Eye of the Needle
Episode Guide/Review by Charlynn Schmiedt
Season 1, Episode 6
Stardate 48579.4 (2371)
Episode 6 of 168 Released in Star Trek: Voyager
Episode 6 of 168 Produced in Star Trek: Voyager
Production Number: 107
Original airdate: February 20, 1995
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Story by Hilary J. Bader
Teleplay by Bill Dial and Jeri Taylor
Ensign Kim discovers a small, decaying wormhole that connects to the Alpha Quadrant. Voyager uses it to make contact with a Romulan scientist named Telek R’Mor on the other side. Janeway earns his trust, only to find out that he is from twenty years in the past; the wormhole distorts both space and time. The Voyagercrew sends messages to Telek R’Mor in hopes he will transmit them to Starfleet twenty years in his future, but Tuvok reveals that the Romulan scientist died four years before Voyager’s launch.
As technology advances and machines become more and more capable of thought and what we would call “sentience,” debate will inevitably grow with regard to what rights those machines should have.
The Next Generation addressed this issue ahead of the game by including an artificial intelligence as a member of the senior staff. Voyager then took this a step farther by removing the tangible component—the android body—and focusing the debate purely on the algorithms themselves.
Although the crew interacts with The Doctor in his humanoid form, he is really nothing more than a computer program. But it’s a very sophisticated program and one that transcends the ones and zeroes. It’s one of the greatest concepts within Voyager and one that allows the writers to explore aspects of humanity (and its advancement) in a way not possible with flesh and blood.
In “Eye of the Needle” the writers throw at us questions that we will soon face in real life—quite possibly in our own lifetime. Ray Kurtzweil predicts that we are moving toward intelligent machines at an ever-hastening rate, toward an event he calls “The Singularity.” Within this century we may have to decide if sentience is reserved for biological life forms, and whether or not thinking machines deserve the same rights as humans. It will be a sort of 21st-century civil rights movement, and it’s an issue Voyager was addressing two decades ago.
Both the Doctor and Janeway start considering the EMH as something more than just a hologram for the first time, thanks to Kes. He starts treating himself as full-fledged member of the crew and gains the respect he deserves as a result. This is the beginning of what will become his major arc of character development—and one of the strengths of Voyager overall.
This episode could have been cluttered sky-high with technobabble. All things considered, it’s kept to a minimum so the focus is more on telling an entertaining science fiction story than the technology that’s enabling it. I like that.
Once it’s established that the wormhole reaches the alpha quadrant, we in the audience know it’s too good to be true. That doesn’t take much away from the story due to the train wreck effect: The more the crew’s hopes rise, the worse we feel for them because we know the fallout’s going to be that much worse when their anticipation of coming home is snatched away. Even so, we can’t help but watch the rise and fall.
I enjoyed watching Janeway use an emotional appeal on Telek R’Mor. It pulls on his heartstrings—and mine. She finds out he has a daughter whom he’s never seen and uses the sorrow that brings to relate theVoyager crew’s sense of loneliness so he will help them. Learning this much about Telek R’Mor makes him much more relatable as a person than just a cookie-cutter Romulan. It’s also effective at breaking down what’s left of his mistrust of Janeway.
What gives this story a kick is finding out that Telek R’Mor died four years before Voyager’s launch, leaving us (and the crew) wondering if Voyager’s messages were ever sent. Like Janeway, we must put on a brave face and move on because there’s nothing else we can do.
We know from the start that Voyager won’t make it home in this episode because it’s way too soon in the show’s run for it to even be a consideration. An episode like this should have come much later. I would have even preferred this as the last episode of season one rather than placing it six episodes in because then at least the episode would be a reminder of the long and painstaking journey Voyager has ahead.
It comes as no surprise that Harry is a major mama’s boy.
Observe Janeway’s eyes and only her eyes as Tuvok tells her of Telek R’Mor’s death. You can see 100% of the dread Janeway is feeling in them just before and during Tuvok’s delivery of the bad news. Nicely done, Kate Mulgrew.
“Just our luck. We raise one ship from the Alpha Quadrant and it has to be Romulan.”
“I would like… a name.”
“If I had to get treatment for something serious, if I needed surgery for instance, would he be performing it?”
“Of course, and quite expertly, too.”
“I don’t know. I’d have to think twice about that.”
“Fine, and if you’re lucky, you wouldn’t die on the table while you were making up your mind.”
—Baxter and The Doctor
B’Elanna’s strained relationship with her parents. This will become more important to her character as the series continues.
Voyager’s messages. We will eventually find out whether or not Starfleet received them.
The Doctor’s request for a name. He will explore options in seasons one and two.
“Eye of the Needle” is easily one of my favorites from season one. It’s a terrific story that creatively connects Alpha Quadrant to Delta Quadrant. My only wish is that the writers would have held off on a “will they get home” story until much later. As stated above, I would have loved to have seen this as the last episode of the first season.
(8 out of 10)
Had this episode occurred later in the season or the series, I’d give it a 9.
Vaughn Armstrong as Telek R’Mor
Tom Virtue as Walter Baxter