Okay, having spent eleven paragraphs trashing this bloated mess of a movie, let me at least say what I unreservedly loved about it, and it was a major cause of why Whedon has (justifiably) been vilified: Victor Stone is the absolute heart and soul of this movie. We actually see his mother, and she’s a person (a damn cool one, in fact), not just an unseen figure who was fridged. And Stone’s journey through the film, and his relationship with his father, is much stronger and more powerful here than it was in the theatrical release, in which Cyborg was barely a character. Whedon’s history with characters of color is not great, and we have it writ large here, as he completely trashed the Black guy’s story arc for no compellingly good reason. (Leaving it in would have made the theatrical version so much better…)
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).
Jeri Ryan and Tim Russ are both superb, as always. Russ in particular does excellent work with Tuvok as good sounding board: from his semi-amused pointing out that the silence wasn’t awkward to his more direct pointing out that dying for entertainment isn’t really a viable alternative to killing for entertainment to his final reminder that remorse and guilt are very human. And Ryan plays Seven’s struggles with her usual restrained emotion.
There are three aspects of this movie that show up its major difficulties, consisting of the two best things about it and the absolute worst thing about it.
The two best are both related to one very important aspect of Diana’s character: she is a hero. This is reemphasized by the lesson that Antiope teaches her in the flashback at the top of the movie. She isn’t just a warrior, she’s a hero. Too often Hollywood superhero movies forget the second half of that word, but it’s very much a part of Diana. This is best seen in two distinct places: in the White House fight scene, where she takes great pains not to inflict major harm on the Secret Service agents who have been assigned to Lord pretty much against their will, and then in the end where it’s not might that wins the day but an appeal to humanity and compassion. (It’s not particularly realistic that everyone recants their wishes, but the metaphor and message are important enough and satisfying enough from a story perspective that I’m willing to forgive it.)
But then we have the fact that Steve Trevor’s ghost takes over some random dude’s body and life and nobody ever comments on it! Diana’s wish has, for all intents and purposes ended this guy—who never even gets a name—and she never once expresses a micron of concern for him. This is, frankly, despicable behavior, especially given that Diana and Trevor sleep together, so she’s now also raped this person. The actions are appalling enough on their own terms, but to have it be this character in particular is a disastrous misreading of who Diana/Wonder Woman is not just in her previous movie, but in the rest of this one.
I want to single out Ethan Phillips for praise here, because he particularly plays Neelix’s PTSD supremely well, from his rapid-fire nervous chopping vegetables, to his losing it at the slightest noise, to his asking Seven about how she deals with what she did as a Borg, to his impassioned plea to not shut down the obelisk. It makes sense because, as established way back in “Jetrel,” Neelix’s own background is very similar to that of the Nakan, and as shown in that same first-season episode, Phillips can really bring it when dealing with his character’s trauma.
There’s nothing redeeming about the Qomar. From the minute we first see them as the show opens, they’re obnoxious, condescending, arrogant, high-handed, and insulting. They fulfill many of the most negative stereotypes of science fiction fans, and then they double down on it by throwing in more negative stereotypes, from the hero worship to the tricks to get close to the famous person to the fan mail.
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.
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.)
Those two elements combine to make this an excellent Star Trek episode, because it sets Voyager in a place it rarely goes: within the history and setting of the greater Trek universe. This is only the third time Voyager has made contemporary contact with the Alpha Quadrant (caveat necessary thanks to “Eye of the Needle”), and of the other two, one happened off camera (the EMH’s report to Starfleet in “Message in a Bottle”) and the other was one-way: letters from home (“Hunters”) and an encrypted message from Admiral Hayes (“Hope and Fear”). This is real contact that, unlike the others, has the promise of more.