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Star Trek: Voyager – Ashes to Ashes (Review)

Death is inevitable and inescapable. It comes to all in time.

Death provides a sense of closure. It marks an end of a journey. It establishes a boundary that might serve as an outline of a life. Death is the high price of living, the unavoidable reckoning that waits beyond the mortal veil. Death is the final frontier, one which all cross in time. Death is the undiscovered country, from which none have returned and about which all must wonder. Sometimes death comes quickly, sometimes it lurks and stalks its prey, sometimes it is even embrace. Nevertheless, death always comes.

The sad ballad of Lyndsay Ballard.

By the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, the Star Trek franchise was acutely aware of its own mortality and the unavoidable nature of its own death. Ratings were in decline, and there was no reprieve in sight. The fans were growing increasingly angry with the franchise’s output, and the press was eager to turn on the grand old man of television science fiction. Ronald D. Moore had been forced to quit the franchise, and Brannon Braga would later confess that this was the point at which all of his creative energy had been exhausted.

This mortality hangs over the sixth season of Voyager. The fifth season had repeatedly fixated on the idea of Voyager as a series trapped in time, an inevitability: the thwarted suicide attempts of Janeway in Night and of Torres in Extreme Risk; the frozen ship and crew in Timeless; the multiple copies of Seven of Nine and Janeway in Relativity; the decaying and collapsing imitations in Course: Oblivion, barely registering as a blip on the “real” crew’s radar; the rejection of millennial anxiety in 11:59; even the crew’s broken counterparts in Equinox, Part I.

Mortal clay.

In contrast, the sixth season returns time and again to the idea of death and decay: the ruined empire in Dragon’s Teeth; the underworld in Barge of the Dead; the ghost story in The Haunting of Deck Twelve; the floating tomb in One Small Step; the memories of a massacre in Memorial; the dead Borg Cube in Collective; the vengeful death throes of the returning Kes in Fury; the EMH’s visit to an aging and frail relative in Life Line; the Borg heads on spikes in Unimatrix Zero, Part I. This is to say nothing of the funereal tone of Blink of an Eye.

Ashes to Ashes is perhaps the most literal articulation of this recurring theme and preoccupation, the episode that most strongly and overtly explores the sixth season’s fascination with death and decay. The episode centres on a one-time guest star, a deceased member of the crew who has been resurrected by an alien species and seeks to return to the land of the living. Inevitably, she discovers that this is not possible. Death cannot be outwitted or evaded. It always catches up.

Whose episode is it anyway?

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Star Trek: Voyager – Timeless (Review)

The one hundredth episode of any television show should be a cause for celebration.

After all, one hundred episodes exists at a number of interesting points in the life of a show. It tends to arrive late in the fourth season or early in the fifth season of a twenty-odd-episode-a-season series, meaning that any television show making it to that point has amassed some cultural cache. By that stage, most of the original contracts are expiring (or close to expiring) and so there is at least some sense as to how secure the future is. One hundred episodes also marks the series as viable for syndication; one hundred episodes airing five days a week can fill substantial airtime.

Ice to see you again.

To be fair, the other Star Trek series tended to mark the occasion with some low-key celebrations. The one hundredth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was Redemption, Part I, which was primarily notable for reasons behind the camera; both a set visit from Ronald Reagan and the end of the fourth season that had so frustratingly eluded the original series. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marked both its one hundredth hour (The Ship) and its one hundredth episode (… Nor the Battle to the Strong) as “business as usual.”

However, Star Trek: Voyager turns its one hundredth episode into an epic event. It is the perfect distillation of the “Voyager as blockbuster Star Trek” aesthetic championed by Brannon Braga: a truly jaw-dropping computer-generated action scene, with Voyager crashing on the surface of an ice world; a high-stakes time-travel plot, with a killer hook; a guest appearance from a beloved Next Generation actor. Timeless is an incredibly ambitious piece of television that practically screams “this is a very special occasion!” to the audience at the top of its lungs.

LaForging ahead.

And, yet, for all of that, there is something decidedly funereal about the episode. The episode opens with the memorable shot of the eponymous starship buried under the ice on some forgotten and unnamed world. The crew are long dead, but the ship itself remains preserved and trapped in amber. While Timeless might eventually end with future!Kim changing the timeline and shaving ten years off the journey, the episode’s most iconic images are destructive: Voyager crashing and bouncing, the familiar sets encased in ice.

This is not a birthday party, it is a wake.

Seven and the EMH never saw eye-to-eye.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Demon (Review)

Demon is an episode with some interesting ides that cannot make up for a lackluster execution.

The writing staff on Star Trek: Voyager had been playing with the idea at the heart of Demon for quite some time. It had been a candidate for the third season finale, before Brannon Braga settled upon the story that would become Scorpion, Part I. It was considered for a mid-season two-parter, but the writing staff could never come up with a way to make the story work; Year of Hell, Part I, Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II were all written to fill gaps left by a story that refused to materialise.

Spaced out…

As such, there is a faint scent of desperation to Demon. The episode arrives in the final stretch the fourth season, at a point when the production team is very clearly fatigued and where writers are generally desperately grasping for anything resembling a workable story. The harsh production cycle of television means that the start of a twenty-six episode season can be planned over the summer hiatus, but that the tail end of the season is typically assembled on the fly. This is the stretch of the season where even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine produces Profit and Lace or Time’s Orphan.

The problems with Demons are compounded by the fact that it is very obviously a budget-conscious show. While it features a number of elaborate computer-animated sequences, it also films primary on standing sets and features no credited guest stars. The result is a curiously plodding show, one full of extended dialogue scenes that inform neither plot nor character, and which feel like a conscious attempt to sideline the more ambitious elements of the story. The result is the waste of an interesting idea on a forgettable episode.

Something’s wrong here, though Torres can’t quite put her finger on it.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Favourite Son (Review)

Favourite Son feels like the culmination of something that has been festering across the third season of Star Trek: Voyager.

The Star Trek franchise is generally regarded as progressive and forward-thinking. There is some debate to be had about whether this is an accurate summary of the franchise, given some of the creative decisions made over the course of its half-century run. However, there are times at which the franchise feels particularly liberal and points at which it feels particularly reactionary. A product of the mid-nineties, running through to the turn of the millennium, Voyager tends to feel very conservative in places.

This is a little bit what watching the episode feels like.

This is a little bit what watching the episode feels like.

In the second season, this reactionary tendency played out through the treatment of the Kazon in episodes like Initiations and Alliances. In the third season, with the Kazon long gone, it seems that Voyager has turned its reactionary gaze upon its female cast members. To be fair, the show’s first two seasons had any number of unfortunate creative decisions when it came to various female characters. Most notably, the decision to turn Seska into a baby-crazed maniac in Manoeuvres did not bode for the first female-led Star Trek series.

Nevertheless, a misogynist streak has manifested itself across the third season as a whole. In some cases, this has been relatively subtle; like the awkward insistence upon sexualising three-year-old Kes in the eyes of her two mentor figures in Warlord and Darkling. In other cases, this has been the entire point of the plot; like the decision to have Q try to sleep with the franchise’s first female lead and introduce his shrewish wife in The Q and the Grey or to introduce a psycho stalker in Alter Ego.

The original red wedding.

The original red wedding.

Other times, this sexist attitude has bubbled through the background of various episodes to the point that it builds to critical mass. Torres is victimised by her male colleagues over the course of three straight episodes, and none of them are held accountable; she is sexually assaulted by Vorik in Blood Fever, stunned by Chakotay in Unity, and tortured by the evil!EMH in Darkling. In each of those cases, the show seems to shrug off the violence committed by male characters against one of the show’s female leads.

All of these elements come to the fore in Favourite Son, an episode that would have been painfully retrograde had it aired as part of the original series during the sixties. Favourite Son is that most uncomfortable myth dressed up in science-fiction drag, the tale of an island of beautiful women using their sexual prowess to lure men into their clutches to emasculate them. It is terrifying to think that this episode made it to air in the late nineties.

A beautiful dream.

A beautiful dream.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Non Sequitur (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.

Non Sequitur is a Brannon Braga script touching on familiar Brannon Braga concepts – big ideas like time and space and reality and existence. Harry Kim wakes up to find himself in bed with his girlfriend, Libby. The two are living in San Francisco on Earth. Ensign Harry Kim never served on Voyager, instead working in Starfleet Engineering on Earth. Unable to explain what has happened, Kim finds himself struggling to cope with the situation.

Luckily, in true Star Trek: Voyager fashion, everything is conveniently reset at the end of the episode.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

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