It’s that time again, folks! Yep, another ‘Final Frontier Friday’! Welcome as always to our bi-weekly look back at the finest (and sometimes not-so-finest) hours that ‘Star Trek’ has to offer. This week we’ll be looking at ‘Deadlock’, a late second season installment of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’.
‘Deadlock’ is a Brannon Braga script, which when you stop to think about it is really the least surprising thing I could have said here. Braga’s initial idea was born of his noted fondness for using sci-fi plot devices to toy with narrative structure (as Jeri Taylor described it, the script was one of Braga’s “intricate little puzzles”). The ‘Voyager’ staff was somewhat hesitant in their initial approach to the story, in part because of their experience with a ‘Next Generation’ episode that similarly dealt with the ship and crew being duplicated (that script was ultimately scrapped). Nevertheless, they proceeded with the episode in part because the staff felt the show needed more high concept sci-fi stories at the time. They did, however, take some lessons from that failed ‘Next Generation’ script. The big one, according to Taylor, was to focus the story on specific characters rather than the entire cast. Thus, you end up with a dead Kim (for the second time), an unconscious Kes, and two Janeways in the spotlight. That last element in particular lead Kate Mulgrew to recall the episode as among “the most arduous and possibly the most satisfying work” of her career.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s see how it turned out!
In the mess hall, Neelix asks an extremely pregnant Ensign Samantha Wildman to take a look at some malfunctioning kitchen equipment. She’s happy to help, but goes into labor as she does so. Seven hours later, Janeway paces nervously as the rest of the bridge crew sits in tense silence. Samantha is still in labor. The mood changes on a dime when long range sensors pick up a mass of Vidiian comm chatter and lifesigns. Realizing that Voyager is approaching Vidiian territory, Paris looks for alternate routes and suggests they sneak by using the interference from a plasma field to disguise their presence. Meanwhile in sickbay, the delivery gets complicated fortunately, the Doctor is able to beam a baby girl out of Samantha’s womb and into an incubator. While there are still some minor complications to deal with, both Wildmans should be fine. Less fortunately, Voyager hits a patch of subspace turbulence on the way out of the plasma field. This knocks the warp drive offline, depleting their antimatter supply and draining power in the process. Janeway suggest that Torres try bombarding the warp core with regular proton bursts to keep it online. Suddenly, the ship is rocked by proton bursts – not of Torres’s doing. Wounded crewmen begin to pour into sickbay.
These mysterious proton bursts continue to bombard Voyager. Power fluctuations to the incubator make it difficult to keep the baby stable, to say nothing of the steady stream of medical emergencies walking through the door. When the hull is breached, Kim heads below decks to try and seal it using some experimental force field enhancements he’s been working on. In sickbay, a proton burst disrupts the holoemitters, nearly taking the Doctor offline. Kim and Torres head into a Jeffries tube to seal the breach. Another proton burst hits. Hogan, an engineer who accompanied Kim and Torres, is injured and calls for medical assistance. In sickbay, the mood is grim. They just lost the baby, and Kes gently excuses herself to help Hogan. As the hull breach widens, Kim continues to work, keeping at it until the floor literally falls out from under him. Torres tried to pull him up the ladder, but he loses his grip and is blown into space. Torres emerges from the tube just as Kes arrives. But as she runs down the corridor toward them, she simply… disappears.
Torres scans Kes’s last location and finds a spatial rift with a breathable atmosphere on the other side. Janeway orders the deck evacuated as the hull breach widens. Chakotay manages to scrape up enough power to magnetize the hull, minimizing the effects of the proton bursts. At least for the moment, they can breath a bit easier. The full damage report is bad. To make a long story short, the ship is all but crippled. Just then, Chakotay’s magnetic field collapses. The bridge bursts into flame. As they evacuate, Janeway sees ghostly images of they crew calmly manning their stations. Suddenly, we’re on the bridge, only it’s pristine. Janeway 2 (I have to tell them apart somehow) watches as a ghostly, disheveled image of herself runs for the turbolift. Kim’s sensors pick up a spatial fluctuation. Janeway asks Torres when the main sensor array will be back online, but it’ll be a few hours as the proton burst procedure is only half done. Janeway orders the bridge scanned and the sensor logs reviewed before heading to sickbay. Arriving in sickbay, Janeway is beaming. She congratulates Samantha, Who is holding a perfectly healthy baby girl while the Doctor pats himself on the back. Janeway then asks about their “other patient” a duplicate Kes, identical in every way, save for a slight phase variance at the cellular level.
Kes 1 (the “duplicate”) awakes and tells her story. As she remembers it, she was running through the corridor with her medkit, her vision blurred, and suddenly she woke up in sickbay. Together, Janeway 2 and Kes 1 puzzle out what happened. The two Voyagers were passing through the plasma field to avoid the Vidiians, smacked into a subspace rift on the way out, and tried to maintain power using a succession of proton bursts. But while the procedure worked on Voyager 2, the proton bursts emitted by that ship were unwittingly causing catastrophic damage to Voyager 1. Janeway 2 orders Torres to stop the burst procedure and sets about contacting Voyager 1. An analysis of the sensor logs reveals that the two Voyagers are one. Sort of. It’s not two realities intersecting, but rather one ship that was duplicated. The phase variance detected in Kes 1 is a result of the two ships being in the same location but slightly out of sync at the quantum level. But while all the matter on the ship was duplicated, the antimatter wasn’t. Thus, the power drain and antimatter depletion is a result of both ships drawing water from the same well, so to speak. Kim sets to work devising a way to safely cross the spatial rift separating them from Voyager 1. In engineering, Janeway 2 and Torres 2 transmit a comm signal using every possible subspace band, the idea being simply to get Voyager 1’s attention. It works, as a shrill noise is heard in Voyager 1’s engineering section (which is filling in for the now uninhabitable bridge). They are able to respond, crudely, and Voyager 2 sends a brief signal telling them to lock on to a specific frequency. They do so, and Janeway 2 appears on a screen. Later, Janeway 1 briefs the surviving members of Voyager 1’s command crew on this development. Janeway 2 has proposed a method of re-integrating the two ships. It’s going to be tricky for Voyager 1 to find the power, but they agree to try. When they’re ready, the two ships begin the procedure. It seems like it’s working until it doesn’t. Complications arise, and they’re forced to abort. And it gets worse. Torres reports that the antimatter drain is getting worse. If they don’t restart the proton bursts soon, they’ll lose it altogether. Kim tells Janeway 2 that he’s managed to rig a phase discriminator to send Kes 1 home, and Janeway2 tells him to rig another. She’s going along for the ride.
Janeway 2 and Kes 1 cross the spatial rift and head for engineering. The two Janeways meet privately (as privately as they can manage, anyway), and discuss their options. They can’t transfer antimatter reserves between ships, nor can they safely evacuate more than half a dozen of Voyager 1’s crew. Janeway 1 suggests that her counterpart go back to Voyager 2 and run a metallurgical analysis of the their hull. Janeway 2 instantly realizes that Janeway 1 is planning to set her ship to self destruct. Janeway 2 argues against this, but realizing the futility of butting heads with herself, she instead asks for fifteen minutes to explore other options. Janeway 1 agrees. Back on Voyager 2, they’ve managed to re-establish contact between the two ships. As Janeway 2 offers her counterpart a suggestion, a perimeter alert is triggered. Vidiian ships are approaching. They fire and both ships brace for impact. Voyager 1 is unaffected, but the commlink is down. The Vidiians are only interacting with Voyager 2, which is defenseless.
A Vidiian boarding party walks the halls of Voyager 2, harvesting organs as they go. The Doctor erects security fields around sickbay and plans to hide Wildman’s daughter in a Jeffries tube. Before he can do that, the Vidiians arrive and use a disruptor to break through the force fields. Voyager 1 re-establishes communication and Janeway 1 offers to send a security team to help. Janeway 2 tells her not to, not least because it might destabilize the spatial rift and destroy both ships. Instead, Janeway 2 decides to destroy her Voyager, but not before sending Harry Kim and the Wildman baby through the rift. Kim makes his way to sickbay and phasers the Vidiians who have been like kids in a particularly ghoulish candy store. The Doctor emerges from hiding and gives Kim the baby. The Vidiians arrive on the bridge just as the self destruct timer runs out. Voyager 2 is destroyed, taking the Vidiian ship with it just as Kim and the baby step through the rift and onto Voyager (screw it, there’s only one now). Later, repairs are underway and Voyager is back on a course for Earth.
Yep. This is definitely a Brannon Braga script. I’m not someone who’s ever had a problem with Treknobabble (quite the opposite, in fact), but in the two years I’ve been writing this column, few episodes have required me to devote chunks of my summary to explaining the mechanics of sci-fi conceits as much as Braga’s. That’s not so much a complaint as an observation. Every writer has their interests and quirks, and that’s one of his. And it’s certainly one way to boost my word count.
Cheeky observations aside, I like this episode. It’s not one that’s going to rock your world, but it’s a gripping, fast-paced episode with a fun sci-fi conceit. Plus, the ending pulls the rug out from under you. If you’ve watched enough of these shows, you can see the broad patterns of how they play out a parsec away. It’s the same with any show. And in this case, once it becomes clear that there are two Voyagers, the obvious “out” is exactly what Janeway 1 proposes: Blow up the damaged Voyager and let the ship that hasn’t been cracked like an eggshell head for home. But Janeway 2 tips the shows hand when she tells her counterpart that she’d do the same thing (destroy her ship) if their positions were reversed.
And let’s talk about Janeway! One Kate Mulgrew is usually enough to make an episode memorable, but this time around there are two of her! And she argues with herself! Talk about watching an unstoppable force meet an immovable object. It’s just a shame she’s the only character who actually gets to interact with their counterpart. (Kes does, somewhat, but it’s brief and never really amounts to anything.)
The episode does, it must be said, call to mind a pair of earlier ‘Deep Space Nine’ episodes. It’s not nakedly and painfully derivative in the same sense that ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ (a not-particularly-good amalgam of ‘Wrath of Khan’ and the ‘Homefront’/’Paradise Lost’ two-parter) is, but the elements are definitely there. Most obviously is its kinship with the third season episode ‘Visionary’, which also kills off a main character (in this case O’Brien) only to replace him with… himself. From about three hours in the future. Isn’t sci-fi weird? The other, and I’ll admit that this one is more of a stretch, is season two’s ‘Rivals’. That episode features a device (at least ostensibly a game) that manipulates probability fields, giving the user a run of good or back luck depending on whether they win or lose. Like I said, it’s a bit tenuous, but while one says it in ‘Deadlock’, but that’s not too far removed from what happens here, at least in a roundabout sort of way. Basically, until the Vidiians show up, you have two Voyagers: one on which things have worked out fairly well, and the other a living embodiment of Murphy’s Law. And I also have to give a shout-out to the classing ‘Next Generation’ installment ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, in that ‘Deadlock continues the grand tradition of giving every (or nearly every) character a death scene. And why not? After all, if you aren’t playing for keeps you might as well have a little fun.
And last but not least, ‘Deadlock’ also includes one of my favorite lines in all of ‘Star Trek’, spoken by Janeway at the very end of the episode: “We’re Starfleet officers. Weird is part of the job.”
What did you think of ‘Deadlock’? Let me know in the comments, and as always, make sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!