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Star Trek: Voyager – Prey (Review)

Prey is a fantastic piece of television, and stands as one of the best standalone episodes of the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

It is an episode built around a very simple premise, pitting two of Voyager‘s more memorable alien creations against one another and throwing a nice character arc into the midst of this epic conflict. Prey is an exciting thriller built around the established characteristics of both the Hirogen and Species 8472, using two very distinctive cultures to tell a compelling and engaging story with the regular cast thrown into the fray. “Lone Hirogen hunter pursues lost member of Species 8472” is a great hook for an episode.

Here come the big guns.

However, Prey goes even further than that. The basic plot is intriguing on its own terms, but Prey cleverly grounds the story in what we know about these characters and their dynamic. As much as Voyager is caught in the crossfire of this horrific situation, the crew are also forced to make tough decisions. How will Janeway react to a wounded member of a hostile (and nigh-invulnerable) species? How will Seven of Nine respond when asked to save the life of a creature that participated in a brutal war with the Borg Collective?

This is intriguing stuff, largely anchored in what the audience already knows of the characters and delivered with top-notch production values and a great sense of pacing. Prey is an episode that plays to all the strengths of the fourth season, from the appeal of the Hirogen and Species 8472 through to the chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan.

There’ll be hull to pay.

As with Hunters, there is a surprisingly strong thread of continuity running through Prey. More than any other season of Voyager, the fourth season tended to flirt with long-running story arcs and carry small character and plot threads across multiple episodes. After all, The Gift had been forty-five minutes of television primarily concerned with the aftermath of Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II. To pick another example, Hunters had used the relay stations discovered in Message in a Bottle to tidy up threads tying back to Caretaker or Persistence of Vision.

Although the series was nowhere near as comfortable with serialisation as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had become, the production team still understood that viewers could be trusted to remember a handful of details from earlier episodes. This is obvious across the season, and stands in marked contrast to the rest of the seven-season run. When Neelix was an accomplice to drug dealing and murder in Fair Trade, his punishment happened entirely between episodes. When Seven is punished at the end of Prey, it is acknowledged at the start of Retrospect.

“His story scans.”

Prey is not as explicit in its continuity references as Hunters had been. There is no reference to the encrypted Starfleet message that Seven recovered in Hunters, for example. That detail is confined to the background. At the same time, all of the characters and their interactions are pointedly coloured by earlier adventures. Unlike most “alien of the week” or “phenomenon of the week” stories on Voyager, Prey assumes at least some casual familiarity with earlier stories like Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II and Hunters.

This is most obvious in the way that Prey is built around two particularly memorable and recurring Voyager aliens. It involves Species 8472 from Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, alongside the Hirogen from Message in a Bottle and Hunters. While Voyager has had recurring alien species before, it has never really mashed them together. Voyager has never invested in the dynamics that must exist outside the eponymous starship. Voyager never explored how the recurring species on the show would engage with one another.

The Hirogen healthcare system is a nightmare.
It didn’t come up much on the show.

In the first two seasons, Voyager had repeated contact with hostile aliens like the Kazon and the Vidiians. They also repeatedly interacted with Talaxians. However, outside of Neelix’s encounters with these aliens, the series never bothered to explore how these aliens would interact with one another. Voyager never really touched upon what it must be like to live in the same area of space as the Kazon or the Vidiians, how the Talaxians responded to those predatory threats. The Vidiians and Kazon existed in isolated bubbles, quite apart from one another.

This obviously limits the potential for long-form storytelling or development. After all, the Vidiians were always treated as an archetypal menace rather than a culture with a clear narrative arc. They made convenient bad guys for episodes like Deadlock or Fury. It is telling that the Vidiians are cured entirely off-screen, in a throwaway line from a special guest star in Think Tank. Similarly, Maj Cullah would talk about uniting the Kazon factions in Manoeuvres or Alliances, but he could never develop because he existed in a vacuum opposite Voyager.

Faced with a new enemy, their Hirogen tactics went to pieces.

After all, the other Star Trek series tended to develop their alien species by throwing them into conflict with one another and using one alien species to inform others. The Romulans were introduced in Balance of Terror as distant cousins of the Vulcans. The loss of a key prop forced The Enterprise Incident to add a line of dialogue explaining that the Romulans and the Klingons had formed an alliance. Star Trek: The Next Generation effectively contrasted the Romulans and Klingons as sworn enemies, a relationship that informed both parties.

Voyager has largely avoided this form of storytelling. In keeping with the series’ episodic model, the ship tends to move from one area of space to another where it encounters one minor power after another. That way, audience members do not have to keep track of core dynamics or interspecies relationships while tuning in and out at random. Prey stands out as a rare exception to this policy, an episode about Voyager wandering into a conflict between two already-established aliens. It is a good storytelling premise, if only because it multiplies narrative possibilities.

No excuse for losing his head.

Prey feels like an organic extrapolation from what earlier episodes established about these two aliens. Species 8472 mounted an invasion of the Delta Quadrant in Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, but were pushed back into “fluidic space” by an alliance between Voyager and the Borg. It makes sense that there would be some members of the species that were stranded after that retreat, even if it feels a little convenient that one stranded alien should wind up trapped ten thousand light years away from Borg space.

The defining trait of the Hirogen is “big game hunters.” It is not an overly complicated premise for a Star Trek alien. However, the teaser and opening act of Prey establish this detail quite effectively, arguably more effectively than the entire subplot in Hunters. The Hirogen featured in Prey seem more menacing and more threatening than those who appeared in Hunters, more ritualised and more violent. There is a solid argument to be made that the production team should have simply teased the Hirogen in Message in a Bottle and Hunters, making Prey their début episode.

Gunning for their prey.

As such, it makes perfect sense that the Hirogen would decide to hunt Species 8472, and that Species 8472 would prove a much greater threat than the Hirogen anticipated. This is an example of the lighter and softer approach to serialisation in the fourth season of Voyager; it is an approach that does not lean on recurring plot points or exact references, instead drawing upon broad pre-established traits to build new and exciting stories. Prey builds on Scorpion, Part II and Hunters, but the logic is simple enough that the viewer does not need to have seen them.

It helps that the archetypes involved are easily understandable to casual viewer. Effectively, and perfectly in keeping with his own horror b-movie interests demonstrated by Macrocosm or Darkling, Braga pitches this extraterrestrial showdown as a Star Trek twist on Aliens vs. Predator. It is a clever hook, one reinforced by the emphasis on Tuvok finding some gunky Species 8472 blood in a Jefferies Tube in a scene that could be read as an homage to Alien and the fact that the Hirogen evoke the larger-than-life nomadic hunting aliens from Predator.

“Somebody obviously did not care for Mister Neelix’s guacamole special.”

It should be noted that Prey aired at a time when popular consciousness was obsessed with the prospect of a crossover between those two Fox space monster franchises. The concept of Aliens vs. Predator really kicked off in 1989, when Dark Horse published a three-part story in Dark Horse Presents. However, the creative and critical failure of early nineties entries in both franchises, with Predator II in 1990 and Alien3 in 1992, only cemented the idea that these two floundering franchises might thrive together.

Aliens vs. Predator would spend the nineties trapped in development hell, a frequent subject of industry gossip and nerdy whisperings without any real traction. Peter Briggs was drafted in early to realise the project under the title “The Hunt.” It very quickly fell to pieces. However, there were other multimedia fronts in this particular war. Bantam published a series of Alien vs. Predator books, beginning in 1994. Capcom and Atari would release tie-in video-games around the same time.

“Do you have any idea how hard this armour is to keep clean?”

Prey aired in February 1998, very much in the middle of this multimedia storm and this fixation upon a multimedia clash of the terror titans. The release of Alien Resurrection in November 1997 had done little to reassure fans that the xenomorphs could support their own franchise. Eventually, audiences would get what they wanted with the release of Aliens vs. Predator in August 2004. Apparently most audience members determined that the project had not been worth the wait. That did a lot to sate pop culture’s previously ravenous hunger.

In some ways, this fascination with delivering a Star Trek twist on the long-sought-after Aliens vs. Predator serves as a reminder of just how deeply Voyager was rooted in the nineties. It is hard to imagine the franchise committing to this idea so eagerly and so readily at any other time. Deep Space Nine tended to crib from classic movies released long before its audience was even born, while Voyager tended to turn its attention to the latest fads and the most pressing pop culture concerns.

“Don’t worry, by the end of the first act, I’ll be doing this on my Todd.”

Still, in spite of the goofiness of the inspiration, Prey works very well. Part of this is down to the casting, with Tony Todd playing the role of the anonymous Hirogen who finds himself locked in a battle for survival with an anonymous member of Species 8472. Todd has acknowledged that he was simply thrilled to score a Star Trek hattrick:

Of all of the prosthetic work I’ve done, it was the most uncomfortable stint, playing that character. Not only was it a four-hour makeup process for the face, it was an hour-and-a-half costume application as well. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone has to tell you to give them notice 20 minutes before you had to pee. It’s hard to pee on demand. But I knew the makeup and costume looked effective. And I just wanted that trip ticket, to be able to be in all three of the shows.

Indeed, it is almost a shame that Todd never appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise in order to maintain that momentum. Still, there are already rumours circulating, suggesting that Bryan Fuller might have a part for Todd in Star Trek: Discovery.

“Damn, those Hirogen cast in The Killing Game really had it easy, eh?”

The Alpha Hirogen in Prey is by some distance the least-developed character played by Tony Todd during his long association with Star Trek. The character does not even have a name, lacking both the long-running tragic arc afforded Kurn and the intimate agony of Jake Sisko. The Alpha Hirogen is just a dude who really wants to kill some exotic alien and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. The character is unlikely to go down in the pantheon of great Star Trek guest characters.

However, Todd has enough screen presence that it works. He effectively carries the teaser singlehanded, as the Alpha and Beta track their quarry to an asteroid belt. In that short introductory scene, without any real context or set-up, Todd conveys everything that needs to be said about this character. He is driven by blood lust, prone to making stupid decisions, almost romantically in love with the concept of killing this one strange creature. Even for a species that is consciously built around the trope of “obsessive hunters”, Todd conveys an unsettling desperation.

“I’m feeling pretty blue.”

The Alpha in Prey does a lot to distinguish the Hirogen from other stock “proud tribalistic warrior” aliens like the Klingons or the Kazon. The Alpha Hirogen seems downright manipulative and underhanded in his dealings with the Voyager crew. He might be committed to a ritualistic hunt, but he is not above playing psychological games to serve his own purpose. Even locked in Sickbay and trapped behind a “level five force field”, Tony Todd makes the alien seem like a tangible threat. The Hirogen in Prey are much more effective than those in Hunters.

This is most notable in how the Alpha manipulates the Voyager crew to get what he wants, which is the opportunity to brutally murder his target. When he discovers that the alien is on the ship, he initially threatens Janeway. “Let me continue, or I will have the others destroy you,” he warns. When that does not work, he demonstrates his potential usefulness to the crew in a crisis situation. “He’s trying to barricade himself,” he explains of the alien’s tactics. “He did the same thing to us.” This is enough to get him back in the field.

“A census taker once tried to test me…”

The Alpha also makes a similar attempt to manipulate Seven of Nine, a character who he has only observed from a distance to that point. When Seven of Nine threatens to “destroy” him unless he surrenders, he responds, “I don’t think you will. You want me to destroy this creature. I saw it on your face earlier in the medical bay. It’s a look I’ve seen a thousand times.” This is the sort of psychological manipulation expected of aliens like Cardassians or Romulans, use of guile and cunning rather than brute force. It makes the Alpha seem a more credible antagonist.

However, the Alpha is ultimately a secondary character in the larger context of Prey. His pursuit of the alien is an inciting event, but it is not the heart of the story. After all, Prey concludes in a relatively open-ended manner as far as the Hirogen and Species 8472 are concerned. The last shot of the Alpha finds the character on the ground wrestling with his antagonist. Seven of Nine beams them back to one of the Hirogen ships attacking Voyager. As far as Prey is concerned, that is where the story ends for these two characters.

Wrestling with moral ambiguity.

Although the implication is that the Hirogen brutally murdered their prey, the script never explicitly confirms how that fight ended. It is never stated whether the alien manages to kill the Alpha before the Hirogen can kill it. It is also not impossible that the alien could escape again and wreak a terrible revenge. More than likely, the Hirogen won the day and the member of Species 8472 is dead. However, there is something very clever in the way that Prey never definitively states any of this. It does not matter. This is not what the story is about, on a fundamental level.

The real story at the heart of Prey is the story between Janeway and Seven of Nine. As with the Hirogen and Species 8472, this is another element carried over from earlier episodes. Seven of Nine’s education and rehabilitation has been a recurring plot thread since The Gift. In Prey, Janeway continues those lessons. The captain tries to instil some quality of mercy in the rescued drone. Janeway tries to teach Seven of Nine that forgiveness and compassion are important virtues on the final frontier, part of what makes a person human.

A specious threat.

There is a lot of really nice attention to detail in Prey, a lot of little touches and choices in the script that emphasise the idea of Seven of Nine’s larger journey. In an introductory sequence in Sickbay, the EMH acknowledges that Seven of Nine’s character arc effectively mirrors his own. “You’re a lot like me when I was first activated,” he admits. “If I’d had a mentor, things would have gone a lot more smoothly.” He even acknowledges the role that Kes played in his character arc, a rare mention of Kes following her departure at the end of The Gift.

In fact, Seven of Nine’s big argument with Janeway at the end of Prey very heavily references her arguments with Janeway in the brig in The Gift. In that earlier episode, Seven of Nine challenged Janeway with the reality that self-determination was a two-edged sword. Even half-way through her transformation from a Borg drone, Seven of Nine pointed out that Janeway only seemed interested in her right to make her own choices so much as those choices conformed to Janeway’s expectations.

“Ain’t no party like a huntin’ party, cause a huntin’ party don’t…”

Locked in the brig, Seven of Nine wondered what would happen if she were to choose to sacrifice her humanity and surrender to the Borg? “You would deny us the choice as you deny us now,” Seven contends, and perhaps with good reason. “You have imprisoned us in the name of humanity, yet you will not grant us your most cherished human right. To choose our own fate. You are hypocritical, manipulative. We do not want to be what you are.” It is a damning indictment. More than that, it is also not an unfair criticism.

Seven returns to that argument at the end of Prey, when Janeway confronts her about her decision to beam the member of Species 8472 over to the Hirogen hunting pack. “I believe that you are punishing me because I do not think the way you do,” Seven of Nine states. “Because I am not becoming more like you. You claim to respect my individuality, but in fact you are frightened by it.” It is a very powerful accusation, all the more effective for the fact that it has been restated and has yet to be refuted. Seven of Nine might have a point about Janeway.

Floating some bold ideas.

There is a lot to be said for building an episode around that ideological conflict. In an interview with Cinefantastique, writer Brannon Braga acknowledged that he was very proud of the finished episode and that a lot of the episode’s power came from that dynamic between Janeway and Seven:

“Prey turned out great. Everything came together. The director, Alan Eastman, took a very difficult script and made it look like a movie. The acting was superb. It had good music, great effects. It was the best Janeway-Seven arc since her introduction. It was great having them go head to head like that. With any luck, we left people wondering about their relationship at the end. The parent (is) raising the child, and the child is not turning out like the parent. Does that make the parent wrong? The child wrong, because they’re being unreasonable? I hope it taps into some deeper issues about the parent- child relationship.”

The relationship between Janeway and Seven has been around for less than a year, but it is already the richest relationship on the show. Part of that is down to the skill of the actors involved, who are among the strongest performers on the show. However, part of that is also down to the charge between the characters.

“My enemy’s enemy is… well, I think we’ve done this before and it worked out okay.”

In many ways, Seven of Nine is an archetypal Star Trek character. She is the cold and rational “alien” character, the outsider who finds herself perplexed by humanity. There are any number of similar characters in the Star Trek canon. Spock is the most iconic, but Seven is arguably much closer to Data on The Next Generation. It could reasonably be argued that Odo is a subversion of the archetype on Deep Space Nine and that T’Pol plays the arc much straighter on Enterprise. Indeed, before Seven arrived, the EMH fulfilled this role on Voyager.

As such, there needs to be something to distinguish Seven of Nine from Data or the EMH. The Gift hinted at one very interesting possibility, suggesting that Seven’s journey from “outsider” towards a more conventional humanist outlook would be conflicted. Data was an eager student for Jean-Luc Picard, while Seven would position herself as a problem child for Kathryn Janeway. Prey could be seen to deliver on that promise, by emphasising the gulf between Seven and Janeway rather than suggesting their relationship is idyllic.

“I was regenerating in my alcove. You use this word, alcove?”

After all, Voyager is a show that needs some sense of distinction or clarification. The crew on Voyager are woefully generic and underdeveloped compared to the casts on The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. Nobody seems to have a dissenting opinion about anything. Nobody approaches a problem from a unique perspective. Very few of the characters on Voyager have unique voices, which is disappointing given the sheer potential of stacking half the cast with former terrorists and aliens in Caretaker.

Allowing Seven of Nine to challenge Janeway so explicitly and so overtly harks back to the promise of that original concept. Prey suggests that Seven of Nine is not beholden to the chain of command, that she will not integrate as readily as Chakotay and Torres did in Parallax. More than that, it plays into the idea in The Raven that Seven is emotionally still a young adult. She is not psychologically mature, and is still learning to process her emotions and her experiences. (This is a theme suggested by Prey, and reiterated more awkwardly in Retrospect.)

“So, they’ve got a new “outsider” character now. But you’ll need a cool mentor.”

Although he was not part of production at the time that Jeri Ryan was drafted on to the cast, The Fifty-Year Mission quoted co-creator Michael Piller as a major advocate of this approach to Seven of Nine:

What I think became extremely clear is that once you brought Seven of Nine on board he show, you got cultural conflict from her that nobody else was able to bring. Perhaps partly as a result of that, and I think the quality of the actress had a lot to do with it, she became the most interesting character on the ship, because she was the one person who disagreed with everybody else. What conflict does is bring character out.

Then again, it makes sense that Piller would support this approach to the character. Piller advocated for more conflict on Deep Space Nine and advocated for stronger use of the Maquis on Voyager.

Keep hangin’ in there.

Prey very effectively lays out this ideological gap between Janeway and Seven even before the crew become aware of the involvement of Species 8472. “The Hirogen vessel is a potential threat,” Seven warns Janeway. “We should destroy it.” Janeway responds, “Seven, what you call a threat, I call an opportunity to gain knowledge about this species. And in this case, maybe even show some compassion. There seems to be a wounded pilot over there.” Seven replies, “Our experience with the Hirogen indicates that compassion would not be reciprocated.”

This is already a very pointed discussion. It is the kind of ethical argument that would occasionally pop up on The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. It recalls Crusher arguing with Picard about the exploitation of Hugh in I, Borg or O’Brien clashing with Bashir over the fate of the Jem’Hadar in Hippocratic Oath. It recalls the impassioned debate between Janeway and Chakotay about the Borg in Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, but this sort of discussion is very much the exception rather than the rule on Voyager.

Corridors of no power.

Once the crew discover that the Hirogen has been hunting a member of Species 8472, Seven becomes even more confrontational in her discussions with Janeway. As Seven admits to Tuvok, Species 8472 waged a large-scale war against the Borg Collective that understandably left psychological scars. “They destroyed millions of drones, hundreds of our worlds,” Seven explains. When Janeway explains that she plans to help the alien return home as a gesture of goodwill, Seven of Nine counters, “I don’t believe that is a prudent course of action.”

It is a very clever character beat, one that adds a great deal of nuance to Seven of Nine’s character. While her overall arc owes a lot to the characterisation of Data on The Next Generation, there are also shades of other characters thrown into the mix to add a unique flavour. Seven’s refusal to help an alien on the basis of a long-standing animosity between species recalls Worf’s refusal to give blood in The Enemy. Seven’s betrayal of her friends and colleagues for her own ends recalls Odo’s actions in Children of Time or Behind the Lines.

Tall order.

Janeway espouses a more humanist and optimistic outlook, one very much in keeping with the moral framework of the Star Trek universe. She tells Seven a story about helping a wounded Cardassian during “a Cardassian border conflict”, a conflict that has consistently been likened to the moral quagmire of the Vietnam War. Janeway insists on finding some sense of humanity during that horror, which is a very clever thematic choice. On The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Miles O’Brien was repeatedly characterised as a war veteran scarred by those conflicts.

Janeway makes a convincing and hopeful argument. Over the course of Prey, Janeway never loses faith in the idea that the universe is a fundamentally decent place where people and cultures can peacefully coexist. Janeway sees helping a wounded Hirogen as a chance to “settle [her] differences” with the hunting species. She believes that providing medical aid to a wounded hunter might bring about a reconciliation. She seems to believe that the same might be possible with Species 8472, despite their omnicidial zeal in Scorpion, Part II.

Beaming with pride.

Seven of Nine rejects this idealism in favour of a more compromised solution. She surrenders the alien to the Hirogen as a peace offering, effectively bartering one life for the lives on Voyager. It is a cynical decision, and one that Prey repeatedly suggests is grounded in a cold hatred of Species 8472 as much as pragmatism. As such, Seven serves as a reminder that not every person will share Janeway’s philosophical perspective or moral outlook. In her own way, Seven of Nine provides a challenge to Janeway’s world view.

If Janeway cannot count on Seven to do the right thing, what are the odds that she could count on the Hirogen to be reasonable or on Species 8472 to make peace instead of mounting an invasion? It is a very clever twist in the episode. It demonstrates that reality is often more complicated and nuanced than a set of hard idealistic principles. Prey suggests that the relationship cannot function until Janeway and Seven recognise each other’s positions. The key is finding a way to navigate the space between Janeway’s moral idealism and Seven’s emotional response.

Janeway or the highway.

This might sound cynical, but Prey does not reject Janeway’s humanism out of hand. The episode ends in a grim fashion, Janeway’s hopes of brokering peace with the Hirogen or Species 8472 lost in the crossfire. Beyond that, it seems like Janeway has not succeeded in changing Seven. However, this is not the case at all. Janeway makes peace with the Hirogen in The Killing Game, Part II, in a script written by the same writer and broadcast three episodes after Prey. More than that, Seven does eventually become a fully-formed person. In the end, Janeway is right.

In some ways, Prey suggests that Janeway’s biggest mistake is in assuming that she can change all of this instantly. Janeway believes that one encounter with the Hirogen is enough to allow her to fundamentally change their way of life so that they might see Voyager as more than just “simply game.” It takes a little more work to get to that stage, a little more familiarity with Hirogen culture and a little more conversation. Similarly, Seven of Nine has been an individual for less than a year. She can become a better person, but that level of growth takes time.

‘Soup, friend?

In a weird way, Prey might be read as an argument in favour of serialisation or long-form storytelling, contending that eventual pay-offs are more satisfying when they come at the end of larger arcs. After all, one of the more frustrating aspects of Seven of Nine’s character arc has been how quickly Voyager has humanised and integrated its newest crew member. Voyager knows that it has three more years to tell this story with Seven of Nine. It can afford to treat her growth as gradual, to allow her to make mistakes and experience setbacks along the way.

Much more than her flirtation with Kim in Revulsion or her curing of Neelix in Mortal Coil, Seven of Nine’s act of teenage rebellion in Prey feels like it represents genuine progress for the character. It is a character who is very consciously reacting to the arc that Janeway has established for her, which serves to provide Seven with more agency in terms of the overarching plot. It also feels like an emotionally honest story beat, one recognisable to anybody who has ever lived in a family with a teenage child.

Keeping her darker impulses at Cargo Bay.

Prey arguably marks the point at which Seven of Nine’s core relationship solidify. A lot of the fourth season was spent trying to play Seven of Nine off various members of the ensemble, to get a sense of how Jeri Ryan clicked with her cast mates and how the character might interact with them. Revulsion focused on the potential relationship between Seven and Kim. The Raven (and later Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II) teamed the character up with Tuvok. However, Prey makes a convincing case for Janeway and the EMH as Seven’s strongest relationships.

There is an early scene between Seven and the EMH in which the EMH proposes himself as a “mentor”, a role that pays off in Retrospect. However, the bulk of the episode is given over to the conflict between Seven and Janeway. The rest of the crew don’t really get a look into the discussion. From this point forward, Voyager will tend to privilege that dynamic between Seven and Janeway. It is a shrewd decision, as Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan play off one another very well.

Ryan Murphy presents Feud, Season 4.

The only problem is that there was considerable tension between Mulgrew and Ryan on the set of the show. As Brannon Braga explains in The Fifty-Year Mission, there was a lot of stress on the Voyager set after Ryan was introduced:

Kate Mulgrew didn’t like the addition of the character at all. To say it was tense is understating the case. We let Kes go, we felt the character wasn’t quite working, and we made way for Seven of Nine and it was not pleasant. And suffice to say when I started to have an affair with Jeri Ryan a year or so later, it was one of the most uncomfortable moments in my career having to go to Kate’s trailer to tell her what was going on, because Kate was not a fan. I don’t think she had anything against Jeri personally, but it was the character. But Jeri was not having it, either. She was like, “Why is the f$%king woman sh!tting on me? I just want an acting job, for f$%k’s sake.” I think everything cooled off eventually, but it didn’t slow things down in terms of production. No one refused to come out of their trailer. But Jeri felt the tension. You know, “There’s an intruder in our midst.” She was on a bunch of posters, she got all the attention.

It is quite frustrating that the two cast members most vocal in their dislike for one another would find themselves forced to share so many scenes. However, as Ryan has conceded, “It was the richest relationship. They really wanted to capitalize on that.” It is to the credit of both performers that the work on screen never suffered.

“Don’t worry, I’ve seen the script for the next episode.”

Prey is a really great episode, and a highlight of the season. It demonstrates just how much Voyager is doing right at this stage of the fourth season, even if it cannot keep this pace forever.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager:

7 Responses

  1. Absolutely agree. This episode is everything I expected of Voyager when I first started watching, I went into watching the series blind only knowing the premise, but very rarely got. It has conflict, claustrophobia, and above all an ambiguous ending. Neither Janeway or Seven of Nine are 100% right, and that is what makes for good drama. I think this episode also shows that when Brannon Braga has a script he actually wants to write, then he can do a good job.

    Furthermore, it is episodes like this that makes me think the fourth season of Voyager is also its best season. This season has three of my favorite Voyager episodes in Year of Hell, this one, and Living Witness, which is unfortunately sandwiched between two of the worst of the season, Unforgettable and Demon. Also, I would say that the Hirogen and the Krenim are some the best villains Voyager faces.

    • Yeah, the fourth season of Voyager is really good. It’s a shame that it couldn’t maintain the consistency of this run of episodes, my issues with Retrospect notwithstanding.

  2. It’s a shame Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan found it so difficult to work together because they really are so wonderful together. There’s a frisson between them we’ve never seen on VGR before (probably because it comes from a place of truth) and it’s one that electrifies they’re scenes, especially when they’re on opposite sides of the fence.

    With Prey, it looks like the writers have decided to capitalise on that and turn it into something they can use to they’re advantage. Add to that two of Trek’s most impressive enemies and what we have is the most exciting VGR episode since Year of Hell.

    Message in a Bottle teased us with the Hirogen. Hunters established them as the antagonist VGR had failed to deliver with the Kazon, and now with Prey, they really come into they’re own. But if that weren’t enough, Prey also brings back an enemy that we haven’t seen since Scorpion, Pt II – Species 8472.

    It’s fitting the teaser brings them together first without Voyager. A lone member of Species 8472 left behind after the war with the Borg ended has had the bad luck to cross paths with an Hirogen warship (how it travelled 10,000 light-years is something Brannon Braga fails to explain) and has spent the past six months being pursued by the relentless hunters. The Hirogen finally corner the creature like a trapped animal but in the same way the Borg underestimated they’re enemy, it recovers and escapes its captors, but not before tearing they’re ship apart (and one of the hunters) in the process.

    Naturally, this is when Voyager enters the picture. Bringing aboard the only surviving Hirogen (played by the wonderful Tony Todd), this gives the crew an opportunity to learn firsthand about this race of hunters. But when 8472 invades Voyager and with Hirogen reinforcements on the way, as well as Janeway and Seven’s differing ways of how to resolve this situation, Voyager becomes a battleground for all concerned.

    Prey is a fine example of how well VGR’s pieces fit together when it remembers that. Brannon Braga is famed for his ability to dream up high-concept ideas, but he’s not often known for characterisation, which usually seems to take second-place. Prey is a surprising combination of what he does best and what he tends to overlook, and the result is one of Braga’s best solo scripts to date.

    He’s helped no end by the actors carrying it, but Prey represents a new maturity for Brannon Braga. It shows him improving with characters, while also including plenty of the things he excels at – SF concepts and seeing where they take us.

    The Hirogen want they’re prey, and will kill the crew in order to claim it. Despite nearly winding up as an Hirogen trophy herself in the previous episode, Seven is eager to turn 8472 over to them, but Janeway would rather return the creature to fluidic space (perhaps because they’re both alone in a foreign quadrant, trying to get home). Things eventually come to a head between these two, independently minded women and Seven beams the Alpha and 8472 to the attacking Hirogen fleet, condemning the creature to a certain death.

    It is quite a stunning betrayal to see in a Star Trek show. A couple of years back, one of the Maquis crew would have done the same but since this is VGR’s fourth season, the most obvious choice to fill that role now is Seven of Nine, but it’s perfectly in character. She understandably still harbours hatred towards 8472, the first species to create chaos for the Borg Collective (the Borg probably didn’t truly understand the meaning of the word until they met them).

    And it culminates in the final scene in Cargo Bay 2, when Janeway revokes all of Seven’s privileges for going over her head. But Seven refuses to back down. She feels perfectly justified in what she did, and even takes the opportunity to attack Janeway’s reasoning by saying she was the one who encouraged Seven to think as an individual. It’s not Seven’s fault if Janeway feels threatened by it.

    This could almost be a conversation between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan rather than Janeway and Seven of Nine. It’s not hard to read into that scene and imagine the similar conflict between the two actresses that was going on behind the scenes. It’s nice to see the writers making use of it because it amps up the drama in a very tense episode.

    I was a bit surprised to see Species 8472 turned into the victim so soon (TNG waited until the fifth season before they did the same with the Borg) but I liked Prey more than the way they were watered down in In the Flesh. They still make an impressive adversary (even the Hirogen Alpha can’t help but admit that after tracking it for half a year), and if not for Seven’s intervention, no doubt it would have lived to fight another day.

    Prey is a superb distillation of all the good qualities of this season. It capitalises on the fantastic relationship between two of VGR’s best actors, and has plenty of action, suspense and great special effects all wrapped up in a tremendous package. What more can anyone ask? (That it could do this every week?)

  3. Seven got shafted. I do agree that if Seven would have just opened up the dimensional gateway, then Janeway would have been happy and then have to live with the consequences of the Hirogen now making Voyager their next prey. At least that would have put ALL of the next events on Janeway’s head. Instead we get the tense battle of the attack and 8472 getting loose. If not for Seven’s quick thinking in the corridor, Voyager would either have been destroyed, or captured and then the crew tortured and hunted to death, along with the creature. Janeway just can’t acknowledge that fact when Seven suggests it at the end of the episode, but rather brushes it off as “a possibility”. If it had been me when Janeway visited the cargo bay and said how I beamed the species off the ship, I would have simply replied with “You’re welcome for my saving Voyager and it’s crew”. I also find it interesting that the very next episode (Retrospect) again tries to make it look like Seven did something wrong, though it’s never fully proven that her memories were faulty. Just because the nano-probes reacted in the experiment the way they found the trace nano-probes in the lab doesn’t prove that the rest of what happened on the planet didn’t actually happen, but the writers are intending that this is proof of false memories. It is possible the gun was set to knock her out and the trace nano-probes would still have been left in the lab the same way as in the test. Then the assault could have happened, her memory messed with and then he wakes her up and heals her hand just as Kovin said. Remember they never could explain why Seven reacted so strongly to Kovin in engineering by knocking him down. So I guess we’re just supposed to believe that after this much time Seven is still punching people in the face who touch her? When you watch Prey and Retrospect back-to-back, it’s almost as if Seven is being punished for the previous episode.

  4. I’ve always been impressed with Ryan’s handling of what was going on in that fourth season. Young; newest cast member on an established show; replacing a well-liked cast member; lead actress definitely Not in her corner; yet Ryan did her work and also didn’t take any guff from that lead actress. Not sure how many young actresses (even with her experience) would’ve handled the situation as well.

    • Yep. I always liked Ryan; I think she’s a much stronger actor than she gets credit for, largely because the stupid costume is all people think about when they think about Seven of Nine. However, going back and hearing the accounts of what happened behind the scenes, I have an incredible respect for her.

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