Star Trek: Voyager: The 37's   Rewatch 
February 27, 2017 7:38 AM - Season 2, Episode 1 - Subscribe

According to Wikipedia, the Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years in diameter, and an average 1000 light years thick. Doing the math, that puts the Delta Quadrant (¼ of the Milky Way) at a volume of a bit under 2 trillion cubic light years. And, in that staggering volume, Voyager, which is 343 meters in length, comes across a truck (truck-sized), specifically a 1936 Ford pickup. Which can still start on the first try. And that's not the least likely thing that they'll find that day...

The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that, Memory Alpha can't take that away from me:

- Although this episode was originally intended to be the first season finale of Star Trek: Voyager, UPN held the episode back to air as the premiere of Voyager's second season, in order to launch the season before other networks would unveil their programming. In fact, this episode was one of four that were produced in the first season but aired during the second, the others being "Projections", "Elogium" and "Twisted". Of these four episodes, this was the only one that was not a bottle show. Having become less involved with Voyager towards the end of its first season, executive producer Michael Piller returned to the series for its second season, only to find that the upcoming season had been saddled with the leftovers of the previous year, all of which Piller thought had good premises but were some of the weaker installments filmed, as the production staff had been tired and running out of finances during the episodes' shooting. Piller stated, "Even the episode with Amelia Earhart, while it had a wonderful premise, I just felt that it never added up to anything after the first one or two acts. I just never felt a payoff."

- Prior to this episode's first airing, persistent rumors abounded that the episode featured George Takei. He would indeed appear in Star Trek: Voyager, but not until the 30th anniversary installment "Flashback". That episode, like this one, was filmed during production of one season but aired in the next; in "Flashback"'s case, produced in the second season but intentionally held back for airing as the second episode of the third season. Other rumors about this episode were that Voyager would come across the Borg homeworld, that the super-powered Willard Decker would appear in a manner curiously befitting Q and that Captain Janeway would be killed.

- Tom Paris' passion for vintage automobiles is further referenced in the fourth season episode "Vis à Vis", in which he has created a holoprogram nicknamed "Grease Monkey" – essentially, a garage wherein he becomes obsessed with a 1969 Chevy Camaro. As with this episode, "Vis à Vis" also references the inner workings of such a vehicle, including its fuel, internal-combustion system and noxious emissions.

- [Visual effects producer] Dan Curry determined, at one point, that the ship was too large to fit into [Bronson C]anyon. Also, without visual effects, the side view of the immobile Voyager would show the Hollywood sign. (VOY Season 2 DVD text commentary) The visual effects team therefore endeavored to cover up these facts of geography. Curry recounted, "We used the mouth of the entrance to Bronson Canyon and then did a matte painting – I think I did that matte painting in Photoshop – so that it extended the space and we got rid of the Hollywood sign and the other things that are normally there, so it looked like a desolated planet."

"I think you'll find that's manure. Horse manure, if I'm not mistaken."

- Captain Janeway, about the chemicals in the back of the truck; which she differentiated by smell

"I doubt there are many 20th century farmers driving around the Delta Quadrant."

- Captain Janeway, in regards to the Ford truck

"So, is this an early hovercar?"

- Harry Kim, on a Ford truck

"How fast?"
"Warp 9.9. In your terms, that's about four billion miles a second."
"Think I could take her out for a spin?"
"Well, uh..."

- Amelia Earhart and Tom Paris, on Voyager

Poster's Log:

As you might guess from my above-the-cut text, the premise of this show is utterly preposterous. Never mind whether or not you could start a truck that's been floating in space for centuries, or whether or not an AM radio in a plane that's been exposed to the elements for a similar amount of time would still work, alien battery or no. Never mind, even, that iron oxide (i.e. rust) is hardly that unusual in space; it's the reason why Mars is red, and there are a number of meteorites from Mars that have landed on Earth. It's that the 37s (and I refuse to use the apostrophe; that's not how pluralization works) were brought to the DQ not by the Caretaker, in which case it might have made sense that they'd have ended up somewhere not that far from Ocampa, but by another race entirely, who just happened to have deposited them and their truck in a part of that two-trillion ly³ so close to the path back to the AQ that Voyager nearly ran into the thing.

And, you know what? It's so preposterous that I can just let go of it. Fuck it, it's not even the second-most preposterous thing that various starships in the franchise have found in space; the first two places would be Abraham Lincoln and Apollo's giant green hand. Throw in planets that are bizarrely like Earth, and it doesn't even take the bronze. So, what the flippity-flop heck. Amelia Earhart in space? You bet.

Aside from that (Mrs. Lincoln), I'd agree with the bit in the MA article (and, boy howdy, is there ever a lot of stuff to plow through; I've thought of contacting whomever wrote it up to say, look, does anyone really need so much info on how every single episode was created?) to the effect that there's an abrupt tonal shift between "Amelia Earhart in SPAAAAAAAACE" and "Hey, do we really want to truck through the galaxy for another 75 years, or should we say fuck it and join the colonists?" (Plus no mention of their maybe wanting to keep going to get away from the organ snatchers and murderhoboes. There's some protection from the pluttifikation radiation that blankets the planet, but I still wonder about these idyllic societies that they keep coming across, like the autumn planet and the pleasure seekers and so forth.) It's something that needed to be brought up, sooner or later, but it seems oddly shoehorned into this episode.

Poster's Log, supplemental: In all honesty, I don't know that you couldn't start a truck that's been floating in space for centuries; it just doesn't seem right. (At the very least, you'd think that the air would have leaked out of the tires.) Plus, maybe the tech count that mordax has been doing could be expanded to include "galaxy-crossing tech that Voyager can't use for some reason", which would include the Briori drive that is apparently the only part of their technology which was completely obliterated, including any technical information on how it worked.

Poster's Log, supplemental, video section: aside from the link to one of my favorite songs from 1937 above, may I also include "Space Truckin'" from Deep Purple.
posted by Halloween Jack (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
and I refuse to use the apostrophe; that's not how pluralization works

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Seriously, that's always bugged me about this episode.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:16 AM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


Poster's Log, supplemental: In all honesty, I don't know that you couldn't start a truck that's been floating in space for centuries;

Not even close. All the lubricants would be solid, there probably be vacuum welding for various parts, anything organic based or volatile such as gasoline, rubber gaskets or plastic would have decayed...basucally, no.
posted by happyroach at 8:35 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


It sure is lucky, for VOY's sake, that TOS was so frequently batshit. The fact that it raised the Batshit Bar high enough to let stuff like this slide under it is a large part of why I really enjoy this episode.

I guess another part is that I seem to have a soft spot for episodes where figures from the past are transplanted forward in time; "The Neutral Zone" is easily my favorite early TNG, and of course TOS went to that well often, most impressively in "Space Seed." Along those lines, this one showed the crew handling the Big Thawing-Out scene a little more competently than we've seen it done before (though I certainly saw places where Captain CheesesOfBrazil would've handled it differently). I'd also add that "The 37's'es" has a solid crop of guest actors; even the dude who looks like Billy Crystal manages to make his minor, functional role interesting.

But now that I think back on it, the odd story structure makes it very clear that (as mentioned in the "Learning Curve" post) this was originally going to be a two-parter. All that Briori stuff feels super-rushed, and it's noticeably anticlimactic for Janeway et al. to be all "Wow their city was awesome, too bad we didn't have any scenes there." Show, don't tell.

But that said, they did a nice job of salvaging the concept for this one-parter. That final cargo bay scene had some real emotional heft.

and, boy howdy, is there ever a lot of stuff to plow through; I've thought of contacting whomever wrote it up to say, look, does anyone really need so much info on how every single episode was created?

I feel ya.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:01 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


Whose truck is it?

The 37's
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:02 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


The 37s', since there's more than one of them. (Unless it's just that farmer guy, in which case it's his, and his name isn't 37.)

i can do this all day
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:47 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Giving it to iron oxide, this week.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: ... you know, I actually got nothing. A lot of one-off Voyager incidents got spun into massive plot arcs in Star Trek Online, but nothing from Amelia Earhart. Seems like a missed opportunity.
Equipment:
* Photon Torpedoes: 37 (no Change)
* Shuttles: A Full Complement (no change)
* Crew: 151 (down Durst and Seska)
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47 (down 1, though I'm admittedly making assumptions)
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contact: 2 (the 37s and Telek R'mor)

Notes:
Honestly, I don't have a ton to say about this one that wasn't covered already. I mostly felt like it felt rushed, and worked out to be a bizarre series premiere. It makes a lot more sense that they intended it to be a season finale - I think making it a two-parter with it unclear who was leaving, and some antagonistic Briori would've made a lot more sense.

That said, I agree that this wouldn't have felt out of place as a TOS episode. In fact, the thing it reminded me of the most was Stargate SG-1: our intrepid protagonists visit a weird planet with an offshoot of humanity enslaved by aliens who could've done the work a lot easier with machines.

Oh, and I guess the other thing I've got: the discussion of staying vs. going was, indeed, pretty thin. I find the idea that *nobody* got off the ship pretty unlikely. If nothing else, I could totally see Dalby and the other Maquis misfits giving that place a shot. (I mean, it had to be better than getting repeatedly punched by Chakotay, right?) They should've lost maybe half a dozen crew or something.

(Plus no mention of their maybe wanting to keep going to get away from the organ snatchers and murderhoboes. There's some protection from the pluttifikation radiation that blankets the planet, but I still wonder about these idyllic societies that they keep coming across, like the autumn planet and the pleasure seekers and so forth.) It's something that needed to be brought up, sooner or later, but it seems oddly shoehorned into this episode.

That definitely needed some discussion. (The only idyllic society I didn't have a problem existing just out in the open were the doofuses with the trajector tech - it's pretty clear they would've mopped the floor with the Kazon. Everybody else probably should've been murderhobo chow.)

Finally, I wish there'd been some story about how the truck ended up in space. Dumped by the Briori during transit? Flung into space in their final battle against them? Inquiring minds wanna know.
posted by mordax at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've said this before, but this is another good example: the comparison that a lot of people have drawn from Voyager is to Moore's BSG, for what are obvious and contemporaneously relevant reasons, and that comparison has led many people to want a grittier, more serious Voyager. And I hear that argument, and there are a lot of episodes that that approach could have improved. But the sheer absurdity on display here -- as at times in Season One -- points to a different direction the show could have taken, which would have been to substantially eschew any attempt at DS9-style continuity or styling and embraced some TOS-level high-concept silliness.

It's a car! In spaaaaaaaace! That still has a full fuel tank! That a main character knows how to drive! It's an alien world on which we get a dramatic Voyager landing, that is Yet Again backwoods Hollywood! It's a plot that is literally about alien abductions and how they're totally real!

Very little of this makes sense, it doesn't particularly go anywhere, it's Yet Another instance of Alpha-Delta quadrant travel that Voyager can't benefit from, and the pacing is like the first-half of a two-parter without the second part. Stuff kind of just happens: from the Memory Alpha notes, they had Voyager land because they hadn't done that yet and thought it would be neat to do. And while it is neat, it's also an odd choice to fit into an episode that's already tight on time.

Sense-wise, the Briori abducted three hundred people. As slave labor. From a planet on literally the other side of the galaxy. How is that remotely energy efficient? Why are they keeping some of them frozen? That just doesn't make sense, on a How Societies Work standpoint, leaving aside the basic physics & chemistry issues about the truck.

But. Because it makes so little sense, it adds a touch of fun and levity to the show that has (at times) been lacking -- Learning Curve reached for that and mostly succeeded, when it was erring on the side of lightness and not on the horrors that would lead to someone wanting to join the Maquis. Outside of the largely unnecessary hostage situation & firefight (why are the abductees so surprised that the visibly human crew are human?), there's plenty of time for rumination on what the crew wants, where they're going, and what the situation means for all involved without any external pressures except those generated by the ship's own situation. The cutaway at the end -- that no one wants to stay -- isn't particularly surprising (who would want to stay with what amounts to a cult?), but it is a bit disappointing that they didn't take this as a chance to add to the crew's mix: surely some of the 37 or the survivors on the planet would want to join the crew? But at the same time, of course Janeway's worry would be that people would leap at any chance to leave; it's a moment that draws on the characterization that's been established as much as it does on the plot's premise, and that makes it a good moment.

I would put this towards the top of my favorite Season One episodes, despite and also because of its flaws.

(Unless it's just that farmer guy, in which case it's his, and his name isn't 37.)

Jack Hayes, who I think only gets a name in the credits.
posted by cjelli at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


But the sheer absurdity on display here -- as at times in Season One -- points to a different direction the show could have taken, which would have been to substantially eschew any attempt at DS9-style continuity or styling and embraced some TOS-level high-concept silliness.

Yeah, I think you're onto something with that notion.
posted by mordax at 1:09 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have a total love-hate relationship with this episode, and I'm glad so many of you do, too.
posted by miguelcervantes at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Which year's truck is it?

37's?


(Except that a: It makes no sense to say The 37's, so that doesn't work and b: it is canonically a 1936 truck. I'll try and think of new ways to make the title make sense!)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:26 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


A truck from 37 A.D.? Or is it '37's truck?

(I, too, can do this all day.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:03 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


So there's this Ben Edlund interview out there* where he's talking about some rejected stories from Firefly - and one of them is "Serenity's scanners pick up something and it turns out to be a boy frozen on a ten-speed bike." And then raises up his arm, does the panning motion and says "Huffy"

It was all that I could think of while watching this episode.

I think everyone else has pretty much covered it - Voyager does the original series better it does being DS9. It's utterly ridiculous to the point where it completely shorts out my logic sensors. I do think it would have been interesting to have someone from 1937 join the crew - it'd be an excuse to have a companion role on the ship, and have them explain concepts that the crew would in theory know all about and have someone commenting on how wonderous and it was. Especially since they're not Federation, but also not Neelix.

Speaking of which, Paris's obsession with old cars makes me think of Bashir's love of 1960's spy narratives. Except that I could totally imagine Bashir as a 24th century SCA nerd, while it seems like an unintentionally hilarious obsession for Paris. I had a friend in college who was obsessed with astrolabes, but I don't think that's the sort of characterization they were really going for.

*Here, I found it - it's mostly Ben Edlund and Jose Molina talking about the episode "Trash" from Firefly. I also recommend listening to any interview or talk Ben Edlund does, because they are all delightful.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:03 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Speaking of which, Paris's obsession with old cars makes me think of Bashir's love of 1960's spy narratives. Except that I could totally imagine Bashir as a 24th century SCA nerd, while it seems like an unintentionally hilarious obsession for Paris. I had a friend in college who was obsessed with astrolabes, but I don't think that's the sort of characterization they were really going for.

Well, it DOES end up paying off a bit later, both in Captain Proton (one of my favorite Voyager things ever) and when Sarah Silverman flirts with Paris in the excellent two-parter "Future's End."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:35 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Okay, so the deal is that the Briori were actually from the Alpha quadrant too, locals, just a system or two away from Earth and they stopped by to do some research, pick up a few humans for testing and the like and then jet off to find other planets and species to examine and take back to Brior. As they are poking around they stumble into a Caretaker's summoning wave and, zap!, end up in the Delta quadrant! After getting checked out, poked and prodded by some early Caretaker wannabe array thing, they are allowed to go on their way, but of course they're in the Delta quadrant and weren't the best of guests, so the array dealie gets all pouty and decides not to help them get back home. The Briori, left to their own devices find a nice little planet hidden from the crazed body part hunters and murderhoboes and decide to settle down as the trip home would be long and tedious without a series deal promising an end to the trip before their show would wrap up. Being science types, they didn't want to do the labor stuff themselves, since that's burly physical crap better suited to hired labor, and so they enlist their human test subjects and accidentally forget to pay them, leading to revolt, overthrow and general bad times for the Briori who were too far from home to call in the reserves. The humans, being human, go all orgy of destruction on the spaceship since they couldn't understand it and it was probably stupid anyway, and over time forget all about the array and all the other niggling details preferring to make a religion out of their journey instead. They call themselves The 37's, meaning descendants of those original 37s and thus the possessive. Easy peasy lemon squeezy and, man, I do not care for this episode.

(Outlandish and weird is great, but this was just dopey from start to finish and no one in the cast seemed to treat it as anything other. Save perhaps for John Rubinstein as Evansville. There are some amusing moments showing that seemingly less than serious response, like when Chakotay reports to Janeway in her ready room and she's looking pensively out the window, arm crooked upwards, chin resting in her palm. She barely breaks her pose to take a datapad from him before returning to that exact same exaggerated pose of "deep thought", which we doubly know since it was announced in voice over. Chakotay, ever on the ball and showing that instinctual awareness he's so famous for, suspects Janeway might be engaged in deep thought so he cautiously prods her with his subtle query about the possibility of there being anything wrong since she's seemed a little...distracted...ever since touring the glittering cities of Evansville, or whatever it's called.

And the whole maybe we should stay cuz these folks are human too! Is a fine how-do-you-do for Chell and the rest of the not so human crew, as well as another example of all cultures and species are great, but humans are great with a cherry on top attitude the shows indulge in sort of automatically some times. Eh, really though, that isn't something I actually get that worked up about in this episode since it is such a nutty little outlier. I might even have enjoyed it a little more had they found the budget to give "Amelia" hair that didn't scream cheap wig every time she was on screen.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


Well, it DOES end up paying off a bit later, both in Captain Proton (one of my favorite Voyager things ever) and when Sarah Silverman flirts with Paris in the excellent two-parter "Future's End."

I haven't watched all of Voyager, so I might be wrong about what you're talking about, but my enjoyment is more in line with what Banknote of the year was talking about a few episodes ago. Tom Paris is into cars because that's a typical masculine hobby, and Tom Paris gets saddled with a lot of these different masculine tropes as part of his characterization as the white human male of the cast. But there's a difference between the viewer's idea of what old cars signify and the in-universe idea of a 20th century car signifies, and people who are into 400 year-old defunct technology are a little weird - and I have the history of science classes to prove it!

So it's not necessarily 'that could never happen!' or even 'that should never happen! (I am all for Paris being something other than the manly man who mans ALONE). But that the writers are trying so hard to dump all of these tropes onto one character that they're unintentionally implying something a lot more interesting.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:34 AM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


it's noticeably anticlimactic for Janeway et al. to be all "Wow their city was awesome, too bad we didn't have any scenes there." Show, don't tell.

We could've learned so much about their society by seeing their marketplace.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:27 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


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