Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Voyager 7x8 "Nightingale"

rating: **

the story: Harry is given command of an alien ship.

what it's all about: This is the definitive character study of Harry Kim.  Of all the characters in the series,  he was difficult to comprehend by incredulous fans who never understood why a perfectly dependable officer never got promoted during the course of seven seasons.  Here's why.

Simply put, it's because he never understood the human element, and had never been in a position where this was exposed.  Janeway's crew functioned perfectly for having been cobbled together, but there was a reason why personnel settled where they did, and worked together as they did.  Just as Chakotay's role as first officer became redundant in a crew accustomed to sharing the burden of command under a visionary captain, everyone tended to slide into the roles that were needed.  If someone like Neelix proved ambitious, they were granted additional responsibilities.  You'll see that Harry never left his post as operations officer.  Tom Paris and Tuvok, meanwhile, did handle multiple responsibilities, and were promoted accordingly.

But more than that, it's really about Harry's self-confidence, which is exposed as being disproportionate in some areas, so that it becomes overconfidence.  That's why he's an ensign, because he's still got a lot to learn.  In a way, he really was the crew member who lost the most being lost in space.  He gained plenty of experience, but never realized what he lost in the bargain.

So that's what "Nightingale" is about, helping him realize that.  Interestingly, there's a subplot about Icheb naively believing B'Elanna has a crush on him.  Again, it's innocent inexperience that's the problem, and a rare instance in which the main and subplots of a Voyager episode reflect each other.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Won't particularly appeal to casual fans.
  • series - Apparently there was a plan to keep Harry on that alien ship, much as Neelix later split off from the crew before the end.  But obviously that didn't happen.
  • character - Harry explained.
  • essential - A darn clever way to do it, too.
notable guest-stars:
Ron Glass
Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)

Voyager 7x7 "Body and Soul"

rating: **

the story: The Doctor seeks temporary refuge within Seven's circuits, taking over in the process.

what it's all about: "Body and Soul" is the kind of episode that can easily be dismissed as gimmicky, where Jeri Ryan (Seven) is basically being asked to impersonate Robert Picardo (the Doctor), and that's really the whole point.  There's of course a reason why it's happening, and it's relevant to the recurring subplot in the series about how holograms are interpreted by various cultures, but the way it's used this time is hugely reminiscent of the far superior "Counterpoint," and so I wouldn't go out of my way to sell in on those merits.

Instead, what's most noteworthy about the episode is how Tuvok's pon farr is the subplot.  Obviously it would've been difficult to make the main story center around it ("Amok Time" is difficult to contend with, and Voyager already had a Vulcan have a crisis over it in "Blood Fever"), but the fact that the series deals with it at all is a nice touch.  Like Kes's short lifespan stood over the early seasons as a ticking time bomb, seemingly designed to become relevant at some point (eventually in "Before and After"), Tuvok being stranded so far from home, and his wife, meant it was bound to happen eventually.  I'm glad it did.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The classic pon farr matter is once again addressed.
  • series - Seems like an episode that was done on a lark.
  • character - The Doctor and Seven are always fun to watch together.
  • essential - Not especially.
notable guest-stars:
Megan Gallagher

Voyager 7x6 "Inside Man"

rating: ****

the story: Ferengi intercept a holographic Barclay.

what it's all about: Reg Barclay in Voyager is one of the most remarkable developments of the whole franchise.  In Next Generation, Barclay was the poster boy of neurotic behavior, whose skills as an engineer always took a backseat to his latest psychological problem.  Then he starts making appearances in Voyager, and then in "Pathfinder" becomes an official member of the family as he spearheads regular communication between Voyager and Starfleet, itself a milestone development in the series. 

Ironically, as a counterpoint to his first appearance ("Hollow Pursuits"), Barclay here gains a holographic version of himself! 

"Inside Man" continues that arc while also bringing back the idea of the Ferengi as antagonists.  The Ferengi were Next Generation's first attempt at new villainous aliens.  They were quickly exposed as difficult to take seriously, and so they became progressively comedic, until in Deep Space Nine virtually every spotlight episode for Quark was played for laughs, regardless of how nuanced Ferengi society was depicted in that series. 

They'd appeared in Voyager previously ("False Profits"), but "Inside" makes a more concerted effort to return the Ferengi to their roots, when DaiMon Bok was envisioned as Picard's mortal enemy.  Here they're refashioned as essentially faceless, which is perhaps key to making the idea work.  Devious but incapable of following up on their schemes, the Ferengi in the episode are exactly what they always were, but in a situation that at last sells the concept on every level it always needed to work.  They're revealed as cowards, which is why their best bet is gambling against each other, where the fa├žade can truly function.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - An honest-to-god attempt to redeem the original vision of the Ferengi.
  • series - Progress in communications with Starfleet!
  • character - Barclay once again proves he belongs in this family.
  • essential - For those who claim the episodic format can't handle serialized material, this is yet another example to the contrary.
notable guest-stars:
Dwight Schultz (Barclay)
Marina Sirtis (Troi)
Richard Herd (Admiral Paris)

Voyager 7x5 "Critical Care"

rating: ***

the story: The Doctor is kidnapped and forced to work in a hospital that has seriously messed up its priorities.

what it's all about: This is the Star Trek episode about healthcare, applying it so that it covers everyone equally.  Clearly it's still an issue today, and so here we have a Voyager story that is clearly evergreen and part of the franchise social message tradition.

In some ways, it's the Doctor's version of "The Most Toys," the Next Generation episode where Data is "collected" and makes an extraordinary decision to use lethal force (though he's thwarted by a timely beam-out) against his kidnapper, who has demonstrated monstrous inhumanity.  The Doctor makes a similar decision, although "Critical Care" doesn't pull its punches in the consequences, even if the results are an unambiguous happy ending, except for the Doctor, who wonders how he's reached the point where he can do something like that.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - It's exactly what Star Trek is all about.
  • series - It didn't need to be a Voyager episode.
  • character - Although of course it works well as a Doctor spotlight.
  • essential - It's the one episode where the quagmire of healthcare is addressed in the franchise.
notable guest-stars:
Gregory Itzen
William Daniels

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Voyager 7x4 "Repression"

rating: ****

the story: Tuvok is used to reignite the Maquis.

what it's all about: The constant criticism that Voyager blew its premise by making peace between the Starfleet and Maquis personnel aboard ship was so often refuted in the series itself it's almost not even worth addressing, but luckily the series also liked to revisit the concept, so I get to talk about it whenever it comes up.  "Repression" is the final time this occurs, and it's perhaps the rival of the already hugely-clever "Worst Case Scenario" from the third season in how it addresses matters. 

Bajorans were a signature element of Deep Space Nine, and their struggles against Cardassians were a well-established fact, one they eventually shared with Federation rogues who called themselves the Maquis, some of whom ended up being featured in Voyager.  But "Caretaker" (the pilot) introduced a fascinating wrinkle: one of them was a counteragent.  His name was Tuvok (it's therefore appropriate to see him among a different group of revolutionaries in Deep Space Nine's Mirror Universe arc entry "Through the Looking Glass").  "Repression" is the episode that finally capitalizes on that fact.  Even this late in the series, it's still a welcome moment. 

It's not even the fact that his counteragent status is featured, but how it's featured, with a rogue Bajoran having tricked Tuvok, via conditioning, to become a counter-counteragent thanks to his Vulcan-specific mental powers.  That's exactly how thoroughly "Repression" considered the possibilities. 

Thanks to the messages the crew is able to get from home at this point in the series, the Bajoran is able to trigger Tuvok and effect one last "this is how it should have been" scenario.  It also gives Tuvok a chance to spotlight his loyalty to Janeway.  In some alternate version of the series, this would've been featured more often, but then, it would've risked fans claiming Voyager ripping off Kirk and Spock.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Deep Space Nine will appreciate the Bajoran element.
  • series - The last Maquis story.
  • character - One of Tuvok's best spotlights.
  • essential - "Last Maquis story" actually means franchise-wide, and it's an appropriate nod to everything that came before it.
notable guest-stars:
Derek McGrath (Chell)

Voyager 7x3 "Drive"

rating: ***

the story: Tom & B'Elanna join forces for a race.

what it's all about: "Drive" kind of makes clear that it isn't random when Voyager skips a major development; it seems to be by design.  The first time it happened was when Neelix and Kes split up in the third season.   Then it happens again later when Chakotay and Seven are suddenly in a relationship in the final episode ("Endgame").  So to see Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres really should be no surprise.

It makes sense, since Voyager committed itself to the traditional episodic format of the franchise, meaning that its episodes were meant to be generally standalone, understandable by themselves, even if there were continuing plotlines, and there were continuing plotlines in this series, several hugely significant ones.  The relationship between Tom and B'Elanna was one of the few to lead to a Star Trek marriage.  The only other time it happened between series regulars was Worf and Jadzia Dax in Deep Space Nine

The episode spends its time in a fairly innovative story, a celebratory race between former rival civilizations (which of course ends with an episodic-style crisis), which allows Tom and B'Elanna to wear fancy custom uniforms, which also helps "Drive" stand out.  The couple spends most of it hashing out their relationship, as it's one of the many things B'Elanna holds grave doubts about, but happily one where she finds resolution.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans will not appreciate how this episode ends.
  • series - And yet, it explains why Voyager used this technique repeatedly.
  • character - Tom and B'Elanna marry!
  • essential - We spend seven seasons as these characters' lives evolve, but their most personal moments remain their own, something to be imagined, perhaps.
notable guest-stars:
Brian George

Monday, September 18, 2017

Voyager 7x2 "Imperfection"

rating: ***

the story: A crucial Borg implant malfunctions for Seven.

what it's all about: Icheb had already won a unique place in the annals of youth characters in Star Trek thanks to "Child's Play," his second major appearance where we learn once and for all that he's not just another teenager in the franchise, but one with a burden meant for someone far older.  As one of the "Borg children," he'd already provided Seven's arc an added dimension, additional ex-drones struggling to reclaim their lives post-Collective aboard Voyager.  Here he pushes her even further, accepting vulnerability in a way she'd never quite managed previously.

From the moment she appeared in the series, Seven was a hard case, who wore her damage more proudly than anyone in a crew full of damaged souls (that's what makes Voyager so fascinating for me; Deep Space Nine was always known as the "dark Trek," and yet it was Voyager that set out to find the Roddenberry ideal in the midst of personal tragedy).  Her story was obvious to anyone who saw her, and more obvious still to anyone who heard her.  Even worse than B'Elanna Torres, Seven just couldn't let go of what had hurt her; in fact, she seemed reluctant to let go, even as she professed an interest in making peace with her transformed world.  It took a lot of work to rediscover her humanity.  Arguably, it happens in "Imperfection."

The Borg children never quite became official drones, so that always gave Icheb a leg up in that department.  He may have retained the distinctive Borg vocal passivity (between Vulcans, Bajorans, and the Borg, Star Trek really seems to like that stuff!), but he struggled far less with integrating. 

The biggest problem Seven faces in the episode is acknowledging that.  It's how she discovers her vulnerability.  Like the Doctor before her ("Someone to Watch Over Me") Seven attempts a dubious mentorship.  Unlike her own behavior in this situation, much less the Doctor's, Seven accepts the fact that she is proven wrong, at the end of the episode.  To my mind, that makes "Imperfection" at least a rival to an episode that usually gets more fan love.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Though all about Borg mechanics, this stuff probably won't appeal to the casual fan; its points are too subtle.
  • series - They make more sense resonating with prior Voyager material.
  • character - It's a giant leap for Seven, and Icheb.
  • essential - Icheb once again proves how quickly he became indispensable to the later seasons of the series.
notable guest-stars:
Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)
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