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Star Trek: Voyager – Friendship One (Review)

Friendship One finds Star Trek: Voyager trapped between its own past and the future of the larger Star Trek franchise.

Of course, there’s no small irony that that future would take the form of Star Trek: Enterprise, a prequel set almost a century before the original series and (to date) the television series set at the earliest point in the larger continuity. This gets at something very strange about the seventh season of Voyager, where it seems to be looking both back at and forwards to the past. In some ways, it is the ultimately literalisation of the “end of history” ambiance that pervades the series, articulated in stories like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. There is no future. There is just the past.

What ship can cause antimatter annihilation and has room for two people?
A friendship?

So Friendship One seems caught between two different versions of the past. In its most obvious sense, it is trapped in Voyager‘s own idea of the past. It is an atomic-era creature feature about the horrors of radiation, a pulpy fifties schlock-fest that feels of a piece with everything from Jetrel to The 37’s to Cathexis to Macrocosm to In the Flesh to Bride of Chaotica! This is the future as it looked in the fifties, the atomic (rather than “post-atomic”) horror. However, it also gestures very strongly towards Enterprise, even accidentally encapsulating some of the core anxieties of the fourth Star Trek spin-off in an eerily prescient manner.

The result is an episode that feels like it is suffocating in its own past, with no idea of how to chart a course forward.

Does anything really (anti)matter?

To be fair, Friendship One was broadcast roughly two weeks before Paramount officially announced the casting of Scott Bakula and the premise of the prequel series. However, Enterprise was not so much the future of the franchise as its present. The production team had begun dismantling the Voyager sets in early April, before Friendship One was broadcast. Enterprise itself would enter production in the middle of May, less than three weeks after the broadcast of Friendship One. This was very real, and very tangible.

Enterprise would be launching in early September. There would be less than four months separating the broadcast of Endgame and Broken Bow. In a very real sense, the end of Voyager and the start of Enterprise did not feel like two distinct events. Both Emissary and Caretaker had been broadcast in early January, both to afford them a bit of breathing room from their franchise siblings and as a way of marking a new beginning. Enterprise would be picking up exactly where Voyager had left off. Notably, Enterprise would not enjoy an abridged first season like Voyager had. It would produce a full twenty-six episodes in its first year.

Of a piece.

Even if Enterprise would not be publicly confirmed until after the broadcast of Friendship One, the series seemed inevitable. There had long been rumblings that the Star Trek franchise would look backwards rather than forwards, would retreat into its own past. After all, this was the central thematic dynamic of Voyager. Not only was Voyager about a literal attempt to return to an idealised nostalgic idea of “home”, but the series also marked a conscious effort to recapture a lot of the texture and aesthetic of old Star Trek. After all, Hendricks explicitly likens Janeway to Kirk in Friendship One, while Kirk also came up in the teaser to Q2.

As early as October 1999, Robert Wilonsky reported that there had “long been speculation about a series set at Starfleet Academy, perhaps even as a prequel to the first series.” In fact, one of the reasons that Fox had commissioned Glen Morgan and James Wong’s Space: Above and Beyond in the mid-nineties had been as part of an attempt to beat that hypothetical spin-off to the punch. TrekToday reported on the “Birth of the Federation” pitch as early as November 1999, although it had obviously to evolve into its final form.

A stellar debut.

By the time that Friendship One entered development, it was an open secret that the next Star Trek series would be a prequel. The title had leaked in early March 2001, followed almost immediately by casting sheets. The writing staff was taking shape. Bryan Fuller had talked about the premise more than a month before Friendship One was broadcast:

“Brannon [Braga] has told me a little bit about the next series, and everything that he’s told me sounds really exciting,” Fuller told the site. “I hate to sound like the same old interview that people have seen time and time again, but he’s told me some things in confidence that I can’t discuss. But I think it will be very exciting. They’ll be able to do things with the characters that a lot of the other modern-day Star Treks haven’t been able to do. The characters will be much more accessible in a fresh way that the audience will be very excited about. And the premise is just very cool.”

As such, it is very hard to read Friendship One outside of the context of Enterprise. The writing staff knew that Enterprise was coming, the audience knew that Enterprise was coming. There was no avoiding it. As such, it is hard to read Friendship One as anything but a brief point of intersection between Voyager and Enterprise, a story about the collision between the past and future.

He’s fallen (Otr)in with the wrong crowd.

Any number of parallels present themselves. Most obviously, the probe itself is an embodiment of the past. Hendricks’ conversation with Janeway has already evoked the original Star Trek even before Janeway takes the assignment to her crew. The briefing room scene treats the probe as a historical artifact, similar to the recovery of the craft in One Small Step. However, which One Small Step seemed to be about strengthening the long-standing bond between the fictional Star Trek universe and the real-life history of NASA, Friendship One is more overtly about bonds within the larger Star Trek franchise.

“It was launched in 2067,” Janeway informs the assembled crew. Paris contextualises it, “Just four years after Zefram Cochrane tested his first warp engine.” This places it very firmly after the events of Star Trek: First Contact, which places it more firmly in Star Trek continuity than any attempted Mars mission. Neelix tries to frame the probe’s mission in terms of the Star Trek franchise. “This must have been before your Prime Directive?” he inquires. Tuvok clarifies, “It was before Starfleet existed.” As such, this object is part of Star Trek history.

“We’re going back to the past… of the future…”

More abstractly, the journey to the planet in Friendship One feels like an archeological mission into the internal history of the Star Trek franchise. This is very true in terms of genre, with the story owing a lot to the atomic horrors of the fifties. However, it’s also true within the franchise’s internal chronology. The Star Trek franchise long argued that its utopia emerged from the horrors of brutal conflicts; the “Eugenics Wars” in Space Seed or “the post-atomic horror” in Encounter at Farpoint or even the Third World War in First Contact. The planet in Friendship One looks like a vivid nightmare of those earlier traumas.

As the away team wander the surface, they are confronted with the horror of a collapsed civilisation. “Radiation levels are at six thousand isorems,” Kim reports. Kim and Chakotay stumble across an entire plain of missile silos. Inspecting the “still active” warheads within those silos, Kim reports, “It wouldn’t have taken many of these to trigger a nuclear winter.” This is not unlike the future history of mankind, as dictated by the Star Trek franchise. To anybody with an understanding of the franchise’s internal chronology, this should provide some background context for Enterprise.

“Chakotay, why did you start humming 99 Luftballons?”

There is a certain strange poetry in this idea, something upon which Voyager touches repeatedly in this final season. The crew are journeying inwards, but the final season of Voyager repeatedly has the characters brush against the outer limits of Alpha Quadrant expansion. In Prophecy, the crew came into contact with a Klingon ship that had charted a course outwards more than a century earlier. In Friendship One, the crew encounter a probe that was launched from Earth more than three hundred years beforehand.

This is, after all, how light works. It radiates outwards. It allows for a strange sense of time travel. Were a person to travel one light year away from Earth and turn their gaze towards home, they would see a snapshot of the planet from one year earlier. Voyager doesn’t apply this logic literally; the crew are still more than thirty thousand light years from home. However, the logic applies in the abstract in this final season. Voyager began at the very extreme of the galaxy and charted a course inwards. It makes sense that their first glimpses of home would suggest the distant past more than the material present.

Giving the all (nu)clear.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Friendship One is not necessarily representative of Enterprise. The spin-off actually took place roughly a century after the events of First Contact and the end of the Third World War. Notably, Broken Bow largely avoids an exploration how that sort of conflict and suffering shaped mankind, or how it haunts them. Trip dismisses these anxieties in a throwaway line over dinner with Archer and T’Pol, boasting, “How about war, disease, hunger? Pretty much wiped ’em out in less than two generations.”

This would prove something of a fatal flaw in the first two seasons of Enterprise, glossing over the most interesting concept of a Star Trek prequel; the question – famously and awkwardly articulated in the ill-judged opening pop theme – of how mankind got “from there to here.” The first two seasons of Enterprise avoided any thorough or engaged exploration of how mankind pulled themselves out of the darkness and reached towards the stars. The Earth in Broken Bow looks nothing like Friendship One, and nothing like a society that enduring anything like that sort of horror.

The crew will spend… let’s say minutes… dealing with the fallout from this mission.

Of course, Friendship One itself openly glosses over that question as well. Like far too many Voyager episodes, Friendship One ends with a rushed and trite resolution that avoids any lingering ambiguity or any hint of stories that need to be told. The civilisation in Friendship One has collapsed and decayed. It has been horrifically scarred. However, the climax of Friendship One suggests that Janeway can undo decades of horror with a few well-placed torpedoes. There is no sense of the hardship that lies ahead of these people as they gather outside to watch the clouds part and the sun shine down upon them.

Still, Friendship One awkwardly prefigures Enterprise in a number of interesting ways. Most abstractly, it reflects the same “back to basics” aesthetic that informs so much of the seventh season of Voyager, a conscious effort to recapture that old Star Trek aesthetic. As with Natural Law, it is possible to frame Friendship One as a “Prime Directive” story, that familiar archetypal Star Trek narrative about the dangers of interfering in a more “primitive” culture. Naturally, those sorts of stories would be a key part of Enterprise, positioning itself as an origin story for the Star Trek franchise.

Better inoculate than never.

Indeed, there are echoes of a number of first season Enterprise stories to be found in Friendship One. The Prime Directive morality play evokes Dear Doctor. The hostage drama recalls The Andorian Incident. The community forced underground by radiation suggests Terra Nova. Even the production design of the planet surface looks more like a hostile atmosphere from Enterprise rather than a similar surface on Voyager. The desaturated rocks, the harsh wind, the heavy snow all evoke apocalyptic landscapes like the surface of Rigel X in Broken Bow or of Coridan in Shadows of P’Jem rather than the surface of the planet in Demon.

More than that, though, Friendship One is a rather weary and cynical piece of work. Friendship One seems actively tired of the process of exploration and the cost that it takes upon the crew. This exhaustion runs through the episode in a variety of ways. In the early scenes, even hunting for the probe, the crew seem exhausted. “Nothing in grid two nine five,” Kim reports. “Moving on,” Paris reports. Kim is eager to “try skipping ahead a little to grid three one zero.” There is a sense that these characters just want this to be finished. (Notably, no serious though is given to a potential three-year relocation for Verin’s people.)

Of course they won’t go off course.

Friendship One seems very cynical about the whole “to boldly go where no one has gone before” aspect of the Star Trek mythos. This cynicism is flagged early on, during the briefing sequence wherein the crew discuss the eponymous probe. The crew find the probe’s mission to establish first contact with alien races as quaint at best and dangerous at worst. “If the Borg had intercepted this probe, humanity would have been assimilated centuries ago,” Seven states. Chakotay responds, “Our ancestors had no idea what was out here.”

This theme is reinforced throughout the episode. First contact with the alien species at the heart of Friendship One was disastrous, almost destroying the civilisation and ending with the death of Joseph Carey. Friendship One does not mince words in its closing scene, as Janeway meditates on the cost of the mission that began three centuries earlier. “The urge to explore is pretty powerful,” Chakotay states. Janeway responds, “But it can’t justify the loss of lives, whether it’s millions or just one.” It is worth noting that Friendship One cannot even be bothered to name Vernin’s people. They are just “the aliens.”

“I implore you to explore.”

That’s an incredibly bleak world view. It should be noted that for all the criticism that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine attracted for presuming to interrogate or deconstruct the franchise, it never suggested that the correct response to all of that suffering was to reject “the urge to explore.” Even after the New Bajor colony is wiped out in The Jem’Hadar and even after the death of away team members in The Ship, Starfleet continues to send missions into the Gamma Quadrant. No matter how much suffering the Dominion inflicts on the Alpha Quadrant, Sisko and Odo never give up on the idea of peaceful coexistence.

However, much like Author, Author seemed to reject any tangible sense of material social progress by arguing that the Federation had become the dystopia suggested in The Measure of a Man, the central argument of Friendship One is a bold rejection of the central ethos of Star Trek. It suggests that those “new life forms and new civilisations” were perhaps best left to their own devices and that the best thing that Starfleet could do is to keep their head down and stop trying to reach out into the great unknown.

Radiating enthusiasm.

To a certain extent, this worldview reflects the inherent conservatism of Voyager as a television series, its fear of the unknown and its desire to return to the familiar both literally and metaphorically. However, it also foreshadows the direction that Enterprise would take. Repeatedly, Enterprise would argue that the best that mankind could hope for would be ignorant isolation. A lot of this outlook was shaped and informed by the tragedy of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, which understandably shaped a lot of how America saw the larger world.

As a result, Enterprise seemed actively hostile to the idea of contact between humanity and other aliens. Previously treated as stalwart political allies, Enterprise branded the Vulcans as secretive and untrustworthy. The episodes like Minefield and Dawn suggested that the best that could arise from a potential first contact situation was a willingness to let two societies go their own directions. Cogenitor was a bold morality play about the unexpected impact of first contact on an alien family, with Archer musing, “We’re in deep space and a person is dead. A person who’d still be alive if we hadn’t made first contact.”

“We’re in deep space and a person is dead. A person who’d still be alive if we hadn’t made first contact. Sorry. Is this echoing or foreshadowing? I can never get the continuity right.”

While a lot of this pivot played as a response to the terrorist attacks in September 2001, some of it was baked into the premise from the outset. Earlier episodes of Enterprise made a point to stress space as an actively hostile environment populated by sinister threats. The planet in Strange New World drove the away team insane, turning them against one another. Mysterious aliens preyed on weaker vessels in Fight or Flight, turning flight decks into abattoirs and harvesting bodies for fuel. Both of these predated Civilisation, the episode in production when the terror attacks happened.

To be fair, the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise would work hard to draw the venom out from the wound, and to confront the subtext that had been simmering away in the background during the earlier seasons. However, there was a grim and pervading cynicism running through the first two years of Enterprise, with the series seeming to ask why humanity was doing any of this and what the point might be? To a certain extent, the cynicism and exhaustion of Friendship One prefigure that tonal shift. Friendship One articulates the sense of fatigue that would define the first two years of Enterprise.

Ready to Tuvok and Tuvoll.

However, at the same time that Friendship One seems to gesture towards the future, it also harks back to the past. Friendship One might prefigure Enterprise in a number of interesting ways, but it is still very much a Voyager episode. Bryan Fuller explained the genesis of the episode to Cinefantastique:

Ken said, ‘I want to do a story with mutants on a planet. Go figure it out.’ Mike and I came up with the Starfleet probe angle, and we went off to write the episode. They locate the probe on this uninhabitable planet, and go down to look for it, and discover the reason the planet is uninhabitable: [inhabitants] got the probe, reverse engineered it, discovered antimatter technology, and inadvertently blew themselves up. Janeway is now faced with the repercussions of early Starfleet’s actions.

This is a very pulpy and very trashy science-fiction premise. It recalls the atomic horrors of the late forties and fifties like Godzilla or Them! However, it also evokes mutant-centric horror stories like The Hills Have Eyes or The Omega Man.

He has a Veri(n) serious problem.

Again, the past and future seem to bleed into one another. Enterprise might have been the first official Star Trek prequel, but Voyager had firmly set its gaze on the middle of the twentieth century, drawing heavily from influences that predated the original Star Trek. Indeed, Caretaker consciously evoked the westerns of John Ford with its portrayal of the Kazon and Chakotay. The horrors of the concentration camps informed Phage. Cold War paranoia drove Cathexis. This is to say nothing of the other markers like the convertible on Venus in Lifesigns, the pickup truck in space in The 37’s or all of Bride of Chaotica!

The atom bomb looms large over Voyager, which is surprising given that the threat of nuclear war deteriorated greatly during the nineties. To a certain extent, that fear was supplanted by the threat of biological or chemical warfare. In fact, in one of Friendship One‘s few concessions to modernity, it is notable that the disaster that doomed the planet was not the result of warfare, but “a containment failure in our power grid.” Still, that power is explicitly framed in such a way as to evoke nuclear devastation; a fear that runs (in various forms) through episodes like Time and Again, The Omega Directive and Warhead.

First (casc)ade.

Friendship One even directly evokes Voyager‘s most obvious nuclear parable, with Neelix discussing the “Metreon Cascade” that was the central focal point of Jetrel, telling Verin, “I know what you’ve been through. My planet was destroyed by a weapon called a Metreon Cascade. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, including my family.” It is not surprising that Friendship One should return to that idea. Writer Bryan Fuller had already used it as a central basis of Mortal Coil. However, it is still notable that this connection is articulated at all, given that Seven seems to forget that Icheb exists when telling Otrin that she is “unique.”

Even beyond the emphasis on radiation and atomic era horror, Friendship One feels like a fond farewell to a certain type of Voyager episode. While it is very much framed as a story about first contact and the Prime Directive, it is also a very pulpy retrograde adventure. It is pure schlock, a tense hostage drama in which the crew are menaced by a race of radioactive mutants. As such, it feels like it is of piece with earlier episodes like Threshold or Macrocosm or Darkling, the kinds of episodes that might have aired as part of a trashy horror double bill at the holographic cinema in Repression.

They must (radi)hate us so much…

Friendship One is well aware of its position in the larger Voyager canon. The first scene after the credits find Janeway discussing some of the crew’s more outlandish missions with Admiral Hendricks on Earth. “They evolved from dinosaurs?” he repeats. Janeway clarifies, “Hadrosaurs, to be precise. Their ancestors settled in the Delta Quadrant twenty million years ago.” She is, of course, describing the Voth from Distant Origin. Hendrick also mentions the Kobali from Ashes to Ashes and the Vaadwaur from Dragon’s Teeth. This is Voyager; hyper-evolved dinosaurs, a society of the undead, and an army trapped in a deep slumber.

These all sound like they could be stories featured in the Incredible Tales magazine as featured in Far Beyond the Stars or any number of the real-life pulp magazines that inspired that episode. This is an important part of what makes Voyager distinct within the larger Star Trek canon, one of the rare examples of Voyager cultivating a unique flavour. Of course, there are examples of this sort of episode in the other series – Genesis or Impulse, to pick two examples – but not with the same frequency and intensity. For Voyager, schlocky horror was a reliable subgenre.

Failure to launch.

If the Kazon got their fond farewell in Shattered and if Homestead will bid goodbye to the Talaxians, Friendship One feels like a metaphorical farewell to the sort of disfigured and decaying aliens that tended to feature on Voyager. With their disfigured and mangled faces, the aliens in Friendship One resemble no Star Trek species more than the Vidiians or the Malon. While Friendship One does a decent enough job humanising its aliens – even Verin apologises to Carey before murdering him in cold blood – these aliens are meant to be monstrous and grotesque. As Ken Biller directed Bryan Fuller, they are “mutants.”

In that sense, Friendship One is also notable as the last Voyager script credited to Michael Taylor and Bryan Fuller. These are two particularly interesting writers, in large part because of how thoroughly squandered they were during their time on Voyager. Taylor has a writing credit on two of the best episodes of Star Trek ever produced; The Visitor and In the Pale Moonlight. In the interest of fairness, it must be acknowledged that both scripts were heavily massaged by staff veterans; René Echevarria on The Visitor, Ronald D. Moore on In the Pale Moonlight. Still, those were vitally important and influential works.

Four men and a radioactive baby.

Similarly, Fuller made his debut with two very weird episodes of the fifth season of Deep Space Nine. To be fair, nobody is likely to count either The Darkness and the Light or Empok Nor as highlights of the season, but they were examples of a strong and distinct young voice writing Deep Space Nine in a registrar alien to Star Trek at the time. Both episodes were essentially slasher movies in space. Indeed, it feels appropriate that Fuller’s last script for Voyager should be a pulpy throwback horror. It seems to take the writer a full circle within the Berman era.

In terms of raw talent, the debuts of both writers suggested the potential to develop writers on par with those who emerged on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ronald D. Moore made his debut with The Bonding, while René Echevarria showed promise with an early draft of The Offspring that was subsequently heavily reworked by Michael Piller and Melinda Snodgrass. The pair grew into two of the defining voices of nineties Star Trek. Looking at the potential of Fuller and Taylor, there was no reason that they could not have been developed in the same way.

Taking his Neelix.

Indeed, the later careers of both Fuller and Taylor suggest an innate skill at writing genre television. Fuller is behind a number of critically acclaimed genre shows, including Pushing Daisies, Hannibal and American Gods. There is a reason that he was tapped by CBS as the writer to revive the franchise with Star Trek: Discovery, even if the studio seemed horrified by his creative vision once it was unleashed. Fuller is a singular voice in twenty-first century American television, and he worked on Voyager for the better part of four seasons.

Taylor never achieved the same level of fame or acclaim as Fuller, but has enjoyed a notable career in his own right. He has done his fair share of television genre work including shows like Defiance or Into the Badlands. However, he also enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with Ronald D. Moore on the Battlestar Galactica revival. Taylor even wrote the television movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor and was one of the veterans carried over to work on Caprica with Jane Espenson. That’s an impressive record.

This sort of behaviour really makes his skin boil.

Even within Voyager, the pair worked on some of the show’s highlights. Taylor wrote Counterpoint, the teleplay to Someone to Watch Over Me, and the story for Blink of an Eye. Fuller was responsible for episodes like The Raven, Mortal Coil, Gravity and Course: Oblivion. He also worked on a number of teleplays with Braga and Monosky, including Living Witness and Drone. Taylor and Fuller were both responsible for Bride of Chaotica! That is not a bad body of work. Of the major Voyager writers, only Braga and Menosky can claim a more consistent track record.

However, for all of these successes, Taylor and Fuller’s time on the franchise was tempered. According to Moore, who joined the staff briefly at the start of the sixth season, the two young writers “were treated very shabbily” by those higher up the food chain. More than that, a significant volume of the episodes credited to Fuller and Taylor were aggressively toned down and tempered. It is impossible to know whether the original pitches for Once Upon a Time or The Fight or Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II could ever have been workable, but they were much more interesting and ambitious than what made it to screen.

Radioactive man!

In the years since the end of Voyager, Fuller has been very candid in his appraisal of Voyager. In particular, he has been very critical of the direction that the show took in its final year. As Fuller relates in The Fifty-Year Mission, his job became a chore:

I would just sit there in story breaks and I would huff and puff, sigh, roll my eyes, and complain we had done this before and why are we doing it again. I was a huge thorn in Ken’s side because I felt like we needed to do better. We needed to be breaking molds and doing things differently, and Ken’s approach was to be responsible to the studio. And responsible to Rick Berman

He would come in and say Rick Berman’s dictation or edict is to go back over previous episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and see if there is anything that we can mine for new stories as opposed to telling new stories.

Fuller has acknowledged that his attitude probably cost him a potential staff job on Enterprise. While this was undoubtedly a massive loss for the Star Trek franchise, the truth is that Voyager had done very little to earn and develop writers like Taylor and Fuller. It was perhaps best for them to move on.

A pregnant pause.

This is obvious even within Friendship One. There are aspects of the episode that are impressive. The production design is very effective. The direction of the early exploratory scenes on the planet surface are evocative and visceral in a way that Star Trek away missions really are. A hostage drama is a fairly reliable narrative template. The make-up effects on the irradiated aliens are suitably unsettling. The model of the baby is an impressive practical effect, and a nice (relatively) family friendly shout out to Eraserhead.

However, this is all very inert. As with a lot of the seventh season, the script for Friendship One follows the path of least resistance. The hostage drama is a reliable narrative template, but it also feels somewhat lazy. It is has been done countless times to great effect, so there isn’t anything specially about it. There is nothing distinct. It is generic. There are any number of films, both iconic and modern. Dog Day Afternoon remains the gold standard of the genre, but films like The Negotiator, Light It Up, Metro and even the generic Hostage Negotiator had all been released in cinemas within five years of Friendship One.

Hostage to fortune.

Any television show can write a “hostage” episode; The X-Files did it with Duane Barry, Alias did it with The Box, Part I and The Box, Part II. Most obviously, Voyager had only recently taken its own crack at a hostage drama. In fact, Taylor had scripted Collective back during the mid sixth season, in which an away team was taken captive by a group of Borg teenagers. As such, the decision to fall back on such a tried-and-tested structure feels lazy and unearned. There are any number of ways that Friendship One might have developed from its starting premise, so “hostage drama” feels underwhelming.

More than that, the individual beats feel overly familiar and hackneyed. This is perhaps most notable with the decision to bring back the character of Joseph Carey, a recurring character from the first season who has been largely absent since Michael Piller’s departure as showrunner. Indeed, it is notable that Carey’s appearances in episodes like Relativity and Fury served as visual markers of time travel. As far as Voyager was concerned, Carey was a living and breathing avatar of the first season more than a fully-formed or developed character.

Take it away, team.

This makes the decision to kill off Carey in Friendship One seem particularly cynical. The character is very transparently fulfilling the classic Star Trek trope of the red shirt, the guest character whose death can be used to escalate the stakes. However, Friendship One attempts to leverage the character’s previous appearances to create an unearned sense of gravitas. It’s a very lazy way to generate some tension, particularly since the audience knows that Voyager is never going to kill off Paris or Neelix, even several episodes removed from the end of the season.

This cynicism is reflected in the closing scene of the episode, with Janeway examining a ship in a bottle that Carey was constructing. The model of Voyager is almost complete. “He only had one nacelle to go,” Janeway grimly notes. If played well, the scene could be evocative. Carey almost made it home. He almost completed Voyager. However, this is the most time that Voyager has spent developing Carey as a character, and it comes after his death. It has not been properly set up, and the attempt to retroactively graft character on to the deceased Carey underscores the episode’s clumsiness.

Carey on regardless.

Even if Friendship One successfully sold this particular plot beat, it would still be a cliché. Carey was only “one nacelle” away from finishing his model, and four episodes away from finishing the series. It feels like a particularly uninspired riff on the familiar tragedy of cinematic police officers who announce that they are only days away from retirement. As critic Mike LaSalle joked of the use of the cliché in Brooklyn’s Finest, “we all know just how dangerous that can be.” As The Simpsons joked, they might as well call that particular narrative choice “retirony.”

Of course, the choice itself isn’t inherently a bad one. As cynical as it might be to kill off a supporting character to escalate the stakes, television shows do this because it works. It is possible to kill off a supporting character in a way that generates the desired emotional response. To pick an obvious example, Deep Space Nine manages to make the audience care about the character of Ensign Enrique Muniz before killing him off in The Ship. Indeed, Muniz had actually appeared in fewer episodes than Carey, but the use of him in Starship Down and Hard Time helped to establish a meaningful dynamic with O’Brien.

We hardly knew ye.

Similarly, Friendship One suffers from being far too clear-cut in its denouement, for offering far too tidy a resolution to the story being told. The episode focuses on a civilisation that has collapsed, its citizens forced underground to die slowly from radiation poisoning. Some of this is actually quite affecting, such as the conversations between Paris and Brin about her stillborn children. It is genuinely horrific. Indeed, even little touches like Verin’s apology to Carey before murdering him in cold blood suggest a population that has had to make horrific sacrifices in order to continue drawing breath.

However, the end of the episode opts for a trite “happily ever after” resolution that evokes nothing as much as the closing scenes of Mars Attacks!, as the mutants emerge from the caves beneath the surface to find sunlight piercing the cloud layer thanks to the “catalytic agent” designed by Otrin and deployed by Voyager into the upper atmosphere. The climax suggests that Voyager will provide food and medical supplies to help the population get back on their feet, and that the removal of the radiation from the upper atmosphere will allow the civilisation to recover.

Admiral-able intent.

This is an awkward ending for two reasons. Most obviously, it raises the question of what exactly that civilisation looks like. The bulk of Friendship One unfolds in a single cave with a relatively small group of survivors. Are they the only survivors on the planet? Are there other pockets of civilisation remaining in other caves lined with magnesite? After all, it makes sense. The society featured in Friendship One was well past the era of industrialisation. It seems unlikely they would be narrowly confined within a single geographical area. Similarly, they used antimatter to build missiles, implying some foreign threat.

Otrin speaks of the need for a “leader” to chart his people’s course, but the low-tech setting of Friendship One suggests that these survivors are a rag-tag bunch of refugees and dispossessed. Can Verin or Otrin presume to speak for their entire species? Verin has access to the antimatter warheads in the silos near his own cave, but surely there must be other communities scattered across the planet surface with access to similar technology? If transporting to the surface is that difficult, it suggests that activities like maintaining communication and governance would be impossible.

Shooting down fresh new ideas.

However, even setting aside those logistical issues – which only become an issue when Friendship One settles upon a global resolution to an isolated crisis – the ending feels disingenuous. The final scene on the surface of the planet is so hopeful as to border on parody. The inhabitants of the caves emerge from the shadows to bask in the light of the sun overhead. It is almost religious, with Janeway parting the clouds so that sunlight may shine upon the inhabitants of this long-suffering world.

However, it all seems far too easy. What happens next? How do these people rebuild their society? Can they grow crops without worrying about radiation? Can they drink the water? How do they set up governments? What is to stop the antimatter accident from happening again? After all, there are entire plains filled with silos for armed antimatter warheads. There is no sense that Voyager has remained behind, whether to administer medical aid or to help manage the distribution of supplies. Of course, Otrin is almost fully healed; but he was treated by “the best doctor in the quadrant.”

“All right, men, this is a dangerous mission. And it’s likely one of us will be killed. The landing party will consist of Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Paris, Mister Neelix and… err… Joe Carey.”

It all feels very shallow and simplistic, belying the complexity of the episode’s premise and set-up. Friendship One argues that first contact was a messy and complex process that could have horrific unintended consequences if not managed in a very careful and structured manner, but then argues that an almost equally brief second contact will be enough to undo all of that harm. It is a very muddled message, dramatically undercutting the theme of the episode. Much like the crew, there is a strong sense that Voyager just wants to get home.

Again, it is possible to tell this sort of story in a more thoughtful and engaging way. The Quickening told a similar story on Deep Space Nine, with Bashir exploring the aftermath of a biological attack upon a civilian population. The Quickening actually argues that Bashir cannot magically repair a fallen society singlehandedly, forcing the character to acknowledge his hubris and arrogance. However, Bashir learns to accept that he can make small changes that will have a meaningful impact upon the lives of those afflicted; he cannot develop a cure, but he can design a vaccine.

Lighten up.

There are any number of parallels between The Quickening and Friendship One; the grotty surroundings, the away team eager to help, even an expectant mother worried about whether her child will survive. However, The Quickening is careful to insist that the decline of this civilisation cannot be reversed overnight. There is no moment in The Quickening equivalent to the survivors emerging from the caves into the sunlight in Friendship One. As a result, The Quickening is a much stronger episode.

As Voyager winds down, it is damning that even an intriguing standalone adventure feels outdated compared to episodes like The Quickening or The Ship, stories that were broadcast half a decade earlier. Voyager might be closer to home than ever, but it is still travelling backwards.

8 Responses

  1. Knowing your predilections I had hoped you would expound on the cynicism in this episode and you did not disappoint! Very well said!

    >To be fair, nobody is likely to count either The Darkness and the Light or Empok Nor as highlights of the season

    …Only because season 5 was such a phenomenal season, not due to defects within either episode.

    • They fall near the bottom of the Season 5 pack. Above the obvious clunkers like the Risa/Ferenginar episodes, but below really good episodes with bad subplots like The Begotten and Doctor Bashir I Presume? And obviously far below the likes of Children of Time, In the Cards, or Call to Arms.

      • Yep. I feel like they’d do better in franchise (or ever series) rankings than they would in season rankings. But, given the average quality of season five, that makes sense.

      • They simply didn’t match up to the greats of Season 5. But still-it’s hard to judge a writer by their first script. Moore’s was The Bonding. Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s was A Fistful of Datas. The Bonding is fine, but nowhere near as good as Rocks and Shoals or Tacking Into the Wind. A Fistful of Datas is fine, but nowhere near as good as Spectre of the Gun from TOS or Our Man Bashir. So Fuller might have grown as a writer in the writers’ room of a show worthy of his talents. It irritates me that he was passed over in favor of Weddle and Thompson-who, no personal attacks meant, generally have their names on the weakest scripts of most of the series they’ve worked on.

      • Yep. I mean, I understand that you can’t quantify chemistry within a writers’ room, and it’s possible (likely) that Weddle and Thompson just “clicked” in terms of the machinery. After all, Behr cites their work on Peckinpah as something that they bonded over immediately, and I can see the value in having writers who will get a script in on time without any fuss and who don’t mind being overwritten. Which is to say that – despite being openly and candidly critical of their credited work on the show – I tend to trust that Behr got what he felt he needed in bringing them on.

        But, yeah. Imagine a world where Fuller was writing “Sons and Daughters” or “Extreme Measures” or even “Reckoning.” Fuller could (can) be hit-or-miss, but when the problem with a lot of those scripts is how generic and paint-by-numbers they feel in contrast to the episodes around them, it seems like Fuller would definitely have been the better choice.

    • That is also fair. Neither episode is a low-light. In fact, I think they’re both somewhat underrated.

  2. In my memory, the best part of the episode is the scene before the opening credits, where the crew seems genuinely thrilled to be getting their first new orders from Starfleet in 7 years. Then the episode very quickly falls to pieces :/

    • Yep. It’s actually directly after the credits, but yep – it’s very early in the episode. And you’re right that it feels like a wasted opportunity. It really seems like more should have been made of the crew’s first real contact with Starfleet after seven years. Instead, it’s just a framing device for a generic mutants story.

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