The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 2

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:

The 37’s, Initiations, Projections, Non Sequitur, Twisted, Cold Fire, Maneuvers, Prototype, Alliances, Dreadnought, Death Wish, Lifesigns, Deadlock, and Basics Part I

Suspirias_array

In bits:

  • The 37’s is a personal favorite given the appearance of Amelia Earheart, but the story puts little use into the character;
  • Initiations sees Chakotay caught up in a young Kazon’s rite of passage ritual;
  • Projections is an episode on the question on what it means to be real, or not real;
  • Non Sequitur sees Ensign Harry Kim wake up in an alternate timeline in which he was never assigned to Voyager;
  • Twisted sees an encounter with an inversion field which somehow has an effect on the ship;
  • Cold Fire sees the encounter with the Caretaker’s mate, Suspiria;
  • In Maneuvers, it is revealed Seska has stolen vital transporter technology from Voyager, while now sporting her natural Cardassian appearance;
  • Prototype is not inherently unique by any means, as it seems more early TNGStar Trek as allegory or even Doctor Who‘s “Robots of Death“-esque, but I still enjoyed it;
  • Alliances doesn’t seem to have much impact on future episodes like Scorpion;
  • In Dreadnought, they encounter a Cardassian missile programmed by B’Elanna during her time with the Maquis, on course to destroy an inhabited world;
  • Death Wish features the first appearance of the Q on the show, which I quite liked;
  • Lifesigns was an interesting episode;
  • Deadlock is still one of my favorite episodes even if it’s premise is not original; and,
  • Basics, Part I sees how the Kazon-Nistrim gains control of Voyager, and Seska’s return with a surprise revelation.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of The 37’s:

Cruising through the Delta Quadrant on the ongoing journey home, the crew comes across a 20th century Earth automobile floating in space—an object whose impossible location in very distant space leads to the discovery of missing 20th century humans who somehow ended up on a planet on the other side of the galaxy.

These humans were abducted by an alien race in the year 1937 and put into cryo-stasis for over 400 years. Among the displaced humans is Amelia Earhart, whose mysterious, historic 1937 disappearance is explained in science-fiction terms by scripters Taylor and Braga. This idea is a bit atypical of New Star Trek style, resembling something that would’ve more likely taken place on The Original Series.

Unfortunately, there’s a major flaw in the use of Amelia Earhart. Her role in the episode proves to be depressingly underwhelming, partly because the opening credits saying “Sharon Lawrence as Amelia Earhart” ruins the surprise factor from square one, but mostly because the character/historical figure is put to very little productive use. What’s the point of using Earhart? It has to do with Janeway’s respect of a woman who pioneered air flight, but there just isn’t much depth or effort put into the idea.

Fortunately, the finding of these humans leads to an understandable story that addresses the frustration in the crew’s realization that they may never see Federation space again. Through a series of plot twists and phaser fights, the Voyager crew discovers an entire human civilization on this planet. As explained by John Evansville, one of the Delta Quadrant humans (played by John Rubinstein, whose overacting leaves much to be desired), this civilization began after the descendants of the abductees revolted and overthrew their captors—an alien race called the Briori.

With an entire human civilization and their beautiful new cities on this planet, it feels a lot like Earth. Knowing the possibility exists that they may never again see Earth, some of Voyager‘s crew members begin thinking about staying behind on this planet. Now Janeway must decide whether the Voyager should continue, or whether the crew should end their mission and rebuild their lives in the Delta Quadrant.

“The 37’s” has a fairly relevant theme in the context of Voyager being far, far from home. But shouldn’t this episode have come earlier in the series? Considering we are some 16 episodes into the series, it’s not really timely to do an episode like this. This is a problem that undermines the show. It’s hard to care about the story, because we know the outcome: The crew will press on, because they really want to see Earth again, and there’s just no comparison between Earth and this new isolated civilization.

But what about those beautiful cities Evansville speaks of? We never get to see them. Instead we get a scene in the Voyager conference room, a cut, and then a Captain’s Log saying “Those were beautiful cities…” A matte painting could’ve made all the dramatic difference here. Apparently it wasn’t in the budget. Instead there’s a nifty but pointless special effects sequence of the ship landing on the planet. Why? Because this week there’s too much interference to use the transporters or something. Whatever. Landing the ship has zero relevance to the story, but what the hey?

“The 37’s” is not a bad story, so much as an untimely one. The cast feels sincere and genuine throughout the show. Heading into the second season, however, Voyager needs to get over being homesick.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Initiations:

While on a secluded spiritual outing in a shuttlecraft, Chakotay is attacked by a young Kazon named Kar (Aron Eisenberg, who plays Nog on DS9), who must prove his worthiness as a warrior for a coming-of-age test by killing a Federation foe.

In the battle, Chakotay severely damages Kar’s scout ship, then beams the young Kazon into the shuttlecraft just before his ship explodes. Unfortunately for Kar, this means he has failed his mission in every possible way. It was a kill-or-be-killed mission, and by being captured, he has disgraced himself in the eyes of all members of his Kazon sect. When the Kazon sect’s mother ship comes looking for Kar, they find Chakotay’s shuttlecraft and tractor it, taking both Chakotay and Kar prisoner.

Kar and Chakotay are both sentenced to die by the leader of the sect, a rather nasty guy named Razik (Patrick Kilpatrick). With the prospect he will die in dismal disgrace, Kar turns on Razik and helps Chakotay escape. From here, as they say, the chase is on.

The obvious intention here is to develop the Kazon, the Delta Quadrant’s most recognizable yet, up to now, virtually unused villains. They make unique Trek villains in that they travel in sects, with territorial claims that change every day. It would seem that very few of these sects get along—there is discussion of battles and conflicts that have gone on between them for apparently centuries.

If this is a new idea, the way the Kazon act definitely is not. You may as well make the mental note, “Kazon = Klingon” because the similarities are shamefully obvious. Naturally, since they’re villains, the Voyager writing team paints them somewhat more negatively. Positive qualities like honor aren’t stressed here, while the warrior intensity is fairly in-your-face. These are guys who kill 13-year-olds who fail them.

It’s up to Chakotay to see this doesn’t happen, and since he can’t outrun the Kazon’s ship in his damaged shuttlecraft, he and Kar beam down to a nearby moon as the shuttle burns up in atmospheric entry. This gives the two a chance to talk to one another and exchange some cross-cultural polemic on personal roles and duty. Kar continues threatening to kill Chakotay, because after all, “We’re enemies!” Chakotay feeds Kar his Federation beliefs, while doing his best to be open-minded and tolerant. But after all the superior posturing this smug little Kazon displays, I must admit I wanted to see the passive Starfleet commander smack him around a little bit.

Meanwhile, the Voyager goes looking for Chakotay and tracks down the wreckage of his shuttle. Janeway leads an away team to the moon’s surface to go searching. This leaves Paris is in command of the ship (he actually gets to do something!). As the resident expert on Kazon diplomacy, Neelix confronts the Kazon commander on the viewscreen to negotiate a compromise (Neelix actually gets to do something important!). Janeway’s team meets the Kazon’s away team on the moon’s surface, where the two groups form a rather puzzling alliance to cooperate in the search of their lost shipmates. Later, there’s an even more puzzling double-cross.

Fortunately, this episode has a decent, non-contrived ending in which Kar is able to return to his Kazon sect by killing Razik in a rather eye-opening power play. Given what the episode teaches us about the Kazon, this makes sense, and highlights the bizarre warrior customs that will hopefully make the Kazon more interesting foes in future episodes.

This makes for a good Chakotay show, and does a reasonable job of expanding the Kazon background. It’s a satisfactory but not outstanding episode. The plot handling is still a bit on the clumsy side.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Projections:

Now here’s an absolutely fascinating show. This goes down as the series’ best installment yet. Topping even TNG‘s “Ship in a Bottle,” this episode delivers a mysterious sequence of illusions with a genuine sense of style and captivation. Finally, Brannon Braga has written a story that gives him a chance to do high-concept—his storytelling specialty—while shining with terrific character moments and witty twists and turns.

When the Doctor’s program is automatically activated, he finds himself alone on the ship which, according to the computer, has been evacuated due to damage caused by a Kazon attack. But then there’s a knock on the sickbay door. It’s Lt. Torres. She says that she and Janeway stayed on board the ship to stop a warp core breach. Because of the attack, some officers on the bridge have suffered injury and need medical attention. Torres informs the Doctor of the new hologram emitters that have been rigged on various decks the ship, including the bridge. This will allow him to exist outside the sickbay.

Torres transfers him to the bridge where he treats Janeway’s injuries, then Janeway transfers him to the mess hall where he helps Neelix subdue a Kazon intruder. Here, the Doctor gets hit on the head and then notices that he’s bleeding and experiencing pain. He’s rather dismayed, as pain and bleeding is not in his programming. Upon further analysis of himself, the Doctor discovers he has a heartbeat. And blood pressure. And brain patterns.

But there’s more. The computer informs him that he isn’t a hologram, but a real person named Lewis Zimmerman, with a real history. At the same time, the crew members he scans register as non-existent. Janeway, Torres, Neelix, the Kazon intruder—according to the tricorder, none of them are really there.

It seems like some sort of shipwide computer malfunction but it just doesn’t add up, so Janeway attempts to shut down and restart the Doctor’s program by deactivating all holographic images on the ship. When Janeway gives the computer this command, “Projections” takes a wild twist—Janeway, Neelix, Torres, and the Kazon all vanish into thin air. They are the projections.

What’s really going on here? That’s the question viewers will be asking as the show progresses. In retrospect, the ending seems light years away from where everything starts—it just seems to have traveled so far. But there no feeling of non sequitur here, because everything makes sense. This story is unique and completely unpredictable, and the manners in which plot points resolve themselves are so neat and tidy that it almost seems simple.

This episode is, in essence, a series of illusions. First the show has us believe the ship has been evacuated. Then it suggests that everyone is a hologram except the Doctor. After giving us three minutes to digest that, Braga’s script throws another twist on us. Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) suddenly appears and tells the Doctor that his past six months aboard the Voyager have merely been a six-hour simulation on a Jupiter research facility designed to study the psychological effects of being isolated in deep space. And Barclay has plenty of remarkably sound evidence to back up his story.

Braga has every potential plot hole covered here, and it’s amazing that this all holds together. This is more than just a string of bright ideas—it’s also some impressive, well-tuned writing. And the execution couldn’t be better. I’m not sure exactly how much responsibility Jonathan Frakes had in overseeing the implementation of such a convoluted plot, but everything works so nicely and efficiently that his directing hand is barely noticeable—which is exactly how it should be.

Picardo and Schultz both turn in exceptional performances and make a remarkable comedy duo. Their screen chemistry is one of the episode’s many strengths, and Braga supplies them with some very funny dialogue. What two characters can you imagine would work better together than these two and their quirky mannerisms? The Doctor is fun with his usual sarcasm and dry humor mixed with being flabbergasted over such impossible circumstances. Barclay is, well, at his most Barclayness—always a joy to watch fidget under pressure.

Barclay tells the Doctor he is suffering from holo-transference dementia syndrome, something brought on by a radiation surge that is causing him to lose his sense of identity. If he doesn’t leave the simulation soon, he will die of radiation poisoning. The only way to end the simulation, Barclay says, is to destroy Voyager, hence terminating the program. This gives the Doctor a rather hefty decision to make. What if destroying Voyager is really…destroying Voyager? Before making this decision, he must confirm that he is indeed a real person as Barclay claims.

The Doctor’s search for the truth brings up a surprisingly engaging character core concerning the nature of his existence. But not only does all this make interesting science fiction, it’s also a lot of fun. There’s a hilariously well-realized sequence in which Barclay, trying to prove he’s telling the truth, restarts the simulation to its beginning—back to when the emergency medical holographic program was first activated. This humorous recreation of “Caretaker” includes the Doctor literally deleting Paris and Kim from the simulation premise, and an exchange with Janeway where he informs her of the crew’s imminent abduction by the Caretaker (or “Banjoman” he adds).

Braga’s final twist happens when Chakotay suddenly appears and reveals the real truth—that everything, including Barclay and his arguments—is an illusion brought on by a computer malfunction on Voyager‘s holodeck. All the Doctor needs to do is sit back and wait for Voyager‘s repair crews to fix the problem.

But just when you thought it was all over, there’s one more jarring illusion, just to prove how atypical this show really is. (Did I say the previous twist was the final one? Okay, I lied. This is the final one.) This scene uses a bit of visual disorientation and can be seen as a rather devious trick on the audience. But it’s a very neat trick. I like it. A lot.

I like the whole episode a lot. “Projections” does everything just right. The camerawork is effective, David Bell’s score is good, the performances are right on target, the pacing is precise, the dialogue is amusing, and the story is a sheer pleasure. It’s an excellent hour of science fiction—definitely a very promising episode of Voyager. I’m game for more.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Non Sequitur:

Harry Kim wakes up one morning to find himself in an alternate reality where he lives in San Francisco and everybody treats him as if he had never been on board the Voyager. Unfortunately, the interesting premise is wasted due to execution problems, and the episode has big troubles figuring out its dramatic dynamics.

I like the way this mystery begins, by throwing Harry into a situation where he hasn’t got a clue (and neither do we) and must try to wrestle out a solution given very little information. The first act or so seems to be working very well as we sample a day in the life of a misplaced protagonist.

Unfortunately, “Non Sequitur” loses momentum fast, and is sabotaged by some sub-par performances and a rather heavy-handed direction by David Livingston. The underlying problem here seems to be a lack of material that necessitates scene after scene to be drawn out into slow, laborious exercises; almost as if the teleplay timed out early.

In the search for what has happened, Harry begins looking through Voyager‘s classified files (which to the Harry of this reality should not even be accessible). This makes Starfleet Security suspicious, which begins monitoring his movement. Meanwhile, Harry’s search is hampered by the presence of his fiance Libby (Jennifer Gatti), whom he cannot begin to make understand that he does not belong on Earth, but on board the Voyager. In this reality, the Voyager is still apparently lost in space, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on board aren’t for some reason or another. Harry Kim is one of them. Another is…Tom Paris.

So Kim looks up Paris, who happens to be in France (no pun intended). Hopefully Paris may have some answers or insights. But Paris has no answers to give him—he’s just a pool-shooting drunk who didn’t make it onto the Voyager in this reality. (In the show’s most entertaining scene, Paris explains to Harry the reason he “missed” the Voyager: because he was arrested by Odo after a bar fight with Quark at DS9 right before the ship left.) This scene has more dramatic depth than anything else in the show, showing what Paris could’ve been without the chance to prove himself as Voyager‘s ace pilot. Here, he’s just a loser. Brannon Braga’s script supplies Paris with some good material and Robert McNeill delivers a fine performance.

Because of Harry’s mysterious info-gathering and movement around the planet, Starfleet begins to think he’s a Maquis spy. They come to arrest him, and suddenly Harry finds himself on the run. The show supplies a decent foot chase scene, and then Paris comes to the rescue to prove he’s not a loser, and the two try to find a way to set things back to normal.

But how can Harry fix the space-time continuum to get back to his reality? Here’s where the storyline completely takes the easy, highly contrived road. It turns out that the local restaurant owner, Cosimo (Louis Giambalvo) is an alien assuming human form to guide Harry’s integration into this alternate reality. Cosimo explains that there was an accident between Harry’s shuttlecraft and one of his alien’s “time stream.” As a result, things got a little bit shuffled around but, for the most part, back to normal.

I wanted to cover my ears during this preposterous explanation. When they first introduced the Cosimo character, I had a feeling it was going to result in some outrageous “revelation,” but I was hoping deep down that I would be wrong. Alas, I was not, and the plot resolution comes down to the most obvious and insipid, simply dropping the solution into Harry’s lap. To set things back to normal, all Harry has to do is recreate the accident as “exactly” as possible. For the episode, that means the usual, implausible technical procedures which prove only as convenient or difficult as the story needs them to be. So Paris and Kim break into Starfleet and steal a Runabout so they can re-alter reality.

Alternate reality stories can be fun, because it gives a chance to explore character dynamics that would ordinarily not be possible. But aside from the brief moment where we see Paris’ apathetic lifestyle, there is nothing at all dynamic about the characters in “Non Sequitur.” Garrett Wang’s performance is sometimes passable, but Jennifer Gatti’s portrayal of Libby is so sluggish that it manages to sabotage almost every scene between Harry and Libby. Based on the chemistry between these two characters, it’s no wonder that Harry decided he couldn’t stay in this reality!

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Twisted:

Uninteresting mysteries arise on the Voyager when it becomes trapped in yet another spatial anomaly which begins to threaten the ship by slowly crushing it with its bizarre properties.

Forgive the cynicism, but this episode is nothing short of a total failure, definitely Voyager‘s worst outing to date, quite possibly descending below the level of DS9‘s ridiculous “Fascination” last season. I guess they got one thing right about this episode—they aired it the same week as the outstanding DS9 season premiere—a day when we don’t really have to care all that much about Voyager and its laborious tech storytelling.

An example of the level of thought “Twisted” has to offer: When the ship comes in contact with the anomaly in question, it surrounds them. However, Ensign Kim is quick to note that it surrounds them like a ring, preventing their escape. Excuse me, but in space there are three dimensions, which means that if you are surrounded by a ring, all you have to do is go in the “up” direction to escape. Only a sphere surrounding them would really trap the ship. Talk about limited two-dimensional thinking.

Sure, that may sound a bit nitpicky, but when all you are given in an episode is a barrage of technobabble, there isn’t much to do but try to seek plot in the bogus conceptual aspects. Unfortunately, that’s all “Twisted” has to offer—an excess in incredibly boring, implausible plotting that presses on as if we genuinely care what all the fancy sci-fi terms mean.

The plot centers around the fact that the distortion ring (or whatever it’s called) physically alters the layout of the ship so that the crew members walk around Voyager trying to get to their posts but instead wind up walking in circles and ending up back on the holodeck. That might have been okay for the story’s starting idea, but unfortunately, that’s all there basically is to the episode. We’re treated to four long, repetitive acts of watching various crew members search through a maze that keeps changing configuration. It’s about as much fun as trying to fill in a crossword puzzle with no clues.

When Torres finally comes up with a possible solution which may risk destroying the ship in the process, a completely forced and poorly conceived conflict arises between Tuvok and Chakotay regarding the choice for a course of action. Sequentially, Torres’ procedure is applied in a completely overacted and very badly directed scene which features both her and Kim excitedly yelling out the procedure’s progress indications at the top of their lungs.

The plot alone is a mess. But, in addition, the episode’s characterizations make no sense at all. Janeway makes a comment to Kim about how proud she is of him and how he has exceeded her expectations of him. Amiable words, but what prompted them in the middle of the scene in the Jeffries tube? For that matter, where does this sudden conflict between Tuvok and Chakotay come from, considering it’s been some nine months since Janeway promoted former-Maquis Chakotay into the position of first officer? Shouldn’t we have seen this before? Then there’s Torres, whose character runs awry in excessive behavior when she first acts impatient and angry at the situation, then sits down and pouts when things don’t go her way. Meanwhile, the scene where a delusionary Captain Janeway sits up and begins shrieking gibberish is so hokey that it’s unintentionally hilarious.

The opening and closing aren’t of much respectability either. Kes’ birthday party in the holodeck is strictly standard fluff, but the whole scene falls flat, while the closing scene in which Neelix comes onto the bridge and says, “Cake, anyone?” ranks as one of the most genuinely annoying “things are back to normal” tack-ons in recent memory.

And what about the mysterious mass of data that the anomaly places in the Voyager‘s database? Is it really an alien communique? The episode doesn’t seem to care in the slightest, so I guess we shouldn’t either. And since this encounter ultimately means nothing to us nor the characters and has no real consequences, the show travels nowhere from beginning to end—it’s merely a long, pointless Reset Button Plot.

“Twisted” is a hands-down loser. Kim Friedman, who is generally a very capable director (she has helmed several successful DS9 and Voyager shows, like “The Wire,” “The Jem’Hadar,” and “Jetrel” for starters), has nothing here but a disastrous mess of an episode. I guess that’s just proof that sometimes there’s only so much a director can do with the given material.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Cold Fire:

The Voyager comes across another space station array—a smaller version of what brought them to the Delta Quadrant ten months earlier in the pilot episode, “Caretaker.” On this station they find a small community of Ocampa residents—the descendants of Ocampa adventurers who, centuries ago, went against tradition by leaving their homeworld for space travel.

The leader of the Ocampa community, a man named Tanis (Gary Graham) takes to Kes and offers his guidance in developing her mental abilities. Before long, Kes is able to telekinetically move teacups across the table, cause water to boil, and even, in one rather bizarre scene, accidentally begin to boil Tuvok’s blood. (If there’s one thing this scene proves, it’s that Jennifer Lien was definitely not hired for her screaming ability.)

Through Tanis, Kes is able to fully utilize a full range of her mental abilities, and experiences her dark side emerging when she takes pleasure in killing a room full of plants. Tanis invites her to live on the space station with the other Ocampa so that she might realize her full potential, which gives Kes a big decision to make.

Speaking of the array, Tanis has more to offer than just education for Kes. He also knows about the Caretaker. In fact, the Caretaker’s mate (whom Janeway hoped would be able to send the Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant one day), protects Tanis’ array. The “Caretakers” are actually from a race called the Nacine; Tanis’ Caretaker is a Nacine named Suspiria. Janeway hopes Tanis can arrange for her to meet Suspiria.

Unfortunately for Janeway and the crew, the Voyager has obtained a bad reputation. Many, Suspiria included, think Voyager killed the Caretaker when they destroyed his array. Kes’ connection with Tanis ties into the plot rather tidily—as she begins to sense the bond between Tanis and Suspiria, she becomes aware of Suspiria’s intense anger—and the fact that Suspiria wants to destroy the ship.

This leads to the inevitable final act where Janeway’s first meeting with Suspiria is crosscut with the coinciding scene where Kes learns of Suspiria’s motive. This revelation works fairly well assuming you don’t know what Suspiria is up to. Unfortunately, the idea that Suspiria wants to destroy Voyager is not a surprise simply because the previous week’s preview gives it away.

Once the episode reveals what Suspiria is doing, the episode gives us a horror-style ending, in which Janeway walks into engineering to find Torres and Tuvok hanging unconscious in mid-air by Suspiria’s superior powers. Dennis McCarthy has some fun with the violins this week, creating a creepy tone. But the creepiness turns to hokiness when Suspiria’s powers are subdued, causing Tuvok and Torres to fall 15 feet without serious bodily injury.

Really, if you think about any event in this ending for more than about ten seconds, you’re bound to scratch your head. The manner in which Janeway traps Suspiria is clumsily handled and hardly believable. The connection between Tanis and Suspiria makes an obvious plot device, but has no real justification or explanation. And why is it Tanis so desperately wants Kes to come live on the array? Why is he so taken by her abilities? What does she offer his people? And why does Suspiria prove so stubborn and refuse to negotiate? And what exactly happens to the array and its inhabitants after Suspiria and Tanis retreat into subspace? Too many plot points are left unresolved; others feel forced and unclear in this unimpressive finale.

This is too bad. The story is certainly agreeable for its first four acts as Kes uncovers her hidden powers. But everything else rides on the conclusion, which, unfortunately, prompts just one question: What is the point of this episode? The only discernible answer is that the writers want to introduce the Nacine as Voyager‘s potential chance to get home, because other than that, there’s no impact on any of the characters. Kes’ powers disappear as soon as Tanis leaves, illustrating another example of Reset Button Plotting—how to change characters just so they can change back 30 minutes later.

Introducing the Nacine could have been done any time, and the writers should have done it at a time when they had a knockout story to deliver. Instead, they squander a promising card on an average story. I was looking forward to seeing another from the Caretaker’s race, but not really in an underwhelming story like this.

Voyager is still having a generally disappointing season thus far, and there’s only one consistent reason—the writing. “Cold Fire” is a prime example. Here’s a premise that could have (and should have) been a reasonable turning point in the season. Instead, it’s another mediocre installment which proves even more disappointing because of what it could have been.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Maneuvers:

The Kazon Nistrim sect, with the guidance of the traitorous Seska (Martha Hackett) who has allied herself with them, attacks the Voyager and sends a small boarding party to invade the starship. The boarding party is able to thwart security and steal a transporter unit before making a narrow escape with the Federation technology. Janeway and Chakotay decide they must pursue the Kazon and retrieve the unit. The consequences of Federation technology falling into Kazon hands could severely affect the quadrant’s balance of power.

At long last, here’s a good episode. It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the best thing Voyager has done since “Projections.” “Maneuvers” has some very engaging action/adventure qualities, and the venomous confrontations between Chakotay and Seska are priceless. Both Robert Beltran and Martha Hackett turn in strong performances.

The story launches itself terrifically with a punchy, action-packed first act in which the Kazon perform their raid and split. Right before the Kazon make their escape with the transporter unit, Seska hails the Voyager and taunts Chakotay in front of the entire bridge crew. Here, Hackett unveils a manipulative, devious character who could easily become Trek‘s next menacing villain. Her underhanded defection in “State of Flux” was just the beginning—and so is her theft of the transporter unit here. Seska, after a flawless raid of the Voyager, leaves behind a trail of residual engine radiation which the Voyager can follow. It seems like a rather unlikely error considering her adept maneuvering. Actually Seska errs on purpose—she has a trap in store for the Voyager.

Chakotay predicts a trap, however, and begins preparing for the worst. Perhaps, Tuvok suggests, they could use their personal knowledge of Seska to manipulate her the same way she duped the Voyager crew. But Chakotay’s plan ultimately involves settling a personal score, so he ignores the chain of command and takes it upon himself to chase Seska down. When no one is looking, he takes a shuttlecraft and slips away to carry out the mission himself.

This does not sit well with Janeway, who is put in a rather difficult position when faced with the fact that her first officer has ignored her authority. In a rather sensible scene, Torres defends Chakotay by explaining to the captain that Chakotay only did this because he thought it was the right thing to do. He sees Seska as his responsibility, and by chasing her himself he doesn’t involve the rest of the ship. While this may be true, Janeway points out that it isn’t his decision to make. This scene, as well as the closing in which Janeway puts Chakotay on report for his improper actions, is particularly well written.

With some clever maneuvering of his own, Chakotay sneaks up on the Nistrim’s ship, beams aboard, and destroys the transporter unit with his hand phaser. However, this leaves him with nowhere to run and he is immediately captured. Soon, the leader of the Nistrim, a Kazon named Culluh (Anthony DeLongis) who has formed a rather intimate alliance (if you catch my drift) with Seska, begins trying to beat Voyager‘s command codes out of Chakotay. This way, with the help of some other sects, he can capture the Voyager and take all its technology for a future power play in the Kazon civilization.

Naturally, hero Chakotay refuses to fold under the pain. Although Culluh proves typically bone-headed and easy to provoke at times, this torture scene proves amusing at times due to Chakotay’s leering answers to Culluh’s questions, which simultaneously insult and praise Seska’s adeptness at betrayal. Much credit goes to Beltran’s commendable performance.

The final act features the Voyager crew in their attempt to rescue Chakotay using some maneuvering of their own. The action is paced well by director David Livingston, but there are some lapses in credibility here that undermine this seemingly clever rescue attempt. The whole idea centers around Torres trying to beam Chakotay out of the Kazon ship despite a containment field Seska has surrounding him. Torres is unsuccessful, so Janeway comes up with the bright idea of beaming the Kazon sect leaders off their ship and holding them until they agree to release Chakotay. Well, fine, except that there’s a big battle with phasers going on here, and—unless Culluh is a complete idiot—everyone has their shields up. Everybody knows that transporters are useless when shields are up.

More puzzling (and troubling) is why in the world Tuvok’s terms for releasing the Kazon sect leaders doesn’t include Culluh turning Seska over to Voyager to answer for treason. I find it extremely difficult to believe that Janeway would just forget about Seska’s defection and allow her to continue assisting the Kazon with Federation information. I suppose this allows Seska to show up again in future episodes, which is just fine with me. But the story doesn’t even mention her again until the next scene, which is presumably hours later. (Maybe Janeway simply had a memory lapse while caught up in trying to retrieve her first officer. Doh.) The creators really should have found a better way around this.

It’s a shame Kenneth Biller’s script couldn’t come up with a more plausible ending, because aside from this mild botching, the episode’s tactical moments are well done. I guess it’s not that crucial the maneuvering isn’t all perfectly executed, because the action sequences here are fresh—the most involving action in the season so far.

But what makes this episode so entertaining is the adversarial interaction between Chakotay and Seska. Seska escapes with the Kazon but leaves a recorded message behind for Chakotay. Just for spite, she took some of his DNA and impregnated herself with it. “You’re going to be a father,” she says smugly. This is one daring, unexpected punch in the stomach. I like it. Chakotay ends up humiliated once again by Seska—right in front of the entire bridge crew. Their next encounter should be rather interesting.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Prototype:

When the crew finds a mysterious robot drifting in space, Lt. Torres takes it upon herself to repair the damaged unit. It’s a longshot, but her adept engineering skills are up to the challenge, and when she repairs the unit, it turns out to be more than just interesting technology, but a sentient artificial being.

The unit has a name—or, more appropriately, a designation. It’s called 3947, and it’s just one of an entire line of sentient robots produced by a now-extinct race known as the “Builders.” The units do not have the programming to repair or replace their power units—only the Builders have that capability. Since B’Elanna can successfully repair power units, 3947 thinks she is a Builder. He asks her to build a new prototype unit which could be copied in the future without the assistance of a Builder. This way his robot race could revitalize their waning population and avert their imminent extinction.

B’Elanna is drawn into 3947’s situation, so she asks Captain Janeway to approve the building of this prototype. Janeway can not approve this, though, because it would clearly be interfering in their culture. That’s right—”Prototype” is another Trekkian take on the Prime Directive Issue. But that’s just the first cliche—the second is the Nature of Life Argument.

It’s a credit to the writers that, although these are both fairly jaded premises in the Star Trek universe, they can still keep things entertaining. Even if watching Torres and Janeway argue these issues is not all that compelling, it is a pleasure to see their points of view come to the surface. Janeway’s Prime Directive argument here is much better suited to the premise than in the pedestrian “Time and Again,” and much more polemical than the seemingly arbitrary (and relatively ambiguous) decision she made in “Caretaker.” At the same time, this gives Torres her best vehicle since “Faces,” revealing a sense of creation in her character that we haven’t seen until now.

B’Elanna tells 3947 she can’t build the prototype. 3947 finds this unacceptable. So when the Voyager meets 3947’s ship to return its lost unit, he kidnaps B’Elanna and beams onto his ship—holding her under the condition of building the prototype model. If she refuses, the commander of the robots’ ship will kill her and destroy Voyager.

“Prototype” is a marginal Voyager episode. The premise is so-so, with some above-average execution. But there are some general elements about the season that are beginning to show their exhaustion here. Take, for example, nearly the entire third act. This is where Janeway tries to negotiate with the alien ship for B’Elanna’s return. Where the alien ship refuses. Where Janeway opens fire. Where the aliens return fire and cause the bridge set to smoke and explode and the camera to shake.

We get another scene like this:

Chakotay: “They’re firing some kind of quantum resonance charges, Captain.”
Tuvok: “Our aft shields are down to 53 percent and dropping.”
Kim: “Rerouting power to aft shields.”

[Ship rocks]
Tuvok: “Down to 24 percent.”

How many iterations of this dialogue has the series supplied, concurrent with the bridge rocking, the lights dimmed, and the red alerts flashing? I can name six instances this season alone containing such scenes: (1) The protozan beating in “Elogium,” (2) the unidentified alien attack in “Parturition,” (3) another unidentified alien attack in “Persistence of Vision,” (4) the severe atmospheric storm in “Tattoo,” (5) the Kazon bombardment in “Maneuvers,” and (6) the Mokra planetary defense strike in “Resistance.” The similarity in these scenes is startling. Tuvok usually makes some status report, Kim usually confirms it, Janeway gives an order, the bridge shakes and some circuits explode. I, for one, am sick of these variations of act three. Voyager has so many pointless, unimaginative battles, and the creators don’t come up with any spin to make them fresh. Instead they use the same cliches that give Star Trek its reputation for inept space combat. I’m game for something new.

Then there’s Paris, who I’m beginning to think is the Official Commentary Person on the Exchange of Dialogue on the Viewscreen. How many times this season has Janeway or Chakotay talked to the aliens on the other ship, and then after its over Pairs remarks something like “They’re a friendly sort”? Granted, this isn’t exactly a crucial element of the show or the series, but it’s something that pops up enough that I thought I’d mention it for some trivial food for thought.

There’s also a lot of unnecessary technobabble in the early acts. B’Elanna spouts so much technical gobbligook in act one that it begins to sound like a joke. Perhaps some of it is. One sarcastic response the Doctor has (“That’s exactly what I was going to say”) somewhat lessens the annoyance of the non-stop jargon, but one thing Voyager has entirely too much of is technobabble. To the producers: Decrease it. Please.

But I digress. Despite these annoyances, the story works, even while being one of those connect-the-dots type of stories where you can all-too-easily follow the progress from one anticipated step to the next. These steps include the arrival of another ship piloted by rival robot units, B’Elanna’s successful construction of the prototype, and the revelation that these two warring robot races actually killed their Builders. B’Elanna realizes that by building this prototype she would be allowing one side to create an army and overwhelm the other—exactly what the Builders wanted to prevent by inhibiting their abilities. This gives B’Elanna no option but to destroy her prototype, despite the consequences to her or the Voyager. Fortunately, right after B’Elanna destroys the prototype, Paris comes to her rescue with his hotshot shuttlecraft piloting skills, and while the two robot ships are fighting, Voyager slips away.

How does this episode overcome a mediocre premise and a number of cliches? I’m not sure. Probably because, aside from a few isolated moments, the directing and acting is on-the-money. The writing supplies some good character moments and some nice touches, too. Best is Chakotay’s line to Paris, “I’d hate to lose another shuttle.” (After all the shuttles Voyager has lost, it’s good to see the writers finally acknowledge it. Those things don’t grow on trees in the Delta Quadrant, after all.) And Paris’ response “Your concern for my welfare is heartwarming,” is a good touch, reminding us of the history these two guys have. They never really liked one another. I can’t remember the last time we had any character interaction between these two, and this little exchange is fun. Now it’s time for a story putting these two on some mission together.

Well, enough about “Prototype.” It’s okay, never mind some hackneyed ideas. It makes a likable B’Elanna Torres show.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Alliances:

A series of brutal attacks by the Kazon leaves Voyager shaken and seriously damaged; the crew worried that if things continue in this manner, the ship will be destroyed long before it reaches the Alpha Quadrant. As a result, Chakotay suggests to Janeway that maybe the ship should do some Maquis-style thinking and make a deal with the Kazon. Unfortunately, this goes against everything Janeway believes about Starfleet protocol and the Prime Directive issues.

Finally, after an extremely shaky and inconsistent opening leg, the second season is showing signs of an upturn. Here’s a Voyager episode that will actually have consequences. But more than that, it’s a winner episode that makes some striking statements about the Delta Quadrant and Voyager‘s role in it.

Let’s start with the Kazon attacks. The show opens with a jarring start, as Voyager is barely able to fend off two Kazon vessels, but not before taking some serious damage—temporary loss of all weapons and engines. One crewman dies in the attack—the third fatality in the recent weeks of Kazon assaults. This is a serious situation. Voyager cannot afford these types of losses when they have so far to go without the crutch of Federation supplies.

This leads one outspoken Maquis crewman to voice his opinion: That Voyager should just give the Kazon the technology they want in exchange for a truce. Janeway flat out tells him that she would sooner destroy the ship than hand pieces of it over to the Kazon, but Chakotay thinks there may be a different way of bending the Prime Directive without breaking it completely.

While Prime Directive issues can be tiring and cliche-ridden, “Alliances” presents a genuinely new question: Should the Prime Directive really apply in such extreme cases of survival? The show’s first act does a splendid job of posing this question and giving Janeway a chance to answer it. She agrees to investigate the possibility of negotiating with two Kazon factions: (1) The Nistrim, led by Culluh (Anthony De Longis) and Seska (Martha Hackett) with whom Voyager had confronted in “Maneuvers,” and (2) the Pommar, of whose leaders Neelix may be able to arrange a meeting with due to his past dealings with them.

Progress is a problem however, as both negotiations with the Nistrim and the Pommar fall through. Janeway’s meeting with Culluh proves futile because of Culluh’s refusal to allow a woman to dictate terms to him. (Culluh’s sexist and obstinate personality traits, however, tire very quickly, and go a long way into needlessly turning the character into a one-note villain.) Meanwhile, Neelix’s shuttle mission to meet his contact on the planet Sobras is cut short when he’s captured and thrown into a cell with a group of Trabe refugees, a race despised mutually by all the Kazon factions.

It’s here where the story loses some steam, however, as Neelix allies himself with the Trabe to escape the Kazon in a jailbreak scene that is virtually destroyed by completely uninspiring music.

Fortunately, this all has a true purpose. Neelix and the Trabe rendezvous with Voyager. A Trabe governor named Mabus (Charles Lucia) lays everything down, including some interesting backstory explaining why the Kazon hate the Trabe, and why the Kazon have become a race of angry armies. It turns out the Trabe persecuted the Kazon like animals, almost treating them like slaves. Thirty years ago, when the Kazon finally got fed up, they exploded into violence and exiled the Trabe. Mabus admits the Trabe were wrong to treat the Kazon the way they did, and he offers to ally himself with Janeway. Together both Voyager and the Trabe would be less vulnerable.

This will surely make the Kazon furious. However, Mabus also believes that together, Voyager and the Trabe can negotiate with the Kazon and bring peace among everyone. It’s a genuine gesture that could benefit everybody, so Janeway accepts it. Mabus arranges a meeting on Sobras and invites all the Kazon sect leaders.

The meeting is bound to be problematic, however. When they hear the news, Culluh and Seska begin plotting almost instantly. Neelix hears a rumor that someone is planning an assassination attempt. And no Kazon trusts the Trabe.

The episode culminates with a chilling revelation and special effects display, in which a Trabe starship tries to kill all the Kazon leaders by descending from space, hovering outside the window of the negotiation building and opening fire. Fortunately, Janeway realizes the Trabe’s deception just in time to warn everybody to GET DOWN! Now this is something we haven’t seen before.

The idea of the Trabe using Voyager under the pretense of peace just to kill everybody is a rather unsettling display that the Delta Quadrant doesn’t seem to operate with many rules or underlying values. Janeway’s subsequent confrontation with Mabus over his deceitful actions is very potent, showing an extremely forceful and angry, but very plausible, Captain Janeway. Kate Mulgrew’s performance this week is a definite standout.

This is good stuff. “Alliances” goes a long way in defining new possibilities in the Delta Quadrant. The underlying theme conveys a sense that this quadrant really isn’t the best place to be stranded; the strongest known force so far is aggressive and unfriendly, and even those who seem initially to be friends turn out to be traitors. The Trabe/Kazon backstory does a decent job of explaining why the Kazon are fierce and untrusting, eliminating the traditional writers’ theory of “Well, they’re the bad guys, so we don’t need to give them motivation.”

With the Voyager indirectly responsible for an attempt on all the Kazon leaders’ lives, the ending has a sense of “let’s get out of here fast and hope we don’t have to stop anytime soon,” which is a particularly powerful motivation that conveys a true sense of urgency.

This one came very close to a 3 1/2-star rating, but there are a few quibbles I have that keep it just below that range. One involves Neelix’s meeting on Sobras in a bar that features a scantily clad dancer. This came across to me as a big cliche. Do all under-the-table dealings have to take place in strip bars? That alone might be okay, but the music in this bar seems dead wrong—scored with the same restrained monotone of most Star Trek music.

Most troublesome, however, is the very ending, when Janeway tells the crew she thinks there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this: That in this chaotic quadrant of very few rules, the best ally Voyager has are the principles and rules of the Federation. Sure, this is a nicely done speech, but I’m not really sure it’s that easy. Is not making a deal and doing, in Chakotay’s words, “business as usual” really going to help the crew in their next dealing with the Kazon? I’m inclined to say no. This speech supplies a genuinely positive, non-cynical Star Trek ending, but it doesn’t sit right considering all the deceit in the episode. Under the drastic circumstances, wouldn’t the Maquis attitude that you have to do what you can to survive be somewhat more appropriate, or at least worth another look? The ending as it is presents a cut-and-dry solution to a complex problem, where a more ambiguous approach would have been better. I would just as soon prefer no speech at all, leaving it up to the audience to reflect on the events that have unfolded. Janeway’s attitude that the crew will get by if they hold to their principles has a strong air of naivete that rubs me the wrong way. The episode also insinuates that Chakotay and the disgruntled Maquis are willing to just roll over and accept it, which I don’t buy for a minute.

These problems aside, “Alliances” is a good episode with some involving political elements—much like many of Deep Space Nine‘s stories. That alone isn’t why I think “Alliances” is one of Voyager‘s more important episodes. The reason I find this to be an important show is because it has realistic consequences that will (hopefully) show up again in the future. The idea that what happens in one show could quite possibly come back to rear its head in a story five or six episodes down the road is what makes a series, well, a series. For the most part, Voyager has been the type of series that presents a problem and solves it in 60 minutes. This method lacks the feeling that solving real problems sometimes takes extended periods of time and effort. Overarching storylines could be what makes Voyager a lot more compelling than it presently is. And for a series that has such a large number of dedicated fans who tune in every week, doing longer, continuing plot threads would not really risk annoying that many viewers. “Alliances” is a good start.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Dreadnought:

The crew comes across a forgotten Alpha Quadrant doomsday weapon named “Dreadnought,” manufactured two years ago by the Cardassians to attack the Maquis, but captured and modified by then-Maquis B’Elanna Torres to destroy a Cardassian outpost. The missile had mysteriously disappeared into the Badlands—now presumed to have been brought to the Delta Quadrant the same way the Voyager was. Since that time it has gone berserk and found a new target—a populated planet. If it reaches its target, two million innocent people will die.

If you, like me, are willing to concede that in the vast infinitum of the Delta Quadrant the Voyager just happens to come across this lost missile flying on a random course, you’ve taken the first step in accepting the premise. “Dreadnought” is a decent, solid show with very little to scrutinize. There’s nothing really bad about it, but there’s nothing inherently compelling about it either. The show is basically five acts of setup that leads to a lackluster foregone conclusion.

Foregone conclusion settings aren’t bad, but they do require expert handling to really be exciting. And, simply put, this episode is just not that exciting because nothing very unexpected happens. It’s entertaining and reasonably paced, but it doesn’t have the pressure-cooker sensation it really needs.

There are some good ideas here, like the idea of an unstoppable weapon programmed by Torres coming back to haunt her out of her past. The unstoppable weapon is an old but reliable idea (though I somewhat doubt that if the Cardassians had such an advanced weapon this would be the first we would hear of it).

There’s the idea that Torres had reprogrammed the computer to speak in her voice, which is entertaining with its perverse undertones (I don’t know if I would want a weapon of mass destruction to talk with my voice). As the Voyager tries to subdue the missile, it speaks back in a monotone B’Elanna voice indicating its catastrophic intentions. Everybody on the bridge turns and looks accusingly at B’Elanna as the Dreadnought speaks.

There’s the idea of the missile heading toward Rakosan, a world inhabited by peaceful, friendly aliens. Janeway contacts the Rakosan First Minister Kellan (Dan Kern) and informs him of the situation. He responds with an answer that is becoming common to hear: “Your reputation proceeds you.” It’s rather unfortunate for Voyager that wherever they go, the message “Oh no, here comes the infernal Voyager!” follows them. It’s intriguing that the Federation has become the bad guys in the face of the Delta Quadrant simply because of Kazon rumors.

Then there’s traitorous Crewman Jonas (Raphael Sbarge) who makes his third appearance as the guy who wants to talk to Seska and supplies the Kazon Nistrim with information. (He was also in “Alliances” and “Threshold.”) Just as in “Threshold,” his presence here has no impact on the plot, but it sparks my interest on what the writers are going to eventually do with this guy. Hopefully there will be a payoff soon.

Despite the decent ideas, there’s nothing standout in the execution. In fact, it’s positively pedestrian. Everything about this show—from the opening teaser of pregnant Ensign Wildman (Nancy Hower) talking with Doc and Kes about a name for her baby (which, after some 13 months, still hasn’t been born) to the Dreadnought’s seemingly self-aware computer faking a shutdown procedure, to Janeway arming the auto-destruct sequence—has a ho-hum effect. I did, however, like Janeway’s discussion with Kellan where she explains that she plans to stop the missile by blowing up the Voyager in its path. Kellan has a reassuring response, saying that Voyager‘s grim reputation isn’t deserved.

The latter acts follow Torres as she beams aboard the missile and desperately tries to override the Dreadnought computer. While Biggs-Dawson is certainly watchable, this isn’t exciting, and with the majority of the closing scenes confined inside the missile as Torres tries to fool the computer with hypothetical games and paradoxical puzzles, the circumstance begins to grow tedious. All of this would be fine, but the final answer to the problem is not as punchy as it could’ve been, and what should’ve been a heart-pounding countdown to disaster is instead a drawn-out underwhelming solution.

There’s also one angle of the show that seems completely unfinished. This involves a scene between Paris and Torres which reveals that Paris has been having problems “fitting in” lately. He’s been showing up to staff meetings late, and apparently even got into a fight with another officer over a trivial matter. What is the relevance of this? There’s no follow-up scene so it seems like an abandoned idea. Perhaps something got cut.

“Dreadnought” is just a neutral, “okay” show. It’s missing the momentum it needs to really be fun.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Death Wish:

When the crew comes across a comet exhibiting strange properties, they inadvertently release an imprisoned Q who had been sentenced to eternal incarceration by the Q Continuum for attempting to kill himself. Once released, this Q (Gerrit Graham) returns to his suicidal attempts and, much to the ire of Captain Janeway, accidentally vanishes half of Voyager‘s crew in the process. The Q we’re all familiar with from TNG (John de Lancie) appears to undo Graham-Q’s blunder and send him back to his incarceration. But Graham-Q requests asylum from Janeway; de Lancie-Q concedes to a hearing over whether or not Graham-Q can be granted his wish of killing himself—something which had before been denied because it could be harmful to the balance of the Q Continuum.

“Death Wish” has a few plot holes here and there, as well as the obligatory Stupid Q Tricks; but it’s easy to look past them based on the sheer strength of the story being told here. The show takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s compelling, absorbing, and thoughtful—another cerebrally enticing teleplay by Michael Piller (based on a story written by his own son).

Let’s start with the Stupid Q Tricks. Once de Lancie-Q returns Voyager‘s vanished crew members, he’s ready to promptly send Graham-Q back to his incarceration. But Graham-Q attempts to hide by whisking himself and Voyager away from de Lancie-Q, first sending the ship back to the time of the creation of the universe, then shrinking it to the size of a subatomic particle, and finally, as one hilarious in-joke, hiding the Voyager on a Christmas tree as an ornament (it fun to see the franchise poke fun at itself). De Lancie-Q, however, is not fooled. He knows all the hiding places, and once this series of gratuitous Q gags has been delivered, the story wisely presses on. (Q gags can be fun—like the ornament joke—but I’ve seen so many of them that they rarely impress me any more.)

The rest of the show takes a courtroom format, where Tuvok defends Graham-Q’s request to Janeway, who takes the role of judge in the matter. De Lancie-Q is the prosecutor trying to convince Janeway to deny Graham-Q the asylum he seeks, based on grounds that he is insane and in no position to request it.

But Graham-Q is not insane. There’s a reason he wants to die, and it’s in this reason where the episode addresses a wonderfully engaging human question. On occasion, Star Trek can get trite when all-too-delicately taking the human question route. But “Death Wish” rings true all the way, thanks to the genial and poignant performance of Gerrit Graham as a jaded Q who has no reason left to exist.

The episode peaks in its fourth act, where Graham-Q attempts to prove his suffering life is pointless by taking Janeway to the Q Continuum, presented in the human-comprehensible form of a house in the middle of a desert with a road running by it. The road, he explains, represents the universe. But it’s simply a circular road that just ends up back at the house. He’s traveled the road many, many times; there is nothing left for him to explore. And Graham-Q also explains how the Continuum used to be a place for ongoing polemic, humor, and discussion from all over the universe. Not anymore. No one in the Continuum even bothers to talk anymore, because all the discussions have been discussed and all the unknown possibilities explored.

Since Graham-Q has nothing new to accomplish, his life has become pointless, futile, and a torturous bore. The beauty of his argument is how much sense it makes, and that it incites us think more deeply than probably any Voyager episode has to date. Piller deserves much credit for the intelligent writing. The rest deserves to go to Gerrit Graham’s passionate, compelling presence. It’s a close running between him and Joel Grey (from “Resistance”) for the series’ best guest star.

The other thing this argument succeeds in doing is giving us a fascinating look at the Q Continuum. Despite how powerful and omnipotent the Q have always seemed throughout TNG, Graham-Q assures that they are not without weakness. They have become a dry and dispassionate people, and by dying, Graham-Q will not only escape that fate, but inject a new variable of unknown into the Continuum. The desert scene works as a strikingly well realized metaphor.

Ironically, even de Lancie-Q is taken by Graham-Q’s argument. He used to be a rebel himself (though he admits that he is now a “born-again Q” who re-surrendered himself to the Continuum once they punished him), and as the show nears the end, he begins to understand what it is that Graham-Q hopes to gain. There are all sorts of reassuringly undertones here—most notably a sense that “the adventure of discovery must continue.” The fact that de Lancie-Q ultimately grants Graham-Q his wish for suicide is both intriguing and somewhat bittersweet as we see such a wonderful character die his necessary death.

Amidst this wonderful core, “Death Wish” also has some surface elements that don’t bear quite as much scrutiny. One is the appearance of William Riker, Isaac Newton, and Maury Ginsberg, whom de Lancie-Q brings to Voyager as evidence that historic moments pivoted around a Q’s influence. The suggestions that Graham-Q caused the apple to fall from Newton’s tree, and that the Q also played a role in saving Woodstock has a sort of goofy “Forrest Gump” nature that—although kind of fun—isn’t nearly as entertaining as the serious core of the show. As for Riker’s appearance—it’s more or less gratuitous if you stop and think about it. It was hardly necessary, and not much of a factor in the plot.

As for the “banter” scenes between de Lancie-Q and Janeway, they’re adequate, but not exactly standout. The idea of Q being attracted to her seems forced, and the verbal jousts here can’t match those between Q and Picard (or even Q and Sisko in “Q-Less”). Q’s bribe of sending the Voyager home if Janeway rules in his favor is another retread of the Big Ethical Decision she had to make in “Caretaker.” Fortunately, the writers play down and ultimately ignore the issue—a wise move since exploring it would simply have resulted in a foregone conclusion.

There’s also the question of how Graham-Q could have witnessed de Lancie-Q’s mischievous streak—which was presumably during TNG‘s days (i.e., “Q Who,” “Deja Q”)—if he has been isolated in a comet for 300 years.

The final verdict? “Death Wish” takes a while to figure out where it’s going, but once it does, it’s an excellent show, aside from a few uninspired elements it uses to get there.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Lifesigns:

When a dying Vidiian medic is beamed aboard Voyager, the Doctor saves her life by transferring her brain patterns into the computer and creating a holographic body for her to temporarily use, until a way can be found to repair her brain and transfer the patterns back. There is only a matter of days to do this, however, as the patterns will degrade if not restored to the biological brain.

The Vidiian’s name is Dinara Pel (Susan Diol), and she wakes up as a hologram to find herself in a strong, healthy body for the first time since acquiring the deadly Vidiian disease known as the phage, which has slowly destroyed and weakened her body since she was a child. Before long, Dinara and the Doctor realize their relationship is more than that of a doctor and a patient. They are both medics with a lot in common, and they are falling in love with one another—a unique position that neither one is accustomed to.

With “Lifesigns,” Voyager shows just that: some evident signs of life and brightness. After a frustrating first half, it seems the second half of Voyager‘s season is beginning to look up—featuring a more promising trend of solid stories (aside from the preposterous “Threshold”). Hopefully the trend will continue.

“Lifesigns” has one “sci-fi” idea—that of a person’s consciousness being transferred completely into a holographic simulation—but is otherwise a completely simple and straightforward character show. It’s basically about the Doctor’s discovery of his feelings for Dinara, which he first thinks is a malfunction of his program, but finally accepts it as an “adaptation” to human situations after some discussion with the always-well-intentioned Kes.

Trek romances are notorious for self-destructing (DS9‘s “Second Sight” and “Meridian” come to mind), but it seems this season is an upturn for romance stories; like DS9‘s “Rejoined” earlier this season, “Lifesigns” gets mostly everything just right.

One reason this all works is because of the performances. Romances ride on whether or not the characters involved have a believable chemistry, and I’m pleased to report that chemistry is something present in nearly every scene. Robert Picardo and Susan Diol are in sync just about every step of the way with some noteworthy acting.

Another reason this works is because the writing doesn’t sell the situation short. The reason the aforementioned “Second Sight” and “Meridian” failed is because the romance was always at the mercy of contrived technobabble events. “Lifesigns” has none of that nonsense; this is a story based on human decisions (or, I guess, hologram decisions), not forced melodrama.

But what ultimately captured me here was the episode’s undeniable sense of charm. It’s, well, cute at times. Watching the usually-sharp-edged Doctor turn into a romantic softie is lightly comical and endearing. Picardo has some subtle, innocent expressions that forced a silly grin onto my face. Every scene comes together under Cliff Bole’s calm direction—from Doc’s and Paris’ discussion of relationships, to the “parking” scene in the ’57 Chevy—and what could’ve been schmaltzy is simply pleasant instead.

The episode’s underlying message also works extremely well. At one point near the end, Dinara tells Doc she would rather live out the few limited days as a beautiful hologram than return to her life in her ugly, sickened body. This goes a long way toward making the Vidiians characters we can sympathize with again (after the downright cruelty they displayed in “Faces”), and shows how low the Vidiians’ self-morale has fallen. What I especially like is the reassuring finale, where the Doctor proves his love is more than skin deep; the fact that he’s not bound by the superficialities of Dinara’s appearance is genuinely moving and optimistic.

“Lifesigns” also has a B-story and C-story, which take a somewhat different format from the usual subplot advancements. One involves Paris’ continued insubordinate and unprofessional behavior. In retrospect, the unfocused subplots involving Paris in “Meld” and particularly “Dreadnought” seem to make more sense now, or at the very least have a reason for existing. Paris keeps showing up late for his shifts, and when Chakotay tries to ask him what’s wrong, Paris bluntly retorts, “My problem is you.” The subplot ends completely unresolved, in which Paris shoves Chakotay to the ground in front of the entire bridge crew, consequently landing him in the brig.

Meanwhile, Jonas keeps feeding Seska information, and this time he even gets to talk to her. Seska tells him to sabotage Voyager‘s warp coils (what that will do to the ship I’m not sure, but it can’t be good) so the Kazon can launch a surprise attack on the Voyager.

How these two subplots will be resolved, or whether they’re connected (I can’t see how they wouldn’t be), only time will tell. While the incomplete plotting surrounding both Jonas and Paris was annoying me a few episodes ago, it now shows the obvious intention of having a notable payoff sometime soon. As a result, the method of not resolving specifics set up by an episode is something which proves intriguing this time around, rather than frustrating. (Could it be Voyager finally decided overarching stories are interesting?) It’s strange to think that as this episode ends, Paris is still locked up in the brig. Hopefully the resolution will be worthwhile.

I’m thoroughly pleased with “Lifesigns.” It seems to indicate that the series is finding direction.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Deadlock:

At the end of “Deadlock” when Harry calls his experience through space, time, and subspace weird, he sure isn’t joking. The situation the Voyager crew faces in this episode is substantially strange. It’s yet another high concept outing from the mind of Brannon Braga, who has supplied several labyrinthine stories in the far reaches of physical, temporal, and spatial manipulation this season. From “Projections” to “Non Sequitur” to “Threshold” to “Deadlock,” Braga has displayed a constant affinity for spewing new technical gobbligook and conjuring fake new scientific theories out of thin air.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. “Projections” was absolutely riveting. “Threshold” was absolutely ludicrous. “Deadlock,” ranks nearby the former rather than the latter, featuring an intriguing premise, though not quite up to par with “Projections” in story strength or plausibility (if such a term can be used), but very well done nevertheless.

The plot: Unbeknownst to the crew, the mysterious properties of a plasma cloud replicates the Voyager such that there are two ships with two crews, both exactly the same, occupying the same location in space at the same moment in time. The only thing separating the two ships is a “spatial rift,” which seems to link the two Voyagers together on deck 15. Under details that I refuse to go into here, one Voyager severely damages the other with “proton bursts” in an attempt to recharge their own warp core. Even more intricate details brings one of the Voyager‘s crew to realize what has happened after Kes crosses through this rift—that the ship has been duplicated—and before you can say “huh?,” Janeway and Torres figure out how to get a communication signal through subspace to the damaged Voyager. Now it’s a race against the clock to figure out how to converge the two Voyagers before both are destroyed.

Baffled? Well, at times, this can be damned confusing—and you can bet there is an ample supply of technobabble used to explain all this. But like DS9‘s “Visionary” last season, this episode goes to show that tech-laden plots can be very good if done properly and supported by a cast and crew that knows what to do and how. Not to say that Braga’s script isn’t adeptly written for the most part—it is—but the execution is what really stands out here.

David Livingston surely had his hands full with the dual shooting of Voyager realities and overseeing the reams of technobabble. (The actors also deserve a lot of credit for making the non-stop jargon sound believable.) But Livingston does all this and makes the show an intriguing mystery with plenty of excitement. In fact, “Deadlock” opens and closes with pulse-pounding intensity that is virtually unmatched by any Voyager episode to date. It wastes no time in its early minutes, beginning with jarring urgency and breakneck pacing, featuring some chaotically impressive photography as the ship is ripped apart. Surprising events like Ensign Kim being sucked into space and the unfair death of Ensign Wildman’s newborn baby demonstrates a pull-no-punches grimness that proves quite compelling. Meanwhile, the bridge catches on fire and is evacuated in a scene that borders on the apocalyptic.

Once the two Voyagers realize their nature of coexistence, the time comes to repair the damage, and the fascination level is one-upped with scenes of Captain Janeway talking to herself over a viewscreen and, later, face-to-face.

The technical solution theories are, of course, absurd, and they involve such complicated fictional science that the characters always seem on the verge of spraining their tongues as they talk about using the main deflector dish to realign divergence fields and what not. If this technobabble wasn’t so well performed, I would probably be complaining about it for months.

And just when you thought the two Voyager crews had their hands full trying to fix the phase-shift variance to merge the ships into one again, the episode throws more blood-boiling thrills at us when along come the Vidiians, looking for unwilling organ donors. With the Voyager‘s weapons unusable, they are easily able to tractor and board one of the Voyagers. However, the Vidiians are unable to even detect the existence of the other one.

The Vidiians’ assault on the one Voyager crew is almost unsettling. Again, they come across as they did in “Faces”: vicious and merciless, shooting down everyone in sight and extracting their organs without so much as a second glance. Outnumbered and outgunned, Janeway does what she has always vowed to in such a circumstance—arm the auto-destruct sequence. She orders Kim to take Wildman’s baby to the other Voyager (they are both alive on this Voyager, and Janeway thinks it’s only fair to replace the fatalities experienced by their counterpart). Kim surprises two Vidiians in sickbay (who have already begun their harvesting experiments on Wildman) in a nicely-done scene where he phasers them both and then finds the Doctor hiding behind his desk with the baby. Kim heads off to deck 15 to travel through the spatial rift.

Meanwhile, as the Vidiians walk onto the bridge to seize the ship, Janeway stands up and has just a few choice words for them—which she says with almost a smile: “Welcome to the bridge.” With that, the Voyager explodes, taking the Vidiian ship right along with it, in a spectacular pyrotechnic spectacle that had me almost cheering. It’s a guilty pleasure, I’ll admit—seeing the Vidiians finally put in their place—but a pleasure nonetheless that is long overdue considering how the Vidiians wantonly ignored Janeway’s stern warning she issued in “Phage,” the first Federation/Vidiian encounter.

The details surrounding this ending, however, bring up perhaps the most perplexing questions about the situation. How is it that both Voyagers could detect the Vidiian ship, but only one could physically interact with it? Is the other Voyager in an alternate reality? Why can’t the Vidiians detect it? How is it protected from the explosion of both its counterpart and the Vidiian vessel? If somebody explained this to me, would my head blow up?

I’m not sure, but I don’t really care either. The raw energy of this episode makes it a winner, and, by the end of the show, everything feels like it more or less adds up in its own bizarre way, even if my brain doesn’t want to buy it. Braga shows the talent, I guess, for making things clear and confusing at the same time. Livingston shows the talent for turning it all into a gripping hour of science fiction.

Still, the episode really only works on its adventure level. If you consider the long-term effects of the episode, they’re shoved under the carpet with painful blatancy. The biggest flaw in “Deadlock” is the fact that Voyager‘s severe damage will undoubtedly be repaired by the beginning of the next episode, never to be heard of again. When Tuvok delivered the lengthy damage report early in the show, there was a sense of uneasy helplessness. After all, there are no repair bays or starbases in the Delta Quadrant. Yet the closing of “Deadlock” would have us believe that Voyager is a completely self-sustaining starship and there’s nothing to worry about.

If you think about it, this defeats many of the dramatic elements of the very core of the series—which is definitely not a good thing. Such damage to the ship should not be treated lightly on Star Trek: Voyager. Remember the concern expressed in “Learning Curve” over the damage to irreplaceable gel packs? It was a big deal. Yet in “Deadlock” half the ship is hanging in ruin, and by the end of the episode it’s hardly an issue.

It’s too bad the issue surrounding Voyager‘s damage is so uncertain. The rest of the episode is terrific.

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

And so Voyager‘s lackluster season comes to an end with “Basics,” a decent cliffhanger installment that does its job and little else—much like the series as a whole has been doing for the most part this season. And at the risk of sounding pessimistic about the series’ development, let me press on with the review of the episode on hand (for I’ll be writing the season’s recap soon enough).

“Basics” is, to put it simply, your usual summer cliffhanger. It has no pretensions—it knows what it is. (I mean, the previews even said it was a cliffhanger for crying out loud—they didn’t use to be that indiscreet about themselves.) The show is a carefully constructed setup with zero payoff—beyond that, there’s little else to look for.

“Basics” is not comparable to the more spectacular nail-biting season-enders like TNG‘s “The Best of Both Worlds” or even DS9‘s “The Jem’Hadar.” I’d rank it somewhere in the realm of TNG‘s “Descent”—it’s one of those shows that you know is merely setup material and nothing else, and you accept it for what it is. Sure, standing alone, “Basics, Part I” doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot since it is, after all, only one portion of a complete story. But it’s an entertaining portion at that, and its ending is sure to get its hooks into you whether you want to resist its manipulations or not.

I recommend, however, that you don’t resist—the show is more fun that way. Besides…resistance is futile.

You want plot summary you say? Okay, here goes. Seska urgently contacts Chakotay, saying that her son has been born, and that Culluh has seen it is not his. Culluh is quite angry with Seska’s lies to him about a baby she said was his. She tries to escape and he’s hot on her trail. If she’s caught, she will likely be executed and her son will be ostracized. Should the Voyager intervene? While the contempt for Seska is pretty much a unanimous stance taken by the crew of Voyager, the question becomes whether or not they have a duty to defend the rights of an innocent child. Janeway gives Chakotay full range over the decision of whether to pursue his newborn son. If he decides to rescue the son that Seska conceived without permission, Janeway will support him in an effort to track down the distress call.

One of the interesting points “Basics” brings up is the decision process Chakotay goes through. It’s a tough call—how can Chakotay claim responsibility for a child that was conceived with a DNA injection completely without his knowledge? In the episode’s one attempt at a character-probing scene, Chakotay has a spiritual vision in which his father offers some insights on Chakotay’s personally troubling situation.

If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today’s prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska’s latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?

But like I said, this show is about setting up a severe situation. On their new course into Kazon space, the crew finds a damaged Kazon shuttle floating in space with a wounded Kazon officer on board named Tierna (John Gegunhuber). Tierna was Seska’s aide, and he says that Culluh executed her and exiled the child to a labor colony. Tierna escaped execution however, and now agrees to help Voyager travel through Kazon territory on their way to the labor colony.

Can Tierna be trusted? Well, of course not. This is a cliffhanger; his role in the episode is to lead the Voyager crew into the trap so the Kazon Nistrim can ambush Voyager with overwhelming odds.

Still, the hints foreshadowing the ambush are done quite nicely and discreetly. For some reason, minor attacks by random Kazon factions seem to focus on damaging Voyager‘s starboard ventral, causing damage to the secondary command processors. Imagine Janeway’s surprise when this later causes the self-destruct sequence to be rendered inoperable.

I also appreciated the B-story involving Suder, the guy from “Meld” who Janeway sentenced to life in his quarters for murdering another crew member. (I thought we would never see this guy again, and it’s refreshing to see the show proves me wrong here.) He feels worthless without something to do for the ship. His situation is understandable. He’s a man with no purpose. I think, however, when Suder begins to get overly anxious about his project and looks unstable in front of the captain, Janeway handles the situation all wrong. Saying “excuse me” and walking away will only make things worse. Janeway should really have been more tolerant and understanding of Suder’s feelings.

There’s also Tierna’s anomalous blood readings, which later explains why he is able to inject himself with a chemical and literally explode in a ball of fire, causing untimely damage to the Voyager. So as the Kazon vessels close in and pound on the Voyager, things look grim. Paris takes a shuttle in an attempt to double back and bring a Talaxian convoy to help them, but the Kazon open fire on him and apparently destroy his shuttle. (The key word is “apparently”—he is obviously not dead.) Voyager is boarded and Culluh takes command of the ship.

This is fun—it’s a worst case scenario come true. The pyrotechnics are okay. (I still think DS9‘s motion photography effects leave Voyager‘s in the dust, although I don’t understand why since visual effects guru Dan Curry works on both series.) The idea of projecting holographic ships to fool the Kazon attackers seems resourceful enough, even if a little tough to swallow. And Seska turns up not dead, and gloats over the success of her trap. (Read: Voyager crew = SUCKERS.)

Culluh lands the ship on a nearby planet where he maroons the entire Federation crew on the surface. Then he takes off, leaving Janeway and her crew on the actively volcanic and seismic planet to watch as Voyager flies away, never to be seen again (until part two). The fate of the ship lies completely in the hands of the Doctor, Suder, Paris, and presumably some helpful Talaxians. Will part two become Die Hard With a Voyager?

While this is okay setup material I still want to know one thing: Shouldn’t we be way out of Kazon space by now? This is probably the series’ premise’s biggest plot hole—that no matter how far the Voyager seems to travel, they’re still within a few days travel of the heart of Kazon space. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. As Voyager presses through the quadrant, we should see new races—new allies and new enemies. Dwelling on the Kazon is going to be ultimately self-defeating.

But never mind that now. The question is: Does “Basics” bait its game—does it make us want to see part two? Well, sure—but only to see how the events unfold. The question of whether or not the crew recaptures their ship is a no-brainer, which, unfortunately, makes this whole idea seem pointless. Whether or not this idea holds any water is a question to be answered in September. As they always say: “TO BE CONTINUED…”

 

The Worst:

Elogium, Threshold, Innocence, and Tuvix

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In brief pieces:

  • Elogium features Kes go through puberty while the ship encounters space-dwelling protozoa;
  • Threshold remains the worst Star Trek episode of all time due to it being just so silly;
  • Innocence sees Tuvok trapped on a moon with a group of alien children; and,
  • Tuvix was quite awful, and eccentric, in it’s premise, that I couldn’t wait until it was finally over.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Elogium:

The Voyager finds a swarm of large space-dwelling protozoa-type lifeforms whose bizarre properties induce the beginning of Kes’ “elogium”—the Ocampa’s one-time period of fertility and chance for pregnancy. Light at best, another exercise in mediocrity features a less-than-urgent A-story and a totally predictable, brain-dead B-story. If “Projections” was a climb to the top, “Elogium” is a topple down the stairs.

“Elogium” works its best when it deals with the issue of procreation, which on board the Voyager may be ultimately necessary to finish the journey home. The story peaks in a scene where Janeway and Chakotay discuss the difficulties and possible necessity of raising another generation on the ship. But just like “The 37’s,” this is an issue that we should have seen in the first season. Now, more than ever, UPN’s decision to hold Voyager‘s last four first-season episodes in order to jump-start the second season seems like a big mistake.

Aside from this one scene of relevancy, there’s nothing really compelling about “Elogium.” Most of the episode deals with Kes and Neelix’s dilemma of whether or not to proceed with having a child. Some of this makes sense, but there are some real problems with how the episode pursues the issue. You see, the elogium only happens once in an Ocampa’s lifetime, so if Kes does not conceive within 50 hours, she will never have a chance to have a child again.

For starters, this is totally illogical. If only Ocampa women can have children, and if they can only have one child in their lifetime, and we assume that approximately half the Ocampa population is women and half is men, what does this mean to their procreation process? It means their population would decrease by half with every generation, assuming that every female Ocampa had a child in their lifetime. Does this strike only me as a writer’s blunder?

Secondly, this whole idea of Kes having to make the decision right now just forces the pressure onto Neelix, who must decide whether or not he’s ready to be a father. This makes for some shamefully manipulative drama, which I don’t really care for. Neelix’s reaction of “I’m not sure I’m ready for this” is a bit of a cliche. Saving some grace is a scene between Tuvok and Neelix about parenting, which manages to offer further depth into Tuvok’s character (but, surprisingly, does very little for Neelix’s character). Also on the positive side are some weirdly humorous mating rituals Kes must undergo in her conception process, though the joke begins to tire as the episode goes on.

Meanwhile, we’re given a witless and hokey B-story where the “protozoa” become sexually attracted to the Voyager because they think it’s their mate. This is another obvious Misunderstood Lifeform Plot, but also proves to be an Idiot Plot which takes the Voyager crew way too long to figure out. I knew the answer almost immediately, but it takes until another big, jealous “protozoa” (who wants the mates Voyager is attracting) begins beating the hell out of the ship before Chakotay and Janeway can put two and two together.

And after the Voyager repels the lifeforms and their bizarre properties stop affecting the ship, Kes’ prematurely-induced elogium goes away. Conveniently, this elogium doesn’t count for some reason the Doctor explains, meaning that someday when Kes and Neelix are ready, they may still have a child together. This cheat ending basically voids everything the episode does. It’s a complete cop-out with no real consequences. Since neither Kes nor Neelix has to face up to their decision, the episode is just another example of the Reset Button Plot—meaning the episode has so little effect that it’s as if someone pressed the reset button at the end of the show. That’s weak drama. Not good at all.

That’s about all for “Elogium.” It has a few isolated good moments and some decent work by the actors. Other than that, it’s just a pointless exercise that doesn’t do a very good job of saying what’s on its mind.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Threshold:

I’ll admit I was too nice when I originally reviewed this episode. I held back my cynicism and gave the show the benefit of the doubt, and I even gave it a higher rating than what now appears above this review. But now, months after the original airing of the show, I have had the wonderfully excruciating experience of seeing it again. And to put something mildly for probably the last time in this review, I’ll just say that repeat viewings of “Threshold” do not do the show any justice. It actually gets worse with each viewing, and multiple viewings—make that any viewing—should be avoided if at all possible.

“Threshold” is one of the all-time worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed, as far as I’m concerned. It’s an absurd, technobabble disaster that practically deserves to be put up for scrutiny just so it can be torn apart. Non-Trekkers are bound to have a field day with it. If I were a person who had never seen Star Trek before and had the unfortunate experience of tuning into “Threshold,” I would probably never tune into Star Trek again.

The plot? Do you care? In an attempt to break the threshold of the warp speed barrier, Lt. Paris tries to perform a theoretical impossibility: attain a velocity of warp ten in a jerry-rigged shuttlecraft. Unfortunately, breaking this barrier has some mysterious (nah—too favorable a word for this story) consequences which begin mutating Paris’ DNA and putting his life in danger.

The show progresses from “positively implausible” to “positively laborious” to “positively repetitive.” And just when it looks like it’s going to end with a “positively predictable” revelation, something else happens instead—the episode supplies an ending that has to go down as one of the most absurdly unbelievable, stupendously outrageous, dumb, and utterly pointless ideas Star Trek has ever done. It’s definitely the weirdest thing I’ve seen on Voyager. You gotta hand it to Brannon Braga, though; it took him a lot of guts to try something this strange and offbeat—and I sure didn’t see it coming. (I’ll have to admit, however, that this looks more like something Joe Menosky would come up with.) It’s too bad this strange ending was so uncompromisingly bad.

In the beginning, the show looked like it might possibly have some value. The idea that Paris, Torres, and Kim have apparently figured out what could be a historic turning point in technology use is something that could have been put to reasonable dramatic use. Janeway puts it best when she says this kind of travel could change the very nature of human existence (in addition to getting Voyager back home). This also gives Paris a potentially good show (which he hasn’t gotten many of since he often fades into the background as a supporting character); the idea of pioneering new flight is something that suits his character rather well.

It’s about here, however, that the show completely derails and the “positively implausible” side shows up. According to theory, warp ten means “infinite speed,” in which one would occupy every bit of space in the universe simultaneously. Fine and dandy, but if this theory is true, where is Paris going to end up when he hits warp ten? How will he stop? How will he survive? Are we supposed to believe his computer will be able to navigate a course at infinite speed?

Paris’ flight is successful, and when he returns, he speaks of a magnificent, indescribable experience (“I was everywhere at once; here on Voyager, back home on Earth…”). The episode claims that Paris’ trip proves the theory is true, which brings up even more questions. How does his brain perceive everything, everywhere at once? Why isn’t his shuttle destroyed? Why is it this warp ten theory completely contradicts what we were led to believe in TNG‘s “All Good Things,” where ships in the future could all go warp 13? Why has the word “transwarp” completely changed meanings since we heard it in Star Trek III? Why does this episode prompt so much nitpicking from me, a person who generally considers nitpicking a waste of time?

Frankly, I don’t find the warp theory arguments in this episode believable or interesting, because the episode contradicts its own logic on more than one occasion. The only reason we as 20th century science-educated Star Trek viewers can comprehend acceleration beyond the speed of light—an impossibility according to Einstein—is because Trek never actually tries to explain how it’s done, short of acknowledging the existence of some “warp field” theories that bend the contemporary rules of physics. On the other hand, the difference between “extremely fast” and “infinite speed” requires a big leap in logical thinking—and the logic in this episode is full of holes and mired in typical technobabble.

While highly implausible, the show may have still been salvageable for dramatic or entertainment purposes, but instead we get to the “positively laborious and repetitive” portion. Paris begins turning into a mutant, and, as a result, nearly all of acts three and four are played out in sickbay, where the Doctor explains what’s happening to Paris with the usual, unexciting, medical mumbo-jumbo. There are some pointless gags here used merely to pad out the scenes, like Paris actually dying for a few hours, and then coming back to life; and the “revelation” that he has two hearts. It seems Paris’ acceleration beyond the threshold is causing his “DNA to evolve at an accelerated rate,” turning him into a human form that would presumably appear eons from now.

Really, aside from a decent performance by Robert McNeill as a scared, grotesque-looking Paris-mutant, and a few bizarre sights like Paris spitting his own tongue out of his mouth, there’s nothing in these two acts to keep one’s interest. A few character-driven scenes try to sneak their way to the surface, but take second place to a series of drearily uninteresting instances where the Doctor babbles on about DNA mutations, and so forth.

This all leads to the final act where Doc tries to reverse the mutation process by subjecting Paris to antiproton radiation (or something) in engineering. Paris breaks free, kidnaps Captain Janeway, steals a shuttle, and escapes at warp ten. Three days later, Voyager finally locates the shuttle, which has landed on some obscure planet. Here’s the outrageous part: When Chakotay locates Paris and Janeway, he discovers that both have mutated into amphibian-like creatures, which have mated and produced offspring. Does this strike only me as insanely silly? Where did this notion come from? Is this supposed to be comedy? I’m not sure, but it is effective in one sense—it manages to recapture my interest (which, however, turned out not to be a good thing).

Returning Janeway and Paris to their normal state is, naturally, a piece of cake, thanks to the Doctor’s antiproton radiation “sci-fi” theory, which again treats DNA like a magical substance that can be manipulated at will—mind you, only when stories require a contrived solution to a problem (a la TNG‘s “Genesis”) that can’t be solved any other way. Aside from Janeway’s admittedly funny one-liner (“I’ve thought about having children; but I must say I never considered having them with you.”), there’s nothing to indicate that Janeway and Paris having “children” will have any consequences, characteristically speaking or otherwise. The episode sports the all-too-familiar attitude of “Well, it doesn’t really mean anything, so just forget about it.” So why do it, then? Paris and Janeway having offspring has no apparent rationale—except that maybe the writers thought it would be a great gag.

Aside from being downright dumb, the ending also brings up so many unresolved inconsistencies. Was this amphibian creature supposed to be an evolutionary human or not? The Doctor initially calls it natural human evolution, although it seems more like devolution to me; I would hope that eons of natural evolution wouldn’t reduce us to walking on four legs and living in water, while mating on instinct. But by the end of the show, for some reason, everyone begins referring to it as an “alien.” Which is it? If it is a new form of human intelligence, is it really wise for Chakotay to leave the offspring in their new habitat? Put these oversights alongside the fact that Janeway and Paris are able to have offspring in a mere matter of days, and the unanswerable question of why going infinite speed only puts the shuttle three days away from Voyager, and it amounts to little more than a collection of appallingly idiotic half-baked ideas, none of which has anything to say.

But who cares? The conclusion is crazy, yet so arbitrary and meaningless that, like most of “Threshold,” it may as well not even exist in the confines of the Star Trek universe. Hell, why not use this transwarp theory to get home? Sure, everyone may turn into amphibians shortly thereafter, but just put them all in engineering and irradiate them with antiprotons and everyone would be fine… and back home in the Alpha Quadrant. Hey, it would work using this episode’s logic.

What went wrong here? It’s a mystery to me. Brannon Braga isn’t a bad writer—”Projections” is proof of that. Alexander Singer has been successfully directing Trek for years. How did the checks and balances of Star Trek: Voyager fail so miserably?

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Innocence:

When Tuvok crash-lands his shuttle on a moon (#1 Voyager cliche of the season) and his away team partner dies (an unimportant character we’ve never seen before who dies a dramatically pointless death), Tuvok encounters three children on the moon’s surface who have also apparently crash-landed a shuttle. The children are from a xenophobic race known as the Drayans, and they’re alone and scared. They believe that an entity known as the “Morrok” is going to kill them as soon as nightfall arrives. The Morrok has already caused the other children from their shuttle to vanish, they explain. So in response to the frightened kids’ exasperating pleas, Tuvok accepts the role of protecting them.

But there’s more (there had better be). As it happens, Janeway and the Voyager are making first contact with the Drayan officials, who haven’t been in contact with anyone off their world for decades. Hopefully there can be a friendly, peaceful exchange of information such that Voyager will be permitted to mine materials from the Drayans’ moons that are necessary to fuel the warp core.

Naturally, these two plot angles are connected. The episode slowly builds upon its plot until all is resolved in the closing five minutes of the episode, in which everything else in the story becomes clear. This last scene is a good one. Unfortunately, it hardly justifies the episode’s first 40 minutes.

The way “Innocence’s” plot quickly resolves itself is reminiscent of DS9‘s “Whispers,” which also took 40 minutes of puzzling setup and turned it into a coherent story in its closing minutes. But there’s a difference between the two episodes in that “Whispers” was interesting throughout. “Innocence,” on the other hand, features lots and lots of pedestrian filler with little substance worthy of scrutiny. The show is tedious, repetitive, and boring—inducing a fair amount of clock-watching.

“Innocence” supplies never-ending scenes of the children doing obligatory child-like things. Often, the goal is obviously “cute” comedy (I know, I know—the Vulcan has to “baby-sit” emotional non-Vulcan children), but the scenes feel so worn out and predictable that they aren’t funny or cute—they’re just silly scenes that grate the nerves. The show supplies us with not one, not two, but three scenes of kids hugging Tuvok. Then there’s also the scene that features Tuvok literally singing the kids a lullaby by a campfire so they’ll fall asleep. In a word: yawn. In another word: gag. I’m not saying that I’m against cuteness (though I’ll have to admit it’s not a reason why I watch Star Trek), so much as that I found this particular attempt at being cute to be quite vexing instead.

Aside from the forays in cuteness, the plot takes way too long to progress. Consider, for example, when the children tell Tuvok that the Morrok is coming for them. It’s obvious that the children are at least partially correct about their imminent doom, yet Tuvok continuously dismisses their feelings as imagination and fear getting the best of them—until two of the three children mysteriously disappear. This being the Star Trek universe (and, further, the Delta Quadrant) where anything can happen, shouldn’t Tuvok have been a little more open to the possibilities, especially since he knows nothing about their culture?

Meanwhile, the writers waste most of the first act on a tour of the Voyager Janeway gives to Alcia (Marnie McPhail), the Drayan diplomat, and her aides. The tour is cut short, however, when Alcia learns of Tuvok’s shuttle crash on the moon, which turns out to be a sacred haven for Drayans. She’s appalled by the desecration of the sacred grounds, regrets having ever made contact with the outside universe, and orders Janeway to leave. But Janeway refuses to leave without her missing officer, and a series of misunderstandings has the Voyager and Drayans in a forced conflict where they’re all but shooting at each other.

Since Janeway is left with no option but to team up with Paris and pilot a shuttle down to the moon herself (due to #2 cliche of the season: that the transporters can’t beam through the interference), the Drayans send a shuttle after Janeway to prevent her from landing on the moon. By this time, Tuvok has repaired his shuttle and is preparing to take Tressa, the one remaining child (Tiffany Taubman), back to Voyager with him. The episode seems to be headed for a disjointed collision of plot angles, but, fortunately, a decent conclusion steps in to save some grace.

The closing reveals that the Drayans have a reversed life cycle, in which they turn into children as they grow older. The moon is a sacred place where the children go to live their final days and die. Surprisingly, this ending is the best that could possibly have come out of “Innocence.” The episode ends with a mutual understanding between Janeway and the Drayans, when a hostile end to the conflict seemed imminent. The Drayans permit Tuvok to accompany Tressa in her final hours of life, which manages to exhibit some emotional power.

But like I said, this doesn’t redeem the rest of the episode. The ending, while nice, demonstrates how unmotivated the rest of the show is. If you think about it, the story is just a series of forced character reactions and narrative cheats that don’t allow the characters to realize what is happening until the audience does. Why, for example, doesn’t Alcia just explain to Janeway that Drayans have reversed life cycles compared to humans? Well, simply because if she did, the episode would be over and the conflict resolved. Rather than doing that, the show simply turns the characters into brainless pawns forced by the script into performing thoughtless actions. Thanks, but no thanks.

I can see what the writers were going for here, but with all the pointless filler and retrospective contrivances, it just doesn’t work at all.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews review of Tuvix:

A very bizarre transporter mishap results in “symbiogenesis” and merges Tuvok and Neelix into a single individual who appropriately names himself “Tuvix” (after briefly considering “Neevok” as a name). Initial studies by Doc reveal that separating the two may not be easy—or even possible. Tuvix must subsequently face the possibility of his unique and permanent existence, realizing that the individuals Tuvok and Neelix may forever be lost.

We’ve had lots of high concept stories this season, from “Dual Voyagers must outwit the Vidiians!” to “Paris accelerates beyond warp ten and turns into a mutant!” to “Harry Kim travels to a parallel universe Earth!”—but “Tuvix” takes the cake with its single-sentence pitch in which “Tuvok and Neelix are combined!” Is high concept bad? Certainly not. Such shows can be interesting, new, and compelling so long as the single sentence is backed with good storytelling. Of course, if the show fails to deliver beyond its starting point, it simply becomes what may best be called a low concept—a bright idea that goes nowhere.

“Tuvix,” fortunately, supplies some human writing behind its bright idea, and the show overall is better than I expected. While there are times when the episode wanders (there’s an occasional sense that the creators are gambling that this weird combo-character walking around the ship will automatically prompt awe and wonder from us), “Tuvix” is mostly a character show. And it’s a decent character show, even if a bit uneven.

The show could’ve centered around whether or not Tuvok and Neelix could be restored (which is a foregone conclusion), but fortunately, the real core of the episode centers around the consequences of doing just that. You see, Doc doesn’t find a cure at first—it takes him over two weeks. And in this time, Tuvix begins developing his own personality and emotional ties. He takes Tuvok’s post as tactical officer, replaces Neelix as head chef, and tries to resume a relationship with Kes.

Most of the characterizations are fairly good. There’s a nice scene between Janeway and Kes that works pretty well, even if the subject matter (the obvious coping-with-death topic) isn’t all that impressive. At the same time, Tuvix’s plight for individuality is certainly agreeable. Tuvix is a surprisingly likable character. Tom Wright’s performance is not always on-the-money, but he does do a respectable job of combining the two unlikely personalities together—not an easy task. There’s a sense of both Tuvok and Neelix in Wright’s gestures and demeanors. It’s rather strange—and quite interesting.

And by the end of the show, Tuvix becomes a character all in himself. I actually found myself thinking of him as an individual and not a combination of two other characters. This is a respectable feat on the part of director Cliff Bole; since the end of the show centers around the question of whether or not Tuvix has individual rights, it’s important that the audience have sympathy for him.

But despite the character-driven strengths in “Tuvix,” this episode doesn’t entirely click. There are some problems with how this show unfolds. The bottom line of “Tuvix” doesn’t really center around whether or not Tuvok and Neelix will be restored, yet the first four acts still tend to revolve around this question. From Kes’ coping with the loss of Neelix to the Doctor’s frantic search for a cure (which, naturally, involves the usual technobabble and DNA tricks that border on total incredulity), there seems to be too much emphasis on the question of how to restore Tuvix back to two people.

Then in the fifth act, the show does a complete 180 when Doc finds a miracle cure and the story abruptly shifts focus to the morality question of killing Tuvix to save Tuvok and Neelix when Tuvix passionately expresses a desire to remain “joined.” This part of the show is especially interesting, but the execution doesn’t hold up very well.

For one, I think Tuvix is a little too adamant on living. Wouldn’t his logic see both sides of this complex issue? The writers make Tuvix’s position on this argument a little more concrete than it probably should’ve been. The lack of subtlety in his character may be explained by the bigger problem here—the way this whole argument is jammed into the final act of the show. It would’ve been much more prudent to dedicate more of the show to this argument rather than spending so much time on Kes’ coping-with-death issue and Tuvix’s initial fish-out-of-water dilemma. While all three elements of the show are certainly relevant, only Tuvix’s sacrifice really holds any lasting impact. Unfortunately, very little of the episode focuses on the most important aspect.

Janeway’s decision to force Tuvix to submit to a procedure that would kill him in order to save two crewmen is a powerful turn of events. And the subsequent fact that the Doctor will not harm Tuvix against his will leads Janeway to actually carry out the procedure herself—and having to live with the consequences of what Tuvix labels “murder.” This is all very interesting, but it also brings up a number of troubling questions that the episode does not begin to address. This is too bad—if the show had found its focus on this issue sooner, it could’ve been a compelling installment. As the episode stands, it feels unfinished, uneven, and underutilized.

“Tuvix” is an entertaining character show that tries to say something, but overall it isn’t what I would call an excellent or even impressive show. It’s a missed opportunity in some ways, while it works in other ways. Three stars seems about fair, I guess—but just barely three stars.

On a minor, unrelated note, I didn’t like the teaser at all. I’m getting sick of Neelix’s badgering of Tuvok over the fact that he is unemotional. It’s getting very, very, very old. Why can’t Neelix just accept Tuvok for what he is? For compensation of this scene, I think I’ll dig up my tape of “Meld” so I can watch Tuvok strangle the annoying little Talaxian again.

 

Janeway_Time_and_Again

The next in best and worst is Season 1.

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One thought on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 2

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

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