Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Year of Hell

Kes warned us about this, didn't she? And yet, here we are anyway, in The Year of Hell.

Voyager boots up its brand new astrometrics lab and they head into Krenim space. They're immediately hailed by a squirrely dude who really just wishes they would leave but can't actually make them. Then something changes. (Hint: It's history) Now the man who hails them is in control--in fact, he overpowers and attacks him. This is just the start of the Year of Hell. Voyager encounters all kinds of trouble. They lose most of their crew. They're forced to separate. Tuvok is blinded and Seven becomes his caretaker. Paris and Chakotay leave to look for help. Janeway is severely burned and permanently scarred. It's heartbreaking and, at the end, it's all gone. History resets and Voyager comes upon the same Krenim man who now cordially tells them to go about their business. And they do. And we're the only witnesses to their trials and tragedies.

  This one has plenty of great stuff. Tuvok and Seven's relationship is a finely distilled, intense exploration of a friendship that seems (in all ways) logical. Janeway is a badass from start to finish but especially when she holds a piece of her own broken ship as a shield, tells The Doctor to expect severe burns, and rushes into the flaming bridge to fix the deflector. Chakotay and Tom's time spent with their attackers is interesting and believable and Annorax is a sympathetic baddie rendered with heart by Kurtwood Smith (of That 70's Show/President of the Federation fame). Year of Hell also isn't without humor--the "elixir of endurance" scene adds a bittersweet tinge to the whole thing.
Watching this one again made me think a lot about the inherent power alternate timelines seem to carry. I've written about them here a few times and they always stand out. The City on the Edge of Forever, The Inner Light, The Visitor, The Year of Hell, and Twilight. You (or I) could make a case for any of these being the most resonant of their respective series. Why is that?

As I mentioned above, at the end of this one, everything is reset. There aren't any real, permanent, physical ramifications. The toll is personal though. What's lost is felt. Sometimes by an individual (the captains in City on the Edge of Forever and Inner Light) and sometimes by us. We're left to remember what these characters have been through, the lessons they've learned, what they did or would do for each other. Seeing the fire-forged friendship between Tuvok and Seven flourish is thrilling and watching it disappear into the void of alternate history is heartbreaking.
I think the point is that, when you get through whatever crazy business made the alternate history possible in these episodes, what matters is the heart. The personal story. We cry because we, too, love Edith Keeler. We cry because we love Picard, his almost-family, his quiet life as a husband and father.
We cry because Jake needs his dad, because Janeway needs her crew, because Archer needs T'Pol and T'Pol needs Archer. We cry because we've seen what could've been.

We cry over the same thought exercise expressed by the (in)famous Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken." It's a uniquely human question. You only get one turn, one chance, one road. You're left with the aftermath of that decision and whether you're happy or sad you still sometimes wonder, What might have been?

Thanks to the wild, wonderful ways of Science Fiction, we (unlike Frost) get to see the other road and, if (alternate) history has taught us anything it's that the other road will just about always make us cry.


  1. Very, very thoughtful piece. Bravo.

  2. Hell yes what a post to get us thinking, I remember the episode and the whole what if thoughts I had after watching it

  3. AshleyRose, my good intentions of posting replies and continuing to engage with your life-saver of a blog always seem to get waylaid by not-fun things that are sucking up all of my time. But I had to comment here, because, as I think I've mentioned before, I've gone through what I call my own Year of Hell this past year or so. I think that's at least part of the reason I LOVE this episode so much. Janeway's strength and perseverance always gives me a bit of inspiration when I think I can't take any more. She's badass, and I need to be too. Kurtwood Smith's character is awful and heartbreaking and painfully touching in his own way. I struggle with the Trek reset- as much as I wish I had one myself, I know I'm stronger and richer for my experiences- and I wish some of these Trek resets allowed for these characters to have the gift of those memorable experiences. This an episode I revisit when I need to see someone never giving up.
    And on a completely different subject.... Any plans to share some of your INKTOBER talent over here with your blog readers? :)

  4. This post and your Endgame post really got me thinking for the first time about the other side of alternate timelines: not just the we-avoided-the-bad-and-sad side, but the now-we've-avoided-the-relationships-and-experiences-too, and it's heartbreaking.


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