The Good: Moments of character, Decent acting, Good effects, Decent plot
The Bad: Plot resolution is not at all sensible
The Basics: With Chakotay studying the nature of time under Annorax, Voyager slowly limps into a final confrontation with the timeship in “Year Of Hell, Part 2.”
It is a rare thing in the Star Trek franchise for a second part of a two-part episode arc to overshadow the first part. If there had never been the episode “Before And After” (reviewed here!), the Star Trek: Voyager “Year Of Hell” arc would not have been produced. Foreshadowed in “Before And After,” “Year Of Hell” (reviewed here!) suffers severely because it neglects the resolution to that episode and it failed to address the changes that resulted from Kes leaving the ship. “Year Of Hell, Part 2” manages to be a better second part than the first.
“Year Of Hell, Part 2” succeeds because it focuses smartly on characters. Annorax, Janeway, and Chakotay all have important character arcs that make for an intriguing story that manages to go beyond the irritatingly plot-centered first part. In fact, all that robs “Year Of Hell, Part 2” of status as a real classic in the Star Trek franchise is the resolution. The way “Year Of Hell, Part 2” ends makes no sense whatsoever. The resolution, which steals from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “The Visitor” (reviewed here!) flops entirely because the mechanic it employs is not established within the episode. In other words, “The Visitor” explicitly states what will happen when the temporal element is affected in the way the Jake Sisko is working; it is not in “Year Of Hell, Part 2.” As a result, when the episode ends with a bang, that should simply have ended the episode, not led to the temporal reset that it does. In fact, with the temporal element eliminated, there is absolutely no reason that any time travel element would result to bring the resolution the episode ends up with.
With Voyager abandoned by all but a skeleton crew, Janeway finds herself increasingly alone and isolated. Desperately working to get the ship running again, Janeway has Voyager hiding in a nearby nebula. Meanwhile, Chakotay and Paris have spent months in isolation, but are released for a meeting with Annorax. Chakotay and Annorax begins to bond and the result is that Annorax offers Chakotay the chance to get Voyager home faster using the timeship and its tools. With Chakotay apparently seduced by the allure of Annorax’s promises, he begins to study time under Annorax.
As Chakotay works on that front, Paris forms an alliance with Annorax’s reluctant first officer, Obrist, who is eager for the two hundred year journey of the timeship to come to an end. Following a fire that nearly kills her, Janeway moves Voyager to a position where it can make an alliance with nearby aliens. With the ship severely damaged, Janeway and Paris coordinate to put Annorax down and end their tragedy-filled year.
“Year Of Hell, Part 2,” outside the resolution that makes no sense (after all, in “Before And After,” despite the extensive damage the ship took, it survived for many more years!), is a solid character study that actually puts Janeway and Annorax on the same side of an issue, yet completely at odds. The emotional tug using Chakotay further binds them in an interesting fashion. Janeway personifies Voyager in an identical way to how Annorax time itself. Janeway is obsessed with surviving the year, especially with her crew gone from the ship.
Annorax finally comes fully into his own as both a villain and a character as his motivation is made explicit. From his first scene, having a meal prepared of dishes from races he has utterly erased from time, Annorax is characterized as an exceptionally intelligent individual who is dominated by the loss he has suffered. As he explains to Chakotay, one of his earliest temporal incursions accidentally led to a biological plague that wiped out the colony he has sought to restore. There, Annorax’s wife was killed and ever since, that colony has been erased from the timestream.
While Annorax is cold and characterized as ruthless, what makes “Year Of Hell, Part 2” as interesting as it is is the characterization of Janeway. Janeway is erratic and only Seven Of Nine and the Doctor speak against her. After she is wounded, the Doctor defines her position as being virtually psychopathic and the scenes they share that put them at odds are offset by careful, deliberate and dispassionate scenes between Annorax and Chakotay as they work to understand the nature of time and the temporal incursions Annorax has made with the weaponship.
Kurtwood Smith, Robert Picardo, and Kate Mulgrew dominate the performances in “Year Of Hell, Part 2.” While Chakotay has a decent role, Robert Beltran is not given a chance to truly shine outside the way he has previously presented Chakotay. Picardo, on the other hand, plays the Doctor as both authoritative and emotionally aware. While the others seem willing to follow Janeway to their deaths, the Doctor is not and Picardo takes the usual lines Chief Medical Officers deliver on being able to relieve the captain and makes it sound fresh, new, and rational.
Kurtwood Smith manages to make Annorax, who is (at least on the surface) a genocidal psychopath, seem both personable and almost reasonable. He simply wants to get the love of his life back and he is using the exceptional tool that destroyed her to try to bring her back. Smith is coldly cruel as Annorax, as opposed to acerbic like he is in so many of his other roles and he makes Annorax memorable as a result.
Of the main cast, it is Kate Mulgrew that makes “Year Of Hell, Part 2” truly special. Mulgrew keeps ramping up the distraught nature of Janeway and she makes the character obsessed without ever losing her humanity. That she manages to do this in a way that feels distinctly different from how she played angry in “Scientific Method” (reviewed here!). When Janeway discovers the watch Chakotay replicated for her and when she hugs Tuvok, Janeway is so subtly passionate and sad that it is heartwrenching to watch.
Ultimately, “Year Of Hell, Part 2” may be dependent upon “Before And After” and the first part of “Year Of Hell” to truly understand all that is going on in the episode, but it certainly outshines the first part, at least until its end.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the gamechanging middle season here!
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© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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