Voyager first aired the Star Trek New Year’s Eve episode in May 1999.
If Star Trek Christmas references are few—and they are—Star Trek New Year’s Eve references are even fewer. The Memory Alpha wiki includes only two canonical references. One is to a throwaway mention in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Explorers.” But the other is to one of the oddest episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, the fifth’s season’s “11:59.”
How so? Well, while some scenes in “11:59” take place in the 24th century in the Delta Quadrant, the bulk of the episode—scripted by Joe Menosky from his and Brannon Braga’s story, and directed by David Livingston—are set in the week after Christmas 2000, in Portage Creek, Indiana (a fictional city, though Portage, Indiana is quite real). Thus, when it first aired (May 5, 1999), it largely took place some 19 months in its audience’s future. Today, it’s largely set 21 years in our past. And “11:59” isn’t even a time travel story!
Plus, it’s the only Voyager episode in which Kate Mulgrew plays a “real” human character other than Captain Kathryn Janeway. (Entity-possessed, memory-wiped, illusory, and holographic Janeways don’t count.) In the episode’s extremely late-20th-century portions, Mulgrew plays Janeway’s ancestor Shannon O’Donnel (the captain’s grandmother “fifteen generations removed,” as Seven of Nine points out).
But because its climax comes just before the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2000, and because it rings changes on themes appropriate to the season of Auld Lang Syne, “11:59” deserves a spot in any Star Trek New Year’s Eve marathon.
“11:59” invites us to honor the past and embrace the future
Anyone who remembers pedantic debates about when the 20th century actually turned into the 21st will appreciate O’Donnel’s dismissive remark to Henry Janeway (played by Kevin Tighe), her future husband, about “Millennium Eve.” “When the world didn’t end and the flying saucers didn’t land and the Y2K bug didn’t turn off a single light bulb, you’d think everybody would have realized it was a number on a calendar . . . . This New Year’s Eve will be as boring as last year.”
But watching or rewatching “11:59” makes for a great Star Trek New Year’s Eve!
For starters, Mulgrew turns in a first-rate performance as Janeway’s ancestor. Shannon O’Donnel is witty and warm, a rigorous intellectual who nevertheless appreciates things like a romantic make-believe dinner in Paris. She embodies so many qualities that make Janeway a popular captain, yet we never feel Mulgrew is simply playing Janeway by another name and in modern dress. It’s easy to see why Captain Janeway admires this woman, whom she mistakenly believes was one of the first women astronauts and a pioneer of Martian exploration. O’Donnel wasn’t either of those things, as the audience sees and as Janeway learns, she is quite an inspiring person all the same.
And for all that it doesn’t feel like a typical episode of Voyager—or any Star Trek series, for that matter—”11:59” takes advantage of its New Year’s setting to raise some very typical Star Trek questions about how what has gone before shapes what is and what yet could be. “I’m stuck in the future,” Janeway tells Henry, “you’re stuck in the past. But maybe we could get unstuck in the present.”
There’s more than this couple’s relationship on the line. Henry is opposed to the construction of the Millennium Gate, a huge corporate redevelopment of the Portage Creek downtown where he runs the independent bookshop his family’s owned for three generations. He’s the sole holdout, and his refusal to sell his store means the town may lose the project altogether. O’Donnel sympathizes with Henry’s complaint that Millennium Gate is a shopping mall, but, as a highly skilled, aerospace-trained engineer, she also appreciates the Gate is a self-contained, self-sustaining biosphere. For this reason, In Voyager’s time, Millennium Gate will be recognized as a small but significant step toward humanity’s colonization of other worlds. The episode thus raises questions about how communities and individuals can hang on to what is valuable about the past while also welcoming—or, at least, making way for—a larger future.
And “11:59” ends with the Voyager crew’s own, beautiful creation of a brand-new holiday. To make Janeway feel better about discovering Shannon O’Donnel wasn’t exactly who Janeway thought she was, Neelix and the others surprise her with the inaugural celebration of Ancestors’ Eve.
It is, as Chakotay calls it, “an evening of reflection in honor of those who came before.”
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, indeed? Certainly not!
So log on to Paramount Plus this New Year’s Eve—or dig out your Voyager Season 5 DVD set—and raise a cup of kindness to “11:59.” It’s not one of the series’ most action-packed episodes, but it is full of heart and opportunity for reflection of one’s own on past and present, as another year dawns.