"Year of Hell, Part Two"

Season Four, Episode 9
Written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky
Directed by Mike Vejar 
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Guest Cast:
Kurtwood Smith as Annorax
John Loprieno as Obrist
Peter Slutsker as Krenim Commandant
Deborah Levin as Ensign Lang
Sue Henley as Ensign Brooks.   


While Janeway obsessively struggles to keep her ship together, Paris and Chakotay are held captive aboard Annorax's time ship. Chakotay slowly begins to understand what Annorax is trying to accomplish and accepts his offer to restore Voyager back to its original condition. He learns that Annorax and his crew have been working for two hundred years and that Annorax is obsessively trying to restore the planet where his wife and family lived, but to no avail. Paris gets a message out to Janeway, who has secured an alliance with several other species and they stage an attack on the time ship. Having evacuated the ship, and transported Paris and Chakotay to safety, Janeway single-handledy pilots Voyager straight into Annorax's ship, completely obliterating it and restoring the time-line to normal, erasing all the changes it had made.

This is surprisingly good. Yes, it ran into the usual problems associated with such time-bending stories. Yes, we still got the massive "reset button" that was ominously looming from the start of the first part and yes, it was annoying. But it so turns out that half the fun was getting there. If nothing else this was entertaining, so who can argue with that?

Part Two focusses a lot more on Annorax and his time-altering shenanigans than the first part and that proves quite a strength. The premise is intriguing and quite novel -- whilst we've seen people manipulate time to their own ends before on Trek, we've never seen it done quite as methodically as Annorax. But the real strength of the episode isn't so much the plot as Anorax himself. He has a surprising depth of character for a Voyager guest and that's no doubt due in part to the excellent performance of Kurtwood Smith. His obsession with trying to resurrect his wife and children is poignant and adds an emotional core to the story. By the way, why on earth did the writers name him Annorax?! Do Americans know what an anorak is? Every time I heard his name I had to repress a chuckle.

The conflict between Paris and Chakotay over what they should do about Annorax wasn't particularly effective, neither was the building mutiny among the crew (which never really went anywhere). But Smith more than held that plot together with his strong portrayal of a man obsessed. This week the Voyager-in-rubble storyline got slightly less focus but was still very strong. Seeing the last of the crew trying to hold together the ruined ship was again quite moving. We get another look at how Janeway copes under pressure and it ain't a pretty sight. She's a bitter martyr obsessed with holding on to what little she has left of her family and ship. It's a poignant, if disturbing look at the character and Kate Mulgrew does a great job as she explores Janeway's darker nature. In particular there's an interesting parallel between Annorax's obsession with resurrecting his lost family and Janeway's obsession with keeping what's left of her family together. There were some excellent character scenes aboard the ship, particularly between Janeway and the Doctor as he (unsuccessfully) attempts to relieve her of command and a moving farewell between Janeway and Tuvok.

As for the actual resolution of the story -- well, it's routine and fairly predictable. At least it was fun to watch thanks to the tight directing (I loved the pull-back shot of Janeway alone on the Bridge after Tuvok leaves) and the splendid, almost cinematic score. The special effects were good but again we've seen far better on DS9 (I'll never understand why. Does DS9 have different SFX guys or something?).

As I said earlier, the episode does of course get the big giant reset button (of course!) which basically means that none of this ever actually happened. The real problem with this form of resolution is that in the end none of it actually mattered. There are no consequences, the characters have no recollection of the events -- therefore there wasn't really much point (a big exception to this rule was DS9's masterpiece The Visitor, for although Jake's alternate future was wiped, Ben still has the recollections of what he'd seen and it had obviously affected him profoundly). If no one has learned anything from the events then there's not all taht much point to the story. At the end, no one remembers what happens, it had no impact on anyone and that leaves an unsatisfying taste in the mouth. But the closing scene with Annorax and his wife was very effective. Ironically he's too busy with his calculations to pay her much attention, but there's a glimmer of hope when he agrees to go on a walk with her. "I guess I can make the time," he tells her. Nice.

The only real problem with Year of Hell is that it could have made a superb story arc. Trying to cover a whole year in the space of two episodes is pretty limiting, particularly when there was the potential for so much more. Then again, the big "reset button" ending would have been even more annoying if it had been used to finish a whole story arc! As it stands, I'm rather happy with this. It may have its flaws, but it's a good, hardcore sci-fi story that utilises Voyager's untapped strengths to good effect.

Rating: 8

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