relativity consciously avoids the opportunity to reintegrate the three versions of Janeway. They remain separate.

Relativity is noteworthy as the last Voyager script to be credited to writer Nick Sagan. Sagan joined the Voyager writing staff at the start of the fifth season, and worked on a number of the season’s most intriguing episodes. Sagan was responsible for In the Flesh, Gravity, Course: Oblivion and Juggernaut, often working closely with Bryan Fuller to deliver some of the fifth season’s weirder and more eccentric installments. It is a shame that Sagan did not hang around longer, that he not get to leave a bigger footprint on the Star Trek franchise.

Engineering a solution.

Sagan explains that he left for a number of reasons, mostly tied to a sense that there was not much left that he wanted to accomplish within the framework of Voyager:

Basically, it was for a couple of reasons. I’d had a wonderful time working on it, but there were also frustrations. Brannon [Braga] and I started talking about it, and there were other writers that they wanted to bring in like Ron Moore and there were other projects I wanted to get involved in.

And as much as I enjoyed it, I felt like I’d done what I’d set out to do, and I didn’t feel like I needed to stick around to get them home. So, all in all, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I had a wonderful time working on it, and being able to contribute to the Roddenberry mythology. I had a blast, and I’m really grateful to Brannon for giving me the opportunity.

Although Voyager marks his last on-screen credits, Sagan would go on to publish science-fiction novels and to work in game design.


Relativity is a mess of big ideas that is somewhat bungled in the execution. It makes sense that this should be the quintessential Voyager episode.

8 Responses

  1. “Seven of Nine to Seven of Nine, what’s your status?”

    Lord knows it been said before. But I’d watch the hell out of the continuing adventures of Captain Braxton, Commander Ducane and Crewman Daniels (if he behaved more like his character from “Scrubs”)

    They sunk so much time and creative capital into the DOTM, so it seems odd that they never got their own standalone series.

  2. Nice you mention Minority Report which popped up in my mind immediatley when they arrested Braxton for crimes he would be committing in the future by going into the past. But I am not sure if it would have hurt the light-weight adventure feeling of the episode to have some ethical debate or a discussion about the physicalistic logic behind this. I kind of liked the continuity regarding the Braxton-character . And the effect with the ping-pong-ball stuck in midair is pretty cool.

    Just a few days ago on my Babylon 5-rewatch I saw the two-parter from season 3, where they do an admirably well time-travel episode that is very confusing but has more incentives to think it through (because the plot mattered for the overall series, contrary to this one – and where was the Relativity in “Endgame”?).

    • I think the episode is aiming for that blockbuster Voyager sensibility, arguably codified by Year of Hell and The Killing Game. It’s notable that the fifth season arguably tries to condense these sorts of stories down to single episodes, making every episode an event – I’m thinking of the fact the season only has a single two-parter within it rather than two and that Timeless is the kind of adventure that could easily have been split across two parts.

  3. A horrible episode that has one basic premise: How many plot holes and logic gaps can be jammed into 42 minutes of TV?

    Worse, this time travel and time police theme is entrenched into an entire series in Enterprise. It’s nonsensical, even for cartoony sci fi like Voyager. There’s more going on with this series than network interference and conservative producers. The show often struggles with just plain terrible writing. This episode is a good case study. That Braga can claim this is a fun or surprising episode points to how deluded he was.

    It has the plot/story sophistication of watching Adam West battle a weekly villain on Batman.

  4. Easily one of the most entertaining episodes of the entire series, and the Devil take the rest. The smash cut between Janeway’s exasperated comment about her headache and the space battle in the past is one of the funniest moments in the history of the franchise.

  5. I love this episode, but then again, to me, it seemed explicitly and intentionally to be written as a comedy, with the most serious moment in the narrative being the climactic conversation between Janeway and Seven, and that’s not particularly heavy, really.

    In any case, Voyager’s series-best comedic moment comes late in this episode, a line reading by Kat Mulgrew followed by a perfectly timed smash cut.

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