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Star Trek: Voyager – Q2 (Review)

Q2 is an episode very much in keeping with the ethos of Star Trek: Voyager, particularly at this point in its run.

It isn’t just the strange nostalgia that permeates the episode, opening with an extended oral presentation from Icheb on the heroic exploits of James Tiberius Kirk from the original Star Trek and extending through to the unnecessary return of a beloved recurring guest character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nor is it the awkwardness with which Q2 affects a half-hearted compromise in its final act, with the series paying lip service to the fact that its omnipotent (and mostly friendly) guest star could get the crew home with a click of his fingers, while refusing to do that because it would break the series.

“Q2 ratings are way up!”

The essential Voyager-ness at the heart of Q2 is much more profound than all of that. It has to do with how the series treats is returning guest star. Q has been a part of the Star Trek universe dating back to Encounter at Farpoint. John de Lancie has been a recurring guest star on the franchise for thirteen-and-a-half years. Although de Lancie has aged relatively well, and although suspension of belief easily allows for it, even Q himself seems much older between his first and last appearances in the television franchise.

However, Q2 takes a character who was introduced as an immortal and all-powerful trickster god in The Next Generation, and transform him into a stressed middle-aged parent by the end of Voyager. This is a very Voyager approach to characterisation and development. It is how the series has approach many of its characters. In Caretaker, Chakotay was a rebel, Paris as a rogue, and Neelix was a free-wheeling trader; within the show’s first season, all of those rough edges have been filed off. The decision to do that with a character who is effectively a trickster god speaks a lot to the central philosophy of Voyager.

Not kidding around.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Flesh and Blood, Part II (Review)

In its seventh season, Star Trek: Voyager gets nostalgic.

It happens naturally when long-running shows begin the process of wrapping up. It is inevitable that the production team will look back with affection and sincerity towards the early years of their shared adventures. The seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine even made a number of strange callbacks to the first season. Chimera offered a very late-in-the-game return to “the hundred”, the Founders that were sent out into the void like Odo had been. What You Leave Behind featured Sisko fulfilling the task for which he has been chosen in Emissary.

“Star Trek was never about shooting stuff with big guns,” argue a certain strand of modern Star Trek fans.

That nostalgia simmers and bubbles through Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. However, there’s a sense that Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II don’t quite understand what they are evoking. Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II hark back to the earliest seasons of Voyager in a number of surprising ways, providing a neat bookend to some of the core anxieties that have been bubbling through the series since Caretaker.

Unfortunately, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II seem to be doing this almost unconsciously. This is not an exorcism or an exploration, but an unexpected repetition. Voyager is still haunted by memories of the show’s turbulent early years, and it is clear that Voyager has no better understanding of itself now than it did then. The result is deeply unsatisfying and frustrating.

East of Iden.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Child’s Play (Review)

Interesting, isn’t it?

What?

With all their technology, their opportunity to explore the galaxy, the thing they want most is to get home.

A Trek away from the Stars.

Child’s Play is a fascinating episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in that it might be seen as a firm rejection of some of the show’s core conservatism.

Voyager has always been the most conservative of the Star Trek franchise, the series most likely to panic about gang violence for two whole seasons starting in Caretaker or to rail against immigration in Displaced or to voice its anxieties about refugees in Day of Honour. More than that, what are episodes like Remember or Distant Origin or Living Witness or Memorial but expressions of literal anxieties about the erosion of the certainty of history to postmodernism and moral relativism? At its core, Voyager is a series about nostalgia, about the yearning to recapture what once was, how the only journey is the journey home.

“Everything the light touches is your kingdom…”

Child’s Play is interesting as a firm rejection of the idea of the traditional family unit in favour of a more modern (and less rigidly defined) idea of a “found family.” It is a story about how a child’s best interests do not always lie with their biological parents, and about how some of the strongest and most loving bonds in a young person’s life can be forged by chance rather than biology. Child’s Play is essentially an ode to the kind of complicated family dynamics that were entering the mainstream at the turn of the millennium, a staunch defense of a liberal and inclusive definition of family.

More than that, the episode also seems to be making several very pointed jabs at Voyager‘s traditionally conservative outlook.

“I want to be out there…”

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67. Gran Torino (#157)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.

Korean War Veteran Walt Kowalski lives out his life in the deteriorating suburbs of Detroit, disconnected from his family and whiling away his days drinking beer on his porch. Initially aggressive and belligerent towards the Hmong family who moved in next door, Kowalski finds himself drawn into the lives of the two youngest children, forming an unlikely bond and forcing him to reassess his opinion of the community.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 157th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Strange Bedfellows (Review)

Three seems to be the magic number when it comes to long-form plotting in Berman era Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation arguably pulled off a three-consecutive-episodes arc with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II and Family. Even the continuity-adverse Star Trek: Voyager managed something similar with Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II and The Gift. Star Trek: Enterprise tried a number of three-episode arcs in its final season, even if only The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara really worked; Borderland was a preamble to Cold Station 12 and The Augments, while The Aenar was a postscript to Babel One and United.

Super villain team-up.

Three episodes seems to work quite well for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The series’ second season premiere was the franchise’s first bona fides three-parter, The Homecoming, The Circle and The Siege. Even when it came to longer arcs, three consecutive episodes seemed be the limit; after Call to Arms, A Time to Stand and Rocks and Shoals, the arc opening the sixth season stumbled with Sons and Daughters before regaining its footing for Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels.

As an aside, it also took three episodes for the alliance between the Dominion and Cardassia to properly integrate into the show’s mythology after the events of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light; the fifth season took a pause with Doctor Bashir, I Presume, A Simple Investigation and Business as Usual before beginning to unpack the consequences of that statusquo-shattering twist in Ties of Blood and Water.

Hang loose.

There are any number of reasons why three works so well. Maybe three episodes allow for that classic three-act structure, the iconic storytelling template. Perhaps the production team on Deep Space Nine tended to work in chunks of three scripts at a time, with two or three subsequent scripts in development by the time that any given script was finished; if this was the case, it would mean that the production team was ready to start fresh with the fourth script. Whatever the reason, it is a familiar pattern.

Although “the Final Chapter” is nominally a ten-episode arc, counting What You Leave Behind as two distinct episodes, the plot beats tend to flow in discernible three-episode chunks. Ezri’s mission to rescue Worf plays out over Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows. Gul Rusot is introduced in The Changing Face of Evil, is built up in When It Rains…, and meets his end in Tacking Into the Wind. Bashir discovers that Odo is sick in When It Rains…, figures out Section 31 is responsible in Tacking Into the Wind, and recovers the cure in Extreme Measures.

The window of opportunity is closing.

The opening salvo of this ten-episode arc was clearly intended as a three-part story. The original titles of the episodes were Penumbra, Umbra and Eclipse, suggesting an encroaching darkness that would cast a long shadow by the end of the third episode. Coincidentally or not, that would mark the end of the first third of the larger story arc. It suggests a very formal and careful structure, suggesting a three-act structure within the first act of a three-act structure. On paper, it is a very bold and ambitious piece of structuring from the Deep Space Nine writers.

However, the production struggle to maintain that structure. These ten episodes stumble when it comes to pacing and plotting. The weakest threads in this final run are those that feel either rushed or over-extended, which struggle to hit the right beats. Strange Bedfellows is an episode that struggles because it feels like its storythreads have either been stretched or compressed, the important events either pulled back into ‘Til Death to Us Part or pushed forward into The Changing Face of Evil. The result is an episode that feels stranded between bigger story beats.

No time for reflection.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Real Life (Review)

Real Life is in some ways a departure for Star Trek: Voyager.

That much is obvious from the teaser, which introduces three new characters on a new set. More than that, the three characters comprise a nuclear family and the set is built to resemble the stereotypical American family home. It is a very strange image, even before the characters begin talking like they escaped from The Brady Bunch. In what might be the best teaser of the entire third season, it is revealed that the EMH has fashioned himself a holographic family and is “commuting” to work in sickbay from the holodeck.

Projections.

Projections.

It is certainly an interesting idea, one that consciously brushes up against the kinds of limitations and expectations that Voyager has faced. It feels experimental, quite removed from the broader third season attempts to position Voyager as the most generic of the Star Trek spin-offs. This does not look or feel like any other episode in the franchise’s history. Indeed, with its focus on family dynamics and conflict, it feels like an extension of Ronald D. Moore’s work on episodes like Family and Doctor Bashir, I Presume.

This makes the episode’s failure to follow through on any of that potential even more disappointing. The third season of Voyager has dramatically scaled down its ambition following the spectacular misfires of the second season. The show is no longer attempting to create long-form stories or introduce iconic new recurring alien species, instead setting more modest goals for itself. There is something disheartening in seeing Voyager set more modest challenges for itself in episodes like Macrocosm or Fair Trade, only to spectacularly bungle the handling of those challenges.

Family matters.

Family matters.

Real Life is another example of the trend. The premise is interesting, and the episode hits on any number of intriguing ideas. There is a great story to be told using this premise, exploring core themes about the human condition in a way that is quite different from the normal storytelling on Voyager. However, the episode flirts with the premise and then balks at it. Real Life is terrified of the implications of its story, padding out the plot with an unnecessary techno-babble-laden diversion and casually discarding the holographic family at the end of the script.

Real Life is an underwhelming story, rendered all the more disappointing for the promise that it squanders.

Photon father.

Photon father.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Accession (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.

In its third and fourth seasons, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is undergoing something of a transformation; a metamorphosis.

This is only natural. Shows evolve and grow as they go on. The production team discovers what works and what doesn’t, allowing them to play the strengths of the premise and the ensemble. It happens to most shows, if they live long enough. It happened to Star Trek: The Next Generation when Michael Piller came on board in its third season. It will happen to Star Trek: Voyager when Michael Piller departs in its third season. Change and transformation is inevitable, for television shows as much as for people.

That healthy orb-experience glow...

That healthy orb-experience glow…

The third and fourth seasons of Deep Space Nine saw a change taking place. Ira Steven Behr had taken more and more control of the show since the late second season, starting with The Maquis, Part II. Michael Piller had stepped back from the show in its third season, completely ceding control with Life Support. The show was changing in a material sense. The Dominion came to the fore, Bajor faded to the background; Worf joined the cast, Odo found his people, the Klingons were an on-going concern again.

By this point in the fourth season, the transformation is almost complete. Deep Space Nine is very close to its final form, standing on the edge of its biggest departures from the established Star Trek canon. Part of those changes involves a reconfiguring of what Bajor means to the series. Accession begins the process of drawing down the curtain on the Bajor arc as it began with Emissary all those years ago, allowing Sisko to find some peace in his position and a sense of closure in his appointment before the show’s emphasis on Bajor changes dramatically.

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

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