Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"The Void"

***

Air date: 2/14/2001
Teleplay by Raf Green & James Kahn
Story by Raf Green & Kenneth Biller
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Why would anyone steal deuterium? You can find it anywhere." — Paris (line doubles as writers' "we were previously stupid" acknowledgement)

In brief: A good episode, though I'm almost choking on the irony outside the story.

Strangely and ironically, we've come around to the point where the only way to use many of the themes of Voyager's original premise is to invent a plot that puts the ship in an extreme situation that would've been what the Delta Quadrant itself, in several important ways, might've represented all along had the writers permitted it.

That premise is "The Void," which substitutes a barren spatial anomaly for the original presumed barrenness of the Delta Quadrant. Voyager is sucked inside, and they find that in here there's nothing but empty space and other ships — no resources of any kind, and no known escape. These ships steal from and kill each other to survive. When new ships are sucked in, the waiting tigers pounce. It's survival of the fittest, and the meanest.

I want to applaud "The Void" for its optimism. Those who called DS9 the anti-Trek because of its willingness to bend Federation morality can point to this as an example of Trek that sticks to the optimistic ideal and thrives off it. Is this episode as realistic as what might happen in a DS9 extreme situation? Maybe not. But it does have a good message and works well as entertainment. It's pure Star Trek in the classic sense.

The message isn't exactly subtle. It's like last year's "Memorial" in that, there we have it, Our Message for Today. That's okay; we like our messages made clear, which "Void" does without shoving it into our faces.

This void, it is said, has No Escape. Funny how the crew takes it all in stride. Being sucked into a place whose residents claim escape has been attempted and failed for years is not something I would so calmly accept, but these Voyager crew members are made of sterner stuff — they barely bat an eye and have an unspoken air of near-invincibility: If an escape hasn't been found, it's obviously because WE haven't been the ones looking for it. Maybe it's just bad-news denial. Or arrogance. But then, I suppose confidence is a hallmark of this crew.

The ground rules are laid down by General Valen (Robin Sachs), who subscribes to the void's standing policy of Every Ship for Itself, but is also nice enough to give Janeway a heads-up on where they are and how things operate. (By the way, having barely been in the void for a minute, other ships open fire on Voyager, stealing food and supplies with stealth transporters.)

After assessing the gravity of the situation (without external resources, power will be depleted within a week) the question becomes what to do about it. Do we adjust operating procedures to fit in? Become thieves ourselves to survive? It's a question that's worth asking, and "Void" at least knows that this is the question that deserves to be the center of the story.

There's a point where Janeway has the chance to steal food from another ship — one that earlier had stolen supplies from Voyager. She doesn't. When Tuvok and Chakotay come to her ready room to ask what the "operating procedure" will be now that they're in this void, Janeway tells them she's been giving it some thought. Ultimately, she decides to remain true to her Federation values: If we're only going to live for a week, we're going to live by high principle.

At first, my mind went all the way back to second season's "Alliances," an episode that I erroneously awarded three stars based on initial entertainment value, but think of now as one of the biggest turning-point mistakes Voyager ever made. In that episode, a deal gone bad convinced Janeway that the Delta Quadrant was a socially turbulent and dangerous place. Her very naive solution was that staying the same would prevail over the prospect of changing.

Now we have a decision where it seems history is repeating itself ... until we realize the crucial difference. In "Alliances" Janeway was dealing with societies who operated with treachery as a way of life. Here, Janeway is dealing with people pushed to extremes into operating with treachery as a way of life ... except that literally escaping this world is the best way of dealing with it. To escape will take a risk. The risk is taking Federation values and amplifying them to build bridges.

Crazy? Janeway offers to other aliens supplies that would feed her crew, hoping to earn some trust. She hopes to build an alliance that can stand together against other aggressors while simultaneously pooling resources to make a daring escape. Amazingly, she is able to eventually bring some people into the fold.

So, then, is Janeway clever or lucky, trusting or stupid, calculating or naive? I suppose this would be a prime example of the end result being what writes one's victory speech — or epitaph. If you take an unpopular risk and die, you're a fool; if you take an unpopular risk and win, you're a genius.

Interestingly, the plot device in "Void" is exactly what keeps it from becoming another shining example of sophistry like "Alliances." Everyone here is trapped with nowhere to go. Frankly, if I knew I was trapped in a finite void with nothing inside, I'd hardly see the point of repeated raids just to keep my ship operating. Hell, why wouldn't you try something different to escape, unless you've resigned yourself to a pointless existence of being the king pirate of a backyard swimming pool?

What is a little odd, and perhaps a little arrogant and worn out from a story perspective, is the notion that after years trapped in the void, no one else comes up with the brilliant idea of trying to pull together to escape. Naturally, Voyager must represent the superior human intellect and sensibility that is the first to attempt civil tactics and cooperation. Naturally everyone else goes along once Janeway has drummed up a reasonable following.

I guess that's okay. This show is, after all, called Star Trek: Voyager, not Star Trek: Sensible Aliens. To tell it from Voyager's perspective is probably the only way to get the story to work and be about our people. Along the way, it has some nice touches, like some tension with a captain who joins the alliance but turns out to be a bigot and a killer, and how Janeway beats herself up for not paying more attention to his warning signs. There's also a somewhat incomplete subplot involving surveillance technology, and, best of all, the most fulfilling depiction of an alien race in a long time — natives to the void who do not communicate with speech but learn to use musical notes on data pads to talk to the Doctor. These guys are the first truly intriguing aliens in awhile, with quirky and endearing mannerisms and a method of communication that for once isn't reduced to immediate English (excuse me — I meant the Universal Translator).

Of course the ship gets out of the void. But the depiction of how is what makes the show interesting and purely Star Trek in its sensibilities. The episode bests "Alliances" by doing it under more prudent and appropriate circumstances. It's an uplifting hour. Weird, how the plot plays almost like an experiment in turning back the clock to opportunities past.

Next week: Crew members kidnapped and forced to work for minimum wage! And you thought your job was bad...

Previous episode: Prophecy
Next episode: Workforce

Season Index

32 comments on this review

BirdMan - Mon, Apr 6, 2009 - 12:25am (USA Central)
Couple of nitpicks about this episode (which I think GR would probably have liked).

*The native aliens: where the heck did they evolve? The story claims they're natives of the void, but as they clearly evolved to require oxygen and other resources, there's no possible way they could have ended up there. Even assuming they somehow migrated into the void (which also assumes that the void has been sucking in ships for millennia) and that they evolved there to live on ships as 'parasites', how do they maintain their population? They're apparently only found in extremely low numbers? I dug their unusual method of communication, however. I thought that was creative.

*After Janeway et al. escaped, I would dearly have loved to have had a small scene where they deployed warning buoys before leaving. The thought of just running off without warning future ships about the navigation hazard seems careless at best. It's about as bad as falling down an open manhole, crawling back out, and walking away without bothering to replace the cover!
Will - Fri, Nov 27, 2009 - 6:38am (USA Central)
I think this episode is an example of what the show would've been like if Ron Moore was in charge. Voyager could've formed alliances with other ships. The tensions and predjudices between humans and aliens could've been spread across the entire series. Harry Kim's character could actually have developed. Voyager could've formed a whole fleet of ships which could help them back to earth. It would've been like Battlestar Galactica but in the Trek universe with the Borg, Kazon, Vidiians and Hirogen as Villians in place of the Cylons.

Now you probably think I'm one of these people who hates Voyager. I'm not, I love Voyager, like, a lot. I'm just saying how things could've been if there had been a well-timed car-falling-off the-top-of-a-multistorey-with-Rick-Berman-underneath incident.
Jay - Sun, Feb 21, 2010 - 11:55am (USA Central)
Isn't it odd that there are no known phenomena like this in the heavily explored Alpha Quadrant, but that Voyager, in a more or less linear trajectory, stumbles upon two, early in 2375 (Night) and again in mid-2377 here?
Michael - Tue, Jul 20, 2010 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
Uh, a new arrival to a "prison" finds a way to escape that had eluded hundreds of others for years, despite exhortations from hardened veterans that is was impossible, "IMPOSSIBLE, I tell you!" For a minute or ten I thought I was watching Escape From Alcatraz!

And then the "alien" who acts more like an animal than an intelligent entity capable of operating a spaceship?

I quite liked this episode even though I found Janeway's pontification too difficult to swallow at times. She was right to refuse to let Voyager turn into a rogue ship but her pacifism is really grating at times, not to mention illogical and ultimately dangerous. BirdMan also makes some excellent points.

I agree with the three stars.
karatasiospa - Sat, Dec 18, 2010 - 12:07pm (USA Central)
well the idea was good but the story was too simplistic (almost naive)and badly executed, Even the most optimistic TNG episodes were not so simplistic.
Cloudane - Sat, Apr 9, 2011 - 9:31am (USA Central)
Janeway: WTH was that?
Tuvok: Uh.. swirly thing, dead ahead!

Nice to see some classic optimistic Trek again with some proper Trekkian values. At first I was rolling my eyes - first thing you see is a ship firing for no apparent reason, which is already becoming more of a cliche in S7 than it already was in Voyager. However after that the amazing happens - we get a reasonable explanation AND eventual co-operation.

The Delta Quadrant is typically shown to be full of hard headed aliens who can't be reasoned with - it's always refreshing when an episode shows ones that are friendly, or in this case at least become friendly with some Federation influence.

3* works.
Kieran - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 6:30am (USA Central)
I liked this episode, but I thought one scene was badly handled: Janeway lookking at the Federation rules for a loophole that would allow her to conduct raiding. When she can't find one she decides she must still follow the rules depite calling them impractical. So essentially what that scene is saying is Janeway must blindly follow rules she doesn't really agree with when she'd much rather do a spot of raiding. Bizarre.
Nathan - Mon, Nov 14, 2011 - 12:06am (USA Central)
"It would've been like Battlestar Galactica but in the Trek universe with the Borg, Kazon, Vidiians and Hirogen as Villians in place of the Cylons."

I'd bet that the Vidiians would have become allies with a troubled past.


"Isn't it odd that there are no known phenomena like this in the heavily explored Alpha Quadrant, but that Voyager, in a more or less linear trajectory, stumbles upon two, early in 2375 (Night) and again in mid-2377 here?"

It's not really the same as the empty area in "Night". But it is very similar to the thing in "Gravity".
V - Mon, Feb 13, 2012 - 10:54pm (USA Central)
Will, I agree. There would still be action and adventure mixed with character development with ron moore. Ron Moore is big on background of characters. Even giving backgrounds that won't get shown in the series but give the actors a way to understand their characters and give it consistencies. He's big on that and from what I understood, when he joined VOY for a short time he said he felt lost because he was told that when he asked for character history/template he was told they never made one and it doesn't matter...
Captain Jim - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 9:21pm (USA Central)
I didn't care for this as much as the majority. It was alright, but I'd hardly award it three stars. I'd give it two at best.

Oh, and I also thought about the need for a buoy here.
Chip - Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - 9:55pm (USA Central)
A little bit of Janeway's "being true to our rules and to who we are" would have been OK. But her going on and on with it at every turn became a bit much. I couldn't help thinking that this was really a STNG episode; Picard would have fit in perfectly saying Janeway's lines about adhering to principle, no matter what.

It was also rather interesting that the aliens on the survey vessel look almost exactly like the evil Sontarans on Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures. Was someone on Voyager a DH fan?

2 1/2 stars. Now having Kirk in this situation would have made for a very different, and probably more interesting, episode.
Grumpy - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
Will: "I'm just saying how things could've been if there had been a well-timed car-falling-off the-top-of-a-multistorey-with-Rick-Berman-underneath incident."

Conversely, things would've been different if the TNG writing staff in early Season 3 had collapsed a day later and Ron Moore had already joined the Navy by the time "The Bonding" was produced.
Patrick - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 1:15pm (USA Central)
^^
Ronald D Moore is a terrific creative talent, but let's not go overboard. The late, great, Michael Piller was the beating heart of TNG's best years.
Adara - Tue, May 14, 2013 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
Communism saves the day! I thought this was a great episode with a very important message. Collective minds work better than individual minds only interested in protecting their own selfish interests. I really liked that the void aliens were called parasites and a drain on resources, (rhetoric sound familiar, anyone?) yet in the end they did have something valuable to offer.

Everyone has something to offer. Everyone. A homeless man once stopped me and asked if I would like him to draw me a picture for a donation. I agreed because I wanted to help, but I didn't expect to get anything of quality in return. Damn was I wrong! The picture was some of the most amazing surrealist art I've ever seen, second only to Salvador Dali. I still have the picture framed and I get comments on it all the time. This is just one example, but it goes to show that having a skill doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to turn it into a career. Likewise, having a career doesn't necessarily mean your talents are suited for the job. Maybe you always had an interest in architecture but went to business school because it seemed more practical. You get the idea. Unless we somehow make the puzzle come together, there will always be loose pieces tossed aside. They fit somewhere; we're just not sure exactly where.

Back to the episode, as much as I enjoyed it I did think it was a little preachy. Ok, a lot preachy. That's fine and dandy for me because it's preaching values I agree with, but I have a feeling a lot of viewers were annoyed. I got the same feeling watching the recent death penalty episode Repentance. I liked the message, but I could easily see Glenn Beck shooting his TV if he had to watch it. Try a little subtlety, Voyager. You're already preaching to the choir. There's no need to shout. (this is of course rhetorical as the series has been over for years)
Sintek - Tue, May 21, 2013 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
After losing power:
Paris: "The vultures are circling."
Janeway: "Vultures eat the dead, Mr. Paris. We're not dead yet."

Yeah, that's why he said "circling," Captain Post-op. Vultures commonly circle that which is alive but near death. Don't take it out on Tom just because the raiders took your last crate of mustache wax.
ProgHead777 - Mon, Jul 1, 2013 - 12:40am (USA Central)
@BirdMan (first post) re: Void-native aliens.

It could be that they were a species that was trapped in the void eons ago. There's no indication of how long the anomaly has existed and no reason to think, considering how densely populated the entire galaxy seems to be in the Star Trek universe, that the void hasn't been trapping ships continuously during all that time. Their species, provided a steady stream of captured/derelict starships and an initial biology that provided unique advantages in such an environment, could have evolved to thrive in the void. The ability to mask their lifesigns, survive in low-oxygen environments for extended periods and their rat-like ability to find and use resources. Natural selection has created stranger things... in the Star Trek universe, of course. It's all science-fantasy, after all.
Carl Johan - Sat, Jul 13, 2013 - 3:10pm (USA Central)
I think this episode is great. Although, could have been better executed, perhaps made into a two-part episode.

But it really captures the essence of the advantage of cooperation and comparative advantage.

Great article about comparative advantage.
ourprg.com/?p=43
Leah - Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - 1:11am (USA Central)
I really liked this episode too, though I agree about placing a warning buoy. In fact, I said so aloud as I was watching the ending, "Aren't you going to place a warning buoy to keep any more ships from getting trapped?" I'm just going to assume they did so while they were extending their warm wishes and saying their goodbyes.

Though...if you think about it, doing so would basically be condemning everyone within the void to death, as no new resources would be introduced. This includes their musical friends, who still rely on the ships that become trapped in there for survival. I'll bet you that's why the episode didn't address this, because they didn't want to draw attention to the moral implications of making that choice.
Nancy - Tue, Aug 20, 2013 - 10:08pm (USA Central)
I liked the upbeat message of the value of cooperation, but like Kieran, I didn't like the scene where Janeway consults Federation handbooks looking for a "loophole" so she can start raiding. I thought her decision not to raid was driven by her sense of morality, not by Federation bylaws. She goes from moral compass to reluctant rule follower in that scene, completely destroying her credibility when she declares she'll do the right thing no matter what.
azcats - Tue, Aug 27, 2013 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
When i think of Voyager episodes this one ALWAYS comes to mind. i love this one. 4 stars!!

@ Birdman and Proghead777. yes, i am pretty sure that these guys are not native. they have just become resident aliens.

@leah, what a great and insightful argument against a buoy.

@michael. the alien wasnt operating the ship. he was simply hiding on the ship. the original assumption in the first part of the show was incorrect by the voyager crew.

a handful of people have ignored the fact that OTHER ships might have worked together and left the void. or single ships had power or skill to leave the void. just because one ship who has been there 5 years says it. doesnt mean he knows the history of the void.

how can Valen live there for 5 years, but voyager was going to be dead in the water in 1-2 weeks? i think the writers tried to put urgency into the audience. it would have made more sense to make Voyager stranded there for a lot longer. but that is the choice they made. based on voyager's power needs, i find it hard for valen to survive for 5 years.

also, there were either 109 or 129 other ships in the void...that doesnt seem like a lot for a void that has been around for that long. you might think that tuvok would have found 1000s of ships..and only 20-30 or so with life signs. that would have made more sense.

great show 4 stars!!
SpiceRak2 - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 2:09am (USA Central)
@azcats - - Valen survives because he is willing to steal from other ships to get the resources he needs. Voyager has a greater sense of urgency because 90% of their resources are stolen immediately and Janeway has opted to build an alliance rather than follow Valen's path.

What's the deal with special dining for B'Elanna and Tom all of a sudden? That meal in the beginning was too exclusive. I couldn't figure out why Janeway would have dinner with just these two crew members (Chakotay is reasonable considering their weekly replicated roasts). It can't be a meal for the senior staff: Harry, Tuvok, and the Doctor weren't invited. Are they double dating now? How is the rest of the Voyager crew supposed to take that? The kitchen was closed to everyone else.

Maybe I'm just griping. I kind of wish Tom and B'Elanna would decide to leave the ship and go live on some Class M somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. I really don't care for either of them.
Jo Jo Meastro - Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - 7:49pm (USA Central)
As the season and the series begins its final countdown, you definitely get the epic feel of closures and the sense of reaching full circle. Here the series seems to be closing some chapters on one of its biggest most dominant characters; the Delta Quadrant itself.

"The Void" explores and reflects on what the Delta Quadrant has meant to the crew. Its pushed them, tested them, drove them and challenged them with a journey that's rooted firmly into their hearts.

The Delta Quadrant showed them what survival is all about and coming with these death defining tests of character is the chance to emerge stronger than ever or let yourself be crushed under the weight of it all.

In building their new home, in having the strength to forge a new family, in bravely staying true to the course to home and to their hearts, in having the strength to never giving up in what they believe in; they just might make it after all and keep the dreams in their horizon like a lighthouse in the dark.

I believe this episode did a excellent job in reaffirming and concluding this key aspect of Voyager. It also reflected on the beauty that often existed even in the darkness.

The way that the spirit of the Federation was able to save so many lives 30 odd thousand light years away is quite a testament. Also, the way we accept and nurture life in all its strange forms made for a wonderful first contact with a truly amazing alien species.

It is another season 7 episode I would happily give 3.5 stars!
Daniel - Sun, Dec 22, 2013 - 12:57pm (USA Central)
Some of you here are missing the point entirely. This episode, like a lot of Trek, is simply ridiculous. There is no way that these guys would form any alliance. Janeway's stupid decision would have killed them all in a real life setting. There is someone in this thread cheering Janeway's decision because it ended up working. Reality check... it worked because the left wing propaganda writers made it work. This is a fiction, not reality. And as a science fiction it is a lot closer to pure fantasy.
Trent - Sun, Dec 22, 2013 - 3:47pm (USA Central)
What an ignorant thing to say Daniel. But I suppose today's contemporary religion - a braindead capitalism in which every dollar you own is directly reponsible for putting your fellowman a dollar into debt - can only survive if folk like you believe it to be the "one and only, natural way".
Latex Zebra - Sun, Jan 5, 2014 - 5:15pm (USA Central)
The native aliens surely have their own communication but prefer fart arsing around on datapads... Hmmmm.

Cool scene though.

Yeah, this is OK. 3 at best
Nick - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 8:07pm (USA Central)
Ha! No one has made the connection ;)

I give you The Time Trap from Star Trek Animated Series episode 12:

On stardate 5267.2, while exploring the Delta Triangle, where many starships have disappeared, the Federation starship Enterprise is attacked by several Klingon vessels. During the battle they are caught in an ion storm. The Enterprise and one Klingon battlecruiser are drawn into a spacetime vortex and end up in a timeless dimension in what could only be called a graveyard for space vessels. Captain Kirk and his crew are shocked to find "that the descendants of the crews of these various vessels are still alive" and have formed a government, calling themselves 'The Elysian Council.'

The crew discovers that the timewarp will gradually disintegrate the Enterprise's dilithium crystals. Their only means of escape is to link their ship with the Klingons' and their commander Kor[note 2] and try to power themselves out of the vortex. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Trap

----

See any similarities?
Well, obviously they reworked the story mechanics a bit as they had more time...but essentially the same plot.

I would easily give this episode a 5/5 stars. The plot moved along at all times, many compelling aliens, first contact situations, and witty banter all around, and Nelix wasn't annoying. What more could one want in a Voyager episode?
Nick - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 8:14pm (USA Central)
To Daniel.... did it not occur to you that Janeway realized that only with the combined efforts of several ships it would be possible to make it out of the Void in one piece? No single ship had enough power to make it. Indeed, Voyager was saved by the intervention of two of the allies and avoided catastrophe. It took some good ol' Federation ideology to over come xenophobia and get the job done. ;)
Amanda - Tue, Feb 11, 2014 - 5:00pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode but I think I took their stranding worse than they did, like the reviewer touched on. They must have anxiety beaten out of them by Tuvok on a regular basis. I wish I could remember which episode but another one was listing off extreme doom about to arrive and Janeway just stood at the astro metrics screen like she was just watching her Soaps awaiting battle she knows she'll win because its in her contract.
This episode loses its oomf for me once I saw Endgame because now-to hell with regulations and Janeway's whiny Martyrdom. The show is 7 yrs long we gotta rap it up even if we pull an Ensign and cheat our way home. I would rather see the slip stream improved yet still risky make a reprisal than endgame. That's not saying much, I was just feeling down about character inconsistency.
Heather - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 11:49am (USA Central)
Liked this one, especially for Janeway's sticking to principles. I wish her character had been more consistent in that regard. My favorite line was when she said something like, "We may lose some of our waistlines, but we won't lose ourselves." That had me cheering.
domi - Sun, Jul 20, 2014 - 11:55pm (USA Central)
So I guess what's old is new again, and by that I mean the "Season 1 Janeway" is back and the one that made an alliance with the Borg and almost murdered the Equinox crew is gone? Talk about inconsistent writing.

But really bothers me in this episode is that Chakotay and Tuvok (and others) gang up on Janeway and give her a hard time about wanting to stick to principles. Do they really want to become thieves? I don't get it.

The argument between Paris and Seven about the salt did absolutely nothing for the episode, or the characters, and it was not funny.

Despite these and other grips, I liked the episode anyway. Btw, it was cool to see a ship firing on Voyager from the mess hall. We don't get enough views out actual windows on this show.
dlpb - Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
To Daniel.... did it not occur to you that Janeway realized

=========

Janeway didn't realize anything, because she isn't real. She is a mouthpiece for whatever the writers want her to say. Are you that stupid?
Grumpy - Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - 3:57pm (USA Central)
Ah, a Doylist among Watsonians.

As Harry Plinkett said at the end of his ST Nemesis review, "Wait, none of this really happened!" And he should know, being fictitious himself.

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