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Star Trek: Voyager – 11:59 (Review)

The thing about experiments is that they don’t always work, but that doesn’t mean they should never be attempted.

Much like Someone to Watch Over Me, 11:59 represents a new departure for Star Trek: Voyager. It is an episode unlike any other episode in the run of series, unfolding primarily on early twenty-first (or, as one character wryly points out, maybe late twentieth) century Earth. As with Someone to Watch Over Me, there is a sense that 11:59‘s closest spiritual companion is an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are any number of superficial similarities between 11:59 and Far Beyond the Stars, another time-travel-to-close-to-modern-day-Earth-episode-without-the-time-travel.

Countdown.

Sadly, the experiment does not quite work out. Someone to Watch Over Me is one of the most charming episodes in the seven-season run of Voyager, while 11:59 is more than a little dull. Far Beyond the Stars is one of the most powerful and evocative episodes of Star Trek ever produced, while 11:59 is a competent piece of television that is almost immediately dated. For all that 11:59 represents a bold departure for Voyager, there is a sense that the episode has very little to actually say. It exists, but it never seems to exist for a particular reason. 11:59 is a frustrating piece of television.

However, none of this matters too much. Voyager has been such a safe and conservative show that any creative risk feels worthwhile, that any departure from the established template feels worth of celebration on those terms alone. 11:59 is an unsuccessful experiment, but it is an experiment nonetheless. For a series as risk-adverse as Voyager, that is remarkable.

“Time’s up.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Counterpoint (Review)

Counterpoint is a spectacular episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a highlight of the fifth season and of the seven season run in general.

Counterpoint is meticulously constructed, put together with a great deal of care and consideration. This is most obvious in the plotting and characterisation in the episode, in the way that the focus of the story remains constant while peeling back the layers on the characters involved. Too many Voyager episodes indulge in a contrived sequence of “… and then…” plotting, while Counterpoint is an episode that understands what it is about and is content to explore its ideas and its characters to their logical conclusions.

Playing it pitch perfect.

Counterpoint benefits from two superb central performances. Mark Harelik is one of the strongest one-shot guest stars to appear on Voyager, playing Kashyk as an endearingly ambiguous figure caught half way between a conventional romantic lead and a fascist thug. However, Counterpoint works best as a showcase for Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway. Mulgrew has always been one of the strongest members of Voyager‘s primary cast, but the production team always struggled to play to her strengths while building a consistent character.

Counterpoint is an episode that plays perfectly to the strengths of all involved, creating a symphony where all of the orchestra is playing both in key and in time with one another. At this point in the run, Voyager should be producing episodes like this with much greater consistency.

Near kiss.

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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 – 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 – 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 – 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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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.

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