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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 – 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 – Prey (Review)

Prey is a fantastic piece of television, and stands as one of the best standalone episodes of the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

It is an episode built around a very simple premise, pitting two of Voyager‘s more memorable alien creations against one another and throwing a nice character arc into the midst of this epic conflict. Prey is an exciting thriller built around the established characteristics of both the Hirogen and Species 8472, using two very distinctive cultures to tell a compelling and engaging story with the regular cast thrown into the fray. “Lone Hirogen hunter pursues lost member of Species 8472” is a great hook for an episode.

Here come the big guns.

However, Prey goes even further than that. The basic plot is intriguing on its own terms, but Prey cleverly grounds the story in what we know about these characters and their dynamic. As much as Voyager is caught in the crossfire of this horrific situation, the crew are also forced to make tough decisions. How will Janeway react to a wounded member of a hostile (and nigh-invulnerable) species? How will Seven of Nine respond when asked to save the life of a creature that participated in a brutal war with the Borg Collective?

This is intriguing stuff, largely anchored in what the audience already knows of the characters and delivered with top-notch production values and a great sense of pacing. Prey is an episode that plays to all the strengths of the fourth season, from the appeal of the Hirogen and Species 8472 through to the chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan.

There’ll be hull to pay.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Raven (Review)

Seven of Nine is something of a mixed blessing for Star Trek: Voyager.

In some respects, the character is a transparent ratings ploy designed to refocus media attention on and attract young male viewers to a television series facing major audience attrition. The series already has enough trouble serving the under-developed members of its ensemble like Chakotay, Tuvok and Kim. The arrival of Seven of Nine only compounds this issue, with the character serving as a focal point in five of the first six episodes of the fourth season. Seven of Nine is a very cynical addition to the cast, an awkward band aid applied to a patient with a chronic condition.

Enlightening.

Enlightening.

However, there is no denying that Seven of Nine works as a character. Even is early in the fourth season, Seven of Nine is more intriguing and compelling than most of the primary cast. As early as The Gift, Jeri Ryan demonstrated that she was one of the strongest members of the ensemble. Seven of Nine might be an awkward combination of the Spock and Data archetype with blatant fan service, but she already has a stronger character and a clearer arc than the vast majority of the regular cast. The production team know what they want from Seven, which is more than can be said of Chakotay, Tuvok or Kim.

Indeed, The Raven further solidifies the character’s purpose and arc in the larger context of Voyager. Indeed, The Raven very cleverly and very literalises Seven of Nine’s character arc, doing so in a way that integrates her into the larger broader themes of Voyager. With The Raven, Seven’s journey to reclaim her lost humanity is rendered as a literal homecoming. Like everybody else on the ship, Seven is ultimately trying to find her way back home.

"I shall become a bat... er... a human."

“I shall become a bat… er… a human.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Revulsion (Review)

Revulsion is a solid episode elevated by a superb guest performance.

The most notable aspect of Revulsion is the guest appearance of veteran character actor Leland Orser. Orser’s screen presence is striking, making an impression with supporting role in high-profile films from The Bone Collector to se7en to Alien Resurrection to Daredevil. He has also worked reliably in television, holding down regular roles in shows like E.R. and Berlin Station, while recurring in series like 24 and Ray Donovan. To modern audiences, he is likely recognisable got his work as a fixture of the Taken franchise.

Not just holo praise.

Not just holo praise.

Even within the Star Trek franchise, Orser is very much a recurring fixture. While never a steady player like J.G. Hertzler or Jeffrey Combs, Orser made quite an impression. He played the changeling posing as Tal Shiar operative Colonel Lovok in The Die is Cast on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making the most of a rather minor role in one of the series’ most memorable two-part episodes. He would also do good work as the venal Loomis in the otherwise disappointing Carpenter Street during the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

However, his guest appearance in Revulsion on Star Trek: Voyager remains his most distinctive turn in the franchise. Playing Dejaren, a psychotic and fragmented hologram who murdered his crew, Orser singlehandedly elevates would could easily be a tired genre exercise. Revulsion is a solid episode, but one that sticks in the memory almost entirely due to the casting.

Kali Ma!

Kali Ma!

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