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Star Trek: Voyager – Investigations (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Investigations is a misfire. It is a spectacular misfire.

Investigations is the episode that pretty much single-handedly killed any chance of Star Trek: Voyager embracing long-form storytelling once and for all. The first season had enthusiastically embraced an episodic structure, but the second season had played with the idea of playing out an arc across the majority of the season. Tying together the Kazon with the idea of a traitor on Voyager and the redemption of Tom Paris, the production team decided to attempt something relatively novel for Star Trek.

Kill me. Kill me now.

Kill me.
Kill me now.

It is worth stressing just how experimental this kind of story was. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had played with the idea of serialisation. Threads like the Romulan and Cardassian invasion of the Gamma Quadrant were carefully seeded through episodes like Defiant and Visionary, but there was not the same tension and momentum afforded to the arcs of Michael Jonas and Tom Paris in the second season. The Romulans and the Cardassians were not discussed in every episode leading up to Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

At the same time, Deep Space Nine eased into serialisation in a way that allowed for failures and miscalculations that did not publicly humiliate the show. Bajoran politics could be quietly eased into the background when they weren’t quite working, characters like Primmin and T’Rul could be dropped when they weren’t what the show needed. The second season of Voyager was perhaps a bit too bold in its attempts at long-form storytelling, creating a situation where there was no way to pull back from an arc that wasn’t working.

"Well. That escalated quickly."

“Well. That escalated quickly.”

It became quite clear early on that the Paris and Jonas arc was not working. Episodes like Threshold and Dreadnought ground to a halt so that the audience could get yet another scene of Jonas selling out Voyager to the Kazon; treachery that never seemed to actually go anywhere. At the same time, Paris’ rebellious behaviour was tackled in a superficial manner in episodes like Meld and Lifesigns, with no real exploration of the interesting side of such a sting operation.

Investigations serves to bring the arc to a close, but in a manner that feels perfunctory rather than compelling. It is resolved out of a sense of tired desperation rather than any real inspiration. There is a feeling that the production team have determined this to be a failed experiment, of which they will never speak again.

See? I told you EVERYBODY's thought about it.

See? I told you EVERYBODY’s thought about it.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Azati Prime (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

If you can end on a high note, the audience will forgive a lot.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is one of the boldest and most ambitious seasons of Star Trek ever produced; it is certainly the most adventurous season of the franchise to air outside of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. However, on an episode-to-episode basis, the quality is quite variable. There are great episodes (Impulse, Twilight), underrated episodes (North Star, Exile), fun episodes (Stratagem), and experimental episodes (Harbinger), but there are also a lot of episodes that are more interesting in theory than in practice.

Explosive finalé...

Explosive finalé…

It becomes increasingly obvious over the course of the season that the writing staff did not plan the year-long arc far enough in advance and that the show struggles to figure out where it wants to go after the initial burst of speed wears off. There are even a couple of outright stinkers that rank with the worst that the franchise ever produced. However, there is a lot to be said for an ending. The third season of Enterprise hits a few speed bumps along the way, but it manages to rally for an impressive and largely satisfying conclusion.

Azati Prime begins the march towards the end of the season. It was the first episode to be filmed after the Christmas break, suggesting that it was the work of a revitalised writing staff and an energised production team. More than that, it was broadcast as the last episode before a six-week break in the broadcast schedule, suggesting that everybody involved knew exactly the kind of hit that they had on their hands. It injects an incredible energy into a show that might be racing towards its own apocalypse.

Future's end...

Future’s end…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Proving Ground (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Proving Ground is an odd episode to sit in the middle of the third season’s larger arc involving the Xindi and the threat against Earth.

In a very real sense, it is more serialised than a lot of the episodes leading up to it. The episode even opens with a fairly sweeping “previously…” section that is sure to include a lot of nice action shots from the first half of the year. Proving Ground contributes more to the arc than anything like Carpenter Street or Chosen Realm, featuring the testing of the Xindi weapon. It also features the Andorians, suggesting that Star Trek: Enterprise has not completely divorced itself from its original place in the Star Trek canon.

Drinking away the blues...

Drinking away the blues…

At the same time, the episode is also very episodic. Shran makes a very quick cameo in Zero Hour, but this is the extent to which the Andorians are involved in the larger plot of the third season. Much like the second season, there is a sense that Shran has been slotted into “the obligatory Andorian episode” as a way to fill a production slot in a chaotic season. The sense of weight and impact of the episode is relatively minimal, like Cease Fire before it. The conclusion seems to be that Shran might be a nice guy underneath it all. It’s hardly shocking.

More than that, the structure and plot of the episode can’t help but emphasise some of the more misguided creative decisions of the third season, with Proving Ground introducing a bunch of clever (and exciting concepts) into the arc only to take them right away at the end. The fact that Proving Ground is so fun and enjoyable is almost a detriment, inviting the audience to wonder whether some of that love and affection might have been distributed across the season.

Look who just blue in...

Look who just blue in…

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