536. Year of Hell
FORMULA: Yesterday's Enterprise + Starship Down + Before and After
WHY WE LIKE IT: Kurtwood Smith. Beat-up Voyager.
WHY WE DON'T: Just who survives.
REVIEW: As a one-shot villain, the Krenim are pretty wicked. That time weapon is really cool, the instant history-changing gimmick works well, and Kurtwood Smith is never boring as Annorax, a sort of temporal Ahab. His quest to attain a perfect 100% restoration of his perfect timeline, one including the elusive Kyana Prime makes him seem at once insane and sympathetic. We'll find out more in due course, but for now, the mysteries are intriguing and the effects sheer eye candy.
Heralded in Before and After, though much changed because of Kes' departure, the Year of Hell starts out amusingly as the Week of Hell. Things might have gone better, but the temporal shielding they develop first saves, then dooms them, as they remain in the "damaged" history after the Krenim lose their empire again. It's all set up to be reset, of course, but I certainly would have liked to see a whole year go by in a couple of episodes like this. It would knock a year off the journey, and it's certainly great to see Voyager actually suffer damage it cannot recover from quickly (something I cried out for back in the Kazon days). But I understand why they wouldn't do it, since it would impair character arcs.
And while this IS an alternate reality episode, there are still a lot of character moments. The Doctor's torment at leaving crew members to die. Kim and B'Elanna passing the time with a friendly quiz. Neelix trying to pick new intruder alert voice-overs ("Danger! Intruder among us!"). It's not all bizarro destruction. And among the new features that are part of the true continuity, the Astrometrics lab is unveiled, and pretty cool too, and Janeway gets a new, shorter haircut, one she'll sport to the end of the series.
In the bizarro destruction section, we find Tuvok and Seven caught in a temporal torpedo blast (the same torpedo Kes found in Before and After). Tuvok is blinded (no inner eyelid support, Tuvok? at least you have a braille console), but he should count himself lucky. How the torpedo didn't vaporize the two of them is the episode's greatest weakness. In Kes' alternate future, the death toll was high. Here, because they must survive to Part II, none of the bridge crew do. In fact, I really have to question the cliffhanger where Janeway sends everyone but the bridge crew out on shuttles and escape pods to hopefully make it through Krenim space (downsized at this point, but still) alone. Wouldn't bridge crew be the very best resource these people could have? No, sorry, promised myself I'd keep this family together, but cool kids stay, everyone else take a hike. We should expect this kind of manipulation, but it still strains credulity.
LESSON: Don't let a bad day become a bad week. Or a bad month. Or a bad...
REWATCHABILITY - High: An engaging alternate reality episode that balances action, thrills and characterization well enough. You can see the reset button looming, but in this case, that's fine. It's fun to see how far the characters can go in their most desperate hour without having to worry about long-term consequences.