Saturday, January 14, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager, Season Five

It took me something like three weeks to get through the previous season of Voyager; this season took me about three days. It was like night and day; where the fourth season fell out of step and focused too much on Seven of Nine to the detriment of the other characters and the continuing momentum of the season, the fifth season got into a formula that fit the show a little better. Though I still wish the show was willing to follow in Deep Space Nine's footsteps and just serialize the damn thing so that the characters could grow, the formula here--sort of the Lost in Space method of encountering new aliens or problems every week and then just shuttling away--suits the sort of stories Voyager seems interested in telling. I think everything this show does, Farscape did better. But I do enjoy Voyager. So here we go.

1. Night (4/5)
This season starts off much stronger for not being the resolution of the cliffhanger. It's pretty bold to start off with such a dark, talky episode, but I think it really helps to re-establish the direction of the series. With this episode, we get a truly interesting space travel episode (with the ship traveling through a dark, starless expanse), an examination of ethics (an alien race dumping their toxic waste in a way that's killing an indigenous species), and some excellent character development, not only exploring Neelix's fear of the dark, but also Janeway's guilt over destroying the Caretaker's array in the pilot episode instead of using it to get home. I'm glad that was finally brought up. Also, I adore Tom's Captain Proton holonovel. And they've finally fixed Tom's hair problem (the poofy hairpieces were getting distracting).

2. Drone (4/5)
This is the kind of episode that's something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the premise is neat--Seven of Nine's nanoprobes merge with DNA from a male ensign and the Doctor's damaged holo-emitter to form One, essentially a 29th century Borg--and One is a great character. But on the other hand, every time there's a really interesting character on this show, you know you're never going to see them again and everyone's just sort of going to move on with no real effect on the overall show. But I enjoyed it.

3. Extreme Risk (1/5)
I just don't care about B'Elanna.

4. In the Flesh (3/5)
I just wish it had gone somewhere. The Species 8472 effects are neat, and I like the idea of them having something like those KGB training villages. It's an interesting exploration of post-contact paranoia, the idea that Species 8472 is trying to explore the potential threat humanity poses by training as humans. But I wish they hadn't put such a bow on it at the end. There's just not enough interesting development of them as a species, and I feel like here we're just leaving them all behind. And the ending's just a little too pat. But any excuse to see Ray Walston play Boothby, even though it's not really Boothby. I like Tucker Smallwood, too.

5. Once Upon a Time (4/5)
Now this is a perspective I've never seen before on Star Trek. I've been intrigued by the nature of the relationship between Neelix and Naomi Wildman, and here he has to care for her and attempts to distract her from her mother's disappearance while on an away mission. Where TNG was supposed to be a community in space, it never really did a good job of incorporating the perspective of children into the show. Here we get to see what it's like for someone who was born on Voyager and to whom this scout ship is home, and what her life is like while all of these other dangers are going on around them. It's also interesting to see the hard position Neelix is in, trying to figure out how much he should make Naomi aware of. Also, I love that Scarlett Pomers is playing Naomi, because I also loved her on Reba.

6. Timeless (4/5)
Some great action setpieces in this one--the shot of the Voyager under the ice, and the crash, are just great special effects. I'm getting a little weary of all the time travel on this show (again, it's becoming too routine to be believable), but this episode is well-paced and gripping. I love the older, harder, more cynical Harry Kim. And the cameo by Captain Geordi La Forge is fun. Another alternate future for the pile. And the Delta Flyer is a nifty little ship. Good idea to customize and make something new instead of just losing shuttle after shuttle. How many shuttles does the Intrepid class carry?

7. Infinite Regress (4/5)
This is a real tour-de-force for Jeri Ryan, as a number of personalities from beings she's assimilated in the past come to the fore. Not only do we get to see her acting as different character, but different races. My favorite is the Ferengi; Jeri has the walk down. That gave me a few laughs. And I love the friendship that develops and continues between Seven and Naomi Wildman. I find her friendship with Naomi--and with the Doctor--much more interesting than her troubled (and oft-ignored except when convenient to the plot) mentor-student thing with Janeway.

8. Nothing Human (3/5)
Another great character we'll only see once: the hologram of Cardassian doctor Crell Moset, played by another actor I like, David Clennon. His scenes with Robert Picardo, as Moset and the Doctor work to remove a parasite species from B'Elanna, are excitingly well-acted. Those scenes elevate what feels like a heavily padded episode to me. I wasn't the least bit interested in the moral debate this episode tries to deal in. Even if the real Crell Moset was the Dr. Mengele of the Bajoran Occupation, how does that apply to the situation of trying to save B'Elanna's life? It's not even a discussion for me. Maybe the knowledge was obtained by questionable means, but the fact is that you have it now and someone's life could be saved with it, so why is it even a debate? There's a much more interesting dilemma here regarding the sentience of the parasitic lifeform using B'Elanna to survive, and I wish the show was as interested in that as it is in B'Elanna's predictable racism.

9. Thirty Days (2/5)
Eh, Tom Paris story. That I rate it this highly is because I loved the whole setting and the Moneans. The idea of a world that's nothing but an ocean is such a neat image--the special effects on this episode are truly fantastic. Always enjoy seeing Willie Garson, too.

10. Counterpoint (5/5)
Absolutely fantastic episode, a real chess game between Janeway and Kashyk, a Devore Inspector looking for telepathic refugees being hidden by Voyager as well as a wormhole. Kashyk (played by Mark Harelik) is a very complex character, very well-acted and well-written, a perfect match for Janeway both romantically and adversarially. For her part, Kate Mulgrew practically glows in this episode; you can tell she's really enjoying having something to sink her teeth into. This is a tougher version of the Janeway from the first season that I really liked. And the series of twists at the end--my goodness, this is what the show should be aiming for every week! One of the best episodes of any Star Trek series.

11. Latent Image (3/5)
Doesn't work entirely for me, but I liked the idea of the Doctor's crisis of confidence. Good ending, too, even though we pretty much never see any effects from this on the Doctor in the future because there's no real character development.

12. Bride of Chaotica! (5/5)
Just tremendous fun. Sure, it's another killer holodeck episode, but it's a Flash Gordon killer holodeck episode. There's also an interesting premise here when it introduces the idea of photonic lifeforms who assume the holodeck characters are the actual inhabitants of Voyager. I hope whatever Trek series comes about in the future explores more of this kind of strange alien that's more than just bipeds with a skin rash on their heads. I want the Breen to really be a small fish floating in a containment suit, dammit! Anyway, love this one. Martin Rayner was a wonderful kick as Dr. Chaotica back in "Night," and it was absolutely the right choice to devote a whole episode to his villainy. Kate Mulgrew is especially hilarious in this episode. A fun break.

13. Gravity (2/5)
Slow-moving, marring a lovely, subtle romance between Tuvok and the alien Noss (Lori Petty; always like her). Her love for him, and his attempts to bury his attraction for her (partly born from loneliness; he's been away from his wife for a long, long time), are the heart of the story, but I don't know, the episode isn't quite focused enough. Beautiful ending, though.

14. Bliss (5/5)
Epic. I love this idea of these gigantic beasts in space, sending out signals that lure lifeforms to it so it can feed on starship energy. I also like that this is an episode where Seven and the Doctor (and Naomi Wildman) save the ship, since they're my three favorite characters right now. (Frankly, they can put these three in charge, keep Neelix and Tuvok, and just ditch everyone else at this point.) I also dig W. Morgan Sheppard as Qatai. One of my favorite episodes of Voyager.

15. Dark Frontier (5/5)
Voyager attempts to outdo Star Trek: First Contact, and even if they don't (no one here is the caliber of Patrick Stewart), they make one hell of a great feature-length episode. It was inevitable that Seven would be reacquired by the Borg, but I love how they play this, mixing the episode with flashbacks to Seven's youth as Annika Hansen, whose parents were studying the Borg up close, Dian Fossey-style, before they were eventually assimilated (though I'm not sure who the hell takes their children with them to study the Borg, but humans barely knew about them then... still...). So we have the pull of her human past and human future, as well as the pull between two mother figures, Captain Janeway and the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson, very good). Whatever action goes on, this is 100% the story of Seven of Nine, and so far the best exploration of her Borg past they've ever done.

16. The Disease (2/5)
Harry Kim finally gets laid. And he can't get enough, but since it's Musetta Vander, who could blame him? The idea of taking a forbidden love and physically manifesting it as an alien health hazard is pretty heavy-handed though.

17. Course: Oblivion (2/5)
Well-acted, and it would be poignant if it made any impact on the series at all. You know where it's going right away, and it's not about the real crew anyway, but their mimetic doubles, so it just feels like it's a distraction from the business of getting home. This isn't the show that can pull this one off, because there's so little forward momentum in the first place.

18. The Fight (2/5)
The idea of chaotic space is interesting, and again we get to see Ray Walston as Boothby, but the whole boxing thing is realized in kind of a silly way.

19. Think Tank (4/5)
As predictable as the plot really was, this episode really won me over with the whole concept of the Think Tank. Also, it's nice to see Jason Alexander in such a different role. I liked the beings in the Think Tank--the artificial intelligence, for example, and the big jellyfish in the tube. It's so much more interesting to see these visions of alien beings instead of just a guy with a vagina on his forehead. Also, Jason Alexander's character has a pretty distracting vagina in his forehead. I also like how, even though it's predictable that the Think Tank would want Seven of Nine as payment for their help, Janeway leaves the choice up to Seven about whether or not to leave Voyager and join them. Nice to see Janeway is respecting Seven's autonomy more this season.

20. Juggernaut (2/5)
Too much B'Elanna. And I don't find the Malon interesting. Sort of like a lesser episode of Doctor Who.

21. Someone to Watch Over Me (5/5)
Yeah, they're doing My Fair Lady, but it's cute as hell and becomes quite a touching story about the Doctor nearly finding love. I would love to see the Doctor and Seven actually get together. Scott Thompson is utterly hilarious on this episode.

22. 11:59 (3/5)
Interesting idea; this is a better sort of break episode than some other attempts, so much of it taking place in 2000 in Indiana and with Mulgrew playing one of Janeway's ancestors. The love story's sweet, even if I can't quite shake Kevin Tighe as John Locke's father on Lost.

23. Relativity (1/5)
Ugh, more time travel, more stuff about the "right" timeline and the "wrong" timeline. There's been so much screwing around with the timeline, how do they even know which one is right or wrong anymore? Also, how exactly does Captain Braxton remember his time in 1996 when that timeline was reset? Oh well, they hit the reset button by the end, so all is well, I guess. I really don't care. I'm sick of the damn time travel.

24. Warhead (4/5)
Interesting idea of a weapon of mass destruction with a consciousness, and of course it takes over the Doctor, but Robert Picardo's awesome, so it's always interesting to see him getting to be out of character. I like Harry in this one, too. So much wasted potential...

26. Equinox, Part I (5/5)
I like how they explore the idea of what directions the Voyager might have gone in, by showing us another Starfleet crew who has been in the Delta Quadrant longer and has had to do horrible things in order to try and make their way back home. John Savage is excellent as Captain Ransom of the USS Equinox (with Titus Welliver as his first officer), his ship barely holding together and his crew stretched to breaking while being pursued by a nucleogenic species they've been killing to convert to energy. The last moments of the cliffhanger are kind of dorky, but the episode is exciting and, I think, a pretty necessary look at what the alternative might have been. It's nice: after all of these seasons of trying to adhere to the Prime Directive, we can really see what the moral alternative to that is.

Even with some lesser episodes (to be expected), I liked this season much better. Now that we've come through the transition, we're back on track.

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