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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?

Voyager review – Body and Soul

Summary: Sex on a Starship. Ryan does a bad Picardo imitation, aliens of the week menace the Delta Flyer again, Tuvok goes through Pon Farr in 5 minutes.

To begin with, it’s hard to figure out why this episode was made. Could the producers really have taken a look at the 7th season so far and

star trek voyager body and soul

"Wait, you want me to do what?"

thought, “what we need here are more light episodes”? As it is, Body and Soul is an episode that swallows two interesting plot ideas inside a one-shot gimmick that manages to be passably entertaining for a Wednesday night. While UPN promos for Voyager have been historically deceptive, B&S’s promo nails the episode pretty well. If you’ve seen the promo for Body and Soul, you’ll find that there’s not much to the episode you haven’t seen.

Body and Soul starts out, as quite a few recent Voyager episodes have, with an uneventful journey aboard the Delta Flyer. Shockingly enough, the Delta Flyer is attacked by aliens who in the episode’s one and only twist are after photonic lifeforms like the Doctor. Using a weapon that disrupts photonic beings they nearly destroy the Doc before 7 transfers him into her own circuitry. The EMH takes control of 7’s body and hilarity ensues. It’s not particularly implausible that the Doctor would behave so badly and clumsily in a crisis, considering that Tinker Tailor showed that he’s not quite ready for prime time. But it does get old fast. Ryan doing a bad imitation of Picardo and acting drunk can be amusing but it just seems as if Body spends two thirds of its time on what is at best a five minute joke.

By contrast Seven’s scenes with the tactical officer in sickbay are out of tune with the style of the rest of the episode and really don’t matter since the episode isn’t ready to treat the entire situation seriously to begin with. Worse, we barely just recovered from the Doctor using his medical skills to try and heal a screwed up civilization a few episodes ago in Critical Care, and we had the Doctor as earnest comic relief in Inside Man. Voyager does have other characters besides Seven and the Doctor after all, it might be nice if they had something to do as well. It would be nice if Kim had something to do in this episode except spout technobabble and fake a seizure (doesn’t one naturally lead to the other anyway?)

And fans have been anticipating Tuvok’s Pon Farr for seven years now. Even those people who weren’t on board with some of the weirder

star trek voyager body and soul

The premise on an episode has never been better expressed in a screenshot

solutions for Tuvok’s dilemma wanted more than using it as an aborted B story in which Tuvok mediates, medicates, groans, uses the holodeck and is back to work before anyone notices that he was even gone. Indeed from the character growth perspective, if you compare the utility of having Tuvok suffer through Pon Farr or Seven realize she needs to experience more sensations, it’s hard to see the Pon Farr story as being more disposable.

A well written Tuvok Pon Farr story could have finally done for Tuvok what Wire did for Garak on DS9. The few scenes with Paris did show potential for some good KirkSpock interplay. Even a badly written one could have had a lot more comedic and dramatic possibilities than a 5 minute skit about the Doc inside 7’s body. During the height of Braga’s supervision the 6th season managed to do some of Voyager’s strongest stories, but now with Braga working on Series V, Voyager is back to ripping off Disney movies. Even Jeri Taylor’s stepsonVorik got himself an entire episode (ironically enough directed by Andrew Robison) to deal with his Pon Farr; but Tuvok who according to Body and Soul would experience a much stronger version of Pon Farr resolves his problems with a holodeck program, even though Blood Fever itself showed that this wouldn’t work.

Finally, we have the bizarre and ridiculous line of “It isn’t cheating if the hologram looks like your wife.” Admittedly Voyager has some awful history in the ethical dilemmas department and tends to think moral dilemmas can be solved by having Janeway hit the right pitch of outrage with her rhetoric, but this is just bad. It’s halfway plausible for Paris to propose such a thing, even though he’s moved well beyond that kind of thing. It’s completely ridiculous for Tuvok in a halfway sane state of mind to agree. What indeed does the appearance of the hologram have to do with anything? If there’s anything that should have been hammered home after 4 Star Trek series each of which featured the required dozen “alien possession” shows, is that identity and not appearance is what matters.

The rebellion of photonic servants is certainly an interesting possible plot and the tactical officer’s recitation of how she doesn’t understand why her holodoc rebelled and its similarity to both the justifications for slavery and how Janeway and the Voyager crew condescendingly describe the Doctor as “part of the family” could have had some potentially very disturbing implications for Voyager. Instead the Doctor shrugs her off with a few banalities and focuses on his central goal of flirting with her instead. The Doctor may be a bit overstimulated and clumsy but he’s not completely thoughtless or stupid either. This piece of dialog seems like it belonged in a different episode, an episode that actually had something to say.

Instead, Voyager bases an episode around ripping off a cliche so cliched no one even bothers ripping it off anymore, tips a hat to TOS’s worst episode Turnabout and leaves two potentially interesting stories lying in the dust. And God knows if there’s anything Voyager needs this season it’s an interesting story.

Star Trek Voyager: Muse review

Voyager in Love

Muse, the latest episode in Voyager’s sixth season deconstruction craze goes where no officially sanctioned Trek series has gone before, star trek voyager musefanfic. While, admittedly Voyager has addressed fanfic before in episodes like Worst Case Scenario and Pathfinder, Muse stands for now as the most explicit exploration of fanfic. The issue for Paramount is a lot less controversial these days what with Simon and Schuster having issued several volumes of fanfic through the New Worlds series and the Internet bringing fans and producers a lot closer than the latter might like. Still the general attitude remains one of amused condescension and while Muse doesn’t entirely get over that like Galaxy Quest it also takes a fonder and more idealistic view of fan interpretations of Voyager while taking the time to rebut some persistent fan requests.

First of all Muse has to get points for cleverness in that it dodges all of the obvious possible scenarios for spoofing fanfic that would have made it seem like little more than a ripoff of Galaxy Quest. Instead it heads straight for the Oscar winner, Shakespeare in Love, and borrows the basic scenario thereby turning Shakespeare into a fanfic writer and Voyager into a subject of his plays. This is a move that ranges somewhere between gutsy and clueless and on paper sounds like a horrible star trek voyager muse idea. Yet Voyager has had any number of episodes that sounded good on paper and ended up being horribly executed. In a turn of fate, this season Voyager has had some strong successes with episode like Tinker Tailor or the narrative of the Borg children that sounded like horrible ideas on paper but worked very well on screen. The difference lie in execution and Muse is nearly perfectly executed so that the comic and dramatic aspects melt together and the result is an enjoyable episode.

Joe Mensoky is one of Voyager’s better writers and he produces an amusing script with lots of in-jokes and references and navel gazing that never subtracts from the story and in a few touches conveys a neat pseudo-Elizabethan yet appropriately alien culture. The direction transforms the wrecked Delta flyer into a vast dark cave with far more presence and heft than Voyager itself while Dawson unencumbered by yet more doomed attempts at developing her “background and heritage” is simply given the chance to respond to the situation as a person and does a wonderful job.

The only real problem comes once again with the fact that these deconstruction episodes suggest that there is something about Voyager to deconstruct which is a somewhat questionable premise. Voyager is certainly nearing the end of its run but it doesn’t really seem as if there’s that much content to the show or if that much has been accomplished. Muse tries to overcome this by contrasting naive fanfic ideas with “deep dark” scenes of the Voyager regulars but even with this setting those scenes don’t really amount to very much. They’re touching, but all this is elementary material that’s been on the ground since the first season. And the question has to be asked, if there really is this wealth of character relationships in the Voyager crew to mine, why indeed aren’t they mining them instead of doing deconstruction episodes like this that don’t really feature the crew itself?

Muse’s plot in part provides the answer in that it is less a deconstruction of Voyager than of an average Star Trek episode circa TNG. There’s the standard equipment failure-driven episode, the resolution of which requires some equipment repair, a search by the mother ship driven by worry and concern, and eventually a happy reunion. We know this plot so well we can recite it in our sleep. Muse in turn tries to break down the elements of the episode by effectively having a crossover with a bard and an alien culture so that rather than seeing the standard cliched plot, we see it anew, refracted through their eyes with emphasis on them rather than on the standard plot elements. Like Galaxy Quest, Muse uses projected fan enthusiasm to enliven the material and make it seem fresh and exciting. Unlike Galaxy Quest, Muse puts its focus ultimately on the ideals behind Star Trek rather than the cheese.

In this context it is important to note that Muse’s beginning and end take place not on Voyager or even the wrecked Delta Flyer but on the stage version of Voyager. It is not any of the Voyager crew or even B’Elanna who are the main characters of this episodstar trek voyager musee but the aliens. And it is one of Muse’s neatest tricks in that it manages to make the aliens seem accessible, normal while it is the Voyager crew who seem unreal and strange. By making the story be about the story of Voyager, the Voyager crew come to seem more like characters in a story while the aliens seem all-together plausible despite the complete lack of decent sets or even alien makeup. Menosky’s script creates the alien culture as a somewhat pseudo-Elizabethan with mixed bits of ancient Greece while using references like “Winter’s Tears” and the story of the altar to skillfully suggest a much more complex culture behind the scenes.

When the bard discovers B’Elanna he takes her for an Eternal, which seems to be some local variation on the Olympian gods. The idea of Starfleet officers appearing as gods is not new but fortunately the aliens of Muse don’t put that much worship into their idea of Eternals and seem to see them merely as somewhat more powerful beings, but not so in a religious sense. While the bard attempts to pump her for material for his latest play, B’Elanna fairly, coldly, and casually uses him to gain supplies, including an episode that puts his life at risk. This isn’t the behavior of a Starfleet officer but she isn’t a Starfleet officer; she’s a Maquis serving on a Starfleet vessel. The Torres character is meant to be harder and darker than the average Starfleet officer and while this often shows up, here it plays quite nicely. Lt. Torres violates the Prime Directive numerous times in this episode and doesn’t subscribe to a particularly high ethical standard, acting as she thinks is necessary. The result is that she seems a lot more human than when she’s acting in cliched, frustrated, half-Klingon fashion. On Voyager she’s a special category of alien with her own cliched role to play while here she’s a person among other people.

B’Elanna’s stories to the bard reproduce the basic Voyager outline but all set on the sea and with the planets as islands and the Borg as a warrior race. What he does with the source material of the Star Trek universe is to churn out fairly crude approximations of the Voyager crew who enthrall to juvenile fanfic ideas about drama, mostly spend time romancing each other. This gives the producers a chance to rebut fan demands beginning with the demands for various kinds of relationships or more time spent on relationships. The core of it seems to consist of saying that relationships are stupid and there are higher forms of drama out there. Admittedly too, many relationships and weddings turn a show easily into a soap opera, but still it’s not much of a response. The rebuttal to that element of fandom which wants a Janeway/Chakotay relationship is to emphasize how deep and trusting their relationship is already so that romance would only ruin it. This would be slightly more plausible if every major crisis didn’t seem to involve a snit between the two of them in which Janeway makes it clear that she thinks that Chakotay should have exactly as much autonomy as a poodle.

Having exploited the bard in pursuit of repairing the transmitter, B’Elanna finally exhausts her resources (and his) and goes “into town” to see the rehearsals. This introduces us to the rules of drama, the in-jokes that will drive the rest of the plot. Just as Star Trek was driven by the ideals of having a part in creating a better world, the bard also wants to use his play to cause his ruler to seek peace instead of war. Soon enough he hits on the idea of using the Star Trek source material to compose a fairly simple moral tale about violence not solving anything that strongly resembles a number of TOS and TNG episodes. This elevates his work from fanfic character smooching to using Star Trek to spread constructive ideas about the world, which brings him to doing art instead of soap opera and justifies Torres’s title as the Muse who inspires art.

Back at the Delta Flyer, in a humorous jab at the standard plot cliches, Torres’s troubles with the transmitter turn out to be completely star trek voyager muse pointless because Harry Kim was here all along with a transmitter in his pocket. But now Torres has become caught up in the story and arrives at the play just as the bard struggles with his lack of an ending. Here the discovery that Torres is an Eternal combined with the sudden reversal comes into the equation. Finally Torres departs in a blaze of light with a tear trickling down her cheek which makes you wonder if that’s supposed to be Torres the person or Torres the actress playing a part on the stage. Or perhaps at this point there really is no distinction. What matters is not Torres herself but how the audience sees her and what the audience takes away from the play they have just seen. As the final words are recited and the real audience and the stage audience come together on the closing words describing a peaceful world where “hatred has no home.” This as much as anything else is the vision of Star Trek and you realize with a jolt that the possibility of its realization is as alien to us as it is to the aliens applauding. Despite the vast cultural and technological gap between them and us, neither of us is anywhere close; but what brings both the fictional and the real audience of Trek together is that we are both reaching for what is beyond us. Like Galaxy Quest, Muse ends on a hopeful note of belief in redemption through idealism, the idealism of its fans.

This is Muse’s theme and its focus on the way the audience refracts the material presented to it. Unlike Shakespeare in Love which focuses on the idea of actors playing parts and the joy of the theater, Muse focuses on the actual product and the creative process. The key difference between Shakespeare and Star Trek in this context (beyond many of the obvious differences) is that Star Trek seems to inspire people to duplicate it in some way whether that involves collecting merchandise, reading books or writing fanfic. Muse makes the distinction though between trying to duplicate the source material, namely the starships and the adventures and the weird aliens, as opposed to trying duplicate the ideas behind the source material. The bard’s progress comes when he learns to see past the setting and to placing ideas within that setting. Similarly what the writers may be trying to say in their own defense is that what matters about Voyager isn’t the settings or the relationships or the plot resolutions but the meanings and ideas behind it. This is likely to be a tough sell to fans.

Still the writers have made one point pretty clearly, whether intentionally or not. As bad as any present or future series might be, it’s still better than fanfic.

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