The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 6

For previous installments of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

For previous installments of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

For previous installments of Star Trek: Voyager:


The Best:

Survival Instinct, One Small Step, The Voyager Conspiracy, Pathfinder, Blink of an Eye, Collective, Ashes to Ashes, Live Fast and Prosper, Fury, Life Line, and Unimatrix Zero Part I


In brief bits:

  • Survival Instinct sees Seven of Nine encountering three ex-Borgs now separated from the Collective;
  • Alice bears similarities to Stephen King’s Christine;
  • One Small Step is a great episode about the disappearance of the Ares IV, a command module used in Earth’s Mars mission in 2032, and its pilot, John Kelly;
  • The Voyager Conspiracy sees Seven using her alcove to serve as a cortical processing subunit, with unfortunate results;
  • Pathfinder mainly sees TNG characters Lt. Reginald Barclay and Deanna Troi where Barclay managers to become successful in contacting Voyager for the first time since being lost in the Delta Quadrant;
  • Blink of an Eye is a really great episode with Voyager trapped in the gravitation field of a planet where time moves faster than the ships’;
  • Collective introduces the Borg children (Icheb, Mezoti, Azan, and Rebi);
  • Ashes to Ashes sees a long-presumed-dead crewmate return to Voyager;
  • Live Fast and Prosper is a very neat episode featuring Voyager crew impostors;
  • Fury sees the return of Kes;
  • Life Line sees The Doctor sent to the Apha Quadrant to cure his dying creator; and,
  • Unimatrix Zero Part I sees Seven wake in a virtual reality that some borg use during their regeneration cycles, which Captain Janeway seeks to exploit.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Survival Instinct:

“Survival Instinct” is a relatively quiet character show whose themes are sensible, well-written, often intriguing, and, shall we say, quite firmly established in previous Voyager lore. This latest entry into Seven’s backstory has some new and interesting nuances. It doesn’t bring huge new insights along with it, but it does provide for a good hour-long story with some tough, emotional choices.

The script, as those who keep up with behind-the-scenes news might know, is the first and only Voyager script written by DS9 alum Ron Moore, whose departure this summer from the Voyager staff during the production stages of these first few episodes came under ominous and undeniably unfortunate circumstances. Too bad—this script highlights Moore’s ability to find the characters’ voices. I would’ve looked forward to more Voyager stories from him.

Anyway, no lamenting allowed; the task at hand is scrutiny of the latest offering that dissects the Borg collective. Contrary to those UPN trailers, which we can count on to be trite, over-sensationalized, and in this case just flat-out inaccurate, “Survival Instinct” is not about the Borg being back or Seven rejoining the collective. The story utilizes the Borg as concepts, certainly, but it is not a rehash of “Dark Frontier.” The only Borg we see in this episode are confined to flashbacks sequences.

The story begins with at least one fresh breath of air: the notion thatVoyager has run into what looks like—gasp!—a melding of civil societies. The ship has docked at a massive space station populated by—gasp!—friendly non-xenophobes who are actually interested in a civil exchange of culture and ideas. I was surprised at how fresh this seemed. The episode is cast with dozens of extras that fill the ship’s corridors. Janeway’s ready room is crammed with gifts and junk she has received from these visitors. The whole notion feels upbeat. It’s a great idea simply on the psychological level: For once the Delta Quadrant doesn’t feel so barren and lonely. This is an idea that deserves to be the spotlight of an entire show, or several. Although … I must say I was somewhat disappointed in Tuvok’s cranky lack of patience through this cultural exchange. All he can worry about is potential security problems and, apparently, the disturbance of his schedules. (C’mon, where’s that Vulcan IDIC philosophy?)

Among the visitors to Voyager are three people (Vaughn Armstrong, Berlita Damas, Tim Kelleher) who, we learn, have something to hide. They want something from Seven of Nine. The story reveals that they maintain a constant telepathic link with one another, which they use to help circumvent security and hack into Seven’s brain while she’s regenerating.

Upon failing and being caught by security, they are forced to come clean about their objective: They are former Borg drones who have been recently freed from the collective. Unfortunately, they remain connected to each other in a way that prevents them from becoming individuals. They’re a triad joined together at the parietal lobe. They constantly hear one other’s thoughts, dream one other’s dreams, and finish one other’s sentences when speaking. How they can even function without a larger collective to assert control over them constitutes some sort of miracle. They’re not sure how or why this triadic link was created in the first place, but they’re sure Seven is the key to the mystery.

Of course, the nitpicker might wonder exactly how powerful this ability is, and ask why these three don’t go in separate directions and see if their (supposedly biological) connection maintains its link. I’d be impressed by any organic brain with an amplifier that can transmit across light-years of space. Maybe the telepathy “permeates subspace”—cf. the Borg vinculum that was giving Seven multiple personalities last year in “Infinite Regress”—and distance is irrelevant. Hey, whatever. I’ll play along if the implications are as interesting to ponder as they prove to be here.

Subsequently, Seven and Doc use weird Borgish nanoprobes, scans, etc., to join the triad into Seven’s brain in an attempt to piece together Seven’s memory lapses, wherein lie the clues to the triad’s current problem.

As “Survival Instinct” unfolds, these scenes are intercut with a flashback narrative that documents an event from eight years earlier, when Seven and these other three Borg drones—who were all members of the same Borg unimatrix which had been aboard a scout ship that crashed—found themselves disconnected from the collective. Perhaps the episode’s most poignant moments are the flashback scenes where we see these frightened drones’ individual memories beginning to resurface. They’re confused, yet slowly becoming aware of who they once were; the actors play them like robots waking up from a dream, with broken speech patterns and subtly percolating emotions emerging.

And they do not want to return to the collective. They realize they’ve been mutilated and abducted from their own identities, and now they plan to resist. The interesting exception is Seven. Having been assimilated as a child, individuality was a concept she never completely understood, and taking control of her actions is the titular “survival instinct,” which tells her that death is likely, and returning to that which she has known longer than anything—the collective—is her best option. She plays the actions of a “good little Borg”—not out of duty or philosophy, but out of fear of the unknown.

Seven uses her nanoprobes to force the three other drones into a single-network triad collective that obeys Borg protocol. The result left them joined together permanently, even after being reassimilated by and later freed from the Borg. (All this stuff about nanoprobes and mental transceivers can be jargon-packed, but I suppose it’s believable enough; it’s sci-fi with plenty of “sci” and plenty of “fi.”)

Back in the present, there’s a malfunction in the mind-linking process that disables the triad and leaves them in a less-than-ideal situation: The triadic link has been destroyed, and they can’t survive longer than a few weeks without it. Their only hope for survival in returning to the collective, where, if assimilated, they could live out “normal lives” as drones.

This brings about the episode’s big central decision. Should Seven let these three live for a month as truly free individuals, or a “normal” life-span as drones? With the triad unconscious and the procedure irreversible once performed, the choice must be made for them.

The choice seems clear—Seven sent them back to the collective against their will once, and she wouldn’t think of doing it again. There’s a standout Trekkian dialog scene between Doc and Seven that scrutinizes Seven’s motives. Doc asks if perhaps she’s motivated by guilt to free them, even if it means their certain deaths. Seven responds with a speech about individuality, highlighting her unique perspective on the matter—as well as Doc’s own unique perspective as a preprogrammed artificial lifeform—that says much about them both becoming “more than drones.” This is good use of characters; only the combination of Seven and Doc would allow a scene like this to shine, because of their unique friendship and because of what they are.

(If I may digress, I must add that given Seven’s attitude toward the collective in this episode, it seems particularly stupidly ironic that the UPN trailers would lift from an old episode a line where Seven says, “I will return to the collective.”)

The scene after Seven makes this decision also has some resonance, showing that these three are grateful they have been released—but also showing that this quasi-redemption for Seven does not automatically bring about forgiveness from all.

In more trivial away-from-the-main-story matters, I see that even Moore can’t make Harry into anything more than Our Lovable Goof, Harry. While in general I got a mild amount of amusement out of the scene where Tom and Harry are called into Janeway’s ready room to answer for disturbing the peace on the space station (they were partially responsible for starting a melee), any scene that ends with Harry saying “We kicked their asses”—except of course substituting “rackets” for “asses” based on dialog setup tricks that I won’t even bother to explain—is a scene that ranks extremely high on the Harry chump-o-meter. (I’ll tell you what—I’d sure like to kick Harry’s … “racket.”) I don’t mean to Harbor Harry Hatred [TM], but will I ever be able to take this guy seriously again?

Anyway. “Survival Instinct” is a definite winner. I think I’ll put this in the upper ranks of three stars. Since Seven has come onto this series we’ve seen a lot of stories with similar themes concerning individuality (“The Raven,” “One,” “Drone,” “Infinite Regress,” “Dark Frontier,” possibly others). This is one of the better-done examples (although not quite on the level of “Drone”), but it doesn’t venture all that far off the previously explored path.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of One Small Step:

There are moments during “One Small Step” when you can almost hear the writers screaming in the background: “Look! See? This is what Star Trek is about!” Yes, we understand, loud and clear.

Okay, so subtlety isn’t this episode’s strong suit. You can tell the people who made it were trying very hard for it to add up to something worthwhile. The under-the-surface projected self-aware sentimentality is abundantly evident.

Big deal. “One Small Step” is still a quality hour of Trek with some poignant, emotional moments and a solid story. It might not exhibit the most original themes ever scribed, but so what? It’s sincere and well presented. I liked it. It says something. It means something. It shows evidence of knowing what Star Trek is about.

After last week’s “Dragon’s Teeth,” which had a plot that obliviously steamrollered right over moral issues without any regard for (or awareness of) them, this episode is refreshing in that it stops to consider what it’s about. It has dialog instead of mindless action, and it’s actually about exploration.

In many ways, “One Small Step” is an episode that argues (from a thinly guised 20th century perspective) the necessity of a continued, expanding space program. These days, manned space missions seem to be covering well-traveled ground. Sure, the scientific analysis and technological advances are beneficial, but the question, I think, is when the next “great voyage” into space will begin. The moon missions were a towering achievement requiring great risk and human and financial expense. The new question: When will we go to Mars?

“One Small Step” is not of the same dramatic caliber as, say, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, but as an episode of Voyager it does some interesting things. It frames its questions within the terms of the usualVoyager plot formula. The formula itself isn’t captivating per se (space anomalies, crew members in jeopardy, etc.), but the addition of the human questions of exploration makes all the difference in the world. Lesson of the week: Routine anomalies and jeopardy premises can work just fine when they’re part of a bigger purpose.

October 19, 2032: Ares IV, one of NASA’s early manned missions to Mars, is a partial success. Astronauts have landed on the surface while a single pilot, Lt. John Kelley (Phil Morris, whose last Trek appearance was in DS9‘s “Rocks and Shoals,” where he portrayed the most understandable Jem’Hadar soldier of all time) maintains orbit. Suddenly a bizarre anomaly appears out of nowhere and swallows the craft. (“Mankind’s first encounter with a spatial anomaly,” Tuvok notes upon reviewing the history. It was obviously not to be the last.) The 21st century would never hear from Kelley again and would presume him dead. Weeks later, an emergency mission would rescue the marooned astronauts.

Three centuries later, Voyager happens upon the same anomaly, which emerges from subspace unexpectedly. It’s an exceptionally rare phenomenon, known as a “graviton ellipse,” which travels through subspace and emerges periodically (every few centuries). It’s well worth studying, so the history research begins: How old is this phenomenon, and is it the same anomaly that swallowed the Mars orbiter?

Well, of course it’s the same anomaly, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to so literally join 300-year-old history with the current storyline. Naturally, I must point out that the chances of Voyager being in the right time and place to encounter this anomaly—the very same anomaly that swallowed a human-built spacecraft 300 years earlier halfway across the galaxy—has probably got to be approximately several quintillion to one. But no matter—this is fiction and I’m willing to suspend my disbelief given the strength of the underlying sentiments.

From a character standpoint, the show is mainly about Seven and Chakotay, with some Janeway sentiments thrown in for good measure. Chakotay is revealed as the story’s honorary paleontologist, claiming such study was his first passion before “responsibility” forced him into Starfleet and the Maquis. With Paris and Seven comprising his away team, Chakotay volunteers to lead a Delta Flyer mission into the ellipse in hopes of retrieving the remains of the Mars orbiter (which, by the way, is not suspended in time; it’s been sitting for three centuries and that means three centuries). While we haven’t seen this aspect of Chakotay taken so far in the past, it does strike me as reasonable; he’s a guy who has shown interest in legends and history.

Seven provides the counterpoint to Chakotay’s earnest interest in the past, offering up such notions as “history is irrelevant.” She doesn’t understand why the crew would take on a dangerous mission for what she perceives as purely sentimental reasons. When she questions the sentiment, Janeway encourages Seven to volunteer for the salvage mission. After all, she might learn something from the experience.

I wonder if Seven was maybe written a little too strongly in the opposing position. Given all she knows, the notion of her believing “history is irrelevant” seems a little extreme, even for Seven. And given all she has learned in the past, it seemed a little bit like the writers turned back the clock somewhat and wrote Seven for the benefit of those who haven’t been watching the past two years. It wasn’t exactlyout of character, but let’s just say that if you’ve never seen Voyagerbefore, you’ll still instantly understand that Seven is the newest character who will be learning all the human lessons here.

So the Delta Flyer enters the graviton ellipse to search for Kelley’s spacecraft. When they find it, it’s an awe-filled moment where we see characters coming face to face with history, uncovering it with their own eyes. That’s a big part of “One Small Step’s” appeal; it’s about the thrill of exploration and discovery. One of this series’ biggest shortcomings is that it usually lacks that thrill, because what we find in the Delta Quadrant is rarely new or unique. But, for once, here’s a spatial anomaly that isn’t just something that will threaten the ship. It’s like a floating galactic museum, filled with relics that are literally billions of years old. The ellipse itself is one of the oldest things a starship has ever encountered, perhaps not much younger than the universe itself. Chakotay says he could spend the rest of his life studying it. I believe him.

This story, of course, would not be complete without something in the mission going very wrong. What’s nice is that what goes wrong can be attributed to human judgment error rather than arbitrary contrivance. The tech aspects of the plot, for once, don’t impede the drama. The way the ellipse is attracted to objects that emit electromagnetic energy seems believable, and the script doesn’t resort to technobabble excess. There’s a plausible change in the ellipse’s course, which sets in motion the bigger problem: an imminent collision with an asteroid that will cause severe turbulence in the ellipse that could damage the Flyer. This leads to the moment of human error, where Chakotay refuses to leave the ellipse without bringing the Mars spacecraft in tow, which slows them down enough that the likelihood of escape is decreased. It’s a close call that Chakotay loses, and as a result the Flyer is damaged so severely as to prevent escape from the ellipse altogether, putting the away team in danger.

I particularly enjoyed the resulting Chakotay/Seven interaction. It’s a character pair-up that we don’t often see, and the dynamic proves to be a good one. Chakotay made a mistake, and Seven lets him have it in a scene where she’s clearly angry at the commander for his following a sentimental “obsession.” Seven’s anger is understandable; she didn’t want to be on this mission in the first place, let alone die for it. But Seven is overlooking the greater importance of the mission, and one can hardly blame Chakotay for his calculated risk. Given the importance of the discovery, you don’t just give up on something like this when it’s just within your clutches. I’d say Chakotay barely even had a choice. “Obsession” is too a strong word. He wanted to preserve a piece of history, almost had it, but lost on the roll of the dice.

So next it becomes a race against the clock: The Delta Flyer team must figure out how to repair the engines before the ellipse returns to subspace while they’re still trapped inside. The only viable option is to beam over and salvage a component from the Mars orbiter and adapt it for use in the Flyer. With Chakotay injured and Paris needed as the expert pilot, the retrieval mission falls upon Seven.

Ultimately, the hardware aspects of the plot really aren’t that important (although, because of the character interaction these scenes are more involving than a plot of this type usually is). What’s important is how this all fits in with Lt. Kelley’s 2032 mission. Kelley was not killed upon impact as was believed at the time. While Seven is working to retrieve the module, she plays Kelley’s logs, which include recordings from after he entered the ellipse. (One wonders if so much of the equipment on board the orbiter would still work so well after being frozen for 300 years, but I won’t be a stickler.)

Kelley’s experience in the orbiter spanned several days. He explored the phenomenon that swallowed him, and through that exploration he came upon perhaps some of the biggest possible discoveries of the time, including proof of other intelligent life in the universe. Ironically, these discoveries wouldn’t see the light of day for another 300 years. It became clear to Kelley he would not be able to escape the ellipse, but I particularly liked the writers’ notion that he didn’t consider the mission a failure—that “What I’ve seen proves we were right to come out here.”

Watching Seven’s gradual change in attitude as she views Kelley’s logs reveals an uplifting poignancy, as if for the first time she understands the concept of a true explorer and hero. (And I liked that Jeri Ryan conveyed this change in attitude without a single line of dialog.) People like Kelley and the other Mars landers paved the way for greater things by forging ahead through the uncertain at great risk.

Even given the technology advances since the moon missions, it’s hard to imagine that a manned mission to Mars could be anything short of extremely difficult and risky. Just as Apollo 13 showed us, there are any number of things that could go wrong with technology and machinery—which might be reliable but is definitely not infallible—and one small problem can start the domino effect of disaster. In the Star Trekuniverse, we’re shown interstellar space travel as an aspect of life that’s nearly as routine as, say, driving a car is today. If there’s one thing “One Small Step” seems to realize, as Paris notes in one early scene, it’s that space travel in the 20th and 21st centuries was anything but routine. The dangers were real and the unknowns were real. Even if a spatial anomaly didn’t swallow you up, you were still alone, at the mercy of your technology. The space travelers of the 24th century have it easy by comparison.

There is no doubt “One Small Step” has a reverence for the space program and the astronauts who brave it. The message isn’t subtle. But it is fairly inspiring. In Trek we take space travel for granted, and, especially with Voyager and its magical indestructibility, it has become easy to get jaded even though we’re supposedly exploring the dangerous vastness of the other side of the galaxy. This is an episode that breaks free and explores the idea of what it means to be traveling that “final frontier” with no expectations. By turning back the clock and exploring Kelley’s mission, we and the Voyager crew are able to make first-time discoveries of things that this fictional universe has long since accepted as routine. That’s a sentiment I find well worth an hour.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of The Voyager Conspiracy:

“The Voyager Conspiracy” owes much to the Chris Carter school of storytelling. The main idea is that if you take enough facts and somehow jam them together, you get a big, messy, far-fetched conspiracy theory that has just enough plausibility (maybe) to arouse suspicions but not enough to provide anything resembling a convincing argument. This is Voyager jumping aboard the X-Files conspiracy bandwagon.

Of course, the same question-turned-pointed-out-pratfall applies: Does any of it wash or are we just being taken for a ride? (You get one guess; if you’re wrong, you will be forced to dissect every hidden meaning of every statement ever uttered by the Cigarette-Smoking Man.)

“Voyager Conspiracy” also turns out to be another entry into theVoyager book of “Borg psychological thrillers,” in the vein of episodes like “The Raven,” “One,” and last year’s “Infinite Regress.” So I guess that makes it Yet Another Seven Show [TM].

Anyway, this is the type of episode that comes with a great-sounding concept that might very well be impossible to successfully pull off in practice. Don’t get me wrong; Menosky comes close here, and finds a clever way of spouting intriguing conspiracy theories at breakneck speed, without having any bearing on the past as we know it, thanks to the plot’s special catch.

The key to the game is Seven of Nine, who at the episode’s outset is testing a new processing device that allows her to assimilate database information at great speeds—sort of a Borg “learn while you sleep” procedure, as Paris points out. In an early scene, we see this device allows Seven to quickly draw incisive conclusions from many seemingly unrelated facts, as she confidently dismantles the Mystery of the Photonic Fleas. My only question: What the heck is a photonic flea, and how does it eat plasma? (Okay, two questions.)

Never mind. The Mystery of the Photonic Fleas is the warm-up game for the main event: an elaborate conspiracy theory that implicates the captain (and others) in a five-year-old plot that, it would seem, had leftVoyager stranded in the Delta Quadrant intentionally. “An elaborate deception,” Seven calls it.

Say what?

By this point, “The Voyager Conspiracy” had my attention. One of the story’s appeals is the way it uses past Voyager events and twists them into a larger-than-life plot that is as complicated as it is sinister. Seven’s new realizations promptly transform her into a sort of Agent Mulder on crack. She summons Chakotay to the astrometrics lab, seals the doors, disables the sensors, and unleashes upon him one of the most extremely extreme paranoid theories ever conceived in a Star Trekepisode. Where’s Section 31 when you need them?

I liked the inventive use of old Voyager stories; the episode in particular zeroes in on the destruction of the Caretaker’s array, raising the question of why it was destroyed with tricobalt devices—apparently not standard-issue equipment on a starship. Ancient history (by Voyagerstandards)—like Kes’ departure, Seska’s child, and Tuvok’s undercover Maquis infiltration—all figure into the plot via some truly inventive dialog. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Does any of it make any believable sense whatsoever? Well, not really. The elements are all interesting tidbits in and by themselves, but if you’re looking for a master plan that means anything, either you need a brain like Seven’s (complete with Borg implants) or you should go hunting equally futilely through the bogus conspiracy plotting mess ofThe X-Files.

Seven’s theory ventures quite far into the complicated and is laid out for the audience through several minutes of rapid-fire exposition. While actors get paid to remember lines, it’s still a credit to Ryan that she can expel so many Voyager facts in such a small amount of time. For her next challenge, maybe she should tackle a one-woman performance ofLaw & Order, starring as both detectives, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, and all the suspects and witnesses. You want facts? I’d like to see her remember and expel all that.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that Seven believes Janeway’s actual mission involves the Federation and Cardassians conspiring together to establish a military presence in the Delta Quadrant, using this week’s plot element as the tool. That tool would be a space “catapult.” You see, the conspiracy plotting unfolds against a background subplot in which a friendly alien named Tash (Albie Selznik) is about to use his recently completed catapult to send his ship several thousand light years on its way to his own home—a device Voyager also could use to cut a few years off the journey. This device uses a reactor similar to the technology from the Caretaker’s array, which is one of the key reasons Seven thinks the conspiracy centers on the destruction of the array.

Unfortunately, there’s a key problem with all of this, which is the episode’s tendency to substitute sheer speculation for evidence—despite its claims to the contrary. Seven explains. And explains. And explains some more. Chakotay informs her that she has uncovered some interesting coincidences, but nothing more. So Seven offers more facts, and Chakotay slowly allows his suspicions to be aroused. Is Seven onto something here?

Well, personally, I don’t see anything that can’t be explained away as convenience, or even dismissed out of hand, and I don’t think Seven’s conspiracy theory holds water under any sort of scrutiny. And I also don’t understand the turning point when Chakotay begins to see the merit in the argument. Particularly ridiculous, for example, is the notion that cease-fires to confrontations with the Borg and Hirogen were roundabout attempts to form relationships and a power structure in the Delta Quadrant—and not simply the truces that existed for the reasons which they were originally explained. Oh, come on. (Just what power structure is Seven referring to? Facts not in evidence?)

And is paranoia an airborne contagion? While this is all very interesting, Chakotay doesn’t seem reeled in by the theory because of its “compelling evidence” so much as because the plot needs to advance to its next stage.

And the one piece of actual evidence that makes one wonder—namely the tractor beam that Seven alleges had intentionally saved the piece of Caretaker technology that would (allegedly) later be used to build the catapult—is never explained. The lack of explanation feels more like a loose end than a mystery. If everything else is conjecture, what is this tractor beam? The story, it would seem, hasn’t the slightest clue.

The episode shows its real hand when Seven next calls Janeway to astrometrics to unleash the same evidence upon her—except this time implicating Chakotay in a Maquis plot. Obviously, there is no conspiracy; the problem is Seven, who has assimilated too much information and, in Borg-like fashion, is trying to make order out of chaos—ineffectively, it would seem. Seven subsequently flees Voyagerin the Delta Flyer, one crazed conspiracy-nut Borg babe.

There’s a fair amount of subtle paranoid humor percolating beneath the plot. In one of the best-played scenes of the season, Janeway and Chakotay run into each other in the cargo bay, where both are looking for clues and investigating Seven’s data absorption device. This scene is damn near acted to perfection, with each character suspicious of the other, and both thinking the other isn’t onto them. The quiet, relaxed, suspicious demeanor carried by both characters is hilariously subtle in its sly-yet-evident distrust, and played so calmly and carefully by Mulgrew and Beltran that it’s—dare I say—delicious. Too bad the episode couldn’t capture this sense more often. The fun to be found is mostly within isolated, irrelevant little snippets of conjecture, but here it does a good job of putting a new spin on the Janeway/Chakotay chemistry.

I must say, however, that if a conspiracy threat is wiped away and trust is renewed with two lines of dialog, then it probably wasn’t much of a convincing theory in the first place—certainly not enough to have the close-and-friendly captain and first officer second-guessing each other. (Yes, indeed—as Janeway said, the whole thing’s a house of cards.)

I did enjoy Seven’s approach when detailing her theories to Chakotay and (later) Janeway—which is basically “assault with masses of facts.” It ultimately isn’t convincing as theory, but I liked the urgency projected by Seven’s fast-and-furious deployment of fact after fact, the attitude of the scenes occasionally laced with humorous incredulity.

Alas, the “character-building” ending, where Janeway tries to reason with the crazed Seven, did not impress me. The problem, I think, is that Seven is finally reaching that point where the human lessons are beginning to tire. Last week she learned a lesson in “One Small Step.” Now we’re supplied yet another example of Janeway playing the maternal figure. A “been there, done that” attitude begins to take shape. The schmaltz is pushed a bit hard. And then in the wrap-up scene, Seven explains to Naomi Wildman (never just “Naomi,” always“Naomi Wildman”) that quality time spent is more important than quantity. Maybe someone should tell that to missing-in-action Mom, Samantha.

Also gnawing at me is whether Seven is supposed to be a computer or a person, and what has the final say in the control of her mind—computer malfunctions or brain functions capable of making final decisions. Janeway is able to overcome the computer by getting through to the human, but the road to be wary of is the one that has Seven becoming more like Data.

Despite the plot qualms, I sort of liked “The Voyager Conspiracy.” It’s fairly entertaining, well acted, and with a good premise and plenty of cleverness. But the myriad of facts doesn’t add up, and brings down whatever in the plot we’re supposed to take seriously. Maybe there simply wasn’t supposed to be a plot to begin with. I could’ve lived with that if the episode wasn’t so set on investing so much in that nonexistent would-be plot, only to give us another lesson for Seven. At the end, our house of cards is a deck scattered all over the room, all over the Delta Quadrant.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Pathfinder:

It’s nice to break format every once in a while. “Pathfinder” breaks the usual format, places much of the emphasis on guest characters, takes place almost entirely in a setting away from Voyager, features two guest stars from the TNG days … and does it all without any of it seeming like a calculated ratings stunt. There’s real substance here.

Sure, this story will probably resonate more with TNG fans (particularly fans of Lt. Reginald Barclay), but this is still a Voyager story, with a main character whose loneliness might symbolize the loneliness of theVoyager crew. (Or not, seeing as the Voyager crew has rarely been characterized as lonely but instead as a group with implausibly eternal optimism, but, hey, I won’t be an ass about it.)

Barclay. I’ve always liked this guy. Okay, not always (the stories didn’t always serve him well), but usually. There’s a certain affection you can’t help but have for a guy who struggles the way Barclay does. He’s sort of a bumbling goof when it comes to talking to other people, kind of like Rom on DS9 … except likable, believable, and with genuine depth. He’s got that klutzy personality, and consistently falls apart when he’s trying to explain what’s going through his mind. His brain is always racing ahead; verbal conveyance just can’t keep up, and his anxiety nearly brings everything else crashing down.

Barclay is the center of a remarkably fresh-feeling premise that’s relatively rare for this series: a reversed perspective where the starshipVoyager is the object rather than the subject. (A couple other episodes with this characteristic that come to mind are “Living Witness” and “Distant Origin.”) Barclay is part of a project called “Pathfinder”—run by a Starfleet Headquarters-based science team devoted to researching methods and technologies that might permit communication withVoyager in the Delta Quadrant. But Barclay has found himself obsessing over the project, obsessing over Voyager itself. He has conjured holodeck re-creations of the crew, and interacts with them, ostensibly because he needs someone to “bounce ideas off of,” but really because he has grown attached to these fictional representations of a stranded crew.

With the Enterprise in orbit around Earth, Barclay has contacted Counselor Troi, hoping maybe she can help him. He insists his problem isn’t a relapse of his holo-addiction. On more than one occasion he assures other characters, “It’s not what you think.” Unfortunately, it probably is. It’s not exactly a relapse, because the situation is different from the last time: In “Hollow Pursuits” it was about fantasy and escape. Here it’s more about need.

On any given day at work, Barclay’s inability to convey what he’s thinking is a problem. He has devised a complicated procedure thatmight be able to allow two-way real-time communication with Voyager. It would require dedicated use of an elaborate Federation communications device known as MIDAS (the Mutara Interdimensional Deep Space Transponder Array; you can figure out how that becomes “MIDAS” on your own). The procedure involves long-winded technical explanations, but sometimes Barclay can barely get four words out before he trips over himself.

Barclay’s boss, Commander Pete Harkins (Richard McGonagle) isn’t hard-headed, but he has followed Barclay’s over-exuberant suggestions in the past, ending up with results that were, well, a waste of time. Harkins is skeptical of Barclay’s newest plan, which seems way too complicated to work. But Barclay is certain it will work and absolutely dead-set on trying, and he sends himself down a path that vaguely resembles the exhausting, bothersome determination of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy.

“Pathfinders” is easily the best character study since B’Elanna’s complex outing in “Barge of the Dead.” Most of that can be credited to Dwight Schultz’s exceptional performance. Barclay is full of quirks, nervous gestures, and a tendency to suddenly raise his voice when he feels he isn’t being listened to. Schultz is able capture these nuances without them coming across as over-performed. The performance creates a sympathetic person when it could’ve come across merely as a quirky comedy routine.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for Barclay; we can see that deep down what this guy has to say makes sense, but at the same time we recognize every step along the way where he slips up and reveals his obsession and instability, which drags down his own cause. Sometimes it’s downright painful to watch Barclay as he tries so hard and so unsuccessfully to express his thoughts, teetering on the edge of desperation. The scene where he first offers his idea to Admiral Owen Paris (Richard Herd) is a perfect example, as he stammers his way through a barely coherent argument, then forgets who he’s talking to and presumes he’s the only one thinking of the project in human terms. Admiral Paris is, of course, Tom Paris’ father, and his interest in the Pathfinder project has a significant personal stake as well.

The only place Barclay feels comfortable is in the holodeck, interacting with the fake Voyager crew. Once inside, he’s a truly different person: calm, composed, charismatic. The underlying message here is one of control: Don’t we feel more comfortable in situations we can control versus those we can’t? The holodeck crew, it would seem, are programmed to be Barclay’s friends. He can anticipate the way they will respond to him. They tell him just what he needs to hear just when he needs to hear it. Unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works, and it’s hard to make any real progress in a fantasy realm.

Barclay doesn’t want to admit this is a real problem. But his boss does, and we can understand when Harkins pulls him off the project and bars him from the lab and the holodeck until he seeks counseling. It’s interesting to see how Barclay deludes himself into believing that his obsession is all just part of doing his job. Troi has to push him pretty hard before he admits to himself that it runs deeper than simply being overly committed to his work.

Barclay’s problem ultimately boils down to the simple concept of loneliness. Leaving the Enterprise to live on Earth hasn’t been easy. He hasn’t been able to make new friends, because he isn’t quite sure how. All he has is his work and that simulated Voyager crew. To him, Voyageris representative of his own emotional isolation. At home he lives with his cat. The cat’s name is Neelix. My, what a lonely world. When Barclay finally breaks down and confesses this all to Troi, it’s an affecting moment we can understand. The Enterprise served as Barclay’s unified friends-and-family. And when you lose that, where do you turn? The world is there, but how do you make yourself fit into it? This is a human story that tackles a believable dilemma. No people mutating into salamanders, just honest emotions.

The plot, which serves the characters well and vice-versa, does a good job of moving along at a good pace without unnecessary distractions. And it’s particularly nice that we have a stake in the plot as it unfolds on its own terms. We didn’t have much stake in the actual plotting of episodes like “Alice,” “Riddles,” “Dragon’s Teeth,” or “Voyager Conspiracy” because they all played out in ways that were more or less inevitable, so the value to be found was strictly within the characters. But “Pathfinder” has a storyline that’s about something important to the Voyager crew, so in addition to characters we have a plot that holds its own. I cared very much how this hour would play out.

For Barclay, obsessions do not simply go away. He needs to test his theory. He goes over his commander’s head, straight to Admiral Paris, who isn’t thrilled with Barclay’s persistence but listens to him. When that doesn’t result in immediate action, however, Barclay waits until the lab closes and breaks in to carry out the procedure on his own. Barclay ups the stakes and risks his career, but little of that matters to him; contacting Voyager is what matters. One of the most memorable details has to be when Barclay finally sends his message. The agonized expression on his face, a bizarre cross between sheer terror and relief, says it all: “Here I am at the moment I’ve been waiting for … but what if it doesn’t work?” He looks like he could burst from emotional overload at any moment.

The episode also has a clever “action” sequence when Harkins comes with two security officers to arrest Barclay for breaking into the lab. Barclay, who has obviously planned ahead, still needs to send a second message to Voyager, so he transfers the computer controls and makes a dash into the holodeck, where his resourcefulness and talent for holodeck games give him the advantage. But what I particularly liked was Harkin’s approach to ending the game—rigging the simulatedVoyager to self-destruct—and the idea of Barclay backing down and ending the program at the last moment rather than seeing the crew blown up. This is an interesting action scene because it also addresses the psychology of the characters.

Of course, since this is a feel-good episode of Trek, Barclay’s theory is a remarkable success that reaches the Voyager crew, who are able to establish a live communication and talk back. This saves Barclay in his hour of peril, and supplies the Voyager crew with a moment they’ve long been waiting for. All of this is quite well-played for its awe factor.

What makes this such a good payoff isn’t just the fact that Voyagerfinally has a live communication with home, but also the use of Paris as a brief but integral part of the equation. He finally gets to hear from his father, who has come to accept his son and put the uneasy past behind him. There’s no actual dialog between them—the episode shows some remarkable restraint—but Tom’s silent reaction is on the money and his toast later indicates some closure that rings all the way back to the series’ beginning.

This ranks as one of the more comfortable feel-good episodes onVoyager‘s record, featuring a tidy, happy ending. I have nothing against feel-good shows, particularly when done this well. Everything works out for Barclay, who finally seems able to move on with his life. I only hesitate to think where he’d be had the communication effort failed. It’s a good bet he’d have been crushed by such a failure, possibly beyond recovery, in addition to his career very likely being over. Things ultimately worked out fabulously, but Barclay’s path to personal salvation isn’t exactly one I’d recommend.

Some other thoughts:

  • Boy, they sure rebuilt San Francisco and Starfleet Headquarters awfully fast. As much as I liked seeing Earth, it might’ve been nice to have some indication, however slight, that Starfleet is recovering from the Dominion War. If and when Voyager does get home, I certainly hope we don’t get a Federation that’s completely healed, as if the final two years of DS9 didn’t happen at all. (I know—this isn’t relevant to “Pathfinder,” but it was something that came to mind.)
  • This week also reminded me how I wouldn’t mind seeing theVoyager crew switching to the current, better-looking Starfleet uniforms. Just a thought (albeit not a particularly relevant one).
  • I enjoyed the brief Seven/Neelix exchange about the singing lessons. What I particularly found amusing was Seven’s way of insulting Neelix with a statement that would be sarcastic from anyone else (telling him he should perhaps restrict his singing attempts to the shower), except that Seven really means it and delivers it as a 100 percent neutral fact with no intended malice. Hee. (Last week Seven assimilated the Borg implant labeled “Richard Belzer.” In addition to turning her into a conspiracy theorist, apparently it also helps her deadpan humor technique.)
  • I also was hoping there might be some mention of Doc’s connection to Barclay as evidenced in second season’s “Projections.” According to that episode, Barclay was on a team that helped test the EMH’s original program. That might’ve also been a nice touch to figure into his obsession. Ah, well. I suppose that might’ve been cluttering up the story a bit.
  • Of course, I must mention the story’s one noticeable plot hole. In predicting Voyager’s course, there’s no way Starfleet can take into account the fact that since Doc’s communication almost two years ago in “Message in a Bottle,” Voyager has made several jumps amounting to anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 light-years (“Night,” “Timeless,” “Dark Frontier,” last week’s “Voyager Conspiracy”). Based on Starfleet’s prediction (and Barclay’s own dialog aboutVoyager being 60,000 light-years away), the entire effort would be rendered ineffective, methinks. Just once I’d like to see the writers accurately represent the distance remaining in Voyager‘s journey, which I’m inclined to believe is less than 30,000 light-years at this point.
  • I liked the lighting techniques in Barclay’s apartment—the way it went from bright afternoon to sunset to darkness in between the flashback scenes. Not a big surprise, since the director is Mike Vejar, who I’m inclined to call Trek‘s current best. (In DS9‘s “The Changing Face of Evil,” also directed by Vejar, I was similarly struck by such a technique used to show the sun setting on Bajor in various scenes throughout the episode.)

I’ve droned on long enough. “Pathfinders” isn’t perfect (that one plot hole regarding the distances is a bit of a nag), but it’s an episode where I really cared, was really entertained, and really liked the characterization. That’s what counts. This is a real keeper, easily among Voyager‘s best.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Blink of an Eye:

“Blink of an Eye” is a compelling hour of Voyager, and it might’ve seemed like a truly original sci-fi concept if it weren’t for the fact the basic premise was made into an episode of original Trek more than 31 years ago. Is this new episode an homage, an updated retelling, or a blatant plundering of already-used ideas?

I’m inclined to use the phrase “updated retelling.” One gets the sense that this story might’ve been intended to seem fresh to new-Trek fans who were not familiar with the original premise; at the same time, the fact that the title has barely been changed (the TOS episode was called “Wink of an Eye”) is a hint that maybe the writers were consciously, if quietly, acknowledging their source material.

Still, with a premise built on such an interesting hook, it almost seems like the original script’s writers, Arthur Heinemann and Gene Coon, deserved to be inserted into this week’s credits.

“Blink of an Eye” is not a rehash, mind you. “Blink” is, in fact, miles ahead of “Wink,” which had that great starting premise but didn’t do much with it, and required viewers to overlook crucial flaws in logic in order for the story to work.

“Blink” takes the idea of time differential to a much more interesting level by inserting Voyager into the very mythos of the strange new world in question. This is easily the best, most ambitious sci-fi premise seen on Voyager this season.

We’ve got a planet that exists in accelerated time, where nearly an entire day goes by in the time the Voyager crew experiences one second. Voyager gets stuck in orbit in some sort of technobabble eddy, and while they’re stuck they observe the society below developing from primitive to industrial to digital. And what’s perhaps most interesting about this idea is that the planet’s inhabitants all the while are observing Voyager, which looks like the brightest, biggest star in the sky. It’s a wondrous new take on a concept that was nowhere within the thought range of the original “Wink.” Anyone who is calling “Blink” simply a rehash is missing the point.

The most interesting aspect of “Blink” is what grows from the implications of everyone gazing into the sky, seeing Voyager, and wondering what that super-bright star in the sky means. The story supplies us several time periods on the planet where a dialog opens between two people looking at the sky. They wonder what it is, who put it there, and why it causes frequent earthquakes. As the time periods change, the nature of the belief regarding this mysterious “star” changes. At first it’s worshiped and feared; later those values of worship are challenged and primitive contact is attempted (by sealed letter and hot-air balloon, no less); and still later we have astronomers staring at it through telescopes, sending it radio signals, and wondering who put the “Sky Ship” in orbit and why it’s not going anywhere.

Strangely, I don’t have a whole lot to say about some of the societal perspectives, because the most interesting ideas to ponder are implicit. In fact, if there’s a drawback to “Blink of an Eye,” it’s that some of the execution can’t really live up to the potential of the concept. For such an interest-piquing idea, there are numerous scenes that, in and by themselves, strike me as oddly lackluster. As a whole, probably each scene is necessary to establish the unfolding canvas of centuries of time, but as individual drama scenes they don’t really stand out to say something powerful.

Part of that, I think, lies on the guest cast, which isn’t uniformly solid. Each time frame we see features two actors engaging in a dialog about the Sky Ship, and in each case one actor seems significantly weaker than the other. Also, the early scenes can’t break free and become completely engrossing because the dialog comes across as a bit stilted. Particularly in the first two ancient time periods, the people talk with a wooden properness that strikes me as over-scripted and artificial.

Back aboard Voyager, we have some neat ideas, like the idea of beaming Doc down to the planet to investigate a way of escaping orbit, and the idea that when he is unretrievable for several minutes because of a technical problem, he comes back to Voyager having been on the planet three years, where he had basically become a citizen.

And in the most immediate example of observing progress that’s unfolding before one’s eyes, Seven witnesses on the viewscreen in a few moments the testing of antimatter bombs over what is really a few months’ time—and then realizes the devices have been promptly aimed at Voyager.

The best moments come in the latter stages of the show after two astronauts make the historic first attempt to reach the Sky Ship. Seeing through their eyes, we’re able to experience the anticipation as they approach Voyager—a weird, alien, impossibly frozen object that has been a mystery for centuries. They board Voyager, which of course gives us the creepy visuals of two explorers walking through the decks of a ship full of frozen people. (Are the physics of such a situation plausible? Wouldn’t people running around the ship at such high speeds cause some sort of increased friction or heat? What if one of these astronauts punched somebody? Would their hand go right through a Voyager crew member and break them in half? Is there some sort of law of conservation of energy or something to account for this? Okay, I’m being flippant; I honestly don’t know or care. There’s a reason I got a degree in English and not physics.)

Suddenly, the astronauts are pulled into Voyager‘s rate of time. One of the astronauts dies from trauma, but the other, a man named Gotana-Retz (Daniel Dae Kim), survives, and becomes the emotional anchor for the story’s closing stages. Gotana-Retz is represented by the better actor of the two astronaut characters, fortunately, and I liked that the story revealed the way Voyager impacted him as an individual who had always sought answers to the Sky Ship mystery—from childhood.

The show’s most interesting explicitly discussed idea is that the mystery of the Sky Ship had prompted a societal acceleration of technology (sort of a “space race” like the race to the Moon). The idea that a people sought development to answer questions with such huge significance is a notion that tunes into our own wonders. There’s also some musing over what might happen to society if the Sky Ship were to leave. Interesting, how the universal are-we-alone-in-the-universe question is filtered through this particular Voyager plot.

Of course, it’s also an honest and telling point that, as Doc reveals, if some members of government had their way, newly discovered weapons would be quickly pointed and fired at the Sky Ship.

The ending works pretty well, though there seems to be a tad bit of chaos. It’s nice that Voyager‘s escape from the planet’s grasp isn’t arbitrarily handled with tech but instead by the decision to have Gotana-Retz return to the planet and tell his people what he has seen.

Despite the smart script, “Blink” doesn’t really land in the realm of Trekkian masterpieces. Some of the more potent moments in the drama feel a bit underplayed (and Paul Baillargeon still refuses to score moments of action with any sort of energy). Where this episode reveals its cracks is in the ebb and flow of the plot along the way. There are distracting moments that don’t quite seem to fit, like the walk-on of Naomi Wildman and especially Doc’s brief mention of his “son” from when he was on the planet—which is downright confusing as presented, and seems tacked on since it makes one wonder where all the emotional attachment vanished to the instant he beamed back aboard Voyager.

But regardless, this episode is a winner. It has genuine sci-fi imagination of the type that sci-fi deserves. I’ve observed that there are two general types of sci-fi that Hollywood uses to establish their stories: the kind that tell human dramas about the nature of possibilities and imagination, and the type that exploit spaceships and fantasy technology merely for explosions and cheap thrills. “Blink of an Eye” represents the former.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Collective:

In “Collective,” we’re introduced to a small group of young Borg. They’re the sole survivors of a Borg cube that suffered a catastrophe, and now the five of them are running this massive cube-shaped spaceship. Frankly, they’re not up to the job. When it comes to being Borg, these kids need practice.

Enter the Delta Flyer, which is manned by the team of Chakotay, Paris, Kim, and Neelix (after “Memorial” and now this installment, one wonders if this is the new official crew of the Delta Flyer). We join them as—apparently trying to be more like the TNG crew—they are engaged in a game of poker, which is interrupted by the sudden appearance of said Borg cube, much to the dismay of Ensign Paris, who had a full house. (The shot that reveals the cube is nicely played for its mild shock value but logically dubious; one wonders why the ability of the Borg to sneak up within visual range of a ship isn’t something we’ve seen before. What we have here is a scene for spurring an argument about cinematic ends vs. means, but never mind.)

The Delta Flyer is captured in a tractor beam and the crew members are thrown into a cell for use as … hostages? Since when do the Borg take hostages? We’ll see in a moment, but first some chit-chat.

It’s an episode like “Collective” that has me hoping, hoping, hoping that the producers of Voyager are looking well beyond the end of the hour at hand. If you take the hour for what we’ve got, let’s just say it’s not the most compelling hour of all time.

For starters, I have to ask: Have the Borg as story devices been exhausted? I remember the awe of first seeing them in TNG‘s “Q-Who” all those years ago, and the terror of seeing them again in “The Best of Both Worlds.” Over the past few years of Voyager, that awe has been replaced with a sense of nearly clockwork annual routine. The Borg were still interesting, but our fear that they might assimilate us was hardly a factor anymore. Instead the question was how the Borg would figure into a story about the nature of human individuality, particularly once Seven of Nine came on board. In spirit, she was our weekly Borg representative.

“Dark Frontier” last year was essentially the final word in Borg as action/adventure devices—one of the best-produced (but not best-told) Trek episodes of all time. Given that they were no longer the awesome terror of the galaxy they once seemed to be, “Dark Frontier” was acceptable use of the Borg, but by pulling out all the stops it also served as an implied resignation that perhaps the Borg were ready for retirement. An idea can only go so far before it becomes tired.

“Collective” appears to be an attempt to tell a “different” kind of Borg tale: Since we can no longer plausibly battle the Borg, we’ll instead negotiate with adolescent drones—whose behavior resembles your average adolescent human more than your average Borg. WhenVoyager comes looking for their missing team, they find the Borg cube, but because there are only five drones—severed from the hive mind—who haven’t a clue how to run a Borg ship, Voyager is able to swiftly stalemate the confrontation.

We learn that the five children—or “neo-natal drones,” as the story sometimes calls them—had emerged prematurely from their “maturation chambers” after the shipwide catastrophe, a cybernetic-targeting pathogen that infected the ship and killed all the drones. The maturation chambers protected the children from being infected.

Now the juvenile drones demand that Voyager surrender its navigational deflector. They hope to modify it so they can contact the Borg and be reintegrated into the collective. If Janeway turns over the deflector, the Borg will release their hostages.

One oddity with “Collective” is its somewhat inaccurate title. These five Borg do not seem to comprise a collective. At first they do, but then they don’t. They seem more like individuals who answer to a willingly established hierarchy. They don’t act much like Borg. The leader of the five, the “First” (Ryan Spahn), represents the story’s primary source of conflict: He’s a drone who follows the Borg protocols and intends to rejoin the collective. It would seem the other four drones are less mature, and thus don’t hold strong Borg-like opinions; they follow the First simply because he’s the First.

But it seems these “drones” are capable of free, independent thought, and that provides a source of confusion at times, because it’s hard to determine how exactly the story envisions these Borg. They’re “different,” which is supposed to be part of the point, I think. But they also talk among themselves like any individuals might. There’s often no sense that they’re connected, and something about it just doesn’t sit right. In order to continue using the Borg, it seems the writers have to make them progressively less like Borg, and more human.

Naturally, the story involves heavy focus on Seven of Nine (be sure to join the online petition for renaming this series Star Trek: Seven of Nine—visit this page) who beams over to the Borg ship to confirm the well-being of the prisoners and negotiate with the drones. The core of the story emerges when Seven discovers that the Borg collective will not be dispatching a ship to retrieve this cube, which has been deemed a total loss. To the Borg, five neo-natal drones are not worth salvaging (which strikes me as perhaps the most believable Borg sentiment in the episode).

The central dilemma is (of course) a human one: Janeway proposes that the drones be “saved” if at all possible. Sure, there’s some plotting along the way, including (a) Doc reluctantly re-synthesizing the pathogen that killed the Borg ship, for possible use as a weapon against the drones should negotiations fail; and (b) Harry Kim regaining consciousness aboard the docked Delta Flyer unbeknownst to the Borg, and his eventual venture through the cube in an attempt to blow up a shield generator so Voyager can beam out the prisoners. But if you want to know what the episode is about, it’s the dynamic between Seven and the drones as she tries to negotiate with a leader who has one, and only one, goal—to rejoin the collective. Along the way, she comes close to connecting with one of the other drones, the Second (Manu Intiraymi), who seems to have traces of his pre-assimilated individual self somewhere beneath the surface.

Alas, these dynamics aren’t on par with the potential. I expected more. The episode is too content to resign itself to standard negotiation-standoff “tension” dialog and predictable chatter. Although representing an inflexible attitude that seems to fit the Borg, the First is not a very interesting character. And with all due respect to the actors portraying the Borg, they just don’t measure up. Here, one can very easily see Ryan’s mastery of her character and the perfect vocal control; she is able to convey the masked emotion and Borg-like monotone without seeming forced, and there are subtle nuances that blend right into her performance. The same cannot be said for the other Borg players. They always seem to be “acting,” and not convincingly (especially Spahn as the First).

What plays better are some sincere scenes between Janeway and Seven. The idea of utilizing Seven’s insights to bring these Borg to some sort of new understanding of their situation is something that makes sense—after all, Seven experienced the process of being de-Borgified first-hand. The show’s best-written scene reveals that the mental structure that the collective gave Seven when it assimilated her is an ordered structure that has also been a source of strength in regaining her individuality. It’s a sense of order the Borg children, who were not fully developed before emerging from their maturation chambers, do not have. Seven worries that the transition for them will be even more difficult than hers. Between Seven, this installment, and “Survival Instinct,” there ought to be some sort of therapy program for ex-Borg.

The final act of “Collective” is a muddle that doesn’t work. It’s as if the writers couldn’t figure out an adequate way to resolve the story. The ending here is one of those tech wrap-ups where we have Janeway and Torres aboard Voyager throwing around meaningless technobabble dialog in a desperate last-minute search for a way to rescue the hostages before Voyager is severely damaged. Meanwhile, the final conflict on the Borg ship is poorly staged. Moments of tension feel misplayed by the actors and director, and the fact that the First is killed as a result of his inability to go against his Borg directives is a story point that doesn’t come across as particularly important, though I get the feeling it was meant to be. Oh, and we’ve got Harry Kim lying critically ill, injected with nanoprobes, for no particularly necessary reason (beyond keeping him a peripheral aspect of the plot, which itself seems unnecessary).

And after the crisis ends, my lingering question was: What happened to the Borg cube? It apparently didn’t self-destruct, so did Janeway just leave all that technology floating in space? In “Dark Frontier” the crew shaved 15 years off the trip by using Borg technology. Shouldn’t this cube be a major cache of tech foodstuffs? But never mind.

That brings us to the story’s coda, which simultaneously gives me great hope and worry. Four of the five drones (as well as a Borg infant that is beamed aboard the ship) are rescued and turned back into individuals. This screams for future storylines. We have four youths whose source for identification will be Seven of Nine. The pupil will now become the teacher. This could make for challenging material, a source of growth in the series. Then again, it could also make for redundancy if not handled carefully. After all, we’ve been down this road with Seven for almost three seasons now.

Though it’s too early to say, the final scene already has me voicing one gripe: According to what the story told us earlier, these children are supposed to be disturbed—more so than Seven (who in “The Gift” was violent and unstable after being severed from the Borg). But they don’t seem disturbed at all to me. They seem to be handling it way too okay.

But bringing aboard more Borg—and younger people—reveals a potential for the sort of community-building that this series should’ve focused on from day one. The key word is potential. Will it be used? (Of course, the worst-case scenario would be never hearing about these Borg again. That would be unforgivable, and probably unlikely, but not unthinkable given Voyager‘s track record. We haven’t, for example, heard one single peep about those Equinox crew members that joinedVoyager at the beginning of the season.)

Bottom line for “Collective”: The general theme here that examines drones hanging with uncertain self-identities was done in fifth season’s “Drone” (and to a lesser extent in this season’s “Survival Instinct”)—and I assure you it was done with much greater insight. “Collective” is reasonable, but it probably works best as stage setting. Now let’s just hope the players actually decide to show up.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Ashes to Ashes:

“Ashes to Ashes” is another perfect example of the quandary that this series builds around me. How in the world can I review this episode objectively without wanting to review the series in the process? And how can I be fair to this episode for what it intends to be while also scanning my scrutinizing eye across the larger scope of the series, something that I’ve always considered to be part of my job?

I vote that “Ashes to Ashes” is an okay show if accepted on its terms. But what about those terms? They require complete suspension of memory of continuity, or, better yet, practically mandate that you have no idea what came before this episode. If you’re a person who cares deeply about continuity, you will probably not like “Ashes to Ashes.”

I certainly don’t consider continuity to be the end-all-be-all of Trek. But I do appreciate continuity and I think it’s an important aspect of television writing. If you’re not going to use continuity, then don’t use it. But don’t blatantly contradict it and pretend we aren’t going to notice when history is being rewritten on the fly. Maybe I’m just too close to the series; the casual viewer probably wouldn’t know or care, and I’m guessing the casual viewer is the intended audience.

That said, “Ashes to Ashes” is simultaneously a stand-alone show, a reset-button show, a stew of continuity contradiction, a show that has a subplot that hints at a future evolving storyline, and a decent (albeit unrealized) human drama. What we have here is a story that works reasonably if you accept it at face value. But this is also an episode that helps the credibility of Voyager as a series cave in upon itself. If Voyageris supposed to be a believable fictional universe, this isn’t helpful to the bigger cause. (What bigger cause?)

The premise is actually a pretty good science fiction concept: What if you died, but were only dead enough that you could still be revived by an alien society with the ability to reanimate the dead? If you remembered your past life, would you want to regain it?

That premise brings Ensign Lyndsay Ballard (Kim Rhodes) back to the starship Voyager, having been revived by a race called the Kobali, who subsequently transformed her into one of their own. The Kobali propagate their species by collecting and reusing the dead (or, I suppose, the just-dead-enough-to-be-revived). Ballard was killed by a Hirogen weapon three years ago on an away mission. Of course, we hadn’t even met the Hirogen three years ago, but who’s counting? (One might assume not the Voyager creators, but co-executive producer Joe Menosky was quoted recently as saying the writers are aware when they break continuity and do so simply to suit their needs.) Really, if you want to nitpick, there’s a much bigger plausibility issue here for you: How would Ballard catch up with or even find Voyager? In the past three years, Voyager has jumped through the quadrant to the tune of 40,000 light-years. Are you telling me that Ballard took her shuttle and foundVoyager half a quadrant away in only six months? Please.

Never mind. If you want this story to work, you’d better forget the past. That might also be helpful since Ballard is a character invented via “retrocontinuity”—filling in past blanks with new made-up material (played as if we had never seen Ballard because her presence was simply all off-screen). Major invented characters are a mild annoyance, but nothing I’m not willing to look past. Ballard has a history with Ensign Kim that grounds the story in terms of one of our regulars: Ballard and Kim were close friends before her death—and we sense that Harry had hoped their friendship would’ve been more. (More broken continuity, by the way—Harry had a girlfriend named Libby that took him the first couple seasons to get over. Knowing that, his retroscripted interest in Lyndsay as presented here seems improbable.)

Ballard’s dilemma turns somewhat interesting as Doc is able to make her look more human, although he’s unable to restore her DNA structure on the account it has been too extensively altered. (This is the same doctor who was able to change Janeway and Paris back into humans from salamanders? Okay, sorry I brought it up.) Much of “Ashes to Ashes” is about Lyndsay’s attempt to regain her former life. We follow her through a series of little adventures as she tries to settle into her old routine. There are some nice touches, like the idea of Ballard’s “list”—things she vowed to do when she finally tracked downVoyager. And the character’s backstory and her friendship with Harry is sensibly written. Kim Rhodes creates a likable character in Ballard, though the actress pushes a tad hard at times.

There’s also the omnipresent sense of Second Chances and the New Lease on Life, which are filtered not only through Lyndsay’s experiences but also Harry’s. Harry seems to get precious few chances for good human interest stories (usually he’s stuck spouting technobabble or, more rarely, having sex with the wrong aliens), but here he gets some nice scenes. Nothing remotely groundbreaking, but pleasant. He finds that his long-held feelings for Lyndsay (which go all the way back to the academy days) are suddenly no longer rendered useless by her death. She’s back, and he has the rarest of second chances. Is this the newest story under the sun? No, but it works okay.

Probably the most interesting issue in “Ashes to Ashes” is the question of where Lyndsay believes she belongs. She clearly has changed. She thinks in Kobali terms and language, can’t remember facts of her human life, and food doesn’t taste the way she remembers. And her body doesn’t take too well to the treatments Doc administers to make her look human. The issue is forced when her Kobali “father” (Kevin Lowe) comes looking for her (he too apparently crossed 40,000 light-years of space) and tries to convince her to return. He also says that he doesn’t intend to give up his daughter so easily, and promises to return with reinforcements. (This will inevitably lead to the week’s action quota, which exists for the sake of gratuitous phaser fire, despite characterization being what the story is about.) The father’s appeal to Lyndsay works because the guest actor delivers the lines with conviction, further proving that guest actors can easily make or break scenes.

Ballard’s dinner with the captain is … kind of strange. The idea was interesting, I suppose, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere with a real confidence. The sense of seeing the captain from a different perspective from a lower-ranking officer (like the central idea of TNG‘s “Lower Decks”) is a fresh perspective, but it’s hard to understand that perspective because the series on the whole completely ignores that anyone outside the regular cast even exists—and puts everyone in that regular cast (even the ensigns and cook) on virtually the same level. The dinner scene ends just when it’s getting interesting, as Ballard asks Janeway why she was sent on that deadly mission. Then Ballard suddenly runs out of the room distraught and confused.

I’m a sucker for the identity crisis storyline, and I liked elements of this story, but I also think what was attempted here was carried to full realization (and with one of the regular characters) earlier this season in “Barge of the Dead.” The reset-button ending where Ballard chooses her Kobali existence over her previous human life isn’t handled too badly, but it’s hard to get particularly excited about it. (Would someone in Ballard’s position search six months for Voyager only to change her mind in the course of what seems like 15 minutes? I’m not so sure, but the treatment isn’t exactly the deepest as to make me care one way or the other.)

There’s also a B-story here, involving the latest adventures of the Borg children. While I’m glad to see these children will be a new evolving storyline (actual continuity?), I must also point out that this B-story is generally handled with the depth of a sitcom. I liked it—not because it was particularly interesting, but because it was often downright funny. The moments that are played for laughs work, even if some moments played for seriousness are inept. A perfect example is the scene where Seven brings all four Borg children to play a game with Naomi Wildman, and informs them with classic Seven-ness that “Fun will now commence.” And when the twin kids, Azan and Rebi (Kurt and Cody Wetherill), cheat by using their neural connection, Seven orders “punishment protocol nine-alpha”—a “time-out.” This is outright comedy. But when Icheb (Manu Intiraymi) rebels by dumping the game pieces to the floor, the music comes in with far too much seriousness, while the idea itself is predictable and ham-handed, hardly dramatic. (And the mystery of the week: What happened to the Borg infant from “Collective”?)

Still, this subplot is mostly enjoyable, and reveals a few interesting naunces, like the fact that the little Borg girl, Mezoti (Marley McClean), has some creative impulses. While the other kids are molding cubes and polyhedrons out of clay, she’s going against her instructions and modeling Seven’s face. Upon inspecting the work, Seven tells her, “Resume your disorder.” Cute.

Perhaps the final scene underlines this show’s overall sense of decency that doesn’t add up to much of anything important: Harry, having lost Lyndsay a second time, bonds with the young Borg girl for reasons that aren’t really realized to any point of viewer satisfaction. Okay, so he’s a nice guy and will accompany her to play in the holodeck. So, is this telling me something relevant, or is it a desperate last-minute attempt to link the A-story and B-story in a way that pretends to add up to something greater than the sum of two parts? One could maybe argue that the characters in both plots are searching for their places in life, and that’s the connection. But let’s face it—that’s a stretch.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Live Fast and Prosper:

At a few key points, “Live Fast and Prosper” successfully anticipates our expectations and then hits us with the “Gotcha!” There’s a moment here when a woman, who is locked in the Voyager brig, takes Neelix by surprise and then escapes in the Delta Flyer, all too easily. At this point, I was furious. So sick am I of the cliche of the easy theft of a shuttle, which makes the crew look witless and inept. But then came the unexpected twist where not all was what it appeared to be, and … they got me.

What’s interesting is that I’m not sure whether this is effective because it’s effective, or if it’s effective because I expect that annoying contrivances will happen so frequently on this series. This gotcha scene can be analyzed on a couple levels. On one level, we have what is competent execution of audience deception. On a deeper, more ironic level, we have the writers possibly winking at us, acknowledging that, okay, the writing is sometimes contrived and cliche, we know it, and we’re going to cleverly use that knowledge against you. I propose that it must be clever, simply because the mental review already popping into my head during the viewing suddenly found itself in immediate need of a rewrite.

So, then, at the very least, “Live Fast and Prosper” has a couple clever twists working in its favor. The question still remains: Is it any good?

I can’t recommend it, because this is an episode that sounds like a fun idea but doesn’t end up being as much fun as such a premise (“interstellar con artists impersonate Voyager crew members”) seems capable of. Sure, this is a fluff episode, but it’s got some annoying rough edges that should’ve been smoothed out, and too much wandering and not enough comic momentum. If you want comedy, go watch the far-more-fun “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy.” If you want clever cons with substance behind them, go back to last season’s believably grounded “Counterpoint.”

The premise is simple: A small crew of con artists is posing as members of the Voyager crew and scheming gullible aliens into forking over valuables. How did they get in a position to pose as Voyager crew members? Well, it goes back to a recent away mission, when Paris and Neelix were on the Delta Flyer and came across the holy grounds of some clerics. These two “clerics” were really con artists, who came up with a story to sucker Tom and Neelix into helping them. They were aboard the Delta Flyer for a short time, during which they craftily downloaded the Voyager database in order to later assume their phony identities.

There are some decent ideas here, like the notion of Tom and Neelix feeling that they’ve “lost their edge” upon learning that they’d been had. Although many characters on this series are nearing the realm of lost causes, this story at least makes an effort, remembering that both Tom and Neelix were cynical types who’d come across their share of shady characters. The question they now ask is whether they’re getting soft.

As I go off into a tangent that is certain to inspire annoyed “let it go” letters by those who are more optimistic about Voyager as a series than I am, I’ll answer the question: Of course they’re getting soft. How could you not when you’re aboard the starship Voyager, which is a pristine palace that never shows a scar no matter how many battles it’s been through? With an endless supply of food and energy and weapons despite the fact it’s alone in the unknown? A ship that represents the Federation on its best day, even though it should be more like the Federation on a bad day, or even a crew like the Equinox?

More to the point, the question seems to be whether cynics are even possible in the Federation. When Paris boarded Voyager in the first episode, he was a cynic and an outcast. Time has molded him into a more respectable officer that embodies the good, virtuous Starfleet, as well as Janeway’s idea of an inflexible Starfleet moral sensibility. The same goes for Neelix. Of course they’re soft. They’re Starfleet. Starfleet relies on trust and openness as an ideology.

Of course, that doesn’t make you stupid or even gullible. Tom and Neelix were tricked—plain and simple—by people who apparently dedicate their lives to tricking other people. Hindsight is 20/20, and the con, involving a story with orphans, was effective probably because it was an appeal to their empathy. We’re only human, and most of us have a soft side. My soft side resists (but relents to) the urge to call Tom and Harry chumps—not because one of them was tricked and the other is a goof, but because their idea of fun is picking on Tuvok by reprogramming his holodeck program. (I dare them to go pick on Torres or Seven of Nine—I bet they don’t have the cajones.)

The main annoyance here is the show’s reliability on stupid alien characters and moments of clunky plotting. An important plot allegation this episode makes is that the con artists are destroyingVoyager‘s reputation by posing as them. But once Janeway & Co. are onto this scheme, this should no longer be the case, simply becauseVoyager is now aware of the phonies and able to get word out that these impostors exist.

But no. Instead, every alien the real Voyager crew encounters is a Hard-Headed Alien who refuses to believe that the impostors exist, and demands that Voyager return what has been conned from them. Watching these dialog scenes is not interesting; it’s merely frustrating. I personally wanted to tell the first Hard-Headed Alien victim to wake up, smell the damn coffee, and get out of Janeway’s face. (Hint: That’s not the reaction the scene was looking for.)

A later scene has Voyager catching the impostors red-handed in one of their schemes while another alien ship has them locked in a tractor beam. The second Hard-Headed Alien victim won’t hear anything Janeway says, and interrupts her constantly as she tries to explain the situation. Meanwhile the success/failure of tractor beams and weapons is used as a handy plot device that permits the impostors’ ship to escape in a way that manages to make everyone involved look incompetent. (Hint: It’s more interesting to see smart characters doing clever things, rather than having a mess that careens out of control because everyone is a bumbling fool using technology that fails arbitrarily.) If any of these aliens had an IQ higher than 75, and lower levels of testosterone, half the story’s problems would be nearly instantly solved.

Fortunately, it’s about this time the episode begins to show some cleverness. The tractor beam fiasco results in the capture of con artist Dala (Kaitlin Hopkins), who has been posing as Janeway. She’s thrown into the brig, which leads to a pretty good Janeway vs. “Janeway” scene, which ends with a rather nice con on behalf of the real Janeway and Tuvok. (Tuvok’s improvisations are particularly fun.)

It’s at this point we get the Neelix scene with Dala that ends with an escape in the Delta Flyer and the twist I mentioned earlier. I won’t go into the details, and for once I’m not even going to explain the way the plot pulls together in the end. Suffice it to know there is some more plotting cleverness, and that explaining it won’t make this a more useful review.

There are also some subtle comic touches here that I can appreciate. One of them is the uniforms the con artists wear. They’re not exactly the best-tailored Starfleet uniforms one has ever seen. And the con artists’ combadges are oversized. The comic idea here is that these phonies have tailored the look of the uniforms as best they could with their stolen information. It’s funny in that it reminds us of the die-hardTrek fan who tailored his/her own uniform to wear at a convention: You know what it’s supposed to be, but you also know that it didn’t come from the professionals at the Paramount costuming department.

Of course, humor like that is more fun to consider after the fact. While the story is unfolding it’s simply not much of a factor. And other scenes that should be fun seem flat, like the scene where Tom and Neelix attempt to pull a fast one on Doc with the old “under which cup is the walnut” routine, which is done once early in the show and then again at the end, both times with thin and predictable results.

The show is sort of a muddle in tone. It wants us to take long dialog scenes seriously (like the scene of Neelix in the brig) before revealing that it’s all probably just a con, on us as well as the other characters. In a way, I find that effective. There’s almost a sense that we should just wink our way through the whole darned absurd Star Trek universe. But we never come to understand Dala as a character. She seems to be considering reform, then turns on Neelix in a way that makes her a con-to-the-end when it’s really she who is being unwittingly conned. And then the story removes her from the plot using Doc in a way that is a nifty trick. But along the way Dala becomes a bland pawn to the plotting when she could’ve been an actual character.

The episode also tends to jump around from character to character with no big payoffs. The Janeway vs. “Janeway” idea seemed to be going somewhere, but then the whole thread is abandoned prematurely and we return to Paris and Neelix.

I also didn’t understand the nature of the phony Tuvok (Greg Daniel). Just who is this guy when he isn’t playing the role of Tuvok? There seems to be a buried joke in here saying that he has disappeared completely into his role-playing and refuses to come out no matter who is or is not watching. Even when he’s just with his fellow con crew, he keeps acting sort of like Tuvok while the others drop the guise. What is this supposed to mean? It’s a joke with a confused punch line.

All things considered, this is a middling fluff piece. I liked the skillful way the twists in the last act were presented, but apart from the clever twists we don’t have a compelling core. And it’s too evident that Robin Burger’s script is smarter than any of the characters who populate it; the plot takes clever directions while the villains aren’t nearly so clever as they probably should be. “Live Fast and Prosper” lives pretty fast. But it doesn’t live with any depth or much credibility. And in the end it can’t prosper.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Fury:

The best shot in “Fury” is the one right before the opening titles, where an aged Kes walks down a Voyager corridor with a calm look on her face, as the walls behind her explode and crumble. It’s the sort of shot that a storyboard artist might be excited about—comic-book cover art that gets its hook into you.

Alas, the shallowest aspect of “Fury” is the titular fury. For most of the hour we’re thirsting to know why Kes is going berserk, and when we finally get the answer, it’s … well, pretty lame. The wrath of Khan was sold on a deliciously believable, obsessive conflict. The wrath of Kes is arbitrary. The character, whom we haven’t seen in two-and-a-half years, is reduced to a cardboard villain with dubious motivation. And for what?

The episode delivers, I guess, on its promise to be full of apocalyptic action, mayhem, and special effects. But it fails as a story with characters we can care about. Yet again we have the characters, especially Kes, reduced to the mechanics of the plot, one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The key questions I figured might be important for a return-of-Kes show would be what she had evolved into in “The Gift” and why, and what returning to revisit the Voyager crew might mean for her (and the crew).

Welp, might as well just throw those questions out the nearest window, because they’re the least of this story’s worries, which instead is built upon paradoxical time travel, mistaken identity, deception, and a big showdown with the Vidiians—in other words, “action,” the hallmark ofVoyager.

The episode’s action requires that we accept Kes as a villain. I suppose it’s slightly easier to do that when upon beaming aboard Voyager she immediately knocks down walls, buries security officers under tons of rubble, kills Torres, absorbs energy from the warp core, and then vanishes without a trace to travel back in time with an Evil Plan. She travels back to “season one,” at a point when Voyager had been in the Delta Quadrant for eight weeks. She renders the Kes of this time frame unconscious and assumes her place.

Why? Sorry—won’t find that out until the big Janeway/Kes showdown in act four, although we get the general idea when Kes contacts a Vidiian ship that is tracking Voyager and agrees to help them capture and “harvest” the crew in exchange for safe passage to Ocampa for her younger counterpart. (I always liked those Vidiians, probably the series’ best original alien bad guys.) She explains to the Vidiians that her crew “abandoned me a long time ago.”

“Fury” is mostly interested in the mechanics of Kes’ plan and the crew’s investigation of the oddities that arise as a result of it (and action, of course). Some of the procedural aspects of the story are actually fairly well constructed. The plot utilizes Tuvok’s telepathic abilities, giving him premonitions of things to come, in a way that probably makes little logical sense but is believable on its terms nonetheless. Janeway and Tuvok begin an investigation that follows the clues competently.

But other moments aren’t so skillfully handled, like when bad Kes, pretending to be good Kes, walks into sickbay and steals a hypospray, duping the Doctor by hiding it all too obviously behind her back. Doc’s degree of lacking observation is the sort typically reserved for sitcom characters and played for laughs. (“Is that a hypospray behind your back or are you just glad to see me?” Cue canned laughter.)

Kes undermines the crew by giving the Vidiians information that will help them capture Voyager, which is traveling through some sort of anomaly that will permit the upcoming battle to take place in front of a more interesting-looking background than a black starfield. When the Vidiians board the ship, we get lots of phasers in the corridors and big mechanical Vidiian clamps that attach themselves to Voyager.

The real confrontation is of course between Janeway and Kes, where we finally get our explanation about why Kes is doing all this (confusion, loneliness), at which point my reaction was, “That’s it?” The story makes Kes come across as an unreasonable ingrate.

As for Kes’ powers, it would seem they are controlled solely by the Plot Gods. At the beginning of the show she can crush walls. By the time of her big showdown, she knocks down Janeway, and Janeway gets back up. Repeat. Repeat again. Why is it Kes can’t knock the phaser out of Janeway’s hand? How do these powers work? Are all Ocampa like this in some way? Why can Kes absorb a warp core but not a phaser beam? How is it sometimes she can control computers? Why didn’t she simply travel back in time and prevent herself from leaving her homeworld rather than messing with Voyager? The answer to all these questions: Her powers constitute the perfect flexible plot device which is limited or unlimited at the writers’ will.

And can somebody please tell me why Lieutenant Carey (Josh Clark), that guy who vanished in the first season, vanished in the first season and now only shows up in time-travel episodes that take place during or before the first season (this episode and “Relativity”)? And no, we never saw him die; you’re probably thinking of Ensign Hogan if you say he was eaten in “Basics II.”

There’s of course a time paradox in “Fury” that beggars logical analysis, so I’ll resist trying. Okay, I won’t. Where does the circle of events start (or end), and if Kes never goes back in time to ruin the Voyager crew, how can information of her plan be remembered in order to prevent her from going back in time in the first place (last place, no place, etc.)? Usually somewhere in the dialog is a joke about the time paradox, but here it’s ignored completely, hoping we’ll do the same. I dunno. Somehow—and I’m not sure why—that approach seems wrong. In any case, this is one of the least convincing time paradoxes in a long time. It turns the story into a mess.

This episode also furthers the series’ crusade of reducing any possible trace of Voyager‘s long-term credibility to zero. There’s a sequence here where a section of the hull on one side of Voyager is literally ripped off by the Vidiian clamp, and twisted metal goes spinning off into space and a fireball shoots out the side of the ship. Presumably, significant areas on several decks are destroyed. It’s an elaborate CG effect, yes, but is it believable in the slightest? No, because it’s the usual FX Sans Consequences [TM], destruction brushed off as a non-issue when it should mean hell to pay. (Ironically, these events happen during what was season one, when matters of supply and damage were actually taken halfway seriously; remember the bio-gel packs in “Learning Curve”?) Maybe I should just let it all go and assume the Voyager crew can fix anything—but by this point, I’m guessing the crew could self-destruct the ship, and then build another one during four or five rerun weeks.

There’s plenty of plot to nitpick, but I wouldn’t bother if there was enough actual story underneath to keep me interested. I should probably point out that “Fury” possesses some technical skill. Stylistically, under John Bruno’s direction, the episode looks good (except for the corny bouncing off the walls in the Janeway/Kes encounter). But if you scratch the surface, there’s nothing underneath. I’ll go back to the central problem with “Fury”—Kes’ wrath. I simply don’t buy her pulling this 180. This is the same Kes who gave 10,000 light-years to the crew she so much loved in “The Gift.” Why is she now so hell-bent on vengeance? I might buy it if the story had bothered to supply the depth necessary for her anger, but it doesn’t. The explanation of her loneliness isn’t nearly enough; it gives the character the stature of any crazed random alien.

The show tries to bribe us with visuals and chaos when what we really want to care about is Kes. In the end, we’re saying goodbye to Kes again, after time paradoxes and heartfelt understanding have given her a second chance to reach peace with her former crew (pulling an arbitrary 180 on top of a 180, making it a hopelessly dubious 360). She decides she is now strong enough to return home. But so what? We said goodbye to her once already, nearly three years ago. Now we do it all over again, having learned no more about her. (Y’think she’ll make it back to Ocampa in her remaining few years of life? After all, she’s only got 40,000 light-years to cover in that little shuttle of hers. Maybe it can go warp 57. Maybe her powers can make it go warp 57. Maybe she could’ve made Voyager go warp 57 and helped gotten her friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends home. Or maybe she doesn’t forgive them that much.)

Another problem, which I actually found very surprising, was that Jennifer Lien’s performance was sub-par. The scene where she (sort of barely) tears up her quarters is almost laughably phony. And in other scenes, Lien seems to be underacting when going over the top like she did in “Warlord” might actually have been better. (As played by Lien, a better title for this show might’ve been “Mildly Miffed, But Everyone’s Gonna Die Anyway.”) Lien seemed approximately as convinced of her character’s motivation as I was.

Ultimately, “Fury” is an expensive-looking episode that’s missing the center it needs—an actual story about Kes. When Lien was written off the show when Jeri Ryan was written in, there was much speculation as to why. I never found out the real story, though I’ve seen enough traffic on the Internet to conclude she was probably forced out more than she wanted out. I always felt the writing had been what failed her character. In “Fury,” when Kes accuses Voyager of abandoning her, one almost begins looking for the ironic self-allegorical subtext. But never mind—that was “Muse.”

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Life Line:

Watching “Life Line,” one can see just how effectively Robert Picardo disappears into his character week after week, or in the case of this week, two characters. The plot of “Life Line” permits Doc to meet his creator, Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, face to face. We know the story: The original EMH was modeled in appearance and personality to resemble Zimmerman. So Picardo plays Doc and Zimmerman right alongside himself. What’s interesting is that it’s not a carbon-copy performance. There are subtle differences that allow Zimmerman to become his own character.

We previously saw a rendition of Dr. Zimmerman’s character in the third-season installment “The Swarm,” as well as in DS9‘s fifth-season episode “Doctor Bashir, I Presume.” I can’t recall in detail Zimmerman’s demeanor, whether the same subtle differences as compared to the Voyager EMH were evident in those episodes. (Although, in looking back at my review for “Presume,” I see that I did praise Picardo for creating a character who was similar but not identical to the Doctor.) No matter; the differences are evident here, and it’s an impressive feat.

The episode is a successful follow-up to “Pathfinder” from five months ago, even though the main story being told here is mostly self-contained and completely different (reminiscent of TNG‘s “Brothers” in its basic idea). Starfleet has found a way to send a data transmission to Voyager once a month when a certain cosmic alignment makes it possible. Voyager then has a window of opportunity to send information back.

In an interquadrant e-mail, Barclay sends news along to Doc that Zimmerman is dying of an unknown terminal illness. No one in the Alpha Quadrant has been able to treat him successfully, but Doc, adapting methods learned out in the Delta Quadrant wilderness, believes he may have a cure he can administer. He’s the only one with the experience, and he wants to treat Zimmerman himself. He asks Janeway to transmit his program to the Alpha Quadrant. Janeway reluctantly grants Doc’s request.

So there’s your premise, a neat tech idea that makes sense and is believable. The rest of the story takes place almost exclusively in Zimmerman’s holography lab at Jupiter Station, where we have ourselves a story that focuses on personalities, dialog, and an interesting relationship between Doc and his programmer—and not exactly having the dynamic Doc had in mind.

Zimmerman is an irascible fellow—even more abrasive than Doc ever was. Of course, knowing that he’s dying probably doesn’t help form a positive attitude. It’s almost painful to watch Doc building himself up to present himself to his creator as a hologram who has grown beyond his original program, simply because Zimmerman is truthfully beyond caring. The moment when Doc materializes in Zimmerman’s lab shows Doc nearly in a state of glee. That glee is met with a cold Zimmerman shoulder: “An EMH Mark 1? I was wrong Mr. Barclay; you do have a sense of humor.” Ouch.

If you listen closely, you’ll notice the subtle way Zimmerman’s speech differs from Doc’s: Zimmerman has a more relaxed, “human” way of talking, with slightly less articulation on each spoken syllable. Doc tends to articulate each syllable just so and with more song in the inflection, which has become so much part of Picardo’s performance that it’s almost strange to hear it scaled back through Zimmerman.

A lot of the episode focuses on the Doc/Zimmerman friction. Make no mistake: Zimmerman wants no part of Doc’s treatment, and in several scenes Zimmerman flat-out insults Doc and his limitations. For Zimmerman, this is an issue that runs deep. Doc is getting nowhere. Even an attempt to scan his patient while masquerading as a masseuse fails.

Doc also makes some unsettling discoveries: The original EMH has been rendered obsolete by several new versions—Marks II, III, IV (although, is it really likely there’d be a Mark IV already? Mark III, possibly, but Zimmerman seems to have a faster development schedule than Intel). The original line of EMHs, much to Zimmerman’s dismay and what helps explain his distress at Doc’s appearance, has been relegated by Starfleet to scrubbing conduits in garbage barges after being bounced out of the medical corps because of defects.

Zimmerman’s unyielding resistance to Doc’s attempts eventually prompts Barclay to call in Counselor Troi for help. Maybe she can get to the bottom of the friction between these two stubborn personalities. Then again, maybe not. Between the two of them, they have enough stubbornness for 10 people.

From a technical standpoint, “Life Line” is flawlessly executed. Director Terry Windell and the Voyager visual effects team have assembled scores of shots that are so completely convincing that you won’t even be thinking about the techniques that allow Picardo to interact with himself on the screen; you will simply believe that there are in fact two Picardos. Of course, Picardo deserves credit for acting these scenes out against what are really voice recordings, stand-ins, or, for all I know, empty air. This must’ve been a lot of work to pull off, and it shows—but most importantly, it’s not evident while you’re watching. Like the most “responsible” special effects, the technique is a function of the story and no more. If Picardo had an identical twin playing opposite himself, I get the feeling the scenes would’ve ended up looking just like they do here. Great work.

As a character study with depth, “Life Line” is not the equal of “Barge of the Dead” or “Pathfinder,” but it’s high on the Voyager list. It’s often quite funny, it’s well acted, has sharp dialog and some moments of poignancy. The stubbornness is only part of Zimmerman’s problem; the biggest problem is in revisiting the pain of the EMH-1’s failure. When defect reports of the original EMH began rolling in, so did nicknames like “Emergency Medical Hothead” and “Extremely Marginal House call.” Zimmerman was humiliated and has carried the pain with him for years.

Troi’s detour into the plot is perhaps a bit contrived, although the story makes reasonable use of her. Barclay’s presence makes more sense given past history; he’s the actual link between Doc and Zimmerman, since he was established in “Projections” as having once been Zimmerman’s assistant in developing the EMH. In a sudden twist of fate, Doc’s program malfunctions and is threatened with destruction unless Zimmerman intervenes, forcing the two into the same room until Zimmerman finally confronts his own agonizing issues. (The fact that Barclay and Troi manufactured the crisis works better than if the plot had arbitrarily done so.)

I also appreciated the little touches here, like the way Zimmerman is surrounded by his intriguing holographic creations, like pet Leonard, a holographic iguana that occasionally talks like a parrot (which is a hoot). And there’s Roy, the holographic insect that buzzes around, much to Doc’s annoyance until he finally squashes it.

But most interesting is Haley (Tamera Craig Thomas), who is revealed in an unexpected but understated scene to also be a hologram. Her role is crucial because she predates even the EMH; she’s Zimmerman’s personal assistant and a friend he has grown very attached to. She helps him realize that he cannot turn his back on the EHM.

There’s also a brief scene back aboard Voyager that gives me hope about some of the larger issues that deserve to play into the seventh season. Within Starfleet’s transmission is an interesting question Admiral Hayes (Jack Shearer) asks Janeway: He wants to know the “status of the Maquis”—a single line that plants a seed which could become an interesting issue for the Voyager family in the upcoming year (whether or not it does is another matter). How will we deal with these things as re-entering the Alpha Quadrant becomes closer to a reality?

The bottom line: “Life Line” is a very likable show with people we can care about. Picardo and the others are constantly watchable; the plot is simple and benefits from good dialog; we feel at home in Zimmerman’s lab, which is a triumph of set design; the comic timing is on; and the problem at hand is an empathetic dilemma of one man’s troubled feelings. It’s hard to believe an episode like this and an episode as incompetent as “Fury” can pass the same studio export test. Here I cared. There I didn’t. And that’s the secret.

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

A show of hands: Who thinks season-ending cliffhangers are gratuitous?

Oddly, the first season-ending TV cliffhanger I clearly remember is TNG’sfamous “The Best of Both Worlds.” I was 14 years old and at a point where I was paying closer attention to TV as an avenue for storytelling. I was less cynical concerning plot devices (I wasn’t a critic and didn’t think in those terms then) and probably more open to possibilities. I had no idea how “Best of Both Worlds” would be resolved; it was one long summer. Would Picard die? Would Earth be attacked by the Borg? I really wondered. Maybe I was simply more naive and impressionable then. Maybe it’s just that the cliffhanger was simply a lot better. Hard to say. Of course, it was probably also helpful that there wasn’t the Web as we now know it to bombard us with spoilers. Or trailers that gave away half the surprises.

Ever since that TV season in 1990, I’ve been abundantly aware of cliffhanger after cliffhanger after cliffhanger. On all shows. Even lame sitcoms, for crying out loud, where suspense and caring about the characters is contrary to the point. It was probably that way long before 1990, but from my point of view, it started with “Best of Both Worlds,” which will never, ever be topped (DS9‘s “Call to Arms” and Homicide‘s “Work Related” come closest, but no cigar). One just can’t go back.

But anyway. “Unimatrix Zero.” Like “Equinox” last year, it’s pretty hard to critique half a story. Like most cliffhangers, it’s all setup and no payoff. And unlike “Scorpion” from three years back, the presence of the Borg is not even close to a novelty value. Since “Scorpion,” thanks to the presence of Seven of Nine, we’ve probably had close to a dozen stories about the Borg, and more if you count the indirect examples. The Borg have been part of Trek milieu for 11 years now. How long can the cow be milked before it dies?

Well, in the case of the Borg, I’ll accept them as storytelling devices so long as what they represent continues to evolve and remain interesting, even if by definition we can never go back. The Borg were once awesome villains, whereas now they’re cool but not nearly as compelling. They’ve changed. A lot. They used to be one mind. Now they seem less like one huge mind and more like an entity controlled by an individual villain leader.

It’s just as well that the Borg have changed. Like I said, one can’t go back, and that also goes for the writers. They must go forward, and forward is in changing the Borg into something other than what they were. Is it as interesting? Maybe not, but it’s either that or abandon the Borg completely (which might not be such a bad idea).

The new spin here is a high-concept masterstroke: “Seven is contacted in Borg cyberspace by drones who have created a virtual reality where they can exist as individuals.” It’s like The Matrix, except kind of in reverse, and with an outdoor natural setting rather than a mysteriously generic city with Chicago street names.

The drones who can exist in this version of the Matrix, which is known here officially as Unimatrix Zero, are very rare (one in every million). Something about their brains allows their imaginations to drift away from the collective whenever they regenerate. Through the Borg hive link, these drones have found a common place where they exist and interact while they sleep—a virtual sanctuary. This virtual world exists completely apart from the real world. When they’re awake, they’re ordinary drones with no knowledge or memory of their virtual sanctuary. The central problem is that the rest of the Borg consciousness has recently become aware of this “defective” subset in the collective, and the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson reprising the role) is determined to snuff it out. It’s indeed a very clever story concept.

This of course all involves Seven in a very central way. It turns out that before her liberation from the collective, she was one of the 0.0001% of drones (gee, how convenient!) who exhibited this condition and existed in VR. She lived this virtual life for 18 years, and even had a VR lover for six years, Axum (Mark Deakins), who is the one who now contacts her asking for help.

Quick statistics lesson. The “one in a million” notion is a bit of a stretch given who all we see in UM-Zero. The chances of Seven and another human (the one here who was assimilated at Wolf 359, which itself is still a mystery that hasn’t been explicitly solved) both having the UM-Zero defect would mean the odds would require about 2 million humans having first been assimilated, wouldn’t it? The Klingon character’s presence would mean, statistically, about 1 million Klingons would’ve needed to be assimilated. This all seems somewhat of a probability stretch. Maybe races that we as viewers know about have a higher likelihood of carrying the defect. Yeah, that’s the ticket. But never mind—it’s only a story. Nitpick I won’t (though I guess I already did).

There’s a fight in VR that seems to take a few lessons from The Matrix, although I’m still waiting for the day when Janeway learns Kung Fu. Unlike The Matrix, if you die in UM-Zero, it would seem you do not die in real life—you simply are forced out of VR until you re-enter your next regeneration stage—which could be an interesting advantage for our VR good guys.

With the Borg Queen tracking down the secret of UM-Zero—and coming closer every day—the crew’s dilemma in the story is what to do about Axum’s call for help. Seven convinces Janeway to help save UM-Zero from destruction from the Borg. Discussed is the issue that in doing so, our heroes could find themselves in the middle of a “Borg civil war” (an interesting image, that) though Janeway settles for the term “resistance movement.” This leads to a Daring Plan involving a techno-virus that will allow the UM-Zero drones to retain their memories once they wake up from VR. In order for this to work, however, the virus must be administered to a central distributor on a Borg ship. The crew tracks down a Borg ship and prepares to initiate the plan. I must say that any Borg ship that could be vulnerable to this plan probably needs better network security or upgraded anti-virus software. (Repeat after me: It’s only TV. It’s only TV…)

Meanwhile, there’s the Borg Queen seeking out the defective drones. What’s the Queen’s purpose? I didn’t exactly get it in First Contact. I certainly didn’t get it in “Dark Frontier.” And here it appears that, really, there’s nothing to get. The Queen is simply the Borg personified for the audience’s benefit, and on that level, it probably works. Thompson’s take on the Queen is one of a calm exterior with an evil villain inside. She sees and hears all through her video screen, and smiles evil smiles when things go her way, and looks menacing when they don’t. To Thompson’s credit, she does all this with Borg-like restraint, without going over the top. And although the very notion of the Queen as a villain strips away some of what made the Borg unique, it’s still kind of fun (though the unspoken notion of Janeway and the Queen being arch-enemies is maybe pushing it).

The crew’s Daring Plan involves Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres beaming onto the Borg ship to administer the virus. Because this is a cliffhanger, things don’t go as planned. Actually, yes they do. The three of them are assimilated, but the story’s twist reveals that their assimilation was part of the Daring Plan. I would guess that they’re carrying the virus, and have still more tricks up their sleeves.

About that. I’d have my doubts about any plan that includes willfully being assimilated by the Borg. This goes beyond bravery and into the territory of implausible. I just have a hard time believing anyone would do it. If I locked you in a room and said, “Okay. Here’s a hacksaw. I want you to saw through your forearm until it becomes detached, and don’t worry about the blood, pain, or permanent disfigurement,” would you do it? I doubt it. And I tend to doubt Janeway & Co. would so easily accept the horrors of assimilation in the interests of some master plan.

On its bottom line, “Unimatrix Zero” is another Voyager action show. (Seven’s personal dilemma and any potential psychological VR implications are put on hold.) As such, it shows the Voyager virtue of visual panache. This is almost as good-looking as “Dark Frontier,” which was one of the best examples of production design and special effects I’ve ever seen on the small screen.

There are a couple standout brain-dissection scenes where we get to see disembodied Borg heads. Very cool. And beautiful sets. And a nifty new Borg vessel that looks very “armored.” Yes, as production goes, this is top-notch stuff which on its own is almost worth the hour’s view.

But I also recommend the story, despite the holes and the fact that Janeway and her crew must be about one inch shy of insane. The concept is neat, and the story moves confidently through its motions as a techno-thriller. There’s also some reasonable character work here, like the Janeway/Chakotay scenes, which choose not to go the “Scorpion”/”Equinox” route of conflict, but instead have Chakotay supporting the captain—they agree this time. It’s one of few times all season we’ve seen Chakotay exhibit any sort of opinion.

Also noteworthy is the potential here for Seven, whose existence in UM-Zero takes an interesting spin; she’s more human-like when her VR memories begin to resurface, and she even goes by her human name, Annika. Ryan brings additional humanity to her character with a toning down of the Borg qualities and inserting some subtle emotion in her speech and facial expressions—that is, until after the entire gravity of the situation reveals itself, at which point Seven asserts her true personality over her virtual one (“My name is Seven of Nine,” she tells a mildly lovesick Axum).

There’s also the re-promotion of Paris to lieutenant at the beginning of the show, which is handled by Janeway leaving a box containing a collar pip on his chair. This prompts Harry to comment, not without reason, “I didn’t see a little box on my chair.” This guy has been an ensign forever. What gives? Maybe Janeway is still punishing him for inappropriate pursuit of, um, another type of box back in “The Disease.” (Did I just violate my PG review rule? Many apologies.)

I must admit that spoilers undercut the shock value, as it were, of the ending. Not simply Internet spoilers, but also the ones revealed in the trailers—Janeway getting injected with nanoprobes, the Delta Flyer being destroyed. Indeed, marketing of entertainment these days gives away anything if it’s something that might make you want to watch.

“Unimatrix Zero” is still well worth an hour. It has potential. It’s an incomplete story, and as always I don’t expect any big impact on our crew to come out of it (including for the three who are now Borg drones). But as an entertainment and a season-ender, it gets the job done.


The Worst:

Equinox Part II, Fair Haven, Spirit Folk, and The Haunting of Deck Twelve


In little bits:

  • Equinox, Part II sees Captain Janeway on her quest of revenge against Captain Ransom;
  • Fair Haven sees Janeway fall in love with a holographic character inside one of Tom Paris’ creations;
  • Spirit Folk sees the holographic residents of Fair Haven begin to suspect the Voyager crew of after several strange occurances; and,
  • The Haunting of Deck Twelve sees Neelix tell the ex-Borg children a ghost, or is it real?

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Equinox, Part II:

If you’re a fan of Janeway in badass mode, you will probably revel in “Equinox, Part II,” an episode that shows Janeway’s teeth at perhaps their most sharpened—a captain who on this day is not taking any prisoners, conveyed by a Kate Mulgrew performance whose take-charge-of-a-scene attitude is capable of sending chills.

On a story level, “Equinox, Part II” manages to work fairly well, too. Given the preset stipulations—i.e., it must be resolved in an hour, regular characters cannot be radically changed or killed, the Equinoxmust be destroyed, peace with the aliens must be attained, and Captain Ransom must die (I just can’t picture an ending where the writers would’ve let him live)—”Equinox II” manages to get a good amount of mileage out of the story.

Whereas “Equinox, Part I” seemed more focused on showing us who these Equinox crew members were, what they were hiding and planning, and the hell they’d been through that made them less likely to listen to their consciences, “Equinox, Part II” is essentially finished with that stage of the story; the motives have been set in motion and the show launches into action mode. But is that all?

Well, thankfully, no, that’s not all.

“Equinox II” is ready to launch into its new action-oriented direction, but it’s also ready to think about how it’s getting there. When we last left Janeway and her crew, Voyager was coming under attack by a swarm of aliens from another realm—aliens who were attacking in retaliation for being used as “fuel” for Ransom’s jerry-rigged warp drive. (I’m not sure exactly what to call these nameless aliens other than the CGI aliens; the show never calls them anything except “the aliens” or “the lifeforms.”) Ransom had escaped in the Equinox along with hostages Seven and Doc, while the Equinox‘s EMH, sans ethical subroutines, had smuggled himself aboard Voyager, where he began pretending to be the Voyager EMH.

Oh yes … and of course, Janeway Was Going to Die—we love our pretentious cliffhangers.

So, anyway, “Equinox II” begins again. The Voyager crew has temporarily shielded itself from the aliens, while Ransom finds he can’t use his modified engine device because Seven had locked out the stolen techno-ma-whozit device with security codes.

So the primary outline for “Equinox II”: Ransom wants those codes, and Janeway wants Ransom.

There’s something nice about the episode’s underlying simplicity. The plot goals are clear, but how the episode gets where it’s going is where things turn interesting—sometimes extremely interesting.

First, foremost, and most attention-grabbing is what effect Ransom’s escape has on Captain Janeway. She launches into a single-minded obsession to stop Ransom at damn near any cost. This obsession is the Janeway equivalent of Picard’s obsession to stop the Borg in First Contact or, more similar, Sisko’s obsession to catch Eddington in “For the Uniform.” Watching Janeway take this situation so personally works every bit as well and for many of the same reasons as when Sisko took Eddington’s betrayal personally. Ransom has betrayed his uniform, and Janeway, being the only Starfleet captain within many thousands of light-years, is going to stop him.

What I found particularly compelling was the extent to which the writers took this idea. If there’s one thing they didn’t do, it was play it safe. Janeway, often a character whose decisions have come across as controversial and even reckless, goes probably farther here than ever before, telling her first officer in no uncertain terms that she’s “damned angry,” and that if he wants to consider her unwillingness to back down as motivated by a personal vendetta, then so be it.

The Janeway/Chakotay interaction here made me sit up and take notice. It’s been some time since we’ve seen some really memorable interaction between the two of them, and in terms of seeing them strictly as the captain and first officer tackling a problem (complicated here by the fact they’re in extreme disagreement) this is one of the strongest-played uses of Janeway/Chakotay in years.

Most of that can be attributed to the fact Janeway’s actions venture dangerously near the realm of wrong-headed insanity. Janeway seems to be putting her vendetta first, and Voyager‘s safety and her own principles second. Although the show itself isn’t so bold as to resort to such a comic-book statement, it’s clear she WANTS RANSOM, in all capital letters.

All I can say is: Don’t get on Janeway’s bad side. At one point the crew cleverly captures two of Ransom’s away team on the surface of a planet. Janeway brings one of them, Crewman Lessing, into the cargo bay for questioning. She wants Lessing to tell her about Ransom’s tactical status. When he refuses to talk, she threatens to lower the shields in the room and turn the CGI aliens loose on him in order to speed the interrogation along.

Chakotay at first thinks this is a game of “good cop, bad cop,” but Janeway isn’t playing. Nor is she bluffing.

Quite simply, the sight of Janeway standing ice cold in her place—having locked Lessing alone in the cargo bay with some none-too-happy aliens, and now firmly reassuring Chakotay (none too sympathetically) that “he’ll break”—is downright frightening. “What’s happened to you, Kathryn?” Chakotay asks at one point. I wanted to ask the same question. I haven’t seen this Janeway before. She doesn’t answer to anyone. With no Starfleet watching over her shoulder, how could she be stopped if she continued down such a dangerous path?

Mulgrew is quite mesmerizing. While a dangerous, self-destructive Janeway like this might be lost upon the Voyager audience if used too often, in small doses it’s compelling stuff. And although Janeway pushes the envelope of her authority oh-so-far (as do the writers, really), there’s an awareness buried somewhere beneath Janeway’s madness—she simply wants what’s just. Unfortunately, the price is too high and she almost completely loses Chakotay’s confidence in the process.

In another scene (which would’ve been more powerful if not for the hokey CGI aliens goofily swirling about and shrieking), she negotiates an arrangement with the aliens, promising to deliver the Equinox to them if they call off their attacks. When Tuvok objects, saying it will mean certain death for the Equinox crew, Janeway’s answer is, “I’ve already confined my first officer to quarters. Would you like to join him?”

Ransom has his own problems, and they’re mostly coming from within. You see, he’s disabled Doc’s ethical subroutines so he’ll perform an operation on Seven that will forcibly extract the codes, which she is refusing to give. This will leave Seven with severe brain damage. Ransom doesn’t want to do it, but he has “no choice,” a term that he tends to overuse as rationalization, which Seven aptly points out. It gets Ransom to thinking, and eventually struggling. He has already devalued the lives of the CGI aliens. Can he bring himself to devalue the life of another human being? Although nicely documented, Ransom’s role in this half of “Equinox” is less interesting than Janeway’s, probably because it’s more expected: He is a Starfleet captain after all, and his decision to ultimately do the Right Thing and surrender is an ending to his tale that I can barely envision playing out any other way.

In the meantime, the action elements are mostly well placed here. The FX are above average, and David Livingston keeps the story moving along at a nice pace. And there’s always something unsettling about seeing two Federation starships firing on each other.

Of course, in the process of the plot we somehow also get our fill of the Ryan and Picardo Duet [TM]. I don’t know why, but it’s hard to view a Jeri Ryan Singing Scene objectively anymore. Yeah, she can sing, but in an episode like this it’s hard for it to come across as non-gratuitous.

It’s when we get into the final act that I have some bigger reservations about the plot. Ransom decides to surrender, which may be sudden backpedaling considering his previous actions, but still backpedaling that makes sense given how much we saw Ransom go through in the course of the hour. I thought his nagging visions of Seven speaking as his conscience in the scenery program came off as fairly appropriate given the circumstances.

On the other hand, one of the show’s bigger failures is its superficial use of Max Burke. In part one, Max had some fairly intriguing scenes with B’Elanna that hinted that this guy was a potential three-dimensional character. But in this half, alas, the writers utilize Max as a Convenient Plot Pawn [TM]. Once Ransom has come to his realization and intends to surrender, Max pulls a phaser and becomes a non-surrendering mutiny, the avenue through which the story can still end with him, Ransom, and the Equinox being destroyed, thereby satisfying, we presume, the CGI aliens’ blood lust. While other members of theEquinox crew are brought aboard Voyager (including Lessing and Gilmore, who had better become recurring characters after all this), this ending makes for a lot of convenient conditions that let both Ransom and Janeway off the hook for their actions. One wonders what the consequences might’ve been had things played out differently.

Also, there are some gaping plot holes that simply had me confused. For starters, how did Doc get from the Equinox computer system back aboard Voyager? And how did he get his ethical subroutines back? As far as I can tell, no explanation is supplied; it’s almost as if a scene ended up on the cutting room floor. In one scene Doc’s operating on Seven, then the plot develops away from him for about 10 minutes and the next thing we know he’s suddenly back aboard Voyager confronting the “bad” EMH.

And about this confrontation—it sure ranks as a lame one: Doc walks in and says, “Computer, delete the Equinox EMH,” and, sure enough, theEquinox EMH vanishes, game over. Talk about your convenient ways to off a bad guy. Come on, people.

Problems aside, “Equinox, Part II” is possibly Voyager‘s best season kickoff. While this half of “Equinox” doesn’t begin to revisit many of the issues of Starfleet officers pushed to their limits in the Delta Quadrant (a la part one), overall, it’s done better than the first part, and it finds an angle almost as interesting, showing the obsessions of Janeway’s sense of moral righteousness—which nearly degenerates into an eye-for-an-eye mentality that she alone intends to see through. She ultimately doesn’t have to, but seeing her intent is certainly worth the time.

The final scene on the Voyager bridge seems to indicate that Janeway realizes and regrets how far she crossed the line, and how she all but abandoned her first officer and crew. She admits quietly to Chakotay that he might’ve had good reason for his own mutiny. And I liked the symbolism of the fallen Voyager dedication plaque. “All these years, all these battles; this thing’s never fallen down before,” Janeway notes. The implications are interesting. As a unit of Starfleet ideals, Janeway’s vendetta may have taken Voyager as far off course as it has been. And I particularly like the fact she realizes that.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Fair Haven:

The use of holograms on Voyager has at times made me very uncomfortable. “Nothing Human,” in which a holographic re-creation of a real Cardassian surgeon helped save Torres’ life, was a perfect example of the kind of mess the writers can create when permitting holograms to attain such limitless realism under manufactured circumstances. And who can forget the silly use of Leonardo da Vinci in “Concerning Flight,” an episode that had the man’s life knowledge carried around to be used as a conversation stimulator for Janeway as she tried to elude the bad guys?

As far as I’m concerned (maybe you agree, maybe you don’t), holograms should not automatically be assumed as “real” people except in cases where they are long-term social participants who were created or permitted to grow as artificial lifeforms. Examples: the Doctor or Vic Fontaine. Your average holographic chump conjured on the holodeck out of “photons and force fields” (as Janeway describes it) is not an artificial lifeform; it’s an elaborate computer simulation. To assume more opens a can of worms that makes me very leery, with implications that grow larger than any given story is willing to tackle. (For starters, just where/when does sentience begin?)

So now, in “Fair Haven,” we have years of Janeway as the asexual captain finally dropped in order to give her a holographic love interest named Michael (Fintan McKeown). When I first heard about this premise a month or two ago, did I think it was a good idea? No, because there seemed to be too much messy unreality baggage factored into the equation. How does an emotional connection exist between a person and a simulation? What are the implications of such a relationship?

“Fair Haven” prompts in me some very mixed feelings. On one hand, I disagree with the basic premise—the idea that a holodeck character can make a good substitute for the real thing. (Hiding in the holodeck a la Barclay in “Pathfinder” has generally been seen as unhealthy and ultimately fruitless.) On the other hand, a big element of this story isabout Janeway’s hang-up with the fact that Michael is a hologram, resulting in some arguments that, quite frankly, needed to be said for this episode to work at all. The story, to its credit, manages to address some questions I was asking before the show even aired. It didn’t resolve those questions to any real satisfaction, but it did manage to bring them up and argue them to some degree.

The Irish dwelling of Fair Haven is sixth season’s take on the annualVoyager holodeck theme. My favorite hangout is still the more intimate and simple pool hall in Marseilles, but Fair Haven has a sort of idyllic context that seems to make sense for a pleasant setting the whole crew can enjoy. It’s a triumph of Hollywood back-lot scene-setting, but it’s not a triumph of imagination. (And is it me, or did it seem like an out-of-the-way effort was made to gratuitously insert [IRISH PUB BRAWL] into the script? Couldn’t avoid that cliche.) Whether you go for this sort of thing depends on how much you appreciate these sort of setting showpieces for their novelty value. David Bell’s thematically Irish score helps, I must say.

Overall, I didn’t find this to be a particularly effective romance. I did, however, appreciate a few of the ideas behind it. What works are some of the implications that arise on the side, like Janeway’s acknowledgement that Michael is a hologram, and the fact that she realizes her ability to change everything about him to make him more “perfect” is a big part of what makes the experience seem phony. I also sort of enjoyed McKeown as Michael, who creates an everyman persona that’s sometimes likable, particularly his understated, confused vulnerability evident in the final scene.

But leading up to the (ambiguous) payoff is far too much pedestrian Standard Trek Romance material. The only real chemistry between Janeway and Michael is in the pathos of that final scene, after all the issues of real/not-real have been laid out for us; everything beforehand feels a bit forced. The romance here seems motivated more by the writers having said, “It’s about time we gave Janeway a love story,” than it seems like a logical outgrowth of events, character, or even spontaneous attraction.

Maybe the biggest problem is that Janeway just doesn’t seem believably in character when flirting, dancing joyfully, arm wrestling, throwing rings, etc. These two characters aren’t compelling enough to watch on the screen together. Part of the problem is that Mulgrew overplays the sentiment with exaggerated gestures. Mulgrew has always had a tendency to play up body language with stylized performances, but here it seems overly “playful” and too much for the audience’s benefit. An early scene where a borderline-giddy Janeway gets a radiation inoculation in sickbay had me wondering just what kind of drugs she was on. (Okay, we get it—you’re in an unusually good mood.)

On the other hand, I did get something out of the other end of the spectrum, when Janeway broods in her quarters. This sentiment is played up with an equal de-emphasis on subtlety, but it works a lot better because it grows out of emotions that seem to be genuinely held. Janeway has a quiet, defeated way about her sullen state—after it fully registers that her new holographic acquaintance is not a real person and she realizes that she is in fact very lonely.

It’s perhaps a telling sign that the show’s most entertaining scene is an amusing Janeway/Chakotay exchange on the bridge, which reveals about 100 times the chemistry of any Janeway/Michael scene. The J/C dialog is natural, playfully jibing, and friendly. (Doesn’t this seem like the real potential here?) It’s an episode like this that makes me wonder just what happened back in “Resolutions.”

But never mind; Janeway/Chakotay is not an option because we can’t have the captain having affairs with members of her crew. (As much as J/C interests me on the curiosity level, it would almost certainly be a bad, messy idea for the writers to attempt.) But is hooking Janeway up with a hologram the answer? I’m not sure. Quite frankly, hooking her up with an alien of the week might be more satisfying; at least it might seem like a real relationship with some sort of believable potential, rather than an extended, confusing fantasy with all the holographic real/not-real baggage to go along with it.

There are scenes in “Fair Haven” that suggest the captain’s destiny is one of unfortunate loneliness. Those scenes are the ones that the show gets right. But a key Doc/Janeway conversation suggests that perhaps there is a future for Janeway and her holographic love interest after all. And then the episode ends with complete ambiguity, revealing that Janeway needs to sort some things out, and hinting that she might load Michael’s program into the hologrid at some point in the future.

I’m realizing that this episode perhaps has a built-in Catch-22. Like the Doctor says, the captain’s options are limited (though I’m not entirely convinced they must be as limited as the writers decree). So turning to alternatives might be necessary. But is this really solving the problem? Doc says so, but I dunno. More than anything, the romance seems to be testing waters—but testing for what? This relationship can become … what? Is this a cure for boredom, high-tech physical/emotional masturbation, or an attempt for something more? Does it even matter since the chances of these issues being revisited are close to nil? Man, what a mess this makes. If nothing else, new writer/producer Robin Burger’s first script for Voyager has found a way to provoke some thought.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of laid-back filler, which is forgivable for what’s essentially a shore-leave episode, I guess, but I can’t say I was particularly entertained by it. Nor was I excited about the bargain-basement filler “danger” plot, involving some approaching spatial turbulence that basically serves as a metaphor for a hurricane or severe thunderstorm in space (and has the crew bracing for impact and escaping into the holodeck since there’s nothing else to do while they wait out the storm).

All things considered, “Fair Haven” is a mediocre romance story. There’s too much filler and bizarre characterization, and not enough chemistry. What remains of value are the arguments about how “real” a holographic simulation can be. It’s a halfway interesting concept to tackle, but in the end it left me just as frustrated as ever about the supposed nature of holograms. At one point Doc tells Janeway that Michael is as real as Janeway needs him to be. But is he? Or will Janeway feel as hollow about the experience in a month as she did when she first sobered to the fact it was all an illusion? Can she—should she—force herself to accept the imaginary as reality?

By the end, Janeway is hopelessly conflicted over this dilemma. So am I. Janeway is not satisfied with how things turned out. And, unfortunately, neither am I. “Fair Haven” is a nice try on some levels, but it has too much implied messiness and ultimately doesn’t work. And besides—Janeway deserves better than a hologram.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Spirit Folk:

I do not like the village of Fair Haven. The premise is taking the idea of the holodeck way too far—to an apparent point of no return. If this episode constitutes sci-fi imagination, it’s imagination abuse. The rules are arbitrary and absurd and the game is played by players who come off looking like complete idiots.

Problems on the holodeck became a cliche on TNG, and now it’s become an ubercliche on Voyager. In the past I’ve made it a position regarding stock-issue holograms that perhaps doesn’t allow for a particularly flexible open mind for this week’s installment, which might as well be called “Fair Haven, Part II.” Well, too bad. I need to establish some sort of standard to measure reality. And each use of the holodeck on Voyager seems to get increasingly egregious.

The gist of the story is this: The Fair Haven program, which has been running 24 hours a day, begins to malfunction, which causes its fictional programmed residents to begin “noticing” things they shouldn’t. For example, when Paris calls to the computer to fix the tire on the automobile he has just run headlong into a tower of barrels, Fair Haven standby Seamus (Richard Riehle) hears the computer voice answer and witnesses the tire magically repaired, and thus believes Paris has harnessed some sort of spiritual/magical power.

From here, the episode is essentially one ridiculous holodeck gimmick after another, with some would-be Important Human Themes thrown into the mix, though they’re lost in a sea of implausible madness. But before the madness we first get the extended setup, which suffers from entirely too much nonessential dialog. There are discussions that go on and on and seem never to end. Most of these dialog scenes are solely between holodeck characters, and I kept asking myself: Who cares? These are “people” I have no interest in whatsoever. The episode spends so much time on scenes between the Fair Haven residents (discussing the plot in overly obvious ways that are redundant and unnecessary) that the main characters almost seem like an afterthought. Do so many viewers really like the Fair Haven folks that we need to spend so much time on them?

For that matter, the idea of holograms sitting around a bar and debating each other about things they shouldn’t be aware of strikes me as silly, whether it’s a malfunction or not. Yes, the holodeck as Trek has conceived it is an implausible fantasy in any case, but when the focus goes completely away from the real characters and alleges that holograms routinely think and argue on their own accord outside the presence of real participants, it’s coming dangerously close to a situation where we have no choice but to either dismiss the idea completely or wonder if we’re dealing with a bunch of programmed slaves. Nope—I’m with Seven: The writers need to clue into the fact that these aren’t people. They’re simulations. It’s been a huge mistake for the writers to implicitly allege that Doc is the same as a holodeck character. It was a mistake in “Concerning Flight,” it was a mistake in “Nothing Human,” it was a mistake in “Fair Haven,” and it’s a colossal mistake here. Holograms as artificial lifeforms should be the rare exception to the rule caused by a freak happenstance, like the Moriarty character from TNG‘s “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle” (from which this episode unsuccessfully rehashes its share).

The contrivances in this episode are so blatant and pervasive that it seems almost as if staff writer Bryan Fuller was hoping we’d go with the flow and not care that the characters would have to be utter morons not to take the simple actions that would avoid these problems entirely. I’m not willing to simply go with that flow.

Let’s start with the “Tom”foolery (lame pun fully intended). Tom comes off as a loser with no life, turning Harry’s would-be holo-girlfriend into a cow just as he’s about to kiss her. This attempt at humor succeeds only in making the characters look foolish. (I’m with Harry: “Haven’t you got anything better to do?!” Unfortunately, the delivery of the line is as half-hearted as the joke.) What, is Tom 35 years old or 12? And can we dispense already with the concept of romantic liaisons with holographic characters?

The cow incident is witnessed by, again, Seamus, who goes talking to the people of Fair Haven about Tom as one of the dangerous “spirit folk” and the apparent impending gloom and doom destined for the town. Later, when the girl is de-cowified, we have to endure her description of being a cow, something which again makes me wonder about the can of worms that is the holodeck: Are the memories of these “photons and forcefields” transferred from one holodeck subprogram to another? If someone conjured a new character, might it then remember that it was once a representation of a rock? Some torture it might be, to be a rock.

It turns out that the non-stop use of the holodeck has led to the failure of a subroutine that prevents characters from attaining this level of awareness. This is a deeply flawed idea. It goes against everything conventional wisdom has taught us about holo-characters (that is, they’re simulations—not learning, adapting people who comprehend everything going on around them).

Things turn truly ridiculous once this malfunction is discovered, which happens when Kim and Paris transfer the captain’s Fair Haven boyfriend, Michael Sullivan (Fintan McKeown), to the holodeck lab so they can study the problem. At this point, Michael becomes fully aware he has been removed from Fair Haven. Kim and Paris discover the malfunction in the subroutine and send him back. They report the problem to the captain. But then what? Does the crew shut down the holodeck? Suspend the program to prevent it from further damaging itself? Nope. They just let it run on, even though nobody’s using it. And run on it does, as Michael explains to the other holo-characters where he has been, leading the holodeck town to plot a revolt against these suspicious outsiders. How stupid is the crew to know there’s a malfunction, voice out loud that they hope it doesn’t spread, and not bother to simply shut down the holodeck until the problem is fixed? My motto is that if your contrivance has to make your characters do blatantly stupid things, it’s a bad contrivance. The whole second half of the episode wouldn’t be possible if the crew displayed a shred of competence.

The contrivance-cliches continue on: To fix the problem, Tom and Harry go into the holodeck to run some technobabble computer whatever-the-hell. Of course, this has to be done while the program is still running and after the townspeople have come to the conclusion that the outsiders are dangerous and something must be done about them. Well, no points for guessing that the holodeck safeties get disabled in the process. The way it happens is simultaneously laughable and infuriating, and reveals the depths of how far this episode allows itself to reach into the holodeck bag-o-tricks. The holo-characters throw a net over Tom and Harry, and shoot a computer console with a shotgun. This shouldn’t be remotely possible. (1) If the safeties are on, how can bullets destroy the computer console? (2) Why would destroying the computer console just automatically disable the safeties? (How very nice.) (3) Why can’t Paris yell out “Computer, freeze program!” rather than telling the holo-character not to shoot? (This episode makes one want to scream at the characters not to be so bone-headed.)

So Kim and Paris are held captive on the holodeck, with the safeties off of course, and now the crew has to figure out how to rescue them.

Through all of this, Torres seems to be the lone—and futile—voice of reason. She points out that the holodeck can be reprogrammed, so the crew should just pull the plug. This will reset the program, but at least Tom and Harry’s safety would be guaranteed. Janeway responds that even if they aren’t real, the crew’s emotional attachment to the characters are, and another solution should be found. ‘Scuse me? So we’re going to risk the lives of two crew members in order to save a holodeck program? What kind of sick prioritizing is this? If this isn’t proof of the dangers of holographic attachment, then I don’t know what is.

Janeway decides to send Doc (as his overplayed preacher character) into the holodeck to reason with the Fair Haven folks. This plan promptly fails and looks to be getting the crew into an even worse position, and I’m finding myself thinking, just how incompetent arethese people? Subsequently we have Michael using Doc’s portable emitter, which gets him beamed aboard Voyager, which is the sole potentially interesting sci-fi idea in the story, except for the fact that it arises out of a situation that’s such a contrived mess that by this point we simply don’t care.

Using Michael as the way to bridge the gap between “us” and “them,” Janeway walks into the holodeck and hammers out one of those humanistic solutions that’s heavy on the trademarked Trekkian dialog … and if I sound lazy and cynical about the synopsis at this point, it’s because it’s such a tiring story to watch unfold (and to explain). Janeway’s we-can-overcome-our-fears-and-all-get-along solution is met with a shot of a bunch of Fair Haven folks, and the music swells as they look, smiling, at one other in a moment of understanding assent. Frankly, it’s hard to watch this with a straight face. Was I suddenly beamed into an after-school special?

And at the end, Janeway decides not to erase the memories of the characters. So now the people of Fair Haven believe that the Voyagercrew is a group of space travelers from the future. Well, wonderful. But what’s to stop them from blowing away the holodeck controls again? And if the malfunction regarding their expanded awareness is repaired, how can this new knowledge be something that registers with them? None of this has any useful sensibility.

I’m of the opinion that the best use of the holodeck is in a situation that allows the participants (i.e., our regular characters) to have fun, while the comedy or drama reveals something worthwhile about them. But instead we get the holodeck taking itself and our characters hostage. Here, our characters are once again faceless (and often stupid) pawns in a preposterous plot. Like too many Voyager offerings, we don’t learn anything about them; they remain a means to an end, to drive the plot forward and nothing more.

It’s an episode like this that makes me want the holodeck destroyed so we can deal with real issues (or at the very least real characters and sci-fi plots) in the real world. If Torres didn’t have to answer to a captain whose boyfriend lived in the holo-town, I’d recommend that, for everyone’s own good, she secretly program a surprise air strike upon the quaint little village of Fair Haven, and reduce it to a pile of smoldering cinders. Now there’s a thought. Not the nicest one, perhaps, but an honest and satisfying one. Maybe then the crew could grieve, get over Fair Haven, and move on.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of The Haunting of Deck Twelve:

Without Neelix’s running narration, “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” would probably be the lamest Voyager outing of the year. With Neelix’s narration, it fares a bit better, but it’s still not nearly enough to redeem an hour of mechanical plot plodding.

This is an example of style over substance. Of course, that’s assuming you equate style with a smattering of photographed flashlight beams, darkened corridors with constantly blinking lights, pervasive (and persistent) clouds of deadly gas, and Jay Chattaway pounding away at the score to manufacture intensity where there isn’t any.

This episode features far too many bland, pointless scenes. I’m reminded somehow of second season’s “Twisted,” which was essentially about people wandering the ship’s corridors for an hour. To be sure, “Haunting” isn’t as bad as “Twisted”; it at least knows enough to darken the lights and move the camera around a lot. And in addition to wandering the ship, the characters run diagnostics and do other mechanical things. Unlike “Twisted,” there’s at least an ostensible purpose here, even if not a real one. And it may not be a particularly compelling example of technique, but there’s an effort to punch up the action and atmosphere to compensate for the woeful lack of material worth caring about.

But even in a series with no real goals beyond giving the characters a problem to solve each week, “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” manages to come off as filler. Maybe that’s because it has so many filler-like scenes that don’t seem necessary, while the rest of the story is uninteresting dreck.

I mean come on, people. This is an episode on autopilot: Establish a bizarro alien of the week (in this case, one that is an “electromagnetic lifeform”), have it take over the ship, and exercise all the usual cliches in addressing the crisis. (Of course, don’t kill it, because this is Star Trek.) But before we can address the crisis, we first must identify or find it, which seems to take most of the hour. In the meantime, we have lots of scenes where people are running diagnostics or roaming the corridors—things that just don’t seem very important.

The sole saving grace here is the story’s take on a “creepy campfire tale,” which is occasionally cute with Neelix sitting in a darkened cargo bay with the four Borg children. (And while I don’t expect babies to listen to campfire stories, I still do want to know—whatever happened to Borg Kid #5, the infant?) The episode’s action is told in flashback by Neelix. The justification for why he is telling this story seems contrived, but that’s okay. What’s not okay is that the contrivance makes no sense as presented. Much is made of the fact that the ship is being completely shut down. Of course, we never really find out why this is necessary. It’s a plot point lost in sketchy scripting. The whole idea of shutting down the ship exists for no dramatic purpose aside from the fact the story needs darkness around which to frame its narration device.

In a way, the idea here is another analysis on the concept of telling a story. This was done a few weeks ago in “Muse,” and I assure you in that case it was done much better. If “Muse” was a reflection on theStar Trek ideal, then “Haunting” is a reflection on pure schlock (which itself was done last year—and more humorously—in “Bride of Chaotica!”). There’s a whiff of self-mocking in the notion that Neelix’s story is a campy one, but not nearly enough to overcome the fact that the story being told isn’t interesting.

Back to the problem with this episode: Neelix’s source for the story, or in other words, the real plot. Umm … who cares? It features another random alien intruder, an EM intelligence that can exist inside theVoyager computer and take total control of the ship. Sure. Talk about your ghosts in the machine. It’s a glorified plot device that serves to get the crew running aimlessly all over the ship.

I say, if we’re going to have a ghost-in-the-machine episode, at least make the villain a bad villain. Not the case here. The villain is a displaced but allegedly sympathetic entity that blames the Voyager crew for destroying its home, a nebula that the ship had been inside in the interests of deuterium collection. All it really wants is to go home. In a scary story, it might at least want to kill everybody and then move on to its next ship full of prey—bwahahahaha. But I forgot—we need our Starfleet philosophy to shine through, as Janeway is determined to make First Contact with this Alien Lifeform. Unfortunately, the story wants to have it both ways. When Janeway’s efforts to help fail, the alien gets Real Mad and decides now it’s ready to kill everybody. Up until this point, the attitude is see no evil, hear no evil. And in this case, breathe no evil.

Except for the fact that Seven at one point in the action breathes the gas created by the lifeform. It’s only defending itself, of course. But what I don’t get is Seven’s inability to run away from danger. She’s determined to walk calmly away from danger. Sure, she may be a Borg, but don’t you think running away from a potentially deadly cloud of gas might be prudent? I guess I forgot Borg Rule #1: drones don’t run.

Whatever. This is an episode that’s not built on flowing logic but rather a slew of disjointed scenes—some of which I’m guessing would’ve been on the cutting room floor if there’d been enough worthy material. I liked, for example, that they brought back Crewman Celes (Zoe McLellan from “Good Shepherd”), and even that Seven treats her like the screw-up she was established to be in that episode. But the writers go overboard with Celes’ goofy dialog, and the character sinks. Her motormouthing in the corridor with Harry about the ship being taken over by aliens is an overlong, pointless scene that had me wondering why we stopped so long to bother with it. (One would hope Neelix didn’t halt his story to explain this exchange in detail to the Borg children. They’d likely fall asleep.)

I could go on with the plot, but why? It’s all laborious, arbitrary, and meaningless, and as what I’m sure comes as a huge surprise, Everything Is Okay at the End—but not until after an evacuation that seems so hastily and unnecessarily established that it leaves one’s head spinning. Janeway is able to successfully convince the lifeform to be merciful and trusting (although its change of heart at the Last Possible Moment is not of much interest), the crew finds the lifeform a new home, and it’s on with business as usual.

In the meantime, we get some more Tuvok/Neelix banter, which managed to do little but remind me how much more I cared when Spock and Bones had discussions. Also, we get our Invented One-Hour Character Trait—the notion that Captain Janeway talks to her ship. We’ve never seen this before, and we’ll never see it again. It’s this week’s random quirk, but I’ll give the writers credit for trying to inject some humanity into their characters. For that matter, we also get Seven looking 2 percent disheveled when we see via close-up that several dozen strands of her hair are out of place.

My favorite moment in this episode is when Neelix is wandering the corridor outside the mess hall. He’s all alone in a weird, dark situation. At the end of the hall, the turbolift doors are opening and closing, oscillating rapidly like something out of a supernatural film. (It’s goofy but somehow cool-looking.) He looks curiously at the doors, and then suddenly turns around and behind him is … TUVOK WEARING AN OXYGEN MASK! (Gasp!) It’s among the oddest, cheapest, goofiest horror-movie-inspired moments I’ve seen on this series. And, somehow, I think everyone involved in making the scene knew that. And even if they didn’t, oh well—I laughed long and hard.

If only “Haunting” had realized it was a genre comedy and played up the fun rather than the boring corridor-traipsing and systems-tinkering, they might’ve had something here: Voyager does Scream. Now there you go. Alas, it was not to be. And too bad—the stage hands operating the pulley on those turbolift doors really put in the effort for that one scene. I hope they got paid time and a half.



The next in best and worst is Season 5.


3 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 6

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

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

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

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