Thursday, December 01, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager

Alright, so... on to the next Trek, then...

Well, it's not a home run on the first swing, but neither was Next Generation. Hell, neither was Deep Space Nine, which had a number of shitty episodes in the first season, and I ended up loving it. So, you know, it's a first season for a new show, and it unfortunately seems to feature a lot of the Trek writers and producers I'm not so crazy about. But I'm giving it a chance to work on me.

1. Caretaker (my rating: 2 out of 5)
There are potentially interesting aspects of this series, but they don't really grab me right from the beginning. For some reason, I had a difficult time following the plot on this pilot, maybe in part because I'm already sick of space crews far out in the future meeting up with folksy Americana. Now, I've only seen a couple of Voyager episodes in the past, and I've never liked most of the characters, so I'm starting over on them here. To my surprise, the character I expected to hate the most, Neelix, is actually my favorite part of the show--it's like typical Star Trek intoning and technobabble, and then Harlan Ellison wanders in and tells everyone to lighten up. So we have a good premise, a couple of characters I like or am interested in right off (Janeway, Neelix, Kes, the Doctor), and this Maquis business. I hope they don't play this Maquis stuff as badly as they did on every other Trek series...

2. Parallax (1/5)
Bad episode. It hinges on an obvious twist that borders on a science fiction cliche. The rest of it is all trying to cram down our throats how great a character B'Elanna Torres is supposed to be; frankly, the case isn't argued well. I find B'Elanna pretty whiny and unpleasant. I hope this isn't going to be like early Worf again...

3. Time and Again (1/5)
Another obvious, predictable episode. Some of the scripts at this point feel like rejected premises for old Twilight Zone episodes, or rejected TNG stuff. Also: Tom Paris is a putz.

4. Phage (3/5)
Now this is interesting; the Vidiians are a fascinating race, ravaged by a disease called the Phage and harvesting organs from other species. Their weapon, which allows a body part to basically be transported out of someone's body, is scary and intriguing. Neelix suddenly dropping because he has no lungs is a teaser that really draws the viewer in. This is a really good episode for Neelix and Kes as characters, developing the closeness of their relationship, but the real standout for me in this one was Kate Mulgrew's performance as Captain Janeway. It's exciting that, through Janeway, we get a feminine viewpoint to a Starfleet captaincy. There's a maternal edge to the way she's protective of her crew, and also to the way she relates to them. What really got me here is how she's really able to feel for and understand the Vidiians, even though they've stolen Neelix's lungs. The way she can't bring herself to demand the lungs back, but can also order them to stay away or be destroyed, is very moving.

5. The Cloud (1/5)
And we're back. The Space Anomaly Turns Out to Be Alive episode. So thin that it's padded out with character scenes, almost none of which really work. I still don't know how I feel about Chakotay. He hasn't really been a character so far; in the pilot, he was doing action stuff and leading a Maquis crew, now he's kind of quiet and withdrawn. I think the writers don't know what they want to do with him yet, exactly, and I think they need to make a choice whether or not to play up the Native American aspect of his character. Probably they don't want to make him a stereotype, but at the same time they're playing it too subtly, coming close to a New Age caricaturing.

6. Eye of the Needle (3/5)
This is the first time we've seen the crew with a chance to get home; the way it unfolds is actually pretty nice, with the crew actually able to use the transporter beam to bring a Romulan from the Alpha Quadrant onto the ship. I also like the way the Romulan character is played here, only increasing my interest in finding out more about them.

7. Ex Post Facto (1/5)
If I could go lower than 1, I would. If Star Trek does anything worse than murder mysteries, it's noir murder mysteries. Also, I really don't care about Tom Paris. One of the worst episodes of any show ever.

8. Emanations (2/5)
Almost kind of interesting but not really. I think I kind of got lost in this one.

9. Prime Factors (3/5)
There are some interesting ideas in here; I like that the writers are really pushing here to come up with different technology that we haven't quite seen in Star Trek. The idea of the Trajector and the way it sort of folds space. I also find it interesting that Tuvok would simply disobey Janeway's orders; the way she talks to him about it is a great scene, but the explanation of why he did it doesn't really satisfy. The stuff going on in engineering with Lt. Carey, B'Elanna, and Seska is interesting, too; we're seeing the different lengths people are willing to go to in order to get home. It seems like they've dropped a lot of the Maquis silliness in order to get the crew of one mind: that this is about getting home, not ideology. The ideological differences with the Maquis were never explored well, to me, anyway; either too message-y or unfocused. Deep Space Nine went from people fighting for their homes to gleeful terrorists led by evil genius Michael Eddington. A potentially intriguing idea that was just never handled well.

10. State of Flux (3/5)
The Kazons seem more like warmed-over Klingons with crazy eyes than anything else. I hope they build these guys up a little better if they're going to keep bringing them back. What really gets me here is the character of Seska and the performance of Martha Hackett as the character. It makes sense that she would be a Cardassian, altered to look like a Bajoran in order to spy on the Maquis. It also puts her somewhat ruthless actions in the previous episode into an even more interesting context. I hope she comes back, because she's too good to let go. Even if she does end up coming back with Kazons.

11. Heroes and Demons (4/5)
How can it be possible that the first episode of Voyager I really, thoroughly enjoy is a Killer Holodeck episode? It focuses so thoroughly on the Doctor and the idea of what's real and what isn't when it comes to consciousness. Very well done, and Robert Picardo is more than game. Plus, they're doing Beowulf, which is just awesome. I'm sorry we won't get to see Marjorie Monaghan as Freya ever again; she's wonderful here, with great presence. I should also mention Kes. I'm just impressed with the way Jennifer Lien plays the character, when I'm sure there could easily be the temptation--a lazy one--to make the character some kind of whimsical pixie.

12. Cathexis (1/5)
Another space anomaly episode; these are going to get old. This one tries and fails to be a tense cat-and-mouse thriller, basically riffing heavily on The Thing, and the idea of Chakotay's free-floating consciousness is just ridiculous.

13. Faces (3/5)
So, if Klingons are immune to the Phage, does that mean humans aren't? Has that been mentioned, because a few crew members are exposed to it here. By splitting the half-human, half-Klingon B'Elanna in two, they make the fully Klingon version much more interesting than the fully human version. I would've liked to see these two separated for a while and for the show to have done something more with them. As it is, we've never gotten the sense before now that B'Elanna felt any conflict between the two sides. That might've given this episode more impact; they should've built that and done this in the second or third season. As is typical of Star Trek, everything just sort of goes back to normal at the end, anyway.

14. Jetrel (5/5)
Yes; more of these, please. This is an excellent character episode for Neelix, giving him the depth that saves him from being basically the joke of the series, and Ethan Phillips is up for it, turning in a great and moving performance. He's met equally by James Sloyan, who is always great in his various Star Trek roles, here as a Haakonian doctor who created a weapon that killed over 300,000 of Neelix's people, including his family. Just watching them act together, in this passionate debate on the ethics of war, is electric. And I'm glad the episode touches on themes of forgiveness and culpability, which are important themes to me. Just an excellent show, one which gives me hope for more like this.

15. Learning Curve (2/5)
Another mediocre episode, this one with Tuvok training the Maquis to act more like Starfleet crew members. It's okay, but I still think Tuvok is a lame character (not Tom Paris lame, but lame), and the attempted humor of a disease being caused by Neelix's cheese is just... silly. Silly and mediocre.

And I'm not going to pull punches here; it's a silly and mediocre first season filled with moments of interest, but only one (arguably two) episodes that really lit a fire for me. I plan to see this out to the end, but right now, it's really just hanging on some of the actors (and I really can't wait to see more and more how Kate Mulgrew develops Janeway) and my inherent love for Star Trek. So I'll roll into the second season now and hope for better. These shows are always better in their second seasons.

UPDATE 12/2: I should point out, too, that a lot of the cheaper episodes that were set on the ship with space anomalies were a result of budget problems; apparently due to recasting and needed reshoots for the pilot, they blew most of their budget on the premiere and couldn't afford to do a lot of what they wanted. So I get why there are so many less-than-stellar episodes in the first season; it's not like I'm calling the producers out for being lazy here. That would be unfair. What I really want to see is what they end up doing when they do have the money to do what they want.


Lee said...

I actually have a soft spot for the final scene in Caretaker when Janeway orders them to plot a course for home. The look that Kate Mulgrew affixes is kind of perfect and heartbreaking.

I'm interested in seeing Voyager again as it's been years since I watched it and after watching The Captains I have even more respect for Mulgrew.

I've been enjoying your recaps and I've got to get back into watching the original series on blu-ray just haven't had the time!!!

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

This is my favorite premise in Science Fiction - the lost crew. Star Trek needed to do something like this to put a nice twist on their concepts - I hated some of it but they never bored me and I was there for the end.

I am going to enjoy your take on this series. My least favorite of them all but some really great time travel episodes coming up. I also have to say that they really wrapped up this series well. It was a slog at times but I was seriously rewarded at the end. I had tears. Happy to be on this journey with you. Scorpion!

Tallulah Morehead said...

Yes, Genevive Bujold was originally cast as Janeway, and bailed well into the pilot. So recasting and reshooting would really have thrown a monkey wrench into the budget. She said she had no idea how much work it would turn out to be. Same excuse Christopher Eccleton had for bailing on Doctor who. These movie actors think TV acting will be easy: Live at home, go into the studio every day. Get off on time, and go home and have dinner in your own home, only to learn that they are essentially shooting an entire feature film every two weeks, and that it's a hell of a lot more work than feature films. Their previously-unsuspected laziness rears its ugly head, and they bail, back to features, where they can mock the actors in that "lesser" medium, slumming in TV. What lame-os.

I had totally forgotten Tom Paris ever existed. I wish I could say that the character improves, or gets killed off, but I can't.

The actor who plays Tuvok is directing these days, and my younger brother has been the Director of Photography on a couple of his films, and has only high priase for workng with him.

As I recall, The Maquis stuff pretty much dies out and is forgotten as they all accept that that conflict is a billion billion miles away, and utterly irrelevant to their situation. The way that Janeway's and Chakotay's relationship develops is pretty interesting also.

Just keep tellling yourself: "7 of 9 is coming. 7 of 9 is coming."

Jaquandor said...

Voyager at its best was always about as good, for me, as TNG at its 'meh'.