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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 – One Small Step (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager marks the end of the future.

Many fans would point to Star Trek: Enterprise as the moment that the larger Star Trek franchise turned its gaze backwards and embraced a sense of broad nostalgia for a future that was already behind that explored in the original series. After all, the last television series of the Berman era took the franchise back to its roots and paved the way for both J.J. Abrams’ pseudo-reboot in Star Trek and for Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman’s prequel in Star Trek: Discovery.

First (and Last) Flight.

However, this overlooks the importance of Voyager in signposting this shift. In some ways, Voyager represents the end of the final frontier. Chronologically speaking, Endgame is the last episode of the larger Star Trek franchise, the future beyond the finale explored only in Star Trek: Nemesis and as part of the back story to the rebooted Star Trek. Chronologically speaking, Voyager represents the last television series within the Star Trek universe. However, Voyager very carefully and very consciously seeds the nostalgia that would later envelope the franchise.

This is obvious in any number of ways. Voyager is a show that is literally about the desire to return home rather than to push forward. Caretaker established the show as an extended homage to fifties pulp storytelling. The politics of the series – reflected in episodes as diverse as Real Life, Displaced and Day of Honour – were decidedly conservative. Even the genre trappings of the series were often framed in terms of mid-twentieth century pulp fiction; the space lift in Rise, the broad allegory in Innocence, the atomic horror of Jetrel.

We come not to praise Voyager, but to bury it.

However, all of this is rooted in a very conscious yearning on the part of Voyager to connect to its roots. Numerous small scenes across the seven-season run of the show hint at this sentiment; Janeway discussing the romantic past in Flashback, the literal journey home in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, the retrofuturism of Tom Paris’ various holoprogrammes, Janeway’s fascination with her long-lost ancestor in 11:59. There was a sense that Voyager was a series as intent on journeying backwards in time as much as space, even outside of its time travel obsession.

One Small Step stands out as one of the most obvious and blatant examples of this nostalgia within Voyager, in many ways feeling (like Friendship One in the subsequent season) like an attempt to seed the literal prequel that would materialise in Enterprise.

It turns out that John Kelly crossed over into a subspace anomaly drawn by Jack Kirby.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Survival Instinct (Review)

Survival Instinct marks the beginning and the end of Ronald D. Moore’s involvement with Star Trek: Voyager.

Moore had been one of the most influential writers on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Moore had famously been drafted into the Star Trek franchise with no outside experience; The Bonding was based upon a speculative script that he wrote, and he had been invited to join the staff when The Defector proved that he was not a one-script wonder. Moore had inspired producer Michael Piller to open the franchise to speculative scripts, a decision which led to the recruitment of writers like Bryan Fuller and Rene Echevarria.

Drone warfare.

Moore had consistently pushed the envelope in terms of what Star Trek could be. Several of Moore’s scripts feel like trailblazers, expanding the storytelling language of an established science-fiction franchise; the Klingon-centric script for Sins of the Father, the quieter character drama of Family, the epic scale of Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. Paired with Ira Steven Behr on Deep Space Nine, Moore really pushed the boundaries of what Star Trek could be; Soldiers of the Empire looked at life on a Klingon ship, In the Pale Moonlight stretched (and maybe broke) Star Trek morality.

All of the other writers on Deep Space Nine chose to bow out gracefully with What You Leave Behind, to part ways with the franchise having provided their own unique take on the Star Trek mythos. However, Moore was convinced to migrate across from Deep Space Nine to Voyager. There are any number of reasons why Moore might have chosen to stay when writers like Behr and Echevarria chose to take their exit; Moore was the longest continuous-serving writer on the Star Trek franchise to that point. In terms of second-generation Star Trek, only Rick Berman could have claimed to have a deeper impression.

Armed and dangerous.

Moore arrived on the sixth season of Voyager and immediately looked to make his mark. Like Brannon Braga, Moore had always been an extremely productive Star Trek writer. He was typically credited on six or seven scripts in a season of The Next Generation and Voyager, while also scripting Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. Although not credited on the script, Moore was actively involved in the back-and-forth over the script to Equinox, Part II. He scripted the second episode, Survival Instinct. He was working on the story to third, Barge of the Dead.

And then the unthinkable happened. Like so much of Voyager, Moore’s arrival proved to be something of a false dawn. In early July 1999, Ronald D. Moore left Star Trek. This was within a month of the broadcast of What You Leave Behind, and nearly three months before the premier of the sixth season of Voyager. Even before Moore and Braga elaborated upon the particulars of what had happened, it was clear that something had gone disastrously wrong.

What We Left Behind.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Someone to Watch Over Me (Review)

Someone to Watch Over Me is a decidedly atypical episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The episode’s subplot, focusing on Neelix and a disorderly alien ambassador, harks back to the old diplomacy subplots of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the crews would be asked to ferry ambassadors around only for terrible things to happen. There are any number of examples of that story template across the two earliest incarnations of the show; Journey to BabelElaan of Troyius, Is There in Truth No Beauty?Lonely Among UsLoud as a Whisper, SarekThe PriceMan of the PeopleData’s DayViolationsLiaisons.

The EMH rose to the occasion.

To be fair, Voyager has done a couple of these episodes before. There are a number of episodes in which the ship acts as a diplomatic courier shipping aliens from one destination to another or welcoming on board representatives of an alien culture; the subplot of Innocence comes to mind, as does the set-up of Remember. However, by and large, these diplomacy-driven subplots are a lot less frequent on Voyager than they were on the original Star Trek or The Next Generation. As such, the Neelix subplot feels very much like a throwback.

However, the primary plot of Someone to Watch Over Me feels very much like an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an intimate romantic character study about an attraction between two individuals. Someone to Watch Over Me is very much an archetypal love story, one without the flavour of adventure or stakes defines other Star Trek romances like Captain’s Holiday or Counterpoint or Gravity. This is a low-stakes interpersonal attraction, very much in the style of Looking for Par’Mach In All the Wrong Places, His Way or Chrysalis.

A snap decision.

In fact, the basic plot of Someone to Watch Over Me is so archetypal that it can be traced back to number of classical inspirations. This is nothing new. The Star Trek franchise has long borrowed inspiration from various classics; Favourite Son and Bliss owe a great deal to The Odyssey and Moby Dick, for example. However, the choice of influences on Someone to Watch Over Me feels more like Deep Space Nine than Voyager; it draws from Pygmalion and its various adaptations, along with the early eighties comedy My Favourite Year.

The result is a decidedly strange blend of classic Star Trek storytelling that feels fresh and exciting in the context of Voyager. In many ways, Juggernaut was a showcase of Voyager‘s preference for blockbuster plot-driven storytelling. However, Someone to Watch Over Me is something much more compelling and intriguing. Someone to Watch Over Me is a character-driven episode of Voyager, and a very impressive and engaging one at that.

Putting the “ass” in ambassador.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Dark Frontier, Part I (Review)

The fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager arrives at a point when the Rick Berman era of the Star Trek franchise has hit its midlife crisis.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is coming to an end, bring down the curtain on a seven-year period where there were always two franchise series boldly going simultaneously. Star Trek: Insurrection had been released into cinemas as a snapshot of that midlife crisis, where Michael Piller’s last script for the franchise found the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation desperately chasing their own youth and vitality on a planet with a fountain of youth.

Seven gets back in touch with her roots.

On the fifth season of Voyager, it seemed like the show turned inwards. The scripts for the fifth season are surprisingly retro and nostalgic in tone; Janeway’s reflections on the events of Caretaker in Night, the return of the Maquis and the Cardassians in Nothing Human, the indulgence of retro thirties sci-fi in Bride of Chaotica!, Tuvok’s childhood flashbacks in Gravity, the “telepathic pitcher plant” in Bliss, Seven’s trip back to the launch of Voyager in Relativity, Janeway’s investigation of her ancestor in 11:59.

However, there was a fundamental problem with all of this introspection. Voyager was a television series that had long struggled to define a unique identity, too often feeling like a half-hearted reheat of the leftovers from The Next Generation. It was very hard to turn the focus inwards when there wasn’t a lot unique or distinctive about Voyager. This is a show that was much closer to its end than to its beginning, and it still lacked any true sense of identity or self.

There’s coffee… I mean transwarp coils in that there Borg Sphere.

Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II serve as an example of this nostalgic indulgence, both in form and plot. It is a two-parter consciously designed to recapture the success of broadcasting The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II on the same night in the late fourth season. It is also a television movie that is very clearly patterned off the story for Star Trek: First Contact, borrowing key story beats and clear characters from that memorable Next Generation film.

However, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II also demonstrate the shallowness of Voyager‘s own internal memory. This is a story built around an act of narrative archeology within the larger Star Trek universe, touching on the secret history of humanity’s true first encounter of the Borg. However, that history is ultimately illusory, built around what feels like a misremembrance of one of the franchise’s most iconic alien species. As Voyager turns its gaze backwards, it discovers that it has no real history.

Drone warfare.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Bliss (Review)

Bliss is a textbook example of Star Trek: Voyager doing textbook Star Trek.

The episode feels like a stew composed primarily of leftovers, the residue of past meals thrown together to serve up something lukewarm and familiar. Bliss is not necessarily a bad episode of television, per se. It is rather lifeless and generic, but it is hardly the weakest episode of the season or the series. Instead, Bliss is the kind of episode that fades gently from memory, a hollow confection that doesn’t taste particularly nice, but which at least offers something to chew over.

Good Sheppard.

Bliss is a cocktail of familiar Star Trek plot elements. At the centre of the story is the sort of gigantic monstrous space entity that haunted earlier tales like The Immunity Syndrome or Datalore, a reminder of how weird and dangerous space can be. The “pitcher plant” in Bliss recalls the parasites from Operation — Annihilate! or the space vampire from The Man Trap. It feels like something almost Lovecraftian, a “beast” with tendrils that reach into the minds anybody near enough so that it might lure them to their doom. It is unfathomable to those caught within its grasp.

Qatai exists in opposition to this malign entity, caught in an immortal struggle with a force more vicious and more powerful than he could ever be. The EMH compares Qatai to Ahab, acknowledging the debt that Bliss owes to Moby Dick. Of course, the Star Trek franchise is populated with stories built upon that classic template; Obsession, The Doomsday Machine, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek. It is hard to think of a more generic source of inspiration for an episode of Star Trek.

The show could use a shot in the arm.

Even beyond that, Bliss touches on plot ideas and elements that will be familiar to most Voyager viewers. As with episodes like Eye of the Needle or False Profits, the crew are tempted by a phenomenon that seems to promise the possibility of getting the crew home quickly. As in Hope and Fear and The Voyager Conspiracy, Seven of Nine becomes preoccupied with the notion that she is the only member of the crew with an objective perspective that allows her to see the truth. As with The Cloud or One, this might be deemed an “anomaly of the week” episode.

The result is something the feels very much like a representative distillation of Voyager, the statistical mean of the series derived to a decimal point. Bliss is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of Voyager as a television show. It is neither truly great or truly awful, it is merely there.

Coming down to Earth.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Infinite Regress (Review)

As with One from late in the fourth season, Infinite Regress is an episode that uses Seven of Nine’s cybernetic mind as a vehicle for psychological horror.

Producer Brannon Braga has always been interested in constructing psychological thrillers within the science-fiction framework of Star Trek, using the franchise’s pseudo-science trappings as a way to explore themes of mental deterioration or disconnect. Frame of Mind is probably the first example, but there are many others. Braga is very interested in having his characters question the nature of their reality, of trapping them within their own minds, of undercutting their sense of self. That interest bled into the shows around him.

Self-image.

Star Trek: Voyager presented the writers with an artificial computer-generated character who could more readily combine the writer’s fascination with psychological thrillers and the franchise’s engagement with advanced technology. The EMH was a character whose mind was comprised entirely of computer protocols and software code. His mind could be unfurled on monitors, buffered in memory, fragmented on the hard drive. Episodes like Projections, The Swarm and Darkling suggested a character prone to psychosis, reinforced by Dejaren’s breakdown in Revulsion.

However, the addition of Seven of Nine to the cast in Scorpion, Part II seemed to provide the the Voyager writers (and Braga in particular) with character who could function as an even more effective vehicle for these sorts of stories. Seven is a fusion of human and machine, an organic brain augmented by technological components. She is a character whose mind is in many ways already divided, whose sense of self is understandably fragile. As such, Seven is ideally suited to stories like Infinite Regress.

Mind your step.

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