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Star Trek: Voyager – Shattered (Review)

Shattered was the first episode of Star Trek to be broadcast in the new millennium, premiering in January 2001.

Of course, there is some debate about when the new millennium actually began, even as Star Trek: Voyager mailed its colours to the mast with 11:59. However one might feel on the issue, Shattered seems more deserving of the claim than Fair Haven. This is an episode that captures a real sense of the moment that which the nineties technically gave way to the twenty-first century, a transition defined in very literal terms. It was a moment that was simultaneously about great cultural, social and technological change while also reflecting on how little had actually changed.

Say it, don’t hypospray it.

The nineties were (and remain) a paradox. They are easily defined by any chronological measure, with a neatly delineated start and end date. However, like any other decade, they are fuzzier when defined in a cultural sense. In some ways, the nineties began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and ended with the attack on the World Trade Centre. In another way, the nineties are still happening in terms of culture and fashion. They are at once present in the way that we make and consume art, but also something so absent that we long for the comfort of their trappings.

Shattered captures that weird fractured sense of time, the uncanny feeling that time is out of joint, that the past and the future are all overlapping in the same physical space without any sensation of linear progression. Shattered suggests that Voyager‘s past, present and future can all share the same physical space and that they can be navigated with relative ease. Despite the fact that this ship has been on a seven-year journey home, its past and its future are never distant.

“I am Commander Chakotay, and I endorse this cider.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Flesh and Blood, Part II (Review)

In its seventh season, Star Trek: Voyager gets nostalgic.

It happens naturally when long-running shows begin the process of wrapping up. It is inevitable that the production team will look back with affection and sincerity towards the early years of their shared adventures. The seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine even made a number of strange callbacks to the first season. Chimera offered a very late-in-the-game return to “the hundred”, the Founders that were sent out into the void like Odo had been. What You Leave Behind featured Sisko fulfilling the task for which he has been chosen in Emissary.

“Star Trek was never about shooting stuff with big guns,” argue a certain strand of modern Star Trek fans.

That nostalgia simmers and bubbles through Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. However, there’s a sense that Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II don’t quite understand what they are evoking. Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II hark back to the earliest seasons of Voyager in a number of surprising ways, providing a neat bookend to some of the core anxieties that have been bubbling through the series since Caretaker.

Unfortunately, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II seem to be doing this almost unconsciously. This is not an exorcism or an exploration, but an unexpected repetition. Voyager is still haunted by memories of the show’s turbulent early years, and it is clear that Voyager has no better understanding of itself now than it did then. The result is deeply unsatisfying and frustrating.

East of Iden.

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Trump Trek: How Star Trek: Voyager is Perfectly Trumpian Star Trek…

Star Trek has built up a fascinating pop culture mythology around itself. There is an interesting dissonance between that memory and the reality.

The fond memory of a thing is not the thing itself. It is a cliché to observe that the line “beam me up, Scotty” was never actually said on the original show, but many casual fans associate the phrase with the franchise. Even hardcore Star Trek fans tend to gloss over the historical record in favour of affectionate memory. Many fans remember the pointed anti-Vietnam rhetoric of A Taste of Armageddon, Errand of Mercy or The Trouble with Tribbles. Few remember the pro-Vietnam tone of Friday’s Child, The Apple or The Omega Glory.

There is a tendency to believe that Star Trek has always been progressive, that the franchise has always embraced tolerance and actively pursued diversity. However, the reality is often more complicated than that. This why certain sections of the fanbase seem to react in abject terror to concepts like “Trek Against Trump”, a campaign organised by Armin Shimerman to protest the racism and xenophobia espoused by the (then-) candidate Donald Trump. One would imagine that rejecting sexism, racism, white nationalism would be a no-brainer for fandom, but it was not.

Indeed, this reactionary strain of fandom has come up time and again in the context of Star Trek: Discovery. Certain vocal sections of the fan base have objected to the diversity of the primary cast, despite the fact that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine arguably had a much more diverse ensemble. The backlash has reached the point that the cast have had to actually give interviews that racism is a very bad thing and that the franchise is very much about tolerance and understanding. Similarly, the news that the series would be overtly political has rattled some cages in fandom.

In theory, these reactions should be shocking. The Star Trek franchise has carefully cultivated a reputation for liberalism and idealism. Indeed, the Federation is quite explicitly socialist, something hinted at in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and explicitly confirmed in Star Trek: First Contact. On a more fundamental level, the franchise is about people from different cultures and with different values coming together to work in common purpose. It seems reasonably fair to argue the franchise would disagree with concepts like “the Muslim Ban” or “the Transgender Service Ban.”

However, the truth is that there has always been a reactionary streak lurking within the franchise. And nowhere has that reactionary streak been stronger than in Star Trek: Voyager, bleeding over into the creation and first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Basics, Part II (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.

With Basics, Part II, the second season comes to an end.

In both technical and spiritual terms, of course. The production team decided to retain the strategy that they had employed during the show’s first season, adding an additional filming block on to the end of the season in order to film a bunch of episodes that would be broadcast at the start of the third broadcast season. At the end of the first season, four episodes were produced and held back – Projections, Elogium, Twisted, and The 37’s. As such, four second season episodes were produced after Basics, Part ISacred Ground, False Profits, Flashback and Basics, Part II.

Picking over the bones. An apt image for the third season premiere.

Picking over the bones.
An apt image for the third season premiere.

So, Basics, Part II marks the end of the show’s second production season. Even though it was the first episode of the third season to be broadcast, it was the last episode of the second season to be produced. It is very consciously designed to bring the curtain down on a particular era of the show. Basics, Part II marks the end of the line for various threads running through the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. It is the last Kazon story, the last Seska story, the last Lon Suder story, the last Star Trek television script written by Michael Piller.

Basics, Part II seems written in the hope that it might end a troubled era for the show and for the larger franchise. While things undoubtedly got smoother, it remains highly debatable whether the franchise ever properly recovered.

Let sleeping eels lie...

Let sleeping eels lie…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Basics, Part I (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.

With Basics, Part I, the second season comes to an end.

In a very specific sense, of course. The production team decided to retain the strategy that they had employed during the show’s first season, adding an additional filming block on to the end of the season in order to film a bunch of episodes that would be broadcast at the start of the third broadcast season. At the end of the first season, four episodes were produced and held back – Projections, Elogium, Twisted, and The 37’s. As such, four second season episodes were produced after Basics, Part ISacred Ground, False Profits, Flashback and Basics, Part II.

Heading home alone.

Heading home alone.

However, Basics, Part I marks the end of the show’s second broadcast season. It is very consciously designed as season finalé, something that the first season had struggled with by slotting Learning Curve into the broadcast slot. Basics, Part I also marks the beginning of the end for various threads running through the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. It is the first part of the last Kazon story, the last Seska story, the last Lon Suder story, the last Star Trek television story written by Michael Piller.

It marks the beginning of the end of a troubled era for the show and for the larger franchise.

Hitchhiking in this part of space is very dangerous.

Hitchhiking in this part of space is very dangerous.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Investigations (Review)

This February and March, 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.

Investigations is a misfire. It is a spectacular misfire.

Investigations is the episode that pretty much single-handedly killed any chance of Star Trek: Voyager embracing long-form storytelling once and for all. The first season had enthusiastically embraced an episodic structure, but the second season had played with the idea of playing out an arc across the majority of the season. Tying together the Kazon with the idea of a traitor on Voyager and the redemption of Tom Paris, the production team decided to attempt something relatively novel for Star Trek.

Kill me. Kill me now.

Kill me.
Kill me now.

It is worth stressing just how experimental this kind of story was. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had played with the idea of serialisation. Threads like the Romulan and Cardassian invasion of the Gamma Quadrant were carefully seeded through episodes like Defiant and Visionary, but there was not the same tension and momentum afforded to the arcs of Michael Jonas and Tom Paris in the second season. The Romulans and the Cardassians were not discussed in every episode leading up to Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

At the same time, Deep Space Nine eased into serialisation in a way that allowed for failures and miscalculations that did not publicly humiliate the show. Bajoran politics could be quietly eased into the background when they weren’t quite working, characters like Primmin and T’Rul could be dropped when they weren’t what the show needed. The second season of Voyager was perhaps a bit too bold in its attempts at long-form storytelling, creating a situation where there was no way to pull back from an arc that wasn’t working.

"Well. That escalated quickly."

“Well. That escalated quickly.”

It became quite clear early on that the Paris and Jonas arc was not working. Episodes like Threshold and Dreadnought ground to a halt so that the audience could get yet another scene of Jonas selling out Voyager to the Kazon; treachery that never seemed to actually go anywhere. At the same time, Paris’ rebellious behaviour was tackled in a superficial manner in episodes like Meld and Lifesigns, with no real exploration of the interesting side of such a sting operation.

Investigations serves to bring the arc to a close, but in a manner that feels perfunctory rather than compelling. It is resolved out of a sense of tired desperation rather than any real inspiration. There is a feeling that the production team have determined this to be a failed experiment, of which they will never speak again.

See? I told you EVERYBODY's thought about it.

See? I told you EVERYBODY’s thought about it.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Lifesigns (Review)

This February and March, 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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Lifesigns is a fascinating piece of television.

In hindsight, it seems a shame that the production team decided to focus on the Kazon during the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. The Kazon are perhaps the most unfortunate and misguided recurring alien species to appear across the entire Star Trek franchise, never quite afforded the redemption that turned the Klingons and Ferengi from two-dimensional caricatures into fully-formed and well-realised species. The Kazon were a misguided creation in Caretaker; they remained so in Basics, Part II. Shattered offers no redemption.

The face of the frenemy...

The face of the frenemy…

In contrast, the Vidiians are much more interesting. To be fair, it is possible that the Vidiians are so interesting precisely because they are underused; their appearances tend to be motivated by the demands of individual episodes rather than by some grand desire to create an iconic Star Trek species. At the same time, it is perhaps too much to suggest that the Vidiians are fully-formed or multi-faceted; the show never offers them the same opportunity for development afforded to species like the Kazon or the Borg or the Hirogen.

Despite all this, Lifesigns demonstrates the Vidiians can be used in an interesting and creative way. Even as the episode dedicates considerable space to demonstrating that Kazon are a much less interesting new species.

Starin' at the stars...

Starin’ at the stars…

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