the story: The crew has been pressed into service on an alien world, with their memories wiped.
what it's all about: I actually just realized that "Workforce" is kind of like Next Generation's "Conundrum," a classic where an alien wipes the memories of Picard's crew in order to engineer a diabolical plot against his enemies. "Workhorse" has a far less negative plot, but the mechanics are similar. Most of the characters are given a chance to exist free of their usual duties, so that the viewer is able to discover them anew. Unlike "Conundrum," there isn't a radical departure in relationships or behaviors, which is another way to distinguish them.
As a Voyager-specific story, it works really well. In Federation space this would be fair less likely to happen to a Starfleet crew, certainly in this era, which is the whole point of setting a series far away from familiar territory. In some ways, this is similar to when the Kazon abandoned the crew on an alien world between the second and third seasons (or even when Ferengi board Archer's ship in Enterprise's "Acquisition"), but clearly the story is, again, different. It's also another excellent sign that even in its seventh season Voyager can still exploit its premise creatively.
Tuvok, Chakotay, and The Doctor all get a chance to shine. Being a Vulcan, Tuvok has the ability to pierce the fog they've been placed in. It's an opportunity to see him function in much the way Spock used to, in a way he rarely got to, having to wait for his chances far more often. Chakotay, meanwhile, who often ends up on more or less solo missions, for a change (like in "Shattered") be in one where he's working to save the crew. It suits his cool temperament. The Doctor gets a chance to employ his Emergency Command Hologram mode, something previously teased in "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" the previous season.
All of this adds up to the first half of a two-part episode that may lead to an inevitable conclusion, but it's a nice change of pace from the Voyager tradition of coming up with apocalyptic scenarios for these things.
- franchise - Nicely evokes Next Generation's classic "Conundrum."
- series - Exploits Voyager's premise nicely.
- character - It's a nice chance to see the crew in a fresh light.
essential- Fairly low-key stakes.