Star Trek: Voyager: Season 2, Episode 21 – ‘Deadlock’
Airdate: 18 March 1996, Director: David Livingston, Writer: Brannon Braga
If I were to make a list of the most “badass” lines in Star Trek, third on that list would be Sisko as he tells the Klingons with a stone face that his reinforcements were closer than theirs. Second is easily Commander Riker saying ‘Mr. Worf, fire” in ‘The Best of Both Worlds Part 1’. Number one, however, would be the final words of Captain Kathryn Janeway here in ‘Deadlock’ as she says “Welcome to the bridge” moments before her ship explodes. Today, I am going to talk about the 35th episode of Star Trek: Voyager, something of a hidden gem, the frankly excellent ‘Deadlock’.
We begin ‘Deadlock’with Ensign Sam Wildman in the Mess Hall and I have got the say, that I feel that suddenly going into a Labour which is then resolved in seven hours, leaving the Bridge Crew on tenterhooks somewhat of a Hollywood cliche, However, it is trivial enough that it does not nearly ruin my enjoyment of the overall episode as It can be explained away that this could be typical of a Ktarean/Human hybrid pregnancy. As birthing scenes go this is a distant second place to Worf’s “congratulations, you are fully dilated. You may now give birth” moment in TNGs ‘Disaster’. but Dorn’s deadpan delivery of that line was exceptional, it is no great slight to be second place to that beauty of a moment.
One criticism I have heard of Star Trek: Voyager’s run is that it often hits the metaphorical reset button with a degree of frequency. I think this criticism is certainly valid as evidenced multiple times over the show’s run. This is perhaps most egregiously in the ‘Equinox’ two-parter when Voyager suffers damage, the Captain herself goes through massive changes battling Captain Ransom and torturing Noah Lessing, but by the following week’s episode, there is no sign of anything resulting from this. But for the opening 16 minutes and 41 seconds of ‘Deadlock’, Voyager undergoes what is basically an unending spiral of disaster which culminates with the Bridge being abandoned as it sits ablaze. In fact, I would argue that the exchange where Sam asks the Doctor “My baby. She’s going to die isn’t she?”, the EMH’s subsequent knowing look and rush for reassurance and the subsequent death of Naomi are Star Trek at perhaps its darkest. Robert Picardo’s deadpan levity previously gives the episode a much-needed bit of light relief.
As a side note, The Star Trek Voyager Companion by Paul Ruditis informs us, that a small fire on the bridge set (specifically on the star field a few feet from the view screen prop) precluded that specific set from being used for a week in season five.
The McGuffin of ‘Deadlock’ is that the duplicate Voyager (the one which ultimately survives) is the result of a phase shift caused by Lieutenant Torres’ sending out proton bursts which go on to help solidify the many universes of Star Trek concept, so is a welcome addition to the show and is anchored in our reality of the Kent State experiment which duplicated matter but failed to duplicate antimatter. This adds to the desirability if the episode immensely. This is only underscored by the short technobabble scene in Engineering between Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Torres where they exposit so much in terms of technobabble that it could very easily lose its audience. Either I am unknowingly a scientific genius (I think this is quite likely) or simply, even with dialogue drier than a Sandal in the Sahara Desert, Kate Mulgrew and Roxanne Dawson deliver these lines with ease and do so with such skill, it will make the audience stay engaged (pardon the pun) and is a great sign for the following five-plus years of the show’s run.
‘Deadlock’ is also famous for the demise of Harry Kim, one of many unfortunate events to befall our unlucky in love and rank ensign. However, he is brought back when the duplicated ship saves the new-born Naomi Wildman by crossing the phase shift before the ship explodes. A question that has followed this amongst some fans is ‘is the real Harry Kim dead’?
On another side note, Captain Janeway commenting briefly that the other Captain knew she once walked 14km home in a rainstorm after a losing effort at Tennis, is a reference to (and canonising of) the novel ‘Mosaic’ by series co-creator Jeri Taylor. Instances of literary canon being brought up on screen are very few and far between, so this is a very well-placed garnish on top of this exceptional meal in the somewhat doldrums of Star Trek Voyager’s maligned second season.
In something of a rarity on the show, there is a stylistic piece of direction and editing. As one scene sees us transition from the pristine Voyager’s Engineering to the damaged Voyager’s equivalent via an extreme close up on a console’s cross radial. This stylistic choice, while somewhat simplistic, is as discussed above, somewhat rare on the show. It undoubtedly saves from adding to the running time of this episode which has a lot of highly scientific information to unpack already. It also provides an almost direct comparison between the states of the two Voyagers.
While I am discussing comparisons between the state of the two Voyagers, I must draw attention to the fact Kate Mulgrew plays a dual role. Not only that, but she does it exceptionally well. Without discussing it at too much length, my first degree was in Film and Television Production, so I am keenly aware that even in seemingly topflight productions such as a weekly Star Trek show headlining the then fledgeling UPN Network, the technology to do split screenshots when this was made in late 1995 was fairly basic (compared to the same today) and the results usually showed this.
While some very brief shots showing her profile are not exactly stellar (it is kind of obvious that the dividing line in the split screenshot is the casing of the warp core) the performance given by Mulgrew is of such high quality and so readily believe that it serves as a welcome distraction from this admittedly, a minor quibble.
It is nearly the end of ‘Deadlock’ before we see the antagonists (though they have been discussed earlier in the episode), the Vidiians. This is also a bit of a rarity and highlights the special nature of this episode. It is close to being a bottle show (one which uses only permanent sets to save money) but thanks to this late addition, it is taken away from being bestowed with this moniker. The battle between the Vidiian ship and Voyager is hardly the nebula battle seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan between the Reliant and Enterprise due in part to its extremely brief run time (although forgivable as discussed above, this episode has a lot of highly scientific lines to get across, so space in the run time is at something of a premium). Less forgivable is Tuvok (Tim Russ) saying that Voyager’s weapons systems will take hours to re-charge (a seeming massive oversight in a ship which only last year was state of the art), but this is only on-screen briefly so it is forgivable and does not ruin the episode at all.
The only major quibble this episode can be levied with is that the Viddiians board Voyager via a bottleneck to the ship. It is well established that the Viddiians are all close to death thanks to the Phage. I find it hard to believe that the crew of Voyager, who all are survivors of being ripped from one side of the galaxy to the other, would not be able to easily Phaser each of the 347 strong boarding party. Janeway’s solution of activating the self-destruct (possibly the only time where the self-destruct does not need a second or third person to confirm its activation) while effective, does seem kind of overkill.
However, it does bring us Kathryn Janeway at possibly her most badass when she calmly tells the Viddiian invaders “welcome to the Bridge” as she knows there are mere seconds before explosions engulf everyone aboard both ships.
A final side note, in the penultimate scene in Sickbay, when Janeway says she doesn’t think Torres can stand much more of her in Engineering, Tuvok responds with a curt nod. Sassy Tuvok is lesser-seen, episodes on his character are seldom seen and instances in which he is emotional, are even less frequent. It is not exactly a highlight, but definitely a curio that deserves your attention as much as it got from me.
In conclusion, while Star Trek: Voyager’s second season is somewhat maligned critically, ‘Deadlock’ is certainly a highlight of it. To use a somewhat overused phrase to describe this episode, it is something of a gem and these forty-five minutes are well worth giving a watch, you will not be sorry.
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