Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager, Season Four

I'll be honest right up front: I hated this season of Voyager. Not totally. Not completely. But at some point I really lost my faith in this one and just sort of limped through it. Whatever bright spots there were didn't do much to save a season that too often alternated between middling and flat-out stupid. It took me forever to finish it. Weeks. Here are my thoughts.

1. Scorpion, Part II (my rating: 5 out of 5)
Excellent payoff to an excellent cliffhanger. The series benefits from the costumes and sets leftover from Star Trek: First Contact, making the Borg look complex and alien. Species 8472 still looks less impressive, but it's nice to see the makers of a Trek series thinking about such very alien species design. Poor Harry Kim spends the whole episode in a coma. I also like the payoff of Chakotay's brief time as part of the former Borg collective in "Unity," although I was less pleased with the tension between he and Janeway. It's like someone made a conscious decision to put some distance between them. Too bad they don't just go ahead and explore the romantic possibilities, it's pretty obvious.

2. The Gift (3/5)
Okay, I think getting rid of Kes is a mistake. Consistently one of the most interesting characters and actors of seasons 2 and 3. If they really wanted to shove a character off this show to make room for Seven of Nine, I wouldn't miss Harry Kim or Tom Paris, and I'd frankly celebrate the loss of B'Elanna Torres. What a bad idea to get rid of Jennifer Lien. I'm very disappointed by this development. And let's talk about Seven for a minute. I know her arrival on the show ruffled a lot of feathers, but that I'm used to--honestly, in my opinion, it seems like the people who most wanted to do something interesting with Star Trek went over to the superior DS9, and the people who wanted to keep plugging away at the TNG formula went over to Voyager. And I understand the realities of the ratings that dictated the casting of a prime piece of cheesecake as 34 of DD in her body-hugging corset suit. I get that. I think one of the things that happens in this season, though, is that some of the writing and especially the performance of Jeri Ryan elevate the character from the realities of her creation. I actually like Seven as a character very much. What I don't like is that the show sacrificed Kes in favor of her, or that so much of the rest of the season is basically Star Trek: Seven of Nine. (I'll add here that I've already started season five, and I like it much better than this one.)

3. Day of Honor (1/5)
I really don't need any more episodes to establish that B'Elanna is kind of a raging bitch. I've got that. This episode seems to only exist to get B'Elanna and Tom sorta kinda together. Meh. I'd rather watch Worf romance episodes. Honestly, Worf!

4. Nemesis (1/5)

5. Revulsion (3/5)
I like how the writers explore the Doctor's humanity here by matching him with another hologram, one who has come to develop a hatred for biological life forms. The twist is predictable from the first few minutes, but Leland Orser is very good in this episode.

6. The Raven (3/5)
The inevitable Seven-flashes-back-to-her-assimilation episode. Not bad, just kind of routine. I like the smaller moments with Seven, like Neelix having to teach her how to eat.

7. Scientific Method (3/5)
Truly creepy episode with out-of-phase alien doctors performing medical experiments on an unsuspecting crew. Some fantastic horror imagery on this episode.

8. Year of Hell, Part I (3/5)
9. Year of Hell, Part II (3/5)
Some great imagery, and I give the producers a lot of credit for really going for the bleakness here, but I have a few problems with it. Besides seeing Seven plugged in to a lot of the stuff they teased last season for Kes, I also didn't like that this was basically one of those episodes of a science fiction series that just sort of goes through all of these changes and then hits the reset button via a time travel plot device and then none of it ever happened. It's like an Imaginary Story from DC's Silver Age--why am I going to invest all of these emotions in the situation if there are no consequences and nothing really has any bearing on the ongoing narrative or the characters? Also, does Kes' detailed report from her time traveling experience last season just not exist anymore? She had all of those chronoton readings they needed for this episode. Come on. Well, at least she doesn't have to marry Tom Paris. Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan are good and raw in this two-parter; did they hate each other, or what? I like alternate Janeway's final moments, too. She's formidable at her best. And I have to mention Kurtwood Smith here as Annorax. A fantastic character straight out of Jules Verne, very well-performed.

10. Random Thoughts (1/5)
B'Elanna is arrested on a world of violent telepaths because her violent thought causes violence. A ridiculous, heavy-handed comment on the media and whether it influences behavior. Kind of embarrassing in its obviousness.

11. Concerning Flight (2/5)
I quite enjoyed John Rhys-Davies and some of the imagery here, but I got lost in the story. Interesting idea of someone basically hacking into Voyager's computer and stealing their technology, but mostly it's just running around in the hills. Sorry that it's John Rhys-Davies' last time on the series as Da Vinci, but I guess there's nowhere else to go with him. It's an interesting idea that holograms can sort of make in-character decisions to no longer appear in a certain setting. I think the idea of Janeway as Seven's mentor is a little clumsy, though.

12. Mortal Coil (5/5)
Excellent episode; this is a really good exploration of faith in a science fiction setting. Here we have Neelix dying while attempting to extract proto-matter from a nebula, and then Seven using Borg nanoprobes to resurrect him. While dead for 19 hours, Neelix experiences nothing, including the Talaxian afterlife that he has so looked forward to, holding faith that he would be reunited with his long-dead sisters. So once you remove this essential component of Neelix's character--his faith--how does he recover? This episode doesn't cop out from its themes, and doesn't provide pat answers. It's an interesting discussion; there's a counterpoint in Chakotay, who encourages Neelix towards an open-minded agnosticism rather than a complete severing of an ideal that has meant so much. It doesn't come out and say it, so much, but it does allow for the idea that ideals can be separated from dogma, which is important to get at. Ethan Phillips is excellent in this episode. I love his role as Naomi Wildman's godfather, too.

13. Waking Moments (1/5)
Entirely too many episodes of Star Trek revolve around weird dreams.

14. Message in a Bottle (5/5)
I'm amazed to be saying that a Star Trek episode that features Andy Dick in a prominent role is excellent, but this episode is excellent. The Doctor is sent to an advanced Starfleet vessel in the Alpha Quadrant under Romulan control, and tries to retake the ship with the help of a Mark II EMH (played by Dick). It's a fine, tense episode, alternately gripping and hilarious. The USS Prometheus is an amazing ship, too; one of the more interesting Starfleet designs on the spin-off series. Always neat to see Judson Scott in Trek, too.

15. Hunters (3/5)
I think the Hirogen are very interesting villains. Trek really seems attracted to these hunter-warrior races, but they never quite do enough with them that's interesting. Although we really only see the Hirogen a couple of times, I like how they're explored; here we see this sort of faceless, overwhelming presence, and in the next episode we see them personalized through one major character, and finally we explore their main societal conflict in the two-parter "The Killing Game." Though I wouldn't be opposed to a future Hirogen appearance, I don't feel like they left us wanting.

16. Prey (3/5)
Tony Todd, ladies and gentlemen. I love Tony Todd, and seeing him as the sort of face of Hirogen culture is excellent. He's fantastic. That said, the whole attempted Alien rip-off with Species 8472--laced heavily with a particularly fatuous flavor of Star Trek preachiness--just doesn't do it for me. I find Janeway strongly out of character in this episode, and her whole conflict with Seven over the self-determination of 8472 doesn't quite ring in for me.

17. Retrospect (1/5)
Oh, boy. Here we go. DS9's "Sons of Mogh" is no longer the most offensive Star Trek episode to me. This one is beyond insulting. It's a gigantic narrative mistake. It's basically that Seven of Nine gets raped, but not really. They made a huge error in judgment here by couching an assault on Seven by an alien scientist in terms of a sexual assault. "I was violated," says Seven. Janeway's reaction to this is, I felt, cold and clinical. The investigation yields nothing, and then becomes an exercise in blaming-the-victim, debunking recovered memories, and apologizing to men whose reputations have been ruined by accusations of sexual assault. It's kind of horrifying, especially coming from a show with a reputation of being progressive in thought. I didn't buy this at all; the idea that Seven's freakout in sickbay is some kind of leftover from her many years as a Borg drone doesn't wash, because we've never seen this happen before (or since). It just happens to occur after she's supposedly-but-not-really had her bodily integrity violated by someone. This episode spends four-fifths of its running time wagging its finger at women, telling them that they have to be careful with their notions of assault in case someone innocent has his reputation ruined (and here the guy even dies because of Seven's apparently false accusation), and then suddenly turns into a persecution of overzealous investigators and finally a little message about how we learn from our mistakes so that we don't make the same mistakes in the future. It's the wrong episode to end on that note. This is a travesty.

18. The Killing Game, Part I (4/5)
19. The Killing Game, Part II (3/5)
Interesting premise--the crew is put inside holodeck simulations and given implants so they forget their true identities by the Hirogen, who have taken over Voyager and use the crew for hunting exercises. The first episode is really kind of epic and engaging, but like a lot of Trek two-parters, they don't really fill up the second episode and have to do a lot of padding. The World War II stuff is interesting, as is the examination of the possible degradation of the Hirogen race. It's interesting that there's so much focus on the villains and their lifestyle. Harry Kim is actually really good on this episode, as the Hirogen keep him to maintain Voyager's systems, and he and the Doctor are finally able to free the crew. Oh, and Robert Beltran looks much better with his World War II hair. They should've kept that. Ethan Phillips is hilarious on this episode once the Hirogen turn him into a Klingon; broad but funny.

20. Vis a Vis (1/5)
More eh.

21. The Omega Directive (1/5)
Mega eh. Seven of Nine had a religious experience? Eat my ass. It's like the writers just don't give a shit about this last bit of the season.

22. Unforgettable (2/5)
As typically tame Trek romances go, it's sure to please the cat ladies, but the real analysis of this episode is over at mightygodking. I agree with what Jim Smith has to say there. Oh, and props to Virginia Madsen, who is lovely on this episode.

23. Living Witness (2/5)
For a while it seems like the writers are going for some Holocaust-denial type of story here, but it's saved by a nice coda and the presence of the Doctor. Interesting idea--the Doctor's backup program activated in an alien museum 700 years in the future in order to help set the historical record straight. A lot of the earlier stuff with the museum's incorrect idea of Voyager as a warship is beyond silly. Chakotay's evil hair is absolutely hysterical.

24. Demon (1/5)
Eh all around. The idea of a sentient race based on "blood silver" (mercury?) and bio-matter is interesting, but it's all sorts of eh. Doesn't help that they've focused it so much on the always-unexciting team of Harry Kim and Tom Paris.

25. One (3/5)
Interesting premise, putting the crew in stasis while traveling through an irradiated nebula and leaving Seven and the Doctor--at this point, by far the two most interesting characters on the show--to pilot the ship to the other side. Still, it gets a bit heavy-handed in its exploration of Seven's innate humanity, by giving her all of these hallucinations, etc. I get where she would feel alone because of her severed connection to the Borg Collective, but still... I don't know, it just seems a little smug to me.

26. Hope and Fear (3/5)
I find the character Arturis interesting--and I always love to see Ray Wise--but the whole thing just kind of peters out by the end. I really hate the anger between Seven and Janeway here; Janeway can be so unconsciously imperialistic sometimes, so offended by the idea that Seven--whom they've basically forced into humanity--might not actually want to go to Earth and be part of the Federation. It's the same high-handedness she chose to put aside to accommodate Maquis crewmembers. She deals from the same stance when it comes to her rather inconsistent implementation of the Prime Directive: we want your technology in order to get home, but we don't want to give you any of ours because you might use it. Such a very (and disappointingly) American ideal--we want the benefit of your technology but we want to be secretive in our dealings. Interesting words when your EMH is walking around wearing technology from the 29th century. Too bad the USS Dauntless turns out to be a trap, because the ship itself is pretty badass. Kind of whimper to go out on, but at least this season is over.

I think this season was a hiccup; there's a change here in the focus of the show, and both the writers and the cast seem at a loss as to how to make it work. The fifth season is, so far, much more compelling and interesting than the fourth. Let's just put this season behind us and move on.


Bob Rutledge said...

I've been wondering how long it would take you to grow frustrated with Voyager.

And now we know. Kind of cruel to get the (in my opinion, anyway) worst Trek series right after the (IMO) best one, innit?

Tallulah Morehead said...

He's not watching the worst ST series. He hasn't even mentioned Enterprise.

For me, it was Seven-of-Nine's story arc that made the series interesting.