Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Voyager 2x13 "Prototype"

*

The gift of Roxanne Dawson was a tremendous one for Voyager.  She was the series' best actor, and could turn any of her material into gold.  Far too frequently, she had to do just that with episodes that centered on B'Elanna Torres.

This time it was a fairly generic episode in which the crew stumble on an artificial life-form, which B'Elanna must first repair, before learning what a horrible mistake that was, because this robot is the product of a war that wiped out all organic participants long ago, and now this robot can continue that fight.

Anyway, most of the episode is B'Elanna trying to cope with the horrible mistake, because she's taken hostage.  It's not the last time this season something like this happens to her, which is the really perverse part of it.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Rick Worthy (voice)

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x12 "Resistance"

***

"Resistance" was a treasure that even those who were already turning against the series when it aired had to admit was a treasure.  It could easily have been an episode of the original series, if Kirk could ever give anyone but himself, much less a pathetic local with gigantic delusions about reality, any credit.

Substituting for Kirk is Janeway, who finds herself stuck on a planet after an away mission gone awry, and to survive she must trust said local, who mistakes her for his long-lost daughter, and recruits her in the mission to retrieve his wife from the town strongman.  Of course, we learn by the end of the episode that there are any number of flaws in this plan, but the guy is so ridiculously sympathetic, not just Janeway but anyone watching the episode will want to hug him.

It's a must-see episode, another one from the season, and a fairly random one at that, and anyone who ever said that Voyager shouldn't have been doing episodes like this would thus have lost one of the best episodes of the series, and arguably of the franchise.  And because so many fans said stuff like that throughout the run of the series, "Resistance" has all but been forgotten.  Well, let's let go of that particular delusion, shall we?

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Joel Grey

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x11 "Maneuvers"

****

"Maneuvers" is the essential episode of the first two seasons of Voyager.  And it stars Chakotay.

There are dozens of misconceptions about Voyager, one being that it made every mistake possible.  The reverse couldn't be more true.  In its first episode the series outlined everything that it was going to be, and very wisely the producers set about exploiting that first episode for two seasons, including a perennial foe the crew could butt heads with on a repeated basis, semi-savages aliens known as the Kazon whom fans mistakenly identified as unworthy of their attention.

How were they relevant?  They provided an outlet for those members of the combined crew who didn't trust it, led by Seska, the Cardassian spy planted within Chakotay's Maquis cell who posed as a Bajoran and was quickly exposed in the first season and officially defected to the Kazon, who were splintered into the very factions Janeway had successfully eliminated in her own crew.

So "Maneuvers" is the episode where Seska and Chakotay finally have their reckoning.  It's not the beginning or end of the arc that only really concludes in the third season premiere (with a wicked reverberation in the later "Worst Case Scenario"), but speaks to the power of everything that comes before and after it, not only the dramatic worth of the Kazon, but how significant a character Chakotay really was when written in that way.

For most of the series, he defers to the judgment of Captain Janeway, but on the rare occasions where he finds himself in control, he is a capable and confident individual, who nonetheless struggles to keep his emotions out of it (this instinct got him in trouble in his youth, and he's spent the rest of his life keeping it under control, like a human illustration of Vulcan history; no wonder he ends up with Seven, and it's assumed that anyone who actually paid attention would understand).  He has no control when it comes to Seska.  Hers was the betrayal he couldn't ignore.

And so "Maneuvers" happens.  This is the epic story that lies in one significant corner of the whole series.  And really, where else could Chakotay go after it?

franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Martha Hackett
Anthony De Longis

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x10 "Cold Fire"

**

Remember "Caretaker"?  This was its sequel.  That's another reason why the second season was such an integral one for the series, because it did a ton of mythology episodes, rushing through a lot of serialized storytelling the network and producers would subsequently veto for the regular format of later seasons.

Here we finally meet the mate of the Caretaker who originally brought our crew into the Delta Quadrant, and typically, the easy answers everyone might have expected are subverted, so that this Caretaker is anything but, an embittered and vengeful being who wants nothing to do with the ship who technically helped solved the problems she left behind.

Oh, and this is the last time we see a significant grouping of Ocampa.  This Caretaker has continued doing what the other one did, but far less benevolently, with a different philosophy entirely.  In fact, "Cold Fire" suggests that the first Caretaker actually did the Ocampa a favor by rebooting their society, because all those skills Kes has been developing can and will be used for evil, very easily, suggesting that the Ocampa are inherently, at least in their social leanings, to villainy (with the same ironic fate as the Kazon, also in the continued spotlight this season).  They would have been more Romulan than Vulcan, if you need a more conventional franchise analogy.

Anyway, of all the potential tickets home, this one may be one of the more depressing failures, especially for any fans who might have been holding out for some simple comfort, some predictable Star Trek happy ending (and that's probably another reason fans started to rebel against the Borg, because that was another Voyager subversion).  The same fans who hated the series for not being depressing enough were the same fans who watched Star Trek for its hopeful message.  (Well, one would hope, anyway.)

"Cold Fire" is a model of contradiction.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Gary Graham

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x9 "Tattoo"

***

There's two different versions of Chakotay in Voyager.  The first and more interesting one was not only an active participant in his own life, but was one of the most interesting elements of the first few seasons.  The second version was the opposite of that.

"Tattoo" is an ideal episode to see the first version.  This is basically an origin story, allowing us to glimpse the young Chakotay and his much-vaunted Native American heritage, the one he embraced as an adult but struggled against as a youth.  He struggled with his father, to be more precise.  The title of the episode is the real trick, though, how Chakotay actually has a deeper connection to the Delta Quadrant than anyone, except maybe Neelix.

The trick is that the tattoo he famously sports on his face is the product of a fortuitous encounter he and his father had, the event that finally bonded them (making it less cultural than most fans would probably assume, though more deeply personal and significant than they would be willing to credit the series with, too, and that in a nutshell is the difference between the reality of the show and the image fans tend to give it).

A group of aliens visited the Alpha Quadrant years ago, not in the way aliens usually traverse great distances of space, but in the purely ideal mode Starfleet has always yearned for, and which Chakotay is now in a position to do himself, free from all the politics that caused him so much hassle previously.  Coming across them again makes him come full circle.

Anyway, what this episode really does is illustrate Voyager's central conceit, that Starfleet has strayed from its ideals because it's become too difficult with all the politics and conflicts that obscure its original scientific mission (in a way, Q and Insurrection try to make the same point).  I guess it's appropriate that Chakotay finds peace aboard this ship, with a scientist as his captain, and that this peace is exhibited by total eclipse of an ego that once threatened to tear his family apart.  It's ironic that he's the one member of the crew that didn't need to return home to find it.  Maybe that's what ultimately reconciles the two versions of Chakotay.  Maybe "Tattoo" was a way of illustrating that.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2x8 "Persistence of Vision"

***

Another overlooked, crucial episode of the early seasons, "Persistence of Vision" is one of those moments where the context of the series is relevant to the episode in ways many fans always wanted, the crew actually pining for home.

Of course, there's a buffer in a random alien weirdo encounter that makes it all possible, with a bunch of delusions that are meant to distract them into ruin, but the reward turns out to be the fact that the aside is the point, and that the story is just an excuse for many of the loved ones that have either been ignored for a while or seen for the first time to be brought into focus.  Tuvok, Janeway, Paris, these are a couple of the beneficiaries, if you want to call them that, and the ways they are connected, the relationships being brought to light, are a couple of the reasons the series worked better than anyone ever gave it credit for; if it wasn't awkward for them originally, then the stranding in the Delta Quadrant made it so, in ways some of them had to deny in order to function.  This is a glimpse of what that actually means.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x7 "Parturition"

*

Since Neelix and Kes first came aboard and Tom Paris was revealed to be the franchise's latest self-proclaimed ladies man, it was inevitable that an episode finally got Neelix and Paris hash it out over their rivalry (as far as Neelix always suspected) for the affections of Kes.

This is that episode.  There's also a cutesy alien baby they unite in protection of, but the main point is they finally confront each other and surprisingly it's a fairly forgettable moment, I think generally mistimed, maybe working better earlier or perhaps later, when both had been strongly defined by what Kes actually thinks (at this point she was already better defined by her relationship with The Doctor).  The one thing I'm grateful for is that Kes is not really a factor in this equation.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x6 "Twisted"

There's another episode later in this very season that does the same job "Twisted" does and manages to make it seem relevant.  Suffice it to say, "Twisted" is not really all that relevant.  Weird things happen to the ship, the crew struggles to cope, the end.  Move along, move along.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x5 "Non Sequitur"

****

Sometimes when a series last for a long time, it becomes easier to forget some of the notable episodes from the early seasons.  It's worse for a Star Trek, because it's assumed that because Next Generation and Deep Space Nine took a while to discover their sea legs, it was common for all of the series.  It's worse than you imagine because Voyager pretty much stayed the same throughout its seven seasons, which by some reasoning means it never improved and therefore was never worth watching.  (Enterprise changed drastically in its third and fourth seasons, but was always worth the ride.  The original series, meanwhile, achieved iconic status in spite of its third season.)

All of this is to say that "Non Sequitur" deserves to be remembered as one of the finest episodes in the franchise, not just the series.  One of the sad ironies here is that Harry Kim's best moment outside of "Timeless" has essentially been lost all these years, meaning that just like Chakotay, his legacy has been obscured by an assumption that really needs to be put to bed at this point.  This is a prime example of how creatively potent the second season of the series really was.

The basic outline is that Harry has been pushed into an alternate timeline, and so this is pretty much a reset episode, so that at the end, none of it really matters.  Except most of the franchise reset episodes that fans casually deride (except for their personal favorites) are actually some of the best episodes of the franchise (one of the movies, even is a reset episode, The Voyage Home, and until 2009 that was the one that grossed the most and was the most popular, at least in pop culture terms, because most fans still stubbornly cling to Wrath of Khan).

What do we learn here?  We learn what life would have been like for Harry had he not gotten the Voyager assignment.  He would have been a desk jockey, just another brilliant engineer Starfleet usually sticks on starships to work on the problem of getting warp engines to behave.  Except, just as Reginal Barclay would later prove, these desk jockeys can sometimes come up with unexpected innovations.  (Starfleet is remarkably complacent most of the time, as best evidenced by its foolish decision to give up cloaking technology because of an agreement with Romulans, and so when it finally does have some of it at hand, it can't figure the durn stuff out on its own, whether onboard the Pegasus or Defiant.)

Harry's primary interests, however, are figuring out how he got here and hanging out with his fiancee, who's a certifiable hottie.  Why does he want to leave this behind again?  Because he realizes that things are actually better for him, especially since Tom Paris is also here, in his proper timeline.  Paris never got his shot at redemption, and is now a bum who's slumming it just as much with freedom as he did on a penal colony.  He's directionless, and Harry discovers that he is, too, without the context, the meaning of helping a lost crew get home, no matter how small his contributions.

Anyway, half the treat is the rare visit to Starfleet HQ in San Francisco, which at some point should have popped into a franchise executive producer's head as a brilliant place to set a whole series.  This is probably one of the best opportunities to see what that might actually be like (alongside "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" and a few of those later Barclay appearances I was alluding to earlier, not to mention "The First Duty," where we see Robert Duncan McNeill in a Starfleet uniform for the first time).

"Non Sequitur" is appropriately named for so many reasons, but more importantly, needs to be rediscovered for the just as many reasons why it's relevant as a reason to love Voyager, despite everything you've heard.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x4 "Elogium"

*

Surprisingly, "Amok Time" did not set a franchise precedent for weird biological quirks from heavily featured alien races (there was that one time, in "The Jem-Hadar," that we discovered that the Vorta had these awesome tekekinetic blasts, but they never used those again).  So on the one hand, "Elogium" is kind of part of an aborted tradition.  Or you don't have to think of Vulcans getting all sweaty at all to enjoy Kes getting ready to become pregnant.

The Ocampa seem ready-made for all kinds of biological quirks, almost the sole reason for their existence, and to have Kes as the romantic companion of Talaxian drifter Neelix, and for both of them to be the first passengers Janeway accepts aboard Voyager.  Not surprisingly, most of the time when a Kes episode comes around, these biological quirks are at the center of the resulting story, and Neelix, who's madly in love with her but barely seems to understand any of it, is usually highly concerned about it, and much to his chagrin, so is love-sick Tom Paris.  This was a a recurring theme throughout the three seasons Kes served at the botanical post and nurse for The Doctor (if it'd been McCoy or Phlox, both posts would actually been connected).

Anyway, the long and short of it I've already expressed, so depending on whether you care about this particular moment where Kes was freaking out (despite being a fairly calm individual most of the time, she did a lot of this), you may or may not consider "Elogium" worth watching to see how it illustrates these character traits.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Nancy Hower

Memory Alpha summary.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Voyager 2x3 "Projections"

****

"Projections" is an episode that might have seemed a little random, had later developments not kept it relevant, even if viewers had to wait four seasons to find out how.  This is the first appearance of Reginald Barclay in Voyager.

He serves as a surrogate for the audience who otherwise gets to delve into the psychology and background of The Doctor, as we learn officially for the first time the details of his creation and creator, Lewis Zimmerman, as the surreal story plays with the nature of reality and tries to convince our Emergency Medical Hologram that he's a real boy.  It's fun to watch the first time around, but takes on added significance the more you look into it, an episode that might have seemed pretty randomly episodic at the time, but even then had more significance than it seemed; I can only imagine the giddiness in the writers room when they realized later on that it made an incredible amount of sense to bring back Barclay, give him a second life, and actually make him more important than the memorable supporting character he already was.

It's also worth reflecting simply on the fact that "Projections" might originally have been considered a rare opportunity to see a familiar face on a series that seemed to have made that fairly impossible originally.  The appearance of a character from one series to another is always interesting, especially when that character isn't even a series regular.  Barclay was always bending the rules, though, wasn't he?

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Dwight Schultz

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x2 "Initiations"

**

The Kazon received an unfairly bad rap as one of the signature recurring aliens in Voyager.  Perhaps it didn't help that they looked like hobo Klingons, but they were a distinctive species with motivations and a story of their own that neatly fit into the first few seasons of the series.

Split into rival gangs, the Kazon had a lot of space to cover and a built-in grudge with our crew, not the least because one of them ended up turning traitor to help solidify the conflict.  Chakotay became integral to this arc, and so it's only fitting that one of the standalone episodes during this time also featured him, stumbling into a Kazon youth attempting to pass his rite of passage.  I found the Kazon to be endlessly fascinating, and "Initiations" was no exception.  For any species to keep up with the ship, they had to be nomadic, and the Delta Quadrant seemed to be a region of space ideally suited for that kind of living.  The Kazon were no different than the Talaxians, the Vidiians, the Hirogen, and yes, the Borg, in that regard.  In the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, there were more clearly defined territories, and that's exactly the kind of thing the Kazon were attempting to do.  Perhaps "Initiations" helps explain a little more why they weren't as successful.  They were always in transition, even within the individual sects.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 2x1 "The 37s"

****

Due to the way UPN juggled the shooting schedule in the first three seasons of Voyager, there will always be some dispute about where some episodes actually lie.  For the record, I heartily endorse "Learning Curve" as the end of the first season and "The 37s" at the start of the second.  Thematically, this sequence works superbly on both accounts.  Since I'm talking about "The 37s" right now, I'll center my chatter on that one.

"The 37s" is in some respects a fairly random episodic adventure, one that calls to mind "Space Seed" and "The Neutral Zone" in that it's basically about a random group of individuals revived from suspended animation.  Yet this particular group has the antithesis of Khan within it, Amelia Earhart, specifically chosen by the producers as the clearest predecessor to the pioneering Janeway (first female captain of her own series), and it still stands today as a pretty nifty idea, one that has been overlooked in the show's legacy.  If you look at the episode only from this context, then it's already noteworthy, but there are other layers, still.

Earhart happens to parallel Janeway's situation, having made a deliberate decision that left her stranded on the other side of the galaxy.  Unlike Janeway, she's got her secret sweety, Fred Noonan, with her, while Janeway to this point in the series has left her fiance Mark behind and only occasionally thinks about him (at the midpoint of the series, he announces in a letter that he's moved on), even though he's an undercurrent for the character in case anyone's paying attention.  Janeway has Chakotay to rely on in the episode, and the season eventually draws a conclusion on the exact nature of their relationship (which was something of a disappointment for some fans, and may have affected the show's long-term popularity, though hardly anyone pines for Picard and Crusher's prolonged, doomed romance).

Anyway, the other half of the episode is the chance the crew has to settle down on the world Earhart and the rest of the 37s are about to call home with their genetic descendants.  It leads to a big moment where Janeway has given the crew the chance to decide for themselves, and in true Star Trek fashion everyone decides to stay.  It's one of the deepest moments of faith in the series, what sets it apart from what some fans expected (and got in the relentlessly bleak BattleStar Galactica, which never had more than a cult-sized audience) and how it fit the ideals originally envisioned by Gene Roddenberry in one of the most challenging circumstances possible.

If you really want to understand Voyager, this is one of the must-sees.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Sharon Lawrence

Memory Alpha summary.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Voyager 6x26 "Unimatrix Zero, Part 1"

**

Much like Next Generation started its final season concluding the lackluster "Descent," Voyager returns to the Borg as a threat with nothing quite as much at stake as in earlier and later stories featuring the Collective.

Basically, Seven is reminded about another part of her past as a drone, a relationship she had and a whole underground scene that Janeway immediately recognizes as a potential weapon against the Borg.  So she gets herself assimilated (sort of) to set up the cliffhanger.

It could have been better, and in this instance revealing a hidden part of a character's past seems a little forced, and hardly seems to really matter to Seven (personally, I would have at least ended this story with that love interest at least making recurring appearances during the final season), and the whole plan not a worthy comparison to either "Scorpion" or "Endgame."

But like I said, there was precedent in the franchise, just not a very good one.  Forget "Descent," and just try to find out for yourself if "Unimatrix Zero" added something worthwhile to Voyager.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Susanna Thompson

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x25 "The Haunting of Deck Twelve"

*

Neelix got very little to do during the sixth season, and the closest he got to his own episode (besides "Riddles," which he shares with Tuvok) was this entry, which is him telling a story to the young passengers (which at this point was certainly swelling), and the story turns out to be a fairly generic Star Trek tale.  Worth watching but not remembering, really.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Zoe McLellan
Scarlet Pomers

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x24 "Life Line"

***

The Doctor finally meets his maker, who also looks incredibly like Robert Picardo, in this quasi-sequel to "Pathfinder," returning the viewer to the Alpha Quadrant, as well as Reg Barclay, Deanna Troi, and Admiral Paris.

True, we'd seen Lewis Zimmerman before (see the Deep Space Nine episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?"), but this is the first time actually see him in Voyager (besides the delusional appearance earlier in the series that also established Barclay as significant once again in Star Trek).

Some fans might have considered the whole thing a little too similar to what Next Generation did with Data and his own creator, Noonien Soong, but as Voyager typically did, this story and the relationship at its core, made more sense (at least the physical similarities, angry villagers), and as a bonus, is the first push The Doctor gets to the strong work he receives throughout the remainder of the series, returning him to glorious form after a little bit of foundering.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Dwight Schultz
Jack Shearer

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x23 "Fury"

****

Remember Kes?  Well, this is the episode that makes the crew wish they didn't, and vice-versa, because she makes her first (and final appearance) since her departure at the start of the fourth season, when everyone thought she was going on a lovely and magical journey of self-discovery.

Having a former series regular come back is rare enough in the franchise, it's got to be considered fascinating every time it happens.  Fans at the time were horrified to see Kes turn into such a spiteful creature, but with the only other precedent for this being Tasha Yar, it was bound to be a risky move for the series.

But really, it not only makes sense, how "Fury" handles the situation, it makes all the sense in the world.  Maybe after two seasons it was easy to forget just how unstable and fragile Kes really was (though there were certainly long stretches where she seemed to be the most rational person in the room).  It might be easy to forget that her journey was into uncharted territory, and that she rarely demonstrated the ability to explore it without significant difficulties and guidance from, say Tuvok.  In fact, considering how she regularly caused distress in others (Neelix, The Doctor, Tom Paris), should it really be a surprise that she would do it again?

"Fury" is that rare moment when Star Trek acknowledges that not everything ends up perfect after the end of an episode.  Deep Space Nine was a seven-season example of this, but for most of the franchise, it was easier to believe that our intrepid crews did in fact solve all the problems they came across; when it seemed like a happy ending, then it probably was.  Kes proved in very dramatic fashion that this wasn't even necessarily true of characters we'd known for years.  (Just imagine what actually happened to Sisko's crew; even Worf didn't stick around as a mere Klingon ambassador for longer than it took for another reunion with Picard; but then, Pocket Books has done a lot of exploring how that worked out.)

Yes, Star Trek is the hopeful message Gene Roddenberry always envisioned, but even in the original series, not all reunions were happy (hello, Christopher Pike!).  Consider "Fury" the biggest challenge Voyager ever gave to the franchise mandate.

franchise series * essential character

Notable guest-stars:
Jennifer Lien

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x22 "Muse"

*

This is a rare instance of an episode centering on B'Elanna Torres that could just have easily starred a different character.  This is not to say that Roxanne Dawson is atypically bad in the episode, but that there's nothing particularly relevant to Torres in the story, which otherwise is a fairly typical if somewhat interesting Star Trek story about an alien culture trying to make sense of its place in the universe, and the general value of art.  Again, I'm not saying that it's a waste of an episode, but that there's not a lot to sell it on.  Move along!

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Kellie Waymire

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x21 "Live Fast & Prosper"

**

This is such a brilliant episode, and one that only Voyager could have told, about the actual repercussions of representing something on a long journey that in this region of space doesn't actually exist.  What I'm talking about is Janeway making a point to represent her ship being part of Starfleet, which in the Delta Quadrant (even to the Borg it's irrelevant, naturally), which by definition is supposed to denote a fleet (Enterprise touched on some of the pitfalls of this, too, while Kirk went out of his way to pretend just the opposite).

So a couple of opportunists start doing the obvious and perverting Voyager's legacy, and well, like I said, it's brilliant, a must-see for any fan of the series.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x20 "Good Shepherd"

****

Janeway started the season at her lowest possible point, alienating herself from both the crew and viewers by going off the deep end and nearly betraying her Starfleet ideals.  No, she was not the first Star Trek captain to go on an obsessive quest against a foe, but she does seem to have come off the worst from her particular experience in it.

Throughout the sixth season, Janeway has the chance to rebuild herself, and perhaps nowhere more clearly than in "Good Shepherd," in which she discovers that there are several members of the crew who've slipped through the cracks and feel just as alienated as she did in "Equinox."

This is also the "Lower Decks" episode of the series (as in the seventh season episode of Next Generation), or Janeway's personal "Learning Curve" (the episode from the first season in which Tuvok seeks to turn around the bad attitudes of a few Maquis crewmen).

If none of those are reasons to watch the episode, then you're not really trying.

franchise series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Zoe McLellan

Memory Alpha summary.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Voyager 6x19 "Child's Play"

****

"Child's Play" is the Borg episode Voyager had been working toward since the third season, something it could almost do with Seven but not quite, the fullest exploitation of being in the Collective's home territory of the Delta Quadrant.

"Hope and Fear" had been pretty close to the mark earlier, but it's in "Child's Play" where the psychology of having the Borg in your backyard really hits home.  Here we learn just how Icheb became assimilated in the first place, and it's pretty despicable, but at the same time almost understandable.

Here's a spoiler alert:

It's his parents  who set him up for it, in the hope of crippling the Borg with a virus.  Hey, Janeway does the same thing, several times, until it finally works.

It's a fascinating insight into the real effects of the Borg.  If "Best of Both Worlds" had remained the definitive statement, that would have been fine, but short of finally discovering just how the Collective was formed in the first place, there's no more essential story to be told than more than just the trauma of assimilation, but how those who hear it on the news, so to say, actually react to it.  It's like a War on Terror story told more than a year early.  Like all those Deep Space Nine stories about the Bajoran Resistance, it's a continually relevant tale that the later Star Treks never really got credit for.

If "Child's Play" doesn't convince you that the sixth season of Voyager wasn't as worthless as you heard, then there's nothing else I can say.

But I'll keep trying!

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Manu Intiraymi

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x18 "Ashes to Ashes"

*

Another time fans called foul was this one, when someone they'd never met before was then retroactively said to be a good friend of Harry Kim's.  If she was such a good friend, why had we never seen her before?

For one thing, Harry spent most of the series as the galaxy's biggest rube, someone who could only let loose around the irreverent Tom Paris.  But that suggests that he otherwise didn't have a life before the first episode of the series, when we in fact know he had a fiancee on the other side of the galaxy, and therefore probably less socially awkward than he could sometimes suggest.  If, then, he had other friends, chances are they were a little more normal than Tom Paris, generally speaking.  Practically speaking, there's no reason to suspect that we should ever know everything a fictional character has going for them.  After all how well do you know the neighbors you do know?  Name the street they grew up on!

Anyway, just needling away at flawed logic now.  People who want to complain about something will find more reasons than actually exist.  The fact is, having a character in these particular circumstances exist as presented in a random episode makes a lot more sense than anything else the writers could have done.  Short of killing off a main character and bringing them back (oh, wait, that's what "Fury" does a few episodes later) later on for a brief reprise, doing it with someone the fans had never seen before, but having a link to someone we had, makes all the sense in the world.  We're learning everything about them as we need to know it.  Emotional investment can only go so far in an episode that otherwise demands the viewer to ask more questions about the strange alien culture encountered than the character who's been forced into it.  There have actually been other episodes like this, just not done this way.

"Ashes to Ashes" brings a lot of fascinating ideas to the surface.  It may not be the greatest episode, and maybe someone else could have been the guest star's friend than Harry (imagine if it had been Janeway, or, again, Chakotay).  But there ends up being a lot more said about Harry than anything else.  And that's something Harry could always use more of.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x17 "Spirit Folk"

**

Here's one of those episodes where disgruntled fans typically pointed when trying to indicate just how horrid the sixth season really was.  They considered it a farce, our crew stuck on the holodeck in a bad parody of an Irish village.  What the heck was the point?!?

The point might have eluded those guys, but "Spirit Folk" actually has a lot going for it.  Continuity-wise, even, several.  For one, it's a followup to "Fair Haven," the episode earlier in the season where this program debuted.  No, not much more for Janeway to learn, but it's the latest obsession for the crew, the latest hangout, after Sandrine's and the Captain Proton adventures.

And who's to blame but Tm Paris and his trusted hanger-on, Harry Kim?  In fact, that's this episode's real draw, that we get another Tom & Harry lark, which was a favorite if usually under-used plot for the series.  From the start, they were an unlikely pair.  Harry was an innocent, Tom was anything but.  It was Harry's belief in Tom that helped turn the former convict around, and helped keep him there, no matter the subsequent obstacles.  If Harry had any career frustrations, he only had to look at Tom to know these concerns were fairly spurious in comparison.  Mostly they just liked to have a good time.  Captain Proton was true nonsense compared to Fair Haven.

But Fair Haven was a testing ground for how far they could push each other, and that's what this one's really about.  And for what it's worth, "Spirit Folk" is not the embarrassment you were led to believe.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Richard Riehle

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x16 "Collective"

**

If Icheb hadn't actually returned and become a fairly major character in the series, "Collective" might go down as a fairly repetitive Borg episode for Voyager.  Once again drones are reclaimed from the infernal hive mind, reclaiming their own identities, however reluctantly.

As it is, Icheb, among the several pint-sized Borg to be rescued, actually does become significant, not just because he receives a spotlight episode of his own a little later, but because he's the latest passenger the crew accepts and embraces as one of its own.  Sometimes mistaken for a monotone Wesley Crusher, Icheb has his own legacy to contribute, as the observer who actively contributes to the growth of those around him, the missing link, for instance, that allows Seven to move on from her remaining limitations.  He even makes a man out of Q's son!

But "Collective" on its own might be skippable, except that for the series and Icheb, you need to see it to know where he came from.  If you care enough to know how mundane it really is.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Manu Intiraymi

Memory Alpha summary.

Voyager 6x15 "Tsunkatse"

***

It always amused me that fans put up such a big stink about "the wrestler" appearing in an episode of Star Trek.  "The wrestler" happened to be The Rock, who went on to become an enduring box office star, Dwayne Johnson.  Obviously there was a certain amount of prejudice going on in these views.  "Tsunkatse" on one level is only another version of "Arena," and Johnson is more or less the episode's version of a Gorn, just an opponent for the featured series regular (in this case Seven) to combat.  There's very little for Johnson to actually do in an acting capacity.  Not that he would have embarrassed himself otherwise.

He's not even the only noted guest star in the episode.  Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler, beloved character actors who'd been featured in Deep Space Nine, made their first franchise appearances since the end of that series nearly a year earlier (both would return in Enterprise, Combs in a featured recurring role).  That alone makes this episode notable for me.  Hertzler plays a captive Hirogen, the first seen in the series since the fourth season, in a scenario that echoes how his Klingon warrior in DS9 was discovered by Worf.

About the only element about this episode that isn't essential is Seven's role in it.  She's a pretty random character to have been featured (in many ways, it would have made much more sense for it to be Chakotay), but there's a nifty new outfit for her in it, if you keep track of that sort of thing.

Otherwise, disregard what you may previously have heard about this one.  Just watch it.

franchise * series essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs
J.G. Hertzler
Dwayne Johnson

Memory Alpha summary.

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