Thursday, August 31, 2017

Voyager 5x5 "Once Upon a Time"

rating: ***

the story: Neelix keeps Naomi company while the crew awaits word on the fate of her mother.

what it's all about: Like Next Generation's Alexander before her, Naomi Wildman made a few appearances before her most recognizable and longest-running portrayer, Scarlet Pomers, debuted in the role.  This, then, is sort of the unofficial official debut of the character. 

After a series of heavy episodes that kicked off the season, "Once Upon a Time" is lightweight material, and it knows it, and doesn't try to be anything more than lightweight material, sort of like how Deep Space Nine followed its initial round of Dominion War episodes with a definite change of pace.  Where this might have been the slot for an episode that slipped through the cracks, merely undeveloped in comparison to its predecessors, "Once" was deliberately crafted for its role in the early season.

Young actors, and in conjunction young characters, in the franchise have a spotty record.  Next Generation found its Wesley Crusher experiment to be one of the defining elements of its uneven early seasons.  Later, Alexander was purposefully downplayed, appearing sporadically even after he'd come to live with his father, Worf.  In Deep Space Nine, Jake and Nog spent their early appearances depicted as pranksters until they'd reached maturity, at which point they moved on to mature material.  Age-wise Naomi was most similar to Alexander, and yet she was approached differently, not as a source of conflict but as the embodiment of what the crew around her might have to accept as its future: children who would be raised to replace them.  In a lot of ways, it's an idea that finally made sense of Next Generation's ship that inexplicably allowed family aboard despite the possible dangers its crew faced on a routine basis.

And you can see that play out in "Once," as it's literally about Naomi handling her mother's possible death.  It's also an episode that allows Neelix to spend time with someone who doesn't think he's as annoying as, well, the audience, who accepts him for who and what he is, including a guy who brings a lot of baggage with him.  At one point, he talks about the loss of his own family, an element of the character that seems rudely overlooked by fans. 

And yeah, it's kind of a holodeck episode, too, but the entire premise is explained well enough that this isn't really the point of the episode, for a change.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A holodeck episode that's not really about the holodeck, but about the cost of having family in the crew, a resonant topic in Star Trek.
  • series - It may not impact the course of Voyager's future, but it still has plenty going for it.
  • character - It's a Neelix spotlight, but it also explains the character of Naomi Wildman nicely.
  • essential - It's a nice reminder that this really is a series that cares about its characters.
notable guest-stars:
Scarlet Pomers (Naomi Wildman)
Nancy Hower (Samantha Wildman)
Wallace Langham

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Voyager 5x4 "In the Flesh"

rating: ****

the story: Species 8472 prepares for a confrontation with the Federation by creating a simulation of Starfleet Academy.

what it's all about: Species 8472, in a lot of ways, became the version of the Borg that successfully accomplished a splashy entrance and a definitive exit.  Debuting in "Scorpion," these were a dangerous new foe that first announced themselves as such by putting the Borg on the defensive.  They were also the franchise's first all-CGI aliens, and as such were notable on that score alone.  "In the Flesh" cleverly depicts them disguised as humans so that the communication barrier could be crossed.  And in a lot of ways, it's kind of a one-episode version of Enterprise's later Xindi arc, which encompassed a whole season.

They're also much like the paranoid Founders in Deep Space Nine; Species 8472 considered infiltration as a tactic against their potential enemies, just as certain that the only intention of a rival power would be hostile.  And yet, in the greatest diplomatic coup of the series (with Chakotay providing the legwork), peace is achieved through negotiation, which is itself another wonderful callback to "Scorpion," and symbolic of Star Trek's highest ideals.  A lot of fans drawn to the franchise in the '90s completely missed the point and assumed it was just another sci-fi platform, which at that time was beginning to blossom anew, most of it with a much bleaker outlook, an excuse for Star Wars action scenes.  While there's definitely room for that, Star Trek has always been about the cerebral, human aspects of the genre.

But the neatest thing about the episode is really the presence of Boothby, the kindly groundskeeper first seen in Next Generation's "The First Duty," who was described as a friend to all cadets.  Even though it's not really Boothby, it's another great callback, and helps drive home how significant he really was, not just for Picard but as a presence in general, a hidden source of inspiration for all emerging Starfleet officers.  In "The Fight," later in the season, we'd get a chance to see him one more time.

All in all, this was some of the most clever storytelling of the whole series.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Lives up to Star Trek's ideals.
  • series - A definitive conclusion for Species 8472 that looks beyond the obvious.
  • character - Fleshes out the appeal of the Starfleet Academy groundskeeper Boothby.
  • essential - A truly unexpected but entirely perfect concept.
notable guest-stars:
Ray Walston (Boothby)
Tucker Smallwood

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Voyager 5x3 "Extreme Risk"

rating: ****

the story: Devastated by the fate of the Maquis, B'Elanna becomes suicidal.

what it's all about: A funny thing happened along the way to the Maquis.  Created in separate adventures across Next Generation and Deep Space Nine with the express purpose of helping set up Voyager, these Federation rebels eventually collapsed into a contentious existence among fans when that setup resulted integrated Starfleet crew that forsook the "Maquis way."  Though wearing different insignia, the former Maquis in Voyager, including Chakotay and B'Elanna Torres, became more or less standard officers aboard Janeway's ship.  It was in Deep Space Nine where a more epic fate awaited the Maquis when Michael Eddington effected one last dramatic betrayal and launched one last great crusade in "For the Uniform" and "Blaze of Glory." 

It's these two final adventures that "Extreme Risk" draws from, thus making it a sort of Maquis coda.  Regardless of whether or not Voyager mishandled the Maquis concept, by this episode it was a moot point.  Communications with the Alpha Quadrant had opened in the previous season, and the crew learned of what had become of the Maquis thanks to the new Cardassian involvement in the emerging Dominion War.  The character most likely to be dramatically affected by the news, was.  That's what this episode is all about.

In a lot of ways, it's the completion of a character arc begun in "Parallax," the first regular episode of the series following the pilot ("Caretaker"), in which B'Elanna struggles to integrate with the crew, putting her Maquis differences aside in order to win the position of chief engineer.  In effect, it illustrated that B'Elanna and not Chakotay most represented the so-called "Maquis way," the idea that these were people who didn't handle conflict as well as Starfleet officers.  As I said above, the news about the Maquis severely affects B'Elanna, and it's one of her best episodes, which is saying something for a character perennially responsible for some of the series' best material.

"Extreme Risk" also follows "Night" as an early fifth season episode acknowledging the evolution of the characters in this series.  Janeway underwent a personal crisis in "Night," and obviously B'Elanna to a much greater extent in "Risk," both of them struggling to come to terms with their pasts, things fans had actually seen, which is rare in the franchise. 

The episode also sees the debut of a signature shuttlecraft for Voyager, the Delta Flyer, finally something to settle all the criticism of the seemingly endless supply of such mission craft the series routinely faced from fans.  It also helps settle the romantic future of B'Elanna and Tom Paris.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The last word on the fate of the Maquis.
  • series - Settles a key point of the original premise (see the above) and how it had evolved elsewhere.
  • character - One of the definitive B'Elanna Torres spotlights.
  • essential - Anyone still clinging to the notion that this was a totally clueless series owes it to themselves to watch this one.
notable guest-stars:
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Voyager 5x2 "Drone"

rating: ****

the story: A futuristic Borg is accidentally created.

what it's all about: "Drone" is often compared to Next Generation's "I, Borg" insofar as both feature a sympathetic Borg drone.  "I, Borg" was an instant revelation all the way around, not only for Hugh's appeal but Picard's shot at intellectual redemption from his experiences in "The Best of Both Worlds."  "Drone" doesn't attempt to make grand statements about the Borg Collective itself, but rather a companion analysis of what it means for Seven to exist outside of the Collective and retain her individuality.  It doesn't hurt that One is as appealing a drone as Hugh was, in his own ways.

The whole episode is an exercise in how much storytelling potential remains in the Borg.  "I, Borg" actually gave birth to a Collective in Next Generation ("Descent") that seemed to have been choked up by the hive mind reassimilating an individual.  The sophistication of the Collective was later expanded, first in First Contact and then in Voyager.  Some fans approach this with trepidation.  They don't like their treasured memories (the definitive "Best of Both Worlds," mostly) tampered with, and don't believe there is anything else to be gained from featuring the Borg in further adventures.

How One is created is itself fascinating, and may be one of the clues as to how the Borg came about (there's an explanation in the books, but as I like to say, I don't put stock in conclusions from the books).  Unlike every other Borg we've ever seen created, he isn't the product of assimilation, but rather technology that has sampled DNA and extrapolated a drone from it.  Some of the technology is from Seven, and some from the Doctor's mobile emitter, which was created from future tech (as seen in "Future's End").  The episode posits that the result is in fact a drone that suggests the Borg's future, and that One's main dilemma is falling into the hands of the Collective.  I find the reasoning a little spotty, as the Collective necessarily assimilates new technology all the time, and whether or not it's advanced for humans (the Vidiians, for instance, have medical technology far in advance of Starfleet's) is well beside the point.  But the drama remains.  If you interpret One's dilemma as merely deciding he doesn't want to join the Collective, regardless of the circumstances, it still works. 

A large part of the reason is does is the compelling guest performance from J. Paul Boehmer, whose last notable appearance was in "The Killing Game" as a Nazi, while he'd appear again in Enterprise's "Carbon Creek" as a Vulcan.  I always liked to think of him as someone the franchise would've eventually given a recurring role to if it hadn't ended the way it did in 2005.  He would've earned it with "Drone."  While Seven puts in a typically strong appearance, Boehmer carries the episode handily, which is a good result for any guest actor and rare enough to celebrate when it happens.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - An essential Borg episode.
  • series - Affirms what Voyager had been doing with the Borg all along.
  • character - Reflects the course of Seven's evolution nicely.
  • essential - Even if you're not already hooked on the Borg, this is terrific drama.
notable guest-stars:
J. Paul Boehmer

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Voyager 5x1 "Night"

rating: ***

the story: The ship travels through a desolate region of space that leaves Janeway brooding about her original decision to strand it in the Delta Quadrant.

what it's all about: Usually a season premiere, like a season finale, is a pretty splashy affair that makes a bold statement.  "Night" is one of the rare examples where something else was attempted, and done so quite brilliantly: it's a moment of reflection, and a definitive one at that.

For four seasons, Janeway pressed ahead almost without question with the decision she made way back in the pilot ("Caretaker"), but she finally finds a scenario where there aren't any distractions to occupy her time, and suddenly she's no longer convinced that she did the right thing.  In fact, she beats herself up quite badly.  She isolates herself, and finally convinces herself that the crew would be better off without her.

For a series lambasted for never following up on the potential of its premise, this is a bold statement, and once again something few fans would have ever thought Voyager would even consider doing.

There's a lot of interesting things going on around this central element.  One of them is the region of space itself, a void where there's nothing to see, which is the reason Janeway becomes so moody.  Another is that the crew meets a couple of alien species anyway.  One of them is mere plot device, while the other is the Malon, who appear a few more times and thus become unexpected signature members of the series menagerie, a sort of ugly reflection of toxic industrialism that environmentalists are still battling today. 

Ah!  And the debut of Captain Proton!  This is sort of the apex of Tom Paris, in a lot of ways.  It's an old school (in black and white!) depiction of science fiction as it emerged in Hollywood, well before Star Trek set it on a new track, and before Star Wars exploded it, the old serials that inspired both of them and subsequently lost all their appeal.  Except in nostalgic appeal.  Picard had Dixon Hill; Tom's Proton is arguably just as iconic...But then, "Bride of Chaotica!" later in the season kind of helps solidify that...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's not really for casual fans.
  • series - But it's must-see for dedicated ones, on a number of levels.
  • character - A harrowing look at Janeway at her weakest moment.
  • essential - Whether it's Janeway or Captain Proton, it's hard to underestimate how important this one is to the series.
notable guest-stars:
Martin Rayner (Chaotica)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Voyager 3x26 "Scorpion, Part 1"

rating: ****

the story: The ship reaches Borg territory, only to discover that their biggest problem isn't the Borg at all, but Species 8472.

what it's all about: "Scorpion" will always be known as the story that introduced Seven of Nine, but that's in the second part, the fourth season premiere.  In the first half, the third season finale, the story is squarely on the Borg, and the introduction of Species 8472.  Species 8472...Certainly one of the most unique alien designations in franchise history, and appropriate to an introduction tied into the Borg.  Yeah, it's funny we never get an actual name for them (outside of the books, but I'm not one of those fans), and that it's so easy to remember "Species 8472," even twenty years later.

The story itself is probably the only thing the series could've done to really justify introducing the Borg, a true escalation of concept for one of the most famous foes in all of Star Trek.  The previous year, the Borg appeared in First Contact, where the Borg Queen was introduced (she'd later appear multiple times in Voyager, too), so to come up with something to rival that is a marked feather in the show's cap.  Even if fans didn't realize it at the time, the appearance of the Borg at all was inevitable from the very beginning; those same fans ended up grumbling all the same, since they didn't want anyone to even consider trying to keep up with the legacy of "The Best of Both Worlds" (Next Generation), if material like "Descent" had tarnished that legacy by attempting to deconstruct the Collective as a solution.  In Borg territory itself, it seems they continued to thrive, except where Species 8472 was concerned, one of the few species completely immune to the threat of assimilation.

It's a crackerjack concept, as is Janeway's gamble of actually reaching out to the Borg with a weapon capable of neutralizing their common enemy.  It was the beginning of demonstrating Janeway's new edge, something she'd take to its logical conclusion three seasons later in the controversial "Equinox," the second notable instance of the captain and Chakotay disagreeing on strategy (it's the first officer who relates the anecdote that supplies the episode its title), which in turn is the logical conclusion to a whole season spent reassessing the creative direction of the series, how best to ante up the drama so that it wasn't always about the voyage home.

Janeway's conversations with the holographic Leonardo da Vinci are compelling in and of themselves.  That she's consulting with a hologram at all, regardless of who it represents, is proof that she's begun feeling the strain of command so far from home.  Not until "Night" at the beginning of the fifth season is that strain truly explored, but "Scorpion" is that first expression of it.  The Borg introduce a darker feeling to a series that fans still erroneously believe lacked the nerve for it, its crew too homogenized into Starfleet ideals.  It's fitting that the story concludes by introducing a permanently abrasive personality (Seven) into the mix.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The start of the Borg's second run in Star Trek is the sensation it needed to be.
  • series - After teasing the Collective in previous episodes, the full debut throws a delicious curve into the mix by introducing a compelling new threat to compete with it.
  • character - Janeway reaches a crisis point that blooms later in the series.
  • essential - "The weak will perish" may not exactly be "resistance is futile," but the impact is the same.
notable guest-stars:
John Rhys-Davies (da Vinci)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Voyager 3x25 "Worst Case Scenario"

rating: ****

the story: Seska's final revenge against the crew is a booby-trapped holodeck program concerning a Maquis insurrection.

what it's all about: This is one of my favorite Voyager episodes, one of the ones I wish fans who never got what the series was all about would maybe pay more attention to.  Some fans never understood why the Maquis were able to integrate so completely into the Starfleet crew around them; this is one of the episodes that addresses this directly, and as about as cleverly as you can get.  Tuvok created a holodeck program in the early days, as the title suggests, in which the integration didn't go as well as it did in reality, to put it mildly.  Only, to make matters worse, the Maquis who did mutiny against the crew, Seska, who spent two seasons collaborating with the Kazon against it, found the program and rewrote it as a Trojan horse.  Seska in reality met her fate in the season premiere, "Basics, Part 2," but "Worst Case Scenario" is almost a better goodbye.

Seska not only embodied what the Maquis were "supposed" to do, but she was also an excellent model for why things didn't actually turn out the way fans expected.  Star Trek by definition is a hopeful concept.  It expects that the best in everyone will have a chance to surface (unless you're the villain).  The series did a pretty good job of explaining why all the key Maquis (Chakotay,B'Elanna, even Tuvok, who was quickly revealed to be a Starfleet infiltrator) were not irredeemable rebels but rather people with something that defined them other than their fight against the Cardassians.  Chakotay had dropped out of Starfleet, as had B'Elanna (in her case before completing the Academy), and both had long struggled with personal demons and alienation.  They weren't just people spoiling for a fight.  Seska, meanwhile, wasn't even the Bajoran she'd initially appeared to be, but rather a Cardassian infiltrator.

Another misfit who found his place in the crew, Tom Paris, is key to the episode working, too; the one-time Starfleet exile joins Tuvok in revisiting the program, in a turn that helped redefine the character, his interest in writing these things (later immortalized in Captain Proton's intrepid adventures) giving Paris new depth.  It gives two characters who normally didn't have much in common something to work on together.  In doing so, it pivots Seska away from Chakotay, with whom she'd been closely associated since her defection, and back to the crew at large, which is where her focus lies in the program anyway (since at the point she contrived all this, Seska was no doubt still convinced she could patch things over with Chakotay). 

It's a heck of a lot of fun to watch all this develop and play out, besides, which is one of the biggest things you need for a classic episode, which of course this one is.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the all-time great holodeck episodes.
  • series - A perfect third season episode, capturing something that had made Voyager work previously and recontextualizing it.
  • character - Works extremely well for Tuvok, Paris, and Seska.
  • essential - A great way to explain the appeal of the whole series.
notable guest-stars:
Martha Hackett (Seska)

Voyager 3x24 "Displaced"

rating: (no stars)

the story: Aliens slowly transport the crew off the ship and claim it for themselves.

what it's all about: This is my idea of what makes the worst episodes of the franchise.  It's's an interesting idea, but it's executed with absolutely no conviction.  It's idiotic in the sense that the whole crew is taken out before anyone realizes something kind of needs to be done.  And then they do something and get the ship back and...

So it's idiotic.  It's an episode that screams for someone, anyone, to grab the spotlight, and not just leave it up to a "team experience."  It's entirely generic in every regard.  You could enjoy it, on that level, but then, your standards are apparently so low you'll like anything.  No offense. 

If you're going to tell a generic story in a franchise that has hundreds of stories, you need something to make it stand out.  "Displaced" doesn't have anything like that.  It's an episode that happens mostly because the producers needed another episode, and they didn't particularly care about its quality. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - So generic you'll like it, but you ought to hate yourself for it.
  • series - This is not a knock on Voyager itself, but as the fourth live action series, this was probably bound to happen every now and then.
  • character - A team effort in which no one stands out, and neither does the team.
  • essential - Quite the opposite.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Voyager 3x23 "Distant Origin"

rating: ****

the story: Aliens debate whether or not they come from Earth.

what it's all about: This is a franchise-best episode.  It's perfect, symbolizing the intellectual ideals the typified the cerebral aspects Gene Roddenberry first envisioned for Star Trek and that caused him so many hassles with NBC in the beginning.  I'm not saying it's the best episode ever, but it's surely in contention.

That it actually features the aliens-of-the-week almost exclusively, a unique quality that helps set the episode apart, is not a knock on Voyager, that the series could only achieve this by not really being the focus of the story, because "Distant Origin" also happens to be one of the perfect spotlights of Chakotay, demonstrating once and for all how the character as he once and always was could sell any concept.  A lot like Next Generation's Picard, he exhibited a dignity that transcended all contexts.  Actually, if you're still struggling to understand Chakotay, imagine him as Picard, the Picard who in "Tapestry" took Q's bargain and never became captain, whose lot was to be perennially "overlooked," just this time as a first officer in a series that more often than not didn't really appreciate what it had in him.

But as much as his presence grounds it, "Distant Origin" isn't really about Chakotay, but rather an allegorical look at the frustrations of progress, how society tends to grind ideological progress into the dust, whether it's governments or ordinary citizens more than willing to sell out their fellow man.  Star Trek has featured many trials over the years, and more than a few where the verdict was determined beforehand, but the one here stands out, again, because it's not even a main character on the stand, or even someone we've seen before or ever will again; this is as pure an episodic story as you're ever likely to see in the franchise.

The episode features a few other interesting elements besides.  One of them is a link back to the season premiere, "Basics, Part 2," in which recurring character Hogan meets his fate.  Actually, this is his fate, in which his corpse is used as the primary evidence in the trial.  Surely this is the most fascinating fate of any character in franchise history, another heretofore unrealized culmination of Star Trek ideals. 

But the aliens themselves are fascinating in a particular regard: they're descended from dinosaurs.  I'm convinced that if the episode had better publicity, it could draw a lot of new attention to not only Voyager but Star Trek in general.  Dinosaurs remain subjects of incredible public fascination.  They existed long before humans, and so technically everything we know about them is total conjecture based on skeletal remains, and as such represents one of the most pure popular intellectual pursuits in history.  The funny thing is, we had no idea they existed at all for most of our history, and only found out two hundred years ago, but as demonstrated by Jurassic World, the latest blockbuster film inspired by Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, their appeal remains firmly intact. 

To suggest that they weren't all wiped out by the Yucatan Peninsula asteroid impact, that some of them were taken into space and later evolved into lifeforms much like us...surely that's just begging for attention.  That Voyager featured these dinosaur aliens once is one of the perfect examples of the series concept, that this really was a ship that passing through unknown space and not likely to spend too much time near any particular civilization, a concept the third season was meant to advance after the previous two featured the Kazon for such an extended period.  Many fans envision the franchise ideal to keep leaping into the future, to see fancy new technology, but it's always the unknown and how we approach it, and how that unknown reflects the known, that's always at the heart of Star Trek.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better example than "Distant Origin."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the best examples of the Star Trek ideal you'll ever find.
  • series - One of the best standalone episodes of Voyager both in concept and execution.
  • character - One of the best Chakotay spotlights.
  • essential - of the best episodes.   Period. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Voyager 3x22 "Real Life"

rating: ***

the story: The Doctor creates a family for himself on the holodeck.

what it's all about: "Darkling" and "Real Life" are two completely different episodes, but for a number of reasons.  "Darkling" is a story about the Doctor tinkering with his own programming.  "Real Life" is the Doctor tinkering with a personal life.  In both episodes, things go awry (because that's what happens in these sorts of things).  In "Darkling," it's episodic logic.  In "Real Life," there's the sense that the events really matter to the Doctor, that he actually learns something, and that's the key difference, why one is weightier than the other.

The family he creates on the holodeck starts out ridiculously perfect.  It's the '50s sitcom perfect family.  The mistake he makes is inviting B'Elanna to dinner.  A character who knows all about a broken home life (the later "Lineage," which certainly makes it interesting that the Doctor's holographic son hangs out with "wrong crowd" Klingons, which aside from the lack of comment in the episode about what this would mean to B'Elanna, is one of the nicer continuity touches in the whole franchise), she suggests changes that make the family grittier, to such an overwhelming extent that the Doctor no longer recognizes it. 

The rest of the episode is the Doctor trying to come to grips with how complicated his simulated life has become.  It's interesting, because this is a character who has always been shielded from anything like this, and not just because he was created for a specific purpose, but because he continued to keep himself relatively isolated, even after obtaining the mobile emitter earlier in the season.  Fans hate to admit it, but he becomes a version of Next Generation's Data who doesn't just get immediate acceptance from everyone else (at least in Picard's crew).  The Doctor famously has a caustic personality that keeps others at a distance.  B'Elanna effectively forces him to face what he's long denied himself.

That we never see this family again, and can therefore assumed he quit the program, does nothing to diminish the impact of the episode.  It's the first step in a long journey for the Doctor, one that includes plenty of other bumps, which again is something Data never really had to experience.  It's a soft push in the direction that led to the masterpiece "Latent Image," and to a slightly lesser extent, "Author, Author."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Deepens the echo of Mr. Data.
  • series - Its somewhat disconnected nature makes the episode seem unrelated to later developments.
  • character - The Doctor gets his first massive dose of reality.
  • essential - If disconnected, it's also his first step into still deeper and more profound echoes.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Voyager 3x21 "Before and After"

rating: ***

the story: Kes keeps jumping backward through her life.

what it's all about: I think in the final analysis, Jennifer Lien was miscast as Kes.  The same went for Denise Crosby's Tasha Yar in Next Generation, so it wouldn't have been a franchise first.  Lien made Kes such a warm figure, it was tough to view her as the yearning girl she was meant to be.  She ended up feeling a little like Janeway Junior (Lien and Kate Mulgrew speak much the same way), too confident in a role where doubt ought to have been a defining factor.  Except where Janeway had a whole crew to draw on and use as an excuse to mask her limitations, Kes went almost immediately to a sheltered corner of the ship, where she never really emerged, certainly not in the way her one-time beau Neelix did.  While it did wonders for the Doctor's self-confidence, it left Kes herself at a constant crossroads.  A character meant to live for about the lifespan of a Star Trek series (at that time) thusly had nowhere to go, because she'd already gotten there, and far sooner than the rest of the crew.  Even Chakotay had two full seasons to shine before shrinking backward.

All of which is to say, if you like Kes anyway, "Before and After" is one of the episodes that defines her legacy.  It starts in the future, and clearly an alternate one in hindsight, in which she married Tom Paris (who in reality marries B'Elanna, a relationship that had actually begun five episodes earlier in "Blood Fever," so that was an odd choice, certainly) and attempted to have a procedure performed to expand her lifespan.  Except things go wrong and she, well, as I said above, starts jumping backward in time.  It's a little like Next Generation's "Parallels;" both Worf and Kes keep jumping into their own bodies, but with everything shuffled around them. 

It's the one episode that really focuses on Kes's lifespan, even though that was written into the character's biography at the start of the series; surely if the crew is concerned about getting home, and Odo in Deep Space Nine from the start obsesses over his origins, Kes would have been looking for ways to expand her biological and not just mental potential all along.  She's set up in the pilot as challenging every norm of the Ocampa.  But we never really see that.  Finally experiencing it here is another sign that the third season was a reboot for the series, going back and looking at what have been neglected previously.  Ironically, the serialized storytelling of the first two seasons switched to episodic material in the third, but that seemed to bring greater focus to most of the characters.

Anyway, the real series draw for fans has nothing to do with Kes at all, but rather a big fat hook for a future two-part episode, "Year of Hell," which occurs in the fourth season.  "Year of Hell" is basically what some fans expected Voyager as a whole to look like, and what Ron Moore later delivered in his Battlestar Galactica remake, in which conditions progressively deteriorate.  While Kes is traveling back, she mentions this event as something the crew ought to look out for, but of course, much like "Year of Hell" itself, "Before and After" ends basically with a reboot.  It's all a massive tease.  With Kes, it's a chance, as it turns out, to see what might have been, had she actually stuck around the whole series.  With everyone actually paying attention to her, things look beter than they ever had or would again...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is a Voyager affair, best enjoyed by its fans.
  • series - An extremely clever way to set up the later "Year of Hell."
  • character - The most direct spotlight Kes ever had.
  • essential - Everything that Kes never got to experience, in any sense, happens here, so if you like the character, it's a can't-miss.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Voyager 3x20 "Favorite Son"

rating: ***

the story: Harry seems to have come from another planet, and all the women there are eager for his return.

what it's all about: Normally I try to give a fairly serious one-sentence synopsis, but there was no way I was going to edit one that sounds like it's mocking poor Harry Kim.  Harry was a character who tended to get the least personal stories ("Timeless" being a massive exception), mostly because the whole point of his character was to be the eager young officer who is unfazed by the circumstances in which he serves.  "Non Sequitur" was the closest the series would ever get to explaining his potential outside of this crew, and it did so brilliantly, demonstrating once and for all just how much events shaped perception of his character.  But "Favorite Son" is all about how his eagerness was in fact a massive liability.

It's not so much the story itself that explains this, but that it happened to him of all the characters in the show, and that it seems so typical.  The idea of an alien culture using questionable means to beef up its population is hardly a fresh one (Harry experiences this himself all over again in "Ashes to Ashes"), but it always seems to be fresh.  This time it seems like a riff on the Greek sirens, beautiful women luring men to their doom.  Anyway, I like how the whole thing plays out, and how it causes Harry to question whether any of what he's being told is actually true, and that it forces him to wonder whether everything he knows about himself has a reason he could never have imagined.  The latter is basically a means to explore what I was talking about earlier, that giant chip on his shoulder no one seems capable of addressing.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A familiar if lightly-employed trope makes this one fun for casual fans.
  • series - Its recurrence in a later season, and once again experienced by Harry, makes it more relevant than you might think.
  • character - A wonderful character examination of Harry Kim.
  • essential - I'll draw the line here.  This would've been true if the lies had been real.
notable guest-stars:
Kristanna Loken

Monday, August 14, 2017

Voyager 3x19 "Rise"

rating: ***

the story: Tuvok and Neelix end up trapped together in an elevator full of aliens, and one of them is a saboteur.

what it's all about: I know I call it an elevator in the one-line synopsis above, but the technology at the heart of "Rise" is more complicated than that, and one of my favorites from the whole franchise.  Some fans love the Dyson spheres from Next Generation's "Relics," but the maglev space elevator is a great concept: it's basically like a cable car that travels through the atmosphere from the surface of the planet and provides convenient, safe transportation into space.  Safe, unless there's a saboteur!

The mystery that's technically the story here is fun, but it's also a little beside the point.  "Rise" is a Tuvok/Neelix episode first and foremost.  After "Tuvix" last season (which technically didn't feature them so much as an individual who combined them), it's the first time they have a spotlight, which was far too rare and far too crucial a character dynamic in the series to overlook.  One of the hallmarks of Star Trek is the love/hate relationship, dating back to Spock and Bones.  Spock found Bones archaic; Tuvok finds Neelix downright irrational, basically the opposite of a Vulcan.  Neelix at this point has been struggling to suppress (if only Tuvok knew...) his constant insecurities, but "Rise" is a whole episode where he gets to assert himself.  Tuvok really was the best thing that ever happened to him.  He's the challenge that's so direct, Neelix has no choice but to confront him all the time, rather than let the problem fester, which is usually what he does.  In "Rise," he demands respect from Tuvok, because he's finally found a situation where he has immediate qualifications Tuvok can't doubt or overlook: Talaxians had maglev space elevators, too.

It's ironic, really, as Neelix just six episodes earlier ("Fair Trade") believed he'd run out of useful information to share with the crew.  Unlike "Darkling," the Doctor spotlight immediately preceding "Rise," this doesn't mean the producers overlooked storytelling logic in the rush to conceive episodic material.  "Darkling" is contradicted and superseded by the later "Real Life;" "Rise" actually strengthens "Fair Trade."

It's one of the best episodes of the third season, where cool concepts were beginning to dominate the storytelling ethos.  "Rise" might not have much to say about where the crew was headed, but it's an all-around pleasure that deepens the whole experience, all while seemingly telling a completely routine franchise tale.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Love/hate relationships in Star Trek are legion, and this is an episode that explores one particularly well.
  • series - Unlike other season standouts, it doesn't necessarily impact the future.
  • character - Tuvok and Neelix have one of their perfect moments.
  • essential - A perfect episodic experience.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Voyager 3x18 "Darkling"

rating: *

the story: The Doctor tampers with his program and inadvertently creates an evil subprogram.

what it's all about: The oddest thing about "Darkling" is that it's so similar to the later "Real Life" and yet they exist totally exclusive to each other, so that the Doctor seems to have learned nothing at all from this experience.  It's the very definition of episodic storytelling, "Darkling" more than "Life."  In "Darkling," the whole plot can be boiled down more to a pastiche on Jekyll and Hyde than a story about the Doctor.

But, technically, it's a story about the Doctor.  Oddly, he becomes jealous of someone Kes fancies (some dude who runs around with a terrible wig, alas).  He'd had a wonderful relationship with Kes (the Doctor, I mean) for much of the series to this point, Kes being about the only person who took him seriously.  To drop a potential romance into this relationship seems like a horrible misstep.  Later, when the same idea is attempted with Seven, it works better, because the relationship is different from the start.

So, rather than recommend it on the basis of the Doctor, I will remind the viewer that the franchise has done this sort of thing before ("The Enemy Within"), and sort of leave it at that.  Making the Doctor a villain based on corrupted programming is such a slippery slope.  It's not the first and not the last time his programming leave him vulnerable, but it's the least inviting. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - An episode perhaps best enjoyed by the casual fan.
  • series - Later developments seem to ignore this ever happened.
  • character - See the above statement, an extremely odd thing to say about a Doctor spotlight.
  • essential - If the season itself pretends this never happened, then maybe it's for the best.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Voyager 3x17 "Unity"

rating: ****

the story: Chakotay unwittingly stumbles into a collective of ex-Borg.

what it's all about: If you want to insist on believing that the Borg in Voyager was a colossal waste of time, I present to you Exhibit A as a direct contradiction.

The earliest direct appearance of the Collective in the series, "Unity" suggests the later "Scorpion" developments of an enemy (Species 8472) capable of taking on the Borg while presenting a story that doesn't necessarily involve the Borg.  Still, it presents a compelling examination of one of the most basic features of the Collective: its hive mind.

Chakotay's harrowing experiences might as well represent a possible origin story, how it all began.  The people he meets are so addicted to the "contact high" of the hive mind that they don't for a minute concern themselves with its more sinister implications.  Later Voyager explorations of the Borg, including the ongoing case of Seven, suggest further complications of trying to leave the Collective behind, but "Unity" remains a standout, one any fan can appreciate.

What's more, it's the first indication of the new direction Chakotay would take following the end of his heavy significance from the first two seasons, and the backlash to that material that resulted in the drastic creative changes of the third.  Fans would forever complain that Chakotay became a shrinking violet, seemingly inconsequential as a first officer.  Regardless of whether or not that's true, his ability to carry a story ("Distant Origin" later in the season is yet more conclusive proof) shines through in "Unity."  This is what he'd done during the Seska arc, but the effect is proven to originate with Chakotay rather than solely on the story when all context is removed from him.  He carries with him a constant gravity, the ability to project dignity regardless of circumstance, that Chakotay can't help but somehow still become one of the most fascinating characters of the franchise.  Fans laud praise on him in material like the later "Shattered," which is certainly earned, but he'd been deserving it for far longer.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - It's the Borg as you've never seen them!
  • series - The official debut of the Collective in Voyager, later to become far more significant.
  • character - Chakotay shines in an unexpected evolution as a master of spotlight adventures.
  • essential - Makes everything involved deeper. The definition of a classic.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Voyager 3x16 "Blood Fever"

rating: ****

the story: B'Elanna gets to enjoy pon farr.

what it's all about: One of the most irrational fears Star Trek fans have exhibited over the years is revisiting familiar territory.  This fear has some basis from franchise creators themselves, including Gene Roddenberry, who initially wanted to distance Next Generation from the original series.  Then, of course, Worf became a signature character of the new series, and as a result the Klingons underwent an incredible renaissance.

But fans still fear revisiting familiar territory.  They became obsessive about it with Voyager and Enterprise, and they're threatening to do it all over again with Discovery.  They insist that the only true Star Trek is the stuff that explores the further future.  They seem to have conveniently ignored what Star Trek itself has said about the further future, in sometimes exquisite detail.  But I digress.  Somewhat.

"Blood Fever" calls this to mind as it's basically an update of the classic "Amok Time," in which a Vulcan (originally Spock, this time the recurring Vorik) experiences pon farr, which temporarily drives them crazy.  The big difference with "Blood Fever" is that Vorik was created for this specific purpose.  He makes a few appearances before it and a few appearances later, but basically his only purpose is to tell a story that would otherwise have involved Tuvok (he later experiences pon farr, too, by the way), an inevitability in the premise of a series where the crew is stranded for an extended period of time away from home. 

The benefits are legion.  First, the existence of Vorik confirms that since Spock served in Starfleet, Vulcan presence has increased, so that two Vulcans serving on the same ship happens.  Second, a Vulcan with whom audiences are not emotionally attached is allowed to get even crazier than Spock did.  Third, it further contrasts Tuvok with what we've seen from other Vulcans.  He turned out to be even more cerebral (as chief of security he undertook criminal investigations on a routine basis) and spiritual than Spock, who tended to focus almost exclusively on logic and the contrasts he noticed with humans like Bones McCoy. 

Fourth, and this is actually the big one, has nothing to do with Vulcans at all, because this is actually a B'Elanna episode.  I still have no idea how she never became one of the show's most beloved characters, because arguably she was consistently the best in the series, from the very start, a trailblazer who took what Ro Laren and Major Kira began before her and managed to be a fierce, independent woman who rarely compromised.  Except being the one out of the three to find lasting happiness with someone, an arc that begins in "Blood Fever," with Tom Paris.

Paris was the Starfleet rebel who had the most in common with the former Maquis crew, had actually tried joining the Maquis, but had never shared much screen time with B'Elanna.  But from this point onward, they would develop a romance where their personalities, their sometimes-alienating instincts, would come together at last, culminating in a marriage and a daughter in the final season.

Wait, and fifth: this episode also marks the beginning of the Borg in the series.  Arguably Voyager did more than Next Generation (second only to First Contact) in fleshing out the Collective beyond the bogeymen who once assimilated Picard and launched an epic invasion into the Alpha Quadrant.  It marks the slow burn to the season finale, "Scorpion," in which the Borg make their official debut, Voyager updating and improving on the approach Next Generation originally took to the Collective.

I know, a lot of that is blasphemy.  But I don't fear Star Trek fans.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Between pon farr and the Borg, this one speaks to the heart of Star Trek mythology.
  • series - The pon farr was inevitable in the long journey home, and so were the Borg.
  • character - B'Elanna in another stellar spotlight, a nearly unblemished record.
  • essential - In a lot of ways the beginning of a bold new era.
notable guest-stars:
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Voyager 3x15 "Coda"

rating: *

the story: Janeway dies.  Repeatedly.

what it's all about: Fans who generally hate Voyager love this episode.  The reason is pretty simple.  Just look at my summary, above.

It's a baffling episode, arguably one of the most baffling of the whole franchise.  By their third seasons, Next Generation and Deep Space Nine had taken fairly dodgy characterizations of their lead characters (Picard and Sisko, respectfully) into key selling points by figuring them out and giving them killer spotlights again and again.  Janeway, like a lot of the third season, experiences an abrupt shift in Voyager's third season.  While there's a lot right about the season, Janeway generally isn't part of it.  The caustic Janeway fans remember can be traced to it, and "Coda" is kind of the epitome of this version of the character.  Luckily, by the end of the season, "Scorpion," she's found a powerful new motivator, much like the series itself.  It can't be overstated how importance Seven was to Janeway. 

"Coda" purports to be a Janeway episode, and even features a likeness of her father, but the whole thing is a poor riff on the repetition concept featured brilliantly in Next Generation's "Cause and Effect."  Literally Janeway dies.  Repeatedly.  There's some effort to make it matter to Chakotay, which is an irony of the episode, as it attempts to play off the version of these two that existed until the third season.  If this had happened in the second season, it would've been done better, and it would have been better.  This is just a hasty attempt to increase the episodic drama, which I think was the main creative mandate of the season.  The problem with episodic storytelling is that it's inherently hit or miss.  Given a whole season to fill, there will never be enough time to polish every story. 

The most egregious thing about it is that the Vidiians technically make their last major appearance of the series, and their part in it could really have been filled by any aliens, which is basically...exactly the opposite of a decent Vidiian appearance (heh).

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Not recommended for casual viewers.
  • series - Not recommended for fans.
  • character - Your best bet is to try and decide whether or not this constitutes an adequate Janeway spotlight.
  • essential - No, it's not.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Voyager 3x14 "Alter Ego"

rating: ***

the story: Tuvok becomes entangled in an unlikely relationship with an apparent holographic character.

what it's all about: "Alter Ego" has a lot going for it.  One is the unusual pairing of Harry Kim and Tuvok, who otherwise really don't have any other shared experiences in the series.  Harry is having one of his romantic problems, this time with a holodeck character, or so he thinks.  It's intriguing, since that means the episode is kind of a precursor to the controversial sixth season entry "Fair Haven," in which Janeway really does have such a relationship.  For a crew faced with limited romantic options, it's a good idea to mine for material, and sort of flips on its head part of Barclay's problem in  Next Generation's "Hollow Pursuits," where we first met the nebbish engineer destined to make a significant impact on Voyager

He turns to Tuvok for advice, but that only makes things worse, because Tuvok investigates the holodeck character, who decides she's interested in Tuvok instead of Harry, which makes Harry jealous.  This development is two-fold.  Harry usually seems like the quintessential Starfleet officer, fresh out of the Academy and as gung ho about his job as anyone could be.  The question of why such a consummate professional would have a hard time being promoted on a ship lost in the Delta Quadrant even though he's one of the best hands of the crew can thusly be explained by his lack of maturity, with experiences like "Alter Ego" spelling it out.

The episode then becomes about Tuvok himself.  Tuvok spotlights were always few and far between, the series no doubt concerned that someone might worry he was trying to replace Spock.  Tuvok, of course, is full Vulcan, unlike the half-human Spock, so he was always going to present a unique portrait.  As a Vulcan, his relationships rarely involved emotion, except when concerning Neelix (but more on that in the forthcoming "Rise"), even his close bond with Janeway, one of the most neglected in the series (even their experiences in "Flashback" were somewhat caustic). 

The problem was really Tuvok's sense of isolation, which dovetails nicely with the further developments of this episode.  (Chakotay, it might be argued, also suffered from isolation the longer the series continued, which is why it was nice for him to end up in a relationship with Seven.  It was kind of like finally replacing the toxic Seska.)  The holographic character turns out to be a real person, who's hacked the ship (hacking a Starfleet ship is a brilliant idea, by the way, and a rare phenomenon) because she's got a job that keeps her, y'know, in isolation.  She finds Tuvok fascinating.  He's an enigma, someone who manages to remain functional even while keeping a distance from those around him. 

Anyway, I like how the episode progresses.  It's always been one of my favorites from the season.  Enterprise's "Exile" is a similar story, which doesn't really evolve as organically, so the merits of "Alter Ego" becomes all the easier to admire.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The original premise of the episode revolves around holographic characters, long a Star Trek staple.
  • series - Not hugely connected to the premise.
  • character - But it becomes hugely significant to not only Harry but Tuvok as the story progresses.
  • essential - It's an episode that helps explain both of them.
notable guest-stars:
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Voyager 3x13 "Fair Trade"

rating: ***

the story: In an attempt to prove his further usefulness, Neelix finds himself in an awful mess.

what it's all about: In hindsight, the biggest missed opportunity of Voyager was the chance to tell Talaxian stories when the series was still in Talaxian space.  Instead the first two seasons focused on the Kazon, which was certainly not a bad thing, but no one seemed to realize that there was ample creative room for Neelix to explore at the same time, until it was too late.  In a lot of ways, the third season was an opportunity for the producers to take a last look at what had been overlooked previously, and it was ample fodder for rich material, like "Fair Trade."

Now, as most fans didn't really care for Neelix, this is hardly an episode they're going to appreciate one way or another.  It's just skippable material to them.  It's a shame, because Neelix was one of the best-developed and best-used characters of the series, and it's thanks to material like this.  As one of two Delta Quadrant natives to become passengers of the ship, he was always in a unique position to contextualize the crew's journey in unfamiliar territory.  But "Trade" sees him reach the last of the territory he himself has explored.  It also features the rare fellow Talaxian, another reason why the episode stands out.  The whole thing becomes an exercise, like "False Profits" earlier in the season, of contrasting Neelix and Talaxians as a whole with their Ferengi counterparts.  Quark had many similar experiences in Deep Space Nine, but they played out differently because Quark was always focused mostly on himself whereas Neelix cared about the crew around him.

"Trade" is another in a series of existential crises for him, and that's really the key to understanding both the character and the episode.  He worries here that he still hasn't done enough to justify himself as a permanent passenger, that they're going to kick him off the ship.  What he's craved so desperately since before he came aboard was a new family.  He never dared dream that he had actually found one.  In a way, that impulse fans have to loathe him is broadcast by Neelix himself, because in his doubts he's always trying too hard to please, and for people like Tuvok it's immediately off-putting.  Little wonder that a Vulcan represents the interests of the fans.  But more on these two in "Rise" six episodes hence...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - I suspect you have to be a fan of the series to truly appreciate it, even though the material resonates well with experiences across Star Trek.
  • series - It wonderfully explains what happens to Neelix as originally conceived.
  • character - A definitive turning point for ship's morale officer.
  • essential - For this series it really is.
notable guest-stars:
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)
James Horan

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Voyager 3x12 "Macrocosm"

rating: *

the story: The ship is attacked by a virus that grows in size.

what it's all about: This is a germaphobe's worst nightmare, I think.  The aliens-of-the-week are giant germs.  If that makes you incredibly uncomfortable, this will be a tough episode for you, because they fly around the whole ship.

The basic premise is so generic that it'll invite anyone brave enough to watch.  It's interesting and all, but doesn't have a lot of distinguishing properties other than imagery.  Except for Janeway.  As a commando.  Attacking giant germs.

So that's the real draw of the episode.  Doesn't really say much about Janeway herself.  It could've been anyone at the heart of this one, but I imagine Kate Mulgrew enjoyed the change of pace.  Because she's mostly acting against, as I may have mentioned, giant germs, she doesn't even get to "Starship Mine" (Next Generation) her way through it, where Picard at least got to outsmart a bunch of thugs (including Tim Russ, later to be cast as Voyager's Tuvok; how cool would it have been for Tuvok to be the focus of this episode?).

Not much else to say about it, except "Macrocosm" manages to create a scenario where the Doctor can't safely leave sickbay, after he's just gotten that nifty mobile emitter.  Seems kinda insane when you think about it...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The thought of giant germs is morbidly compelling, so I'll give this one to casual fans brave enough to experience it.
  • series - Because it really doesn't have much to tether it to Voyager.
  • character - I wish Action Janeway had a better reason to exist.
  • essential - No, not essential.  Not essential at all, giant germs!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Voyager 3x11 "The Q and the Grey"

rating: ****

the story: Q shows Janeway the results of "Death Wish."

what it's all about: In a lot of ways, Q's appearances in Voyager were a direct continuation of his Next Generation episode "Deja Q," where his story is changes from the obnoxious omnipotent being who put humanity on trial to the obnoxious omnipotent being whose main concern is...the rest of the obnoxious omnipotent beings in the Q Continuum.  So in a lot of ways, Voyager managed to tell an incredibly important franchise story in the midst of being a series that was supposed to be removed from incredibly important franchise stories.  And Q is a character who lends himself to that possibility, after all.

Naturally, it infuriated fans to no end, the idea that Voyager could improve on Next Generation material.  I mean, precious few Star Trek episodes improve on "Tapestry," but in terms of Q being Q but still having a good reason for showing's kind of really hard to argue exploring the nature of Q in real depth.  Because that's what the one-two punch of "Death Wish" and "The Q and the Grey" are all about.  It's comparable to the Mirror Universe episodes in Deep Space Nine, certainly the first few ("Crossover," "Through the Looking Glass," and "Shattered Mirror"), all of which function as sequels to the original series classic "Mirror, Mirror," and are arguably far superior to it in terms of nuanced storytelling.

The best material in the episode is onboard the ship.  Discovering Q's ex gave Suzie Plakson, who was already a legend in the franchise, a bold new character to play, arguably her most important.  It's hard to play opposite John de Lancie, but Plakson was absolutely up to the challenge.

And Janeway?  After "Death Wish" it became easier to believe Q would take her seriously.  Picard was always the skeptic, who thought Q a menace and not much else.  Janeway, though, stood up to him, too, and in that episode helped him understand that not every human was like Picard, that some would stand up for the likes of him.  No doubt an incredibly intoxicating thought.  But the very idea of why he shows up, it's fraught with the kind of natural comedy the character had become best known for, none of the serious "trial of humanity" business that bookended his Next Generation existence.  Putting aside all prejudices, these appearances are by definition classics.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The last great Q appearance.
  • series - A hugely effective sequel to a prior standout episode.
  • character - Works extremely well for Q, and for helping further define what sets Janeway apart.
  • essential - To truly understand Q, you need to see this episode.
notable guest-stars:
John de Lancie (Q)
Suzie Plakson (Q)
Harve Presnell

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Voyager 3x10 "Warlord"

rating: *

the story: Kes is possessed by an alien warlord.

what it's all about: Something of an update of Next Generation's "Power Play," "Warlord" is a very curious episode indeed.  Most of it is spent exploring the conflict of the aliens-of-the-week, with Kes thrown in, sort of, and Tuvok, too.  Sort of.

The oddest thing, by the way, is that it technically concludes a longstanding element of the series, the relationship between Neelix and Kes, in such an offhand manner as to be laughable in hindsight, considering Neelix really has nothing to do with the episode otherwise, which seems...pretty much what the whole episode to be about.  Or pushing the Tuvok element further.  Or...basically doing something other than trying to make Kes more edgy.  Because that's basically what the episode really is. 

Famously, the series wanted to axe a cast member at the end of the season, and it was going to be Garrett Wang (Harry) until he was named to one of People's sexy lists, so the producers instead decided to eliminate Jennifer Lien (Kes).  You can see how they struggled with her during the third season.  "Warlord" is obviously an excuse to reinvent her, while "Before and After" looks like a life summary for a character whose species lives about as long as a Star Trek series ran at that time (seven seasons/years, though Ocampa best case scenario live about ten years).  As one of two Delta Quadrant natives to become a passenger of the ship, she took on considerable significance in giving the series its unique identity in the early seasons, and since those seasons didn't seem to please the fans too much, like Chakotay's reduced role starting in the third season, Kes seemed like a logical focus for change, too.  Unlike Neelix, who kept showing new shades and ways of defining his role, Kes had become static, inevitable, too...comfortable.  "Warlord" ultimately proves that the producers saw little potential in her relationship with Tuvok, and the Doctor had just won a get-out-of-sickbay card, thereby freeing him to interact with anyone, and not just her. 

That "Warlord" dithers and wastes time as an episodic story that wastes its potential, it's like the first sign of the Ocampan apocalypse...A true low point of the season.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is a familiar story that might amuse casual fans.
  • series - But it'll frustrate more committed ones.
  • character - It wastes valuable Kes time on a pointless spotlight.
  • essential - And doesn't really explain why she gave up on Neelix even after the problem is solved.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Voyager 3x9 "Future's End, Part 2"

rating: ****

the story: Evil 1996 businessman is thwarted in his attempt at stealing more future tech.

what it's all about: In my thoughts on "Part 1," I focused on the two-parter's inspirations, and touched on what it helped anticipate, namely Enterprise's Temporal Cold War.  If anything, "Part 2" is even more on the latter, not to mention Voyager's own "Year of Hell" (combined with "Future's End," they make an excellent case for the show's vivid imagination, something rarely discussed in terms of its high points, because fans seem only interested in what they don't like, which is...pretty much everything...because they don't seem familiar with the actual all).

But the biggest news of "Part 2" is the debut of the Doctor's mobile emitter, which allows him to leave the confines of sickbay (or the holodeck) whenever he chooses.  After "Heroes and Demons" (a holodeck experience), "Part 2" is his first "away mission," thanks to a bad guy.  You just never know how bad situations can lead to good results.  It's almost like a preview of "Scorpion" at the end of the season.

If "Part 1" is all setup, "Part 2" is all payoff, demonstrating the strength of Voyager's new "feature length" storytelling concept.  "Future's End" may seem a little small potatoes after the higher concepts that follow in these midseason two-part episodes, but it holds up wonderfully when you take a look at what it actually accomplishes.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Time is always of the essence in Star Trek, so it's good to know Starfleet is eventually going to take it seriously.
  • series - A huge development for...
  • character - The Doctor, who gains newfound freedom of movement going forward.
  • essential - Later, it seems as if his mobile emitter is a mere fact of holographic life, so it's always worth remembering just how he got it.
notable guest-stars:
Ed Begley, Jr.
Sarah Silverman
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