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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Minuet, Professor Moriarty, Vic 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.
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
zombificationdeath cure until now makes absolutely no sense.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.