Okay, first of all, if you’ve never seen “Year of Hell”, go watch it now. Both parts. It’s outstanding, you won’t be sorry.
I have to admit that I’m a bit envious of anyone who needed to take my advice just then and put “Year of Hell” in their eyeballs for the very first time. Because, um, well. It doesn’t really reward rewatching, does it?
Don’t get me wrong! I had a great time watching part 1, and I expect to have as much fun watching part 2. This story is full of great character moments.
It’s just. You know. By the end of part 2, none of those great character moments will have happened. And there’s no fun “how will they get out of this/I’m so tense knowing it’s going to get so much worse” feeling when you know the reset button is pending.
I’m not entirely opposed to reset buttons. I’m gonna go back and quote my own review of “Time and Again”:
My feeling, when you’re dealing with time loops, resets and general wibbly wobbly stuff, is that if you end with the status quo being restored and no one remembering, you need to make up for it by showing the audience something new and important about the characters. Letting us see them in remarkably different or extreme circumstances.
There’s about a 99% probability I was thinking of “Year of Hell” when I wrote that. And I was right! I totally stand by Past Liz and would never wipe her out of history.
On the other hand, well … television has changed dramatically since “Year of Hell” was aired, and it’s hard to look at the two-parter without imagining what might have been. (In fact, Ronald D Moore, fresh off DS9, lobbied for “Year of Hell” to take place across a whole season. And I would be totally up for that … provided there was no reset. It’s one thing to wipe out the events of a two-parter, but quite another to lose a whole season.)
Having said that, let’s take “Year of Hell” for what it is
“Year of Hell” is Star Trek as disaster movie.
Frankly, it’s shocking to me that this isn’t a genre the actual Trek feature films have explored. Because one of the key features of a disaster movies — not all of them, Titanic is a key exception — is the ensemble cast. That’s something which is often lost in the Trek films, and also executed almost flawlessly in “Year of Hell”.
(Almost — Neelix barely appears this week, although he certainly looks dapper in his uniform.)
“Year of Hell” gives us the classic character interactions: Janeway and Chakotay, B’Elanna and Harry, Tom and the Doctor. It also takes a moment to explore the Seven-Tuvok friendship — more on that later — and doesn’t forget about Paris/Torres. The Doctor gets to pontificate, everyone else gets to roll their eyes. It’s great.
Except for Neelix, but maybe his time will come? All I remember of part 2 is that Chakotay develops Krenim Stockholm syndrome while Janeway sheds her outer layers, gets a cool scar and starts wearing the pocket watch Chakotay gave her. Clearly I have priorities.
The Seven and Tuvok of it all
Obviously, Seven is going to have to recreate the scene from “Before and After” where Kes has to get up close and personal with a chroniton torpedo.1 That scene ended in an explosion which would have killed Kes, had she not jumped back in time.
In this version of the timeline, Tuvok gets Seven out, but takes a torpedo blast to the face, blinding him.2
This gives rise to my very favourite things about this episode — and yes, I love them even more than I love Chakotay giving Kathryn a birthday present. And I love that a lot.
First, Tuvok shaves with a cutthroat razor, which is as sexy as it’s illogical. I mean, those things are dangerous at the best of times, let alone on a ship where a badly timed subspace wobble could have you slicing your ear off — and that’s with perfect vision and a ship in good repair. This is a wildly inappropriate choice, and I love it.
Second, Seven and Tuvok still make a great team, and I love that Seven understands she owes him something — her recklessness having cost him his sight — but is not overwhelmed by guilt. And likewise, he recognises her responsibility but doesn’t hold a grudge. Tuvok, man. He’s just so great.
THIRD, and maybe most importantly, here we have a situation where a character has become disabled under the worst possible conditions, and he’s still doing his job. He can even navigate the ship alone, although it’s not ideal. And despite the limited resources, adaptive technology is available to Tuvok, and he remains as competent as ever at the weapons/tactical side of his duties. Star Trek often fumbles when it comes to disability, but here’s a depiction which avoids all the ableist tropes.
It’s been a rough few months for Janeway
I mean, first we have the migraine-inducing experiments of “Scientific Method”, and now this. At least she got to take some time out in between for a haircut.
In seriousness: though we’ve had glimpses of just how far Janeway will go for her crew and her mission, I feel like season 4 dials her desperation and determination up. And obviously “Year of Hell” pushes her to extremes, and she’s not even at Peak Janeway yet.
I’m into it.
I love how she becomes quieter and less expressive as the trauma of events goes on. Her speech at the end feels deeply uncomfortable, as if she’s trying to access a side of herself which is withering away — the inspirational side, who is optimistic more than desperate. She comforts B’Elanna over the loss of Tom, but no one can comfort her about Chakotay’s abduction. There goes her sounding board and caller-out on bullshit. Sure, she still has Tuvok, but did he get her a birthday present? He did not.3
- RIP Janeway’s lucky teacup, introduced for the first time just moments before its tragic death
- I love Janeway’s hair, which has a delightful little curl and is wonderfully expressive, but I really think they ought to stop giving characters radical new looks when there’s a reset button lurking
- I have watched Voyager many, many times, yet only just noticed the bits of Borgstuff in the new astrometrics lab
- Kurtwood Smith is really compelling as Annorax, which is good, because the character is not actually that interesting yet.
Should you watch “Year of Hell”? I really hope that, if you’ve gotten this far into my post, you’ve done so already.
Anyway, I’m giving it five chronoton torpedos out of five on a first viewing, and four on repeats. It’s good either way, but nothing is better than that first encounter…