“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (4.08-4.09) “The Year of Hell”
While reading some of the TREK forums and message boards over the years, I have noticed that many fans seemed to harbor mixed views of the “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Four two-part episode called (4.08-4.09) “The Year of Hell”.
“The Year of Hell” began with the U.S.S. Voyager entering Krenim space, the same region of space that the former Ocampan crewman, Kes, had warned about in the Season Three episode called (3.21) “Before and After”. Only Kes’ description of Krenim space was set in an alternate timeline in which a very powerful race came dangerously close to destroying Voyager within a year. The Krenim space encountered by the Federation starship at the beginning of this episode seemed a lot more benign . . . until something or someone alters the timeline.
Unbeknownst to Voyager’s crew, a Krenim military scientist named Annorax had developed a weapon ship designed to create temporal incursions. He used the to supervise the complete genocide of the Zahl, an enemy race that had ended the Krenim’s status as a dominant power in their region of the Delta Quadrant. But the erasure of the Zahl nearly caused the destruction of the Krenim. Annorax’s attempt to undo his actions led to the erasure of other worlds . . . and his wife from existence. And for two centuries, he has been creating one causality paradox after another in an attempt to get his wife back. However, one of Annorax’s actions allowed a formerly harmless Krenim ship that Voyager had encountered at the beginning of the episode to develop into a powerful starship and inflict heavy damage upon the Federation ship. In this new timeline, Janeway and the rest of Voyager’s crew are forced to endure a “year of hell”, as they struggle to survive.
Screenwriters Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky created a fascinating and complex tale of what could have befallen Voyager if some of Kes’ experiences in “Before and After” had occurred in their regular timeline. There have been occasions in which Voyager’s crew had encountered more powerful alien vessels and societies. The starship was also captured by alien forces on two or more occasions. “The Year of Hell” featured the second time that Kathryn Janeway and her crew were forced to survive for a period of time in a damaged starship. But “The Year of Hell” took place during a period of nearly an entire year. Watching Voyager’ become an increasingly uninhabitable vessel struck me as both fascinating and depressing. By the time Voyager was left with its senior staff (sans the kidnapped First Officer and Chief Pilot) after Janeway sent the rest of crew away in life pods, it had become a desolate place to be.
Braga and Menosky provided the episode with plenty of complex drama and characterizations. Kate Mulgrew gave an outstanding performance as a besieged Kathryn Janeway, determined to keep her crew alive and ship together by any means possible. Even if it meant sacrificing her health and sanity. The other outstanding performance came from guest star Kurtwood Smith, who portrayed the Krenim scientist, Annorax. Like Mulgrew, Smith portrayed his character as a leader determined to save or protect those he held dear – his species, his homeworld and especially his family. Unlike Janeway, Annorax’s determination led to a more tragic conclusion. Both Janeway and Annorax – on a larger scale – reminded me a great deal of the Captain Nemo character from Jules Verne’s 1870 novel, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.
The supporting cast were given plenty of opportunities to shine. The best performances came from Tim Russ (Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok), Robert Beltran (Commander Chakotay), Robert Duncan McNeill (Lieutenant Paris) and Robert Picardo (the Doctor). Both Chakotay and Paris found themselves as prisoners aboard Annorax’s time ship in Part II of the episode. This situation gave Beltran an opportunity to convey Chakotay’s dismay at Annorax’s abuse of temporal mechanics and his desire to help the Krenim scientist restore the damaged timeline. McNeill was excellent in portraying Paris’ dismay at Chakotay’s cooperation and impatient desire to stop Annorax and find Voyager. Russ gave a poignant performance as the uber-efficient Tuovk, who is forced to depend upon Seven-of-Nine as his guide after he lost his sight in an explosion. Picardo had two juicy scenes in which he gave it his all, involving the Doctor’s moral dilemma in sacrificing several crewman in order to save a few and himself from the destruction of one of the ship’s decks; and the Doctor’s confrontation with Janeway over her careless attitude toward her health. Roxann Dawson, Garrett Wang and Jeri Ryan provided a bit of fun in a comedic scene in which Ensign Harry Kim, an injured Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres and Seven-of-Nine recalled a bit of Federation history from the 1996 movie, “STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT”. And second guest star John Loprieno was excellent in his portrayal of Obrist, Annorax’s first officer who becomes increasingly dismayed by the scientist’s abuse of the time ship.
Unfortunately for “The Year of Hell”, it has accumulated a good deal of negative comments about its ending. The mixed opinions of the entire episode stemmed from an ending that many fans viewed as a cop out. When Seven-of-Nine discovered a chroniton torpedo in one of the ship’s Jeffries tubes, the crew realized they had been the victims of temporal manipulations. Seven used a devise on the torpedo to successfully shield Voyager against Annorax’s time ship and any future temporal changes. However in Part II, Captain Janeway made an alliance with two species to attack the Krenim timeship. The remaining crew members move to the allied ships, while Janeway remained behind alone on Voyager to pilot the heavily damaged ship herself. After learning that the Krenim ship’s temporal core had been placed offline and theorizing that the true timeline will be restored if the Krenim ship is destroyed, Janeway ordered the fleet to drop their temporal shields before ramming Voyager into the time ship. Her actions destroyed Voyager, caused the time ship to destabilize and erase from history . . . and reset the timeline to the day Voyager first encountered the temporal waves.
Many TREK fans accused the episode’s writers of using the “reset button” to restore Voyager to its original timeline and erase the one featuring the year of hell. They also criticized Braga and Menosky for this act. Braga also did not want to use the “reset button” device. He wanted Voyager to remain wrecked for the rest of Season Four. But he failed to get his way, thanks to Paramount and producer Rick Berman. I do recall a fan fiction – a coda to the Season Seven episode (7.11) “Shattered” – that left Chakotay lost in time and both Janeway and Tuvok dead. As the new captain, Tom Paris was forced to land Voyager on an “M” class and order repairs on the ship that lasted for a year or more.
Recalling the state of Voyager in the alternate timeline, I saw no other fate for the ship if Janeway had not reset time.“Before and After” saw Voyager still traveling through Krenim space, despite its condition after nearly a year. But it did not look as damaged as it did right before the time reset in “The Year of Hell”. The idea of a wrecked Voyager still traveling through space after nearly a year . . . strikes me as illogical. And how did Braga plan to deal with Annorax and the time ship? Did he have plans for the Krenim scientist to remain the series’ main adversary for the rest of Season Four? Did he have plans for a series of plotlines featuring the adventures of the Voyager crew on an “M” class planet, while they repair the ship?
I am not saying that I am against the idea of time NOT being reset. But I still have bad memories of the early Season Three episodes of “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”, in which some of the colonists ended up as prisoners of the Cylons on some planet. And combining that with the knowledge of the “reset button” being used on many occasions, I find it difficult to get upset over the ending for “The Year of Hell”. More importantly, I find it difficult to understand the fans and critics’ reactions to the use of the “reset button”. I guess I still find it so ridiculously strident, especially since such use of the plot device had been used so many times.
As far as I am concerned, “The Year of Hell” was a pretty damn good episode that featured an interesting twist on the Captain Nemo character and the alternate timeline subplot. It also featured superb performances from Kate Mulgrew and Kurtwood Smith, and some excellent acting from the rest of the cast. I am not surprised that it has remained one of my favorite episodes from the series’ Season Four.