The great cliffhanging ending has Robot, adhering to the Smith command that all "non-essential personnel" should be "eliminated", seemingly aiming its dangerous bolt circuits towards Will who was repairing damaged circuits on the Chariot. West combating Smith is great fun, Smith shows that he is cold-blooded as they come when discussing with Robot about killing off the Robinsons, Smith calculatingly offers a reasoning for wanting to leave John on the planet for a return to Earth (200 pounds now off the ship helps to give it orientation thrown off by his stowaway status) while Maureen and Don show how horrible that is to them from a sheer moral standpoint, the Chariot is introduced as is the Priplanis planet (and Debbie, the "Bloop"), and a "wildly electrified wood" encases John within its bones after he landed in a pit upon entry of the planet. A jam-packed adventure with all the trimmings. This would be followed up by further excellent planetary adventures before Smith's goofy antics and a number of daffy characters arrive to ruin such a promising start to the series. Jonathan Harris was subtle here, and his Zachary Smith never more nefarious, the behavior and thought process offering a serious threat to the heroes as he configures/devises a way to convince them he's a friend so that they can be killed off one at a time just so he can return home to Earth. Maureen deeply involved with West on finding John gives her purpose that I appreciated, while the other family members aren't quite as major factors in this particular episode except for dialogue moments scattered about. That would change as the first season continued
"Don't trust him he's slippery as a bucket of eels."
"Do you believe this hogwash?"
While others (although John wasn't a patsy, just realizing that Smith had points he couldn't dispute in regards to the use of Robot) were willing to go out on a limb regarding Smith, Don West was always on guard, as he ever right to be. That dynamic is particularly brought to the forefront here. West and Smith would be at odds almost the entire series, with this episode establishing their rivalry.
The holodeck training program involving a rescue mission interrupted by Romulan warbirds coming out of cloak where the officers fail in what appears to be an unwinnable situation is always a fascinating determination of what those facing such seemingly inescapable odds might try, and Tuvok's response, understanding that retreat might have been an option, with the Maquis mentality in full effect for his trainees unwilling to see that as an option, produces reflection for the Vulcan on what he might should do to improve his standing with them. Neelix using flowers to emphasize what Tuvok might want to consider in reaching them proves that the unlikeliest of sources of advice that can make all the difference Neelix proves to be an invaluable character, much in the same way Guinan was on the Next Generation.
Intense performance from Schultz as Dalby, not the easiest student to cultivate into a Starfleet officer; nonetheless, Dalby sees that Tuvok is more than capable of seeing beyond the logic, understanding that "bending the rules" can be necessary. The incident trapping them in a cargo bay, initiating an escape plan offers a chance for Tuvok to prove his meddle as a leader, willing to risk his life for one of them. The pool hologram sequence between Dalby and Tuvok sets the stage for exactly why they are at odds...it is a quality character scene showing that Tuvok is trying to reach out and understand.
The plot thickens through a domino effect all stemming from trying to get a map. Janeway's reaction to Neelix's admission, and how she informs him that he will be assigned menial tasks as a result of his misbehavior is an amusing close to the episode; Neelix is shown here that he's part of the crew, not worthless. His sins of the past come to light and yet he's part of a family, a crew that he will indeed remain a vital part of. Carrasco is all sure of himself as the station operations specialist but he's made aware that he doesn't quite have the place as buttoned down as he might think his premature arrest of Chakotay and Paris (they just talked with the murdered Sutok their first day on the station, a mere passing that lasted seconds) prove that he might ought to acquire some help to monitor things. Nardini makes for a perfect underhanded smuggler/mediator/trader of illegal items, using whatever means available to attain the kind of transaction that selfishly benefits him his Wix sees Neelix and his association with the Voyager as the perfect foil to exploit. Neelix's guilt and inability to take from those that trust him unveils a noble character no longer similar to Wix, having found principles and purpose beyond supplying for his own needs. Janeway does challenge him. My favorite scene: Neelix asks Paris about his prison time and the conversation about how lying simply isn't worth it.
Odd premise aside (and the time loops at the beginning certainly would seem to introduce a far different plot than what eventually occurs), there is a nicely poignant "funeral" where Torres and Kim speak warm and lovingly about their Captain as others solemnly reflect on her time with them. The euthanasia scene where Picardi's Doctor "gases" Janeway when she suffers the phage is particularly a bizarre sequence, as are the use of the Vidiians (maneuvers with the shuttlecraft as the Vidiians' warships attack produce brief space excitement), merely bit players in a much larger story involving a type of "death alien entity" hoping Janeway will give in and follow him into his "matrix". Janeway "cheating death" by staring him down and seeing past the "disguise" trying to manipulate her is rather ironic as Star Trek Captains often do just that with this time literally squaring off with death. Cariou is really a smart choice to portray a simulation of Janeway's father, producing enough presence and command worthy of a great man influential in the development of a sterling starship captain, yet gradually slips those qualities away until his motives are revealed. Janeway refusing to give up, dogged in returning to her crew, and seeing behind the façade, is what I thought was the episode's greatest asset. Just Kate Mulgrew giving us that range of emotions, enduring quite the roller coaster, leaving the episode full of enthusiasm, as if granted a lease on life she plans to enjoy with Chakotay agreeing, happily, to join her in a bit of entertainment during some downtime. I really liked the little moments of Janeway following Torres and Kim as they work on the theory of her caught in some type of anomaly and seeing Tuvok using a Vulcan telepathic meld with Kes that results in disappointment. I especially liked her response to Tuvok, entering a log about his failure in finding her presence through Kes. Cariou using methods of desperate pleading after softly trying, with Janeway unyielding in her defiance, is also quite fun. I found this to be a weird experience because I thought it was all over the place, but still thought it had some really great moments truly reaching out from within a messy structure.
The episode develops the ongoing sexual tension between Paris and Torres by having them address buried interest/feelings that might actually exist but not act on due to the blood fever influence, introduces another Vulcan to the Voyager audience, recalls Original Star Trek with a throwback to the Vulcan mating rituals and Kali Fee (although there is a fight, it isn't to the death), gives the Doctor a challenge he nearly succeeds in a holodeck program recreating Vulcan and a mate for Vorik (and inspires a research project into studying mating rituals for other races), and prepares the Voyager and its audience for an upcoming foe, the Borg. It is a busy, very active episode, but a lot of fun with almost the entire cast involved in one way or another. Torres telling Paris be careful what he asks for (more of her Klingon side) is certainly a setup for future episodes (Paris proves quite noble when he resists his urges to make love to Torres, while she pretends to brush off their time alone on the planet as "not her but the fever"). The Doctor's resistance from Tuvok and Vorik shows us that Vulcans consider their privacy of the utmost importance, not to be shared with those "who wouldn't understand". Losing their logic with the rush of intense emotion is embarrassing and frustrating to them. Seeing Vulcans vulnerable and unhinged provides insight into their "bad biology" where logic and control, key to their way of life and behavior daily, leave them; one moment has Paris sympathizing with Tuvok's biological "imperfection" every seven years, remarking he can't imagine what they must be like. To handle all these alternating subplots and keep the episode clear, concise, and held together is damned impressive work from Robinson.
In "The Raft" there is enough emphasis on the *entire family* instead of just Will, Dr. Smith, and Robot that personally satisfied me now. John and Don are at work trying to come up with propulsion experiments using plasma as their replacement for fuel used up by Will during his tests to set off a small rocket carrying a message of help for the Robinsons to whoever might encounter it in space. Meanwhile Will inspires John and Don to modify a tank on the Jupiter into a small space vessel, with Don volunteering to pilot it, in the hopes of finding help out in space. Smith sees it as his chance to escape from off the "obnoxious" planet, and a key word ("Cast off") told to Robot sets off the makeshift ship with Will accidentally trapped inside with him, the two seemingly lifting off into space! Lucky for them and the Robinson family the ship doesn't have the power to escape the orbit of the planet, landing back on the surface. Of course Smith thinks they have made it back to Earth despite Will's correct assessment that there wasn't enough time. Back on the planet, a two-headed furry creature leads them into a grassy-walled trap, with the two hoping for an escape plan, but the only exit is a double-walled "door" guarded by their captor. While the ship was left with a beacon beep continuously looping to signal the Jupiter 2 to its location, John and Don have trouble finding it due to so much terrain to cover. But Will realizes Smith has a walkie-talkie to hopefully contact his dad.
I thoroughly enjoyed the nice sentiment treated to Don by the Robinsons, and to my everlasting dismay will never understand why those who wrote for the show the rest of the way abandoned his romance with Judy. It wasn't a chemistry problem, but, all the same, those responsible for the creative side of the show simply decided to not pursue the obvious. Just the same Maureen has a sweet moment with Don, telling him how they feel about him, and there is a warm chat between Maureen and John outside looking into the sky; both provide fine character moments. I also liked how John involves Maureen in his propulsion science and progress. I wished she were more involved in his work on the ship, but this episode is particularly special in following all the cast during the attempts to find a resolution behind a potential liftoff from the planet. The failures plaguing them and Dr. Smith's snide comments against them certainly provide some heated moments Smith's "audio book" covering the "exploits of galactic castaways", from his perspective obviously, just chides the likes of Don who find his pompous critique of their inability to solve liftoff issues less-than-constructive. From Will's attempts to send off a "message in a bottle" to the experimental propulsion tests, the efforts to get off the planet are nicely story-driven without too much juvenile excess disrupting the serious direction. After this, the show began to submit itself to a less than serious sci-fi approach, giving way to camp and buffoonery.
Exciting, adventurous plot with footage from the incredible unused pilot incorporated once again (putting to good use this footage was ingenious by the producers, not known over the long term for sterling work on the show) effectively, allowing for some well developed suspense and action. The friction between John and Don, and how working together solves perils that come against them, enhances the drama, with Smith's alone time with Robot not campy but story-focused. Smith's beginning "let them die" mentality, cold and uncaring, gives way to hope for their return, done so intelligently by showing how being all alone is perhaps worse than spending your time with those you might not necessarily like. His "no place like home" song/hum to Robot's guitar strumming as Will voices his frustrating is a funny moment that doesn't take anything away from the narrative; too bad the direction/script didn't remain as focused and mature later in the season and series as a whole. The opening of this episode got kicked off just right from the previous episode with a crumbling cavernous civilization collapsing thanks to a quake. Seeing how the family responds to conflict as tensions are high allows us to see them overcome differences and strife. One of the best episodes of the series.
"The only home your family probably ever had was a ready room on a launching pad." – Dr. Smith.