Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Eye of the Needle"

***

Air date: 2/20/1995
Teleplay by Bill Dial and Jeri Taylor
Story by Hilary J. Bader
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Baxter (to Kes): "If I had to get treatment for something serious—if I needed surgery, for instance—would he be performing it?"
Doc: "Of course, and quite expertly, too."
Baxter: "I dunno. I'd have to think twice about that."
Doc: "Fine... and if you were lucky, you wouldn't die on the table while you were making up your mind."

Ensign Kim discovers a wormhole that leads back to the Alpha Quadrant. Although it is too small for the Voyager to travel through, the crew is able to send a communication signal through it, which is received by a Romulan science vessel. Further tests by Lt. Torres show that it may also be possible to send a transporter signal through the wormhole. Could Voyager's crew use it to beam back home?

The basic premise of "Eye of the Needle" is both its biggest strength and weakness. The resulting excitement among the Voyager crew when they realize they may be within striking distance of returning to the Alpha Quadrant leads to a number of well-acted and passionate scenes. At the same time, the tease of "will Voyager get home?" is not a premise that lends itself to a particularly surprising ending—it's a near-painfully foregone conclusion. I guess the bottom line comes down to the effectiveness of the characterization, and on that level, "Eye of the Needle" works pretty well.

The captain of the Romulan science vessel is named Telek (played by Vaughn Armstrong in one of the most sympathetic portrayals of a Romulan in recent memory). Telek isn't your typical villain personality, he's a real person. Initially, he's not forthcoming with assistance. He's suspicious, and severely doubts Janeway's claims that Voyager is transmitting from the Delta Quadrant. He wonders what a Federation ship could possibly gain from pretending to be in the Delta Quadrant.

The first half of the show centers around Janeway's attempts to convince Telek that Voyager poses no threat to his ship. One rather long scene, that takes place entirely in Janeway's quarters, features Mulgrew performing for a number of minutes with only two camera cuts. Mulgrew delivers nicely when you consider that she's essentially talking to herself for an extended period, but the scene, despite being a technical challenge, doesn't have the emotional depth it seems to want to.

Fortunately, the show makes up for it in other sequences. "Eye of the Needle" in most cases, is driven more by emotional responses of the characters than by plot events. I thought the scene where Janeway appeals to Telek's pity ("You must understand what it's like being separated from your family for so long. It will be years before any of my crew sees their families again. Maybe never."), worked well enough, although Telek getting misty-eyed may have been pushing it.

Once Torres realizes the possibility of rigging the transporters to get home, the characters all show an enthusiastic glow. Even Janeway gets caught up in the moment—a moment that could just be a prelude to a substantial disappointment. This makes sense. Unlike some of the silly plots of shows leading up to this one, "Eye of the Needle" uses a situation we can understand and empathize with, instead of just going with the flow.

The most engaging part of the show for me, however, is the B-story, involving the rude way members of the crew treat the Doctor. Like TNG did with Data in its early seasons, "Eye of the Needle" makes good use of the "humanity question," as Kes argues to Janeway that the Doctor deserves the same respect and treatment that any other crew member receives. There are several very thoughtful sequences involving Doc and Kes, and later Doc and Janeway, that prompt him to realize he has to think of himself as a true member of the crew (and that he would also like a name). These moments flesh out the character wonderfully while also giving us sympathy for his unique and lonely situation. (One nicely done long shot in particular features the Doctor sitting all alone in sickbay after he has just received word that the rest of the crew may be beaming off the ship without him.) At the same time, Kes' character is looking better all the time. Her desire for learning and her decision to stand up for the Doctor are highly admirable, and cancel all reservations I had of what she was becoming when I saw how she was used in "Time and Again."

The show, of course, ends the only way it possibly can, but at least it's halfway creative about it. After the Voyager crew successfully beams Telek aboard the ship across the wormhole, Tuvok discovers that the wormhole moves through time as well as space. Telek is from 20 years in the past, and if the Voyager crew were to beam back with Telek, they would end up in the past, too. Due to the possibility of time line contamination (and some paradoxes that the show wisely ignores), the crew realizes that they can't go back through the wormhole. That leaves them with the final option of sending personalized messages for their families back with Telek, who could presumably deliver them to the Federation in 20 years, after the Voyager has vanished.

Tuvok discovers, however, that as the time line plays out, Telek dies four years before Voyager even launches, meaning that the messages were possibly never delivered—there is no way of knowing if Telek gave them to anybody before his death.

Plotwise, most of this is fairly pedestrian, despite the last-minute twist of fate. None of it is particularly surprising; all of it is fairly inevitable. Characteristically speaking, however, this works because the reactions are credible. "Eye of the Needle" successfully puts the Voyager crew in a situation that has no cliches or stupid battles, while putting them through an emotional wringer. In the end, everyone feels a little defeated, but they pull themselves together and move on.

Previous episode: The Cloud
Next episode: Ex Post Facto

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24 comments on this review

Charlie - Wed, Oct 14, 2009 - 3:51pm (USA Central)
Telek recommends that he could tell Starfleet not to launch the mission which sends Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay says, though, that that's a bad idea because it'll mean affecting people in the Delta Quadrant.
I've always suspected his real motive in saying that. He wasn't on Voyager when it was launched. If Starfleet cancelled the mission, he & the other Maquis would have to go it alone.
Mal - Sat, Oct 17, 2009 - 12:12pm (USA Central)
"One rather long scene, that takes place entirely in Janeway's quarters, features Mulgrew performing for a number of minutes with only two camera cuts."

Have you gone back and watched that scene recently? In recent years I've finally understood just how bad most scifi actors are (there are exceptions, like Nana Visitor, Peter Jurasik, etc.). In an age where The Wire and Mad Men show us what real acting is like, I guess my bar for good acting is just a lot lot higher than Troi and her "pain, so much pain" routine.

That said, go back and watch the scene. It is exquisite!

Really brought a tear to my eye (as did the whole episode, really). Part of the problem with early VOY was that it didn't hew to any recognized model of loss (i.e., the 5 stages of grief). Well, at least this episode showed the pathos of loneliness in a believable way. Certainly far more believable than a holodeck pool-hall...
Gretchen - Fri, May 14, 2010 - 6:37pm (USA Central)
Well, Nana Visitor didn't exactly impress me with her bawling in "Battle Lines" when Opaka dies. Likewise, Marina Sirtis helped Troi become more and more engaging as TNG went along with "The Loss" and "Face of the Enemy".
So there!
Matrix - Thu, May 20, 2010 - 11:20pm (USA Central)
Hey Charlie, that's a really interesting comment! Imagine if they'd done one of their timetravel episodes with just the Maquis alone in their raider in the delta quadrant! Tuvok, Chakotay and B'elanna stuck together with seska, jonas etc. Coulda been fun!
Carbetarian - Wed, Apr 6, 2011 - 9:12pm (USA Central)
@Charlie good point! I hadn't thought of that!

I liked this episode a lot. It was emotionally effective without being too obvious or overdone. Of course, I knew they weren't going to make it home. But, I think the twist at the end about Telek dying really made all the previous wormhole shenanigans worth while. I really felt for the crew here.

All in all, this is easily a three star outing for me too. I might even go for three and a half stars!
David H. - Fri, Oct 14, 2011 - 12:09am (USA Central)
Definitely one of the first-season highlights. 3.5 stars from me as well.
Jay - Sat, Jan 28, 2012 - 8:45pm (USA Central)
The ludicrous logic Chakotay used here about warning Starfleet not to launch the mission because of the impact they have had on the Delta Quadrant makes about as much sense as the equally ludicrous logic Bashir used in Time's Orphan to about not being able to retry getting Molly back because then the older Molly wouldn't get to exist.
Jack - Thu, Jun 7, 2012 - 9:33pm (USA Central)
Holy @#$%& Charlie is right...if Voyager's mission handl;t occurred, Chakotay and Co. would still have gotten stranded in the DQ...unless Starfleet warned him too.
Ravo - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 3:03am (USA Central)
I have to disagree with Jammer on this one. I actually really enjoyed the episode and thought it was well acted on all accounts, even Janeway (and I'm no fan of Janeway). I've seen a lot of trek and I thought the story was quite fresh and had me mesmerized the whole time. I even got a little misty eyed at the actors doing such a good job getting worked up over the possibility of returning home. Janeway's final line was unexpected and refreshing. She showed the right attitude just when they crew needed to see it. My score 4 stars.
Dan - Sat, Nov 3, 2012 - 4:10pm (USA Central)
Charlie, I have to disagree with you. If Voyager had never been launched, Chakotay and the Maquis would have simply been sent back to the Alpha quadrant by the Caretaker once he was finished with them. There's no way they would have destroyed the array, like Janeway did.
Asian James - Thu, Jan 10, 2013 - 4:03pm (USA Central)
I would agree with Ravo; this was a very refreshing episode. In my opinion, this was one of the best episodes in Season 1. I particularly enjoyed how the writers were able to "tie in" an Alpha Quadrant alien, which is comfort food for viewers who (at this point) may not yet be settled into the Delta Quadrant world.

Even though the viewer knew that Voyager was not coming home at the end of the episode, the intrigue was riding on how this wormhole WASN'T going to pan out. As Jammer said, the actors and actresses portrayed genuine care about this potential wormhole, which added to the emotional strength (and eventual sense of defeat) of the episode.

All in all, this was a great standalone science fiction episode.
Jay - Sat, Mar 9, 2013 - 7:56am (USA Central)
Okay...seems I should read prior comments before making one :) ...in the wake of Charlie's observation, Chakotay's idea makes quite a bit of sense.

I'd be surprised if the writers of his line had Charlie's intent in mind though.
eddie - Fri, May 10, 2013 - 4:21pm (USA Central)
I had never thought about what Charlie said on the top comment before. I liked this episode when it first aired... but thought it should have happened later in the season.

For one thing, it would be more emotionally significant to get a shot to go home after spending more time lost in the Delta Quadrant. I always thought that when they suggested that they couldn't change the timeline, that this was silly. If Voyager doesn't go the Delta Quadrant at this stage, which events would be undone: Voyager doesn't get stuck in an event horizon, the events in Time and Again were already reset at the end of that episode, Voyager doesn't have a minor interaction with the Vidiians, that living nebula doesn't get hurt and healed, and voyager doesn't destroy the caretaker array (but without voyager there to fight with the Kazon, the array self-destruct sequence is not interrupted).

The only consequence I had thought of (until I saw Charlie's comment) had been that Kes would still be a slave of the Kazon. It would had been interesting to have the captain consider altering the timeline against stranding Chakotay's ship and causing harm to Kes.

Some other thoughts. For those that say that there's no character development on this show, Janeway goes from not wanting to risk altering the pretty meaningless timeline voyager has had in the Delta Quadrant at this point to someone who doesn't give a rat's ass about timelines by the series finale. The Doctor was great with his sarcastic comment to Torres that his opening "Please state the nature of the medical emergency" was probably programmed into him because he is to be used for emergencies. And then suggests that if he could reprogram himself, he'd make a family (which of course he eventually did)

navamske - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 7:35pm (USA Central)
It would have been cool if, when the Doctor is explaining to the two Romulans on the Prometheus in "Message in a Bottle" that Voyager is stuck in the Delta quadrant, one of the Romulans had said to the other, "Hey, wasn't that wack-job Telek ranting about a Federation ship in the Delta quadrant just before he kicked off eight years ago?"
inline79 - Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - 5:42pm (USA Central)
I thought this episode was really a borderline 3.5 stars. This is a story you will only see on Star Trek, and it was well tailored to Voyager. At this point I'm really starting to get to know the characters and maybe even like some of them.

But I agree with the 3 stars. Unfortunately it deals with Time travel again, and I'm a little unhappy with the writers inserting Telek's death at the end - how could the Federation computers have that detailed knowledge of the Romulans? They do not become allies against the Dominion for about 4 more years! They could have given the crew some hope, but instead the writers really killed all morale on Voyager. Next episode better be a mutiny!
Caine - Wed, Oct 9, 2013 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
This episode is my favorite Voyager outing so far (watching them all for the first time right now).

Both the A and B story are told delicately, with a fine sense of both anticipation and melancholy. I was sucked into the "feeling" of it all, completely forgetting that the crew of the ship (of course)could not get back home already.

On a dise note: Janeway in her private quarters ... wow, what a gorgeous woman! Why couldn't she wear her wonderful, lion-mane-like hair down like that all the time? Yowza!
Adam - Wed, Dec 11, 2013 - 7:17pm (USA Central)
It is often said that there is no character development in Voyager. Not so. I was watching this episode again this morning. It was interesting to see how rudely the crew treat the Doctor in season 1. I think the Doctor's character development is one of the more fascinating character arcs of the series.
Grumpy - Wed, Dec 11, 2013 - 9:29pm (USA Central)
You know what they say about "Never say never," Adam. Much as the rest of the cast was neglected, Picardo was given juicy material right from the start. His character arguably covers a bigger arc than, say, Data. 'Fonly the rest had been so fortunate.
K'Elvis - Fri, Feb 14, 2014 - 9:54am (USA Central)
They could have transported through and spent 20 years in suspended animation. But the Romulan government would certainly have extracted information from the crew. The temptation to get intelligence from 20 years in the future would have been too great to resist.

If they contacted a Federation ship from the past, I wonder if it would have been different. How would the Department of Temporal Investigations handled this? We don't know too much about them, perhaps they have temporal "safe houses" just for situations like this. Put them in suspended animation for 20 years, and there is no temporal threat. On the other hand, Section 31 would have wanted to extract information as eagerly as the Romulan government would have.

One thing that has always seemed peculiar is Kes' line "It would be interesting to see an autopsy sometime". To be so eager for an autopsy is to be eager for the death of a crew member. The line seemed unrealistically detached. Of course, they could do all the simulated autopsies they wanted using holographic projections.
Ric - Mon, Mar 3, 2014 - 2:21am (USA Central)
Very powerful episode, quite well done. Good Trek material in wormhole debate. Very good Trek material in the plot-B with The Doctor. In fact, I was hoping that we would become the exotic character who bring the debate about human condition, just like Spok, Data and Odo in previous instalments. Happy to see a bit of it already coming.
Spalding - Thu, Jul 3, 2014 - 3:57am (USA Central)
Four stars Uncle Jammy. Four stars!
Vylora - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 4:46pm (USA Central)
This is the second standout episode of the first season after "Phage". Most notably for the dialogue and the little character moments in both A and B plots. The premise of this episode (decaying wormhole) was intriguing and well-utilized. Everything worked well in getting from one point to the next in its pacing and showcased a disheartening and humbling end that, while depressing, was an adeptly written conclusion to what came before.

Maybe a little early in the run to have an episode like this but I won't hold that against it. It works well on its own terms and that's good enough for me.

Nice job.

3.5 stars.
Skeptical - Sun, Oct 19, 2014 - 8:57pm (USA Central)
This was, altogether, a pretty good episode, perhaps even a very good episode, but it did have a few flaws:

1) It came too early. It's a bit silly to have a dramatic "can they get home?" story just six episodes in. It just feels like we're going too fast, that we are blowing all the interesting stories relating to being stuck in the Delta Quadrant too fast. Hey, there's seven seasons to get through, do we have to have it so soon?

2) There should have been more time discussing the ramifications of changing the future with the Romulan. It just seemed too easy for the crew to decide not to pollute the timeline or whatever, even though the timeline would only be about two months or so. Charlie's suggestion, that the Maquis ship would remain stuck in the Delta Quadrant, is an excellent one. Why didn't they expand on that? Instead of immediately dismissing the idea of giving a warning to Starfleet, Chakotay could have spoken up and declared that he probably wouldn't listen to any warning, and thus could have ended up stuck in the Delta Quadrant alone. Like eddie suggested, the thought of Kes remaining a slave to the Kazon might also give Janeway and company pause. We know that this tug of war between her principles and her desire to get home is a big part of the series, and it'd be a foregone conclusion that she would eventually deny permission to warn Starfleet. But that could have been an argument. Especially if one brings up all the nameless extras who died when the Caretaker brought them to the Delta Quadrant. Janeway could have weighed saving their lives vs helping Chakotay, Torres, and Kes. Then again, the dead crew members seemed to have been forgotten 5 minutes after they all died.

K'Elvis also suggested bringing them home, but staying in suspended animation. They also could have brought that idea up, although I think that'd be fairly easy to shoot down. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd trust the Romulans to keep me in suspended animation for 20 years. They are, after all, a nation hostile to the Federation.

3) While this would normally be a good thing, there's no Neelix. One would think it'd be worthwhile to get his perspective. It might have been nice to see an argument between him and Kes, with Kes wanting to return to the Alpha Quadrant with the crew and Neelix not so sure. Yes, he's willing to share the journey, but he realizes the rest of the crew won't care about him when they get back. It might have had an interesting perspective.

But the rest of the episode worked well. There was a great sense of an emotional roller coaster ride, as the crew naturally had their hopes raised and dashed multiple times throughout the show. This was probably a better idea than the normal raise hopes and dash them once. It really gave you a sense of just how much this meant to the crew. Torres in particular was really animated, which is rather surprising coming from her. After all, she mentioned that she had no family interested in her back home. And what does she have to look forward to upon getting home? Being arrested? Sure, perhaps Janeway can influence Starfleet enough to get amnesty for the Maquis, but she wouldn't be allowed to return to her former life. It just goes to show how alien the Delta Quadrant is to these people. Even Torres is desperate for a chance to get home to something more familiar.

Ian - Wed, Oct 22, 2014 - 9:12pm (USA Central)
One point not mentioned. Didn't the Romulan already tell his superiors about Voyager? Thus they already know the future!
I recall later episode mentioning the Romulans having an interest in Voyager. Wonder if that is a subtle nod to this issue

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