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…?

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