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Star Trek: Voyager – Random Thoughts (Review)

Random Thoughts is another example of Star Trek: Voyager as generic issue-driven Star Trek.

Random Thoughts is a fairly standard political-commentary-as-science-fiction-allegory plot, with the crew encountering a race of telepaths who have built a utopian society through the careful regulation of thoughts. When Torres is implicated in a very rare violent crime, the crew find themselves embroiled within mystery to determine the origin of the violent thought and the means of its transmission. Along the way, there is a hefty dose of commentary on a broad range of themes.

Scrambling the subversives.

Scrambling the subversives.

In theory, Random Thoughts is very much of a piece with Nemesis or Scientific Method, other fourth season episodes less interested in character and more driven by commentary. However, Random Thoughts is a good deal more muddled. The allegory at the centre of the story is a mess, in part because the script is so intentionally vague. Are these violent thoughts a metaphor for violence in media? Are they a commentary on heat speech? Are they an analogy for drug addiction? What about non-heteronormative sexuality?

Random Thoughts never seems to decide on one central metaphor, and so casts an exceptionally broad net. The problem is that these issues are radically different from one another, and the all-encompassing nature of the central analogy robs the episode of any nuance or sophistication. An episode advocating for the legalisation of drug use is radically different from an episode against the criminalisation of heat speech. It is very difficult to work out exactly what Random Thoughts is saying, let alone what it wants to say.

Whisked away.

Whisked away.

This muddled storytelling plays out in other ways. Random Thoughts is a mess episode, in terms of storytelling and structure. The plot wanders in various different directions, shifting focus from one member of the ensemble to another; for a story about Torres’ emotions, Torres is afforded very little agency. The narrative also diverts along pointless tangents, with obvious filler scenes like Paris and Chakotay discussing a rescue that never happens or Seven of Nine stopping by the Ready Room to discuss the moral of the episode.

There is something distractingly unfocused about Random Thoughts.

Secure in his convictions.

Secure in his convictions.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 1 (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The best thing that can be said about the first season of Star Trek: Voyager is that it avoids being actively terrible.

This might sound like damning with the faintest of praise, but it’s worth looking at the show in the context of its siblings. None of the Star Trek spin-offs have had illustrious first seasons, often struggling to find their feet. It’s worth noting that Voyager‘s first season doesn’t contain any episodes that are as flat-out bad as something like Code of Honour, Angel One or The Passenger. While the show has more than its fair share of problems, it’s hard to look at the concept behind any episode in Voyager‘s first season and think “this is truly bad idea.”

voy-caretaker2

Of course, the logical counterpoint to that argument is the observation that the show hasn’t produced anything of equivalent quality to Heart of Glory, Conspiracy, Duet or In the Hands of the Prophets. This is perfectly legitimate criticism, and it really explains the problem with the first season of Voyager. While the show has avoided any spectacularly embarrassing decisions, it did this by completely avoiding any real risk.

The first season of Star Trek: Voyager is almost perfectly calibrated to land in the Star Trek comfort zone.

voy-learningcurve18

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