“Caretaker”

Hi, I'm the first office and I totally won't be dead within the next few hours.
“Hi, I’m the first officer and I totally won’t be dead within the next few hours.”

A Maquis ship, after a short battle with a Cardassian vessel, is overtaken by a weird energy wave. Shortly thereafter, the Intrepid-class U.S.S. Voyager, under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) leaves DS9 to find the ship — as her chief of security Tuvok (Tim Russ) was onboard the Maquis ship, undercover — and is overtaken by the same wave and then sent 70,000 light years into the Delta Quadrant, by an alien-looking array. The responsible party runs tests on the Voyager crew — having already done so on the Maquis crew — and sends them all back to their ships, except for Voyager’s Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and the Maquis B’Elaana Torres (Roxann Dawson). Janeway forms a temporary alliance with the Maquis commander, Chakotay (Robert Beltran). With tensions high, the ships encounter a junk dealer named Neelix (Ethan Phillips) who suggests that Kim and Torres were likely sent to a nearby planet by the Caretaker (who runs the array) in the care of a race called the Ocampa. Neelix agrees to help Janeway and heads for the planet — where he starts a brief and nasty encounter with the Kazon-Ogla to rescue his lover, Kes (Jennifer Lien) an Ocampa captured by the Kazon. Neelix wants to leave immediately, but Kes agrees to help Janeway. Using the transporter, they make it into the Ocampa’s underground civilization (below the Kazon, who don’t have transporters), powered by the Caretaker, and eventually rescue Kim and Torres. As Voyager heads back to the array to try to get home, the Kazon decide it’s time to take over the array. The Maquis ship is lost in the ensuing battle — but all of Chakotay’s crew get onboard Voyager — and Janeway decides to destroy the array to keep it from falling into Kazon hands (in which they’d likely use it to destroy the Ocampa). Stranded in the Delta Quadrant and with a divided crew the episode ends with Janeway setting a course … for home.

No snark, the Intrepid really was a beautiful ship design.
No snark, the Intrepid really was a beautiful ship design.

Why it’s important

All pilot episodes are pretty significant. “Caretaker” sets the stage for the next seven years of Voyager — why the ship is in the Delta Quadrant, who runs it (under Janeway’s command), who are the near-term bad guys (the Kazon) and who will be Voyager’s guide (Neelix).

Voyager, of course, is a funny series in that many of the aliens we meet along the way are never (or rarely) seen again — as they’re so far away from the rest of the Federation. And the storylines often don’t pick up threads from previous series. This is a note to readers who wonder why we’ll review fewer Voyager episodes — especially in the early seasons — than DS9 or TNG.

Welcome to the Dixie... er Gamma Quadrant
Welcome to the Dixie… err … Delta Quadrant

What doesn’t hold up

Well, first of all, why would the Caretaker — while searching the entire galaxy for a way to procreate — select the same spot twice? After grabbing Chakotay’s ship, shouldn’t he move on? We learn later he grabbed other ships from the Badlands. Maybe the Caretaker can only grab ships from plasma fields?

Secondly, there’s the whole matter of water being at a premium with Neelix and the Kazon, as Neelix asks for water in exchange for helping Janeway. Neelix can apparently leave the system in his own ship, so are we to believe that a wide swath of space only has arid planets? Keep in mind that Neelix seems completely unaccustomed to water — and doesn’t simply say that there’s no water nearby. We learn later that he and the Kazon cover a wide area of space. So, can’t they find some planets with water?

There’s also the matter of just how long the Maquis existed prior to the events here. Keep in mind that we first learned of the rebel group in “The Maquis” in DS9’s second season — which was less than a year before “Caretaker”. This will come up again and again through Voyager, but dialog about how long the Maquis members fought together, developed loyalties, etc., hinges on, well, how long the Maquis could have actually existed. Now, I suppose it’s possible the rebellion was around for a brief period before the Federation discovered it in the previously mentioned DS9 episode. But the treaty that pissed the Maquis off was finalized maybe a year prior to the first mention of the group (in “Chain of Command”). In other words, even if the rebellion started RIGHT after that, they would have had like 18 months to forge any sort of bonds. There’s a line from Chakotay later in the series that he resigned from Starfleet in protest in 2368, which would have been TNG’s fifth season. That seems odd, but even if he joined the Maquis the next day (unlikely, as it’s never stated that Chakotay was one of the group’s founders) there’s no evidence that a rebellion existed earlier than two-plus years prior to “Caretaker”.

More on the Maquis. We see four people who were on the Maquis ship in this episode — Chakotay, Torres, Tuvok and the guy we learn later is Ayala (who, to the creators credit, sticks around as a background credit for much if not all of the series). Beyond that, the ship they’re in looks like one of the standard Maquis raiders from TNG/DS9. In other words, it’s about the size of a shuttle/runabout. But, later, we see that between 20-30 Maquis were onboard. Were the crew members we didn’t see in this episode just clustered in the back?

Oh, and, after Torres and Kim are rescued by Voyager, we see them both in Voyager’s sickbay. Somehow, Torres is wearing the exact same clothes she had on before she was captured by the Caretaker and put into weird surgical clothes that she and Kim wear while in the Ocampa civilization. So, did she have the clothes exactly replicated for some reason? Note that this makes sense for Kim, who would have replicated another standard uniform.

And while it’s not a gaffe, the farmhouse “waiting room” that the Caretaker sends the Voyager crew to before testing them has always annoyed me. It’s boring and trite — and it almost feels like filler.

Last point. The relative size of the galaxy that popped up as an issue in DS9 rears its head here. Assuming Janeway and Voyager left Earth AFTER or even around the time Chakotay’s ship was taken to the Delta Quadrant — when Starfleet lost contact with Tuvok — we can assume the Maquis crew was being tested by the Caretaker for like a week, which seems off — considering that the Caretaker tested the Voyager crew for only three days. That is, unless it takes less than a week to get from Earth to DS9.

One of the complaints about Voyager going forward is that it will keep encountering the same bad guys despite the fact that it should be moving quickly toward home. I know Janeway makes a big point here about how the ship will continue to explore during its journey. But there will be a lot of instances where even that doesn’t cover the problems.

Our warrior spirit is as fierce as our hair!
“Our warrior spirit is as fierce as our hair!”

Final thoughts

Other than the goofy thing with the water — and the Kazon establishing themselves as hard-headed idiots — this is a really good episode. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it: It’s Trek’s best pilot. “Emissary” has its moments, but some over-the-top acting puts it slightly below “Caretaker”.

Some of the most interesting things shown here revolve around the rough edges from the Maquis characters, notably Chakotay, who seems like a straight-up outlaw in parts of this episode but becomes a company man fairly quickly. The tension shown here with him and Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Tuvok (for the most part) is ignored the rest of the way. One of Voyager’s biggest failings was that it mostly shrugged off the potential conflict between the Maquis and the Starfleet crew after the first few episodes (with some exceptions). As a result, Voyager quickly entrenched itself as “TNG in the Delta Quadrant.”

Beyond that, a lot of the potential regarding an isolated starship with limited resources was pissed away after “Caretaker”, as we’ll discuss. More to come there, dear readers.

Coming next week …

The Kazon’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble.

 

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