When Voyager discovers a 1930s truck floating in space, they follow its trail to a story of alien abduction, new worlds and a difficult decision for the crew.
Amelia Earheart was abducted by aliens and put into stasis in the Delta Quadrant. This is one of those rare episodes of Star Trek that deal with ‘real’ alien conspiracy theories, and that aspect of it is rather fun. It’s total nonsense, but who wouldn’t like to think that Amelia Earheart and her navigator are living out their lives together on some planet somewhere, rather than lying at the bottom of the ocean? It’s also rather nice to see Voyager doing a story about a pioneering female pilot, and Kate Mulgrew plays Janeway’s discovery of a woman who was one of her heroes with enthusiasm.
This episode also establishes that Voyager, unlike it’s huge and unwieldy forerunners, can actually land on planets (without crashing). Apparently the atmosphere on the planet is too highly charged with some technobabble to use the transporters or shuttlecraft – though, naturally, it’s still fine for everyone to wander around unprotected on the surface. Essentially, when the producers want to show off some shiny effects for the sweeps, this is what happens.
Being a 1990s show, Voyager is a little slower-paced than most current dramas, which run to 41 or 42 minutes to Voyager’s 46. Mostly, this is a good thing, allowing for quiet, reflective scenes, especially at episode conclusions. Sometimes, on the other hand, it results in some really daft padding. In this case, that would be the frankly ridiculous sequence where Janeway, Paris, Kim and Kes are held hostage by a group of people who mostly don’t know each other, have just woken up from a sleep longer than Rip van Winkle and have one ancient firearm between them. Why weren’t Tuvok and the security team supervising this delicate and unpredictable operation? How have this crew ever managed to win any fights anywhere ever if they can’t face down one man with an antiquated firearm? No wonder Voyager gets taken over by enemies so often.
The true point of this episode, though, is to put a real decision in front of Voyager’s crew. Stranded in the Delta Quadrant because of Captain Janeway’s choice, forcibly merged into a Federation crew at her command and ordered to fly home without really considering their options, again by Janeway, in this episode every crew-member gets to make their own choice for once. They can decide whether to give up on the potentially-75-year journey ‘home’ (presumably it’s even further for some of the aliens onboard, and Kes and Neelix are flying away from home) and settle on a new world, or whether to re-join Voyager and try to reach their homes and families again. It’s hard not to feel a little emotional when every single member of the crew decides to stay with Janeway after all, and Mulgrew plays her quiet joy beautifully.
‘The 37s’ is one of several episodes held back from Voyager’s first season and incorporated into the second. It was originally intended to be the Season 1 finale, and it shows – the decision the crew faces and the emotional resolution as they all decide to carry on are very obviously designed to conclude Season 1’s introductory story arc (and this would have made a much better finale than ‘Learning Curve.’ But then, so would almost anything). I can see why it became the second season premiere instead, as it more or less works in that context – it’s got the impressive special effects, a story designed to have widespread appeal and encourage new viewers in by making use of a famous and popular figure, and it introduces new viewers to Voyager’s situation in detail. But something about it just feels so much like a conclusion, rather than a beginning, which is unfortunate in a season opener.
Bits and pieces
- This is the episode that introduces us, for plot-based reasons, to Paris’ interest in ‘antique vehicles.’ We therefore have this to thank for Paris as a rather sexy mechanic in Season 4. Thank you, 'The 37s'.
- Everyone running and ducking when the car backfires is hilarious.
- When Paris says he’s never landed a starship before, I have visions of Galaxy Quest. Neelix’s insistence on preparing dishes from each of the 37s’ native countries is also distinctly reminiscent of that film.
- Chakotay thinks they couldn’t operate the ship with fewer than 100 crew-members. Luckily they obviously made some significant improvements to the automated systems by the time of Season 4’s ‘One.’
- Janeway flirting watch: Chakotay gets flirty with her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Chakotay: “It is a tempting prospect. But when I hold it up against the prospect of seeing the sun rise over the Arizona desert, or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico on a summer's day, there's just no comparison. I wanna go home.”
Janeway (as they take off): “Let’s do it. Take us up.”
A bit dull, but the resolution makes this more than the sum of its parts. Two and a half out of four antique vehicles.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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