Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “One Small Step”

“One Small Step”
Written by Mike Wollaeger & Jessica Scott and Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Directed by Robert Picardo
Season 6, Episode 8
Production episode 228
Original air date: November 17, 1999
Stardate: 53292.7

Captain’s log. We open in October 2032 on Mars. Lieutenant John Kelly is in orbit in Ares IV while communicating with the two astronauts on the surface, Rose Kumagawa and Andrei Novakovich. Something appears in orbit, which winds up consuming Ares IV.

In the 24th century in the Delta Quadrant, Chakotay’s attempt to relax is interrupted by the door chime—but there’s no one on the other side of the door. There are several other minor malfunctions of communications and hospitality systems. Chakotay goes to engineering to find that Seven is upgrading the computer—which she’s doing without authorization. She has been requesting these upgrades for months, but Torres has refused to go for it, so she’s going ahead and doing it anyhow to show how efficient they’ll be. Chakotay dryly comments that she’s not really succeeding at that.

Voyager gets hit with gravimetric disturbances, which causes Kim to take the drastic step of waking Janeway up at 0200. (He actually calls “senior officers” to the bridge, which prompts Seven to accompany Chakotay, even though she isn’t any kind of officer, senior or otherwise.) They find a graviton ellipse: a phenomenon that just appears out of subspace, wanders around in normal space for a while, damaging anything in its path, then buggering back to subspace. Chakotay recalls that the first human encounter with a graviton ellipse was the Ares IV, which was destroyed by one (though they didn’t know what it was at the time).

Janeway and Chakotay agree that they should investigate it, which confuses the hell out of Seven, who doesn’t think it’s worth the risk. The Borg has encountered such ellipses, and they were able to modify their shields to avoid being harmed by them. Janeway orders a probe sent in, and it detects materials inside the ellipse consistent with the construction of 21st-century Earth spacecraft.

With the notable exception of Seven, the entire “senior staff” thinks they should investigate, modifying the Delta Flyer shields with the Borg method Seven mentioned. Seven thinks this is dumb, but everyone else—particularly Chakotay the anthropologist and Paris the Mars nerd—is giddy over the notion of exploring it and possibly finding the wreckage of Ares IV. (Both Chakotay and Paris list Kelly as one of their heroes.)

Seven objects to Janeway in private, viewing this as more about sentiment than exploration, but Janeway says it’s about history. Seven, though, feels that history is irrelevant. Janeway also encourages Seven to volunteer to join the away team, though she stops short of ordering her to go.

The modifications are completed, and Chakotay, Paris, and Seven head into the ellipse in the Flyer. They find themselves in a calm area at the epicenter of the ellipse—the eye of the storm, as it were. They also find a ton of debris from all over the quadrant, and Seven even recognizes some of it as extradimensional. They also find Ares IV—intact! It’s way too big to fit in the Flyer’s hold, so they’ll have to tow it out.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

The ellipse’s course keeps altering slightly, as if something’s attracting it—Voyager eventually realizes that it’s a dark matter asteroid, with which it will collide. This reduces the amount of time the gang has to play in the ellipse. Chakotay insists on trying to tow Ares IV out anyhow, to Paris and Seven’s chagrin. They almost make it, but the ellipse collides with the asteroid before they can escape it, sending shockwaves through the Flyer. Chakotay is badly injured, the Flyer is badly damaged, and the ellipse now is going to be returning to subspace sooner than expected. They’re stuck and screwed. The plasma manifold is fused—it can’t be repaired, and fabricating one is beyond the capability of the Flyer’‘s replicator.

Janeway calls a brainstorming meeting, and it’s Torres who hits on a solution: Ares IV has an ion distributor that can be modified to channel warp plasma. Paris’ hand is needed at the helm of the Flyer and Chakotay is badly hurt, so it’s left to Seven to beam over to retrieve it. Chakotay also asks her to download the vessel’s database.

Seven finds Kelly’s body, and also notes that there are recordings that postdate the ship being brought into the ellipse. Seven plays them over the commlink while she works.

Kelly continued to take readings and study the ellipse while he was trapped in it, which he was for quite some time. He sees debris from obviously alien vessels, and realizes that there is life on other worlds (this is thirty years before humans’ first contact with Vulcans). He continues to record data even though he knows there’s very little chance of it being seen by anyone but him. Among his last words are saying that he doesn’t regret anything, and doesn’t view his mission as a failure. (His actual last words are wondering who won the World Series in 2032, as it was still in progress when he was swallowed by the ellipse.)

Seven is visibly moved by his dedication to science, and makes sure to download the database as Chakotay requested before beaming back with the ion distributor—and also with Kelly’s body. She and Paris are able to juryrig the distributor into a plasma manifold, and the Flyer returns to Voyager. Janeway holds a memorial service for Kelly (Chakotay listens to it from sickbay), and before the coffin containing his body is shot into space, Seven says a few uncharacteristically sentimental words, then puts a hand on the coffin and says, “The Yankees in six games.”

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? On the one hand, it seems silly that a 21st-century ion distributor can sub out for a plasma manifold that won’t be invented for three hundred years. On the other hand, Ares IV is only three decades prior to the successful implementation of warp drive, and it’s perfectly possible that Zefram Cochrane based the design of his warp engine on the ion drives used by the Ares ships.

There’s coffee in that nebula! While Janeway isn’t quite as geeked out as her first officer or pilot about finding Ares IV, she does have to explain why history is so important to Seven—at which she fails, as it takes listening to Kelly’s logs to get her to figure it out.

She also really doesn’t like being woken up at two in the morning…

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok has to remind Seven that exploration has its value even when it’s something dangerous. “One must allow for the unexpected discovery.” Which then happens a second later, making him look real smart…

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH waxes rhapsodic about what he claims was his first away mission (which it wasn’t—that would, technically, be “Future’s End, Part II,” and you could make an argument for “Heroes and Demons“), and also is nerding out just as much about the possibility of finding Ares IV, to Seven’s great chagrin.

Half and half. Torres saves the day because the writers remembered for the first time in far too long that Torres’ super-power is out-of-the-box engineering solutions that are so crazy they just might work.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Resistance is futile. Seven thinks the entire mission is a silly goose. She also apparently wanted to be a ballerina when she was a kid.

Do it.

“I see you’re making some changes to the computer core.”

“I have enhanced the command sequencers with Borg algorithms.”

“Well, your enhancements are wreaking havoc with our secondary systems.”

“Insignificant malfunctions. I will correct them.”

“I don’t recall authorizing any modifications.”

“The computer core is inefficient. It needed to be improved.”

“I appreciate your initiative, but that’s not up to you.”

“I’ve explained the value of these enhancements on several occasions, but Lieutenant Torres chose to ignore me. I thought a demonstration would be more persuasive.”

“Well, I doubt this one’s going to change her mind.”

“Clearly, Voyager is not yet ready for assimilation. A joke—the doctor suggested that I defuse tense situations with humor.”

–Chakotay complaining about Seven’s tinkering, with Seven showing that she’s learned the human truism that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. (And also showing that her sense of humor is a work in progress.)

Welcome aboard. The only guest star in this one is the great Phil Morris, who plays his fifth of five roles on Trek, going back to when he was a small child. He played one of the kids in “Miri” on the original series and was a cadet in The Search for Spock. He also appeared twice on DS9, as a Klingon in “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” and a Jem’Hadar in “Rocks and Shoals.”

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: This is far from the only science fiction story to posit that a Mars mission would be on a ship called Ares, since Mars is the name the Romans gave to the god of war that the Greeks named Ares.

In the teaser, the astronauts are talking about the World Series, with the New York Yankees playing the London Kings, with a specific mention of Buck Bokai breaking Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive-game hitting streak (56, which he accomplished in 1941). The existence of the Kings and that one of their players broke DiMaggio’s record occurred in TNG’s “The Big Goodbye.” Bokai was established in DS9’s “The Storyteller,” and that Bokai was the one who broke the Yankee Clipper’s record was established (and Bokai seen) in DS9’s “If Wishes Were Horses.”

However, the scripters obviously don’t know baseball very well. Kelly says that Bokai broke DiMaggio’s streak in the middle of the World Series, which isn’t possible as a consecutive-game hitting streak would only be counted during the regular season, not the postseason. Having said that, it’s possible that the rules on that will change between now and 2032 which is, if nothing else, far more likely than there being an MLB team in London, since the travel requirements for a team on the other side of the Atlantic to play with teams all over the U.S. would not be manageable…

The EMH’s away mission to Arakis Prime has never been chronicled. It may have also been meant as a tribute to Frank Herbert’s Dune and its sequels, which are primarily set on the planet Arrakis.

Set a course for home. “I hope you don’t look at this as a failure—I don’t.” I have to admit, I totally teared up at the end of this episode. Hearing Kelly’s logs just tugged at the ol’ heartstrings, and Phil Morris, as usual, played it perfectly. Even toward the end when he’s obviously suffering the effects of hypoxia, he’s still trying to do his duty and learn as much as possible.

This episode is about as subtle as a nuclear explosion in its message about what Star Trek is all about, but given the importance of the message, I’m willing to forgive it. Star Trek has been incredibly influential on the space program—NASA’s employees from the 1970s onward are well-stocked with people who grew up watching one or more of the Trek shows, and Nichelle Nichols in particular leveraged her status as a Trek actor to do a ton of outreach to get more women and people of color into the space program throughout the 1970s and 1980s—so this love letter to the space program is particularly apt.

It does require a bit of backsliding with the character of Seven, though. Her recalcitrant attitude toward exploration and scientific inquiry for its own sake would’ve made more sense in the fourth or early fifth season, but really doesn’t work more than two years into her tenure on Voyager. Having said that (a) it’s not the first time Voyager has ignored character development for the sake of a story and (b) Jeri Ryan does superlative work here. In the scene on Ares IV, Ryan shows Seven’s growing understanding of the need to learn from history and the nobility of scientific inquiry and the pursuit of understanding the greater universe purely via facial expressions. More to the point, purely through facial expressions while wearing a bulky EVA suit. Major kudos to her for that silent performance.

Second-time director Robert Picardo deserves a lot of credit, too. The enthusiasm that the crew in general and Chakotay and Paris in particular have for this mission is very well played, and it’s to the credit of both Picardo and the actors he’s directing that it never bleeds over into goofiness or hysteria. Even Chakotay’s stubborn insistence on towing Ares IV isn’t overplayed.

It’s an overly sentimental episode, which is one reason why I can’t quite bring myself to give it a 10, but it’s a damn fine piece of sentiment, with truly great performances by Ryan, Morris, Robert Beltran, and Robert Duncan McNeill.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s first public appearance since the recent apocalypse started will be next Tuesday! He will be helping inaugurate the monthly Rooftop Readings at the Ample Hills Creamery on Nevins Street in Brooklyn on Tuesday the 18th of May from 7-9pm. Keith will be joined by fellow scribes Mary Fan and Alex Shvartsman. Tickets are $10 and for that, you don’t just get three authors reading their work, you also get one free ice cream! Such a deal! Details (and lineups for future readings) here.

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Originally Appeared Here