Monday, November 26, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Takes A Narrative Risk With Middling Results In “11:59.”

The Good: Decent narrative technique, Good acting
The Bad: Inconsequential, Guts its own theme, No real character development
The Basics: "11:59" explores one of Janeway's ancestors and her role in the development of the Millennium Gate.

As I make it through Star Trek: Voyager for viewing and review, I am actually getting into a series of episodes that I did not see in their first run. By this point in the fifth season, I had given up on Star Trek: Voyager. It was not actually available to me over the airwaves and given how disappointing the episodes had become to me, I surrendered and let go of my fannish need to see each and every episode. But now, for review, I am hitting them all and I live with the hope that I will discover a “lost gem” (at least to me).

“11:59” is not exactly that.

Honestly, going into “11:59,” I had the preconception that it would not be an exceptional episode that I had truly missed. After all, in the decade plus since this episode aired, with all of the Star Trek conventions I dealt at, not once did anyone want to talk about this episode. Like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Far Beyond The Stars” (reviewed here!), “11:59” plays with the narrative technique of the familiar episodes by exploring a past (or near-future, at the time) event wherein Kate Mulgrew takes on a different role from her familiar Kathryn Janeway.

After Neelix talks to Janeway about the Great Wall Of China, he and Janeway talk about the Millennium Gate, Earth’s first sustainable biosphere, visible from orbit. Janeway reveals that her family was integral with getting the Millennium Gate built. The episode then transitions to the story of Shannon O’Donnell, Janeway’s ancestor (played by Kate Mulgrew). Out of gas and out of money in Indiana, O’Donnell ends up in the company of Henry Janeway.

Henry Janeway is the last holdout of the local businesses who is fighting the construction of the Millennium Gate. Despite their age difference and lifestyle difference (Janeway having never left Indiana and O’Donnell being a wanderer), O’Donnell becomes enchanted with Janeway and the fight over the Millennium Gate.

I admire the narrative variation in “11:59,” though there are some serious issues with the episode and the way it is presented. First, “11:59” breaks up the flashback story with a few interludes to basically promote that half of the episode. The moments with Janeway, Neelix, and Seven Of Nine break up the episode in uninteresting ways. The Shannon O’Donnell story is actually strong enough to stand on its own without the breaks.

As important, in the problem department, the interludes in the story force the episode to use a very obvious (if one is awake and understands how storytelling works) technique for obscuring the resolution to the episode. Throughout the episode, which takes place in Indiana, Canton, Ohio is mentioned as an alternative site for the Millennium Gate. To keep the end of the episode a surprise, “11:59” forces the future crew to not mention what city the Millennium Gate is actually located in until the end.

“11:59” is filled up, then, with the predictable use of a spokesman for the Millennium Gate, Gerald Moss, who provides the sinister opportunity for Shannon O’Donnell to betray Janeway in order to get the Millennium Gate built. “11:59” smartly does not drag out this potential conflict. Janeway and O’Donnell are honest with one another about the offer Moss made to her. In this way, at least, the episode does not insult the intelligence of the viewer.

The other ridiculous conceit of “11:59” is that Janeway gets information on Shannon O’Donnell through a database that it should not actually have access to. When searching for information, the crew uses non-Federation databases and there is no satisfactory explanation as to how they connect with the Ferengi database that gives them the information they need.

Kate Mulgrew and Kevin Tighe (Henry Janeway) have great on-screen chemistry. In fact, it is uncanny how well the two performers connect on-screen and they make the episode worth watching. “11:59” lacks real character development, instead it works to explain better how Janeway became who she was through her own family history (skewed as it was by age).

Unfortunately, despite the references to Rome, “11:59” opens a decent anti-capitalist argument, but does not sufficiently develop it. The story is diverting, but inconsequential to the overall narrative of Star Trek: Voyager. The result is that the episode is more average than in any way extraordinary.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the season here!

For other works with John Carroll Lynch, check out:
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Shutter Island
Love Happens
Gran Torino


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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  1. When I say I'm not your usual Star Trek fan, you can see here how it's true because this is my favourite Star Trek Voyager episode. And I could talk about it for hours !

    At first, I must admit I thought I would hate it because I love when science fiction shows dive more into the future (that's why my 2nd favorite Voyager episode is RELATIVITY) than when they show us what happened in the past (I usually find it boring because it doesn't move the story forward) so I thought this was going to be awful. But this episode proved me wrong.

    I really loved the mood and the story of that episode. I found it very moving. I would have loved to spend some time in this book-shop like Shannon O'Donnell with her new-found friends, especially when it is so cold outside. I love watching this episode especially in Winter. It's crazy I know and it's very hard to explain it but I really liked it.

    1. :)

      You had to prove me wrong! :)

      Thanks so much for sharing and thanks for reading!