highlights from the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch’s second year, part 2: season six

In January 2020, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager‘s premiere, I commenced Voyager Rewatch on Tor.com. A year ago, I posted the highlights of my rewatch entries for the first seasonthe second seasonthe 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…

Equinox, Part II

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.

Survival Instinct

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.

Barge of the Dead

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.

Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy

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

Alice

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.

Riddles

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.

Dragon’s Teeth

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.

One Small Step

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.

The Voyager Conspiracy

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.

Pathfinder

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.

Fair Haven

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.)

Blink of an Eye

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.

Virtuoso

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.

Memorial

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.

Tsunkatse

[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.

Collective

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).

Spirit Folk

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.

Ashes to Ashes

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.

Child’s Play

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.

Good Shepherd

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.

Live Fast and Prosper

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.

Muse

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.

Fury

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.

Life Line

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.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve

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…)

Unimatrix Zero

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!”

Sixth season overview

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.

1 thought on “highlights from the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch’s second year, part 2: season six

  1. Pingback: highlights from the Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch’s second year, part 3: season seven | KRAD's Inaccurate Guide to Life

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