Friday, August 27, 2010

Star Trek: Enterprise Season Two

Like every other Star Trek before it, Enterprise spent its second year in apparent ignorance that its original approach wasn’t connecting with fans, which at this point was either really a problem with viewers or really a problem with the creators (isn’t it a little hard to understand, putting it into such stark language?), but probably not both (but then again, probably both). Either way, the season began in 2002, which was notable as also seeing the release of Star Trek Nemesis, the final Next Generation film, to incredible apathy (and some outright vitriol), which helps mark this year as the hammering of the final nail of the coffin in this incarnation of the franchise. History, really, was just repeating itself. The original series probably would have been more of an actual success if it had been able to truly capitalize on that second chance. But it didn’t, and by that point, the third really didn’t matter. Wasn’t that just true of Enterprise, too?

2x1 “Shockwave, Part II”
While Suliban swarm the ship, Archer has to find a way, along with Daniels, to put the timeline back in order, with the first real mention of what the captain is fated to accomplish, establishing the alliance that would lead to the historic Federation. It’s not a lot more than emphasizing what the series has already said in its first season, and maybe that’s a bit why viewers grew impatient. But as a fan, I didn’t really care.

2x2 “Carbon Creek”
Digging into T’Pol’s increasing comfort aboard this human ship, the first regular episode of the season probably has something more important to say, which is to say the revelation that Vulcans had experience on Earth prior to First Contact, a quiet entry that nonetheless speaks volumes. J. Paul Boehmer makes another franchise appearance, and finds yet more mileage from a general persona that at first seemed so easy to interpret. It’s not hard to assume that, if this incarnation of the franchise had continued, he would have eventually become a Star Trek regular, or at the very least have found a recurring role to comfortably nest in.

2x3 “Minefield”
A better contrast than Trip and Reed was Archer and Reed, which is quickly apparent in this episode, which marks the first appearance of Romulans in the series, walking an acknowledged tricky tightrope with Sacred Canon. One of the clear losses of the early cancellation was watching the eventual, historic Romulan War unfold, a latter-day Dominion experience that would no doubt have been…fascinating.

2x4 “Dead Stop”
One of the episodes that landed with even the skeptics, this was also clearly an episodic entry (though one that directly tied into “Minefield”), featuring a mysterious repair station that miraculously appears in space just when the crew needs it to. TV fans who would grow more interested in serialized storytelling (and grow frustrated when it inevitably let them down) were already, with memories of Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine dancing in their heads, far beyond being satisfied with Star Trek being, essentially, what it was, but sometimes, it still worked, even for them.

2x5 “A Night in Sickbay”
One of my favorites, both from the season and the series, was relentlessly ridiculed, because Archer spent the episode “moping about his dog.” Yet that’s not even all it was about, and even when it was about that, it was about so much more, one of the more complex and compelling stories to come out of the franchise. One of the true lost treasures of the series, if not the crown gem, and I’m not just saying that because I really loved Porthos (darn you, Scotty!!!). Also the big spotlight for the Kreetassans, with Vaughn Armstrong making another appearance.

2x6 “Marauders”
Here’s a Klingon episode that no Star trek had done since the original series, Starfleet meddling in Empire affairs, the first fruits of a vicious competition that would dance on and dabble in war for centuries to come. T’Pol debuts a variant white outfit, probably my favorite of the series.

2x7 “The Seventh”
This is an episode that I really need to revisit, because it attempts to cast T’Pol in the kind of role Kira regularly inhabited in Deep Space Nine, and I don’t know how successful it was. I have only vague memories of it, despite having seen it at least twice. Time for another viewing.

2x8 “The Communicator”
Who else but frequently agitated Reed would get to accidentally contaminate a world the crew has just surveyed? Another origin episode, or at least precursor to work other series did.

2x9 “Singularity”
Just in case you haven’t familiarized yourself with this crew yet, here’s a refresher course, a trademark franchise entry that exaggerates the characteristics of everyone so that it’ll be easier to identify them when everything’s comparatively normal. Reed invents the famous Red Alert (if you haven’t seen the episode, you’ll get a laugh at what he intends to call it), Trip obsesses over (of all things) the captain’s chair, Hoshi takes over the galley, Mayweather finds himself the unwitting victim of Phlox, and Archer obsesses over writing an intro to his father’s biography. T’Pol’s the lucky one trying to get everyone right again.

2x10 “Vanishing Point”
Here’s a revisit of two past show spotlights, Hoshi’s anxieties and the alarming nature of those new transporter-abobs.

2x11 “Precious Cargo”
Trip officially starts to take over the season with this episode, which guest stars Padma Lakshmi, who would actually become famous until a few years later. Making his bad luck in this one extremely lucky, as it turns out.

2x12 “The Catwalk”
Here’s a typical episodic entry I wished were a little less typically episodic, starting out with a cool premise of the crew (plus a few visiting aliens, who in typical episodic fashion end up turning rogue) having to take shelter in the unusual place of the warp nacelles. That alone would have made for a good hour, or so I thought.

2x13 “Dawn”
Another Trip episode. So soon? Of course! This time, the engineer takes on the franchise and genre trademark struggle of trying to make good with a hostile alien. In this pre-Universal Translator era, even though Hoshi was set up for it, I think this one and “Precious Cargo” ultimately represented the language divide best.

2x14 “Stigma”
Hyped as the AIDS episode at the time, this is probably just as interesting today as a sequel to “Fusion,” the continuing story of Vulcan intolerance for mind-melding. T’Pol, if it’s possible, is even more uncomfortably caught in the middle this time. Unlike “The Seventh” (or even “Carbon Creek”), this one is firmly rooted in the character as we’ve known her.

2x15 “Cease Fire”
The Andorians, and their enduring feud with Vulcans, return, in this fine spotlight for Shran, as well as Soval, who made far fewer appearances than his sum effect on the series actually represents. Suzie Plakson makes another franchise appearance.

2x16 “Future Tense”
After “Cold Front,” this is easily my favorite Temporal Cold War episode, one that cleverly features the genre staple of repeating time, among many other things, including Tholians, who are cleverly implicated in the recurring series arc.

2x17 “Canamar”
What seems on the surface to be a pretty anonymous episode is actually pretty interesting, when you think about it. Just as Voyager was constantly exploiting its unique premise in episodic ways, here’s Enterprise doing it, with Archer and Trip in the unusual position of being taken prisoner pretty much at random, not as part of some great alien plot, but simply because, in this era, the name “Starfleet” just doesn’t carry the same weight.

2x19 “Judgment”
An episode that on the surface seems to be taking advantage of situations seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (outright stealing them, if you’re not being very generous, which is what most viewers probably were at the time), this one counts, for me, as another of the great Enterprise Klingon entries, managing to create another outstanding role for J.G. Hertzler (who was so memorable as another Klingon, Martok, in Deep Space Nine), while also introducing Duras (Daniel Riordan), ancestor to another famous Klingon in franchise lore, which I just thought was a brilliant idea, especially since the Next Generation variant really had more impact in death than he ever did in person. Here, the part is so much more meaty, and not just because we get a neat version of Rashomon as another facet of the episode. One of my undeniable favorites from the season.

2x20 “Horizon”
Otherwise known as the second attempt to mine Mayweather’s backstory for fruitful material, visiting this time with his family rather than just the Boomer culture he grew into (I was just thinking: I don’t know if it was intentional, this nod to Battlestar Galactica lore, which the new incarnation of that show bucked so memorably when it cast Grace Park as another Boomer entirely). Some viewers, who also complained that he became virtually a cardboard cutout prop, suggested that Anthony Montgomery was a rather wooden actor. This was the only series to have so many complaints about the acting, at least in my experience. Anything to justify all the hating. I never really had a problem with it, at least when I wasn’t thinking about those complaints and watching the supposedly offending performances. But it never really affected my opinions. Enterprise was my second favorite Star Trek, after all, after Deep Space Nine. That probably still keeps some people up at night, whenever I mention it.

2x21 “The Breach”
Otherwise known as the only time Enterprise would do a Denobulan episode, both as the main and supporting plots. I actually prefer the visiting scientists in the subplot. Phlox in the role Neelix and others filled in other Star Treks just didn’t seem as memorable, perhaps precisely because its impact was dulled, ironically, by his countrymen.

2x22 “Cogenitor”
Like “Dear Doctor,” the full impact of this one comes on like a surprise, as Trip pulls his biggest theft of the season, was also royally screwing up first contact with aliens who happen to breed not with two sexes, but three, with the third having the unlucky position of being extremely rare, and so therefore being handled more as a commodity than an individual. Trip doesn’t agree that this is right, but then, is it really his place to judge? Therein lies the rub. Andreas Katsulas, meanwhile, makes good time while he can bonding memorably with Archer.

2x23 “Regeneration”
This would be the violation of Sacred Canon for the season, bringing in the Borg for a genius tie-in with Star Trek: First Contact (and also explaining why the Collective was so obsessed with humanity in the first place), but because technically, We Didn’t Meet Them Until Later, this was a big no-no. Like “Acquisition,” to be enjoyed anyway.

2x24 “First Flight”
A nod to our own triumphs and tragedies in the space program, this is Archer and Trip’s nod to T’Pol’s storytelling in “Carbon Creek” earlier in the season, recounting how they helped save humanity’s warp program, despite massive opposition from the Vulcans, thanks in part to the late A.G. Robinson (Keith Carradine). The kind of episode I really wish the series would have done more of, a more expansive look at the rest of the fleet, and some of its history, with glimpses of faces to go with names that had been mentioned previously, who might have been seen again, if the opportunity had arisen. But the fourth season kind of made up for it, introducing a formidable new addition all its own.

2x25 “Bounty”
Picking up where “Judgment” left off, with Archer trying desperately to elude Klingon authorities, but not in a Tellarite bounty hunter has anything to say about it. Tellarites probably lost the most from the show coming to an end after only four seasons, because they were finally starting to demonstrate a real presence in the final year. There could’ve been so much more.

2x26 “The Expanse”
Everything changes in this season finale, a stark contrast to how the season ended last year, with the Temporal Cold War elements actually serving a practical function, helping to establish an emerging Xindi threat that has already launched a devastating attack on Earth. For the first time, a crew will be asked directly to accomplish what so many Star Trek casts have sort of stumbled into doing: save the world.

Like Deep Space Nine, the season ends with a promise of real change for the third year with the introduction of a new threat. Yet in many ways, perhaps that change was even less necessary. While, in true original series form, the first year was probably stronger, there was a lot of memorable material in the second, which demonstrated a real command of episodic material that supported the serialized ambitions of the series at its heart. It continued to be strange to hear that Star Trek was behind the times, because in many ways, it’s still more sophisticated than anything that has been dubbed its better (except, I’d say, Lost), in most of the modern TV incarnations.

Enterprise suffered most of all, especially in this second season, from the perception that it was low grade Star Trek material, and while this pushed the creators to its best work in the ensuing two seasons, the achievements of this one shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked, especially “A Night in Sickbay,” “Future Tense,” “Judgment,” and “First Flight,” which stand up to the best material of any franchise incarnation. The show, caught in such a curious crossroads, only got better…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Star Trek: Enterprise Season One

Everyone remembers the fall of 2001. The new millennium wasted little time in making history, and Star Trek had nothing to do with it. Yet that’s also when the fifth live action TV series in franchise history launched, at the time hotly anticipated, at last a moment when all the fans seemed to be buzzing with positive energy again, arguably for the first time since 1993, when Deep Space Nine launched. Yet the enthusiasm, as everyone would soon realize, would be short-lived.

1x1/1x2 “Broken Bow”
Set a hundred years before the original series, the new show was a prequel in a post-Phantom Menace world, two years after the second Star Wars trilogy began, a trilogy that would alienate old fans just as much as Star Trek had been doing for at least the last half decade. It must have seemed like a great idea at the time, like Deep Space Nine after Next Generation, or Voyager after Deep Space Nine, a series that would be the total opposite of what had come before. Instead of being purposefully cut off from everything familiar, this one would be totally immersed in established continuity. Like the Year One stories that would ironically become popular with James Bond and Batman just a few years later, around the time Enterprise, in fact, sputtered out, this show would help establish how everything came to be, less like the origin of Darth Vader, more like how all those wonderful toys came to be. Set at a time when Earth was really starting to capitalize on the events of the popular Star Trek: First Contact (James Cromwell even cameos as Zephram Cochrane), the son of the man who prepares Starfleet’s future with a new warp-five engine, Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) sets out as the first deep-space captain, launching the first of the fleet’s famous line of ships called Enterprise. Together with skeptical Vulcans, represented by reluctant first officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and swarming with Klingons as recognizable foils, the premiere also presents an element of the unfamiliar, a temporal cold war meant to link what viewers would think of as the future with its past, an attempt to cover tracks for those who might share Vulcan tendencies. It’s certainly a bold move, one that links Enterprise both to Voyager and Deep Space Nine in its basic approach, so that recent fans might have some immediate ties to deal with, as well as a clear connection to the original series, which it both anticipates and emulates at every opportunity. It’s a heck of a gamble, anyway. Making their debuts in recurring roles are Vaughn Armstrong (as a human for a change, Admiral Maxwell Forrest), John Fleck (Silik, representing the new alien threat, the Suliban, and the Temporal Cold War in general) Gary Graham (Soval, the Vulcan who oversees this endeavor), and James Horan (as a figure who would be unofficially dubbed Future Guy, the very face of mystery, even though, technically, his face would never be seen).

1x3 “Fight or Flight”
Linguist Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) takes the spotlight in this metaphorical episode that helps the crew, and audiences, take a breath after the pilot and make sure that this is a journey that’s really worth the risk. Hoshi decides that it is.

1x4 “Strange New World”
The transporter, long a staple in the franchise, is still a relatively new gadget, and this episode is all about the anxieties that infest the crew over it, plus a few feelings of mistrust toward that pesky Vulcan first officer. Kellie Waymire makes her debut as Elizabeth Cutler.

1x5 “Unexpected”
Charles “Trip” Tucker III (Conner Trinneer), whom I would consider the series MVP (and not just because he dominates, at least, the second season, and pretty much carries on for the next two as well), finally enters the spotlight, in what would become a trademark sticky situation, with the kind of educated innocence that defined the series, accidentally getting himself pregnant. But of course, this is also the episode that started some fans on the path to rejection, because it’s the first real instance of an apparent contradiction with franchise lore, something that was bound to happen with a premise like this one. What Enterprise would help crystallize was that fans were fickle for reasons that would never in a million years have been important, especially during the three seasons of the original series, which clearly made up most of its rules on the fly. Yet given thirty-five years (at that time), it was now possible to decide Star Trek wasn’t worth watching not because of the quality of the product (this from fans who made the franchise despite an evident decline three years into the experience), but because it was now violating sacred canon (sorry, Sacred Canon). Granted, many fans had been saying for years that Star Trek “ain’t what it used to be,” but some of those fans probably should have realized that they were aligning themselves with some others who happened to despise some of their most sacred hours (i.e. Deep Space Nine, brilliant to some, a snore to others, “not real Star Trek”). Anyway, enough ranting. This may simply not be a point anyone will ever care to concede. After all, even Star Trek( 2009), despite its wild and unbridled and unparalleled success, still had its vehement detractors on these same points. The difference was, it was cool. And Enterprise, its greatest sin, was that it was definitely never cool. Star Trek hadn’t been cool since Picard was assimilated. So imagine trying to convince someone that Trip getting pregnant would reverse all of this. But then imagine just watching this, seeing a great character begin to emerge. At some point, you might realize that none of that stuff really matters. Randy Oglesby, by the way, makes his first appearance in the series this episode.

1x7 “The Andorian Incident”
One of the undeniably awesome things that Enterprise accomplished was making, at least, the Andorians cool. An infrequently seen yet still distinct franchise alien species, the Andorians were the greatest benefactors of this series, even receiving modern gizmos to make their signature antennae move about onscreen. Jeffrey Combs takes on his third iconic Star Trek role as their chief representative, Shran, who would become the most important of the show’s recurring characters, even though he was clearly a bigot, and in doing so, probably helped more than any other feature to illustrate the point of the whole experiment, to demonstrate how the heck the United Federation of Planets formed in all the chaos that would still be apparent in the comparatively far future.

1x8 “Breaking the Ice”
Diplomacy among friends, or at least allies, was a facet of the series that was pretty unique. Starfleet never entirely got along with the Bajorans in Deep Space Nine, but that relationship was a cakewalk compared to humans and Vulcans in Enterprise. This was one of those episodes that was directly focused on that tricky business.

1x10 “Fortunate Son”
Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery) was the biggest victim of the show’s attempt to model its character dynamics after the original series, focusing on a trio of characters (Archer, T’Pol, and Trip, like Kirk, Spock, and Bones) rather than attempting to even the flow over an extensive cast (which Deep Space Nine did most successfully among all the series, in addition to a ridiculously large recurring cast, something that no doubt influenced how Voyager attempted to do much the same, but with integrated cast moments in most episodes, to the detriment of a strong yet under-utilized series of guests, who rarely could put in a word edgewise). Humanizing everyone was certainly a priority (which was something Next Generation had tried to do in theory, but preferred an iconic approach, which was what everyone assumed the original series had done intentionally), and Mayweather had one of the most interesting backstories for any character in any series. But he fell victim, ultimately, to Chakotay Syndrome, otherwise known as extreme audience apathy, whenever that backstory was actually tapped into, which started with this episode. Like Andorians, another famous but little-seen species, the Nausicaans, also get some Enterprise love, most notably in this episode. Fans, when they bothered to wonder about the logistics of the show at all, sometimes complained that too many species seen in the show were new. And yet, it’s also clear that the familiar ones Enterprise actually used were all underdeveloped. Everyone knew what a Klingon, Vulcan, or Romulan was well before this show came around, and Klingons and Romulans had gotten a lot of attention in other incarnations of Star Trek. But it wasn’t until Enterprise that Vulcan society was explored in any meaningful way, without the crutch of supporting a single, if very well known, character. In short, it was like watching Worf in Next Generation starting with the third season, rather than the first two. There’s a reason why the creators behind this show came to prominence in that same historic franchise moment. It’s just, the fans never really bothered to think beyond the prejudices they had been forming the last few years. Again, put all that aside, and what do you get from an episode like “Fortunate Son”? Probably something else entirely.

1x11 “Cold Front”
And what do you get from the series itself, after an episode that seemed designed to separate the fans from the irritated viewers? The second Temporal Cold War entry, introducing the enigmatic Daniels (Matt Winston), the opposite number of Silik, who has probably his best work of the series in this one, as both agents try to convince Archer that they’re the one to trust. This episode, more than any of the preceding entries, really helped make me a fan of the show. This was true confidence. The creators knew exactly what they were doing, even if their detractors were already starting to voice doubt.

1x13 “Dear Doctor”
Phlox (John Billingsley), who along with Trip really helped distinguish this cast for me, and who represented the new alien species the Denobulans in the crew, helps dramatize the painful learning curve needed to establish the famed Prime Directive, in the process butting heads with Archer with more force than any Vulcan has managed to this point. Probably the most successful “origin” episode, simply because it does so in such an unexpected manner. Also perhaps the first instance where Scott Bakula gets to portray Frustrated Archer, which is the form those who had started turning against the show liked to take as example that this was, pun intended, a failed enterprise, because Bakula was the first famous actor to assume any regular role in a Star Trek (true, Avery Brooks had actually been the series lead in A Man Called Hawk before taking on Benjamin Sisko, but even I have still never seen any of his work in that role), he bore an extreme amount of scrutiny. Were that this alone might have explained how spectacularly the show failed, relatively speaking. The episode also marks the first reference to Jeremy Lucas, Phlox’s friend and colleague, who wouldn’t actually be seen until the fourth season.

1x14 “Sleeping Dogs”
You’d think that just about every Klingon story possible would have been done in Star Trek at this point, since Klingons had already been featured prominently in every other incarnation, but Enterprise demonstrates again that it has its own tricks to pull, doing a Klingon episode that really, hardly uses Klingons at all. Vaughn Armstrong, an actor who has already done about a thousand alien faces in the franchise, appears as one of them, even though this is the series where he’s finally gotten to show his own. And he’s got other faces yet.

1x15 “Shadows of P’Jem”
Even with its at times heavily serialized nature, something Deep Space Nine rarely did was directly acknowledge the events of a previous episode, yet here was Enterprise, doing exactly that, in this sequel to “The Andorian Incident,” with Shran making his second appearance.

1x16 “Shuttlepod One”
Trip bonds with tactical officer Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), a perennial cold fish who finally warms up, ironically, when the pair seem doomed to find an unhappy final resting place in the vacuum of space. What might have come off as a duplication of similar stories between O’Brien and Bashir feels completely natural, in part because Trinneer and Keating have such great chemistry together. Trip and Reed aren’t so much opposites as equally driven. You should just see how the chief engineer handles his engine room (which, by the way, is at last as distinctive and memorable as Ops in Deep Space Nine).

1x17 “Fusion”
When fans wanted to debate the stark contrast of Vulcans as depicted in Enterprise and those seen in any other incarnation, they probably should start with the treatment of the familiar Vulcan mind-meld, which here is handled like the cardinal sin, something that gets T’Pol into considerable trouble, and only gets worse for her next season.

1x18 “Acquisition”
Don’t look now, but this one’s another clear violation of Sacred Canon. The Ferengi rear their lumpy (and heavily-lobed) heads (despite the fact that Picard was supposed to have the first official encounter with them), with Jeffrey Combs and Ethan Phillips (a former Star Trek regular making the rare, completely unassuming appearance) helping represent them as greedy space pirates, exactly the pure form always suggested but never actually seen previously. Me, I thought it was brilliant. Just watch as Archer’s beloved beagle Porthos (the one Scotty “lost” in the new film) finds itself in comic peril! For a species that got off on such a horrible foot, the Ferengi ought to have, by this point, found some redemption with the audience. But, alas, that just wasn’t the case. And if you try to figure out just why, based on material fans hated but apparently vehemently respected, it just makes your head hurt. You might get lumps.

1x20 “Oasis”
Here’s another episode that fans decided to hate simply because “they’d seen it before.” But Star Trek being what it was, even the original series was repeating episodes fairly quickly and fairly often (which is half the reason why my recaps for it skipped over so many entries). But fans at this point once again decided it was a cardinal sin, and not even another former franchise regular, Rene Auberjonois (who had actually been featured in the episode that this one most closely resembled, which I will not name), could affect negative opinions in the slightest. Hey, you try and figure it out.

1x21 “Detained”
This was one of those episodes that was right on target in so many ways. Bakula’s famous past was directly addressed when his old Quantum Leap costar Dean Stockwell finally made his appearance (which probably helped get him a recurring role in the sci-fi franchise reboot that genre fans did lap up, Battlestar Galactica), while the Suliban are fleshed out considerably.

1x22 “Vox Sola”
The Kreetassans, an alien species created specifically to emphasize the importance and finesse of first contact diplomacy, make their debut in this episode, represented by (who else?) Vaughn Armstrong.

1x23 “Fallen Hero”
Just to show that all Vulcans in this period not answering to the name “T’Pol” weren’t all arrogant pricks, Fionnula Flanagan pulls another franchise appearance to represent them admirably.

1x24 “Desert Crossing”
One of the few episodes to spotlight the friendship between Archer and Trip was this one, which was another notable one for the engineer, who grows delirious during the title event, and starts to talk food when he’s trying to focus on his ship. Clancy Brown, one of my favorite actors, still manages to steal the episode, which also refers back the events of “Detained.”

1x25 “Two Days and Two Nights”
The famous pleasure planet Risa makes it appearance of the series, but hardly anyone leaves with fond memories, especially Archer, who really can’t live down the events of “Detained.” Sadly, the last appearance of Cutler, about two years before Kellie Waymire died.

1x26 “Shockwave, Part I”
Archer probably didn’t enjoy this one, either, because the Temporal Cold War pretty much screws him out of his historic mission. Or so it seems…

The first season, while handling a number of generic entries (which, as per my custom, I skipped over), still managed to pull off a considerable number of important, series-defining episodes, which would become all the more significant, not just because the show would have a comparatively short run to the three series that came before it, but also because, unlike those shows, it seemed to know exactly what worked, right from the start. Not since the original series was a first season such a success, at least creatively. Popularly, it was a different story.

But not for lack of trying…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager Season Seven

In the fall of 2000, Voyager began its seventh and final season in a unique position. Unlike Next Generation, which reached the same point with massive popularity but low on creative energy, or Deep Space Nine, rearing on the strength of a critically approved sixth season and faced with the daunting task of wrapping up everything it had been working on throughout the series, Voyager was relatively free of expectations, and was thus free to bow out however it liked. To say more of the same would be very deceptive indeed.

7x1 “Unimatrix Zero, Part II”
The visual shock of Janeway, Torres, and Tuvok “assimilated” at the end of the previous season was probably a conscious decision to borrow the most famous Borg moment in the franchise, the introduction of Locutus (Picard) in “The Best of Both Worlds.” It was aimed directly at fans, which at this point was all Star Trek could hope for, whatever “fans” meant at this point. But the episode itself was also aimed squarely at Voyager fans, especially those who might be looking for clues as to how it was all going to end. Tuvok, notably, has the first of several allusions to the subtle arc that would carry him through to conclusion, suffering a mental collapse that makes him the first to fall in this latest plot. Seven, meanwhile, begins embracing her humanity in a more direct way than ever before, while Janeway has little qualms about facing up the Borg threat with a clever plan that would use the Collective against itself. Any of this sound familiar? Well, then maybe you haven’t actually seen “Endgame” yet. But we’ll reach that one soon enough.

7x2 “Imperfection”
More or less the end of the first half of Icheb’s existence, as he basically “grows up,” the other Borg younglings leaving the nest this episode, and he affects Seven for the first time on his own, helping her make the first real steps on her season arc.

7x3 “Drive”
The last great hurdle of the Torres-Paris relationship is passed as they collaborate in a race, and finally get married. They also get to wear some distinctive new uniforms for the occasion, guaranteeing that the episode is distinctive at least in one sense. Brian George guest stars.

7x4 “Repression”
One of the episodes that recalled Alpha Quadrant days (and foretold future ones) was this clever entry that revisits the Maquis days with a Bajoran subconscious plot that results in the very mutiny fans had expected in the early days, if only for a brief time. Chell (Derek McGrath) and Tabor (Jad Mager) make rare but appreciated appearances.

7x5 “Critical Care”
The Doctor takes another break from his personal journey for this episode, another improvement on the “Ethics” concept of exploring the limits of medical drama in Star Trek. Gregory Itzin makes another franchise appearance.

7x6 “Inside Man”
Here’s another of the late series Barclay episodes, which I thought was another excellent attempt at merging the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine ideas of the Ferengi, who hatch an ill-conceived plot to hijack Starfleet’s continuing efforts to bring Voyager home. Admiral Paris makes another appearance, while Marina Sirtis marks her final turn as Troi…at least in Voyager.

7x7 “Body and Soul”
The Doctor and Seven enjoy their last collaboration, and make sure it’s, er, special, as our emergency medical hologram actually, well, takes a ride in our drone. It’s less dirty than it sounds. But probably not for The Doctor. This one also revisits Tuvok’s season arc, bringing up the dreaded Vulcan blood fever and the poor holographic substitute of his wife to try and cover the spread. Is it any wonder the poor dude ends up in a mental asylum (at least, sort of) by the end of the series?

7x9 “Flesh and Blood, Part I”
In essence a sequel to “The Killing Game,” things have gotten out of hand for the Hirogen and their holographic prey, who have literally taken on a life of their own, not to mention become the hunters.

7x10 “Flesh and Blood, Part II”
This two-parter also happens to be another of the attempts by the show to prepare our crew and viewers for the return home, which is all the more interesting, because the series wouldn’t actually let either see it in the end, at least in any practical sense. So now it makes a little more sense, huh? Vaughn Armstrong, meanwhile, takes on another alien species, as one of the hunted Hirogen.

7x11 “Shattered”
The one I like to think of as the Voyager equivalent of “Parallels,” the Next Generation seventh season episode that saw Worf cross multiple alternate realities, and in the process walk viewers through a sort of history lesson in that series, and also a rare fan favorite. Chakotay finds himself making his way through the ship, which has been splintered in time, so that he revisits famous periods in the series, including a last look at Seska.

7x12 “Lineage”
A pregnant Torres finds herself reflecting once more on her Klingon half, and the problems she had growing up. I told you that darned Ron Moore caused a shift in emphasis with the character, and by this point, he was long gone. But the character was more than up to the challenge.

7x13 “Repentance”
One of my favorites from the season has no particular bearing on anything, and that’s what I liked about watching Star Trek, because at its best, it could easily find compelling material in just about anything, whether it was important to the characters in whatever series it occurred or not. Here it’s a complicated look at justice (doing it far better than “Justice”), which has Seven thinking about the chance she herself got at redemption from this crew, despite how hard she made it for everyone. F.J. Rio appears, playing a completely different character than the one he maintained for a brief period in Deep Space Nine.

7x14 “Prophecy”
In its final season, the show worried a little less about the restraints it had set up for itself early on. Here, Klingons make a very prominent appearance thanks to a generational ship that runs into our crew, representing earlier versions of the familiar race, while also giving Torres another chance to fret about all that business she has been struggling with from the start.

7x15 “The Void”
Did it really take this long for Janeway to realize she could create a miniature Federation during her travels through the Delta Quadrant? Well, here she has to do it out of necessity, but it’s still nice to finally see the captain think about it. Jonathan del Arco, previously known as Hugh in Next Generation, makes an appearance.

7x16 “Workforce, Part I”
The final midseason two-parter begins with our crew basically revisiting “The Killing Game” (guess it’s not hard to guess which two-parter the show’s creators liked best), stuck in some other alien culture’s mess, this time conscripted into, well, a workforce, another pitfall of being a Starfleet crew in a region of space where no one’s heard of Starfleet.

7x17 “Workforce, Part II”
Everyone figures out how to get out of this fine mess, while Chakotay, who has essentially been at the center of this particular effort, rounds out his biggest event of the season.

7x18 “Human Error”
But wait, there’s more! Chakotay gets his own little allusion to the end of the series when Seven experiments with the idea of romantic relationships, and decides our dashing first officer is the most likely target of her pursuit. In sickbay, The Doctor holographically fumes.

7x19 “Q2”
Q returns! As if you couldn’t tell by the title of this one. But the bigger surprise is that Q Junior is ready for his spotlight, and this episode basically belongs to him, and to make it really special, he’s played by Keegan de Lancie, a chip off the old Q all the way around. Happens to be Icheb’s last spotlight, too.

7x20 “Author, Author”
Perhaps still fuming from getting spurned by Seven, The Doctor resumes his tortured personal journey, this time reaching far beyond the ship and putting his case into the hands of the public, writing his own holonovel that presents a warped view of what his experiences have actually been, and so the Alpha Quadrant finally weighs in, and once again, we learn that The Doctor is no Data, at least as basic acceptance goes. We also see conversations with many family members we’ve already seen or heard talked about, including Harry’s parents at long last, while Barclay and Admiral Paris also appear. A clear personal favorite from the season, for any number of reasons, not the least because it’s the only real follow-up to “Latent Image.”

7x21 “Friendship One”
Janeway gets her first Starfleet assignment in seven years, and that alone makes this otherwise forgettable episode worth remembering. Also, the big dirt nap embraces Lt. Carey (Josh Clark), as I suggested in the sixth season recap, to massive fan apathy.

7x23 “Homestead”
The final Naomi Wildman appearance! Oh, and Neelix bids a fond farewell to our crew, having stumbled upon a colony of Talaxians. I defy anyone not to get emotional when Tuvok makes his goodbye gesture, a true highlight of the season.

7x24 “Renaissance Man”
The final Doctor romp sees all the stops pulled out, and in one embarrassing scene, all his secrets are inadvertently blurted to exactly the people he would have wanted to keep them from, when he assumes he’s about to die. Alexander Enberg makes a final appearance as Vorik.

7x25/7x26 “Endgame”
Oh, come now, you know exactly what happens here. Tuvok, as it turns out, really needs to get home, or he’s going to lose all mental control. Seven and Chakotay end up in a real relationship. Janeway outsmarts the Borg. But perhaps more cleverly than fans cared to admit, the big return home is teased with a glimpse into the future where everything turned out badly because it took too long, or so Janeway thinks, so she lets loose into action mode one last time and tackles the Borg Queen (Alice Krige reprising the role for the first time since Star Trek: First Contact, apparently without having missed a beat) head-on, but not before confronting her own past self and crew, forcing everyone to remember that it’s the captain who got them into this mess in the first place, and it’s she who will have to make the big decisions to finally get them out of it. The final shot, which directly echoes the final scene of the pilot, is exactly what it should have been, just the same cyclical image that Lost rightly chose with Jack. Vaughn Armstrong makes another appearance, Admiral and Tom Paris finally share a scene (sort of), and Barclay is rightly acknowledged as an honorary member of the family. Oh, and Torres gives birth.

Like the show at its best, Voyager chose to embrace the opportunity of its final season by seeking out unexpected possibilities, defying assumptions once again that it couldn’t in its own way provide worthwhile serialized material in the traditional episodic Star Trek format. As the final example of that version of the franchise (at least to date), it was far more successful at this than it was ever given credit for. The way Next Generation stumbled through the same thing, Voyager slid along naturally for seven seasons, creative changes never slowing it for long, and in some ways, actually intensifying it, making it more incisive, and insightful. But would you know it from the fan reaction…?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager Season Six

In the fall of 1999, Voyager began its final two seasons as the only Star Trek anyone would see at that time, a novelty that was lost on fans who had already grown jaded. Its sixth season would in fact turn out to be its least popular, which was not so surprising, given the circumstances. It was also a downright shame.

6x1 “Equinox, Part II”
Continuing both literally and figuratively where the fifth season had left off, the series saw Janeway at her most passionate since rescuing Seven and starting the road to reclaiming her humanity, which was ironic, because all the captain’s actions here seem to suggest that it’s Janeway herself who’s losing it, unwilling to show even the slightest compassion for a wayward fellow Starfleet crew, which has offended her by failing to live up to her own ideals. It actually makes you wonder what she would have done if Chakotay and the Maquis had been less accommodating, yet another aspect of the story that was completely lost on viewers at the time. More than Sisko in his famous dark hour “In the Pale Moonlight,” it’s the rare opportunity to see a Star Trek character in completely unsympathetic light. But it’s completely reasonable, too, considering the strain Janeway has been living with. But it’s also the first stop on the road to recovery, a personal trial she ultimately passes.

6x2 “Survival Instinct”
Think I’m pretty far off the mark with that kind of thinking? The second episode of the season is another Borg episode, which really shouldn’t be so much of a surprise, with Vaughn Armstrong making another appearance as the leader of a group of former drones with personal ties to Seven, making this basically her Deep Space Nine episode (roughly a Kira experience). But I would also call this a version of Janeway’s own “I, Borg.”

6x3 “Barge of the Dead”
Another exceptional Torres episode (and not to mention a clear gift of Ronald D. Moore’s brief association with the series) sees the beginning of the transition to a strong focus on her Klingon half, as she makes a journey to the afterlife to help out dear old mom. Eric Pierpont makes another guest appearance.

6x4 “Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy”
The Doctor is in a transition of his own, having grown steadily more bold over the seasons in the course of his development. Here he daydreams a secondary role as Emergency Command Hologram, something that actually becomes a reality. The episode also sees the debut of the Overlookers, otherwise known as the Potatoheads, the rare portly species. The name “Phlox” turns up for the first time in the franchise, too.

6x5 “Alice”
Tom Paris is up to his old tricks, getting himself into horrible trouble thanks to a ship he’s acquired, which proves to be a little more than he can handle. The dude’s luck just stinks. John Fleck guest stars.

6x6 “Riddles”
Tim Russ gets another chance to stretch a little as Tuvok undergoes another crisis of his own, undergoing neurological damage that undoes much of his Vulcan personality and making it incredibly easy, relatively speaking, to get along with Neelix for a change. Always my favorite kind of character episode, speaking about the intrinsic truths of an ordinary situation by exploring it in extraordinary circumstances (which is basically the story of Voyager itself), this is probably also my favorite Tuvok entry.

6x7 “Dragon’s Teeth”
Robert Knepper makes another Star Trek appearance, one that is probably more familiar to fans today than when he showed up as Deanna Troi’s intended beau, as a representative of a potential new alien foe that doesn’t ultimately pan out, and was probably more memorable to fans as a result (the complete opposite of the Kazon).

6x8 “One Small Step”
Phil Morris in perhaps his most memorable Star Trek appearance (his first being Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), the centerpiece in a paean to the space program, something that franchise regularly did (understandably), but probably never better than here.

6x9 “The Voyager Conspiracy”
When fans suggest that Voyager couldn’t be intelligent, much less brilliant or clever, this is the episode I think about every time, because it’s all of that in spades. Seven, probably in one of her finest hours, inadvertently puts herself into Borg overload and starts seeing conspiracies everywhere (at the time, The X-Files, which was one of many shows fans and critics where trying to replace their Star Trek fixation with, was not yet at the point where it lost its own support, so the idea for the episode was also timely), eventually grilling both Chakotay and Janeway about their motives, which was a great way to tie a character who wasn’t around at the beginning of the show back to its origins. But the best part of the episode is when the captain finally brings the drone back down from her sugar high, tracing the arc of their relationship, an emotional moment that resonates with the best of what Star Trek has ever done.

6x10 “Pathfinder”
If any single episode truly represents the transition that began in the sixth season, the moment that divides the final two seasons from the earlier five, it’s this one. Richard Herd finally assumes the role of Admiral Paris, but more importantly, Barclay returns, and begins his last and greatest obsessive quest, which ends with his earning an honorary place among the crew, since he’s the one that ultimately, after a fashion, brings it home. While the Hirogen made regular contact with the Alpha Quadrant possible back in the fourth season, this is the episode that makes it a real staple. Marina Sirtis also makes a guest appearance as Troi. But of course, fans being what they were at the time, they boiled this episode down as a reboot of Barclay back to “Hollow Pursuits.” Perhaps they might think better of it now?

6x11 “Fair Haven”
Janeway’s transition, meanwhile, might officially start here, her road to redemption beginning, improbably, with a relationship in the holodeck. Ever since many of the developments of the early seasons were moved on from, including that potential romance with Chakotay, the captain became increasingly isolated. Her work with Seven certainly helped alleviate some of that, but after finding out Mark didn’t wait for her, Janeway lost some of her center, a sense of normalcy that was vital to maintaining her balance in this stressful situation. Fans didn’t understand this one, either, lumping it into the follow-up “Spirit Folk” as just Harry and Tom at their worst, and the series itself losing all sense of restraint (is that really a bad thing? apparently so, when you don’t have the respect to begin with). Anyway, Richard Riehle makes another Star Trek guest appearance.

6x12 “Blink of an Eye”
One of the episodes I always thought really should have helped fans think a little better of the season, an innovative look at the unintended consequences of accidental first contact, with the ship being lodged in the atmosphere of a planet that revolves more quickly than the norm, resulting in an alien civilization that advances quickly and learns to embrace this strange satellite as a vital part of its culture. Daniel Dae Kim makes a notable appearance as the astronaut who finally makes contact with our crew.

6x13 “Virtuoso”
Continuing the somewhat presumptuous series of bumbling attempts at expanding his horizons, The Doctor believes he’s found some real respect from an alien species who is apparently enamored of him and his singing ability. He’s horribly wrong, of course.

6x15 “Tsunkatse”
Another great sin of the season, or so went the reasoning at the time, was allowing a professional wrestler to guest star, a crass example of network exploitation, given that UPN at that time had just launched ‘Smackdown!’ to incredible ratings, and there was Voyager, ready to ride its coattails. But that wrestler was The Rock, whom movie audiences would eventually embrace pretty readily as Dwayne Johnson. Plus there’s also Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler making guest spots, making this an incredible episode to revisit on any number of accounts, just in case fans might finally want to admit they might have been a little hasty in their judgments. Hertzler in particular is pretty notable in his own right, appearing as a Hirogen who has more or less fallen into a Martok situation, an unwitting gladiator fighting for the amusement of others. Oh, and for the record, this is also technically a Seven episode.

6x16 “Collective”
Together with a few other stranglers who made recurring if comparatively unmemorable appearances for a while, Icheb (Manu Intiraymi) debuts in this episode, the one that finally looks at the Borg maturation concept, something that had been suggested ever since “Q Who?” This is the other great development of the final two seasons, the addition of a signature new character, one that helps shed light back at prior incarnations of Star Trek, with Voyager getting its own version of Wesley Crusher. Okay, so if some fans were still disgruntled with the season at this point, that might definitely have been their own problem, an issue this show just couldn’t help them with. Except that Icheb was probably better than Wes ever was.

6x17 “Spirit Folk”
The one that sort of ruined “Fair Haven” for everyone is itself also entertaining, but for entirely different reasons, like “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang,” attempting to make a romp of a regular holographic recreation, but unlike Vic Fontaine, this one just didn’t catch on. And was never heard from again.

6x18 “Ashes to Ashes”
One of the standard explanations for why a series shouldn’t be taken seriously is when it tries to introduce new characters who have technically been around from the start, but who have never actually been seen before. The reasoning is, if they were really that important, the writers would obviously have been using them all along. The most famous recent example would be Nikki and Paolo on Lost, whose appearances in the third season seemed to be the catalyst for the belief that the show had completely, well, lost it. I call bunk on that whole line of reasoning. When you’re talking about a fictional reality, it’s pretty stupid, one way or another, to even begin imposing that kind of reasoning, especially when you can watch a reality show like Survivor for an entire season and not really know everything and every relationship that has been going on all season, despite the fact that everyone has obviously been around all along. Anyway, “Ashes to Ashes” was another great sin for this season of Voyager, because it dared to breach this subject, by introducing a previously unknown friend of Harry’s who was lost some time earlier, and returns, but with weird alien complications. But even the reasoning for why this episode didn’t work wouldn’t actually hold up, because the same fans who hated this one were completely indifferent when an actual recurring character, Lt. Carey, was finally killed off later. So that just goes to show you, when someone hates something, they’re just going to hate everything, and have (or “find”) a new reason all the time. It’s just an amusing experience to follow. The episode, by the way, isn’t too bad, either.

6x19 “Child’s Play”
Icheb’s finest hour arrives pretty quickly, as learn his complicated backstory, how his parents tried to use him (and try again during the episode) as a pawn against the Borg, making this another episode that explores as only Voyager could the working realities of the Collective. Where some fans claimed the show ruined the Borg by using them too much, I would argue the show didn’t do enough, and that there was plenty left over when it ended. Who wouldn’t have wanted to finally and truly explore the origins and possible eventual undoing of this giant geeky science experiment? Even the Pocketverse didn’t end up doing that, as far as I can tell.

6x20 “Good Shepherd”
And then we have, perhaps naturally, the completion of Janeway’s redemption, as she realizes there are a number of crewmen aboard whom she has never really gotten to know, the metaphorical lost sheep of the title that have been left over from the stuff the early seasons were doing. Effectively closes the loop opened by “Night.” Tal Celes (Zoe McLellan, who would have more prominent stuff to do in JAG) briefly becomes a recurring character.

6x21 “Live Fast and Prosper”
Finally, the series does the episode that the premise has implicitly made possible, aliens who have no working concept of Starfleet and the Federation exploiting the presence of a ship that has, for all this time, ostensibly been representing both, with no practical means of truly making a context of it. Essentially the comic inversion of “Living Witness,” and another of my undeniable favorites.

6x22 “Muse”
Kellie Waymire, whom I’m pretty sure I saw in a final season Seinfeld episode in a completely atypical performance to what Star Trek fans would come to know during her recurring role in the first season of Enterprise, makes a guest appearance in this Torres episode that has a look at storytelling and was actually something those difficult fans actually enjoyed.

6x23 “Fury”
The hypocritical fans who hated “Ashes to Ashes” for all the reasons I outlined earlier hated this one, too, even though it was clearly that same episode, but with a very familiar face. In fact, you might make a case that “…Ashes” was always intended to act as the emissary to this one, prepping fans for the return of a beloved character dropped off after four years to make room for Seven. But Kes is not a happy camper here, and understandably so. It might need reminding that even at four years old, for her species she was still pretty young, and experiencing things none of her kind had even thought about for centuries, so while “The Gift” and her own arc certainly seemed ideal at the time, this was probably inevitable, an angry comeback. Far more compellingly executed than, say, “Legacy,” this should have been another highlight of the season, but was instead another deadly sin, another episode that was completely misunderstood.

6x24 “Life Line”
The Doctor finally takes a break from his own questionable arc and gets to meet his maker, literally, when Barclay determines Lewis Zimmerman could use some treating of his own. Essentially a follow-up to “Pathfinder” with a unique conceit to help justify it, Troi also returns, as does Admiral Hayes, whom Jack Shearer last portrayed in Star Trek: First Contact (he’d made another Voyager appearance, as another admiral). You might also consider this episode the only real overlapping of The Doctor with Data, where Robert Picardo finally gets to play both incarnations of his Star Trek role together, as Brent Spiner had done repeatedly in Next Generation.

6x25 “The Haunting of Deck Twelve”
A completely generic episode, disguised for Neelix to tell as a bedtime story to the Borg kids, hence the title.

6x26 “Unimatrix Zero, Part I”
Susanna Thompson returns as the Borg Queen, just in time for Janeway to hatch a plot against the Collective, thanks to Seven’s unexpected reunion with old friends.

This recap became a little more lengthy than normal, owing to my direct reactions to the criticisms the season originally received. I think I probably would still have talked at length about it, because it’s one of my favorite seasons, notable in so many ways, across the board, with an incredible variety of stories to tell, which made it clear that the series hadn’t run out of stories to tell, especially with its captain, who had a clear purpose and arc lined out from her, which stretched all the way back to the pilot. What’s more, the season directly set up the chain of events that would lead to the show’s conclusion, with the season finale acting like testing ground for that very event.

Yet I can’t help but wonder, does anything I say here even make a dent in the intense criticisms that mounted during the season, that helped torpedo any remaining interest in the series, that helped deflate the entire franchise? If it weren’t for the failure of this season, it’s quite possible that everything that happened over the course of the next five years would have been very different. Enterprise might, at the very least, have gotten the traditional seven seasons. Star Trek Nemesis might not have failed. But then, we might not, and probably not, have gotten Star Trek (2009). In some ways, fans might actually thank this season, for helping to prove beyond a doubt that a fresh start might actually be needed.

In the end, even with my fond affection for the work so many fans rejected, I guess I ultimately don’t mind what developed as a result…

Friday, August 13, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager Season Five

The 1998-1999 season was the last time Star Trek would overlap itself on TV, ending a seven year stretch that saw the franchise reach the apex of its cultural appeal at the time, and its steady decline. Star Trek: Insurrection would be released in the middle of the season, marking the first of two nails in the coffin of the film series from this incarnation, proving that even the once-mighty ‘Next Generation’ crew was not immune from this loss of interest, even though, two years earlier, it had just reached perhaps its widest mark of approval with Star Trek: First Contact. So while Deep Space Nine completed its seven year run, Voyager was about to find out if it could carry the weight of expectations. Its fifth season would be crucial indeed.

5x1 “Night”
The season premiere ought to serve as an indication of what kind of show Voyager ultimately was, whether it was truly an episodic duplicate of Next Generation or a true successor of Deep Space Nine, full of cumulative leanings. Just as “Hope and Fear” had been an appropriate and stirring finale the previous season, “Night” saw the reboot reach its culmination. In many ways, the long-denied emotional impact of events since the pilot was now truly ready to be felt by Janeway, and so that’s exactly what this episode was about, with a cleverly constructed pretext built to hang this sense of guilt on, in case any new viewers were looking for some standalone material to slip into. But I think this is exactly what helped put a nail into this show’s coffin, too, because it was one more contradiction. This was exactly the opposite of what Voyager should have been doing, at the start of its fifth season, at least by the prejudices of fans who had grown jaded with the franchise. Instead of finding Star Trek growing more complacent, it seemed to be filling all the more with a sense of itself, not by any definition that would have made sense to those who wanted more of what they had already been seen, or to be surprised with what they might have been expected, but Star Trek continuing to be true to itself, which is essentially the message of the franchise. And here, of all places, you can see that message unfolding. It feels a little crass to note for the record that yet another nasty Delta Quadrant species, the Malon, makes its debut here. Crass, but appropriate. Also, the debut of Captain Proton! In that second development, you can almost see Star Trek start to react to expectations by ironically noting how far sci-fi has really gotten, no matter what fans might think.

5x2 “Drone”
From an episode that baffled fans to one that delighted them, an unorthodox Borg entry that even extreme skeptics enjoyed, featuring J. Paul Boehmer making his second appearance in the series as a drone that forms from the unholy mingling of Seven’s assimilation tubes and The Doctor’s mobile emitter, which being from the future results in this drone being far advanced from anything the Collective currently knows. Basically an improved version of “I, Borg,” which surprisingly wasn’t seen as heresy. Possibly because nobody thought of it that way at the time.

5x3 “Extreme Risk”
My favorite Torres episode, and one that cleverly ties her Maquis past with events that had been occurring in Deep Space Nine, combining the introspective aspect of “Night” with the best leanings of arguably the show’s best character. This is exactly the kind of episode I was trying to talk about, a definite sign that Voyager wasn’t just spinning its wheels, no matter what fans might have thought, making it a must-see for skeptics. Also the debut of the Delta Flyer.

5x4 “In the Flesh”
Like their appearance in “Prey,” Species 8472 defies expectations (like its refusal to accept the death of Trip Tucker later, Pocket Books would later contradict the events of this episode to its own, more conventional ends, helping to forge another link in what I like to call the Pocketverse) and turns out to be pretty reasonable, with a little help from a simulation of Boothby (Ray Walston), making the first of two appearances in the series. Previously established as an improbable mentor of Picard’s at Starfleet Academy, his influence is revealed to extend further, first to Janeway here, and later to Chakotay as well. Personally, I loved everything about the episode. Tucker Smallwood makes a franchise appearance as well.

5x5 “Once Upon a Time”
Scarlett Pomers makes her debut as Naomi Wildman in this episode that helps flesh out Neelix’s relationship with the family, which has helped soften the character and given him a more permanent sense of home aboard the ship. You might think of this as the reverse of those ‘Next Generation’ episodes that saw a traumatized child become adopted by a main character.

5x6 “Timeless”
The show’s hundredth episode, it’s also the ultimate Harry Kim episode. If this was the only time the character ever appeared, it should still easily have solidified his place in franchise lore, in a time-twisting adventure that sees Harry save the ship from his own mistake, with commentary on any number of relevant topics. If there was any doubt that this season had a lot on its mind, then this one should have put that to rest.

5x8 “Nothing Human”
Even I didn’t quite appreciate at the time how much Voyager was trying to pay homage to Deep Space Nine during the season, but along with “Extreme Risk,” this is the other big one, featuring The Doctor calling up a holographic simulation of an infamous Cardassian physician in order to treat Torres. It just seemed like a random event, but it makes a little more sense now.

5x9 “Thirty Days”
The show was finally ready to do the Tom Paris episode everyone had been expecting from the start, this time without any of the trickery it had attempted in the second season, with the brash officer getting himself in trouble, listening to his own set of principals, which here can be understood as noble if a little misguided, at least by conventional standards (which is really no surprise after all). Warren Munson makes his final appearance as Tom’s infamous father, Admiral Paris, the example he could never hope to live up to.

5x10 “Counterpoint”
Janeway does her own “Unforgettable,” basically, in a similarly twisty episode with another complicated romance. Randy Oglesby makes another franchise appearance.

5x11 “Latent Image”
The Doctor reaches his most significant point of development, one of my favorite episodes, as the stark differences between him and Star Trek’s other famous artificial life-form, Data, are made pretty clear. Where everyone rallied around the android in “The Measure of a Man,” everyone struggles alongside The Doctor, most notably Janeway, including one of the best final scenes of any episode in the franchise, as the captain sits next to the conflicted hologram as he contemplates his future.

5x12 “Bride of Chaotica!”
Otherwise known as the Captain Proton episode, one of those trademark franchise entries where the crew is allowed to really cut loose around a loony premise. See: “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “QPid,” “Our Man Bashir.”

5x13 “Gravity”
Here’s an episode I myself really need to revisit, the rare look back at Tuvok’s formative days, flashbacks that reveal his surprisingly conflicted origins as he struggles through a mission in the present. Lori Petty guest stars.

5x14 “Bliss”
W. Morgan Sheppard happens to cut a tremendously memorable appearance in this episode, as another traveler caught up in a struggle with one of those typical alien entities Star Trek crews encounter out in space.

5x15 “Dark Frontier, Part I”
Seven’s backstory, at least her parents’, is finally explored, in the epic two-parter that memorably cast franchise regular Susanna Thompson in the first appearance of the Borg Queen since Star Trek: First Contact. Might it be something controversial to suggest that Seven ultimately didn’t as completely dominate the show as it seemed at the time? Maybe it’s just the way I make it sound while I’m recapping, but it hasn’t seemed that way to me.

5x16 “Dark Frontier, Part II”
The first battle of wills between the Borg Queen and Janeway concludes, with Seven caught in the middle.

5x17 “The Disease”
In a season that seemed eager to address a lot of things, Harry gets his chance to leave Starfleet behind (remember, this ship was his first assignment upon graduation from the Academy), in another of his seemingly endless irregular and extremely intimate encounters with alien species in the Delta Quadrant. This one just happens to involve romance directly.

5x18 “Course: Oblivion”
This one seemed, in addition to being a sequel to “Demon,” a direct calculation to remind viewers how desperate everyone was to get home, since even duplicates who shouldn’t care as much once they find out the truth, still have the same drive.

5x19 “The Fight”
Boothby makes his second appearance of the season, as Chakotay has another of his trademark episodic crises, having to literally box his way out of a conflict with unconventional aliens.

5x20 “Think Tank”
What was thought at the time to be, famously, the Jason Alexander episode, really served as another reflection point, where it’s revealed that the memorable Vidiians from the early seasons have finally been cured. How else could a show like this bring about that kind of resolution, other than come up with a convoluted group of eccentric geniuses who more or less end up exactly like any other collectors franchise fans have encountered in the past? Here, Seven essentially plays the part of Data.

5x21 “Juggernaut”
It’s hardly ever easy to be Torres. Here, she gets to “enjoy” the return of the Malon. Ron Canada makes another franchise appearance.

5x22 “Someone to Watch Over Me”
The high point of Seven’s relationship with The Doctor. If you misconstrue that statement, well, so does The Doctor, so don’t be too ashamed.

5x23 “11:59”
Here’s another of my personal favorites, a look back at Star Trek history, its version of the turn of the millennium, as Janeway’s ancestor ends up working with Anthony Cooper, I mean Kevin Tighe (so memorable in Lost in the aforementioned role), basically the captain’s version of “Dark Frontier,” another reminder of the heavily reflective nature of the season.

5x24 “Relativity”
Bruce McGill takes on the role of Captain Braxton, the time-traveling Starfleet officer from “Future’s End,” recruiting Seven in a complicated series events meant to cover his own tracks, but end up becoming his own undoing. Carey (Josh Clark) makes a rare appearance.

5x26 “Equinox, Part I”
The season ends just as appropriately and symbolically as it’d begun, with a look at what kind of series (like “Year of Hell”) it might have been if the creators weren’t so enamored of the apparently nauseating Starfleet ideals (at least as far as fans were beginning to think) Janeway originally insisted on. The crew encounters another Starfleet ship (populated by such notable names as John Savage, Rick Worthy, and Titus Welliver, who would one day become the original incarnation of the Man in Black in Lost) that has chosen to go about it quite a different way. Not to get ahead of myself, but the fact that a lot of fans chose to use “Equinox” as one of their definitive arguments against Janeway and thus against Voyager says a lot about how little they actually cared for the show they were apparently still watching, but failing so utterly to understand. If anything, this should have been another sign that the show really understood itself, should have been a definitive argument that it had truly earned its place in franchise lore.

But that simply wasn’t to be. With Deep Space Nine coming to a monumental end, it’s a wonder they were paying attention at all (and might explain how little they really were). During this season, I was pretty distracted myself, attending my senior year of high school, marking one of life’s great transitions, yet I still managed to juggle two great Star Trek seasons (and I even managed to give Earth: Final Conflict a fair shake for a second season that was equally dismissed far too easily by fickle fans).

If anything, the fifth season of Voyager might be considered its strongest, filled with work that not only reflected back on its own origins and development, but back on the franchise itself, in a variety of subtle ways.

In a way, the season was clearing room for even bigger things, though…

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager Season Four

For some reason, Star Trek was never really good about changing cast members. The original series completely recast itself once, but it was between pilots, so no one ever really knew, before adding Chekov (the shaggy-headed Russian meant to boost popularity) in the second season. Next Generation lost Yar in the first season, switched doctors in the second (before quickly switching back in the third). Deep Space Nine brought in Worf in its fourth. But it’s safe to say that no Star Trek ever affected a complete reinvention with the addition of a single character like Voyager did with Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).

4x1 “Scorpion, Part II”
The Borg/Species 8472 story becomes all about the introduction of Seven, the first female drone since the Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, who starts out as just a liaison, before things go horribly wrong and she’s forcibly disconnected from the Collective, and then becomes Janeway’s latest lost sheep, even if she becomes the most reluctant of them…to put it mildly. If you really need another reason to try and understand why the show handled the Maquis transition the way it did, you might look to how it handles Seven. The Maquis were already explained, and with some added emphasis on Chakotay and Torres, with plenty of Starfleet background, so it wasn’t as extreme as it seemed. But with Seven, it was going to be a lot more difficult, because her humanity at this point in her life would be totally, well, alien.

4x2 “The Gift”
As Janeway attempts to help guide Seven into her new life, the character she’s replacing gets to move on. That means this is the final episode for Kes, reaching a culmination point from the personal growth she’s been working toward since the start, exploring the limits of Ocampan evolution. This would easily be the most interesting point of the character’s existence, and right on time, too. As you can tell reading through these recaps, if you were filling in the blanks, you’d notice that I left out a lot of Kes episodes. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t care for her so much as believed the stories written specifically for her worked a little less than those for other characters. She was a weak link in that regard, always an outsider, in a bad way, so it was a natural choice.

4x3 “Day of Honor”
Here’s where the Torres episodes really start getting good again, from where they started in the first season, centering back squarely on the character, who I always described as a Deep Space Nine character in a Voyager world. Basically she has a really bad day, but everything revolves pretty directly around her, which includes the first acknowledgment of her relationship with Tom Paris.

4x4 “Nemesis”
Chakotay, like I said, was by far the character who suffered the most from the lack of fan interest in the early seasons (which if you’ve been reading closely can only conclude as having baffled me), but for some reason, the writers kept figuring out how to make episodic material work really well for him. Here he gets stuck in the midst of an indigenous conflict with a culture which happens to feature a distinctive speech pattern. Call him Darmok.

4x5 “Revulsion”
The series seemed to come up with a lot of different ways to explore holographic life, whether it involved The Doctor directly or served to contrast with him. Here he gets to explore the latter firsthand, with Leland Orser making another memorable franchise appearance as a homicidal “Isomorphic Projection.”

4x6 “The Raven”
The first regular Seven episode sees her drawn back to the ship her parents used to study the Borg when she was a child (which turned out to be not such a great idea).

4x7 “Scientific Method”
The kind of episode the series fell back on frequently, the crew having to figure out how a group of mysterious aliens is manipulating them, this one helps formulate the Seven-Doctor dynamic, which might be seen as important as the former drone’s with the captain. In a move that was typical for the show, the story also finds time to feature the Torres-Paris relationship.

4x8 “Year of Hell, Part I”
A story that seemed to be fashioned to directly address one of the nagging concerns from the fans who thought it would be realistic for the ship to suffer cumulative damage. Those fans were probably right, but as this two-parter demonstrates, that would be pretty hard to watch after a while. Even Battlestar Galactica never did this.

4x9 “Year of Hell, Part II”
Kurtwood Smith’s Annorax really starts to command the story in the second half, the tragic nature of his obsessive quest to reshape time (especially in the chilling epilogue) fully explored, thanks to his two new passengers, Chakotay (who gets some interesting work as he begins to identify with the villain, perhaps an allusion to his Maquis past) and Tom Paris. Easily one of the most interesting two-parters of the entire franchise, no matter what you might think otherwise of Voyager.

4x11 “Concerning Flight”
Leonardo da Vinci (and his favorite Voyager pupil, Janeway) receives his own episode. What else do you really need to know?

4x12 “Mortal Coil”
Here’s the most dramatic example of the periodic attempts to wring pathos out of Neelix, as he suffers a near-death experience and apparently discovers everything he thought he knew isn’t true after all. It also happens to be the first Wildman family episode, with Naomi making her first regular appearance. Has always been one of my favorites.

4x13 “Waking Moments”
Combing two typical episodic elements from the series, here’s a Chakotay episode with a “see what aliens are doing to the crew” episode, but again, everything seems to work pretty interestingly.

4x14 “Message in a Bottle”
Here’s my sister’s favorite episode, The Doctor taking on a very interesting away mission, to the Alpha Quadrant, thanks to a Hirogen communications relay (oh, making this the first appearance of the Hirogen), which leads to the introduction of the new Emergency Medical Hologram, played by Andy Dick, who happens to be even more quirky than the original model. The interplay between Andy and Robert Picardo is unique, to the least. As a matter of continuity, this one’s also pretty important, featuring the Romulans (again) and referencing the Dominion War, and setting a direct course for later developments, because now Starfleet knows what really happened to the ship.

4x15 “Hunters”
Seven and Tuvok are taken captive by the Hirogen, allowing viewers to learn a great deal about the newest alien menace of the series, probably the best attempt, a more successful version of the Kazon, nomadic predators who have a good excuse to keep showing up. Tiny Ron makes his second appearance as a Hirogen. The episode also features some poignant letters from home, made possible by the communications array, the first regular contact with the Alpha Quadrant of the series.

4x16 “Prey”
Tony Todd takes on another memorable role, as a Hirogen who comes aboard the ship so he can hunt Species 8472, marking an increasingly unpredictable path of appearances.

4x17 “Retrospect”
The Doctor and Seven in their first real mishap of an episode together, now that their dynamic has been established, both of them making some pretty goofy mistakes and getting into trouble for it. No biggy. Happens all the time.

4x18 “The Killing Game, Part I”
The Hirogen are back, in their biggest hour yet. Because it’s actually two hours, the second two-parter epic of the season, trying to be even more ambitious, by throwing our crew into the French resistance during WWII. J. Paul Boehmer makes his first Star Trek appearance as a Nazi on the holodeck, as the Hirogen attempt to understand their prey, the leader of this particular batch (Danny Goldring) thinking (as a Jem’Hadar once did in Deep Space Nine) that there might be more to life than just huff-huff, smash-smash.

4x19 “The Killing Game, Part II”
The crew converges and, thanks to Harry Kim, the only one who has managed to evade the Hirogens, breaks free from captivity on its own ship. As a throwaway adventure, it works surprisingly well.

4x20 “Vis a Vis”
Tom Paris gets saddled with another episode that sort of calls to mind the kind of character he was originally supposed to be, but this time, it also serves as commentary for how far he’s actually come, with a significant emphasis on the increasingly emerging Torres relationship. Also memorable for me because Tom is referenced as a “grease monkey,” which might be seen in retrospect as an allusion to the Delta Flyer, which would become his passion project.

4x21 “The Omega Directive”
One of the trickier things the show managed to pull off was to retain the ship’s connection to Starfleet without any real contact with it, and this would probably be one of the more significant attempts at demonstrating that, as Janeway enacts protocol that doesn’t sit well with her crew, thanks to standing procedure that turns just about everything on its head. Also, we get a new perspective on the Borg, a reminder that the Collective is basically a giant nerd organization (or maybe a religious one). Anyone who really wants to insist that Voyager ruined the Borg really has to be pretty obstinate, especially with examples like this that help illustrate how much the show was able to do with a formerly one-dimensional enemy (unless that really is a preference, but then, you’d have to say you like the Klingons strictly as warriors, and then ignore what the bulk of the franchise did with them).

4x22 “Unforgettable”
Virginia Madsen helps remind viewers that Chakotay does pretty well as a romantic figure as well in this latest standalone episode. Maybe it’s just that Robert Beltran was really good at simplifying complicated stories, because this was definitely another one of those, but that’s what he got most of the time.

4x23 “Living Witness”
Here’s another thing that Voyager got to do thanks to its unique premise, which was exploit the possibility of being a representative of an entire fleet, but being cut off from it, and thus pretty much only really representing itself. Featuring The Doctor in the rare episode that exploited an abnormal lifespan’s true possibilities (though technically this one featured a backup version of his program), and getting to be the lone representative himself, for a civilization that completely misconstrued its encounter with the ship. Fascinating and awesome.

4x24 “Demon”
Harry and Tom get into a lot of trouble when they inadvertently duplicate themselves in a puddle of goo. Okay, that’s the way to describe this one so that it, too, can be misconstrued. Anyway, another pretty interesting episode, one that actually got a follow-up story later, and probably counts as Harry’s own real spotlight of the season, which is kind of sad, but he worked so well as a downplayed character doing what he can, which was usually pretty amazing, that it didn’t really matter. Sometimes that very characteristic really worked for him, as he’d find out next season.

4x25 “One”
The kind of episode that was so popular among the staff that it needed to be done again later in ‘Enterprise,’ Seven finds herself having to run the ship on her own, the rest of the crew having to be put in stasis in order to cross a dangerous region of space. Wade Williams makes a guest appearance.

4x26 “Hope and Fear”
Drawing on a number of previously established elements, this was a wonderfully natural season finale. The coded Starfleet transmission introduced in “Hunters” is brought back, while the crew takes on a passenger who turns out to be a badly traumatized victim of the bargaining Janeway had done with the Borg during “Scorpion,” and the crew receives a huge tease for a quick trip home. Probably about as perfect as a strictly Voyager episode can be.

It’s funny that the show could never shake the notion that it was basically a Next Generation clone, because in many ways, it was far more like Deep Space Nine, with an intrinsic sense of its own possibilities, regardless of viewer expectations. Like the show set on a space station, the premise was a launching pad to a far greater saga; the Borg was like the Dominion insomuch as it was an enemy that allowed new elements of the premise to come alive, and so the fourth season of Voyager was like fresh territory with familiar surroundings. Combining the new approaches of the third season with the strong character sensibilities of the earlier seasons, it allowed the show to finally reach its potential, thanks to the introduction of Seven, whose presence helped galvanize everything around her. Janeway had a new purpose, a new demonstration of her nurturing instinct, but far from making the first female captain seem less identifiable to a broad audience, it gave her new room to exert an already strong presence. The show was literally only getting better.

Then again, maybe all of it was a little too ambitious, a little too taxing and perplexing for a show that would always be perceived as cheap exploitation. Voyager was just another Star Trek, an unforgivable crime in an unforgiving genre. It had no right to aspire to more…

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager Season Three

In the fall of 1996, the franchise was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, which was an event every incarnation got to celebrate. But perhaps more importantly, Next Generation got to enjoy its most obvious parting gifts to the two shows that immediately succeeded it, thanks to the success of that winter’s Star Trek: First Contact. Midway through its fifth season, Deep Space Nine inherited the distinctive new movie’s uniforms. And midway through its third, Voyager inherited the Borg.

3x1 “Basics, Part II”
The last regular appearance of the Kazon, including recurring villains Seska and Culluh, as well as short-lived and finally redeemed recurring character Ensign Suder, sees Tom Paris, in perhaps a bit of irony from his arc last season, help save the day as the crew reclaims their ship. It was the only time in Star Trek history that any foe had been able to do that by force (Khan doesn’t count), or that a crew had been able to overcome it. The unique circumstances of the show made it possible. And Voyager would do it again, more spectacularly, one season later, with a more menacing and satisfactory foe, the Hirogen. Hogan (Simon Billig), meanwhile, a recurring character introduced during the second season, perhaps meets a symbolic death as well.

3x2 “Flashback”
The only time the series would really exploit Tuvok’s past, and its exquisite possibilities, this was also the show’s contribution to the anniversary celebration, and perhaps the only time that the Vulcan and Janeway’s long-time relationship would ever directly become the focus of an episode. It’s also set during Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, is the closest George Takei would ever get his wish to for a Captain Sulu series. Also making guest appearances in the episode were Grace Lee Whitney as Rand and Michael Ansara in one more incarnation as Kang. All in all, a deceptively important episode.

3x3 “The Chute”
The first real Tom Paris/Harry Kim episode, dropping them deep into the heart of trouble, strictly Bashir/O’Brien territory, but the pair manage to make it their own.

3x4 “The Swarm”
Ostensibly featuring a nasty new alien threat, this one’s really another early exploration of the nature of The Doctor’s existence, the first real threat to his program and an indication that, as suspected, he really was never meant to run for so long. Interestingly, for those conspiracists who suspected that B-4 was meant to more or become Data at the end of Star Trek Nemesis, the episode features a similar ending that would lend their beliefs some credence. Not that I would buy that argument, even now.

3x5 “False Profits”
Ira Steven Behr must have been proud when he heard about this one. Picking up where the Next Generation episode “The Price” left off, the Ferengi who unwitting made the trip through the wormhole are encountered by our crew, and act very much like Deep Space Nine versions of the species, eventually forcing Neelix to pose as one of them, marking the first, but not the last, time Ethan Phillips would adopt the distinctive lobes.

3x6 “Remember”
A Torres episode that grafts her familiar internal conflicts with episodic material, and it still works, proving the character to be as durable as she first seemed. But soon enough, she’d be getting better material still.

3x7 “Sacred Ground”
Here’s Janeway, doing her own version of Picard diplomacy again, and in a way, foreshadowing the kind Archer would later get to enjoy in Enterprise, specifically in “A Night in Sickbay,’ a humbling ritual that Next Generation might have considered in “Justice.”

3x8 “Future’s End, Part I”
This is the beginning of the new direction for the series. Star Trek would do in-season two-parters on occasion, but never quite with the scope Voyager would embrace, high concept adventures meant to replace the arcs the studio no longer considered with as much confidence, especially after the second season had faired so poorly with audiences (not that, in Deep Space Nine, lack of real viewer interest would affect anything). The time-traveling Captain Braxton makes his first appearance, while Ed Begley, Jr. and Sarah Silverman guest star as our crew visit’s the present, the first time a Star Trek would touch base with the present since the original crew in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

3x9 “Future’s End, Part II”
The conclusion of the story is also the origin of The Doctor’s mobile emitter, which would broaden the possibilities not only for the character, but for the writers.

3x11 “The Q and the Grey”
Suzie Plakson graces Star Trek again, but Janeway probably doesn’t appreciate it quite as much as viewers, since Plakson plays a Q, along with John De Lancie, and this triangle revisit’s the consequences of “Death Wish,” and makes our fair madam captain an aunt by episode’s end. It’s truly remarkable what could be done with such a familiar character as Q when new possibilities are considered.

3x12 “Macrocosm”
Janeway gets her chance to be an action star, and she pulls it off. Notably, after the conclusion of the Kazon arc, which effectively concluded the first act of the series, the immediate consequences of the decision to strand the ship in the Delta Quadrant, the writers clearly didn’t know where to go with Janeway, and it showed during this season. But by the end of it, they’d figure that out. At least they had some fun with her in the meantime.

3x13 “Fair Trade”
Neelix begins to grow antsy about his continued usefulness to the crew (the only real sign in the season that the thru-line I was just mentioning hadn’t been entirely forgotten), and stumbles into some Talaxians, who make it real easy for him to disembark. Or, y’know, make some really bad decisions instead to try and prove his worth. James Horan makes another franchise appearance. And depending on which airing sequence you go by, Alexander Enberg makes his debut as Vorik.

3x14 “Alter Ego”
This is a real favorite of mine from the season, which spotlights an unfamiliar pairing, of Harry Kim and Tuvok, who plays Kal-toh onscreen for the first time. With as much chemistry and contrast as they exhibit here, it’s a wonder why it didn’t happen more often. And depending on which airing sequence you go by, Alexander Enberg makes his debut as Vorik.

3x15 “Coda”
Otherwise known as the best episode for those masochistic fans (otherwise known as “Internet fans”) who kept watching even though they didn’t like the series or Janeway, the captain dies repeatedly.

3x16 “Blood Fever”
The episode that was the reason Vorik was introduced, that sees him go into Pon farr, and inadvertently kick off the romance between Tom Paris and Torres. Also the first glimpse of the Borg in Voyager.

3x17 “Unity”
Do you see how long it took to get another Chakotay episode, after the end of the period that was most ideally suited to feature him? Well, he does get the honor of hosting the first Borg episode, which is at least historic.

3x18 “Darkling”
The Doctor begins his efforts to expand his own programming, with predictably disastrous results, especially if you’re Kes and you were attempting to enjoy a romance that might potentially have given your exit from the ship. Thanks, Doc!

3x19 “Rise!”
After the great yet confusing time they had of it in “Tuvix,” this is the first real Tuvok/Neelix episode, which matches their temperaments nicely, and gives new examples of how the Talaxian’s diverse background might provide unexpected benefits.

3x21 “Before and After”
Among the many interesting things Voyager set up in its premise was the short lifespan of Kes, which has its most dramatic exploration in this episode, and is probably her finest hour in the series.

3x22 “Real Life”
The Doctor tinkers with his program, in an attempt to feel a little more like “a real boy,” crafting a family on the holodeck that he’s encouraged to make a little more realistic, to tragic results.

3x23 “Distant Origin”
Like Janeway, Chakotay suffered a vital loss with the transition away from Kazon stories, but unlike the captain, he was never given a new arc to replace it. Fortunately, he became perhaps one of the most interesting Star Trek characters to follow in episodic material. This is easily his shining hour in that regard, a fascinating look at a dogmatic society too closed-off to new ideas to embrace new truths about its existence, perhaps a metaphor for the scientific breakthroughs that threatened the Catholic Church in our own world. One of the best episodes of the series.

3x25 “Worst Case Scenario”
As a parting gift to the early incarnation of the series, this episode revisits Seska and the apparent powderkeg notion of combining Starfleet and Maquis crews thanks to a holodeck program finally traced back, logically, to Tuvok, who alone might have foreseen its usefulness. At least, before Seska modified it. One of my favorite episodes.

3x26 “Scorpion, Part I”
Otherwise known as the debut of Leonardo da Vinci (John Rhys-Davies, in between his iconic roles in Sliders and Lord of the Rings). Just kidding! Janeway reaches her “Best of Both Worlds” moment, and makes the startling decision to make a deal with the Borg in order to survive Species 8472 (otherwise known, at least to Star Trek Online players, as the Ondine), a fateful gesture that would forever alter the course of the series. And just in case, the show also had fans wondering if this would be the end of Harry Kim.

The mark of a show in transition, the third season saw Voyager begin to distance itself from its early run, but not in quite so dramatic fashion as Next Generation at the same point, but more like Deep Space Nine, as a gentle approach to new possibilities. It’s easy to see a few sentimental goodbyes going on, as well as some blossoming of potential occurring from latent developments that hadn’t yet been truly explored, especially with The Doctor, who was just entering into his stride as a signature character of the series. The show was also doing its best to remind viewers that just because it was cut off in most practical ways from the familiar, Voyager still had a good sense of its place in franchise lore.

It was a strangely good time to be a fan, but it would get better…

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager Season Two

This is as far away from traditional wisdom as I’m willing to go: no Star Trek had a better second season than Voyager. Flush from a strong push in the early months of 1995, and thanks to some production and network quirks, a few episodes from that early run were held back for the new season that started in the fall, but even from that point, the show only seemed to grow stronger and more bold, building the first true long arc of the franchise, at the same time that Deep Space Nine was only just getting the hang of the Dominion, and getting a tad scuttled in its own efforts by the same studio (remember that Voyager debuted during the other show’s third season, and so was in its second season as the older show went on to its fourth, with the debut of Worf and infusion of Klingons). How’s that for revisionism?

2x1 “The 37’s”
It was a stroke of genius to choose this one from among the several shot after “Learning Curve” to serve as the second season premiere, especially as its ending served as a moral victory for Janeway when she learns her crew is ready to stand behind her, exactly the note necessary at this point of the show’s run. But perhaps more interesting was the decision to build the hour around Amelia Earhart (Sharon Lawrence, then well-known from her years on NYPD Blue), and an entire colony of displaced humans from alien meddling. On the surface, this was just a new treatment of a story already seen in “Space Seed” and “The Neutral Zone,” but far from a disadvantage, I would argue (again, against tradition) that increased knowledge of its own abilities made Star Trek easier to make, and thus, potentially better. At least in this instance, that much was true.

2x2 “Initiations”
The Kazon grew to be seen, I don’t know how quickly, as crude imitations of Klingons, probably based on looks alone (I never had a problem with that either), so any viewer who was tired of them after “Caretaker” was only baffled by the second season, which focused all the more heavily on them, which to those who didn’t like Kazon, could only be all the more baffled by their continued presence, especially on a show who’s professed goal was constant onward mobility, which should have made it difficult to continue seeing any alien species for long, much less one that wasn’t much liked. But as a species, the Kazon were uniquely suited and situated for this role, especially in the early years, to help build the context and drama of the show, as a nomadic species, splintered and spread out by definition, and already designed as the ship’s first enemy, which should have been viewed as pretty important, since without backup, could it possibly be any more vulnerable? To watch it all unfold should have been fascinating. And in this episode, the first one to truly focus on them, the Kazon even get their culture explored, as Chakotay stumbles into a training camp and a troubled recruit, played by Deep Space Nine recurring star Aron Eisenberg, who, for a number of reasons, should have been able to win over at least some of the disgruntled fans for the species. Did I mention this was the first episode filmed directly for the second season?

2x3 “Projections”
The Voyager debut of Barclay (Dwight Schultz, making a second career of a second career), whose presence would increase in later seasons, folded into the mythology for the first time as Lewis Zimmerman’s assistant during the creation of the Emergency Medical Hologram. This is relevant, because both Zimmerman (also played by Robert Picardo) and Barclay appear for the first time in a twisty tale that explores for the first time The Doctor’s existential problems, which would themselves increase and grow in significance later.

2x4 “Elogium”
The first real spotlight for Kes (Jennifer Lien), the character most affected by the appearance of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, a member of the species who was saved by Janeway in her decision to strand the crew thousands of lightyears from home. At first cast in a complicated relationship with fellow passenger Neelix, it wasn’t long before Kes started forging some of her own relationships, particularly with The Doctor and Tuvok, not to mention Tom Paris, much to Neelix’s chagrin. But this episode is all about Ocompan biology, and could be likened to “Amok Time,” when she’s forced to undergo reproductive changes. But for those keeping continuity score, this is also the debut of Samantha Wildman (Nancy Hower), whose own pregnancy forces Janeway to seriously consider what the future of her ship may really be, which would have some real developments soon enough. Another holdover from the first season production schedule.

2x5 “Non Sequitur”
The second episode filmed expressly for the second season, this one features Harry Kim on a mind-bending journey that features an intriguing what-if scenario rebooting back to the start of the series with Kim, not to mention Tom Paris, never having joined the Voyager crew. At the very least, an innovative way to look back at what Harry left behind, including girlfriend Libby (Jennifer Gatti).

2x7 “Parturition”
Remember that knotty love triangle I suggested about Kes, Neelix, and Tom Paris? Well, as of this episode, consider that explored pretty thoroughly. What the premise of the series, like Deep Space Nine aboard a space station, necessitated, was a definite exploration of relationships, and I always thought that was the real triumph of Voyager. This was an early culmination-of-sorts, not the one Paris fans would have been looking for (something that was definitely abandoned was the complicated rivalry he shared with Chakotay in the pilot, that was pretty much never seen again), but one that was still satisfying, for three characters.

2x8 “Persistence of Vision”
The big tease of home and family from the early seasons, that gave viewers glimpses of Tom’s domineering dad Admiral Paris (early on played by Warren Munson), Janeway’s fiancĂ©e Mark (Stan Ivar, last seen in the pilot, and another plot point dropped a little too soon), and Tuvok’s wife T’Pol (Marva Hicks).

2x9 “Tattoo”
Something that the show never really explored was the concept of destiny, but it’s not hard to imagine that the idea was at least somewhere in the kernel of this episode, which took a look at Chakotay’s origins, including, yes, how he got that distinctive facial art. I think if Chakotay himself would have proved more popular, this episode would have grown in importance, as would this entire season. But in the strength and failure of the season, one can see the unraveling of the whole franchise, at least in this incarnation.

2x10 “Cold Fire”
Otherwise known as the Female Caretaker episode, a direct sequel to the pilot; Kes finds herself in the unlikely position of having the chance to rejoin her people (much as Neelix would at the end of the series), but a few too many complications make the deal impossible. Gary Graham makes a notable and early Star Trek appearance, before joining Enterprise in a prominent recurring role.

2x11 “Maneuvers”
This one’s like a sequel to “State of Flux,” as Chakotay gets to enjoy a forced reunion with Seska and Culluh, which more or less kicks off the season arc. Has always been one of my favorite episodes of the series, strictly for its dramatic weight, which Robert Beltran was particularly suited to carry, and which was sorely missed later in the series. No wonder the guy grew bitter.

2x12 “Resistance”
A poignant episode featuring guest star Joel Grey working as a perfect counterbalance to Kate Mulgrew’s usual steely resolve as Janeway, who’s forced to watch as her new friend Caylem degrades himself, believing it’s the only way to survive and save the day. An episode even those not caught up in the series took note of.

2x13 “Prototype”
Torres was like the O’Brien of Voyager, constantly getting herself caught up in unlikely disastrous scenarios, usually at her own initiative. Here she unwittingly reactivates a war by repairing the robots which had ended up fighting it for the species who long ago killed each other off. An episode struck very much from the original series mold. Rick Worthy voices the robot she spends the bulk of the episode with, thereby setting up his own recurring role in the Star Trek acting troupe.

2x14 “Alliances”
The season arc continues, this time with more Kazon! Seriously, you can’t get more heavily Kazon than this episode, which reveals how the species splintered into warring tribes by dangling the promise of a reunification, with Janeway attempting to fill the diplomatic role Picard made so famous in Next Generation (and not succeeding as such). Seska and Culluh appear, and Jonas (Raphael Sbarge) makes his first appearance, as the mole our villains have aboard the ship, another former Maquis.

2x15 “Threshold”
The most infamous episode of the series sees Tom Paris attempt to break Federation speed records, only to wind up in testing other laws of science, including apparently precious ideas the audience might have about evolution.

2x16 “Meld”
Arguably Tuvok’s finest hour, and the episode where Tim Russ truly gets to stretch a little when Ensign Suder (Brad Dourif) is revealed to be an unstable, homicidally so, member of the crew, whom the Vulcan tries to bring under control, with some pretty disastrous results, at least for a while.

2x17 “Dreadnought”
Just in case Torres didn’t get into enough trouble with her engineering skills in “Prototype,” this one sees a reunion with a Cardassian weapon she’d previously worked on pre-Delta Quadrant, which proves not so much cooperative here, either.

2x18 “Death Wish”
The most famous episode of the season, and possibly of the series, Voyager does a Q (John De Lancie) episode, and makes the idea totally its own by exploring the nature of the Q Continuum for the first time, thereby setting a precedent for how later appearances would feature the irascible entity. It doesn’t hurt that De Lancie has better chemistry with Kate Mulgrew than he did with Avery Brooks.

2x19 “Lifesigns”
The Doctor in his first real brush with love, as he treats a brilliant Vidiian (Susan Diol) with a holographic representation of a disease-free appearance, so he can help her physical body recover. Also a key episode for the recurring subplot of Tom Paris’s apparent rogue behavior meant to expose Jonas, the only time that anticipated conflict with Chakotay would ever surface, which also exploits viewer expectations for the kind of character Paris was supposed to be.

2x20 “Investigations”
Neelix plays an instrumental role in exposing Jonas as Tom Paris’s ruse reaches its natural conclusions. An important climax to part of the season’s arc as well as a necessary link in the show’s development since the start of the series.

2x21 “Deadlock”
In another iteration of a kind of disaster episode that Voyager repeatedly turned to in its early run, this was the most successful one, and the most significant. Technically, the Harry Kim from this point on is an alternate one, and Naomi Wildman is born.

2x22 “Innocence”
Tuvok plays well off of kids. That’s the lesson of this one, which actually cleverly inverts that statement by the end of the episode. You might even consider it a weird sort of inversion of “The Galileo Seven” if you want to.

2x23 “The Thaw”
This is another strong standalone story, featuring our crew stumbling awkwardly into a deceptively deadly scenario, featuring Michael McKean in a role that easily have become recurring if anyone had thought of it, and a strong appearance by Janeway, who finally figures out how to defeat him.

2x24 “Tuvix”
Here’s an episode that seemed designed to test the viewer’s affection for the show by introducing a combination of Tuvok and Neelix (brilliantly portrayed by Tom Wright) and seeing what it would be like to wonder if it was better to have him stick around, or bring back the status quo. It was Janeway’s first moral dilemma since “Caretaker,” and the first time viewers seemed to believe she erred. It was a matter of credibility for skeptics, and a strong continuity hour for fans. Take away all the questions about the Kazon, and you’ll find that “Tuvix” influenced opinions far more than “Death Wish,” or “Threshold,” for that matter.

2x25 “Resolutions”
One of the running plots early on, or one of the running passions at least, among fans was whether or not Janeway and Chakotay would develop a romantic relationship. This episode was all about exploring that idea, testing its limits. The characters, and actors, were up to the task.

2x26 “Basics, Part I”
The Kazon arc reaches its logical conclusion in the cliffhanger season finale that sees Seska and Culluh launch a successful assault on the ship, claiming it for themselves and abandoning the crew on a primitive world.

It wasn’t just the arc driving much of the season that helped make it memorable (and historic) for me, but the fact that the series was able to expand on its potential, and explore episodic material productively, that helped convince me that Voyager made a viable addition to franchise lore. Even though I was coming off my most cherished memories of Deep Space Nine (you’ll remember that its third season was my favorite), I was still ready to embrace a new crew and new stories. This was a strong foundation, no matter what other viewers might have thought.

Yet ironically, the third season would set about an immediate change of creative direction…
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