The Tale of a Fateful Trip
"Caretaker" Plot Summary:
A Maquis ship fleeing a Cardassian vessel hides in the Badlands, where plasma storms threaten both. A displacement wave hits the Maquis ship, hurling it through space. Starfleet dispatches Voyager, a new Intrepid-class ship, to navigate the Badlands and search for the Maquis. Captain Kathryn Janeway gets Tom Paris, a pilot who was courtmartialed out of Starfleet and subsequently joined the Maquis, out of prison in New Zealand in the hope that he can help her crew track Chakotay, the man commanding the lost Maquis ship.
Voyager heads into the Badlands, but is also hit by a displacement wave, which pulls them into the Delta Quadrant near a huge array. When the crew comes to, the first officer and lieutenant at conn are dead, as are the chief engineer, the doctor, and the nurse. Paris and Ensign Harry Kim activate the emergency medical hologram to treat the crew's injuries while Janeway goes down to engineering herself to stop a warp core breach. Then she, along with the rest of the crew, are taken from the ship by an alien transporter.
The crew finds itself in an artificial environment aboard the array, where initially friendly apparitions turn hostile when Janeway orders people to investigate. When they find the Maquis crew unconscious in a laboratory, the entire Voyager crew is put into suspended animation and experimented upon. When they are returned to Voyager several days later, Kim is missing and the Maquis ship is powering engines. Janeway contacts Chakotay and discovers that he, too, has a missing crewmember - engineer B'Elanna Torres. Janeway suggests that they work together to find their people and invites Chakotay aboard.
Chakotay's team arrives with phasers drawn, but one of his men, Tuvok, admits that he has been working undercover for Starfleet to infiltrate the Maquis. Chakotay is angry and even more irate to find Paris on Voyager, but they quickly put their differences aside and beam to the array to search for Torres and Kim. An old man playing the banjo greets them, but tells them they don't have what he wants and sends them back to the ship. Janeway tells Tuvok, an old friend, that she feels a great burden of responsibility to get her crew home.
Meanwhile, beneath the surface of a nearby planet which the array has been sustaining with energy bursts, Torres, who's half-Klingon, and Kim awake in an alien laboratory with growths on their bodies. The people caring for them, the Ocampa, claim not to have infected them; their Caretaker has done so, and sent them to the Ocampa the way he sends them nourishment and energy. Torres is determined to escape from the underground city and seeks people who can help them.
Janeway encounters a trader named Neelix who suggests that he can help them find the missing people. He takes them to meet with aliens called Kazon, who initially attack him but stop to negotiate when Janeway reveals that her ship has water - which the planet has none of, not even the capacity to produce it in the atmosphere. Just when negotiations are going well, Neelix threatens Jabin, blasts open the water containers, grabs an Ocampa prisoner and suggests to Janeway that she get them out of there. Back on Voyager, Neelix reveals that the prisoner is his beloved Kes, and his only true concern was rescuing her.
Kes insists that she owes a debt to Voyager's crew and agrees to help them search for their people. They enter the underground city, but Torres and Kim have already left - fleeing up the ancient tunnels to the surface in hope of getting off the planet. While they are in the city, earthquakes begin to rock the ground, and Kes realizes that the Caretaker must be planning to seal off the ancient tunnels. Tuvok hypothesizes that the Caretaker is dying, which is why he's been expediting delivery of the energy stores and is now sealing the tunnels so no one else can get into the Ocampa city.
Most of the crew climb successfully to the surface up the ancient staircase, but it collapses under Chakotay while Janeway is assisting an injured Tuvok after Kim, Torres, Neelix, and Kes have already gotten safely off the surface. Paris goes back to rescue Chakotay, telling the Maquis that he owes the younger man his life. They are beamed to Voyager, where the Doctor sets Chakotay's leg and cures Torres and Kim.
Janeway and Tuvok beam to the Array in hope of using it to get back to the Alpha Quadrant, but learn that the Caretaker, who is indeed dying, intends to destroy it. Chakotay beams back to his ship just in time to engage Jabin, who wants to take over the Array himself and attacks when Janeway refuses to let him. When the Kazon bring reinforcements, Chakotay rams the large ship with his small Maquis vessel, destroying his ship and beaming out at the last second. The explosion sends the Kazon ship careening into the array, which it damages. The Caretaker's last words are that the array will not be destroyed now, but it must be destroyed to protect the Ocampa, for whom he feels responsible since it was his own and his mate's actions which deprived their planet of water forever.
Janeway beams back to Voyager, having decided that she will not risk the lives of an entire civilization just to get home quickly. She orders Voyager to fire on the array and destroy it. Torres tries to stop her, but Chakotay stops his engineer by telling the Klingon, "She's the captain." The array explodes, stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. Janeway invites Chakotay's crew to join her own, making him the new first officer and giving Paris a field commission as lieutenant; he'll be the new helmsman. When Neelix and Kes ask to stay aboard, she agrees. Janeway promises the newly unified crew that they will continue their mission of exploration as Starfleet officers, and that somewhere along the journey, they'll find a way home.
Wow. I was ready for something as horrible as "Encounter at Farpoint" or as slow-moving as "Emissary"; I never expected "Caretaker" to be one of my favorite Treks ever. I'm not sure where to start praising - the premise, the cast, the crew, the directing - this was a terrific package all around.
I liked Janeway from the start, but she clinched it with the line, "Ensign Kim, at ease before you sprain something." I know that Kate Mulgrew was not the initial choice for this role - Genevieve Bujold had it, and quit - but I can't imagine anyone doing a better job with it than Mulgrew did. Her warmth and sensitivity were very much in evidence even in this tense opener, yet she also came across as tough and sensible. There was a great scene where she got in Chakotay's face to stop him from hassling Paris, giving him a body block even though he's at least six inches taller than she is, and she made him back down - nice stuff. I'm not sure I was comfortable with how motherly she was about Kim, but it will be interesting to see what the producers think a feminine sensibility would translate itself into in command.
Janeway reminded me of the best of Kirk and Picard, making decisions from the gut and disavowing the letter of the law for the spirit, yet still taking counsel from others, even the man she was sent to arrest. Now he's an interesting character...a former Starfleet officer who joined the Maquis when they threatened his people, yet who blew his ship up to protect a Starfleet vessel, then agreed to become first officer and integrate his crew just because the captain asked him to. Did this guy miss Starfleet? Does he just like the way Janeway thinks? She didn't ask for his approval before she blew up the array, but based on his behavior, one gets the definite impression that he very much supported her actions. He was already acting like a first officer before he had any reason to assume that role. I liked how quickly he put his anger at Tuvok and Paris behind him, though I'd hate to think it's gone so easily. And - totally shallow comment - Robert Beltran is really good looking. I think I'm gonna like Chakotay, heh heh heh.
It's harder to get a handle on the other characters. Paris has the most checkered past, so he's immediately more interesting than Starfleet wonder boy Harry Kim or typical logical Vulcan Tuvok. There were immediate fireworks between Paris and Janeway, in part because when she mentioned that he knew his father, he immediately became defensive, and in part just because of the way he was looking her over. Considering that he gave Stadi the Dead Conn Officer and Kes the same sorts of looks, it's a safe bet that he's going to be the Will Riker of this crew. Well, better him than Chakotay.
Neelix at this stage is mostly a caricature who needs to be reminded to take baths and behave himself, while Kes is mostly just a pretty face; I didn't like the damsel-in-distress storyline, but she came across strongly in the Ocampa city, so maybe there's hope. Torres is a cliched Klingon at the moment, growling at people and using her genetics as an excuse; that's going to get tired pretty fast. The Doctor has real potential both for comic relief and very serious exploration of what it's like to be an artificial person; he could be Data and Odo both. And Picardo stood out among the supporting cast.
The only drawback I can see from here is the possibility that this show will become too invested in its hung-hero premise, namely: their ostensible goal in life is to get home, but if they get home, then the series is over, so they can't do that. I don't want to watch a bunch of episodes about them trying and failing and being sad and comforting one another. I want to watch them growing and exploring, making new lives, deciding that the future is more exciting than the past. That's what Star Trek is all about. This scenario isn't a tragedy, it's an adventure, and I hope we get to see them embrace it as such.