The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 5

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:

Drone, In the Flesh, Timeless, Infinite Regress, Counterpoint, Latent Image, Dark Frontier, Course: Oblivion, Think Tank, Relativity, and Warhead

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In blurbs:

  • Drone sees the technological combination of The Doctor’s mobile emitter, and Seven of Nine’s nanoprobes resulting in the creation of a 29th century Borg drone;
  • In the Flesh sees Voyager discover a station containing  an accurate recreation of Starfleet Command and Starfleet Academy by Species 8472;
  • Timeless is the 100th episode of the series, featuring a failed attempt to return home using slipstream drive that results in the deaths of almost all the crew and Voyager crash-landing on an ice world;
  • Infinite Regress sees the discovery of a Borg vinculum causing Seven of Nine to develop multiple personality disorder;
  • Counterpoint sees Voyager smuggle telepaths through Devore space, where telepaths are illegal and sent to relocation camps;
  • In Latent Image, The Doctor discovers that his memory files have been tampered with, which sets in motion a chain of events leading him to discover the death of a crew member;
  • Dark Frontier sees Captain Janeway devise a plan to steal a transwarp coil from a damaged Borg sphere, however, the Borg Queen (Star Trek: First Contact) learns of the plan and attempts to bring Seven back into the Collective;
  • Course: Oblivion features the fate of the biomimetic lifeform duplicates of Voyager from the episode, Demon;
  • Think Tank sees a group of highly intelligent beings offer Voyager escape from a race of bounty hunters in exchange for Seven;
  • In Relativity, Seven is recuited by a starship from the 29th century in order to save Voyager from destruction in the past; and
  • Warhead sees The Doctor’s program being taken over by sentient missile bent on mass destruction.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Drone:

“Drone” opens with Seven looking into a mirror, practicing her smile. This is a wonderful scene. It works on the “cute” level, but there’s a lot going on under the surface. It’s quite clear that her smile is completely superficial. Seven doesn’t feel like smiling, and she can’t “feel” the smile when she makes it. It’s just there. And knowing that frustrates her. In 20 seconds, without a single line of dialog, “Drone” has already managed to say something interesting about Seven: She’s trying, but she’s just not there yet—and it may be quite some time before she is.

“Drone” is one of the classic type of “human” Star Trek stories. What does it mean to be human and to have feelings? Why do we consider certain values so important? What kind of sacrifices should we make to serve the greater good? All of these questions have been asked dozens if not hundreds of times through the years of the Trek canon, but “Drone” does it as well as some of the best of them.

Once again, it accomplishes this through an analysis of Seven and the Borg. Voyager has played these cards many times, but when they’re played as well as they are here, I’m hardly in a position to complain.

In this case, a freak transporter mishap causes Doc’s mobile emitter to malfunction. And somehow, when Seven touches it, some of her Borg nanoprobes fuse with the holo-emitter technology. A bizarre technological process spontaneously erupts, and before long, Doc’s emitter is assimilated by the nanoprobes, which in turn assimilates a Voyager computer station, turning it into a Borg maturation chamber. The chamber steals a sample of an ensign’s DNA, and presto—a Borg fetus. It’s surprising how plausible the episode makes this techno-evolution all seem. And the episode’s visual conception of this process is neat—creepy and weird, and also irresistibly intriguing. Because this new Borg is based partially upon the 29th-century technology in Doc’s emitter, there’s the frightening prospect that this will become a very advanced new form of Borg drone.

So what’s the prudent course of action? Pull the plug? Terminate the Borg before it can become a threat? Possibly. But that certainly wouldn’t be the human thing to do, and it most definitely isn’t what Janeway is going to do. The plan is to allow it to develop; since it won’t have access to the Borg collective, the Voyager crew can train it to adopt human values. Janeway puts Seven in charge of this endeavor.

“Drone” is a primarily Seven-oriented episode, but it utilizes the ensemble much better than a lot of single-character-heavy shows. If “Drone” and “Night” are any indication, Voyager is doing a better job of balancing the cast than last season. (But somebody please promote Harry to lieutenant, already. Now he’s an ensign who’s running the bridge at night, for crying out loud.)

This episode is a melding of sorts of TNG‘s “The Offspring” and “I, Borg,” as well as Voyager‘s “The Gift” from last season. It’s not be the first episode of its kind, but who really cares? “Drone” is entertaining from beginning to end, working on every level—evoking mystery, fear, wonder, and eventually sympathy and pain.

The most noteworthy characteristic of “Drone” is that it made me care. Sure, some aspects of the story are more or less inevitable, but that didn’t hurt the show because I felt for all parties involved in the plot—particularly Seven and the drone—and I was very caught up in the flow of the story.

Part of this arises out of the sense of amazement in watching this new Borg come to life. Within a day, it fully develops from fetus to adult. When Seven activates it, the drone is like an empty shell waiting for a set of instructions and a purpose—sort of like a computer with no operating system loaded. Being a Borg, the drone is able to assimilate information easily and quickly, which the crew provides in a manner that allows him to learn at an incredible pace.

J. Paul Boehmer, who plays the Borg drone, brings a detached sense of confused curiosity to the role, which proves immensely effective. He asks questions and is genuinely interested in learning the answers, but in some cases he doesn’t understand the nature of the questions he asks or the answers he receives. He’s extremely innocent, and certainly doesn’t understand the nature of emotions, even though he obviously has them. But he’s perceptive and is quick to clue in to the fact that people are nervous around him, as shown in a scene where he asks the Doctor, “Am I unwelcome here?”

Meanwhile, Seven helps him as best she can, but proceeds with caution when the subject of the Borg arises. There’s that area of doubt—the question of whether the drone will seek out the collective if he learns about it. But as Janeway rightly says to Seven, they can’t hide the nature of the Borg from him forever. The parent-child bond that begins to form between Seven and the drone (who adopts the appropriate name, “One”) is quietly moving, especially the scene in the cargo bay where Seven shows One that he must regenerate in a Borg alcove. “Thank you,” One tells her. Seven, caught off-guard, finds she can only repeat, “We must regenerate.”

What’s particularly interesting given this story’s situation is that One is permitted the chance to become a very human, individualized Borg, unlike the individuals who are assimilated into the Borg collective and vanish into a hive bent on consuming everything it encounters.

When the moment comes when One must learn about the Borg collective, he exclaims, “I would like to experience the hive mind.” The scene doesn’t play out One’s exclamation for us to fear, as one might initially expect. Rather, the scene as it unfolds demonstrates how Seven and the captain try to teach him about the nature of individuality, and how the Borg collective steals such individuality away from people forever. Slowly, they get through to him; One coming to grasp what it means to be an individual is a big part of “Drone’s” appeal.

There’s a significant action overture here, which also works on story terms, where the Borg collective learns of this drone’s presence and sends a ship to intercept Voyager and assimilate him. What this demonstrates, alas, is the danger in adopting something so complex and inherently dangerous as a Borg. Even when the situation is seemingly controlled, an unknown variable can bring about disaster (in this case, One unknowingly sends a homing signal to the Borg). Before long, the Borg are looming in front of Voyager, spouting their usual threats of assimilation. The confrontation benefits from the typically impressive effects, including a spherical CG Borg ship.

Voyager‘s fate ultimately hangs on a noble sacrifice on One’s part, who beams himself aboard the Borg ship and, with the aid of his superior technology, is able to take control and destroy it from within. It’s not so much the confrontation with the Borg ship that’s important; it’s One’s sacrifice that hits home. Even after One miraculously survives the destruction of the Borg ship, he denies himself emergency surgery once beamed back aboard Voyager. He realizes that his existence—an accident, as he even acknowledges—will put Voyager in danger if the Borg ever learn he survived.

I was moved by One’s selfless act; who would’ve conceived of a selfless, noble Borg individual? Equally impressive is Seven’s reaction to this sacrifice—which for her is a personal loss. Jeri Ryan’s performance is heartfelt and on-target, leading into a finale that has no words, but just a silent Seven staring into the mirror like she was at the story’s beginning. It’s very nice, allowing the moment to speak for itself rather than offering us overly obvious dialog.

This ending peers into Seven’s mind. She may not be able to make a smile work yet, but Seven knows partially what it means to feel and to be human. That may not be a particularly new concept in itself, but it’s the fact that we’ve made additional progress—a step forward—that really counts.

“Drone” epitomizes the broadest concepts of Star Trek in its most visible forms. Everything that has always made Trek so accessible and appealing—new types of alien intelligence, action and special effects, neat gadgets—can be found here. But there’s also the deeper meanings, questions, and emotions—the ongoing character analysis, the broad strokes of wonder and tragedy, the contemplation upon what makes us human. “Drone” is like the perfect balance of a little of everything, and the story pulls it all off within an appealing, pleasant, and quietly exciting hour. It’s one of Voyager‘s best moments.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of In the Flesh:

Fifteen years ago, I might have called “In the Flesh” an allegory on current times. Aired in 1998, however, this episode feels more like a thinly guised contemporary history lesson—a throwback to a recent era more suited for allegory by the TOS style of storytelling.

With its obvious parallels to the Cold War, “In the Flesh” is a TOSepisode if I’ve ever seen one. Given the sociopolitical atmosphere of today, the episode’s intentions feel strangely dated. And given how much TOS I’ve been watching lately, I’ve taken on a new appreciation forTrek stories that tackle real issues in the context of sci-fi premises—provided they’re done well. A subtext usually can’t work unless what’s on the surface also fares well.

That probably goes double for “In the Flesh,” which is all the more dependent upon what the surface story is about, simply because the subtext lacks the immediate relevance it seems to need. It’s one thing to talk about the Cold War during the Cold War. It’s another thing to talk about it some 10 or so years after it has ended—and even longer since it was at the height of its urgency. It’s not commentary anymore; it’s retrospect.

Never mind. “In the Flesh” is a workable, though not stellar, Voyagerouting that provides a meditation on the theme of mistrust, where neither side can bring itself to trust the other. In this case, it’s humanity (or at least the Voyager crew) versus Species 8472, whom the Voyagercrew finds manning a Delta Quadrant outpost whose inhabitants have taken human form and have artificially duplicated Starfleet Headquarters down to its last detail to use as some sort of elaborate training facility. They’ve even duplicated the legendary Boothby (Ray Walston), Starfleet Academy’s head groundskeeper (TNG fans take note).

The episode does a fair job of evoking a sense of mystery; at first I thought Chakotay was on the holodeck or something. As the story continued and it became obvious this was more than the average Trekkian illusion, I was intrigued. When Chakotay and Tuvok are forced to bring one of the alien impostors (Zach Galligan) back to Voyager, the unveiling of that mystery is handled reasonably. Some brief touches of understandable paranoia, like Janeway testing Chakotay to be sure he’s the genuine article, help move things along. Doc’s method of revealing the man behind the mask, however, feels a little too much like DNA magic.

But never mind again. “In the Flesh” is plot-driven for much of the way, as Chakotay poses as one of the impostors so he can “keep a date” with Commander Relanna Archer (Kate Vernon), a faux human who might offer some insight into the alien plan. Archer is no fool, however—she’s on to Chakotay, even though he plays a smart game.

It’s nice to see Chakotay in action again, and it’s particularly nice to see him in a plot that doesn’t turn out to be “Unforgettable, Part II,” despite the trailer’s attempts to make this show look like an episode where “Chakotay unwittingly falls for 8472 in disguise.” Rather, the story displays Chakotay being subtle, smart, and sensible in his choice of words and methods of investigation—which is a refreshing change of pace for a character who, in my opinion, too often doesn’t get nearly enough to do.

I honestly don’t have much more to say about the plot, because I don’t feel the need or desire to recap everything blow by blow. Suffice it to say that the investigation and the conflict that arises when Chakotay is exposed and captured makes for a good view. It’s not spectacular or earth-shaking, but it’s quietly involving on a plot level.

The episode’s latter passages are about the aforementioned theme of mistrust between human and 8472. Janeway wants her first officer returned to her, but the 8472s want to interrogate him. They’re convinced Starfleet is planning some sort of strike, so they themselves are planning for the worst. The irony, of course, is that neither side wants war, but neither side can immediately bring itself to invest in trust, either.

Eventually, Janeway hammers out a meeting with the 8472 leaders, where an open dialog can be started. This meeting is dramatically successful, if for no other reason, because of Ray Walston’s line delivery and his character’s mince-few-words approach to verbal negotiation. I can’t remember a character I’ve seen where Walston didn’t play this type of personality, and that’s probably because he’s good at it. (One might as well use what one’s got.) While this is an example of the actor being the center of attention more than the character, I do think Walston manages to capture the fear manifested as anger and distrust that an 8472 might understandably have.

Bringing a more understandable agenda—one based on fear—to 8472 in this episode seems to me like a sensible notion. The overlarge and less-than-interesting threat of “purging our galaxy” is something that can’t continue to work outside the confines of “Scorpion,” so moving on to make 8472 a group with whom negotiation is possible was the only alternative if they were to be used again. I’m glad to see “In the Flesh” accomplishes this. On the other hand, one of 8472’s appeals was the fact they were so non-human, so different in physical concept, so alien. Now we have 8472s taking human form, chatting with Janeway in such humanistic terms—which is so humanly typical of Star Trek that I almost want to condemn the banality while I praise the idealism.

The mild allegory on the nuclear weapon scare is a little too obvious at times, including one scene where Janeway says: “Somebody has to take their finger off the trigger. It might as well be me.” At least she said “trigger” instead of “button.”

On the given terms, however, I’d like to point out that Sagan’s script missed an opportunity by not addressing the simple issue of what the 8472s call themselves. “Species 8472” is a Borg name, and I tend to think removing that designation might have been a proactive dramatic device toward conveying the peace and understanding that “In the Flesh” so doggedly wants to promote.

Overall, I’m giving “In the Flesh” a guarded recommendation. The show is entertaining by its own merits, and the messages are of classic Star Trek idealism. When you scrutinize, you will see that it’s more a rehash of themes that have been visited many times over than it is a fresh take on such material. But … I suppose there are worse things in the world.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Timeless:

I’m noticing a trend here. It’s a trend many have observed in connection with the Trek film franchise. So far this season, the odd-numbered Voyager episodes have missed the mark, while the even-numbered episodes have been hits. That’s probably not a crucial observation, but I figured I might as well make note of it while it’s the truth from my perspective. Hopefully next week the trend will end; that is to say, hopefully we’ll have an odd-numbered success.

But anyway, why couldn’t “Timeless” be the season finale for last season instead of the irritatingly manipulative “Hope and Fear”? There are many similar themes, but “Timeless” is so much more focused, rings so much more true, is so much … better.

It’s not every day, in other words, that we get a meaty story about Harry Kim that’s interwoven with a time-travel premise and an effective look at the Voyager crew’s attempt to get home.

Set 15 years in the future, the story brings Harry and Chakotay to an icy planet, where they locate the remains of the USS Voyager, which had crashed there following a disastrous accident. The crew was killed on impact. The only survivors were Chakotay and Harry, who had been in the Delta Flyer. The two have been searching for Voyager basically ever since the accident.

The story unfolds as it crosscuts between two perspectives. As the action unfolds 15 years in the future, we also see the story’s “present” perspective, which documents how the Voyager crew, in attempting the risky use of experimental quantum slipstream technology to get home, ends up spiraling out of control and crashing on the aforementioned ice planet.

Right from the start, “Timeless” picks a refreshing, workable way of telling a Voyager Homecoming Story [TM]. We know the crew’s use of their new slipstream engine is destined to fail (because the episode informs us from the outset), so by flipping the perspective and putting the emotional center of the episode in a completely different place (rather than taking the “crew’s hopes being crushed again” approach) the story puts itself in a much better position.

Specifically, the story chooses Harry Kim as its central character. And what the story supplies him is interesting indeed.

It’s about time we’ve finally been dealt a high-caliber Harry show. With only a handful of Harry-oriented episodes to choose from—and among them such disappointments as “Emanations,” “Non Sequitur,” and the nearly unmentionable “Favorite Son”—I must say that “Timeless” provides the best analysis of Harry the series has probably yet provided, virtually saving a character who has long been teetering on the brink of oblivion.

“Timeless” is a confidently told tale of guilt. As we learn in the “present,” the crew’s attempt to get home with this experimental quantum slipstream drive is something that has been months in the making. (It’s quite nice to see the technology, first introduced in “Hope and Fear,” has been remembered by the writers, and that the Voyager crew has been actively working on a way to use it.) It seems the engine is ready to go—the crew is celebrating, leading to an unexpectedly wonderful moment where Seven finds herself unwittingly intoxicated—but Paris finds a last-minute flaw, which in actual flight could possibly cripple or destroy the ship. Subsequently, Harry believes he has devised a solution—he says he can compensate for the flaw from the Delta Flyer, essentially leading the way for the Voyager crew—but this carries with it a substantial risk.

What I particularly liked about Harry’s proposal was the way he delivered it to the captain. As much as I resisted the way last season’s “Demon” tried to suddenly make Harry “more assertive,” there’s evidence here that the writers are following through with the idea in a plausible way. Harry is passionate about the work he has put into the slipstream engine, and he isn’t about to give up on it because of a last-minute technicality; he wants the captain to give him a chance to make the adjustments while in flight, and he confidently asks for this chance—with more forcefulness than I’ve ever seen come from Ensign Former Green.

Well, Harry’s calculations weren’t correct on that day 15 years ago. So while the Delta Flyer, manned by Harry and Chakotay, successfully piloted through the slipstream to arrive in the Alpha Quadrant, theVoyager was thrown out of control, eventually coming to the end of its journey on the icy planet at the edge of the Alpha Quadrant. Harry and Chakotay became the only survivors of the lost USS Voyager.

The story’s core is about this future Harry, who has lived with the guilt of failing his crew every day since. Now he is determined to change history—erasing the past 15 years—to save Voyager from its fate. Garrett Wang, in one of his best performances to date, paints future Harry as guilt-ridden to the point of obsession. This is a changed man, both in ideology and attitude. Gone is the pleasant, youthful Ensign, and in his place is a weathered, sullen, impatient man who will do whatever it takes to give himself a second chance in the past. He has resigned from Starfleet and come up with a very illegal plan. He has stolen a special Borg device from Starfleet Intelligence. With the help of the Doctor, whom Harry has retrieved from the Voyager wreckage, he intends to use this device to send a message with the right slipstream calculations to Seven of Nine in the past—correcting his error and getting Voyager home the way he originally planned.

The moral implications here are interesting. Harry and Chakotay are fugitives, charged with stealing the Delta Flyer from a Federation shipyard and with conspiracy to break the Temporal Prime Directive. Hot on their trail is the USS Challenger, commanded by Captain Geordi La Forge (the guest role could’ve been anybody’s, but since Burton directed the episode I’m not about to gripe about him being wasted—it wasn’t his story, anyway). Time is short; Harry and Chakotay have to complete their mission before La Forge stops them.

The question, of course, is just whether or not they should complete this mission. Who knows what events in the past 15 years could be affected by changing Voyager‘s fate? Now that so many years of history have been “written,” this mission essentially means cleaning history’s slate. As an analysis of Harry, this is quite powerful; he’s so obsessed that he’s willing to affect countless others to alleviate his own guilt. That’s pretty scary, and something I find fascinating given how squeaky-clean our “present” Harry has always been.

However, one problem I have with “Timeless” is the way this moral theme affects Chakotay. Specifically, just what motivates him to help Harry change 15 years of history—something the Federation (and I would assume both Harry and Chakotay, despite their situation) considers morally wrong? Harry’s reasons are clear: He’s obsessive and guilt-ridden. But Chakotay, for all that he may want to do to help hisVoyager crew, strikes me as somebody that doesn’t live pondering the mistakes of the past. I tend to think, based partly on how Beltran performed him, that Chakotay would’ve moved on with his life by now, and wouldn’t so lightly change 15 years of history.

The presence of his lover Tessa (Christine Harnos) on this illegal mission is a mixed blessing. She has no agenda or purpose beyond following Chakotay’s lead, and seems more than anything else like a convenient character to whom Chakotay relays his doubts in dialog. I like that the story shows Chakotay has doubts about what he is about to do, but I don’t think those doubts are developed nearly enough, especially considering that Tessa provides such a supposedly strong emotional tie between Chakotay and the timeline he intends to erase. Overall, the utilization of the future Chakotay struck me as iffy—the only thing in the episode that somewhat holds it back.

On the technical side, the crosscutting between the timelines was confidently pulled off. It wasn’t nearly as complex as TNG‘s “All Good Things…,” but the structure and the way the episode moved between the timelines as the crises peaked certainly had an “All Good Things…” feel to it that was effective, right down to the culmination of disaster asVoyager crashes in a nifty special effects display. (Yes, the sequence was reminiscent of the Enterprise-D crashing in Generations, but so what? It still worked.) LeVar Burton’s direction kept all the story’s pieces nicely in check.

By the end, of course, the future Harry is able to change history in a way that saves Voyager. I liked, however, that his first solution didn’t work, and that he had to come up with another idea. But what I liked more was the final scene, where we learn that Harry sent a recorded message back to himself when he transmitted the calculations. This message, and especially “present” Harry’s reaction to it, brought a poignancy to the show’s time-travel aspect that I hadn’t expected. The silent dread in Harry playing back this message was exceptionally well-played by Wang. Words from the future would be frightening enough; but I imagine that words from ourselves—at least, one possible version of ourselves—would be terrifying, and Wang hits this moment square on the head.

You know, it’s funny … a number of complaints I made at the end of last season have been addressed in this single episode. For one, we have finally gotten a standout Harry Kim episode—an experience that one would hope would change him forever. For another, we have a crew homecoming attempt that ends with a sense of renewed hope and momentum rather than in utter disappointment; the 10 additional years taken off the journey, as Janeway mentions, is something that feels like true progress, which I prefer greatly to the typical “reset to zero.” And in execution, almost everything comes together, balancing effective use of all cast members, great production values, and a nice overall direction by Burton.

“Timeless” is an episode that gives me hope—hope that Voyager is well on its way to getting somewhere new this season.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Infinite Regress:

“Infinite Regress” is a true example of high concept. From the critical view, there’s a weird phenomenon about high concept: It sends the mind, if only for a brief moment, into a bizarre series of gauging stages. In the first stage, the mind suspends analysis in favor of a sense of adventure, saying to itself, “Wow, that’s a really cool idea.” In the second stage, the mind’s skepticism retorts, “But wait a minute—that’s really just a shallow gimmick.” In the third stage, the mind uses reason to strike a balance between the first two thoughts, with the sentiment, “Let’s wait and see how they handle this idea, because it could just as easily work as fall flat.”

Okay, maybe that’s just my own thought process, but you get the point. A high concept’s ability to suck you in can turn out to be its own undoing because of the question: Where can the story go from its setup as pitched?

The five-words-or-less pitch for “Infinite Regress”: “Borg multiple personality disorder.” Okay, so now what?

Well, if you can assemble some good performances and a good director, you might have something here. At least, you’d better hope so, because there isn’t all that much meat to the story … although there’s an abundance of technobabble (albeit tolerable technobabble) and plot procedures that are somewhat arbitrarily conjured.

This is an episode that could’ve come off as pedestrian, but thanks to the skilled David Livingston (one of my favorite Trek directors) it ends up being intriguing and at times fairly intense and haunting.

What’s causing Seven to experience “Borg multiple personality disorder,” you ask? The crew’s investigation leads it to the debris of a destroyed Borg vessel, where they find the Borg ship’s “vinculum” is still functioning. The vinculum suppresses individuality in Borg drones, regulating and organizing their thought patterns for maximum efficiency in the hive mind. It “brings order to chaos,” as Janeway aptly puts it. But somehow this vinculum is transmitting a signal that is causing Seven’s brain implants to malfunction and bring forward the repressed personalities of other individuals the Borg had assimilated.

The crew must now shut down the vinculum in order to solve Seven’s problem. Destroying the vinculum without first initiating a proper shutdown would not be a great idea because Seven could suffer brain damage. (PC users take note: This is what happens when you don’t shut down Windows before turning off your computer—you get brain damage.)

The can of worms of course is: If this vinculum had been 5,000 light-years away, and Seven couldn’t escape its side effects because it “permeates subspace” (you gotta love those tech rationales!), she would essentially be screwed. I can’t see Janeway following a signal for five years to cure Seven of multiple personality disorder. But never mind; I’m reaching here. My point is simply that any plot device that alleges the ability to affect something half a galaxy away makes me somewhat uneasy.

“Infinite Regress” is primarily plot-driven. As such, there are some well-played ideas here to go along with the dubious ones. For example, I liked the subtle exchange where Janeway reluctantly agrees to bring the vinculum on board the ship so Seven can deactivate it. Janeway’s skepticism is appropriate: Not only is there the “Trojan horse” issue, but one would think something as important-sounding as a “vinculum” might draw further Borg attention—and, personally, I wouldn’t want to be caught dead with it when they came looking.

Naturally, the crew’s attempts to shut down the vinculum are complicated by the fact that some nearby aliens had intentionally corrupted it with a virus designed to spread through the Borg collective and wreak havoc on as many Borg ships as possible. These aliens, listed in Seven’s Borg database as Species 6339 (we never learn what they call themselves), want the vinculum back, because it is a Trojan horse—and they want the Borg to re-assimilate it. It’s their retaliation for the bulk of their society being assimilated four years ago. (As a side note, it’s an episode like this, among other Voyager offerings, that makes me wonder how it is the Borg decide whom they’re going to attack and when.)

These aliens provide an understandable, but all-too-routine conflict. Their captain, Ven (Neil Maffin), is at least is willing to talk to Janeway, but when she refuses to turn over the vinculum to them until Torres can disable it, Ven opts to attempt taking it by force. This leads to the requisite battle sequence, etc. Although these aliens are provided with just enough motivation to avoid falling into the usual Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week paradigm, I couldn’t help but think there was a more inventive way the writers could’ve handled this.

But forget all this, because it’s not what makes “Infinite Regress” work (which doesn’t say much about my ability to write in inverted pyramid style). This episode’s selling point is its high concept implications—Seven exhibiting multiple personalities.

I would imagine such a device would be a lot of fun for an actor. Here, Jeri Ryan gets to show a much more diverse range, as buried personalities hijack control of Seven’s mind, making her act out the parts of a lustful Klingon, a greedy Ferengi, a logical Vulcan, playful and scared children, a terrified Starfleet officer looking for a loved one who was supposed to rendezvous with her at Wolf 359 (oops), and so forth. “Infinite Regress” walks the line between compelling chaos and outright excess, but Livingston and Ryan keep the story on track.

A lot of this is interesting to watch simply because it’s so un-Seven-like. There’s one scene where a 6-year-old personality emerges and plays a game with little Naomi Wildman (a character who is starting to grow on me). Jeri Ryan dives head-first into the role in a way that, in another actor’s hands, could’ve made the whole idea look silly, but here works well. Other characters, like the Klingon personality who tries to (ahem) jump Torres in engineering, highlight Ryan sporting a confidence that strikes me as refreshing: She’s going all the way out there whether it ultimately works or not. And for me, it worked. Even if it didn’t work, she’d still get an A for effort.

The final act, in which Tuvok mind melds with Seven to keep her individuality from disappearing into nothingness while Torres attempts to take the vinculum off-line is an exercise in blurringly fast-paced, pure technique. There’s an interesting metaphor used to show the struggle inside Seven’s mind, as we see Tuvok trying to find Seven on a Borg ship, while all of the other people in Seven’s mind shout and get in his way. The way this is shot is eerie and intense; I thought it worked very well. In particular, the little girl screaming for help was effective and unsettling. The extreme cinematic chaos utilized in this sequence effectively conveys the chaos in Seven’s mind. Meanwhile, chaos breaks loose on Voyager as the 6339s open fire.

Sporting hyperactive camera movements and even one noticeable jump cut (Livingston betrays his secretly repressed desire to direct an episode of Homicide), the final act pushes the envelope in a way that borders on excess—as we cross-cut between the 6339s’ attack onVoyager, the battle inside Seven’s mind, and Torres’ frantic attempt to disable the vinculum. Livingston pushes almost too hard, but I still liked the net result.

If this episode is truly about anything substantive on a character level, it’s that Seven has reached a point of no return in her evolution. She can no longer bear the voices that she once needed to survive as a part of the collective. Instead, she has come to appreciate her social ties. She is grateful to the crew for risking themselves to help her. And at the end she reaches out to Naomi, whom we suspect reminds Seven of something she herself never completed—her childhood. The story doesn’t analyze these themes in any deep or groundbreaking way, but what’s here is pleasant.

“Infinite Regress” is a superior example of an episode in the spirit of stories like “One” and “The Raven,” which all fall into their own Voyager genre: Borg psychological thrillers. I liked it. It has energy and a strangely appealing impudence. It shoots for the moon at times, but, hey—if it works, it works.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Counterpoint:

Why is it, after several years of expectedly dumb Voyager promos, I still let myself get angry with them? You’d think I’d just ignore them at this point and let go of my anger. Well, most of the time I do.

But just look at the trashy promo for “Counterpoint,” for crying out loud—dubbed by the trailers, “Sleeping With the Enemy.” Is there some rule in UPN marketing that says advertising must pander to the lowest primordial demographic of the brain dead? Don’t they think it’s possible for us to be entertained by a story without it being over-sensationalized to the point of lowbrow absurdity? Do the producers ofVoyager feel the need to strangle the studio’s publicity department? I sure would if I had written “Counterpoint.”

Trailer issues aside, “Counterpoint” is a pretty enjoyable hour. It’s a tad deceptive in plotting terms, but only so much in that the characters themselves constantly seem to be hiding things. This is a very plot-reliant episode. Yet it’s a significantly character-orchestrated endeavor. One might say that “Counterpoint” succeeds because it balances the plot aspects with the character aspects. It’s a plot show that uses its people as personalities about as much as it uses them as pieces in its jigsaw puzzle.

Because Voyager meets a lot of people during its journey, we get a lot of “aliens of the week.” Some aliens are people with a problem that theVoyager crew helps to solve, like the people in last week’s “Thirty Days.” Others are “bad guys” who serve as sources of conflict. The subjects of “Counterpoint” fall into the “bad guys” category.

I often dislike Voyager bad guys, because they’re too often lacking in identity and personality—serving merely to provide the special-effects crew with the opportunity for pyrotechnics and camera shaking. But what’s particularly refreshing about “Counterpoint” is that the bad guys for once are allowed to have a dynamically acerbic—rather than blandly confrontational—personality.

They’re called the Devore, and they’re xenophobes who don’t like visitors (labeling anyone who isn’t them a “gaharay”). They have tough rules for anyone passing through their space. Their most stressed rule: no telepaths allowed. Anyone caught smuggling a telepath will have their ship impounded and crew incarcerated. Ships in Devore space are stopped and inspected for contraband on a regular basis. As the episode begins, Voyager is being stopped by a Devore inspection team, quite obviously not for the first time.

The Devore inspectors are smug. They’re led by an especially smug inspector named Kashyk (Mark Harelik), who claims to want to be Janeway’s friend through these ongoing difficult procedures. Smug can be annoying, but here it works as a surprisingly entertaining source of conflict. Kashyk is one of the few Voyager adversaries in recent memory that I actually enjoyed seeing on the screen. A big reason Kashyk works is because of the piss-and-vinegar dynamic between him and Janeway. Janeway does not like Kashyk. But Kashyk doesn’t care. He beams into her ready room and sits in her chair, telling her with a smile, “Make yourself at home.”

Mulgrew’s internalized but commanding performance reveals a less-than-diplomatic side of Janeway at her surliest and most sardonic; the “let’s be friends” stage of these encounters has long since passed. Janeway is tired of her ship being stopped, and her resignation to cooperation does not filter through into her attitude. I liked seeing this side of Janeway.

Kashyk, meanwhile, seems to take pleasure in his work; he beams ontoVoyager and instantly plays Mahler’s “Symphony Number One” over the ship’s comm system as a way of telling Janeway that her ship is temporarily his.

The success of the plot is more dependent on execution than in meaning: Janeway is smuggling about a dozen telepathic refugees who had requested transportation through Devore space. When the Devore inspectors come on board, the telepaths are hidden in “transporter suspension”—transformed into energy until the Devore leave. Is “Counterpoint” an analysis on obeying the laws of other cultures? Don’t make me laugh. And don’t go looking for moral ambiguity, because you won’t find it. As far as the story is concerned, the Devore are bad people who persecute telepaths, so it follows that Janeway can break their rules if she damn well wants to. Hey, I’m game.

The episode’s twist is that Kashyk isn’t really the bad guy; he later comes to Janeway requesting asylum. He sympathizes with the plight of the Devore’s telepathic neighbors, and he wants to help Janeway smuggle them out—which could be helpful given his knowledge of Devore space and their inspection procedures.

Question of the day: Can we trust Kashyk? Ultimately, no. The twist upon the twist is that Kashyk really is the bad guy; he has come toVoyager under the pretense of being a friend so Janeway will find (and he can subsequently destroy) the wormhole that could provide other telepaths with a means for escaping Devore space. I’m not even sure whether or not his roundabout intentions completely make sense under the circumstances (the story seems to be stretching a bit to give Kashyk a reason for going undercover to infiltrate Janeway’s ship).

That’s okay, because the plot is crafted carefully enough that we put such questions on hold. Kashyk’s true intentions aren’t revealed to us until the very end, when Janeway herself realizes the extent of his treachery. I won’t explain all the plot advances that are required to get to the end; just suffice it to say Kashyk and Janeway begin working together closely to locate the wormhole, and the chemistry of contempt is replaced with a chemistry of mutual respect. (Admittedly, the chemistry of contempt was more entertaining.)

In looking back at the whole picture, we can see that “Counterpoint” is really a series of intricate, obscured mind games between Janeway and Kashyk, where we’re not sure who trusts whom, or who’s getting the better of whom, until the gamesters themselves have realized the nature of their opponent’s deceit.

In essence, Kashyk’s sole intent is to gain the trust of the captain, so that she will lower her guard as a result of that trust, at which point he can make his move. Contrary to the trailers, which would like to suggest some love affair erupts between Janeway and Kashyk in the course of the episode, “Counterpoint” is not at all about love or attraction. It’s about trust and exploited weakness. Kashyk and Janeway are two people caught in a conundrum of need for the other’s help. The episode’s Big Clinch [TM] comes at a crucial moment, when a perceived crisis needs to be solved using careful tactics—but also at a point where Kashyk most needs Janeway to trust him, and where Janeway most needs to be objective and cautious in regards to Kashyk’s true intentions.

So at the end, when Kashyk’s collaboration with Janeway turns out to be a sham to attempt taking advantage of her trust, Janeway ingeniously turns the tables and takes advantage of Kashyk’s own plotting. Without going into needless detail, I simply want to say that the multiple levels of deception are nicely executed by the plot.

Deceit is the name of the game. The game is the whole point of “Counterpoint.” There simply isn’t much else to it. “Counterpoint” works because it ultimately makes for an enjoyable Janeway feature. It deftly reveals her human weaknesses and emotional vulnerabilities while at the same time showing her ability to remain a focused, resourceful, sensible, and intelligent captain. If the plot is an ongoing manipulation exercise where one can stand back and notice the gears turning, so be it.

I say, If you’re going to have a conflict between the Voyager crew and an alien society, this is a good example of how to do it. Forget the phaser-fire and “shields down to 44 percent” standbys. Make it a battle of wits, and use the characters and their attitudes and bounce them off one another in interesting, acerbically devious ways.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Latent Image:

My feelings on “Latent Image” might best be summed up as above, with the elusive, all-purpose “hmmm…” The question is what kind of vocal inflection goes with that “hmmm.” Is it (1) a “hmmm” that starts at a somewhat high pitch and comes down slightly in pitch in a sort of thoughtful, melodic way? Or is it (2) a more disturbed and skeptical “hmmm,” which has a lower pitch than the first “hmmm” and sounds more like an annoyed whine—a “hmmm” that, in inflection but not in consonant structure, comes across much the same way as “ehhhh”?

Or something.

As “Latent Image” unfolded, this episode had me mentally tallying both types of “hmmms.” Type 1 probably wins out, but not without plenty of Type 2 cropping up along the way.

It’s an episode like this one that makes me wonder just who and what the Doctor really is. Is he really sentient, or does he just appear to be so? If his claims of self-awareness are simply programmed “personality subroutine” responses, does that change his status or entitled rights as an individual? Hmmm… (Type 1).

Do the writers know the answers to these questions? I had long thought the Doctor was considered sentient, but after this episode, I’m wondering whether that was the intention. And I’m also wondering if the writers simply changed their minds before writing this episode. Hmmm… (Type 2).

The mystery arises from some gaps in Doc’s memory when he discovers that Ensign Kim had been treated with an emergency medical procedure that Doc had obviously performed yet cannot remember. With Seven’s help, he uncovers some buried, incomplete memories that had at one point been erased. He goes to the captain to report the mystery, at which point we realize the plot is playing a few tricks on us. These tricks capture attention early on, although the plot comes off a little uneven as a result.

First is the quasi-mystery McGuffin (i.e., no one knows why Doc has these memory lapses), and then the story reveals a dose of paranoia (i.e., they know why—because they did it—but won’t tell him) before settling into the “actual plot” (his memory had been erased because the events in question had caused him to malfunction). It’s the nature of the “actual plot” where the story’s real issues lie.

“Latent Image” has some evident frustrations, one being that it seems to come at a time much later in the series than it should have, and another being that it seems to contradict what we had previously known about the Doctor. The two objections are interrelated to some degree, but I’ll focus on the latter objection, as we can find evidence to support it.

My central challenge to this story is this: Hasn’t the Doctor already grown past the “pre-programmed” point in question? Isn’t this a question that has been asked if not answered long ago, in one way or another? Doc has experienced a lot over the years, whether it was falling in love in “Lifesigns,” swapping jokes on cue and battling Romulans in “Message in a Bottle,” or moralizing social situations in “Living Witness.” You’d think the question of whether he can make choices that go beyond his original programming is something that has been answered affirmatively on many occasions. For that reason, I have my skeptical “hmmms” about whether this story is a daring stretch of past material or a total disregard of it.

BUT … alleviating somewhat from this problem—which makes “Latent Image” overcome the inconsistencies that one would decide are problem areas—is the following argument: Suppose all of Doc’s behavior in the past has managed to avoid the complexity of thought that the central crisis of “Latent Image” brings forward—the idea of sentient growth, of pondering the nature of existence, limitless choices, and an infinitely unpredictable number of possibilities. That’s a “hmmm” (Type 1) that really kept my attention as “Latent Image” unfolded.

The central crisis is simple, yet not: A year and a half ago, an alien attack left two patients, both in mortal danger, both (we presume) of equal importance to the ship, with an equal chance of survival … but there was only enough time for Doc to save one. Which patient did he choose? Harry Kim, a crewmate he is closer to, with a regular working relationship; or Ensign Jetal (Nancy Bell), a crewmate from below decks whom Doc had met once?

Time was short. Doc made a decision: Harry Kim. Jetal died. Later, Doc began trying to figure out why he made the choice that allowed her to die. A conflict arose between his independent thought process and his pre-programmed “first duty” of treating patients with total impartiality. The conflict grew and consumed him. To erase the problem, Janeway erased the memories of those events. Now, the problem has presented itself again.

The big question is, does erasing Doc’s memories stagnate his ability to grow as an individual? Should he instead be allowed to work through the crisis and confusion? That’s the whole point of the story, and with the cycle repeating itself, Janeway is forced to rethink her original decision.

On a plot level, the specific dilemma that brings the conflict to the surface is pretty contrived. For one, just where did this Ensign Jetal come from? It always amazes me that even though the Voyager crew has a finite number of members, the producers still manage to pluck people at random out of the sea of infinite actors looking for short-term work. Why can’t Voyager have some semblance of a consistent guest cast? DS9, which doesn’t even have to be as self-sufficient asVoyager in terms of crew, has a dozen or more recurring characters outside the regular cast. Yet Voyager can barely muster Ensign Wildman once or twice a year. (But I’ll stop now; I’ve been down this road many times before.)

The episode will also have us believe that Jetal has never been mentioned in conversation near Doc since her death, and that all records Doc might encounter pertaining to her presence have been either hidden or deleted. That’s quite a stretch. I wonder how the captain pulled it off.

But never mind. I said there were some significant problems here, and there are. I also said this episode works, so let’s get back to the reasons why. The way Doc’s program goes haywire provides Picardo with a great chance to go slightly berserk, with a strong performance that teeters on the edge of distress and insanity. And it isn’t merely a trick; it works on story terms, showing a character torn in a conflict that, because of his programming, becomes irreconcilable.

The fragmented thought process is carried into a final scene where Doc’s confusion has him ranting in circles, pondering the nature of the formation of the universe 20 billion years ago, which leads him to conclude his decision was inevitable, as was the ultimate formation of “starships, holodecks, and chicken soup.” I found the final scene interesting because it’s unconventional and borderline-schizophrenic in a way that perfectly conveys Doc’s confusion. A lot of people will likely find it weird, but I think I see exactly what Menosky was going for.

Another thing I really liked about this episode was the way it worked as an ensemble piece, even though the focus was generally on Doc. Just about everyone gets some good, well-motivated screen time, most notably Janeway and Seven of Nine, whose arguments on the nature of Doc’s individuality supply the episode with many of its tantalizing questions about his rights and needs as an artificial intelligence, sentient or otherwise. (Alas, Chakotay is still getting severely shafted, receiving little screen time and no significant dialog. The writers havegot to give this guy a voice, because he has become far and away the show’s most underutilized and purposeless character this season.)

Perhaps my biggest dread concerning this episode is that the writers will simply ignore it later—which would be extremely wrong. Given the end of this episode, I would expect Doc has a long way to go in overcoming this challenge, and if we never see it again, I’m going to be angry. The Voyager writers have a knack for disregarding long-term character continuity, especially when it comes to the Doctor—and especially when it involves the Doctor in a situation that demandsfollow-up consequences. There have been far too many instances where a significant problem Doc has experienced has been simply thrown away. Most notable instances that come to mind are his loss of memory back in “The Swarm” and his life-building scenarios in “Real Life.” Both demanded follow-ups, and neither received them. “Latent Image” demands a follow-up even more, yet I have this fear that we’ll never get it. As always, judgment will be reserved and temporary optimism maintained.

On the technical side, Mike Vejar’s direction was effective. He has never been afraid to use slow-motion when appropriate, and here it brought a surreal edge to some of the flashback scenes.

On the other hand, Paul Baillargeon scored no points with me this week; the completely inappropriate music during the crucial surgery flashback nearly managed to sink the entire scene. He did a great job with the theme for DS9‘s “The Siege of AR-558,” but Baillargeon’s tendency to underscore urgent scenes with seemingly random, serene notes (see also DS9‘s “Valiant”) is inexplicable and detrimental. I’ve been a long-time critic of new-Trek music, and although I’ve mellowed in recent years, this score was ineffective enough for special mention.

Despite my qualms and fears with “Latent Image,” however, I’m going with a marginal recommendation—mostly for the ideas and implications it creates, not always so much for how it goes about doing it. This is an episode that prompted me to ask questions about Doc, and in turn had me pondering the nature of our own existence and the sometimes-arbitrary choices we make. It’s in many ways a fascinating thought piece. But with some script tweaking it could’ve been much more. “Hmmm” indeed.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Dark Frontier:

“Dark Frontier” does probably exactly what UPN executives wanted it to—it provides “an epic two-hour telefilm!” during February sweeps that is accessible to the average sci-fi-but-not-necessarily-Voyager fan and features the Borg, the most popular and reliable of all Trek bad guys. Obviously, no expense was spared in producing this two hour “event.” So the real question: Is it any good? Answer: Yes.

Next question: Could it have been better? Answer: Yes.

I also have to ask: Was this story really necessary? I mean, the whole story, when you think about it, doesn’t really take us anywhere new, especially when it comes to its central character, Seven of Nine. “Dark Frontier” seems at times like it exists more for the sake of grand spectacle than for grand story development. Not that I would necessarily let that get in the way of enjoying it.

If “Dark Frontier” was trying to get my attention with pure cinematic audacity, it worked. The episode wastes no time in coming out big and bold, showing off production values in an entertainingly effective way. The first scene opens on a Borg scout ship, featuring a Borg point-of-view sequence as a drone wakes up to assist the ship’s attack onVoyager, which it has detected as a target for assimilation. David Bell’s score comes out stronger than music is normally ever permitted to be on Trek episodes these days, with an actual theme and a thundering attitude. Not long after, there’s a brief battle, followed by large-scale special effects and explosions when Voyager beams a torpedo into the ship and destroys it. As action-adventure, to say “Dark Frontier” revealed its intentions confidently and effectively right up front would be an understatement.

The crew salvages debris from the destroyed ship in hopes of finding useful technology. A transwarp coil in particular would be useful; it could shave 20 years off the journey. What’s left of the salvaged coil, however, is useless.

From here, Janeway devises a daring plan. A crippled Borg vessel is detected heading back toward Borg space. With a carefully executed maneuver, the crew could break its defenses and steal a warp coil. The plan is appropriately dubbed “Operation: Fort Knox.”

While we’re talking about Janeway, I’d like to comment on a character whose actions have long been controversial and inconsistently written. I find myself reminded of second season’s “Alliances.” At the end of that episode, the writers alleged that, in light of being stuck in the chaotic Delta Quadrant surrounded by brutal opportunistic enemies, Janeway’s course of adjustment would simply be to maintain Federation morals—”business as usual,” as Chakotay once put it. I found that attitude to be shallow, naive, and dramatically limiting. (To analyze Federation ideals, the writers must challenge them in new ways, even if it means willful deviation.)

Over the years of Voyager‘s uneasy run, that attitude has been changed. Now we have a Janeway that, while still maintaining diplomacy and a sense of morality, will go further to protect her crew and get them home more quickly. (It has been said that Kate Mulgrew feels Brannon Braga understands Janeway better than former executive producers Jeri Taylor or Michael Piller did; perhaps that partially explains this alteration in attitude.)

So the question is whether this robbery mission better demonstrates Janeway’s strengths. I’m thinking it does; it shows through action the way she will push the boundaries of typical Federation morals in the name of her crew. And Mulgrew fares well when she’s allowed to show her teeth. (Although, Janeway came off as a little smug in the scene where she introduces “Operation: Fort Knox” to the crew; Mulgrew sometimes goes overboard with the body language.)

Now then—what about the moral implications of this theft? Is it okay to steal from the Borg, even if they are one of the worst enemies the Federation has ever known? More immediately, is it prudent to charge into the lion’s den for a great prize if there’s a risk the entire crew could end up assimilated? While I appreciate moral and practical ambiguity, the writers don’t seem to really be asking these questions so much as they arise as a side effect. “Dark Frontier” charges forward with plot and action without completely considering the consequences.

But no matter. “Dark Frontier” exists more often for plot and action than for philosophic content. On that level, it fares well.

In preparation for the big heist, there are holodeck training drills and information searches. The major character undercurrent here, naturally, is for Seven of Nine, who, at Janeway’s request, searches through her parents’ data logs, which were retrieved from the USS Raven more than a year earlier. Seven apparently has been avoiding these logs to avoid facing her old pre-Borg childhood memories—back when her name was Annika Hansen. The new need for information now has her facing up to the past.

“Dark Frontier” is not afraid to invent or even reinvent backstory for the sake of advancing its story. Through a series of Seven’s flashbacks, we get new insight into Annika’s parents, Magnus and Erin Hansen (Kirk Baily and Laura Stepp). The story reveals them as two scientists who undertook a mission to find and learn about the nefarious Borg, and became so obsessed with their leads that they disregarded orders from their scientist colleagues, effectively alienating themselves. Since there was no turning back, they simply pressed forward, hoping to find Borg. Eventually, they did.

The Hansens’ audacity is remarkable. There’s a fine line between brave and stupid, and the Hansens walked that line for three years, we learn, studying a Borg cube without being detected as “relevant” before finally crossing the line and getting themselves assimilated. In that time, they boarded the cube on many occasions, and even kidnapped dormant drones from their regeneration alcoves to study them. All the while, they tell each other, “This could prove our theory!” I kept asking myself: What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they care about getting themselves and their 5-year-old daughter killed or assimilated? In any case, I found the Hansens’ overconfidence and obsession interesting.

Was any of the Hansens’ Borg research intended back when last season’s “The Raven” was written? I doubt it, but then again I don’t really care; “Raven” kept the Hansens’ history vague, and the rewriting of that history proves interesting and is put to good use in “Dark Frontier.”

On the other hand, some of this reinvention I found a little annoying, because it flies in the face of established continuity. More specifically, these flashbacks allege that Starfleet knew about the Borg years before they could have. The first Borg episode, TNG‘s “Q Who,” was about 10 years ago. Starfleet knew nothing about them. Here, the Hansens apparently knew about the Borg some 20 years ago, which is simply impossible given what we’ve seen before.

Is any of this continuity quibbling important to “Dark Frontier”? Probably not, but it is a blatant disregard for past history for those of us who remember the Borg’s introduction back in the second season ofTNG, and I have to at least mention my objection to the distorting the facts.

But again, no matter. Story advancement first, plot continuity second. “Dark Frontier” blends the flashbacks into the main story effectively, balancing Seven’s feelings on the matter with the bigger plot involving the mission.

It’s about this time that Seven is contacted by the Borg, who somehow know about Janeway’s plan. They tell her, essentially, that she must rejoin the collective, or the Borg will assimilate Voyager. Why do they want her? “Because you are unique.” Borg riddles. Gotta love ’em.

This leads to a very nice scene where Seven makes a plea to Janeway to allow her to stay on the mission even though she has been fraught with emotional distraction over the last few days. Seven knows something Janeway doesn’t, but can’t tell her about it. The plan must go on forVoyager‘s sake. Seven’s sense of self-sacrifice is fairly affecting; the character certainly has come a long way in the past year.

The mission is nicely executed, as is Seven’s capture. The story comes up with some interesting ways of giving Voyager the advantage, like the devices that make crew members temporarily undetectable from the Borg while on a Borg ship (which are established through the Hansen backstory, who used them to run around the Borg cube for hours at a time)—although, I was somewhat confused by the story’s unclear intentions of how much of the plan the Voyager crew pulled off versus how much the Borg let them get away with it.

“Dark Frontier” is an episode whose action works through little details. The Hansen flashbacks benefit from some nice nuances, such as the Hansens giving the Borg drones pet names as a way of keeping track of them, or the frighteningly implicit consequences foreshadowed by little Annika (Katelin Petersen) saying “bye” as her parents beam a Borg drone back to the cube.

In the present storyline, we have good use of Naomi Wildman, a character whose presence manages to transcend the “cute” factor and tell us something about the other characters, whether serving as a reminder for Seven’s truncated childhood, or playing off the captain in a scene that reveals Janeway’s codependency of humanity and duty (“Keep your shirt tucked in; go down with the ship; and never abandon a member of your crew”).

Once Seven returns to the Borg, the story’s big hook is the reintroduction of the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson), which is supposed to provide a one-on-one battle of wills, I think, over the nature of Seven’s unique re-assimilation into the collective. It’s at this point the story seems to resign itself to the fact the writers have used the Borg about a dozen times and now must ask, well, where can we go from here? The second half of “Dark Frontier” is entertaining, but psychologically it can’t deliver much more than what we’ve already seen. It feels more like a series of skillfully executed set pieces than a story trying to find its way to some sort of emotional resolution. The Borg Queen’s attempts to crack Seven are all too similar to the Queen’s attempt to crack Data in First Contact: coercion, temptation, finding the crux of human morality, elusive riddles, etc.

The use of the Borg Queen had me asking questions with no apparent answers. For starters, what is the purpose of the Queen? As Data put it, “I wish to understand the organizational relationships.” Is there some sort of hierarchy, where the Queen actually runs the collective? Or is the Queen simply a special liaison—a symbol of the hive mind—who is assembled whenever there is special need to psychologically crack an individual? (There’s evidence here that could have it either way, but because by the end of the episode we’ll now have two Queens that have died, it’s apparent they aren’t crucial to the collective.)

For that matter, I’m confused at why the Borg even want Seven of Nine back. What’s so special about her individuality that makes her valuable? The Queen says that no other Borg has ever regained individuality, but I must raise my hand and ask about the entire colony in “Unity.” (But, no; I must again remind myself that continuity doesn’t count.) But even forgetting that for the moment, if the Borg assimilate Seven’s memories, won’t that be everything they need? Apparently not; the Queen wants Seven to remain an individual who willfully chooses to side with the Borg. How this helps the collective I’m not sure. The story thinks weird, elusive dialog will suffice as an answer. I disagree. It was interesting in First Contact; here it begins to feel like a shallow imitation.

Susanna Thompson works fairly well early on as the Queen (and she has great eyes for the part), but near the end her performance loses the surreal edge and seems far too concrete and flat to be anything more than a “Borg villain.” Her attempts to coax Seven into abandoning her human compassion involves a host of psychological tricks, some of which are interesting, others which aren’t.

The most compelling idea is the Borg’s assimilation of an entire society while Seven is forced to assist, which proves quite effective and intense. Seven walks through the corridors as dozens of drones move mindlessly through the ship with their alien prisoners, as screaming emerges from an uncertain distance; it conveys a frightening chaos that seems like some surreal Nazi nightmare. It’s a unique and powerful look at the Borg, and Seven’s “human” choices in this situation are interesting.

On the other hand is the appearance of Seven’s “father” in the form of a drone, which is going way too over the top, and in presentation seems like nothing more than a cheap “shock value” gag that puts forward no interesting consequences.

During all of this, the Voyager crew realizes Seven had been coerced into leaving them, so Janeway equips the Delta Flyer with the recently acquired transwarp coil to track Seven down in Borg space. They arrive there, which leads to a somewhat unexpected cinema cliche where Janeway and the Queen engage in the Borg version of the Movie Armed Standoff [TM] for the custody of Seven—with Janeway holding a big gun while lots of Borg threaten to come closer to her. The idea is handled somewhat klutzily (with tech procedures and “pure attitude” the key components in the showdown, and neither really winning a sense of urgency)—but I did enjoy the Queen’s look of downright anger when Seven and Janeway beamed away.

Of course, I must point out that it strains the usefulness of the Borg as a believably powerful enemy in the galaxy if the Delta Flyer can get the better of them with some convenient technobabble and Borg connections, even though an entire fleet can barely deal with a single cube zeroing in on Earth. The Borg are neat enemies, but they lose their edge of implacability because of their willingness to negotiate near the end of “Dark Frontier.”

Oh well. Despite Voyager‘s tendency to overuse the Borg, I still thought the actual execution of the action was well done overall, and the final chase managed to milk a good amount of excitement out a questionable ending. And, hey, we even got 15 years closer to home thanks to the transwarp coil.

If I may comment on technical aspects: Simply put—awesome. The visual effects are among the best and most convincing I’ve ever seen on sci-fi television, and succeed extremely well on the “cool” factor. The sheer number of visuals is impressive. The Queen’s ship is a marvel of design complexity that is still consistent with Borg geometry and symmetry—and, well, it just looks neat. The story ventures into Borg territory, where we see massive space stations. The sets and makeup design are all solid and pleasing to the eye (even if green light rays perpetually shining on the Borg Queen was pushing it). I can’t imagine what this all cost to produce; there’s a lot on the screen, and most of it proves very effective.

As television production goes, “Dark Frontier” is easily the most ambitious thing Voyager has ever done. It’s exceptionally well constructed. Unfortunately, it’s not exceptionally well thought out. The story just can’t keep up with the ambition. Nevertheless, it’s probably good to have ambition, and I credit the producers for trying something so large, even if original ideas couldn’t always fit the concept.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Course: Oblivion:

To its credit, “Course: Oblivion” is an episode with more implicit ideas than it probably deserves to possess. I mean that. This show sometimes asks interesting questions. Unfortunately, the story can’t stay focused, the answers are ultimately not very interesting, and what it takes to get us to those answers is so dubious that the show ends up coming off as desperate and meretricious. I wanted to think about some of the consequences of this episode, but the more I thought about them, the more infuriating the story’s underlying foundation became.

On knee-jerk-reaction terms, I object to the very existence of this episode. It has the audacity to be a sequel to “Demon,” one of the most ridiculous episodes of Voyager ever made. I’m forced to ask why the writers would want to remind us of an episode so incoherent and devoid of any reasonable train of thought as to follow it up with a sequel. (I’d think damage control—forgetting it ever happened—would be the more appropriate answer.)

In objective terms, however (I have a duty to be fair to what we have here rather than complain about what came before), I must say this episode has about 10 times the substance of “Demon,” and manages to be bad without descending to the depths of utter garbage. If that still sounds like faint praise, that’s probably because it is.

As the nature of the plot began to unfold, I felt a great dislike for this episode, but it hooked me in with more intrigue than “Demon” or last week’s laughably inept “Disease” could muster. It’s clearly better than both. But all comparisons aside, the story still has serious problems, and I still think it was a mistake to make this episode considering the large quantity of nonsense we have to swallow to make the story remotely workable.

For starters, based on how it plays out, this strikes me as one of the most cynical episodes of Star Trek ever conceived. Here’s a plot that builds its story around a set of people merely so they can be destroyed—and for what? For some large ironic statement? To pose an interesting “what if” premise with a tragic ending? There’s evidence of an attempt for both, but not enough effective utilization of either.

The episode opens with a deception that I’m not even sure how to feel about—namely, the marriage of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres. Like with most episodes, I went into “Course: Oblivion” with no idea what it was about (other than what the trailer told me, which, as usual, was nothing) and no expectations. Therefore, the marriage struck me as iffy (motivated by a lot of off-screen courtship, I presumed), but real. Then the evidence began to appear: This ship was less than two years from home, the dialog revealed a host of adventures we’d never heard of before, etc.—and it became clear this was not the Voyager crew we knew.

When B’Elanna suffers and eventually dies from a mysterious sickness, the investigation begins. Early on (which is decidedly a good thing), the episode drops the major revelation on us: This Voyager crew is the copy of the real crew that was created in “Demon.” Every individual on the ship used to be some sort of biomimetic silver fluid that obtained sentience when Voyager interacted with them in the previous episode. Somehow, the ship itself was also replicated. Now, enhancements to the warp engines, we learn, have caused this “sickness” (“Each and every one of you will disintegrate,” Doc says helpfully)—leading to the crew’s reversion to their original biological state where the only hope for survival might mean returning to their original environment.

The episode’s plot holes are massive—full of facts that defy reasonable explanation and take the sci-fi aspects of Trek into purely arbitrary fantasy. I like to think I have some imagination and an ability to grant a few details in the name of drama, but the nonsense presented here goes so far over the line that we’re forced to resign to a story with basically no rules at all. Correction: The rules are conjured at will to dictate whatever crazy way the plot wants to go.

For instance, not only did the biomimetic silver fluid (or whatever) copy the entire crew, but the entire ship and all its technology as well—andwithout the real Voyager crew’s knowledge. That’s a stretch I’m not willing to so easily grant. Are you telling me that this crew had no way of suspecting for some 10 months that they used to be a metallic fluid? And that every piece of technology on the ship was replicated perfectly? There’s also the issue of memory, which is cast aside with a casual, “Oh, apparently we just forgot we were copies and resumed our lives as if we were the real thing.” Later, memories of “the metallic past” resurface when it helps Chakotay form an argument challenging the captain’s decision. How conveeeeeeenient. This all makes me want to utter an eight-letter word that begins with “bull” (I’ll resist that urge, however, in the interests of maintaining a G-rated review; those over the age of 10 can just pretend I said it).

This doesn’t require suspension of disbelief; it requires willful embracing of credulity.

If you can grant these ridiculous details, the episode might improve some, but I still had major problems. First, there’s entirely too much emphasis on technobabble rather than drama. (In that regard, this episode feels like a throwback to season two or three, whereas season five has generally been able to maintain focus on the human aspects rather than the technical junk). It also didn’t help to have reminders of other notoriously awful shows. Not only are there ideas from “Demon,” but also aspects all-too-reminiscent of “Threshold” (“Making the ship go faster will disfigure and kill you!”) and “Twisted” (“The ship is morphing and deforming!”). This all may be beside the point, but the fact I was too distracted by the fantasy tech details is a sign the story wasn’t working.

Fortunately, unlike “Demon,” this episode at least tries to think about a few issues. The most interesting aspect of the show is probably Paris lashing out after B’Elanna has died and the truth is learned. Finding out you literally aren’t at all who you thought you were (and further, that you’re going to die), has got to be pretty tough, and Paris’ rage and his shades of nihilism prove somewhat enlightening. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of it; the issue is raised and then only sort of half-developed.

Instead, the writers rehash the Janeway Decision Theme—with the question of whether to keep going and risk death (“I promised this crew I would get them home!”) or turn back and head for the “demon” planet in the interest of survival. While this is more interesting dramatically than the tech stuff, it’s like the millionth time we’ve seen Janeway agonize over this issue, as Chakotay offers the reasonable arguments taking the other position. (Although, here it seems like something of a no-brainer: Either turn around, or everyone dies. Hmmm…)

Dramatically, I found a lot of the story’s twists to be depressingly cynical. B’Elanna gets a well-played deathbed scene that proves more affecting than most Tom/B’Elanna scenes to date; both Dawson and McNeill reveal a genuine chemistry. Unfortunately, I’m forced to wonder why the marriage is even there. To make us care about characters, only so the universe can be turned on us in a notion of “things are not what they seem”? Nothing is more frustrating than good characterization that technically isn’t real.

But let’s grant the marriage gimmick as simply a neutral fact for a moment. The next dose of cynicism comes with the story’s dependence on pointless conflict to ease the ship along to its inevitable destruction—namely, the Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week [TM]. When Voyagerfinds a possible alternative “demon”-class world, it’s of course being mined by aliens who wouldn’t think of letting anyone come near it. They immediately open fire so we can get our requisite dose of weekly camera-shaking and bridge-set pyrotechnics.

After that failure, the situation becomes increasingly grim. Even with the warp engine enhancements, it will take weeks to get back to the original “demon” world, and members of the crew are dropping like flies. Much is made of Janeway’s idea of a time capsule, so if the crew doesn’t survive there will at least be a record of their existence. Well, the crew doesn’t survive … and neither does the capsule, which is destroyed by a technobabble problem that is so arbitrarily manufactured that it doesn’t prompt from me a reflection upon tragic circumstances but rather anger for shameless audience manipulation.

But that’s not all. Next the episode will have us believe that while on its doomed course back toward the “demon” planet, with only minutes before the ship will be ripped apart, the duplicate Voyager happens within range of the real Voyager. (I won’t even bother questioning the odds of such an occurrence.) The real Voyager arrives in range of the duplicate Voyager just a bit too late—or, rather, just in time to see a field of debris and wonder what happened to the mysterious ship to which they never came close enough to contact.

So, given all of this, what exactly is the point, or at least the intent? My guess would be some mix of nihilistic angst and tragedy or something, but the story doesn’t create such emotions fairly; it simply manipulates us with bland, near-random turns of the plot, creating this duplicateVoyager crew with a host of contrivances and then putting them at the mercy of a universe that wants to toy with and finally crush them by way of still more contrivances. If that sounds cynical on my part, it might be—but I get these vibes from what I believe the show portrayed through its scornful treatment of the characters.

Why should we care about them if no one—except possibly those destined to die—learns anything? More specifically, why should we care when the real Voyager crew, which comprises the real emotional core of the series—doesn’t make the discovery? And why bother getting so close to the moment of payoff just to snatch it away? Think of the possibilities of the logs surviving the duplicate crew’s destruction. The real drama could’ve been in the real Voyager crew facing the psychological consequences of learning about this duplicate crew’s set of adventures—getting a taste of who they might’ve been if given a set of slightly different circumstances. (The Tom/B’Elanna marriage provides a very good example of such.)

Leaving this all in the audience’s lap, in my opinion, is not nearly enough, and simply ends up being a waste of time. In short: There needs to be a surviving witness in the story for there to be dramatic context (like Harry’s message to himself in “Timeless”)—otherwise, what did we just see and why?

I get the feeling that the writers were going for some sort of thoughtful, introspective ending, where the real Voyager crew not being the wiser about the duplicates constitutes some sort of poetic irony. I’ll grant that as a possibility, but I don’t find it at all satisfying under the circumstances. Tragedies work better when you genuinely care about those being tortured; here the cynical nature of plot—which just jerks us around—all but makes that impossible.

“Course: Oblivion” is an episode that pretty much rubbed me the wrong way at every turn. In its defense, I’ll admit that it tries to do some things that are unconventional, and it raises a few interesting issues. And its title is perfectly appropriate. Unfortunately, the way it goes about doing it is mean-spirited and false, and all that stands in the hour’s wake is a barrage of technical jargon, weird-looking makeup effects, and a sense of audience manipulation that is not at all appealing. Unlike the brain-dead “Demon,” this show has ideas. They just aren’t very good ideas.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Think Tank:

“Think Tank” is a fairly enjoyable hour that’s halfway effective, but shows Voyager making compromises with itself. It reveals a surprising amount about what works about this series and what doesn’t.

This episode works as a reasonable TOS-like entertainment that pushes the buttons on the control panel labeled “ESTABLISHED PLOTTING LORE,” and comes off as something watchable. Where the episode suffers is in its use of so many plot elements that aren’t developed to their full potential; the episode refuses to dig deeper for something more challenging, which is ironic considering one of the episode’s main themes is about seeking out challenges.

When it comes down to it, what is this episode all about? Well, several things. It’s about establishing a set of aliens who are different from the average Delta Quadrant Joe. It’s about turning the tables in a way that gives the deserving people their just deserts. It’s about outsmarting the smart guys. It’s about putting aside hostilities with the “bad guys” to work toward a common goal. It’s even about Seven of Nine’s sense of self-purpose.

Fine and good. I’m glad it’s about all these things. What I’m frustrated about is that it’s not about any of these things enough. “Think Tank” is amiable, but too tame on each of its levels.

The title comes from a group of very smart aliens—perhaps smart to the point of arrogance—who roam the galaxy and solve problems. What they ask in return for solving your problem is … ah, but there’s your source of conflict.

Janeway has a problem. Voyager has suddenly found itself on the run from the Hazari, a race of bounty hunters hired by an unknown third party. Chakotay muses: Could the contract have been put out by the Malon? The Devore? I suppose it’s nice to hear these names again. Or, on second thought, maybe not. Didn’t we leave the Malon some 10 or more years behind us because of the events of “Timeless”? And an additional 15 because of the events of “Dark Frontier”? Heck, at this point, maybe the Borg should be considered as a group that might send bounty hunters after Janeway & Co.—they might have better luck.

Anyway, surrounded with nowhere to go, this “think tank” offers Janeway a way out. The think tank in question is comprised of numerous aliens, most of them more “alien” than the typical new-Trekalien tends to be. That is to say, most of them are weird-looking props, which serves to enhance the TOS feel of the show. That’s fine. I like the idea of something different from the typical routine alien that Voyagerhas served up through most of its run—even if it is a hunk of rubber in a bubbling water tank. And the idea here—that of a group with the ability to solve problems because of their cooperative telepathic link—is a potentially interesting concept.

The spokes-alien for the group is Kurros (Jason Alexander, in a role that’s about as far away from George Costanza in temperament as he probably can get). Kurros makes his offer to Janeway, but what he wants isn’t something Janeway wants to give up: namely, Seven of Nine.

The real gold in “Think Tank” (or, at least, the gold before the story decides to run with its other plot elements) lies within the choice Seven must make. Kurros’ offer is a genuine one, and an intriguing one: He offers Seven the opportunity to join his think tank community.

The questions here are somewhat interesting on character terms: Given Seven’s mental abilities and the expansive knowledge she gained as a Borg, is she capable of more than what her role on Voyager offers? Kurros asks the question flat-out: Is where you’re at a challenge? Are you realizing your potential? The knee-jerk-reaction answer seems to be no.

I appreciated that this episode had Seven question her role on Voyager(if only briefly), and I liked even more that Janeway gives Seven the choice to leave Voyager if that’s what she wants to do. The prospect of becoming useless or squandering one’s own potential is a frightening one (as another recent Trek example, I’m reminded of Kor from DS9‘s “Once More Unto the Breach” earlier this season), and Seven’s role onVoyager, essentially running routine errands (as Kurros sees it, anyway), could be construed as quite a waste. Questioning one’s role in life strikes me as a logical direction for Seven to go in her ongoing quest for individuality.

Unfortunately, this story element is cast aside as an incidental before it’s all over, and the “action” quickly takes control of the helm. (At one point, an entire planet is blown up here as an impetus for a tactical moment, bordering on needless spectacle.) Seven declines Kurros’ offer. Not surprisingly, Kurros isn’t the type of guy who takes no for an answer.

Fortunately for “Think Tank,” the think tank isn’t quite so boring as to turn to outright force. Instead, Voyager simply finds itself on its own with the Hazari fleet closing in. The twist, of course, is that Kurros and the think tank have manipulated the whole game from square one: Unbeknownst even to the Hazari, they were the group who hired the Hazari to track down Voyager in the first place. Why? Because they at some point became aware of Seven and decided they really wanted her to join them. Why? Because she’s “unique.” If that motivation satisfies you, great. If not, you’re probably as frustrated as I sometimes got during this episode.

I did appreciate that, for once, the “bad guys” turn out not to be as hard-headed as Voyager baddies often are. The Hazari are actually willing to listen to Janeway’s negotiation attempts, and it’s through this dialog that everyone learns the think tank is the player manipulating the entire game.

Therefore, the plot ultimately becomes a game of wits. The mission: out-think the think tank.

One might think this would be a difficult challenge that would be fun to watch unfold. But the biggest problem with this episode is that the think tank isn’t as smart as they purport to be—either that, or the writers weren’t thinking on levels high enough to be worthy of such a “brilliant” think tank.

Personally, I found the game of deception and wits to be much more skillfully pulled off in “Counterpoint.” In that episode, the audience wasn’t in on the tricks and deceptions until after the game was played; as a result, the twists were more satisfying to watch unfold. Suspense here is never really an issue because Janeway’s Brilliant Master Plan is mostly revealed in dialog beforehand. All that’s left are the game’s nuances, few of which come off as particularly surprising.

Supposedly, the whole issue comes down to one of “cheating” the game (which naturally demands us to think of Kirk’s solution to theKobayashi Maru puzzle, but never mind). My question: If the think tank is so smart, why didn’t they anticipate Janeway’s course of action? I mean, it’s not that brilliant, really. I suppose there has to be a line drawn somewhere in order for Voyager to outsmart the bad guys, but the game doesn’t quite get off the ground before it’s all over.

On the story’s less-than-challenging terms, I enjoyed seeing the tables being turned at the end, so that Kurros and his smug think tank find themselves under attack by the Hazari whom they deceived.

Still, the better part of me must ask whether such evolved, intelligent beings are simply being wasted by being plugged into a plot that once again makes the human sensibility the benchmark of morality while absolute intelligence merely corrupts absolutely. And, of course, the Hazari, being the violent mercenary type, don’t hesitate before turning their collective firepower on the think tank, who are simply getting what they deserve. I guess it would be too much of a drag to approach the episode on more thoughtful terms, where the moral questions of power and responsibility are approached with a complexity that necessitates more than a few clever tricks and a lot of weapons fire.

Yet somehow, through all of this, I was reasonably entertained. I wanted a lot more, yes, but the story as pitched isn’t bad—just an unsurprising underachievement … standard fare executed with reasonable skill and not a whole lot of imagination.

But I want a challenge, and I hope this series tries something more risky before the season is over. The Delta Quadrant is feeling pretty stale these days. I hope the Paramount think tank will come up with something fresh.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Relativity:

The plot of “Relativity” is like some sort of comic maze. By the end, the madness has grown so absurd that the characters can barely restrain their grins of bemusement. This is Star Trek sci-fi on crack.

I liked it. It’s fun.

“Relativity” begins with some suspense and intrigue; then it proceeds into an explanatory plot-revealing mode with dialog-based story advancement and manageable action; and finally it just turns into sheer lunacy, as the timeline leaping exists for the sake of itself, having little rhyme or reason.

As time-travel shows go, the attitude in “Relativity” probably most resembles TNG‘s “Timescape.” The movement through timelines isn’t used to put characters at points in history where they must save the world, Federation, etc.; it’s more like an elaborate means for jumping around on the stage known as the starship Voyager. The goal: preventVoyager from being destroyed.

You see, a saboteur of unknown identity has planted a device on the ship. But it exists in a different temporal phase that only Seven of Nine, with her special Borg ocular capabilities, can see. This leads the crew of a 29th-century time ship to recruit Seven for the mission to find the device before it causes a “temporal explosion” that will destroy Voyager. (Why not just a regular explosion? I suppose because a temporal explosion sounds more complex and interesting.)

The 29th-century time ship, the Relativity, is captained by the same man who set the events of “Future’s End” in motion—one Captain Braxton (now played by Bruce McGill), who had found himself trapped in the 20th century for 30 years because of his encounter with Voyager. Perhaps to say Braxton set those events in motion is not accurate. If I’ve learned anything from “Relativity,” it’s that one cannot utilize traditional logic when it comes to timeline manipulation. This episode deals a lot with that reliable sci-fi chestnut: the time paradox, which renders obsolete our sense of cause and effect.

Do I really need to explain all of this? In a nutshell, Seven jumps back to a point where Voyager was in dry-dock and looks for the hidden bomb. It’s not there, so she is retrieved through time again and sent to a point later in Voyager‘s time frame. While on this mission through time, Seven also must contend with what Braxton calls “the Janeway factor,” which is Janeway’s tendency to interact with events that are taking place across the fourth dimension, and thus causing annoying “temporal incursions” that 29th-century time ship captains like Braxton must set right.

The story’s central twist is that the saboteur turns out to be a future version of Captain Braxton himself. Apparently, he’s gone quite mad in the future and has decided he must destroy Voyager—thereby stopping Janeway from ever again infecting the timeline. (The subtext within the idea of Voyager damaging the timeline so often strikes me as the writers taking a jab at themselves for using so many time-travel storylines.)

A story like this depends on execution more than anything else. “Relativity” executes well. It’s nothing particularly brilliant, but it’s a fun yarn to watch unfold. If you have a short attention span, “Relativity” will not try your patience. The story moves along swiftly and, dare I say, confidently. There’s a cavalier attitude here concerning time travel, but the writers approach the material with a light tough that seems to keep the focus on fun rather than making the story a plodding mess. That’s a good thing, since any attempt to use common sense in approaching the plot is virtually useless.

Honestly, by the end of the hour’s mania, there’s not really much motivation behind the timeline jumping. The writers resign the game to a fairly standard chase, where the playground is simply the various timelines utilizing the standing Voyager sets. Braxton goes back toVoyager of season two; Seven follows. Braxton jumps into Voyager of season five; Seven follows. And once Seven stops Braxton, the gamesstill aren’t over. Now the damage to the timeline must be repaired as best possible, which means the time ship crew must recruit Janeway (because Seven has already jumped through time too many times and her health may be threatened) to go back in time and stop Braxton from ever having done anything in Voyager‘s past in the first place. (First place, last place—do these terms mean anything?) Upon Janeway accomplishing this goal, this means Seven will never have a need for visiting Voyager several times in the past and altering the timeline. That means, I suppose, that the whole episode never really happened—or it sort of did, but not really, but … does any of this make sense?

Aw, hell—Seven’s next stop might as well have been November 12, 1955. I doubt it would/would’ve/will made/make much a difference to this craziness. (Of course, it might matter if that date is actually the key to the space-time continuum the way Emmett Brown theorized.)

I have a question, though. If the people of the 29th century have so much control over time, why does any of this plot even matter? Why couldn’t Braxton be retrieved through time before he spent those 30 years in the 20th century? (For that matter, it was my understanding, based on the concluding scene of “Future’s End, Part II,” that Braxton’s fate had somehow been reset such that he never really got trapped in the 20th century at all—of course, I didn’t really understand it then, so I suppose I shouldn’t try to make sense of it now.)

For that matter, what exactly is the motivation for Braxton blowing upVoyager? To see an end to Janeway’s interference with the timeline? If that’s the case, why doesn’t he blow up Voyager in the past (from our perspective, that is), before Voyager corrupted the timeline in the first place—rather than waiting until the point we call “late season five”? That would presumably prevent him from ever having been trapped three decades in the 20th century. You know, I could go on, but your head would explode.

I think the point of all this madness, if there is one, is that the time paradox has no discernible cause or effect, and that trying to establish cause/effect is simply pointless. Rather, what characters must do in such situations is go with the flow and hope the game plays out the way it “should.” I don’t know who plays God in alleging to know what the “correct” timeline is, but I would hope those people are well trained and less prone to manic treachery than Braxton. Or, at the very least, I hope they’re arrested in advance for crimes they’re going to commit. (Heh.)

It’s probably a good thing the characters can barely keep all the paradoxes straight, so that at least we as viewers are on the same level as some of the people in the story, like Janeway, who simply wants to be done with the ordeal before it all gives her a headache.

Beyond playing with paradoxes, “Relativity” is sold on its whimsical attitude. It knows better than to take itself seriously, and has some neat scenes involving “shattered” time. My favorite has to be the ping pong tournament, where Paris slams the ball and it freezes in midair for a few seconds before continuing on its way. What does Official Scorekeeper Neelix do after this bizarre event? Why, he scores the point, natch. Hee.

This episode also brings back that long-forgotten Lt. Joe Carey (Josh Clark), unseen for four years. Where has this guy been? It’s interesting to note that he appears only in scenes involving Voyager‘s past, and not in the present. I, for one, would like to know where this guy has vanished to. Maybe the space-time continuum simply swallowed him up.

What the space-time continuum does not swallow up in “Relativity” is the enjoyment factor. This is an episode that’s fairly loony, but it embraces its illogic and moves forward with no fear of the future—or the past, or the present.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Warhead:

It’s moments like “Warhead” that make me wonder how much life theStar Trek franchise has left in it. With the end of DS9—the most challenging incarnation of the franchise—now upon us, I’m realizing that Voyager will be all that’s left to speak for Trek—for a while, anyway. An episode like this makes me wonder how much is left to be said, because what’s said here has been said many times before—and “Warhead” doesn’t find a particularly riveting new spin on the material.

“Warhead” plays like an “all-new” remake of some lost TOS episode. True, it’s updated with the Voyager quota of technical jargon and current production values. But it seems like we’re covering ground that was covered back in 1967. There’s a scene here where the Voyager away team beams down to a planet surface for investigation. This planet is obviously a set, much the way the TOS planets were obviously sets. It’s like meeting an old friend—the fake-looking planet. And, theme-wise, it’s almost as if a Trek script were put into a time capsule long ago and recently rediscovered and run through production. Are the themes “universal”? Maybe. Are they challenging? Not particularly. Are they familiar? You’d better believe it.

The high-concept phrase du jour might best be encapsulated by Janeway’s clever tagline utterance: “outsmart the smart bomb.” The plot develops in purely Trekkian formula fashion, as an away team brings back a lost, unknown life form. The life form is actually an artificial intelligence inside a metallic device. It’s programmed with sentience. Unfortunate for Our Heroes, but fortunate for those interested in suspense-game plots, the metallic device is actually a weapon of mass destruction—a bomb guided by an intelligence but programmed to complete its mission at all costs. The bomb communicates by talking to the Doctor, who can translate its bleeps and bloops into useful words, thanks to his handy internal translation matrix. (The most obvious line of dialog that is, surprisingly, not present here: “I’m a Doctor, not an interpreter.”)

The Smart Bomb is initially unaware of its purpose because of gaps in its memory. Suddenly, however, the Bomb realizes what it is—at which point it transfers its program into the Doctor’s holographic matrix and hijacks Voyager, threatening to detonate if the crew doesn’t help it complete its mission of mass destruction.

The bulk of the episode is about how the crew must attempt to negotiate with this Bomb and, ultimately, outsmart it. I should probably point out that it’s late in the season, where the cumulative bore effect of these types of mechanical plots begins to take its toll on my brain. I certainly can’t say I was wrapped up in the overall idea of the ship being threatened with a big explosion—again. (To boot, this makes back-to-back episodes about preventing bombs from detonating.)

The idea of trying to out-smart the smart bomb isn’t ill-conceived, but nor does it have much zip to it. Everything about this episode feels like Just Another Day at the Office. There are some crew-concocted plans here, including one involving a “clever” distraction and Yet Another Use of Seven’s Nanoprobes, those microscopic, miracle, all-purpose sabotage/medical/assimilation tools. (Order now! Operators are standing by.)

The substance of the episode arises from Harry’s attempts to reason with the Smart Bomb, which was apparently programmed with a zero-patience personality harboring more paranoia than Richard Belzer.

Honestly, if this Bomb has been sitting inactive for two or three years, what’s its big rush? What difference would another couple hours of reasonable investigation into its memory files make? If the Bomb is “sentient,” it should have the capability to reason—but, conveniently, it must also answer to “destroy the enemy”-type directives that make it more uncontrollable than it need be. (Why give a doomsday device sentience if you’re also giving it inconsistent logical directives?)

Again and again the Smart Bomb makes threats. Finally, when the Bomb says it’s going to explode and kill everybody if Janeway doesn’t help it complete its mission, I was thrilled when Janeway said, “Go ahead.” It’s good to see someone stand up to a bullying bomb.

The concluding dramatics are laid on entirely too heavily, as Harry and the Doc-Bomb get into shouting matches that are supposed to be exciting, I suppose, but really just don’t have the punch they aspire to reach. Urgent histrionics just aren’t Garrett Wang’s specialty, and Robert Picardo’s shouting goes overboard into thespian excess. The scene feels stilted rather than strong.

It also doesn’t help that the Bomb pulls a complete 180 in the eleventh hour concerning its attitude. For most of the show the Bomb is completely unwilling to access its memory banks to find the truth, then suddenly, it comes to some realization that Violence Is Bad, and checks its memory to find it had been ordered to deactivate years ago. It concludes that it can trust the Voyager crew then cease and desist. Under the story’s execution, the Bomb’s change of mind is so jarring it simply isn’t believable.

Subsequently, the Bomb goes on a suicide mission to destroy several dozen other bombs like itself that have also been floating around. Apparently, these other bombs cannot be reasoned with. Why? Superficially, because of some arbitrary plot point. Dramatically, it’s because if these bombs could be reasoned with, we wouldn’t have a nice tidy ending, a noble Bomb sacrifice, the satisfaction of our Starfleet philosophies triumphing yet again, and the huge explosion of dozens of bombs as icing on the cake. This is a good example of Trek succumbing to its own narcissism.

I don’t mean to sound overly negative, because there are some positive aspects to “Warhead.” First of all, I appreciated that it managed to be an ensemble show rather than a run-with-one-character showpiece. It was good that the story teamed up B’Elanna and Harry again, something we haven’t seen in awhile. It’s also nice to see the writers give Harry something to do (his night-shift command with the junior officers’ perspective had an interesting feel to it)—even though, admittedly, the writers have cornered him into forever being the resident dork such that the character might be a lost cause.

What “Warhead” cannot do is sustain the tension. I’ve seen these Trekkian issues applied so many times through the years that the interest wanes without a fresh approach or a new set of questions. The underlying problem with much of “Warhead” is that the plot lives and dies on the execution of its threats and plot-twist dynamics, little of which are remotely original. As for the Trekkian themes, they’re present in abundance: mutual trust, non-violence, cooperation, understanding, sacrifice for the greater good. But they all seem so obvious. It’s nice that Star Trek overall still manages to avoid cynicism. But with a story so toothless and transparent, how useful are those themes?

For solid entertainment, not very.

 

The Worst:

Bride of Chaotica!, and 11:59

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Bride of Choatica! sees phtonic beings from an interdenominational rift interact with Tom Paris’ Captain Proton holographic program, which, although had good moments, falls flat, and 11:59 sees Captain Janeway reminisce about her ancestor, Shannon O’Donnell who was alive at the turn of the 21st century who she believed single-handedly fought to complete the Millennium Gate tower project at the turn of the 20th century, and would later be part of NASA’s missions to Mars

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Bride of Chaotica!:

The last thing I expected from “Bride of Chaotica!” was for it to come off as routine. I mean, it’s a throwback to the 1940s serials, shot in black and white, and the title even contains an exclamation mark, for heaven’s sake. How can you have a title with an exclamation mark for an episode that plays itself nearly as straight as any other standard offering?

Simple style aesthetics and common sense insist that I write the title of this show “Bride of Chaotica!” Even so, I tend to think that the idea behind this episode was “BRIDE OF CHAOTICA!” The intentions behind what would warrant a cheerful, all-uppercase assault are clearly present. Unfortunately, the net result of this offering can never muster anything that deserves more than “Bride of Chaotica!” or perhaps just “Bride of Chaotica” sans exclamation mark.

Episodes like this one tear down that cinematic “fourth wall” in our minds. We’re aware that this isn’t a story being told so much as a meditation on much older cinema. The point of the episode is to show the cast and crew of Voyager paying homage to an idea, perhaps so we’ll experience vicariously the fun they had in making an unconventional installment.

Well, I’m all for it. I loved the self-referential humor of “Trials and Tribble-ations” and got a great deal of enjoyment out of other holodeck comedies/spoofs like “Our Man Bashir” and “Take Me Out to the Holosuite.” And although I’m no expert on 1940s serials, I am familiar with them, and they do appeal to my enjoyment of schlocky cinema: I’ve seen all 12 chapters of “King of the Rocket Men,” and I still enjoy an occasional episode of MST3K on the Sci-Fi Channel.

All of which is why I find it so hard to believe “Bride of Chaotica!” struck me as so flat. What went wrong?

Well, to be an optimist, I’ll first answer the question of what went right.

Item #1: A workable nod to the 20th century. Tom’s been a history buff of sorts, even if he tends to look at old cars and entertainment as history in a more superficial and playful context (as opposed to, for instance, Sisko, who took interest in the 21st century for what was decidedly more socially relevant reasons). Old sci-fi is, like I said, something that might serve as a good source of juxtaposition for Trek in the ’90s.

Item #2: Shot mostly in black and white. This was a good idea back when the Captain Proton holo-program first appeared in “Night,” and it still is.

Item #3: Flawless re-creation. Although I’ll admit that it looks like a lot of money went into some of the Captain Proton sets (which certainly wasn’t the case with serials), the production team did a great job with props, costumes, and art design to make the setting look as cheesy as it should’ve. David Bell’s tinny, bass-free score is also perfectly appropriate.

Unfortunately, the writing staff just couldn’t trust the audience to enjoy the concept on its own terms. (It’s the same sort of attitude that required a holodeck jeopardy premise be made out of “Worst Case Scenario,” a story that would’ve stood just fine on its own.) Fuller and Taylor felt compelled to merge Captain Proton with a technobabble plot—which would’ve been okay if done carefully. But “Bride of Chaotica!” makes a fatal mistake by taking itself—and especially its tech plot—too seriously.

One could probably argue similarly about the crew-in-jeopardy setup of “Our Man Bashir,” but the difference is that “Bashir” had the ability to embrace its own silliness and just go with the flow. Something about “Chaotica” just can’t pick itself up and break free. The tech plot becomes a huge liability.

And about the technobabble—it’s the epitome of annoyingly arbitraryVoyager technical gobbledygook. The basic premise is okay—Voyager is visited by aliens who exist as “photonic” (i.e., holographic) life forms, who mistake Tom’s program for an actual planet. The idea could’ve been compelling if the aliens were permitted to have a more interesting and substantive perspective in this dilemma, which, alas, they aren’t.

But all the flab concerning the ship being stuck in space and trapped by gravimetric forces (or whatever)—who freakin’ cares? Not me. And I wouldn’t have let it get in the way of my enjoying the rest of the episode if it weren’t for the fact there’s so much of it. Every time the episode seems to be building its momentum in the holodeck’s black-and-white sessions, along comes color and technobabble to interrupt the flow.

What’s particularly funny to note is that the “actual” plot of this episode is about as schlocky as the Captain Proton story; it’s just more updated schlock. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t seem to notice the fact enough to parody it. They simply present it as straight as any other Day at the Office.

And yet, these complaints would’ve been irrelevant if the holodeck games would’ve been hilarious. Simply put: They aren’t. What this episode sets out to do is all too rarely realized. The gags are surprisingly tame.

As I watched this episode, I realized that what they did here was not easy. The careful mimicking, the attention to detail—all expertly done (Kroeker deserves kudos for the directorial effort). But what’s missing is pure enjoyment and exhilaration. This episode never quite takes off. I wasn’t laughing much. Occasionally I was chuckling. Some of the gags are perceptive, but they don’t dare to be brashly satirical. The lesson to be learned here, I think, is that skillful imitation alone is not enough. There has to be an attitude, an edge, brought to the material. In “Our Man Bashir,” a great deal of attitude arose from the sharp banter between Bashir and Garak. There was a sense—despite the alleged seriousness of the plot’s situation—that the actors and characters knew their setting was ridiculous.

That isn’t the case here, and as a result, the humor doesn’t flow, although it drips occasionally. The holo-plot is absurd (as it should be): The evil, holographic Chaotica (Martin Rayner) opens war on the alien beings (because he is one-dimensional, programmed evil, you see), which means Janeway must enter the holodeck, pose as the irresistible Arachnia, and stop his evil plan. (Standard contrivance of course dictates that the holodeck cannot be simply turned off, but never mind.) The performances are good but somehow not all that funny. Mulgrew chews the scenery well, but her incessant twitching is merely bizarre near the end.

Doc looks at home in the role of “President of Earth,” but his negotiation with the aliens is so brief that it feels like an opportunity wasted. There are some other good moments, particularly the nods to the familiar comic-book goofiness (“NOT THAT BUTTON!”), but given the potential, the show seems to play the whole game awfully safe. There are sarcastic side-comments, sure, but they don’t push far enough into parody to make the episode funny. For an unconventional episode, it sure manages to be awfully conventional.

To me, the whole subtext of the Captain Proton holodeck series this season has been to analyze the difference between the corny science fiction aimed at kids in the ’40s and ’50s versus the post-Star Wars era of commercial science fiction that appeals to large audiences looking for something more magnificent and significant (or at the very least seeing something blow up more realistically).

But based on what this Voyager offering gives us, the lesson seems to be that science fiction has come so far that we don’t need solid ideas beneath the slick, high-budget exterior. Schlock has evolved into an art form toward which we can throw money in mass quantities. We can’t get to the center of why there’s reason for juxtaposing today’s sci-fi with the old stuff, but, doggone it, we can certainly replicate the old stuff down to the last detail if we want to.

That may perhaps be a harsh interpretation of “Bride of Chaotica!” Maybe I expected too much from this show; in its defense I must admit that it aspires to simply be light rather than significant. But it’s somehow hard to laugh at schlock condescending to schlock. I suppose we can grin.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of 11:59:

“11:59” is a sincerely written reflection upon histories and feelings. It’s without a doubt the quietest episode of the season, with no aliens, no action, no gimmicks, and no cheats. The most common complaint I’ve heard about this episode is that it’s “filler.” I don’t quite understand such an assessment. Just how do you define filler? A story that doesn’t advance us to … what? A story that doesn’t have … what? Explosions? Aliens? An expensive-looking budget? A plot that gets us 10 years closer to the Alpha Quadrant?

“11:59” is different in that it doesn’t follow the conventional Voyagerpattern. There are no threats to the crew, no sci-fi anomalies. Just some ideas about the past, as Janeway thinks back to memories of her childhood, where she held an ancestor in high regard as her hero and inspiration.

She tells the tale of Shannon O’Donnel, a quiet, lonesome, and uncertain adventurer who sought a role in life that would offer an avenue toward the future.

The story is told in a sort of 400-year flashback, as we follow O’Donnel (played by Mulgrew) through the events of the days prior to New Year’s 2001. O’Donnel, in her failing decades-old car, happens upon the small town of Portage Creek, Indiana. There she meets widower Henry Janeway (Kevin Tighe) and his son, Jason (Bradley Pierce). The town is caught up in a controversy involving something called the “Millenium Gate,” an ultra-expensive, highly experimental futuristic community that a large corporation hopes to build in the area. The town wants the gate. But standing in the way is Henry Janeway, a man who values books and history and doesn’t want to see the town leveled for some newfangled idea of the “future.” He’s adamantly refusing to sell his bookstore, and if he doesn’t do so by midnight on New Year’s Eve, the corporation will take their grandiose building plans elsewhere.

O’Donnel’s car breaks down, and in order to pay the repair bill, she needs work. Janeway agrees to offer her board for a few days in exchange for work in the bookstore. The rest of the tale shows how O’Donnel’s and Janeway’s views of the world collide, albeit not in remotely unpleasant ways. Janeway lives in the past, O’Donnel looks toward the future, and a dialog opens between them that offers the viewer two reasonable viewpoints.

It might not be the most original story ever told, but it does make for an hour of friendly themes that are relevant to Kathryn Janeway as a character. One of the interesting aspects of the show is the way the captain holds this ancestor in hero status based on the obstacles she supposedly faced. But through the course of the hour Janeway comes to realize that her learned version of history might not have been the actual truth. Paris is also familiar with history, and he doesn’t remember any O’Donnels being on any of the Mars missions, the history of which he has memorized. This leads Janeway to do some deeper research, until she realizes that O’Donnel was a relatively minor player in the Millenium Gate construction, and not quite the audacious adventurer Janeway long believed she was. (It’s a revisit to the theme of historical accuracy that was the focus of last season’s “Living Witness.”)

The flashback story seems to capture some bits of atmosphere of a small Midwest town fairly well, and I appreciated the simple problems of the story and David Bell’s appropriate musical accompaniment. We learn O’Donnel has had some tough career luck of late, and one of the corporate officials, Gerald Moss (John Carroll Lynch), offers her an opportunity to work on the groundbreaking engineering project—if she can convince Janeway to let go of the past. (But I must say that given the job market today, I find the idea of a brilliant, apparently respected engineer unable to find work to be slightly dubious.)

“11:59” invests a lot of time in the flashback characters. And perhaps the biggest problem with the episode is that it relies too heavily on the acting chemistry between Mulgrew and Tighe—a chemistry that comes off with mixed results.

There are some good scenes between these two, particularly where they argue their differences concerning the role of people and technology. Henry’s son is an example of a youth who is more interested in the future than the past, which makes it pretty hard for Henry to remain so adamant. But despite the decent execution of several quiet dialog scenes, I don’t think one key scene that really needed to work well ended up having the emotional payoff if seemed to want.

I’m referring to Henry Janeway’s inevitable eleventh-hour change of heart, and especially O’Donnel’s realization—through the taste of chocolate-chip cookies, no less—that she has developed such strong feelings for Henry and this town that she has to stay. The sequence is somewhat lackluster sentiment, and I wish it had been more believable. O’Donnel’s realization doesn’t seem heartfelt; it seems scripted. An earlier scene should’ve better established her feelings.

Fortunately, I think the impact of this tale on Kathryn Janeway—especially learning that history is not always what it seems—works far better. It’s always something of a wake-up call to learn that your childhood hero was just a person with their own agendas and needs, and Janeway finds herself somewhat depressed by that all-too-simple realization.

The episode also knows that “family” is where its heart is at. Sentiment in the flashback sequences may have fallen somewhat flat, but I can’t help but admit an affection for the group photo at the end—an image that speaks louder about the Voyager family unit than dialog probably could’ve.

“11:59” is a pleasant episode. It might not break much new ground and might lack emotional punch in a few important places, but it accomplishes its goal of telling a quiet tale about some people—with no strings attached. I’m inclined to think those who call it “filler” are mislabeling it. Perhaps it’s simply an hour of peace, and a plot without the gimmicks we’ve come to expect.

 

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The next in best and worst is Season 4.

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2 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 5

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

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

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