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Star Trek: Voyager – Nothing Human (Review)

Nothing Human is very much an example of Star Trek: Voyager doing archetypal Star Trek, those abstract morality plays with elaborate prosthetics that offer commentary on contemporary conundrums.

Nothing Human is essentially a story about scientific ethics, about the question of what to do with information that was gathered through amoral means. Is knowledge tainted by the mechanisms through which it was acquired? Is the use of that research an endorsement of the means through which it was conducted? At the very least, does employing such information erode the user’s moral high ground? Does the use of such data make them a hypocrite, demonstrating a willingness to reap the benefits of such monstrous work, but without getting their hands dirty?

Something inhuman.

These are tough questions, with obvious applications in the modern world. These are the sorts of abstract ethical queries that are well-suited to a Star Trek episode, and there is something very endearing in the way that Nothing Human often comes down to two characters debating scientific ethics in a room together. To be fair, Nothing Human is a little too cluttered and clumsy to be as effective as it might otherwise be, its conclusions a little too neat, its developments just a little bit too tidy.

However, Nothing Human is a great example of the way in which Voyager tried to offer a version of Star Trek reflecting the popular perception of it. Nothing Human is a little clumsy in places, but it is an episode that is very much in line with what casual viewers expect from Star Trek in the abstract.

A Cardie-carrying monster.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Night (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager typically bridged its seasons with epic two-parters, a sprawling single narrative told over two forty-five minute episodes separated by the three-month summer hiatus. In fact, it was somewhat striking when the production team chose to end the fourth season with Hope and Fear, a standalone episode with a very definite conclusion. However, it becomes even more ironic once the fifth season opens with Night. Rather than one story split over two episodes, Night feels like two narratives compressed into a single chunk of television.

Of these two narratives, one is definitely more interesting than the other. The first half of Night essentially focuses on the ship and crew as they venture through an empty (and starless) section of space known as “the Void.” No light can get in. Nothing seems to live in there. There are no anomalies to investigate. “Anything to report?” Tuvok asks Kim. Kim responds, “Not even a stray electron.” It is so dull that even Tom classifies the detection of “a sudden increase in theta radiation” as “excitement.”

Starless, starless night.

This is an interesting approach to storytelling, particularly for a show so focused on plot. More than any other series in the franchise, Voyager runs on plot beats. Stories tend to progress from one revelation and escalation to the next, affording little room for character development or exploration. As such, the first half of Night seems like a very ambitious piece of work, an introspective character-driven drama where there are no plot beats to distract from character. It is a very brave and compelling set-up.

Of course, Night somewhat fumbles the ball in this first half. The thread is never explored as thoroughly as it might be, the character never allowed to properly express themselves. There is far too much emphasis on the holodeck, and the ship’s ability to simulate comforts and illusions even in this most depressing of surroundings. However, compared to the way that Voyager usually tells stories, the first half of Night is refreshing. Ironically, it is genuinely exciting, because it feels like the writers are pushing outside their comfort zone.

A darker side of Janeway.

Unfortunately, it cannot last. Night can only resist the comfort of plot for so long. Eighteen minutes into the hour, the second plot kicks into gear. It is a much more conventional Voyager episode, particularly for these later seasons. There is a broadly drawn piece of social commentary that ties into the both Voyager‘s New Age sensibilities and its attitude towards the Delta Quadrant as a whole. There are new aliens introduced, that will become recurring foils. It is all very standard, and all very rushed. The second half of Night makes up for those missed plot beats.

The result is an episode that is deeply frustrating, a game of two halves were each horribly undercuts the other.

A black-and-white issue.

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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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Star Trek: Voyager – Concerning Flight (Review)

Concerning Flight is a lovely, whimsical little episode.

Of course, the actual plot of the episode is complete nonsense. During a raid by alien pirates, a bunch of advanced technology is stolen from Voyager. Among that advanced technology is the EMH’s mobile admitted, the holodeck database, and the primary computer core. Somehow, the pirate prince responsible for this raid has the wherewithal to download a character from the holodeck database into the mobile emitter and employ him as an inventor. Conveniently enough, the hologram is Leonardo da Vinci and the arrangement resembles medieval patronage.

da Vinci's demons.

da Vinci’s demons.

It is all very ridiculous, relying on insane contrivance and random leaps in logic. At any given moment, the audience might be inclined to ask exactly what chain of decisions have led the characters to this exact point, right down to the sheer coincidence of having Leonardo da Vinci’s prototyple glider resting on a hilltop on the escape route that Janeway and da Vinci take in the final act. All of these criticisms are valid, and all of them are perfectly reasonable. Concerning Flight does not require suspension of disbelief, it requires a suspension bridge of disbelief.

However, the episode largely earns that trust. There is an incredible charm to this very simple and straightforward (if awkwardly contrived) story, a surprising warmth and engagement to the tale of the ultimate renaissance man confronted with the ultimate new world. Concerning Flight is a fun episode that places a lot of faith in the interplay between Kate Mulgrew and John Rhys-Davies. It is a choice that pays dividends.

O brave new world, That has such people in 't!

O brave new world,
That has such people in ‘t!

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Star Trek: Voyager – Year of Hell, Part I (Review)

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II might just be the perfect episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Taken together, these episodes perfectly demonstrate the raw potential and strength of the third Star Trek spin-off. They are a boldly ambitious story of a ship that finds itself in hostile territory surrounded by a hostile force with superior firepower, all while playing into the recurring themes and fascinations of the wider series. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II are effectively a story that finds history itself under threat, while emphasising Brannon Braga’s interpretation of Janeway by setting her against a similarly obsessive opponent.

Things fall apart.

Things fall apart.

The result is one of the most thrilling and engaging stories of Voyager‘s seven-season run, among the most satisfying of the series’ impressive “blockbuster” two-parters. Although the show is still being broadcast in the standard nineties 4:3 aspect ratio, it feels like a widescreen story. Part of that is due to the fact that the two-parter unfolds over three quarters of an entire year, part of that is the expanded room for storytelling, part of that is the fact that history itself hangs in the balance, part of that is the fact that Voyager itself feels at stake.

Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II do an excellent job capturing the essence of Voyager.

The Voyager cast Christmas party took a heavier toll than usual.

The Voyager cast Christmas party took a heavier toll than usual.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Scientific Method (Review)

Scientific Method is in many ways the flip side of the coin to episodes like Nemesis, Distant Origin or Remember.

Nemesis, Distant Origin and Remember were effective demonstrations of Jeri Taylor’s approach to Star Trek: Voyager, a conscious effort to downplay the unique premise of the show in favour of pitching a more generic sort of Star Trek. With that in mind, Nemesis, Distant Origin and Remember constructed powerful allegories to examine pressing contemporary issues through the lens of science-fiction, resulting in episodes that represented one of the most defining aspects of the franchise: the sci-fi-tinged morality play.

Built into Voyager's DNA.

Built into Voyager’s DNA.

Not every example of this approach worked as well as those three episodes. Voyager began leaning into this more archetypal and generic Star Trek storytelling at the start of its third season, and the results were quite hit-and-miss. There were certainly brilliant examples in the seasons ahead, like Living Witness or Blink of an Eye. But not every allegory worked as well. Sometimes, the episodes were too didactic, like Critical Care or Repentence. Sometimes, the episodes were too generic, like The Chute. Sometimes, they were just ill-judged, as with Retrospect.

Scientific Method is a very bland and forgettable episode of Star Trek. It is not necessarily bad, but it is also not particularly memorable. In some ways, it demonstrates the limitations of the “generic Star Trek” approach to scripting for Voyager. Without a set of interesting and well-developed characters with strong dynamics in a series with a unique identity, an average episode can feel rather flat.

Give her head peace.

Give her head peace.

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

In some ways, Scorpion, Part I is the perfect cap to the third season of Star Trek: Voyager.

The third season has largely seen the show retreating from ideas and concepts that would render it unique in the larger Star Trek canon. Although the first two seasons were hardly radical in terms of storytelling style or substance, Michael Piller did make a conscious effort to build off some of the premises unique to this show. The Kazon might have been a terrible idea in both concept and execution, but they were at least something new. While the second season botched its attempts at serialisation, at least it made the effort.

This is perhaps a metaphor for what Voyager is going to do to the Borg...

This is perhaps a metaphor for what Voyager is going to do to the Borg…

In the third season, the production team seem to have settled upon the idea of producing generic Star Trek, rather than telling stories unique to Voyager. This is something of a mixed blessing. While the third season features a host of forgettable episodes like Warlord and Alter Ego, it features few episodes as soul-destroying as Alliances or Investigations. More than that, episodes like Remember or Distant Origin demonstrate the appeal of producing generic Star Trek stories, ranking among the best episodes that the show has produced to date.

More than that, the production team have consciously pushed the show much closer to the model of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is most obvious in the handling of Q as a character. While Death Wish found something novel and interesting to do with the character after All Good Things…, The Q and the Grey returns the character to his default settings for a cringe-worthy dress-up episode that owes far too much in concept and execution to Q-Pid. There are plenty of other examples.

This might also be a potent metaphor for what Voyager is about to do to the Borg...

This might also be a potent metaphor for what Voyager is about to do to the Borg…

However, Voyager‘s most overt embrace of the legacy of The Next Generation came with the introduction of the Borg. The Borg are in many ways the most iconic creation of the Berman era, perhaps the only new alien species liable to recognised alongside the Klingons or the Romulans or the Vulcans. After all, the Borg were the antagonists of Star Trek: First Contact, the theatrical release intended to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary. Their aesthetic influence can even be felt on Star Trek Beyond, the theatrical release intended to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary.

The Borg made their first appearance at the end of Blood Fever, in a postscript scene that feels like almost like a post-credits tease that arrived ten years too early. The Borg also appeared in Unity, an episode which featured Chakotay encountering the survivors from a disconnected Borg ship desperately trying to reconnect their shared link. However, neither of these episodes featured the Borg Collective, the powerful and single-minded collective consciousness that drives the hive mind.

Building a bridge...

Building a bridge…

So it makes sense that the Borg Collective would appear in full force for Scorpion, Part I, the third season finale and cliffhanger bridging to the fourth season. Once again, this is a creative decision right out of the Next Generation playbook. The Next Generation really cemented its distinct cultural identity with the broadcast of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I at the end of its third season. Part of this was simply down to the fact that it had outpaced the original Star Trek, which only lasted three years. However, part of it was also that the cliffhanger was spectacular television.

Scorpion, Part I is not spectacular television. It is good television. It is a satisfying blockbuster epic, with a strong sense of momentum and some interesting ideas. However, it also smells a little bit of desperation. It feels like Voyager has completely abandoned its own sense of identity and followed the path of least resistance. Insert your own joke there.

Or, you know, don't. Whatever floats your boat.

Or, you know, don’t. Whatever floats your boat.

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