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Star Trek: Voyager – The Fight (Review)

“No, make them stop!”

The Fight is a disaster. To be fair, it’s not the worst episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It is not as overtly racist as second season offerings like Tattoo or Alliances, even if there is still something deeply uncomfortable about the way in which the show approaches Chakotay’s Native American heritage as a gateway to pseudo-mysticism. It is neither as xenophobic as Displaced nor as misogynist as Retrospect, although its approach to mental health is… questionable. Mostly, though, it is just a bad episode of television, not a spectacularly awful one.

Don’t worry. Jason Alexander will be here next week, if you can make it until then.

The problems with The Fight are somewhat typical of Voyager. It is an episode that decides to invent a new character trait in a regular character in order to justify the plot, revealing a lot of details about Chakotay that had never been suggested before and which will never be mentioned again. It is also overly reliant on techno-babble, with dialogue referencing nonsense like a “trimetric fracture” and a “paralateral rentrillic trajectory.” There is a pointless framing sequence designed to extend the runtime. There is nothing insightful about the characters or their world.

However, the biggest issue with The Fight is how it squanders a potentially compelling idea. Like Once Upon a Time before it, it is a great example of Voyager trying to write around a risk idea and effectively writing anything interesting out of the finished product.

Chaos and them.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Unforgettable (Review)

Unforgettable has perhaps the most ironic title in the Star Trek canon.

The episode is very generic in nature, very much in keeping with the style of Star Trek: Voyager. It is a love story centring on the character Chakotay, although he seems to have been selected as the focus of the episode by chance. There is nothing about Unforgettable that would not work as well as an episode built around Harry Kim or Neelix or even Tuvok. It is an episode with an alien of the week, with a strange society that leads to a dilemma that can be neatly resolved within the forty-five minutes allotted to the episode, leaving no lasting mark on the series.

Forget me not…

Unforgettable has any number of interesting ideas. The Ramuran are an interesting high concept, an alien race with the power to erase themselves from the memories of those they encounter. That should be an interesting story hook, particularly given Voyager‘s recurring fascination with memory and identity. This is also an episode built around a guest appearance from cult icon Virginia Madsen. Madsen is a fantastic guest star for Voyager, an actor who really deserves a meaty and memorable role, like Andy Dick was afforded with Message in a Bottle.

Unfortunately, none of these ideas coalesce. Unforgettable is a bland romantic episode that moves a glacial pace towards an inevitable outcome, either unable or unwilling to exploit either its clever concept or its top-tier guest star to tell a memorable story. Unforgettable is ultimately anything but.

Memories are made of these.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager pitching itself as generic Star Trek.

This is a story that is not unique or particular to this crew. In fact, the story could easily be adapted to service characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: Enterprise. In some respects, Nemesis might even work better if Robert Beltran were swapped out for Jonathan Frakes or Colm Meaney or Connor Trinneer. There is very little in the script that relies on the particularities of this show or the nuances of its characters.

The Rifleman...

The Rifleman…

While this lack of a distinct identity is a problem for Voyager as a television series, it does lead to some great episodes. Many of the best episodes of Voyager could easily be ported to or from any of the other shows. It was an approach that really came to the fore during the third season, when Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga made a conscious choice to steer the show away from its focus on a crew stranded far from home and towards a more generic Star Trek sensibility.

At its best, this leads to very strong allegorical storytelling. Episodes like Remember and Distant Origin are very much archetypal Star Trek episodes, extended science-fiction metaphors with a strong moral core that evoke the Star Trek beloved by so many of its fans. Nemesis is very much an episode constructed in that tradition, a metaphorical exploration of the dehumanisation of soldiers through combat training and conditioning. It is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of social commentary and a superb piece of Star Trek.

A hard shoot.

A hard shoot.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Scorpion, Part II (Review)

Scorpion, Part II demonstrates the real strength of the blockbuster two-part episodes scattered across the run of Star Trek: Voyager.

Generally speaking, the two-part episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation suffered from a sense of disharmony. The two parts seldom felt integrated, often feeling quite disconnected from one another. This was most obvious in the cliffhangers bridging the seasons, when the writing staff would take time away from the office before returning to write the second part. Michael Piller famously had no idea what he was going to do with The Best of Both Worlds, Part II when he wrote The Best of Both Worlds, Part I.

Droning on.

Droning on.

Even for the two-part episodes within a given season, there tended to be a disjointedness. Chain of Command, Part I is very much set-up for Chain of Command, Part II, with the second part feeling much stronger (and more substantial) than the first. Birthright, Part I leads into Birthright, Part II, but also features an entirely unrelated subplot that is dropped completely in the second half. Arguably, The Next Generation only really figured out how to properly balance two-parters in its final season, with Gambit, Part I, Gambit, Part II and All Good Things…

In contrast, Voyager does a much better job of balancing its two-parters so that they feel like two halves of a movie rather than an extended first act followed by a compressed second and third act. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II established that template, but Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II demonstrates that it can applied as readily to season-bridging two-parters as to mid-season sweeps episodes. Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II integrate beautifully to form an impressive Voyager television movie.

Venting frustration.

Venting frustration.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Resolutions (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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.

So, shipping.

Times change surprisingly quickly. It is fair to say that Star Trek: Voyager emerged in a different world than the original Star Trek. However, it also emerged in a different world than Star Trek: The Next Generation. In a way, the show had acknowledged as much through its experiments with serialisation earlier in the second season. Michael Piller was trying to keep the franchise at the bleeding edge of contemporary television, realising that the medium was not the same as it had been when Jean-Luc Picard emerged at the end of the Reagan era.

Reach out...

Reach out…

Resolutions nods towards a different type of change in the way that television storytelling worked, particularly conversations about television storytelling. Although it could be argued that Star Trek helped to popularise the notion of romantically (or sexually) pairing off television characters through the practice of “slashing” Kirk and Spock, the notion of “shipping” had begun to enter the mainstream during the mid-nineties. The raw sexual chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on The X-Files played no small part.

Resolutions is essentially about “shipping” Janeway and Chakotay.

... and touch somebody.

… and touch somebody.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Manoeuvres (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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

It is weird to think that the much-maligned Kazon provided perhaps the closest thing that Star Trek: Voyager had to a long-form story arc.

That probably says more about Voyager than it does about the Kazon. In storytelling terms, Voyager was firmly episodic. There were some loose threads that would span and connect multiple episodes, but the bulk of the show was comprised of very traditional “done in one” adventures. It seems fair to observe that Voyager represented something of a backslide for the franchise. It was much more episodic than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also less interested in long-form storytelling than the later years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!"

“This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!”

One suspects that the Kazon arc running through the second season had something to do with this storytelling choice. Michael Piller pushed really hard to make the Kazon a recurring threat to Voyager and to place them at the centre of the second season. As a result, they become a loose thread that runs through several of the season’s “big” episodes. They place a traitor on board Voyager in Alliances. They provided Tom Paris with a character arc culminating in Investigations. They provided the season-ending cliffhanger in Basics, Part I.

The arc was not well-received, whether by the fans or by the staff. It is not too difficult to understand why. Even before considering the quality of the arc itself – or the storytelling involved – the Kazon are hardly the most compelling Star Trek villains. Allowing for that, it seemed like the writing staff had no real idea how to serialise a story arc across a season, making all manner of clumsy mistakes along the way. The arc never gathered momentum and it never paid off, which are very real problems when trying something that ambitious.

Either you Kazon... or you be gone...

Either you Kazon… or you be gone…

Manoeuvres effectively kicks off the arc. Although the Kazon had appeared in Initiations earlier in the second season, Manoeuvres features the first reappearance of Seska and Cullah since State of Flux midway through the first season. The episode is perhaps the strongest of the “Kazon” shows, with a sense of momentum driving the first half of the script. However, things rather quickly come off the rails in the second half of the story. Already, the production team’s inexperience with serialised storytelling is showing.

Manoeuvres is perhaps as good as the Kazon ever got. It is nowhere near good enough.

So that's why they call them raiders...

So that’s why they call them raiders…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Tattoo (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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Tattoo is another example of the second season Star Trek: Voyager doubling down on elements that did not work in the first season.

Episodes like The Cloud and Cathexis had suggested that Chakotay might be a problematic character for the show. After all, Chakotay was the first Native American lead character to appear in the franchise, but he was played by a Mexican-American actor. More than that, the first season seemed to draw from an awkward collection of tropes and clichés in its depiction of Chakotay’s culture. The show declined to anchor Chakotay in a single specific Native American cultural tradition, instead drawing from a rake of familiar shallow iconography.

"Oh, here we go again..."

“Oh, here we go again…”

Chakotay didn’t really work in the first season. The problem is that Michael Piller seemed reluctant to accept that Chakotay’s Native American spirituality was borderline racist and offensive. So Tattoo returns to that particular well, with a much greater commitment to patronising and exploiting Native American culture. Exploring the Delta Quadrant, Chakotay comes across a seemingly abandoned moon that turns out to be the home of an ancient alien culture that made contact with Chakotay’s ancestors forty-five thousand years ago.

These aliens were responsible for shaping and molding Native American culture, for putting those groups in closer communion with the land and for fostering a purer spirituality. Not only is the main alien played by white actor Richard Fancy, the make-up design on these “Sky Spirits” emphasises their whiteness. So Tattoo becomes a story about how Native American culture essentially came from a bunch of super-advanced white people. It is astounding that nobody seemed to stop and think about the episode on the way to the screen.

"Oh, hey. That's a new level of offensiveness."

“Oh, hey. That’s a new level of offensiveness.”

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