Thursday, December 15, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager, Season Two

One thing I didn't mention last season that I should have: the opening credits sequence is just lovely. Beautiful special effects, an excellent and compelling title theme by Jerry Goldsmith. It really is something to look at. Easily my favorite of the Star Trek openings.

So, on to the second season. This was a lot more watchable than the first. There were slow patches, but this is the season where I've really become interested in a number of the characters as people. I expected to just flat-out hate this show, but I really don't. I'm not in love with it yet--I think this show has a tendency to repeat the worst excesses of The Next Generation, including its fastidious tone--but I'm enjoying it more than I thought I might.

1. The 37's (my rating: 4 out of 5)
It's my understanding that this episode was meant to be the first season finale, and it would've served better there. But as it is, it does pull you right back in, especially with that excellent, startling image of a pickup truck floating in space. I really liked Sharon Lawrence as Amelia Earheart; I'm a little disappointed she didn't get to go into space, but I liked what they did with her and how much meeting her obviously meant to Janeway. This episode is set up to finally cement the sense of shared purpose between the crew, and it does it well.

2. Initiations (4/5)
My sense of this episode is that it's not particularly well-regarded, which is kind of a shame, because not only is it the only Kazon story I ever really got into, but it's also the first time so far that I've been interested in Chakotay as a character. Up until now, he's just sort of been there to make a comment or something, but here we get a much better insight as to what he's about as a person. I like how Robert Beltran here takes lines that could be angry and confrontational and instead makes them sound thoughtful and measured. It's a very interesting way to approach the character; Beltran's trying to find a way that's somewhere in between the stereotypical warrior and the stereotypical spiritual guru that a Native American character can too easily fall into with weak writing. Also, I liked Aron Eisenberg on this one.

3. Projections (5/5)
This episode might also have made a very good season finale. The premise is brilliant: the Doctor suddenly finds that he's entirely real and everything else is a holographic projection, and then, of all people, Reg Barclay shows up and tells him he's really a Starfleet scientist trapped inside a holographic simulation. They sell the premise so well that, even though you know you're only on the third episode in the second season of a show that went to seven of them, you kind of wonder what the hell's going on. What the writers explore here is the nature of what reality is and how we experience it and whether we create our own reality through what we imbue with importance, which is one of the more immediate and intriguing science fiction premises left these days. A minor classic, and the best episode of the series up to this point.

4. Elogium (3/5)
I find it weird that Neelix and Kes have been inseparable all this time and haven't done it yet. Here, Kes is basically set through puberty too early, and considers having a child with Neelix because it may be the only time she can conceive. The writers seem to be trying to make a point about teen pregnancy that doesn't quite come off, but the story is character-driven and has some good moments. I like how mothering Janeway is with Kes, especially.

5. Non Sequitur (2/5)
Isn't it about time spell check programs recognize "sequitur"? Anyway, this episode didn't sell it for me. I didn't realize up until now just what a non-character Harry Kim is, which is kind of funny since he seemed like the audience entry character in the pilot. The writers don't do much with him, and he just comes off kind of boring, and this episode--which sees Kim wake up in San Francisco without having been assigned to the Voyager--doesn't remedy that. Kim's life is boring, his girlfriend is boring, even his coffee order is boring. And then he has to sacrifice himself (possibly) just to make Tom Paris' life better? Ugh, why?

(By the way, Becca is convinced that Harry and Tom should be in a gay relationship. When she said that, I realized that I was surprised to see Harry with a girlfriend because I'd just sort of assumed he was gay, but I have no idea why I felt like that. Anyway, going in that direction would've made Tom and Harry more interesting, or at least given them something to be happy about occasionally. Boring, boring characters.)

6. Twisted (3/5)
What this episode lacks in urgency it makes up for in character moments. This episode does a lot to solidify some of the relationships between the characters, and even if they have to do it in that truly lame Parisian pool hall, it's pretty well done.

7. Parturition (2/5)
I'm just glad there's an end to this brief rivalry between Tom Paris and Neelix over Kes. That was going to get old and unpleasant if they had pursued that. I'm not sorry to see that arc die at all. Ethan Phillips is especially good in this one, but I'm just never going to like Tom. It's just not going to happen. Also, I found the puppet repto-humanoid baby a little silly. Took me right out of it. They don't really use puppets on Star Trek, and it was just bizarre to see now.

8. Persistence of Vision (3/5)
I like Kate Mulgrew and Jennifer Lien's performances in this episode, but I really don't find myself with much to say about it. The end, with the crew's psychic tormentor simply disappearing, is pretty scary. I think I'm just so burned out on Killer Holodeck episodes that I find psychic threats hard to enjoy.

9. Tattoo (1/5)
I always have a hard time with science fiction stories and episodes that ascribe human ingenuity and development to some kind of alien (divine) intervention. It just offends me. They get out of it here, I guess, by ascribing that to one specific group of people, but still, it just sours me. Add to that a story that's approached with so much sensitivity that it blands the whole thing.

10. Cold Fire (1/5)
Interesting premise, and nice to see Gary Graham again (Alien Nation is one of my favorite unsung science fiction series), but I'll be honest, I don't care about the Caretakers and this one literally put me to sleep.

11. Maneuvers (1/5)
We've really hit a patch, haven't we? As much as I think Martha Hackett is great as Seska, I just don't find the Kazon interesting, and my attention really drifted on this one, too.

12. Resistance (5/5)
Boy, the Mokra are way more interesting villains than the Kazon, and we only get to see them once? That's really too bad. This is a beautifully done episode, in large part because of the scenes with Caylem, a confused old man who thinks Janeway is his daughter and helps her rescue Tuvok and Torres from prison. Caylem is played by Joel Grey, and he is wonderful, and the scenes between he and Kate Mulgrew are touching. This very human father-daughter relationship--one that she knows is false but refuses to shatter--adds such a lovely layer to an already taut and thrilling episode. One of the best of the first two seasons.

13. Prototype (3/5)
I don't necessarily think it's a bad episode, but it's definitely one where the hokey stuff drowns out some of the potential it has. I can overlook the robots being guys in 1970s era Doctor Who suits for the sake of the premise--what bugs me is that the whole "robot war" element makes its ethical questions moot, and then tries to save it by turning the whole thing into a false childbirth allegory. It just handles this stuff in completely the wrong way. It's especially too bad because this is one of the few times I've liked B'Elanna Torres as a character.

14. Alliances (2/5)
The Kazon return to star in an obvious twist that ends with a scene stolen from The Godfather, Part III and ends with a very lame speech wrapped in a tight little bow. Painful, but some good moments here and there.

15. Threshold (1/5)
Extremely silly and tedious. This is one of those episodes Brannon Braga seems to love to write, where he comes up with this big concept--in this case, apparently going warp 10 will advance you to the next stage of human evolution, trap you in scenes from David Cronenberg's The Fly, and then turn you into a human-sized salamander that mates on a swamp planet, because evolution totally works backwards like that--then doesn't know how to execute it and basically loses interest and shrugs it off. Really awful.

16. Meld (4/5)
First off, Brad Dourif is excellent on this episode. The guest stars they're getting on this show are generally spectacular, and Dourif is very compelling as a Betazoid who mind-melds with Tuvok to quell his violent tendencies. The result is that, for a time, Tuvok is unable to suppress his own violent tendencies. I never really thought until now how much sense it makes for a Vulcan to be in charge of security, because everything I read as a kid about Vulcans made reference to their violent, barbaric pasts, and how logic was originally seen as a means to overcome what was apparently a natural Vulcan violence. So Tuvok makes sense as a security officer, because he understands violence on an instinctive level, and must work to overcome it. For me, Tim Russ really steps into his own here. I never, ever liked Tuvok before now. Here, he's fascinating and well-acted, and I'd love to know more about him.

17. Dreadnought (4/5)
And in this one, B'Elanna Torres steps into her own for me. Roxann Dawson is very good here, running across a missile she created and sent to Cardassian space, and which got lost in the Delta Quadrant and is headed towards an inhabited planet. It's also a good episode for Janeway, as we see the lengths she's willing to go to in order to protect the innocent.

18. Death Wish (5/5)
Glorious. Q really fits in well on this show, possibly because it's so much like TNG, whereas he didn't fit in at all on his episode of DS9. Here there's a real meaty issue to sink into, which is that another Q (played by Gerritt Graham, who is wonderful and latches right onto the camp elements without going over the top) wants to commit suicide. What really makes this episode work is the way John de Lancie, as Q, relates to Janeway. This isn't the way he is with Picard, where he sort of comes in as an imp or a gadfly and plays verbal chess with him. With Janeway, he approaches her on a completely different level, without the testosterone. I like this Q; he's more introspective than we've seen, but still completely in character. He's not testing humanity anymore--the finale of TNG showed that trial come to a close--but the producers here have given Q a reason to exist in the universe of Voyager that's not simply tacking on. Very well done indeed, one of my favorites.

19. Lifesigns (3/5)
Wow, the Doctor's second romance now. His track record is better than Tom Paris'. I like that this episode brought a little more depth to the Vidiians, who are scary villains, but also tragic. Just a sweet little episode with a little bit deeper romance than usual. Great ending.

20. Investigations (3/5)
I like the structure of this episode, the way it plays with Neelix's morning talk show to uncover a betrayal within the crew. I was less interested in Tom Paris: Spy Hunter, but again... Tom Paris. At least we're done with insubordinate Tom Paris now, who was no more interesting than romantic rival Tom Paris or womanizer Tom Paris. It's like the producers just can't decide which 1970s Jack Nicholson character they want him to be from episode to episode. But hey, Neelix saving the day is pretty cool.

21. Deadlock (5/5)
We've seen this sort of premise (an accident creates two separate realities) on science fiction shows, but I have to give it up for the producers here; they really went for it. Killing crew members, killing babies, driving people insane, they just run with it. Even Harry Kim gets an action scene, making him compelling for an instant or so. I love Janeway in this one--both Janeways--and that cat and mouse moment: "Welcome to the bridge." Fan-fucking-tastic. This one really did it for me. Action, adventure, mindbending twists... what an episode. More of these, please.

22. Innocence (4/5)
Yep, I love Tuvok. I am now officially sorry that I said he was the shittiest Vulcan ever. I love him on this episode. I know it's easy to get laughs by putting someone serious in a room with kids and having him act uncharacteristically, but it's very sweet and cute here. And I thought the twist worked just fine. I just loved watching the relationship between Tuvok and Tressa grow and develop, and him staying with her until the end. Lovely stuff.

23. The Thaw (5/5)
Oh, did Becca hate this one. But she's one of those weird people who are terrified of carnivals and clowns. I just don't get it. This episode, on the surface, looked like it was going to be ridiculous as hell, but as you get further and further into it, it's actually quite suspenseful and enjoyable. The idea is that there are people in stasis who are being held captive by a computer program who manifests himself as a clown and feeds off the mental and emotional energy of his victims. I think it's electric. Michael McKean is fantastic as the Clown, and watching him negotiate with the Doctor and then attempt to take on Janeway in a battle of wits is exciting television. I should also mention how wonderfully colorful everything is. Too much science fiction for the last 30 years is just muted blues, shiny blacks, and gunmetal grays. It's nice to see so much color on an episode.

24. Tuvix (5/5)
A mistake with the transporters melds Tuvok and Neelix into one, wholly new being. The producers really run with this premise, too, creating a new character who is the best combination of the two, and acted wonderfully by Tom Wright. I like that the writers took the ethics involved head on; there's really no way to return things back to the status quo (when is spell check going to start recognizing "quo"?) without essentially killing Tuvix so that Tuvok and Neelix can live. So they turn that into the major conflict of the episode's final act, and we see just what Janeway is willing to do. The final scene--where we can see the agony of the decision on Janeway's face--really hits home, because ultimately this was going to come down to a character choice and not a definite message about which was the right decision to make. This is head and shoulders above DS9's offensive "Sons of Mogh" episode, which presents the idea of taking away someone's agency as necessary; here, Janeway makes her decision and has to come to grips with it on her own. I really appreciated the way this didn't go for any easy answers.

25. Resolutions (4/5)
At last, Janeway and Chakotay are stranded together. It seems an obvious choice for a romantic pairing, but from what I understand, they never pursued this further, which is kind of a shame. If the two of them were going to be stranded together on a planet, it seems like they could've explored the romantic possibilities more than they did here, which is like G-rated meaningful hand-holding and talking in code about solutions. I think there's a definite way to go here with exploring the feelings they seem to have. Look at how they almost seem disappointed to have to go on again as captain and commander instead of man and woman on equal footing... it's too bad.

26. Basics (3/5)
Very glad to see Brad Dourif back as Suder, and to see how he's developed away from violence, now living like a monk and tending his orchids. I still get bored by the Kazon, but at least here the threat they apparently pose seems more credible, with the Kazon taking over the ship and stranding the crew (except for a hidden Suder and, of course, the Doctor) on a planet. Oh, and of course, Tom Paris is out there, rushing to save the day. It's as easy to forget action hero Tom Paris exists as it is the other versions.

And there we end, on the cliffhanger of a stranded crew. There were a lot more high points this season than in the first, and I get the sense we're going to leave the Kazon and the Vidiians behind and move on to more interesting villains, which is something this show needs. But I'm looking forward to where it goes.


Tallulah Morehead said...

Yes, better villains are coming. Actually, late in season 3 you encounter them, but it will be the season 3 finale cliff-hanger that really throws you into the stuff I loved most about Voyager, and come the start of season 4, Seven-of-Nine is introduced, and for me, her storyline was what lifted Voyager into its best stuff.

Not having watched a Voyager episode since the show went off the air a decade ago, I had totally forgotten Tom Paris and Harry Kim even existed. That's how forgettable they are.

My memory is that you are not through with exploring Janeway's and Chakotay's relationship, but I could be wrong. I believe they keep the undercurrent on simmer.

Meanwhile, season 3 has two Q episodes that will delight you. The ramifications of the Q episode you discuss here will come back to bite them.

Q and Janeway sittin' in a tree....

Semaj said...

I remember reading there was a lot of in fighting going on between Piller and Taylor, which both of them wanting to take the show in different directions.

Piller ended up leaving and Taylor was left in charge. ( Also read that some of the writers weren't happy that Pillar came back to the show after his show Legend was cancelled)

If you ever get a chance, try to find that interview Ron Moore did about working on VOY for a few weeks/months before leaving the show.

By the way, The Thaw is one of my favorite episodes, and I think could have worked easily as a ds9 episode. My fave part about the episode is the fade to black with the clown saying "i'm afraid."

I think 7 of 9 helped in some manner, but i felt the other characters took a back seat to that character.

Side note: garrett wang did an interview where he talked about the heated feud between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan. Things got so bad that most people didn't want to be around the two when they were together.

Even Mulgrew admitted to some of this.