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Star Trek: Voyager – Dark Frontier, Part II (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has a morbid fascination with the Borg. Quite literally.

Time and time again, the series returns to the image of the Borg dead and dying. Blood Fever ends with the discovery of a Borg corpse. Unity features the extended autopsy of that corpse. In Scorpion, Part I, Kes is haunted by the image of a grotesque mound of Borg drones, torn apart and reassembled. In Unimatrix Zero, Part I, the Borg Queen tears the heads off her drones and mounts them on spikes. There is a very similar image in Dark Frontier, Part I, where Janeway wanders casually through the wreckage of a Borg ship.

Queen of minds.

Star Trek: The Next Generation worked hard to establish the Borg as a credible threat. If the Borg were associated with death, it was only because they delivered something akin to it. In The Neutral Zone, the Borg scooped an entire outpost off the surface of a planet. In Q Who?, Picard had to literally beg Q to save the Enterprise after the loss of eighteen crewmembers. In The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, the Borg tore through the Federation like it was made of tissue paper. The trauma of that invasion informed Emissary.

In contrast, Voyager seems preoccupied with the destruction and desecration of the Borg Collective. This is an interesting creative choice on a number of levels. Most obviously, it severely undercuts the menace and threat posed by the Borg Collective. Janeway seems to travel through the Delta Quadrant leaving a trail of broken Borg bodies in her wake. It is hard to believe that the Borg are a big deal, when Janeway seems to decorate her ship with their remains. The Kazon, the Vidians and the Hirogen have all taken Voyager at some point. The Borg have never.

Green light for reassimilation.

Perhaps this fascination with Borg corpses and remains simply speaks to their visual aesthetic. With their pale skin and their lack of individual identity, the Borg have always evoked the walking dead; Star Trek: First Contact was essentially a zombie movie in deep space. However, perhaps this desecration of the Borg speaks to something buried deeper within the psyche of Voyager. The Borg are perhaps the most iconic aliens of the Berman era; they represent the moment that The Next Generation came into its own. Perhaps their decay mirrors that of the Berman era itself.

Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II represent something of a final frontier for the Borg Collective. While the Borg had been in decline for some time, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II marked a point of no return. Regeneration is an underrated return to form for the iconic cyborgs, but it is too little and too late. Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II is effectively a funeral for the most iconic adversaries of the Berman era. However, they would remain shuffling lifeless for another two-and-a-half seasons.

Subject to change.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Infinite Regress (Review)

As with One from late in the fourth season, Infinite Regress is an episode that uses Seven of Nine’s cybernetic mind as a vehicle for psychological horror.

Producer Brannon Braga has always been interested in constructing psychological thrillers within the science-fiction framework of Star Trek, using the franchise’s pseudo-science trappings as a way to explore themes of mental deterioration or disconnect. Frame of Mind is probably the first example, but there are many others. Braga is very interested in having his characters question the nature of their reality, of trapping them within their own minds, of undercutting their sense of self. That interest bled into the shows around him.

Self-image.

Star Trek: Voyager presented the writers with an artificial computer-generated character who could more readily combine the writer’s fascination with psychological thrillers and the franchise’s engagement with advanced technology. The EMH was a character whose mind was comprised entirely of computer protocols and software code. His mind could be unfurled on monitors, buffered in memory, fragmented on the hard drive. Episodes like Projections, The Swarm and Darkling suggested a character prone to psychosis, reinforced by Dejaren’s breakdown in Revulsion.

However, the addition of Seven of Nine to the cast in Scorpion, Part II seemed to provide the the Voyager writers (and Braga in particular) with character who could function as an even more effective vehicle for these sorts of stories. Seven is a fusion of human and machine, an organic brain augmented by technological components. She is a character whose mind is in many ways already divided, whose sense of self is understandably fragile. As such, Seven is ideally suited to stories like Infinite Regress.

Mind your step.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Drone (Review)

Drone is a solid episode, one elevated by two central performances.

In many respects, Drone is a standard Star Trek: Voyager episode. It is something of an archetypal Star Trek story, an exploration of the human condition in which the regular characters must bestow upon a naive and inexperienced alien what it means to be human. There are countless examples in the canon, from Picard’s relationship with Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation to more specific examples like the relationship between Data and Lal in The Offspring. However, Drone has a more direct antecedent, with One evoking Hugh from I, Borg.

The view is always greener on the other side…

Drone is also very heavily plot-driven, although it is decidedly cleaner and leaner in execution than many Voyager episodes. Compared to the other Star Trek series, Voyager can often feel like a list of plot developments arranged to pad out forty-five minutes of television. This approach to storytelling can often seem quite frantic, with episodes like Worst Case Scenario, Waking Moments, Demon or Night effectively switching plot in the middle of the episode to keep it going. Drone is a much more linear story, much tighter in its construction and its flow.

The result is an effective piece of television, one strongly anchored in the two central performances of J. Paul Boehmer and Jeri Ryan.

“Was he going on to you about the alcoves?”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 4 (Review)

The fourth season is probably the show’s best season.

Of course, that is arguably damning with faint praise. By any measure, the fourth is probably weaker than at least four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and four seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is also weaker than the first two seasons of Star Trek or the final two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise. In the grand scheme of things, that places the best season of Star Trek: Voyager around the franchise median. Somehow, this feels entirely appropriate.

The fourth season of Voyager has some of the show’s best episodes. As such, it also has some of the franchise’s best episodes. Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II are spectacular television, while Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II offer a glimpse of the show that Voyager could have been while also developing some of the series’ core themes. There are also truly great standalone episodes like Nemesis, Prey, and Living Witness. More than that, there is a lot of really fun storytelling as well, with lighter episodes like Concerning Flight and Message in a Bottle.

However, there is also an unevenness to the season. While there are arguably fewer truly terrible episodes than in the earlier seasons, there are a couple of true stinkers like Retrospect or Vis á Vis. More than that, there are quite a few disposable and dull episodes, stories quickly forgotten after the end credits. Stories like Scientific Method, Random Thoughts, Waking Moments, Unforgettable and Demon fail to make a lasting impression. They just fill up the season order adding very little beyond a familiar Star Trek beat sheet.

In some ways, this is the central tension of the fourth season, one reflected in the addition of Seven of Nine and the focus on Borg culture. The fourth season of Voyager is caught between mediocrity and brilliance, between being a perfectly serviceable mid-tier Star Trek show and being something a little more ambitious. The fourth season is a weird synthesis of generic Star Trek and something unique, reflecting the fusion of organic and mechanical that defines the Borg Collective.

The fourth season of Voyager ultimately retreats back to the comfort and safety offered by familiarity, but there are moments when it looks like the show might finally be ready to take flight. Unfortunately, it never really gets off the ground, but there is something heartwarming in the effort.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Hope and Fear (Review)

Hope and Fear is a reasonably solid conclusion to the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, the episode has a number of very clever ideas. There are a number of creative choices in Hope and Fear that feel entirely appropriate for the final episode of what has been a relatively strong season. Various concepts and ideas are brought back into play, from Janeway’s alliance with the Borg in Scorpion, Part II through to her conversion of Seven of Nine in The Gift and up to the secret coded message from Starfleet suggested in Hunters. It makes sense to bring all of these ideas back into play for the grand finale.

The fourth season comes to a head.

More than that, it makes sense to build the episode around the dynamic between Janeway and Seven. One of the recurring tensions in the fourth season, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, has been the debate about the prominence of Seven of Nine. In the year since she was introduced, Seven has effectively become one of the three most important members of the cast. There is a credible argument to be made that she is the most important member of the cast, an anxiety played out in One. As such, it is logical to build Hope and Fear around Janeway and Seven.

At the same time, there is a certain clumsiness to the plotting of the episode. There is a very rushed quality to the story, which never really takes the time to develop or explore these big revelations and twists. Hope and Fear races towards its conclusion as if it has been sucked into quantum slipstream, a very disorienting and disjointed effect. Certain character arcs feel under-explored, and certain gaps in the plot logic are brushed aside. Hope and Fear feels like a story that deserved a bigger canvas.

The hard cell.

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Star Trek: Voyager – One (Review)

One is a solid episode.

Indeed, One is so solid that it is the rare episode of Star Trek: Voyager to be repurposed for Star Trek: Enterprise. The prequel series tended to borrow stock Star Trek plots, but it tended to borrow most heavily from Star Trek: The Next Generation and even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Oasis was Shadowplay, Vanishing Point was Realm of Fear, Dawn was Darmok. However, One would be reworked as Doctor’s Orders, another pseudo-horror bottle episode in which a member of the cast finds themselves driven insane by isolation.

Everything’s gone askew…

However, One has an in-built advantage over Doctor’s Orders, in that it is centred on a character who practically begs for this sort of treatment. Seven of Nine is effectively a reformed Borg drone. While Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and recovered in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, and while Chakotay brushed up against a pseudo-collective in Unity, Seven of Nine is the first franchise regular to have spent the bulk of her life inside the Borg Collective. The nature of the Borg means that Seven is perfectly suited to a story about isolation.

One is a messy and clumsy episode in a number of ways, particularly in its drive for big action set pieces and tangible threats. In particular, the penultimate act of One feels awkward, as if the production team do not trust the audience to engage with a purer breed of psychological thriller. However, One leans very heavily on the character of Seven of Nine and on the performance of Jeri Ryan. Luckily, both character and actor are up to the task.

Voices in her head.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Omega Directive (Review)

The Omega Directive plays like Star Trek: Voyager is trying to push itself.

It is an episode which finds Janeway acting secretively and unilaterally, casually brushing aside the Prime Directive in service of some hidden agenda. This is a very big deal. On the original Star Trek, it frequently seemed like the Prime Directive was something for Kirk to outwit. However, since Star Trek: The Next Generation, the franchise has taken the rule to have a lot more moral weight. Even more precisely, since Caretaker, Janeway has emphasised that it is not her place to intervene directly in the affairs of alien civilisations.

The be-all and end-all.

So there sound be something very shocking about Janeway keeping secrets from her crew and forsaking the moral principle that had been the cornerstone of her first few years in command. Given how conventional Voyager has been, how carefully the show has pitched itself as the most archetypal of Star Trek shows, this should be a pretty big deal. What would get Janeway to consciously (and even enthusiastically) cross those lines? How far would she go? What else is she concealing from the people around her? It should be a powerhouse episode of television.

However, The Omega Directive falls flat. Part of the problem is timing, with The Omega Directive sandwiched between Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight in terms of the overall franchise chronology. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had been transgressing and subverting franchise norms for years at this point. The Omega Directive feels like something relatively small-scale, juxtaposed against the activities of Section 31 or Sisko’s complicity in murder. The Omega Directive thinks that it is playing in the same league, but it is not even the same sport.

An explosive new development.

More than that, there is a clumsiness to The Omega Directive. The episode touches on a number of interesting ideas, but the story’s thematic weight is quite consciously removed from the core premise. The Omega Directive works best as a weird episode touching on Borg spirituality, and on the question of the Collective’s motivations, but the episode invests so much energy in the black-ops norm-shattering framing device that these elements do not feel like satisfying pay-off. The core themes of The Omega Directive feel like they belong in another episode.

The Omega Directive is a wasted opportunity, its underwhelming subversive trappings distracting from what might have been a compelling meditation on faith and belief.

That healthy blue glow.

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