Summary: A well meaning but predictable and uninspiring rehash of standard Star Trek material.
Between the Vidiians and the Maalon, the disfigured race preying on other species and using their problems as justification has become a
"We come in bulky spacesuits"
staple of Voyager. But where the Vidiians were compelling as both monsters and victims, the alien species of Friendship One are merely a series of victims. The episode repeatedly suggests that they’re our victims and that Voyager should somehow feel guilty for their conditions, but Voyager had nothing to do with the launching of the probe and all the probe did was provide them with advanced technology meant to serve beneficial purposes. Their inability to properly use that technology was their own fault and responsibility.
That leaves us with the same Star Trek setup we’ve seen a thousand times before. There’s the bad ruthless alien, the potentially good but uncertain alien and the human interest female. Our crew attempts to convey our humanity to the aliens through personal exchanges which humanize them. The good alien helps Voyager thwart the schemes of the bad alien. There’s the red shirt whose off the cuff conversations about family make it certain that he’ll die before the episode is over. We’ve seen the same material used – in more innovative ways- before; and without any standout performances or dialogue, the show has little to contribute except the irony of Friendship One itself as a defense of the importance Prime Directive.
Though it doesn’t really accomplish this either since the problem wasn’t so much that the technology was given out but that it was given out blindly and without supervision. And they’re only saved by more interference from the Federation. This isn’t a very convincing criticism of Starfleet or exploration. And Janeway’s final statement about exploration not being worth the lives lost sounds ridiculous and bizarre since exploration, like it or not, runs precisely on those who gave their lives to see over into the next horizon. Star Trek has always acknowledged this and paid tribute to it, as recently as the far superior Voyager episode, One Small Step. Indeed Janeway’s entire policy has been to conduct exploration rather than a straight route home.
Friendship One had the potential to construct an intricate commentary on Starfleet and Voyager’s own mission using the trial of Friendship One, but One Small Step did a better job of handling that material. So all that was left was a lesson about helping people, but as in Insurrection that lesson was buried by the generic undistinguished nature of the people who needed to be helped, as well as their persistent whining about “nobody understanding how hard it is for them” which was more than a little reminiscent of the Baku’s touting their advanced spiritual values. Except where the Baku’s sense of superiority seemed to actually come from sort of accomplishments no matter how questionable, the FO species accomplishment was to be murderous, miserable and diseased.
Janeway’s initial incompetence e.g. failing to detect both an alien civilization and the people living there, even though Voyager had encountered a close cousin of this same state of affairs in Dragon’s Teeth, and then attempting to push Brin into giving up the hostages instead of demonstrating their good faith first finally and unexpectedly gives way to good command skills when she actually does the sane, practical thing and shockingly enough pulls off a successful rescue mission to release the hostages. Unfortunately by this point the hostages have developed Stockholm Syndrome and demonstrating very little regard for the fact that one of their friends and crewmembers was just murdered (Paris argues that it was only one man who did it, conveniently overlooking that it was their leader and that no one else found the act objectionable in the least) jostle Janeway into risking Voyager to clean up the planet’s atmosphere.
Considering that these people have anti-matter weapons and anti-matter missiles, it seems odd that Janeway doesn’t just propose giving
Friendship means saying "Sorry we blew up your planet"
them instructions for constructing their own ships and evacuating themselves. Or for that matter since it was doubtful that they could have produced anti-matter without leaving their planetary orbit, they should have had their own starships. Not that doing so would be a very smart idea, since the last thing the Delta Quadrant needs is another set of Vidians murdering and torturing people while whining about how hard their lives are. Voyager was quite ready to accept the Vidiians justifications for their actions and certainly has no trouble accepting the Friendship One species sense of self-righteous victimization. Wonder if it’ll make Lt. Carey’s family feel any better that his killers had “a bad childhood” ?
But this is characteristic of Friendship One as a paint-by-the numbers episode that relies on reusing Star Trek formulas to produce a predictable episode whose values are barely skin deep. After VGR of STTMP, the Mars spacecraft of One Small Step, the old American ship of Casino Royale and now Friendship One it seems a few too many old Earth space program vehicles have gone a lot further than they were supposed to go and it really strains all credulity that two of these would have ended up in the Delta Quadrant. Reusing this notion cheapens One Small Step and has no real purpose since this episode would have worked just as well if the aliens had found any advanced technology which they misused and blame all aliens for their own foolishness.
In part it seems Friendship One is introduced as a possible buildup for Series V. The entire fairly extraneous conversation about the timetable for the probe’s launch and Tuvok’s comment about its launch “preceding Starfleet” seems like it might have been planted as possible background for Series V. Or at the very least it may have been informed by the Series V premise. And I suppose it is a measure of how little Friendship One has to offer that its most intriguing aspect involves sifting a minor piece of dialogue for clues to the premise of the next series. And it may well be a clue as to how little Voyager’s seventh season has to offer as well.