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Star Trek: Voyager – Inside Man (Review)

Inside Man is a curious episode.

It is a seventh season episode that feels very much like a first season episode. To be fair, this is perhaps par for the course with any long-running series approaching a definite ending. Both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got a little nostalgic in their final seasons. The Next Generation neatly bookended Encounter at Farpoint by picking up on the dangling thread of Q’s trial of humanity in All Good Things…, while Deep Space Nine revisited first season ideas like the “one hundred” in Chimera or Quark mistakenly thinking that he was replacing Zek in The Dogs of War.

“I’d counsel against that.”

Star Trek: Voyager was always going to be a little bit more nostalgic than most, given that the nature of the show involved a long journey back towards the familiar and the recognisable. The closer that Voyager got to home, the stronger the urge to look backwards. The seventh season of Voyager evokes the early seasons in a number of ways, such as the manner in which Repression tries to resurrect the Maquis conflict and even brings in a guest star last seen in Learning Curve or the surprise return of Joseph Carey as a guest star in Friendship One.

However, Inside Man has its own very strange nostalgia at its core. The episode builds on sixth season episodes like Pathfinder or Life Line, even including a number of recurring guest stars from those earlier episodes. However, its tone and its plot elements feel like they belong a much earlier script. Inside Man is an episode that treats the Ferengi as semi-serious antagonists who would murder more than a hundred people for a profit, which ignores a lot of their development on Deep Space Nine and jumps right back to their characterisation in early Next Generation episodes like The Last Outpost or Peak Performance.

“I mean, to be fair, they also couldn’t outwit the Kazon.”

However, at the core of the episode is a plot device that the series largely moved past in its second season, and one which feels strangely out of place on what amounts to the home stretch of Voyager. The plot of Inside Man revolves around a promise to get the ship and crew home ahead of schedule, the kind of promise that was frequently dangled in front of the crew in earlier episodes like Eye of the Needle, Cold Fire and False Profits. While it would be teased in later episodes like Hope and Fear or Bliss, it was never with the same intensity.

The irony with these earlier stories was that the audience understood, on some level,how unlikely it was that the ship and crew would be getting home. After all, the entire premise of Voyager was that it was a starship stranded on the far side of the galaxy, isolated from familiar support systems. To bring the ship home would represent a complete betrayal of the premise, even more than downplaying the tension with the Maquis or completely ignoring questions about which set of rules the crew would follow. If Voyager brought the ship home in a random episode in those first seasons, it would be a catastrophic admission of defeat.

Just a Reg-ular Barclay.

In Inside Man, a slight variation on the same central tension exists. Any audience member with any level of televisual literacy would understand that the ship and crew would be returning home at the end of the seventh season; this was the end of Voyager, and that ending had to involve the fulfillment of the show’s basic premise. However, given the show’s conservatism, it was highly unlikely that the crew would be getting home in such an early episode and certainly not as part of a plot involving the Ferengi. Inside Man is the most obvious sort of shell game, where there’s nothing hidden under any of the cups.

However, what’s most striking about Inside Man is that the script seems almost self-aware. The episode is glib and wry, repeatedly seeming like an extended joke being played by the savvy audience and the smirking writers on the series itself. Inside Man is based around the promise that the crew might be returning home, but is immediately established to the audience as nothing more than an empty hustle. The cruel irony (and the most wry punchline) is that the characters themselves remain in the dark even after the con is long over.

Getting into her head.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Pathfinder (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has always had an awkward relationship with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always the rebellious middle-child, prone to make bold and defiant gestures like blowing up a surrogate of the Enterprise in The Jem’Hadar, bringing Jonathan Frakes back to play Riker’s evil transporter duplicate in Defiant, and have former Enterprise crew member Chief Miles Edward O’Brien praise Sisko as the best captain in the fleet in The Adversary. It was a television series that was dedicated to defining its own unique identity, and at least some of that identity was defined in opposition to its direct predecessor.

Taking his Neelix.

In contrast, Voyager always felt a little more desperate, a little too eager to assert its connection to The Next Generation and to insist upon itself as a spiritual successor to that beloved (and incredibly successful) series. Despite the fact that Voyager was set primarily in the Delta Quadrant, the series never missed an opportunity to crossover with The Next Generation. Barclay appeared as a hologram in Projections, Riker was summoned across the universe in Death Wish, LaForge was rendered a captain in the future presented in Timeless.

This is to say nothing of the minor crossovers taken at every available opportunity; the use of Q and the Borg Queen among the relatively small number of recurring guest stars, the original plan to build 11:59 around Guinan, the decision to produce the dire False Profits as a sequel to the dire The Price. Repeatedly over the show’s run, Voyager feels very much like a young child digging through its elder sibling’s wardrobe for something that might possible be claimed as a hand-me-down. It is depressing, particularly considering the raw potential that was baked into the premise of Voyager.

Course correction.

Pathfinder is perhaps the apex of this approach. It is effectively a stealth episode of The Next Generation, packaged and released under the Voyager brand. The primary plot of Pathfinder focuses on two characters from The Next Generation sitting around and talking about how great Voyager is, with one of those characters even escaping into a holographic fantasy of life on board the ship to help him think. In many ways, Pathfinder could be seen to prefigure These Are the Voyages…, the catastrophic finale to Star Trek: Enterprise that borrowed the same template and somehow pushed it even further.

There is a smell of desperation about Pathfinder. Whatever the plot of the episode might suggest, Voyager feels more lost than ever.

The Last Generation.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Projections (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Projections is really the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager that feels like it is the right script coming from the right staff writer. At the start of the show’s first season, it seemed like writing assignments were handed out almost at random, with no real acknowledgement of the relative strength of any of the writers involved.

Brannon Braga is one of the best science-fiction high-concept writers in the history of franchise, but he was assigned the character-driven second episode Parallax and the issue-driven Emanations; Michael Piller’s personal strengths were always more firmly aligned with character development, so it felt strange to see him writing the time travel adventure Time and Again and the anomaly of the week in The Cloud.

All by myself...

All by myself…

Pushing the boundaries of a writing staff is something worth doing – forcing various members of the team to ease themselves out of their comfort zone – but it felt counter-productive to do this during the first season of a new Star Trek show. After all, the first season is about putting the best foot forward, and many of the early scripts for the show feel like they were handed to the wrong writers during the development process.

With Projections, it feels like Brannon Braga finally has a Voyager script that plays entirely to his strengths as a writer. It is arguably his most character-driven script on the franchise to date, but it also anchored in a pretty fascinating existential dilemma. In many respects, it is a spiritual companion to Frame of Mind, a sixth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generationpreoccupied with questions about what reality actually might be.

Everything falls apart...

Everything falls apart…

Following on from Heroes and Demons, Projections is only the second episode of Voyager to focus on the character of the Doctor. However, much like Heroes and Demons, it demonstrates the versatility of the character and the range of the actor. Projections is a very clever script that relies on its central character to really carry it across the line. At this point in Voyager‘s run, Robert Picardo seems to be one of the few members of the ensemble who could really pull it off.

The result is one of the (if not the) strongest episode of the show’s first two seasons – somewhat appropriate, given the way the show straddles the gap between the first and second seasons.

He's not all there...

He’s not all there…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hollow Pursuits (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Hollow Pursuits is another demonstration of just how far Star Trek: The Next Generation has come in its third season. It’s a show comfortable enough with its cast and setting that it’s willing to look at the Enterprise from a completely fresh angle – to examine what it must be like to work on the Enterprise in the shadow of Geordi and Riker and Picard, getting none of the glory and making none of the decisions.

Hollow Pursuits is the first time we’ve really seen a dysfunctional member of the Enterprise crew, with Dwight Schultze showing up as Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Reginald Barclay. Barclay is a character unlike any the franchise had produced to date, and Schultze is incredibly charming in the role. It’s no wonder that he went on to become one of the franchise’s most loved guest stars, recurring several times over the course of The Next Generation, popping up in Star Trek: First Contact and even visiting Star Trek: Voyager a few times.

Straight to the point...

Straight to the point…

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