Season 1, Episodes 1-2: Caretaker Parts 1 and 2
Stargazer and LCARS say: Watch It, Begrudgingly 2/5 Janeways.
In which the titular starship gets tossed 70,000 light-years away from home. Hilarity ensues.
Reasons to Watch It's the first episode, introducing a lot of great characters. Establishes early conflicts, such as the Kazon and tensions with the Maquis (which won't last long, so enjoy it while you can). Fun DS9 cameos.
Reasons to Skip It's a two parter, and Star Trek rarely does a good job with multi part episodes. Tom Paris' casual sexual harassment and light racism. More introductions are made later in the show. The amount of screen time given to Tom Paris is truly embarrassing. If you know the basic premise of the show or are familiar with the characters, skip this one with a clear conscience.
What We Remember That it's really bad.
“You Have Made an Enemy Today”
There are three things that Star Trek predictably fails to do well: shot-on-location episodes, multi-part “event” episodes, and the pilot for a new series. And this is all three. So as Stargazer said to me: buckle up, fuckos, we're gonna get through this.
The beginning of the episode can't quite decide who or what to focus on, so it smears into a bewildering series of events. First we have Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Tuvok as Maquis on the run from a Cardassian warship. Then we meet Tom Paris, whose hair looks a little too perfect for a man ostensibly in prison, even a Federation prison. And then, finally, Kathryn Janeway, Voyager's captain.
After a short cameo from Quark and Morn aboard DS9, everyone is sucked into the Delta Quadrant some 70,000 light-years from home. We're treated to some transparently evil faux-southern holograms who put on a “Welcoming Bee” for the crew, and then some sexualized medical trauma before we learn that a god-like alien from another galaxy called the Caretaker is behind all these shenanigans. We'll also get the first of many baleful Harry Kim screams.
Let me just say that it's pretty weird to have this episode built on the idea that a god-like alien being uses advanced technology to transport two spaceships 70,000 light year so that it can :squints at notes: irritate the hell out of some people at a fake Green Acres.
Back in the story, Kim and B'Elanna have to escape what appears to be an underground community college before the rubber sores glued to their arms and face finally kill them. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew encounters Neelix, who cons then into rescuing his girlfriend Kes from the Kazon—an alien species that reminds Stargazer of birds and me of Burning Man attendees after a few too many days on the playa. Or maybe that “it's aliens” guy from the History channel.
The two stories link back up in the ancient fire escape the Caretaker used to move Kes' people, the Ocampa, underground in millennias past. Our heroes wind their way to the top, and escape. Back safe in space, shit goes sideways and Janeway is forced to choose between sending her crew home and detonating the Caretaker's space station to prevent it from being taken over by the Kazon and used to destroy the Ocampa. Janeway decides to stay stranded and, surprisingly, everyone goes along with it.
As an aside, it always struck me as a bit unfair that the writers made Janeway consciously choose to stay, rather than making it the product of circumstance.
“Set a Course for Home”
When Stargazer and I started our rewatch, I paused the opening sequence to get up and do something. By chance, the still frame was a shot that showed the underside of Voyager's saucer section.
Right in the middle, there's an outline there that looks a lot like a winged spaceship. That's because technically there is another spaceship there. The team that designed the Intrepid class ship for the show added something called an Aeroshuttle—a small craft that can detach from Voyager and fly off on other adventures. (Fun fact: the Enterprise-D has a similar craft attached to its saucer called the Captain's Yacht.)
It's never used in an episode and never, to my knowledge, even mentioned. But it's there the whole time, in plain sight, for seven seasons. An unfulfilled promise.
It struck me in that moment, that this whole pilot was just like the Aeroshuttle. The events and characters are going to stay with us for seven seasons, but many of the threads are just going to be dropped, and forgotten.
It starts promisingly, with the show defining how different it's going to be. It hints that it will break Gene Roddenberry's cardinal rule: that there not be any conflict among the crew. Not only are so many personalities in the crew in opposition, it's also full of people (Tom, the Maquis, Neelix) who are outside Starfleet. It's ripe for conflict.
While Voyager starts on DS9, we are quickly swept away to some strange new worlds with new life and new civilizations. While Voyager has an overarching story similar to DS9, it's going to be boldly going and not just orbiting Bajor.
Voyager is also meant to be Star Trek without Starfleet. They have (allegedly) limited supplies, and are without backup. More importantly though, they are far away from any real consequences. The central dilemma of the show isn't “will they get home.” We're pretty certain that they will. It's “can this crew hold on to its beliefs?” In dire straits and so far from home, will it compromise itself?
Janeway actually sums all this up in her final speech of the pilot. It's a wonderful, character-defining moment where she itemizes all the challenges they face, internally and externally, and promises that the crew will overcome all of them with their morals intact. It's classic Star Trek optimism in the face of insurmountable odds. She concludes with her command, “set a course for home.” Her gravitas gives me chills.
There's another, shorter speech that embodies the other facet of Voyager. It comes from Jabin, the Kazon warlord who harries our heroes throughout the episode. After taking a beating in a starship battle, he hails Voyager to say “You have made an enemy today,” before abruptly hanging up. Along their journey, the Voyager crew will often be a very un-Starfleet agent of chaos, upsetting existing social orders often without even intending to. They will make a lot of enemies.
What undercuts all that is my foreknowledge of where the show is going to go. I know that the conflict with the Maquis is going to abruptly fade out. I know core characters from the early seasons get relegated to the backbench. I know that Kes is going to be written off after being underutilized for her entire run. I know that there's going to be another Caretaker, who is hinted at in the pilot, but she's going to be little more than a monster of the week. I know that the last episode won't do the series justice and is, on balance, some of the worst Trek. I know that Voyager won't get any movies.
Voyager makes a lot of promises in this first episode in a way that is more intentional than other Trek series, and while it grows in some lovely ways, so much will go unrealized. Like Voyager's Aeroshuttle, there are ideas that are there at the start, but never get to fly.