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.