Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Trek: Voyager – Hunters (Review)

Hunters is a weird episode of Star Trek:Voyager, perhaps most notable for the manner in which it flirts with serialisation.

More than any other episode of the fourth season, with the possible exception of The Gift, this mid-season episode seems to exist primarily in relation to the episodes around it. The script is very consciously a sequel to Message in a Bottle, with the crew discovering the ancient network of space stations is a two-way radio back to the Alpha Quadrant. It also introduces the Hirogen, an alien species that will recur in Prey, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II. The story also sets up a narrative thread that will pay off in Hope and Fear, the season finale.

“Prey, tell.”

More than that, Hunters is an episode that is very consciously engaged with dangling threads of continuity. It resolves the relationship between Janeway and Mark that has haunted the lead character since Caretaker, offers Tom Paris some hint of reconciliation with the father who seemed so disappointed in Persistence of Vision, and even resolves the Maquis plot thread by tying back to Blaze of Glory. This is an episode that exists as something of a storytelling nexus point, a variety of intersecting threads all tied together as part of a single narrative.

Voyager had largely eschewed any attempt at long-form storytelling, perhaps in response to the trauma of the troublesome Kazon arc in the second season that led to ill-judged misfires like Alliances and Investigations. However, those early attempts at serialisation were heavily plot-driven, a series of stories building towards a number predetermined plot points. In contrast, the serialisation suggested by Hunters is looser; a collection of character beats, some earlier details that had largely been forgotten, some elements that might be useful in the future.

The farthest woman from home.

That said, Hunters seems just as cautious about long-form storytelling as The Gift was. As much as Hunters revives old story lines and character beats, it also makes a conscious effort to close many of them. Hunters makes it very clear that this level of serialisation will not be the default for the series going forward. The episode tidies away more loose threads than it unravels. The relationship between Kathryn Janeway and Mark Johnson is brought back purely so it can be ended. The Maquis are mentioned only to confirm they have been destroyed.

Still, there is something oddly intriguing about Hunters, a mostly quiet episode that exists primarily as both prelude and coda rather than a narrative in its own right. It is a quieter, stranger Voyager episode, even while introducing a race of giant space!hunters.

Gripping stuff.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Day of Honour (Review)

Day of Honour is a reminder that, while Brannon Braga is clearly the heir apparent, Jeri Taylor is still the showrunner on Star Trek: Voyager.

Day of Honour is noticeably and recognisably a Jeri Taylor episode, particularly following so sharply from Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II, and The Gift. This is a script that plays very firmly to Jeri Taylor’s idea of Star Trek, including an emphasis on the development of interpersonal relationships and also a very traditional perspective on how the franchise is supposed work. Day of Honour is a very conservative episode following the bombast of the three very ambitious stories bridging the third and fourth seasons.

"Don't worry, Janeway will never miss it."

“Don’t worry, Janeway will never miss it.”

In some ways, this is undoubtedly a good thing. Jeri Taylor is clearly more interested in developing relationships between the characters than Brannon Braga. Taylor was a very old-school television writer and producer, but her best material on Voyager suggested a genuine interest in the cast and the characters. Resolutions is an episode consciously rooted in the romantic tension between Chakotay and Janeway. Coda is a very clear elaboration on Taylor’s interpretation of Janeway.

Taylor even drafted biographies for the crew in the form of Mosaic and Pathways, suggesting a deeper interest in the characters’ inner lives than any other writer on staff. In some ways, Day of Honour is an extension of this approach. It is the culmination of Taylor’s attempts to push Paris and Torres together in third season episodes like The Swarm, Blood Fever and Displaced. That relationship became one of the nicer dynamics on Voyager, and would never have happened under the oversight of either Michael Piller or Brannon Braga.

Adrift.

Adrift.

However, there are also very serious problems with Day of Honour. In keeping with the tone of Voyager during Taylor’s tenure, it is a very conservative piece of television both in terms of style and politics. After The Gift worked so hard to generate tension between Seven of Nine and the Voyager crew, Day of Honour casually brushes that aside. And it deals with an interesting story about the legacy of Seven’s relationship to the Borg in the most trite manner possible, the plot hinging on a techno-babble solution to ensure there is no actual conflict.

More than that, Day of Honour is incredibly reactionary in its portrayal of the Caatati, a refugee race who were rendered homeless by the Borg Collective. These dispossessed aliens are presented as greed and underhanded, ready to exploit the charity of our heroes and to betray them at the first opportunity. It is an extension of the xenophobic panic of Displaced, a tale about how our privileged heroes should react with paranoia and mistrust to those who arrive by accident or in distress. It is a rather uncomfortable Star Trek theme.

Means of transport.

Means of transport.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Season 3 (Review)

The third season of Star Trek: Voyager marks the point at which the show stops trying.

To be fair, it is not as though the opening two seasons of the show were marked by a surplus of ambition. Caretaker was a bold piece of science-fiction that promised a host of interesting ideas for the new Star Trek show, but all of those fascinating conflicts were quickly brushed aside by episodes like Parallax and Time and Again, which insisted on formulaic plotting and familiar storytelling. In many ways, the first season of the show felt like a cheaper eighth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

voy-fairtrade3

During the second season, the production team did attempt something a little bolder. Michael Piller returned from his work on Legend convinced that the franchise needed a dramatic shake-up and reinvention. So he attempted to introduce long-form storytelling on the series, with an arc building the Kazon as a credible threat to ship and crew. This arc failed spectacularly for a variety of reasons, with episodes like Alliances and Investigations ranking among the worst in the series’ run.

The Voyager writing staff were apparently traumatised by their experiences on that second season. Piller stepped aside at the end of the year, forced by the threat of mass resignations. Piller bid farewell to the show with Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II, effectively allowing the staff a clean slate coming into the third series of the show. Jeri Taylor stepped up into the role of showrunner, trying to steady a ship that was very clearly on troubled water. Three years into the run, how did Voyager define itself?

voy-futuresendparti13a

The third season has traditionally been a formative year for the Star Trek spin-offs. Michael Piller took charge of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its third season and established the template for the franchise heading into the nineties. Ira Steven Behr solidified the direction of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine during its third season, outlining many of the concepts and ideas that would play in the stronger fourth and fifth seasons. Even Star Trek: Enterprise came into its own in its third season, telling its own stories.

Voyager did not come into its own during this third season. Jeri Taylor’s direction for Voyager set the series on a course back to familiar territory. The third season of Voyager marks the point at which a troubled series adopts the path of least resistance, content to stop pushing itself in any direction and let itself be pulled by the gravity of the franchise around it. The third season of Voyager marks the point at which the series becomes content to be generic Star Trek.

voy-distantorigin27a

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Coda (Review)

In many ways, the Jeri Taylor era of Star Trek: Voyager represented a reaction to the direction that the show had taken under Michael Piller.

Michael Piller had imagined a more dynamic and adventurous version of the show, focusing on two crews thrown together by fate and forced to coexist while journeying through uncharted territory. After seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Piller was understandably (and perhaps justifiably) concerned that the second iteration of Star Trek might have been growing somewhat stale. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in the process of breaking new ground, and Piller felt that it was necessary for the franchise to find a new direction and identity.

Daddy's home.

Daddy’s home.

This is a good idea in theory. In practice, Michael Piller’s vision was disastrous. Piller wanted to do new things, but found himself working with a staff vehemently opposed to his vision of the series and phoning in scripts that should have been provocative like Alliances or Investigations. More than that, Piller was unable to properly realise his own ambitions, citing scripts like Tattoo as incredibly accomplishments rather than recognising them for the embarrassing failures that they were. When Piller was ousted after the second season, Jeri Taylor took over.

Jeri Taylor would oversee the third and fourth seasons of Voyager. She had a very clear vision of what Voyager should be, a rather conservative and generic iteration of the larger Star Trek franchise. Traditionally, the third season had served as a point of transition for the Star Trek spin-offs. It was in their third seasons that The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine really broke the mould and discovered their own unique identities. In contrast,t he third season of Voyager marked a point of retreat from the basic premise of the show.

Carry on regardless.

Carry on regardless.

Taylor wanted to focus on telling very safe and familiar Star Trek stories, ones that did not necessarily rely upon the premise of the show. There are any number of episodes where this approach simply did not work, with episodes like Warlord or The Q and the Grey or Alter Ego feeling like reheated Star Trek leftovers. However, there were points at which Taylor’s approach paid off. Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II were pure popcorn, but they worked on those terms. It didn’t matter that nobody seemed too bothered at getting Voyager back to Earth.

Coda is another example of the strengths of Taylor’s approach to Voyager. It is a very familiar and archetypal episode of Star Trek, one that might have been assembled from the leftover pieces of Cause and Effect or Tapestry. However, that relative simplicity becomes a strength, allowing Taylor to craft a script focusing on Janeway and giving Kate Mulgrew some meaty material into which she might sink her teeth. There is nothing particularly new or exciting here, but there is something to be said for executing old standards with such charm.

Of course he's evil. He's an admiral.

Of course he’s evil. He’s an admiral.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – The Swarm (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.

The Swarm helps to solidify the Jeri Taylor era, even as it is shuffled in among relics of Michael Piller’s tenure.

Much like The Chute before it, The Swarm has a great central premise built around the classic model of using the franchise to tell allegorical stories. The episode has a great hook and a great central performance, along with a strong sense of theme that makes it easier to relate to the whole thing. In The Chute, Kenneth Biller touched on issues of punishment and incarceration. In The Swarm, Mike Sussman tells a sweet story about caring for a loved one whose mental faculties are degrading. (This was a theme to which Sussman would return tangentially with Twilight.)

Talking to himself...

Talking to himself…

However, that strong central premise is also betrayed by several severe structural problems that hold the episode back from greatness. The Chute was a few rewrites away from greatness, its final act existing primarily to close out an hour of broadcasting rather than to tie together the preceding forty minutes of television. The Swarm grafts its emotionally compelling story of mental collapse onto a fairly generic “evil alien” narrative that somehow challenges to become the episode’s primary plot thread.

As with The Chute, there is a sense that The Swarm is codifying what will become standard practice for the series from this point forward. The biggest issue with The Swarm is the decision to undercut the episode’s emotional arc by having the series reset the EMH’s reset. In what arguably makes it the perfect example of the issues that will plague Star Trek: Voyager from here until Endgame, the show literally presses a reset button on a reset button. The Swarm is a meta-reset, if you will.

Purple haze...

Purple haze…

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading