Star Trek: Voyager – Season 5, Episode 6
Reset Button Episodes are a tried-and-true Star Trek tradition that often make for series bests. It’s not a huge mystery why – they feature alternate timelines/futures that have strayed from the regular continuity in dark and dramatic ways. By abandoning the show’s status quo, RBE’s can push the envelope (and our characters) to extreme and highly emotional places, while having the safety net of restoring everything back to normal by the end. The Next Generation scored big with one of its best stories – “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Deep Space Nine created a beautifully gut-wrenching tale (and my personal favorite Trek episode, period) with “The Visitor.” And Voyager achieves its Very Best episode with the exciting and dramatic “Timeless.”
It’s also Voyager’s 100th episode, so maybe the occasion was an excuse to pull out all the stops for this timeline-spanning adventure. The episode begins with an attention-grabbing teaser, as two unknown and bundled up figures beam down to an icy planet. They’re searching for something, and it doesn’t take them long to find it – as the camera pulls back we can see the saucer section of USS Voyager buried beneath the ice below them…
They beam into the icy confines of the ship, and unmask themselves to reveal that they’re an older Kim and Chakotay. Surveying the wrecked ship, they find the frozen remains of the rest of the crew. The damaged redressings of the sets, as always, are really impressive. They beam Seven’s body aboard the Delta Flyer in orbit, and manage to reactivate the Doctor.
Back in the present, we see the Voyager crew christening a newly-built quantum slipstream engine drive. The crew is laughing and clapping, confetti rains down, and Torres smashes a bottle of champagne against the new core. It’s all shot in slow motion and has a haunting quality, punctuated by the previous scene of the destroyed ship and its dead crew. Trek doesn’t often get that artsy with its direction and cinematography, so it’s a particularly captivating sequence.
There are a couple of cute bits between the characters. Neelix gives Torres a big dead bug that’s supposed to be a good luck charm (good one, Neelix), and Seven gets absolutely smashed off a single glass of champagne (“Obviously the Borg can’t hold their liquor,” the Doctor observes).
But there’s trouble. Paris is worried about a phase variance in the new engine simulations, and he and Kim do several practice runs in the holodeck that all end disastrously. Voyager can’t stay in the quantum slipstream without suffering extreme damage. It’s a little odd that they’re just now discovering this after going through the effort to construct a new engine core, but whatever.
However, Kim has a plan – by flying in the Delta Flyer ahead of Voyager, they can map out the slipstream and transmit the appropriate adjustments to keep it stable. Ever eager to make it home, Harry makes an impassioned speech that convinces Janeway to go through with the plan.
Chakotay is unconvinced, and in a private dinner with Janeway, he emphasizes the crazy margin of error they’re dealing with. The slipstream drive uses special magic crystals that are finite and already starting to degrade, so there’s an acute time element at play. Janeway understands the risks, but is intent on taking their shot. The camera pans to a PADD sitting on the table which fades into the future, where it sits frozen on the ground. Chilling!
In the future aboard the Delta Flyer, Chakotay and Kim explain to the Doctor (and us) what’s happened. The phase variances in the slipstream ended up being too much for Voyager, but the Flyer made it all the way home to Earth 15 years ago. Starfleet gave up its search for Voyager nine years ago, so Chakotay and Kim took it upon themselves to locate her. They’ve figured out a way to send a message back through time to Seven, using a salvaged temporal transceiver from a destroyed Borg ship. They hope to send the correct phase variances so that Voyager can remain in the slipstream to get home. Oh, and they’re fugitives, having stolen both the Borg component and the Delta Flyer. Fun!
Chakotay’s girlfriend Tessa is along for the ride and helping out – “They’re having sex,” Harry says bluntly when the Doctor asks about her connection to “Bonnie and Clyde.” Garret Wang really carries the episode as the older and emotionally darkened Future Harry. The makeup and hair make him look convincingly older, but his performance really sells a wearied, angry, and grizzled Kim (he really looks like he’s been through some shit). His normal persona as the youngest, greenest, and most gee-wiz of all the staff makes it a startling contrast. He’s stricken with (self-proclaimed) survivor guilt over having made it home without the crew. The fact that he was the one who convinced everyone to proceed with the flight after Paris discovered the danger is no doubt a huge part of it.
Speaking to the Doctor (Picardo also shines in the scene as a sympathetic ear), Harry lays out his life after reaching home in painful detail. The celebrations and memorial for Voyager, their sudden popularity and notoriety, followed by his eager and frantic attempts to find the ship. He recalls Starfleet’s interest dwindling after a time, and his failed attempts at leveraging his notoriety to keep the search going. He resigned from Starfleet, and embarked on their illegal mission once he heard about the Borg doohickey.
As he and the Doctor start to argue over the ethics and wisdom of rewriting history, trouble shows up. By which I mean a familiar, friendly face…
Captain Geordi La Forge of the Galaxy-class USS Challenger!
It’s awesome to see an OG like Geordi show up, and it lends the episode some gravitas. He offers Chakotay the opportunity to surrender without any legal charges, who of course refuses. Their friendly, almost chummy banter is great and the mutual respect is cool to see. It’s interesting and dramatic having a TNG character as the antagonist, and although he sympathizes with what Chakotay and Kim are trying to do, he’s compelled by his duty to stop them.
This climactic section of the episodes cross cuts between the two timelines as they unfold simultaneously, and it ratchets up the tension beautifully – I love the shots of the Delta Flyer flying into view being followed/pursued by both Voyager and the Challenger.
Voyager enters the slipstream while the Challenger fires on the Delta Flyer. A phase variance in the slipstream starts creeping in and Harry tries to compensate, but to no avail. It starts to destabilize and they can’t shut it down. In the future, the Doctor has figured out the temporal coordinates to send their message to. In the past, Seven receives the info and applies them, but they don’t work and Voyager gets thrown out of the stream. On the Delta Flyer, Chakotay and Kim have no choice but to keep riding the stream. A horrified Harry plops down, and a decade and a half worth of future trauma seems to wash over his face. It’s a great little moment, because it wordlessly connects the young man full of hope and optimism to the pained and cynical older person he becomes in the future.
Voyager attempts to make an emergency landing on a nearby icy planet, but crashes violently. The sequence is incredibly staged and rendered – not since Star Trek Generations have we seen a good ol’ starship planet crash. It’s awesome.
In the future, Kim realizes that it didn’t work, and quickly becomes unraveled as he can’t figure out why. He’s spent 10 years trying to figure out the problem, and can’t just readjust in a few minutes. The Challenger locks onto the Flyer with a tractor beam, but Chakotay is able to break free with a plasma surge that fries their ship and initiates a warp core overload. The trauma of destroying Voyager a second time overwhelms Harry (Wang really hits it out of the park here, acting-wise), but the Doctor gives him a tough pep talk to keep him focused. They realize and accept that they can’t correct the phase variance, but if they send them a different set of corrections, they could disperse the slipstream entirely and still save the ship.
La Forge offers to beam them off the soon-to-explode Flyer, but Chakotay politely declines. Using the Doctor’s mobile emitter for the last scrap of energy it contains, Harry deactivates him and makes one last attempt. Chakotay and Tessa hold hands stoically as the computer count downs their destruction. Kim transmits the corrections and cries out triumphantly as the ship explodes around him. It’s one of the most suspenseful and nail-biting sequences in any Trek show.
Fortunately it works, and in the present, Voyager and the Flyer emerge from the slipstream undamaged, and 10 years closer to home. Janeway orders the slipstream drive dismantled until they can figure it out, and notes that the crew now has a renewed sense of momentum and optimism about getting home.
There’s one last surprise as Janeway reveals to Harry that it was him who transmitted the corrections – from the future. The corrections contained a short video message, and it turns out it was the one Future Kim was recording earlier in the episode. He explains his mistake that cost the lives of 150 people and that Young Kim owes him one. It’s a haunting idea, knowing that you definitely almost killed your entire crew, and Harry is speechless in response. Reset Button Episodes sometimes allow our heroes to catch a glimpse of the alternate timeline that’s been overwritten, and it makes for a powerful and emotional final statement.
Star Trek: Voyager has had many great episodes (perhaps more than some would give the show credit for, including me), but “Timeless” stands head and shoulders above them all. It’s a compact and thrilling adventure across time with serious emotional stakes. It stretches outward in all directions to craft an epic story while paying tribute to the Trek franchise in some very satisfying ways. By using a proven formula it cements the show as a worthy installment that has an appeal and timeless quality all its own.
- It’s easy enough to ignore mostly, but this quantum slipstream stuff really doesn’t pass much logical muster. The details of how it came to be are pretty fast and loose, and there’s a certain story economy that I can appreciate; we’re given a bare minimum of info, but just enough to move the story along without being dragged down by excessive exposition. BUT! The rapidity with which the crew is able to cobble together this entirely novel approach to interstellar travel is pretty far-fetched. Plus, they totally rebuild the warp core and have a huge celebration before Tom Paris (of all people) figures out a totally insurmountable design flaw on the eve of the flight? How is flying a shuttle ahead of the ship supposed to help? What can the shuttle detect that Voyager can’t? It’s like… literally right in front of the ship with much punier resources. Why can’t the slipstream just be shut down if there are problems? Locking yourself into this tunnel of potential death without any way out seems like a pretty fundamental oversight. Did Future Harry (or Present Harry) really not consider a backup plan to disperse the slipstream? It seems remarkably easy to, since he comes up with the solution on the fly with less than a minute to spare.
FOR THAT MATTER, they conveniently dismantle this thing at the episode’s end to work the kinks out. Spoiler alert: they don’t. Janeway says they get about 10,000 light years out of the thing for the short journey they were in. How about… just taking another short journey? And another? Annnnd…. one more after that? Even if riding it all the way to Earth in one trip is unfeasible, doing it in bursts seems much safer and easy enough to terminate. Don’t tell me they can’t figure this stuff out, they fucking figure everything out.
But besides that, PERFECT episode! 😉
- “Mr. Neelix, you are an unending source of astonishment.” Probably my favorite Tuvok line of the entire show.
- There’s a scene I didn’t mention of Chakotay and Tessa visiting the frozen bridge of Voyager. It’s fine, but probably the most inessential of the episode. It bugs me more than it maybe should, but these two don’t kiss at all. A little chemistry might have helped. Her devotion to him is admirable, even though she’s certainly deleting their relationship from the timeline.
- The Doctor probing the dissected remnants of Seven’s skull is a surprising and grisly sight. Yikes, they went there!
- A drunk Seven expressing her affection for the Doctor is really the best. It’s played for laughs, but this could be the basis of a very effective weapon against the Borg. A vaporized beer bomb, perhaps?
- Star Trek is normally pretty sexless (and generally PG), so it’s honestly kind of shocking to hear someone actually say the S-WORD. Fucking language here, Harry!