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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In the mid-90s, Star Trek was the in-thing. The Next Generation left airwaves on top and was heading to the big screen featuring a meeting between Kirk and Picard. Deep Space Nine was the top-rated show in US syndication. Not surprisingly, Paramount wanted to launch a new series to become the flagship show of the then-new United Paramount Network (UPN). Rick Berman and his cohorts Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor came up with Star Trek: Voyager, a series about a crew thrown to the other side of the galaxy. The series itself was a very mixed bag, but its pilot “Caretaker”, was utterly fantastic.
I cannot say enough good things about “Caretaker”. It was a great way for a series (and network, for that matter) to premiere. It had drama, action, and character – a TV trifecta. It is constantly entertaining and still holds up today. It might not be as deep or thoughtful as “Emissary”, but it did not need to be. It firmly set the tone for Voyager as an action adventure – something the show never veered from.
In it, we meet Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of the USS Voyager who is pursuing a small group of freedom fighters/Federation rebels known as the Maquis. During the search, both Voyager and the Maquis ship are transported 70 thousand light years away from Federation space by the mysterious Caretaker. Turns out the Caretaker is protecting the people on a local planet that he accidently destroyed the atmosphere to years earlier. Now, he is dying and has been grabbing ships across the galaxy in hopes of finding someone to replace him. With time running out and knowing the Caretaker cannot be replaced, Janeway destroys the Caretaker’s array after he dies (even though it was Voyager’s only way home) to prevent the technology falling into to the aggressive aliens she crossed. Knowing they have a 75 year journey, the Maquis join Voyager’s crew and start to head home.
The thing I like about this episode is that everything is very well-defined. The conflicts are straight forward and the dilemmas are realistic. Even more importantly is that nearly every major character is given a moment to shine and something important to do. The writing immediately breathes life into these characters. There is, of course, a lot of room for growth (like any good pilot), but we are given a clear sense of who these people are.
I’ll admit, some of the dialogue is a little clunky (Tom Paris’s confession to Harry Kim about his previous crimes is incredibly awkward), but it does not veer into cringe-worthy territory. I almost chalk it up to the writers and actors still getting a feel for their characters.
The ending where the Maquis agree to “enlist” in the Voyager crew is also a little rushed. In what should have been a strong, important, game-changing scene, all happens off-screen. The decision seemed to have happened a bit too easily. Perhaps the writers felt that later episodes would go into this (which they do somewhat, but this aspect of the show is unfortunately mostly forgotten after the first year).
Those are really small problems. “Caretaker”, on the whole, is incredibly strong. It was a great way to start a series. The episode gave the show a lot of promise. It is unfortunate to think how progressively worse it got – but that is another post for another day.