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.