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Star Trek: Voyager – Message in a Bottle (Review)

Message in a Bottle is an intriguing episode, although not necessarily for the most obvious of reasons.

Working with Andy Dick can be tough.

Working with Andy Dick can be tough.

Message in a Bottle is notable for its stunt casting, featuring controversial comedian Andy Dick as the Emergency Medical Hologram, Mark II. Given his background and his interests, Andy Dick is a very strange choice for a Star Trek guest role. Then again, it takes all sorts; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine cast Iggy Pop in The Magnificent Ferengi and Star Trek: Voyager finds room for the Rock in Tsunkatse. However, the last time the franchise attempted to cast a famous comedian, Star Trek: The Next Generation ended up with The Outrageous Okona.

Understand, Andy Dick tends to be the focal point for discussion around Message in a Bottle. However, the episode is notable for other reasons. In a weird way, Message in a Bottle kicks off a very loose serialised arc that plays through the next handful of episodes. It introduces the communications grid that plays a major role in Hunters, and features the first glimpse of the Hirogen. The Hirogen go on to play a major role in episodes like Prey, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

"What the hell are YOU doing in my Star Trek show?"

“What the hell are YOU doing in my Star Trek show?”

Message in a Bottle also comes at the half-way point in Voyager‘s run, speaking in terms of structure rather than episode count. Message in a Bottle is positioned mid-way through the middle season of Voyager‘s seven year run. Although the count is skewed somewhat by the series’ abridged first season, it feels like the last point at which Voyager is closer to its beginning than to its end. As such, there is something strangely appropriate in the fact that Message in a Bottle allows Voyager to reconnect with Starfleet and the Alpha Quadrant.

This is perhaps the point where the end of the journey “seems a little closer.”

"This never would have happened if they'd just gone with the Bashir model!"

“This never would have happened if they’d just gone with the Bashir model!”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Waking Moments (Review)

Waking Moments feels very much like a first or second season episode of Star Trek: Voyager that somehow entered production in the middle of the fourth season.

A lot of this is down to the simple texture of the episode. Waking Moments centres around a decidedly “weird” alien species, a touch that recalls the early mysteries of Delta Quadrant life suggested by episodes like Phage, The Cloud, Heroes and Demons, Cathexis and even Emanations. These are aliens that do not conform to standard Star Trek logic, stalking their prey through dreams rather than with advanced technology. In fact, the emphasis on dreams in Waking Moments harks back to the vague New Age sentiment of Michael Piller’s time on Voyager.

No, Chakotay. Hunters and Prey are next week.

No, Chakotay. Hunters and Prey are next week.

In fact, Waking Moments returns to a very New Age cliché version of Chakotay. Following on directly from Mortal Coil, Chakotay is once again repeating “ah-koo-chee-moya” and talking about “vision quests.” He mentions his father as a connection to his Native American heritage for the first time since Basics, Part I, and even evoked Tattoo in discussing his rejection of shared activities in his youth. Waking Moments feels like an episode that was originally written while Michael Piller was overseeing the show, but has finally made it to air.

Of course, Waking Moments feels rather retrograde in other ways. It is a very clumsy ensemble piece that treats tired old plot twists as innovative and exciting, moving along at a leaden pace without any sense of what makes this story interesting or compelling in its own right. Waking Moments is a surprisingly tiring piece of television.

An artist's impression of the audience watching Waking Moments.

An artist’s impression of the audience watching Waking Moments.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Mortal Coil (Review)

In its own weird way, Mortal Coil effectively amounts to a Star Trek: Voyager Christmas Special.

It unfolds in the lead up to the Talaxian festival of Prixin, which Neelix describes as “the Talaxian celebration of family. We observe it every year on Voyager.” Bringing friends and family together on an annual basis with ritualised food preparation and salutations, it serves as analogous to Thanksgiving or Christmas. Indeed, this sort of thinly-disguised Christmas celebration is a science-fiction stable. Perhaps “Life Day” from Star Wars Holiday Special is the most obvious example. To solidify this Yuletide sensibility, Mortal Coil aired the week before Christmas.

Choking on his Borgophobia.

They just keep killing Neelix.

There is something decidedly wry about the one and only Star Trek Christmas Special. (And no, the Christmas Party in Dagger of the Mind doesn’t really count.) This is after all an episode in which a regular character loses his faith in the existence of an afterlife and attempts to commit suicide in a transporter room. It is a strange choice for a seasonal story. In some ways, it feels very much like a Bryan Fuller script, a subversion of the traditional Christmas narrative. After all, Fuller has talked about Hannibal as an exploration of heterosexual male friendship.

Mortal Coil is a fascinating episode, albeit one that feels decidedly clumsy in its execution. The episode hesitates and wavers on what it wants to say, offering a wishy-washy conclusion to a very powerful premise. Still, Mortal Coil is intriguing for its oddness.

I met a man who wasn't there.

I met a man who wasn’t there.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Concerning Flight (Review)

Concerning Flight is a lovely, whimsical little episode.

Of course, the actual plot of the episode is complete nonsense. During a raid by alien pirates, a bunch of advanced technology is stolen from Voyager. Among that advanced technology is the EMH’s mobile admitted, the holodeck database, and the primary computer core. Somehow, the pirate prince responsible for this raid has the wherewithal to download a character from the holodeck database into the mobile emitter and employ him as an inventor. Conveniently enough, the hologram is Leonardo da Vinci and the arrangement resembles medieval patronage.

da Vinci's demons.

da Vinci’s demons.

It is all very ridiculous, relying on insane contrivance and random leaps in logic. At any given moment, the audience might be inclined to ask exactly what chain of decisions have led the characters to this exact point, right down to the sheer coincidence of having Leonardo da Vinci’s prototyple glider resting on a hilltop on the escape route that Janeway and da Vinci take in the final act. All of these criticisms are valid, and all of them are perfectly reasonable. Concerning Flight does not require suspension of disbelief, it requires a suspension bridge of disbelief.

However, the episode largely earns that trust. There is an incredible charm to this very simple and straightforward (if awkwardly contrived) story, a surprising warmth and engagement to the tale of the ultimate renaissance man confronted with the ultimate new world. Concerning Flight is a fun episode that places a lot of faith in the interplay between Kate Mulgrew and John Rhys-Davies. It is a choice that pays dividends.

O brave new world, That has such people in 't!

O brave new world,
That has such people in ‘t!

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Star Trek: Voyager – Random Thoughts (Review)

Random Thoughts is another example of Star Trek: Voyager as generic issue-driven Star Trek.

Random Thoughts is a fairly standard political-commentary-as-science-fiction-allegory plot, with the crew encountering a race of telepaths who have built a utopian society through the careful regulation of thoughts. When Torres is implicated in a very rare violent crime, the crew find themselves embroiled within mystery to determine the origin of the violent thought and the means of its transmission. Along the way, there is a hefty dose of commentary on a broad range of themes.

Scrambling the subversives.

Scrambling the subversives.

In theory, Random Thoughts is very much of a piece with Nemesis or Scientific Method, other fourth season episodes less interested in character and more driven by commentary. However, Random Thoughts is a good deal more muddled. The allegory at the centre of the story is a mess, in part because the script is so intentionally vague. Are these violent thoughts a metaphor for violence in media? Are they a commentary on heat speech? Are they an analogy for drug addiction? What about non-heteronormative sexuality?

Random Thoughts never seems to decide on one central metaphor, and so casts an exceptionally broad net. The problem is that these issues are radically different from one another, and the all-encompassing nature of the central analogy robs the episode of any nuance or sophistication. An episode advocating for the legalisation of drug use is radically different from an episode against the criminalisation of heat speech. It is very difficult to work out exactly what Random Thoughts is saying, let alone what it wants to say.

Whisked away.

Whisked away.

This muddled storytelling plays out in other ways. Random Thoughts is a mess episode, in terms of storytelling and structure. The plot wanders in various different directions, shifting focus from one member of the ensemble to another; for a story about Torres’ emotions, Torres is afforded very little agency. The narrative also diverts along pointless tangents, with obvious filler scenes like Paris and Chakotay discussing a rescue that never happens or Seven of Nine stopping by the Ready Room to discuss the moral of the episode.

There is something distractingly unfocused about Random Thoughts.

Secure in his convictions.

Secure in his convictions.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Year of Hell, Part II (Review)

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II might just be the most representative episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Taken together, these episodes perfectly embody the restrictions placed upon the third Star Trek spin-off. They are a boldly ambitious story of a ship that finds itself in hostile territory surrounded by a hostile force with superior firepower, all while playing into the recurring themes and fascinations of the wider series. However, they are also a two-parter that wraps up with an incredibly convenient resolution that handily resets the status quo in a manner that allows the ship (and the series) to avoid any lasting consequences from this blockbuster story.

The hole in things.

The hole in things.

The result is one of the most thrilling and engaging stories of Voyager‘s seven-season run, among the most satisfying of the series’ impressive “blockbuster” two-parters. However, its sense of scale and scope exists very much in contrast to the episodes around it, a truly epic story that leaves no lasting mark. An audience member skipping from Scientific Method to Random Thoughts would be completely oblivious of the episode. For an episode of such weight, great care is taken to ensure that its passage causes no disturbance.

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II do an excellent job capturing the essence of Voyager.

Annorax-ed with guilt.

Annorax-ed with guilt.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Year of Hell, Part I (Review)

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II might just be the perfect episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Taken together, these episodes perfectly demonstrate the raw potential and strength of the third Star Trek spin-off. They are a boldly ambitious story of a ship that finds itself in hostile territory surrounded by a hostile force with superior firepower, all while playing into the recurring themes and fascinations of the wider series. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II are effectively a story that finds history itself under threat, while emphasising Brannon Braga’s interpretation of Janeway by setting her against a similarly obsessive opponent.

Things fall apart.

Things fall apart.

The result is one of the most thrilling and engaging stories of Voyager‘s seven-season run, among the most satisfying of the series’ impressive “blockbuster” two-parters. Although the show is still being broadcast in the standard nineties 4:3 aspect ratio, it feels like a widescreen story. Part of that is due to the fact that the two-parter unfolds over three quarters of an entire year, part of that is the expanded room for storytelling, part of that is the fact that history itself hangs in the balance, part of that is the fact that Voyager itself feels at stake.

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II do an excellent job capturing the essence of Voyager.

The Voyager cast Christmas party took a heavier toll than usual.

The Voyager cast Christmas party took a heavier toll than usual.

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