Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Basics, Part I"


Air date: 5/20/1996
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Why is it so dark in here? Somebody turn on the lights." — Culluh, on the illumination of the Voyager bridge during red alerts

Nutshell: Some nice action scenes and a standout subplot involving Suder, but ultimately a "foregone conclusion" cliffhanger setup with little character spark. And too much stupidity on behalf of the Voyager crew.

And so Voyager's lackluster season comes to an end with "Basics," a decent cliffhanger installment that does its job and little else—much like the series as a whole has been doing for the most part this season. And at the risk of sounding pessimistic about the series' development, let me press on with the review of the episode on hand (for I'll be writing the season's recap soon enough).

"Basics" is, to put it simply, your usual summer cliffhanger. It has no pretensions—it knows what it is. (I mean, the previews even said it was a cliffhanger for crying out loud—they didn't use to be that indiscreet about themselves.) The show is a carefully constructed setup with zero payoff—beyond that, there's little else to look for.

"Basics" is not comparable to the more spectacular nail-biting season-enders like TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds" or even DS9's "The Jem'Hadar." I'd rank it somewhere in the realm of TNG's "Descent"—it's one of those shows that you know is merely setup material and nothing else, and you accept it for what it is. Sure, standing alone, "Basics, Part I" doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot since it is, after all, only one portion of a complete story. But it's an entertaining portion at that, and its ending is sure to get its hooks into you whether you want to resist its manipulations or not.

I recommend, however, that you don't resist—the show is more fun that way. Besides...resistance is futile.

You want plot summary you say? Okay, here goes. Seska urgently contacts Chakotay, saying that her son has been born, and that Culluh has seen it is not his. Culluh is quite angry with Seska's lies to him about a baby she said was his. She tries to escape and he's hot on her trail. If she's caught, she will likely be executed and her son will be ostracized. Should the Voyager intervene? While the contempt for Seska is pretty much a unanimous stance taken by the crew of Voyager, the question becomes whether or not they have a duty to defend the rights of an innocent child. Janeway gives Chakotay full range over the decision of whether to pursue his newborn son. If he decides to rescue the son that Seska conceived without permission, Janeway will support him in an effort to track down the distress call.

One of the interesting points "Basics" brings up is the decision process Chakotay goes through. It's a tough call—how can Chakotay claim responsibility for a child that was conceived with a DNA injection completely without his knowledge? In the episode's one attempt at a character-probing scene, Chakotay has a spiritual vision in which his father offers some insights on Chakotay's personally troubling situation.

If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today's prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska's latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?

But like I said, this show is about setting up a severe situation. On their new course into Kazon space, the crew finds a damaged Kazon shuttle floating in space with a wounded Kazon officer on board named Tierna (John Gegunhuber). Tierna was Seska's aide, and he says that Culluh executed her and exiled the child to a labor colony. Tierna escaped execution however, and now agrees to help Voyager travel through Kazon territory on their way to the labor colony.

Can Tierna be trusted? Well, of course not. This is a cliffhanger; his role in the episode is to lead the Voyager crew into the trap so the Kazon Nistrim can ambush Voyager with overwhelming odds.

Still, the hints foreshadowing the ambush are done quite nicely and discreetly. For some reason, minor attacks by random Kazon factions seem to focus on damaging Voyager's starboard ventral, causing damage to the secondary command processors. Imagine Janeway's surprise when this later causes the self-destruct sequence to be rendered inoperable.

I also appreciated the B-story involving Suder, the guy from "Meld" who Janeway sentenced to life in his quarters for murdering another crew member. (I thought we would never see this guy again, and it's refreshing to see the show proves me wrong here.) He feels worthless without something to do for the ship. His situation is understandable. He's a man with no purpose. I think, however, when Suder begins to get overly anxious about his project and looks unstable in front of the captain, Janeway handles the situation all wrong. Saying "excuse me" and walking away will only make things worse. Janeway should really have been more tolerant and understanding of Suder's feelings.

There's also Tierna's anomalous blood readings, which later explains why he is able to inject himself with a chemical and literally explode in a ball of fire, causing untimely damage to the Voyager. So as the Kazon vessels close in and pound on the Voyager, things look grim. Paris takes a shuttle in an attempt to double back and bring a Talaxian convoy to help them, but the Kazon open fire on him and apparently destroy his shuttle. (The key word is "apparently"—he is obviously not dead.) Voyager is boarded and Culluh takes command of the ship.

This is fun—it's a worst case scenario come true. The pyrotechnics are okay. (I still think DS9's motion photography effects leave Voyager's in the dust, although I don't understand why since visual effects guru Dan Curry works on both series.) The idea of projecting holographic ships to fool the Kazon attackers seems resourceful enough, even if a little tough to swallow. And Seska turns up not dead, and gloats over the success of her trap. (Read: Voyager crew = SUCKERS.)

Culluh lands the ship on a nearby planet where he maroons the entire Federation crew on the surface. Then he takes off, leaving Janeway and her crew on the actively volcanic and seismic planet to watch as Voyager flies away, never to be seen again (until part two). The fate of the ship lies completely in the hands of the Doctor, Suder, Paris, and presumably some helpful Talaxians. Will part two become Die Hard With a Voyager?

While this is okay setup material I still want to know one thing: Shouldn't we be way out of Kazon space by now? This is probably the series' premise's biggest plot hole—that no matter how far the Voyager seems to travel, they're still within a few days travel of the heart of Kazon space. I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. As Voyager presses through the quadrant, we should see new races—new allies and new enemies. Dwelling on the Kazon is going to be ultimately self-defeating.

But never mind that now. The question is: Does "Basics" bait its game—does it make us want to see part two? Well, sure—but only to see how the events unfold. The question of whether or not the crew recaptures their ship is a no-brainer, which, unfortunately, makes this whole idea seem pointless. Whether or not this idea holds any water is a question to be answered in September. As they always say: "TO BE CONTINUED..."

Previous episode: Resolutions
Next episode: Basics, Part II

End-of-season article: Second Season Recap

Season Index

27 comments on this review

Jason - Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - 11:04pm (USA Central)
Haha. Just watched both part 1 and 2 on my Tivo. I forgot about the scene were Doc accidentally gets projected out into space with the holographic ships. "HELP! MAN OVERBOARD", and his facial expression as he dodges a Kazon phaser in Zero G....priceless. Picardo was the best!
Jake - Sat, Oct 4, 2008 - 11:23pm (USA Central)
Janeway proves she's a few cans short of a six pack when she fails to put 2 & 2 together regarding the constant attack on a specific (and supposedly non-essential) section of Voyager which disables the auto destruct.
Gretchen - Sat, Oct 4, 2008 - 11:26pm (USA Central)
Call me crazy, but I would think that some people (like Hogan) would've started turning on Janeway once the crew was left on that planet. Basically all her decisions throughout the season regarding the Kazon (including tracking down Seska's kid) have led to what happens to the crew in this episode.
Stefan - Tue, Dec 16, 2008 - 8:04pm (USA Central)
What bothers me about this episode is that someone like Culluh would have executed the entire crew. How did he benefit by leaving them alive? An explanation should have been given.
Nic - Tue, Oct 27, 2009 - 8:18am (USA Central)
Seska probably used all her influence to have the crew left on the planet rather than executed (she's not a monster, after all). As for the Kazon space issue, it's the first time they actually mention that they are near Kazon territory. Also, they made a lot of detours during the first two seasons, including going back to Talaxia in "Jetrel" and a 70-light-year trip in "Resolutions". It's still a stretch, but hey it's only a TV show.
The crew really acted like idiots in this episode, though.
Will - Tue, May 25, 2010 - 11:39am (USA Central)
Answering your questions about the special effects. Voyager didn't have Gary Hutzel.
Tim - Fri, Jun 25, 2010 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
Massacres aren’t always necessary. Even Khan didn’t feel the need to massacre the crew of the Reliant. He just left them where he thought they wouldn’t cause any trouble. And, actually, Culluh was right. The crew that he left on the planet didn’t cause him any grief. If he had just managed to take care of Paris, Suder and the Doc, then Season 3 and 7 of Voyager would have involved the Kazon Nistrim cataloging space and battling the Borg =)

However, I don’t understand why you MUST have an auto-destruct sequence to destroy your starship? (ST: Nemesis had me asking this same question). I would think there’d be any number of ways to destroy your ship if you really wanted to. Hell, just stand there firing a phaser directly at the warp core…That oughta blow something up.
Jhoh - Sat, Jul 3, 2010 - 11:46am (USA Central)
This episode and the followup are why I stopped watching Voyager. When I saw that Voyager had actually been completely captured by one Cardassian chick and a race of people who had starships but still thought water was a valuable commodity, I thought that this crew was too embarrassingly stupid to support, I no longer cared if they all died, and couldn't watch any more.

It wasn't really until I found this site did I find out that there were actually a few (very few) decent Voyager episodes.
Drew - Tue, Aug 24, 2010 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
I still don't understand why the hell Chakotay goes out of his way to help Seska and a child that he didn't help to concieve??? It's so retarded, who cares if she stole your DNA to make that child IT IS NOT YOUR SON, PERIOD. So Janeway and Chakotay risk their ship and crew to go help a woman who's tried to kill them every opportunity she gets and a child that's really not even your own. Good job you dumb idiot Chakotay, thanks for proving to me again that you have no common sense at all.
Bill T - Tue, Sep 28, 2010 - 12:16am (USA Central)
The voyager crew almost left Chakotay at the hands of the Kazon. They almost left Chakotay and Janeway as victims of a bug-borne illness. Now we are to believe they would risk all their lives for a rape child? A child who might very well have been killed? And into a situation that is probably a trap? Whew, they deserved to lose their starship.
Matthias - Mon, Aug 22, 2011 - 9:28am (USA Central)
Why does the doctor even freak out about being in space?
Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 2:39pm (USA Central)
@ Drew...

I agree. Chakotay's dad or whoever that was that gave him the advice that woefully fails in the 24th century where paternity can be a form of identity theft.
Joe - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 9:28am (USA Central)
"If you choose to go after it, I know I speak for the entire crew, Starfleet and Maquis alike, when I say "we'll stand behind you.""

-Captain Katheryn Janeway, encouraging Chakotay to:

-Rescue a traitor and/or her test tube baby.
-Risk getting caught in a trap (which it was).
-Go into a fortified area of enemy space (they don't need a trap).

In the end they:
-Sacrifice at least 2 lives.
-Catastrophic damage across the ship.
-Several days of travel time.
-Disable or kill a handful of Kazon ships and personnel that Voyager should have flown by and never be seen again.
-They do NOT recover the baby.

If they got back to Earth the day after this, Janeway would be stripped of rank, court-martialed, and shipped someplace significantly less forgiving than that cozy New Zealand penal colony. Janeway is hellbent on making whatever decisions get her home as slowly and dangerously as possible. This would be an excellent time to play the Prime Directive card: label Seska and her test tube baby a Kazon internal affair and keep on home.
Justin - Tue, Mar 20, 2012 - 11:44pm (USA Central)
It's a wonder that this is the same crew that managed to defeat the Borg on multiple occasions.
Laroquod - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 8:44pm (USA Central)
If it helps, think of Chakotay as kind of like Worf -- after all, he makes his decisions by taking electronic peyote and consulting with spirits. If he says he's gotta go back for the kid, then Janeway says they go back for the kid. Just like Picard would often respect Worf's twisted Klingon insanity. Qapla, Chakotay!
matt - Thu, Aug 2, 2012 - 6:05am (USA Central)
@ laroquod
The difference is that Chakotay never had a moment that made the viewer want to stand up and cheer the way Worf did when he killed Duras.
Although both did have an eye-rolling romantic relationship-Chakotay with 7 & Worf with Dax.
Jay - Sun, Oct 7, 2012 - 11:30am (USA Central)
The moment the Kazon revealed they had "insider information" (this time, the continuous attack on the ventral portion of the ship) it should have been obvious that they were still getting info from Seska, so she wasn't dead.
Joe Joe Meastro - Fri, Mar 1, 2013 - 7:52am (USA Central)
Perhaps this is more of a reflection on me and the fact I saw this at the crack of dawn in a insomnia-like state, but when that Kazon dude blows himself up I instantly mistook it as him transforming himself into some kind of giant! Just the way the specail effect looks, it's just plain goofy and straight out of a cartoon. When we see the circular explosion blasting through the wall; I thought it was his gigantic fist punching through the ship! I watched in awe, expecting to now see a surreal battle between the crew and a Godzilla-like mutant Kazon.

Of course, I felt a bit silly when it turned out he was just blowing himself up...

*Ahem* on a different note, I quite enjoyed this episode. A bit by-the-numbers but I like it none the less.
xaaos - Fri, Apr 5, 2013 - 8:04am (USA Central)
I really enjoyed it when Culluh slapped Janeway! She deserved that one for her moronic decision to detour just for a tube baby and risk the safety of her crew and ship.
Caine - Fri, Oct 18, 2013 - 9:55am (USA Central)
I've only read Jammer's review of this episode, not the comments .. as I write this I haven't yet watched part 2, and I don't want the episode spoiled.

I was really excited after watching this episode ... not because of what part 2 WILL be, I'm sure, but what it COULD be.

Suder, a psychotic killer, hiding in the dark as the Kazon fly away? Wow ... just imagine it:
In part 2, when the crew gets back to Voyager and beams aboard, they see dead Kazon everywhere, their throats slit. On the bridge, Suder sits in the Captain's chair - alone, in darkness, quietly. That would be SO awesome! As Jammer wrote: "Die Hard With a Voyager" ... meets "Suder of Lambs".

Janeway: "Suder ... what ... what .... what happened to Maje Culluh?!"

Suder: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice romulan ale" *slurp* "Yipee Kay-Aye!"

Caine - Fri, Oct 18, 2013 - 9:57am (USA Central)
Correction: "Suder of THE Lambs"
inline79 - Tue, Dec 17, 2013 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
"Die Hard With a Voyager" would be funny, but I think the more hilariously appropriate parody would have been "Voyager Under Siege" with Robert Beltran as Steven Seagal. That movie has a set-up as ridiculous as this episode, but at least rewards us with some mindless vengeance.

PS. Colm Meaney was in the original Under Siege!
Latex Zebra - Tue, Dec 17, 2013 - 6:23pm (USA Central)

I just watched Die Hard 2.

Colm Meaney is in that too.

O'Brien must suffer... and some.
NCC-1701-Z - Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - 12:32am (USA Central)
If Janeway had had half a brain, she would have said, "Screw this. I'm sorry, Chakotay, but I cannot risk the entire ship on the off chance that this boy is your son, especially considering the dire consequences if this ship is captured. Maintain course to the Alpha Quadrant. End of conversation."

Then, of course, there would be no two-parter. Still mildly entertaining episode, but the setup was dumb.

On the plus side, this two-parter did lead to the excellent "Distant Origin" in season 3.
Robert - Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - 11:09am (USA Central)
@NCC - You make it sound like Chakotay asked her and Janeway should have said no. It was her idea!

"CHAKOTAY: This is not my responsibility! She has no right to expect me to
JANEWAY: She knows you, Chakotay. She knew how you'd react when you saw your son in danger.
CHAKOTAY: I have a duty to this crew. I can't just leave and go looking for the child.
JANEWAY: And I'd never consider letting you go into a Kazon-Nistrim stronghold by yourself. If we do this, we do it together. That's something else Seska would know, too. "
Vylora - Fri, Aug 22, 2014 - 5:35pm (USA Central)
Admittedly, this is really an entertaining episode to watch. There's some great interactions amongst major and minor characters, outstanding direction, and the best space battle on Voyager up to this point. Unfortunately, there's a few steaming piles of horseshit.

Pile 1:
- The crew has been traveling off and on for months since the last Kazon encounter. I understand the concept of species or alliances of peoples having large borders, as it were. The Federation, for example, has a boundary large enough that it would take roughly eight years at high warp to travel from one extreme point to the other. There's no indication anywhere that the Trabe were spread even close to as far as that and I highly doubt that the Kazon would be since the relatively recent uprising. They're just too unstable.

Pile 2:
- Janeway speaks on behalf of the entire crew in backing Chakotay's desire to rescue the stolen part of his tattoo. This is, of course, after some deep conversations while 'tripping' as opposed to actual conversations with said crew. Whichever writer thought this was a great idea should have packed his/her crap, moved into a cave, and ponder the musings of Dr. Seuss.

Pile 3:
- The secondary command and control alt delete processors are being smacked about like a red-headed step chicken. Logic would dictate not being fucking brain-dead and maybe actually review exactly what they're for if you can't remember. I'm pretty positive that said review would show they involve many things, including the infamous shiny apple-red history eraser button and the self-destruct sequence.

This episode coasts by solely on performances and entertainment.

2.5 stars.
SlackerInc - Sun, Sep 21, 2014 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
I have to agree that obviously it was foolhardy to go try to rescue this baby. But I think we have to forgive that, because nearly every iteration of every science fiction or action adventure show or movie involves a lot of "this is an extreme risk just to save one person, but we're heroic types and that's what we do" type stuff. I'm cool with someone making something that moves away from this trope, but as of the mid-'90s especially, it was par for the course.

And as a lot of others have also said, it was a suspenseful and fun episode as long as you swallow that much. My wife, who is not even much of a science fiction fan but watches with me and our daughter as (I had always thought, anyway) a good sport, is the most anxious of the three of us to hurry up and watch the next episode!

As for the Kazon space thing: If it takes eight years to move through Federation space (how do we know this, anyway?), I think we can forgive it taking a few months for the Kazons. Let's just assume that the heart of their territory is closer to the Alpha Quadrant than where the Voyager originally got moved; when the Voyager first encountered Kazons, they were at the farthest edge of their range, the farthest away from the Alpha Quadrant. If that's the case, it could be reasonable to still be near the heart of their territory a few months later.

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