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Star Trek: Voyager – Muse (Review)

In its own way, Muse marks the end of an era for Star Trek: Voyager, as Joe Menosky’s last solo script for the series.

To be fair, this is not Menosky’s last script credit on the series. Menosky would collaborate with Brannon Braga on the season-bridging two-parter Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II. In fact, those episodes have themes that play directly into Menosky’s interests; the two-parter is a story about dreams and narratives, about worlds that exist beyond the literal and the concrete. More than that, Menosky would work on the writing staff of Star Trek: Discovery, contributing the script to Lethe, one of the season’s stand-out episodes that was also about narratives – albeit internalised ones.

Dropping the mask.

However, Muse still feels like it marks the end of an era. Menosky had been a fixture of the Berman era of Star Trek dating back to the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, making his debut with Legacy and arguably making his biggest impression with Darmok early the following season. Menosky’s involvement with the franchise ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, but his influence was often felt. Indeed, Menosky even contributed a handful of scripts and stories to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, including the teleplay for the underrated Dramatis Personae.

With Menosky’s departure from Voyager at the end of the sixth season, Brannon Braga would become the longest-serving writer working on the Star Trek franchise. His tenure on the television franchise would surpass that of Ronald D. Moore, and of any writer who hadn’t spanned the gap from the end of the original Star Trek to the early seasons of The Next Generation, with the arguable exception of producer Rick Berman. As such, Muse feels very much like the end of an era. It marks the departure of one of the guiding light of the Star Trek franchise, albeit one often overlooked or ignored.

Storyteller.

Muse is an episode that speaks to Menosky’s key interests within the Star Trek franchise, the idea of Star Trek as something akin to a modern mythology. More than any other writer on Star Trek, Menosky is invested in stories that are fundamentally about stories. His influence on Voyager is more subtle than that of Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor or Brannon Braga, but can felt in the recurring idea that Voyager itself is a Delta Quadrant myth. More than any of the other Star Trek series, Voyager feels like it is a story about a collection of archetypes rather than characters.

Menosky first articulated this idea in the closing scene of his otherwise forgettable script for False Profits, but reinforced it in episodes like Distant Origin, Living Witness and Blink of an Eye. It could reasonably be argued that this idea became part of the show’s identity, to the point that it can even be traced through episodes not explicitly credited to Menosky, like Live Fast and Prosper. It seems appropriate that this idea should serve as the central theme of Muse, an episode that might be read as a thesis statement on Menosky’s approach to the franchise.

Acting out.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Voyager Conspiracy (Review)

The Voyager Conspiracy builds off the nostalgia of One Small Step, paving the way for the nostalgia of Pathfinder.

One of the more interesting aspects of the final two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager is the way in which the show embraces a weird nostalgia, both for the utopian future of the larger Star Trek franchise and also for its own earlier seasons. To be fair, the seeds for this nostalgia were arguably sown during the fifth season, with an increased emphasis on the events of Caretaker in episodes like Night, Relativity and Equinox, Part I, as well as elements like Janeway’s exploration of her family history in 11:59, the fake Earth in In the Flesh, and the return to the Maquis in Extreme Risk.

“What’s all this buzz about?”

Nevertheless, the sixth and seventh seasons of Voyager embrace the nostalgia that has been woven into the series from the outset, the journey toward the “familiar” and the “recognisable.” After all, Voyager has always been a show about the desire to return, but it is particularly interesting to see that urge to go backwards including metaphorical journeys into the history of both the Star Trek franchise and Voyager itself. The final seasons of Voyager apply the idea of returning home reflexively, it often feeling like a desire to slip backwards in time as much as space.

It is interesting to wonder what drives this nostalgia for the early years of Voyager in these final two seasons. Perhaps this wistful yearning is driven by the fact that the show is approaching its end, and is reflecting upon its own nostalgia. Perhaps the series is anxious at being the only Star Trek show on the air for the first time in its run, hoping to return to the safety and security of those early years. Perhaps it ties into a broader cultural anxiety about the millennium, a reflection of the same “end of history” anxiety that informed stories like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II and Living Witness.

Getting into her head.

Whatever the reason, The Voyager Conspiracy feels like an exploration of the Voyager‘s continuity. The plot of the episode finds Seven of Nine effectively binge-watching the first few seasons of the show and trying to structure them into something resembling a cohesive story arc. In doing so, The Voyager Conspiracy includes an uncharacteristic selections of nods and references to earlier episodes; Caretaker, Cold FireManoeuvres, The Gift, Message in a Bottle, The Killing Game, Part I, The Killing Game, Part IIDark Frontier, Part IDark Frontier, Part II.

As such, it is an oddity in the larger context of Voyager, a television series largely defined by the absence of episode-to-episode continuity. Indeed, it is quite telling that The Voyager Conspiracy treats such continuity as inherently dangerous and destabilising influence on Voyager.

Dinner table conversation.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Latent Image (Review)

Latent Image is a powerful allegorical piece of Star Trek, a prime example of how Star Trek: Voyager could occasionally spin gold from its shift towards a more “archetypal Star Trek” template. It is a story that could easily have been told with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example.

At the same time, Latent Image is a story that touches on many of the core themes of Voyager, many of the show’s key recurring fixations and fascinations. It is an episode about the link between memory and identity, about the importance of preserving history rather than burying it; it touches upon both the metaphorical manipulation of history in stories like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness and the literal manipulation of the past in stories like Future’s End, Part IFuture’s End, Part IIYear of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Picture imperfect.

However, it filters that experience through Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s recurring fascination with themes of identity and self-definition. The writers have often used the artificial characters on Voyager to explore the malleability of self, how easily the sense of self might be eroded or decayed; the EMH grappled with this challenge in Projections and Darkling, while Seven wrestled with it in Infinite Regress. The artificial characters on Voyager frequently seemed on a verge of a nervous breakdown.

Latent Image is notable for wedding these two concepts together, for integrating these two concepts and exploring the manipulation of an individual’s history as the root of an identity crisis. What happens to the EMH in Latent Image is at once an extension of the dysfunction suggested in Projections and Darkling as well as a more intimate exploration of the cultural identity crises in episodes like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness. Latent Image suggests that memory is the thread that ties identity together. Without that continuity of self, everything unravels.

A bone to pick with him.

As such, Latent Image exists in an interesting space. It is a story that works very well as a high-concept character study, focusing on the nature of the EMH has a computer programme. Although episodes like Pen Pals suggest that Starfleet has the power to remove memories from biological life forms, the plot of Latent Image could not work as well with a character like Kim or Paris. At the same time, it is a broader allegory about how important memories and experiences are in terms of defining who a person is, and how dealing with these memories defines a cultural identity.

Latent Image is a powerful and clever piece of television.

The camera never lies.

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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 – Distant Origin (Review)

Like Remember before it, Distant Origin is a really great example of how Star Trek: Voyager‘s efforts to build a “generic Star Trek series can produce memorable and satisfying episodes of television.

There is very little about Distant Origin that demands to be set in the Delta Quadrant. In fact, Distant Origin arguably makes less sense as an episode set in the Delta Quadrant than it would as an episode set in the Alpha or Beta Quadrants. Episodes like The 37’s and Distant Origin (and the lies at the heart of Favourite Son) seem to suggest a lot of traffic between Earth and the Delta Quadrant beyond the Caretaker. It seems strange the Voth would migrate so far in search of a place to call home.

Skullduggery.

Skullduggery.

However, for all that Distant Origin feels like a strange fit for the series’ Delta Quadrant setting, it feels very much like quintessential Star Trek. Like Remember earlier in the season, Distant Origin is very much an old-fashioned Star Trek allegory that uses characters in cheesy make-up to comment upon contemporary issues. In Remember, it was the reality of holocaust denial. In Distant Origin, it is the age-old conflict of science-against-political-expedience. There is an endearing timelessness to the metaphor at the centre of the story.

With its dinosaur characters, its fixation upon evolution, and its doctrine of “origin”, Distant Origin seems very specifically tailored to the heated debates around science and creationism in American culture. However, the allegory is powerful enough that it maintains a potency even beyond that. Distant Origin has aged remarkably well, working effectively as a metaphor for climate change denial or even for historical revisionism in favour of the national myth. Distant Origin is both a season and a series highlight.

The bones of a theory.

The bare bones of a theory.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Darkling (Review)

There is something to be said for the pulpier side of Star Trek: Voyager, the aspect of the show that plays like a cheesy sci-fi b-movie.

Brannon Braga is very much the driving force behind this aspect of the show, as evidenced by his scripts for the belated Cold War body-swapping horror of Cathexis or the psychological nightmare of Projections or the trashy psychedelic terror of Cold Fire or even the weird evolutionary anxieties of Threshold and Macrocosm. These sorts of episodes often feel like they belong in a late night movie slot reserved for forgotten horror flicks from the fifties and sixties. Of course, Braga is not alone in this; episodes like Meld and The Thaw also fit the pattern.

Blurred lines.

Blurred lines.

Of course, these episodes do not always hit the mark. Charitably, it could be argued that they land about half the time and misfire spectacularly about one third of the time. However, there is something strangely compelling about these episode. They feel distinct from what audiences expect from Star Trek. Even if they are arguably just an extension of late Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes like Sub Rosa or Genesis or Eye of the Beholder, they feel like something different from the show’s more conventional “let’s do archetypal Star Trek” plotting.

Darkling is an episode that doesn’t quite work, but which is oddly endearing in its dysfunction. It is a ridiculous central premise executed in a deeply flawed (and occasionally uncomfortable) manner. However, there is something weirdly compelling about wedding the show’s science-fiction premise to gothic horror through the fractured psyche of a computer program.

Patchy.

Patchy.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Alter Ego (Review)

Following on from the aborted promise of a new beginning in Fair Trade, things get back to normal.

Alter Ego is another episode of Star Trek: Voyager that feels like it might have been wholly repurposed from an earlier Star Trek show. On the surface, it is a fairly standard “holodeck run amok” story in the style of earlier episodes like Heroes and Demons or Projections. However the contours of the plot recall a very specific (and very good) episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As Alter Ego seems to suggest that a holographic character has achieved sentience and threatens to destroy the ship, it recalls the far superior Ship in a Bottle.

Forced attraction.

Forced attraction.

There are differences, of course. Ship in a Bottle is a far stronger episode, one of the best holodeck stories ever produced. More than that, the climax of Alter Ego reveals that the holodeck programme has not become sentient but is instead being used as the avatar of an outside force. Still, this twist is confined to the last act of the episode, and so it feels more like an embellishment than a revision. For the bulk of its runtime, Alter Ego plays as a pale imitation of a much stronger piece of television.

It does not help matter that Alter Ego‘s novel twist on that central premise is to paint its central guest star as a psychotic stalker with a crush.

A whole ball of crazy.

A whole ball of crazy.

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