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…

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