• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Voyager – Future’s End, Part II (Review)

In a very real way, the Rick Berman era of Star Trek ends with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II marks the point at which Star Trek: Voyager stops moving forward. It is the point at which the show decides that it has accomplished just about everything that it could ever want to accomplish, and that it has crystalised into its final form. There are some changes still to come, with the introduction of Jeri Ryan in Scorpion, Part II and the departure of Jeri Taylor following Hope and Fear, but (by and large) the show has pretty much figured out the kinds of stories that it wants to tell and the ways in which it wants to tell those stories.

More like a hole-o deck character...

More like a hole-o deck character…

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II feels like an appropriate place at which to draw that line in the sand. It is the two-parter that really introduces the concept of big blockbuster storytelling to Voyager, and which restructures the series as a mechanism through which generic Star Trek stories might be told. The template for the remaining three-and-a-half seasons can be found in this episode, from the “everything is back to normal” ending through to the idea of giving Janeway a a singular action-movie antagonist against which she might define herself.

The two-parter seems to freeze Voyager in amber, and set its storytelling sensibilities in stone. There will be no more experimentation, no more evolution. This is how things are to be from this point onwards. Appropriately enough, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II mark the future’s end.

Tom and Tuvok's Bogus Journey...

Tom and Tuvok’s Bogus Journey…

I was trying to save billions of lives. To stop a chain reaction that started with Voyager! It’s too late now. All things are set in motion. The terrible explosion will occur. The end is coming! The future’s end.

– Captain Braxton suggests killing Voyager might be the only way to save the future

He's so materialistic.

He’s so materialistic.

In keeping with this sense of looming apocalypse, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II could be seen to mark the beginning of the “Temporal Cold War.” Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would introduce that plot thread in Star Trek: Enterprise at the behest of the network, who were anxious about a prequel that lacked any strong connection to the twenty-fourth century shows. The “Temporal Cold War” was (justifiably) criticised for making next to no sense, but the premise arguably worked best as a narrative backdrop than as a story in its own right.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II introduce a number of concepts that will form the backbone of the “Temporal Cold War.” Most notably, there is the idea of a twenty-ninth century Starfleet that seems to stand guard over the timeline in much the same way that twenty-fourth century Starfleet stands watch over space. To be fair, the franchise has had characters visit from the future before; the time ship (if not its occupant) in A Matter of Time, or third timeline in All Good Things… However, this is the first time that it has seemed quite so organised.

Tuvok phone home.

Tuvok phone home.

The increased emphasis on time travel (and temporal paradoxes) from this point in Voyager‘s run very much speaks to Brannon Braga’s own interest in the subject. Asked to assess his own impact on the franchise, Braga pointed to his love of science-fiction premises like time travel:

I really embraced the more high-concept, science-fiction-y episodes. The mind-bending, time-warping kinds of episodes tended to be mine, I think. Those sensibilities infused All Good Things, which is oftentimes reported to be one of the best episodes in the series. I certainly brought all of my time-travel instincts to that one, to create a real, special episode of the characters at three different points of time in their lives.

I think I’ll probably be remembered for that.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II are not particularly “timey wimey” episodes, unlike later stories like Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II or Relativity. However, they do suggest that time travel is something that will be of interest to the show going forward.

Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home.

Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home.

In particular, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II latches on to the idea that the time continuum is itself protected and curated. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had introduced “the Department of Temporal Investigations” to investigate time travel shenanigans in Trials and Tribble-ations, but that was mainly a joke that provided the episode with a framing device and allowed René Echevarria to make a nod to The X-Files. It is not until Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II that the franchise begins to take the concept seriously.

Voyager returns to the idea of the Federation as a guardian of the time line multiple times over the course of the run. Geordi LaForge tries to stop Harry Kim from rewriting history in Timeless. Seven of Nine is recruited as a temporal agent to prevent the destruction of Voyager in Relativity. Captain Harry Kim finds himself ordered to prevent Admiral Kathryn Janeway from changing the past in Endgame. All of these are illustrations of what Captain Braxton describes as “the Temporal Prime Directive” in Future’s End, Part II.

"Don't worry, I'll learn to violate the Temporal Prime Directive as easily as I mastered its non-Temporal variety."

“Don’t worry, I’ll learn to violate the Temporal Prime Directive as easily as I mastered its non-Temporal variety.”

Again, this is not a new concept by any measure. Whenever Star Trek characters find themselves thrown back in time, they feel an obligation to minimise disruption to the time stream. Kirk acknowledged this principle in Tomorrow is Yesterday and The City on the Edge of Forever. Picard fretted about it in Tapestry. Sisko and Bashir meditated upon it in Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II. Even Janeway and Paris grappled with it in Time and Again. Indeed, it forms a lot of the plot basis of Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

However, there is something different in the way that Voyager tends to articulate this principle. In the earlier Star Trek shows, the emphasis was always on the show’s characters treating the past as an object that needed to be preserved at all costs to ensure their present. The past was frozen static, given that the characters’ very existence rested upon that foundation. However, the characters were generally assumed to have control over their own present. “History” was only a term that applied to events predating Kirk, Picard and Sisko. The present and future were an open book.

"Nuts. I wanted to appear on Deep Space Nine."

“Nuts. I wanted to appear on Deep Space Nine.”

In contrast, the approach in Voyager is rather different. By shifting the focus from the protagonists seeking to ensure the integrity of the past towards guests from the future imposing integrity upon the protagonists, Voyager seems to suggest that the present and the immediate future are set in amber. Although there are episodes that challenge this assumption, most notably Timeless and Endgame, the expectation is that these are the exceptions that prove the rule. The bulk of Voyager would seem to unfold exactly according to plan, as verified by officials like Captain Braxton.

This is an interesting idea, one that suggests the path between the present and the future is relatively stable. Captain Braxton’s presence assumes that there will be a Federation in the twenty-ninth century; that Earth will still orbit the sun and that mankind will still exist. There is no major bump in the road between Janeway’s present and Braxton’s future, no universal upheaval or collapse. Voyager seems to suggest that the Federation will not have to worry about anything as severe as the Dominion War. Its foundations are solid, its future is certain.

Time flies.

Time flies.

This is a philosophy as rooted in the nineties as any of the episode’s Los Angeles location work. It is the idea that the nineties represented “the end of history”, a point in time at which the United States had vanquished the Soviet Union and stood unchallenged. The nineties were a period of political and economic stability for the United States, prompting Francis Fukuyama to ask if there was anything more to be accomplished:

What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs’s yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.

Of course, historical perspective leads most modern thinkers to consider the nineties as a relative anomaly, to acknowledge that what Charles Krauthammer described as “the unipolar moment” was more of a lacuna in history. After all, the nineties now seem like a rare moment of peace and prosperity positioned between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. While that seems only logical today, it did not seem that way at the time.

"You know, we should solve problems by shooting them more often."

“You know, we should solve problems by shooting them more often.”

This is one of the more interesting contrasts between Voyager and Deep Space Nine. Deep Space Nine always seemed disconnected from its time of broadcast; the show seemed to look back towards the middle of the twentieth century, drawing from great writers and classic films for stories, its time travel episodes jumping across the time-line but never landing in the present-day. In contrast, Voyager was a show very much rooted in its time; Future’s End, Part I and Part II brought it back to the present day, and would even produce 11:59 as a show marking the turn of the millennium.

The show tended to look at history in a way that reflected the era in which it was broadcast. Voyager seemed to treat itself as the end of future history. It is perhaps telling that the production team would treat Voyager as the end of the Star Trek universe. The timeline would stop moving forward in the wake of Voyager. The three subsequent repurposings of the Star Trek mythos (Berman and Braga’s Enterprise, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and Bryan Fuller’s Star Trek: Discovery) would all look backwards. Voyager was in many ways the end of the future.

Looking back.

Looking back.

Although events like 9/11 seem to have put paid to Fukuyama’s theory of “the end of history”, some cultural observers have dared to ask whether the concept might apply in senses other than political. It could reasonably be argued that some facets of culture and fashion froze in the nineties, and never moved forwards. As Jason Farago contends:

For the political theorist Francis Fukuyama, history ended in 1989 – the big questions had all been answered, and the ‘90s were the first decade of a final era of democratic capitalism. By the start of the 21st Century, of course, Fukuyama’s thesis was brutally discredited, and endless crisis has brought history roaring back to life. But if we cannot speak of an end of history, can we perhaps speak, in a Fukuyaman sense, of an end of culture? Art will continue to be produced forever; that isn’t in doubt. But the regular succession of periods and movements that typify art history might be done for – and the ‘90s may turn out to be much more than a point on a timeline, but the first decade of a much, much longer era of stasis.

To be fair, this is something of a generalisation. Most obviously, television storytelling has evolved leaps and bounds since the nineties, with projects like Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones unimaginable in the context of that decade. Change in other media has perhaps been less pronounced, but the film world has seen the explosion of intellectual property as a new wave star power, the death of the mid-budget film, and the evolution of CGI.

"Check out this retro twenty-third century style communicator!"

“Check out this retro twenty-third century style communicator!”

All that said, there is a sense that Voyager sees itself as fully formed and absolute by this point in its run. There will be no bold leaps forward, no experimental storytelling, no tweaking of the premise. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II suggest that there is a straight line between this point and the twenty-ninth century. This is quite simply how it will be. There is an element of hubris in all this, the sense that the future is assured and that Star Trek is beyond challenge.

In many ways, this feels like the perfect point at which to make that assertion. On the audio commentary for Star Trek: First Contact, writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore look back on the film produced in the thirtieth anniversary year and single that moment out as the pinnacle of the Berman era. “This is the peak,” Moore acknowledges, with both writers seemingly nostalgic at time of recording; by that point, Ronald D. Moore was working on Battlestar Galactica and Brannon Braga was executive producing what would be the final year of Enterprise.

The sweet smell of success. Also, champagne.

The sweet smell of success.
Also, champagne.

After all, it is worth comparing and contrasting the portrayal of time travel in Voyager and Enterprise. On Voyager, produced in the nineties at the peak of the Berman era’s popularity and overlapping with the thirtieth anniversary celebration, time travel was treated as some sort of temporal peace-keeping intended to keep things ticking over and to ensure that things happened in the manner that they were supposed to. On Enterprise, produced as the future of the franchise looked a lot less secure, time travel was seen as subversive and destructive; threatening to unravel and undermine everything.

It is tragic, but it needs to be said. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II solidify and galvinise Voyager at the very peak of the franchise. However, it is all downhill from here. The public’s interest in (and perhaps goodwill towards) the Star Trek franchise will slowly erode over the years ahead. Voyager would arguably be a large part of that. For a show about a ship literally named “Voyager”, the show had no desire to move forward or to push outside its comfort zone. It spent its entire run in a perpetual 1996, a creative decision that would hobble the franchise.

Braxton to the future.

Braxton to the future.

Indeed, the decision to structure Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II as a two-parter was something of a creative compromise. According to Cinefantastique, Brannon Braga had pitched the story as a multi-episode arc that would find the crew stranded in the twentieth century for a while longer:

It was originally going to be four parts, but the studio nixed the idea. Said Braga, “Part of me wishes we had still done the four-parter, because we had Tuvok and Paris get trapped in a convenience store while it was being ambushed by gang members.”

This would not be the first (or last) time that the production team faced these sorts of issues. There had been a suggestion that Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II might be extended into a multi-episode arc. Brannon Braga had originally hoped to do Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II as a year-long arc.

"Don't worry. Our future time travel episodes are going to get even more irrational."

“Don’t worry. Our future time travel episodes are going to get even more irrational.”

There are certainly elements of Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II that feel somewhat rushed. Most notably, the capture of Chakotay and B’Elanna by the militia in Future’s End, Part II feels like a rather strange diversion that is underdeveloped. At the same time, there is a sense that the two-parter works very well because of its extreme pacing. There are any number of plot holes or logical flaws in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II that would distract from the episode if the audience were given too much time to think about them.

Still, Deep Space Nine would prove more willing to experiment in the years ahead, opening the sixth season with an extended six-episode arc that placed its characters well outside their comfort zone and bring the series to close with a sprawling ten-part adventure. While these experiments with serialised storytelling were relatively unusual in the context of the mid-nineties, they were not groundbreaking compared to the work of shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer or Babylon 5.

Junk food for thought.

Junk food for thought.

In contrast, Voyager remained largely static and old-fashioned. Its stories were typically contained. Again, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II provide a great example of this kind of storytelling through the paradox at the centre of the story. The story is driven by an explosion in the twenty-ninth century that destroys Earth and involves Voyager. In what seems a little like overkill, Captain Braxton is sent back in time to destroy Voyager. As a result, he is thrown back in time and his ship crashes on twentieth century Earth. Which leads to the original disaster.

It is all very neat and self-contained. It is very tidy. There are no loose ends… even when there very clearly are. At one point, a temporally displaced version of Captain Braxton explains the temporal mechanics to Janeway and Chakotay. It is very clearly an exposition scene, right down to the character using a chalk diagram to explain how things work. However, once the character has served his purpose, the script needs to get rid of him. It does so in the most casual and open-ended manner imaginable.

"How come Tom and Tuvok got have Star Trek IV, and we got stuck in Star Trek V?"

“How come Tom and Tuvok got have Star Trek IV, and we got stuck in Star Trek V?”

Once Braxton has brought Janeway and Chakotay up to speed, he is stopped by the Los Angeles Police Department. Braxton, who has been homeless for decades and even been committed to a psychiatric institution, is accused of putting up signs around the city warning of the end of the world. In order to get Braxton out of the plot, Future’s End, Part I has the character flee the scene pursued by the Los Angeles Police Department. This version of Braxton is never heard from (nor mentioned) again.

“We’ll have to worry about him later,” Janeway states, before leaving a homeless man stranded in a foreign century as a result of her actions at the tender mercies of the Los Angeles Police Department in the nineties. It is not Janeway’s finest hour, with the casualness of her disregard for Braxton making the whole encounter particularly uncomfortable. (To be fair, Braxton did try to destroy Voyager, but Janeway had offered to help him moments earlier.) There is a sense that all that matters is that the story has been smoothed out, a plot thread is out of the way.

"It's probably best not to think too hard about it. Just try to have fun."

“It’s probably best not to think too hard about it. Just try to have fun.”

(This serves as something of a boomerang joke in Relativity. Although the version of Braxton who appears at the end of Future’s End, Part II claims to have no recollection of this timeline, another version of Braxton appears in Relativity. That version of Braxton is played by a different actor, but seems to have memories of the timeline that Braxton claims to have forgotten. In essence, 1996!Braxton becomes Schrodinger’s plot device, either existing or not depending on which outcome works best for the plot at hand.)

This becomes a staple of plotting on Voyager, the overly tidy resolution. All the toys are put back in the box at the end of the hour. Of course, the show had already repeatedly demonstrated a fondness for the concept of the “reset button” in earlier episodes. The show’s third episode, Time and Again, featured the first conveniently self-wiping temporal paradox that helped to set the tone for the series. The oh-so-tidy endings of episodes like Deadlock and Tuvix underscored the idea that the status quo was set in concrete.

"He's gonna know we're following him. On the plus side, there is great signal."

“He’s gonna know we’re following him. On the plus side, there is great signal.”

This is the reason that Janeway accepts Braxton’s casual refusal to take the crew home. The two-parter is coming to an end and everything needs to be wrapped up rather neatly. The status quo must be restored, give or take an holographic emitter. The two-parter must end in such a way that the average viewer watching in syndication could skip from Sacred Ground to Warlord without missing a beat. As a result, all the toys must be put back in the box by the end of the episode. Everything must be reset to something close to factory settings.

This fits with the sense that Voyager has given up on being anything unique, and instead aspires to be the most generic series in the franchise. Voyager hopes to be the most “Star-Trek-y” of the Star Trek series, and it is to an extent. This is an approach that has its own strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths are often ignored when criticising Voyager, and that is not entirely fair. This looseness and commitment to being a blockbuster iteration of the franchise leads to some of the show’s strongest episodes, including Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

"Drive by, twenty-fourth-century style."

“Drive by, twenty-fourth-century style.”

However, there are also a number of stinging criticisms that might be leveled at the decision to pitch Voyager as the most generic iteration of Star Trek. Most obviously, it squanders one of the most exciting premises in the fifty-year history of the franchise. After all, Ronald D. Moore was able to break out of the science-fiction ghetto and into the cultural mainstream with Battlestar Galactica, a science-fiction television series that started from a (relatively) similar premise. There were clearly a lot of stories that could have been told starting from the premise laid out in Caretaker.

More than that, an unwillingness to craft a unique identity for the series in some ways suggested lack of confidence from the production staff. Voyager arrived at the moment when Star Trek was at its pop cultural zenith. The Next Generation was transitioning from television to film, having earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series in its final season. Star Trek had helped to revitalise science-fiction on the small screen. Star Trek might not have been cool, but it was accepted. Voyager had the opportunity to go boldly. But it didn’t.

A Starling example of the show's cowardice.

A Starling example of the show’s cowardice.

In his infamous exit interview, Ronald D. Moore characterised this as Voyager‘s original sin and a betrayal of both audience and premise:

I’ve said this to Brannon for years, because he and I would talk about the show when it was first invented. I just don’t understand why it doesn’t even believe in itself. Examine the fundamental premise of Voyager. A starship chases a bunch of renegades. Both ships are flung to the opposite side of the galaxy. The renegades are forced to come aboard Voyager. They all have to live together on their way home, which is going to take a century or whatever they set up in the beginning. I thought, This is a good premise. That’s interesting. Get them away from all the familiar Star Trek aliens, throw them out into a whole new section of space where anything can happen. Lots of situations for conflict among the crew. The premise has a lot of possibilities. Before it aired, I was at a convention in Pasadena, and [scenic illustrator, technical consultant Rick] Sternbach and [scenic art supervisor, technical consultant Michael] Okuda were on stage, and they were answering questions from the audience about the new ship. It was all very technical, and they were talking about the fact that in the premise this ship was going to have problems. It wasn’t going to have unlimited sources of energy. It wasn’t going to have all the doodads of the Enterprise. It was going to be rougher, fending for themselves more, having to trade to get supplies that they want. That didn’t happen. It doesn’t happen at all, and it’s a lie to the audience. I think the audience intuitively knows when something is true and something is not true. Voyager is not true. If it were true, the ship would not look spick-and-span every week, after all these battles it goes through. How many times has the bridge been destroyed? How many shuttlecrafts have vanished, and another one just comes out of the oven? That kind of bullsh!tting the audience I think takes its toll. At some point the audience stops taking it seriously, because they know that this is not really the way this would happen. These people wouldn’t act like this.

It is a very valid criticism, and one that cuts right to the heart of Voyager as a television show.

Voyager takes quite a critical beating.

Voyager takes quite a critical beating.

The early seasons of Voyager had casually accepted this betrayal of the premise. Parallax went out of its way to insist that the crew would still have access to the holodeck, the most extravagant of twenty-fourth century luxuries. Phage had Torres construct an extremely convenient dilithium refinery on the ship that did not disrupt any major systems or disfigure the ship in any way. The Maquis and Starfleet crews never really came into conflict, mutinying together in Prime Factors. The only character who consistently undermined Janeway was off the ship by the end of State of Flux.

Nevertheless, the show did make some small attempt to engage with these ideas over the course of the second season. Voyager found itself forced to consider negotiation and alliance-building with the Kazon in Alliances; Michael Jonas, a former Maquis crewmember, begins conspiring with Seska in that same episode. Suder, another Maquis crewmember, was revealed to be homicidal in Meld. By and large, the execution of these ideas was rather clumsy and terrible. Voyager never embraced its premise as well as Deep Space Nine.

The kiss of death to the franchise.

The kiss of death to the franchise.

With Michael Piller gone, and with Sacred Ground airing as the last hold over from the second season production block, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II could commit to this generic conflict- and tension-free version of Voyager. As fun as the two-parter might be, it also feels like a betrayal of the show’s core premise. Captain Kathryn Janeway has returned home, fulfilling the show’s statement of purpose. Even if the ship has returned to twentieth-century Earth, it should be a source of reflection and introspection.

Instead, everything is tidied away. The paradox at the heart of the episode is undone. It seems that time ship may never have been set back, because the explosion that spurs the story never occurred. The only significant reference to the series’ core promise is a two-line exchange in the final act of Future’s End, Part II. Janeway readily accepts that Braxton could not justify taking Voyager home, although later episodes seem to suggest that the future might have saved itself a lot of hassle if he just agreed then and there.

Homecoming.

Homecoming.

Still, as with a couple of these early third season episodes, there is a slight tweaking of some of the underlying status quo. This is very transparently housekeeping from the show’s writing staff, taking the opportunity to rework some core aspects of the premise and character dynamics in the most inorganic way possible. During the third season of Voyager, it often seems like change does not flow from character development or growth. Instead, change is driven by contrivance or circumstance.

For example, Warlord takes the opportunity to dissolve the relationship between Neelix and Kes. This is undoubtedly a good thing, given how creepy and possessive that relationship was shown to be in episodes like Twisted and Parturition. It is interesting to wonder what the production team had been thinking when they put the characters in a romantic relationship, given one was a scruffy hedgehog and the other was less than two years old. However, rather than having the pair break up organically, they are broken up by a malevolent alien warlord.

Robert Picardo was just floored by the suggestion that he would be able to leave Sickbay.

Robert Picardo was just floored by the suggestion that he would be able to leave Sickbay.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II has a somewhat milder example, providing the EMH with the mobile emitter. The mobile emitter will allow the character to leave Sickbay under his own power, freeing him from the restrictions inherent in his premise. Actor Robert Picardo was initially hesitant about this change, seeing it as a move away from one of the character’s strengths:

I remember when they first proposed liberating me from sickbay with the mobile emitter, I thought it wasn’t a good idea. I thought the character’s popularity was linked to his limitations and the challenge it was to try and exceed them. I thought that if he had the mobile emitter he would become just like the other characters and I have said it before and will again [Executive Producer / Writer] Brannon Braga was right and I was wrong.

In the long term, this nifty tech addition would prove quite useful. It afforded the character a broader range of story opportunities. To be fair, it could be argued that many of the later stories focusing on the EMH could have been improvised around under the original constraints by placing holographic emitters in certain external environments, but the mobile emitter is a much tidier (and exposition-lite) solution to that particular challenge.

The people over the stairs.

The people over the stairs.

The fact that Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II take the time to render the EMH “footloose and fancy free” is very much a testament to his status as the show’s breakout character. The writing staff on Voyager seemed surprisingly uncertain of the character’s appeal during the show’s first two seasons. Heroes and Demons was the only episode of the show’s first broadcast season to focus heavily on the EMH, although Projections was produced during the first season and held back. During the second season, Lifesigns was the only EMH-driven episode.

That would change dramatically from this point forward. Of the twenty-two episodes produced during the third season, the EMH holds down three: The Swarm, Darkling and Real Life. The EMH’s share of storytelling real estate would only increase in the seasons ahead. It is interesting to wonder whether the relative popularity of the character as the crew’s “synthetic lifeform learning to be human” inspired the writing staff when developing Seven of Nine in the gap between the third and fourth seasons.

Don't examine it too closely.

Don’t examine it too closely.

Of course, the addition of the mobile emitter came with its own obligations. Robert Picardo jokingly lamented that it increased the time that he had to spend filming, since the majority of his scenes were no longer confined to a single set:

“I used to tease the other actors, and they hated me, because they would come in and have a ‘bridge day’ where any one actor could have a twelve-hour shooting day and literally say one line, and that never happened to me,” he laughs ruefully. “If the scene was set in sickbay in my arena, then usually I drove the scene. Now, with the mobile emitter, I have those wonderful days where I’m in an all-day briefing room scene that goes on for four pages, and I say one thing. But it’s payback time, so it’s completely fair.”

Still, it serves to demonstrate that the EMH would have a much bigger role in the episodes to come. Again, this is a testament to the fact that Voyager was entering the final phase of its evolution.

To a mostly adequate tomorrow.

To a mostly adequate tomorrow.

Future’s End, Part II ends with the cast sharing a drink of champagne in the mess hall. The tone is celebratory, and it seems to speak to the tone of the show. The future has arrived, and Voyager is a steady ship. With Michael Piller gone, most of the major behind-the-scenes conflicts have resolved themselves. The franchise is marking its thirtieth anniversary. The show has just executed the first in a series of (mostly successful) blockbuster mid-season two-part episodes. All is right in the world and the timeline.

It is worth noting that Warlord introduces the recurring holographic vista for the third season, swapping out a grotty French pub for a tropical resort. There is very much a sense that the third season of Voyager is resting on its laurels, with the crew spending their off-hours drinking champagne and hanging out in a sun-drenched paradise. There is a certain hubris to all this, a sense that the characters (and perhaps the show) expect this tranquillity to last forever. The third season of Voyager sees no surprises in its future, no change in its circumstances.

Still, the episode is a blast.

Still, the episode is a blast.

This would cause problems down the line. When Deep Space Nine wrapped up, the franchise made no effort to retain the experience that staff had earned through their experiments with long-form and serialised storytelling. Ronald D. Moore came over to Voyager, but departed almost immediately under a very dark cloud. As a result, the only writers working on the Star Trek franchise by the end of Voyager were those who had been writing Voyager, writing teleplays very firmly rooted in the stylistic sensibilities of the nineties.

This would cripple Enterprise out of the gate, with Brannon Braga assembling a writers’ room that had no experience of writing serialised Star Trek. The first two seasons of Enterprise frequently felt like the eighth and ninth seasons of Voyager, or the fifteenth and sixteenth seasons of The Next Generation. When Enterprise finally made the leap to serialisation in its third year, there was a very steep learning curve. The staff would at one stage bring Ira Steven Behr in to share his experience on Deep Space Nine. It did not go well.

Janeway needs a time out.

Janeway needs a time out.

As such, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II threaten to freeze this particular strand of Star Trek in amber for the next seven years. The two-parter seems to outline a static vision for Star Trek. The future had reached its endpoint.

16 Responses

  1. Darren, do you feel the mobile emitter was itself a rejection of the Piller era – to get rid of the idea that the Doctor wouldn’t be in away teams, the briefing room, etc.?

    >However, rather than having the pair break up organically, they are broken up by a malevolent alien warlord.

    Yeah… when the Doctor referred to the break-up in “Darkling,” I was stunned; they’d broken up off-camera? It was only years later that I read about the break-up occurring in “Warlord,” which doesn’t make sense to me. Why would they remained parted because Kes had been made to break up with him via mind control?

    >The status quo must be restored, give or take an holographic emitter.

    Good work, Braxton! There’s no way that errant technology will cause unforeseen complications for the crew!

    >It is worth noting that Warlord introduces the recurring holographic vista for the third season, swapping out a grotty French pub for a tropical resort.

    Yes, that sets up an odd pattern where everyone wants to share the same holodeck programs; it isn’t only Janeway who’s fascinated by Da Vinci, everyone wants a turn in the workshop; characters take turns visiting the Captain Proton set; and who could forget Fair Haven? The other interesting thing is that each time the programs are introduced to build up to a later “holodeck gone wrong” episode. The resort is building to “Alter Ego,” the workshop to “Concerning Flight,” Captain Proton to “Bride of Chaotica!” and Fair Haven to “Spirit Folk.”

    • I’d agree with that Michael. It’s been a while since I wrote the Warlord review that’s landing soon, but I think I bring it up there. This is the “sweep away the Michael Piller detritus” stage of the season.

  2. Great look at the moment when Voyager resigned itself to being average.
    What remains puzzling to me though is why did they never really try to develop interesting side characters? Even if you don’t have long term story arcs, you can still try to develop other members of the crew who are not part of the main cast. I mean they have several crew members who aren’t part of the main cast, Vorrick, Samantha Wildman and her daughter, come to mind, but they never receive any development.

    • I suspect the lack of interest in side characters is probably a hangover from the trauma that was the Piller era.

      After all, the side characters who did receive development in the first two season were pretty much hated by the production team. Seska and Cullah were tied to the Kazon, and we all how that turned out. Jonas represented the disastrous second season arc. Lon Suder was HATED by Jeri Taylor.

      Given that the production team were reaching a point where they’d give up on developing a good four members of the regular cast, it might have been asking a bit too much to hope they’d develop any secondary characters.

      • Yeah I suppose, but the funny thing is that Voyager actually did a decent job develop Reg Barclay and Lewis Zimmerman. It seems like the writers just gave up with most of its core cast.

      • With Voyager, I get the sense that a lot of the sink or swim was based on the actors. The performers who did the best with what they were given got more, rather than the writer trying to figure out what they could give to those performers who were struggling.

        (DS9 is probably not a fair example, given the relative strength of the cast. Even Terry Farrell would be top tier on Voyager or Enterprise. The Next Generation is probably a better example, with Frakes and Sirtis being among the weaker links in the cast who eventually got material that played to their strengths as performers, Frakes as a charming rogue and Sirtis as somebody with surprising authority. Maybe Garrett Wang could do comedy well, or would do low key naturalism.)

  3. “The staff would at one stage bring Ira Steven Behr in to share his experience on Deep Space Nine. It did not go well.”

    Hmm? Can you elaborate?

    Also, I asked this about Enterprise, I’ll ask it about Voyager, why did it turn out to be such a generic show? I can’t call it a “failure” because it lasted seven seasons and got an ending, unlike Enterprise, but Voyager is (rightfully IMO) considered one of the weakest or the weakest Trek series. Why’d it turn out as nothing more than just TNG, if it were stripped down and set to mediocre? I mean they even created the Maquis for Voyager, setting up a backstory and appearances in TNG and DS9 beforehand to give them weight, and then DS9 ended up using them far more than Voyager! What happened?

    • The mobile emitter was a great idea. To give credit to the writing staff of Voyager, they did a lot to develop the character of the Doctor. over the series. Recognising that he was popular with eh audience and fans. Whilst I’m no fan of Voyager., I take issue with your assertion that it became generic Trek and wasn’t content with moving forward or experimenting.

      • Well, even the writer and owner of this website calls it a generic show that he doesn’t like, I was asking him for his assessment.

      • It’s good to get a wealth of opinions, I think. Even if we disagree, I hope we can keep it civil.

        And, yeah, I’d argue that Voyager was very much generic Star Trek. I mean, it’s hard to think of an episode of Voyager that really pushed the boundaries of Star Trek after this point, that really made the audience ask “is this really Star Trek?” in the way that (for example) Sins of the Father, Family, Redemption, Darmok, In the Pale Moonlight, Far Beyond the Stars, The Xindi, or Anomaly did.

        As for why that happened, I have a number of theories, although I suspect that there might be a great tell-all book to be published:

        (a.) Voyager was the first Star Trek spin-off to broadcast on a network, and so was subject to the whims of UPN in a way that The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine weren’t; since the network was pinning its hopes on a Star Trek series, it was in their interests to push the production team to make a show that “felt” like the Star Trek that the public knew and loved, which discouraged the sort of experimentation that happened on both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine;

        (b.) Hubris. Voyager was released at the absolute pinnacle of the Berman era. TNG just got an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama. Patrick Stewart and crew were about to inherit the film franchise. There were two Star Trek shows on the air. Voyager was the cornerstone of a new television network, its flagship programme. This was around the time that Star Trek: The Experience opened and that the thirtieth anniversary was approaching. Star Trek had literally never been as successful as it was in the moment that Voyager launched. This tends to encourage a certain conservatism. After all, if something appears to be working, why try to change it? (This is quite clear even in other franchises. The first few seasons of CSI and Law and Order were groundbreaking. However, once they broke out, they quickly became stagnant and conservative.)

        (c.) The writing staff divide after The Next Generation. Ronald D. Moore and Rene Echevarria ended up on Deep Space Nine, while Brannon Braga and Jeri Taylor (and later Joe Menosky) ended up on Voyager. There is nothing wrong with Braga and Taylor and Menosky. In fact, Braga and Menosky are two of the franchise’s most experimental writers when it comes to storytelling within a given episode. However, they were not character-focused writers and they were not writers interested in long-form storytelling. On top of that, Taylor was an inherently conservative executive producer very comfortable with the eighties-style approach to episode plotting. It’s interesting to wonder what might have happened if Braga ended up on DS9 under Behr and Moore ended up on Voyager.

        (d.) The executive producers. The second season of Voyager was a traumatic experience for everybody involved, with Piller and Taylor embroiled in a civil war over the future of the series. Piller wanted long-form plotting, character conflict and serialisation. Taylor wanted something lighter and more episodic. While this seems like a clear divide, it’s worth noting that most of Piller’s ideas and executions were TERRIBLE, possibly because they were implemented by writers who didn’t want to write them. In contrast, Taylor’s episodes were bland, but not terrible. (I quite enjoy Persistence of Vision and Resolutions.) Anyway, tensions escalated. Piller and Taylor trashed each other in the fan press. The writers eventually mutinied and Piller was forced out. After all of that, who could blame the writers for never wanting to try anything experimental ever again. Don’t rock the boat.

        (e.) Brannon Braga. While Braga did push for serialisation of Year of Hell, for example, he was not an executive producer who was particularly welcoming to new ideas. There are horror stories about writers pitching to Braga only for him to mercilessly and cruelly mock them, and Ronald D. Moore has gone on record stating that young promising writers like Bryan Fuller and Michael Taylor were actively sabotaged by more senior staffers under Braga’s watch. If young writers like Fuller and Taylor couldn’t work to their potential, the show had no real chance of evolving into something new and exciting. So it stagnated.

      • Yep.

        The Doctor is, along with Seven, the breakout character of Voyager. Honestly, if the staff had settled on one particular take on the character, Janeway would also have been great.

        And I do generally think the holo-emitter was a good idea, even if it did represent a betrayal of the character’s original premise. (To be fair, DS9 did this quite a bit. Odo’s origins were not set in stone until after the production team sat down following The Jem’Hadar. Bashir’s past is retconned heavily in Doctor Bashir, I Presume. Sisko’s father is like Schrodinger’s Cat for the first three seasons.)

      • The genius of the The Mobile Emitter is that if it caused problems with character or story, they could just break the darn thing. It’s not like Torres can fix something centuries ahead of their time.

      • Ha! I like that, actually.

    • There’s a quote in one of the Enterprise reviews; probably The Expanse or The Xindi.

      But basically the production team were asked to retool at the end of the second season. So they had a brainstorming session. Somebody reached out to Ira Behr, given his work on DS9 was considered ahead of his time. I am not sure if the production team talked to Moore.

      Anyway, the accounts of the meeting differ somewhat. Behr’s version suggests that he came in, made some recommendations, and those recommendations were not of interest to Berman and Braga. Braga’s version of events consists of Behr pretty much ripping him a new @$$hole. Behr seems to treat it as just business as usual, while Braga sounds almost traumatised talking about it. (Braga also seems to suggest that Behr was pitching to take over the running of the show, something I am fairly certain that Behr would deny and which seems out of character given his public statements.)

  4. “This is a philosophy as rooted in the nineties as any of the episode’s Los Angeles location work. It is the idea that the nineties represented “the end of history”, a point in time at which the United States had vanquished the Soviet Union and stood unchallenged. The nineties were a period of political and economic stability for the United States, prompting Francis Fukuyama to ask if there was anything more to be accomplished:”

    As a socialist, there’s a profound pleasure for me to see this idea now treated as a laughing stock, since it’s proven so badly wrong 😛

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: