“It’s not crunch time yet, Mister Kim. I’ll let you know when.”
We’re in the Badlands, stomping grounds of the Maquis with a Cardassian ship in pursuit of a smaller ship commanded by Chakotay, former Starfleet hero now traitor. Vulcan Tuvok rides shotgun, navigating some serious fire-waves when, from out of nowhere, an energy beam zaps the ship and causes it to vanish. A few days later, Captain Kathryn Janeway visits Tom Paris at a rehabilitation facility. She has a deal for him. He comes along as a guide on her mission to find the missing Maquis ship and she’ll request an early pardon. How can he say no? Newly-commissioned starship U.S.S. Voyager is docked at Deep Space Nine and we get the perfunctory cross-over appearance from Quark (also Morn) as he attempts to scam Ensign Harry Kim into buying some worthless gems.
Paris is there to save the day and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. You see, what with Harry being green as the day is long, and Paris as the bad seed. Stay away from Tommy, Kid! He’s bad news, like an evil Richie Cunningham. After a meet-and-greet with the Captain, Voyager makes for the Badlands, where they are hit with the same energy weapon, but this time we follow them to their eventual destination: some 70,000 light-years into the Delta Quadrant. Most of Janeway’s senior officers are killed, including her First Officer, Chief Engineer, and Chief Medical Officer. With many wounded, Harry activates the Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo). They locate the Maquis ship, but no one is aboard. There also seems to be an “array,” something akin to a highly-advanced space station sending power to a distant planet.
The crew starts to vanish. Janeway et al materialize on what looks like a farm with a bunch of down-home rednecks serving corn, playing the fiddle, and strumming on the old banjo. The folks don’t like it when Kim and Paris start snooping around for the power force necessary to create this illusion. The crew is then abducted and sent to what looks like a medical laboratory. Later, everyone is returned to the ship (including the Maquis to their ship) with the exception of Harry and half-Klingon engineer, B’Elanna Torres. It seems the array is being controlled by a caretaker, and that caretaker is dying. He has been searching the Universe for a compatible life-form that will continue to protect a race known as the Ocampa. Chakotay and Tuvok agree to discuss the situation with Janeway.
Tuvok reveals himself to be a double-agent working for Starfleet and Janeway. His mission was to infiltrate the Maquis and dig up as much dirt as he could carry. This burns Chakotay’s butter, but both captains agree to work together to find their missing people. They come across a small ship, piloted by the bizarre Talaxian, Neelix, who agrees to take them to the Ocampan planet where his girlfriend, Kes, is being held by an unpleasant (and none-too-bright) race of savages known as the Kazon. Janeway tries to make nice with the Kazon by giving them water, which is desperately needed, but the Kazon are written to be one-note mustache-twirling idiots (with a militant patriarchal philosophy to boot) and, by episode’s end, they let our heroes know they will be thorns in their side for years to come. Thanks, Kate.
Ultimately, Janeway destroys the array (and with it, Voyager’s only way to get home) to keep it out of Kazon hands and protect the recessive Ocampa. This decision will backfire on her and cause consternation among her crew, but Janeway is a character intent on preserving her own sense of ethics even if those ethics come into conflict with her or the crew’s instinctive sensibilities. This is her first command, and it can be extremely frustrating to watch her make the same mistake every time, but apparently that is Starfleet policy.
Still, this pilot episode is chock-loaded with meat-and-potatoes storytelling unlike the Frankenstein’s Monster job of “Encounter at Farpoint” or the far-out, New-Age theology of “Emissary.” Alliances are forged and friendships are fostered. Chakotay is promoted to First Officer and his crew joins Voyager. Neelix and Kes remain on board as ambassadors of goodwill for the Delta Quadrant, and Voyager sets course for home. They’ll encounter a few bumps on the road along the way.
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