The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 3

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:

Basics Part II, Flashback, The Chute, False Profits, Future’s End, Warlord, The Q and the Grey, Macrocosm, Coda, Before and After, Distant Origin, Displaced, and Scorpion Part I

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In bits:

  • Basics, Part II sees he Kazon-Nistrim in control of Voyager, the crew must return to basics in order to survive on a harsh world;
  • In Flashback, Tuvok mind-melds with Captain Janeway taking her back to the days he served on boad the USS Excelsior with Captain Sulu;
  • The Chute sees Harry Kim and Tom Paris found guilty and detained in a prison;
  • False Profits sees Voyager discover a pair of Ferengi who control the economy of a primitive world, meanwhile, they discover an unstable wormhole that leads back home;
  • Future’s End sees Voyager thrown back in time to Earth 1996, after encountering a ship from the 29th century from a temporal rift;
  • Warlord sees Kes taken over by the alien rebel Tiernan;
  • The Q and the Grey sees Voyager encounters unusual supernovae connected to the Q Continuum Civil War;
  • Macrocosm sees viruses growing to a meter length, threatening the crew;
  • In Coda, during a mission in a shuttlecraft, Janeway receives critical injuries and begins having hallucinations connected to a vision of her father;
  • Before and After sees Kes’ consciousness moving back through time;
  • Distant Origin sees an alien scientist linking his ancestry to Earth, but government officials refuse to accept his evidence because it contradicts with existing doctrine;
  • Displaced sees crew members being disappearing one-by-one, replaced by aliens; and,
  • Scorpion, Part I sees Voyager entering Borg space encountering a more powerful face than the Borg, and supposedly bent on destroying all life in the galaxy.

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

“Basics, Part II” is a show I tried to enjoy. And, at times, I did enjoy pieces of it. It’s sort of a brainless adventure romp with some well-directed action sequences that hold reasonable entertainment value. Unfortunately, the problem with “Basics, Part II” is that it is merely the painfully obvious and predictable resolution of “Basics, Part I,” a somewhat entertaining episode in itself that, nevertheless, probably should never have been used as a season cliffhanger simply because of how pointless the underlying premise is.

I mean, come on. Did anybody have the slightest doubt in their mind that Voyager would be retaken? That somehow Doc, Suder, Paris, and the Talaxian convoy would outsmart the Kazon with a clever plan? That the crew would not be marooned on the planet forever?

No, of course not.

Well, one reason the two “Basics” shows aren’t all that compelling is that they don’t really give us many character dynamics to ponder. “Basics I” gives us an extreme situation, “Basics II” quickly resolves it, and the two shows sit there and hope that we’ll genuinely care about everything that happened in the progress.

Well, I tried very hard to put aside my cynicism and thoughts of how silly the first part’s setup now seemed, and, for a while, it kind of worked. Like I said, “Basics II” has a number of worthwhile moments. In fact, part two is more fun than part one was.

The show picks up exactly where the first half left off, with the crew stranded on the planet, searching for food, water, and shelter. Some of the hassles the crew faces in its new planetary environment include a primitive tribe of humanoids whom cannot be easily communicated with, and a…well…monster that dwells in a cave and promptly eats Ensign Hogan when he ventures too near its habitat in the episode’s opening minutes. (Hogan, who has been a reliable extra character in several past episodes, finally meets his now-obviously-always-inevitable demise. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact.)

Meanwhile, Seska and Culluh set the ship on a course for who-knows-where (so long as destruction with their newfound arsenal is possible), distancing themselves from the planet. Paris turns out to be (surprise!) alive and well in his shuttlecraft and, with the help of the Talaxians, is ready to perform trickery to retake the ship. Doc tracks down Suder (who’s been hiding in the ship’s vents) and informs him of Paris’ plan: Suder must go to engineering and rig the backup phaser couplings (or something) to overload so that after Paris uses his hotshot piloting skills to disable Voyager‘s primary couplings, the Kazon will overload and burn out the phasers the moment they try to return fire. The problem: Engineering is full of Kazon, and if Suder goes down there, he will have to kill or be killed.

The one character I did care about in both “Basics” episodes was Suder. Here is a guy who is completely torn up inside, and in order to do what is right for his ship and crew, he will have to resort to violence. Suder does not want to kill again; he has worked so hard to get where he is now—to a point where his inner demons have been nearly silenced and his lust for violence quashed. Brad Dourif again carries the role terrifically, bringing the sense of detached instability and personal torment to the character—a character that we can empathize with.

The Doctor also comes across as quite interesting in this episode. The situation gives him the chance to take initiative, and his acerbic, sarcastic responses to Seska’s interrogations are always amusing, especially when he claims to be the sole effort against her plans.

So as the episode switches back and forth between the A/B-stories, the show gives us some decent, albeit derivative, action scenes. The best is a sequence where Chakotay, Tuvok, Neelix, Kes, and some unnamed crewmen are forced to hide in the monster’s cave after they’re chased by angry members of the primitive tribe. The monster, evidently a computer-animated creation, is an impressive special effects display. (No points, however, for guessing that it’s one of the unnamed crewman who will be eaten by it, and not Chakotay, Tuvok, Neelix, or Kes.) And, of course, the respectable, even if predictable, Star Trekmentality dictates that the primitive tribe and the Voyager crew will eventually become friends once Chakotay risks his life to save one of them from falling into a pit of molten lava (Oh yeah, did I mention this planet has active volcanoes?).

The scope of the episode is impressive. The planet scenes are all shot on location, and every time the crew survives one crisis, there’s another—progressing from the lack of fire and water, to kidnappings, to fleeing from angry tribes, to fighting big monsters, to leaping from rock to rock across a pit of molten lava. This planet has everything.

One thing, however, about “Basics II” that really began to annoy me was how carefully every scene seemed measured and calculated to resolve the setup pieces from part one. At times, I felt more like I was watching a pre-determined, pre-programmed exercise playing out than I was watching a real story unfold. The events are tidy—too tidy. “Manufactured” would be most accurate.

For example, after the Doctor’s further examination, it turns out that Seska’s son is not Chakotay’s son, but Culluh’s. That’s a cop-out—a loose end from which the writers so easily let themselves off the hook. Here it is—the source of all the exposition that caused Chakotay to turn the Voyager into this trap in the first place—becomes an issue that, with a few lines of dialog, never needs to be addressed again.

And how about Suder? Here’s the only truly interesting character we can care about, and after an eye-opening scene where he phasers a roomful of Kazon in engineering and completes his mission, one of the dying Kazon shoots him in the back and kills him. That made me angry, because it was so obvious and easy for the writers to do, sealing all options concerning what to do about his life sentence in his quarters. I somehow expected this all along, but I was hoping I might be wrong. I wasn’t.

And Seska? She dies an anticlimactic and arbitrary death, apparently caused by injuries from the phaser overload. Considering her villainy, Seska’s death is an event that just sits and shrugs. I personally think it would’ve been more interesting to keep her alive and have her caught by the crew where she would answer for treason. Nope. Wrote her out of the picture in ten seconds flat.

And the damage to the ship after all this? A non-factor (despite the fact that the overload practically made the Voyager look like it was on fire). Once the crew retakes Voyager, the ship, of course, looks practically like new.

Really, under scrutiny, Michael Piller’s teleplay for “Basics” looks like little more than a machine that gives us all the parts in the first half, and then brainlessly assembles them in the second half. This is too bad, because “Basics, Part II” has many strengths, including some standout performances, one of Dennis McCarthy’s better scores (even featuring some themes), good special effects, and a first-rate direction by Winrich Kolbe, who sets the show at a fast pace and uses some impressive photography and interesting camera angles on the locations.

I dunno. Perhaps this show and its abrupt wrap-up is all a statement that Voyager is moving on. “Basics, Part II” is reported as the last time we will see the Kazon (which is just fine with me). I suppose as wrap-up it works okay, but a less obvious and calculated approach might have been nice.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Flashback:

Premises like “Flashback” are what make the Star Trek universe so immortal and endearing. If there is one reassuring thing about the way Star Trek sees itself, it’s that it knows what it is and where it came from—and “Flashback” remarks on this. At the same time, “Flashback” is a decent story. Not great, mind you—sometimes the events of the story can barely live up to the impetuses behind them—but it’s definitely passable and worth the effort.

While searching for energy sources, the Voyager ventures near a nebula. The nebula’s visual appearance triggers the surfacing of a repressed traumatic memory in Tuvok’s subconscious. Due to convoluted Vulcan mind workings explanations, the Doctor says the memory must be brought into Tuvok’s conscious mind and reconciled, otherwise Tuvok’s brain will be irrevocably damaged by the side effects. Tuvok must mind meld with Janeway (his closest personal tie on the ship) so they can search through his memories for the repressed culprit. In the process of the mind meld, however, Tuvok and Janeway somehow end up reliving Tuvok’s first Starfleet mission aboard the USS Excelsior under Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), some 80 years ago.

Does this sound like a Brannon Braga concept? Braga always seems to enjoy toying with mental states, reality, time, and the like. While Braga’s script for “Flashback” is nowhere near as labyrinthine and interesting as his “Projections” was last year, “Flashback” does have its moments of character inspiration and inevitable nostalgia.

Part of the fun of the episode is how it bases its story on “actual” pastStar Trek events (that is, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country from theExcelsior‘s point of view). For example, remember the cup of tea Sulu was drinking in the opening scene of Star Trek VI? Well, I took great enjoyment in finding out it was a Vulcan blend that a 29-year-old Ensign Tuvok gave him—perhaps “trying to make Lieutenant in a month” Commander Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) observes.

Ah, I suppose only a true fan of the franchise could find such fun in such a simple little detail. But for that matter, I also found the recreation of the Praxis explosion shock wave scene from Trek VI to be interesting (if, for no other reason, because of the technical and directing implications).

I also appreciated Braga’s attempt to show Sulu in action. For the attempted Trek VI rescue of Kirk and Bones from Kronos, Sulu takes theExcelsior through a nebula to avoid a confrontation while illegally venturing through Klingon space. The evasive techniques are not completely successful, however, and Sulu runs into a Klingon ship commanded by Kang (yes, everybody is popping up here), which leads Sulu to claim he wandered in and got “lost”—a claim he can’t even keep a straight face through.

Superficialities aside, the real reason this works is because it makes some statements about both Tuvok and the Federation in the process. When Sulu announces his intentions to violate Starfleet Command’s orders and venture through Klingon space, Tuvok speaks up—he points out that it is a willful violation of regulations, and that he must formally protest his captain. “A pretty bold statement for an ensign with only two months space duty under his belt,” Sulu remarks, not happily. Sulu’s subsequent comments about how duty and loyalty to fellow officers sometimes warrants bending or even breaking the rules makes a lot of sense, and seems credible given what we know of the character.

This further confounds Tuvok, who, fresh out of the Academy, has not had pleasant experiences with human behavior. As Tuvok and Janeway probe through the memories, the flashbacks take us to a scene after Tuvok’s confrontation with Sulu, when a discussion between Tuvok and his bunkmate Valtane (Jeremy Roberts) reveals a Tuvok who did not particularly like the presumptions of humanity. “You believe that everyone in the galaxy should be like you, that we should all share your sense of humor and your human values,” Tuvok tells Valtane. Russ’ performance is good, as usual, creating a young Tuvok who was not pleased with human arrogance and narcissism—in fact, if we didn’t know Vulcans better, we might sense some actual anger here. Tuvok’s subsequent discussion with Janeway on the topic is one of those Quiet Dialog Scenes, but one of the better Quiet Dialog Scenes on Voyager‘s record—it was nicely performed and directed, and there was some genuine impact and character backstory development here. By the time the scene was over, I felt like I understood much more about Tuvok than when the scene began.

The other thing “Flashback” gets right is its observation of differences between time periods. After an unsuccessful meld, Janeway goes to her ready room to study up on the Excelsior—only to discover the mission she’s looking for was never logged because of its illegality. Kim is astonished—a Federation captain falsifying his logs? It was a different time for Starfleet, Janeway explains, and Sulu belonged to a different breed of Starfleet officers. “They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive and a little quicker to pull their phasers.” This is a good point, and it’s well said. It’s nice to see the newest of Treks acknowledge is heritage, and it’s intriguing to note the differences between the 23rd and 24th centuries. It shows that in 80 years there has been significant progress in the Federation, and that people do notice such progress. Nice work.

But what does all of this have to do with the repressed memory? Actually, not a whole lot. One big problem with “Flashback” is how the repressed memory figures into the equation. The main goal for Janeway and Tuvok is to hunt down this memory, but they can’t figure out why they keep ending up in Tuvok’s memories of the Excelsior. In a plot move that is all-too-typical, the repressed memory turns out to be a parasitic sort of “virus” that hides itself from the immune system by disguising itself as a traumatic memory. Apparently Tuvok has been carrying this virus since Valtane’s death on the Excelsior, when it “migrated” hosts—that is, from Valtane to Tuvok. (No, I won’t delve into the inevitable implausibilities of this idea.) The ending, in which Doc and Kes kill the virus by irradiating it, is a somewhat effective mishmash of jarring visuals and sickbay technobabble (and a decent score by David Bell), but it has no lasting emotional impact. If the repressed memory had actually been a real repressed memory with some sort of character significance instead of a quasi-red herring, the show could have had much more lasting impact.

Oh well. I’m inclined to ignore the entire repressed memory portion of the show. It’s little more than an excuse to launch the flashbacks of Tuvok on the Excelsior, anyway. Fortunately, between the character backstory, the comments on change, and nostalgia for the 30th anniversary of Trek, the ends justify the means.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of The Chute:

Kim and Paris are wrongfully convicted of a terrorist crime and are railroaded into a violent, alien penal institution. Further, the two are equipped with a mental implant called “the clamp,” which heightens their aggression and violent impulses. They must survive their new environment until Janeway and the Voyager crew can use diplomacy to straighten out the situation.

Somewhere inside “The Chute,” a reasonably good Voyager installment, there’s an even better show trying to get out. Often, this better show emerges, but the efforts of the truly inspired scenes are at times undermined by other sequences which are wholly forgettable. But first the good news: in a number of ways, “The Chute” works very well.

Part of what this show gets right, and in a big way, is its tone. This is one of Voyager‘s darkest episodes on record, and there is a lot to be said for Les Landau’s atmospheric direction. Visually, the scenes on the prison installation are ominous, sometimes jarring, and intensely conceptualized—a mood created with some top-notch lighting and cinematography techniques. And Jay Chattaway’s score has some atypically great movements that harbor emotion (could it be the producers are relaxing their counterproductive music scoring guidelines?).

The prison has no guards or fences—it’s completely walled-in except for a force field-guarded chute that allows new prisoners to be dropped into the facility and also occasionally dispenses food rations. The prison is full of violent characters who seem to have no reason for existing except to terrorize one another. The show’s opening scene, in which Kim slides down the chute into the prison populace, illustrates their way of “welcoming” new inmates, as they take turns roughly shoving Kim around. (Later, when food comes sliding down the chute, a violent outbreak erupts leading to the death of at least one man.)

Paris, who arrived at the prison a few days earlier, comes to Kim’s rescue, and the two find themselves at the mercy of their new environment, with only each other to count on for support. This leads to another thing the show does nicely: it makes use of the Paris/Kim friendship, something that, in most shows, doesn’t have the power and meaning that it comes to have here. This time these two depend on each other to survive, and on several instances one saves the other from probable death.

When, early in the episode, Paris is stabbed in the side during a fight with another inmate, it’s up to Kim to deal with the other prisoners alone while, at the same time, making sure Paris survives. And that’s another big plus about “Chute”—it gives Harry Kim a story with some substance. Finally, finally, finally the writers have given this guy something worthwhile to do. His last notable vehicle was “Non Sequitur”—a show from an entire year ago with a script and performances that I unfortunately did not find at all impressive. Part of the reason “Chute” makes a good Harry Kim show is because it doesn’t treat his character with such a pedestrian nature like most Voyagerscripts tend to do. This show puts Harry in action, as the prison life forces him to consider options he would never have to face on his starship. This is probably the biggest role Garrett Wang has had to carry on the show yet, and he delivers, creating a Harry we’ve never seen before with eyes that have burning intensity. (It’s also surprising how different Kim’s attitude seems when his hair is messed up.) Here’s hoping this isn’t the last time we see Harry written as a human being rather than an automaton.

One puzzle Harry tries to figure out is an inmate named Zio (Don McManus), who eventually takes Kim and Paris under his wing. He’s been imprisoned for years and has survived the mayhem because he has a unique perspective on the prison machinations. He’s the only inmate who has learned the “secret” of the clamp and can control its mental effects. He writes his thoughts on scraps of paper which he has compiled into a personal manifesto. At times Harry dismisses Zio as insane (even though the clamp seems to be driving Harry himself to the limits of sanity), but it’s obvious that Zio is not simply crazy. His divine understanding of the prison is something that Harry cannot begin to fathom. One very intriguing shot features Zio staring up toward the ceiling with the opening of the chute in the frame behind him; the chute looks suspiciously like a halo. This framing is decidedly intentional, and the implications are interesting. Kudos to Landau for the subtext.

Meanwhile, Harry devises an escape plan: with a piece of conduit pipe, he rewires the chute hatch and disables the force field. Only problem is, once he does it, he crawls up to find a hatch that leads to…space. So much for crawling to the surface. The revelation here is accomplished with an impressive “tracking” shot that zooms out through miles of “virtual” territory. (If you saw it then you know what I mean.)

Once Harry discovers the hatch, he realizes it may be possible to escape on a ship when one comes by to deliver rations. None of the other inmates believe him. They mock him, they sneer, they say there’s no way out. This leads to perhaps the least successful scene between Harry and the other prisoners, as Harry says the obvious: “We can do it,if we work together!” A tad underwhelming in terms of drama.

Fortunately, what’s not underwhelming is Zio’s constant badgering of Kim to get rid of (read: kill) Paris, whose injuries and lack of food have practically reduced him to a babbling, incoherent invalid. And when Harry comes back to the shelter one day to find Tom dismantling the escape pipe device, he assaults him with such startling ferocity that the scene exhibits more energy than the last four episodes of Voyagercombined. Harry’s loyalty to Paris, however, wins out, and when Zio informs Harry that he will have to become a killer if he plans to survive, Harry says he’d rather die instead.

But amidst the interesting dialog, dark overtones, and impressive production, there’s a significant problem here: the plot. The details of this whole situation are really, really tired, and they really should’ve been dropped in favor of more relevant material. Just how many times, for example, have we seen Star Trek characters sent to prison by alien governments for crimes they obviously didn’t commit? Or terrorist factions who call themselves “patriots” and butt heads with the captain? Or stubborn, obnoxious governments who threaten to open fire if discussions about releasing unjustly convicted prisoners isn’t immediately ceased? Or scenes in the conference room where characters discuss how to deal with these stubborn, obnoxious governments? The alien official here did not have to be written with such obvious, cliche-ridden, hostile hard-headedness for this show to work, so why was this phony progress inhibitor needlessly inserted into the story? (On an unrelated note, where exactly did Kim get that pipe he used to disable the force field?)

In fact, the entire B-story involving Janeway’s mission to retrieve her officers is so painfully stale that I couldn’t help but watch it with cynical disinterest. This side of the show interrupts the prison-set scenes on several occasions, and every time it feels like dead weight that’s holding down the story.

Janeway’s final rescue of Kim and Paris was okay (although it was awfully convenient that Harry and Tom happened to be by the chute when it happened). The scene made reasonable use of Neelix for a change (and without being annoying, too, if you can believe it), and the way his shuttle darted off after the rescue was kind of fun. Unfortunately, this action ending was quite bad in one sense: it completely displaced a possible (and what would’ve been much preferred) final scene involving Zio and Kim. The failure to bring closure to Zio’s character and this side of the show left me feeling that the creators’ whole idea of Zio was uncertain. There was no payoff to speak of, and it just did not feel finished at all—and that’s a terrible shame considering the potential.

Overall, I liked “The Chute.” It was a show that seemed to spew attitude and have some left to spare. The production was phenomenal, as were the director’s touches. Zio was an interesting character even if not completely realized, and it was definitely nice to see Harry get a long-overdue vehicle. I only wish the story and the payoff had been as solid as the ambition was. “Chute” seemed to have high aspirations, but the plot workings just didn’t seem to want to see it through. Yes, the episode was good, but it could’ve been so much more.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of False Profits:

“False Profits” is a show that initially looks like it could’ve worked on its own terms, despite its typical Ferengi premise. The plot and especially the ending, however, have so many ridiculous idiosyncrasies that the show falls apart and can never pull itself together to even be a decent Ferengi outing.

It’s no secret: Those who read my DS9 reviews are probably aware that I don’t particularly like the Ferengi. When considered alone, their un-Federation-like values and moronic actions have rarely been things that appeal to my sense of humor. Given the right circumstances, the Ferengi can occasionally be humorous or entertaining; certain Quark-oriented shows on DS9 have worked for me, like “Body Parts” and “Little Green Men” and others. These shows usually feature a character insight of some sort, or have plot workings that are more interesting than the usual Ferengi outing.

On the other hand, when a show like “False Profits” comes along—an episode that seems to say “Look! The Ferengi are greedy and manipulative and like to take advantage of others! That’s funny!” and does nothing the entire hour but insult viewer intelligence by displaying Ferengi doing typical Ferengi-like things—then I don’t expect such shows to be particularly entertaining or enlightening.

And for those who are aware that I don’t particularly like Neelix either, you can imagine the feeling of impending dread I had when I saw the trailer featuring Neelix in Ferengi disguise. I’ll freely admit it—my first thought was “Great, a Ferengi show combined with a Neelix show. Fourteen demerits for the price of two.” I’ll also grant that isn’t a very fair attitude to go into an episode with, so allow me to say that I cleared my mind of cynicism before I viewed the show.

For a while this worked. I wasn’t rolling on the ground with laughter, to be sure, but “False Profits” wasn’t showing any evidence of being offensively bad either.

Plot summary, you ask? Voyager discovers traces of a wormhole that (of course) may lead to the Alpha Quadrant. They also discover a signal from an Alpha Quadrant-signatured device on a planet supporting a pre-industrial humanoid society. Chakotay and Paris beam down to find the signal is emanating from a replicator which two Ferengi are using. (These Ferengi were stranded in the Delta Quadrant because of their own stupidity in TNG‘s third season episode, “The Price.”) With the seemingly magical properties of the replicator, these Ferengi have tricked the gullible society into believing they are the gods as described in a religious epic poem (Two Sages will descend from the sky on a trail of burning flames, etc.).

These two Ferengi, Arridor (Dan Shor) and Kol (Leslie Jordan), use their “divine” influence to con people into paying them unreasonable sums of money for pointless words of wisdom. The source of their wisdom: the Rules of Acquisition, of course.

This is wrong, Janeway notes when Chakotay and Paris return with their report. She decides that if the wormhole can be harnessed to return to the Alpha Quadrant, she will be taking the Ferengi back with them. When Tuvok voices that this might be a violation of the Prime Directive, Janeway cleverly answers it in a way that seems much less arbitrary than her choice in last week’s “Swarm”—this proves to be among the show’s better moments.

So she beams up the Ferengi, who promptly argue (albeit only to serve their own interests) that the sudden disappearance of the gods could have severe consequences on the culture. Seeing that some of their argument is true, Janeway beams them back, then begins devising a way to trick the Ferengi into leaving willfully and gracefully such that the people will accept the departure of their gods. As she puts it, the crew must “out-Ferengi the Ferengi.”

It’s about here where Neelix masquerades as a Ferengi, claiming to be the “Grand Proxy,” sent by the Grand Nagus himself to seize the funds and recall Arridor and Kol to Ferenginar. Some of the dialog between Neelix and the Ferengi is whimsically amusing for brief moments, but nothing particularly memorable. (By the time I sat down to write this review I had already forgotten most of the gags.)

One confusing aspect about this entire idea is how much time passes between when the crew came up with this plan and when Neelix actually returns to the planet surface to confront the two Ferengi. There’s one cut which seems to indicate merely a number of hours. But if the Voyager had truly temporarily stabilized the wormhole and made contact with the Alpha Quadrant as Neelix claims, ask yourself this: Would these two Ferengi really believe that a Ferengi official could or would arrive at the wormhole site so quickly?

I really doubt it, but, then again, these two characters are written with such unprecedented stupidity that I suppose even they could fall for such a far-fetched trick. These characters are indeed nothing new as Ferengi go. One is the smart one of the pair (comparatively speaking) and the other is a dimwit. Both are written and acted with the usual lack of subtlety characterized by most guest-starring Ferengi; “False Profits” ups the ante in Ferengi-as-cartoon-characters with Neelix’s presentation of the Nagus’ staff, to which they both exclaim “Grand Nagus!” with jaw-dropped surprise—a horrifically delivered line that seems like it should’ve been uttered by a nine-year-old.

What kills me is that (A) these two Ferengi have been able to survive all by themselves in the Delta Quadrant long enough to find this planet to exploit; and (B) the inhabitants of this planet are dumb enough to accept them as their real Sages. All these Ferengi do all day is sit around and con the citizens out of their money. Would a real society accept this, even from their supposed gods? One wonders, but “False Profits” never stops to consider this question thoughtfully. Sure, the story makes references to it when convenient for advancing the silly plot (like Janeway’s agreement that kidnapping the Ferengi would be detrimental to the society, for example), but since the show attempts to be a fast-paced comic romp most of the time, the real issue is constantly buried under implausible (and more often absent) reactions on the part of the humanoid society, to the point that the entire message of the episode (if there is one) is simplified beyond relevance. The theme of Trek characters mistaken as gods has been done before…and I assure you it has been done much better (see TNG‘s “Who Watches the Watchers”).

As a result, most of the characters in the episode come off looking awfully foolish. One of the most prominent speaking guest roles among the humanoid aliens is a character named Kafar (Rob LaBelle) who serves as the Ferengis’ personal servant—and is performed with all the skill and hopeless mannerisms of the class clown in a high school play. Occasionally he’s worth chuckling at, but more often he’s just plain dumb.

Neelix comes off looking okay, surprisingly enough. His scenes with the Ferengi are watchable and even prompted a few giggles from me. Perhaps it’s because he’s surrounded by characters who act even sillier than him. (What good is all the “profit” that Arridor and Kol steal on this planet anyway? The planet has no contact with outside worlds, so where else could they possibly use the currency? What can this pre-industrial society possibly have that a Ferengi con man could want?)

I’d be willing to grant all of these inconsistencies if the show was consistently funny or had any real point or some sort of payoff. Unfortunately, the final act is so full of painfully convenient plot contrivances that it’s appalling. You see, Voyager beams the Ferengi and the crew off the planet after the mission has been accomplished—just in time to get ready to go through the temporarily stabilized wormhole. Arridor and Kol are escorted to secured quarters, but they somehow overpower security (don’t ask me how) and get to the shuttle bay where Janeway has stored their shuttle (in addition to also telling them in passing that their shuttle was put there). When Tuvok “seals” the shuttle bay, the Ferengi phaser the shuttle bay door and fly out anyway. None of these events are even remotely believable. The mere idea that these inept Ferengi can thwart Voyager‘s security is frustrating. It sure says a lot for Tuvok’s measures.

What’s worse, in attempting to elude Voyager, the Ferengi use some technical procedure to prevent unwilling transport. This procedure destabilizes the wormhole and renders it useless—but not before the Ferengis’ shuttle is sucked inside and sent to who-knows-where. Surprised that Voyager was not able to use the wormhole to get home? I wasn’t. I was surprised, however, at how crammed full with ridiculously unbelievable events this mishmashed conclusion was. It destroyed what could’ve been a passively entertaining show. The first four acts, despite being dumb, managed to chew through the hour without being unpleasant, but the fifth act sabotaged everything.

The biggest problem here is the entire subplot involving the wormhole. There is not nearly enough time devoted to it to be taken at all seriously, we all know it will fail anyway, it’s wall-to-wall with technobabble, and for what it’s utilized is so poorly conceived and executed that the entire show sinks with it. This subplot should’ve been seriously rethought or deleted during the script editing stages. Without the subplot the episode is mediocre and forgettable; with the subplot included it’s a near-disastrous mess.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Future’s End, Part I:

I’ll admit that, months ago, when I first heard about the premise for “Future’s End” I wasn’t exactly enthused about it. It sounded like a desperate stab by the Voyager writers—a rehash of the Star Trek IV concept of putting Trekkian characters in a contemporary time period and milking it for all the ideals contrasting it’s worth.

Fortunately, I got something I wasn’t expecting—a solidly written, fast-paced, plot-driven episode characterized by some memorable sequences.

All that plus a refreshing, interesting array of time travel machinations.

Let me also admit this: I’m a sucker for time travel plots when they dare to get as crazy as “Future’s End” does. On my list of favorite movies is the gleefully entertaining Back to the Future Part II. That film was a lot of fun because the characters were constantly zipping in and out of different time periods, creating and resolving problems based on the reliable sci-fi idea of the time paradox. “Future’s End,” similarly, also piles paradoxes onto the plot with little regard for linear logic or, for that matter, even common sense. I think that’s the point, and the reason why time travel stories are effective—they’re based on a reality that can’t possibly be understood because, as Captain Braxton (Allan G. Royal) of the 29th century notes, “A is to B is to C is to A.” (Quick aside: Between this two-parter, DS9‘s “Trials and Tribble-ations,” and the rapidly approaching First Contact, it would seem that if there’s one thing there’s plenty of, it’s time travel.)

As the show begins, Voyager is in its usual routine, traveling through the Delta Quadrant. Suddenly a rift opens and a Federation ship emerges. The ship isn’t just a ship, but a time ship from the 29th century. The captain is a sort of temporal police officer. He has traveled from the future to destroy Voyager. You see, Voyager is somehow responsible for a temporal explosion that destroys Earth’s solar system in the 29th century, killing billions of people. Braxton frantically explains why he has arrived and why he must destroy Voyager. When Janeway demands further explanation and proof, Braxton simply responds, “No time!” and promptly opens fire. Amusingly ironic.

Voyager resists Braxton’s weapons with some clever technobabble that inhibits his weapons, and the result is an accident that sends Braxton and the Voyager back to 20th century Earth. Under plot details that I refuse to go into here, the Voyager crew tracks Braxton to Los Angeles (the year, naturally, is 1996). After disguising their ship in orbit and briefly studying the contemporary culture, Janeway and the crew beam down in contemporary clothes to find Braxton.

They find him, but he has aged. As it happens the accident caused him to arrive nearly thirty years earlier, when he crash-landed his time ship somewhere in the High Sierras. He beamed out just before the crash, but before he could retrieve his time ship someone else did: a 20th century man (and now a computer company CEO) named Henry Starling (Ed Begley, Jr.). It’s about here where we get the explanation of how A causes B causes C causes A. The story wisely acknowledges the paradox and then doesn’t give it a second thought, which is a prudent move under the circumstances. As Braxton lays the plot down for Janeway and for us, we see what this aged character out of place has become: a crazed, raving old lunatic whose single, energetic scene proves very entertaining.

The rest of the episode follows the characters around as they try to track down Henry Starling in L.A. Further plot twists bring a young woman named Raine Robinson (Sarah Silverman) into the picture, whose connections with Starling put her life in jeopardy and could supply Tuvok and Paris with answers. Meanwhile Janeway and Chakotay break into Starling’s office and find the stolen time ship, but are captured by Starling and his array of 29th century technology before they can do anything.

One amusing notion here is that the 20th century “computer revolution” shouldn’t have happened at all—or maybe it should’ve always happened. I sure don’t know; it’s yet another paradox stacked into the deck. Apparently Starling has been responsible for “inventing” all new computer technology for the past several decades, but his technology is all based on stolen information from the future. But how can that future exist without the past having created it? As Janeway puts it, “It all gives me a headache.” Paradoxes are fun. Implausible but fun.

In fact, the key to this entire episode is fun. It has a better sense of fun than any Voyager episode I can recall since “Projections.” (What else can you say about an episode that ends with the Voyager, zipping across the sky, caught on home video?) The material is not very deep, but I really don’t care. It’s very well crafted, with plot manipulations that actuallymake sense. That’s important, because this show rides completely on its plot. Plot-driven shows can become tedious or plagued with holes if not deftly written. But the biggest thing “Future’s End, Part I” has going for it is its tight, taut, precise plotting. The events follow plausibly from A to B to C, and all the parts fit neatly into place; the story constantly demonstrates that it knows not only what is happening but why events follow from other events.

Pacing is also a strength here. The show does not waste time on events that don’t progress the narrative—and every scene here zips along and proves entertaining on a story level. Case in point: Janeway and the crew are beamed down to L.A. by the end of the first act; the story knows where it wants to go and goes there, without wasting time on meaningless dialog or action.

The characterizations aren’t nearly as urgent as the plot workings here, but they’re relevant, and I’ll quickly mention a few of them:

  • Ed Begley, Jr. makes an effective villain—a conniving creep with a look on his face like he’s better than everyone else. Plus he’s smarter than he initially appears (always a good quality for a bad guy), as shown by his ability to use Braxton’s 29th century technology against the Voyager.
  • Sarah Silverman as Raine Robinson did not impress me. Sure, she’s cute and all, but her unconvincing line delivery in scenes with Tuvok and Paris became very annoying very fast.
  • The teaming of the various Voyager characters worked quite well. Janeway and Chakotay showed very promising signs of camaraderie (did I even hear him call her “Kathryn”?). Tuvok and Paris worked well together, as did Kim and Torres back on board the Voyager. Nice work.

This show is merely setup, but it’s good setup. It swiftly and effectively establishes and fleshes out all the important characters and presents the problems with calm precision. Hopefully the second half can just as skillfully resolve the problems that this half has presented.

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

Very rarely, it seems, does the second part of a Trek two-parter live up to the first. Such is the case with “Future’s End, Part II,” which has plenty of good moments but only adds up to an okay overall show. This half of the episode is, in a word, “entertaining,” but it doesn’t nearly display the even-handed movie-like effectiveness that part one did.

There are some amusing gags in this wrap-up, but that’s about all they are—gags that prove enjoyable enough to get a few grins but add up to relatively little. That’s too bad. “Future’s End I” had a solid, efficient story structure, and it seemed the writers knew exactly where they wanted to go with part two. “Future’s End II,” however, merely delivers us a host of partly disjointed events that border on non sequitur. If the key word to the first half was “orderly,” then the key word to the second half is “uneven.”

Like most story resolutions, the outcome is hardly in doubt. Will theVoyager crew stop Henry Starling from causing the temporal explosion that will destroy Earth in the 29th century? Will Voyager inevitably wind up back in the 24th century Delta Quadrant? Is water wet? Admittedly, those aren’t very fair questions since we know the answers, but the problem with the answers “Future’s End II” supplies us is in the “how,” not the “what.”

This episode starts off just fine, as Starling begins interrogating Doc (after having “kidnapped” his program in part one) for information about Janeway’s plans. Featured here—and long overdue—is a line actually acknowledging Doc’s memory loss from “The Swarm.” While I’m glad they finally mentioned it I’m still pretty irritated that this entire issue has been reduced to one mere line of dialog. Now I’m beginning to wonder why they even bothered at all. If I knew they would follow up on it later I might feel better, but Voyager continues to sorely disappoint in the show-to-show development department.

But I digress. Starling decides that now that Voyager has discovered him, he has to move fast. Using his 29th century technology, Starling has Doc wear a portable holographic device that allows him to be projected anywhere—including outside—so that Starling can hold him hostage when dealing with Tom and Raine. (If that sounds weird just read it once again and trust me.) In addition, Starling fools the Voyagercrew at almost every turn. At one point Janeway actually has Starling locked behind a force field on board the Voyager—but he uses his own transporter and escapes. At another point, Tom and Raine follow a semi-truck that they think is carrying the time ship all the way into the desert—but it’s all a trick, faked by Starling and his gadgets.

This is probably the most interesting aspect of the show—the fact that no matter what the Voyager crew does, Starling always seems to have another card up his sleeve—another surprise waiting to be unveiled. There’s something to be said for the way the writers reveal Starling as a step ahead of the game—more than we or the Voyager crew expect. True, maybe it’s all because he has the technological advantage, but that’s not the point. It adds an extra element to the conflict, which attempts to keep things interesting.

This show is every bit as plot-driven as part one was. Unfortunately, the events don’t flow nearly as nicely from one scene to the next. One stretch includes the unnecessary need for Starling to “get rid of” Raine (hence the botched hostage negotiation). If he’s ready to go back to the future (or whatever) and the Voyager is already onto his plan, why does he even need to care about Raine?

I’ll admit that’s fairly minor. What is not minor, however, and really hurts the flow of the story is a pointless B-plot in which Torres and Chakotay crash-land their shuttle and are held captive by a militia of anti-establishment fanatics. What does this have to do with anything? As far as I can tell, Torres and Chakotay are captured merely so they can be rescued by Doc and Tuvok several scenes later. But in the meantime this entire idea is nothing more than a distracting digression used to pad out the episode. It’s almost as if the writers ran out of material relevant to the main plot and came up with this instead.

And the main plot itself is a little overly stocked with action movie cliches. Some sequences appear to be paying homage (or satire or something) to those bad B action movies that are always filmed in and around L.A. Fine and dandy, but I still want to know what happened to the smart, efficient story of part one. Sure, some of these cliches are amusing with a twist—like the idea of a car chase with an exchange of phaser-fire. But others tend to push it—like one where Tom and Raine are in a van with an engine that conveniently dies and then refuses to start, just as the thug comes barreling down the road toward them going 50 miles an hour in a semi-truck. (I did, on the other hand, enjoy the shuttle coming out of nowhere to play deus ex machina by phasering the semi cab to pieces). And the obligatory and completely forced “Raine and Tom kiss after they barely escape death” is worth several demerits if you ask me. How many action movies has this been recycled from? Four or five hundred? These are the kind of forays into the obvious I feared when I heard Jeri Taylor’s allusions to “contemporary settings” and “car chases” several months ago. (I did, however, enjoy the rather nifty sight of Starling ramming the time ship through the top floor of his own skyscraper—that was cool.)

While I don’t have any major objections to the ending, it just wasn’t as interesting as it could’ve been. I guess the main complaint I have is that after two complete episodes of setup I had hoped that averting a temporal disaster wouldn’t come down to something as crude as blowing Starling and his stolen time ship to bits with a photon torpedo. (Besides, if Starling is so smart, why didn’t he have his shields up?) And once the disaster is averted, along comes Captain Braxton again, who has appeared from the future to return Voyager to the 24th century where it belongs.

And when “Future’s End” began toying with paradoxes this time around, my fun turned into confusion. Even though I liked part one’s idea of a time loop with no discernible beginning or end, I was a tad perplexed here when Braxton showed up again, apparently now having been spared all effects of the time line manipulations from part one. (Does that mean the old Braxton on Earth simply vanished like Marty McFly in Back to the Future?) Hey, whatever. The idea of a “Temporal Prime Directive” preventing Braxton from sending Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant seemed sensible enough, and proved ironic considering how many times the conventional Prime Directive tends to pop its head up on Voyager.

Still, one thing bugs me: If people in the 29th century can truly monitor time, then why didn’t Braxton just figure out what was going on and fix it in the first place? I can buy that he traced Voyager‘s involvement in the destruction of Earth in part one, but the idea of “time sensors” brings up a host of troubling new implausibilities—and I’m not willing to reach quite that far into the bag of tricks. If time can be so easily manipulated, then history means nothing, and I don’t think I like the implications of that.

I also wonder about how “ethical” it is for Doc to keep the portable holo-emitter since it really belongs in the 29th century. While I like the idea of Doc finally getting out of sickbay, I don’t see why the writers didn’t just do it under the original intent of Torres and Harry’s rigged holo-emitters toyed with in “Projections” and “Persistence of Vision.”

Ah, but who cares? I’m probably a fool for even attempting to scrutinize the ridiculous time games presented in “Future’s End.” It’s all in silly fun. By pure plot structure (which is about all we have to go on here, really), the first half is much more engaging than this half is—which is probably the only point I really want to stress here. Average these two shows together and you’ll come up with a three-star rating. Sounds about right to me.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Warlord:

First things first—I have to get something off my chest that’s somewhat off the topic. I need to say that I’m quite tired of Voyager‘s advertising campaign. It’s smug, self-important, hokey, and it never does justice to any episode it advertises. Week after week we’re fed lines like “Voyager is better than ever!” and “You won’t believe what happens!”, and every fourth show seems to come advertised as a “special” episode. Enough already. Can’t the promo producers be a little more low-profile and just tell us what the episode is about—like, say, the way the DS9 previews function?

The trailer for “Warlord” made it look like the epitome of silliness and triviality. And while this admittedly isn’t the deepest episode to hit the screen this year, it’s certainly not bad. In fact, there are some virtues here that prove quite entertaining.

Among these virtues is not the plot. The premise is pretty tired and dull—yet another alien who takes control of the mind and body of a Star Trek character. It happened on DS9‘s “The Assignment” just a mere three weeks earlier, and was done there with much better dramatic effect. On the other hand, “Warlord’s” take on body snatcher milieu is another Voyager example of silly, fast-paced fun—and displays more energy than “The Assignment” could muster even with its textured Colm Meaney performance.

In “Warlord,” the Voyager beams injured Ilari survivors off a damaged ship. One of the Ilari dies, but before he does, he transfers his mind (using a mysterious, concealed device) into Kes’ mind and then steals her body, claiming it as his own. After escaping Voyager with the assistance of his faction of followers, he begins harnessing Kes’ undeveloped mental abilities to his advantage, sometimes to manipulate his own followers (like any villain would). As it turns out, this man is a tyrant named Tieran, and he’s been transferring his mind from host to host for centuries. Now he wants to reclaim an ancient Ilari throne and rule the world forever! (Pardon the tongue-in-cheek factor.)

Who cares about the plot? I sure don’t. The internal politics of this world have about as much ultimate relevance to the series as what I ate for breakfast yesterday, and are about as interesting. The scenes between Janeway and the Ilari official on the Voyager who wants to see Tieran stopped are the same old standard negotiate-and-plan scenes that I’d expect in any random episode.

What makes this show worth watching is its hyperkinetic pacing and attitude. This is without a doubt the biggest show Jennifer Lien has had to carry to date, and by far Lien’s most interesting performance. I’d say the best way to describe this performance is “Jennifer Lien in crazy mode.” Her performance is gleefully over-the-top and stylized at times, but it’s gutsy, engaging, and so full of energy unlike anything she’s ever done on the show. What can I say? I liked it—a lot.

One thing Lien really has going for her is that wonderful, throaty voice—I just loved that voice in this episode, because she commands it so well. Another thing I enjoyed was Lien’s use of expressive body language. She darts around the room, throwing herself into the role with such exuberance and energy that at times I was able to overlook the hokiness of the plot.

For forty minutes, Lien is Tieran. And Tieran is seductive, manipulative, power-hungry, and ruthless. What the writers have Tieran do is hardly important compared to how Lien conveys Tieran’s actions. Did I care whether the evil Tieran would keep his throne? Not really. Did I enjoy watching Lien attempt to seduce two people in two minutes, and threaten to kill five others in five? You bet.

This type of show sometimes demands looking at the superficial qualities while ignoring what little lies beneath. Actually, in all fairness, there are a few, isolated subsurface elements here. The idea of a mental battle of wills proves to be the show’s most effective story point. You see, Tieran may have control of Kes, but somewhere in the back of her brain, Kes is fighting back—fighting to regain her stolen mind. Tieran scoffs at her and dismisses her—in a dream he tells her that no little girl is going to beat his superior strength. The point here, however, is that this is a fight that isn’t won by brute strength or weapons—it’s won by the superior will. And Kes, despite her quiet, fragile outer appearance, has the determined strength to see that this villain does not escape.

The scenes between Tieran/Kes and Tuvok also work pretty well. Tieran attempts to use Kes’ mental connections along with some seductive intentions against Tuvok, but Tieran fails. Here is revealed a man who thinks he is bigger than he truly is. He’s not up to the challenge of superior intellects.

Other than the mental battles and the impressive Lien performance, there’s not much else to scrutinize here. I really could’ve done without the hopelessly-dumb-and-transparent-as-usual Neelix holodeck scenes. If there’s a more pointless teaser in the history of Voyager than the one that opens “Warlord,” then I’ve missed it (and I’m positive that hasn’t happened). And as far as the scene where Neelix and Kes “break up” goes, it hardly matters. I doubt it “really” happened; the writers never make it clear, but it seems to simply be a side effect of the Tieran-takeover plot. That’s too bad; I for one am sick of Kes and Neelix fawning over each other. It’s trite, it’s annoying, it goes nowhere. At least separating them for a while could’ve had story possibilities.

Fortunately, such annoying sequences are few and far between, and as compensation the episode supplies a reasonable amount of thin but entertaining moments, mostly fueled by Lien’s respectable energy.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of The Q and the Grey:

“The Q and the Grey” is another one of those shows that the promo people live for. Another “high concept” idea that hopes to win its audience over with a plot that can be described on the previews in a single sentence: “Q comes to the Voyager and asks Janeway to mate with him!” It’s a hook but it’s not a story.

Actually, there is a story mired in Q’s inept attempts to serenade Captain Janeway, but it’s so unfocused, ponderous, and ambiguously handled that it’s hard to get much enjoyment out of it. This is the follow-up of sorts to last season’s wonderful “Death Wish,” in which a revolutionary Q played by Gerrit Graham voiced his desire to die because his existence had reached the point of irrelevance due to the Q continuum’s love of the status quo.

This time, Q comes aboard Voyager and tells Janeway that he has chosen her to be the mother of his child. Janeway is naturally non-receptive, asks him to go away, etc. Q responds with dumb but amiable jokes:

Q: “You’re playing hard to get.”
Janeway: “As far as you’re concerned, Q, I’m impossible to get.”
Q: “Goodie! A challenge!”

Janeway keeps Q in his place until he finally, but temporarily, gives up and vanishes.

Naturally, as the case usually is with Q, there’s more here than meets the eye. In fact, Q’s desire to have a baby with Janeway, he explains, is something he hopes will have repercussions within the Q continuum itself. But to complicate the matter, a jealous female Q (Suzie Plakson, who played Worf’s now-deceased half-Klingon lover K’Ehleyr on TNG) appears, and suddenly we have a classic triangle (or so the Plakson-Q thinks) with Janeway unwillingly caught in one corner.

Considering that the story isn’t really about this preposterous triangle, it seems rather silly that the show wastes the opening 1 1/2 acts on it. Some of this is mildly amusing (I got a chuckle out of the tattoo gag, for instance), but much of it is just silly and overly proud of its playfulness.

And, after a mere two episodes, I’m sick of Neelix’s stupid island holo-program already. The French pool hall had much more class and style if you ask me. (Speaking of Neelix, his exuberantly annoying “Wow!” in response to witnessing a supernova at the beginning of the episode continues to go along with my theory—Neelix is still a painfully irritating character).

Midway through the second act the show finally shows signs of getting better as the story begins to develop into something beyond obvious Q gags. Q takes Janeway to the continuum (courtesy of another one of those human-comprehensible metaphorical renditions like in “Death Wish”). This time, the metaphor is the American Civil War, used to represent a civil war within the Q continuum. The war, Q explains, is the result of Graham-Q’s suicide in “Death Wish”—it has caused chaos and dissension between advocates of the status quo and the need for new thought. Our de Lancie-Q is one of the key Qs standing up for freedom of new ideas, but he’s on the losing side of a battle which is causing cosmic side effects (like the aforementioned supernovas). Q is convinced that introducing human DNA into the Q gene pool (or whatever) will bring forward a new era of peace (or something).

Okay, fine. So what does all this exposition and discussion about war in the name of ideals really boil down to? Not much, in my opinion. The problem here is that the episode attempts to tell simple little human stories using what are supposed to be omnipotent beings. Is the show saying that the most important thing on an all-powerful being’s mind is the discussion of whether the mother should raise a child or the father? And how exactly would the integration of human DNA into Q society magically end the war? The episode thinks a vague, half-explained answer will suffice, but it doesn’t. The way the story uses the Q continuum is too questionable; as much as they know about time, history, and the universe, the episode will have us believe the opposing side of the war thinks it can bring the conflict to an end simply by killing Q. Haven’t they heard of martyrdom? Do they believe that making Q a martyr will cause his supporters to lie down and give up?

Maybe that’s the point the episode is trying to get across—that the omnipotent, all-knowing Q are ultimately just as flawed and ignorant as any backward humanoid. Unfortunately, that’s no definition of Q I’ve ever heard of, and many of the arguments feel like self-contradictions as a result. Besides, do we really want to see the Q reduced to talking about standard Trek-issue arguments of peace and war?

The other big problem with “The Q and the Grey” is that the use of the Civil War metaphor—initially fine—forays into far too tangible, literal terms. The whole point of “Death Wish’s” visit to the continuum was to represent a story with somewhat abstract ideas in more tangible, human terms. But here the metaphor becomes a simple plot device that the human characters can fully interact with—and that’s totally unacceptable. By the end of the episode, the entire Voyager crew is in the Q continuum, fighting an unfathomable war with omnipotent beings. This is an “action” finale that, frankly, proves absurd. Because the ending is based on action and not dialog or ideas, all that remains to scrutinize are the physical events. These events have no real rhyme or reason; they just happen and assume they make storytelling sense, which they don’t. Why can’t these omnipotent Q simply snap their fingers and send these pesky humans out of the continuum? Because the writers say so, that’s why.

For that matter, the Voyager getting into the continuum in the first place is contrived and misconceived—and based on reams of unnecessary technobabble. Using Plakson-Q’s help (who has lost her powers for reasons we needn’t concern ourselves with since the story doesn’t), theVoyager is able to cross “into” the Q continuum—using methods that seem about as arbitrarily decided on by the writers as the flip of a coin. Plus Plakson gets shoehorned into the thankless role of a smug, superior being who is better than everyone else and makes sure they know it, too.

Another underlying problem is that this episode doesn’t really know what it’s about. First it’s about relationships and love, then procreation and parenthood, then violence and war between immortal superbeings. In a vacuum, some of the isolated dialog has valid human points and works pretty well, but the show doesn’t find any true focus over any of it, and so the themes feel like they’ve been jammed into a murkily explained, incoherent overall package. And the constant shift in tone from “downright goofy comedy” to “attempted cerebral drama” sure doesn’t help the flow of the episode.

And, I’m sorry, the banter between Q and Janeway just does not hold its own. There are some good lines, I’m happy to say, and I think Mulgrew and de Lancie both manage to transcend the material, but overall it’s based too much on silly sexual innuendoes and recycled jokes. All such scenes do is highlight how much better similar scenes worked between Q and Picard, where truly smart dialog took precedence.

“The Q and the Grey” is a mishmash of less-than-compelling themes and lackluster dialog. All that we’re left with at the end is a bunch of questions that are supposed to have wonderfully complex answers, but instead have little wonder and just feel vague for the sake of inexplicable vagueness.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Macrocosm:

I don’t like the trend I’ve been seeing in Voyager the past few weeks. It’s starting to show evidence of “season two syndrome.” Silly plots and brainless action are taking precedence over real drama and intelligent storytelling. “The Q and the Grey” may have been a misguided clash of ideas, but at least it had ideas. “Macrocosm” is about as brain-dead as Trek can get (or so I hope). Not good, people.

“Macrocosm” (yet another installment pointlessly advertised as “special”) is a downright silly episode; yet another mishmash of parts that has no idea what it wants to do aside from supplying a host of action cliches and mundane plot advances.

Returning from a diplomatic mission in a shuttlecraft, Janeway and Neelix rendezvous with a darkened, empty Voyager. Communication with the ship is impossible, because there are no signs of the crew at all. The first half of the episode revolves around Janeway and Neelix’s attempts to track down the crew, and they eventually realize there are about 30 human life signs on the upper decks. Crawling through the Jeffries tubes on the powerless ship, Neelix is attacked by an unknown lifeform and apparently hauled away. Janeway now finds herself the sole crew member to save the ship from an apparent alien takeover. The second half of the show explains what’s going on, as the Doctor (one of few functional members of the crew) explains to Janeway what has transpired—that of a “macrovirus” that grows until it exists on the visible scale rather than the microscopic scale.

These macroviruses were inadvertently beamed onto the ship and began multiplying “at an exponential rate.” After infecting the crew and making everybody extremely ill, they then grow to be huge, until they’re big enough to attack you like the aliens in, well, Alien. Basically, this plot boils down to a rip-off of Alien meets Outbreak. Hence Janeway’s attitude change to Sigourney Weaver mode (always carrying a big gun and appearing to be in pain) and Doc’s line, “Oh no, the macrovirus is airborne!” There’s very little in terms of intelligent writing here—it’s just a clothesline to hang some lackluster stunts and standard action scenes on.

Watching the first two acts got very old very fast. I got tired of watching Janeway tentatively pointing her phaser around the corner after about the tenth of fifty times. And the presentation of about a million “action” cliches is weak—so poorly disguised that it’s very hard to feel anything but cynical from the start. The scene in engineering where Janeway takes off her jacket and takes up arms is, for lack of a better word, poor. It’s so false, so pretentious, so much wanting to hammer home the idea, “Look, Janeway can be a badass!” that it falls flat on its face. I like Captain Janeway (sometimes I feel like I’m the sole Janeway fan in a group of unreceptive Voyager viewers), but I don’t watch Janeway for potboiler cheesiness like this. I watch Janeway for her dialog, practical leadership and intelligence.

Mulgrew is a good sport through this mess, but she’s trapped in a thankless position—if you think about this show for a more than five seconds, it’s just a cheap rip-off of cliches. It’s really tough to do Alien on the budget of an episode of Voyager.

Then again, Alexander Singer is no Ridley Scott, either. A lot of the shots are frankly dull, and there’s just not much atmosphere in the Voyagercorridors that lends it to Alien milieu. That’s not to say that Singer’s direction is completely without merit; I thought some of the macrovirus’ point-of-view shots were effective, and Dennis McCarthy’s somewhat eerie score was quite good at times, as were some of the CGI macrovirus effects. But those scenes were countered by other thrill-less endeavors like the stale ending where Janeway blows up all the aliens in the holodeck with a laughable “movie bomb,” that is, a bomb with a red digital readout that counts down while beeping. And the explosion was terribly unconvincing—in fact, it looked like the fireball from “Basics, Part I” retouched to look green.

The episode is also painfully uneven and filled with tons of—you guessed it—forgettable technobabble. The number one rule in creating suspense, broken here big time, is that you don’t interrupt the tension. The whole middle of the episode where Doc explains how the macrovirus got aboard the ship, told using a badly placed flashback device, only further sabotages any hopes for this show to be exciting. For that matter, what in the world was the point of the bizarre alien ship whose captain wanted to exterminate the virus by incineratingVoyager? And what was up with that crazy, quirky captain? He’s probably the strangest thing I’ve seen on this show in quite some time, but I unfortunately mean strange only in the most laughable of senses. The writing itself here seems to be beaming in from the Delta Quadrant.

This story is interested only in cheap thrills, and the thrills are just that—cheap. No logic, no thought, no planning, no brain. Perhaps that would explain why it is Neelix vanishes without a trace but is never found or seen again in the episode. Where did he go? Did a macrovirus carry him off to Never Never Land? Was he ever found again? (I might take comfort in this if he weren’t seen in the next new episode, but I know that’s just my optimism speaking.) And just where exactly was the rest of the crew if there were only 30 or so people in the mess hall? Where were the other 100 crew members? The episode doesn’t care.

“Macrocosm” was written by who I am, as of today, indulging to label the notoriously two-faced Brannon Braga. Here is a writer who has worked on absolutely stellar character-driven stories like Star Trek: First Contact as well as amusing, witty dialog shows like last season’s “Projections.” Yet he’ll also bring us abysmal technobabble terror like “Cathexis” and “Threshold.” “Macrocosm” seems to have come from the latter Braga.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Coda:

“Coda” is an episode based on an idea that has been done many times before—and much better—on Trek. The general idea is to temporarily kill a major character—in this case the captain—and milk it for all the emotional pathos it’s worth.

Personally, I think I’ve seen this story rehashed enough times already. If you want a really good example of this theme, then you should watchDS9‘s “The Visitor,” a tour de force on just about every level. “Coda” has none of the resonating emotion or epic moments that “Visitor” had. I think the overall problem is that once “Coda” figures out where it’s going, it unfolds completely as expected and never comes close to being anything but pedestrian.

That is, of course, only after it has found its direction. The first two acts of the episode bombard us with a multitude of different ideas out of the Trekkian bag of tricks. Shortly after the episode opens (after a completely routine Neelix scene that has me suspecting we won’t likely see a new Neelix come out of the recent “Fair Trade”), Janeway and Chakotay take a shuttlecraft to the surface of a planet (for reasons that are never explained). Well, no points for guessing that the shuttle gets caught in a storm and crashes, a la the unfortunate reversion to the reliable second season cliche: In the event that a premise cannot be created from a fresh idea, simply crash another shuttle and put the characters into a tough situation that way. (What is this, the fifth shuttle the Voyager crew has lost? Perhaps sixth? I’ve lost count.) Janeway is critically injured in the crash, but Chakotay revives her; then the two are attacked and killed by some Vidiians, at which point the scene cuts back to the shuttle where the sequence of events repeats.

At first, I figured we were in for a rehash of the time loop story—something along the lines of TNG‘s “Cause and Effect.” The sequence begins again, but differently. This time the Vidiians attack and destroy the shuttle. Repeat again. This time Chakotay pilots the shuttle back toVoyager, where Doc reveals that Janeway has contracted the Vidiian Phage and is suffering from symptoms which caused her to hallucinatethe time loop. After working 40 hours searching for a treatment, Doc gives up and tells Janeway the only humane choice is euthanasia. Practically before she can protest, he kills her with a toxic gas.

Cut back to the shuttle with Janeway and Chakotay and… well, I think you begin to get the idea.

As these events progressed and reality continued to get more confused, it seemed anything was possible. My curiosity began to percolate at this point, because the episode was just acting so weird. But just as things start to get interesting, the plot settles down into an unimpressive “exposition on Janeway’s death” direction that proves less than compelling because of its predictable plot advances.

Basically, the plot boils down to a standard ghost story in which Janeway dies but her “spirit” (or whatever you wish to call it) remains to observe the crew in the aftermath. How do we know she’s a spirit? Because her long-deceased father (Len Cariou) appears out of a white light and tells her she is, that’s why. Janeway, being a scientist and skeptic like her father taught her (one of few nicely drawn ideas from a past episode, “Sacred Ground”), looks for every other possible scientific “phase shift” and “dimensional displacement” explanation to fit the situation.

Some of the individual ideas that Jeri Taylor’s script throws us are nicely handled and performed. The idea of Kes sensing Janeway’s presence with her unique mental abilities makes sense and supplies the plot a needed momentum boost. And Janeway’s inability to accept that now that she’s dead and her crew will go on without her is relevant, even if completely derivative.

The obligatory funeral scene is a shameless and manipulative attempt to tug at the emotions. Though somewhat necessary given the story’s specifications, it feels at times like an annoying kid tugging at your sleeve. Actually I sort of liked it in a way. It made for an intriguing “what if” scene; I’m sure that, deep down, all of us have wanted to be the proverbial fly on the wall to hear what others would talk about us when remembering us. Dawson’s portrayal of Torres paying respect was particularly nicely conceived and performed.

Still, none of this is really new material. We’ve all seen this done more effectively. And the big problem is that the story’s conclusion undermines all the actors’ attempts to convey a genuine sentiment.

To put it bluntly, the “revelation” that Kathryn’s father is really an alien trying to coax Kathryn’s consciousness out of her dying (but still slightly alive) body and into his “matrix” is stale, stale, stale. Worse yet, anyone would see it coming about a mile away, because the way the show is structured makes it probably the most predictable episode of Voyagerthis side of “Basics, Part II.” Did I believe for a second that Janeway’s father was a real spirit? No, because I just know better. Voyager doesn’t believe in ghosts or ghost stories; the writers strive to explain near-death anomalies in “sci-fi” terms. Hence the alien of the week.

Once Janeway began suspecting that her father wasn’t really her father, the show may as well have been over, because Cariou and Mulgrew face off in a “fiery” dialog scene that’s overstated and overacted. Janeway would need to be a fool not to see through the alien’s ruse given how obvious and desperate his persuasion attempts turn. Some subtlety would’ve been nice, but the ending certainly doesn’t supply it. (Janeway’s “Go back to hell, coward,” fell rather flat, too. It was simply excessive.)

Another big problem is that the entire episode is really just a battle inside Janeway’s mind brought on by the alien’s influence. This means that nothing in the episode really happened. Everything Harry and B’Elanna said at Janeway’s wake; Tuvok’s solemn log entry; Kes’ hope to find her captain—all imaginary happenings that never took place. The fact that all the characterization in the show is a dream proves quite frustrating.

(Before I get people telling me that “The Visitor” didn’t really happen either, let me quickly point out that “Visitor” was based on a time anomaly and not an arbitrary alien-induced figment of imagination. Besides, “Visitor” was about 25 times more moving than “Coda” is, and the real issue here is that there are good ways to use a premise that exists outside conventional reality and bad ways. “Coda” is not an example of the good way.)

Also, in retrospect, what is the point of the time loop motif? A closer look reveals that the idea just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, so why do it? It apparently serves no purpose beyond a MacGuffin to confuse the audience early on. If the whole episode would’ve followed this lead into a maze of convoluted surrealism I probably would’ve enjoyed it much more, but it didn’t; it transformed into a by-the-numbers drama with a disappointing ending.

Hey, the show isn’t a total loss. Some of the acting is decent stuff. Roxann Dawson’s speech during the wake and Robert Beltran’s scene when Janeway dies in his arms are notable standouts. Also, some of the chemistry between Janeway and Chakotay in the opening and closing are among the show’s best scenes (perhaps because they were among few scenes that actually happened). I’m not saying we need to see an affair between these two characters, but the amiably-portrayed affection is definitely nice.

But if I have to witness the crash of one more shuttle on Voyager, I’ll be forced to slay somebody.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Before and After:

To put it as simply as I can, “Before and After” is solid entertainment. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a very good hour of Voyager—and after the unfortunate past month of dreadful Voyager offerings, this installment is, to be as fair but as honest as possible, a wonderful alleviation of pain.

In fact, if Voyager can do shows like this for the remainder of the season, we might be in good shape after all. I’m hoping in June I can look back and see this episode as the hour of Voyager that recharged my interest in the series—it certainly has that potential if the last five installments can follow suit.

“Before and After” is yet another Trek breed of the Time Manipulation Paradigm, but I’m not about to hold that against the show. This is a weird, effective story that uses its plot machinations as a springboard for some thoroughly enjoyable mini-stories. The episode is paced at a brisk speed and filled with sub-stories that contain humor and fascination, venturing into both hope and despair.

The episode begins shrouded in confusion and mystery, revealing pieces of its puzzle a little bit at a time. The story opens approximately six years in the future where Kes, aged to the final stage of her short nine-year life, lies in a bio-chamber the Doctor has manufactured in the hope of extending her life beyond its expectancy. Somehow, this device reactivates some residual radiation in Kes’ body (which figures into the plot nicely later in the episode, but I don’t really want to get into it here), and she begins jumping backward in time, landing in various points in her past for short periods of time—BUT without any memory of her true past and, rather, with the few memories of the brief times she was in the FUTURE. In other words, Kes begins living her life backwards for only hours at a time, with large gaps in the experience spanning anywhere from one day to three years.

Sound confusing? It is. There’s no way I’m going to attempt to wrap this into a full synopsis. This is a show you have to watch to fully grasp, and even then you may not quite understand everything. I think I see what’s going on, but the ending in particular is open to some interpretation. It’s a credit to scripter Kenneth Biller that he was able to pull off such a complicated feat of plotting without totally losing the audience. And Allan Kroeker’s direction is effective, moving the story forward with reasonable momentum while also making certain we always know where (er, when) we are.

It’s not the fact the episode uses time travel that makes “Before and After” intriguing. In all honesty, the basic premise is standard Trekkian stuff. And there’s a megaton of conjured technobabble that the actors are forced to endure in order to warrant the plot. Any reader of my reviews probably knows I don’t consider technobabble to be true storytelling since it’s usually just a device for explaining arbitrarily created circumstances. BUT if the story that exists outside the fantasy tech-plotting actually works, merely using the technobabble as a secondary device, then I’m likely to be more receptive.

“Before and After,” like last season’s “Deadlock,” is an episode that fits the above description. No, I don’t really find the specifics of Kes’ time shifts all that plausible (though they were fairly convenient)—but I do care about what happens once Kes drops into each time period. I also like the way Biller’s script and Kroeker’s direction use these time travel elements: They pile confusion and urgency into the narrative, making us curious and interested, asking, “Just what is going on here?”

The relentless jumping through time makes the story interesting and fast-paced—as does the way Kes and the crew come to understand the nature of the mystery—but what really makes “Before and After” compelling are the “what if” implications. The story paints us one possible future of the starship Voyager, and it’s in these details that the show gets truly inventive and entertaining.

For example, this is the first episode that really addresses the fact that Kes only has six years left in her natural life. This would mean marriage and children would have to happen soon—and then it wouldn’t be too long before her daughter would marry and have a child. Although not directly addressed (it’s only a one-hour show, after all), I liked the implications of how a human, with a life span ten times that of an Ocampa, would relate to an Ocampa. The story says there’s a way.

That’s why I greatly enjoyed the rather amusing notion that Kes is married to Tom with a daughter who later marries Harry and has a son—all within maybe three years’ time. The line about Tom having Harry as a son-in-law was absolutely hilarious. It just goes to show how much mileage can be milked out of a premise if a writer is brave enough to exercise non-restraint and go straight for the bizarre. (Doc’s inability to choose and keep a name—Dr. Van Gogh in one time period, Dr. Mozart in another—was also amusing.)

Most compelling, however, is the future of Voyager’s fate—a starship that will venture into a region occupied by an aggressively hostile race called the Krenim, leading to what the crew ultimately comes to call the “year of hell.” As Paris explains in the future, the ship almost didn’t make it. Many people died in Krenim attacks, including Captain Janeway and Lt. Torres. Further, we find out that Tom and B’Elanna were intimate before she died. Tom’s somber line, “When she died I felt like I wanted to die,” really rings true, and as the show ventures back in time, the tone turns progressively darker and even plunges into despair. Eventually we’re allowed to witness the battle where Janeway and Torres are killed—and the site isn’t pretty. There’s a seriousness to the situation that reminds me of what I used to think Voyager as a series was all about: that of a lone starship having to cope with difficult or even extreme circumstances.

There are subtle touches here: the site of a Voyager hull battered by months of Krenim attacks; the mention of the Doctor’s program being off-line for a year; Chakotay’s urgency when under attack, and Tom’s compliance to duty even after he has just seen B’Elanna die before his eyes—these touches are very well realized and, as a result, the drama comes off quite strong. (The hypothetical situation of war reminded me of TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” at times, though this is admittedly not quite on that scale of drama.) True, this “what if” situation is all within a fantasy world that never really happens. But it works because it uses the true emotions and reactions of the Voyager crew, and it all feels credible and real. The Krenim seem like an ominous threat, and that inspires me to believe perhaps the writers are thinking about large, consequential events to come. I sure hope so.

The movement backward through time also works well to foreshadow (or would that be post-shadow?) the events, which was interesting. And the way the episode demonstrates—in reverse chronological order, no less—the eventual return of hope after all the death and despair of “the year of hell” is a truly inventive dramatic device. Using Kes as point of view is perfectly appropriate—it spans Kes’ hypothetical life while giving Jennifer Lien another vehicle, which she carries respectably well. (Michael Westmore’s aging effect makeup was very well done, but Lien should be commended for making the character seem realistic.)

Returning to the time travel aspects, the ending is also quite inventive and labyrinthine—although there are a few facts that don’t quite fit together. If I’m understanding the plot’s intentions correctly, Kes’ time shifts really began in the present, that is, third season Voyager from our point of view—because it seems the bio-chamber is something Doc of the present is also trying to experiment with. From this reading of the ending, Kes’ trips through time were all within her own consciousness, jumping her to the end of her life, and then taking her backward to the beginning (and then forward to the present again). If this is the case, why does Kes “vanish” from Paris’ point of view in the future when she makes her time shift? It doesn’t seem consistent with the fact that Kes was (apparently) lying in the bio-chamber the whole time in the present, where the crew’s unawareness to Kes’ time jumps indicate that she never “vanished” here. The whole issue of moving through time always brings up the question of where one exists in physical form and where one’s physical form goes when traveling out of a time period. Maybe I shouldn’t ask such questions.

I also don’t quite understand where the time paradox began (but that may simply be because it’s a paradox)—did it begin in the future with Doc’s experiment or in the present with Doc’s other experiment? Was the bio-chamber of the present an attempt to extend Kes’ life or was it truly intended as the corrective measure to Kes’ time shift? The story seems to hint at several possibilities, but it’s never really certain. I’m really trying to be helpful here, but I think I’ve confused things more than I’ve clarified them, so I think I’ll just shut up now. I’m a fool for trying to dissect events that, by nature, cannot be dissected.

I guess the time travel aspects of “Before and After” aren’t any more implausible than any other paradox that other similar time stories create, so let’s just call it a day. Although I could’ve done without some of the extraneous technobabble, “Before and After” is one of the best hours of Voyager yet produced, and if I can get this much enjoyment out of being baffled, so be it.

Let me wrap up with a comment on Kes’ new hairstyle: I like it. Much better. For those wondering how Kes could grow her hair from its previous length to its current length in the matter of weeks that seems to have transpired between this episode and the previous one, I pose the following as one possible explanation: Since Ocampa have shorter life spans, it would stand to reason that Kes also has accelerated biologic functions, which could include how fast her hair grows. Hey, take it or leave it.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Distant Origin:

Based on yet another silly Voyager preview (boy am I sick of their bad, bad trailers) that not only advertised the episode as “special” (again), but also attempted to capitalize on the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel by using the title “LOST WORLD” in big block letters, I went into “Distant Origin” with some serious skepticism. Would this be an obligatory episode about “dinosaurs” just so it could capitalize on a hot marketing item? Fortunately, the answer is no; this episode managed to be pretty entertaining and dialog-oriented, and it was a pleasant surprise in many respects.

At the same time, I should also stress that “Distant Origin” was far from perfect, and had some notable flaws. For one, the basic premise is overblown to the point of near-absurdity. The episode also somewhat suffers from another problem: It doesn’t seem completely certain what it wants to accomplish dramatically—at least not until near the end.

“Distant Origin” exemplifies the “uneven” outing—it ultimately tells a reasonable story, but it takes a while for it to get where it’s going. By the time it reaches its destination, we realize that it’s been a rough ride with drama all over the map—it feels cobbled together out of a bunch of different pieces.

Let’s start with the somewhat overblown premise. This is yet another supposition by the Voyager writers that an “element of Earth” managed to make its way into the Delta Quadrant—and, further, that Voyagerhappens to encounter it. I’m willing to exercise “suspension of disbelief,” but, come on—do the writers really need to be doing these “attention-grabbing surprise” stories so often? In “The 37’s” we had kidnapped humans somehow brought to the Delta Quadrant by an evil race of aliens, and among these humans was Amelia Earhart, no less. In “Tattoo” we had a race of aliens that, by total coincidence, were the descendants of the ancestors of Chakotay’s tribe. In “Unity” we had a colony of humans and other Alpha Quadrant races who used to be Borg but broke free of the collective and settled down in the Nechrid Expanse. Now we have “Distant Origin,” an episode that tops all previous examples of the “element of Earth” with the idea that Earth’s dinosaurs didn’t go extinct—but that they evolved into sentient, intelligent beings who invented space travel and left the planet. Sound absurd? Excessive? What more could you expect from Braga and Menosky, the kings of high-concept weirdness?

Yet, in context, Braga and Menosky manage to make this surprisingly tolerable—and even engaging. When it comes down to the story they eventually tell, I still don’t think they needed to reel us in with “Look! Dinosaurs!”, but once the premise is laid out, it works surprisingly well, mostly because it chooses an effective character to follow.

That character is Gegen (Henry Woronicz), a scientist of the Voth people. Gegen’s research of the “distant origin theory” suggests that the Voth migrated from a place elsewhere in the galaxy, and that their civilization was not founded on the world they now reside. (Naturally, Earth turns out to be this distant origin.) Gegen’s discovers what may be corroborating evidence when he stumbles upon human skeletal remains and DNA from the planet where poor Ensign Hogan was eaten (see “Basics, Part II”). From here, Gegen, along with his assistant Veer (Christopher Liam Moore), embarks on the search for the rumored Starship Voyager, which may hold the answers to age-old questions. Interestingly, the first quarter or so of the episode takes place entirely from Gegen’s point of view, which supplies the audience with a fresh perspective of the Voyager crew.

I liked the way the episode used past episodes as clues to aid in Gegen’s research. The aforementioned acknowledgement to “Basics, Part II” worked pretty nicely, and the reference to “Fair Trade” was welcome, although I don’t think it quite worked. (Unless I’m missing something, I don’t recall Neelix giving anyone at that station warp plasma from the Voyager. He used some other plasma, all of which was expended in an explosion anyway.)

I also thought the way Gegen and Veer proceeded to investigate the starship Voyager once they had tracked it down was pretty cleverly executed. The phase-cloak technology seemed reasonable enough and consistent with Trekkian lore—some may remember that this technology was established as a Romulan experiment back in TNG’s “The Next Phase.”

The episode suddenly turns to action when the Voth officials decide they must “kidnap” the Voyager in order to hide what Gegen plans on revealing as the truth that supports his distant origin theory. There’s a scene where the Voth capture the Voyager by beaming it inside their own city-ship. The episode then supplies an invasion sequence within the darkened interiors of Voyager. If there’s one thing this sequence demonstrates, it’s how the Voth’s technology is far beyond anything theVoyager crew has encountered. (Although, I must admit that their “poison darts” are strangely primitive-seeming.)

The show’s ending puts Gegen and his theories on trial; the Voth leader, Minister Odala (Concetta Tomei), charges him with heresy against “Doctrine,” the Voth’s fundamental dogma of values and beliefs. In a way, Gegen is in the same situation as was Galileo: His scientific truths are trapped by the boundaries of the contemporary ideology—an ideology firmly established, and interpreted by a current administrator unwilling to see change. Gegen’s distant origin theory greatly bothers Minister Odala—she sees it as backward and wrong, and fears its implications on the Voth as a people. The message here (not so subtly conveyed, but conveyed well nonetheless) is the argument of progress versus tradition. As Chakotay explains in a Meaningful Speech Scene (but a nicely performed Meaningful Speech Scene), change is not easy, and it takes courage to be unconventional. Gegen is respectable because he seeks The Truth in his research. Minister Odala’s way, on the other hand, of forcing Gegen into retracting his theory (threatening Gegen’s freedom as well as the freedom of Voyager’s crew) represents the fear of new ideas and the facet of society that maintains the status quo.

One troubling aspect of the episode is the question of how the Voth became the advanced civilization they have become, while relying on a dogma that embraces the status quo. I wouldn’t call this a flaw in the story so much as an issue that raises some interesting questions.

I must also stress one thing that really helps the episode’s cause: David Livingston’s direction is absolutely first rate. At times, the atmosphere in “Distant Origin” is quite intense, using jarring close-ups, compelling low- and high-angle shots, dark lighting, and canted camera angles. The trial scene in particular is a technical standout of fresh photography, but pretty much the whole episode was shot effectively such that I took notice.

It’s hard to believe that an episode that begins with a premise as weird as “The civilization that evolved from Earth’s dinosaurs and traveled to the Delta Quadrant” can settle back into a respectable tale about the fear of progress and change—but this is exactly what “Distant Origin” does. The episode’s story events ultimately do fit together in the long run, even if they don’t work very well in the short run. And even though it doesn’t do much to offer insight to any of the regular characters, the show does paint Gegen quite well. And even though the premise is outlandish, the final story being told is reasonable. Figuring Livingston’s atmospheric direction into the equation, I’m going to give “Distant Origin” a slightly generous three stars. This episode is one of the best-produced so-so episodes that Voyager has yet come up with.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Displaced:

“Displaced,” unfortunately, exemplifies the heart of what much of Voyager as a series has become: A plot-based show that tells nothing about the lone starship’s true difficulties or identity, but rather a relatively brain-dead series of events that has no lasting effect or consequences.

Last week’s “Distant Origin” may have been a little outlandish and silly at times, but at least it had some ideas and dialog that ultimately added up to mean something. “Displaced” doesn’t add up to mean much of anything. It’s simply mediocre to the extreme. The plotting isn’t terribly bad, but it really doesn’t hold anything of interest, either. There isn’t a single relevant argument or insight to be found in the episode. Instead, the entire show is merely an “action-packed” example of Our Heroes versus the Bad Guys.

That isn’t by any means bad by definition. I can enjoy superficial adventure as much of the next person. Unfortunately, the big problem is that even the action in “Displaced” lacks a sense of cleverness. It’s just kind of … there.

In “Displaced,” the Voyager crew slowly begins disappearing, one by one, being mysteriously teleported away and replaced by a race of confused people called the Nyrians. Before long, it becomes clear that the Nyrians are not the innocent-seeming party in the affair that they claim to be. As the numbers in the Voyager crew begin to dwindle, the Nyrians suddenly attempt to hijack the ship, leading to the routine phaser battles and crawling through the Jeffries tubes. Chakotay, one of the last to be taken, attempts to make a last stand by sabotaging the ship’s systems, but he’s completely outnumbered, and surrenders the cause after downloading the Doctor into the holographic emitter, unbeknownst to the Nyrians. (Why Chakotay doesn’t arm the ship’s auto-destruct sequence is beyond me, but I guess if the ship was blown up there wouldn’t be a series, now would there? Then again, based on past episodes, the concept of the auto-destruct system on Voyager is so flawed that it defies usefulness: Not only can it be armed by one person, but it can be disabled by an external attack, a la “Basics, Part I.”)

The entire crew, once transported off Voyager, finds itself in an Earth-like environment, where the Nyrians explain to them that they kidnap crews and steal ships rather than waging war. It’s much “less costly” and “more humane”—the opposing sides are simply imprisoned in specially designed biospheres within the Nyrians’ ship.

I don’t want to go too far into the details of the crew’s escape, because I’ll just get too bored with synopsis. It involves (1) the crew’s alliance with an alien from another biosphere who has learned how to access the “portals” that allow movement from one biosphere to another and also into the access areas of the Nyrians’ vessel; (2) the rigging of Doc’s “eyes” to find these invisible portals, which leads to a rather amusing line where he sarcastically remarks on his new career as a “tricorder”; (3) Janeway’s and Tuvok’s gaining access of the Nyrians’ computer to acquire important technical information; (4) an extended chase scene in which Torres and Paris lure Nyrian pursuers through a frigid biosphere, which buys Janeway and Tuvok time to accomplish the feat of (5) gaining access to the Nyrians’ teleportation device.

The execution of this plot consists of much conveniently acquired knowledge and average chase scenes.

Plot aside, there are some decent character bits in the episode. I particularly liked Doc’s personality throughout—just his normal irascible self. Then there’s the sparring between Tom and B’Elanna, which also works for the most part, especially at the very end of the show, which manages to say everything without resorting to excessive, all-telling dialog, but instead just a smile and some silence. There’s also an amusing exchange early in the episode between B’Elanna and Harry regarding B’Elanna’s “hostile” disposition.

Janeway is placed in the role of a no-nonsense heroine who constantly cops a confrontational attitude with the Nyrians—which could’ve and would’ve worked if it had been written with a little more charisma and a little less posturing. The ending, where Janeway gains control of the Nyrian teleporter and beams them into the frigid biosphere to force them to release the prisoners (Nyrians are vulnerable to the cold), could’ve been a delicious scene—but, like much of the episode, it’s simply too nondescript.

We were supposed to be cheering the Voyager’s success, I suppose. Personally, I felt kind of insulted at the smug, standard-issue premise of “Our Heroes save all the effete, imprisoned alien cultures by single-handedly beating the Bad Guys.” Most of the crew’s success, unfortunately, can be credited to the Nyrians’ stupidity rather than the crew’s cleverness—never a good sign in an action setting. For example, why in the world would the Nyrians leave the crucial areas of their ship unguarded? And why don’t the Nyrians simply seal off the frigid biosphere that Tom and B’Elanna venture into, instead of following the two inside and freezing themselves? And after overpowering a Nyrian who has a fully-charged phaser, why don’t Tom and B’Elanna pick up the phaser instead of simply walking away from it? And so on.

“Displaced” is an episode that demands passive viewing. Just turn off your brain; it will definitely be better that way. Still, even with brain shut off, I cannot recommend this episode. There’s just not enough cleverness to the story, even as an action show. It prompts boredom and disinterest in too many stretches.

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

And so Voyager’s third season comes to an end on a very good note—not with a whimper like first season or with an implausible, untimely thread like last year—but with an enthusiastic bang. It’s about time.

“Scorpion, Part I” is a very large, ambitious spectacle of an episode, and one could argue that this show happened because it had to happen—because the Delta Quadrant has remained so nondescript for so long now. But even though this show highlights just how long overdue something fresh in the Delta Quadrant has been in coming, there’s an old saying that seems to apply here: better late than never.

The episode sets the tone with an effective opening shot (slightly marred only by the “TV-PG” in the corner of the screen). Two Borg cubes travel through space speaking the usual Borg rhetoric: “Resistance is futile,” they say. Suddenly an energy beam lashes out and swiftly destroys both cubes. Apparently, resistance is not futile.

About this time, the Voyager crew, warping through space in the usual direction toward the Alpha Quadrant, discovers that the probe they had sent ahead has stopped transmitting. The last thing the probe sent back was an image of a Borg deactivating it. The meaning is clear:Voyager is approaching Borg space. And Borg space is huge. There’s no going around it. It’s either go through or go back. Going back means giving up all hope of getting home without the aid of an unconventional method.

Fortunately, the crew finds a section of Borg space devoid of Borg activity, which they nickname the “northwest passage.” Traveling through it would be a rough ride, but, as Paris says, it’s better to ride the rapids than to face the hive. Janeway and the crew prepare for the possibility of Borg encounters in the dangerous travel ahead.

If there’s one thing that an imminent Borg encounter can do on a Star Trek episode, it’s that it can create a believable sense of urgency. In a sensible scene, Chakotay leads a staff meeting that shows everybody doing a particular job that works toward the common goal of preparing for the worst.

The Doctor’s job is the most interesting aspect of the preparations. His analysis of the Borg corpse (discovered in “Blood Fever”) yields some interesting results. I especially liked the explanation of the Borg injection tubules (established in First Contact). These tubules, the first step in the Borg assimilation process, inject cancerous, microscopic, automated drones into the bloodstream, taking over the cell functions of a victim. Neat.

Another moment that works well is a discussion between Janeway and Chakotay (one of several effective exchanges of dialog) concerning howVoyager is supposed to survive the Borg on its own. In the past, Starfleet has always faced the Borg in forces—and been notably pulverized all the same. But Voyager is alone, and there’s no fleet in the Delta Quadrant to back it up. One starship is hardly a match for billions of Borg, and I’m glad that Braga and Menosky’s script acknowledged the fact.

The preparation for a Borg encounter is cut short when “Scorpion’s” plot takes off. And once the show takes off, it never looks back. By the end of the first act the Voyager crew gets a glimpse of fleeting Borg, as 15 Borg vessels come from behind Voyager and pass it by—too hurried to threaten the crew with assimilation. The sight of 15 Borg ships coming up from behind Voyager is chilling (Chakotay quietly murmuring “My God” sets the tone nicely). And Jay Chattaway’s score is quite good—atypically thematic and foreboding.

So the question for the crew is: just what were the Borg running from? Later, upon cruising through Borg wreckage (in a setting that echoes the graveyard of Starfleet ships from “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”), the crew realizes that these 15 ships have been destroyed. The urgent question then becomes: just who or what could destroy 15 Borg vessels? Are they friend or foe?

Don’t make me laugh by suggesting “friend.”

The crew investigates and finds that aside from the Borg weapon signatures, there is evidence of a weapon of unknown origin. Chakotay, Tuvok, and Kim beam over to a damaged Borg ship, which is attached to an alien ship that is simply “impervious” to Voyager technology.

The visit to the Borg vessel is a technical triumph of set design, lighting, and directing. Voyager’s production design team deserves high praise for this one. And David Livingston, who directed this episode, delivers yet again—highlighting that he is perhaps the best regular director currently in the Trek business. Pretty much all of “Scorpion I” sports the production quality and aesthetics of a feature film, but the interiors of the Borg ship and the organic designs of the unknown alien ship are noteworthy standouts that demand attention.

The improved sets for the Borg ship are dark and tight, which accentuates the claustrophobic, foreboding situation. While more atmospheric, the new look remains consistent with the Borg-like look and feel of the old sets. Livingston builds the suspense very well, far outdoing the failed Alien-like aesthetics that were attempted in “Macrocosm.” Particularly jarring is the grotesque design formed by a pile of Borg bodies and body parts placed by the unknown aliens in the middle of a corridor—creepy, but cool. I also liked the humorous idea of a Borg drone hopelessly trying to “assimilate” the wall of the alien’s biological ship. Kim’s dry response: “Doesn’t look like he’s having much luck.”

Inevitably, the alien comes looking for the Voyager away team who is tampering with its ship. It attacks Ensign Kim, just before he and the away team beam out of danger.

Okay, now some words on the new badass aliens, known by the Borg database only as “Species 8472.” I like them. They’re neat. They’re different. They communicate with telepathy. And, for once on Trek, they’re not the standard humanoids we’ve come to expect. They’re much more … alien. The CGI design of the new lifeform is ambitious. (Some have commented that the look of the alien is a rip-off of Babylon 5′s Shadows. For the record, I very rarely watch Babylon 5, and I’ve never actually seen the Shadows, so I therefore cannot make the comparison. From a purely Voyager standpoint, the design works. Species 8472 is a fresh change of pace.)

Species 8472 has some very deadly weapons (to put it mildly), and the prospect of going hand-to-hand with these bad boys is nearly as frightening as facing their technology. Just ask Harry Kim. His encounter with the alien leaves him with a superficial wound, but a resulting cancer of alien cells invades his body and infects every life system, literally eating him alive from the inside out. The writers’ notion of forcing Harry to endure the most gruesome and agonizing of possible deaths at the hands of Species 8472 is extreme at the very least, but it works. It’s an easy way of making the aliens more fearsome and downright “bad.” The idea that the aliens are the most densely coded lifeforms Doc has ever encountered is also interesting—over 100 times the DNA of humans—and the alien cells are impervious to treatment.

Still, although Species 8472 may be neat, they certainly aren’t that deep. While the simplicity of their intentions and the vagueness of their motives make them more intimidating, faceless, and silent adversaries, there still isn’t an awful lot of meat underneath an “evil” entity bent on simply “destroying everything.” And their catchphrase, “The weak will perish,” is not nearly as chilling or original as “Resistance is futile.” I’ll say it now: The Borg will never be displaced as Star Trek’s best race of villains—and certainly not by 8472. The new aliens may be a lot more powerful, but that doesn’t make them more interesting. In any case, I have a feeling we’ll get a better feel for them in the second half of the two-parter. I certainly hope so; I’m not relinquishing my optimism after this episode’s display of enthusiasm.

Anyway, Doc’s proposal for curing Harry’s infection is one of the more clever elements of the story. He proposes to modify the Borg automated cell-assimilators to disguise themselves as alien cells so they can sneak in and destroy the alien cancer—stealth style. As sci-fi medical procedures go, this concept may simultaneously be both the lightest on technobabble and slyest with logic that Voyager has supplied all season. This is smart writing.

In fact, this is where the episode really turns interesting. Since the Borg learn by assimilating knowledge from other species (whereas theVoyager crew learns by investigating), the Borg don’t know the solution to the problem that has prevented their assimilation of Species 8472. And Voyager now has what may be the secret to 8472’s downfall. Since the northwest passage turns out to be the passage where the 8472 aliens are entering Borg space—a very good reason why the Borg don’t travel through it—Janeway’s dilemma emerges again. Voyager will certainly be destroyed if they get in the middle of this war. But turning around means giving up.

The episode’s best scene is the long dialog where Janeway and Chakotay clash with differing opinions concerning the captain’s decision to literally make a deal with the devil. Janeway’s plan is to give the Borg Doc’s theory, which may allow them to develop a weapon capable of assimilating or destroying Species 8472. In exchange, Janeway will demand safe passage through Borg space.

This debate is wonderfully written and skillfully acted, featuring the kind of tough questions and issues that typify DS9. For example, just how can the Voyager crew trust the Borg to keep its end of the bargain and go against “nature,” as Chakotay demonstrates in his well-placed fable? Also, is helping the Borg—a race of conquerors guilty of murdering and assimilating billions—to assimilate yet another species something even worth Voyager’s safety? But then again, if the Voyagerturns back and lets Species 8472 and the Borg fight to the end, there’s the distinct possibility that 8472 will be seeking new prey in the Delta Quadrant a year down the road—and then what? The thought isn’t pretty.

Woven into the heart of the matter is Janeway’s problem of doing what’s necessary to get the crew home, as well as the analysis of the trust between Janeway and Chakotay. Janeway is hurt when Chakotay doesn’t support her decision, but what good is Chakotay to her if he isn’t honest? The issue of Janeway’s inability to “step back,” as Chakotay remarks, is certainly relevant, and one has to wonder what it means when considering that her actions could influence the very fate of the Delta Quadrant. These questions bring up more interesting questions, which is a winner in my book on just about any day. The controversy has two easily arguable sides with dangers on each, and that’s precisely what makes it so interesting—and what makes “Scorpion I” transcend its action premise.

Nevertheless, action is a big part of what makes “Scorpion I” work, and the show is full of nifty special effects. If there’s one place that Voyagerhas improved by leaps and bounds over last season, it’s in the visual effects department. Foundation Imaging’s CGI effects are expertly done—allowing the creation of images that would otherwise be impossible or far too expensive, but also keep the look and feel of the effects consistent with the standard motion photography that has been standard on Trek for years.

As Janeway makes her proposal to the Borg on one of their cubes, they’re suddenly attacked by the aliens. The cliffhanger features a final shot that is absolutely exhilarating and unprecedented in scale—the destruction of an entire Borg planet at the hands of the aliens. The show scores high on technique for the pure spectacle of the idea, no matter how far to the extreme “planet destroyers” pushes the Trekkian envelope.

I’ll admit that I like seeing large objects (particularly Borg cubes and planets) getting blowed up real good. But this story works for many reasons besides its impressive visuals—mostly for the Janeway/Chakotay interaction and the willingness to be daring in execution.

But it’s how the episode ties in with the big picture that really wins me over. Despite the show’s minor flaws, there are some reasons that I still opted to give “Scorpion, Part I” four stars:

1. This episode made the Delta Quadrant a fresh, interesting place again. I have long felt the Delta Quadrant has been boring emptiness featuring nothing interesting. This episode erased that feeling very nicely (and hopefully not temporarily.)

2. This episode intelligently dealt with the theme of the Starship Voyager being alone and stranded—a major theme of the series that has virtually disappeared this season—and wrapped the action together with the issue of Janeway’s dilemma.

3. This episode had a riveting argument between Janeway and Chakotay that looked directly at the nature of the Borg “beast.” And not only were the ethical considerations brought to the table, but they were brought to the table wisely, keeping in mind the urgency of the danger.

4. This episode, unlike “Basics,” managed to be a cliffhanger that was about something. It made me interested in seeing how things will play out concerning Janeway’s deal with the devil. The way things are set up, I can’t see a resolution to this story without some interesting plot twists involving the Borg.

“Scorpion I” isn’t perfect. It does tend to rely on big spectacle a bit more than compelling drama really should. Also, the overlong scenes featuring the charismatic John Rhys-Davies as the holographic Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t hit home the way they seemed to want to. But “Scorpion, Part I” is an hour of very energetic sci-fi-oriented Star Trek: Voyager, and I hope that part two keeps things on track. Even if it takes sensationally large-scaled drama to get Voyager back into form, I won’t complain if the producers can do it with this much panache.

 

The Worst:

The Swarm, Alter Ego, Darkling, and Real Life

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In pieces:

  • In The Swarm , The Doctor’s computer program malfunctions as Voyager is attacked by a swarm of alien ships;
  • Alter Ego sees Ensign Harry Kim and Tuvok become interested in a holodeck character who is more than what she seems to be;
  • Darkling sees The Doctor go more Hyde than Jekyll; and,
  • Real Life sees The Doctor create his own holographic family.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of The Swarm:

There are moments of “The Swarm” that are so good that we want to look past the problems of the script. But the problem with this episode is that ignoring the flaws ultimately becomes impossible—the show is so uneven and the subplot is so unmotivated and inconsequential that one begins to wonder why the subplot even exists. This is the same problem that plagued last week’s “Chute”—a strong main story is undermined by a subplot that proves quite, well, forgettable.

The show opens with the seldom-seen pairing of Torres and Paris in a shuttle for a character-based teaser that is somewhat entertaining. Then the show launches its (sub)plot when some strange aliens beam in and attack Torres and Paris, rendering them unconscious with an energy blast as punishment for inadvertently invading their space.

Torres regains consciousness and pilots the ship back to Voyager and the two are taken to sickbay, where the show introduces its main plot involving the Doctor. Doc begins having memory lapses—at first minor things like forgetting where he laid down a medical device, but later he completely forgets the entire procedure for a crucial operation that Paris needs. (Quick observation: Why did Doc begin the operation on Paris knowing that he didn’t remember how to do it? It strikes me as rather silly that he would proceed with such delicate work without first investigating his own problem.)

Torres discovers that Doc’s circuitry pathways are degrading, and if they continue to degrade he will be permanently incapacitated. The only known solution is to completely re-initialize his program—meaning he would lose all the memories experienced since his activation nearly two years ago.

This is an interesting idea—one that I had hoped we would see someday. While Doc is a person in many respects, this can’t change the fact that he exists because of hardware and software, and that his existence can be threatened if there’s a problem with the equipment. Further, this is another good use of the Trekkian Human Question, which asks whether the Doctor has feelings as we know them, and whether the crew can give those feelings priority over practicality, which states that the program should be re-initialized immediately to avoid further damage to the Doctor’s system.

So, to look for other options, Torres activates the EMH diagnostic program in the holodeck. The diagnostic is a holographic representation of Doctor Zimmerman (also played by Picardo), the Jupiter-stationed creator of the EMH. Zimmerman is exactly the irascible rascal we figured he would be. Picardo’s rendition of the character is skillfully done, not to mention an awful lot of fun. Zimmerman’s dialog, mannerisms, and facial expressions are dead-on perfect, and Picardo demonstrates a knack for comic timing as he plays a scene opposite himself that has a fountain of quotable lines.

Zimmerman explains that the EMH has amassed too much “worthless” data in his personality subroutine, which is causing an overload and a breakdown of his other routines. (“Look at all this useless information floating around your buffer. Friendships with the crew, relationships with… women? Do they find you attractive?”) He concludes that the only viable option is re-initializing the program. Torres wants another option. Zimmerman has no option to give her.

It’s about here that the subplot involving the aliens becomes more urgent (or, perhaps, more distracting). According to Neelix, these aliens are bad news. Those who wander into their territory are usually never heard from again. And it turns out that going around their space (which is huge) would add well over a year to Voyager‘s trip. Janeway decides to violate Starfleet regulations and trespass in their space, much to Tuvok’s (somewhat overstated) ire.

Janeway’s decision here bothers me a bit. I don’t understand why she is willing to break this rule but wouldn’t break other rules in past episodes (even if it meant getting home). “I don’t like bullies” doesn’t seem like much of an explanation to me; it seems more like a forced line to make Janeway appear more imposing, which I really don’t think is necessary. As a result, her decision seems more arbitrary than anything else.

While trying to cross the aliens’ space, Voyager encounters a ship floating dead in space which was also foolish enough to wander into this territory. They paid with their lives. Naturally, there is one survivor clinging to life who “tells the tale.” Pretty by-the-numbers, not very interesting.

The show continues to switch back and forth between the A/B-stories. The transitions decidedly could have been better, as, for example, one scene features the Voyager in grave danger and then cuts to a humorous dialog between Doc and Kes. With this standard story structure, the script simply gives us a little more information in each succeeding scene—which is fine but also means the B-plot’s significance rides almost solely on the conclusion. Unfortunately, the payoff is hardly what I hoped for.

Sure, these aliens—that is, the impressive sight of a thousand of their little ships racing after a fleeing Voyager—are a somewhat fresh idea (which is at least somewhat reassuring of the new season), but what the creators do with them is hardly fresh. Once again, we have a powerful foe with a unique advantage that is defeated with Voyager‘s usual tactical technobabble. The show’s inevitable battle seems to demonstrate that the writers can come up with any alien derivation one could imagine, but can provide them with no dramatic purpose beyond being defeated in a sudden turn of the tables that is hardly imaginative or impressive, but plenty insipid and perfunctory.

And Alexander Singer’s direction over this battle scene is clunky and lackluster, despite some decent special effects. The invasion of the bridge by the aliens did nothing to increase my pulse rate, and the suddenness with which the entire situation was resolved was far too swift to feel anything but artificial.

I was extremely grateful, at least, to find out that the Doctor’s malfunctions had nothing to do with the alien swarm. (I was half expecting another one of those reset button endings where Voyagerleaves the aliens’ space and everything returns to normal.) A good decision was made here.

So what about Doc, anyway? His deterioration takes him into a sort of state of Alzheimer’s for holograms, which is milked for some genuinely funny moments (the “he’s a very sick man” passage, for example, was hilarious). Just as Zimmerman predicted, Doc’s intellect descends to that of a parsnip.

His problem is also solved with a rather technical procedure, although it’s much more interesting than the angle with the aliens. It’s driven more by Zimmerman and Kes’ character interaction than by arbitrary workings of shield modulations or phasers.

This solution does not, however, guarantee Doc’s memory will be restored, and the ending, in which he indeed does not appear to remember Kes or Torres, had my attention. But I have mixed feelings about the very last shot where Doc begins singing opera from his previous holodeck experiences. There are a number of ways to read this. (I personally didn’t care for the vague ending all that much because I don’t really like to be toyed with when it comes to character truths.) Some possible implications of this ending include:

  • Doc was merely joking with Kes and Torres. This has about 0.1% likelihood, but I just thought I’d throw it out there because it would be an amusing and atypical approach.
  • Doc’s memory will slowly return, the way many TV cases of amnesia resolve themselves. That would be too dramatically easy, but it’s possible.
  • Doc will remember some things, but not others. This is the most probable, most plausible, and probably most interesting way to deal with it.
  • Doc will remember nothing (except some opera). It would be a brave choice on the part of the producers, but I certainly wouldnot like it because it would be character stagnation, not character development.

No matter how this is ultimately resolved, I found the setup to be just that—setup without dramatic payoff. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the story would’ve been much more effective if the ending hadn’t been left so open.

It’s unfortunate that this episode can’t get more than an “okay” rating in my book. It really is. I enjoyed much of the Doctor’s story. But as long asVoyager‘s creators give us subplots that go nowhere with weak conclusions that weigh down the main story, I don’t see any way that such episodes can transcend overall mediocrity.

Yes, “The Swarm” was fun at times. Yes, it featured an interesting character we figured we would never see. Yes, it had great performances by Robert Picardo. But it didn’t add up to enough; it didn’t have the payoff or subplot development it needed. It was a potentially great show that shot itself in the foot. It’s not a total loss by any means, but (like “The Chute”) not nearly what it could’ve been.

Unfortunate indeed.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Alter Ego:

There’s nothing particularly special about “Alter Ego.” It’s a routine episode with a routine plot. Just about everything done here has been done before on The Next Generation in a similar fashion. Still, “Alter Ego” manages to work for me anyway, because it’s quiet about what it does, makes good use of the characters, has a high amiable factor, and, best of all, ends on a good note that is 100% Star Trek in its character outlook.

“Lightweight” would be a good word for this installment, but that should be taken as a compliment—if it had tried to punch more buttons of intensity it probably wouldn’t have been successful, because the routine nature of its storyline suits it much better to characterization than to plot. Coming from scripter Joe Menosky—often renowned for his weird concepts on this series as well as TNG and DS9—”Alter Ego” is a surprisingly restrained outing.

As the episode opens, we learn that Harry is having a problem controlling one of his emotions. Specifically, he has fallen in love at first sight with a holodeck character named Marayna (Geordi LaForge syndrome perhaps?), and now he needs Tuvok to help him overcome his distraction—the Vulcan way. (Speaking of Vulcan ways, or, perhaps more specifically, Tuvokian ways: An example of Vulcan pride appears in an absolutely hilarious line from Tuvok, which harbors a touch—make that a ton—of superior attitude. When Kim calls Tuvok’s game of caltoe the “Vulcan chess,” Tuvok dryly replies, “Caltoe is to chess as chess is to tic-tac-toe.” Ouch. I was laughing hard on that one.)

For Harry’s benefit, Tuvok prescribes an immediate termination of all holodeck activity involving Marayna, heavy concentration via isolation, and plenty of serious meditation. Harry goes along with it as long as possible (fifteen minutes). By coincidence, that same evening there is a shipwide gathering on the Neelix resort holodeck program that everyone is planning to attend. (My question: who’s left running the ship?) When Harry doesn’t show up, Paris goes looking for him and tells him that there are easier ways of forgetting about holodeck women than sitting in the dark in Vulcan meditation.

Sound lightweight? Almost trivial? Perhaps, but it proves surprisingly entertaining. What makes these scenes interesting is in the way they’re performed. Every episode of Voyager features some sort of problem that the crew has to figure out or overcome, and in the process of working these problems the personalities can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Well, the beauty of “Alter Ego” is the way it allows the characters to work their own personal problems rather than simply the mechanics of alien threats or spatial anomalies. I’m not saying thatVoyager should do “Alter Ego” every week, but every once in a while is certainly nice. I enjoyed watching Harry and Tom break out of their bridge personalities in favor of something more fun.

That, of course, isn’t to say there’s no plot here, because there is—although it’s a mostly a story combined from parts of old TNG stories. Specifically, Marayna (played with amiable although not quite compelling charisma by Sandra Nelson) becomes intrigued and interested in Tuvok after she meets him at the party. It takes very little time before it’s obvious that there’s more here than meets the eye. She wants Tuvok’s affections, but Tuvok is unwilling and unable to give her the emotional ties she wants.

A series of plot twists ensues, in which Marayna is revealed to be sentient and cleverly escapes the holodeck by making use of Doc’s portable emitter and surprising Tuvok by waiting for him in his quarters. Tuvok is not receptive. Disappointed and angry, Marayna threatens Voyager by seizing control of the ship’s computer and disabling the engines, which could spell trouble as Voyager is in the middle of investigating a nebula.

Haven’t we seen this story before? Of course: way back in TNG‘s “Elementary, Dear Data” and its follow-up, “Ship in a Bottle.” Plotwise, this story can’t hold a candle to those classics, especially the latter, and it seems pretty blatant the way Joe Menosky recycles the initial idea for the concept. That’s not a terrible thing—”Alter Ego” does take the fresh perspective of focusing on the human angles rather than the “nature of existence” arguments revisited. And at the same time it’s also gracious enough to acknowledge its predecessor in a briefing scene when Chakotay casually mentions that a similar occurrence happened under Picard on the Enterprise-D. And last, and most importantly, the ending takes a twist that makes the episode much more emotionally engaging, effective, and somewhat more original. (More on this later.)

Let’s begin with the characterizations. In “Alter Ego” the important thing to keep in mind is how the issue of romance is based on a mental connection rather than just a physical one. After DS9‘s amusing but superficial “Looking for Par’mach in All the Wrong Places” and its horrendously awful follow-up “Let He Who Is Without Sin…” it seemed that the only romances present in the Star Trek universe were comprised of hollow collections of cliches and sophomoric jokes. But “Alter Ego” has a mind and heart, and shows that Trek can do romance stories with deeper meaning. Marayna’s attraction to Tuvok is based on how mentally interesting she finds him. She enjoys talking with him because he can think, and because he has such wonderfully logical insights about the world. And as a loner herself, she finds his attempts to isolate himself to be of common interest.

To say Tuvok is completely unreceptive would be wrong. True, he doesn’t see romance on the emotional level that Marayna does, or as a human like Harry would, but he can and does appreciate the fascinating time spent with an intelligent companion that proves surprisingly intriguing to him. Tim Russ, as usual, is the perfect Vulcan personality, but I think he deserves some extra recognition here, because many of the sequences in “Alter Ego” are more complex than they initially appear, because Tuvok is not as simple as he seems. His fascination with Marayna’s presence of mind is beyond the usual Tuvokian qualities the series typically utilizes. But, at the same time, it’s perfectly logical and in character and never once overstated in performance, because Russ hits the notes perfectly.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Harry’s situation. Once Harry finds out Tuvok has been spending time with Marayna, he’s angry and jealous—which is somewhat understandable given the story’s setup. The episode overplays this aspect, however, and Harry comes off looking overly emotional and wrong-headed in an arising conflict that’s just too forced to be believable. (Tuvok on the other hand, remains perfectly in character, trying to calm Harry with a tone of voice that almost reaches into desperation, but just far enough and without overstepping the bounds. Kudos.) The plot doesn’t need this element to work. The distracted Harry who wanted to get over Marayna fit the show well (especially given that it provides the priceless line, “Hi, my name’s Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim”). But presenting this jealously angle only pulls the show that much closer to cliche territory. The scenes between Tuvok and Marayna are the true selling point; Harry’s problem ultimately becomes a distraction. Fortunately there isn’t too much screen time devoted to it.

Turning to the ending, some of the gags used to get there are less than stellar, but the show’s quick pacing allows us to forgive some of the hokiness. I could’ve done without the silly “action” fight on the holodeck once the crew realizes that Marayna’s holodeck image is simply being used like a puppet from an alien in a nearby space station (a twist that makes the recycled premise feel a little less recycled). The subsequentVoyager-in-jeopardy idea is nothing at all new (although the special effects are decent). But when the show ends, ask yourself, would Marayna really be so ruthless as to strangle B’Elanna and destroyVoyager if Tuvok denies her?

No she wouldn’t, and no she doesn’t, because the ending paints Marayna, this isolated alien, as simply a lonely person who got caught up in something so diverting as the Voyager holodeck after her curiosity led her to hack into the Voyager computer. The best part about the ending is its sense of quiet, rational behavior. (That’s why, in retrospect, Marayna’s needless, violent posturing doesn’t really fit the character—unless she’s pulling the bluff of all bluffs, which doesn’t really fit the character either.) Marayna is not some evil entity out to capture a starship. She’s just a regular, lonely person with a situation that can be understood—that of someone who has fallen in love with another who cannot, because of his own complex situation, return her feelings. The final dialog between Tuvok and Marayna is simple, sensible, humanistic, and involving. Works for me.

Whether you enjoy this episode or not may very well depend on your mood. If you want something fresh, exciting, and important to the development of the series, you aren’t going to find it. But if you sit back, relax, and just watch the characters do their thing, and allow yourself to get caught up in Marayna’s plight, you’ll probably find it much more enjoyable.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Darkling:

“Darkling” is about as superficial as they come, but unlike the also-shallow “Blood Fever,” there’s no reason for any of the events here to happen, nor the possibility of consequences to emerge from any of the characters’ actions. Things simply happen because the writers apparently thought they would be “fun.” Whether that’s intended fun for them, for us, or for the actors I’m not really sure, but I am sure about one thing: You can’t base an entire episode on one silly (and I do mean silly) concept lacking all dramatic relevance and expect it to sustain an hour.

There’s not really a story here—it’s simply a premise that can be explained in a single sentence, which is then used for wackily glib characterization: Doc tries to expand his personality by using data from holodeck characters, but when his program malfunctions, an “evil” personality emerges and terrorizes Kes.

Mired in here is a theme about Kes reaching a “crossroads” in her life (she has fallen in love with this week’s friendly, all-too-human alien and considers leaving the ship to pursue a relationship)—a storyline that doesn’t have nearly the genuine emotional sense or time devoted to it that it demands. There’s also a “mystery investigation” plot angle when Kes’ new boyfriend (Lee Smith) is injured after being pushed off a cliff by a shady character in a hood.

Well, no points for guessing that it was Evil Doc that assaulted him—if, for no other reason, because the previews gave away that Doc was going to be a bad guy this week. (Although, more amusing is the hypothetical situation that this hooded character is really a jealous Neelix stalking his ex-girlfriend.)

Speaking of Neelix and Kes, “Darkling” finally confirms that the confusing “breakup” in “Warlord” was actually not a side effect of the alien possession of Kes’ body. In retrospect, the handling of the whole idea is poor; then again, I really don’t care, because it also means I don’t have to sit through any more silly scenes between the two characters.

The episode follows by-the-numbers plotting as Doc switches between Jekyll and Hyde while his program malfunctions for reasons Torres can naturally explain with her technical prowess. (The Hyde, if I may say so, is Doctor Hyde—quite handy with the hypo-spray, to which Torres can later attest.) There are some surprisingly amusing, mildly macabre moments within the confines of the script’s banality, as Evil Doc cripples Torres with some creative uses of sickbay drugs. And the episode’s best scene features Evil Doc’s trek from the sickbay to the holodeck—simply allowing us to watch his quiet, repressed insanity in the everyday situations of walking down the corridor and riding in the turbolift. Paul Baillargeon’s ominous score sets the mood wonderfully.

Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t have far to go. It doesn’t take long before the mild amusement of Evil Doc’s unstable mindset begins to run out of steam, and we’re then treated to the standard plot device of his kidnapping Kes. Evil Doc beams himself and Kes down to the planet surface to await transport off the world for motives that are never clear. There are indications that Evil Doc feels compelled to “protect” Kes from something, but Menosky’s script never bothers to explain why.

I don’t have as much problem with the pedestrian plot as I do with the fact that every idea within it contains virtually zero substance. Just about everything Evil Doc does and says is meaningless. None of the dialog reveals any relevant character insight or theme. And don’t even try to label the scene in Byron’s bar where Kes and the Doctor discuss the benefits of “good” as decent writing or character depth. It’s not. It’s a pretentious smattering of false positive emphasis, as if a pile of “Roddenberry values” were stacked next to a barrel of TNT and left to explode onto the television screen. (One of my friends sarcastically commented that, by coincidence, his next psychology paper was concentrating on the exact topics Kes was discussing. I wished him good luck.)

Likewise, if we’re supposed to take Kes’ character arc seriously, then there needs to be a point to it. We all know she won’t leave the ship anyway, so unless the writers devote some time to analyzing what Kes’ options are and the relevant benefits and regrets each would bring, there’s really no reason to bring it up. Unfortunately, this story is ultimately not about Kes. Once the writers introduce the topic of her dilemma, it’s quickly abandoned in favor of the “crew member behaves erratically” paradigm. Kes’ problem is short-changed to the point we don’t care; all that remains are its uses in the plot machinations and a standard tack-on in the episode’s coda explaining “why” she has decided to remain on board Voyager. Not good, folks.

The ending contains a nifty special effect: when Doc throws himself and Kes off a cliff, Voyager beams them up as they’re falling to their doom. Unfortunately, this fresh visual hardly justifies the rest of the hour. The implications of Evil Doc’s final actions sums up just how unfocused the entire show is. It tries to be “fun,” yet it contradicts any possible theme of Evil Doc trying to “protect” Kes.

Menosky seems to enjoy episodes where characters act outside the normal range of reality (TNG‘s “Masks” and DS9‘s “Dramatis Personae” come to mind). But with “Darkling,” Braga and Menosky have nothing substantial upon which to form any fresh ideas. Menosky’s use of “evil” as a theme is merely perfunctory. The result is a story that rambles with no discernible direction. Doc’s interactions with the crew are limited, missing opportunities that could’ve been interesting. And the few times his personality does switch between Jekyll and Hyde aren’t used for any dramatic effect but simply for the convenience of the plot.

The overall product seems to be little more than an excuse to give Picardo some varied “acting” scenes, some of which work nicely, others which fall flat. Sure, Picardo may have had fun, but that’s not much of a rationale for an episode.

“Darkling” is watchable, but nothing more.

According to Jammer’s Reviews review of Real Life:

In “Real Life,” the holographic Doctor decides to create himself a holographic family in an apparent attempt to make himself, in a goal akin to TNG’s Data, “more human.” Meanwhile, Voyager investigates a violent, naturally-occurring spatial anomaly in a premise that may best be described as “Twister in deep space.”

“Real Life” makes use of the very familiar Trekkian practice of a main plot saddled with an unrelated subplot. This is often a mistake, and I’d say it’s a mistake here as well—though not all that costly of one—because the main plot is quite strong, whereas the subplot is just kind of there. As a result, the overall show takes a bit of damage, and isn’t quite what it could’ve been.

But, nevertheless, “Real Life” is a very solid Voyager offering—one of the more solid offerings this season—and if things continue along the lines of the last two episodes, we may end the season on a good note yet. I sure hope so.

Let’s start with the forgettable part of the story, that is, Voyager doesTwister. This qualifies as Yet Another Spatial Anomaly, somethingVoyager has done all too many times. Still, this anomaly subplot, which is basically the equivalent of a tornado in space, turns out to be surprisingly tolerable. I’m not saying it’s good, but, as filler, it isn’t as annoying as these types of gratuitous subplots can be. Rather, it just sits in the realm of neutrality, promising never to be neither compelling nor insulting. I do think that Jeri Taylor and Harry Kloor could’ve made better use of screen time than with this sort of brainless fluff; perhaps they could’ve added more to the main plot.

But at the same time, I’ll have to admit that the idea of a space tornado isn’t awful. And, in addition, the special effects are quite impressive and the technobabble remains light. While the thought pattern behind this anomaly isn’t impressive, at least I can take comfort in the fact that the production values made this lackluster idea credible and real-seeming. I do question the logic of the Voyager crew chasing after these things—much the way I question the logic of people with camcorders who chase tornadoes. In both cases, maybe it’s all in the sense of “adventure”—which isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t a very smart thing either. There are indications in the dialog that this anomaly harbors energy that the crew may be able to harness somehow, though there isn’t really enough focus on this aspect. It merely serves as an excuse to put Paris—who takes a shuttlecraft closer to the thing to investigate (brilliant!)—and the Voyager in danger. Ho-hum.

(On an unrelated note, the subtle flirting between Tom and B’Elanna—and especially the discussion of the “Klingon romance novel”—worked pretty well. It managed to be clear in its intentions without feeling forced or excessive—and without spending too much screen time on itself. Nice job.)

But forget about that stuff. What makes “Real Life” a winner is the Doctor’s story, which begins with all-out comedy and then progresses into seriousness and compelling character insight. If I could summarize this story in a single word, that word would be “intriguing.”

The Doctor has probably been the ensemble’s most interesting character, perhaps simply because of the parameters of his existence. But, at the same time, it seems that Doc has always been a character the writers have been able to write relevant, “human” stories about (never mind that “Darkling” didn’t work and that I’m still smarting from the total lack of consequences from his “memory loss” in “The Swarm.”)

So, then, why not give this guy a “family”? It seems to me that programmed people are just as real as you want them to be, and considering the Doctor is a program himself, they would probably seem even more so to him.

At first, Doc’s family is 100 percent bona fide cardboard. They’re perfectly problem-free, and seem like they need to be put on the cover of a magazine. In an amusing scene, Doc invites Kes and B’Elanna to dinner on the holodeck to meet his new family. But after the program runs long enough to exceed B’Elanna’s tolerance, she freezes the simulation before, as she puts it, her “blood sugar levels overload.” She offers to reprogram the simulation with randomness that will make it more realistic.

Needless to say, once Doc enters the holodeck after B’Elanna’s tweaking, his family is … different. And they’re far from perfect. Doc’s family life promptly becomes a nightmare of scheduling disasters and endless unpredictabilities. In fact, one could almost get the idea that B’Elanna’s random event generator specialized in creating worst case scenarios—at least, that’s the way Doc may certainly perceive it.

Much of what happens in the Doctor’s family life is based on fairly standard television cliches. Bs. But the interesting thing is that these events take on new meanings since it’s the holographic Doctor who is experiencing them. Doc’s inexperience with these human settings forces us to re-evaluate every situation from his point of view.

The results are quite entertaining. I liked the notion that Doc’s wife Charlene (Wendy Schaal) has a stress-inducing schedule. More interesting, however, were the kids: Doc’s daughter Belle (Lindsey Haun) is a young girl who takes risks by playing dangerous sports with older children. Meanwhile, the rebellious teenage son Jeffrey (Glenn Walker Harris, Jr.) hangs out with the “wrong crowd.” In a rather inspired notion, the wrong crowd turns out to be teenage Klingons, which brings up some implicitly interesting cross-culture issues. (I do believe this is the first time we’ve seen Klingon teenagers as a topic of family discussion.)

Much of the success of this storyline is due to Robert Picardo’s performance. He plays it for comedy when it’s appropriate, and when things turn serious he’s engaging, yet appropriately subdued. Take, for example, the scene where he explains to his family his “new household rules”: Picardo plays Doc as totally naive, and the results are humorous. But later, once the Doctor realizes the seriousness of a family crisis, Picardo plays the notes as real drama. I think Picardo will continue to be very effective as long as the writers supply him with fresh material. “Real Life” seems to exemplify this by giving him a unique situation.

A lot of this family stuff feels contemporary. In fact it’s almost toocontemporary. Whenever Doc transfers himself into the holodeck, it feels like he’s stepping into the 1990s. But, then again, no one said that family life in the 24th century had to be that different from what it is today. I’m not saying that’s bad—not at all—but I’ll admit that it was kind of weird jumping from the decks of Voyager to the living room of a house, merely treating it all like different aspects of a real life.

The most powerful part of “Real Life” is when tragedy strikes, that is, when the Doctor’s daughter suffers a head injury while playing Peresie Squares. The injuries are too severe to treat and she’s going to die. I was genuinely surprised by this turn of events. By pushing the consequences of the situation to the extreme so suddenly, the writers put Doc in a situation that will cause him a great deal of unexpected confusion and pain. Doc can’t cope with the situation so he ends the program with the intention of never returning.

This is where the truth of the episode resides. Since the Doctor has the option of simply turning off his life, does this mean he is fortunate to be able to avoid facing tragedy? No, it doesn’t, because without tragedy and struggle there is no progress. That may seem like a fairly obvious and overused statement, but it works here because it’s true. The only way Doc will learn anything about himself and humanity is by moving forward, taking the experiences that have been given to him. The fact that these events are artificially created is completely irrelevant. These people and events are just as real as Doc believes them to be, so by playing by the rules, he will get the most out of the experience. As Paris tells him in a wonderfully realized scene, if Doc refuses to face his family program in the face of bad news, he’ll miss the entire point in the long run. Similarly, viewers who simply dismiss these events as “implausible” or “not real” are also missing the entire point of the Doctor’s plight.

In the closing minutes of the show, Belle is supplied with a tender deathbed scene that proves surprisingly poignant. Overall, this tragedy turns out to be a good way of starting what will hopefully become a continuing story arc. There are great possibilities for building upon this. So let me close with a look to (and a demand of) future episodes:

I sincerely hope that this family storyline is here to stay. It absolutely has to be seen again, otherwise the writers are missing their own point. Judging by the ending, Doc’s family can’t simply vanish any more than did Miles O’Brien’s family on Deep Space Nine. These characters must come back, and there needs to be a follow up to the events that happened here. I don’t mean to sound skeptical, but after the way the writers simply tossed away the aforementioned “memory loss” issue from “Swarm,” I’m not taking anything as given. So, let’s have some more like this. I’d be very pleased.

 

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The next in best and worst is Season 2.

 

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

  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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