Star Trek: Voyager
"Blink of an Eye"
Air date: 1/19/2000
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Michael Taylor
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"If there's an intelligent species down there, we'll be able to track their development, not just for days or weeks, but for centuries."
"And watch them discover new and better ways of beating each other over the head."
"They won't necessarily follow the Klingon model."
"As opposed to the human model?"
— Chakotay and Torres
Nutshell: A good reapplication of a good premise that was misapplied in its original use.
"Blink of an Eye" is a compelling hour of Voyager, and it might've seemed like a truly original sci-fi concept if it weren't for the fact the basic premise was made into an episode of original Trek more than 31 years ago. Is this new episode an homage, an updated retelling, or a blatant plundering of already-used ideas?
I'm inclined to use the phrase "updated retelling." One gets the sense that this story might've been intended to seem fresh to new-Trek fans who were not familiar with the original premise; at the same time, the fact that the title has barely been changed (the TOS episode was called "Wink of an Eye") is a hint that maybe the writers were consciously, if quietly, acknowledging their source material.
Still, with a premise built on such an interesting hook, it almost seems like the original script's writers, Arthur Heinemann and Gene Coon, deserved to be inserted into this week's credits.
"Blink of an Eye" is not a rehash, mind you. "Blink" is, in fact, miles ahead of "Wink," which had that great starting premise but didn't do much with it, and required viewers to overlook crucial flaws in logic in order for the story to work.
"Blink" takes the idea of time differential to a much more interesting level by inserting Voyager into the very mythos of the strange new world in question. This is easily the best, most ambitious sci-fi premise seen on Voyager this season.
We've got a planet that exists in accelerated time, where nearly an entire day goes by in the time the Voyager crew experiences one second. Voyager gets stuck in orbit in some sort of technobabble eddy, and while they're stuck they observe the society below developing from primitive to industrial to digital. And what's perhaps most interesting about this idea is that the planet's inhabitants all the while are observing Voyager, which looks like the brightest, biggest star in the sky. It's a wondrous new take on a concept that was nowhere within the thought range of the original "Wink." Anyone who is calling "Blink" simply a rehash is missing the point.
The most interesting aspect of "Blink" is what grows from the implications of everyone gazing into the sky, seeing Voyager, and wondering what that super-bright star in the sky means. The story supplies us several time periods on the planet where a dialog opens between two people looking at the sky. They wonder what it is, who put it there, and why it causes frequent earthquakes. As the time periods change, the nature of the belief regarding this mysterious "star" changes. At first it's worshiped and feared; later those values of worship are challenged and primitive contact is attempted (by sealed letter and hot-air balloon, no less); and still later we have astronomers staring at it through telescopes, sending it radio signals, and wondering who put the "Sky Ship" in orbit and why it's not going anywhere.
Strangely, I don't have a whole lot to say about some of the societal perspectives, because the most interesting ideas to ponder are implicit. In fact, if there's a drawback to "Blink of an Eye," it's that some of the execution can't really live up to the potential of the concept. For such an interest-piquing idea, there are numerous scenes that, in and by themselves, strike me as oddly lackluster. As a whole, probably each scene is necessary to establish the unfolding canvas of centuries of time, but as individual drama scenes they don't really stand out to say something powerful.
Part of that, I think, lies on the guest cast, which isn't uniformly solid. Each time frame we see features two actors engaging in a dialog about the Sky Ship, and in each case one actor seems significantly weaker than the other. Also, the early scenes can't break free and become completely engrossing because the dialog comes across as a bit stilted. Particularly in the first two ancient time periods, the people talk with a wooden properness that strikes me as over-scripted and artificial.
Back aboard Voyager, we have some neat ideas, like the idea of beaming Doc down to the planet to investigate a way of escaping orbit, and the idea that when he is unretrievable for several minutes because of a technical problem, he comes back to Voyager having been on the planet three years, where he had basically become a citizen.
And in the most immediate example of observing progress that's unfolding before one's eyes, Seven witnesses on the viewscreen in a few moments the testing of antimatter bombs over what is really a few months' time—and then realizes the devices have been promptly aimed at Voyager.
The best moments come in the latter stages of the show after two astronauts make the historic first attempt to reach the Sky Ship. Seeing through their eyes, we're able to experience the anticipation as they approach Voyager—a weird, alien, impossibly frozen object that has been a mystery for centuries. They board Voyager, which of course gives us the creepy visuals of two explorers walking through the decks of a ship full of frozen people. (Are the physics of such a situation plausible? Wouldn't people running around the ship at such high speeds cause some sort of increased friction or heat? What if one of these astronauts punched somebody? Would their hand go right through a Voyager crew member and break them in half? Is there some sort of law of conservation of energy or something to account for this? Okay, I'm being flippant; I honestly don't know or care. There's a reason I got a degree in English and not physics.)
Suddenly, the astronauts are pulled into Voyager's rate of time. One of the astronauts dies from trauma, but the other, a man named Gotana-Retz (Daniel Dae Kim), survives, and becomes the emotional anchor for the story's closing stages. Gotana-Retz is represented by the better actor of the two astronaut characters, fortunately, and I liked that the story revealed the way Voyager impacted him as an individual who had always sought answers to the Sky Ship mystery—from childhood.
The show's most interesting explicitly discussed idea is that the mystery of the Sky Ship had prompted a societal acceleration of technology (sort of a "space race" like the race to the Moon). The idea that a people sought development to answer questions with such huge significance is a notion that tunes into our own wonders. There's also some musing over what might happen to society if the Sky Ship were to leave. Interesting, how the universal are-we-alone-in-the-universe question is filtered through this particular Voyager plot.
Of course, it's also an honest and telling point that, as Doc reveals, if some members of government had their way, newly discovered weapons would be quickly pointed and fired at the Sky Ship.
The ending works pretty well, though there seems to be a tad bit of chaos. It's nice that Voyager's escape from the planet's grasp isn't arbitrarily handled with tech but instead by the decision to have Gotana-Retz return to the planet and tell his people what he has seen.
Despite the smart script, "Blink" doesn't really land in the realm of Trekkian masterpieces. Some of the more potent moments in the drama feel a bit underplayed (and Paul Baillargeon still refuses to score moments of action with any sort of energy). Where this episode reveals its cracks is in the ebb and flow of the plot along the way. There are distracting moments that don't quite seem to fit, like the walk-on of Naomi Wildman and especially Doc's brief mention of his "son" from when he was on the planet—which is downright confusing as presented, and seems tacked on since it makes one wonder where all the emotional attachment vanished to the instant he beamed back aboard Voyager.
But regardless, this episode is a winner. It has genuine sci-fi imagination of the type that sci-fi deserves. I've observed that there are two general types of sci-fi that Hollywood uses to establish their stories: the kind that tell human dramas about the nature of possibilities and imagination, and the type that exploit spaceships and fantasy technology merely for explosions and cheap thrills. "Blink of an Eye" represents the former.
Trailer commentary: It kills me the way all those extra stock-footage shots of explosions and people getting knocked off their feet were added to the promo for "Blink of an Eye," little of which happened in this episode. This preview, like many Voyager previews, obviously emanated straight from the People-Will-Watch-If-They-Think-Stuff-Will-Get-Blown-Up Dept.
Next week: According to the trailer, who knows? But somewhere in the next few weeks we'll get plenty of Borg, action, and Seven of Nine arena fighting. Yes, everyone, it's "Star Trek: LCD"!