Gizmodo misses the point of what makes a Star Trek episode so great
The fine folks at Gizmodo wrote an article recently talking about one of the better episodes from the first season of Star Trek: Voyager. That episode was the 10th episode of the series, “Prime Factors”. The basic gist of the episode is that Voyager meets an alien race called the Sikarians who have developed technology capable of “folding” space and allowing a ship to travel 40,000 light-years in a single “fold”.
Voyager wants it, the Sikarians don’t want to give it up, so B’Elanna and Tuvok acquire it illegally and Voyager still can’t get it to work. When Captain Kathryne Janeway finds out about it, she goes off on B’Elanna and Tuvok. The part that hit home the most was finding out that Janeway and Tuvok, once such good friends, were at odds over the situation.
I agree with Gizmodo that this is a great episode. I disagree with the fact that it was a “missed opportunity”. They cite the episodic series nature of the show being a hindrance, and that because of the show’s historical stance to move once an episode ends, the show missed out on an opportunity to build off of the conflict between Janeway and Tuvok.
Yet, it’s in that episodic nature that Star Trek is at its best
Look at any long-running serialized show. It prohibits fans to get into it because they feel like they have to either A) catch up on it, or B) feel lost while watching it. This is ok with modern streaming shows that have eight or 12 episode seasons like say, Cobra Kai, but when you’re dealing with 22+ episodes a season, at 40+ minutes a clip, that’s a rather daunting load to drudge through.
Serialized shows have to deal with a continuous arc that is constantly dragged down by other, less important storylines. Narratives that should’ve been wrapped up in an episode or two can stretch a season and it can ruin shows so easily. So many “popular” shows have been ruined by carrying pointless plots and needless exposition.
Yet, with Trek, you don’t have to worry about that. Each episode is its own contained story and that story may have some minor bits that affect it down the line but that’s always covered in voiceovers. Viewers are never left out of the loop. Trek doesn’t have to suffer from the same lulls of other shows. If a storyline is bad, who cares, it’s done after one or two episodes anyway.
Some episodes, like Tuvix, may not have had the same lasting power if there was a follow-up episode to it.
Nu Trek has been lambasted for going this route, long-season arcs that have to be viewed as an extended mini-movie, and Trek fans aren’t having it. While some may like the long-form storytelling, when everyone is doing it, there’s just no time in your day to engage it all properly. That’s why episodic works. It gives fans a space to view something entirely different.
While some will cite Deep Space Nine’s later seasons as being A-plus television but was also more serialized than other Trek series, it worked in part because it was the only syndicated show that was doing that. Which in itself was a risk.
The story of Janeway and Tuvok was never going to be something that could carry an arc because at the end of the day Tuvok would just be thrown in the brig if he disobeyed her again. Then he’d apologize, they’d mend fences and it’d be over. Tuvok broke the rules, which itself is a problem as Tuvok is a very logical person and his stealing is out of character.
Exploring it would only further ruin his character. Exploring this conflict is just not something that has legs beyond an episode. Star Trek works best when it can dust itself off, reset and focus on new storylines week to week, instead of carrying over someone’s bad idea for several months.