Friday, September 21, 2012

Somewhat Preposterous Star Trek: Voyager Begins With “Year Of Hell, Part 1”

The Good: Moments of character, Decent acting
The Bad: Plot makes very little sense in the overall context of the show, Puts a lot of faith in the second part.
The Basics: When the Krenim Annorax begins deliberately eliminating the Zahl from the timestream, the “Year Of Hell” begins.

While virtually everyone I know loves “Year Of Hell,” I am not a fan. “Year Of Hell” was foreshadowed in “Before And After” (reviewed here!) and while it ought to represent a real chance for a continuity tour de force for Star Trek: Voyager, it illustrates only what a poor writer and conceptual director Brannon Braga truly was. The reason is simple: “Year Of Hell” is based on information from “Before And After” and all that has changed between the events of “Before And After” and “Year Of Hell” is that Kes gained incredible powers and left the U.S.S. Voyager.

In “The Gift” (reviewed here!), Kes threw Voyager 10,000 light years closer to home. That gift puts Voyager out of Borg space and exceptionally close to Krenim space. Going into “Year Of Hell,” though, Voyager knows that it is coming. “Before And After” is a rare isolated time travel episode where what is known about the future is shared with those in the “present.” Kes, for example, has the readings needed to create the temporal shielding needed to thwart the Krenim chronoton-based torpedoes. And yet, “Year Of Hell” forgets that and spends an inordinate time in a “Yesterday’s Enterprise”-sytle alternate timeline where Voyager has been getting it’s butt kicked by the Krenim. With so many elements of the events of “Year Of Hell” known before the episode begins, it seems incredibly sloppy that Brannon Braga did not construct the episode in a way that the consequences of Kes leaving would be more directly addressed.

After Annorax attempts to eliminate a Zahl colony from time without reaching a specific goal of his, the crew of Voyager is thrilled to inaugurate their new astrometrics laboratory that blends Borg and StarFleet technology. The Doctor’s longwinded speech is interrupted by a disruption by a weak Krenim ship. That is Day 4 and it marks Voyager’s first obvious encounter with a temporal wave that successfully eliminates the Zahl from all time and puts the Krenim in a much more formidable position for Voyager.

As Voyager is attacked by the Krenim repeatedly, it continues to be altered along with time as Annorax continues to adjust the timestream to attempt to get a lost colony restored. After the Doctor makes a judgment call that costs two crewmen their lives when Deck Five is utterly destroyed, Paris designs new bulkheads that might save the ship. He is forced to put his feelings on hold when Torres is wounded. Seven Of Nine gets the readings needed to create the correct temporal shields, at the cost of Tuvok’s eyes. When the shielding goes live, Voyager remains unaffected by the subsequent temporal alterations by Annorax and that draws his attention. With Voyager no longer an “inert” temporal element, Annorax abducts Paris and Chakotay and sets his sights on destroying Voyager in addition to restoring the lost Krenim colony.

“Year Of Hell” gets the comedic elements out of the way quickly and, unfortunately, it is not terribly funny even when it tries. The Doctor’s attempt to make a speech falls flat and it stands out sorely in an episode that is incredibly dark. The serious tone of the rest of the episode is not oppressive and “Year Of Hell” smartly focuses on the tone when it is not focusing on the plot.

The mood in “Year Of Hell” is well-presented with both the special effects and make-up. The sets are littered with debris as the episode goes on, the characters appear sweaty and by the end of the episode, the only ones with good-looking hair are Tuvok (who is almost bald), Seven Of Nine, and Janeway. The rest of the actors play their characters as frazzled with a sense of being unsettled. Robert Duncan McNeil twitches and flinches through trying to sleep and Jeri Ryan actually looks upset as she (as Seven Of Nine) walks Tuvok through a burned-out corridor.

More than anything else, “Year Of Hell” is a set-up and in some ways, it is a necessary evil. “Before And After” foreshadowed that the episode was coming, so it would have been sloppy to not present the concept without addressing that. While Janeway remains monolithically focused on keeping the crew together, Chakotay presents a more caring persona than he has been allowed to since “Resolutions” (reviewed here!) and Paris actually gets the chance to grow a bit by both contributing to Voyager and being forced to put Torres second when she is wounded.

But, the character who moves most of “Year Of Hell” is Annorax. Annorax is played by Kurtwood Smith and the challenge Smith has is playing Annorax as smart, calculating, and ruthless without simply replaying his character from That 70’s Show. The reason the episode succeeds as much as it does (“Year Of Hell” only gets up to Day 73 before the first part ends) is because Kurtwood Smith plays Annorax with an undertone of caring and loss, which is needed to make Annorax at all empathetic. He pulls it off as best he can.

But the full explanation for Annorax’s motivations is not present in “Year Of Hell” and that forces the viewer to take on faith that the second part will make the investment worthwhile. “Year Of Hell” is a tough sell on its own and, given the severity of the problems with the second part, is not redeemed by the second part. And I may be in the minority, but the journey in this one is not entirely worth it.

For other works with Kurtwood Smith, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Cedar Rapids
"Things Past"
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The Deer Hunter

[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!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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