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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Extinction

“Extinction”

Overall Episode score: 4.0
Performances: 2.0
Writing: 3.0
Direction: 6.0
FX: 7.0

Summary: Archer, Reed and Hoshi get turned into alien werewolves and spend a lot of time sniffing T’Pol and playing in the trees.

star trek enterprise extinctionReview: The first portion of “Extinction” was so bad that about halfway through as Archer and Reed gibbered and capered through the trees, I began hoping that another blackout would strike the northeast. Of all the TNG episodes in the world to remake why in all the galaxy would ENTERPRISE choose to remake bottom of the barrel material like “Genesis” and “Identity Crisis?” Throw in a premise reminiscent of fine VOYAGER episodes like “Threshold,” “Nemesis,” and “Favorite Son” and you’ve really hit a high water mark in quality. ENTERPRISE’s stated goal this season was to be all new and exciting, yet “Extinction” not only borrows wheelbarrows of material from past STAR TREK shows, but borrows from worst possible places.

In previous seasons, Andre Bormanis was responsible for some of ENTERPRISE’s best work and “Extinction”‘s second half occasionally shows glimmers of the quality of his past abilities. But even this show’s best moments such as the mutated Archer’s dream sequence in the alien city and the death of the contaminated member of the alien containment team have the stamp of the director, rather than the writer, on them. And “Extinction”‘s worst moments aren’t moments, but entire scenes in the forest with the alienated crew and T’Pol that might have only lasted minutes in objective time, but subjectively seem to run for hours. The idea of having the aliens speak an alien language before shifting to the universal translator’s english is a good idea and worked well in “Precious Cargo” and “Dawn.” But “Extinction”‘s gibbering is more reminiscent of the altered English in VOYAGER’s Nemesis. A good idea in theory, but painful to experience and combined with the mutated crewmembers acting like extras from PLANET OF THE APES, completely impossible to watch.

What made “Identity Crisis” a better episode than “Genesis” was that it was about the slow transformation of people into alien things. While “Genesis” like “Extinction” got the transformation over with as quickly as possible, assuming that the whole point of a classic ‘transformation’ story is in watching the werewolf scamper around the forest, rather than in watching the man struggle not to become a werewolf. The drama is ultimately with the human being rather than with the moster and with the choices that they make rather than with scenes of animalistic behavior. Had “Extinction” chose to make the aliens humanoid rather than animalistic, the moral dilemma Archer only manages to articulate in the final moments of the episode could have been a real part of the story.

Like “Tuvix,” ENTERPRISE might have gone into interesting philosophical territory by, for example, broaching the question of whether the crew would be prepared to destroy the replacement aliens to restore Archer, Reed, and Hoshi, and whether Dr. Phlox would have gone along with such a move. It could have explored the moral dilemmas of the species maintaining the containment and contrasted their desperate tactics to protect their species with Archer’s own desperate measures to save humanity as recently as in the last episode. It could have similarly articulated the desperate measures that drove the alien species the crew are transformed into, to doing what they did through the voices of the crewmembers themselves. But instead, “Extinction” has the aliens act more like werewolves sniffing each other, gibbering and leaping into and out of trees. Any potential for centering the episode around more than a formulaic VOYAGEResque plot in which T’Pol tries to reach Archer’s humanity, the one-dimensional aliens obstruct Trip from saving the crew just long enough for a few commercial breaks and the Doctor comes up with an immediate solution to a problem no one else has been able to solve for decades, is completely wasted.Star Trek: Enterprise: The Complete Series

In the second half, “Extinction” makes a weak attempt to deal with the plight of an extinct species, but aside from Archer’s excellent dream sequence, it mostly fails to do anything but force the poor actors to act like they’re in a dinner theatre production of CATS. Where it tries to be “The Inner Light” or “Memorial,” the episode mainly ends up being “Genesis” for its focus on having the crew pantomime animal behaviors rather than reveal human ones. But unlike that TNG episode, it’s never so absurd or bad that it’s actually funny. “Extinction” wants characters that behave like the devolved crew from “Genesis” to get the same kind of reaction as Picard’s journey in “Inner Light.” But it doesn’t have the script or the performances or the genius to pull something like that off and what results instead is painful to watch. Even Blalock’s T’Pol stumbles around dazed and confused with nothing to work with except fellow actors behaving like German Shepherds in a dog park.

“Extinction” should get credit for continuity by tying in “Anomaly”‘s Xindi database to this week’s plot and lose credit for the continuity of including yet another skimpily-clad massage scene. In a better episode like “Anomaly” this type of material might have brought down the episode’s average, but so much of “Extinction” is so bad that it barely stands out. Also, ENTERPRISE’s third season seems to be in danger of following VOYAGER into a Gilligan’s Island scenario in which the crew’s search for the Xindi keeps getting sidelined into wacky adventures every week. The MACO’s are curiously absent this episode even though there is an assault and rescue mission that should have required their talents. Obviously they can’t and shouldn’t use them all the time and guest stars of course cost money, but giving an explanation for their absence might have been a good idea. “Extinction”‘s special effects are also a bit uneven with some great space-based scenes like the Enterprise streaking away from the planet with the alien quarantine ships in pursuit, and some poor ground scenes, like the alien city in Archer’s dream sequence, which looks toylike.

Finally, while the touch of continuity provided by the Xindi database is nice, it would have better if “Extinction” had continued fleshing out the ongoing arcs like the MACO’s, the Xindi, the crew’s reaction to the Xindi attack and to Archer’s actions in the previous episode. The aliens maintaining the quarantine could have by now gained some awareness of the Enterprise’s previous actions in the Expanse such as their attack on the mining facility and their skirmish with the Osaarian pirates and might have drawn some conclusions based on these rumors. That would mean that Enterprise is gaining a reputation in the Expanse. Perhaps the episode could have shown the quarantine aliens making a report to a Xindi contact or Trip could have obtained more information from the Xindi shuttle. There are of course plenty of other possibilities that ENTERPRISE could have employed to strengthen its arc-based content in an otherwise throwaway episode.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Judgement

Summary: Archer experiences the unfairness of the Klingon justice system firsthand.

star trek enterprise judgementGreat heroes need great antagonists to confront and oppose. The Original Series created two great antagonist races, the Romulans and the Klingons, which every STAR TREK series has continued to use and which, arguably, none have improved upon. But even though the Klingons were key antagonists for the original Enterprise crew, ENTERPRISE until now has been stuck with a TNG-era view of the pop culture foe: somewhat troublesome allies, not ruthless conquerors and slavemasters. This is probably because the show’s producers date back only to TNG. The Klingon Empire in “Judgment,” however, is shown as a true empire complete with the enslaved races that were there in the Original Series and seemed to have been forgotten about by the 24th century. “Judgement” does not entirely upstage the TNG view of the Klingons but it comes closer to the TOS view, which is a vital necessity if ENTER{RISE is to retool itself into a better TV series.

Where during ENT’s previous Klingon encounters, the ridged-ones could mostly be talked around to the human view of things (“Unexpected,” “Sleeping Dogs”) or dismissed as rogue elements (“Marauders”), “Judgement” is the first Klingon-centered episode where they don’t do the reasonable thing by the end of the episode and instead take a decidedly hostile course of action by sentencing Archer to life in an arctic Klingon gulag. Whether this will translate into a change in how the Klingons relate to humans in future episodes, when Archer has become a fugitive from Klingon justice, depends on whether or not the producers will choose to uphold series continuity or not. “Judgement” itself, though, is certainly full of STAR TREK continuity references, from ‘Captain Duras’ suggesting a relationship to Worf’s antagonist to major elements of STAR TRE VI, including the tribunal set design and the dilithium mines of Rura Penthe complete with abusive guards and a variety of alien scum.

Captain Archer himself is also closer to Kirk in this episode than he’s ever been so far. He displays courage and determination rather than the impulsiveness and obtuseness that have so often characterized Archer. Former Martok actor J.G. Hertzler also creates a better character in the form of ‘Kolos’, an aging and disaffected gruff Klingon lawyer out of place in the new order. Of course Kolos’ speech about the warrior class having taken over Klingon society is rather dubious at best since the Klingons are not the Romulans or the Cardassians. The warrior class hasn’t taken over their society; violent confrontation is the basis of their society, culture, and biology from the times of ‘Kahless’ to the 24th century.

Even Klingons who were part human or raised by humans like ‘Worf’, ‘K’heylar’ or ‘B’Elanna’ inherited it. That speech along with Archer’s cliched homily about the human past smacks of an attempt to humanize Klingons into just another yet-to-be-civilized culture along human lines like the Cardassians or Ferengi.

These days UPN seems to bill just about every ENT episode as an ENT Event, but “Judgement” is one of the few episodes that’s worthy of the name. Everything from the direction to the actors is just right with an episode that appears to cover a lot of ground and with each character, no matter how minor, making a distinct impression. The visual effects and production design departments have outdone themselves again. Money was clearly spent on this episode and it shows in the FX of the exteriors of the Tribunal and the Klingon ship and the Tribunal interior, which does its best to reproduce the original and unique Klingon set design of STAR TREK VI, from a courtroom that’s narrow but sweeps high upwards to the Klingon judge’s alien gavel.

Overall “Judgement” is the series’s first solid Klingon episode. Where prior STAR TREK spin-offs produced filler Klingon episodes as an attempt to boost ratings with the appearance of a popular race, this episode has a decent grasp of continuity, a viewpoint and a message. It has its flaws. Archer’s rescue is more originally accomplished and plausible than a standard starship rescue might have been, but its abruptness and lack of build-up with an offhand comment by T’Pol makes the conclusion seem rushed. Had “Judgement” seen Archer captured and put on trial for any of his prior negative Klingon encounters, it would have boosted continuity and freed up more time for a heartier conclusion to the episode which, like many TREK episodes, now suffers in the reduced running time (39 vs 44 minutes) that UPN has provided.

Next week: Another ENT Event: Mayweather’s family yells at each other.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – “Vanishing Point”

Summary: The entire episode turns out to be a hallucination in which Hoshi re-experiences a TNG plot that takes place in only two seconds. Unfortunately the actual experience of watching the episode takes much longer.

star trek enterprise vanishing point“Vanishing Point” starts with an interesting concept. A character who often feels overlooked and out of place really begins to become invisible. TNG had already carried out the reverse of that storyline in “Remember Me,” in which Dr. Crusher believes that everyone around her is disappearing and they actually do begin vanishing. But it was still an interesting concept and had the potential for some amusing scenes and character development. About halfway through the episode “Vanishing Point” begins to strongly resemble “The Next Phase,” another TNG episode in which characters are turned invisible through alien machinations that they have to expose by contacting the crew before the aliens blow up Enterprise, and in the last few minutes we go on to discover that the entire episode was a hallucination that took place in the last 2 seconds of her transport up from the planet. For those few optimists who might have been hoping that Hoshi’s first transporter experience had displaced her in time and that she could now warn the crew about the alien threat, as in DS9’s “Visionary” so that the actual events that had happened up until now would still matter, the entire episode turned out to be an hallucination.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy sitting through 40 minutes of an episode that turns out never to have happened or to matter in the least. I might have enjoyed it more if it had actually lasted for only two seconds, though. It might have been some sort of localized temporal distortion field operating in my area but the actual experience of watching it seemed to take at least twice as long as the episode’s running time. Not since the dog days of the first season has Enterprise turned out such a drearily episode paced at about the same speed as paint drying on a wall. Or, rather, after forty minutes of watching the paint dry on the wall it is discovered to be a dream about paint drying on a wall that does not involve any actual paint or walls.

It’s hard to say why the twist ending was added on. After an episode that consisted mostly of repetitive scenes of Hoshi believing that she might be losing her mind and the crew acting distant and cold towards her, the only life left in the episode came from the nightmarish atmosphere isolating Hoshi and forcing her to face the situation alone. With the twist ending, this last breath of life is sucked out into a vacuum and what’s left is the revelation that “Vanishing Point” was simply a waste of time.

“Vanishing Point” only adds one more neurosis to Hoshi’s catalog of neuroses, which after “Fight or Flight,” “Sleeping Dogs” and “Shockwave II” is starting to look as if it might rival Barclay’s. If the producers just find a way to addict Hoshi to holodecks, Barclay may have to be called back to defend his title. While “Fight or Flight” was a good episode, just as “Shuttlepod One” was a good episode, Enteprise’s producers tend towards repetitive character development by trying to reproduce what worked before. So after “Shuttlepod One” developed Reed by thrusting him into close quarters in a life and death situation with a gregarious colleague as a way of getting him to open up, we had “Minefield,” which did the same thing. After “Fight or Flight,” we now have multiple episodes that try to develop Hoshi by giving her more neuroses and having her overcome them. When in fact some of the better pieces of character development for Hoshi have been subtler scenes like Hoshi teaching the colonists self-defense in “Marauders.” Repetitive character development, after all, is not actually character development, it’s just a character repeating the same pattern over and over again.

What few shards remain to be dragged from the wreckage of “Vanishing Point” include the expansion of Enterprise’s sets, giving us the first view of the ship’s gym. Like movie night, it’s a reasonable enough addition in view of the fact that Enterprise has no holodeck and not that much shore leave. Though it does seem a bit cramped for an Enterprise sized crew. Bakula oddly enough does some of his best acting in weeks during Archer’s condolence call notifying Hoshi’s father of her death. It might have been good character development, if it had actually happened. The same probably can’t be said for “Vanishing Point,” but at least it might have been marginally watchable and moved the story one step forward instead of delivering the equivalent of the Dallas shower scene. Star Trek has often been accused of pushing the reset button, but “Vanishing Point” doesn’t just push the reset button. It breaks it.

Next week: Enterprise will break the fourth wall as the actors will have a collective dream in which they’re on a successful TV series.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – “Minefield”

Summary: Enterprise is menaced by the Romulan coast guard and Reed gets himself stuck on a mine while bonding with Captain Archer.

star trek enterprise minefieldIf much of Minefield’s Reed scenes seem distinctly familiar, that’s no surprise since much of Minefield is essentially a reworked version of Shuttlepod One with a mine on Enterprise’s hull substituted for a damaged shuttlecraft with an oxygen leak and Archer taking over Trip’s role. The two characters start out uncomfortable with one another and then are trapped together confronting a crisis that seems as if it can only be solved by a sacrifice. The different personalities of the two characters cause them to first clash and then bond as personal revelations are pried out of Reed under the pressure of the situation. But where Shuttlepod One was effective, Minefield is less so; in part because we’ve now seen it before and because Reed and Archer don’t really throw off any sparks.

Shockwave 2 and now Minefield do suggest that the producers have decided to confront questions about Archer’s command abilities. In Minefield, Archer’s own command style is justified by contrasting it with Reed’s more militaristic proposals as being more humanitarian. In part, Minefield’s flaw also ironically comes down to the same issue for which it defends Archer: his laid back command style. Thus Archer’s side of the dialogue is delivered lifelessly, as if Bakula is trying to order pizza on the phone or doing a publicity interview. The producers should be commended for finally recognizing that those questions exist, but Minefield really fails to challenge anyone but Reed and it’s a form of challenge that we’ve seen before now.

The new character development for Reed is interesting, but not really ground-breaking. It sheds some new light on the reason why Reed is so determined to prove himself and to maintain such rigorous self-discipline, but it does make you wonder if the only way to develop his character is to strand him in some trap in which he seems doomed to die and pry confessional revelations out of him. It may be a novel technique once, twice it begins to get old and a third time would be too much.

The real reason for viewer anticipation of Minefield of course was the first appearance of the Romulans on Enterprise. Yet this is somewhat anticlimactic, in part because Enterprise let the rabbit out of the hat some time ago by gratuitously featuring cloaking devices numerous times in violation of canon. Thus the Romulan cloaking device is not a shocking thing to the Enterprise crew, but a matter of “Oh, there goes another cloaking device.” It might have been more effective had the aliens in Silent Enemy been Romulans, thus helping to prepare Enterprise for a violent first confrontation. But in Minefield the Romulans react to Enterprise in much the same way that every Alien of the Week reacted to Voyager. The Romulans have been traditionally cunning as well as xenophobic, it’s what makes them interesting. But Minefield really doesn’t feature them doing anything more than playing Coast Guard. They’re never even particularly intimidating. Had Trip or T’Pol actually chosen to pursue the debate with the Romulans over the human view of the value of a single life, something interesting might have arisen from the clash of the two philosophies. But like the Borg on Voyager or the Klingons on DS9, the Romulans in Minefield were expected to be interesting because they were Romulans and not because anything genuinely interesting was happening.

Like both of the previous episodes this season, Minefield never succeeds because it never takes any real chances and never ventures into dangerous territory. There is no real argument among the crew in favor of jettisoning Reed. Nor is there any real possibility that this was going to happen. What if the first Romulan strike had killed a significant portion of Enterprise’s crew. In Minefield’s first moments after the strike, the effect appears to be genuinely devastating. The kind of attack that brings to mind TOS’s Balance of Terror or Wrath of Khan or Voyager’s Year of Hell. But it quickly gets reduced to Hoshi whining in sickbay, instead of the kind of real devastation that would have fueled Archer’s anger. What if more than one member of the senior staff was seriously committed to the idea of jettisoning Reed, over Reed’s protests. That could have been the kind of conflict to really bring some sparks to this episode. What if the episode had actually taken a chance and amputated at least a portion of Reed’s leg. But of course we know that kind of thing would never happen on Enterprise. It never even happened on TNG, when Piller proposed replacing Picard’s arm with a prosthetic one after Best of Both worlds. And that really is the problem with Minefield, we know the formula and we know the status quo will be maintained. The fact that Archer can’t seem to bring himself to take the situation seriously only decreases any suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. So for all that the episode may be called Minefield, it in fact consists of taking easy choices.

Minefield does demonstrate a pretty impressive display of Enterprise’s special effects. From the original hit on Enterprise that reveals exposed decks and is reminiscent of some of the hard hitting scenes in Wrath of Khan and Year of Hell to the redesigned Romulan vessel, which merges the TNG green streamlined look of Romulan ships with the TOS Bird of Prey shape, Enterprise’s effects tend to be more consistent than that of previous shows and Minefield in particular looks pretty good.

Minefield also contains a few more references to Earth, including the revelation that humanity has yet to evolve beyond watching soccer matches and even manages to have Reed call it football, instead of soccer. Apparently soccer might actually outlive baseball, though not water polo, or apparently football either, if the Fusion reference by the Vulcans is to be taken as current. As in Silent Enemy, we learn that the Royal Navy still exists. Though there is not yet any explanation forthcoming as to why individual countries need military fleets, as opposed to research boats and coast guards.

All in all Minefield is a decent enough action episode but spends too much time on a repetitive Reed storyline too reminiscent of Shuttlepod One and never gives the Romulans anything interesting to do.

Next week: Enterprise discovers that alien space stations don’t take American Express.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Fusion

Summary: Enterprise spends time in a nebula, Archer realizes he hates all Vulcans and T’Pol gets mind-date-raped. The FX department wastes some gorgeous FX shots on a profoundly mediocre episode.

star trek enterprise fusionWhen ‘Unexpected’ first aired it seemed as if it might reign as the supreme and unchallenged ‘Spock’s Brain’ episode of Enterprise and ‘Fusion’ presents no real challenge to it. That’s mainly because, where ‘Unexpected’ was gleefully awful, ‘Fusion’ is just a mediocre reworking of TNG Troi episodes such as “The Price” right down to the haunting visions, the mysterious evil man and some gratuitous bed scenes. It’s dreary and predictable, especially when run at Enterprise’s molasses pace.

Enterprise has traditionally eschewed B plots and it is a sign of how little content Fusion actually has, that it needs a B-plot to keep the episode moving along and fill out the time. Possibly in an attempt to distract the audience from how predictable and trite the A story was, the writers chose an even more predicable and trite B story featuring ‘the son making peace with his dying father.’ One has to wonder how many TV cliches Berman and Braga had to sort through to find one of the hoariest cliches out there and execute it in the most cliched way possible. Is there even a single viewer out there who didn’t instantly know that Trip would attempt to bond with the obese Vulcan by telling him about some story from his own past or that at the end said obese Vulcan would have made the call? This goes beyond predictable and unoriginal and manages to achieve something like trite greatness.

The premise for ‘Fusion’ has Enterprise encountering an alien ship with technical difficulties resulting in some cultural exchange. It’s another plot that Enterprise might want to give a rest since it’s already been used in far too many episodes including the last episode, Shuttlepod One. The actual execution is something like a Vulcan version of TOS’s ‘The Way to Eden’ right down to one of the crew being the son of a high ranking ambassador. In fact at any moment you expect T’Pol to get out her lute while they start singing “Stiff man putting my mind in jail \ Judge bangs the gavel and says No bail \ So I’ll lick his hand and wag my tail.” Except it’s not actually bad enough to be funny or to inspire any emotion other than boredom and curiosity as to whether there might be something more exciting on PBS’s schedule tonight.

The T’Pol portion of the episode plays even more slowly if anything. The Vulcan has no chemistry whatsoever with T’Pol and the entire routine is completely predictably because TNG played it out with Troi over and over again. If Berman were to actually watch a few episodes of his own series, he might notice that the theme of substituting mental invasion for sexual invasion has been done to death on Star Trek and by done to death, I mean that reruns of these episodes could be used to solve the rat problems of several major urban centers.

Indeed the closest thing to a strength that ‘Fusion’ displays is that Archer actually seems like a strong character here and his final scene with T’Pol is one of those admissions that could spur some growth for his character. Indeed Fusion’s only good moments are, ironically enough, contained in its opening teaser and feature Archer as well. Some gorgeous FX shots wasted on what is essentially a bottle show made using recycled TNG scripts, which all in all seems like a rather futile attempt to save money.

Next week: T’Pol is haunted by her dead grandmother’s spectral lover. After all if B&B are going to recycle bad TNG episodes, Sub Rosa is undeniably the granddaddy of bad TNG episodes. (or Repeat Hell for another month.)

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shuttlepod One

Summary: Enterprise produces its first breakout episode of the season as Reed and Trip fight for their lives in a damaged Shuttlepod running out of air.

Until now Enterprise’s first season has been less than stellar with more misses than hits and few episodes that are likely to be remembered star trek enterprise shuttlepod one half a decade down the road, but Shuttlepod One is likely to be this season’s breakout hit. It’s also the episode that comes closest to recapturing the Original Series style than any other episode so far.

The premise is simple enough. Two men, one shuttlepod and not enough air. And there are endless Golden Age SF stories on this theme, most focusing on finding ingenious ways out of the problem or killing each other. Shuttlepod One instead plays it as a character piece in which Reed and Trip, two officers with clashing personalities, fight and bond over the situation. The resemblance to TOS is certainly not accidental as much of the same material was also present in Gallileo 7, a story about a trapped shuttle, a conflict between a calm, logical officer and an emotional one and a solution involving dumping the engine’s fuel and igniting it as a distress beacon. Shuttlepod One mostly dispenses with the problem solving and instead focuses on the character relationships so that the solution comes as more of an afterthought than anything else. By causing the characters to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed, it unleashes a well of desperation and anger that wouldn’t otherwise have been there.

With Brannon Braga as the writer of this episode, it would have been reasonable to expect the destruction of the Enterprise to be the result of some sort of temporal anomaly ala Timeless. Braga, though, seems well aware of his reputation and instead the only exotic phenomena are the fairly plausible and scientifically up to date micro-singularities. Instead Trip and Reed come to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed because they notice some of the debris from a collision between Enterprise and an alien ship. This is probably the biggest plot hole in the episode, since it assumes that the Enterprise’s chief engineer could mistake some torn off hull fragments for the complete wreckage of the ship. Even with sensors down, visual inspection alone should have discredited that notion.

Still unlike the Golden Age SF stories, the competence of the characters is clearly not an issue here, but as in the TOS novel Kobayashi Maru, it’s a test of the way they face death. The decisions they make certainly aren’t very good and getting drunk towards the end probably isn’t much of a command decision either, but it’s not an unrealistic depiction of the way people can face desperate situations. Reed reacts with emotional detachment even as he makes some attempt to reestablish posthumous emotional connections with fragments of his past. Trip reacts with emotional displays and spur-of-the moment decisions. And as in Gallieo 7, it’s ultimately the emotionally withdrawn officer who makes the final risky gamble of jettisoning their fuel/engines as a last ditch effort to attract help.

While the basic plot is obviously not original and any number of shows have done similar episodes, Shuttlepod One is also the most intensive star trek enterprise shuttlepod one piece of character work and character growth we’ve seen so far, despite all the Archer and T’Pol materials that have been thrown at us so far. Indeed, the scenes with Archer and T’Pol in this episode only serve to deflate the tension of the isolated pod and gives us two Archer moments that are petty in ways we would have thought that he’d be beyond by now. But then of course there’s nothing like throwing two people together into a life and death situation to achieve character growth. Or at least that was the idea behind the fairly mediocre Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem, which tried this same basic storytelling trick twice with Archer and T’Pol.

In addition to the character work though, Shuttlepod One offers plenty of nice touches from the mashed potatoes used as hull sealant (don’t try this at home kids), the gruesome turn that the shaving scene takes and the bourbon bet. It’s this kind of thing that fills out character interactions in ways that words can’t and it’s also why the Archer/T’Pol interactions in Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem had no real depth to them. Hopefully though they don’t decide to try and get Archer and T’Pol drunk in order to hurry things up. After P’Jem’s rope scene, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Beyond the character work, Shuttlepod One is one of the few Enterprise episodes to have broken free of the usual TNG-lite and recycled Voyager material. It’s all the more surprising therefore that it was co-written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the people one could hold quite responsible for TNG and Voyager in the first place. Longtime Trek director David Livingston delivers shots of tight shuttlepod interiors that play on the sense of isolation and desperation and the FX sequences display empty space with occasional grey asteroid rubble and dirty drifts of debris. It all only emphasizes how far we’ve come from Voyager’s ‘Technobabble Saves the Day’ solutions and comfortable environments.

Next week: Behold the magic and mystery of reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Mid-Season Review

One of the best ways to measure where Enterprise is at this point is by looking back at where previous Star Trek series were at this stage, just ten episodes into their first season.

star trek enterpriseTNG at this point had produced several disastrous episodes such as “The Naked Now” and “Justice” that would haunt the series in reruns. Its ninth episode, “The Battle”, featured the introduction of the new series menace, the Ferengi, that were doomed to become comic relief for a decade to come. And it ended with “Hide and Q”, one of the more mediocre Q episodes of the series. By this point many Star Trek fans had decided that the attempt to create a Star Trek series without Kirk and Spock had failed miserably and they had justification for thinking so. TNG’s pilot was ambitious but it was also deeply flawed. Many of the episodes suffered from an attempt to recapture TOS’s spirit, but instead were painfully serious blunders featuring ham handed and joyless philosophical meditations. At the same time there were hopeful signs if anyone cared to read them. Code of Honor pointed towards the strength that TNG would find in its Klingon themes. Q had already become a fixture of the series and would go on to serve as an effective foil against Captain Picard. Still no fan could have been blamed for giving up on the series at this point. Fortunately most fans chose to keep watching and TNG increased its viewership despite being in syndication, it became one of television’s dominant series.

DS9’s first ten episodes also had no shortage of embarrassing and clumsy material such as “Past Prologue”, “Babel” and “The Passenger.” Like TNG, its key strengths were also becoming visible in its reliance on characters. Odo’s isolation in “A Man Alone”, O’Brien being forced to choose between the rules and what had to be done in “Captive Pursuit”, Sisko’s relationship with his son in “Babel” and the complexity and diversity of station life itself. In both series, the strengths and weaknesses that would prove to both attract and repel viewers over their seven year runs were already on display ten episodes in.

The question is, where does Enterprise stand on this scale? For the most part Enterprise has consisted of episodes that painstakingly reexamine standard Star Trek plots under the guise of Birth of Space Exploration episodes. Enterprise has stripped away the complexity of the usual Star Trek material and instead attempted to bring them to life by examining the mechanisms of exploration and taking a look back into the past of Star Trek continuity, rather than creating more complex plots based around showing us what we haven’t seen before or the political and military intrigues of a crowded galaxy. The result, though, has often been episodes with little content based on plots that aren’t particularly original. With the exception of Suliban arc episodes such as “Cold Front”, these episodes had nothing new or original to offer us. They do not stand out in memory and make uninspiring rerun viewing at best.

When such plots are linked to character growth of the other crew members as in Fight or Flight or Fortunate Son, they can work. However, so far most of the episodes linked to Archer’s character growth and Trip’s relationship to Vulcans: Civilization, Strange New World and Andorian Incident have failed rather badly. Enterprise seems to have adopted human contact with Vulcans as a major theme, but it is a theme that has simply failed to take off and seems rather forced. Though humanity has supposedly been in contact with Vulcans for some time, Trip had a Vulcan teacher and Archer even served aboard a Vulcan ship; they are bafflingly clueless about Vulcans. Despite all this experience in “Breaking the Ice” Archer appears to be unaware that Vulcans will not engage in small talk or have lunch with him. As such it relies more on minor cultural blunders to define the relationship, which would have long been overcome by this date, rather than focusing on divisions produced by more fundamental issues and agendas. Enterprise’s view of the Vulcans is one-dimensional, as is its view of humans and the resulting collision is not particularly interesting. As such the Vulcan theme, on a par with TNG’s Ferengi menace, may need to be dramatically retooled.

A further aspect of the problem is the essential blandness of the two Enterprise characters, around whom most episodes revolve, Archer and Trip. Some Star Trek Captains may have been offensive and widely hated, but up until now they have never been bland. But that is the best way to describe Captain Archer. He lacks any of the quirks or flaws of a Kirk or a Picard or even a Sisko or Janeway. In the aftermath of such controversial characters, he is simply the result of an attempt to produce a character who is thoroughly amiable and inoffensive and whom no one could possibly hate. But that very attempt has produced an uninteresting character, a bland leading man with no distinguishing characteristics. There is essentially nothing interesting or unique about Archer. Nothing to set him apart as a memorable character like Kirk or Picard.

While some blame for this may be laid at the door of the producers, ultimately character actors like Shatner and Stewart gave their characters life, resulting in what for better or worse were unique characters imprinted on the American pop culture psyche. On the other hand, Archer is eminently forgettable. He is distinguished by nothing except his very quality of inoffensiveness. Archer has come closest to making an impression in episodes such as Fight or Flight or Cold Front, where he was forced to struggle with difficult choices that helped define his character and led away from blandness and towards defining moments that helped place his character on a moral geography. Those were good episodes, but realistically speaking most episodes will not be up to their standards and a Captain should ideally make an impression whenever his character is on screen. For better or worse, even Sisko and Janeway managed to do that. Archer feels more like a blank space titled ‘Insert Starship Captain Here.’

To some extent that charge can also be levied against the general crew makeup, which is heavily white anglo-saxon male with the minorities serving as junior officers. Traditionally, alien characters have become a series’ breakout characters. SpockData characters for instance have often taken over the series as the Doctor and Seven of Nine did on Voyager. For now, however, the producers have designated Archer and Trip for the bulk of the airtime. Hopefully this will begin to change and more interesting characters such as Doctor Phlox, T’Pol and Reed who are played by more talented actors will begin to get more airtime.

Ultimately the key difference between Enterprise ten episodes in and TNG, DS9 and Voyager ten episodes in, is that the failures of those shows often came from testing the limits. Enterprise’s failures on the other hand are produced by conservative and derivative plots and a failure to take chances. Star Trek series have tested the limits early on, defined them and used them as parameters for the rest of the series. Enterprise is doing its best to be inoffensive and giving viewers nothing to object to and nothing that might alienate them. The viewership numbers showing less of a falloff suggest that this may be working, but it has also resulted in a less interesting and less compelling show; at least thus far.

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 – 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 review – The Void

Summary: One of this season’s and Voyager’s best. Trapped and desperate Voyager has to choose between the ideals of the Federation and the predatory nature of the prisoners of the Void.

Along with the decline in quality and storytelling, one of the notable declines of the Berman created Star Trek spinoffs has been a decline in

star trek voyager void

All warp drive warranties null and void

moral logic, in the ability to understand the ethics of a situation and make moral choices while showing both sides of the argument. Voyager itself has far too often relied on shrill rhetoric completely disconnected from reality and Janeway’s set jaw to insist that X is the right choice without ever actually having a clear understanding of the issues. The result is a kind of tone deaf morality in which the heroes are right because they have a neat slogan and because they say they’re right. The problems themselves have no complexity or texture and there’s rarely any real doubt as to what the right choice is.

So The Void is even more surprising, not just because it accomplishes in one episode what Voyager never quite managed to pull off in its first two seasons, namely to show a Starship and crew in dangerous, unknown and hostile territory with their backs up against the wall and with the situation verging on real desperation. Not just because it’s one of the clear and outstanding winners of a mediocre season and not even because it manages to show and state in 40 minutes the key factors in building a Federation type alliance that Andromeda hasn’t managed to nail ever, despite this exact thing being the show’s premise. The Void is genuinely surprising because Voyager actually manages to pull off an episode without any soap opera histrionics and minimal personal storylines and instead just delivers a solid story that stands on its own. Even the generic JanewayChakotay arguments are cut short and the usual storyline clutter that appears in nearly every Voyager episode is also gone. Thus pared to the bone, Voyager manages to produce an intelligent, compelling episode set around space travel in the style of the Roddenberry Star Trek.

Voyager has done no shortage of anomaly episodes which is why we would expect that when Voyager is sucked into an anomaly that there would be some crew friction and then Seven and Co. would come up with some new technological trick and they would be out of there just in time for the credits. Instead, Void focuses not on the technological tricks but on survival because the ultimate solution to the Void doesn’t lie in technology but in cooperation and returning to the ideals of the Federation. For far too many episodes of the Berman Treks, our heroes encounter some aliens who don’t like our heroes and they clash. It can go on for years as on DS9 or for 40 minutes an episode as on Voyager but it’s ultimately just a throw away plot with one flavor of blackhats or another who have to be taught a lesson. Very rarely do we get an examination of the underlying conflict and application of Star Trek’s ideals to it (as in TOS’s Arena) in a situation that can’t just be resolved by a technolobabble gimmick. Instead, a moral choice has to be made, between the harder principled path or the predatory ends-justifies the-means solution.

And what is unique enough about Void is that this is one of the rare times in Star Trek where the principled choice actually makes more sense star trek voyager voidthan the unprincipled one. All too often Berman era Star Trek presents the moral decision as a burden, a hairshirt that has to be worn to prove the sainthood of our heroes. This is an attitude that comes from the complete incomprehension of Star Trek’s actual ideals. Kirk and Picard certainly weren’t saints, they were flawed men struggling for a better cause. This better cause wasn’t some Quixotic quest for the holy grail but the implementation and defense of a system that fostered mutual cooperation for common goals. A system that was both practical and capable. In the Void Janeway’s alliance is a much more practical and sane choice than the pirate choice namely because if Voyager turns predator that would just mean being trapped in the void and fighting a losing battle for survival. It might lengthen their survival rate by a week or a month or maybe even a year but the final result would still be inevitable. Every predator is eventually eaten by something else. The alliance solution on the other hand was a gamble and a definite risk in the beginning but in the long run it was the only realistic option for survival since it would boost Voyager’s resources with far less attrition and provide a realistic hope of escape.

There are times when the Federation seems naive, foolishly optimistic and just a weak system waiting to be taken advantage of and there are certainly times when Starfleet Captains have come off that way; but The Void reminds us what makes the Federation strong in the first place. The Klingons may make better warriors, the Cardassians may have better order and the Romulans better covert operations, the Borg may have larger numbers and more advanced technology but the Federation’s strength comes as a pooling of resources to create a greater union. From a predatory standpoint the Federation may seem weak and inefficient and its diplomatic and peaceful agenda proof of its weakness, but these things are the focal points of its strength and Void does an excellent job of demonstrating just how that works in a way that not even TOS or TNG have quite managed. The idea that Federation and Starfleet ideals are outmoded and need to be dropped to survive in a “harsher reality” has become common currency among a certain faction of fandom and it was the premise of DS9’s final seasons, The Void shows that it is in those harsher realities that the Federation needs its ideals the most.

While Janeway studying the Federation charter for loopholes as opposed to Starfleet regulations seems odd (would a Navy Captain study the

star trek voyager void

And Reddit rejoiced

Constitution in a crisis), it is a demonstration that the solution to the crisis came not from the regulations but from the very idealistic principles on which the Federation stands. Where Chakotay usually serves as the voice of reason trying to argue Janeway out of a short term blunder brought on by her megalomania and lack of basic common sense, in this case Janeway is arguing for long term survival and Chakotay arguing for short term survival. Tuvok’s position here seems a bit odd since despite his fascist leanings, you’d still expect a Vulcan and a security officer so attached to the letter of the regulations to stay on the side of principle. The addition of the Void creatures is a bit of a weak plot point and detracts from other possible stronger storylines. At least Void doesn’t make them the solution to Voyager’s problems, while they do repay the crew’s kindness and come in handy in the resolution; they’re not that crucial to it either. More time spent on the various races and personalities would have been preferable but fortunately, this time out, Seven’s “growth as a human being” material is so thin it was either mostly left on the cutting room floor or never really written in the first place. All in all, Void would have worked better as a two parter like Year of Hell giving time for the situation to really sink in and allowing more time to be spent on the different races and their integration into Voyager’s alliance. As it is, a lot of the material ends up being glossed over too quickly and we never really feel that Voyager’s situation is as desperate as it was in Year of Hell.

Mike Vejar’s direction is stunning as usual, though the special effects are noticeably weak. The anomaly effect looks like it could have come from TNG, the alien ships are not very memorable, and indistinct– all blending together. The final escape is also not very impressive. Janeway’s declaration about bigotry also rings false. After all, she was building an alliance with, as she put it, murderers and thieves. Does dislike of a parasitic native species covered in filth who are unable to communicate really convey how evil someone is? Too much of this episode is also borrowed from Night including the strange species which live in a dark starless space and the moral choice. Finally, while Neelix’s speech sounds very noble, he really has little in the way of resources and he essentially became Voyager’s all purpose errand boy, native guide and comic relief; not the best example of Voyager’s alliance. But then there’s no such thing as a flawless episode anyway.

Next week: Voyager’s crew get assimilated… but not by the Borg [for once].

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