Finally, here’s a really interesting episode! The incredible happens in Prime factors: a mutiny on a Starfleet vessel, something never seen before (but which was talked about in the excellent The Pegasus, last season of The Next Generation)! In any case, the episode is a slow burner, so to speak, in the sense that it gets to the heart of the matter very late and almost all of a sudden. But let’s start with the plot.
On its eternal journey, the USS Voyager meets the Sikarians, for once some friendly people who value pleasure above all else. Invited to the homeworld of Sikaris, the crew members have fun and relax and forget their misadventures for a moment. But moods quickly change when Kim discovers that the Sikarians have a technology capable of teleporting 40,000 light-years away – this could more than halve the time it takes to return to the Alpha Quadrant! Unfortunately, Janeway immediately runs into a wall: the Sikarians have a rule which is very similar rule to the Federation Prime Directive and they aren’t allowed to share their technology with anyone. What to do? The captain has no doubts: the rules must be respected and therefore she can only try to put some mild pressure on Gath (Ronald Guttman) by offering in to trade the use of Sikarian technology for an endless amount of stories, a highly-valued “commodity” on the planet Sikaris. Gath seems interested, but it soon becomes clear that he has no intention of seriously considering Janeway’s offer.
And here things get interesting: Torres, Seska (a Bajoran maquis with whom we have become familiar since the first episode Caretaker played by Martha Hackett) and Carey (we remember him for his conflict with Torres in Parallax) begin to study Sikarian technology, especially when Kim reveals to them that a Sikarian other than Gath has offered him the trade that Gath doesn’t want to accept. When a disappointed Janeway orders them to leave the planet’s orbit… well, the conspirators go for it and get the technology. With the additional twist they are discovered by Tuvok who, instead of handing them over to the captain, helps them! In fact, it was the logical thing to do… but he demands to Torres and company not to use the device until he has had a chance to talk to Janeway about it. However, when Torres and Seska discover that far from Sikaris the device would be useless (insert technobabble here) they activate it and… the attempt almost destroys Voyager!
The ending is really powerful, with the furious Janeway (despite all the efforts of Kate Mulgrew not to show any emotion: they should have made her play a Vulcan!) against Torres and with Tuvok admitting his responsibility for what happened. The last scene shows Janeway in a state of shock in a deadly and meaningful silence. Does it make sense to continue to follow the rules of the Federation even if you are lost in a quadrant of the Galaxy that has never even heard of them? Is the goal of returning home worth of sacrificing the values that the Voyager crew (or at least the part not coming from Chakotay’s maquis ship) swore to defend? What is Janeway’s real power if most of her officers value homecoming above anything else?
These are all profound and interesting questions and Prime Factors addresses them giving answers that open up multiple possibilities for the future of the USS Voyager. For this reason, I rate this episode among the best seen so far, with a really convincing second part and an ending worthy of the best moments ever seen in Star Trek. Ciao!
PS: The Delta Flyers podcast shoutout: Garrett Wong amusedly recalls how the dress worn by Kim in Prime Factors when he’s not in uniform had been used by Patrick Stewart in an episode of The Next Generation. And the second-hand boots he was given for the first episode had been used by a certain B. Spiner!
Episodio precedente: Emanations
Episodio successivo: State of Flux