Voyager rewatch 4.09 – “Year of Hell” (part 2)

[extremely nerd voice] This two-parter is titled “Year of Hell”, but the events place place over only 284 days, so it’s actually only nine months of hell, and that’s why Voyager is the worst Trek.[/extremely nerd voice]

If part 1 of “Year of Hell” was a disaster movie, part 2 is … something else. Something quieter — yes, there are set pieces like Janeway running into a fire and Annorax wiping out another civilisation, but part 2 is more of a character piece, focused on Janeway and Annorax and their crumbling support networks.

I love a parallel

The transformation into Peak Janeway comes in three steps: the decision to leave the nebula, running headfirst into a fire, and refusing the Doctor’s attempt to relieve her of duty.

Only the first decision is wrong — Seven was right, and she was right to say so. (Sorry, Tuvok.) They should have stayed a bit longer and, eg, tried to get the deflector dish online before it was on fire.

The rest … well, if the deflector wasn’t fixed, everyone was going to die. And you could argue that if Janeway was willing to risk death, taking a few days off would be perfectly fine, but clearly she doesn’t see it that way. Voyager needs everyone onboard working to keep it intact, and it’s not as if Janeway can hand command off to Tuvok for a while. If she’s conscious, she’s in charge. End of story.

The final step in Janeway’s evolution is the pocket watch, a gift from Chakotay she couldn’t accept when he was with her. Do I have a lot of shippy feels? Yes. Yes, I do.

But I also think that Janeway very much misses his willingness to call her out on bullshit, because Tuvok explicitly refuses to do so.

(How does that jibe with his actions in, oh, the entire rest of the series? Oh look, we all know Voyager is only ever good by accident.)

Chakotay, meanwhile, is … actually not at all willing to call Annorax out on his bullshit, because apparently he wants to get down with some homoerotic timeline alterations.2, so I have no problem with unrepentant bastards who are in love with the sounds of their own voices.

But Annorax doesn’t work for me. It’s not that he’s poorly written, and it’s definitely not an issue with Kurtwood Smith’s performance, which is fantastic. He’s just not quite villainous enough to be truly outrageous, but he’s also not decent enough that I want to see him redeemed.

This is really a personal issue — another viewer might say it makes him nuanced, or find his banal obsessiveness refreshing, and those are perfectly legitimate takes.

Whereas I am a very simple soul, and I feel like, if you have a big name guest star who is driving around space in a weaponised time ship, serving up banquets made up of dishes from cultures he has wiped out, he should at least be a little bit dramatic. He’s out here giving speeches about how time has a personal grudge against him, but it’s like your friend’s dad is just having a bit of a moment.

(Hmmmmm. Is my perception of Annorax coloured by Kurtwood Smith’s role as the dad in That ’70s Show?)

Meanwhile, Janeway is accessorising her tank top with burn scars and a pocket watch, preparing to go down with her ship and take Annorax out with her. Someone is doing the drama work here, and it’s not the archvillain!

But seriously, Chakotay needs to make better choices

Okay, yes, his decision to work with Annorax is reasonable under the circumstances, and totally in line with his characterisation as a pragmatist who will accept a new situation and change his plans accordingly. (But seriously, how did he come to join the Maquis? The more we learn of his character, the more we realise that was a dramatic change from his usual approach, which means it’s probably an interesting story.)

But still: “Hey, this guy has committed a lot of genocide, but he seems to feel bad about it, and he’s so friendly, maybe I can persuade him to commit less genocide” was never a good plan. Even if you ship it (turns out I do), it’s not a good plan. Major Kira would never.

On the other hand, “Chakotay sincerely bonds with Annorax and earns his trust while Tom makes friends and influences mutiny” is an excellent plan. Sure, it mostly works out because they got lucky, but hey, they were due for some good luck.

Speaking of getting lucky

How does Janeway figure out that destroying the time weapon will fix everything? She is famously very, very bad at navigating the theory side of time travel.

Fortunately — for Janeway, for Voyager and for the whole story — the reset button hovers in the background for the entire episode. You could almost call it Chekhov’s reset button. I hate that this is how the story ends, with no one even remembering (please, let’s get Janeway’s life back to normal but leave her with a year 284 days of trauma!), but you can’t say they didn’t lay the groundwork.

The regular feature where I squee over Tuvok

Okay, YES, his characterisation is inconsistent, but whose isn’t? The important thing is that he is terribly reluctant to let Janeway sacrifice herself, and she hugs him, and he not only lets her, but hugs her back! I HAVE SO MANY EMOTIONS AND HE WOULD STRONGLY DISAPPROVE OF ALL OF THEM!

Other observations

  • Who wouldn’t want an indoor nebula? It’s so friendly and purple! What a great conversation piece! Doesn’t Voyager need a pet?
  • Okay, no, Neelix did not get a moment to shine in part 2. I mean, he had scenes, but they could have gone to anyone, you know?
  • I’m not complaining, mind.
  • The Krenim costumes are mighty flattering on Tom and Chakotay. Should have kept those things around.

In conclusion

Of course you should watch this. It’s devastating in the best way. Five out of five time weapons.

  1. LOOK, there’s as little personal space between Chakotay and Annorax as there is between him and Janeway, and we can’t blame it ALL on the aspect ratio![\efn_note]

    But he’s still the link between Janeway and Annorax, a person they both confide in, and someone who pushes them both to resist their worst impulses. Because he has A Type!

    I don’t find Annorax’s motivation especially interesting — boo hoo, you accidentally fridged your wife — but it’s curious that he wants to restore his family, while Janeway wants to keep hers together. This may not be the first time she refers to Voyager’s crew as a family, but she does so with a certain intensity in “Year of Hell”, and I think that’s intentional.

    (It is, of course, the first time she has started anthropomorphising Voyager. I am as puzzled by this choice as Tuvok, but okay, whatevs.)

    We need to talk about Annorax

    I need to preface this by saying that my favourite Star Trek villains are Gul Dukat and Captain Lorca1And I do not consider Kai Winn a villain at all, take THAT, DS9 writers!

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