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“Basics” is Star Trek: Voyager’s first two-part cliffhanger episode. It concluded and begun the second and third seasons, respectively. It also wrapped up several of the recurring story lines from the first two years. On a side note, it was Michael Piller’s final contribution to televised Star Trek (he later returned to the franchise by writing Star Trek: Insurrection).
I remember not being too impressed with this episode when it first aired way back when. Not that “Basics” was bad or anything like that; it just underwhelmed me. For a Star Trek season ender cliffhanger two-parter, this shouldn’t have been the reaction. Perhaps I was too spoiled with other classic cliffhangers such as “Best of Both Worlds” and “Redemption” from The Next Generation and “The Adversary” from Deep Space Nine by that point that I just had too high of expectations.
Friend of The Culture Cast Brian Hajik (who, let’s face it, should really be given co-writer credit for most of these Trek Tuesday entries by now) recently rewatched the two-parter and encouraged me to do the same. I did, and I discovered that “Basics” was much better than I remembered it. More specifically, I found the episode much more effective that I previously did.
Why was this? I think I have an idea. Originally, there were approximately three months between episodes. “Basics, Part I” is a strong, exciting episode. However, it does a little too good of a job setting up the second part’s resolution. In it, the Voyager is captured by the crew’s long-time nemesis, the Kazon. The crew is then left stranded on a primitive planet. Before we get to that cliffhanger, we see Tom Paris escape the ship in a shuttle craft to get help, crewman Sudar (guest Brad Dourif of Chucky fame) still alive and wandering the bowels of the ship, and the Doctor learning about the situation and resolving to fix it.
The point I am trying to get to is that part one leaves little to the imagination on how the crew will get out of this jam. We may not know the details, but we can pretty much figure out how this will go. Because of that, it kills the drama and suspense of having a summer cliffhanger. This is what happened to me back in 1996.
However! When I did my recent rewatch, I did both parts back-to-back. The episode worked for me so much better viewing it like that. Sure, we can still figure it out how the crew will win, but the drama isn’t lost because there isn’t a multiple month long wait between installments. Looking back, I think that “Basics” could have (and possibly should have) aired as a special two-hour episode. It could have been the season two ender. It would have worked in that format given the resolution it brought to the Voyager story so far. I wonder if that was ever a consideration. The episodes were produced as part of the second season (“Basics, Part II” along with three other episodes were intentionally held to the third season).
Has “Basics” been a two-hour special on first airing, I think my personal opinion of it would have been higher. It isn’t a bad episode and the villains in Seska and Culluh and incredibly fun. It just didn’t work for me the first time through. My rewatch of the two-parter together works much better, and I highly recommend that to be the way it is viewed. Then again, with things like DVDs and Netflix, that shouldn’t be that much of a problem.