On their way home from the Delta Quadrant at maximum warp, a journey that will take them some 75 years, the crew of the Voyager encounters its first adventure—becoming caught in a temporal singularity while trying to rescue a trapped ship. The trapped ship turns out to be a temporal reflection of the Voyager itself.
The technobabble-laden plot involving this singularity is something the Next Generation writers would probably only deliver if they were desperate for a story. Considering the Voyager is out in the middle of completely unknown territory with infinite possibilities of adventure and discovery, seeing a plot like this on the second episode is a letdown.
Fortunately, "Parallax" serves its purpose as the series' first one-hour episode by developing the characters in the genuine Trek style. Unlike the pilot, this one picks a few characters and works with them, rather than spreading it around so much. This makes an easier dramatic line to follow, as the story concentrates on just a couple of people, rather than trying to attack the whole ensemble.
The episode opens with an amusing teaser in which senior engineer Carey (Josh Clark) reports to sickbay with a broken nose after getting into a fight with hot-headed former Maquis B'Elanna Torres. This stresses what will hopefully be a conflict in the series for a while—the uneasy tension between the Starfleet officers and the Maquis. Tuvok wants to put Torres in the brig over the matter. Meanwhile, exaggerations of the incident lead some of the less conservative Maquis to come to Chakotay and tell him they will support him in a mutiny to take over the ship. (He refuses, of course, and tells them they will be in big trouble if they even think about it again.)
Janeway begins seeking replacements for the key officers lost in the pilot, including chief engineer and chief medical officer. After nominating Paris to train as a field doctor (since the holographic medic can't leave sickbay), Chakotay recommends Torres for chief engineer. The fight in engineering makes Janeway uncertain about Torres, but Chakotay tells Janeway to keep Torres in mind. The two are obviously separated on the matter, and when Chakotay goes over her head involving an engineering matter, Janeway calls him into the ready room. Here we get a relatively fiery scene between them regarding the Maquis' position and ranking on the ship. (The conversation ends with Chakotay forcefully saying "Permission to leave," without much of a question mark behind it.)
This is the setup for the somewhat cliched premise where Torres has to prove herself worthy to the captain. Fortunately, the writing is sincere, and scenes between Torres and the captain are on-target. In staff meeting, Torres solves the singularity's mystery in thirty seconds flat and partially wins Janeway over. Janeway, who could probably take on Geordi LaForge in a technobabble match, has some ideas on how to escape the singularity and realizes Torres has the experience to take on the serious technical situation. Janeway doesn't doubt Torres' ability to apply her engineering skills, but she needs to be sure Torres has the ability to give and take orders.
To escape the singularity, Torres and Janeway take a shuttlecraft out to open a crack in the field using technobabble procedures, etc., so the Voyager can fit through. When returning, the singularity's bizarre properties cause confusion when the temporal reflection of the Voyager reappears. The two can't tell which is the real ship. They must choose one to land on, as both ships show identical properties when scanned. With time to escape running out, they must make a decision. They both do—they choose different ships.
Neither the technobabble, nor even the big decision really matters here. What matters is seeing these two get to know one other and earn each other's respect. The interaction further defines each of these characters' personalities and attitudes, laying foundation for future episodes.
Of course, the Voyager just barely escapes the singularity. Janeway gives Torres the position of Chief Engineer—Torres has much to learn, but Janeway has the utmost confidence in her. As the Voyager resumes its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, "Parallax" displays Voyager's promise to true Star Trek character interaction while establishing some backstory. Too bad the plot is so tired.