Saturday, December 1, 2012

Outside The Preposterous Set-Up, “Equinox” Helps Star Trek: Voyager Fifth Season Go Out On A High Note!

The Good: Great acting, Wonderful character work, Great effects, Engaging plot development
The Bad: Initial premise is a bit hard to swallow.
The Basics: “Equinox” brings a powerful end to the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager when Voyager encounters another Federation ship trapped in the Delta Quadrant.

One of the issues the Star Trek franchise has been known to have is in casting guest captains for Federation starships. Far, far too often on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, actors were cast who did not have the same level of gravitas or ability to portray credible authority that Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks possessed. Star Trek: Voyager managed to escape this defect more often than not by the simple fact that the show was set in the Delta Quadrant far, far away from any other StarFleet vessel. However, when the show introduced another starship, in “Equinox,” they certainly cast the captain perfectly with John Savage.

“Equinox” is one of the best episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and arguably the best season finale the series produced. To dispense with it, the fundamental problem with “Equinox” is that the show forces the viewer to accept that another Federation starship was abducted by the Caretaker. While it makes sense that the Equinox would not have had a Klingon on board, there is no specific reason why the ship would not have had a person of Asian descent aboard, especially when one is seen among the Equinox crew (in “Caretaker,” the only human who is abducted it Harry Kim). But, given the pretty diverse crew Janeway has and the lack of diversity on the Equinox crew, it seems odd that the Caretaker would not have either found what it was looking for from the Equinox crew (thus eliminating the need to transport Voyager to the Delta Quadrant) or eliminated Federation ships from its “to abduct” list. Regardless, “Equinox” provides Star Trek: Voyager with a second Federation ship lost in the Delta Quadrant and once one accepts that premise, the episode is actually quite good.

“Equinox” allows Star Trek: Voyager to show the road not travelled with Janeway’s crew. While Janeway and her crew have maintained their Federation ethics, the crew of the Equinox has been under siege for quite some time and they have compromised in order to try to survive. The only execution issue with “Equinox” is that the crew of the other starship look exceptionally clean and well-groomed for a group of people who have not had showers for months.

The U.S.S. Equinox attempts to regenerate its shields when it comes under attack from creatures that open small fissures in space to break through into normal space. Voyager receives the distress call from the other StarFleet ship and moves to aid them. Extending their shields around the Equinox, Voyager rescues the other vessel and several members of the crew. Janeway and Captain Rudy Ransom begin comparing notes and Ransom references a race that killed half of his crew the first week within the Delta Quadrant. As Chakotay gets to know the Equinox’s surviving engineer, Marla Gilmore, Gilmore reveals a deep-seated paranoia and fear.

The first officer of the Equinox is Maxwell Burke, a man who dated B’Elanna Torres a decade ago. He exploits his prior relationship with Torres to get access to Voyager’s engineering records. He also lets Voyager’s crew know how they can capture the entities who are trying to break through Voyager’s shields. When the Doctor discovers the secret in the research lab aboard the Equinox, it puts the two crews in conflict with one another and puts Voyager in an untenable position.

One of the nice aspects of “Equinox” is that it is smart and it creates a conflict worthy of a two-part episode. Far from being gratuitous, “Equinox” (Part 1) builds up the conflict and takes its time developing the characters from the other StarFleet vessel. Ransom and Gilmore talk about very different alien races than the crew of Voyager encountered and given how many loopholes and wormholes Voyager encountered to get ahead, it makes sense that the Equinox would have encountered some other races. While I think it would have been more clever for the Equinox crew to have been initially cut down by the Vidiians (which would have been pretty awesome continuity), the reference to races like the one that provided them with a “poor man’s holodeck” are very cool.

The writing is clever, addressing such things as which of the two captains actually has authority in the circumstance the Equinox and Voyager find themselves in. Even the characterization of the Ankari is developed sufficiently to seem entirely credible.

In addition to interesting characters – Ransom has the bearing of a Captain, Burke has a delightfully shifty quality and the fact that B’Elanna referred to him as a p’taq in their past sets up well the second part, and Gilmore is completely reasonable in her claustrophobia – “Equinox” has wonderful acting. John Savage is great as Ransom and Titus Welliver is equally impressive as Burke. Robert Picardo is given the chance to play an alternative version of the Doctor as well and he does that well. Even Kate Mulgrew gets the chance to play Janeway stern in a way that feels different from how she plays it with the characters who have been on Voyager all along.

The special effects for the nucleogenic life forms are cool, as are the battle sequences.

More than feeling simply like the first part of a two-parter, “Equinox” has the feeling of being a restart of sorts, a chance for the series to change direction and it is flush with promise of a compelling restart. For the first time in a long time, Star Trek: Voyager ended in a way that made the viewer excited about its return for the next season!

[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 Titus Welliver, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Man On A Ledge
“Darkness Falls” - The X-Files


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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