“Message in a Bottle”

It says "Welcome to the AT&T Long Distance Network. Please insert 25 cents to place a call"
“It says, ‘Welcome to the AT&T Long Distance Network. Please insert 25 cents to place a call’.”

Voyager finds an ancient relay network that allows Seven to spot a Starfleet ship thousands of light years away. When a traditional message can’t get through to the ship, Janeway sends the Doctor to make contact. But the ship (the experimental U.S.S. Prometheus) has been taken over by Romulans, and the Doctor must work with the vessel’s holographic doctor (Andy Dick) to save the vessel. Amid some fairly witty banter, the two EMHs are successful, the prototype ship is returned to Starfleet and the Doctor returns to Voyager with news that he’s informed the Federation of Voyager’s whereabouts.

Why it’s important

Voyager making brief contact with the Federation is hugely important, even if the ability is relatively short-lived. The cartoonish bad guys who control the relay network (the Hirogen) destroy it in the subsequent episode and Voyager doesn’t again have regular contact with Starfleet for a while.

As bad guys go, the Hirogen are pretty stupid, though the creators seemed to put a lot of time into their development and they show up a lot in season four. Still, we only mention their introduction here as a side note. The Hirogen aren’t that significant in the larger scope of Voyager or Star Trek as a whole.

The USS Voltron everyone.
The USS Voltron, everyone.

What doesn’t hold up

While this is a fun episode, there is just so much that makes me scratch my head.

For one thing, how did the Romulans get aboard the Prometheus in the first place? I don’t expect a ton of backstory on that — only so much plot and dialogue can fit in a 45-minute show — but presumably, they got there on a ship, and it’s odd that we don’t see that ship escorting the Prometheus back to Romulus.

This episode also is probably Trek’s worst example of using extras who clearly can’t have lines of dialogue. The most glaring moment is in sickbay when Neelix speaks for crew members suffering from indigestion (thanks to Neelix’s chili). Paris and Neelix talk as if the crew members have no ability to talk! The Romulan commander and helm officer on the Prometheus also seem to be the only two Romulans with verbal abilities. Oh, and did anyone else notice that the Doctor and EMH-2 talk openly about their plot while an injured Romulan is nearby and clearly conscious?

Last point. EMH-2 mentions the Federation’s war with the Dominion, which was going on at this time — with Voyager unaware — on DS9. But it’s weird that the Voyager crew seems to have no knowledge of the Dominion (the Doctor has none and Chakotay and Torres are seemingly unaware in the next episode), even though hostilities with the Dominion started a half-season before Voyager’s trip to the Delta Quadrant. But, bigger picture, shouldn’t the events here have pretty much killed any chances of a Federation/Romulan alliance against the Dominion? At least one Romulan ship appears to have been destroyed. Granted, a few months pass before Sisko’s skulduggery in “In the Pale Moonlight”. But still. I know this is supposed to be a light-hearted episode, but there was a major war going on in the Alpha Quadrant at the time — and the Federation and Romulans doing battle in previous Trek was always viewed as something that could lead to war.

Our antics are just about the only redeeming thing in this episode.
“Our antics are just about the only redeeming thing in this episode!”

Final thoughts

This episode is classic Voyager, and that’s not entirely a compliment.

It’s well-acted and amusing (Picardo really shines) and the side stories back on Voyager as the crew waits for word are actually pretty amusing. But there are just so many goofy logic and continuity issues. Hell, you could argue that Janeway was reckless sending the Doctor to the Alpha Quadrant when he had a good chance of being lost and considering that Paris is the ship’s next most qualified medic. At this point in the series, there’s no word of a backup Doctor.

Aside from that, the EMHs might be the luckiest photonic beings in the universe, given how they activate the “multi-vector” attack mode in a way that defeats the Romulans. Everything else on the ship requires a lot of specific knowledge that the EMHs, not surprisingly, don’t have. But EMH-2 accidentally hits a button and everything is fixed? Weak.

All that said, it was a nice development — with follow up in the next episode — that allows Voyager to communicate with Starfleet and let their families know they’re still alive. There are some things that don’t get mentioned — like the 10-20 Voyager crewmen who died in the previous three years and whether Janeway notified Starfleet about them. It’s also odd that there’s no discussion (yet) of how Starfleet would likely view the Maquis on board as criminals. Again, these aren’t items that wreck this episode or the next one. But not addressing them was a missed opportunity, IMO.

Coming next week …

Species 8472 is back — and it’s pissed.

 

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