Monday, December 26, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager, Season Three

I have to be honest: this season was another mixed bag. I think it's going to be that way through the run of this show; so far there haven't been any turning points like in DS9 or TNG where it all clicked. Voyager keeps trying to solidify its identity, but it has yet to find it. Still, some very strong episodes this season, so here are my thoughts.

1. Basics, Part II (my rating: 2 out of 5)
Really, I'm just happy to get those damned Kazons out of the way. Again, Brad Dourif and Robert Picardo are excellent on this episode--I'm sorry to see the end of Lon Suder, I'd have loved to see the writers bring him back every so often, because they use him as a way to explore the motivations and implications of violence. I wish the writers took more chances on this show.

2. Flashback (4/5)
ANY chance to see Captain Sulu is something I relish. I honestly don't care about the non-Sulu scenes in this story, but I love the stuff with Sulu. It's a shame no one wanted to take a chance on a Sulu series. I'd have watched the hell out of that. (There were some audio plays that are really fun.) George Takei is in fine form, as always.

3. The Chute (2/5)
Harry Kim and Tom Paris wind up in Midnight Express for some reason. Tedious viewing, elevated only slightly by Garrett Wang's performance; the producers actually let him show some damn emotion for once. I kind of wish they'd gone the full Midnight Express in this one and given Tom and Harry the romance they're so obviously meant for. Seriously, it's the only way to salvage these two. Too interesting a direction for Rick Berman to go in.

4. The Swarm (2/5)
Another episode where I'm really only interested in half the story. I didn't care for the easily-ignored plotline about the Swarm, but I loved the stuff with the Doctor and his holographic diagnostic program. It was fun seeing Picardo play Lewis Zimmerman ( I believe chronologically this falls before Zimmerman's appearance on DS9?), and interesting that they confronted what being activated for so long would realistically do to the Doctor's program.

5. False Profits (2/5)
A setback; after watching the whole of DS9, the series that elevated the Ferengi to three-dimensional characters, here they are being used as silly comic relief again. Ethan Phillips is fun on this episode, though.

6. Remember (4/5)
A flawed episode--seriously, Chip Esten as a sexy love interest?--it does have some interesting points to make not just about genocide, but also about a culture that covers up its role in genocide. Roxann Dawson is really good on this one, which sort of highlights why she bugs me on this show: sometimes she's really very good, and you wish the writing were up to what she was capable of, and then too often the writers let down the potential of the character and she just comes across as petulant and childish. This is a highlight for her and the season.

7. Sacred Ground (1/5)
Well, I always, ALWAYS like Becky Ann Baker, and Kate Mulgrew is really good on this one, but this is another example of how bad Star Trek can be when trying to handle issues of faith. I think it comes down too firmly on the side of faith here without really earning it; like they just want to throw something in there because they can and without really justifying it. I could see if they ended it so that the viewer could make up their own mind, but instead of asserting that there are things in the corners of the galaxy that we can't really explain or don't know how to make sense of yet, it seems to be saying "faith explains everything that you can't rationalize." Not as smart as it clearly thinks it is.

8. Future's End, Part I (3/5)
9. Future's End, Part II (3/5)
Boy, if you really need a reminder that the 90s were just the 80s with louder colors, check out the scenes that take place in 1996. Ouch. Not the giant success the episodes seem to think--it often feels gimmicky and forced--but there are some fun bits. Ed Begley Jr is great as the villain, and it's nice to see Sarah Silverman get to do something that isn't smiling while saying "vagina" over and over again. Robert Picardo has some great moments here, but adding the mobile emitter to him feels less like an organic part of the story and more like the episodes are only here to justify the gimmick. Going back to 1996 feels like a stunt. And two episodes feels like too much of it.

10. Warlord (5/5)
This is really a small tour-de-force for Jennifer Lien. You tell me that someone's body gets taken over by another intelligence and I start to fall asleep, but Lien is so good in this episode that it just kept me riveted. I think she's clearly relishing the opportunity to play Kes from a different approach, and she's utterly believable through the whole thing.

11. The Q and the Grey (5/5)
Another thoughtful but very fun Q episode, as we now see the fallout in the Continuum from Quinn's suicide last season. It's so much more substantive than how Q was handled as simply comic relief on that terrible DS9 episode. And Suzie Plakson is delightful here as a lady Q. Just a great little episode.

12. Macrocosm (3/5)
Kind of a fun action episode with Janeway doing a whole Ripley thing (the producers do love to go to the Aliens well), but I think the structure of the episode kind of lets down the premise. There's no reason to do flashbacks; nothing happens that couldn't have been handled with exposition, except that the running time needs to be padded. It takes you right out of the whole Die Hard thing that the episode created really well. Too bad.

13. Fair Trade (4/5)
Good Neelix episode, this one examining his sense of loyalty as he's caught between his Voyager family and an old friend who served prison time because of him. This reminded me of some of DS9's really good Ferengi episodes, which just makes "False Profits" even more of a disappointment. It's nice to see the Talaxians taken more seriously here, as the attitude towards Neelix can too often drift into outright condescension. I like the ending, where Neelix expects to be thrown off the ship, but instead gets dressed down by Janeway while simultaneously having his place aboard the ship reasserted.

14. Alter Ego (1/5)
Ugh. Didn't they exhaust the whole "falling in love with a holodeck character" thing with Geordi LaForge on TNG? Why can't the writers think of a single interesting thing to do with Harry Kim?

15. Coda (2/5)
This is what Becca refers to as a "Cat Lady" episode of Voyager. It's intermittently interesting, but all of the stuff with Janeway and her father, and the tentative relationship between Janeway and Chakotay (the perfect, supportive, asexual dream male), just... yeah, it's a Cat Lady episode.

16. Blood Fever (2/5)
I like Ensign Vorik. He's kind of neat and it's nice to see another Vulcan around. But this episode is insane. It's either a gimmicky excuse to bring the apparent mutual attraction of Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres to the fore, or it's a seriously misguided attempt to deal with sexuality on Star Trek.

17. Unity (5/5)
Now this is a fascinating examination of not just the Borg and the way they're characterized, but also the conflict between individual autonomy and collective belonging. What the writers are brave enough to do here is present a society who find comfort, safety and shared purpose in, essentially, a purely communistic existence. So we see a group of diverse aliens who have reclaimed themselves from the Borg, but who also miss what they truly feel is the social harmony of a hive mind. It's a bold statement to make, and one made with relatively less moral judgment than I've come to expect from this series. It's not arguing that communism and loss of individuality are right, but it is willing to show that the Federation way is not always going to be everyone's choice. After nearly a decade spent trying to force democracy on countries that don't want it, it's an interesting thing to see examined.

18. Darkling (1/5)
Silly. The Doctor does a whole Jekyll and Hyde thing after trying to improve his personality program. Meanwhile, Kes wants to lose her virginity and everyone freaks out over it. The whole thing gives the impression that the Doctor is reacting with sexual jealousy at someone else's interest in his little nurse. Just a creepy misfire all around.

19. Rise (2/5)
Kind of a retread of "The Galileo Seven," but I'm glad Neelix finally called Tuvok on his condescending attitude. I like Neelix and Tuvok together.

20. Favorite Son (1/5)
Terrible, fairly misogynistic and stupid episode. If Harry Kim had turned out to actually be a Taresian, that would've been very interesting, but of course we can't make Harry Kim interesting, can we?

21. Before and After (5/5)
Another tour-de-force for Jennifer Lien, and a great episode; one of the few episodes of a Star Trek series that uses time travel as a story element without simply being a gimmick, or worse, routine. I don't necessarily dig the idea of Kes ending up with Tom Paris--I wouldn't wish that on anyone--but Kes is such a great character and Lien such a strong actress that she sells everything that happens here. Interesting idea to tease future events; I guess we'll see how many of them actually happen.

22. Real Life (5/5)
An emotionally genuine and sincere episode. I like the idea of the Doctor experimenting with a holographic family--gosh, it's always nice to see Robert Picardo and Wendy Schaal together, though now when she talks all I can hear is Francine Smith. When Torres reprograms his family to make them less like the perfect family and more random and realistic, they pull out every plot point of practically every Afterschool Special and Lifetime movie, but it somehow all works; the tone shifts are organic and Robert Picardo's performance carries it through, approaching it with growing seriousness and sincerity. Lindsey Haun, as the Doctor's holographic daughter, is very sympathetic. Absolutely fantastic special effects on this episode, too.

23. Distant Origin (5/5)
Wow. I loved everything about this episode, which is a real surprise considering it comes from, I'm sorry, two guys that I really consider among the weakest Trek writers (Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky). But the way this episode is handled, its broader themes, the makeup, the way it looks and feels... this is a great science fiction episode for any television series. I love the Voth species and the whole idea of how they evolved. And I love Chakotay's defense of Professor Gegen's ideas: that his controversial theories actually strengthen the resolve, tradition and resilience of the Voth rather than threaten them. Beautifully done; the kind of thing Trek isn't often enough.

24. Displaced (3/5)
Kind of a neat idea that loses steam before its conclusion. I like Janeway on this one; this is the side of her that doesn't care about the Prime Directive but is more willing, instead, to do what she has to in order to protect her crew.

25. Worst Case Scenario (4/5)
Not perfect, but I really have to give this episode credit for finding humor in its human characters, who are too often just cardboard cutouts or ciphers for what the writers want to say. There should be more episodes like this, where the characters are bored and find excitement in unexpected places. I like how the teaser toys with the audience, too; for a while, you don't know what's going on, and then you want to know and see more. It's a lot less interesting once Seska becomes involved and then it's basically another Killer Holodeck episode (though it is nice to see Martha Hackett again, and she's as good as ever). But the first half reminds me of one of those great M*A*S*H episodes where the characters would try and find ways to combat their boredom.

26. Scorpion, Part I (5/5)
Talk about being sucked in right away: seeing Borg cubes destroyed by some unknown race. That sets you up right off for something very big and epic. Some great visuals in this one--Voyager being passed by 15 Borg cubes on their way to fight this Species 8472, and Voyager finding the same cubes hollowed out and destroyed later--that make up for the look of Species 8472, which looks like you would expect computer graphics on a TV series in 1997 to look. But it's nice to see the Borg returned to being scary and imposing again on TV; it allows the series to create villains that are even scarier and more powerful than their most powerful enemy, and at the same time creates a lot of exciting tension when Janeway decides the easiest way to get out of this is to make an alliance with the Borg.

It's a great cliffhanger to an uneven season--an uneven season with a number of true gems. I've already started the fourth season, and I think I have even more mixed feelings with this one, so we'll see what happens then.

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