Star Trek: Discovery‘s “There is a Tide…”

The 800th installment of Star Trek as a franchise is Trek‘s latest Die Hard pastiche as Book, Burnham, and the bridge crew fight to take Discovery back from Osyraa’s Regulators while Osyraa herself is negotiating with Admiral Vance, and those diplomacy scenes are some of the best such in Trek history. My review of the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s third season, “There is a Tide…”

An excerpt:

And then negotiations break down, because Vance hits her with a stipulation she obviously wasn’t expecting and won’t go through with. Osyraa’s own history as an antagonistic force to, y’know, everyone means she can’t be the head of the new allied-with-the-Federation Emerald Chain. While she’s willing to step back, she’s not willing to commit to a ruler who isn’t her puppet (she claims to be, mind you, but Eli, the lie-detector hologram played with hilarious blandness by Brendan Beiser, calls her on it), nor is she willing to be arrested and tried for her crimes. Vance insists on that point, because Federation ideals still mean something, and they’re not just going to get into bed with a criminal who claims to have reformed unless she puts her money where her mouth is with regard to that reformation.

These sequences are quick-witted, intelligent, and compellingly played by Fehr, Kidder, and Beiser. From the negotiations themselves to the discussions of Eli (putting a human face on the lie detector was more comforting than red and green lights) and of the food (how it’s pretty much recycled shit), and they’re just as captivating as the action sequences aboard Discovery.

800 installments of Star Trek

Today, CBS All Access will air “There is a Tide…,” the 41st episode of Star Trek: Discovery, which reaches a milestone. As soon as that episode goes live on CBSAA, there will be:

  • 80 episodes of Star Trek (the original series)
  • 22 episodes of Star Trek (the animated series)
  • 176 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • 173 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  • 168 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager
  • 97 episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise
  • 41 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery
  • 10 episodes of Short Treks
  • 10 episodes of Star Trek: Picard
  • 10 episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks
  • and 13 Star Trek movies

That’s 800 installments of Star Trek. That’s pretty damned impressive.

I grew up with Star Trek, on my television screen, on my bookshelf, in my comic book longboxes, and in movie theatres. Since 1999, when WildStorm published my Star Trek: The Next Generation comic book Perchance to Dream, Trek has also been a part of my professional life in some form or other, from writing prose fiction and reference works for Simon & Schuster and comics for WildStorm and IDW and role-playing games for Modiphius to writing about the show for magazines (Star Trek Magazine, Entertainment Weekly), essay collections, and web sites. Most recently, I’ve been contributing to the Star Trek Adventures game world, and I’ve been writing about Trek for Tor.com since 2011, including rewatches of the past shows and reviews of the new shows as they’re released.

I’m deeply honored to have been a part of it, however small, and I look forward to the next 800 installments………..

stuff what I wrote in 2020

As terrible a year as it was in so many ways, I am pleased to say that a bunch of things I wrote became available to the public this year…….

Novels

To Hell and Regroup (written with David Sherman), the final book in David’s “18th Race” trilogy of military science fiction novels

The 18th Race Omnibus (written with David Sherman), collecting all three books in the trilogy, David’s Issue in Doubt and In All Directions and our collaborative finale

Comic books

Icarus and Jellinek (written with Gregory A. Wilson, art by Áthila Fabbio), a graphic novel adaptation of Wilson’s science fiction novel

StarCraft: Ghost Academy Volume 1 (art by Fernando Heinz Furukawa), a reprint of my 2010 comic based on the game

Short stories

“Materfamilias” in Bad Ass Moms, edited by Mary Fan, the first story featuring Yolanda Rodriguez and her family, a New York-based supernatural hunter-for-hire in the same milieu as my Bram Gold Adventures

“Journalistic Integrity” in Pangaea Book 3: Redemption, edited by Michael Jan Friedman, my contribution to this shared-world alternate-history anthology about a world with only one continent

“The Gorvangin Rampages” released to Indie GoGo supporters (which you can still become one of), an untold tale set between the novels Gryphon Precinct and Mermaid Precinct

Role-playing games

Assorted chapters and sidebars in Star Trek Adventures: Klingon Empire Core Rulebook

Nonfiction

The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch on Tor.com, covering the first three seasons and most of season four

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” on Tor.com, with pieces on Bloodshot, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Faust, The Old Guard, and The New Mutants

Reviews of every episode of Star Trek: Picard season one on Tor.com

Reviews of every episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks season one on Tor.com

Reviews of every 2020 episode of Star Trek: Discovery season three on Tor.com

“Tropes Abandoned, Tropes As Yet Unseen” in ZLONK! ZOK! ZOWIE!: The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66–Season One, edited by Jim Beard, with Rich Handley, my examination of the two-part episode “Fine Feathered Finks”/”The Penguin’s a Jinx.”

‘Hit it’–Seven Thoughts on the Announcement of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” on Tor.com

In This Life or the Next–Warrior Nun Season One is Almost Great” on Tor.com

Ask Not What Your Family Can Do For You–The Umbrella Academy‘s Second Season is Even Better than Its First” on Tor.com

Patreon content

Movie reviews: Hobbs & Shaw, Willow, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, Casino, Macbeth, What We Do in the Shadows, Mambo Italiano, The Pagemaster, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Project Power, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Vampires vs. the Bronx, The Addams Family, Addams Family Values, and Wonder Woman 1984

TV reviews: Watchmen, Bosch, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Mysteries, Chef!, Broadchurch, Jack Ryan, Legend, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Star Wars: Rebels, Foyle’s War, Prime Suspect 1973, Cobra Kai, Lucifer, What We Do in the Shadows, Gargoyles, Perry Mason, Scott & Bailey, No Offence, and The West Wing season 1

Graphic novel review: Moonshadow: The Definitive Edition

Vignettes featuring Cassie Zukav (2), Bram Gold (3), Super City Cops (3), Dragon Precinct (3), and Shirley Holmes & Jack Watson (1)

new on Patreon

Here’s what I’ve put up on my Patreon since mid-November or so:

  • $1/month and up: reviews of The Addams Family, Addams Family Values, and Wonder Woman 1984
  • $2/month and up: thirty-five cat pictures
  • $5/month and up: reviews of Scott & Bailey and No Offence
  • $7/month and up: excerpts from “In Earth and Sky and Sea Strange Things There Be” and Feat of Clay
  • $10/month and up: a Super City Cops vignette
  • $20/month and up: first looks at the first drafts of “In Earth and Sky and Sea Strange Things There Be” and of the first three chapters of Feat of Clay

The plan (as ever, subject to change) for this week is to get a couple more TV reviews up, write a vignette, provide another excerpt from Feat of Clay, and post a ton more cat pictures.

Hope you’ll consider supporting me and getting some of this fabulous content!

highlights from the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch’s first year, part 4: most of season four

I commenced 2020, the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager‘s premiere, with an announcement that I’d be doing a Voyager Rewatch on Tor.com, which kicked off in mid-January. I’ve been doing it twice a week since, just as I did my rewatches of the prior three Trek series, and this past Monday, I posted the last one of 2020. I’ve already posted highlights of my rewatch entries for the first season, the second season, and the third season. Herewith, the highlights from what I’ve done of the fourth season (which is most of it; I’ve got three episodes, plus the overview, to go, which will show up in January).

Scorpion, Part II

Still, despite the fact that you can see the strings a bit too much, this is a slam-bang season opener, and what I particularly like about it is that it sets up a true dichotomy between Janeway and Chakotay. One of the problems with “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” is that, even though the script insisted that Riker needed to be as un-Picard-like as possible and to set Picard aside, he then acted pretty much like Picard would have and also moved heaven and earth to get Picard back.

Here, though, the divide between captain and first officer is legit, and it’s one that carries over nicely from Part 1. But what I especially like is that Janeway’s fervent statement that they still need to work together even when they disagree is well taken, because in the end they both were right. Allying with the Borg was the only way they were going to (a) be able to create the weapon to use against 8472 and (b) get across Borg space unassimilated. But in the end, the microsecond the alliance was over, the Borg moved to assimilate the ship, just as Chakotay feared. It’s their nature.

And so captain and first officer worked together to save the ship. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Gift

And then we have Seven of Nine’s outfit and hair.

I’ve said many times that Seven is the only character in television history whose character development was undermined by her costuming, and this episode proves it. She’s a Borg who is slowly coming to realize that she has to find her individuality. The blond hair and the skintight silver outfit and the big-heeled boots should have come at the end of a long journey, at least half the season, while she slowly divested herself of the Borg implants.

But that would deny the producers the opportunity to show Jeri Ryan, Person With Boobs as much as possible. To make matters worse, the choice of costume and hair was apparently made by the EMH, a sentient being whose personality is based on an asshole.

So we’ve got this new character who has been artificially male-gazed in a rather revolting manner for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the character and everything to do with external factors relating to it being a TV show. It undermines every single choice made with the character in this part of the season. At least Ryan is able to elevate matters, as Seven’s journey in the series in general and this episode in particular is compelling as hell.

Day of Honor

And it’s a chance for Torres to confront her own feelings. She’s always been an outsider, never fitting in as a human or as a Klingon. She washed out of Starfleet Academy. Unlike many of the other Maquis we’ve met, she doesn’t seem to have any particular personal crusade for their cause. It feels like she joined because they were the outsiders.

But now she’s on Voyager for what may be the rest of her life. Whether she wants one or not, she’s got a family, a community, that she’s never had. She’s actually developing relationships, and even falling in love, and it obviously scares the living crap out of her. We saw in “Faces” that her Klingon arrogance is constantly butting heads with her very human insecurities.

Nemesis

Yes, Chakotay is an anthropologist at heart, and an explorer, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was fighting a guerrilla war against the Cardassians. The journey from a person of peace to a soldier in a war is one he’s already made, and the Vori’s expert manipulations—mostly by way of giving him people to care about and then seeing them killed in nasty ways by the Kradin—make it easy for him to go down that road again.

This may be Kenneth Biller’s best script, as he absolutely nails the brainwashing, especially since we don’t realize it’s brainwashing until the episode’s most of the way through. You get caught up in it, especially since the Vori all look human and the Kradin look like a mix of the Nausicaans (from TNG’s “Tapestry“) and the Klingon demon Fek’lhr (from TNG’s “Devil’s Due“), so it’s easy to think of the Kradin as bad guys.

Revulsion

The best parts of the episode are at the beginning of Act 1 and have nothing to do with the rest of this episode, but do matter for the show going forward: Tuvok’s promotion and Paris and Torres finally starting their romance. The former is a delightful, low-key ceremony (much better than the simply bizarre clipper-ship holodeck thing in Generations), with Tim Russ as usual nailing the Vulcan sass and dry wit. And the latter has actually been moving along nicely. I’m not the biggest Tom Paris fan, but his relationship with Torres is good for him, and makes him far more tolerable, and it doesn’t diminish Torres. This’ll be fun to watch.

The Raven

The B’omar are also a cheap writer trick to stack the deck in favor of our heroes because honestly? I’m totally with them on everything they do here. Yes, they lay on the paranoia a bit thick when it comes to Voyager flying through their space. But there are also legitimate security concerns to this powerful ship with the design you’ve never seen before that shows up out of nowhere to fly through your sovereign territory. And then on top of that, they, as Gaumen so aptly put it, unleash a former Borg drone into their territory. Yes, Seven has enough humanity left that she doesn’t actually kill anyone, but that’s another cheap writer trick to avoid making one of our heroes out to be a bad guy.

Bluntly, Voyager’s behavior in this episode is pretty awful. If I’m the B’omar, I keep chasing them even after they’ve left B’omar space just for being douchnozzles. Gaumen specifically says that Voyager has committed an act of war, and I’m totally on the B’omar’s side here. The script makes them assholes to ameliorate this problem, but it’s not enough for me.

Scientific Method

Even if the rest of the episode was terrible, it would be worth it for the borscht-belt schtick that Chakotay and Neelix indulge in. Seriously, it’s like they stepped out of a resort in the Catskills in the 1950s—or a Billy Crystal/Christopher Guest routine from Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. Just a beautiful escalating-complaint bit that Robert Beltran and Ethan Phillips perform stupendously.

Year of Hell, Part I

It’s fantastic to see the crew actually dealing with real hardship and difficult decisions. Being stranded half a galaxy away should be a nightmarish existence, one fraught with difficulty and danger, and far too often we see a bunch of people on a luxury liner playing dress-up on the holodeck and never wanting for anything significant.

For these two episodes, at least, that changes, and it’s impressive as hell. Janeway’s determination to get them through, Chakotay’s compassion and morale boosting, Seven’s ruthless efficiency, leavened by her growing concern for her crewmates, Tuvok’s stoicism, Paris’s improvising.

Year of Hell, Part II

On top of that, both Chakotay and Paris are well used here. Chakotay, ever the anthropologist, wants to try to find a way to accomplish Annorax’s goal without any further bloodless bloodshed. He doesn’t want to see anyone else wiped out, and he believes that he might be able to use Annorax’s ship to make things better for everyone. His mistake is one you can’t really fault him for: he believed that Annorax was sincere in his desire to do no more harm, that there was still a shred of decency left in him. Once he realizes that Annorax was just humoring him (or maybe he was serious, but got tired of waiting for Chakotay to find a less harmful incursion), he goes along with Paris’s mutiny plan. As for Paris, I like the role he plays here, as he’s very much the McCoy to Chakotay’s Kirk, and it works. Plus, Chakotay makes it clear that the final decision is his, and he will take Paris down if he disobeys. It’s to the credit of both characters that Paris takes Chakotay seriously and follows those orders.

Random Thoughts

The episode was also originally inspired by the notion of whether or not portrayals of violence in media provokes violence in people, which was an especially hot topic in the 1990s when this episode first aired.

But what makes the episode so strong is that it can apply to so many things, from the war on drugs to Prohibition. And throughout history, the hardest laws to enforce are ones that a) bring pleasure to someone and b) don’t do active harm to anyone. The word “active” is important there, because technically Torres’s thoughts are responsible for both the assault and the later murder. But that’s only because the Mari aren’t used to thoughts on the level of violence that Torres, with her Klingon heritage is capable of. And it’s why Guill really really really can’t handle Tuvok’s full Vulcan craziness.

Concerning Flight

And this is a nice change from the usual interact-with-the-hologram stories that Trek has done, as the others have all been aware of their status as holograms: MinuetProfessor MoriartyVic Fontaine. But Leonardo isn’t aware of his photonic nature (at least until a phaser blast passes through him) nor of what century he’s in. Leonardo is able to adjust, in part because he’s reinterpreting everything around him through his own lens, but also because he’s so brilliant. And I love his conversations with Janeway on various subjects, especially her sparrow analogy to explain the technological marvels that even he cannot comprehend.

Mortal Coil

SEVEN OF NINE CAN TOTALLY RESURRECT PEOPLE FROM THE DEAD!

This should be revolutionary! This should change everything! Nobody on Voyager should ever die again!

Except, of course, this magical ability to resurrect the dead will never ever be referenced ever again.

It’s bad enough that Seven didn’t mention this magical ability back when a bridge officer died in “Scientific Method,” but waited until Neelix was the corpse, but no other crewmember gets the same consideration? There are going to be plenty more deaths on the ship, all the way to the final season, and the fact that none of them got the magical mystery nanoprobe cure is despicable. I’ve hammered on this point before, and I will go to my own grave continuing to hammer on it, but just because the people in the opening credits are the ones the viewers care about most doesn’t mean they’re the only ones the characters should care about. From Seven’s point of view, Ensign Luke is just as important as Neelix, if not more so because she’s a bridge officer instead of someone trying to feed her bad food. So the fact that she doesn’t offer this zombification death cure until now makes absolutely no sense.

Waking Moments

I also like the way André Bormanis’ script plays with expectations. The revelation that Chakotay is still sleeping is an effective twist—much like the revelation in TNG’s “Ship in a Bottle” that Picard, Data, and Barclay are still in the holodeck—and it casts doubt on everything that happens after it, as you never know if Chakotay is really awake or asleep.

Message in a Bottle

I unreservedly love this episode for many reasons, but the main one is obvious: pairing Robert Picardo and Andy Dick is simply comedy gold. Every moment the two of them together is hilarious, from Dick’s skepticism regarding Picardo’s accomplishments to Picardo’s constantly having to push Dick to be heroic to Picardo abashedly realizing he doesn’t recognize the newfangled medical equipment on Prometheus to both of them trying desperately how to figure out how to operate the ship.

Hunters

Speaking of Torres, the letter that hits hardest is the one that folks who were watching DS9 alongside Voyager as they aired were waiting for. By the time this episode came around in 1998, the Dominion War was raging on DS9, but in two 1997 episodes it was established that the Maquis were basically toast, starting in “By Inferno’s Light,” when Dukat declared that one of the Dominion’s first targets after Cardassia joined them would be the Maquis, and confirmed in “Blaze of Glory” that showed that the Jem’Hadar wiped the Maquis totally out.

Chakotay and Torres’s response to this is a reminder that they, too, left something behind, but unlike the Starfleet crew, they no longer have something to go back to. Their cause is gone, their friends are dead, and they’re both devastated. It’s a part of their lives that hasn’t had much of an impact, but it’s also what they were theoretically trying to get home to, and now they know it’s gone.

Prey

Finally, often lost in the hugger-mugger about Janeway and Seven and the awesomeness of Tony Todd is the fact that this is another great episode for Chakotay. We get to see his inner anthropologist geek out over what he learns about the Hirogen, and then he has a great moment where he slaps down the alpha, saying that it’s his hunt. Robert Beltran plays it perfectly, with Chakotay using the Hirogen’s own cultural norms against him to reassert his own authority.

Retrospect

In an interview in the official Voyager magazine, Bryan Fuller said that he and Lisa Klink deliberately avoided there being anything sexual in the attack on Seven because they didn’t want it to be about rape. The notion that rape can only be sexual is a flawed one, which is probably why their intent so completely and totally failed. For one thing, Jeri Ryan 100% played Seven’s reactions to Kovin being creepy in the teaser and the EMH examining her in sickbay as someone who is suffering from PTSD after a sexual assault. If she didn’t really experience what she says Kovin did to her, why is she flinching at the EMH’s examination?

In 1998, this was very much an episode about the unreliability of human memory, and how repressed memories aren’t always dependable. But watching in 2020, all I see is a yet another woman who has been assaulted and nobody believes her once the slightest doubt is cast, plus there’s concern about the reputation of the man who is accused. I was appalled to watch this show turn into a colloquy on how horrible it is when women accuse men of rape because look at what that accusation does to the poor man, never mind that the woman was—to use the word the script itself uses—violated.

The Killing Game, Part I

Ultimately, it’s ridiculous, but it’s a fun kind of ridiculous. It starts out with the absurd hilarity of Janeway as a Klingon—and points to Kate Mulgrew for attacking the role with gusto, as she totally throws herself into the part—and continues with a mix between Casablanca and ‘Allo ‘Allo. Seeing Seven as a chanteuse, Janeway as Rick Blaine, Chakotay and Paris as 1940s soldiers, Torres as a Mata Hari-style spy is all a delight. Honestly, I wish they’d gone further with it, as too much of it is folks in roles that are similar to their existing ones, and I’d have loved them a bit further afield from their usual personalities. At one point, Neelix bitches to Tuvok about him being so logical, and Tuvok bitches back, and I’m thinking, “Really? You can’t come up with a new argument?” And it might have been fun to see Seven and Tuvok be a bit looser and more emotional, and maybe have Chakotay’s Miller be a cigar-chomping Sergeant Fury type. I mean, you’re gonna have them play characters, have them play characters, dangit!

The Killing Game, Part II

Having said that, Janeway’s own switch from “I’ll destroy the ship before I’ll help you” to “let’s work together” is a bit too abrupt. Karr may have semi-noble intentions, but he’s still the guy who boarded the ship, imprisoned much of the crew, and, in essence, tortured the rest of them. Oh, and killed one of them. But suddenly that doesn’t matter?

I mean, yes, she should pursue a peaceful solution (not that Turanj lets that happen), but the switch is just too fast to be anything but disturbing.

Vis à Vis

I know I haven’t been kind of the Paris character in this rewatch, but that’s mostly because the show has spent too much time shoe-horning him into the role of action hero, even though he was created and written as a chronic fuckup. It’s to writer Robert J. Doherty’s credit in his debut script that he leans into the character as created. Paris has thrived on Voyager, but he’s also someone whose life prior to Janeway fetching him from New Zealand has been a chronicle of failure. He had massive expectations as the son of a respected admiral, and he failed to meet any of them.

But here he is, comfortable, happy, in a role that suits him, on a ship where he’s a trusted member of the crew, and he’s in a happy stable relationship with a woman who is, let’s be honest, way too good for him. This is a state of affairs he’s not accustomed to at all, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. So he retreats into a holodeck fantasy while being defensive about it with his girlfriend to the point where he drives her away for no good reason. But he gets to fix things, which is something he understands, certainly more than he understands a stable relationship. He also understands the coaxial warp drive.

The Omega Directive

Also I have a serious jurisdictional issue here. The omega molecule is so dangerous that Starfleet captains have standing orders to invade a sovereign nation and confiscate their property. That’s how wars start. I can understand the directive having full force and effect in the Federation, and even possibly in the territory of people who are allied with the Federation. (Though I’d love to see them try this nonsense with the Klingons…) But there’s absolutely no way it could possibly work in space not controlled by the Federation, because it would require a full-on invasion of a military force into sovereign territory, and there’s nothing that really justifies that. Worse, the alien scientist specifically says to Seven that his people are in dire straits and they need the omega molecule as an energy source. Usually, in dramatic fiction, the powerful people who show up and steal your stuff without caring that you need it to save your people are the villains of the piece.

Unforgettable

The problem is that, as nifty a general concept as the Ramurans’ memory-wiping pheromone is, it makes absolutely no sense in any practical way. I’ll buy that people forget about them, though it strains credulity that the pheromone would work exactly the same way on every species they encounter. But I don’t buy for a nanosecond that they also have the ability to wipe records of themselves from technology—especially not from technology they’re not familiar with. Also, how does the EMH not remember her? He doesn’t have a brain as such.

I might have been willing to buy it if Kellin had only been on board for a little while, but she was there for a week. There had to be significant evidence of her presence that would’ve been recorded by sensors in a variety of manners, and the gaps in people’s memories is something they would have investigated. I find myself reminded of TNG’s “Clues,” where they kept finding little things that showed evidence of something they didn’t remember, and they kept picking at it. Wouldn’t Voyager‘s crew do likewise?

Living Witness

But what’s absolutely best about this episode is its examination of the volatility of history, of how stories change over the years, of how extrapolating from data doesn’t always lead you to the right conclusion. (My favorite was their assuming the EMH was an android because all they knew for sure was that he was an artificial life form.)

This episode manages to be a discourse on history, a social commentary in the problematic relationship between the Vaskans and the Kyrians, which has obviously remained an issue for seven centuries, and a delightful romp through a fun-house-mirror version of the Voyager crew. Best of all is that the ending is a very Trekkish one of hope for peace and cooperation.

43 years of Christmas Eve (kind of)

My parents started hosting Christmas Eve for our extended family in 1977, the year after my grandfather died, which also spelled the end of my grandparents hosting it, as my grandmother moved back home to Pennsylvania after she was widowed. At the end of the evening’s festivities, we take a picture in front of the tree.

In 2017, for the 40th anniversary of that tradition’s start, I posted the pictures for 1977 and then every tenth year after that, which I have followed up in 2018 with the pictures for 1978 and every ten years after, and then I did it again in 2019.

This year, thanks to the apocalypse, we did not do the big family Christmas Eve, but we did do Christmas Day over Zoom. However, I want to keep the tradition going, though it’s a bit truncated a) because we didn’t really do it this year and b) we don’t have a copy of the picture from 1980.

I will say that in 1980, I was 11 years old. This was the last Christmas where I would be the only one of my grandmother’s grandkids in the picture, as my uncle Fred’s wife Roxanne was pregnant with their first kid, Jared. (My aunt Monica, who never did Christmas Eve with us after she followed her mother to Pennsylvania, also just had her first kid, my cousin Laura, in the fall of 1980.) My uncle Nat was, by this time, either dating or was married to his second wife, ToniAnn.

In 1990, I was 21 years old, and had the previous May graduated from Fordham University. When this picture was taken, I had been working at Library Journal as an assistant editor for six months. I was still dating Marina, who was in the midst of her graduate work at MIT at this point. Nat and ToniAnn had split up and he had married Ginny, and had two kids with her.

Standing, l.-r.: John (third parent), Marina, Helga (fourth parent), my father, my mother, Fred (maternal uncle), Nat (maternal uncle), Roxanne (Fred’s wife), Ginny (Nat’s second wife), and Alissa (Nat & Ginny’s older daughter).

On the floor, clockwise from upper left: Blair (Fred & Roxanne’s second son), me, Victoria (Nat & Ginny’s younger daughter), Jared (Fred & Roxanne’s oldest son), and Dillon (Fred & Roxanne’s youngest son).

Not in the picture because she was taking it: Livia (paternal aunt).

In 2000, I was 31 years old. Marina and I had split up that fall, and I had starting dating Terri. This was her first Christmas with the family, indeed, her first time meeting several members of the family. I was living in Weehawken at this point; Terri and I would move in together the following April. By this time, Nat and Ginny had split up, and Nat was dating a woman whose name I don’t recall two decades later; she had two daughters, who also came along.

Back row, l.-r.: Blair, Helga, Fred, my father, Nat, and John.

Middle row, l.-r.: Livia, Nat’s date’s older daughter, Dillon, Nat’s date’s younger daughter, Victoria, my mother, Nat’s date, and Terri.

Bottom row, l.-r.: Jared, Alissa, and Roxanne.

I’m not in the picture because I was taking it.

In 2010, I was 41 years old. Terri and I had broken up the year before and I started dating Wrenn. She and Dale moved in with me in May of 2010. Fred and Roxanne had split by this time, and Dillon had moved down to Florida with her. Nat was now married to Donna, his fourth wife.

L.-r.: Wrenn, Fred, me, my father, Helga, my mother, Donna, John, Nat, Dale, Jared’s date (whose name I no longer recall), Blair, and Livia.

Not in the picture because he was taking it: Jared.

This year, we didn’t do the family Christmas Eve. I don’t know if we will next year — my parents are older now, and most of the extended family either isn’t local (most of them) or have their own thing on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day this year, we did do a family thing over Zoom, but we couldn’t really do the picture in front of the tree.

We’ll see what next year brings…..

highlights from the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch’s first year, part 3: season three

On the day of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager‘s premiere in January 2020, I announced that I would be doing a rewatch of the show, following up on my rewatches of the prior three Star Trek series. Monday, I posted the final one for 2020, as Tor.com is taking it easy for the final two weeks of the year. So I thought I’d post some highlights from each episode’s rewatch. I’ve done season one and season two, and here’s some excerpts from season three…..

Basics, Part II

And that’s as nothing compared to the bravura performance of Brad Dourif. There’s not a hell of a lot of characterization elsewhere in the episode, as most everyone is focused on the plot—staying alive on Hanon IV, taking the ship back in space—but in Suder we get a compelling character study. Suder has been trying so hard to move beyond his psychotic past, and the situation has been shoved into his face that forces him to backpedal. The sadness etched on Dourif’s face as he does what has to be done is heartbreaking, and adds tragedy to the events on the ship.

Flashback

George Takei has some good moments where he justifies his not following orders to Tuvok, though that too is a missed opportunity. There was a line in the script of Star Trek VI that was in both the novelization by J.M. Dillard and the comic book adaptation by Peter David that was one of the best lines in the script, and sadly got cut. Sulu says that he always hoped that if he was ever given the choice between betraying his friends and betraying his country that he’d have the guts to betray his country. I remember when I watched this episode in 1996, I was waiting for them to use the line, and was disappointed that Brannon Braga failed to do so. It would’ve been the perfect thing to say to Tuvok when he objected to Excelsior’s course of action.

The Chute

But what redeems this episode is the stuff back on Voyager, because I absolutely love the way Janeway handles the situation. She shows an impressive amount of restraint, a considerable amount of cleverness, and a superlative ability to adapt. I love that she doesn’t just try to blast her way into the situations, preferring to use diplomacy and science—and, in the end, trickery, making use of Neelix’s ship to sneak into Akritirian space.

The Swarm

Let’s start with the worst part of the plot, which is Voyager plowing through sovereign territory to save themselves fifteen months in a seventy-year journey. The same Kathryn Janeway who insists on following Starfleet principles, who makes the Maquis crew wear Starfleet uniforms and follow Starfleet regulations, who refused to steal the Sikarians’ technology, who refused to share any technology with the Kazon, who refused to get into it with the Sky Spirits over polyferranide, and so on, suddenly decides that it’s totally okay to invade a foreign power’s space in order to make the journey go 11% faster. Never mind that they’ve already made tons of extra stops to stare at nebulae or futz about with supply issues that should be irrelevant to a ship with replicators or divert for whatever crazy-ass reason, the cumulative effect of which is likely to have added at least fifteen months to the journey anyhow…

False Profits

Even if the rest of the episode was worthwhile (and it really isn’t, though Dan Shor deserves credit for doing the best he can with the material, plus Rob LaBelle is always good to play a schlub), the ending is some of the laziest writing in the history of television. Arridor and Kol steal their ship because Tuvok apparently sucks at security, and they do a technobabble thing to stop the other technobabble thing, which then causes a different technobabble thing that sucks Arridor and Kol into the wormhole, but also makes it disappear. And then the crew just gives up trying to get at the wormhole because reasons. Absolutely pathetic.

Remember

All right, for the first four acts, this is excellent. Roxann Dawson, scripter Lisa Klink, and director Winrich Kolbe deserve a great deal of credit here, as Dawson does a superlative job of playing Korenna. This isn’t Torres inserted into someone else’s life, this is very specifically her being Korenna and she is fantastic at it. On top of that, Kolbe does his usual brilliant job of creating the atmosphere of Enara Prime, with Klink’s script doing a fine job of economically introducing us to this culture. On top of that, you’ve got Bruce Davison, who is never not wonderful, perfectly embodying the tyrannical father.

But then Act 5 kinda ruins it. The entire scene where Torres bursts into the middle of a party and starts accusing the guests of honor of genocide just falls completely flat. Especially since the genocide itself doesn’t have the oomph that it should. We see the Enarans execute some agitators, including Dathan, and then later Torres-as-Korenna tells the kids that the Regressives killed themselves off, but it loses something in that particular telling, and Torres blurting it all out in the middle of a party just doesn’t work, and provides nothing like the kind of catharsis that the script wants it to. It’s just awkward.

Sacred Ground

Supposedly, this episode is about Janeway casting off her preconceived notions and embracing the unknown, but while the first part of that works—I love that she goes through all sorts of clichéd hardships because that’s what she expects from this sort of thing—the second part really doesn’t. Janeway embraces the unknown all the time, it’s the mission statement of the organization she’s dedicated her life to. And she’s also a scientist, someone who gains immense pleasure and satisfaction from learning how things work and how to fix problems and all that.

So to have her just throw that all away because three cranky old farts told her to makes no sense. What makes even less sense is that in the end, the EMH provides an actual scientific explanation for how Kes was cured—and Janeway dismisses it as if it’s unimportant and not sufficiently poetic, and I’m sorry, but no. For Janeway, that’s the cool part!

By providing that explanation, whatever message the episode is trying to haphazardly give is diluted and made, to use a word this script loves, meaningless.

Future’s End, Part I

Watching “Future’s End” now, I have to admit to getting a giddy sense of amusement at this look back at my twenties (I turned 27 in 1996), from the entertaining fashions to the primitive cell phones to Tuvok’s do-rag to computers with their big-ass monitors. But the best was Starling’s office, which brought me back to the glory days of the dot-com boom of the 1990s when corporate culture was taken over by people in their twenties and thirties who’d convinced investors that their web site would be the best thing ever: the pinball machine, the more relaxed decorations, and best of all, Starling’s outfit of a polo shirt and jeans with a suit jacket over it, the epitome of 1990s casual formalwear.

Future’s End, Part II

On top of that, Starling’s a completely nonsensical villain. Not enough that he sends someone to kill Robinson in Part 1, now he kidnaps Robinson and later flies the stolen timeship through a big window, all in public in broad daylight. Does he think no one will notice this? He’s supposedly doing it to get more tech to make money off of in the waning days of the 20th century, but he’s doing it in a way that will just draw the wrong kind of attention to himself. It also oversimplifies the story, making him so unredeemable that it makes it easy for our heroes to go after him. But what if he’d been a genuine philanthropist who really was in it to improve humanity’s lot in life with technology? That would’ve made for a much more interesting story.

Warlord

Jennifer Lien certainly makes the most of it, as the embittered ex-tyrant is a far cry from the serene Ocampa. At first, she seems very much like the Kes we know. Her interaction with Neelix on the holodeck is the first sign that something’s wrong, as her breakup with Neelix is very out of character—not the breakup itself, but the meanness of it, which is very much not Kes.

And then once the Autarch’s representative beams on board, Lien’s entire face changes. There’s no question that this isn’t Kes, and she plays it beautifully.

Hilariously, she’s more effective than Leigh J. McCloskey, who’s terribly wooden in his one and only scene confronting Kes in her mindscape. It’s kind of amusing that Lien—who is pretty much impersonating McCloskey when she’s being Tieran—is better at it than he is. She brings passion to the role that McCloskey can’t manage.

When Tuvok does the mind-meld, her face changes again, and you instantly see that it’s Kes and not Tieran. Just some superb work from Lien here.

The Q and the Grey

But before we get there, we have to suffer through the inane, idiotic, imbecilic pursuit of Janeway by Q that was written like a bad 1960s sitcom but without the gravitas. The lack of imagination continues to frustrate. When Q is paired with Picard, it’s a battle of wits, with superlative banter. But when they bring Q to the spinoffs, it’s got nothing to do with the personalities of the leads in question. “We’re pairing Q with the black guy, so he’ll deck him!” “We’re pairing Q with the female captain, so he’ll hit on her!” It’s reductive, it’s stupid, and it’s uninteresting. What might ameliorate it is if it was funny—that’s why Sisko decking Q is great, because it’s hilarious—but most of the humor here falls completely flat, mostly because the jokes are all so tired. When Q tries to show off by giving himself a more complex facial tattoo than Chakotay’s and declares, “Mine’s bigger!” it’s embarrassing rather than funny. We won’t even talk about that idiotic double take when Lady Q shows up, which makes for a dandy GIF, but as a moment of comic shock fails utterly.

Macrocosm

But then we do find out what happened, and it all becomes significantly less interesting—and, more to the point, less sensible.

Okay, when Janeway and Neelix arrive, the computer’s down, environmental control is shot, internal sensors are out, communications are down—all this points to some very sophisticated sabotage.

Except then we find out that it’s just a very very big virus. One that is obviously not sentient, but acts only on instinct to propagate. That part explains why the crew is all gathered in the mess hall or the cargo bays, since new spores of the virus are created in infected people, and it makes sense to gather them all in groups to make things easier.

But how the hell did the macroviruses trash the computer? Or the sensors? Or environmental control? Or communications? It makes no sense that they would trash just those systems that would keep Janeway and Neelix from finding out what’s happening. Plus the virus isn’t instantaneous, so why was Wildman’s com terminal and the work in the corridor abandoned midstream like that? It’s a cheap, stupid way to create artificial suspense.

Fair Trade

Episodes like this are so frustrating, because it shows that Neelix could have been a good character if they didn’t insist on making him into the class clown. On those vanishingly rare occasions when the writers take him seriously as a character, it’s so much better than when he’s a doofus. “Jetrel” is the gold standard, but even when he has a supporting role like he does in “Resistance” and “The Chute,” it’s significantly more interesting. And we get that again here, as Neelix’s journey in this episode is a very compelling one, something I haven’t been able to say since “Jetrel.”

Best of all, Ethan Phillips is more than up to the task. It would’ve been nice if the writers went with this interpretation of Neelix, as someone incredibly insecure, more often because it puts his grating personality into focus. He’s always trying too hard because, even after two-and-a-half years, he’s convinced that Janeway will toss him out an airlock the moment he’s no longer useful. It explains why he’s constantly looking for more jobs to do on the ship, when any one of them—cook, morale officer, TV talk show host, native guide, engineer, security guard—could easily take up all his time, and he wants to do all of them. This episode shows that to be driven by fear, which makes for a much more compelling character study.

Alter Ego

And Tuvok finds an unexpected kindred spirit. By serving on a ship full of emotional beings, Tuvok has placed himself in the position of outsider. He is able to function alongside them fairly easily—recall how well he took to command in “Resolutions,” not to mention how readily he deals with Kim’s emotional crisis in this episode—but he’s not one of them. There are other Vulcans on board—we see one of them in Vorik—but he doesn’t seem to socialize with any of them, either, probably due to his position as third-in-command and chief of security. It would only be appropriate for him to socialize with people at his own level on the chain of command, but they’re all humans and half-Klingons. It’s telling that when Marayna asks if Kim and Tuvok are friends, Tuvok answers in the negative. He considers Kim a trusted and respected colleague, but that’s as far as it goes.

The weak link of the episode is Sandra Nelson. She was wonderful as Tavana in DS9’s “Soldiers of the Empire,” which prepared me for a much better performance that we actually got. Marayna is perfectly okay, but you don’t see the same spark that made, for example, Minuet so compelling in TNG’s “11001001,” or, since Marayna isn’t really a holographic character, Denara Pel in “Lifesigns.” I also must confess to being totally unimpressed that the avatar created in a holodeck program that’s otherwise full of Pacific Island folks, is a blond-haired blue-eyed white woman.

Coda

This episode is a massive stew made up of several other Trek episodes. We’ve got a time loop (“Cause and Effect“), we’ve got the crew thinking the captain is dead or lost and is mourning (“The Tholian Web,” “The Visitor“), we’ve got a main character believing she might be a ghost (“The Next Phase“), we’ve got events that only happen in one character’s head (“Frame of Mind,” “Projections“), and we’ve got an alien communicating to a member of the crew by pretending to be their parent (“Interface“).

The problem is that the episode can’t make up its mind which it’s going to be. The time-loop notion of the first couple of acts is abandoned when Janeway suddenly becomes a ghost, and it’s not clear what, exactly, the point of the time loop bits were, except to fool us into thinking we were doing “Cause and Effect” again. (Or Groundhog Day, or “Window of Opportunity,” or Palm Springs…)

But no, it’s another alien doing technobabble, plus it’s all a hallucination. It’s nice to see Janeway the rationalist is back, and that the idiotic just-shut-up-and-go-with-it-and-don’t-ask-questions lessons of “Sacred Ground” haven’t carried forth. Indeed, it was her father who instilled that scientist brain in her, so it makes the image of Admiral Janeway being the one to tell her to just accept her fate a particularly fatal (ahem) flaw.

Blood Fever

One of the things that made me absolutely crazy about a lot of Star Trek tie-in fiction that I read over the decades, starting in the 1980s when I devoured the early Pocket Books novels and tracked down the older Bantam ones, was that so often the stories were written in such a way that pon farr was public knowledge. Not just Kirk, McCoy, and Chapel knowing about it thanks to the events of “Amok Time,” but people all over the Trek universe knowing all about the fact that Vulcans swim home to spawn every seven years.

Now to be fair, this was a time before things like home video and wikipedias and such, but still, the fact that Vulcans keep the pon farr extremely secret was a major plot point of the episode, so to see it suddenly be treated as common knowledge was maddening. (Of course, it didn’t help that Spock blabbed all about it to Droxine in “The Cloud Minders,” but still…)

So it was a huge relief to watch this episode and see that Lisa Klink actually watched “Amok Time” and paid attention to everything that happened in it, including the fact that Spock practically had to be put into a headlock before he would admit to his best friends what he was going through.

Unity

It’s fascinating to watch this episode after seeing the first season of Picard, because in many ways Frazier’s cooperative of ex-Borg is the first draft of Hugh’s gaggle of xB’s in the current show. But this is the first look at an entire community of Borg who have broken off from the Collective, not just a couple of isolated cases (HughPicard).

Darkling

It also started with a very interesting examination of Kes. She’s blossomed on Voyager, and she’s no longer tethered directly to Neelix. Under the tutelage of the EMH, Tuvok, and Janeway, she’s developed tremendously, and the urge for her to move beyond the ship is understandable, and was worth dedicating more than one or two conversations to. It’s then forgotten and ignored for the back half of the episode so we can do Evil EMH, and then it’s fobbed off in an offhand remark by Kes at the very end. At no point do we learn how Zahir feels about Kes refusing his offer, nor do the two of them get any kind of goodbye.

This episode leads with a very promising story that it then abandons and ruins it in order to do a hoary Jekyll-and-Hyde pastiche that serves only to put a rare blemish on a great actor’s resumé.

Rise

The Tuvok-Neelix interactions here make sense if they come during the first or second seasons, but coming after “Tuvix,” it’s nonsensical. The two of them shared a body and mind for two weeks. They should each have a much better understanding of each other at this point, and to have them back to the same rational vs. emotional dynamic they had starting in “Caretaker” is mind-numbingly idiotic. This was a grand opportunity to explore the aftermath of the merging of the two of them in that second-season episode, and instead, they act as if they don’t remotely understand each other, which makes no sense, none, after what they went through.

Favorite Son

And the Taresians were so—I dunno, bland? They’re superficial arm candy and not much beyond that. I found myself actually longing for the more overt sexuality of the scantily clad Aryans in TNG’s “Justice,” and when you can’t even live up to the bottom-of-the-barrel standards of one of TNG’s lowest points, it’s not good.

Before and After

Jennifer Lien does superlative work here. She modulates seamlessly from an amnesiac elderly woman to someone who becomes more lucid as she figures out what’s going on—and grows younger. The book on Kes has always been her curiosity and eagerness to learn, and that serves her well even if she doesn’t entirely remember who she is. This is a very nifty little science fictional mystery, and it’s to Biller’s credit that it doesn’t bog down in repeated exposition each time Kes jumps to a new time where she has to explain stuff all over again. Credit also to Janna Michaels, who looks and sounds very much like someone who will grow up to become Lien.

Real Life

The EMH is programmed with the full medical knowledge of the entire Federation of the 24th century, including the knowledge of hundreds of worlds. Yet somehow, the only family unit he can manage to concoct on his first try is the insipid, patriarchal garbage that we get in the teaser and Act 1? And honestly, it’s not much better once Torres “fixes” it, as we go from Leave it to Beaver to Married…with Children, and it’s just awful.

The entire setup is just a colossal, pathetic failure of imagination. There’s no exploration of anything here, just inserting Robert Picardo into a 1950s sitcom setting that is then modulated into a 1990s sitcom setting that’s no less insipid. What is he supposed to gain from this experience, exactly?

Distant Origin

What I particularly like is that Gegen is our POV character. This episode is about him, and his quest to learn the truth about his people—and his conflict with the hidebound government of his people. In a year in which the disconnect between politics and science is particularly brutally sharp, this episode resonates. Odala isn’t interested in evidence, she’s only interested in maintaining the status quo, and she does so by dismissing the evidence as “just one person’s theory,” as if a theory wasn’t something heavily backed up by evidence. (If it’s not, it’s a hypothesis. Theories have the weight of research behind them.)

This episode also gives Robert Beltran a chance to shine, and he nails it. His quiet plea to Odala, his heartfelt explanation of how awesome the ancestral Voth had to have been, and how proud they all should be of them, is magnificently delivered. Concetta Tomei’s bland refutation of everything Gegen and Chakotay say is equally magnificent, perfectly embodying the hidebound politician who sounds so reasonable when she ignores reality.

Displaced

In addition, the Nyrians’ method of, basically, stealing ships is pretty clever—and compassionate, in a twisted way. It enables them to play on the good-heartedness of the people in question, and by the time they realize what’s wrong, they’re outnumbered. Aside from Rislan clubbing a security guard on the head, no one was actually hurt in the Nyrians’ takeover. And while it is a prison, at least it’s a nice prison.

It’s to Janeway and the gang’s credit that they don’t accept the gilded nature of the cage for a nanosecond, and work from jump to get out, taking advantage of the unique nature of the EMH to find their way into the heart of the prison.

Worst Case Scenario

The result is a very entertaining romp. It’s fun seeing Tuvok’s interpretation of how a Maquis insurrection would go, Robert Beltran is obviously having great fun as a much grouchier Chakotay than the real one, Robert Duncan McNeill and Tim Russ do their entertaining double act that they showed off in “Future’s End,” Robert Picardo kills it as the Seska-altered version of the EMH who still talks like himself while he’s beating the crap out of people and injecting them with acid, and Martha Hackett makes a most triumphant return.

Scorpion

The best part of the episode, though, is one of those talking scenes, because it’s one of the better arguments made on a Star Trek series, as Chakotay argues against making the deal with the Borg. Robert Beltran again delivers when given good material, and his argument is extremely compelling.

And that’s the real problem. I’m watching this scene, and I’m on Chakotay’s side, not Janeway’s. Making a deal with the devil is never a good idea, you always pay a high price for it.

Third Season Overview

Part of the problem is the lack of consistency. The EMH loses all his memory in “The Swarm,” but then he’s back to normal thenceforth with only one throwaway reference to his having lost his memory. Tuvok and Neelix remain at loggerheads in “Rise” (and elsewhere) despite having shared a mind and body for two weeks last season in “Tuvix.” Janeway is interested in also exploring the Delta Quadrant in addition to getting home and in maintaining her Starfleet principles—except in “The Swarm” and “Scorpion,” when suddenly it’s get home at all costs! “False Profits” is a sequel to “The Price” that gets half the details of the latter TNG episode wrong. “Flashback” doesn’t quite track with the events of The Undiscovered Country (though that can be chalked up to faulty memory on Tuvok’s part). Plus we see the crew making new allies in one episode only to have the people never mentioned again (the Mikhal Travelersthe Vostigye).

KRAD COVID reading #90: “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas

A special holiday edition of KRAD COVID readings has me performing one of my favorite pieces of the season: Dylan Thomas’s childhood reminisce, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” When I was a kid, we would often listen to a recording of Thomas’s recitation of this after we put the tree up. And now I perform it all for you.

A joyous holiday to you all, whatever you might celebrate, and we’ll see you in 2021.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Su’Kal”

Discovery finally heads to the Verubin Nebula to investigate the origin of the Burn — and, as an added bonus, rescue the lone survivor of it! But things get way more complicated, both on the away mission with Saru, Burnham, and Culber, and back on the ship with Tilly in charge and having a rough time of it. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Su’Kal.”

An excerpt:

Su’Kal himself is a frighteningly effective character, magnificently played by Bill Irwin. One of the prototypical “oh, that guy” character actors who’s been in everything at some point or other (much like [Doug] Jones, in fact), Irwin beautifully portrays someone who has been alone with only holograms for company for far too long. His sanity is questionable, his development hasn’t really gotten beyond the pre-teen level despite his years, and he also does not face his fear, which is manifested as a sea monster out of Kelipien mythology. The monster itself is a nice scary bit of CGI, a clever combination of the Kelpiens mixed with the tattered drippiness of their enemies, the Ba’ul.

highlights from the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch’s first year, part 2: season two

I started 2020 with an announcement of the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch, following up on my rewatches of the prior three Star Trek series. Yesterday, I posted the final one for 2020, as Tor.com is taking it easy for the final two weeks of the year. So I thought I’d post some highlights from each episode’s rewatch. I did season one yesterday, and here’s some excerpts from season two…..

The 37’s

Having all the 37’s remain makes even less sense. Keeping in mind that this is an Amelia Earhart whose transatlantic flight was only five minutes ago subjectively speaking, there is absolutely no way, none, that she would stay on the planet when the alternative is to get to fly through space in a spaceship. This is one of the pioneers of air travel at the height of her career as an aviator and there is no way, none, that she would make any other decision than to join Voyager.

But she couldn’t because the actor playing her had another gig. Sigh.

While the script was done in by production decisions, it wasn’t all that to begin with. Why were those last few 37’s never taken out of stasis? How did the truck wind up in space? Why did the truck still function? How did 300 people from 1937 manage to dope out advanced technology enough to evolve to a community of 100,000, especially since 300 isn’t enough of a diverse gene pool to avoid genetic stochastic drift? This was a point that was understood by a truly terrible TNG episode, “Up the Long Ladder,” so it’s even more embarrassing that “The 37’s” doesn’t get that right. (Then again, in “Up the Long Ladder,” Picard and Riker knew what an SOS was, too…)

Initiations

We get a bit of Kazon history here to go with the cultural mores—which really are akin to that of street gangs, with initiation rituals and early indoctrination of youth—and their past enslavement by the Trabe has left them with a cultural distrust of uniforms and military order and such. So the option of coming on board Voyager is also rejected by Kar, because he finds the very idea of being on a Starfleet vessel repugnant.

Projections

I realized watching this that one of the things I like about the EMH is also one of the things I like about the characters of Jonathan Banks’s Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House on House: characters who are smarter than everyone around them and who have absolutely no patience with people dumber than them, which is pretty much everyone, and they’re just disgusted and fed up with all of it.

But Picardo adds another dimension to the EMH because, while he starts out that way—mainly because that’s also Lewis Zimmerman’s personality, as we later see in DS9’s “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” and the character’s two subsequent Voyager appearances—it’s leavened with the desire to expand his experiences, to learn more, to become less a program and more a person. It’s similar to the journey Data went on, only with a thousand percent more sarcasm.

Elogium

“Elogium” fails in two different directions here. With Kes, it’s the one and only thing I remembered about the episode twenty-five years later: The elogium makes absolutely no sense. The Ocampa are short-lived beings (average age is nine), which means they would need to procreate at a bunny-like, if not tribblelike, rate in order to keep the population numbers viable. If Ocampan females can only have babies once in their lifetime, there’s no way they could possibly replenish the populace enough. It’s a case of “hey, let’s do a cool alien thing with their pregnancy” without actually thinking through what it means. In this case, it means the Ocampa should’ve gone extinct long before the Caretaker showed up.

Non Sequitur

Seriously, Kim is (a) not trapped on a ship 70,000 light-years from home, (b) now engaged to the love of his life, and (c) working for the S.C.E. on the verge of a promotion (that he will never actually get in the main timeline). What possible reason does he have to fix things? What possible reason does he have to go back to that other life? Supposedly, there’s the fact that Paris is so miserable on Earth, but I’m sorry, being stuck in another quadrant is not, by any stretch of the imagination, better than being home.

Twisted

The whole notion of turning Voyager into an Escher drawing is such a great opportunity for surreal craziness, but everything looks the same. There are no seams, no changes in orientation, no damage to the hull, no nothing. Just doors opening to odd places, sometimes, and people bumping into each other.

It would’ve been so much more fun to have people walking on the ceiling or have there be obvious breaks in the walls or something to ameliorate the sheer lethargy of people walking through familiar corridors that look exactly the same as they always do, except for the labels on the door, which we can’t read anyhow. All it does is shine a light on how generic the ship sets are.

Parturition

On the other hand, in order to get there, we have to suffer through an hour of my two least favorite characters on the show. It boggled my mind to read that the episode was prompted by a belief that Paris was underused in season one, as it flies in the face of the season one that I just watched. (Hell, he was pretty much the POV character and lead protagonist of “Caretaker” and “Heroes and Demons” portrayed him as if he were in charge of the damn ship.)

I appreciate that Paris is trying to improve himself, and he will over the course of the series, but the show is way more invested in it than I am, and I mostly find the character unpleasant. Neelix can be a strong, complex character—”Jetrel” proved that—but the writers have proven to be less interested in showing that than in having him be a tired caricature, a mix of Scrappy Doo and a 1950s male sitcom protagonist.

Persistence of Vision

It’s amusing to see the progression of starship captains who need R&R but won’t take it. In “Shore Leave,” Spock had to engage in rhetorical trickery to get Kirk to take leave on the pleasure planet they found. In “Captain’s Holiday” that same rhetorical trickery by Crusher didn’t actually work on Picard, but eventually the sheer weight of various crewmembers importuning him to take a vacation already got him to go.

And in “Persistence of Vision,” all it takes is the chief medical officer telling Janeway she needs a break, with all the authority he can muster while being six inches tall and a hologram.

It’s actually rather refreshing that Janeway doesn’t need to be tricked or bullied into taking a vacation, that she’s actually mature enough and self-aware enough to realize that she’s pushing herself to the point of exhaustion and needs a little Gothic romance/horror to reset her brain. It’s a welcome change from the tired machismo of Jim Kirk and the stoic idiocy of Jean-Luc Picard.

Tattoo

In the three decades since “The Paradise Syndrome,” we’ve gone from portraying Indigenous people as ignorant savages who talk like children and who need a white dude to come and show them how to do cool things like irrigation and gourds, to here portraying Indigenous people as noble “primitives” who are at one with nature and are a pure form of humanity. Or, uh, something.

Voyager is hardly the only piece of popular culture that was guilty of this overcorrection in the 1990s. In order to apologize for centuries of oppression and war and genocide, and for many decades of portrayal in popular culture as inferior, we instead get New Age environmentalism. As a result, we get shiny happy Indigenous people who commune with nature and are pure and wonderful, which is just as patronizing an attitude as viewing them as technologically inferior savages was, albeit one that’s at least, y’know, nicer. It comes from a better place, but it’s still self-righteous, prejudicial nonsense.

Cold Fire

Tuvok is supposed to have a long history as a teacher, but the only previous example we’d seen was in “Learning Curve,” about which the less said the better. But here, his advice to Kes is good and strong and useful. I particularly love his response to her never wanting to feel the joy she took from destruction: “Without the darkness, how would we recognize the light? Do not fear your negative thoughts, they are part of you. They are a part of every living being—even Vulcans. … The Vulcan heart was forged out of barbarism and violence. We learned to control it, but it is still part of us. To pretend it does not exist is to create an opportunity for it to escape.”

Way back on the original series, “The Naked Time” established that Vulcans aren’t emotionless but that they in fact tightly control their emotions, and “Balance of Terror” and “All Our Yesterdays” made it clear that Vulcans have a violent past. Too often, Vulcans are mistaken for emotionless rather than controlled, and Tim Russ’s performance in general and that speech in particular beautifully encapsulate that important truth.

Maneuvers

Kenneth Biller reportedly wanted to have Chakotay suffer real consequences, but that’s not a thing Star Trek does, really. Spock kidnapped a captain, forged orders, stole a ship, and assaulted several people in service of violating a general order that came with the death penaltythe Defiant went to the Gamma Quadrant to rescue Odo against ordersAgnes Jurati murdered her lover in cold bloodWorf abandoned his post to kill someone, and Tuvok did a back-room deal with the Sikarians against orders, and none of them suffered any real consequences, so it’s probably disingenuous to ding this episode in particular. But the scene where it happens is so weak, with Janeway coming out and copping to the fact that the consequences are meaningless when she says, “I’m putting you on report, in case that means anything anymore,” and Chakotay’s assurance that it does rings completely hollow.

There are also far too many storytelling shortcuts here that undermine the episode, starting with the magical transporter module that somehow bestows full transporter technology to its user, yet can sit out in the open and get shot at. Then there’s Torres beaming people onto the ship while shields are raised, which has never been possible on Star Trek since the beginning. Plus, somehow Culluh and Seska are able to gather all the sects in this region of space which is ten months’ travel away from the Ocampa homeworld, all in the time it takes Voyager to repair a hull breach. Speaking of that hull breach, man, does the Voyager crew look like idiots in the opening. The nanosecond that the Kazon showed up after luring them with information that only could have come from Voyager‘s computer (the security code was one that was on file but not yet implemented), everyone’s first thought should have been of Seska, yet they’re all surprised to see her with Culluh, even though she was last seen buggering off to a Kazon ship after sabotaging Voyager.

Resistance

Then there’s the solid script by Lisa Klink. It would have been very easy to play Caylem’s delusions for cruel laughs, with Janeway growing angry and frustrated by his delusions, but Klink’s script keeps Janeway’s reactions reasonable and understandable and kind, without her ever losing track of her most important mission, to wit, finding and rescuing the rest of her team. I also like the way Klink handles the Tuvok-Torres scenes, as Torres makes the oh-so-common mistake that Vulcans are emotionless, when in fact they have very turbulent emotions that they suppress through logic and discipline—which are hard to maintain when someone’s torturing you.

Prototype

It’s funny, because instinctively you want to side with Torres when she and Janeway have the discussion about whether or not they should help 3947 build a power module. For all the hand-wringing about the Prime Directive, one of the most important aspects of it that this episode shines a light on is that it keeps the Federation from jumping in to interfere before they have all the facts. 3947 withholds important information from Torres throughout, including the rather critical fact that the AUs wiped out the Builders because they had the temerity to try to make peace.

Alliances

There are very good reasons for not dealing with the Kazon as anything but antagonists, starting with the fact that they were introduced to Voyager’s crew as the people who kidnapped and tortured one of their own (Kes), and who since then have twice held their first officer prisoner. On top of that, there’s their cultural bias against women, which Seska has been forced to work around, and which undermines Janeway’s negotiating position from jump. It’s maddening that neither Neelix (the one with the most experience with the Kazon) nor Kes (who spent quite a long time as their prisoner) nor Chakotay (who observed this both times he was their prisoner) ever mentioned this issue to Janeway at any point.

But just jumping into bed with the Trabe is also ridiculous, partly for reasons outlined by Tuvok. The Kazon hate the Trabe even more than they hate Voyager, and seeing their two most hated enemies together is just going to piss the Kazon off more, and that’s before Mabus’s incredibly predictable treachery on Sobras.

Threshold

First there’s the flight itself, where Paris is somehow everywhere at once, yet just the act of shutting the warp drive down puts him right back where he started. But where is that, exactly? Voyager was following along the shuttle at warp nine-point-nine or whatever, which is roughly nine thousand times the speed of light. When you’re going that fast, where, exactly, is “back where you started”? For that matter, after a deluded, mutated Paris buggered off (pun intended) with Janeway at infinite speed, hitting every point in the universe, how is it even remotely plausible that they wound up on a planet that’s only three days away? (Also, given how much time they spend at warp nine and higher in this episode, they should be nowhere near any Kazon or Vidiians anymore. And yet, there’s Jonas, calling the Nistrim…)

Also, Paris’s mutations took a couple days. Yet somehow, Janeway mutated completely into this new form, mated with Paris, gestated their kids, and gave birth all in three days.

Meld

The episode is made by three grand performances. Tim Russ beautifully plays the collapse of Tuvok’s control. The scene in sickbay when his emotional control is completely removed is a bit too over-the-top—and I’m sorry they couldn’t contrive to get Neelix there to get a lesson in being careful what you wish for, as that’s when Tuvok smiles the way Neelix wanted him to, and it’s when he’s discussing homicide—but the scene in his darkened, destroyed quarters is devastatingly effective. Director Cliff Bole—one of the most prolific and talented of the stable of directors used by the first wave of Trek spinoffs going back to TNG’s first season—films the scene magnificently, with Tuvok staying shadowed for most of it.

Robert Picardo is his usual great self, also, adding his acid commentary to the proceedings, from his analysis proving that it was a homicide all the way to his bitching about how mind-melds never seem to work right. (Not the last time the EMH will provide meta commentary on the various Trek tropes.)

And then there’s Brad Dourif, who excels as the sociopathic Suder. The role could have been played as a dead-eyed automaton, but Dourif manages to give Suder depth and complexity and even a slight tinge of tragedy.

Dreadnought

The heart of the episode, though, belongs jointly to Roxann Dawson and Kate Mulgrew. Janeway’s conversations with Kellan are excellent, putting a human face (well, sentient face, anyhow) on the threat to Rakosa. A bond quickly develops between the two, and we once again see that Janeway’s superpower is to develop a rapport with someone she’s just met in about half a second—we’ve seen it before with Telek R’Mor, with Labin, with Jetrel, with Amelia Earhart, with Caylem, and with Mabus. Throughout, Janeway makes sure that she’s dedicated to saving the lives of the Rakosans no matter what, which is what heroes are supposed to do. Credit to Dan Kern for making Kellan a real person whose fate the viewer becomes invested in.

And Dawson’s dual performance as Torres and the Dreadnought computer is simply amazing. What I particularly like is that the computer talks like a computer, repeating certain key phrases, and engaging in the circular logic of a machine. The exchanges between Torres and the computer are a much more clever version of all those original series episodes where Kirk managed to somehow talk a computer into putting up its little feet and go “urk!” The scenes in “Dreadnought” are written by people with a much better understanding of the binary nature of computers, and it’s fun to watch. I especially loved when both computers were competing with each other for dominance, both using the same key phrases to try to assert that dominance.

Death Wish

What makes all of this even more frustrating is that, independent of Voyager and its setup, this is actually a really good Q episode. It’s a strong, powerful, thoughtful look at the Continuum, and about the downside of immortality and omnipotence. It plays along nicely with the general Trek theme of finite life forms who seek out new experiences and try to improve themselves precisely because their lives are short and precious and how immortality can rob you of that.

It even has character growth for Q himself, which goes back to TNG. After he was let back into the Continuum following his selfless act in “Déjà Q,” he was a good little Q, doing things that the Continuum wanted him to do like go after Amanda Rogers and follow up on Picard’s trial and find out how Quinn got out of his prison. In interviews, deLancie himself described Q as being similar to how Lord Byron was famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb: “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” and Quinn’s pleas during his hearing bring him back to that mode.

Lifesigns

It’s a tribute to how well Picardo has inhabited the holographic doctor that this romance is completely believable. His romance with Freya was, to some extent, dictated by the circumstances of the Beowulf program that she was a part of, and he was throwing himself into the part—though he also did seem to have a genuine attraction for her. (That “Heroes and Demons” was never referenced once is maddening.) In this case, though, he finds himself with someone who speaks his language as a fellow physician, someone who is genuinely compassionate and kind, and someone who enjoys his company. As a Phage sufferer, who also spends her life treating other Phage victims, she’s had little joy in her life, and the EMH has given her that. The EMH has also found himself drawn somewhat to intelligent women, mostly seen in his relationship with Kes, and Pel is cut from the same cloth as the Ocampan.

And Susan Diol is superb. I was worried about this bit of casting, after the cringe-worthy performance she gave in “Silicon Avatar,” but I needn’t have been concerned. Given a good script, Diol shines, subtly playing the character’s neuroses, exhaustion, and slowly burgeoning happiness.

Investigations

Chakotay’s authority as first officer is completely undermined, as two of his subordinates are engaged in a covert mission behind his back, with the full support of his captain. And it makes no sense for it to be Paris who does this anyhow. Think about this for a second. One the one hand, you’ve got a Starfleet commander who left Starfleet of his own accord and became a talented enough Maquis cell leader that an entire ship was sent just after him. On the other hand, you’ve got a Starfleet washout whose history involves getting people killed and getting his sorry ass caught and imprisoned.

Which of those two do you think would make a better stalking horse for the spy on board? I’ll give you a hint: he has a tattoo on his face. But, once again, the show is far too invested in making sure that the white guy gets to do all the cool stuff.

Deadlock

The tension in the first few acts is powerful, as Voyager is falling apart around everyone, and nobody has any idea why. We even get tragedy, and for all that we know that neither Kim nor the Wildman baby are going to stay dead, because it’s television, the stakes are still upped by those two characters dying.

And then there’s the brilliant transition as Janeway abandons the bridge, and we cut to another, intact Voyager. The sudden jump to another Voyager that’s in the middle of its own story is beautifully realized, as effective as similar transitions in one of Brannon Braga’s best scripts, “Parallels” on TNG.

Innocence

Tim Russ proves himself once again to be one of the best parts of Voyager, as he imbues Tuvok with a strong sense of compassion, of efficiency, and of logic. Best of all, though, is that he shows that he’s an excellent parent. Yes, he is a bit blunt with the kids, but he’s also honest and straightforward with them—and never condescending. Speaking as someone who works with kids a lot (teaching them karate), I’ve found that talking to children like they’re people (rather than talking down to them like you’re a grownup and they’re dumb kids) is much more effective, and that’s how Tuvok talks to Tressa, Elani, and Corin.

The Thaw

The episode also has one of the most devastatingly effective endings in Trek history, as the simulation slowly fades to gray and then black as the clown and the fake Janeway exchange final words and the world vanishes before we see the executive producer credit over a black background. (I’d put this on the same level as “Necessary Evil,” “Blood Oath,” and Part 1 of “The Best of Both Worlds” for gut-punch endings in Trek.)

Tuvix

What’s infinitely, horribly worse is that we don’t see how Tuvok and Neelix react to it! Do the two of them feel the same way Tuvix did? Are they upset that he’s dead? Are they grateful? Do they have mixed feelings? This is extremely important information to have. I mean, my guess would be that Tuvok the rationalist is more okay with it than Neelix the emotionalist, but we don’t know.

And it absolutely ruins the episode, because the moral dilemma here is a terrible one, one that results in the captain of a Starfleet vessel—an organization that is supposed to be upholding the Federation’s firm belief in the rights of the individual regardless of what species that individual is from—forcing a sentient being to undergo a medical procedure against his will. On the face of it, it’s a hugely despicable act—it’s so far beyond the pale that the EMH out-and-out refuses to do it. On the other hand, Starfleet is a military organization, and Tuvok, Neelix, and Tuvix are all serving under Janeway’s command, and ordering subordinates to their death is something that every ship captain is likely to have to do at some point.

Resolutions

I haven’t even gotten to my personal favorite part of the episode, which is Tuvok being incredibly brilliant as captain. True, it takes him a bit of time to come around to the notion of approaching the Vidiians, but he does come around. He remains true to his Vulcan heritage, and unlike a previous case of a person of Vulcan heritage sticking to his logic guns while surrounded by emotional assholes, Tuvok does see both sides of the equation.

And his response to the Vidiian ambush is perfect. He’d been doing battle drills because the Vidiians betraying them was eminently predictable, and he adjusts his plan on the fly when the EMH informs him that Pel still is trying to help them. Throughout, he keeps his cool, implements his battle plan meticulously (“Here is the sequence of events”), and wins the day, getting the antidote in the bargain.

Basics

And then there’s the matter of how the Kazon can even operate Voyager, much less take it over. This would’ve been a much much much much better endgame for Jonas’ ongoing sabotage than the limp “Investigations,” having him work to transfer command codes for the ship to Culluh to lock the Starfleet and Maquis crew out of ship’s functions. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that any idiot can just walk on and control a starship that is loaded with weapons and defenses that can lay waste to a planet. (Yes, we’ve seen it before, from “Space Seed” to “By Any Other Name” to “Rascals.” It’s still frustratingly idiotic.) Plus, it’s, y’know, the Kazon. Sure, they’ve got Seska to feed them intel, but she’s been away from the ship for a long time, they should be able to defend against her knowledge, and, again, it’s the friggin Kazon. This is not a worthy foe who can match our Starfleet heroes wit for wit like, say, the Romulan Commander who looks like Sarek or Kor or Kang or Tomalak or Dukat. This is just a bunch of aliens with bad hairdos who were introduced to us as being too stupid to figure out how to get water.

Second season overview

On the one hand, you had several episodes that were brilliant, mainly because they colored within the lines, as it were. UPN and Rick Berman were determined to keep the show standalone and to avoid long-term consequences, and keep the recurring elements to a minimum, so the episodes that worked best were the ones that worked within those boundaries. All of the ones I rated a 7 or higher were stories that were complete within the hour, with everything back to normal at the end, the story completed. Yes, some of them could have had more long-term consequences, but still, in those cases, there is a satisfying resolution. The strong character study of the Kazon in “Initiations” (which sadly was not properly followed up on—those Kazon would’ve made for interesting antagonists, but they proceeded to make them less interesting after that), the EMH’s mindfuck in “Projections,” the heartbreaking images of home in “Persistence of Vision,” the absolute brilliance of all aspects of “Resistance,” the strong science-fictional adventures of “Prototype” and “Dreadnought,” the beautifully played telepathic insanity of “Meld,” the magnificent love story of “Lifesigns,” the wacky sci-fi goofiness of “Deadlock,” the excellent-despite-the-surprise-reveal-which-was-dumb Tuvok spotlight of “Innocence,” the horror-movie insanity and brilliant guest performance by Michael McKean of “The Thaw,” and the eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too Janeway/Chakotay romance in “Resolutions” (that one a particularly clever way to indulge a particular desire without spoiling the standalone nature of the show).