Building upon the high-concept large-scale template established by Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes established a blockbuster template for Star Trek: Voyager going forward. They solidified Brannon Braga’s vision for the series, and effectively laid out a blueprint for his widescreen spectacle-driven reimagining of the final three seasons. Like Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II before them, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are blockbuster Star Trek.
Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had produced any number of two-part episodes over the course of their runs. In fact, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II had helped to cement the two-part story as impressive tool in the franchise’s storytelling arsenal. On both VHS and blu ray, these two-part stories were constantly repackaged as mini-movies; Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II, Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II, Chain of Command, Part I and Chain of Command, Part II.
However, Voyager represented a very clear evolution in the way that the production team approached these stories. Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II were the exception that proved the rule, the last holdover of the Michael Piller era. Largely driven by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky, the later Voyager two-parters took on a decidedly more blockbuster sensibility. They could easily be packaged as mini feature films, and might even work better in those formats than as two standalone narratives. They were bigger and bolder than earlier two-parters had been.
Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II provided the model for these big “event” two-parters. Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II applied to the Borg in order to offer an even bigger bang for their buck. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II took the ship and crew to their limit to tell a story set over an entire year. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II pushed the idea even further, with UPN opting to show both parts of the story on the same night as something like a television movie. It was a big deal.
Deep Space Nine had broadcast The Way of the Warrior as a television movie, but it was a season premiere and effectively a second (or even third) pilot. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II comprised a high-concept mid-season two parter. They were arguably a stock Voyager episode, only bigger. In the years ahead, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II would follow the same pattern. So would Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II established a trend.
Scale became a calling card for Voyager, as much as the desire to do “generic Star Trek stories.” Under the direction of Brannon Braga, Voyager became the blockbuster Star Trek series. It is too much to suggest that the series could measure up in terms of production value, but it is no exaggeration to suggest that Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II or Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II or The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II would have made a more satisfying cinematic release than Star Trek: Insurrection or Star Trek: Nemesis.
The computer generated imagery in episodes like Macrocosm and Rise might look a little dated and ropey to modern sensibilities, but it was impressive and audacious for a late-nineties television science-fiction series. Bombast was a defining feature of Voyager, even outside these two-part spectaculars. There are any number of single episodes that are equally cinematic in scale; Deadlock, Distant Origin, Timeless, Dragon’s Teeth. The material quality of the episodes might vary, but Voyager was a show about trying to go big and go home.
None of this is to belittle or diminish the work being done by the production team on Deep Space Nine. Indeed, the special effects crew on Deep Space Nine did a lot of work to demonstrate just what could be done on a television budget. The Die is Cast was the first large-scale space battle to be depicted on a live action Star Trek series. The Way of the Warrior and Call to Arms went further. After that, Sacrifice of Angels really pushed the boundaries in terms of sheer space-bound spectacle, to the point that footage was even reused as late as What You Leave Behind.
However, Deep Space Nine never really pushed for blockbuster storytelling as an aesthetic. The big blockbuster space battles always tended to be beside the point. Between the retaking of Deep Space Nine in Sacrifice of Angels and the battle to claim the Chin’toka System in Tears of the Prophets, the show largely concentrated on smaller stories set against the backdrop of the Dominion War. The politics and number-crunching of Statistical Probabilities; the spiritual crisis of Far Beyond the Stars; the criminal enterprises of Honour Among Thieves.
Deep Space Nine was really attempting to craft a long-form novelistic exploration of the franchise. Deep Space Nine wanted to be a book that could be broken down into chapters, a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. In contrast, Voyager aspired towards a more cinematic style. In fairness, this makes a great deal of sense. More than Deep Space Nine, Voyager was a show very much of its particular cultural moment. So much of the storytelling on Voyager can be tied back to the sociology and culture of nineties California.
Brannon Braga was heavily influenced by the scale of mid-nineties blockbusters in how he approached writing for Voyager. The modern cinematic blockbuster was nothing new by the time that Braga took over Voyager, dating back to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and George Lucas’ Star Wars at the very latest. However, the sheer spectacle of these films had increased dramatically over the decade. The summer following the broadcast of The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, cinema audiences would be awe-struck by Armageddon and Godzilla.
Many point to the release of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day in July 1996 as a game-changer. On watching the film, Spielberg allegedly told Emmerich, “This movie will do more to change blockbuster summer movies than any movie before.” As Alexander Huls outlines, its impact was keenly felt within only a few summers of release:
It all abided by the adapted spirit of that co-writer and producer, Dean Devlin, boasted in a making-of feature for Independence Day: “You won’t find a film that has more on screen than this film, and that’s what we’re most proud of.” Deep Impact and Armageddon represented that attitude, hitting an irreversible turning point for blockbusters: the collision between Independence Day-inspired “more on screen” lust for mass destruction and the growing ease with which it could be satisfied with advancements in CGI technology. In the span of two years, Independence Day’s elaborate four-minute apocalyptic sequence (stitched together with practical effects, close-ups, digital compositing, and editing) could be replaced by Armageddon destroying Paris in less than ten seconds with a single computer generated wide-shot. With the impossible becoming increasingly possible to be rendered on-screen, studios could now more easily provide audiences with new levels of disaster. If the combined $900 million international box office of Deep Impact and Armageddon was any indication, that’s exactly what audiences wanted. So, an arms race of one-upmanship began.
There are definite shades of this to be found on Braga’s work on Voyager. The opening scene of Year of Hell, Part I evokes Independence Day with a space ship opening fire on the surface of an unsuspecting planet. The Killing Game, Part I has a building explosion so large that it seems to tear a hole in the sky.
There was a definite similarity between Voyager and these epic thrill-a-minute spectacle-driven blockbusters. Voyager always put the pieces back together at the end, but the series embraced the possibility for large-scale destruction and chaos. Characterisation in these stories was relatively light, with most of the cast drawn in broad strokes. However, the stakes were always high. Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II put the entire universe on notice from Species 8472. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II put all of history at stake.
The stakes in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are arguably smaller, but the story has an appreciably epic sensibility. The ship is taken over by an enemy force, but finds itself turned into a war zone. Hirogen hunters stalk the crew through the corridors. The climax builds to a Klingon invasion of Nazi-occupied France at the height of the Second World War. Even from a purely technical perspective, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are very striking episodes of television.
Discussing his work on Voyager with Cinefantastique, Braga was justifiably awed at how far the franchise had come in terms of bold spectacle since The Next Generation:
Noted Braga, “I’m looking at old reruns of The Next Generation at midnight every night, and I am realizing, if we had even broached the subject of burying Voyager under the ice, in those days, they would have laughed. Or doing [Killing Game with] a World War II, exterior battle at night between Hirogen, Nazis, Starfleet and Klingons, they would have laughed. But for whatever reason, we are doing it. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we are working with a production team that has been together for 12 years, and the fact that Voyager has come into its own as a different show, with a broader vision. There does not seem to be any challenge that this team can’t execute.”
Braga certainly has a point. The Next Generation production team had been unable to depict the Battle of Wolf 359 in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, settling for its aftermath. Emissary showed a little more, but just a little.
To be fair, Braga had a number of advantages that were not available to the production team working on the earlier Star Trek shows. Working with models was extremely difficult, particularly in terms of complex action shots; it had taken the original Star Trek production team months to orchestrate a short exchange of fire in Elaan of Troyius. Integrating physical action shots with animated effects was a challenge; the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine writers would talk about how the budget would force them to effectively ration phaser shots.
The advances in computer-generated imagery during the nineties allowed a lot more freedom and imagination in blockbuster storytelling. It is no coincidence that the scale of blockbuster storytelling increased dramatically coinciding with the development of (relatively) cheap and convincing computer-generated imagery. All of sudden, effects shots that would have been impractical or impossible (or just really expensive) with actors and models became feasible for directors and producers.
This is why Voyager always seemed more malleable than the Enterprise had been. The computer-generated Voyager model was easier to manipulate than the real-life Enterprise model, if only because any alterations could be reset with a couple of keystrokes. As such, Voyager could go “off-model” easily enough; it could be covered in Borg technology in Scorpion, Part II and The Gift, it could be damaged in Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, it could be covered in armour in Endgame.
Computer-generated imagery could also be used in other establishing shots. The crack in the holodeck grid at the end of The Killing Game, Part I and throughout The Killing Game, Part II can seem much more dynamic and animated than the gigantic hole in the ground in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I. Long-distance shots can incorporate entire platoons of soldiers advancing on that break, instead of more careful composing (relatively) still figures on to a matte painting. Fireballs could more convincingly and easily sweep through standing sets.
Even beyond computer-generated imagery, there is an impressive sense of weight to the episode. Like The City on the Edge of Forever or Far Beyond the Stars, the holographic sequences in The Killing Game, Part I and throughout The Killing Game, Part II make great use of the standing studio street sets to anchor the story in the middle of the twentieth century. These sets exist on a studio back lot, and so don’t have to be built from Voyager‘s production budget. As a result, it adds a level of quality and gravity to the action; spacious period sets filmed in natural light.
The use of the holodeck also allows the production budget to stretch further than it might otherwise. While alien costumes and make-up have to be custom-made, with limitations imposed by budget and schedule. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are primarily set against the backdrop of a holographic simulation of the Second World War. As such, the production team can use make-up-less extras wearing stock Allied and Nazi uniforms that exist in large quantities in storage at the studios.
Even allowing for that, it was an audacious pitch. Talking to TV Guide, Jeri Ryan recalled that the two-parter was one of the most exhausting experiences of an exhausting season:
I was sick with something almost every day of my first season – colds, sinus infections, bronchitis – and getting only four hours of sleep a night because of the schedule, so by the time we got to this really grueling, complicated two-parter set in Worid War II, I was totally wiped.crew It all came to a head during an exterior night shot when El Niño moved in, and it started to rain on us – pouring rain – and I completely broke down. I couldn’t function. I just sat down for a long time crying and trying to figure out if being on the show was worth it, because at that point it didn’t seem like it was.
Don’t tears on the job set back the cause of feminism?
Hey, anybody would buckle under those circumstances. Anyway, I tend to cry rather than scream at people or hit walls or throw things. You know, like guys do.
Indeed, the impact of El Niño on the production can be seen in the finished episode. The climactic battle of The Killing Game, Part II unfolds in torrential downpour. There is even a nice ad lib from Robert Picardo.
It is understandable that Jeri Ryan was drained going into the two-parter. Her first season on the show had not been easy, in large part due to conflicts and tensions with the existing cast. However, Ryan does great work in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II. In keeping with that old Hollywood charm, Jeri Ryan channels her inner Veronica Lake. It plays very well off Kate Mulgrew’s decision to play her forties character as Katherine Hepburn. Mulgrew would later portray Hepburn in the play Tea at Five, cast on the basis of her work on Voyager.
Still, as much as the sets and the production design might evoke vintage Hollywood cinema, the episodes are produced like nineties blockbuster films. Indeed, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II even aired as something approaching a feature film. Both episodes were broadcast by UPN on the same night in February 1998. Although that original broadcast preserved the instalments as two distinct episodes of television, as did the VHS and DVD releases, the two halves were broadcast as “a feature-length episode” on BBC Two in September 1999.
This was not the first time that the Star Trek franchise had broadcast a feature-length adventure. Encounter at Farpoint, Emissary, All Good Things…, Caretaker and The Way of the Warrior had all broadcast as television movies. However, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II represented the first time that a mid-season two-parter had been broadcast in such a fashion, and the first time that such an approach that had been taken for an episode that could not be described as a “pilot”, a “finale”, or a “retool.”
Traditionally, Star Trek fans had to wait to see the second part of a two-part episode. In fact, that was part of the appeal of a cliffhanger; it ensured that the audience would return for the next episode, whether after a week or after the whole summer. Even Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II or Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II had been separated be a week, keeping the audience on tender-hooks wondering how the crew would get out of their present situation. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II eschew this aspect of a two-parter.
Talking with Cinefantastique, writer and producer Brannon Braga acknowledged that this had not been part of the design for these two episodes:
UPN had surprised the producers by scheduling both parts of The Killing Game on one night, a Star Trek first. Said Braga, “It was actually their idea. We planned it as a two part episode, and it was their idea to air it on the same night as a Voyager movie of sorts. It really worked out well. The ratings were quite good.” So good, in fact, that Braga said there may be another Voyager “movie” during the show’s fifth season.
Indeed, it could be argued that The Killing Game, Part I has a much stronger and more conventional cliffhanger than Future’s End, Part I or Year of Hell, Part I. This two-parter arguably has a more conventional two-part divide.
The image of the holographic soldiers breaking through the wall of the holodeck and swarming the ship makes for a compelling hook, just as Janeway comes back to her senses and the Hirogen begin to lose control of Voyager. It certainly has a much greater impact on the plot of The Killing Game, Part II than the video tape of Voyager has on Future’s End, Part II. Similarly, that twist radically revises the plot dynamics of The Killing Game, Part II in a manner more severe than the decision to evacuate Voyager at the end of Year of Hell, Part I.
Still, the story flows well enough across the two parts that they can be integrated into a cohesive whole. Indeed, this is arguably true for most of Voyager‘s two-parters, especially the mid-season stories. The Next Generation typically had trouble properly weighting its two-part episodes, but Voyager has a much more confident approach to these stories. There are exceptions, like Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II, but Voyager tends to maintain a reasonably consistent quality across both halves of its two-parters.
The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II set a precedent for later two-part stories. During the fifth season, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II would be broadcast as a mid-season television movie. In fact, those two episodes were even more firmly integrated, airing as a single two-hour (or ninety-minute) episode. During the seventh season, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II would air on the same evening as a sequel to The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.
All of this serves to illustrate that Brannon Braga’s vision for Voyager has largely cemented itself. There is a clear and linear evolution in storytelling from episodes like Deadlock through to The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II. This is very much what Voyager is, what the series has taken on as a unique identifier. This sort of epic blockbuster storytelling is arguably its defining feature. Voyager is not so much tied together by a unifying plot thread, strong character arcs, or core themes; instead, it is driven by a larger-than-life aesthetic.
In The Fifty-Year Mission, Bryan Fuller pointed to the style of these two-parters as Brannon Braga’s most significant contribution to the identity of Voyager:
Despite Rick’s determination to have a stronger hold on Voyager than he could on Deep Space Nine, I’d not deny how much Brannon actually did achieve with the series. He very much was eager to get into more high-concept science-fiction storytelling, like hard science-fiction storytelling. The stuff with Species 8472, the Borg arc, the Year of Hell, the Hirogen and The Killing Game. There was a lot of iconography brought back into the world of the storytelling, and less sort of diplomacy and navigating new species and more “Holy sh!t, we’ve got to fight these guys!” And that was really Brannon coming into his own. Actually, Brannon and Joe Menosky were really the creative voices of those last few seasons.
Whatever criticisms might be made of this approach to Voyager, there is no denying that Braga found something did make Voyager unique in the annals of the larger Star Trek franchise.
In fact, Star Trek: Enterprise would make a conscious (if unsuccessful) effort to back away from this storytelling in its first season, with an emphasis on small-scale storytelling in episodes like Breaking the Ice or Cold Front. Even though computer-generated imagery would evolve a great deal between Voyager and Enterprise, there was a minor shift in the aesthetic. Voyager and Enterprise share a great deal of creative DNA, and the desire to tell archetypal Star Trek stories, but Enterprise consciously pitches itself as a smaller series.
It is too much to describe that storytelling style as intimate or character-driven, but it was certainly less “epic” than these sprawling two-part epics. Although there were arguably stories that fit in the mould of The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, like Shockwave, Part I and Shockwave, Part II or Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II, they were very much the exception rather than the rule. Even when the show embraced multi-episode storytelling in its final season, it seemed more engaged with world-building than spectacle.
To be fair, there are various reasons why Voyager is more suited to this style of spectacle-driven storytelling than Enterprise would be. Most obviously, Voyager was broadcast at a point in time when Star Trek was still a potent cultural force with some impact on the zeitgeist. The Star Trek franchise had just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, just released a successful feature film, still had two series on the air concurrently, and was still something with which casual fans would engage. Star Trek was still something that could convincingly pitch itself as larger-than-life.
Of course, the franchise was already in decline. The ratings for Deep Space Nine and Voyager were already falling. The studio had noticed this trend; the introduction of Worf on Deep Space Nine and Seven of Nine on Voyager were intended to buoy a franchise that was not performing as expected. There were tensions behind the scenes. The press would soon begin to smell blood in the water. Fans would become anxious. The Rick Berman era was closer to the end than the beginning, although it would take a few more years for the diagnosis to become terminal.
Still, Star Trek was still part of the cultural conversation. Voyager was still UPN’s top-rated show, as much as that could be considered a back-handed compliment. The Star Trek brand still held a certain cultural cache. As such, it was still possible to use the Star Trek brand to tell stories that were consciously big and broad. Voyager came along at a point where it was acceptable to use a weekly television series to effectively tell blockbuster Star Trek stories. By the time that Enterprise came along, Star Trek simply did not hold the same place in the cultural consciousness.
There is also a clear connection to be drawn between Brannon Braga’s vision for Voyager and JJ Abrams’ work on the rebooted Star Trek film franchise. Both iterations tend towards large-scale spectacle blended with an affectionate pastiche of “generic Star Trek themes and imagery.” There is a sense that neither Braga nor Abrams is pushing the themes or plots of the franchise in bold new directions, instead using a blockbuster framework to deliver big-budget space opera spectacle that approximates the popular memory of Star Trek.
Star Trek Into Darkness draws from any number of classic stories and moments, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan through to Homefront and Paradise Lost, awkwardly slotting them into a modern blockbuster structure. Star Trek Beyond is a bit less overt in its homages to franchise history, but it still draws upon Star Trek III: The Search for Spock along with episodes like Countdown and Zero Hour while playing to core franchise themes like the idea that mankind’s need to better itself and forsake doctrines of meaningless violence.
These Voyager two-parters were just as prone to draw upon the franchise’s history and iconography. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II is a loving homage to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The dynamic between Janeway and Annorax in Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II very consciously mirrors the antagonism between Kirk and Khan in The Wrath of Khan. Even The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are a feature-length action spectacle that ends with a somewhat hasty affirmation of the franchise’s humanism.
There are differences between Braga’s approach to Star Trek and that of the Bad Robot team, but they are largely practical distinctions beyond the control of the creative team. The JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot films have a much stronger penetration into the mass market than Voyager could ever hope. Abrams was directing big-budget summer blockbusters, while Braga was producing a show on UPN. Similarly, Braga was repackaging this nostalgic pastiche while Star Trek was still a potent cultural force, while Abrams was effectively reintroducing audiences to Star Trek.
There is a lot of the DNA of the Abrams-era reboot to be found in this approach to Voyager, in terms of tone, scale and approach to the Star Trek brand. There is a clear sense of Star Trek as a mythic object, a set of iconography and ideas that have their own weight and which can be thrown together to create an affectionate and crowd-pleasing iteration of the franchise. At the same time, there is a sense that neither Voyager nor the Abrams reboots are particularly interested in changing anything except the way in which these elements are thrown together.
Of course, this comparison puts Voyager at a disadvantage. There is simply no way that a mid-nineties television show on UPN could hope to compete with legitimate summer blockbusters in terms of scale. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II cannot compete with Star Trek Into Darkness on sheer spectacle. However, there is something to be said for Braga’s ambition, for his desire to push the franchise in that bold direction. These sprawling and epic two-parters establish a template to which the franchise would eventually return.
There is, of course, an argument to be had about whether any of this increase in scale makes for better storytelling. It is not a conversation unique to Voyager. Certainly, many critics would argue that the ready availability of cheap computer-generated animation has hobbled storytelling by driving these narratives towards unsustainable scale. More than that, there is a subtle art to good computer-generated imagery that is often forgotten when presented with the sheer abundance of special-effects-related possibilities.
It seems reasonable to argue that Voyager might have been the biggest of the Star Trek series without being the best. The series had a tendency towards scale and spectacle that often extended beyond that of the other shows. The Next Generation would occasionally threaten the internal stability of major galactic powers and Deep Space Nine would play the Dominion’s threat against the entire Alpha Quadrant, but Voyager frequently suggested that reality and history were at stake in a given forty-five minute episode.
However, Voyager also struggled to ground that sense of scale and spectacle in fully-formed characters. The holograms who populate The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are arguably no less developed as some of the major characters. After three and a half seasons, what does the audience really know about Harry Kim beyond the fact that he is young and wet-behind-the-ears? Does the audience have any tangible sense of who Chakotay actually is beyond a collection of (thankfully) toned-down New Age stereotypes?
The entire universe might be at stake, but it has hard to invest in that threat when so many of the core cast seem like two-dimension projections. The world may fall to pieces around the primary characters, but they still seem more like cardboard cut-outs than real people. Placed under this narrative weight, the cardboard crumples easily. Without any sense of who these people really are and what actually drives them, the characters have little agency. Instead of anchoring the spectacle, they get washed away in it.
To be fair, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II seem keenly aware of this. The bulk of the cast spend the majority of the two-parter trapped in the simulation, playing out roles for the amusement of the Hirogen. Characters like Tuvok, Paris and Chakotay spend the bulk of the story with their memories and identities suppressed, so that they might integrate more smoothly into the story that is being told. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II seem aware of the cost of this spectacle, in terms of characterisation.
The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II represent a very broad vision of what Voyager is, a very generic blockbuster approach to the Star Trek franchise. The nuance gets lost in this broad strokes approach to storytelling. Identity and history become fungible, leaving only a strong impression of something resembling Star Trek. As such, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are quintessential Voyager.