“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (7.21) “Friendship One”

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“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (7.21) “Friendship One”

For such a quietly presented episode, the “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Seven episode, (7.21) “Friendship One”packed quite a powerful punch. For the first time . . . or perhaps not . . . audiences saw the dangers of exploration – not just for the explorers, but for also the explored.

The episode explored the impact of a late 21st century Earth deep space probe called “Friendship 1” that had made its way to a Delta Quadrant planet called Uxal over a century later. After being lost in the Delta Quadrant for three years, the U.S.S. Voyager managed to contact Starfleet after the crew used a Hirogen relay network to send their holographic Chief Medical Officer to the Alpha Quadrant in the Season Four episode, (4.14) “Message in a Bottle”.

Nearly two years later in the Season Six episode, (6.10) “Pathfinder”, Starfleet officer Reginald Barclay managed to contact the stranded Voyager using Starfleet’s Pathfinder project. This allowed Voyager and Starfleet to contact each other on a monthly basis. Over a year later, Starfleet assigned Captain Kathryn Janeway and her crew their first assignment – to retrieve the “Friendship 1” probe. The crew’s efforts to accomplish their mission led to their discovery that the probe had a negative effect upon Uxal. By the time of Voyager’s arrival, it was undergoing a nuclear winter, which had a major negative impact upon the Uxali inhabitants. When an Away team consisting of Lieutenant Tom Paris, ship’s cook/morale officer Neelix and Lieutenant Joe Carey landed on the planet, they were taken hostage by a group of Uxali led by someone named Verin. The latter demanded that Voyager’s crew transport his people to a safe planet . . . a process that would take at least three years. Naturally, Captain Janeway refused to capitulate to Verin’s demand and a tense standoff commenced that eventually led to tragedy.

During my recent viewing of “Friendship One”, I found myself remembering the 1993 movie, “JURASSIC PARK”. The episode especially reminded me of the comments made by Jeff Goldblum’s character about the dangers of exploration. Yes, some of you might be turning up your noses at such a comparison. But “JURASSIC PARK” and “Friendship One”provided some strong lessons. These lessons seemed to have gone over the heads of both Janeway and most of Voyager’s crew.

The crew’s attitude toward the planet’s inhabitants struck an interesting note within me. They seemed to be embarrassed by the destruction caused by “Friendship 1”, especially since it was an Earth probe. And at the same time, they were angered by Verin’s murder of Lieutenant Carey. Janeway seemed only concerned with saving the hostages and acquiring the probe. It took Tom Paris and Neelix – two individuals dismissed by the crew as worthless when the series first began, to remind her and other Voyager crewmen that as Humans (at least a majority of them) and representatives of Starfleet, they had a responsibility to help clean up the mess caused by their ancestors’ irresponsibility. If Starfleet had been in contact with “Friendship 1” up until the mid 23rd century, why they fail to recover it before it had disappeared? Especially if Starfleet had known about the probe’s antimatter, of which the Uxali were unfamiliar. The Uxali’s attitude also struck me as interesting. They were so full of bitterness at what happened to them. Then again, who could blame them? But due to this bitterness, the Uxali failed to realize that taking and killing hostages had only their situation even worse. The Uxali scientist, Otrin, had to remind his people that their bitterness and paranoia were keeping them from accepting the help they needed.

Someone had complained that the solution to Uxal’s radiation came too quick and easy. I disagree. Otrin had been working on a solution for years. Voyager’s technology, along with Seven’s comments to Otrin, finally provided a means to use that solution. But even providing the solution to Uxal brought danger upon Voyager’s crew, since the embittered Verin seemed determined to consider Janeway and her crew as the enemy and destroy them.
One of the episode’s surprises is that a small moment between Paris and his wife, Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres would end up symbolizing the Chief Helmsman’s encounter with a pregnant mother named Brin. Even more surprising, his successful efforts to save Brin’s newborn baby from the radiation eventually save the hides of Voyager’s crew and Starfleet’s reputation. And despite this solution for the Uxali, Voyager still lost a valuable crew member. Also, the episode ended with Starfleet and the Federation’s reputations on a shaky ground.

The episode featured some solid performances, including those from Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ and Roxann Dawson. Among the guest stars, I was especially impressed by the performances of Ken Land as Verin, John Prosky as Otrin and Bari Hochwald as Brin. But I have to give special kudos to Robert Duncan McNeill for his performance as Tom Paris in this episode. He did an excellent job of portraying Paris’ quiet conflict between his desperation to live, his desire to help some of the Uxali – especially the pregnant Brin, and his quiet disapproval of the crew’s arrogant attitude toward the Uxali. I was also impressed by Ethan Phillips’ portrayal of Talaxian crewman, Neelix. The latter’s quiet recall of his homeworld’s destruction seemed even more powerful that the time we first heard about it in the Season One episode,(1.15) “Jetrel”. And I also enjoyed how Neelix pointed out the Humans’ flaws in a conversation with Verin:

NEELIX: “When I first met them, I thought they were arrogant and self-righteous.”
VERIN: “I suppose you’re going to tell me you’ve changed your mind.”
NEELIX: “Well, not completely.”

Joe Carey. I am quite certain that a good number of the show’s fans were upset by his death. To be honest, I thought his character had died a long time ago. Josh Clark’s last two previous appearances on the show – Season Five’s (5.24) “Relativity” and Season Six’s (6.23) “Fury” – had occurred in time travel episodes that featured his character during Voyager’s first year in existence. Someone had complained that his death would have been more relevant if he had appeared on “STAR TREK VOYAGER” a lot more often. Again, I disagree. The circumstances surrounding his death made the story dramatic enough. His death proved to be pointless and tragic, due to Earth’s carelessness and the aliens’ unwillingness to trust. I found Crewman Hogan’s death in (3.01) “Basic, Part II” and Ensign Marie Kaplan’s death in (3.17) “Unity” upsetting enough. And they were not as well known to “STAR TREK VOYAGER” fans as Carey. Anyway, it was good to see Josh Clark, who provided one last excellent performance before the series’ end.

I might as well be honest. “Friendship One” is not a big favorite of mine. My attitude has nothing to do with the episode’s quality. Frankly, I consider it to be one of the most interesting episodes of the series. But I did find it rather depressing. Some did not care about the arrogant or careless portrayal of both Voyager’s crew and Starfleet in general. I had no problem with that. Considering the franchise’s habit of nearly putting humanity on a pedestal, this portrayal of Starfleet and humanity as flawed – even in the late 24th century – struck me as refreshing.

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