This post from earlier today looking back at 2021 and ahead to 2022 has been amended to include a paragraph that I can’t believe I didn’t include in the original. So if you’ve read it before seeing this, please go look for the “edited to add” paragraph. You’ll be glad you did……
2021 was a helluva lot better than 2020, but that is a very low bar to clear.
Still, there was a lot of good this year. Also a lot of bad, as the words “delta” and “omicron” and “unvaccinated” did a lot to fuck this year up. Going into 2022, I will just say this: get your COVID vaccination already, and if you can’t or won’t, stay home, and if you must go outside your home wear a fucking mask. 42,000 nerds kept their masks on for five days at Dragon Con, you can keep yours on while you go to the store.
Anyhow, there was a lot of good this year, starting with vaccines becoming available. Wrenn and I got appointments to join Team Pfizer the nanosecond we were eligible in February, and we got our shots at Yankee Stadium, which was a vaccination site specifically for Bronx residents. (They didn’t care much if we were actually qualified, but they checked three times to verify that we really lived in the Boogie-Down.)
We actually got to go places this year, and between us, Wrenn and I got to take trips to Manassas, Maine, Cooperstown, New Hampshire, Maple Shade, and Raleigh, as well as lots of in-person conventions, which finally became a thing again, from Pensacon in May to DisCon III in December. It was a joy and a pleasure to do panels and participate in Bard’s Tower and sign autographs and do readings and all that good stuff. And it was especially fun to do road trips with Wrenn, as we love taking long car rides together, because we’re dorks.
Plus we got to attend actual parties, including tonight’s upcoming festivities at our friend Peter’s house with many of our dearest friends. And holidays and birthdays were celebrated in person, too, starting with Easter at my parents, continuing with my birthday (our first restaurant trip since the apocalypse started, at Keens Steakhouse), and also including things like the annual 4th of July party and the milestone birthdays of my father’s 75th and ToniAnn’s 35th. (Sadly, we were unable to do Meredith’s 40th in person, as it was in January before vaccinations.)
EDITED TO ADD: Sweet Mother McCree, I can’t believe I forgot to include this paragraph in the first draft of this post, but…. In November of 2021 I also — after several months of intense preparation, and after a grueling five-day promotion that included an all-day hike on 25 miles of the Appalachian trail and an all-night session in the dojo on top of the usual three-day black-belt promotion, I was promoted to fourth-degree black belt, which means now I’m Sensei Keith. I went up alongside Sensei Charles, with whom I also went up for my second- and third-degrees, and it was an amazing, edifying, tiring, exhilarating, exhausting, wonderful experience. In addition, I also got to start teaching again, with my afterschool karate classes re-commencing in September and also teaching periodically in the dojo (including filling in for Shuseki when he went on vacation a couple times). Karate has made me a better, more centered, stronger person in so many ways, and it’s been one of the things that’s kept me going these last couple years.
My writing life proceeded apace, with two books of mine published (Animal and Systema Paradoxa: All-the-Way House) and one of my older novels reprinted (my Spider-Man novel Down These Mean Streets in The Darkest Hours Omnibus), plus three short stories (two in the anthologies Turning the Tied and Devilish and Divine, one released to Indie GoGo supporters), and a ton of nonfiction for two anthologies as well as my usual epic output for Tor.com and Patreon — for the latter, there were also a dozen new vignettes.
2022 promises more fun stuff, including a big bunch of short stories, the next Bram Gold novel (Feat of Clay, which is halfway done), the next Precinct book (Phoenix Precinct) to at least be written, the long-awaited second collection of urban fantasy tales set in Key West (Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet), a nifty serialized project that I’m not quite ready to talk about publicly yet, my Resident Evil comic book, and tons more, including continuing the Enterprise Rewatch for Tor.com and continuing to review new Trek episodes for the site, as well as revisiting “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” in the summer and at year’s end. (For that matter, we’ll start the year with looks back at Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Eternals.)
In the meantime, I want to give thanks and praise to my nearest and dearest, especially the Forebearance (The Mom, The Dad, The Infomancer, and The Tall Curly One) who are the best parents money can’t buy, as well as the Godmommy, Meredith, ToniAnn, Anneliese, Sas, Kyle, Matthew, and everyone else who’s been an important part of my life this year, whether you’re someone I see regularly (like our lovely downstairs neighbors) or someone I talk to on Facebook messenger a lot or someone I only see at conventions (like Alexi and the rest of the Bard’s Tower gang) or someone who read my writing and loved it.
I can’t forget the fur creatures, who helped us get through the year by being all cute and cuddly: our two sweet black cats, Kaylee and Louie, as well as ancillary family animals Junior, Beauty, Spot, Hima, Tempura, Jazz, Thor, Loki, and everyone’s favorite cartoon dog, the irrepressible Professor Zoom.
I have the best family, the best friends, and the best fans in the world, and I love you all. There was a lot this year that did not go as planned and that could’ve been better, but we’re still trending in more or less the right direction at least. Let’s hope that stupidity and tenacious viruses can be overcome by science and sensibility (I know, I know, I’m an optimist) and that 2022 is even better than 2021, which was way better than 2020.
Happy new year!
It’s a talking-heads episode! The latest episode of a Star Trek show that is often dinged for its overuse of action and big ‘splosions gives us an hour of people having conversations. It’s glorious, and a great reinforcement of Trek‘s ideals, through some of the franchise’s tried and true tropes: emotional humans disagreeing with rational Vulcans, conversations about AIs and sentience, and whether or not problems are solved with compassion instead of violence. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “…But to Connect.”
Comments on the site are closed until Monday, but feel free to comment here….
The two conversations come together in a beautifully written and filmed sequence, and much credit to writers Terri Hughes Barton & Carlos Cisco, director Lee Rose, and the editing crew for this. Because Rillak, as the person who called the assembly, must remain neutral, it’s left to Burnham to plead the case for an attempt at contact and gaining knowledge rather than going in with guns blazing. At the same time, Stamets is trying to find a way to trust Zora, and needs help getting there. Stamets’s emotional response to Zora’s growing sentience is one of fear, borne primarily of his experiences with Control, and he wants to find a way to get past that fear and choose to trust her.
The two speeches are masterfully intercut, with Burnham pleading for the assembly to make the very same emotional journey that Stamets is also struggling with: to not let fear rule the day.
In January 2020, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager‘s premiere, I commenced a Voyager Rewatch on Tor.com. A year ago, I posted the highlights of my rewatch entries for the first season, the second season, the third season, and most of the fourth season.
I completed the rewatch in October of 2021, and in the interests of completion and symmetry, I will finish out the year with highlights from the balance of the rewatch. Previously, I covered the end of the fourth season and all of the fifth, and the sixth season, and now we do the final year of the show….
On top of all that, we have the utterly inconsequential assimilation of Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres, which has absolutely zero impact on the characters. Picard was assimilated, and it has continued to have psychological ramifications for him (“Family,” “I, Borg,” First Contact, “Stardust City Rag,” “The Impossible Box”). These three, though, were pretty much just cosplaying as Borg, and despite incredibly invasive procedures to assimilate them, are completely back to normal in the next episode without even a mention of it.
Everything that happens in this episode feels like it was done better in a TNG episode, whether it’s a Borg resistance (“I, Borg,” the “Descent” two-parter—the latter was terrible, mind you, but it was better than this), a captain-first officer dynamic among supporting characters (the “Gambit” two-parter, but Data and Worf are a thousand times more interesting and complex than Chakotay and Paris), or facing off against the Borg Queen (First Contact). And the romance between Seven and Axum has absolutely no life to it. It’s telling that the EMH’s “Axum is a lucky man” carries more romantic weight than any of the sodden scenes between Jeri Ryan and Mark Deakins.
Seven’s self-loathing and guilt over what she did as a drone is sufficiently deep-seated that she refuses to let anyone risk themselves to help her, and jumps a little too quickly into accepting her imminent death. I particularly love when Torres agrees to help her hide from the EMH in engineering, and Seven is obviously completely gobsmacked that Torres would even consider being nice to her.
Having said that, I do like that Kim pretty much singlehandedly saves the day. And the progress of the Torres-Paris relationship mostly works, though the cliché of the couple almost breaking up right before they tie the knot was tired when they did it with Miles and Keiko on TNG and is really tired here. But Roxann Dawson in particular plays Torres’ uncertainty quite well, and McNeill sells both Paris’ depth of feeling as well as his being completely out of his depth when getting the nuances—though he does make the effort to bridge the gap in the end.
But the method by which this happens cuts off the air supply to my disbelief. Teero is a Bajoran vedek who is so out there that the Maquis thought he was a little too radical. Think about that for a second: the terrorist group that was at the top of both the Federation and the Cardassians’ most-wanted list for several years, that announced their existence to the galaxy by blowing up a ship on a crowded space station, thought this guy was a bit too much for them. Yet somehow, a little over a year after the Dominion War ended, this Bajoran citizen somehow has the resources to embed a post-hypnotic suggestion into a private letter sent by a Vulcan teenager to his Starfleet officer father, somehow getting it past Project Pathfinder (a project full of Starfleet engineers, remember).
Let’s forget that, for a second. Let’s assume that Teero is just that good. We’re also supposed to believe that he planted this suggestion in Tuvok’s head for whatever reason, but never bothered to expose him as a Starfleet mole, instead waiting for the right moment to activate him—and, somehow, that moment is six years later, after the Maquis are a distant memory, and when Tuvok and the rest of Chakotay’s cell are 35,000 light-years away. Because why, exactly? And “because he’s insane” isn’t an answer, because if he’s that nutsy-cuckoo, he wouldn’t have the wherewithal to put together this incredibly complicated and difficult plan.
All the guest actors do quite well, also, though Paul Scherrer and Dublin James are both baby-faced white guys with similar voices, and it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. Still, they all comport themselves well. I especially like Gregory Itzin’s subtle portrayal of Dysek. Both Voje and Dysek need the reminder from the EMH—who literally has the Hippocratic Oath programmed into his brain—that the patients should come first. Voje’s cynicism and desperation is more obvious, but Dysek is just as tired of the bullshit, and he also uses the EMH’s idealism for his own purposes. And Larry Drake is, typically, superb. It would be easy to play Chellick as an over-the-top bad guy, but Drake sensibly plays him with a bland, bureaucratic affect—banal, reasonable evil is way way more scary than cackling diabolical evil.
This is a nicely structured episode. At first there’s the hope of a way home that you know will be yanked away from them at the last minute, just like it was in “Eye of the Needle,” “False Profits,” “Cold Fire,” “Timeless,” “Hope and Fear,” etc., ad nauseam, but the way in which it gets yanked is nicely done. At first, we think that Pathfinder doesn’t realize that the second Holo-Barclay made it through okay, and that means that they won’t be hitting a sun with the verteron beam, so that’s how Voyager’s trip home will fail. But then it turns out to be much worse, as the geodesic fold isn’t something Starfleet initiated, but rather part of the Ferengi plot.
Let’s not mince words here: the sole purpose of this episode is to enable Jeri Ryan to spend a plurality of the 42-minute running time to do a letter-perfect Robert Picardo impersonation.
And it really is amazing. Apparently, Picardo performed all the lines the EMH had while in Seven’s body for Ryan so she could mimic his vocal inflections and body language, and it obviously worked. Ryan has always been an immersive and chameleonic actor, best seen previously in “Infinite Regress,” the last time they decided to give Ryan an acting exercise poorly disguised as a Voyager episode. But this one is more impressive, as the various assimilated folk Seven channeled in that fifth-season episode were all ones she could make up from whole cloth. This time, she had to match the performance of one of her castmates, and she did so flawlessly.
To make matters worse, Kim’s story is sabotaged by the need to make Seven be important as often as humanly possible, so we have the bizarreness of the one person in the main cast who knows even less about how to be a commanding officer than Kim lecturing Kim on what he’s doing wrong. Not that she’s saying anything useful, she’s just taking up a contrary position to whatever it is Kim is doing so she can berate him and pretend to know what she’s talking about so he can then pretend to learn something and be better at his job. Bleah.
The story itself is just kind of there. No real surprises, no real suspense, no real anything. It’s disappointing to see Ron Glass in the guest credits, only to have him play Generic Alien #4 with none of the mysterious subtleties he brought to Shepherd Book or the gleeful snottiness he brought to Detective Harris.
There’s a lot to like in this episode. It’s a good vehicle for the always-wonderful Robert Picardo, and also a very good use of Roxann Dawson’s Torres. It has a very Trekkish message about how we treat the “other,” and how if we don’t treat them with respect and consideration it ends badly—not just artificial life (TNG’s “The Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring“), but also aliens we make assumptions about (the original series’ “Arena” and “The Devil in the Dark“). Janeway falls victim to the same prejudices that we’ve seen other captains fall prey to (Kirk in “Arena,” Picard in “The Offspring,” Janeway herself in a similar situation in “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy“). And it’s always good to see the Hirogen again.
About a dozen people died in “Caretaker,” including the conn officer Janeway mentions, and the medical staff the EMH tells her about the death of, and the first officer and chief engineer that never come up in conversation. More than a score of people in the crew have died since they started their journey home. Aside from the EMH spilling the beans about the medical staff being dead, none of those deaths are mentioned at all. Worse, Janeway is repeatedly reminded and told that Chakotay became her first officer, yet at no point does she ask what happened to the first officer she’s already got.
This was a great opportunity to show the consequences of their actions, and to remind everyone that the journey Voyager has gone on has been on the backs of more than thirty corpses. Aside from Seska, we don’t see any of them, and it would’ve been so much more interesting to have Chakotay interact with Cavit, the guy he replaced, and put front and center that Janeway is condemning him, the medical staff, the chief engineer, Stadi, etc. to death.
We almost get there when Chakotay talks Janeway out of changing history to keep Voyager from being stranded in the DQ. Janeway’s points are all good ones, and the kicker is watching her best friend (whom she thinks is in the Badlands with Chakotay’s Maquis cell) die in front of her. There’s a lot of horrible things that happen to them, and wanting to avoid them is completely understandable.
But the other side of this is that without Voyager there, a bunch of other people might be dead, starting with the Ocampa. It’s a debate worth having and the episode totally avoids it.
First of all, in this episode written and directed by men in a season in which the show-runner is a man, it’s a really bad look that the entire episode is about men telling a woman what she can’t do with her own body during a pregnancy. This is especially hilarious on a show with a female lead as the captain—said captain is notably absent for most of the episode, showing up briefly to congratulate the happy couple and again to decline the invitation to get involved. What a waste.
Okay, it’s obvious that the Benkarans are meant to substitute for people of color who are disproportionately imprisoned and sentenced compared to white criminals. But instead of shining a light on this disparity, we find out that the Benkaran whom Neelix has befriended is not an innocent person being put to death, but a nasty-ass criminal just like Yediq said he was. He even tries a lame attempt to get the same consideration that Iko got—trying to claim that he, too, is mentally ill.
Meanwhile, Iko is a Nygean, one of the “mainstream” species, and he gets a redemption arc. So the equivalent to the white guy gets to be forgiven by the audience, if not by the victims, and the equivalent to the POC gets to be the asshole who stages a prison break and goes back on his word. This isn’t quite failing your saving roll versus social commentary, but it’s a very very low roll…
We’ve got the Klingon messiah storyline. We’ve got the Klingon refugees all trying to fit on Voyager. We’ve got Tuvok and Neelix sharing quarters. We’ve got Kim being pursued by Ch’rega. We’ve got a disease-of-the-week. We’ve got T’Greth being an asshole and challenging Paris. And we’ve got the inevitable take-over-the-ship storyline.
That last is particularly ham-fisted. The minute phasers are fired in the transporter room, the transporters should be shut down, but Janeway doesn’t try that until minutes later, when the Klingons have locked them out. People are supposedly beamed off the ship, but we don’t see that, and then T’Greth beams onto the bridge where the Klingons only hit one person and the Starfleet crew hit everybody and it’s all over. It’s the most boring ship takeover sequence in the history of Trek, just full of idiocy on both sides.
What I like best about this episode is that it is, at heart, a perfect Star Trek episode. The underlying theme of the entire franchise has always been a future where people cooperate instead of fight. Sure, fighting happens, but ultimately it’s compassion that wins the day, from Kirk helping Balok even after he nearly killed them all to the Dominion War ending due to Odo offering to help the Great Link to the Burn being solved by Saru helping a hundred-year-old child.
And here, it’s working together instead of constant fighting that enables at least some of the exiled ships to escape. Plus it’s likely that others might follow their example—we already saw it with Valen and Bosaal, even if it was a much less compassionate alliance, and Bosaal was aware of how they planned to escape.
The plot of this one isn’t exactly bursting with originality, as it’s the crew-gets-amnesia story that we’ve seen dozens of times, from TNG’s “Conundrum” to Stargate SG-1’s “Beneath the Surface,” with a hefty dose of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis for good measure.
But it’s a very effective use of that storyline. The truth is revealed slowly, as when we first see Janeway we’re not sure if she’s legitimately working for this plant or if she’s on an undercover mission. But ever so slowly, we discover that something is off. With the appearance of “Annika Hansen” we know that things are bad. When we see Tuvok laughing and overexplaining a joke, we know that things are really bad.
This isn’t a great two-parter by any stretch, but it’s a good one, doing what Star Trek does best: comment on humanity, in this case the obsession over work, plus also providing a fun adventure. Roxann Dawson also does a superb job directing, from the action scenes—both Chakotay escaping from the cops at the top of the episode and the shootouts in the plant at the climax—to the emotional journey that Torres goes on as she remembers her past life. And then there’s the impressively effective visual of Torres entering the field of view when Janeway contacts Voyager, the first time in the two-parter that we see Torres in uniform. It’s beautifully played: Janeway’s ice-water-in-the-face expression as for the first time she realizes that everything she’s been told is really true. She also gets strong performances out of Garrett Wang and Robert Picardo, who could very easily have overplayed the dueling “watch and learn” sequences of alternating battle strategies, but it has just the right tone, with a lovely coda at the end when the pair do the after-you-no-after-you dance when they leave the briefing room, finally smiling and walking out together.
In the abstract, it’s a good idea to have Seven experimenting with social interactions and dating and attending parties and playing the piano. But then the ending screws it all up by having Seven’s cortical node knock her out. Yes, on this show where the reset button is routinely pushed to get everything back to the status quo no matter how unconvincing it is, they this time put an actual reset button in Seven’s head. And then they don’t let Seven accept the EMH’s offer to fix it.
It’s, to coin a phrase, “Déjà Q” all over again! But where that TNG episode was absolutely hilarious and still managed to do some character development with Q (as well as Data), “Q2” is just a tired slog. There’s precious few of the laughs one expects from a Q episode, and what yuks we do have are puerile at best. The sex-farce humor is particularly sad, from q drooling over a naked Seven to Q materializing (fully clothed!) in Janeway’s bath.
Some aspects of Photons, Be Free, as well as Paris’ rewrite, provide some nice meta commentary on some of Voyager’s more problematic aspects. Jenkins shooting an unnamed, badly injured crew person so that the EMH can treat one of the “senior staff” for a mild concussion is a nasty riff on the fact that nobody seems to even notice when someone who isn’t in the opening credits dies, but it’s a major tragedy if any of the billed cast even gets hurt. It’s “Mortal Coil,” where Neelix gets the zombie Borg cure after he’s killed, which is never offered to any of the other folks on board who die, taken to its absurdist extreme. And then we have Marseilles’ womanizing ways and the comb-over version of the EMH drooling over the Borg triplets as a good satire on how creepy both Paris and the EMH have been over the years. And indeed, many of the crew treated the EMH poorly in the early going. (Of course, the one who always treated him like a person was Kes, and some acknowledgment of her role wouldn’t have been untoward here. Sigh. Three of Eight pretty much takes on the Kes role in Photons, Be Free.)
The big thing that irks me is the spectacularly gratuitous and awful killing of Carey. Having already botched the character by setting him up as a possible foil for Torres, the show proceeded to forget all about him once he was cleared of being the traitor on board in “State of Flux,” reduced to only appearing in flashbacks after that. Then, to bring him back like this, as if he’s been there all along, and to then just kill him off like that is simply horrible. It’s even worse now because (a) Voyager is in touch with the Alpha Quadrant, which means that Carey has been in regular contact with his wife and children, and (b) the show is ending in four episodes and getting the ship home. If the show had any history or notion of dealing with consequences of actions, and of actually caring about the welfare of anyone not in the opening credits, this could be played for pathos, but it totally isn’t. Carey will go back to being so completely forgotten that when Admiral Janeway goes back in time in “Endgame,” it’s so very important to save Seven, yet she can’t be arsed to go back a few weeks earlier and save Carey.
Plus it’s got the best B-plot ever. Seriously, Paris getting a speeding ticket and having to take a refresher course in piloting is just comedy gold, with the added bonus of Neil Vipond absolutely nailing the snotty hardass piloting instructor. Paris is the typical privileged dudebro asshole who tries every trick in the book to get out of the consequences of his actions (it’s almost hard to believe he’s the son of an admiral who has a history of being a chronic fuckup), and Kleg doesn’t take a single micrometer of his shit on the subject. It’s a beautiful thing, especially the way his wife, his best friend, and Neelix all tease him relentlessly on the subject.
Also, this episode is just so constructed to give Neelix an ending, like the universe of the show is aware that we’re two episodes from the end. He gets to be a hero! He gets a girlfriend and a surrogate son! He gets to be a leader and be reunited with his people!
And while that’s nice, it also doesn’t entirely ring right. Neelix has completely embraced the notion of being part of Voyager’s crew, right up to the top of this episode when he’s painstakingly re-created the bar scene in First Contact. (Minus the tequila, anyhow…) Yet all of a sudden, he decides to stay with these people. Admittedly, Dexa’s probably a big part of that, and it ultimately is a very nice little happy ending for a character who has not been particularly well served by the writing staff over the past seven years.
We’ve only got one episode left, and Robert Picardo is pretty much the breakout star of the series, so it seems fitting that he gets one final vehicle. He gets to sing opera, he gets to be the ECH one more time, he gets to histrionically confess his sins, and he gets to be repentant, yet still improve his relationship with Janeway. The rivalry between him and Paris gets two final acknowledgments, the first with the EMH being forced to kiss him while disguised as Torres, the second when Paris rather bitterly asks if the EMH has anything he wants to confess to him (he doesn’t, though Paris very obviously thinks he should, dagnabbit).
Plus it’s fun watching Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, and Roxann Dawson impersonate him. Of the three, Dawson is the most successful at replicating Picardo’s tone, though all three are just off enough to have it be obvious that they’re not who they look like. (My wife was watching this with me, and she knew from jump that it wasn’t really Janeway because Mulgrew didn’t sound right.) And I’m always happy to see the Potato People…
Just as DS9’s “What You Leave Behind” mistook the end of the war for the end of the series, “Endgame” mistakes getting home for the end of the show. There are so many questions that the show either doesn’t answer or pretends to answer by presenting them at the top of the episode, but that’s a future that the show goes out of its way to declare as moot and being erased. How does Starfleet deal with the Maquis, especially in light of the events of the Dominion War? What is the Alpha Quadrant’s response to Seven and Icheb as ex-Borg? (That, at least, is getting some play in Picard, but it took two decades for that to happen…) What is the Alpha Quadrant’s response to the EMH? Does Naomi finally get to meet her father? What’s it like for Tuvok and Kim to be reunited with their families? What is Paris’s reunion with his Dad like?
That last one is particularly frustrating, because Owen is right there on the viewscreen when they fly through the hub, and there’s no dialogue between father and son, not even an acknowledgment that the admiral is about to be a grandfather. Given how fraught the Paris family relationships have been, something that got very specific play in several places (particularly “Persistence of Vision,” “Thirty Days,” and “Pathfinder”), the inability to address this stands out as a particularly big failure in a finale full of them.
While I appreciate that Kenneth Biller tried very hard to address some things that had gone unaddressed, they half-assed it to such a degree that you kind of wish they hadn’t bothered. Plus there was a certain level of not thinking things through that was maddening. Like addressing the Maquis-Starfleet divide in “Repression,” but doing it in a totally absurd way that defies credulity and makes absolutely nothing like sense. Like finally acknowledging the number of casualties among the crew over the past seven years in “Repentance” and “Renaissance Man,” but not actually addressing it in any kind of logical, emotional, or interesting manner. Like continuing to not promote Kim beyond the rank of ensign and repeatedly drawing attention to it and trying to explain it away even though that explanation is inconsistent with both Tuvok and Paris being promoted at various points.
In January 2020, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager‘s premiere, I commenced a Voyager Rewatch on Tor.com. A year ago, I posted the highlights of my rewatch entries for the first season, the second season, the third season, and most of the fourth season.
I completed the rewatch in October of 2021, and in the interests of completion and symmetry, I will finish out the year with highlights from the balance of the rewatch. Yesterday I covered the end of the fourth season and all of the fifth, and now we do the sixth…
In much the same way that I utterly despise the TNG episode “Homeward” because turned the Enterprise-D crew in general and Picard in particular into murderers, I also utterly despise this episode, because it turns Janeway into a psychopath for no compellingly good reason, and then changes her back at the last minute. In much the same way that I had trouble sympathizing with the Equinox crew in Part I because they committed mass murder, I have trouble sympathizing with Janeway in Part II because she commits acts of torture, acts of war, and acts of depraved indifference to murder. I can see her anger at Ransom compromising her judgment up to a point, and maybe having her act irrationally. We’ve seen this before, with Kirk in “Obsession,” with Picard in First Contact, and (in a situation with significantly lower stakes) with Sisko in “Take Me Out to the Holosuite.” But in each case, there was good reason for it—in fact, it was kinda the same reason for all three, a past trauma (Kirk’s self-perceived failure on the Farragut, Picard’s being made into Locutus, Sisko’s being tormented by Solok) warping their present-day selves. Janeway has no such excuse, she’s just met an asshole, and it has turned her into the same kind of asshole because the script says so.
I loved the use of Chakotay in this one, too, from his stumbling through the bridge with the ungainly gift to his confab with Seven where he asks the direct question of what would be better: living in the Collective or dying as an individual. Robert Beltran and Jeri Ryan perform the scene magnificently, as do Ryan and Robert Picardo in the next scene where Seven expertly uses the EMH’s own history to explain why extending these patients’ lives at any cost isn’t worth that cost.
Star Trek has always come down on the rationalist side of things. Things that may have seemed supernatural have always, in the end, had some kind of scientific basis, whether the Prophets/wormhole aliens on DS9, the “magic” of Sylvia and Korob in the original series’ “Catspaw,” or the machinations of the red angel in Discovery’s second season. Visions and odd experiences and dreams have been experiences to be interpreted (“Birthright, Part I,” “Rightful Heir,” “Emissary,” “The Circle,” “Basics, Part I,” “The Fight,” etc.), and there’s never been any indication that supernatural phenomena exist.
Until this episode, where we’re explicitly told that there’s a Klingon afterlife. It makes no sense, otherwise, none, that Torres would have so linear and specific an experience both times she gets rendered comatose by an ion storm while in a shuttlecraft.
There are other delightful touches in this episode, from Tim Russ gamely having Tuvok be the victim of everything that goes wrong in the EMH’s fantasies to his sardonic acknowledgment of the ECH’s order to arm the nonexistent weapon; to Majel Barrett obviously having a grand old time with the computer’s very un-computer-like dialogue in the fantasy where the warp core is failing. (“Warning: warp core breach is a lot sooner than you think.” “Warning: last chance to be a hero, Doctor—get going!”)
I also want to sing the praises of comedian Jay Leggett, the hilariously named Googy Gress, and the not-the-guy-who-used-to-edit-DC’s-Trek-comic Robert Greenberg as the aliens, who come across as goofy versions of Doctor Who’s Sontarans. But Joe Menosky creates a nifty little combination of hidebound bureaucracy and conquering bastards, and the three actors do a great job of selling their culture and personalities. I particularly love Gress’ Overlooker, who’s pretty much playing the same role that Gary Cole played in Office Space…
I do like the idea of Abaddon’s junkyard—and John Fleck is his usual excellent self—and this sort of horse trading should’ve gone on more often in the show, truly. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Abaddon had his very own Alice, which added an excellent extra layer of ooginess to the whole thing. The conversation at the top of the episode about Tuvok’s age is magnificent, a delightful triple act of Tim Russ doing his best fuck-you dry wit while Robert Duncan McNeill and Garrett Wang verbally buzz about his head like annoying flies. I love that Paris is almost able to break Alice’s hold on him when Torres’s life is put in danger.
But I really don’t get how Janeway can be so completely bumfuzzled by Torres’s report that Paris is being all weird. I could see it if it was someone Janeway doesn’t see every day, but Paris sits right in front of her, and he’s been unshaven and wearing a doofy silver jumpsuit for several days running now. How has she not noticed this? Paris is a demoted ensign who isn’t even a properly commissioned officer, so it’s not like he’s accrued leave or anything—and he specifically said he would be working on his off hours, which means he’s still taking his shifts on the bridge. (Chakotay does mention that he’s blown off some sickbay shifts, but that’s it.) Unless Janeway’s been pulling a “Night” and hiding in her quarters, it is impossible to credit that she hasn’t noticed.
Tim Russ gives the performance of a lifetime, as Tuvok does Flowers for Algernon in reverse. As good as he is as the petulant, childlike Tuvok who is frustrated by kal-toh and the spectre of his past self, the best performance he gives is before Tuvok regains his ability to speak. Watching him struggle wordlessly and seeing the emotions play on a face that we’re not used to seeing emotions play on is just amazing. In many ways, the point of this episode is to be an acting exercise for Russ in much the same way “Infinite Regress” was for Jeri Ryan. And as that, it works superbly.
As a matter of fact, this episode is a great example of why the Prime Directive is a good thing—without ever actually mentioning the PD—because Voyager’s interference wound up doing serious damage to both the Vaadwaur and the Turei, as they revived their nine-century-old war at the end.
And yet, you can’t really fault Seven for reviving Gedrin—as Janeway herself says, she would’ve probably done the same if she was the junior officer on an away team and saw the stasis pods. It was the compassionate thing to do, especially given that the pods were meant to have reactivated after a few years rather than a few centuries.
This episode is about as subtle as a nuclear explosion in its message about what Star Trek is all about, but given the importance of the message, I’m willing to forgive it. Star Trek has been incredibly influential on the space program—NASA’s employees from the 1970s onward are well-stocked with people who grew up watching one or more of the Trek shows, and Nichelle Nichols in particular leveraged her status as a Trek actor to do a ton of outreach to get more women and people of color into the space program throughout the 1970s and 1980s—so this love letter to the space program is particularly apt.
There are many many many many many many holes in Seven’s various theories, but one I particularly want to point out is the notion that there was only a week between when Tuvok was sent by Janeway to infiltrate the Maquis and when they fell down the Caretaker’s rabbit hole, and I’m sorry but undercover covert ops to infiltrate rebel terrorist groups do not happen that fast. It would’ve been weeks, if not months, before Tuvok was in a position to be the navigator on Chakotay’s ship. (And yes, I’m hypersensitive about this because I wrote the story that chronicled Tuvok’s infiltration of the Maquis, but still…) Plus, how could they possibly have arranged to be at Tash’s location at this particular time given the number of unexpected jumps they’ve taken, most of which could not possibly have been planned for? Also, if Neelix has sensor records of so many ships that the Caretaker snagged, why is there no mention of the Equinox? For that matter, why was there no mention of Neelix detecting a Federation starship kidnapped by the array in the “Equinox” two-parter or elsewhere? Oh, and while Seska claimed that she used Chakotay’s DNA to impregnate herself, it was established in “Basics, Part II” that Seska’s kid’s father was actually Maje Culluh, so that bit of “evidence” doesn’t work, either.
What I love about Barclay’s arc from “Hollow Pursuits,” through his other TNG appearances and to here is that there’s progress, but it’s not all at once. Dramatic fiction has a tiresome tendency to have psychological issues either all solved at once or never solved at all, but a combination of excellent writing and brilliant acting by Dwight Schultz has shown a continuum, as Barclay has slowly gotten more social, less obsessive—but it’s not all at once, and the old behaviors still crop up. We see some of the low-self-confidence programming in the Voyager simulation as, just like the Enterprise crew in “Hollow Pursuits,” the holographic characters all do whatever they can to feed Barclay’s ego and reassure him that he’s awesome, mostly because Barclay can’t bring himself to believe it outside the holodeck.
Apparently they didn’t feel like they offended enough Irish people in TNG’s “Up the Long Ladder,” which after all, only took up about half the episode. No, much better to devote a full episode (and a sequel!) to doing so!
The setting is just revolting, indulging in all kinds of tired stereotypes, most of which have their root in racist assumptions made about Irish immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries here in the United States: drunken, lazy, philandering, etc. (Plus, of course, they were Catholics, coming to a country dominated by Protestants, an issue faced by Italians who immigrated to the U.S. as well.)
But the episode is sold on some excellent quick-and-dirty character development by scripter Joe Menosky. We see several sets of two people—the shaman and the guy making sacrifices, the protector and his erstwhile mentor, the two guys at the telescope, and the two astronauts—who create instant, lasting impressions. These are people we come to care about, even though they’re all dead within seconds of our encountering them.
On top of that, the EMH’s journey here, which is very similar to the one Data went on in “The Measure of a Man,” is treated much more cavalierly. The conversation between the doc and Janeway is a good one, but it feels like it should’ve had more weight. I’m reminded of the similar conversation between Picard and Data where the latter rhetorically asks why all humans don’t have their eyes removed and replaced with VISORs, as La Forge’s enhanced eyesight is better than normal sight. That was much more devastating. The conversation here feels like it doesn’t cover enough ground—not the least of which is that the EMH is literally the only physician on board. The hypothetical of losing Kim to an alien romance isn’t quite a one-to-one match, as Kim is replaceable. The EMH really really isn’t, and the decision to let him go has less to do with his status as an artificial life form whose sentience has not always been clearly defined, and more to do with the question of what the hell they do when someone needs surgery.
Robin Burger’s script and Allan Kroeker’s direction help a lot here, as the visuals, the acting, and the dialogue all combine to create a horrid picture of the mission to Tarakis that goes so incredibly wrong. I particularly love the scenes in the briefing room where the away team keeps modulating back and forth from four members of Voyager’s crew discussing what happened to four soldiers arguing about the morality of what they’ve done.
[J.G.] Hertzler’s weary, gravelly voice perfectly suits the Hirogen hunter who is tired of fighting for someone else’s purpose and has given up hope of being free. But he wants to go out on his own terms. Again, total cliché and we’ve seen it before, but Hertzler so totally sells it, down to his running his finger across his forehead as if he were applying Hirogen war paint.
And if you want someone who oozes unctuous sleaze, you can’t do better than [Jeffrey] Combs.
Sigh. There’s just nothing to say here. Every beat is predictable and we get nothing to ameliorate the predictability. Seven’s actions with the Borg are just her repeating what we’ve seen her learn since she came on board, Ryan Spahn’s First is a tiresome whiny teenager, and the other four don’t really make much of an impression in their inaugural appearance (though Manu Intiraymi shows signs of the interesting character he’ll become).
I’m just sitting here trying to figure out why anybody thought doing a sequel to “Fair Haven” was a good idea. Hell, I’m still having trouble figuring out why anyone thought doing “Fair Haven” in the first place was a good idea.
This is actually an excellent episode for many of the same reasons why TNG’s “The Bonding” is an excellent episode: it reminds us that there’s an entire crew on board. Dramatic television in general and Star Trek in particular are really lousy at treating characters who are dramatically background personnel as people, even though from the internal perspective of the show, they’re just as important as everyone else. So many one-off characters have died on this show whose deaths had little to no meaning, and this episode pushes back against that nicely.
The pathogen Icheb creates has already been proven not to work beyond a single Cube. All the Borg did was cut that Cube off from the Collective. Plus, it’s the Borg, whose entire schtick is assimilation and adaptation. The one consistent thing about the Borg from when we first met them way back in TNG’s “Q Who” is that the same trick will never work on them twice. They scanned the Cube Icheb and the gang were on and cut it off from the Collective, but I find it impossible to credit that they haven’t already long since adapted to that pathogen and would’ve been completely unaffected by it this time. And this is something that the Brunali should have known, having dealt with the Borg, y’know, a lot.
Maddeningly, the script forgets to give us an ending. One of the reasons why “Lower Decks” worked is the final scene in Ten-Forward where Lavelle gets his bittersweet promotion and Ben encourages Worf to sit with the others as they grieve over Sito. But we get no such denouement here, so we don’t know if Harren will become more social, how Telfer’s epiphany from the aliens will make his life better, if Tal will take Janeway’s advice to heart.
More to the point, we don’t find out what disciplinary action Janeway will take against Harren, who spent the entire episode being insubordinate in a manner that should’ve had his ass thrown into Tom Paris’s old cell in the brig.
But what really got me to love this episode was Dala’s escape from the brig, because it so beautifully plays on our expectations. People in Star Trek stories escape far too easily from places they shouldn’t be able to escape from, and they steal support craft way way way more easily than they should be able to. Seeing it happen here, the viewer is conditioned to think, “Oy, they’re doing it again.”
Except they aren’t! The whole thing was a setup, beautifully executed by Janeway.
For starters, there are way too many characters in the team of actors, and we get very little sense of any of them. This is made more maddening by the casting of the three members of the chorus with three magnificent character actors in John Schuck, Jack Axelrod, and Tony Amendola, and barely even using them. Axelrod has one great bit when he goes all in-my-day-poets-were-real-poets-goddammit-kids-today-suck, but aside from that, they could’ve put anybody there to deliver their limp lines. Layna is an utter cliché, her mooning over Kelis is completely perfunctory, her jealous snit at Torres so paint-by-numbers as to be excruciating.
What’s hilarious is that that message feels like it’s coming from Kes to the four staffmembers who wrote the episode. Young Kes comes out and says that Kes is acting out of character here. And Kes just says, “Oh yeah,” and everything is fine. And then Kes doesn’t go back in time, and Torres is still alive—but how did Tuvok, Janeway, and young Kes find out about this attack if Kes never came back in time? Usually Star Trek, even with its wobbly and inconsistent relationship with time travel, has some manner of internally-within-the-episode consistency about temporal physics. But this episode doesn’t seem to give a shit.
It’s just a vehicle for Picardo to do a double act with himself. (The actor himself joked that, “I achieved a lifelong ambition of working with an actor who I’ve admired.”) That and we get more of Barclay and Troi, which is never a bad thing. Dwight Schultz is unusually subdued in this one—though, to be fair, he can hardly get a word in—and it’s nice to get a Barclay story that isn’t about his neuroses. Barclay here is just being a good person and a good friend. And Marina Sirtis is a delight—I especially like her coming out and calling both the EMH and Zimmerman jerks. It’s not very professional, but it was definitely deserved. And in general, Troi does good work here. The script is excellent, full of snappy patter and great one-liners for both of Picardo’s characters.
Okay, it’s called “The Haunting of Deck Twelve.” So shouldn’t we see deck twelve being, y’know, haunted at some point? Mezoti mentions it at the top of the episode, Neelix finally explains it half-assedly at the very end, and that’s it? This is a prime example of why “show, don’t tell” is a writing truism.
The story itself is such an incredibly bog-standard Trek plot that the only reason why Neelix’s prediction is that it’s not for the faint of heart makes sense is if the viewers are like Iago in Aladdin, and expect to have a heart attack from being not surprised. Seriously, we’ve seen this nonsense how many times before? (“Wolf in the Fold,” “Home Soil,” “Evolution,” “Cost of Living,” “Emergence,” “Playing God,” and that’s just what I recall off the top of my head…)
There’s no sense of menace here. The Borg Queen, introduced as a haunting, scary ghost in the machine in First Contact, has turned into an ineffectual villain helplessly trying to keep her drones under control and stymied by the machinations of Janeway and her crew. Susanna Thompson does the best she can, but the script does her no favors, stopping just barely short of having her shake her fist and saying, “Curses, foiled again!”
Plus we have three of the biggest embarrassments in Trek’s entire five-decade-plus history, the insult to the character of Kes that is “Fury” and the sheer unbridled awfulness of “Fair Haven” and “Spirit Folk,” which is made a billion times worse by the utterly baffling decision to do Irish Stereotype Theatre, not once, but twice.
This sixth year is all peaks and valleys, a roller coaster of a season, which really is the perfect metaphor, because it’s at once incredibly thrilling and makes you want to throw up.
In January 2020, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager‘s premiere, I commenced a Voyager Rewatch on Tor.com. A year ago, I posted the highlights of my rewatch entries for the first season, the second season, the third season, and most of the fourth season.
I completed the rewatch in October of 2021, and in the interests of completion and symmetry, I will finish out the year with highlights from the balance of the rewatch. We start today with the last few episodes of season four, and all of season five…
It would be fine if they made something up. One of the things I loved about the original series is that they created fictional devices and substances that were based on real things, but expanded or amended in some way: dilithium being the obvious one, plus things like quadrotriticale and tricorder.
But no, they had to go with deuterium, which is a real thing. What’s worse, it’s a real thing that is an isotope of hydrogen, which is the single most common element in the entire universe. Yes, folks, we’re back to the idiocy of “Caretaker” where people were having trouble finding water, even though water is, y’know, everywhere. So is deuterium, so the notion that they’d be short on it is patently absurd.
The meat of the episode is Seven’s struggle with loneliness. This is the problems she initially faced in “The Gift” right after being separated from the Collective writ large: she has to spend a month with only the EMH and the voices in her head to talk to. Seven has no emotional depth to deal with this, and Ryan plays her helplessness perfectly, as it’s a strong and determined helplessness, one that refuses to surrender even though she’s obviously scared shitless. Kudos also to Wade Williams and Ron Ostrow for creating scary boogeymen for her to deal with, and also to the rest of the cast for playing their hallucinatory selves as snotty versions of themselves. (Except for Robert Duncan McNeill, whose hallucinatory snotty Paris is exactly the same as the real one.)
But it would’ve been nice to see what the crew is thinking about this possible trip home. Most of it is geebling over the new technology. What I found especially mind-boggling is Torres’s complete 180 on the subject of getting back to the AQ. Back in “Eye of the Needle,” she evinced no enthusiasm for going home, saying that her only real family were the Maquis on Voyager. Now it’s several years later, she’s in a happy stable relationship, she’s found a job and purpose she’s good at, and, oh yeah, the Maquis have been utterly destroyed. And what’s her response to Seven’s query about going home? “I’d rather face the music back home than spend the rest of my life in the Delta Quadrant.” What’s changed? Why this complete reversal when externally it looks like she’s actually found purpose and happiness on Voyager? Why is B’Elanna “screw the consequence, just get shit done” Torres suddenly okay with facing the music?
Voyager’s penchant for big, ridiculous two-parters kicks into high gear this season, with both “Year of Hell” and “The Killing Game” favoring bold action over anything like sense, but they’re both thrill-rides, at least. And in “Message in a Bottle,” “Hunters,” and “Prey” we have Voyager’s strongest trifecta yet, introducing the Hirogen (quite possibly the most interesting alien species the show has provided to date) and having the crew make contact with home for the first time.
Of course, one of the ways that big, bold action stories work is to provide good antagonists, and one of the hallmarks of this season is some really strong bad guys: the Vori propagandists in “Nemesis,” Leland Orser’s crazy hologram in “Revulsion,” the Srivani in “Scientific Method,” Tiny Ron and Danny Goldring’s nasty Hirogen in “Hunters” and “The Killing Game,” Ray Wise’s tragic Arturis in “Hope and Fear,” and most especially Kurtwood Smith’s damaged Annorax in “Year of Hell” and Tony Todd’s scarily talented hunter Hirogen in “Prey.”
I would’ve liked a little more discussion of the fact that Janeway’s decision to strand Voyager was specifically made to save the Ocampa from being pillaged by the Kazon, which was absolutely the right thing to do. For that matter, I would’ve liked her introspection to have been less focused on the general issue of her stranding them in the Delta Quadrant and more on the specific issue of the twenty or so people under her command who’ve died since they’ve been stranded.
Still and all, these are minor points, and at the very least, Janeway gets a good reminder of the right thing to do when she’s given another opportunity to save someone, in this case the aliens who live in the void, who are being slowly murdered by Emck’s greed. The Malon’s villainy here is even more resonant now as it was two decades ago, as he places his own profit margins over the lives of innocent people.
What sells this particular iteration of the plot is two fantastic performances by Jeri Ryan and J. Paul Boehmer. The latter’s is pretty straightforward, but he has the same delightful curiosity that we’ve seen before in Brent Spiner’s Data and Hallie Todd’s Lal and will see again in Manu Intiraymi’s Icheb and Isa Briones’ Soji. And Ryan is simply stellar here, as we see how she’s trying to become more human than Borg, and then she uses Borg trappings to help teach One to be a person, and then she finds herself devastated when she realizes she’s going to lose him. The final dialogue exchange between the pair of them before One expires is devastating. She begs him to lower the force field so the EMH can treat him, and he refuses. “You must comply,” she begs, “please—you’re hurting me.”
“You will adapt.”
Again, Borg trappings, but for a human moment. And One dies, not as a drone, but as a hero who saved the ship.
There are two factors at work here that sabotage the episode, only one of which is in everyone’s control: Dawson spent much of season four pregnant, which precluded her doing an action-heavy episode like this; and it didn’t occur to anyone on the writing staff to even consider showing Torres (or any of the other Maquis crew) suffering PTSD from finding out their comrades were all massacred until Dawson brought it up. Indeed, Biller said in an interview with Cinefantastique that he considered this episode’s greatest flaw to be that it relied on a past episode, which was a spectacularly wrong statement to make, as that’s the episode’s strength. The serious issue here is that we haven’t seen more stuff like this and Janeway’s depression in “Night.”
But man, does the episode not actually make any sense. Where did 8472 learn so much about Starfleet? If they got it from the Borg, why aren’t the uniforms up to date? (The Borg’s latest intelligence on the Alpha Quadrant would come from the events of First Contact.) If they got it from Voyager, why don’t they realize that Voyager is trapped tens of thousands of light-years from home, with only one brief direct contact with the Alpha Quadrant? It’s detailed enough to have the complete works of George Bernard Shaw on Archer’s shelf and to re-create entire locations and food and drink and such, but not enough to tell them that Voyager’s been missing from home for four years?
And holy crap, this does more than even “Hope and Fear” did to make Janeway’s decision in the “Scorpion” two-parter to ally with the Borg incredibly awful. Not only weren’t 8472 the aggressors, they aren’t even the warlike species everyone assumed them to be, based on the ones who invaded our galaxy after the Borg tried to penetrate fluidic space. Sure, they said they wanted to exterminate all life in the galaxy, but they were also pissed off at the cyborgs who came and invaded them from another realm. And as with “Hope and Fear,” I wish there had been some manner of regret or recrimination or something. Allying with the Borg has not proven to be particularly efficacious, and may well have done more harm than good. Certainly, Arturis would say so…
This episode’s heart is in the right place; if only its brain had taken up residence there as well.
Not to be outdone is Tim Russ, whose Vulcan dignity in the face of hopelessness comes across as comforting and helpful in a crisis. His speech to Wildman about what a good parent she is is one of the character’s best moments, of which there’s no shortage. Tuvok was my favorite character when I first started watching Voyager in 1995, and this rewatch has renewed that enthusiasm a hundredfold. (I also loved writing him in The Brave and the Bold Book 2, as well as his Mirror Universe counterpart in The Mirror-Scaled Serpent.) I like that his logic and emotional control is consistently seen as a benefit, rather than a problem to be solved, as it is far too often with Vulcan (or half-Vulcan) characters.
Where the episode particularly lost me is when Paris and Kim go to the holodeck to test the slipstream drive, and WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY DO THIS ALREADY??????? Why are they even considering the possibility of a practical test if they haven’t even done a simulation on the holodeck? It makes absolutely no sense that it wouldn’t even occur to anyone to do such a test before they decided to go ahead with a field test, and it especially makes no sense that they go ahead anyhow. Kim’s argument as to why they should try it is, frankly, imbecilic. The whole stalking-horse thing with the Delta Flyer is incredibly risky, and it makes no sense, none, that they would go ahead with so crazy a notion.
Oftentimes, a science fiction show will do an episode whose express purpose is to be an acting exercise for one of the stars—or several, in the case of the inevitable body-switching episode that so many genre shows do. In the case of the person-gets-personalities-downloaded-into-them trope, TNG did it with Data in “Masks,” and Stargate SG-1 dipped into that well twice with Daniel Jackson, in “Legacy” and “Lifeboat,” and we get it again here.
Mind you, Jeri Ryan is very much up to the task. She’s an amazingly chameleonic actor, which has only become more evident as she’s continued in her career (and arguably put to best use during her time on Leverage playing a grifter), and she’s just superb here. My favorite is her Ferengi, which is especially hilarious, but she’s equally convincing as a little kid, as a Vulcan, and as a Klingon.
The plot of this story stems from two premises that don’t make a lick of sense. We start with the notion that the EMH has gaps in his database. In more than four years, there’s been no indication of any such gaps, and indeed, he’s boasted about the completeness of his knowledge on more than one occasion. True, it might be hyperbole, but here’s the thing: if there’s any area that he should have complete knowledge of while on a space ship that is likely to encounter a myriad of alien life forms over the course of its regular missions (never mind being stuck in another quadrant), it’s exobiology. Heck, being able to treat Kes and Neelix alone would require some knowledge of it.
But even if we grant this absurd premise, we come to the other one. The EMH gathers all that’s in the ship’s medical database about exobiology and chooses this one Cardassian dude to be the visual referent. We are then asked to accept the notion that this particular avatar can never be changed, and that everything we get from the database given humanoid form is actually from Crell Moset—which is ridiculous. This is supposed to be the sum total of exobiological information the Federation has access to, so the vast majority of what comes out of “Moset’s” mouth wouldn’t be something that originated with Moset, but with one of the other hundreds, thousands, millions of exobiologists in Alpha Quadrant history!
Yes, Burkus does appear to be a hidebound bureaucrat who is more interested in covering his own ass than in doing what’s right. But this is one guy whom the Voyager crew has known for six-and-a-half seconds. We don’t know the intricacies of Monean law, we don’t know what procedures they have to go through to effect change in their society. Look at it from Burkus’s point of view: this ship full of strangers shows up out of nowhere and tells them that their world is doomed, but it’s okay, we can help you, but you gotta get rid of one of the most important pieces of technology on your world. That sounds like the start of a miniseries about an alien invasion, doesn’t it?
Michael Taylor’s script reveals new layers slowly like a flower blooming. First we have the surprise that it isn’t just Tuvok and Vorik and some other crewmember being hidden in transporter stasis: there are also a dozen telepathic refugees.
This is, honestly, my favorite part of the episode. Of all the Trek shows, Voyager is the one that most often loses track of the fact that our heroes are supposed to be, well, heroes. They sometimes (only sometimes, mind you) are so focused on their journey home that they forget that their first duty should be compassion and helping those that need it. There’s a reason why so many Trek stories start with a response to a distress call.
My favorite, though, is that this script takes one of my least favorite aspects of dramatic fiction in general: deaths of important characters are treated differently and with more reverence than deaths of side characters. More than twenty members of Voyager’s crew have died since they went into the Badlands to chase Chakotay’s Maquis cell, and those deaths have had absolutely no long-term impact on the rest of the crew. Most of them haven’t even had a short-term impact, and a lot of them didn’t even have names. Hell, we’ve only seen two memorial services (one of them in this episode, the other in “Alliances“).
The horrible choice the EMH must make puts this tendency in sharp relief. Harry Kim is in the opening credits. Ahni Jetal is a one-shot guest star. Of course Kim must live and Jetal must die and be forgotten—but this episode makes use of that tendency as a plot point, and it makes the story much more profound than it might be. The EMH considers Kim a friend, while Jetal is someone he only knows as a (very) occasional patient. And the fact that he favored Kim over Jetal haunts him, because it’s contrary to the objectivity and dispassion that he was originally programmed with as what was supposed to be an occasional medical supplement, not a full-time physician. Kim shouldn’t matter more than Jetal.
Plus, of course, the actors are all having a great time, whether it’s Robert Duncan McNeill trying to get everyone to think like they’re in a movie serial, and also growing frustrated with his own program, or Tim Russ’s ongoing disdainful commentary on the entire proceeding, or Jeri Ryan’s more direct disdain, or Robert Picardo’s diving into the part with both feet, or the magnificently over-the-top performances by Martin Rayner, Nicholas Worth, and Tarik Ergin as the holodeck characters. Ergin deserves special credit for pretty much stealing the episode with his flailing robot, a delightful sendup of robots through old-timey sci-fi screen presentations from Flash Gordon to Forbidden Planet to Lost in Space.
There are some serious original series vibes going on in this episode, as Tuvok’s struggles with emotion, both in the flashback and in the present, as well as Noss’ struggles with falling in love with a Vulcan, are reminiscent of what we’ve seen on the flagship show, most notably “This Side of Paradise” and “All Our Yesterdays,” with a dash of “Amok Time” and “Journey to Babel” for good measure.
But it works, mainly because Tim Russ has given us the second-best portrayal of a person of Vulcan heritage to date, the best being, of course, Leonard Nimoy. Now this is mainly because Russ (like Zachary Quinto and Ethan Peck after him, in their cases both playing Nimoy’s character) is pretty much taking his acting cues from Nimoy’s performance, but there’s no shame in that.
The episode is fun to watch, especially the second half with Robert Picardo, Jeri Ryan, Scarlett Pomers, and W. Morgan Sheppard babbling at each other to try to figure out how to escape, and I approve of any solution that involves making the bad guy puke. But the episode ultimately is kind of nowhere.
Voyager has often been dinged for how they made the Borg toothless, and Exhibit A in that case is this disaster of an episode. Nobody gets hurt, nobody is ever even really in any danger. Seven isn’t reassimilated back into the Collective because she wears plot armor. The Queen’s excuse that she’s unique is nonsense—the Borg’s entire MO is to absorb a species’ uniqueness into themselves. Why depend on one unreliable unique person when that uniqueness can become part of every Borg with the simple insertion of a couple tubules?
On the one hand, it’s not a bad idea to establish that Kim isn’t the fresh-out-of-the-Academy ensign anymore. In fact it’s such a good idea that we’ve already seen it several times: in “The Killing Game” two-parter, in “Demon,” in “Timeless,” and here.
And I’d have a much easier time accepting it if Kim was acting in any way like a grownup, but instead he’s acting like a whiny teenager. Worse, he’s acting like the same kind of whiny teenager that he keeps defaulting to over and over again. This isn’t the first time he’s had a breakdown on the bridge, for starters, as he whined at Tuvok on the bridge in “Resolutions.” For that matter, he had an existential crisis regarding a love affair in “Alter Ego” (an event mentioned by Paris in this very episode). It doesn’t really count as character development if you keep treading the same ground over and over again.
As much as I disliked “Demon,” that’s how much I love this magnificent tragedy of an episode. Since we’re stuck with the duplicate Voyager crew anyhow, it’s fun to follow up on them. I love the idea that they’ve forgotten that they’re duplicates and are blithely barreling forward as if they’re the bona fide Voyager. Best of all are the hints of other adventures and accomplishments: first contact with the Kmada, the N’Kree trying to conscript them into their battle fleet, the acquisition/creation of an enhanced warp drive that will get them home faster. And thanks to the wonderfully tragic ending (which was apparently at the urging of co-writer Nick Sagan—one draft of the script had Voyager at least find the time capsule), it’s all lost.
Yes, it’s The Inevitable Boxing Episode that every third TV show seemingly has to do. Science fiction shows aren’t immune from it, either, viz. Babylon 5’s “TKO,” Batman’s “Ring Around the Riddler,” Battlestar Galactica’s “Unfinished Business,” Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’s “Olympiad,” Future Cop’s “Fighting O’Haven,” Quantum Leap’s “The Right Hand of God,” etc.
Chakotay being a devotee of boxing is kind of out of left field, but there’s nothing in the character’s history that contradicts it. We’ve seen so little of the first officer’s leisure time, and when they have bothered to give him any, it usually involves vision quests or some other attempt at Indigenous culture provided by the show’s fake Indian advisor. And of course, we get a vision quest here, too, but at least in this one it makes sense with the plot.
Jason Alexander has made a career out of playing short, obnoxious, loud fellas, even before his most famous role on Seinfeld, so to see him so perfectly portray a quiet, manipulative intellectual is a real joy to watch. Kurros has none of the smarm that Alexander traditionally brings to his roles (I’m thinking, not just George Costanza, but also his role in Pretty Woman), and it makes him a particularly compelling character. Though it might have been better if they hadn’t revealed the Think Tank’s nasty side in the very beginning. It’s the same mistake that the show made in “Revulsion” (and TNG made in “Violations“): letting us know from jump that a character is the bad guy, which drains all the suspense out of it. Alexander’s friendly calm could have easily lulled the viewer into a false sense of security, and have viewer and characters learn of their duplicity at the same time. Instead, because we already know how nasty they are from the treatment of Saowin in the teaser, we’re waiting around for our heroes to catch up.
Torres’s anger management issues haven’t really come up much lately, but I like the idea of her trying meditation with Tuvok. Speaking as someone who has tried meditation and failed at it pretty miserably (they keep telling me to empty my mind, and I’ve never been able to do that), I was amused by Torres’s inability to manage it, either. I also liked Tuvok’s patience and encouragement—and snark, deliberately provoking her by calling her “Ms. Turtle Head.”
There are some wonderful bits in this romantic comedy that owes a lot to Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, My Favorite Year, and Cyrano de Bergerac, the same DNA that went into She’s All That, released the same year as this episode.
But there’s also a lot of cringe-worthy moments, starting with the EMH’s holodeck primer on courting rituals and the first painful trip to Chez Sandrine. We have yet another failure of imagination, as this hologram programmed by a 24th-century human who lives in a multispecies Federation showing Seven how to go on a date in a manner that would be exactly the same if done with two people in a United States bar in 1978.
When O’Donnel and Henry are talking about the pros and cons of living in the past, O’Donnel won the argument at the very beginning by saying there were no antibiotics in the classical period (not to mention no decent dental care, and oh, yeah, that women could be property), yet Henry kept going for some reason, apparently completely okay with the notion of dying from a small cut that gets infected at age twenty. It’s also really easy for an educated white guy to say that the classical period was better.
That’s another problem with the episode: it didn’t really sell me on the Henry-Shannon pairing at all. Kevin Tighe is fine as Henry, but I spent most of the episode wanting to punch him in the throat. (To be fair, that’s true about a lot of Tighe’s roles—he’s really good at playing people whose throat you want to punch.) The whole chocolate-chip-cookie thing at the end didn’t work because it wasn’t seeded anywhere in the episode. Which wouldn’t be so bad, except we spent lots of time on things like O’Donnel dreaming about the moon landing or helping Jason with videogames, none of which paid off in any way anywhere else in the episode.
It’s fantastic to watch Janeway (with the bun again!) touring her new command for the first time. Kate Mulgrew’s kid-on-Christmas-morning enthusiasm is infectious. And it was great seeing Carey again, though the fact that we haven’t seen him in the present since season one is frustrating (it was a great opportunity to show him in both timelines, too!). It’s only too bad they didn’t get Scott Jaeck or Alicia Coppola or one of the other crewmembers who died in “Caretaker” to show up, though that would require that the producers remember that there were crewmembers who died when they fell down the Caretaker’s rabbit hole, which they haven’t remembered since halfway through the pilot episode, so why start now? (Yes, I keep harping on this. No, I won’t stop.)
It’s fascinating that this story was inspired by a post-Cold War news story about all the excess warheads floating around Eastern Europe, because what this reminded me most of was two 1964 Cold War films. Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb are two movies that are diametrically opposed in tone but have the exact same plot: something goes horribly wrong and American bombers are sent to attack the Soviet Union even though there’s no active state of war.
And that’s what happens here, too, with the main change being that the catastrophe is averted. Where the 1964 movies are about the tyranny of preprogrammed instructions, the AI in the warhead is able to think through the problem, goosed by an impressively eloquent Harry Kim, and then perform a noble act of self-sacrifice for the greater good. Which is what it was programmed to do in the first place, of course—as the AI itself says, it’s just got a different target for the same mission.
Now, I will give them credit for showing the desperation of the crew. We’ve seen this before on the show, where our heroes have tried all sorts of crazy-ass shit to get home faster. And Gilmore in particular is obviously suffering some serious PTSD from what they’ve been through.
But what they’re doing to the alien creatures is (a) beyond the pale and (b) counterproductive and stupid. They lost five crewmembers in the attack that Voyager rescued them from, and they’ve only got less than forty people on board at this point. The creatures are very obviously not going to leave them alone, and at this rate of attrition, there’ll be nobody left on board to make it home.
I once got a second-hand account from a couple of freelance screenwriters who were pitching to Voyager, who were told by the producer to whom they were pitching: “You keep giving us stories—we’re looking for ideas.” After watching the fifth season, I can see how that rather idiotic philosophy suffused the production of the show, because there are a lot of ideas here, often very much at the expense of story.
It seems like the approach this year was to just come up with high concept after high concept, and then belatedly tried to figure out how it would fit in the show, regardless of whether it actually did or not. Or whether or not the story made anything like sense.
I got lots of cool presents this year, some of which were paying for various meals and things, but which also included actual things!
Wrenn got me The Bronx River in History & Folklore, which will be a huge help for future Bram Gold stories, and my father got me Douglas Wolk’s All of the Marvels, which I’ve been very curious to read.
ToniAnn and Kyle got us a bunch of wonderful wonderful things, including Keith’s Hot Sauce (REALLY!), an expansion set of cards for the fantastic Happy Little Dinosaurs game (which we first played with TA & K over Thanksgiving weekend), a spoon rest that looks like a ravioli, an animals-in-swimsuits calendar, and a pad of to-do lists, which I can definitely use…..
Helga always renews our memberships to the New York Botanical Gardens and the Wildlife Conservation Society (which includes all five NYC zoos and the New York Aquarium). She also got me some yummy Swiss chocolate!
And finally, Wrenn got me a desperately needed new leather jacket! Don’t I look all Fonzie-ish? (And does everybody get that reference?)
There will more to come, as several dear friends and found family haven’t done gift exchanges with us yet…..
Again I say, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Since 1977, Christmas Eve has been celebrated at my parents’ house. Over the subsequent four decades-plus, it’s gone from a huge raucous celebration with extended family to something that really only includes my parents, me and Wrenn, and my aunt/godmother Livia, as other family members have moved away, moved on, or passed away.
Every year, we do a picture in front of the tree at my parents’ house, which we wound up not doing this year, but did do at Livia’s house today, so it’s almost the same thing. Back in 2017, I did a look back at every ten years of the picture, in 1977, 1987, 1997, 2007, and 2017. I did it again for the 8’s in 2018, for the 9’s in 2019, and the zero years in 2020. It’s pretty much a blog tradition, so here we go again for the 1’s…..
In 1981, I was twelve years old. When he was in college, my father’s two best friends were Bert and Joe. While our Christmases were for family, our definition of “family” was always very broad, so Bert joined us for Christmas a few times, including in ’81, along with my twin uncles, Fred and Nat, and their spouses and children.
L.-r.: Bert, Helga (fourth parent), John (third parent), Daddy, Anthony (my maternal uncle’s stepson), Nat (maternal uncle), Mommy, Fred (maternal uncle), Roxanne (Fred’s wife), Jared (Fred & Roxanne’s first kid, eleven months old), ToniAnn (Nat’s wife, Anthony’s mother), and me.
Not in the picture because she took it: Livia (paternal aunt).
In 1991, I was twenty-two years old. Nat has divorced ToniAnn and married Ginny, and also had two kids with her. Fred and Roxanne have had two more kids. Marina and I have been dating since 1987, and are now living together and will be married the following year. I was working as an assistant editor at Library Journal, while Marina was a computer programmer on Wall Street.
This was the first Christmas Eve in my parents’ current house, which they had just moved into two months earlier.
Standing, l.-r.: John, Marina, Helga, my father, my mother, Fred, Nat, Roxanne, 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, and Dillon (Fred & Roxanne’s youngest son).
Not in the picture because she took it: Livia.
If this picture looks familiar, it’s because I posted it a year ago as the 1990 picture, except it was the 1991 picture, which I should’ve realized because of where it was taken. I have edited last year’s post with the actual 1990 picture. Sigh.
In 2001, I was thirty-two years old. In the intervening ten years, Marina and I got married, bought a co-op on the Upper West Side, and then split up. In April 2001, I moved in with Terri. By this time, I was a full-time freelance writer. Nat and Ginny had also split up.
Standing, l.-r.: Blair, Roxanne, Fred, Alissa, Helga, my father, my mother, Nat, John, Jared, Livia.
Sitting, l.-r.: Dillon and Victoria
Not in the picture because we took it (we were using two separate cameras for some reason): me and Terri.
I don’t have a picture to post for 2011. That year, I was forty-two years old. Terri and I had split up, and Wrenn and I had moved in together, along with her adoptive brother Dale. That year, in the same spirit as Bert joining us in ’81, another couple joined us as well. Fred and Roxanne had split up by this point, with Dillon having moved to Florida with her. My other cousins had started to drift away, and none of them were there that year (two of them would return in 2012, but that was the last time any of them would join us for Christmas Eve). Nat was now married to his fourth wife Donna, and they spent that Christmas Eve with Donna’s family.
In 2021, I’m fifty-two years old. My mother went through grueling cancer treatment from 2014-2016. Wrenn and I got married in 2017. Dale died suddenly in 2018. By this time, the Christmas Eve celebration only includes the immediate family, and the same group also gathers on Christmas Day at Livia’s. My parents were unable to put up a tree this year (the place where they stored it had sufficient mildew that both my mother and Helga reacted badly to it when they took it out), so we did the tree picture at Livia’s on the Day instead of on the Eve.
L.-r.: Helga, Livia, my father, my mother, John, Wrenn, me.
I want to post one more picture that I should have included in last year’s post: a screen grab of our Zoom Christmas in 2020, which included my aunt Monica and her two daughters, as well as more found family, ToniAnn and Kyle:
Top row, l.-r.: John, my mother, me, Wrenn, my father, Livia, Helga.
Bottom row, l.-r.: Elizabeth (Monica’s younger daughter), Monica (maternal aunt), Laura (Monica’s older daughter), Kyle, ToniAnn, and Professor Zoom.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Discovery investigates a subspace rift left behind by the DMA and things go horribly wrong. Zora is developing sentience at a really inconvenient time. And Book was already not doing well before he started hallucinating his dead father. I don’t know why there ain’t no sun up in the sky in my review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Stormy Weather.”
PLEASE NOTE: Comments have been disabled until the new year. Feel free to comment here on the episode in the interim.
It’s been fascinating watching as the show slowly works things toward the 2018 Short Treks episode “Calypso,” an episode whose time frame has to be completely rethought in light of the events of the show since it aired. (It was assumed to be taking place in the thirty-third century, a thousand years after the present-day of the show when it aired, but now the show’s “present” is the thirty-second century. So now maybe “Calypso” takes place in the forty-second century?) First the computer gets the Sphere Data, then she takes on the name and personality that Annabelle Willis gave the computer in “Calypso,” and now we’re seeing her show the emotions that she displayed when bonding with Craft.
My single favorite Christmas song, as performed by the Waverly Consort.