The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 1

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:

 

Reruns are on BBC America! Personally, when Voyager ended, also saw the ending of the Golden Age of Star Trek. It was very sad, though necessary to see this occur.

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As seen in this picture, the Golden Age from my viewpoint takes place between 1987 and 2001, or 2364 until 2378 (Source). More on why Enterprise is not included at a later time, in a future post.

Like all good series though, Voyager‘s first season was also a bumpy ride, as according to the m0vie blog review of Season 1:

The best thing that can be said about the first season of Star Trek: Voyager is that it avoids being actively terrible.

This might sound like damning with the faintest of praise, but it’s worth looking at the show in the context of its siblings. None of the Star Trek spin-offs have had illustrious first seasons, often struggling to find their feet. It’s worth noting that Voyager‘s first season doesn’t contain any episodes that are as flat-out bad as something like Code of Honour, Angel One or The Passenger. While the show has more than its fair share of problems, it’s hard to look at the concept behind any episode in Voyager‘s first season and think “this is truly bad idea.”

Of course, the logical counterpoint to that argument is the observation that the show hasn’t produced anything of equivalent quality to Heart of Glory, Conspiracy, Duet or In the Hands of the Prophets. This is perfectly legitimate criticism, and it really explains the problem with the first season of Voyager. While the show has avoided any spectacularly embarrassing decisions, it did this by completely avoiding any real risk.

The first season of Star Trek: Voyager is almost perfectly calibrated to land in the Star Trek comfort zone.

Part of the appeal of Star Trek: Voyager was taking Star Trek into (literally) uncharted territory. Breaking away from the somewhat crowded and familiar Alpha Quadrant, Caretaker thrust the eponymous ship and its crew into the Delta Quadrant. Though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was based around a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, the Delta Quadrant was relatively unexplored at this point in Star Trek history, featuring briefly in episodes like Q Who? and The Price.

In Q Who?, the Delta Quadrant had been portrayed as a truly alien section of space, inhabited by creatures and organisms that challenge humanity’s ability to comprehend. “It’s not safe out here,” Q boasted. “It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross, but it’s not for the timid.” Introducing the crew ofThe Next Generation to the Borg, it seemed like the Delta Quadrant was worlds away from the politics and stability of the Alpha Quadrant.

There’s a sense that Voyager wants to capitalise on this. The show’s opening credits – a stunning selection of special effects shots playing out against a Jerry Goldsmith theme – portrays space as wondrous and magical. In contrast to the isolation and emptiness portrayed in the (almost mournful) opening credits of Deep Space Nine,Voyager treats space as something densely-populated with beautiful phenomena.

The problem with Voyager is that it doesn’t feel like the show is venturing into the unknown. Everything feels familiar. Shows like Ex Post Facto and Jetrel could easily have been carried over from the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation with only a minimum of changes. The Kazon feel indistinct from Klingons. Before the end of the first broadcast season, the crew has already met a Romulan. Seska was a Cardassian. Reginald Barclay pops up as a guest star in Projections, one of the episodes carried over from the end of the first season into the second.

To be fair, the producers seemed to recognise this problem. In an interview with Ian Spelling at the end of the first season, Rick Berman conceded as much:

“I also think we need to define and create characters and civilisations in this new quadrant of space,” Berman says. “We need to take better advantage of the fact that we are in a part of space that has never been in contact with humanity or anyone from the Federation before.”

However, this seemed to make little difference. The second season would see Harry Kim returning to Earth in Non Sequitur, Q and Riker popping up as guest stars inDeath Wish and a rogue Cardassian missile in Dreadnought.

However, even beyond these awkward holdovers from the earlier shows, there’s a sense that this is all just another day in the office for Janeway and the crew. “It’s so easy to become jaded, to treat the extraordinary like just another day at the office,”Janeway advises Kim at the end of Emanations, “but sometimes there are experiences which transcend all that.” The problem is that Voyager hasn’t really offered too much in the way of those transcendental experiences. Even time-and-space-bending adventures like Parallax, The Cloud and Twisted feel almost rote.

Indeed, there’s a worrying familiarity to most of the first season. Far from blazing a trail into the future, much of Voyager feels like a throwback. Faces feels like it harks back to The Enemy Within, without the sort of character work that distinguished Second ChancesThe Cloud feels like it harks back to something like The Immunity Syndrome. Indeed, Caretaker embraces the idea of “the Wild West in space!” in a way that no Star Trek show has since the original.

It feels regressive, as if the show is trying to consciously hark back to classic Star Trek, with no real acknowledgement of the fact that television has come a long way. Episodic adventures magically reset at the end of the hour were perfectly acceptable in the sixties, but they feel less engaging in the nineties. Focus on plot rather than character was a staple of classic television, but The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine had already pushed Star Trek beyond that classic mold of television. In contrast, the sensibilities of the first season of Voyager feel decidedly retro.

Faces is an enjoyable b-movie of an episode, complete with all the awkward implications that one expects from a story about a multiracial crew member split in half.Jetrel and Time and Again meditate on the splitting of the atom. Cathexis feels like a bit of good old-fashioned xenophobic Cold War paranoia more than an example of anti-authority nineties paranoia. Ex Post Facto was a film noir right down to the black-and-white flashbacks. The 37’s has the crew stumbling across some literal relics of the audience’s past.

Even the scenes of Voyager landing on the planet surface in The 37’s seem to call back to the original Star Trek, a triumphant boast about how far Star Trek had come technologically since the sixties. The transporter was famously invented as a means to get the crew on to the surface of alien planets without landing the ship. Here, it seems almost like Voyager is bragging about its capacity to do things that the original Star Trek may have always wanted to do, but couldn’t.

(You could also interpret Voyager‘s eventual focus on the Janeway/Seven/Doctor trio and rejection of the ensemble as part of that nostalgia for classic Star Trek. If one accepts that Seven fills the “Spock” niche in the cast, the triumvirate matches that of the original Star Trek quite closely. Of course, it also seems to gloss over the fact that this model of science-fiction adventure felt decidedly outdated in the mid-to-late nineties.)

In essence, the show is traveling well-worn ground, rather than trying to force its own path. To be fair, this is par for the course with a new Star Trek spin-off. Much of the first season of The Next Generation was trying to be the fourth season of classic Star Trek. Much of the first season of Deep Space Nine was spent trying to mimic The Next Generation. The problem with Voyager is that that show never seemed to grow past this phase of its existence.

This is particularly frustrating because Voyager probably has the most interesting starting premise of any Star Trek spin-off. It’s the show most clearly driven by a central purpose. Sure, Deep Space Nine charged Sisko with inducting Bajor into the Federation, but that objective quickly faded to the background as it was replaced by more urgent concerns. However, the idea of a lost starship on the far side of the galaxy staffed by two different crews is a fascinating starting point for a Star Trek show.

In his infamous exit interview from the franchise, Ronald D. Moore argued as much, taking Voyager to task for its reluctance to embrace what made it all so interesting:

I’ve said this to Brannon for years, because he and I would talk about the show when it was first invented. I just don’t understand why it doesn’t even believe in itself. Examine the fundamental premise of Voyager. A starship chases a bunch of renegades. Both ships are flung to the opposite side of the galaxy. The renegades are forced to come aboard Voyager. They all have to live together on their way home, which is going to take a century or whatever they set up in the beginning. I thought, This is a good premise. That’s interesting. Get them away from all the familiar Star Trek aliens, throw them out into a whole new section of space where anything can happen. Lots of situations for conflict among the crew. The premise has a lot of possibilities. Before it aired, I was at a convention in Pasadena, and [scenic illustrator, technical consultant Rick] Sternbach and [scenic art supervisor, technical consultant Michael] Okuda were on stage, and they were answering questions from the audience about the new ship. It was all very technical, and they were talking about the fact that in the premise this ship was going to have problems. It wasn’t going to have unlimited sources of energy. It wasn’t going to have all the doodads of the Enterprise. It was going to be rougher, fending for themselves more, having to trade to get supplies that they want. That didn’t happen. It doesn’t happen at all, and it’s a lie to the audience. I think the audience intuitively knows when something is true and something is not true. Voyager is not true. If it were true, the ship would not look spick-and-span every week, after all these battles it goes through. How many times has the bridge been destroyed? How many shuttlecrafts have vanished, and another one just comes out of the oven? That kind of bullsh!tting the audience I think takes its toll. At some point the audience stops taking it seriously, because they know that this is not really the way this would happen. These people wouldn’t act like this.

Moore would go on produce the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, which he conceded was pretty close to his vision of Star Trek: Voyager. While a lot more militaristic and adult than Star Trek, it certainly felt more honest than the Star Trek show that débuted in 1995.

The betrayal of the premise was pretty profound, as Moore has noted. The mission home seemed like a secondary concern in most of the episodes. Shows like The Cloud and Phage would make passing reference to issues of resource scarcity and management – however, these never seemed to amount too much. There’s a sense that Janeway could return to the Alpha Quadrant at the end of the first season and still get back the metaphorical deposit on her Intrepid-class starship. (It’s easy to imagine Voyager still has that new starship smell, and certainly isn’t “lived in” yet.)

It’s worth noting that Deep Space Nine offers a harsher living experience than Voyager, despite being located at the nexus of Alpha Quadrant politics and relatively near a friendly planet. O’Brien seems to live under more pressure than Torres, more likely to have to improvise or repair on the fly just to keep the machine ticking over. Voyager feels like there isn’t so much as a scratch on the paintwork yet. Even when the Caretaker almost destroys the bridge, it looks fine by the end of the next episode.

There’s also no real sense of isolation to the voyage. The holodeck allows the crew to visit Earth any time they want, whether Paris’ twenty-fourth century France or Janeway’s costume drama or Harry Kim’s European folktale epic. The crew get their first life-line to the Alpha Quadrant in Eye of the Needle, but it feels like they haven’t been gone long enough for the episode to mean as much as it might otherwise.

The integration of the crews was problematic. Outside of ParallaxPrime FactorsState of Flux, and Learning Curve, the conflict between the Maquis and Starfleet crews are minimised. Even then, the only hint of conflict between the senior staff on the issue occurs in Parallax and Prime Factors. Chakotay falls into line pretty quickly, and Torres becomes quite agreeable almost as fast. Similarly, it seems like everybody who had a problem with Tom Paris serving on the ship was was conveniently killed off in Caretaker.

To be fair, the producers seemed divided on this. Brannon Braga argued that The 37’swas a turning point for the series because the crew stopped moping about getting home. In contrast, Michael Piller still regretted the betrayal of that basic premise when interviewed for his retrospective feelings towards Voyager:

The one thing that I look back on and think would have made the series more interesting would have been to keep more conflict going between the Maquis and the Starfleet characters, at least during the first season or two. I think there was an opportunity missed early on to slowly create a group of characters that had to grow to know and trust one another. Because of those concerns, we essentially solved the conflicts and they were a pretty bonded crew probably from episode three or four on.

While Piller is correct here, it’s worth noting that his attempts to anchor the second season’s storytelling arcs on the Kazon and Maquis would be responsible for some of the more glaring flaws with the second season – ironically creating the sense that Voyager wasn’t moving fast enough, or even moving in reverse.

Of course, on the other hand, producer Rick Berman was actively trying to minimise conflict between the characters in the cast. Quoted in Where No One Has Gone Before: A History in Pictures, Berman contended:

We wanted to get the Maquis into Starfleet uniforms, with a captain who had to pull together diverse groups of people into a functioning, solid, effective unit. It would get pretty irritating, and cumbersome, to have the Maquis tension in every episode.

Berman may have a point, but he’s also misrepresenting the situation somewhat. It would be nice to have the Maquis tension among the primary cast in any episode outside the first two. Chakotay never seems conflicted about his relationship with Starfleet, and the issue is pretty much resolved by the time the credits role on Parallax, the show’s second episode. There was not even a remote chance for the Maquis conflict to get dull or overused.

Looking at the season, it seems quite possible that the first season suffered from the lack of a strong creative hand. Piller had begun to move away from Star Trek during this period, most likely due to the studio’s decision not to involve Piller directly in the production of Star Trek: Generations. He was invited to pitch for the film, which put him in an awkward position of competing against his own writers, as Piller himself magnanimously noted in his memoir, Fade In.

Piller moved away from Deep Space Nine in its third season, and departed Voyagermidway through its first. Indeed, the last two scripts of the season featuring work from Piller were Prime Factors and State of Flux, the flawed duology in the middle of the season exploring the realpolitick of the Delta Quadrant. While the finished episodes were quite flawed, they at least demonstrated a willingness to engage with the show’s unique premise. (As did The Cloud, for all its flaws.)

Although it should be conceded that Piller’s other credited scripts this season – including Time and Again and Ex Post Facto – count among the most episodic and generic Star Trek writing of the year. Piller was also the major proponent of the Kazon on the writing staff. As such, it’s clear that Piller’s influence on Voyager was not unambiguously good. Still, he had a very clear vision of where he wanted to take the show. In what will become a recurring trend for executive producers on Voyager, he never quite got to realise it.

When Piller left midway through the season to launch his new UPN series LegendVoyager seemed to stumble a bit. While Jeri Taylor had worked on the franchise from the fourth season of The Next Generation, it didn’t seem that she was quite ready yet to handle showrunning on Voyager – certainly not taking over day-to-day management of the writers’ room midway through the first season. (Taylor would do a lot better when Piller handed the reigns over at the end of the second season.)

The second half of the first season is a mess. Many of the show’s weakest episodes populate that section of the season – the most obvious being Twisted. Writer Kenneth Biller was recruited on to the staff on the strength of his re-write of Elogium, but the recruit found himself doing a lot work on scripts towards the end of the season. All of Biller’s teleplay credits are on four of the final seven episodes produced in the season. That’s one heck of a trial by fire for a new staff member. (Biller would go on to become invaluable to the show, and his work on Faces makes for one of the better flawed scripts of the season.)

There is an argument to be made that Voyager simply arrived at the wrong time. The Next Generation had arrived at a point where network television had a relatively small amount of science-fiction. Thanks to the success of The Next Generation, the genre really took off in the nineties – television became saturated with science-fiction shows. More than that, Voyager wasn’t just competing against new shows like Sliders or The X-Files or Babylon 5. It was competing against Deep Space Nine and re-runs of The Next Generation. It was entering a market place saturated with Star Trek.

Brannon Braga has openly questioned the wisdom of going straight from The Next Generation into Voyager while Deep Space Nine was still on the air:

Personally, with Deep Space Nine, I don’t think Voyager should have come on the air so quickly. I think Deep Space Nine should have been on its own for a while.

Do think it was pushed out too fast?

I think it was, for want of better words.

There’s a part of the first season of Voyager that feels like it is simply being written as the eighth season of The Next Generation. Concepts could be lifted rather easily from one show to the other.

However, the simple reality is that the producers had little say about when a new show would début. Even Rick Berman, the producer overseeing the franchise, has contended that Voyager went into production because Paramount wanted it for UPN:

It was difficult. We had just ended TNG and DS9 was in its third year, and they immediately wanted another show to take the place of TNG. We asked them to wait a couple of years. They said, “We have all these time slots available. We don’t want to lose them.” They felt very strongly about a new series. The fact that TNG, a ship-based show, was going off the air and that we had a space station-based show on the air, meant that the obvious thing to do was create a new ship, which we did with the Voyager.

A new Star Trek show was always going to happen. Voyager was really inevitable.

It is hard to talk about Voyager without talking about UPN. Indeed, the show is so firmly linked to the network that Caretaker was the first program broadcast on UPN. Voyager was the only series from that first evening of programming to secure itself a second season. Other casualties from that brutal first broadcast season included Michael Piller’s science-fiction western Legend. Airing on a network that aimed to be truly national, Voyager was subject to a lot of the pressures that The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine never had to worry about in syndication.

So the studio meddled with Star Trek: Voyager. Not quite to the extent that they would with Star Trek: Enterprise, but certainly more than they had with Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The most glaring examples – the addition of Seven of Nine and the removal of Kes – are yet to come, but the influence was apparent even from the first season. Most obviously, four broadcast episodes – ProjectionsElogium, Twisted and The 37’s – were carried over to the second season against the wishes of the production team.

UPN itself was a product of desperation. As Robert Abelman and David J. Atkin explain in The Televiewing Audience: The Art and Science of Watching TV, UPN emerged due to larger changes in the television industry of the nineties:

WB and UPN were created out of the cynical, fragmented 1990s, embodying a narrow, defensive, business tactic. Reacting to the recent repeal of federal regulations that banned networks from producing more than a portion of their own programming, ABC, CBS, and NBC were all rushing to get into the production business. … Both Warner Bros. and Paramount studios produced many programs for these networks and feared that the networks would eventually cancel these programs in favour of their own. They believed that they had no choice but to go into the network business in order to find an outlet for their programs and to stay competitive in the television industry. They began operation with a handful of evening programs in January 1995, none of which came close to reaching the 50 top-rated programs of the season.

The first season of Voyager was the most successful show to air during UPN’s first year – and one of very few to get renewed for a second season. However, Voyager‘s fate would be tied with that of the network.

The show would be at the mercy of the network’s demographics. In the first season,Voyager was safe as the strongest show broadcast on the network. Indeed, it was the highest-rated show broadcast on either of the “mini” networks, UPN or WB. However, UPN would begin to aggressively carve out a niche for itself where Voyager became less-and-less important to its overall scheduling. (Indeed, Voyager didn’t even get a retrospective from the network at the end of its seventh season.)

While Voyager arguably suffered from being broadcast on a young network that could reach less than three-quarters of the country, the real problems would begin when the network’s focus began to drift away from the show’s comfort zone. Still, that’s all in the future, even if the first season makes it clear that the relationship between the producers and the studio would be quite different from what had came before.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on the cast of this new Star Trek show. Janeway is a somewhat troubled character. There’s a legitimate criticism that the writing staff could never quite agree on the character. Michael Piller’s version of Janeway was distinct from that of Jeri Taylor, which was distinct from that of Brannon Braga. The character didn’t seem to move anywhere over the course of the show’s seven seasons. Instead, she jumped around depending on the whims of the writers.

In a way, this probably harks back to Voyager‘s strange fixation on the original Star Trek. After all, Kirk was hardly the most consistent character until the movies. Much of what we take for granted about Kirk (beyond being an action adventurer and womaniser) is only really defined in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. However, Kirk was a television character rooted in the sixties. Janeway is the protagonist of a nineties television show. There’s no excuse for her inconsistency.

There are flashes of a consistent character offered throughout the season – although they aren’t necessarily the most dynamic or heroic. In Caretaker, we’re told that she was a former science officer. In episodes like Heroes and Demons and Parallax, Janeway seems more excited about strange phenomenon than engaged with her crew. She has a tendency to completely ignore what is happening on the ship – being blind to Tuvok’s mutiny in Prime Factors and locking herself away in the holodeck in Cathexis and Learning Curve.

In episodes like The Cloud, Janeway stresses the professional distance necessary to do her job. It’s worth noting that she puts more emphasis on this distance than other characters. Kirk holidayed with McCoy and Spock in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Picard frequently invited other characters to join him on the holodeck – Crusher and Data in The Big Goodbye, Troi in Pen Pals, Data in The Defector and Devil’s Due and so on. Sisko cooked meals for his staff and took them to baseball games on the holosuite.

In contrast, Janeway spends a minimum of time engaging with her crew – her personal conversation with Kim at the end of Emanations and her meditation with Chakotay inThe Cloud are the exception. When Janeway goes to the holodeck, she goes alone. When asked about fraternisation, she states that plans to remain loyal to Mark in the Alpha Quadrant. (In contrast, Kim is going on holodeck dates with the Delaney Sisters.) Janeway seems isolated and remote – perhaps the closest that the show comes to dealing with the isolation and loneliness in the Delta Quadrant.

This is an interesting angle for the character – portraying her as a scientist to Kirk’s action hero or Picard’s diplomat or Sisko’s builder. The idea that Janeway might have risen through the science division rather than being prepared for command is an interesting one. After all, Voyager was on a relatively short mission into the Badlands, it makes sense that the assignment wouldn’t need a particularly experienced command officer. However, this version of Janeway seems at odds with later portrayals, and it seems unlikely it was the version Jeri Taylor wanted.

At the end of the first season, the rest of the cast seem woefully under-developed. Tuvok is perhaps the most interesting character – the franchise’s first fully Vulcan regular. His devotion to logic does seem to set him against his colleagues – his somewhat hazy rationalisation of mutiny in Prime Factors and his disagreements with Chakotay and Torres in Twisted. He’s a character who manages to generate some sense of conflict in an ensemble where inter-personal conflict evaporates instantaneously.

The relationship between Neelix and Kes is particularly uncomfortable, and it’s strange that the production team chose to keep it around until the third season. Ignoring the “Kes is barely two” side of things, Neelix comes across as an abusive boyfriend. He’s manipulative and condescending towards Kes. The fact that the show seems play these moments as comedic is a little unsettling, but also unsurprising. Despite the decision to put a female character in command chair, it would appear the franchise is still a bit behind the curve when it comes to gender issues.

The rest of the cast seems to fade into the middle. Chakotay is an unfortunate collection of new age mysticism clichés rather than a character in his own right. (For a rebel, he’s a pretty straight arrow.) Torres has potential, but gets little focus. Ensign Harry Kim is just sort of there. The Doctor is the show’s breakout character, but the first season is on the cusp of that realisation. There is no sense of any relationships or dynamics on the ship. Everybody gets along, but in a generic sort of way. There’s not even any bad blood towards Tuvok, the spy on Chakotay’s ship.

Re-watching the first season of Voyager, it’s striking how Tom Paris seems to be positioned at the centre of the cast. Most characters have a couple of connections to other members of the cast. Torres served with Chakotay. Tuvok is an old friend of Janeway. Kes dates Neelix. However, Paris seems to be the character with the most connections to the rest of the cast. He even serves as the central character ofCaretaker, the viewpoint character with the strongest arc in the pilot.

Barring Torres and Tuvok, Paris connects with the rest of the cast. Janeway served with his father. He served with Chakotay, who mistrusts him. He was the first assistant to the Doctor. He is best friends with Harry Kim. He is romantically interested with Kes. Neelix is jealous of him. Whereas Janeway and Kim have their own private holodeck simulations, it’s Paris who designs the bar that serves as the informal hub of Voyager during the first couple of seasons. (Which admittedly, is pretty gratuitous – surely the mess hall works fine for “crew relaxing” scenes?)

Paris was something of a bone of contention among the Voyager staff. Piller was apparently quite fond of the character’s dysfunction and rough edges. Piller wrote Ex Post Facto, in which Paris’ affair with a married woman almost gets him killed. Piller would also be responsible for the character’s arc during the show’s second season – which consciously played up Paris’ rebel tendencies. In contrast, Jeri Taylor and Robert Duncan McNeill seemed to prefer a softer approach to the character, smoothing the rough edges out a bit – portraying him as a more traditionally heroic lead.

Still, it is slightly frustrating that the white male American character effectively serves as the gateway into Voyager. Voyager has the most diverse ensemble of any Star Trekshow that isn’t Deep Space Nine, and the strange positioning of Tom Paris as the lead of the pilot and the character with the strongest connections to the rest of the cast. AsThe AV Club noted:

Voyager’s crew is a diverse spread of untested sailors: In addition to Paris and Chakotay, there’s the fresh-faced recent Academy graduate Ensign Harry Kim; the Latin human-Klingon hybrid B’Elanna Torres; ostensibly the first Ocampa to leave her home planet, Kes; the rogue Delta Quadrant loner Neelix; and an unnamed holographic doctor designed for use in the case of emergency. The most experienced officers are black Vulcan security officer Tuvok and Captain Janeway herself. In fact, it’s the white male crewmembers, the first officer and the human doctor, who get killed in the Caretaker’s intervention. Which makes it all the stranger that the first female captain of a Star Trek series is introduced through the eyes of a straight white male.

It’s just one of the more paradoxical elements of Voyager, a series that frequent seems at odds with itself. Venturing into new territory while feeling decidedly old-fashioned; offering a diverse ensemble and focusing on the straight white man; setting up a bold premise and fascinating character dynamics and ignoring them completely.

To be fair to Voyager, as noted above, the first season isn’t really bad. Certainly, it holds up a lot better than that show’s troubled second season. Voyager certainly had a stronger first season than The Next Generation and there’s a credible argument to be made that it had around the same average quality as Deep Space Nine its first year, if not slightly higher; even if it did not meet the same highs. This is a reasonable defense of the first season of Voyager.

However, there are significant differences between Voyager and The Next Generation.The Next Generation arrived in a world starved of televised Star Trek and with a minimum amount of televised science-fiction. Hunger is a great sauce. Between The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, there had been nine-and-a-half-seasons-worth of televised Star Trek produced in the seven years leading up to Caretaker. There was no sauce to help this go down easier.

Voyager was produced at the peak of Star Trek‘s popularity. In 1994 and 1995, it seemed like there was nothing the franchise couldn’t do. In that light, and with all the other concerns and pressures facing down on Voyager, it’s easy to see why the show chose the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, it was also the path that led towards inevitable decline and cancellation.

 

The Best:

Caretaker, Parallax, Time and Again, Phage, Eye of the Needle, State of Flux, and Faces

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Briefly:

  • Caretaker begins the series, with a sort-of Lost in Space-esque theme, introducing the Nacene, Ocompa, and tribal Kazon species;
  • Parallax is one of many instances in which we encounter a spatial anomaly;
  • Time and Again is the first of several time travel episode we will see throughout the series;
  • Phage is the first episode to feature the Vidiians, and the final of 5 episodes in a show in the best category;
  • Eye of the Needle is the second time travel, and third spatial anomaly, episode within the series, with a Romulan twist;
  • State of Flux reveals Seska to actually be a Cardassian spy, and she joins the Kazon-Nistrim; and,
  • Faces happens to be a personal favorite, allowing us to get to know B’Elanna much more. Given my family religious background (split between Judaism, and Fundamentalist Christianity) it shouldn’t be surprise I find it so relateable.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Caretaker:

A commendable start for the cast and crew of Star Trek: Voyager gives the new series a chance to establish its identity. While the drama isn’t quite as striking as “Emissary,” the Deep Space Nine pilot of two years ago, “Caretaker” serves its primary purpose first and foremost—very successfully launching the new USS Voyager and its substantial cast of nine with an entertaining but not entirely spectacular story. The episode is solid, with first-rate production qualities and special effects.

“Caretaker” begins with a renegade Maquis ship being chased by Cardassians through the Badlands. After narrowly escaping them, the Maquis ship becomes caught in a mysterious energy pattern. Starfleet designates the ship as missing, and sends a ship to search for it. Not just any ship, but the USS Voyager—a sleek, fast and powerful new Intrepid class starship with some interesting features and improved computer technology. (For the record, this new vessel bears the registry NCC-74656.)

The Voyager is commanded by Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), who enters the episode on Earth where she recruits prison inmate Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) to help track down his Maquis former-allies. The Voyager begins its search of the Badlands after a quick stop at Deep Space Nine. On the station we meet fresh-out-of-the-academy Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang), an inexperienced but mature “kid” with a good head on his shoulders.

Paris has a bit of a tarnished past and bad reputation. In less-than-subtle ways, several senior staff members display their distaste of him by giving him the cold shoulder at every turn. Officially labeled an “observer” with no rank, Paris is faced with life aboard a ship that hates him. Kim, of open mind, gives Paris the benefit of the doubt and accepts him as a friend, opening the door for the first friendship aboard this series’ Federation starship.

In the Badlands, the same energy pattern that grabbed the Maquis ship also takes the Voyager by surprise, causing some serious damage and heavy casualties. The first officer, doctor, and chief engineer are all killed by the impact. This leaves the emergency holographic doctor (Robert Picardo) in charge of all medical situations, for which there are plenty.

After stabilizing the situation and assessing damage as best possible, the crew discovers they have traveled over 70,000 light years to the Delta Quadrant—at maximum warp it would take them 75 years to reach Federation space. The Voyager finds the missing Maquis ship orbiting a mysterious array that kidnaps both ships’ crews and performs experiments on them. Three days later, the two crews awake on their respective ships. One member from each crew is missing. Kim is missing from the Voyager, and Maquis engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson) is missing from the Maquis vessel.

The two crews decide they must work together to find a way back to the Alpha Quadrant. Janeway leads an away team back onto the array along with Maquis leader Chakotay (Robert Beltran), a Native American who left Starfleet on principle, and Voyager security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ, supplying the first regular Vulcan role on Star Trek since the original Spock), who unbeknownst to Chakotay had infiltrated his Maquis group to arrest them.

On the array, the away team meets a mysterious lifeform known as the Caretaker, who tells them they were probed for medical information in his search for a compatible replacement. The Caretaker is dying, and he needs someone to take his place to oversee the welfare of the Ocampa, a race of humanoids who live on a nearby planet. Further, the away team learns that Kim and Torres were sent to this planet for further study as potential Caretaker replacements.

Janeway sets a course for the Ocampa’s planet. On the way, the Voyagerencounters a space-junkyard owner named Neelix (Ethan Phillips), from a race known as the Talaxians. In exchange for a supply of water (a very limited resource in this quadrant), he agrees to guide them to the Ocampa homeworld and help them deal with the Kazon, an unfriendly race who has claim in nearby areas of space. By the way, no one in this quadrant has transporter technology, which gives the Voyager an edge in several instances.

Meanwhile, Torres and Kim are analyzed by the Ocampa, who, based on their inferior medical knowledge, inform Torres and Kim that their chances for survival are slim. The only realistic goal is to get off the planet and seek treatment in the Voyager‘s sickbay.

Around this time, Janeway and her team beams down to the Ocampa planet’s surface, but can’t get into the Ocampa’s underground cities, which are surrounded by force fields to prevent Kazon intruders from robbing the planet of its resources. Here, the away team is met by an aggressive Kazon force holding a young Ocampa woman hostage. Using water as a negotiation item, Neelix (who has obviously had dealings with these Kazon before) distracts the Kazon leader and then turns on them. He rescues the Ocampa woman, who is actually his intimate companion Kes (Jennifer Lien).

Kes knows of access tunnels which may allow Voyager to rescue Kim and Torres. At the same time, an Ocampa helps Kim and Torres to these same tunnels in their attempt to get to the surface. The rescue attempt is successful, complete with earthquakes and collapsing bridges, and a scene where Paris saves Chakotay from falling to his death in an attempt to show a good gesture for his earlier betrayal of the Maquis. This action scene is okay, but sabotaged by an all-too-quiet, unexciting score by Jay Chattaway.

As the crew beams back aboard the ship, they are confronted by Kazon warships which attack them. Janeway and Tuvok beam onto the array again to talk to the Caretaker, whose imminent death is marked by his last wish that Voyager destroy the array to prevent the Kazon from using it to conquer the Ocampa. Unfortunately this would mean no way for the Voyager to return to the Alpha Quadrant.

Meanwhile, Voyager and the Maquis ship battle the Kazon is some well-done pyrotechnic numbers. Best of all is the spectacular Kamikaze attack Chakotay runs with his Maquis ship toward the large Kazon ship, beaming out the moment before the collision which destroys both ships. This is a great, exciting effect.

Janeway returns to the Voyager and destroys the array, which makes instant enemies of the Kazon who attempted to claim it as theirs. They withdraw, however, leaving the fight for another day. With the array destroyed, the Voyager has no quick way back to the Alpha Quadrant. Their new mission becomes the voyage home, but not without exploring this vast, unknown region on the way.

“Caretaker” does what it’s supposed to. This show does an excellent job of introducing its characters and giving them all something to do. It’s remarkable how much we learn about everybody. The combining of the Starfleet and Maquis crews promises to show friction in future episodes. At the same time, the writers introduce some friendly aliens (the Ocampa), and some enemies (the Kazon) right off the bat. It’s a very good way to jump-start the series, and there’s the feeling that with these two short hours, the series has already done a great deal in establishing its tone.

However, there are some fundamental situations about the show that aren’t set up nearly as well as they could’ve been. For example, the Ocampa’s introduction is nice, but why is it Janeway sides with them so easily? It’s really hard to feel sympathetic toward the Ocampa when we hardly know them, and the writers really give no reason to care, unless we automatically accept what the Caretaker says about the Ocampa and the Kazon. Making the Ocampa look like cute, innocent, elves alone is not enough. It would’ve been nice to know more about them.

For that matter, why does Janeway decide to destroy the array, sacrificing the only reasonable way home, based solely on the Caretaker’s wishes? Tuvok is quick to point out that this is a Prime Directive issue. It’s clear, he says, that it is not up to Voyager to see that the Ocampa are safeguarded from the Kazon. So why does Janeway decide to “interpret” the Prime Directive some other way? She says something like, “We didn’t ask to be involved, but we are.” This line is weak and vague. It really doesn’t mean anything if you think about it. Yet Janeway destroys the array and makes enemies with the Kazon because the Ocampa need to be protected. This is very noble, but hard to understand based on everything Star Trek lore says about the Prime Directive. I would have no problem with it if the writers would have found a better way of explaining it. Instead it seems very much like an arbitrary decision.

Most troubling however is Janeway’s selection of Chakotay as first officer. I don’t disagree with her decision. I just don’t understand why the writers don’t explain why she decided to make him second in command. There is no real explanation; just a passing reference to it when she names Paris a Lieutenant. The scene where she gives Paris rank and duty is good, but it’s bothersome that there isn’t a similar scene for Chakotay. When we’re going to live with this decision for the entire series, it would be nice to know where it comes from.

Aside from these quibbles, I liked “Caretaker.” Voyager shows promise with its action, adventure, exploration, and characters. While this isn’t the best Trek to hit the screen, it does the job quite nicely.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Parallax:

On their way home from the Delta Quadrant at maximum warp, a journey that will take them some 75 years, the crew of the Voyager encounters its first adventure—becoming caught in a temporal singularity while trying to rescue a trapped ship. The trapped ship turns out to be a temporal reflection of the Voyager itself.

The technobabble-laden plot involving this singularity is something the Next Generation writers would probably only deliver if they were desperate for a story. Considering the Voyager is out in the middle of completely unknown territory with infinite possibilities of adventure and discovery, seeing a plot like this on the second episode is a letdown.

Fortunately, “Parallax” serves its purpose as the series’ first one-hour episode by developing the characters in the genuine Trek style. Unlike the pilot, this one picks a few characters and works with them, rather than spreading it around so much. This makes an easier dramatic line to follow, as the story concentrates on just a couple of people, rather than trying to attack the whole ensemble.

The episode opens with an amusing teaser in which senior engineer Carey (Josh Clark) reports to sickbay with a broken nose after getting into a fight with hot-headed former Maquis B’Elanna Torres. This stresses what will hopefully be a conflict in the series for a while—the uneasy tension between the Starfleet officers and the Maquis. Tuvok wants to put Torres in the brig over the matter. Meanwhile, exaggerations of the incident lead some of the less conservative Maquis to come to Chakotay and tell him they will support him in a mutiny to take over the ship. (He refuses, of course, and tells them they will be in big trouble if they even think about it again.)

Janeway begins seeking replacements for the key officers lost in the pilot, including chief engineer and chief medical officer. After nominating Paris to train as a field doctor (since the holographic medic can’t leave sickbay), Chakotay recommends Torres for chief engineer. The fight in engineering makes Janeway uncertain about Torres, but Chakotay tells Janeway to keep Torres in mind. The two are obviously separated on the matter, and when Chakotay goes over her head involving an engineering matter, Janeway calls him into the ready room. Here we get a relatively fiery scene between them regarding the Maquis’ position and ranking on the ship. (The conversation ends with Chakotay forcefully saying “Permission to leave,” without much of a question mark behind it.)

This is the setup for the somewhat cliched premise where Torres has to prove herself worthy to the captain. Fortunately, the writing is sincere, and scenes between Torres and the captain are on-target. In staff meeting, Torres solves the singularity’s mystery in thirty seconds flat and partially wins Janeway over. Janeway, who could probably take on Geordi LaForge in a technobabble match, has some ideas on how to escape the singularity and realizes Torres has the experience to take on the serious technical situation. Janeway doesn’t doubt Torres’ ability to apply her engineering skills, but she needs to be sure Torres has the ability to give and take orders.

To escape the singularity, Torres and Janeway take a shuttlecraft out to open a crack in the field using technobabble procedures, etc., so the Voyager can fit through. When returning, the singularity’s bizarre properties cause confusion when the temporal reflection of the Voyager reappears. The two can’t tell which is the real ship. They must choose one to land on, as both ships show identical properties when scanned. With time to escape running out, they must make a decision. They both do—they choose different ships.

Neither the technobabble, nor even the big decision really matters here. What matters is seeing these two get to know one other and earn each other’s respect. The interaction further defines each of these characters’ personalities and attitudes, laying foundation for future episodes.

Of course, the Voyager just barely escapes the singularity. Janeway gives Torres the position of Chief Engineer—Torres has much to learn, but Janeway has the utmost confidence in her. As the Voyager resumes its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, “Parallax” displays Voyager‘s promise to true Star Trek character interaction while establishing some backstory. Too bad the plot is so tired.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Time and Again:

Voyager displays one more way how to be derivative of TNG by offering an exercise in not one, but two dependable Star Trek cliches—the Violation of the Prime Directive and Crew Members Lost in Time motifs. What is basically a tame, mundane, lackluster time story fortunately displays some energy in the closing act with a halfway punchy (though somewhat predictable) ending. Fans of the other Trek series will surely find this as more of the same.

The series has obvious potential, but again refuses to use it by telling a story that could just as easily have been told on TNG or DS9. These are not the episodes that should have used to launch the series. The writers should’ve delivered two knockouts to get the audiences going. Instead, they supply two relatively pedestrian plots.

While cruising through a star system, a sub-space shockwave alerts the Voyager to a planet whose entire population has just been annihilated by subspace radiation. Upon beaming down to investigate, the away team discovers fractures in time caused by the aftereffects. Janeway and Paris “fall” into one of these cracks, and find themselves shifted back approximately one day in the past where the planet’s population is alive and well, without the slightest clue they’re going to be gone tomorrow.

Unfortunately, after act one’s setup, we get fairly uneventful acts two, three and four. We get into the issue with the Prime Directive again, as Janeway orders an exasperated Paris not to warn anybody what is going to happen. The rest of the Voyager crew begins to look for a way to retrieve Janeway and Paris through time, which means we get another episode mired in technobabble.

The cast goes through the motions but doesn’t strike any notes. We learn nearly nothing new about the characters or their personalities, and the dialog lacks strength. There’s a bit with Kes’ telepathic abilities, as she “sees” the deaths of everyone on the planet in her sleep. But her scenes come across as needlessly melodramatic, marked by the bothersome sight of her breaking into tears on Neelix’s shoulder over the horrible sight. Saving some grace is Robert Picardo’s amiable performance as the holographic doctor (who comes across as the episode’s most interesting character). He’s a being who may have more than his superficial qualities suggest—the Voyager version, I suppose, of Data from TNG.

Janeway and Paris learn the planet’s impending destruction will be the result of the people’s own use of unstable power sources, possibly due to some activists who know the dangers of the technology and plan to sabotage a power plant to make a point. The story changes direction when Janeway realizes that their very presence may be what causes the disaster. This leads her to decide she has to stop the activists from performing their dastardly deed. This is where the story finally picks up (though too late) as Janeway plays the heroine by following the bad guys into the power plant, where she pulls a gun and an all-business attitude on them.

But the conclusion is far too ambiguous. It turns out that the crew’s rescue attempt through time causes the explosion, and suddenly the scene takes us back in time (or forward, from Janeway’s point of view) to before the Voyager even encounters the subspace shockwave. The time manipulations are reminiscent of “Cause and Effect,” but this conclusion doesn’t offer any explanations to the questions it raises. (Most of all, why does Kes come to the bridge to avert the crew from restarting the same time loop again?) The ending completely ignores its paradox without any offer of credibility.

Weighing down the sci-fi element is the fact that the planet’s residents are way too human, making the Delta Quadrant that much less fascinating. Unfortunately, plot requirements require it, which is another reason why this story is a bad move this early in the series. And frankly, Chattaway’s score here is dreadful, particularly during the obligatory gunfight scene. It owes more to fingernails on a chalkboard than notes on a page.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Phage:

While searching for dilithium on a planet surface, an alien attacks Neelix and electronically removes his lungs. After the Doctor manages to stabilize him, the Voyager chases the aliens through several star systems in hopes of retrieving the stolen organs needed to save Neelix’s life.

Neelix will die within an hour if the Doctor doesn’t get the lungs back. Unfortunately, the crew will not likely catch the aliens by then, who have a head start and a ship just as fast as Voyager. This leads the Doctor to execute an “unprecedented medical procedure” by creating holographic lungs for Neelix to use. The drawback is that Neelix must remain in a restraining field because the computer cannot compensate for movement.

This is a much more promising Voyager outing, with some good character moments and a plot less dependent on technobabble and Trek cliches. Finally we gets some healthy characterization, as well as a plot that offers a threat without excessive jeopardy. It’s nothing brand new (which the series has the potential for), but it does work.

Placing Neelix in the restraint leads to a number of humorous yet understandable moments. He feels paranoid and alone, believing that his paralysis gives Paris the chance to go after Kes. Unexpectedly funny dialog includes Neelix labeling Paris a vulture who is merely “one big hormone walking around the ship.”

The banter between Neelix and the Doctor is adeptly conceived and performed. Picardo once again successfully pulls off the character of the disgruntled doctor, with his annoyed personality remaining simultaneously within the boundaries of mild comedy and plausibility. Picardo’s line, “I’m a doctor, not an interior decorator,” is a scream.

The scenes with Kes also work well. Kes comes across much better here than in “Time and Again,” in which she came across as, frankly, annoying. Here she is supportive of Neelix and her optimism proves helpful. Scenes between Kes and the Doctor are engaging and likable.

Meanwhile, Janeway chases the alien organ thieves into an artificial asteroid that reflects sensor information. This causes a “hall of mirrors” effect that hides the alien ship while creating a million false images of the Voyager. Tuvok’s idea to bounce the ship’s phasers off the walls like a searchlight is strangely amusing.

Capturing the aliens leads the crew to discover why the aliens stole the organs. They are a race of beings whose existence consists solely of fighting the “phage”—a disease that destroys their bodies and breaks down their organs. The race’s advances in medical technology are the only thing keeping them from extinction. They harvest organs to save their own lives.

The two aliens reveal that Neelix’s stolen lungs have already been transplanted into one of them. Returning Neelix’s lungs would mean the alien’s death. This gives Janeway a judgment call which is handled with a reasonable amount of dramatic power (though Janeway nearly getting misty-eyed was pushing it). She cannot justify killing the alien to retrieve Neelix’s lungs, but gives them a forceful warning that any violent intentions in the future would be met with “the deadliest force.”

In exchange for saving his life, one of the aliens agrees to use their superior medical technology to perform a tricky lung transplant in which Kes donates one of her lungs to Neelix.

In addition to introducing a new alien race, another thing “Phage” does is give Kes a job on the ship. Though it seemed like Kes was headed toward possibly being a character with no purpose, the episode remedies this situation when the Doctor recruits her as his assistant. (This should come as a relief to “temporary field doctor” Paris.)

Perhaps it doesn’t have audacious plotting, but “Phage” is a good, solid episode of science fiction that continues to flesh out the characters.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Eye of the Needle:

Ensign Kim discovers a wormhole that leads back to the Alpha Quadrant. Although it is too small for the Voyager to travel through, the crew is able to send a communication signal through it, which is received by a Romulan science vessel. Further tests by Lt. Torres show that it may also be possible to send a transporter signal through the wormhole. Could Voyager‘s crew use it to beam back home?

The basic premise of “Eye of the Needle” is both its biggest strength and weakness. The resulting excitement among the Voyager crew when they realize they may be within striking distance of returning to the Alpha Quadrant leads to a number of well-acted and passionate scenes. At the same time, the tease of “will Voyager get home?” is not a premise that lends itself to a particularly surprising ending—it’s a near-painfully foregone conclusion. I guess the bottom line comes down to the effectiveness of the characterization, and on that level, “Eye of the Needle” works pretty well.

The captain of the Romulan science vessel is named Telek (played by Vaughn Armstrong in one of the most sympathetic portrayals of a Romulan in recent memory). Telek isn’t your typical villain personality, he’s a real person. Initially, he’s not forthcoming with assistance. He’s suspicious, and severely doubts Janeway’s claims that Voyager is transmitting from the Delta Quadrant. He wonders what a Federation ship could possibly gain from pretending to be in the Delta Quadrant.

The first half of the show centers around Janeway’s attempts to convince Telek that Voyager poses no threat to his ship. One rather long scene, that takes place entirely in Janeway’s quarters, features Mulgrew performing for a number of minutes with only two camera cuts. Mulgrew delivers nicely when you consider that she’s essentially talking to herself for an extended period, but the scene, despite being a technical challenge, doesn’t have the emotional depth it seems to want to.

Fortunately, the show makes up for it in other sequences. “Eye of the Needle” in most cases, is driven more by emotional responses of the characters than by plot events. I thought the scene where Janeway appeals to Telek’s pity (“You must understand what it’s like being separated from your family for so long. It will be years before any of my crew sees their families again. Maybe never.”), worked well enough, although Telek getting misty-eyed may have been pushing it.

Once Torres realizes the possibility of rigging the transporters to get home, the characters all show an enthusiastic glow. Even Janeway gets caught up in the moment—a moment that could just be a prelude to a substantial disappointment. This makes sense. Unlike some of the silly plots of shows leading up to this one, “Eye of the Needle” uses a situation we can understand and empathize with, instead of just going with the flow.

The most engaging part of the show for me, however, is the B-story, involving the rude way members of the crew treat the Doctor. Like TNGdid with Data in its early seasons, “Eye of the Needle” makes good use of the “humanity question,” as Kes argues to Janeway that the Doctor deserves the same respect and treatment that any other crew member receives. There are several very thoughtful sequences involving Doc and Kes, and later Doc and Janeway, that prompt him to realize he has to think of himself as a true member of the crew (and that he would also like a name). These moments flesh out the character wonderfully while also giving us sympathy for his unique and lonely situation. (One nicely done long shot in particular features the Doctor sitting all alone in sickbay after he has just received word that the rest of the crew may be beaming off the ship without him.) At the same time, Kes’ character is looking better all the time. Her desire for learning and her decision to stand up for the Doctor are highly admirable, and cancel all reservations I had of what she was becoming when I saw how she was used in “Time and Again.”

The show, of course, ends the only way it possibly can, but at least it’s halfway creative about it. After the Voyager crew successfully beams Telek aboard the ship across the wormhole, Tuvok discovers that the wormhole moves through time as well as space. Telek is from 20 years in the past, and if the Voyager crew were to beam back with Telek, they would end up in the past, too. Due to the possibility of time line contamination (and some paradoxes that the show wisely ignores), the crew realizes that they can’t go back through the wormhole. That leaves them with the final option of sending personalized messages for their families back with Telek, who could presumably deliver them to the Federation in 20 years, after the Voyager has vanished.

Tuvok discovers, however, that as the time line plays out, Telek dies four years before Voyager even launches, meaning that the messages were possibly never delivered—there is no way of knowing if Telek gave them to anybody before his death.

Plotwise, most of this is fairly pedestrian, despite the last-minute twist of fate. None of it is particularly surprising; all of it is fairly inevitable. Characteristically speaking, however, this works because the reactions are credible. “Eye of the Needle” successfully puts the Voyager crew in a situation that has no cliches or stupid battles, while putting them through an emotional wringer. In the end, everyone feels a little defeated, but they pull themselves together and move on.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of State of Flux:

I think one of the reasons “State of Flux” works so well is because, under scrutiny, it makes a hell of a lot of sense. It’s an episode that considers Voyager‘s premise, builds on the Kazon which were introduced in the pilot, has an interesting plot with ends that meet, and makes a character deal with a tough personal situation.

The last item in particular is what Voyager has done best so far this season. The season’s best shows to date—”Prime Factors,” “Eye of the Needle,” “The Cloud”—all work because they put characters in tough emotional situations that they must deal with and put behind them before continuing with their long voyage.

In “State of Flux,” the crew encounters the Kazon while on an away mission. After beaming up and leaving the area without a major incident (aside from Chakotay and Seska exchanging some phaser-fire with some Kazon in a cave), Janeway receives an urgent distress call—it’s from the same Kazon ship encountered at the planet.

Some new technology has apparently blown up in their faces, and after a rescue attempt that retrieves only one Kazon survivor, Torres finds that the technology was a food replicator taken from the Voyager. There’s only one explanation—a traitor on board. Somebody gave the Kazon the unit so it could be analyzed and transporter technology could be brought to the Delta Quadrant.

But who is the traitor? It could be anybody, but most likely someone on the engineering team. Was it Carey, who may be angry because he was passed up for the chief engineer position? Or perhaps Seska, who may have actually been in the cave to rendezvous with the Kazon?

Most of the show centers around Chakotay and Seska (Martha Hackett returns in the role of a Maquis crew member who has always been outspoken with her dissatisfaction of Captain Janeway). The show makes it clear that Chakotay and Seska were once intimately involved in the old Maquis days, before they were pulled into the Delta Quadrant. But a sensible scene where Seska brings Chakotay some mushroom soup—which she has stolen from Neelix’s storage—shows Seska in a position with responsibilities and guidelines which she has no desire or intention of following, whereas Chakotay has adapted and accepted his Starfleet job.

The question “State of Flux” poses is whether or not Seska is guilty of treason—and, for once, this is a question that is successfully mired in a complex plot that (1) is not always obvious, (2) cannot be predicted so easily, and (3) works plausibly given the events and the past actions of the characters. As a mystery, the show works well, because the plot carefully holds back just enough information so that we aren’t sure whether or not Seska is guilty, but we can follow and fully believe the events and revelations that unfold as Tuvok and Chakotay’s investigation progresses.

For example, there’s the mystery of why Seska hasn’t “gotten around” to having her blood sample put on file. When Doc finally forces the issue, he discovers that Seska is missing key Bajoran properties. He tells Janeway that Seska is not a Bajoran—probably a Cardassian (who possibly infiltrated Chakotay’s Maquis crew). But the episode throws several subtly-played smokescreens at us, playing the event down so that we’re not completely sure what exactly it means, if anything. Seska claims the blood anomalies were caused by a childhood Bajoran disease that swept through her camp during the Occupation. And when she explains this to Chakotay, she’s so convincing and innocent-looking that the scene makes us wonder if Seska is truly the guilty party, or just a victim in a framing scheme.

Ultimately, the mystery’s solution hangs on a trap Chakotay and Tuvok devise, based on some information Chakotay feeds both Seska and Carey. As the traitor’s computer-hacking cover-up attempts reveal the guilty party, the show comes together in a closing scene that skillfully ties all loose ends together.

Actually, the show could’ve ended in one of two ways, and still worked: (1) Seska could be the victim of a framing by Carey, or (2) Seska could be a very guilty and clever traitor. The former option would still be believable, but the latter option, which the show wisely takes, is much more powerful. Seska dealing with the Kazon follows, to the letter, from what we’ve seen from her character in past episodes. And when we learn that she is, in fact, a Cardassian spy altered to look Bajoran, it has a real reason: it gives the character an added edge of attitudes—attitudes that explain everything she does.

You can’t just give the Kazon technology like this, Janeway says. It could shift the balance of power in the quadrant. But if we forge an alliance now, Seska replies, the shift would be in our favor. “That is all that matters at this point,” she says icily. And once she’s found out, Seska turns on a dime (in a charged dialog scene) from a soft and innocent-seeming Bajoran to a glaring, menacing Cardassian personality who calls the captain a fool to her face, and calls Chakotay a fool for following her. “I can’t imagine how I ever loved you,” she says to him, and then beams onto a Kazon ship and escapes. Ouch.

Hackett’s performance is one of the show’s highlights, particularly in this final scene. But I don’t find just her performance enjoyable—I’m also pleased in the way the episode uses it to turn the plot into a cohesive whole, because it takes a character who has never been understanding or supportive of Janeway’s Starfleet methods (“If this had been a Cardassian ship, we would be home now”), and uses her in a believably devious way. There are larger series-impacting statements here, too—the show demonstrates that the Voyager is still at least partially divided in its Starfleet/Maquis mentalities, and that maybe not all of the crew is willing to just lie down and accept its situation.

Then there’s Chakotay’s problems. Not only does he have to deal with integrating his rough-edged crew into a Starfleet environment; now he has former-lovers turning out to be crafty Cardassian agents who despise his Starfleet sentiments. At least Tuvok, who was also aboard Chakotay’s Maquis ship, was fooled by Seska’s treachery as well. Strange, Tuvok wonders, that Chakotay would find this failure comforting. “Misery loves company, Tuvok,” Chakotay replies. Indeed.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Faces:

While surveying a planet with Lieutenants Paris and Durst, B’Elanna Torres is kidnapped by the Vidiians, who attempt to extract her Klingon DNA to fight their deadly epidemic, the phage. They reform her into two separate Klingon and human individuals. They lock Klingon-Torres in a lab for further study, and send human-Torres down into their tunnels with Paris and Durst to work as slave labor. In order to escape their captors, the two B’Elannas must find each other and work together while overcoming their conflicting dispositions.

“Faces” is an interesting, original story that doesn’t seem remade from Next Generation stock like many of this season’s installments. Taking “inner conflict” and putting it in the most literal sense imaginable (by way of the latest in sci-fi plots), this episode proves to be Voyager‘s first truly compelling concept, going down as the series’ best so far. The series seems to be at its best when dealing with inner conflict and personal issues, as also seen in “Prime Factors” and “State of Flux.”

Splitting Torres into two halves reveals two unbalanced extremes of her personality. Neither receives much of what the other has. Torres’ Klingon half gets all her strength and courage, but an uncontrolled temper and no patience. On the other hand, her human half gets the patience and a cool head, but depleted strength and an inability to overcome intense lapses of fear.

The situation is thoughtfully utilized for some emotional moments, as Torres’ dilemma is one of the most personal character aspects Voyagerhas yet examined. The core of “Faces” lies in B’Elanna’s self-identity problem. Backstory (and some good stuff, at that) reveals that B’Elanna has spent much of her life trying to suppress her Klingon half. An interesting point is how the teleplay seems to side with B’Elanna’s human side, as most of the personal dialog comes from her, rather than the Klingon. However, part of what human B’Elanna begins to realize as the show progresses is how much she needs her Klingon side to survive. The scene where human-B’Elanna reveals all of this to Paris is very absorbing (until Paris’ extremely stupid line, “I guess you finally got your wish,” upon which B’Elanna should have promptly strangled him).

The exchanges between chained-down Klingon-B’Elanna and her Vidiian captor Sulan (Brian Markinson) often proves interesting. Sulan tells B’Elanna she will be a hero in Vidiian history for her role in eradicating the phage. Klingons, however, do not appreciate being chained up, she tells him. “Klingons find honor as warriors on the battle field, not as guinea pigs in a laboratory.” Sulan is impressed by B’Elanna, and would be even more impressed if she could eliminate the phage.

The show also successfully further develops the Vidiians’ role in Delta Quadrant lore. Despite their motives, they come across as quite malevolent here, and are effectively utilized as villains for the episode’s action/adventure quotient. There’s one somewhat shocking scene where Sulan visits B’Elanna sporting the recently-grafted face of Lt. Durst, who was killed for his organs—grotesquely fascinating. At the same time, it’s hard to simply condemn the Vidiians, because they’re trying to preserve themselves. But after Janeway’s warning of “deadly retaliation” in “Phage,” I don’t expect a future encounter with the Vidiians to be particularly diplomatic.

Attempting to escape, human-B’Elanna is caught by the Vidiians, but Klingon-B’Elanna, escaped herself, saves her from likely execution. And after some verbal exchanges that offers even more insight into Torres’ past, the two finally begin to come to terms with each other and agree to look for a way to disable the cave shield preventing their beam-out.

The episode culminates in the medical lab, in another well-executed action/suspense scene where the two B’Elannas mess with the computers until they are able to disable the shield, but not before they set off an alarm in the process. Chakotay suddenly shows up, disguised as a Vidiian, to aid in the escape, then Sulan comes along and threatens to shoot everybody if Klingon-B’Elanna does not surrender herself for further study. A twist of events has Sulan in screaming anguish when he accidentally phasers his possible phage cure, Klingon-B’Elanna, who throws herself into the path of a phaser blast seconds before Voyagerbeams up the away team.

The Doctor is able to use the Klingon DNA to restore B’Elanna to her usual self, but the experience of being divided leaves B’Elanna shaken and confused, yet in realization that she will be fighting with her inner self for possibly the rest of her life. Even Chakotay has no words of wisdom to offer her—a rather resonating closing.

Biggs-Dawson plays the part of a Klingon as well as anyone I’ve seen on Star Trek (I almost wish the character would have stayed on the show), so much that it’s almost hard to believe that the two B’Elannas are played by the same actress. Biggs-Dawson shows the perfect screen presence to bring this character to life, both mentally and physically, not a small feat by any means. It’s too bad that, as chief engineer, she is so often limited to reciting technobabble. “Faces” gives her a fresh and exciting adventure with plenty of character-driven scenes.

 

The Worst:

The Cloud, Ex Post Facto, Cathexis, Jetrel, and Learning Curve

Janeway_cathexis

In small parts:

  • The Cloud features the phrase I will never forget: “There’s coffee in that nebula”;
  • Ex Post Facto is a noir-themed episode with a femme fatale, Lidell Ren;
  • Cathexis is a more spiritually (out of body experience) based episode with an alien among us theme;
  • Jetrel seemed like a compelling story in idea, but was somewhat incoherent in practice, luckily DS9’s Ties of Blood and Water would be handled better; and,
  • Learning Curve remains the worst season finales of the entire show, in my humble opinion, so I have a tendency to skip past it.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of The Cloud:

The crew ventures into a nebula to search for power supplies which may ease the burden on the limited energy supply. In the process, they encounter what seems to be a cosmic storm that traps them, and they are forced to blast their way out with weapons. Later, the crew discovers that the storm was not simply a natural phenomenon, but a lifeform that is probably now severely injured due to the Voyager‘s presence.

Well, the plot isn’t much—it is in fact another derivative Misunderstood Lifeform Plot that TNG turned into a Trek cliche long ago. It’s surprising that this fresh new series has yet to tell a fresh new story. If it wasn’t for the character moments, “The Cloud” would be in trouble. But characterization is everything here. In fact, this story would probably have worked just as well if the plot wasn’t there at all.

Do you care about the plot? To call it minimal would be an understatement. Voyager travels into the cloud, gets trapped, and has to use excessive force to escape. It isn’t until hours later that Janeway realizes what has happened and decides she has to return to the cloud to save a lifeform. Unfortunately, when going back into the cloud, the Voyager is threatened again, as it spirals to its doom in a hurricane-like environment, portrayed by some rather cheesy-looking special effects. Naturally, the ship isn’t going to be destroyed (in another iteration of the jeopardy premise), or else the series would be over. Voyager is able to escape without serious damage—and they are successful in healing the innocent lifeform.

So forget the plot anyway. The reason “The Cloud” ends up being the best episode of Voyager so far is because of the wonderful cast interaction. Aside from the moments dealing with this cloud, this show has an easygoing, relaxed pace, which is definitely in the show’s favor.

The episode opens with a captain’s log voice-over, in which Janeway considers her options as the role of leader in the midst of the unique situation of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Should she simply remain an official figure who distances herself from the day-to-day personal lives of her crew, or should she take the time to become a friend both on and off duty? It’s a tough call and a relevant issue to touch on.

At the very least, it seems things have become a little more casual between Janeway and Chakotay. The spiritual first officer helps the captain take a visionary trip in search of her “animal guide,” which may be able to offer insights into the personality. It doesn’t sound like much, but this portion of the show is surprisingly absorbing, showing Chakotay’s spiritual beliefs in a relaxed way that doesn’t feel forced or underdeveloped.

We are introduced to Paris’ slice-of-home holodeck program—a French pool hall where he invites people to hang out. My favorite Voyagerinterpersonal relationship, the always-amiable Paris/Kim friendship, gets further use here. One question this holodeck angle brings up, however, is why in the world the crew would be wasting power on the holodecks when they don’t even have the power to replicate food. A bit of a logic hole, I would say, but nothing that detracts from the scenes or the show as a whole.

Kes shows continued improvement as a character with a refreshing, exuberant sense of adventure, who is glad to be aboard the Voyagerand its crew of travelers. This is a new spin that is a relief to see, changing my view of what I originally feared the character was going to be—that of Voyager‘s token “Counselor Troi” character.

There’s also the Doctor, who brings out the laughs with his sharp-edged sarcasm that has the greatest timing. He’s blunt, and doesn’t care that he’s blunt. In response, Janeway is relatively quick to mute the speakers.

Neelix has some humorous lines of discontent as well, calling the Voyager explorers a group of idiots with a death wish. Nevertheless, he decides to lift the spirits of the crew during the moments of jeopardy by bringing food to the bridge and labeling himself the “morale officer.” I’ll have to admit, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone come to the bridge in the middle of a red alert carrying a food tray. It’s a tad amusing in it’s unconventionality.

“The Cloud” may best be described as a collection of seemingly random scenes that explore the characters. I say that’s just fine. The optimistic final scene, where Janeway decides to join her crew in the holodeck for some billiards, sums up “Cloud’s” intentions. The plot is merely a frame. The heart is the characterization, which couldn’t be much better.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Ex Post Facto:

Paris is accused of the murder of Professor Ren, a brilliant scientist on the home world of a people known as the Baneans. They try, convict and sentence him before the Voyager crew knows anything about the incident. His punishment is a brain implant that forces him to live out the last moments of his victim’s life from the victim’s perspective once every 14 hours.

I guess it’s inevitable that a murder-mystery works itself into the opening leg of any new Star Trek series (Deep Space Nine did it on the third outing). But something co-creator and executive producer Jeri Taylor said in a magazine article before this series premiered still hangs in my mind. The premise of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant is supposed to be a catalyst for telling some new types of stories, she said. No Starfleet Command, no Klingons, no Cardassians, nothing we’re used seeing on TNG and DS9.

But the stories so far have hardly been original. Only the pilot has come close to non-standard Trek storytelling. Most (even better outings, such as “The Cloud”) have been derivative devices that play second fiddle to character development. We haven’t met any new races that really impact the series—only the pilot’s Kazon show the slightest hint of future encounters.

So now we fall back on the dependable murder-mystery. “Ex Post Facto” works okay for four acts, with well-written characters and dialog. The plot, unfortunately and not surprisingly, is ludicrous, with a final act that manages to blow everything before it out of the water.

The teaser proves eerie and atypical, as we enter the story as the Baneans carry out Paris’ sentence. He sees himself stabbing the victim, apparently feeling the victim’s pain and mortal fear.

Voyager returns to pick up Paris and Kim, who shuttled to the Baneans’ planet alone to avoid provoking the Baneans’ neighboring enemies, the Numuri. Voyager arrives to find Kim in the shuttlecraft alone, with no knowledge of Paris’ whereabouts. All Kim knows is that Paris has been charged with murder. Shortly afterwards, the Baneans contact Janeway and agree to turn Paris back over to her with his sentence already carried out. The implant turns out to have some compatibility problems with human biology and will likely kill Paris if left in for too long. The Baneans agree to remove the implant and offer another sentence, but Janeway wants to clear Paris of an apparently unjust conviction.

This leads Lt. Tuvok to investigate the crime. Paris’ alleged motive for murder appears to be Professor Ren’s beautiful, young wife Lidell (Robin McKee). When Ren discovers the two embracing, an argument ensues, and Ren is stabbed. Tuvok’s investigation takes him back to Lidell, who explains the events of the night in question. Lidell’s sultry persona and a series of flashback narration offer some enticing film noir elements into a less than stellar story. Meanwhile, Tim Russ nails the role of Tuvok perfectly by delivering a classic Vulcan performance. Indeed, Vulcans have reentered the Trek universe through this character. And though the plot is simply an exercise in mediocrity, the performances keep it enduringly tolerable.

Unfortunately, the plot wraps up with the most standard of revelations, in which Tuvok shows that Paris has been set up by Lidell and the Numuri for “bigger reasons”—to get their hands on top-secret information they hope to obtain via Paris’ brain implant. (Anyone who couldn’t predict Lidell’s involvement in this plot needs to take Basic Plots 101.) But Tuvok’s “witness” of the murder—a damn dog, for crying out loud—manages to sabotage any remaining potential for the plot, with one of the hokiest, insipid conclusions imaginable.

Tell you what. Watch this episode to see Tim Russ in action for some good development of Tuvok. Don’t watch it for a satisfying murder mystery.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Cathexis:

When Tuvok and Chakotay return from a brief shuttlecraft journey, the crew discovers that an alien presence may have returned with them as strange events begin threatening the ship. A new low for the series, “Cathexis” again stresses how much Voyager, unlike its DS9 counterpart, lacks story arc development along the series as a whole.

Beginning with an utterly pointless and unmotivated teaser in which Janeway takes some recreational time in the holodeck, this installment continues to offer scenes that offer virtually nothing in terms of character development. “Cathexis” does not choose one character to focus on, but throws them all together into a ridiculous plot that gives none of them enough to do.

When the shuttlecraft returns, both Chakotay and Tuvok have suffered injuries. Tuvok recovers quickly, but, alas, Chakotay is brain dead because his neural energy has been mysteriously “drained.” Tuvok explains that they encountered an alien vessel which attacked them and then retreated into a nebula.

Janeway orders a return to the nebula to investigate. But en route, Paris apparently makes an unauthorized course correction to avoid it. The mysterious part is that he has no memory of ever doing so. A similar occurrence happens upon Torres in engineering when she shuts down the warp core but believes she did nothing of the sort. When the Doctor examines them in sickbay, he discovers brain wave patterns that suggest they were under an alien influence when carrying out these disputed actions. Apparently, the alien can occupy anybody’s mind and control their actions. No one can be trusted.

From this point, “Cathexis” turns into a series of disjointed events with poorly executed plot handling. The third act manages to work in elements of what seem to be the beginnings of a paranoid thriller, but the idea never gets off the ground outside of the one scene which introduces it. Instead, we get some standard revelations and a number of weak contrivances, such as the gratuitous crashing of the main computer and the ejection of the warp core.

In order to prevent the ship from being seized via an alien takeover of her own mind, Janeway transfers the command codes to the Doctor, since the computer presumably cannot be affected by the alien’s influence. But someone deactivates the Doctor’s program and renders the plan useless. Janeway decides to divide the command codes and give half to Tuvok, but a bizarre scene in which the alien begins seizing the minds of any bridge officer it encounters and then specifically attacking Tuvok hints that he may be the key to part of the mystery. This scene is interestingly photographed, as the alien begins body jumping from one person to the next. Unfortunately, the way it ends—Tuvok stunning everyone on the bridge with his phaser set on wide beam—has an inappropriately comical effect.

As evidence mounts against Tuvok, suggesting that he lied about the shuttle incident, it becomes clear that he is directly under an alien’s influence. The other body-jumping alien turns out not to be an alien at all, but Chakotay’s missing neural energy “somehow displaced,” as Janeway puts it. This allows Chakotay to take control of other people’s minds (as a countermeasure to the Tuvok-alien) in an attempt to save the Voyager from nebula-inhabiting, neural energy-thieving alien baddies. The idea might have sounded good in a writer staff meeting, but is completely ridiculous on screen. Chakotay using Neelix to rearrange the stones on a medicine wheel to make a “map” that helps the crew escape the nebula is even more ridiculous (and really strains credulity).

An atypically weak direction by Kim Friedman doesn’t help either, as this episode fails to produce the slightest amount of excitement or urgency at every turn. If Voyager wants to do mundane sci-fi concepts like alien body snatchers, it had better find a better angle to take than this one does.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Jetrel:

Voyager begins to show evidence of promise by delivering one of its better dramas, with a parable that has writing memorable enough to make me forgive the writers for the horrendous “Cathexis,” not to mention its commendable performances.

Neelix finds himself facing up to his disturbing past when a Haakonian scientist named Dr. Jetrel (James Sloyan) returns to see him. Jetrel invented the Metreon Cascade, a weapon of mass destruction that was used by Haakon on a Talaxian lunar colony when the two planets were at war 15 years ago. The Cascade resulted in over 300,000 deaths, including Neelix’s entire family.

Though an all-too-obvious allegory for the U.S.’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Jetrel” looks at the man who actually developed this weapon and how he copes with the consequences of his invention. James Sloyan (who has made guest appearances on both TNG and DS9) is wonderful as Jetrel. At the same time, this episode opens the door to Neelix’s backstory and supplies his character with a depth of sophistication and self-torment that I could never expect to see from his DS9 comic relief counterpart, Quark. Who would’ve thought Neelix was a war veteran? It’s as big a show as Ethan Phillips has had to carry (the first show, actually), and he delivers a convincing on-par performance.

No doubt about it, Neelix hates Dr. Jetrel. He holds Jetrel personally responsible for the Haakonian’s use of the weapon and for all the death and destruction caused by it. But Neelix is not just angry at Jetrel for inventing the Cascade. He finds himself venting other anger at Jetrel—including anger at himself he had been holding in since the war. Another example that the series does inner conflict well, this episode reveals guilt Neelix put upon himself for going AWOL from his military unit prior to the Cascade. And I can’t shake the feeling that Neelix feels he should have died on the lunar colony along with his family.

Jetrel has come to see Neelix to determine whether he has a dormant metreon-induced disease caused by radiation aftereffects of the Cascade. The disease is a terminal one, but Jetrel hopes that studying many Talaxians will give him a chance to develop a cure. It’s evident Jetrel feels a heavy weight for having developed a weapon that caused so many deaths, and his desire to cure Talaxians of this disease is an attempt at redemption.

Neelix finds this attempt at redemption disgusting. Watching these two characters debate the polemics of the mass-killing weapon is one of the unsettling highlights of the episode, especially the scene in sickbay where Neelix tells the story of his return to the colony to search for survivors. Here, we see Jetrel reveal his true self: His spirit died the day his weapon was unleashed, and he was unable to live with the consequences.

The fact that Jetrel himself is dying of the radiation disease makes him quite a tragic character. He knows he will die with 300,000 deaths on his conscience, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

The only problem I have with this installment is its excessive ending, in which Jetrel unveils his scientific theory to bring back the victims of the Cascade. Using plenty of technobabble, he explains the true reason why he came aboard the Voyager—to reverse the vaporization process of the Cascade by using the transporter beam and some other cleverness. Though the theory ultimately fails, this idea is still quite implausible, and not really necessary. I don’t think the story needed to have Jetrel attempt to undo the effects of his weapon to prove that he’s not a monster. The ending somewhat diminishes the subtlety of Jetrel’s character. This is unfortunate because his subtlety was one of the reasons his character worked so well.

In any case, “Jetrel” is a winner—a thoughtful parable that takes an appropriately sombering tone and has an effectively appropriate low-key score by Dennis McCarthy.

According to the Jammer’s Reviews of Learning Curve:

I’m beginning to think the Delta Quadrant is the character on Voyager that most urgently needs development. One thing that is beginning to frustrate me about the series is how little the USS Voyager is finding in the vast unknowns of this new territory. Don’t get me wrong. The series is doing a fine job of developing its personality and cast. But one thing it hasn’t done that it should’ve by now is take advantage of the fact it has alienated the TNG/DS9 lore in favor of lore of its own.

Instead of a story that in some way develops the Delta Quadrant, we get “Learning Curve”—a basically lightweight Trek outing with a decent A-story and a fairly flat B-story jeopardy premise. Tuvok is placed in charge of putting four insubordinate former-Maquis officers through a basic Starfleet attitude training. Meanwhile, the ship’s bio-neural circuitry begins malfunctioning when it literally catches a virus.

It’s another nice vehicle to see Tuvok in action, though his character doesn’t benefit much in terms of meaty development. His trainees prove willfully stubborn. They didn’t ask to be integrated into a Starfleet crew, and they feel justified in continuing to do things the “Maquis way.” Starfleet/Maquis conflict is a relevant issue that hasn’t been looked at since “Parallax” and it’s nice to see that not everybody has fully accepted the situation.

Included in the “Maquis way” is an unwritten rule that removes retreat as an option in battle situations—a definite rule that Tuvok has to remove from their thinking patterns. When he tests them in a holodeck Kobayashi Maru type simulation, they go up against insurmountable odds and die. “At least we went out with our phasers firing,” comments Henley (Catherine MacNeal).

However, I question Tuvok’s initial methods for breaking in these trainees. He treats them like teenage cadets at the academy. He makes Chell (Derek McGrath) run laps around the cargo bay and degauss the transporter room by means of the slowest method available. It seems like pointless punishment used for comedy rather than a realistic procedure in light of the extreme situations facing the Voyager.

On the other hand, I see no reason why these Maquis officers are so adamant to make the worst out of a bad situation.

It is reassuring to see Tuvok question his own methods. Neelix helps Tuvok realize that his inflexibility, in addition to the Maquis’, doesn’t make the situation better. This leads Tuvok to attempt to get to know Dalby (Armand Schultz) by playing the pool holodeck program—a scene that ends with realistic results.

This story works fine despite its lightweight nature. Unfortunately, there’s also a fairly laughable jeopardy premise in which the ship’s bio-neural gel packs begin malfunctioning. The only storytelling point in this plot is the further conveyance that being far from home will continue to have a serious impact on the ship and crew. When these gel packs are damaged, they cannot be repaired. They must be replaced, and there is a limited backup supply of only 47 of them.

The Doctor discovers that the gel packs have a bacterial infection that is destroying them. As it spreads through the ship, systems begin failing like crazy. Tuvok discovers that some cheese Neelix has sitting out in his galley possibly contains the bacteria growth.

Excuse me? A plot in which cheese is the culprit? They’re saying that if cheese is left out on the Voyager, the ship’s gel packs will come down with a disease? This plot revelation belongs up there with Tuvok’s dog/witness in “Ex Post Facto.”

And with all the system failures the malfunctions cause, is it too much to ask why the Doctor wasn’t affected by them? Maybe that would prove a little too inconvenient for the lazy plot, but it is a valid point to address. No power, no Doctor.

As for character development, Janeway’s holodeck novel is not doing the job. It has no relevance to anything on the show. I need to see Janeway interacting with her crew on a personal or social level. She said herself in “Caretaker” that she needs to take time to get to know the crew better. The writers need to find something to do with Janeway apart from commanding the ship, and the holodeck is not the answer.

All in all, “Learning Curve” is an entertaining but underwhelming show. Time to move on.

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3 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek VOY: Season 1

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