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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 7 (Review)

The seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager is not the worst season of Star Trek ever. It isn’t even the worst season of this particular show.

It contains nothing as spectacularly ill-judged and tone-deaf as Alliances or Tattoo. None of its central characters are as insufferable as those presented in Parturition. There is nothing here quite as soul-crushingly boring as Twisted. Indeed, the seventh season of Voyager is a mostly competent season of television. Producer Brannon Braga had turned his attention to the launch of Star Trek: Enterprise, leaving the day-to-day running of the series to veteran Kenneth Biller. Biller approached that role as one of simple maintenance. He kept the trains running on time.

The result is that the seventh season of Voyager features no spectacular embarrassments. In its own way, this is an accomplishment for a Star Trek series. After all, final seasons tend to be filled with the kinds of episodes that reflect a production team desperately clutching for story ideas, leaving them open to mockery from a fandom with fixed ideas of what Star Trek should be. Final seasons tend to be home to misfires like Spock’s Brain, … And the Children Shall Lead, Interface, Dark PageForce of Nature, Journey’s End, Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak.

The seventh season of Voyager largely avoids those sorts of embarrassments. Even episodes that threaten to tip over into high camp, like Drive or Repression, maintain an even keel. The seventh season of Voyager is much more consistent than the seventh seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There is a neatness to it, a stability. It feels like “business as usual” for the series in a way that those other final seasons did not. Episodes like Imperfection or Human Error could easily have come from any of the three prior seasons.

Of course, this is a double-edged compliment. As much as the seventh season of Voyager is more stable and more consistent than other final seasons, it is also much more modest. The final season of The Next Generation was incredibly inconsistent, but it was still playful and ambitious, resulting in gonzo delights like Masks or Parallels. The final season of Deep Space Nine might have sagged in the middle, but it still pushed the boundaries franchise, engaging in biting criticisms in Chimera and attempting to wrap up with a sprawling ten-part series finale.

The seventh season of Voyager is not the worst season of Star Trek ever. it is, however, one of the dullest.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Endgame (Review)

Appropriately enough, Star Trek: Voyager ends with a betrayal of itself.

Endgame even frames that betrayal in terms of its own internal logic. The first scene after the teaser finds what remains of the crew attending a tenth anniversary reunion following the successful completion of their mission and their return to Earth. Reginald Barclay, “adopted” member of the family and veteran of Star Trek: The Next Generation, offers a toast. “Twenty three years together made you a family, one I’m proud to have been adopted by. Let’s raise our glasses to the journey.” The room toasts, “To the journey.”

Toast of the town…

This is first point of betrayal. Her glass raised, Admiral Janeway suggests a modification of the toast. “And to those who aren’t here to celebrate it with us.” It is a fair toast given how many crew members Janeway had lost over the course of the journey. However, it also suggests the central thesis of Endgame, which is itself the central thesis of Voyager. It was never really about the journey, despite what any of the crew might say at any given point in the show’s run. It was never about the time spent together, or the family forged. It was never even about the people.

It was about getting home. It was about completing the journey. It was about reaching the end point at the designated time. The journey, the adventure, the exploration; these were never the focus. All that potential, all that possibility, was squandered. Endgame is the story of how Admiral Janeway erases sixteen years of exploration, sixteen years of growth, sixteen years of character development. Admiral Janeway does that so that Voyager can complete its journey after the designated seven years, the expected one-hundred-and-seventy-eight episodes.

Living with herself…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Renaissance Man (Review)

Renaissance Man is a poor episode of television. However, it is not an especially misguided one.

The flaws with Renaissance Man are largely structural and familiar. They are the flaws that define Star Trek: Voyager, from a storytelling point of few. The plotting is loose. The characterisation is threadbare. There are good ideas, but the manner in which those ideas are developed and explores leaves a lot to be desired. There are flashes of a much better episode, but it is unclear that even the production team realise what those flashes are. The pacing is awkward, with act breaks positioned very poorly. There is an unnecessary secondary climax that muddies the episode.

Leaps and bounds ahead.

However, Renaissance Man largely avoids the more fundamental philosophical problems that have haunted so much of the seventh season before it. Renaissance Man seems cobbled together from stray ideas seeded in earlier episodes of the season, but those ideas are not inherently toxic or bad. Following on from the deeply uncomfortable isolationist and xenophobic triptych of Friendship One, Natural Law and Homestead, there is something refreshing in the fact that Renaissance Man is not explicitly about how people should keep to themselves.

Renaissance Man is underwhelming, but it is not a spectacular misfire. At this point in the season, that counts for much more than it really should.

I, EMH.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Homestead (Review)

Homestead represents the culmination of certain impulses within Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, some of those impulses were baked into the show from the outset. The end of Caretaker immediately and effectively established the central premise of the series. Voyager was to be a story about a crew trying to get “home.” Of course, the question of what “home” actually meant was always up for debate. Perhaps “home” could be the unlikely bond that this crew formed with one another, a strange alliance of misfits who found a way to belong together in a way they never could apart; the idea of “home” at the heart of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for example.

“Home.”

However, over the following seven seasons, the idea of “home” came into sharp focus. “Home” was not so much about finding an abstract place where a person might belong. “Home” was about returning to a point of origin. “Home” was a not place that could be created or developed, it was a nostalgic ideal. “Home” was not somewhere that could be found on “the final frontier.” In fact, it was the exact opposite. It was a fixed place that was (by definition) as far from the frontier as possible. This theme was heavily articulated in the show’s seventh and final season.

Of course, this very narrow and rigid definition of “home” creates a problem for one member of the cast. Voyager repeatedly and consciously assumes that all of its cast belong in the Alpha Quadrant, because they originated there. It does not matter that Tom Paris never fit in at home, or that the Maquis characters never integrated into Starfleet. It does not matter that Seven of Nine cannot remember Earth. These characters are going back to their point of origin, because that is what “home” means. What, then, of Neelix? How does Neelix get to go “home”?

“Home.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Natural Law (Review)

Natural Law represents another vaguely nostalgic entry in the final season of Star Trek: Voyager.

Most superficially, Natural Law evokes the vague New Age sentiment that defined a lot of the early episodes focusing on Chakotay – episodes like The Cloud or Tattoo. It feels entirely appropriate that Chakotay should be part of the away team to encounter the Ventu, as the presentation of the Ventu evokes a lot of the early approach to Chakotay’s own Native American heritage; a romanticised ideal of a more primitive culture. In fact, it seems entirely plausible that the aliens who build the shield to protect the Ventu – the mysterious “Species 312” – might in fact be the same white-skinned aliens encountered in Tattoo.

“I can see what’s happening, and they don’t have a clue…”

More specifically, though, Natural Law represents a familiar archetypal Star Trek episodes. Although the words are not actually spoken within the episode itself, Natural Law is pretty much a textbook “Prime Directive” episode. It belongs to that familiar subset of stories about the crew encountering a group of primitive aliens affected by a piece of outside technology, and trying to weigh their obligation to help that society with their desire not to directly intervene. The Ventu are a familiar native archetype, albeit one handled with a little more grace and dignity than the inhabitants of Gamma Trianguli VI in The Apple.

There is something very interesting in Natural Law, particularly in the context of the seventh season’s recurring fascination with tying Voyager back to the roots of the Star Trek franchise with references to Kirk in episodes like Q2 and Friendship One. Ironically, Natural Law only underscores how far removed Voyager is from the original Star Trek. Kirk often struggled to justify bending the Prime Directive to liberate societies trapped in oppressive circumstances and kept in arrested development. In contrast, Natural Law strains to justify the washing of the crew’s hands. More than that, Natural Law reveals the true purpose of the Prime Directive has nothing to do with primitive cultures.

The rise and falls…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Friendship One (Review)

Friendship One finds Star Trek: Voyager trapped between its own past and the future of the larger Star Trek franchise.

Of course, there’s no small irony that that future would take the form of Star Trek: Enterprise, a prequel set almost a century before the original series and (to date) the television series set at the earliest point in the larger continuity. This gets at something very strange about the seventh season of Voyager, where it seems to be looking both back at and forwards to the past. In some ways, it is the ultimately literalisation of the “end of history” ambiance that pervades the series, articulated in stories like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. There is no future. There is just the past.

What ship can cause antimatter annihilation and has room for two people?
A friendship?

So Friendship One seems caught between two different versions of the past. In its most obvious sense, it is trapped in Voyager‘s own idea of the past. It is an atomic-era creature feature about the horrors of radiation, a pulpy fifties schlock-fest that feels of a piece with everything from Jetrel to The 37’s to Cathexis to Macrocosm to In the Flesh to Bride of Chaotica! This is the future as it looked in the fifties, the atomic (rather than “post-atomic”) horror. However, it also gestures very strongly towards Enterprise, even accidentally encapsulating some of the core anxieties of the fourth Star Trek spin-off in an eerily prescient manner.

The result is an episode that feels like it is suffocating in its own past, with no idea of how to chart a course forward.

Does anything really (anti)matter?

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Star Trek: Voyager – Author, Author (Review)

Author, Author is a deeply cynical piece of Star Trek.

Author, Author is arguably as bleak as anything that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever produced. It is a story about how shallow and how self-centred the primary cast of Star Trek: Voyager can be, but also a showcase of how little the Federation has actually evolved in the twelve years since Star Trek: The Next Generation tackled the same themes in The Measure of a Man. Indeed, with production wrapping up and the series winding down, Author, Author seems to acknowledge the flip side of the “end of history.” There is no sense of material progress. Things have not improved. Things have not changed.

Doctor Demented.

Author, Author literalises this within its own narrative. Author, Author suggests that little has changed in the Federation’s worldview since The Measure of a Man, while also insisting that nothing will change in the immediate future. Author, Author acknowledges that The Measure of a Man was a desperate punt of a thorny issue, but also frames its own narrative as exactly the same kind of punt. The closing scene of the episode places any long-term consequences of the story four months in the future. In doing so, it places them squarely outside the purview of Voyager in particular and Berman era Star Trek in general.

The only problem with all of this is that Author, Author often seems entirely unaware of how unrelentingly cynical and bleak it is.

Write on!

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