The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 7

For previous installments of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

For previous installments of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:


During my heavy days of Star Trek, Voyager was certainly at the top of the list. Having the first female Captain on a mainstream series was pretty important to me. According to the A.V. Club‘s article, “Beam me up: A beginner’s guide to the Star Trek franchise“:

Just two years after the start of Deep Space Nine, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor launched yet another series, this one airing on the fledgling network UPN. Voyager started with a great “lost in space” premise but it’s mostly remembered for the ways it squandered it. Yet Voyager is not without its merits (as Ian Grey eloquently lays out); for those looking for a more explicitly feminist version of Star Trek, the series is a revelation. Outside of Kira, Trek has a habit of sidelining its ladies or saddling them with uninteresting plots. Voyager changed all that by focusing on its female characters while leaving most of its male characters with surface level storytelling (a nice inversion of the Next Gen model, though men still outnumber women two to one on Voyager). Most importantly, the show offered Trek’s first female protagonist in Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew, now of Orange Is The New Black fame).

Remarkably, Janeway remains one of the only female captains to serve as the leading protagonist of any sci-fi series. First and foremost a scientist, she’s a complicated woman of juxtapositions: stubborn yet willing to compromise, diplomatic yet aggressive, analytical yet empathetic. She splits the difference between Kirk’s warmth and Picard’s austerity. Best of all, she’s allowed to be both feminine and unquestionably in charge without slipping into the tropes of “the badass woman” so overused in genre fiction. (Whether or not it’s a coincidence that the sole female captain receives the most vitriolic hatred from the fandom is up for debate.) Voyager’s commitment to female representation also extends to a budding medical student named Kes (Jennifer Lien) and a chief engineer named B’Elanna Torres (Hispanic actress Roxann Dawson; only the second woman of color in a leading Star Trek role). B’Elanna’s competency as an engineer is never once questioned, but nor is her character unrealistically idealized. Her half-Klingon heritage allows the show to explore bi-racial identities with a surprising degree of nuance (“Lineage”). Voyager routinely blasts the Bechdel test into oblivion with extended scenes in which female characters discuss science, philosophy, and morality. Episodes like “Day Of Honor” center plots and subplots on multiple female characters—truly going where no Trek had gone before.

The solid series opener, “Caretaker,” sees the titular ship stranded 75-years from home in the uncharted Delta Quadrant where Janeway must join forces with a group of Federation rebels called the Maquis. The combined crew includes her new first officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran), a Native American whose culture is unfortunately generalized; a Vulcan named Tuvok (Tim Russ whose calm, logical demeanor once again defies stereotypes of black men); pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill, the only white male protagonist on the bridge); naïve ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang); friendly Delta Quadrant alien Neelix (Ethan Phillips); and a holographic medical program known only as The Doctor (Robert Picardo).

But what promised to be a darker show built around conflict quickly became a crisis-of-the-week adventure program. Voyager was never particularly interested in examining the differences between its Starfleet and Maquis crews or exploring the terror of being trapped far from home with limited supplies. If The Original Series pulled from Western tropes, Voyager is more like The Brady Bunch—a blended family whose problems will be resolved by episode’s end. As other shows of the late ’90s began experimenting with serialized storytelling, Voyager was content to reset things at the end of each episode (usually thanks to some combination of nanoprobes and mind melds).

That said, the show embraces its Pollyannish-vibe with a wonderful degree of self-awareness. The most dangerous thing “bad boy” pilot Tom Paris does is spend his spare time acting out cheesy 1930s sci-fi movies in the holodeck with his somehow even nerdier friend Harry Kim (“The Bride Of Chaotica”). Voyager is often willing to make fun of itself, as in the excellent time travel adventure “Deadlock,” when Janeway dismisses a whole host of moral concerns with a brief, “We’re Starfleet officers. Weird is part of the job.” Voyager is best enjoyed in smaller bursts, with affection for the characters helping to get viewers through the rougher patches (as it does for any Star Trek series). The show’s second season is its weakest, while seasons three through five see a notable uptick in quality.

Picardo is the actor rightly singled out for his work as a permanently active hologram struggling with the limitations of his programming in episodes like “Latent Image” and “Message In A Bottle.” Yet despite Picardo’s talents, The Doctor never fulfilled the outsider archetype as well as Spock, Data, and Odo. Instead, that role was better explored by Seven Of Nine (Jeri Ryan)—a former Borg rescued by Voyager in the third season finale “The Scorpion.” The Doctor and Janeway become her mentors in humanity, allowing Voyager to reimagine the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triangle from a slightly different angle (one with two female points). Ryan’s unmatched talent for finding humor and pathos in Seven’s aggressive awkwardness gave Voyager a new spark. In episodes like “The Gift,” “The Raven,” “One,” “Infinite Regress,” and “Someone To Watch Over Me,” Seven’s journey to humanity is as compelling as Voyager’s journey home. Frustratingly, while the character is always referenced in regards to her slinky catsuit, Seven Of Nine and the actor who played her have not yet claimed their rightful spots in the top of the Trek pantheon.

Given the relative lack of serialized storytelling, it’s easy to watch most Voyagerepisodes at random. “Night,” “Timeless,” “Equinox,” and “The Year Of Hell” explore the darker sides of being lost in space, while George Takei makes a welcome return in the 30th anniversary celebration, “Flashback.” Voyager tended to embrace its twisty sci-fi premises even more than its predecessor in episodes like “Blink Of An Eye,” “Scientific Method,” and “Waking Moments.” The WWII-themed “The Killing Game” is one of the best holodeck stories in any Trek series. For those looking to introduce their kids Star Trek, Voyager’s colorful, cheerful world is not a bad place to start.


Star Trek: Voyager in particular passes the Bechdel test, especially during it’s fifth season (Source).

I arguably grew up watching Captain Janeway alongside other female characters like Xena from Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But, unfortunately, in the anticipation that Voyager would follow The Original Series and The Next Generation into films was sadly thwarted when Admiral Janeway contacted Captain Picard in the film, Star Trek: Nemesis. This may have been because Voyager remains one of the most criticized of the Star Trek series (arguably, I think Enterprise was more so a travesty, until it’s final season). According to the Tor article, “Janeway Doesn’t Deserve This Shit“:

Star Trek: Voyager is my favorite Star Trek series. Prompted in part by my own recent rewatch of the series and in part by this great piece on Princess Leia, I’d like to take a moment to talk about Captain Kathryn Janeway.

Janeway is my favorite Star Trek captain. And while I would typically content myself with liking what I like quietly and leaving each to their own, in this particular case I feel the opinion needs defending. I think fandom should give Janeway a break.

Criticism of Voyager and of Janeway herself ranges from staff writer Ryan Britt’s relatively mild declaration that it is “the SECOND most hated Star Trek show of them all” to claims that Janeway “destroyed Star Trek.” On fan sites, Janeway consistently tops polls of the worst Star Trek captain (here are some quick examples, with plenty of criticism as you scroll on down). Even Google’s caught on: one of the related searches for “worst star trek captain” is “captain janeway worst.” Thankfully the news isn’t all bad, though ocasionally things written in defense of Janeway use her as more of a joke than a leader.

On the whole, reactions to Janeway tend to be skeptical and dismissive, with much of the criticism headed into territory that is vitriolic or downright sexist.

Perhaps my “favorite” (snark quotes) piece of criticism of her, at the moment:

“What they needed was a take charge, dynamic female Captain, what they gave us was a moralizing, overly-liberal pushover all too willing to throw her crew’s life away for no reason at all if it made her seem superior and at least as interested in prancing around in frilly dresses on the holodeck as she is in leading her crew.” (source)

Wait, Janeway wears frilly dresses? Wait, you mean Janeway was a girl under that uniform? Well hold the presses, folks, we didn’t realize that there was a danger of a vagina-afflicted person being in charge around here.

This level of negativity in criticism makes me wonder if we even watched the same show. I saw a complicated, capable, gutsy leader who made hard decisions for seven seasons. What did you see?

Voyager originally aired when I was 12 and ran through the year I graduated from high school. Which means, in essence, that I grew up watching it. More than any other regularly scheduled media, Voyager defined what I loved and knew in television as a young adult.

Over and over again in my recent rewatch, I stopped to admire Janeway. I find myself deeply grateful that I grew up with her character in my life, and somewhat surprised that I had forgotten how fantastic she is.

Janeway is a strong female character to rock all strong female characters: A leader who is female-gendered, in touch with her sense of gender, and yet invested with a non-gendered position of highest responsibility which she executes with capability and compassion.

And in the entire series of Voyager, her ability to lead because she is female is literally questioned twice. Once by Q, whom we expect to be a gigantic space-jerk as a matter of course, and again by the Kazon, an alien species painted for the most part as unadvanced and savage. Her gender is never an issue with her crew, and is basically ignored by the show as completely irrelevant in regards to her capability as a leader.

This is why I think Voyager is fantastic, and why I think Janeway is an amazing character; because the show chooses to deal with the question of a female captain by not making it a question.

That is radical. Radical, and rare. Can anyone name another show with a female lead who is first in command, extremely capable, not defined by her gender, and does not need to defend her abilities or prove herself because she happens to be a woman?

I cannot think of another female character in sc-fi/fantasy television who accomplishes this. Can you? This is a serious question; I haven’t seen everything there is to see, and I’d love it if I could put another unquestioned, badass female (or a gender other than male) leader on my list. Zoe Washburne, Buffy Summer,s and Laura Roslin, sadly, do not make this cut; Zoe is second-in-command, Buffy and Laura both deal with gendered criticism constantly. (By the way, for a fantastic analysis of these characters, Janeway’s gender and the ways in which Janeway is unique as a female leader, I highly recommend you read Anita Sarkesian’s thesis.) As per the Princess Leia link above, delving into movies and other media makes this a slightly easier question…but only slightly.

So why doesn’t Janeway get a place on every top 10 list for great female characters? Is it because she’s a Star Trek captain? Because she’s weighed down as a character by flaws in the show itself?

My experience within Star Trek fandom is that we have a tendency to consider each series primarily through the character of its captain, rendering the remaining characters, the plot and the premise secondary to the personality in the big chair. Voyager as a show undeniably has issues: its premise confines it to repetition, it often covers ground that was touched upon in TNG rather than breaking into new territory, and it has its fair share of episodes that are spectacularly bad. But it would be difficult to argue that TOS and TNG were not also repetitive and occasionally terrible, and while Voyagerdoes rely heavily upon the shows that came before it, it also breaks ground into new ideas. More critically, it doesn’t make much sense to hang the burdens of occasionally poor show writing on Janeway’s shoulders.

As I said, Janeway is rare. Perhaps one of a kind. Her uniqueness as a representation of leadership is more important to me than the nuances of comparing her actions meticulously, episode by episode, to the men who have held similar roles. I struggle to come up with another fictional female character in my life who is so precisely what I would want to be, the type of character I’m glad my parents showed me, and the type of character I would encourage my hypothetical daughter to love.

Here’s what I’m saying. It’s not that I think you should necessarily agree with me that Janeway is the best Star Trekcaptain. I am not interested in convincing others to fall in line with my particular form of nerd evangelism. I know Picard is a badass and that in a blow-by-blow analysis of their leadership abilities we’d probably all talk ourselves hoarse, or maybe overload from rampant fandom particles.

It is also not that I think the character of Janeway is above criticism. No character is above criticism. Janeway has her share of ridiculous moments, short-sighted decision making, and poor choices in leadership, just as Kirk, for example, has his share of ridiculous moments, short-sighted decision making, and poor choices in leadership.

It is that to break down, dismiss or belittle the character of Janeway is not simply to break down a character. It is to break down, dismiss or belittle a woman in a radical leadership role. And maybe, just maybe, it is more important to support strong female characters than it is to rank Star Trek captains.

It is that to say Voyager is the second worst Star Trek series is to ignore that, from a feminist perspective, Voyager is by far the best Star Trek series.

It seems that many of my communities are paying particular attention to gender right now, and the ways in which women are treated badly as a matter of course. So perhaps this is a good time to think about fictional worlds that don’t have sexism baked in. Perhaps it is also a good time to point out that casual criticisms of female characters, especially criticisms concerning emotions, decision-making, leadership ability, and work/life balance (ugh) always come with the hint of “because she’s a woman” tacked on the end. But if that tone is making you feel a little sick and tired, hey, you could always watch some Voyager.

Personally, I don’t particularly want Amazonian warriors or supermodels with gadgets and leather catsuits as role models for women and girls like myself in sci-fi media. I want women, who just happen to be women, who do the exact same job a man would do in their place, and who don’t have to constantly defend their choices or techniques because of their gender—because nobody in their world gives a damn about their gender.

The ethics of Star Trek: Voyager can be summed up as, according to Philosophy Now‘s article, “The Ethics of Star Trek by Barad & Robertson“:

Voyager’s ethics is “an amalgam comprised of existentialism, various duty principles, and both Aristotelian and Platonic virtue.” Captain Janeway is also a Kantian who employs situation ethics. Like Sisko, Janeway “shows a streak of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, surrendering all reason and taking a leap of faith in order to save Kes” despite her ship’s instruments warning of danger.

The authors comment that the suicidal Heaven’s Gate cult members were avid Star Trek fans. However, “their final action clearly flew in the face of its creator’s underlying message: that only with critical thinking can we solve the problems facing us.” The authors might have drawn parallels between Janeway’s leap of faith and that taken by the members of Heaven’s Gate. In neither case, however, should irrational leaps of faith be admired or emulated, but recognized for their potentially disastrous consequences.

The authors also identify another character who they feel undergoes spiritual enlightenment, the former Borg drone called Seven of Nine. They claim that in the episode ‘The Omega Directive’, Seven “is momentarily stupefied upon seeing how mistaken she was about reality, in this case spiritual reality.” In my view, this interpretation is wrong. Like The Next Generation’s Ensign Ro Laren, Seven concludes that she should not have discounted myth. However, while Ro was reconsidering whether the myths were true, Seven seemed to consider only that myths may have value in providing meaning and assisting in our understanding of the world.


The Best:

Unimatrix Zero Part II, Nightingale, Flesh and Blood, Shattered, Lineage, The Void, Workforce, Q2, and Friendship One


In portions:

  • Unimatrix Zero, Part II sees Captain Janeway, Commander Tuvok, and B’Elanna Torres attempt to release a virus into the Borg Collective so that way members of Unimatrix Zero will be able to retain their memories in the real world;
  • Nightingale sees Ensign Harry Kim take command of a Kraylor vessel;
  • Flesh and Blood sees Voyager up against sentient holograms created from technology that Janeway gave the Hirgoen;
  • Shattered is a fantastic time travel-esque story featuring the return of Seska;
  • In Lineage, B’Elanna discovers that she is pregnant, and attempts to have the child’s genetics changed;
  • The Void sees Voyager get pulled into a pocket of sub-space occupied by several other vessels;
  • In Workforce, the crew of Voyager are abducted, with their memories altered, and put into a labor workforce, bearing similarities to the Stargate SG-1 episode, Beneath the Surface;
  • Q2 sees Q leaves his undisciplined son, Q Junior (played by Keegan de Lancie), in the care of his godmother, Captain Janeway; and,
  • Friendship One sees the crew of Voyager in search of a space probe launched in the 21st century.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Unimatrix Zero, Part II:

The funny thing about the implausible but well-crafted “Unimatrix Zero, Part II” is that it more or less plays out the only way it possibly could’ve. Everything here borders on the inevitable.

Obviously, Our Heroes would not still be Borg drones by the end of the episode (beware the Reset Button). Obviously, the crew’s plan to subvert the hive mind and help the individualized Borg in Unimatrix Zero would be successful. Obviously, there would be some snags in the plan along the way. Obviously, Seven’s romantic theme would play into the human storyline. Obviously, the setup in part one called for an eventual Borg insurgence within the collective, which would happen here. Obviously, a big season-opening budget would provide us with all the production design, makeup, and visual effects to give it a slick, high-tech look — yet another episode that proves this is one of, if not the, best-looking sci-fi shows on television.

What we have here is a story that contains few surprises but works so efficiently that it hardly matters. This is not an inspired episode of Voyager, or even a believable one, but it is an entertaining and interesting one, and it hints that there may be a Bigger Picture [TM] concerning the Borg that might be revisited down the line.

What I expected of “UMZ II” was pretty much what I got — a solid-on-its-own-terms cliffhanger resolution that left me puzzled with questions about the Borg (and especially, of course, the Borg Queen), but provided enough change in the Borg’s situation to justify the effort and revisions used to get there.

Oh, the contrivances and silliness are here. I for one would still like to know how any Starfleet officer wakes up in the morning and decides they’re going to march into a Borg cube and get assimilated (here, saw my hand off while I sit and watch calmly). Convenient how Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres all manage to get Assimilation Lite, which means no amputations or ocular implants. Even more convenient that they’re able to remain individualized — separate from the hive mind, thanks to a magical device called a “neural suppressor.” (Why wasn’t such a device invented long before this? It probably could’ve been the undoing of the Borg centuries ago.) This allows them to walk about the Borg ship without easily being detected or detained, so they can set the Master Plan in motion.

Said plan suggests that the Borg need to renew their McAfee VirusScan license, not to mention establish a firewall between possible individualized Voyager crew drones and crucial network areas of the ship. Janeway et al are able to (easily) make their way to the ship’s “central plexus,” where Torres uploads the virus into the system, where it promptly spreads through the Borg collective. This virus has been designed to allow the drones who exist as individuals in the virtual reality realm Unimatrix Zero to retain their individuality when they awaken from their regeneration state, severing them from the collective. It also allows them to remember what ship they exist on in real life when they enter UMZ, supplying the Borg resistance movement some tactical means to subvert the hive. This is a neat concept, even though it makes Borg security look like Swiss cheese. (With all those drones walking around doing who-knows-what, you’d think some armed guards protecting crucial network areas of the collective would be prudent.)

Meanwhile there’s a problem with Tuvok; his neural suppressor is not getting the job done, and his connection with the hive begins to turn him into a drone. This also allows the Borg Queen to figure out Janeway & Co.’s whereabouts in the collective and realize what they’re doing. You’d think that the last person to have problems resisting the collective would be the mentally disciplined Tuvok, but there you are.

Subsequently, Janeway is held captive and the Borg Queen attempts to negotiate a surrender of the individualized Borg drones in UMZ. In a potent scene, the Queen destroys two entire Borg vessels with tens of thousands of drones because a handful of Borg on board had been severed from the collective, outside its control. This plays Janeway’s conscience and respect for life against her own need to see the Borg’s undoing: It hurts to watch Borg cubes incinerated by the collective will because of her own actions, but she’ll be damned if she’s going to give into the Queen’s attempt to put down the insurgence (“You’ll have to destroy the entire collective to find them all”).

There are some other nice character touches in the episode, including some mildly ironic debating between Chakotay and Paris concerning command decisions, where Chakotay plays the Janeway role and Paris plays the Chakotay role.

Seven’s romance with Axum (Mark Deakins) is more or less by the numbers, but the fact that it’s Seven we’re dealing with makes it a situation that seems halfway new. There’s also a wonderfully acted and directed scene between Doc and Seven where they discuss this possible romance. As always, Doc/Seven is a character pairing that never seems to fail on this series. The subtle nuances in Robert Picardo’s performance reveal Doc’s true feelings for Seven without needing a single line of dialog to remind us.

As for the Borg Queen … there’s a fine line between a mystery and a muddle, and everything about the Queen resides on the “muddle” side of that line. What is the Queen’s purpose? She is the collective personified as far as I can tell, used solely as a narrative tool so the audience knows what’s going on and why. There are scenes where the Queen talks to herself to explain to us that links have been severed. Unlikely, but probably necessary for a television story. And there’s also a scene where the Queen tells a child that she also was assimilated as a child. ‘Scuse me? I always figured the Queen — who has been “killed” twice — was a symbolic drone simply assembled on demand. After “UMZ II” there’s nothing for me to do but admit but logical defeat; there is no logic to apply here. (I highly doubt that even Braga & Menosky understand, or care about, the Borg rules that they’ve written by.)

A lot of people are unhappy that the Borg have been reduced to a presence that is no longer remotely intimidating or threatening. I will not be arguing that position, because the Borg have not been intimidating for years. There’s no going back to what the Borg were in their TNG heyday, so I’m all about moving forward. The direction that “UMZ II” takes seems to me like a reasonable direction. It’s certainly a better direction than the one proposed (and ultimately rejected) byTNG‘s “Descent.”

The conclusion provides what I mean: the simple but intriguing concept of a Borg civil war. Yes, I wondered how General Korok (Jerome Butler), the Klingon drone from UMZ, could take command of an entire Borg ship with thousands of drones against him. And in thinking about it, I’m even a little hazy about the notion of the Queen delivering the second virus in UMZ. (If these drones can be traced through the Borg network to UMZ, surely they can be traced back to their real-life locations? I suppose the UMZ drones have a better-trained network administrator.) But the sight of one Borg ship firing on another is so bizarre, twisted, and interesting that I didn’t care about the logical questions. I for one hope the Borg are changed forever. Heck, I wouldn’t mind seeing this arc played all the way through until the Borg collective has fallen. That seems to be the direction we’re headed in, and we certainly could use a storyline with a direction on this series.

“UMZ II” is such an efficient hour of production, in fact, that in retrospect it almost feels mechanical and preordained. It’s an exercise in technical mastery more than it is creative storytelling. It lacks passion. It’s a Borg drone.

And yet with sly conviction, it peddles BS like only the best door-to-door salesmen. Even though you know it’s BS, you still want to buy it. Logic suggests that this story is so full of holes it’s an incomprehensible mess. But somehow, it’s not. It’s remarkably confident on its terms, and it swept me along for the ride. Resistance was, as they say (but not anymore), futile.

According to the Jammers Reviews review of Nightingale:

“Nightingale” didn’t do much for me. I’m not entirely sure whether to blame the episode or the series as a whole, so I’ll do the honorable thing and blame both.

But in all seriousness, an episode like “Nightingale” suffers all the more because it’s an example of the adage “too little, too late.”

Well, too bad.

Ensign Harry Kim, as many people undoubtedly know, is by far not my favorite Voyager character. In my view, he’s the best candidate for ripping apart and making fun. The writers apparently share that view, and frequently give him episodes where he’s the butt of the joke. (The story break meetings must boil down to: “That darn Harry! He’s such a funny, naive kid! How green can we make him this week?”) Witness the very end of “Inside Man,” for example, and you see Harry being the victim of a joke that seems to reinforce the fact that he hasn’t advanced a step forward since day one. Besides, when the character is saddled with episodes like “Favorite Son” or “The Disease,” how can we possibly believe the writers see him as anything more than the lovable goofball who gets some of the worst shows?

Now we get “Nightingale,” which seems to be a last-ditch effort by the writing staff to redeem themselves for years of Harry non-growth. Does it work? Not really. Could it have? I’m honestly not sure. The show wants us to accept Harry as a starship captain. That’s sort of like asking us to accept Tuvok as a stand-up comedian.

Harry ends up in command of a ship by complete accident, which is perhaps a telling sign. Wandering into an alien conflict by chance, Harry makes a choice while on a Delta Flyer mission with Seven and Neelix: He opts to stop one ship from firing on another. Strictly speaking as a matter of policy, the conflict is not his concern, but humanitarian instincts tell him that saving the crippled ship under attack is the right thing to do.

The decision he makes is not a bad one, though it will raise complications later. When the Delta Flyer crew boards the vessel to tend to survivors, Harry finds that the ship’s captain and senior officers have all been killed (how convenient!), and this crippled ship needs the help of experienced personnel to make repairs. They’re called the Kraylor, and they say they’re on a mission of mercy to deliver medicine to their world. They need protection from the Annari, who are the ones who attacked them. They are particularly vulnerable without their cloaking device working.

Harry offers them help in making repairs, after which they ask if he would be willing to take command of their ship and take them to safety. He routes them to Voyager‘s position and asks Janeway for an opportunity to see this mission through. There’s a speech here where Harry makes his case for getting his first “real command” — which is a relevant idea after all these years — and he even makes mention of the fact he’s been an ensign for the past six years (“If we were back home, I’d be a lieutenant by now — maybe even a lieutenant commander”). Not that Janeway couldn’t have given him a field promotion at any time; she gave rank to the Maquis officers and promoted Tuvok (and Paris, after demoting him), but never mind.

So Janeway gives Harry his chance to sit in the big chair of this Kraylor vessel. Harry takes command of the Kraylor ship and quickly names it the Nightingale, hence the episode’s title. There’s a complication here: The Annari, the Kraylor’s enemies, are in the middle of some trade negotiations with Voyager, so Harry’s mission must be conducted outside their knowledge.

The problem with “Nightingale” is that the crises are far too obvious and the story is not subtle enough. Harry takes command, and it’s almost as if the power of the captain’s chair instantly rushes straight to his head and turns him into a magnified version of his already blatantly naive self. As captain, he’s an annoying micromanager, giving an order to his officer and then practically shoving the officer out of the way to do it himself, so it’s done right.

Also, Harry carries an air of arrogance that practically snuffs out our sympathy for him. He doesn’t gain the respect of those under him and instead assumes he has it because he sits in the captain’s chair. Frankly, if I were serving under him, he wouldn’t have my respect either. (Does Harry have a single character trait besides being green?)

The best scenes are probably the ones where Seven kicks Harry in the rear with her direct opinions (“There is a malfunction in one of the ship’s systems — its captain.”) whenever he makes a mistake. But he should already be realizing these mistakes if he ever commandedVoyager during the night shift. By throwing us such ham-fisted Harry actions, the story doesn’t really give us a sampling of Harry’s abilities but instead examples of why he shouldn’t even be in the chair in the first place.

There’s some extra plotting to “Nightingale” involving the hidden motives of the Kraylor, as mostly filtered through the mysterious character of Dr. Loken (Ron Glass). They aren’t trying to deliver medical supplies but instead the ship’s prototype cloaking device. This exposed deception leads Harry to order the mission abandoned, at which point the crew answers in mutiny by refusing to follow his order to turn around. Harry decides it best to flee the ship in an escape pod rather than be a party to delivering military equipment. But then he changes his mind after getting dressed down by Seven and decides to see the mission through anyway, at which point I wondered if a crew would really accept him back. (Somewhat indulgent is the show’s portrayal of Harry as heroic for coming to this decision, and making so much of his return to the bridge.)

There’s a B-story in “Nightingale” that goes down as one of the most disposable filler B-stories in some time. It involves Icheb coming to terms with an unexpected crush on B’Elanna. Being unfamiliar with romantic signals, he perceives simple friendliness as signs that B’Elanna has an interest in him. While not offensive, this subplot is the lightest of lightweight and not one bit necessary or interesting. The comic “twist” is when Icheb confuses the facts until he’s telling B’Elanna they must “stop seeing each other.” The story misses its lighthearted payoff moment by showing B’Elanna annoyed after the strange misunderstanding instead of smiling at the absurdity of it. (C’mon, ‘Lanna — lighten up!)

Now that I think about it, I don’t know that this show could’ve actually succeeded. It’s probably unfair that “Nightingale” suffers from the mistakes that were made before — and perhaps it reveals my bias against a character long reduced to a single joke. But this is a show that can’t really work as entertainment unless we feel the central dilemma about Harry is worth our time. All the alien conflicts and hidden agendas are just stock McGuffin material (and too mediocre to be compelling); the real story is about Harry. And I can’t really say that the real story is anything but mediocre either. The ending in particular doesn’t ring true, because it shows that Harry seems to think he’s captain material. He’s not. But the episode seems to want us to think he is, or at least that he might be someday down the road.

I dunno. By the end of the episode I didn’t get the sense that Harry learned much of anything. What’s more, I didn’t really care.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Flesh and Blood:

It’s probably the end of the road for anything relating to the holodeck or holograms; with “Flesh and Blood,” the Voyager writers have taken the concept as far as it can go. They’ve done it here with an abundance of compelling arguments and smart ideas, which is more than enough for me to set aside qualms with cans of worms opened by exploring these issues.

I complained — quite loudly, in fact — about last season’s dreadful “Spirit Folk” and to a lesser extent “Fair Haven.” Both of those episodes were stupid holodeck farces that didn’t have the brains to overcome the problems of their implausibility. But with “Flesh and Blood,” the fate of holograms and their rights as possible lifeforms is a big chunk of the point. There’s some genuine depth here. It’s miles ahead of a silly example of the holodeck running awry. It’s also miles ahead of fourth season’s “The Killing Game,” to which this two-parter serves as a sequel. “The Killing Game” was an action show with no brains, whereas “Flesh and Blood” is an action show with interesting issues and debate.

Like “Killing Game,” this outing involves the Hirogen. It builds upon the previous episode’s end solution, where Janeway negotiated a truce by offering the Hirogen holodeck technology so they could simulate their hunts as an alternative to hunting sentient beings.

Yeah, yeah — I have to ask what the Hirogen are even doing way out here. It makes somewhere between very little and zero sense thatVoyager could run into Hirogen who were affected by Voyager‘s actions three years ago. I suppose they’ve been steadily moving toward the Alpha Quadrant too, in leaps and bounds, in order to thank Starfleet for giving them the holo-technology. Uh-huh.

Never mind. That’s the underlying continuity/believability-breaker, but it’s fairly minor and not worth dwelling on. (Given how flexible Voyager‘s position in the Delta Quadrant has been in the past, if the writers are going to break this rule again, they might as well do it for a worthwhile story, which this turns out to be.)

A distress signal brings Voyager to a Hirogen training facility where something has gone very wrong. The facility is a big holodeck, and it turns out that the holograms here took control of their environment and slaughtered all the Hirogen hunters on board. They then transferred their programs to a vessel equipped with hologram emitters and escaped. The only survivor the Voyager crew finds on the facility is a young Hirogen engineer named Donik (Ryan Bollman), a non-hunter who had the sense (or cowardice, depending on your walk of life) to hide.

How did this massacre happen? The Hirogen at first claim the technology went spontaneously berserk, but it turns out they’re lying; Donik’s job as a hologram engineer was to modify the holograms so they could learn and adapt. These aren’t your average holograms; they’re special holograms on a level as advanced as the Doctor — thinking, learning, sentient AI.

Janeway agrees to help the Hirogen hunt down the renegade holograms and deactivate them. Forming an uneasy alliance (featuring the expected dosage of tension between Janeway and the Hirogen leaders), they undertake a mission that Janeway feels obligated to carry out; she gave the Hirogen this technology three years ago, and she doesn’t want it becoming a roaming threat. The Hirogen, of course, see this mission as another hunt.

The story gets much more complicated when the holograms abduct the Doctor, transferring his program to their vessel. They are led by a man named Iden (Jeff Yagher), a hologram with Bajoran form. Iden tells Doc that the holograms are fighting for their own freedom and survival; the Hirogen use them simply as programmed prey, but, like Doc, they have the ability to evolve beyond their programming. Iden sees himself as a liberator; after he freed himself and obtained a ship, he liberated holograms from three Hirogen facilities, and intends to free more of “his people.”

The beauty of the episode is its plentiful complexity. It’s not simply about hunting the holograms, and it’s not simply about the possibility that hunting down these holograms is wrong. It’s about the dialog and situations that arise in the meantime, prompting us to ponder both sides of the issue. Who are these holograms, and have they earned the status of having rights? At what point does technology attain rights, exactly? Would reprogramming the technology to regress it into something more rudimentary be tantamount to a forced lobotomy? And would deactivating such technology be the same as imprisonment or a death sentence?

With its two-hour length, “Flesh and Blood” has plenty of time to dive into a lot of well-written discussions, in addition to the action that moves the story forward. Many of these discussions are between Iden and Doc and reveal different points of view, both of which have merit when considering the characters’ origins. Iden thinks of Doc as a slave who serves “organics.” Doc doesn’t see it that way, since he has been afforded the opportunities to pursue interests that push beyond the boundaries of his original function. But Iden’s prejudices against organics are certainly understandable. He was programmed to be hunted and killed over and over again by Hirogen hunters. His purpose was essentially one to be tortured (the Hirogen, thorough in their desire to create credible prey, programmed these holograms with the capacity to feel pain and suffering).

There’s a nightmarish sequence where Doc suddenly finds himself being hunted by a sadistic Hirogen. This turns out to be an implanted memory from one of Iden’s own people. There’s perhaps nothing quite like living through the plight of someone else to possibly understand where they’re coming from (cf. last season’s “Memorial”).

There’s an abundance of plotting in the story’s two hours, including several ship chases, a few clever tactical maneuvers, Hirogen ships firing on the holograms and on Voyager (and vice-versa), a technical procedure contrived by Torres as a temporary measure to try to shut down all the holograms’ programs, and a trek through a nebula. Between directors Mike Vejar (part one) and David Livingston (part two) and all the writers involved in scripting the two teleplays, “Flesh and Blood” is well constructed and well paced. A lot happens, but we’re never lost, and the story keeps a firm grasp on all the details to make it something that makes sense and also remains entertaining.

As a sign of trust, Iden agrees to negotiate, transporting Doc back toVoyager, where he pleads with Janeway to consider the holograms’ position. Intriguing is how Janeway’s position on the matter doesn’t depict her as the episode’s hero; she’s more of an antagonist if we were to assume Doc as the story’s hero. She won’t put others in the potentially dangerous path of these holograms, even if means deactivating them. Really, there aren’t clear-cut heroes anywhere here, which is to the story’s credit. Instead, there are viewpoints. Janeway’s position at least partially stems from the guilt of having uncorked these holograms by sharing the holo-technology in the first place. Doc is so immersed in the plight of others of his “kind” that he flees Voyager and willingly returns to assist the holograms.

All of this is well documented by the plot, but what makes this story stand out are the details in the characterization, particularly once Torres is beamed to the holograms’ vessel to help them build a generator that will allow them to live on an isolated world. (Iden says his mission isn’t one of continued violence, but finding a place where his people can live peacefully without being hunted by the Hirogen.)

Even the choices for the holograms’ forms proves interesting. Iden’s Bajoran identity is appropriate given DS9‘s milieu of Bajoran freedom fighters trying to end oppression, and Iden even comes preprogrammed with spiritual beliefs. There’s also a Cardassian hologram character here, named Kejal (Cindy Katz). Her name is of Bajoran origin, given to her by Iden, which translates as “Freedom.”

The Doc/Iden scenes are good, but equally impressive are the more subtle discussions between Torres and Kejal. Torres isn’t sure if helping these holograms is a good idea, since the technology she’s rigging could be abused for hostile purposes. I appreciated the added dynamic of Torres’ discomfort with Cardassians, held over from her old Maquis days. There’s a nifty little nod to stereotypes of Klingons and Cardassians, and an even niftier point where Kejal draws a parallel between Torres joining the Maquis to fight Cardassian oppressors and the holograms’ current uprising against the Hirogen. (I’m tempted to wonder how much irrelevant Alpha Quadrant information these holograms would’ve been provided by the Hirogen, but why quibble.)

The story’s latter passages involve a turning point where Iden evolves from what appears a sincere freedom fighter into a megalomaniac who sees himself as a messiah to save all enslaved holograms. This turning point is probably a bit extreme and sudden, but still reasonably portrayed. There’s a well-depicted example of pointless violence where Iden steals some holograms from a passing merchant vessel, and then destroys the ship and its two “organic” pilots. The holograms he stole turn out to be non-sentient drones capable of only a few rudimentary functions. They do not have the ability to grow the way Iden and his crew do.

Which is interesting, because one of the implicit ideas here is the contrasting level of growth between Iden and Kejal. Iden’s megalomania stems from his hatred of the Hirogen and the violent tendencies they programmed him with — tendencies he ultimately is not able to overcome. He constantly goes back to his nature of fighting any organics who stand in the way of his holographic society.

Kejal, on the other hand, is able to grow beyond her original violent directives. (Earlier, Torres tells Kejal, with a tone that hints of personal experience, “It’s not easy to change who you are. Trust me.”) The notion of preprogrammed instincts and one’s ability to grow beyond them (or not) hints at the “nature vs. environment” debate, something I’ll mention but won’t elaborate on (since I can’t go on forever). What permitted Kejal, but not Iden, to evolve beyond her inherent violence? Was it fate? The difference in their overall purpose and experiences? These are typically human questions, aptly applied here to artificial intelligence.

The end of the story involves a massacre scenario where Iden beams a ship full of Hirogen to the surface of a harsh planet, and intends to wreak vengeance upon his oppressors by turning the hunters into the hunted. It’s a decent idea, ultimately forcing Doc to kill Iden to end the cycle of violence, but it’s not all that original and doesn’t quite live up to the subtler arguments earlier in the episode. It’s executed at a breakneck pace, cramming what could’ve played as a long action scene into a surprisingly short amount of time — but it somehow remains coherent.

The performances and guest performances are on target. Jeff Yagher brings urgency and sincerity to Iden; Cindy Katz portrays a calm and confident Cardassian; and Ryan Bollman is good as the scared young Hirogen engineer who shows that at least one Hirogen character doesn’t have to growl every time he has a line.

“Flesh and Blood” is a well-crafted Voyager outing. As an “epic two-hour telefilm!” it’s by far the best of the series’ three (excluding the pilot), the other two being the dumb and bloated “Killing Game” and the entertaining but relatively thin “Dark Frontier.” As a holodeck show, it puts most others to shame by thinking about the issues it raises instead of bulldozing through them in favor of idiotic farce (“Spirit Folk”) or sidestepping necessary questions of programming capability (“Nothing Human”). It’s an adventure that uses characters and ideas wisely, and the best outing so far this season.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Shattered:

A lot of “Shattered” plays like a flashback clip show, except the clips have been shot new instead of plundered from the film archive. We’ve got characters from probably half a dozen timelines popping up, with references to past shows thrown in for fun. It’s like an assemblage of random episodes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t serve a story so much as it serves a bland set of procedures.

It’s like, hey, let’s go through old scripts and throw … this in. What’s that? Why, it’s a macrovirus. Do you remember the macroviruses from the episode “Macrocosm”? Unfortunately I do, but that’s beside the point. There’s so little actual substance here that the story spends a lot of its time borrowing material from other episodes. Meanwhile, we’ve got all these characters introduced from other timelines, past and future. This is bad for the forward flow of the story because every time we encounter a new set of characters we have to wait while the characters who already know what’s going on stop and explain what’s happening to those who don’t. It grows tedious.

What’s happening here is yet another take on “shattered time,” something done plenty of times before in Trek, whether it was Voyager‘s “Relativity” or TNG‘s “All Good Things…” or “Timescape.”

Of course, the first thing you’d better know going in is that this isn’t science fiction, it’s goofy science fantasy. The plot for “Shattered” does more than strain credulity; to say it pushes the envelope of believability — even for a Trek time-manipulation premise — is putting it mildly. We have the starship Voyager, which comes in contact with This Week’s Random Spatial Anomaly, causing the ship to be divided into segments, where each of these segments exists in a different time frame, whether it’s seven years ago, five years ago, today, or 17 years in the future.

The person at the mercy of this plot is Chakotay, who is the only crew member unaffected by the time manipulation’s effects because of a “chronoton-infused serum” Doc concocted after Chakotay was zapped by the anomaly. This serum allows him to pass from section to section of the ship without his memory being affected; he simply passes through time to interact with whatever is happening in that part of the ship at that particular time.

I for one would like to know how the story accounts for location: Some of what happens takes place in the Alpha Quadrant, and the rest of it in various places scattered through the Delta Quadrant, so when Chakotay passes from one timeline to another, he also apparently moves tens of thousands of light-years. Is there some constant in time stories like this that ties location down to wherever the people involved need to be? Is Voyager here a mini-lab of timelines that exists in some finite location? I suppose the Timeline Gods have worked this all out, but never mind.

This makes no sense. Sure, when it comes down to it, no time-travel story makes any sense. This one just makes less sense than most. I’d also like to know why people who don’t move through the timelines disappear when they cross from one area of the ship to another. If they’re not moving through time like Chakotay, then where are they going?

Hey, I’m not asking for rock-solid science or logic here; I’m just asking that the story be entertaining. “Relativity” didn’t make any sense either, but at least it broke free and won us over with its carefree lunacy. “Shattered,” on the other hand, is a string of boring, only vaguely related scenes that segue uneasily into and out of one another. The plot is a flimsy excuse to move Chakotay in and out of timelines: He must move through Voyager and inject the ship’s bio-neural gel packs with a dose of Doc’s serum to bring the ship back to its normal temporal alignment (or whatever).

The key idea here, once the plot is fully under way, is that Chakotay recruits Janeway from the past — from just before Voyager was pulled into the Delta Quadrant — to help him put the ship back together. This means that past-Janeway will get a glimpse of bits and pieces ofVoyager‘s fate over the next six-plus years, revealing the changes theVoyager crew has gone through since it was first pulled into the Delta Quadrant.

This isn’t a bad idea at all, but it’s not what the show is ultimately about, which plays more like a string of set pieces constructed around a convenient tech plot. There is, for example, an extended scene where Chakotay and Janeway end up in the “Captain Proton” holodeck program and the plot grinds to a halt. This scene isn’t nearly as funny or useful as it wants to be, and plays more like a gratuitous rehash of “Bride of Chaotica!”

Other timeline events include: Seska’s takeover of Voyager from “Basics, Part II”; a timeline set 17 years in the future, where Naomi Wildman and Icheb are grown adults; the present, where we witness the death of Tuvok; a period during “Caretaker” where B’Elanna blames Janeway for stranding them in the Delta Quadrant; and the time when Seven of Nine and the Borg assimilated the Voyager cargo bay in “Scorpion, Part II.”

Other snippets include the aforementioned macrovirus and also a timeline where the crew is unconscious and dreaming, which Chakotay identifies as either the plot of “Waking Moments” or “Bliss.” Your mission, if I hadn’t already done it for you, was to identify the titles for these shows. (By the way, my usual griping about continuity doesn’t mean random events thrown in to acknowledge that the writers did some homework are what make continuity worthwhile.)

The story becomes nearly as loony as “Relativity”; ultimately we have Seska trying to hijack Chakotay’s efforts to bring the ship back into temporal alignment and then characters from half a dozen timelines charging in to the rescue, including a Maquis B’Elanna and a Borgified Seven of Nine.

The story makes much of the Temporal Prime Directive (“The less I know about the future, the better,” says Janeway, who later presses Chakotay at every turn for more information about Voyager‘s fate), but it doesn’t seem to make up its mind whether any of it matters. Chakotay resists telling Janeway anything about Voyager‘s future in the Delta Quadrant — then moments later spills some beans, and then some more beans. But then the whole plan is to avert the anomaly’s effect on Voyager in the first place, such that nobody’s memory from any timeline will have been affected, so I must ask what the point is actually supposed to be.

I will try to answer that question by saying that the show makes an interesting point when Janeway witnesses Tuvok’s death, prompting her brief vocal determination to prevent Voyager from ever being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay talks her down from this with a reasonable speech about not undoing what’s been done; changing everyone’s future frankly isn’t Janeway’s job.

Then again, this is all to be moot anyway, since the timelines are to be reset to normal. I suppose the scene where Chakotay convinces Janeway there’s more to Voyager‘s fate than the bad things she sees here exists just for the sake of discussion, albeit a good one.

The initial plot goal for “Shattered” is to break Voyager up into a bunch of disjointed parts. Of course, the script for “Shattered” is the very same thing — a bunch of parts, with a strand running through it (the Janeway/Chakotay interaction) that can’t break free of the illogical or arbitrary nature of tech plotting to be entirely successful. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put this premise together again.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Lineage:

“Lineage” is just about a perfect little straightforward character show for four acts before settling for some oversold melodrama at the last moment. For once, everything seems to be clicking — the dialog, the characters, the acting, the directing, the editing. The ending pushes too hard, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Keeping in tune with what I hope is a final-season trend (evidenced this past fall by the marriage in “Drive”), this is an episode that shows the writers actually committing to a change in some of their characters. B’Elanna learns that she is pregnant, much to both her and Tom’s surprise; despite their attempts, they weren’t expecting to beat the odds against Klingon/human conception. But Doc has good news: B’Elanna is pregnant with a healthily developing baby girl.

Once this information floats around the ship, everyone is offering their advice on parenting. One theme Voyager has often pushed is one of a ship-bound “family.” That’s sort of the way it works here, with B’Elanna and Tom taking in information from their shipmates, the extended family that exists where traditional family cannot because of a 30,000-light-year separation.

One thing “Lineage” gets very right is its single-minded focus on what’s important. This is a B’Elanna and Tom show, and the script demonstrates that it’s aware of that fact. Compare this to “Shattered” last week, which wanted to be and could’ve been a standout Janeway/Chakotay show, but wasn’t because the story was such an over-plotted mess with umpteen unnecessary characters. This time the writers get it right; the plot is straightforward and the story runs with characterization and decision-making. There are no unnecessary twists or distractions. With a premise that probably could’ve taken about a hundred obvious wrong turns, “Lineage” has the courage to take none of them.

Take, for example, the interaction between the characters, of which there is plenty. There’s a short scene here between Paris and Tuvok. It’s a scene that makes a great deal of sense and works because it respects the characters and the sincerity that would likely arise from such a discussion. Without being an ultra-serious message moment, this Paris/Tuvok scene manages to avoid poking any obvious jokes at Tuvok’s overly serious Vulcan sensibility — something this series has had a tendency to do. Instead, it remembers that Tuvok is a parent and simply has Tom take the prudent action of asking for Tuvok’s advice. The scene ends with a nice Vulcan-like line of advice about raising children. It’s an effective line because it reveals the truth in the characterization and is played with a note of simple pleasantness and sincerity.

Or take the Janeway scene, once the show’s main conflict between Tom and B’Elanna arises. B’Elanna wants Janeway to act as captain in a personal disagreement. Janeway will not. She tells them they must work it out themselves. Her dialog is level-headed and fair. Good for her.

Or take the Harry Kim scene, where the writers have him say just enough without saying too much. Harry knows to help out a friend and give him some advice. But he knows when to pull back and stay out of things, simply telling Tom that until B’Elanna cools down, “My couch is your couch.”

Why are Tom and B’Elanna in disagreement? That’s actually where the core of the episode becomes evident: B’Elanna wants to tamper with her baby’s genes and remove Klingon biological traits, like redundant organs. This would also have the effect of giving the baby a human appearance. She argues her position to the Doctor by saying her baby’s health would benefit and is the primary issue, but Tom sees right through this argument and calls her on it flat-out: “You don’t want her to look Klingon.”

He’s right, though it goes much deeper than that. “Lineage” has a flashback structure to it that goes back to B’Elanna’s childhood. The flashbacks reveal a young B’Elanna (Jessica Gaona) at an age where her headstrong adolescence began crashing into her father’s (Juan Garcia) own doubts about his shaky marriage. This comes to light gradually, eventually revealing that B’Elanna blames herself for the dissolution of her parents’ relationship. As a child, she said and witnessed things at a time that would shape certain opinions for life.

Now she hopes to keep history from repeating (she fears her Klingon side and the possibility that Tom, like her father, might not be able to deal with it), though getting her to admit the full truth is like pulling teeth. One thing I’ve always liked about B’Elanna is that she’s got that element of self-torture and fallibility. She’s flawed. She’s perhaps the series’ most complex character, and an episode like “Lineage” shows why. She goes to extremes here that eventually seem beyond any reason, except for that self-torment we know is there. She manipulates the situation — in ways that quite frankly seem to me as potentially relationship-damaging actions. Tom’s cool head and ability to listen is admirable. He’s upset but understanding that B’Elanna takes things so far, which she does here by altering Doc’s program just enough to make him believe the gene alterations are in the baby’s best health interests.

For B’Elanna’s character, this plays as a sort of companion episode to last season’s “Barge of the Dead” (still one of favorite Voyager outings). It’s like the flip side; last year we learned about her mother, and this year we learn about her father. In the middle has always been B’Elanna, a character torn between two very different cultures and, I suspect, not completely comfortable in either. In addition to bringing up interesting ethical questions about genetic manipulation, B’Elanna’s actions also play on the issue of self-sensitivity along racial or cultural lines: How exactly do some of us fit into groups when we feel as if we must “choose” one over the other and don’t automatically fall into one or both? The answer, of course, is in asserted individuality —while not denying who we are. B’Elanna is a character who has coped with an identity crisis probably all her life.

As good as “Lineage” is as a character outing, it falls a little bit short with an ending that I found just a bit too melodramatic. Dennis McCarthy goes overboard with the violins while B’Elanna’s tears come flowing, and the whole thing becomes a tad maudlin. It’s credible given the depth of B’Elanna, and even effective to a degree, but for my tastes it seemed to be pushing it in trying to punctuate the Moment of Truth.

No matter. “Lineage” is one of Voyager‘s best-characterized episodes in some time, showing a cast that comes across as well oiled and execution that for the most part is flawless. It’s not the sort of sci-fi/action outing that many fans of the series may hope to get, but it shows the creators of this series still know how to tell good, truthful, understated stories about their characters.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of The Void:

Strangely and ironically, we’ve come around to the point where the only way to use many of the themes of Voyager‘s original premise is to invent a plot that puts the ship in an extreme situation that would’ve been what the Delta Quadrant itself, in several important ways, might’ve represented all along had the writers permitted it.

That premise is “The Void,” which substitutes a barren spatial anomaly for the original presumed barrenness of the Delta Quadrant. Voyager is sucked inside, and they find that in here there’s nothing but empty space and other ships — no resources of any kind, and no known escape. These ships steal from and kill each other to survive. When new ships are sucked in, the waiting tigers pounce. It’s survival of the fittest, and the meanest.

I want to applaud “The Void” for its optimism. Those who called DS9 the anti-Trek because of its willingness to bend Federation morality can point to this as an example of Trek that sticks to the optimistic ideal and thrives off it. Is this episode as realistic as what might happen in a DS9extreme situation? Maybe not. But it does have a good message and works well as entertainment. It’s pure Star Trek in the classic sense.

The message isn’t exactly subtle. It’s like last year’s “Memorial” in that, there we have it, Our Message for Today. That’s okay; we like our messages made clear, which “Void” does without shoving it into our faces.

This void, it is said, has No Escape. Funny how the crew takes it all in stride. Being sucked into a place whose residents claim escape has been attempted and failed for years is not something I would so calmly accept, but these Voyager crew members are made of sterner stuff — they barely bat an eye and have an unspoken air of near-invincibility: If an escape hasn’t been found, it’s obviously because WE haven’t been the ones looking for it. Maybe it’s just bad-news denial. Or arrogance. But then, I suppose confidence is a hallmark of this crew.

The ground rules are laid down by General Valen (Robin Sachs), who subscribes to the void’s standing policy of Every Ship for Itself, but is also nice enough to give Janeway a heads-up on where they are and how things operate. (By the way, having barely been in the void for a minute, other ships open fire on Voyager, stealing food and supplies with stealth transporters.)

After assessing the gravity of the situation (without external resources, power will be depleted within a week) the question becomes what to do about it. Do we adjust operating procedures to fit in? Become thieves ourselves to survive? It’s a question that’s worth asking, and “Void” at least knows that this is the question that deserves to be the center of the story.

There’s a point where Janeway has the chance to steal food from another ship — one that earlier had stolen supplies from Voyager. She doesn’t. When Tuvok and Chakotay come to her ready room to ask what the “operating procedure” will be now that they’re in this void, Janeway tells them she’s been giving it some thought. Ultimately, she decides to remain true to her Federation values: If we’re only going to live for a week, we’re going to live by high principle.

At first, my mind went all the way back to second season’s “Alliances,” an episode that I erroneously awarded three stars based on initial entertainment value, but think of now as one of the biggest turning-point mistakes Voyager ever made. In that episode, a deal gone bad convinced Janeway that the Delta Quadrant was a socially turbulent and dangerous place. Her very naive solution was that staying the same would prevail over the prospect of changing.

Now we have a decision where it seems history is repeating itself … until we realize the crucial difference. In “Alliances” Janeway was dealing with societies who operated with treachery as a way of life. Here, Janeway is dealing with people pushed to extremes into operating with treachery as a way of life … except that literally escaping this world is the best way of dealing with it. To escape will take a risk. The risk is taking Federation values and amplifying them to build bridges.

Crazy? Janeway offers to other aliens supplies that would feed her crew, hoping to earn some trust. She hopes to build an alliance that can stand together against other aggressors while simultaneously pooling resources to make a daring escape. Amazingly, she is able to eventually bring some people into the fold.

So, then, is Janeway clever or lucky, trusting or stupid, calculating or naive? I suppose this would be a prime example of the end result being what writes one’s victory speech — or epitaph. If you take an unpopular risk and die, you’re a fool; if you take an unpopular risk and win, you’re a genius.

Interestingly, the plot device in “Void” is exactly what keeps it from becoming another shining example of sophistry like “Alliances.” Everyone here is trapped with nowhere to go. Frankly, if I knew I was trapped in a finite void with nothing inside, I’d hardly see the point of repeated raids just to keep my ship operating. Hell, why wouldn’t you try something different to escape, unless you’ve resigned yourself to a pointless existence of being the king pirate of a backyard swimming pool?

What is a little odd, and perhaps a little arrogant and worn out from a story perspective, is the notion that after years trapped in the void, no one else comes up with the brilliant idea of trying to pull together to escape. Naturally, Voyager must represent the superior human intellect and sensibility that is the first to attempt civil tactics and cooperation. Naturally everyone else goes along once Janeway has drummed up a reasonable following.

I guess that’s okay. This show is, after all, called Star Trek: Voyager, notStar Trek: Sensible Aliens. To tell it from Voyager‘s perspective is probably the only way to get the story to work and be about our people. Along the way, it has some nice touches, like some tension with a captain who joins the alliance but turns out to be a bigot and a killer, and how Janeway beats herself up for not paying more attention to his warning signs. There’s also a somewhat incomplete subplot involving surveillance technology, and, best of all, the most fulfilling depiction of an alien race in a long time — natives to the void who do not communicate with speech but learn to use musical notes on data pads to talk to the Doctor. These guys are the first truly intriguing aliens in awhile, with quirky and endearing mannerisms and a method of communication that for once isn’t reduced to immediate English (excuse me — I meant the Universal Translator).

Of course the ship gets out of the void. But the depiction of how is what makes the show interesting and purely Star Trek in its sensibilities. The episode bests “Alliances” by doing it under more prudent and appropriate circumstances. It’s an uplifting hour. Weird, how the plot plays almost like an experiment in turning back the clock to opportunities past.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Workforce:

Perhaps the best thing about “Workforce” is that it’s a refreshing escape from the reality (as it were) of the usual Voyager situation. Here’s an episode that looks and feels like good, grander storytelling, taking us to an unfamiliar but relatable world where it gives the characters bizarre, unwanted vacations from themselves.

Simply put, the premise for this episode is a neat idea. We join the story already in progress, as Janeway begins her first day at work at a massive power plant on a mysterious industrialized world. She introduces herself as Kathryn Janeway, New Employee. What is she doing here? Other oddities pique our interest when we see that Seven of Nine and Tuvok also work at this plant.

Is this an undercover mission? We quickly learn no. Although the plot is gradual in giving us all the information, it’s clear that our characters’ memories have been tampered with. What’s nice about this plot structure is that we have our suspicions even before the story reveals all its cards, the whats and hows. We quickly understand that the crew had been kidnapped specifically to be dropped into the labor force of this company, as new employees.

Talk about your extreme solutions to labor shortages.

How did this happen? Doc explains via flashback: Voyager had been ambushed in a unique way — with an invisible mine that unleashed toxic radiation. Forced to abandon ship, we see that the Voyager crew was “rescued” by the crews of nearby ships. The would-be rescuers were really the perpetrators, having put Voyager in this precarious situation to get their hands on its defenseless crew. (My only question, best ignored, is how economically viable it would be to hire or bribe the crews of armed starships so they can round up 100 or so people to work in your plant.)

It’s to the story’s credit that we learn these details only after we’ve been able to watch the crew interacting in new situations, unaware that their lives had just a few days ago been very different. It gets us drawn into the mystery from the very beginning, putting us on the same level of unawareness as the characters.

The only members of the crew not kidnapped are Chakotay, Harry, and Neelix — who were away on a Delta Flyer mission at the time of the kidnappings — and the Doctor, who was left in command to safeguard Voyager when the rest of the crew was forced to flee the radiation. (Can one person fly a whole starship and fire its phasers? Apparently so, but never mind.)

The idea of bringing back the ECH (“Emergency Command Hologram”) — first explored as a comic daydream in “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” — is a rational plot device, and a pretty smart course of action on Janeway’s part. Once Chakotay’s away team returns to Voyager, the mission is to go to this world, called Quarra, and track down the abducted Voyagercrew.

The depiction of the Quarren world makes a big difference in the overall impact of the episode, and is nicely realized through effective visual effects. If Voyager has demonstrated anything the past few years, it’s that a healthy budget and outstanding production values can make a difference in a story’s persuasiveness. This show looks and feels like a million bucks (especially compared to lesser productions likeAndromeda), which, along with Dennis McCarthy’s more-awed-than-usual musical score, helps make this world seem real. Through CGI and mattes depicting large structures and lots of people, this mega-industrialized planet comes alive with motion and yet still seems appropriately arid, as most of that motion comes from hundreds of people walking to their workplaces like Borg drones.

Much of the story’s fascination arises from our characters in their new identities. Janeway meets a co-worker named Jaffen (James Read), and before long they’re dating and even living together. Meanwhile, back at the power distribution plant, we meet Annika Hansen (Seven of Nine), who holds the middle-management position of “efficiency monitor.” If anyone is perfect for the job of efficiency monitor, it’s Seven. And Paris, who couldn’t keep his job at the plant (fired by aforementioned efficiency monitor), finds himself hired at the nearby bar. Appropriate, how his somewhat renegade nature still seems a part of his new personality. Torres frequents this bar to spend time alone, quietly studying engineering schematics — not unlike our actual Torres. Tuvok is different in that he laughs and cracks lame jokes — which seems contrary to the similarity that everyone else exhibits when compared to their actual selves — but since the writers reasonably make Tuvok the subject of the memory-control failure, I’m not going to complain.

After work, everyone hangs out at the same bar for happy hour to relax after a shift at the workplace. There’s a subtext here on the subject of human happiness. As programmed into their memories, our characters — as primarily seen in the Janeway/Jaffen storyline — are kept in line mostly by the belief that their lives now are as good or better than they ever have been, and that having this job is the key to success and fulfillment. “I’m from a planet called Earth,” Janeway says to Jaffen. “Overpopulated, polluted — very little work.” They live in decent apartments afforded them specifically by, of course, their jobs.

Indeed, there’s a point once Chakotay has found Janeway and is trying to figure out how to break the truth of her forgotten life to her. He asks her if she’s happy. “I have a good job,” she responds. Funny, how the quality of her job is the first thing she mentions when discussing the quality of her life. On this planet of industry, it would seem your job is the most important benchmark of your self-identity. Sounds kind of like America.

My favorite human aspect of “Workforce” is the subtly sweet Tom/B’Elanna subplot. Here are two characters whose memories have been changed so they now see each other as complete strangers … and yet something prompts Tom to care for and try to protect B’Elanna after their chance meeting at the bar. Paris is not simply trying to “pick her up” (like his attempts on some of his other customers); rather, something makes him approach her with a higher respect and concern for her welfare. I liked this a lot; it’s a quietly affecting story development that brings a human touch to the sci-fi theme of memory alteration. If you’re one who believes in destiny, it might cross your mind here.

What’s nice is how these humanistic subtexts grow out of the main drive of the story, which is a kidnapping-conspiracy plot that’s surprisingly well executed. It involves a crooked brain surgeon named Kaden (Don Most) who conspires with administrators at the power plant to deliver fresh laborers who have implanted memories that will make them better appreciate their jobs. All of Voyager‘s crew has been assigned to this plant. But something in Tuvok’s subconscious knows there’s something wrong, and when he briefly mind-melds with Seven, her own suspicions begin to surface. Meanwhile, Chakotay, working from the other end of the game, goes undercover to expose the conspiracy and rescue the crew.

To go into much more of the plot’s detail would be superfluous. There are a lot of apt little details (like computer records at the plant) that move the story from beat to beat and supply us and the characters with clues, respecting their intelligence and ours. It’s all executed with a confidence that makes me wonder how aimless plots like “Prophecy” even happen. The story progress feels almost like a Law & Orderepisode, which is high praise, since the forward movement of complex plot elements on L&O is about as good as it gets on television.

I especially appreciated that the story featured a guest character working on the inside to find the truth, and who is therefore on our side. His name is Yerid (Robert Joy), and although bureaucracy often renders him powerless, he’s no dummy (which is refreshing); with the help of some of the victims he slowly begins to chip away at the conspiracy. How he enters the story is interesting, and where and when Chakotay decides he can trust Yerid — in a moment of desperation while being rolled away in restraints on an operating table — reveals the story’s villains as working on multiple levels of deception, thus making the plot even more compelling to watch unfold.

The second half of “Workforce” doesn’t play as well on the themes of the workplace as part one does, but it probably couldn’t have with so much plot in motion. There is, however, at least one dead end in part two that doesn’t pay off, which is the friction between conspirator Kadan and his innocent assistant in the operating room, Ravok (Jay Harrington). Much is made of a scene (which is weakly performed, alas) where Ravok’s suspicions about the conspiracy are awakened and Kadan justifies his actions as something necessary for society. The friction between the two is set up but never resolved. Similarly, John Aniston’s role as the Quarren ambassador proves to be a mostly unnecessary walk-on that serves little purpose other than to conveniently bookend the two hours.

I also have some reservations about memory alterations being so easily reversed without the dialog necessary to explain that ease. There’s a point where B’Elanna is rescued but doesn’t know who she is. Doc describes the alterations as “radical,” but wouldn’t a few lines explaining that B’Elanna’s real memories were intact but repressed with drugs have made this a little easier to swallow, and less like a miracle when she inexplicably seems to know who she is a few scenes later? (But don’t get me wrong — the scene where she visits her Voyagerquarters and realizes the waiter from the bar is actually her husband is a moment with true emotional resonance.)

Aside from the solid mechanics of its plot, “Workforce” covers a lot of ground in two hours. The relationship between Janeway and Jaffen is pleasantly depicted, and explores a “what-if” situation pretty nicely (until maybe Janeway’s none-too-ambivalent last line to Chakotay in the final scene). Chakotay finally gets some solid screen time where he gets to take action and play hero without being saddled with a plotted mess (see “Shattered”). A comic subplot involving the tug-of-war for command between Harry and the Doctor is amusing, albeit hopelessly petty (and therefore appropriate for these characters). Everybody gets some good moments, making this one of the better ensemble shows on Voyager‘s record.

The technical credits are impressive, including the directing. Part one (Allan Kroeker) ends with dizzying crosscutting between characters that is jarringly effective, as Chakotay flees the authorities, Janeway has a romantic encounter, and Tuvok is about to undergo invasive surgery. Part two (Roxann Dawson) handles the increasing plot elements with expert pacing; Dawson shows she can direct a big show with a good script just as well as a small one with a mediocre script (last season’s “Riddles”).

The only thing missing from “Workforce” is a powerful ending. The first half shows the signs of a subtle message episode, highlighting ordinary issues of daily employment as filtered through a harrowing sci-fi premise. Part two is skillful, well-characterized plot wrap-up, but with an ending a little too routine for my tastes.

When I think about the bigger scope of my job, I like to think I’m doing something useful and worthwhile. Sometimes, by the end of my shift, I’m relieved I’m going home, and hardly thrilled about the fact I have to come back. Maybe my employer should tamper with my brain; I might appreciate my job more.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Q2:

I suppose we’re supposed to laugh at the fact omnipotent beings are asking parental advice of Captain Janeway. Unfortunately, the joke isn’t all that funny — nor is much of “Q2” in general — so if it’s not a comedy it can only be a pretty lame excuse for a Q episode.

The best Q comedy was TNG‘s “Deja Q.” That was a show with chemistry and wit … and a premise that at least made Our Favorite Q (John de Lancie) into a human, such that he had no choice but to experience human behavior firsthand. But “Q2” — aside from its ripped-off “Deja Q”-like elements — is unfortunately the sequel to “The Q and the Grey” from four years back, an episode that went about as wrong as a Q story could. “Q2” only takes that wrongness further; omnipotence apparently means you have the ability to do anything physically, but have the intellect and ambitions of an American teenager.

Basically, the problem is that we have humans teaching lessons to the Q instead of the other way around — which is absurd and simply a waste of the Q as a story device. When you have beings who can do anything, why put them through the shenanigans of sitcom-level teenage rebellion? In TNG‘s “All Good Things…” Q was trying to help Picard understand larger issues about the nature of the universe. In Voyager‘s “Death Wish” we had a Q who wanted to die because knowing everything had rendered his existence pointless. Those were interesting, larger-thinking shows.

Now? We get High Concept 101: “A teenage Q.” And Higher Concept 102: “Let’s have John de Lancie’s real-life son (Keegan de Lancie) play the part of Q’s son!” Well, great. It’s an okay starting point and I’m sure fun for all the actors, but there has to be a story here for it to be worth our time.

Alas, there’s not much to be said for the story that is “Q2.” It’s featherweight at best, and the lessons rehashed here are straight from Chapter 1 of the Star Trek Human Lessons Textbook. I wish I could say there was anything here resembling Q-worthy thought on the writers’ behalf, anything that could put it more in the vein of “All Good Things…” or “Death Wish,” but there isn’t. “Q2” is simply a gag show starring the Q, with their super-duper powers as the tools for the gimmicks. There’s no evidence this show even wanted to be thoughtful; it’s dumbed down by design.

Q arrives on Voyager to ask “Aunt Kathy” (an amusing title, I’ll grant) to help him teach his out-of-control son (born as a result of “Q and the Grey”) some responsibility. Why Q cannot do this himself is a question that, if answered, would reveal the entire foundation of the episode as the sham it is. Apparently being omnipotent doesn’t afford you any parenting skills. (Omnipotence just isn’t what it used to be.) If we’re to accept the can-of-worms premise of an out-of-control Q, at least make it seem like there’s some urgency.

Instead, the idea of an out-of-control teenage Q quickly paves the way to a series of routine comic gimmicks. Gimmicky Q hijinks are a hallmark of Q stories, even in good ones like “Death Wish,” but without a story to eventually grab our attention they just tire here.

Gimmick #1: Turn engineering into a dance club. “It’s a party,” explains Q Jr., with beverage in hand. Is it non-alcoholic? I hope so, because he’s most definitely underage and that would mean Voyager needs more competent bouncers. For that matter, a drunken Q could be dangerous: Alcohol and altering the space-time continuum don’t mix. Janeway rolls her eyes here for what won’t be the last time.

Gimmick #2: Make Seven nekkid. This looks like one of those things the studio must’ve loved when they heard about. I can almost picture the people who cut together the episode trailers smiling with glee: Here’s an easy workday! Plus, it can be justified as plausible! What heterosexual teenage male wouldn’t wanted to see Seven without clothes? Nothing like a little realism in your Trek. Of course, Seven is too superior to be embarrassed or do any Janeway-style eye-rolling, so she simply uses the ignore-the-pest tactic.

Gimmick #3: War games. Q Jr. starts a war between two societies simply to watch their ships shoot at one another on the viewscreen. Somebody needs to go out and buy this kid a PlayStation or a DVD ofStar Wars (the latter of which I’m guessing might actually be available by the 24th century, but no promises).

Gimmick #4: Make Neelix mute. Hey, this is actually a pretty good idea. Q Jr. fuses Neelix’s jaw shut and makes his vocal cords disappear. Poor Neelix — he had his lungs extracted way back in “Phage” and now he has his vocal cords taken away. There’s no justice in the world. Or come to think of it, maybe there is.

Such zaniness is setup for the actual premise, which is that Q suspends all of Q Jr.’s powers, and gives his son one week to shape up under Janeway’s tutelage. If he hasn’t shown great improvement, the Q Continuum will transform the unruly brat into an amoeba. The lesson: Actions Have Consequences, especially when your actions can rearrange entire worlds. I’d just like to know why Q can’t conjure up some sense for this kid when he has the power to transform him into an amoeba. For that matter, I’d like to know if the writers actually thought any of their “intellectually immature superbeing” plot was fresh, seeing as TOS did “Charlie X” roughly 35 years ago.

The middle passages of the show are bland moments of Janeway trying to whip this kid into shape with lay-down-the-law threat tactics and then lessons that double as Meaningful Dialog Scenes. Eventually we’re watching as Q Jr. writes a paper on the Q Continuum, which is hopelessly inane; apparently the great Continuum really is too much for my feeble mind to comprehend … or for television writers to do any justice.

Then we have Q Jr. stealing the Delta Flyer because he apparently didn’t learn anything from all this. His excuse for theft and joyriding? Boredom. He goes flying through alien territory with unwilling partner-in-crime Icheb, opening fire on an alien ship when they try to detain him for trespassing. Icheb is injured, Q Jr. escapes and returns toVoyager where he gets the usual dressing-down by Janeway. Icheb lies dying, with Doc going on about how he needs to know more about the weapon in order to save Icheb’s life. (Yes, in sci-fi you can treat someone who has been run down by a car as long as you know what make and model the car was.)

The final act is so underwhelming it plays more like a parody on humanism than a satisfying ending. Q Jr. decides to accept responsibility for his actions by returning to face the music at the hands of the aliens he shot at. But, surprise! The alien was actually Q, who engineered the encounter as a test to see if Q Jr. would own up to the consequences of his mischief. Icheb is really okay. Then we get a quick trial of Q Jr. by Continuum judges, who, after all this, find that Q Jr.’s actions don’t indicate acceptable levels of progress.

My point is more along the lines of Q’s complaint — that Janeway has turned Q Jr. into a human with Federation values and, well, what good is that for the Continuum? They’re judging Q Jr. on an incident and actions that have about as much cosmic relevance as what I ate for breakfast this morning.

LeVar Burton, who has directed excellent episodes like “Timeless,” is saddled with a banal script that thinks small when it should be thinking big. The closing scenes give us a trial and a guilty verdict only for it to be reversed with a bunch of Q’s off-screen (non)arguments. What, if anything, is all of this saying? It’s clunky and abrupt along the narrative line.

My, how the Q have fallen. Amazingly, it would seem Voyager has managed to bastardize the Q even worse than the Borg. Who could’ve guessed that the beings who put humanity on trial back in the TNG days would be reduced to the sort of family sitcom where a son whines to his father about being too pressured about living up to expectations? Let’s be real here: Do we want to see the Q as a metaphor for emotionally abandoned teenagers and/or fathers?

I’d have told the kid: Hey, you’re omnipotent. With your talents I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you end up working at Burger King. Stop screwing around and put that galaxy back where it belongs.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Friendship One:

There are good things about “Friendship One,” which is very insistent on its desire to say something and mean something and exhibit a lot of classic Trekkian thought. But the net result isn’t much to speak of, its central hostage plot is on autopilot, and there are some deeply flawed arguments roaming around in the story. I didn’t dislike this episode, but I didn’t much like it either; it’s one of those shows that’s sometimes respectful but largely unmoving.

And poor Lt. Joe “Red Shirt” Carey (Josh Clark). He’s shot dead before it’s all over here. There were so many years where this guy was relegated to the off-screen sidelines that many viewers assumed he’d simply died (most common was to erroneously recall him as being eaten in “Basics, Part II” — but, no, that was Ensign Hogan). Now Carey gets his true farewell appearance less than a month from the end of the series. I guess his number had to be up one of these days, turning out to be later rather than sooner.

The premise for “Friendship One” might’ve been more interesting had it been more in the vein of TNG‘s “First Contact” (the fifth-season episode, not the movie), which was about how humans make contact with an alien civilization. But since that episode has already been done, we instead have first contact as a warning of the dangers of misused technology.

Friendship 1 was a human probe sent in the late 21st century, shortly after warp travel became a reality and humans realized they were not alone in the universe. It was intended to share knowledge with any other-worldly society that might comprehend its message. Starfleet, now having regular contact with Voyager, sends Janeway and her crew on an assignment to try to retrieve the probe, which had last been tracked over a century ago to somewhere in the Delta Quadrant … not far, coincidentally (yeah, yeah), from Voyager‘s current position. Retrieving it would be a great historical find.

Voyager tracks the probe to a devastated world polluted with toxic antimatter radiation. A Delta Flyer away team (including Joe “Dead Meat” Carey) finds the probe’s remnants, but is surprised by the descendants of those who survived the antimatter catastrophe that left the planet poisoned a century and a half earlier. In short, Friendship 1had indeed accomplished its goal of contacting alien life, but the aliens virtually destroyed themselves when they tried using the new information available to them.

Plot Machinations 101 decrees that these aliens must instantly take the away team hostage, which they do. Their leader is Verin (Ken Land), who intends to hold the away team responsible for the sins of the generations-ago humans who sent this probe in the first place. I don’t agree with his argument, which is that it’s humanity’s fault for unleashing dangerous technology upon a less advanced society. (It wasn’t even war that destroyed this society; it was more of a Chernobyl-like accident, the blame of which, I submit, should be placed more on the people experimenting with the dangerous technology than the people who gave them access to it, undoubtedly with big WARNING signs attached.) Even more dubious is the notion that these people think it was planned this way as an invasion tactic, which makes even less sense to me than it does to Janeway. But the episode, strangely, often seems to hitch its wagon to Verin’s cause.

I agree even less with Verin’s need to extract penance from the Voyagercrew. They didn’t have anything to do with what happened, and any reasonable person would see that. Verin isn’t a reasonable person so much as a tortured soul scarred by his harsh surroundings. This reduces him to the status of your standard villain-like aggressor, and unfortunately makes much of the episode a routine standoff where Verin makes demands and threatens the hostages (Paris, Neelix, and Joe “Worm Food” Carey), while Janeway communicates from orbit her good intentions and desire to arrive at a peaceful resolution.

Tempering the material are some nice scenes. I liked that Neelix tried to appeal to Verin’s better nature by talking about his own losses at the hands of destructive technology (the episode invokes continuity by remembering Neelix’s world was destroyed by a massive weapon). And there’s also value to be found in the scenes where Paris talks with a pregnant woman who has tragically given birth to three stillborn children because of radiation poisoning, and hopes this won’t be the fourth.

But Verin’s adamant distrust is a little hard to understand and thus seems forced, particularly in the latter passages after his own people have seen Janeway act on her promises of good will. One of these persons is reasonable scientist Otrin (John Prosky), who is cured of the radiation sickness and helps the Voyager crew devise a method to cleanse the planet. Another is the pregnant woman, whose baby is saved and returned to her, just as Paris promises. All this, despite the fact Verin kills Joe “Target Painted On My Chest” Carey in a particularly pointless act of violence.

In the end, “Friendship One” is a reasonable example of the classic Trekkian formula in which the intrepid starship glides in, helps an alien society solve their problems, and then glides out. And like most episodes helmed by director Mike Vejar, it’s well paced and skillfully implemented. But along the way are arguments that I don’t buy. Janeway’s final line is delivered with a quiet, earnest seriousness that screams “Think about me!” But as I thought about it, it only rang false. On exploring, she says, “It can’t justify the loss of lives, whether it’s millions — or just one.” Excuse me?

Once upon a time, Captain James Kirk gave a famous and rousing (if hammy and portentous) speech where he exclaimed, “Risk is our business.” Now we have Janeway saying that the cost of sharing the grand ideas of space exploration isn’t worth lives, even if it’s just one life like Lt. Carey. I find that argument depressing. Exploration takes courageous people and conviction. Of course there will be lives lost along the way. Does that mean we throw in the towel because it’s too dangerous? I’m sorry — that last line must’ve been written by the same sort of people who outlaw games of “tag” on grade-school playgrounds.


The Worst:

Repression, Inside Man, Prophecy, Renaissance Man, and Endgame


In little bits:

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Repression:

“Repression” is an hour of television that goes to great (and unlikely) lengths of plotting to accomplish basically nothing. It’s one of the most artificial, pointless Voyager exercises in recent memory. I’m trying to think what the creators thought they were onto here by putting a story like this into production, but I’m at a loss. When the whole point of a show like this is to be a contrived mechanical exercise and absolutely nothing more, what exactly are we supposed to take from the experience?

I’ll tell you what I got: a cynical nod to the existence of a universe beyond Voyager‘s current mission statement (whatever that is) — specifically, a shallow, retroactive acknowledgement that the Maquis crew members, once upon a time, existed. The trailers for “Repression” alleged that there would be mutiny. I wasn’t fooled, but I didn’t think even a fake mutiny plot would be this starved for justification.

I’ve complained in the past that Voyager tends to come up with plots that are at the expense of the characters. Well, “Repression” ranks among the most egregious examples — an episode where the plot steamrollers right through the characters, who are nothing more than hollow vessels to be moved around by totally artificial, manufactured circumstances. Ostensibly, this is a Tuvok vehicle (one of the show’s most overlooked characters), but Tuvok is just a writer’s toy here — his Vulcan mind powers are used to service an absurd plot while the character itself might as well be wallpaper.

In a nutshell, the premise for the episode is what I’m terming “remote-controlled mutiny by proxy.” Please do not laugh (yet). A Bajoran maniac in the Alpha Quadrant sends a hidden message in a letter to Tuvok which subconsciously triggers buried brainwashing that was therapeutically programmed into Tuvok seven years ago when he was an undercover infiltrator of the Maquis. This prompts Tuvok, unaware of his own actions, to engage in a mission to mind-program other former-Maquis members of the crew to seize control of Voyager. Yes.

It begins as an investigation story when members of the crew are mysteriously attacked and left comatose. Doc can’t explain the comas. Tuvok takes on the assignment of figuring out who attacked the victims and why. Admittedly, the one thing of value to be taken from the episode is the idea of Tuvok facing the frustration of an investigation full of dead ends. Of course, it turns out he’s investigating his own attacks and unaware of it, but that’s a “twist” that is surprisingly obvious from the outset. The writers, fortunately, don’t keep the “character unwittingly investigates his own crimes” angle a huge mystery for so long as to completely sabotage the show. But not to worry — they sabotage the show with the rest of the plot.

As for the flow of the investigation, I won’t get into details except to note that Tuvok’s suspicions of Kim, as well as others, are pretty thin: If everyone with any kind of emotions is a suspect, how can an investigation possibly narrow down to find the perpetrator? Another clue involves a stored “afterimage” in the holodeck, which shows the mystery figure attacking one of the victims. I thought this visual clue wasn’t nearly masked enough for the audience; I could almost tell it wasTuvok, though I already had my suspicions.

The investigation scenes are actually not badly handled for the most part. But once Tuvok realizes he’s the culprit, the plot is pretty much a downhill slide. The question for Janeway is why Tuvok assaulted these people, and what’s the significance of all the victims being former Maquis. The plot is obvious to us well before it is to Janeway & Co., and the Idiot Plot syndrome in action here revolves around the fact that once the comatose characters awaken, no one suspects that they might have been compromised the way Tuvok was. Shouldn’t they be confined until the captain can get to the bottom of things? (Of course not, because then how could they take over the ship?)

By far the biggest question I had was why in the world the Bajoran maniac, a guy named Teero (Keith Szarabajka), would even want to have the Maquis crew members seize control of Voyager in the first place. Dialog and flashbacks reveal that Teero was a Maquis fanatic who wanted to use extreme, experimental methods to further the Maquis cause. One of these methods was brainwashing/mind-programming. He had discovered Tuvok was a Starfleet officer infiltrating the Maquis. Rather than exposing him, Teero programmed Tuvok to be his secret weapon at some later date. That date is today, seven years later, and mayhem ensues. There are scenes where Tuvok and Teero face off inside Tuvok’s hallucinations as Janeway tries help Tuvok regain focus of his mind. Such scenes are marked with plenty of urgent shouting, etc., but none of it can overcome the banality of why it’s all happening.

I’m sorry, but Teero’s motives here are beyond any sense of a useful purpose and venture into flat-out stupidity. I don’t buy for one second that Teero is going to go to the trouble — nearly four years after the Alpha Quadrant Maquis have been wiped out — to send a message to Tuvok, who’s on a ship 35,000 light-years away. What can he possibly get out of it? What purpose does it serve that helps any Maquis or former Maquis in any way? The answers are nothing and none, so the story just supplies “he’s fanatical” as the lame explanation. No. That’s a cheap cop-out, not a motive. Since obviously Voyager‘s Starfleet and Maquis officers are not going to go at each other’s throats under any normal circumstances (despite the trailer’s attempts to convince us to the contrary), the only possible reason for us to care about this story is if the motivation of the character pulling the strings from afar has any sort of impact. It doesn’t, so we don’t care. It’s a writer’s wave of the hand, and frankly it’s pretty insulting.

The other big annoyance here is the writers’ presumption that a Vulcan mind meld is equivalent to flipping an on/off switch in someone’s brain. Based on what he’s able to accomplish here, Tuvok should be registered as a very dangerous weapon. He melds with several Maquis members of the crew, including key people like Chakotay and Torres, and when he “activates” them, they suddenly become pro-Maquis and anti-Starfleet. “He’s simply helped us remember who we are. We’re Maquis. We’ve always been Maquis,” says Chakotay. Sure. Just like that. (My, how handy a plot device the mind meld is.)

And yet, the way the episode plays it, these people seem to know what they’re doing and why. They aren’t robots; it’s more like their actual attitudes have been changed to make them different people. Unanswered is whether they know right from wrong or are struggling with their sudden change in mindset, or if anyone cares about the betrayals after the madness has been magically set right with reverse mind melds in the lame, simpleminded conclusion. No matter — in reality there are no answers to such questions because the script is just jerking characters around to falsely manufacture a mutiny plot. It’s almost as if the trailer about the mutiny was written before the episode, and the writers did whatever they could to concoct a story that would get them to this final act, no matter how implausible and lacking in motivation.

This episode is, simply, a crock. It’s an over-plotted, under-thought, meaningless hour-long contrivance — all concept, no content. A hundred things happen in this episode, but none of them matter. It’s depressing to watch so much plot written to advance a story to an end point that is so fundamentally false. Really, I doubt a mutiny on Voyagercould’ve rung true in any conceivable form. A real mutiny would’ve been interesting years ago, but today it would’ve been just as inappropriate as “Repression” stands. So the question is, why pretend this could actually be a real issue on this series today? The writers must think we’re a whole lot dumber than we are. Now there’s a surprise.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Inside Man:

“Inside Man” has a few things going for it, but one of those things, unfortunately, is not the bigger picture. That is to say, when you have at your disposal the entire Alpha Quadrant guest cast that made “Pathfinder” such a winner last year, why waste it on a silly caper plot that doesn’t advance Voyager along the lines of the continuing saga of its search for a way home?

Even worse, why waste it on yet another example of the crew being manipulated like sorry saps into believing that a shortcut home is actually going to work when in fact it would get them all killed, a la the deception in “Hope and Fear”? “Inside Man” is a collection of isolated bright ideas undercut by standard plotting and character stupidity.

And a show of hands: Do we really want to see the Ferengi again?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The underlying premise is actually a very reasonable one — the idea that Reg Barclay would transmit a hologram of himself to Voyager as an interactive program to assist in future coordination between Voyager and the Alpha Quadrant.

Unfortunately, the problem with “Inside Man” is that it’s heavy on gimmicks and alarmingly light on story. One admirable aspect of both “Pathfinder” and “Life Line” from last season — both which featured Barclay and Troi and other characters from the Alpha Quadrant — is that they were real stories with true appeal and meaning. They werenot stunt episodes. “Inside Man,” on the other hand, is just that — a stunt episode that doesn’t mean anything to any of its characters … not the Voyager crew members in the Delta Quadrant nor Barclay back home in the Alpha Quadrant.

The plot can basically be summarized in one sentence: Some scheming Ferengi intercept the transmission of Barclay’s hologram and reprogram it to deceptively lure Voyager through a manufactured tech anomaly so they can get their hands on Seven of Nine’s nanoprobes and sell them for huge profit. (No one on board Voyager, by the way, will survive the radiation when traveling through this anomaly, which makes me wonder if even Ferengi would resort to murdering 150 people to score a quick buck.)

Aside from following this premise through to its inevitable conclusion, the rest of the episode is either (a) filler scenes or (b) rehashes of Barclay’s character theme that were already covered in the far-superior “Pathfinder.”

Some of this is admittedly entertaining. For example, the most truthful and appropriate idea in the episode is the notion that the Reg hologram has such a confident swagger to him. It’s a programmed personality that serves as the alter-ego to the programmer. (This is assuming its outgoing nature wasn’t programmed by the Ferengi, of course.)

And even if most of this is rehash, I still have to confess to enjoying Dwight Schultz as Barclay. Here he gets two very different riffs on Barclay — as the real Barclay, and also as the holographic version he wishes he could be. The real Barclay is the same guy we knew from “Pathfinder” — always sure his ideas will work but unable to totally convince his boss Harkins (Richard McGonagle) that he’s on the right track. But even though this may be fun, we’ve been here and done this. When you have a rare opportunity to use these characters, why waste time doing everything over again?

Sure, holo-Barclay is a personable fellow. But I still had to ask myself if having him do impressions in the Voyager mess hall was really the least bit necessary to the story.

And take, for example, the extended scene between Barclay and Troi on the beach. It very well might be the longest dialog scene in the episode, and yet it doesn’t need to be. The amount of information we get here is secondary to the setting, as if the scene had to be drawn out unnecessarily in order to justify the expense of shooting on location rather than on soundstages. (When I’m thinking of things like that, it’s an indication the dialog isn’t holding enough of my attention.) And Barclay comes close at times to being reduced to the status of a cartoon character, decked out in a hat and sunglasses designed to make him look awkward. The character analysis in “Pathfinder” was far less forced, and more truthful.

The main drive of the plot hinges on some contrived facts that annoyed me. One is the idea that the Voyager crew, like brainless lemmings, would follow holo-Barclay so blindly. The proposed Instant Way Home [TM] in this episode is one mired in the typical invented technobabble, and one that would be very dangerous for our gallant Voyager crew. Radiation levels would be lethal, and yet the deceptive holo-Barclay explains away the danger as no longer a problem thanks to shield modifications and Doc’s inoculations. Far too simplified, it seems theVoyager crew is prepared to follow Barclay straight to their doom. Meanwhile, we get the usual discussions among the crew about being excited about possibly getting home while also trying to keep optimism in check.

Back in the Alpha Quadrant, we learn that the Ferengi gained access to Barclay’s hologram thanks to Barclay’s ex-girlfriend Leosa (Sharisse Baker-Bernard), who had played Barlcay for a fool specifically to obtain information about his transmissions to Voyager. I would say “poor Reg” here, the way he’s a victim of his own trusting nature, but unlike “Pathfinder” the writers don’t seem to be sympathizing with him nearly as much as they seem to be laughing at him behind his back.

The conclusion is one of those races against the clock where Barclay must use his technical ingenuity to foil the Ferengi before the Voyagercrew is lured through the anomaly and killed. Par for course (but I wanted a different course).

And, no, I didn’t really need to see the Ferengi again. Does a single one of them as portrayed here look like he has the intelligence to come up with a plan as brilliant as this one? If not, the explanation may be that the plan isn’t brilliant so much as the victims of the plan — in both the Alpha and Delta quadrants — are gullible fools. At the very least, I’ll give Barclay and his team, including Admiral Paris (Richard Herd), credit for figuring out the Ferengi plot without too much slow-wittedness.

But that’s not enough, because the bottom line is that “Inside Man” starts out as a promising idea that is quickly tossed aside in favor of something trivial and mundane. “Pathfinder” and “Life Line” showed true promise in telling a story arc that connected Voyager with the Alpha Quadrant, using Barclay as the common thread to hold it all together. “Inside Man” doesn’t bother to be a story that we should care about; it seems convinced that Barclay and Troi are enough on their own to keep us interested. They’re not.

As far as the Voyager-characters-as-saps paradigm goes, the last scene aboard Voyager is perhaps the show’s most telling, in which Tom and B’Elanna pull Harry’s leg with a far-fetched premise that promises another way home. And there he is, Harry Kim, still, after all these years and the immediately preceding events of “Inside Man,” playing the part of the hapless chump — just as gullible and naive as he was when this series premiered nearly six years ago. Is this supposed to be a funny joke on the character? If we buy into it, I’m thinking the joke is on us.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Renaissance Man:

So, here we have Voyager‘s penultimate episode, and what is it? A routine kidnapping plot. Why this and why now?

On the other hand, why not this? Voyager has proven long before this week’s “Renaissance Man” that the show is rarely about its characters or bigger picture but instead about its stories. And aside from last week’s “Homestead” where we actually had some sort of closure for a character, the entire wrap-up for everyone and everything is going to apparently take place in the final two hours of the series.

On some level, sad as it is to say, this episode is a microcosm of much of Voyager‘s legacy to the Trek franchise: It’s a reasonably entertaining action plot that has no lasting significance whatsoever. The Doctor is a great character who seemed to get the perfect final focus episode with “Author, Author,” which followed his theme — that of wanting to be more than his programming — to a logical conclusion. But for the purposes of character theme, “Renaissance Man” is at best simply redundant, a routine action storyline that exploits his technical abilities and not so much his personality.

At one point, disguised as Torres, he runs sideways up a wall and flips right over Tuvok, grabbing the phaser out of his hand. I’ve never seen Doc pull a Matrix-like move like that before, but then why did I need to?

The framework for the story is a contrivance and a cliche: In the midst of an away mission, Janeway is held captive by two thieves from the “Hierarchy race” (see “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy”), who say they will kill her if Doc doesn’t return to Voyager and find a way to steal its warp core and bring it to them. Doc must then impersonate other members of the crew, starting with Janeway (adjusting his holographic appearance at will) and working on down from there.

It’s probably a good thing this is the end of the series, because that’s a pretty damned flimsy premise. It’s the sort of thing that deserves to be banished to the land of sitcom fodder. Only a nitpicking jerk would bother to question whether the Hierarchy aliens should be here, at the very least 5,000 light-years away from where we last encountered them. Yadda, yadda, yadda; blah, blah, blah.

It’s worth noting that even the goofiest and shallowest of premises can be made palatable with decent execution, and we get that here, which makes “Renaissance Man” a fairly enjoyable hour of silly plotted mayhem instead of brain-dead drudgery. Call it enjoyable, silly, brain-dead mayhem.

This is an episode sold on amusing little moments, not iron-clad logic or solid storytelling. For amusing moments we have ourselves a scene where “Janeway” is on the bridge and begins talking to invisible voices in her head, which prompts MST3Kings of, “Well, Janeway has finally completely lost it.” There’s something hilarious about it, while at the same time weird and offbeat because we don’t initially know what’s going on (the plot begins as a series of subtle mysteries that are gradually revealed to us).

The gimmick is that the Hierarchy guys are constantly monitoring Doc’s actions, so he has to do the entire operation in secret, undermining his crew’s own attempts to catch on to him. This must’ve been justified by all sorts of end-vs.-means discussions in story staff meetings, since the whole exercise is absurd and exists simply so that Doc can run around impersonating people.

Honestly, is this plot even worth discussing at any further length? I doubt it. There’s nothing significant about it, no issues to ponder. It’s a romp, plain and simple. On that level it can be fun, like when Tuvok finally catches on to Doc’s game and tries to subdue him: There’s a point where Tuvok chases Doc into the holodeck and finds a room filled with holographic Doc clones, which is an amusing visual that fits the action relatively well. Clever, and appropriately goofy.

I also liked the way the unconscious bodies started to stack up, making Doc’s task harder. He has Chakotay and Harry stashed in the morgue while also running around impersonating Janeway and Torres. At one point he has to pretend to be Tom’s wife, which is your Classic Awkward Situation [TM], although one wonders if all plot devices are recyclable; Doc earlier this year had to pretend to be Seven in “Body and Soul.”

The two Hierarchy guys (Andy Milder and Wayne Thomas Yorke), one nice and one mean, are low-rent pseudo-villains that don’t honestly seem capable of carrying out their threat of killing Janeway if Doc fails his mission. These guys are devices of the plot and nothing more, but then the whole episode is a massive plot device — including the use of the warp core as this week’s McGuffin, which is hauled around from A to B in order to move the people from A to B. Meanwhile, Doc’s abilities here open a can of worms that, fortunately, might not get very long to squirm seeing as the series is basically over. (In particular, I’d like to know how he is able to activate his emergency command subroutines and take control of the ship’s command codes solely on his own volition, without any sort of authorized transfer from the captain or first officer. Perhaps because neither is present?)

My griping makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy “Renaissance Man,” which isn’t entirely true. Like many Voyager outings, it proves that a fast-paced episode where the plot moves effortlessly along can hold interest when lesser execution might’ve led to an unpleasant slog. By the time the show got to Doc’s deathbed confessional, I was chuckling too much to feel annoyed. Little of the plot is believable in retrospect, but it has the will to carry us along for the ride with some snappy dialog, a few technical twists that are mildly clever, and actors who are convincing in the middle of a world of absurdity.

Come to think of it, this episode may be even more of a microcosm of this series than I thought. Maybe it’s appropriate as the penultimate outing of Voyager after all. But, then again, it must mean something when the most appropriate story for Voyager is one that doesn’t begin to unlock the true potential at hand.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Endgame:

For seven years Voyager has been trying to have its cake and eat it too. Now we have “Endgame,” the series finale that wants, above anything … to have its cake and eat it too.

Here’s an episode that gives us the extended aftermath before the crisis resolution … which ingeniously allows the plot to conceal whether or not Voyager will actually, really get home until literally the last minute of screen time. Meanwhile, it gives us a hint of what happens after Voyagergets home. Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

In a way, this is a clever story. That is, of course, assuming the most important question is whether or not Voyager gets home. At this stage in the game, it might very well be, although one would think what happens after the ship gets home would be of at least some importance. What happens to these people after they’re home? “Endgame” is far too busy being a time-travel Borg-centered action movie to care.

Does “Endgame” work as a series finale? On its bottom line, yes … and no. I found it engaging and with some interesting ironies. I also found it maddening because most of its fascinations exist within a time-plot loophole. Should “Endgame” have been more? Absolutely, but then the whole series should’ve been more. “Endgame,” and season seven in general, follows the Voyager pattern to a perfect T. This series gets just the finale it deserves, which is some sort of damning praise.

The story is a curious rehashing of TNG‘s finale, “All Good Things…,” crossed with Voyager‘s own “Timeless” from season five. For good measure, to up the action and FX quotient, the writers also throw in the Borg one last time. Yes, the Borg. Again.

The episode begins 26 years in the future on Earth, on the 10th anniversary of Voyager getting home. In other words, Voyager is, according to this timeline, destined to stay in the Delta Quadrant for another 16 years from our “present” perspective. Or perhaps not, since this is a time-travel story where anything is possible. We begin the story in the midst of one character’s brewing plan, one of stupendous audacity. After years of heartache, Admiral Janeway has decided that her crew’s fate was not the one it deserved. In this future, Seven and Chakotay are dead and Tuvok is institutionalized with a crippling Vulcan mental illness.

If it’s not perhaps the rosiest of futures it could be for the Voyager crew, it’s worth noting that it’s also not an especially bleak future in the balance of things. Voyager made it home, even if it took awhile, and many of its crew members have gone on to lead productive lives. Harry is a captain (for better or worse), Tom and B’Elanna are still married with a daughter in Starfleet (Lisa Locicero), Barclay doesn’t stammer anymore, Doc has a new wife and a new name (three decades to come up with “Joe,” which is perhaps the show’s most depressing joke), and the Alpha Quadrant appears to be in pretty good shape, with some impressive technical advances.

Which is why it’s a little bit unsettling to find out that the plot of “Endgame” is about Admiral Janeway’s secret plan to travel back in time and change the future — with little regard for the history she’s going to be changing.

The show’s opening passages establish, with a certain amount of interest, what the future has brought. Among the most affecting scenes is one where Admiral Janeway visits the institutionalized Tuvok. You can see a deep sadness in Janeway’s eyes that Kate Mulgrew conveys with great effectiveness — a concern for a dear friend whose stranding in the Delta Quadrant prevented his treatment for an otherwise preventable condition. She blames herself.

Janeway — being the ever-controversial figure she has been through much of the series — acquires technology from some Klingons in the kind of shady transaction that in the 20th century might take place in a back alley. This technology, when incorporated into her shuttlecraft, allows the admiral to travel not only back in time 26 years, but also across tens of thousands of light-years of space to the Delta Quadrant. Once there, she intercepts the Voyager of her past in a plot to get them home immediately.

In getting to this point, the plot’s structure, similar to “All Good Things…,” does a certain amount of crosscutting between the present storyline of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, and the future storyline of Admiral Janeway planning her trip through time. I’ll give credit where credit is due: The script keeps us oriented, giving us just the cues and information we need when we need them in order to ensure the story is understandable. But nevertheless, being a time-manipulation story, “Endgame” is still riddled with the sort of plot holes that all but come with the territory.

The crucial juncture of the story revolves around a mysterious nebula in Voyager‘s present in the Delta Quadrant. Sensors indicate there’s something in this nebula that “Could be a way home!”, Harry excitedly announces. “Maybe it will lead right into your parents’ living room,” says Paris, making fun of Harry in my absence. But in trying to reach the heart of the energy source in the nebula, Voyager nearly collides with a Borg cube and is forced to retreat. A run-in with the Borg, who seem to be using the nebula as some sort of base, is not worth whatever might be inside, Janeway reasons.

It’s not too long after this incident when Admiral Janeway emerges from a rift in space, having used her newly acquired technology to interceptVoyager at this precise moment and location. In what has to be one of the stranger moments for Janeway this side of “Deadlock,” she comes face to face with her older self and has an urgent discussion over the viewscreen where the older Janeway pulls rank on the younger Janeway as a way to reinforce her argument. Heh. Before long, Admiral Janeway has laid the whole thing out for Captain Janeway: The nebula does indeed contain the way home, and the admiral has brought with her technical defenses to get past the Borg.

Logical gaffes abound: My first question, which apparently never occurred to Admiral Janeway: Why didn’t she find a way to adapt the time-travel technology — which not only sent her through time but also all the way to the Delta Quadrant (how convenient!) — to get Voyagerhome? An even bigger question: If the Voyager crew, which already left the nebula behind by the time Admiral Janeway made her appearance, never found out about the mysterious object at the center of the nebula, how does Admiral Janeway of the future know about it? She may be from the future, but that doesn’t mean she automatically has more information. If her past self had never learned of it, she wouldn’t have either.

Then there’s the whole ethical issue of time travel in order to make the future more personally desirable. I’ll deal with that in a moment, but first…

The object at the center of the nebula is among the most awesome sights this series has shown. It’s a Borg transwarp hub, used by the Borg to travel all through the galaxy, and depicted here as what looks like a small star surrounded by a web of tunnels. An occasional Borg cube passes through the camera frame. No matter what Voyager has passed up in terms of storytelling potential, no one will ever be able to say the series lacked the ability to bring impressively realized images to the small screen.

According to Seven, the Borg have only six hubs in the galaxy, and taking one out could be a crippling blow to them. Then again, so could the “Borg civil war” that was started in “Unimatrix Zero,” but, annoyingly enough, from the looks of things here the civil war didn’t amount to squat; it’s not even mentioned as an afterthought. This almost makes “Unimatrix Zero” a pointless exercise, since its biggest selling point was that it seemed to be plotting the Borg’s eventual downfall.

The true interest in “Endgame” arises from the fact Admiral Janeway holds this key to Voyager‘s immediate way home, and the question becomes whether or not the crew should take it. The admiral comes with 30 years of improved technology — technology that will make it very possible for the crew to journey to the center of the Borg’s heavily protected nebula and use the transwarp hub to get home.

For those who like impressive tech gadgets, we’re treated here toVoyager being outfitted with tactical improvements, including some very tough armor that covers the ship like the Batmobile and new torpedoes that can obliterate a Borg cube in a single volley. In a word: neat. It’s once Captain Janeway finally becomes aware of the hub’s existence and what it means that she falls into conflict with her future self.

Admiral Janeway intends to get the crew home at all costs. Captain Janeway sees this hub as an opportunity to cripple the Borg and save millions or billions of innocents who would otherwise be at the Borg’s mercy. Interestingly, the dialog draws an explicit parallel all the way back to “Caretaker,” in which Janeway forfeited a way for her crew to return to the Alpha Quadrant in order to save a group of strangers. Now it looks as if history will repeat itself, with Janeway sacrificing a way to get home in order to save more strangers.

And really, that’s a pretty good story premise. “Endgame’s” central theme is one that grows from some of this series’ more important ideas. One is Captain Janeway’s ongoing struggle with herself to get her crew home, as she has always promised. Another is the concept of theVoyager crew as a family that needs to survive its dangerous surroundings in the Delta Quadrant. And in “Endgame” — between Admiral Janeway’s obsession to get the crew home, strangers be damned, and Captain Janeway’s hope to maintain a family that lives by dignified rules and tries to make a difference in the galaxy — we get an interesting conflict between one person who has maintained many of her Starfleet ideals and another who has lived through an additional 16 years of hardship and has become more of a self-serving pragmatist. At one point, the captain says to the admiral, “I refuse to believe I’ll ever become as cynical as you.”

Of course, one also must ask at what point the crew became “worth” saving for Admiral Janeway. “Endgame” conveniently overlooks all those Voyager crew members who have died over the seven-year course of the series when it talks about all the crew members who will die if Captain Janeway does not decide to take the road home that lies in front of her. Indeed, the admiral uses as leverage over the captain the fact that Seven will die three years from now, Chakotay (who will be married to Seven by then) will never be the same, and Tuvok will end up with a degenerative neurological disorder. Those facts certainly get the captain’s attention.

I’m frankly a little disturbed about the implications of changing the future to make it more personally desirable. Admiral Janeway flat-out scoffs at the Temporal Prime Directive and is willing to make timeline changes that affect nearly 30 years of her history. Is that a remotely responsible action on the part of a Starfleet officer? I doubt it, but the story doesn’t seem to take much of an ethical stance on the matter at all, although it’s a relief that Captain Janeway at least confronts her future self’s cynicism.

In the middle of this time-travel Borg plot are a few personal stories that comprise the episode’s humanity. The most compelling is the aforementioned Janeway vs. Janeway thread. Another is an amiable, if unoriginal, conclusion to this season’s welcome Tom/B’Elanna arc, in which their child is born and they become a fully completed example of the Voyager family premise and one of the more hopeful aspects of the series. There’s even a brief discussion about how the couple was getting used to the idea of raising their daughter on Voyager.

Still another element is a budding romance between Chakotay and Seven — a premise that has been panned by many fans. While I must say that this basically comes out of left field and doesn’t even work as well in real life as it did in holographic theory (see “Human Error”) it does at least signal that “Human Error” was leading somewhere (even if it still has an ending that makes no sense). And once information of a possible future comes spilling out, the notion of Seven fearing a relationship based on the odds of her or Chakotay dying is something that benefits from some useful dialog about living one’s life. Unfortunately, there’s little conviction behind the idea; the pairing of Seven and Chakotay is more or less arbitrary and serves the plot much more than it serves any sort of character truth.

As a technical exercise, “Endgame” is every bit as good and well-executed as the best Voyager action outings. The episode is expertly paced by Allan Kroeker, always watchable, and most of the actors put in solid performances, especially Mulgrew, who must pull double duty as her present and future selves. But as a series finale, I must say I wanted more than big special effects, more Borg villainy, and such an uninformative ending. Yes, we got the parallelism with “Caretaker” and Janeway struggling with herself in figurative and literal senses — all good stuff — but too many other questions are not asked or answered, and too many opportunities seem utterly lost.

The ending is an entertaining bag-o-tricks but continues to deepen the gullibility of the Borg. We have Janeway going head to head again with the Borg Queen (with Alice Krige in the role for the first time since First Contact). The Queen — inexplicable and unnecessary to the purpose of the Borg collective — has become Janeway’s arch-enemy, even though the Borg by definition really should not engage in behavior that looks like grudge matches or petty posturing. And convenient how a virus implanted in the collective can cause all of Borg space to blow up. (Is this a crippling blow to the Borg? Their civil war was not, so I don’t suppose this should be either.) Yes, the plot’s action works and sometimes works well, but some of the underlying ideas are suspect.

Ultimately, the overall biggest problem with “Endgame” is that no one pays a price for Voyager getting home, despite all the questionable means exploited to get there. There’s a lot of talk about how getting home is not the most important thing about Voyager‘s existence. Indeed, one of the story’s key turning points comes when Harry — yes, Harry — makes a “rousing” speech in the conference room about howVoyager‘s mission is the journey and not the destination. Unfortunately, coming from Harry, I found this speech laughably portentous. It’s also not very true. Voyager has always been about the destination, because the journey has usually been contrived for the sake of easier entertainment value.

And then we get that line: “There’s got to be a way to have our cake and eat it too.” I can’t stress how much that guts the real drama. After that line of dialog, there are no truly difficult or emotional choices, because fate suddenly becomes an act of random chance and clever plots that are “against all odds” but obviously destined to succeed. It’s good that Captain Janeway stops and asks whether getting home is more important than destroying the transwarp hub, but that decision ultimately does not matter because the Voyager writers let themselves have their cake and eat it too.

I’m reminded of the wonderful episode of DS9, “Children of Time,” where a choice forced the Defiant crew to sacrifice their lives as they knew them or erase an entire society of their would-be descendants from history. Ultimately, the Defiant crew could not escape the fact that making either choice required a costly sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice that no one here has to make, because they are able to destroy the hub and get home.

Sure, Admiral Janeway dies in the Big Borg Explosion, but she exists only in a loophole, which the story escapes through, allowing no one to face any consequences. Admiral Janeway is a figment of time-paradox scripting that works okay as a technical exercise but not as an emotional resolution free of cheating. The future is changed by Voyagergetting home, presumably paving the way for Captain Janeway to avoid her counterpart’s actions in her own future. No real character in the story is held accountable for anything, even though the crew can reap the reward of getting home.

The irony is that I don’t think the writers were in any position to deny the crew getting home, because their getting home is about all the real satisfaction we can get from a finale where that becomes the wholepoint. That’s why I think it was a mistake to wait until the final episode to answer this question — because the more important questions are in what happens after the crew gets home. “Endgame” attempts half-heartedly to answer such questions with the future timeline device at the story’s outset, but everything about that timeline is erased, so we don’t have a real ending to hold onto.

Questions about how the crew will rejoin society after being gone for seven years; what the former Maquis members will do next or how they will be accepted; what people who have been trapped on a starship will decide to do next; what it will mean for the “family” to break up and go their separate ways, or if they will choose to do that at all — all are essential questions that have been left completely untouched.

Yes, a certain amount should be left to the imagination, but this ending seems unsatisfying. After the sound and fury of a fast-moving plot and a lot of action (including Voyager hiding inside a Borg ship, for the writers’ purpose of manipulating suspense rather than plausibility), our crew emerges in the Alpha Quadrant. “We did it,” says Janeway, with a flat, almost unemotionally disbelieving delivery of the announcement — which, by the way, is almost perfectly appropriate. It’s a great initial reaction in the less-is-more school of thought, but to then leave it at that is frustrating.

Of course, we have the issue that has always been my paradox when reviewing Voyager — which is that I was entertained and sometimes even excited by the sweep of the story. Is that enough? For a final episode, I dunno. I enjoyed watching “Endgame” even as it disappointed me. I liked the ebb and flow even while I realized many of the characters were pawns in a ludicrous plot. The story is fun on its surface, but dig deeper and there’s not a whole lot to grasp. The crew gets home, but we have no idea what it means that they do.

Voyager lives up to, and down to, itself to the very end.

It has its cake and eats it too.



The next in best and worst is Season 6.


4 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 7

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 6 | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 5 | The Progressive Democrat

  3. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 2 | The Progressive Democrat

  4. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 1 | The Progressive Democrat

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