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The 37'sEdit

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for VOY's second season premiere, "The 37's". If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read any further.

In brief: I'm glad this was a first-season holdover; that means I'm just disappointed instead of *really* worried.

Brief summary: An old radio distress signal leads the Voyager crew to find famed pilot Amelia Earhart frozen in stasis -- and a human community so enticing that they may not want to leave.

Back when "Phage" aired last season, I said it was a good example of taking a horribly goofy concept and executing it well. "The 37's" had half of that -- it took a horribly goofy concept. Unfortunately, the execution was such that not only did it seem goofy, but _dull_ to boot: not an enticing combination.

Let me start with what I liked about the show. I thought the scene with Paris starting up the truck was reasonably entertaining, and I rather liked the reactions of the revived "37's" when they were told what had happened. What's more, some of the Janeway/Earhart interaction was interesting -- and truth be told, despite the bizarre premise I wouldn't have minded seeing the two of them interact quite a bit more.

One of the basic problems I think the show had is that it was trying to be three stories in one. First, there was the "strange signs of an alien abduction" story that was about half or two-thirds of the episode. Second, there was the reaction of the abductees and their introduction to the 24th century, most strongly the Janeway/Earhart stuff. I'm considering the two separate because the quality was so high, and because "fish-out-of-water" stories are very different in tone than "creepy alien" stories. Lastly, there was the "temptation to stay on the planet" story, which could have been very interesting had it gotten more than about seven minutes of air time.

Unfortunately, the story that got the most time devoted to it was by far the weakest of the lot. First, there's the lack of explanation -- we don't really know why the Briori decided to pick up humans from 1937, why they felt it necessary to go halfway across the galaxy, how the truck that Voyager found actually got into space, or hordes of other things. Not only don't we know, however, it appears that no one on board cares to *find out*, as nothing was questioned or investigated to any significant extent. For explorers, they seem strangely uninquisitive.

Beyond that, there are a host of objections on somewhat more technical grounds. For instance:

-- So there's weird interference in the atmosphere that nails sensors and transporters. Fine. Yet they can pick up AM radio, which fails if you go under a *bridge*, for heaven's sake. Strangely convenient, that.

-- Similarly, they get an AM radio transmission from the planet, but nothing whatsoever from any of the three large cities which are *nearby*. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either.

-- The truck's power supply is apparently fine after 400 years. Now, that's a hell of a nice endorsement for Ford :-), but somewhat implausible. (I'm not so concerned about the gasoline leak as I am about the fact that the radio was working.)

-- The ship doesn't monitor AM radio. First of all, I believe that flies in the face of past episodes where starships *have* picked up radio transmissions, though specifics escape me in this instance. Second, that's a foolish thing to do if you want to detect pre-warp civilizations and avoid them. Third, the reason given -- that radio signals only travel at the speed of light -- also rules out gamma rays, UV, infrared, visible light ... in short, virtually everything we hear about ships detecting on a weekly basis. In short, the whole statement's really, REALLY silly.

Okay, that's enough technical objections. I could raise more (such as, for instance, the plausibility of a planet looking *that much* like Earth with an oxygen/argon atmosphere), but I think the point is made. Moving on, we have strange character moments.

Given the "momentous" nature of Voyager actually landing on the planet (at least from a drama point of view, given that we've never seen it happen and the swelling music that went along with the mention of the idea), the crew seemed amazingly blase about it. No "I didn't know this ship could do that" (which is *quite* plausible from those who weren't currently in Starfleet, like Chakotay and Paris), no "do we know it's going to be safe"; just a quiet "are you sure that's worth it given what we know?" It's better than no reaction at all, but it seems extremely understated (and thus, in this instance, underwhelming).

After the comment that they need to be careful in reviving the 37's, moreover, they're *not* careful -- not in the slightest. Since Paris spotted a weapon on one of them, someone should have considered that maybe others might as well, and the entire group should have been searched _before_ they were revived. Along similar lines, Janeway and company put themselves in a situation where they were outnumbered in case the revivees reacted badly, which is not smart -- and they didn't come prepared with proof of their story, which would not have been difficult to find in the ship's databanks. (A picture of Hirohito forty years later might have convinced the Japanese soldier, for instance, as would pictures of later planes help convince Earhart.) Finally, Kim and Paris could have easily stunned Fred Noonan well before he put Janeway in any serious danger; Noonan wouldn't have expected weapons that react as quickly as phasers do. The entire revival scene struck me as almost a comedy of errors, which was clearly not the plan.

Earhart was the only revived character whose reactions seemed on- target and whose characterization seemed more than marginal. Her skepticism to the very idea of starships was nice, as was her later warming to it -- and Janeway's discussion of the "real purpose" behind Earhart's mission was one of the few bright spots of the revival. (I've no idea if Janeway's story is true, by the way; I've never heard of it, but Earhart has never been much of an interest of mine. It certainly sounded plausible.)

Once they got out of the caverns, the show improved to some extent, at least until the last sixty seconds. The idea of a new human civilization being built on the planet isn't a bad one, and the idea that some or all of Voyager's crew might be tempted to stay there and settle down isn't a bad one either. However, this part also suffered from problems, the easiest summation of which is "it's not a ten- minute issue".

Janeway's doubts about having to make the entire decision for her crew seemed on-target, as did Chakotay's answer (even if the dialogue was a little stilted, in my opinion). However, the later discussion implies that every single member of Voyager's crew considers Earth home, which I find extremely hard to swallow. Add to that the fact that we didn't get to see the aliens that were the indirect cause of all of this, any of their technology, or even the cities that these humans had built, and there was no real sense of temptation on Voyager's side -- there was nothing drawing *us* to stay on the planet.

Finally, the thought that *no one* would choose to stay behind is what finally made me slam the book on the show for good. Of all the endings we could have seen, this was by far the least satisfying and the least plausible. Having a few people stay behind would have been more realistic, and I think more poignant as well, given that they'd have friends who would miss them and never see them again. There were other options as well: some could have stayed behind, but simultaneously other humans from the planet could have chosen to come aboard, thus allowing for a little bit of turnover. Or, as a friend of mine suggested, we could have seen Voyager use the planet as a temporary base for a few months from which to launch searches for wormholes and other anomalies (or at least the Briori, which unless extinct are presumably somewhere around with technology that could get them home). But having every single person choose to stay, while perhaps giving Janeway a nice warm fuzzy feeling, just made me scoff rather loudly. (Of course, there's always Lisa's thought; Tuvok stunned all of them so that they didn't get to the cargo bay. Or maybe Janeway and Chakotay glitched it, and went into the wrong bay. I'm picturing this huge crowd in a different bay wondering where the heck their captain is... :-) )

Other minor thoughts:

-- I hope they at least gave that guy his truck back. :-)

-- I don't know if I was the only one, but when the truck appeared floating through space in the teaser, I was irresistibly reminded of the NBC execs' car chasing the Enterprise in "Saturday Night Live"'s "Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise" sketch from two decades or so back. Utterly priceless.

-- "I think you'll find that's manure." Well, I'm glad *someone* said it, I guess...

-- Kim's cluelessness about the first half of the 1900's is reasonable, though I was a little skeptical that Paris, who seemed interested in ancient vehicles, didn't know about Earhart.

-- Finally, I did at least learn one thing from the show. Noonan's line about wanting to talk to J. Edgar Hoover sort of set me back a bit, as I didn't think he was running the FBI that early. However, he was; apparently he started in the mid-'20s. So the show had some educational value. :-)

I think I've said enough about the show at this point. I'm glad it wasn't the first-season finale, as it would have been an extremely disappointing one -- but as it is, it leaves a fairly unpleasant taste in my mouth, and I hope the shows actually created for the second season are a vast improvement over this.

So, summing up:


  • Writing: The main concept was silly, and the later ideas were undercut by the endings or by what we didn't see.
  • Directing: I didn't see much one way or the other, but the shot of Kes rapidly scanning everyone was offputting. (The "revival by lighting change" also felt old.) James L. Conway's done a *lot* better -- like TNG's "Frame of Mind" and DS9's "Duet".
  • Acting: Sharon Lawrence did what she could with Earhart, and Mulgrew worked well with her. The rest -- mostly a loss.

OVERALL: A 3; quite a disappointment. Better luck next time.

NEXT WEEK: Something actually filmed for season 2.


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu
"...the most ridiculed notion [about Earhart] was that she had been
abducted by aliens."
			-- Janeway
Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
author*.  Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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