Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Relativity"

***

Air date: 5/12/1999
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan & Michael Taylor
Story by Nick Sagan
Directed by Allan Eastman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I don't care if history itself comes unraveled; I want to know why you're on my ship!" — Janeway, putting Voyager first (as usual)

Nutshell: Weird, labyrinthine, goofy, bordering on nonsense ... and quite fun.

The plot of "Relativity" is like some sort of comic maze. By the end, the madness has grown so absurd that the characters can barely restrain their grins of bemusement. This is Star Trek sci-fi on crack.

I liked it. It's fun.

"Relativity" begins with some suspense and intrigue; then it proceeds into an explanatory plot-revealing mode with dialog-based story advancement and manageable action; and finally it just turns into sheer lunacy, as the timeline leaping exists for the sake of itself, having little rhyme or reason.

As time-travel shows go, the attitude in "Relativity" probably most resembles TNG's "Timescape." The movement through timelines isn't used to put characters at points in history where they must save the world, Federation, etc.; it's more like an elaborate means for jumping around on the stage known as the starship Voyager. The goal: prevent Voyager from being destroyed.

You see, a saboteur of unknown identity has planted a device on the ship. But it exists in a different temporal phase that only Seven of Nine, with her special Borg ocular capabilities, can see. This leads the crew of a 29th-century time ship to recruit Seven for the mission to find the device before it causes a "temporal explosion" that will destroy Voyager. (Why not just a regular explosion? I suppose because a temporal explosion sounds more complex and interesting.)

The 29th-century time ship, the Relativity, is captained by the same man who set the events of "Future's End" in motion—one Captain Braxton (now played by Bruce McGill), who had found himself trapped in the 20th century for 30 years because of his encounter with Voyager. Perhaps to say Braxton set those events in motion is not accurate. If I've learned anything from "Relativity," it's that one cannot utilize traditional logic when it comes to timeline manipulation. This episode deals a lot with that reliable sci-fi chestnut: the time paradox, which renders obsolete our sense of cause and effect.

Do I really need to explain all of this? In a nutshell, Seven jumps back to a point where Voyager was in dry-dock and looks for the hidden bomb. It's not there, so she is retrieved through time again and sent to a point later in Voyager's time frame. While on this mission through time, Seven also must contend with what Braxton calls "the Janeway factor," which is Janeway's tendency to interact with events that are taking place across the fourth dimension, and thus causing annoying "temporal incursions" that 29th-century time ship captains like Braxton must set right.

The story's central twist is that the saboteur turns out to be a future version of Captain Braxton himself. Apparently, he's gone quite mad in the future and has decided he must destroy Voyager—thereby stopping Janeway from ever again infecting the timeline. (The subtext within the idea of Voyager damaging the timeline so often strikes me as the writers taking a jab at themselves for using so many time-travel storylines.)

A story like this depends on execution more than anything else. "Relativity" executes well. It's nothing particularly brilliant, but it's a fun yarn to watch unfold. If you have a short attention span, "Relativity" will not try your patience. The story moves along swiftly and, dare I say, confidently. There's a cavalier attitude here concerning time travel, but the writers approach the material with a light tough that seems to keep the focus on fun rather than making the story a plodding mess. That's a good thing, since any attempt to use common sense in approaching the plot is virtually useless.

Honestly, by the end of the hour's mania, there's not really much motivation behind the timeline jumping. The writers resign the game to a fairly standard chase, where the playground is simply the various timelines utilizing the standing Voyager sets. Braxton goes back to Voyager of season two; Seven follows. Braxton jumps into Voyager of season five; Seven follows. And once Seven stops Braxton, the games still aren't over. Now the damage to the timeline must be repaired as best possible, which means the time ship crew must recruit Janeway (because Seven has already jumped through time too many times and her health may be threatened) to go back in time and stop Braxton from ever having done anything in Voyager's past in the first place. (First place, last place—do these terms mean anything?) Upon Janeway accomplishing this goal, this means Seven will never have a need for visiting Voyager several times in the past and altering the timeline. That means, I suppose, that the whole episode never really happened—or it sort of did, but not really, but ... does any of this make sense?

Aw, hell—Seven's next stop might as well have been November 12, 1955. I doubt it would/would've/will made/make much a difference to this craziness. (Of course, it might matter if that date is actually the key to the space-time continuum the way Emmett Brown theorized.)

I have a question, though. If the people of the 29th century have so much control over time, why does any of this plot even matter? Why couldn't Braxton be retrieved through time before he spent those 30 years in the 20th century? (For that matter, it was my understanding, based on the concluding scene of "Future's End, Part II," that Braxton's fate had somehow been reset such that he never really got trapped in the 20th century at all—of course, I didn't really understand it then, so I suppose I shouldn't try to make sense of it now.)

For that matter, what exactly is the motivation for Braxton blowing up Voyager? To see an end to Janeway's interference with the timeline? If that's the case, why doesn't he blow up Voyager in the past (from our perspective, that is), before Voyager corrupted the timeline in the first place—rather than waiting until the point we call "late season five"? That would presumably prevent him from ever having been trapped three decades in the 20th century. You know, I could go on, but your head would explode.

I think the point of all this madness, if there is one, is that the time paradox has no discernible cause or effect, and that trying to establish cause/effect is simply pointless. Rather, what characters must do in such situations is go with the flow and hope the game plays out the way it "should." I don't know who plays God in alleging to know what the "correct" timeline is, but I would hope those people are well trained and less prone to manic treachery than Braxton. Or, at the very least, I hope they're arrested in advance for crimes they're going to commit. (Heh.)

It's probably a good thing the characters can barely keep all the paradoxes straight, so that at least we as viewers are on the same level as some of the people in the story, like Janeway, who simply wants to be done with the ordeal before it all gives her a headache.

Beyond playing with paradoxes, "Relativity" is sold on its whimsical attitude. It knows better than to take itself seriously, and has some neat scenes involving "shattered" time. My favorite has to be the ping pong tournament, where Paris slams the ball and it freezes in midair for a few seconds before continuing on its way. What does Official Scorekeeper Neelix do after this bizarre event? Why, he scores the point, natch. Hee.

This episode also brings back that long-forgotten Lt. Joe Carey (Josh Clark), unseen for four years. Where has this guy been? It's interesting to note that he appears only in scenes involving Voyager's past, and not in the present. I, for one, would like to know where this guy has vanished to. Maybe the space-time continuum simply swallowed him up.

What the space-time continuum does not swallow up in "Relativity" is the enjoyment factor. This is an episode that's fairly loony, but it embraces its illogic and moves forward with no fear of the future—or the past, or the present.

Next week: "Darkling" meets "Dreadnought." (Sure, Doc's a cool guy, but next week he's truly the bomb.)

Previous episode: 11:59
Next episode: Warhead

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28 comments on this review

Ospero - Thu, Feb 7, 2008 - 10:42pm (USA Central)
I really enjoyed this episode. I don't have the first clue as to why I did, but there you are - this has to be the most ridiculously overblown time travel plot ever seen on Trek (which has to be some kind of distinction). And besides, Jeri Ryan looks cool in a Starfleet uniform (better than those ridiculous catsuits, anyway...)
Jhoh - Mon, Mar 31, 2008 - 1:00am (USA Central)
My favorite scene is near the end when Janeway blows off the time travel technobabble, "before my headache gets worse." I think this is the first time in Star Trek history that they've actually cut off the technobabble.
Stefan - Wed, Apr 2, 2008 - 10:46pm (USA Central)
This episode is a parody of all Star Trek time travel episodes. If you try to take this episode seriously, you will end up with a migraine.

One interesting thing to ponder is whether these guys are good at their job. What happened during all of those incidents where the timeline was changed? For example, where was the Relativity crew when Kim and Chakotay were trying to keep the Voyager from ending up in the deep freeze (Timeless)?

Anyway, I have to go get a couple of aspirins now.
Aaron - Thu, Jul 31, 2008 - 2:16pm (USA Central)
Why did they repeat the inclusion of 'Endgame' twice in the DVD series "Collective" and not include this gem? Such a trippy episode, and one of the rare times that Trek did funny well.
Ken Egervari - Sat, Dec 5, 2009 - 6:07pm (USA Central)
I really liked this episode. I would say it's 3.5 stars.

Of course there's logical problems. Like you mentioned... why not just get braxton earlier, and wasn't it reset? You could even argue that arresting him on the ship before he committed the crime should have reversed the timeline... but I guess since he already went into the past... it already happened. LOL.

I don't really care. I love the plot. I love the look of the timeship. I like the new uniforms. I like how they arrested braxton for crimes he's going to commit. I liked how it went back to the start of the series. This is just a different kind of time travel episode that the usual affair, and one of the top 10 voyager episodes for me.
Nic - Mon, Jun 14, 2010 - 1:47pm (USA Central)
You'd think that before they wrote the scenes in the past, they would actually have watched the beginning of the pilot! Tom Paris was not recruited for his piloting skills (nor did he even take the helm during Voyager's trip to the badlands), he was recruited for his knowledge of Maquis hiding places.
Tim - Fri, Jul 2, 2010 - 8:59pm (USA Central)
This is such a fun episode. I would have loved to see a follow up to it. Captain Braxton returns. Seven of Nine begins suffering temporal psychosis from her time traveling. Woulda been fun
Michael - Mon, Jul 5, 2010 - 9:33am (USA Central)
A superior episode!! THIS is what Star Trek, as a sci-fi show, should be all about. Four stars!
Niall - Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - 3:02pm (USA Central)
Just saw this for the first time. Definitely one of the Top 10 Voyager episodes. The first half is engaging and thrilling, the second takes an unexpected twist into parody and totally pulls it off. Brilliantly paced and played, laugh-out-loud funny, and the last word on Trek time travel.

To think all that corny "Temporal Cold War" BS on Enterprise came AFTER this...
tedren - Wed, Aug 11, 2010 - 1:22am (USA Central)
am i the only one that noticed that seven kept entering deck 4 through engineering?... which happens to be on deck 11?

Seriously tell me you noticed that.
Jay - Mon, Mar 7, 2011 - 12:33pm (USA Central)
@ Stefan...indeed on "Timeless", to say nothing of "Endgame".
Iceblink - Mon, Aug 15, 2011 - 8:57am (USA Central)
This is just a fun, goofy time travel extravaganza. It has zero depth, but it's engaging, fun and entertaining with some neat twists. Voyager did this kind of stuff very well.
Jack - Sun, Sep 4, 2011 - 1:29pm (USA Central)
If this Braxton experienced the three decades stranded in the 20th century after all (the end of FE made it seem he did not), and the rehab that followed, shouldn't he be much older than he's presented here? This Braxton looks no older than the other one.
Juergen - Fri, Sep 16, 2011 - 8:46am (USA Central)
I think after Braxton's mission in Future's End II, he would have been "re-integrated" with his alternate timeline, and so he would still have memories of those 30 years in the 20th century.
TDexter - Sun, Feb 12, 2012 - 5:33pm (USA Central)
I also really enjoyed this episode. It was silly, but self-consciously silly, but not too self-conscious to take away from the plot. There probably is something of a time-travel parody going on -- and if so, it's done well. I actually laughed out loud at Janeway's "headache" line, especially because the quick cut to Voyager being fired upon was perfect comedic timing.

I also agree that I prefer Sevon-of-Nine in actual Starfleet uniform. I hate all how the good-looking Star Trek women are forced to wear tight-fitting catsuits and bounce T&A around as fanservice.
TDexter - Sun, Feb 12, 2012 - 5:34pm (USA Central)
*Seven -- I must be experiencing temporal psychosis.

To add to my last comment, there really must be an unwritten rule in sci-fi TV where "The Hot One" isn't allowed to wear uniforms or clothes like anybody else. Bugs me to bits.
Captain Jim - Sun, Apr 1, 2012 - 10:31pm (USA Central)
Jammer said, "Aw, hell—Seven's next stop might as well have been November 12, 1955."

What? Why would she have traveled to my fifth birthday? Don't go trying to recruit ME into this temporal excursion! ;)

As far as the episode is concerned, I agree with everybody else: it was crazy fun.
Nic - Sat, Apr 27, 2013 - 9:13pm (USA Central)
Another weird goof is that the 29th century agents first say they'll retrieve Seven of Nine "a microsecond before the explosion", and then they just beam into the past and have a short conversation before beaming her out (almost a full minute before Voyager explodes).

So yes, this episode makes absolutely no sense, but it was fun, and that's never a bad thing.
Leah - Fri, Jun 21, 2013 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
Ok, so...The Relativity can't communicate with Seven when Voyager erects a forcefield. A 29th-century TIME ship can't penetrate a 24th-century forcefield, even if only to communicate? The borg in Voyager's present can walk right through them. Yeeeeah. A picky complaint I know, especially for an episode that has tongue firmly in cheek, but it really stood out to me as lame. Still enjoyed the episode immensely, though. :)
azcats - Thu, Aug 8, 2013 - 1:05pm (USA Central)
Seven: You are the database.
Doc: with 2 legs a splendid bedside manner.

I know people have to nitpick about the plot holes and continuity. i hope they do it just to show their superior ST and analytical skills. Otherwise, you just need to ignore those things and just enjoy the story.
everyone has a Voyager that they remember the most or most fondly. this is the one for me. and i cant believe it only has 20 comments after this post.

4 stars! much fun! i love the "headache" lines!
Lt. Yarko - Sun, Aug 18, 2013 - 8:08am (USA Central)
Terrible. They might as well have had a severely cognitively-challenged person write an episode for them. What's the difference? Throw ALL logic out the window? Not if I am going to even partially enjoy what is supposed to be a story.

I honestly don't see what anyone enjoyed about this disaster. In-jokes about how annoying and stupid time travels stories can be? Sorry. I didn't need such things to remind me.

I am really surprised at Jammer having enjoyed it. It had none of what he usually appreciates in an episode. No character development. No effect to any possible overall show arc. Talk about major reset button. The other time copies of characters will be "reintegrated?" What the hell does that even mean? Oh. The credits. I guess it didn't matter. Any word could have been used for "reintegrated." How about "barbequed?" The other time copies will be barbequed. Huh? Oh. Credits. I guess I'm not supposed to care. Another crappy time travel "story" in the can.
Tedren - Tue, Aug 27, 2013 - 9:23pm (USA Central)
I'd still like to know why the Jeffries tube in engineering was on deck 4. "Patterson to security seal off deck four!" ... Uhm you're in engineering - deck 11. Yes it's petty but, really?
Tom - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 7:42pm (USA Central)
Interesting episode, but I hate it when they blatantly throw around cliches.

"Don't kill the messenger."

It's such lazy writing. Good writing is especially important when the story doesn't even make sense.
Scott D - Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - 11:31pm (USA Central)
One interesting, and perhaps "realistic" aspect of time travel is illustrated: the timeship may be able to *go* anywhere in time; however, there is no exhaustive *record* of time to guide them, at least not to the level of detail required to just beam to X moment to stop Y event. This would explain the messiness in Relativity as they had to cast 7 of 9 about to zero in on the correct moment. It is consistent with Year of Hell, where the Krenim timeship had to tinker, and tinker again, to get the desired result.
Corey - Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - 7:15pm (USA Central)
Is it just me, or is the first act of this episode better than Voyager's similarly intentioned pilot episode? Watching Janeway first introduced to her ship was great. Agree with Jammer's comments though; the final act knocks a full star off this episode.
Amanda - Wed, Mar 5, 2014 - 1:16am (USA Central)
I scanned the comments so pardon if this was spoken.

Didn't anyone pick up on the out of character Janeway and how Paris was introduced? meaning, Janeway is depicted here to have compassion and a con job. No, a woman had it first and he only drove because she croaked. Janeway coldly stated in Caretaker that he was only going as an observer. She had him on a tight leash the first day.

A minor curiosity moment hit me while I rewatched this. When Janeway went into the past and shook her head in disapproval as her younger self walked by I couldn't help but ponder what it was about; Her command choice or the bad wig ;-)
Jack - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 11:42am (USA Central)
Should have brought back the original chief medical officer and chief engineer from "Caretaker". Here they seemed to have Carey be the chief engineer.
Ric - Thu, Apr 24, 2014 - 3:28am (USA Central)
Really good episode. It proves that even this often used card of time travel, the whole tired concept, can be put to new use. Even bold use, I should say, as it meta-plays with the very series more than parodies with the franchise.

Pretty good. Certainly not exactly deep in philosophical issues and had its fair share of plot holes. But it certainly pushed forward the time travel stuff, gave a good scifi hour and smart entertainment.

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