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Category Archives: Star Trek Voyager Reviews

Star Trek Voyager review – Series finale Endgame

Summary: Voyager goes off the air with a finale that isn’t quite a bang but is a fitting farewell in keeping with its themes and tone.

Despite heading for a fifth series, Star Trek has only done two series finales before Endgame. That means there really isn’t a template

star trek voyager endgame

Janeway vs Janeway. We all lose.

established for the series finale just yet. On the one hand, we have TNG’s All Good Things…, which was a poignant look ahead at the future combined with a brilliant celebration of Star Trek’s ideals and a complex intellectual puzzle. On the other hand, we had DS9’s What You Leave Behind choose to do a conventional episode, wrapping the messy arcs and plot threads it had accumulated. Voyager’s finale Endgame on the other hand falls somewhere in between.

Unlike TNG, Voyager’s writers know this is their show’s last hurrah and that there will never be any further extension of the story. But unlike DS9, Voyager wasn’t overloaded with arcs that had to be wrapped up or apocalyptic struggles to be fought. So Endgame is a combination of the two styles. On the one hand there is a time warping premise to Endgame and a poignant look ahead at what time and history will do to its characters as on TNG. On the other hand the actual episode is less about time travel, than it is about using it as a vehicle to examine the characters and resolve the series and various character issues like DS9. The result is a finale that doesn’t aim high like TNG’s but also one that doesn’t overshoot and crash and burn like DS9’s. It’s an average finale that encompasses all the good and bad that was Voyager and by doing so serves as a valid representation of what the show was all about.

Endgame’s opening takes less of a page from TNG or DS9 than it does from the TOS films. Specifically Wrath of Khan. A scene of Voyager’s

star trek voyager endgame

San Francisco, just looking for a reason to shoot off fireworks

joyous celebration cuts to a falsely cheerful retrospective on a TV monitor and a bitter-aged Captain Janeway pacing the room. These are scenes that call up the TOS Genesis trilogy both visually and emotionally. Janeway and the Doctor chat in her apartment in a scene strongly reminiscent of Kirk and McCoy sans glasses. The Genesis comparisons only deepen as Janeway searches for a way to break Starfleet regulations to save former friends and crew members. Janeway herself no longer pilots a starship but has been bumped up to Admiral and looks forwards to teaching cadets. The crew has their reunions like an old group of Korean War vets who don’t seem to have that much in common anymore and Voyager is a museum from whose ready room you can see Alcatraz. Tuvok is in a mental asylum raving to himself and Chakotay and Seven are dead. And it took Voyager nearly two decades to get home.

Fans and viewers might have expected a long journey home ending with Voyager’s return, but the episode instead chooses to throw a

star trek voyager endgame

In the future all clothes will be replicated... and stupid

splendid reunion at them and then turn it into ashes. It’s a scene that takes a certain amount of guts. Voyager might have easily gone the conventional route, or at least closed with the return scene as a payoff. Instead the payoff shot shows Voyager returning to Earth in the company of the fleet. We’ve already seen the return home and we know it won’t solve all the problems or too many problems for that matter. Janeway’s real problem remains unspoken and it isn’t Tuvok’s disease or Seven’s death. Her real problem is only stated openly by Paris, that she was only satisfied when she was on Voyager. Voyager was home. Time stood still on Voyager.

Janeway has always been obsessed with doing the best job possible of getting her crew home. And so she decides to go back in time and risk the past, not for any particularly compelling reasons, but because she wants to do a better job if it than she did last time. She wants to see if she can get the floor cleaner and the cabinets shinier and the crew home in seven years instead of twenty-something years. Janeway has always been a perfectionist and obsessed with her performance. She’s lost plenty of crewmembers before, so why not prevent Voyager from entering the Delta Quadrant period? The device on her shuttle allows her to choose any point in space or time. Presumably because it would eliminate important parts of history, which Voyager changed. Captain Braxton and Q have said as much. Janeway herself states that these sixteen years featured major confrontations with the Borg Queen which helped them develop weapons and tactics that in the future allows the Federation to hold the Borg at bay. Is she throwing all this way just to rescue some friends? So are we to really believe that Voyager’s first seven years in the Delta Quadrant were important to galactic history but the succeeding sixteen years weren’t?

And here is at once the greatest strength of Endgame and its greatest weakness. Its strength lies in its depiction of Voyager’s future, but a

star trek voyager endgame

Let the slash fiction begin... and conclude

future that is merely used to engineer a bit of time travel that occurs at this point in time for no particular reason, except that Voyager’s seven years are up. Worse yet, Admiral Janeway seems to have no idea how to bring Voyager home except by taking them through the worst the Borg have to offer. Couldn’t she have found an easier way to bring Voyager home? If Voyager could get home by breaking the rules, who not ask Q to do it? The entire Borg plot becomes tacked on as a means of resolving the Borg, even though they have little relation to the basic plot. Which means we’re asked to swallow two gigantic whoppers. The first being Admiral Janeway’s choice and the second being the involvement of the Borg.

Despite the All Good Things… “flashbacks” like Janeway’s shuttle being pursued by Klingon warships, Janeway convincing aged crew members to let her go on one final mission, and Tuvok suffering from a degenerative mental disease, future Voyager worked. So does present day Voyager. Given plenty of time, Endgame showcases a “5 minutes from now” future of Voyager that has Tuvok realizing his disease is getting worse when he loses a game, Torres expecting her baby and Paris finally settling down and abandoning his last desire for adventure. Both the past and the future are rife with neat continuity references from Barclay missing a golf game with the EMH, Kim’s desire to be Captain and Torres’s daughter turning out to be a bigger Klingon than her mother and involved in Klingon politics to boot. The future isn’t detailed but Janeway shopping around for technology with a renegade Klingon noble in exchange for a seat on the high council is plausible and rings true. So do the lecture halls and reunions, a Voyager version of Veterans of Foreign Wars. Or Veterans of Delta Quadrant Attrition.

The failure happens when Endgame does what All Good Things… and Voyager’s own Timeless knew not to do, combine the past and the future. On board Voyager, Admiral Janeway is just a pest and her motivations are bizarre. Her claims that “family comes before strangers” is completely bizarre and un-Starfleet even if it’s nice to see Janeway finally come out and admit the philosophy that’s been behind criminal actions such as Tuvix and Scorpion. Her technology gifts make things too easy. Sure the Borg have become a bit too soft but the cheesy armor-all effect and super torpedoes that blow up entire cubes are just ridiculous. Meanwhile Present Janeway demonstrates that she can’t even stand or work with herself, let alone anyone else. Her desire to blow up the Borg transwarp conduit is noble, but wouldn’t it make more sense to escape first and get the technology back to Starfleet which can outfit a hundred ships with it and do the job better?

People may make noises about the Temporal Prime Directive, but I note the TPD hasn’t kept the EMH from wearing a piece of 27th century technology and trying to donate it to the Daystrom Institute. Why is this any different? Janeway is ready to throw away the TPD when it’s a question of Tuvok’s well-being and when it’s a question of the welfare of her crew, and this is a question of the survival of thousands of entire species. Essentially, then, both Janeways have irrational agendas that have more to do with their own personal psychological problems, than with Starfleet regulations and the greater good. Kirk in ST3 and Picard in All Good Things… broke the rules but Kirk didn’t care about Genesis. He was simply trying to rescue Spock and that meant violating the No Trespassing sign. Picard had evidence that if he didn’t act the universe would be destroyed. Janeway wanted to save 22 people and possibly doom billions and wipe out portions of galactic history doing it. It just doesn’t add up.

And that is Voyager’s legacy, pettiness. Even when taking on the Borg and challenging all space and time, Janeway seems petty. And she manages to make the Borg seem petty too. It’s family versus family. Janeway’s family on Voyager which has come to a fractured old age in the future and the Borg Queen’s collapsing collective family. Both believe Seven of Nine is part of their family. And more than anything this episode seems to come down to Seven of Nine again. She dies. Her death devastates Chakotay. Her death is the unique thing that causes Janeway to go back. The other 22 crew members are nameless and Janeway has already lost quite a few people before this. But by choosing to develop the actual Chakotay/Seven romance only at this late date, the entire notion that Chakotay was so devastated by her loss that he pined away for longing is simply implausible. And fans who follow the inside news will note Beltran’s attacks against the producers and that actors the producers don’t like often meet unfortunate ends.

But then if the producers had decided to kill off the character they might have gotten some mileage from it by killing him off during the

star trek voyager finale

Armor-All... Now for Starships

attempt to return to Earth. As it is there is little carnage and little real trial and risk. Future Janeway may die but that is to be expected. But to the crew, it is an episode that seems to carry less danger and risk than episodes like Dark Frontier or Year of Hell. You would think that the process of returning to Earth would be epic, but instead it seems very ordinary. It doesn’t even compare to Borg Voyager episodes like Scorpion or Unimatrix Zero. Eliminate the time travel and return-to-Earth element and you simply have a fairly conventional Voyager two-parter. The Borg Queen even falls for a variation of the same trick Janeway used on her in Unimatrix Zero. The collective must have a really poor memory to keep making the same mistake over and over again.

So what we have in Endgame is the fusion of a strong future episode, a strong view of Voyager 5 minutes from now and their clumsy combination in a weak and hackneyed plot that results in them getting home. But this is only fitting for a show that has suffered from poor plots and rushed resolutions throughout its run. Endgame has many of the same successes and failures as Voyager in general has had. With Endgame it attempts to produce a linear resolution and a character arc wrap-up and while it does a better job of this than the muddled DS9 series finale, it suffers from many of the same flaws. Confrontation for confrontation’s sake, implausible actions and behaviors and a finale that feels rushed to complete an artificial schedule that wasn’t properly planned for. But it also has gems that DS9’s finale lacks and those gems, those character moments, are what link Voyager’s past and present.

Next week: Nothing. Now the wait for Star Trek Enterprise begins.

Star Trek Voyager review – Renaissance Man

Summary: A “perfectly functional” episode that pretty much ties up the Doctor’s development and offers a somewhat decent adventure plot to boot. And it’s always fun to see the Doctor take Tuvok down a notch or two.

Renaissance Man isn’t a particularly inspiring episode but it is, as a Vulcan might say, “perfectly adequate.” It doesn’t measure up to

star trek voyager Renaissance Man

This is how the world ends...

the wild brilliance of Tinker Tailor, the episode it serves as a sequel to. But it does put the Doctor’s character under real pressure and creates genuine tension and conflict, something very few of the season’s adventure stories have managed so far.

Like Tinker Tailor, Renaissance Man’s villains are once again the Hierarchy race. And they use their ability to see what the Doctor sees to keep him under control. There is also the tension between the supervisor character and a more imaginatively-minded and kinder subordinate. But the episode, by attempting to recreate Tinker Tailor, misses the things that made that episode work. Where the office drone dynamic of Tinker Tailor provided a character we could relate to and linked him to the Doctor’s own troubles, Renaissance Man employs the aliens as stock characters: “bad alien” and “decent but spineless sidekick”. It’s been done more times than can be counted and Renaissance Man, unlike Tinker Tailor, brings nothing new to the table.

Indeed, the only reason for this stock relationship is to lead up to the predictable ending where the spineless alien will finally turn on his master. Worse, it’s the only reason the aliens are turned into renegades disconnected from the hierarchy. This makes the entire thing look ridiculous since basically Janeway is being held hostage by two fat guys, only one of whom is even any kind of threat. You don’t see Kirk or Picard or Sisko remaining imprisoned for long under these circumstances. But they seem to manage to produce complete chaos on Voyager. This is more than a little reminiscent of Janeway’s embarrassing struggle with two Ferengi.

On the Voyager end, though, the Doctor outwitting and even physically defeating most of the Voyager crew is certainly entertaining. The ECH once again makes a case for his abilities as he outwits Tuvok and then defeats him in hand to hand combat. He poses as three different officers, fends off Paris’s romantic overtures and knocks out Chakotay and Kim and stows them in the overhead compartment. He takes over and runs Voyager and watching him do it is fun, even if his complete capitulation to the kidnapper’s demands is a little odd. He may be fearful for Janeway’s safety but the ECH’s tactical scenarios should have told him that the best way to assure a hostage’s safety doesn’t rest in complete compliance with a kidnapper’s demands. The constant monitoring is an important tool for reinforcing the plausibility of his actions but it’s not quite enough.

Indeed, much of this episode seems to be setting up material for the series finale. That may be appropriate as Renaissance Man is the last episode before the finale but it seems weak and misplaced because the Doctor’s behavior and Janeway’s attitudes both seem a little odd. This is why arcs help set up changes in character behavior, instead of sudden changes occurring in the context of an episode. But it does serve to cap off the Doctor’s character development.

The EMH proclaims that he’s happy to be a hologram and doesn’t want to be human. He confesses his love for Seven and begins developing a friendship with Janeway. He demonstrates his ability to do just about anything and even gets to sing again. And considering that the reality is that the Doctor was always Voyager’s breakout character, far more so than Seven of Nine, and its main character as well, it’s only appropriate that he be assigned the next to last Voyager episode. Voyager’s Renaissance Man.

Next week: Voyager’s series finale. Hey, it made Mulgrew cry.

Star Trek Voyager review – Homestead

Summary: Neelix is inserted into a standard Western of a surrogate father, a family in risk of losing its homestead and a wandering man finding his destiny.

star trek voyager Homestead

In the Wild Talaxtian West

Star Trek has often been tagged with the somewhat inaccurate “Wagon Train to the Stars” label but generally the incidence of Western motifs has dramatically decreased along with Roddenberry’s presence in the franchise. Janeway’s gothic novel holodeck scenario was originally meant to be a Western in order to reflect Voyager’s dilemma, but apparently someone thought Bronte would appeal to the viewers more. So Homestead is one of the stronger reworked Voyager Westerns in some time. “Destiny” was even its original title.

There’s the insular community whose homes are about to be destroyed by the greedy mining company; the woman he’s attracted to and the child who views him as a father figure, which makes this a not particularly unpredictable story but LeVar Burton’s clean and strong visual direction and Ethan Phillips’s heartfelt performance compensated for that. More importantly, this Voyager episode had what few Voyager’s possessed since the early seasons, actual changes to the show resulting as a consequence of the events in the episode. Namely Neelix’s departure.

And the departure is managed far more smoothly and ably than one would expect. Homestead manages to bring the interplay between Neelix and Tuvok as close as possible while bringing Tuvok as close to Spock as he’s ever been. It’s no real coincidence that this episode begins with an invocation of the original first contact (a nice piece of continuity and development) between humans and vulcans. Or that it ends with Tuvok acknowledging the affirmative value of the non-Vulcan and Neelix, Voyager’s Delta Quadrant alien, rejoining his people as a Federation ambassador.

Unlike Kes’s departure, Neelix’s departure is unforced and reasonable. Every single scene from the tour with the aliens pointing out the ambiguous nature of his position on Voyager, his candle-lit dinner with the Talaxian female that causes him to realize how much he’s missed the company of his own people, and finally finding a child for whom he could be an actual father, instead of a babysitter. One could complain that it’s odd that these issues haven’t really been addressed before this, but that’s a general complaint about the show rather than this episode in particular.

The presence of the Talaxians all the way out here is questionable. It took Voyager seven years to make it to this point with several super-human assists. Even assuming that this generation of Talaxians left as children, the Haakonian conquest occurred 15 years from Voyager’s arrival at Talax which means that considering their detours and attempts at colonization, they would have had twenty years to make this trip. Considering that in that time they probably couldn’t have traveled more than 20,000 light years and Kes’s acceleration alone threw Voyager 10,000 LY ahead. Fan estimates placed Voyager as having traveled over 50,000 light years by Season 5 alone. Clearly the Talaxian presence is pretty hard to explain and some sort of explanation for a Delta Quadrant species in the Beta Quadrant should have been made.

For once, a Voyager episode manages to have a species’ xenophobia err on the side of caution, instead of being taken too far as in Friendship One, to the point where the aliens become completely unsympathetic. The Talaxian’s story about the death of her husband is just complex and detailed enough to serve as a nice touch. The details of the Talaxian’s technology is another nice touch, that kind of in-depth look at the technology of a wandering group of starships and an asteroid colony instead of just presenting CGI pictures is another nice departure from ordinary Voyager procedure. It helps make the reality of the colony and Neelix’s task more plausible and effective.

It would have been nice, though, if Neelix had shown more leadership and hadn’t needed to be bailed out at the end by the Delta Flyer. We already know the Voyager crew “can do anything”, this scene was needed to establish Neelix’s capabilities. After all, Voyager won’t be around when he has to deal with the same aliens again. But then Voyager is still saddled with the same paranoia of showing Janeway as being less than perfect at anything. The entire discussion of the Prime Directive is again ridiculous and out of place. The PD applies to pre-warp species. It does not apply to warp civilizations out of their solar systems, otherwise the Federation would be unable to do much of anything. Also the rights of ownership for the asteroid belt were not established.

If the alien miners indeed had a claim on the property, then Voyager might have been wrong to interfere once the aliens agreed to give the Talaxians enough time to evacuate. The Talaxians insist it’s their home but they may just be squatters. Just because someone chooses to live in your backyard, doesn’t mean it’s their property. We have two scenes that highlight the casual brutality of the aliens in question and they’re put in makeup that makes them look like hideous evil monsters but that’s just a lazy way of establishing rights and wrongs. We might as well put them in Dracula masks and have them chant “We are evil” over and over again to prove the same point. This might not have been so much of a problem if Voyager had only limited itself to mediation but once the Delta Flyer participates in the battle it would seem that Janeway has used armed force to take a side and it’s unclear if the side is really right or not.

The special effects look pretty good again demonstrating that if nothing else, Series V will probably have amazing visual effects. Tuvok’s dance step is played in just the right subtle way and so is Janeway’s offer to allow Neelix to leave and rejoin his people disguised as a practical ambassadorship. And we’re not burdened with a pointless B story about Paris forgetting how to tie his shoes or Kim losing his stuffed bunny in a turbo lift. Homestead may not be Voyager’s greatest episode but unlike Natural Law, it does belong as one of the series’ final episodes. Neelix may not be Voyager’s best character, but he needed a sendoff and Homestead is about the best one he could have gotten.

Next week: Another Doctor playing secret agent? Is this an occupational hazard?

Star Trek Voyager review – Natural Law

Summary: Another day, another shuttlecraft. Half the Voyager special effects budget is blown on one of the worst episodes of the season.

The poet has said, “The saddest words of tongue or pen are these: ‘It might have been’.” On Voyager the saddest words are, “What was the

star trek voyager Natural Law

There... that's where Craft Services is set up

point of making this episode in the first place?” And all too often when this question is asked, there is no answer except another bad episode from a show that already has far too many bad episodes to begin with.

The first half of Natural Law has all the dramatic and intellectual excitement of a half hour of static and noise. For those few fans hoping for a romance between Chakotay and 7 of 9, the opening classic fanfic hurt/comfort scenario might have suggested some possibilities but as awful as that possibility might have been, it’s better than what we actually got; which was nothing. Or technically speaking, worse than nothing. There are plenty of FX dollars which might have been put to better use on “Void”, but were expended on a B-story that has Paris going to alien driver’s ed.

One could ask why we need this storyline. One could also ask why we need the Ebola virus. It accomplishes nothing useful except for a weak attempt at humor whose payoff only comes in the final few minutes of this episode. After “Author, Author” had tried to make such a point of how Paris had matured since we first met him, this storyline makes a strong case for Paris being the same developmentally disabled adolescent he always was. The instructor may not be particularly flexible but instead of approaching the problem in a mature manner, Paris tried to lie to, wheedle and manipulate the instructor thereby proving the instructor’s worst notions about him to be true.

You have to wonder if there isn’t any character, any story on Voyager that needed to be told more than this one. I could think of half a dozen and so could most fans, especially considering that we’re a few episodes away from the finale which means this is all the character development we’re going to get. In light of this and in light of the fact that Paris has been on a solid fatherhood character development path for a while now, what was the point?

But as bad as the “Paris goes to driver’s ed” storyline may be, the first half hour of the “Seven of Nine learns the value of other cultures” story is even worse. Here, the writers attempt to avoid the possibility of having a bad story, by having no story at all. Instead Chakotay hurts his leg, Seven of Nine breaks a heel and loses her tricorder (why is she wandering around a forest in high heels anyway?) and they discover some friendly natives. Why are the natives so friendly and ready to give our characters the shirts off their backs, literally?

Well, there are no explanations given except that for lazy writers this is the cheapest and dirtiest way of shouting how wonderful and special a people the natives are, from the highest tower. As with the Ba’ku in Star Trek Insurrection, we’re supposed to believe that these people have amazing spiritual or cultural values that make them truly amazing. The writers fail to specify what these values are but they seem to involve smiling a lot, using sign language and giving lots of presents. And so of course Chakotay soon trusts the aliens absolutely.

This is a bit odd considering that he doesn’t know anything about their culture, species or whether or not their gestures mean “stay for dinner and we’ll cook you a nice meal” or “stay for dinner and we’ll cook you into a nice meal.” As friendly as they appear, leaving yourself at the mercy of a primitive society can be a bad idea, yet none of them actually take any precautions. But then the aliens aren’t real and neither is their culture, they’re two dimensional caricatures intended to make a political point. There’s no complexity or contradictions here. It’s not a primitive culture, it’s a primitive culture theme park courtesy of Disney where nothing can actually hurt you.

But this “noble savage” aspect of the natives drives what little in the way of a story this episode has. Which is that the natives are better off

star trek voyager Natural Law

"Do your wise and noble people have any hallucinogenic herbs to share?"

being cut off by the barrier from the rest of the universe. The episode denigrates the research team for arrogantly thinking they know what’s best for the natives and Chakotay challenges Seven demanding to know how she can think she knows what’s best for the natives. This is nice except that Natural Law is dedicated to the premise that the Voyager crew know what’s better for the natives more than anyone else, including the natives’ advanced cousins and the natives themselves!

The barrier was a piece of alien artificial technology. The result was to isolate the natives trapping them in a static, unchanging, primitive society for centuries. After a surface encounter with the native culture, Chakotay and Seven arrogantly assume that they have perfect knowledge of them and can make decisions for them. They praise the wonders of the native lifestyle ignoring the fact that this lifestyle is artificial and imposed by the barrier. And one wonders what the average lifespan is for the natives right now. Undoubtedly, a fraction of Chakotay’s or that of the writers so ready to praise such a lifestyle and so unready to adopt it. It’s almost amusing to see how many simple-living tales come out of Hollywood, a place as synonymous with simple living as the People’s Republic of China is with human rights.

Janeway, then, bizarrely presents the aliens with an ultimatum– ordering them to leave a planet in their own solar system. Of course she expects them to obey, as the Federation would no doubt obey if the Vulcans stopped by Earth and ordered them to leave the American continent. Unsurprisingly, they attack Voyager instead in a very restrained manner, indeed showing far more restrain than Janeway has. She and Chakotay claim to be doing it in the best interest of the natives but beyond a passing glance of their culture and a few words of their language, they know nothing of that culture. The natives themselves don’t get consulted on the subject. Their curiosity, their desire for knowledge and their fascination with Voyager’s technology are dismissed as aberrations that would interfere with their primitive way of life. Yet just about every action of the aliens suggests that they want more, yet is ignored as being counterproductive to maintaining their own primitive way of life; because the Voyager crew of course knows what is better for the natives than the natives know themselves. This is the ultimate arrogance, the ultimate colonialism, as the Voyager crew reduce the natives to children who can’t think or choose or decide for themselves.

Next week: Neelix finally goes to join his own people.

Star Trek Voyager review – Friendship One

Summary: A well meaning but predictable and uninspiring rehash of standard Star Trek material.

Between the Vidiians and the Maalon, the disfigured race preying on other species and using their problems as justification has become a

star trek voyager Friendship One

"We come in bulky spacesuits"

staple of Voyager. But where the Vidiians were compelling as both monsters and victims, the alien species of Friendship One are merely a series of victims. The episode repeatedly suggests that they’re our victims and that Voyager should somehow feel guilty for their conditions, but Voyager had nothing to do with the launching of the probe and all the probe did was provide them with advanced technology meant to serve beneficial purposes. Their inability to properly use that technology was their own fault and responsibility.

That leaves us with the same Star Trek setup we’ve seen a thousand times before. There’s the bad ruthless alien, the potentially good but uncertain alien and the human interest female. Our crew attempts to convey our humanity to the aliens through personal exchanges which humanize them. The good alien helps Voyager thwart the schemes of the bad alien. There’s the red shirt whose off the cuff conversations about family make it certain that he’ll die before the episode is over. We’ve seen the same material used – in more innovative ways- before; and without any standout performances or dialogue, the show has little to contribute except the irony of Friendship One itself as a defense of the importance Prime Directive.

Though it doesn’t really accomplish this either since the problem wasn’t so much that the technology was given out but that it was given out blindly and without supervision. And they’re only saved by more interference from the Federation. This isn’t a very convincing criticism of Starfleet or exploration. And Janeway’s final statement about exploration not being worth the lives lost sounds ridiculous and bizarre since exploration, like it or not, runs precisely on those who gave their lives to see over into the next horizon. Star Trek has always acknowledged this and paid tribute to it, as recently as the far superior Voyager episode, One Small Step. Indeed Janeway’s entire policy has been to conduct exploration rather than a straight route home.

Friendship One had the potential to construct an intricate commentary on Starfleet and Voyager’s own mission using the trial of Friendship One, but One Small Step did a better job of handling that material. So all that was left was a lesson about helping people, but as in Insurrection that lesson was buried by the generic undistinguished nature of the people who needed to be helped, as well as their persistent whining about “nobody understanding how hard it is for them” which was more than a little reminiscent of the Baku’s touting their advanced spiritual values. Except where the Baku’s sense of superiority seemed to actually come from sort of accomplishments no matter how questionable, the FO species accomplishment was to be murderous, miserable and diseased.

Janeway’s initial incompetence e.g. failing to detect both an alien civilization and the people living there, even though Voyager had encountered a close cousin of this same state of affairs in Dragon’s Teeth, and then attempting to push Brin into giving up the hostages instead of demonstrating their good faith first finally and unexpectedly gives way to good command skills when she actually does the sane, practical thing and shockingly enough pulls off a successful rescue mission to release the hostages. Unfortunately by this point the hostages have developed Stockholm Syndrome and demonstrating very little regard for the fact that one of their friends and crewmembers was just murdered (Paris argues that it was only one man who did it, conveniently overlooking that it was their leader and that no one else found the act objectionable in the least) jostle Janeway into risking Voyager to clean up the planet’s atmosphere.

Considering that these people have anti-matter weapons and anti-matter missiles, it seems odd that Janeway doesn’t just propose giving

star trek voyager Friendship One

Friendship means saying "Sorry we blew up your planet"

them instructions for constructing their own ships and evacuating themselves. Or for that matter since it was doubtful that they could have produced anti-matter without leaving their planetary orbit, they should have had their own starships. Not that doing so would be a very smart idea, since the last thing the Delta Quadrant needs is another set of Vidians murdering and torturing people while whining about how hard their lives are. Voyager was quite ready to accept the Vidiians justifications for their actions and certainly has no trouble accepting the Friendship One species sense of self-righteous victimization. Wonder if it’ll make Lt. Carey’s family feel any better that his killers had “a bad childhood” ?

But this is characteristic of Friendship One as a paint-by-the numbers episode that relies on reusing Star Trek formulas to produce a predictable episode whose values are barely skin deep. After VGR of STTMP, the Mars spacecraft of One Small Step, the old American ship of Casino Royale and now Friendship One it seems a few too many old Earth space program vehicles have gone a lot further than they were supposed to go and it really strains all credulity that two of these would have ended up in the Delta Quadrant. Reusing this notion cheapens One Small Step and has no real purpose since this episode would have worked just as well if the aliens had found any advanced technology which they misused and blame all aliens for their own foolishness.

In part it seems Friendship One is introduced as a possible buildup for Series V. The entire fairly extraneous conversation about the timetable for the probe’s launch and Tuvok’s comment about its launch “preceding Starfleet” seems like it might have been planted as possible background for Series V. Or at the very least it may have been informed by the Series V premise. And I suppose it is a measure of how little Friendship One has to offer that its most intriguing aspect involves sifting a minor piece of dialogue for clues to the premise of the next series. And it may well be a clue as to how little Voyager’s seventh season has to offer as well.

Star Trek Voyager review – Author, Author

Summary: A strong episode that addresses some important issues but its reach far exceeds its grasp.

The issue of the Doctor’s holographic rights has been Voyager’s most consistent and longest running arc and now finally seems to be at a

star trek voyager Author Author

Who needs word processors when you are a word processor

close at about the same that Voyager itself is ending. Unfortunately the deadline seems to have caused the writers to try and do too much in too little time. Like the Void, another strong recent Voyager episode, Author Author is at times clever, imaginative, and finally, addresses the substantive issues but it is overstuffed with material that far outstrips the forty minutes available to deal with it.

While Voyager early on displayed great facility with the Kazon arc, running it as a B-story in unrelated episodes very effectively, the later Voyager seems to prefer stuffing its return-to-Earth arc into large single pieces placed throughout individual episodes. So Author, Author has to spend time dealing with Voyager’s first regular connection to Earth AND the issue of the Doctor’s holographic rights brought to contest AND the issue of the Doctor’s relations with the Voyager crew. Each of these would have made a good episode. Together stuffed into one single episode, none of them has the time to be fully developed into a natural storyline.

And so, The Doctor’s humanity arguments are reduced to a several-minute footnote towards the end of the episode. The Voyager crew’s phone-calls are well handled but this sort of thing should have been shown to have more impact on the crew than a few quickly edited scenes of ‘phoning home’. It’s odd that at a time when the Voyager crew have the first semi-permanent connection to their families, the main topic of conversation is The Doctor’s insulting holo-program. This should have really changed things, followed up on the promise of scenes like Barclay’s “gift” of the live shot of Earth. After all, this is what Voyager has been working for all these years; it should have meant and mattered more.

For once, Seven’s family scenes were tastefully and very effectively handled with the stimulus towards change coming more from her, than from scenes with Janeway or The Doctor lecturing her on getting to know her family. Having Seven come towards the incentive to “phone home” by acting as a silent observer while Kim and Torres get in touch with their families is the kind of subtlety that the Seven arc could’ve used more of. Kim’s scenes are used for their comic potential but Wang underplays the material so that it works, instead of being an over-the-top Asian family joke as it was written. Torres’s scenes with her father also do a good job of following up on prior material–continuity is one thing Author, Author demonstrates abundantly.

The entire holonovel material, though, feels unnecessary. Instead of the entire circus of alternate universe doubles, we could simply have had the crew read off a few of the same lines from a PADD and spend the time on the arguments over the EMH’s humanity or the actual issues involved. After all, the comic potential and the whole concept of distorted perceptionmirror universe Voyager crew members was handled far better in Living Witness. There was no real need to do it again except as an attempt at a gag, which only distracted from the actual issue of the Doctor’s political advocacy and feelings.

It would’ve been far more effective, however, if The Doctor had made the Voyager crewmembers more true to life, but distorted in subtle

star trek voyager Author Author

It's called a mustache. They reportedly went extinct during the Eugenics Wars

ways so as to put a negative spin on their actual conduct and behavior. This would have brought home the notion that The Doctor might view the crew’s behavior differently than they themselves or the viewer do. Instead, The Doctor produces ridiculous caricatures that make him look ridiculous and the crew look petty for taking offense at such ridiculous and patently unrealistic distortions.

Certainly, literary works of political advocacy don’t tend to be very subtle and with The Doctor drafting his own Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he couldn’t have likely produced a quiet masterpiece. Still, the problem remains that most of the Voyager crew’s caricatures are excessively and inhumanly psychotic and evil while works of political commentary are more effective if they address actual, everyday evils as they appear. Political advocacy of evils as practiced by demented cartoon characters doesn’t make people re-examine their own behaviors and participate with their victims in the healing process; it just distances the problem and makes it seem unrealistic. More so, a lot of the Voyager “evil crew” are evil in ways that have nothing to do with holographic rights. They’re simply crazed and demented. Janeway phasering a wounded crewmember has nothing to do with holographic rights. Her treatment of the EMH by contrast seems almost merciful.

The plot twist of having the publisher of the EMH’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” work exploit him as a hologram with no rights is smart and politically sophisticated, while being quite true to life. Having the test of the EMH’s humanity be copyright law is also ingenuous and unexpected, even though the publisher has no chance of victory. If the EMH were a thing rather than a person, than he and all his works are property of Starfleet, which has sole authority over them. The problem is that much of this comes as an afterthought. In TNG’s Measure of a Man, the arguments over Data’s humanity forced the crew to really reconsider their feelings about Data, the arguments hit home and the answer was in actual doubt. Picard had a point but so did Riker. Here there is zero doubt.

The crew has fully acknowledged the EMH’s humanity and they’re ready to tell stories about it all day and all night. The use of The Doctor’s betrayal of Voyager as a point in favor of his humanity is a smart touch of continuity. But there is no real challenge anymore. Only the Federation doubts the EMH’s humanity and the Federation isn’t actually here, they’re far away listening-in. The final scene of the holograms breaking the proverbial rock in the dilithium mines, spreading the word about freedom, is a wonderfully inspirational final thought and the episode is full of so many similar nice moments. Unfortunately, this episode could have been put to better use if it had done a better job of connecting all these instances into a more seamless, cohesive story.

Star Trek Voyager review – Q2

Summary: Q2 indulges in Deja Q, revisiting a far superior TNG episode with a weak and clumsy imitation centered around a character with none of Q’s charisma.

The first problem with Q2 is that essentially it delivers exactly what its title suggests it does, an episode not about Q but about a second Q.

star trek voyager Q2

I'm only on this show because my father is a good actor

The problem of course is that the second Q isn’t all that interesting of a character. Q works mostly because of de Lancie’s charisma and over the top personality that allows him to dominate a scene with a single look. This allows for the kind of over-the-top material and dialogue that make the Q episodes entertaining to begin with. Corbin Bernsen as Q wasn’t quite his equal but had a certain amount of presence and so did the actress who formerly played K’helyar returning as Worf’s mate. The actor playing Q2 on the other hand is competent enough but completely uninteresting in that sort of way.

Q2 (the episode) revisits Deja Q, the far superior TNG episode that featured Q stripped of his powers by the Continuum for abusing them and left in a human shell to function on a Stafleet vessel and then prove his worth by offering to sacrifice his life to save his human pals at which point his powers are restored. Sound familiar? Well it’s essentially a workable synopsis of Q2. Without even addressing the lack of originality behind the episode (bemoaning the lack of originality behind recent franchise material is as useful and as commonplace as complaining about the weather, those with sharp eyes will note that DS9’s entire Pah Raih arc sprang from a single TNG episode just recently rerun), Q2 fails simply because once again Voyager tries to redo a TNG episode without understanding the facts that made that episode work.

By the point of Deja Q, Q was a malign, greedy, childish God. He was all those things but he was also superior and omnipotent in more than just powers. Q Who demonstrated that he had something to teach humanity and so did TNG’s own finale, All Good Things… In other words, he was a true antagonist to the TNG crew and to Picard. He was also dangerous. Rather than the benign wish-granting, amusing genie he later became, Q was quite capable of killing the crew. He genuinely disliked and felt contempt for humanity. This made his transformation into human form all the more dangerous and his sacrifice meaningful. The chilling scene that features Guinan stabbing Q with a fork to prove his humanity is genuinely disturbing. The only thing Q2 has to offer is Q2 removing Neelix’s vocal cords (an action most people agree with anyway) and all is quickly forgotten and forgiven. And that’s the trouble with Q2; Q2 far too quickly becomes a model human and Starfleet officer.

With Q having been thoroughly contaminated by TNG and Voyager episodes that have weakened and diluted him as thoroughly as the dreadnought Borg he introduced, introducing Q2 as a new Q with all the edge and darkness the original Q had lost was not a bad idea but instead the new Q is an even weaker model than the old. But this was only to be expected. Voyager has focused its Q episodes on having Q come to Janeway and have her help him with Q problems. Where Picard and Q struggled over human issues, Voyager was too insecure to allow Q to challenge Janeway in that manner and so Q quickly ran for help to her every time there were problems in the Continuum. So of course it’s not likely Voyager would allow the new Q to challenge Janeway, anymore than the old Q could.

And so stripped of any edgy or challenging material, Voyager’s version of Deja Q quite literally becomes a babysitting episode with Q2

star trek voyager Q2

If she's not in a catsuit, then she's out of the catsuit

learning to be a better person thanks to the Voyager crew. His transformation is pretty meaningless since he never had the darkness of Q. He’s just a kid and Q’s description of him is apt, he means well and you just have to get to know him. This is ultimately quite true but it also guarantees that the episode will lack any dramatic or comedic value.

Furthermore, where original TNG episodes like Deja Q were laser-guided and focused on what they wanted to achieve, Q2 stumbles as if it’s not quite clear on what it wants to accomplish or how it wants to get there. Voyager’s writers believe the Q are funny and popular but as with so much else of the ST franchise, they don’t quite understand why and so they go to the equivalent of having the Q doing juggling tricks. They try one thing and then another and throughout it all they have the distinct feeling that something is not right and not working just right. And so the focus is lost and the result is yet another poorly thought out episode. The writers clearly believed that simply having a kiddy Q would be entertaining by its very nature, failing to understand that like the Borg, nothing is entertaining by its very nature. It requires work. It requires understanding the essentials of the original and building on it.

This can also be read as a summation of the reasons for the failure of the Voyager franchise itself.

Next Week: Evil Voyager characters in the HoloDoc’s novel. Now that should be entertaining.

Star Trek Voyager – Human Error review

Summary: Another sleazy UPN promo serves as a misleading introduction to a nice and poetic if not particularly outstanding episode. Seven goes Barclay and Chakotay gets more action as a hologram than he ever has as a human being.

The gap between who we want to be and who we are has always been an effective source of human drama. And Seven is a character inserted

star trek voyager Human Error

Is this 7's fantasy or Robert Beltran's?

on Voyager with a progressive self-improvement arc that at times makes Voyager seem like a self-improvement tape. And indeed a lot of the Seven episodes have fit neatly into that package. At the start of the episode Seven demonstrates how close to the Borg and far from humanity she is, events happen during the episode which cause her to grow closer to some aspect of humanity and with Janeway’s guidance and pithy speeches, by the time the final 90 seconds come around, Seven is one step closer to being human. The problem with this approach is that of course it’s mechanical and crude as if becoming more human is an assembly line process and some machine attaches human qualities one by one as part of a drawn out process. It’s also meant that a good deal of the “Seven learns to be human” episodes have been dull, predictable and ultimately uninspired affairs. Even the better episodes like One and One Small Step, which deserve to be called classics by Voyager and perhaps even Star Trek standards, follow this same formula.

It’s all the more shocking then that Human Error actually dares to turn the entire formula on which the Seven development arc has been based from day one completely on its head. As we begin the episode Seven is running a holographic simulation in which she’s doing a good job of mimicking a human being and by the end of the episode she’s a Borg again having turned her back on her humanity. Instead of another mechanistic grinder in which Captain Janeway and Co. lecture Seven on what it means to be human, the entire crew ignore her altogether except for acting annoyed when she doesn’t perform up to Borg efficiency standards. Beyond making token attempts to invite her to parties, none of the crew cares very much about her exploration of humanity, they just want her to stay Borg, show up on time and solve everybody’s problems. And so the actual exploration is left to Seven, as it always should have been. Of course being a product of the most technological society conceivable, Seven explores an experiment in humanity through a holodeck simulation as the EMH himself suggested she do in “One”.

More to the point “Human Error” spends less time talking about what being human means and spends more time showing the impact and feeling of being human. It’s all very well for Janeway to deliver another nauseating lecture on what being human means according to the Federation charter but instead Human Error shows Seven actually trying to bridge the gap between who she is and who she could be. And it’s the transitions from the potential to the reality that causes the viewer to care about whether she does choose humanity or not. For these past years when we’ve seen Seven we’ve seen a two-dimensional neurotic superhuman being who seemed to be stuck that way, in Human Error’s holodeck simulations we see an interesting character who combines both the human and inhuman qualities of Seven in a more complex and three dimensional way and that character was far more interesting than the version 1.0 of Seven we’ve been stuck with for several years now. A character who could interact with the rest of the crew on a more complex level than preset roles like Student, Teacher, Efficiency Expert or Rude Outsider. And so for the first time in Seven’s Pilgrim Progress something is actually at risk and finally at stake. And when Human Error dares to let Seven lose and disposes of that character, it finally brings the element of risk and suspense to the “Seven learns to be human” arc that should have been there all along.

In “One” Seven was faced with the bleak reality of isolation. In “Human Error”, Seven is faced with actually choosing her future. She can remain an exotic Ex-Borg and maintain the level of contact she has with people or try and actually become human removing the entire Ex-Borg thing from the table altogether. She runs a simulation to decide choosing to oscillate like the metronome of the simulated piano (standing in as a lovely metaphor for the Borg aspect of her nature) between Ex-Borg and human. But experiencing doses of humanity makes the metronome oscillate unpredictably and out of step with the order of her life. And it turns out that her Borg implants have their own built in metronome swinging back and forth insider her head. A metronome that will allow her to be the Ex-Borg Seven of Nine who lives by routines, avoids most social contact and is an outsider looking in at humanity. It won’t however allow her to be Annika Hansen, human being who can have deep complex feelings, intimate relationships and act out of accord with the things that are rationally correct. But ultimately Seven still has the final choice to remove the metronome or keep it, choosing between being fully human or ex-Borg.

By using musical expression as a metaphor for human expression, “Human Error” hints at the richer and deeper aspects of being human that no television program or pithy Janeway speech could actually convey. Instead of delivering its ideas about humanity merely as character speeches, the episode uses metaphor and imagery to convey humanity. By rejecting her humanity, she’s rejecting not merely the music but the ability to create the music. She’ll always be able to listen to the music as an outsider but without any real understanding of it beyond the mechanical. She can even perform pieces in that same polished and perfect but completely soulless way. As in the early parts of her simulation she may in time perfect her mimicry of human beings to the point where she can actually pass for one, but it will remain an inhuman performance in which she can mime humanity but never feel it. On the other hand, she can commit to imperfection and humanity and actually live life as a human being from the inside.

A subplot in which Voyager stumbles unprepared into an alien equivalent of an artillery testing range provides a somewhat original and plausible crisis to lend intensity to her choice as well as reinforcing the underlying themes of the Seven story. Also, after “Shattered”, “Workforce” parts 1 and 2 and now “Human Error” Robert Beltran gets plenty of material. He even gets to participate in one of Voyager’s more plausible relationships, albeit as a hologram. A while back Barclay was still struggling between real humanity and simulated humanity. Where Barclay always ended an episode supposedly improving but never really improving because by the time the next episode came around he still seemed to be suffering from the same exact problems. On the other hand, by raising the idea of removing her Borg implants and by having Seven reject her humanity, “Human Error” suggests that this matter will indeed be resolved. Paradoxically when an episode ends on a negative note, this makes it far more likely that it will be followed up and significant changes will follow than one that ends on a positive note. And this material is worth following up, too bad it wasn’t followed up a year or two ago.

Next week: Reruns return again with Flesh and Blood.

Star Trek Voyager review – Workforce II

Summary: Season 7 presents us with a kinder gentler Voyager two parter. A view from the Isle of the Lotus. And for once working within the system works out.

Traditionally the Star Trek two parters have been action heavy special effects extravaganzas specializing in epic confrontations and terrible

star trek voyager Workforce

"My quarters... they look like a Star Trek fan here"

disasters. Episodes like Basics, Year of Hell, Scorpion, The Killing Game, Dark Frontier, Unimatrix Zero certainly fit that bill. Three of them involved the Borg, two of them featured the crew and the ship being taken prisoner and one of them featured the destruction of Voyager itself. But this season under new management, Voyager has featured a kinder and gentler two parter. Flesh and Blood had the essential trappings of the standard Voyager two parter but it was a much more character oriented show than any of the prior two parters. Workforce is essentially more in the tradition of episodes like One and Memorial and has far more in common with them than it does with Scorpion or Unimatrix Zero..

Normally Workforce might have run as a one hour episode with the ParisTorres and Seven subplots trimmed along with most of the special effects sequences and some of the action scenes and would have ended with the usual abrupt “30 seconds before closing time” ending that essentially occurs because the show has run out of time. And that would have been a shame and a waste because an effective if not particularly mind-blowing two part episode would have been replaced by another Prophecy or another Shattered, a poorly thought out and unfocused episode that possibly had potential but never got anywhere. The extra space of a two parter however allows the story to really be developed, it allows for the insertion of all those little subplots that round out an episode. And what special effects exist are mainly focused on establishing shots including some absolutely stunning and complex shots of the alien city and some striking footage of Voyager resting at the bottom of a crater. The space battles that occur are few and far between and not really the focus of the story.

But this doesn’t mean that Workforce isn’t a major and essential part of Voyager’s story. Voyager’s journey home has been modeled after Homer’s Odyssey. Voyager was thrown of course into the Delta Quadrant by the 24th century equivalent of a God. In Scorpion Voyager has found itself trapped between Scylla and Charbodis, represented by Species 8472 and the Borg. Which particular alien encounters in Voyager’s history could be said to represent the Cyclops, the Laestrygons or the Sirens is left as an excercise to the reader. But Workforce of course is linked to the Isle of the Lotus. For seven years Voyager has been on an obsessive quest for Earth, for home. More specifically it’s been Janeway’s obsessive quest but the real test of any quest is to present the hero with a way of surrendering the quest that in some ways is equal or even superior to continuing the quest. A chance to give up and enjoy some sort of illusory happiness.

Now it might not be all that shocking to see Chakotay or Paris and Torres partake of the lotus, after all they’re essentially people with short attention spans that focus on goals of some personal importance. They can be happy and do what they want just about anywhere. If the Voyager mission hadn’t come along, they would have found some other niche or gotten themselves killed in some other way. Janeway though is a bureaucrat and a bureaucrat is second cousin to a machine. She thinks only in terms of goals and purposes, which generally have nothing to do with her. What little happiness she gets out of life comes from merging her own identity with that of her position and mission until she can’t tell the difference between herself and her command. This has led her into completely sociopathic behavior but it also makes her virtually inflexible when it comes to accomplishing her goals. And this is why having her taste the lotus is far more shocking than for it to happen to any of the other crew members.

And yet here brainwashed and enslaved on an alien planet, for the first time in seven years of voyaging Janeway gets to be a human being. She has a job she enjoys, a relationship with real intimacy and a home of sorts. Though it may be based on false memories, it’s also more real than anything she’d done since leaving the Alpha Quadrant. The obsessive martyr complex, the sense of responsibility and the inability to tell where Kathryn Janeway ends and Captain Janeway begins are gone. In its place is a human being. And that tends to be a hero’s ultimate test, the choice to give in to human needs or to choose self-sacrifice and fight on for greater goals. Tuvok may not quite be able to adapt, despite his comprehension of humor “Yes it is funny because he did not understand how your species reproduces”, but just how easily Janeway adapts is shocking and that is what drives the episode. The seduction of the Lotus and the inability of Voyager’s crew members to be themselves.

We know that in the end, despite the odds, any episode involving the crew will end with them successful, surviving and possibly victorious. The inability of the crew to fail is practically a reflex by this point. It’s been a long time since there was a Star Trek episode with any real ambiguity about whether or not the crew will make it out or whether the ending will even be what they wanted. Voyager managed a few genuinely dark endings early on with Basics 2 and The Chute but since then we may not know what an upcoming episode will be about but we can usually take a good guess as to what the last 5 minutes will be, sight unseen. Workforce though takes away the crew’s identities and along with that allows for the suspension of disbelief and the possibility that the crew will fail and even that failure might not be such a terrible thing.

Contrary to the claims of the Borg Queen, being assimilated is not fun, but being part of the Workforce might not be such a bad thing. The end result is a fairly decent life and in the case of Janeway possibly even a better life than the one she had before. The rest of the crew doesn’t seem to be doing all that badly either. Paris was together with Torres again and would no doubt have married her (again) in due time. Seven had found the job she was born to do. This was a Brave New World and a world without Starfleet uniforms or the Federation Starfleet certainty in the optimistic outcome. For once the crew were just people like us, living from day to day and just doing their jobs with no higher goals or sense of invulnerability. With hard work and some terrible risks they pull off a happy ending but they’re not particularly confident or self-assured while doing it. They’re just people put in a bad situation, which in TOS was all that the crews were.

For those who expected Tuvok to just tell Seven what’s going on, then to have Seven communicate with the rest of the crew, set up a device to

star trek voyager Workforce

"Don't worry, in a few months I'll replace you with a hologram"

restore their memories and then have the crew working in tandem with Voyager try to escape; or in other words the conventional Voyager plot we certainly would have seen if this had aired as a one hour episode, here we instead got the exact opposite. Seven is confused and is on the trail of something and even ironically enough views the Workforce area as the interior of a Borg cube for one moment thereby experiencing the paradox of being reassimilated; but she’s a long way from knowing who exactly she is. Janeway has a few moments of bonding with Chakotay but when the test comes between her relationship, her life here on the Isle of the Lotus and her life on Voyager with Chakotay; she chooses the Lotus and betrays Chakotay in a flash.

Indeed none of the Voyager crew, except when B’Elanna as the original sailors of the Odyssey are forcibly dragged away, recover their original memories and identities until they’re back on Voyager. In fact once Chakotay is out of the game, most of the work of uncovering the conspiracy is actually done by a native junior psychiatrist and the equivalent of a police detective. Up until Janeway disables the chief generator, it’s they who uncover most of the dirt and really prod the chief psychiatrist into desperation. Seven encourages them to do what they do but in the end it’s not even the Voyager crew that saves the Voyager crew. Chakotay helps rescue B’Elanna and sows suspicion in Janeway but then is successfully brainwashed. Neelix does nothing particularly useful. The ECH and Kim have several running gun battles with enemy vessels and stay alive but don’t really accomplish very much. Janeway betrays Chakotay and then only really acts when the entire picture has been laid out in front of her at the very end. Paris glowers at people. Seven puzzles out a lot of the necessary information but it’s the classic detective suspended from the force for learning too much who actually moves things along. Unlike their Voyager personalities, none of them are really prepared to take charge and get things done and that is what makes the possibility of their success so ambiguous. Like Janeway they’re capable of doing more, but are too uncertain to take the challenge.

So contrary to the expected cliche we might have thought we’d get from the first part about the evil alien species that kidnaps and brainwashes people, we instead see a complex system that has both good and bad in it. And a system that in some ways mirrors the Federation. The people in charge, even the bad ones, have high ideals. There is the interspecies integration, a system that despite abducting and brainwashing workers also appears to run on merit and to provide a decent place to live at least by the standards of 95 percent of the world as it is today. There is corruption and abuse of power but we’ve also seen the same thing in the Federation. The Chief Psychiatrist who insists that his actions were all justifiable and for the greater good seems to mirror Admiral Dougherty from Star Trek Insurrection who insists that his forced evacuation of the Baku and alliance with criminals was for the greater good of the Federation. Indeed it’s easy enough to see the Chief Psychiatrist holding down a job with Section 31, possibly working on designing the changeling virus. Instead of giving us another alien of the week, Workforce presents an alternate Federation or quite possibly the Federation as it might have looked 200 years ago. Before there were transporters and replicators and white gleaming surfaces everywhere, post WW3 earth at the Birth of the Federation might have looked a lot like the Quaren homeworld with the same positive and negative aspects that would be carried along into its future.

And this only makes this particular Isle of the Lotus only more compelling as a potential alternative home to Earth because it’s not just some alien planet, in many ways it is an analogue of the Federation and home itself. The writers might have pushed their analogy further by giving it the sheen and clean look of 24th century earth but as it is the point comes across. And as in the Federation there are also higher powers who can correct the errors of the system, whereas with the usual aliens of the week, Voyager has to browbeat them into accepting the Federation solution. The Quarren already have a system in place and it is the Quarren who do most of the work in uncovering their own crimes. It’s also what makes it all the more disturbing. One of the horrors of the Borg focused on how close to home it hit, the Quarren homeworld also hits close to home because our world is currently closer to theirs than it is to the Borg. It’s also close enough to the Federation and us to have people both good and evil, all driven by ideals we can relate to. This makes a scene in which Roxann Dawson cuts from the sharp instruments lying on an operating table table to be used on their victim to the supposedly free and open corporate society of the bar into which the Doctor’s phrase “We’ll help him” follows seem all the more disturbing and downright chilling. “We’ll help him” has always been the Star Trek ideal and the implications of how that can be perverted and how vulnerable the Federation is to such a perversion makes the Quarren society problematic in a way that defies any easy resolution.

And Roxann Dawson’s direction indeed carries on from the Kroeker directed Part 1 very nicely and smoothly. She manages to combine the

star trek voyager Workforce

Get Foundation Imaging on the phone, we're going to need bigger explosions

talent for filming character oriented scenes she showed in Riddles with the work a peak Trek director is expected to do on a more epic episode like Workforce. Handing over the payoff for a two part episode to an amateur like Dawson was a definite risk but it clearly pays off. From the very effective use of shadows in the JanewayChakotay confrontation and especially the dermal regeneration scene (which also cleverly manages to save FX dollars and still look better than the FX scene would have) to the camera work on the quieter moments between her and Neelix; this is surprisingly professional work. It’s almost as shocking to see her be this good behind the camera as it was to see Avery Brooks turn out be better as a director than he was as an actor. It’s nice to see that in concord with TOS’s Leonard Nimoy, TNG’s Jonathan Frakes and DS9’s Avery Brooks; Voyager has produced its own professional director from among its cast.

So all in all, Voyager season seven has taken plenty of risks that didn’t pan out. Workforce however has taken a large number of risks that have. First setting a two part episode around a storyline that focused more on the characters and much less on the action and FX quotient. Secondly by putting much of the resolution of the story into the hands of the aliens and making them more complex than your usual Hirogen. Thirdly by actually letting Janeway be a human being ever so briefly and tempting her with the opportunity to step off the cross and into life (and of course letting the ECH demonstrate that Voyager would have done just as well without her.) And finally by avoiding most of the obvious and easy plot gimmicks and let the characters actually struggle to work things out, something we rarely see on Voyager. Appropriate enough in an episode entitled Workforce.

Next week: Seven of Nine as UPN’s obnoxious promo department has always wanted you to see her.

Star Trek Voyager review – Workforce I

Summary: A nicely arranged setup for an as yet unseen payoff.

It’s always hard to review the first part of a two part episode. Fortunately Voyager has gotten into the habit of airing both parts in one night. Workforce though is the exception and the task of reviewing it is made all the more difficult by the fact that Part 1 is mostly setup giving us the basics of the situation and shows us how it’s beginning to unravel. By this same point The Killing Game had already gone well into payoff territory but Workforce is playing out a more drawn out and complicated character oriented story and so it takes all this time just to set up the basics of the situation.

The limitations and complexity do, however, produce a certain amount of creativity in the style of the episode. As in The Killing Game, we

star trek voyager Workforce

Space Sydney 2429

skip over the attack to begin with a scene that features the crew already in their altered reality but unlike Killing Game’s gratuitous “Janeway as Klingon warrior” scene, Workforce begins with a gorgeous opening shot of the alien city and a lift ride into the depths of a factory that’s there only to give us a sense of the setting. This is a smart move because it makes the entire situation feel deeper and more real, instead of just the Voyager crew wandering around some redressed alien sets. Also unlike Killing Game, the crew doesn’t have either their memories or personalities suppressed but instead are the same people they are but with twisted memories and a view of the world colored by those memories. The result is all the more disturbing because they’re the people we know but yet they aren’t, in an ‘of the Body Snatchers’ sort of way.

This is clearly a Janeway story and so Janeway finally gets a relationship and a setup for the choice that will come. Janeway has always complained about being overburdened and has spent seven years walking around with a martyr complex. In Workforce she gets the chance to put that complexity aside and function as an ordinary person. While the happiness of the rest of the crew seems artificial and Stepford empty, it seems as if Janeway’s happiness might have a certain dose of reality and depth to it. Perhaps she really is better off and certainly happier not being in command. The entire Paris storyline does seem a bit hollow and a waste of time, on the contrary. Paris finds work in a bar, frankly who really cares. Torres seems lonely and the two reconnect. I’m not even sure that counts as character development. The scenes on the ship with the ECH are a nice piece of continuity with Tinker Tailor and only add to the tension of the episode. And the other touches of continuity including Janeway’s cooking and her conversations with terminals fit it nicely as well.

Tuvok has some nicely eerie scenes, for once his breakdown is correctly handled and the decision to intercut scenes of him being

star trek voyager Workforce

"Wouldn't it be easier to just pay them more money?"

brainwashed with Janeway and Co.’s daily routines and happy evenings makes for a decidedly creepy effect which turns up the already disturbing atmosphere up a few notches. The constantly vigilant guards patrolling in pairs, socialist realism posters and grey 21st century urban feel contrasted with the worker’s faux happiness are very effective. Allan Kroeker is one of Star Trek’s best directors, and in an episode mostly running on atmosphere, he does an amazing job of turning what could have been a fairly bland script into a dark and suspenseful episode. Between the brain washing disguised as immunizations and the happy multi-species work environment in which all workers are valued and the employers “really” care about their workers, this episode feels like a version of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ updated for corporate America.

But it’s the human conventional touches rather than the SciFi stuff like the Minister’s view of the whole thing as a means of obtaining skilled labor and inability to comprehend Chakotay’s objections as anything except an attempt to obtain skilled labor for his own vessel that really makes this environment mirror the Borg circa TNG. But where the Borg concept put a lot of distance between us and them, Workforce hits disturbingly close to home. Where the Borg simply chose to represent the subservience of the individual to the group by completely erasing individuals and turning them into drones, the Workforce government instead chooses to sabotage the ships, pick up the refugees and brainwash them into believing they’re happy workers. In a sense they, like the Borg, are using similar tactics for a similar goal but they have no greater goals or greater inhuman ruthlessness; just petty mortal goals and the refusal to acknowledge the rights or even needs of the individuals they destroy. Like the Borg they insist the people are happier this way, like the Borg they refuse to see the evil of their actions but unlike the Borg they lack the excuse of being a cybernetic collective, instead they’re all too real and all too human and it’s difficult to describe which seems more horrific.

And so Part 2 will depend on keeping up this atmosphere, something fairly amateur director Roxann Dawson will hopefully manage to do, and keep the focus on the general system instead of mistakenly selecting individual villains to be lecturers as Critical Care did. The way Janeway’s choice is handled will also be important as well as the way the transition of the crew back to their older memories occurs.

Having Seven act as the instigator is clumsy and overlooks the fun of having her as the antagonistic efficiency expert, plus it mirrors the Killing Game storyline a bit too closely. But after Seven’s mind meld it also seems pretty inevitable. Chakotay and Tuvok doing all the work would be more interesting but ultimately the suspense only exists for about as long as the crew are in their new lives. Once they’re back to being the Voyager crew and “The Heroes”, most of the suspense and tension will collapse back to nothingness. And a final hope that the KimEMH command bickering will be kept to a minimum. Despite Kim’s actions in Nightingale and the EMH’s occasional self-absorption it’s ridiculous to think that either of them would use this situation to bicker over who’s in command. And considering Kim’s behavior in Nightingale it’s almost certain that he would come looking out of this more childish than ever and with only a few episodes left until the end of Voyager he won’t have much time to grow up.

Next week: Part 2. Robert Beltran has fun with makeup, Voyager blows up alien ships, Janeway has to choose between an adult relationship and her martyr complex.

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