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…..
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (Hugh, Picard).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Travelers, the Vostigye).