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Star Trek: Voyager – Alice (Review)

Alice is a misfire.

To be fair, the episode seemed doomed from its original set of premises. Star Trek: Voyager has never been particularly good at capturing the sense of Tom Paris as a restless unreliable rebel. The episodes of Voyager focusing on the character’s rebellious tendencies tend to be spectacular misfires; Ex Post Facto, Investigations, Vis à Vis, Thirty Days. These stories do not play to the strengths of either the writing staff or Robert Duncan McNeill, feeling largely incompatible with the character of Tom Paris as he developed in the wake of Caretaker.

I’ll never get used to not living inside of Alice.

However, Alice literally weds this familiar and unsuccessful premise to another recurring Voyager trope with a less-than-impressive rate of success. It is not enough for Alice to be another story about Tom Paris proving that he has a rebellious streak, that premise has to be woven into a broad science-fiction gothic horror in the style of Threshold or Macrocosm. Indeed, Alice is explicitly a psycho-sexual horror in the mode of Blood Fever or Darkling, inevitably butting up against the difficulties of constructing an episode that is about sex but can never discuss sex.

Alice is flawed from the ground-up, but those flaws are only further revealed in the clumsy execution and the disappointing storytelling. Alice is a very bad piece of television.

A deep-space dust-up.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Thirty Days (Review)

Thirty Days is a fascinating misfire.

Thirty Days is build around a number of interesting ideas. In terms of character, there is the framing device that finds Tom Paris sentenced to spend one month in the brig after an act of crass insubordination, suggesting a relapse into the “bad boy” persona that was largely forgotten after Ex Post Facto, barring the occasional revival for episodes like Vis á Vis. It also hints at questions of discipline on the ship, something around which Star Trek: Voyager has skirted in the past in episodes like Prime Factors and Manoeuvres. There is a compelling story here, somewhere.

Watching Thirty Days can feel like…

In terms of science-fiction plot elements, Thirty Days features the first ocean planet in the history of the Star Trek franchise. That is interesting of itself. What wonders lurk within an ocean world? What would life look like had it never left the sea and set foot on land? There is something decidedly pulpy and magical about a planet that has no surface of which to speak, instead comprised of waves and tides. Even with the flimsiest of plots, this element alone should provide fodder for an exciting installment.

Unfortunately, Thirty Days fumbles both of these interesting elements, falling victim to a recurring issue with the plotting on Voyager. The pacing is awkward, the plot points are under-developed, the framing device is hackneyed. The script for Thirty Days seems far more concerned about hitting the forty-five minute mark than it does with using these elements to tell a compelling story. The result is a bit of a wash.

Water conservation.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Vis á Vis (Review)

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager had a nice little strand of continuity running through the fourth season, from the discovery of the relay stations and first contact with the Hirogen in Message in a Bottle through to the reaching of an accord with the Hirogen in The Killing Game, Part II. That six-episode run had demonstrated a remarkable attention to detail on the part of the production team. Even the relatively stand-alone episode Retrospect alluded to the ending of Prey and the threat of the Hirogen lingering from Hunters.

Ch-ch-changes…

However, Vis á Vis represents a return to business as usual for the series. It is a light stand-alone episode that completely eschews any sense of continuity or character development. Credited to production assistant Robert J. Doherty, Vis á Vis feels like a weird throwback to the middle of the second season, a retrograde character-driven episode rooted in a version of Tom Paris that has not existed since Investigations at the absolute latest. The result is a weird body-swapping episode where the regular cast member seems out of character to begin with.

Vis á Vis is an outdated Voyager episode, even beyond the lame body-swap premise.

Grease is not the word.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Dreadnought (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.

Dreadnought is arguably a much better version of Prototype.

Both are essentially horror stories about B’Elanna Torres essentially creating a new mechanical life form, making a decision that has unforeseeable consequences. There is an element of reproductive horror to all this, reinforced by the clever decision to have B’Elanna literally give the eponymous warhead her own voice and watch it engage in a course that is quite literally self-destructive. It is perhaps the quintessential reproductive horror story, the fear that we might create something that will supplant us; that our children become the worst reflections of ourselves.

Engine of mass destruction...

Engine of mass destruction…

It is interesting that Dreadnought followed Meld so closely; both are essentially stories about how Star Trek: Voyager (and its characters) cannot cleanly escape their past, as much as the show might push it (and them) towards a generic Star Trek template. The middle of the second season sees an emphasis on the idea that Voyager is composed of two radically different crews – that Starfleet and the Maquis are not as integrated as shows like Parallax or Learning Curve might suggest.

Alliances, Meld and Dreadnought all build on the idea of underlying tensions that were mostly glossed over during the first season. Of course, this creates a weird dissonance, as Voyager seems to actually be moving backwards rather than forwards – attempting a half-hearted do-over of some of its earliest miscalculations.

Engineering a solution...

Engineering a solution…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Threshold (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.

Threshold is hated by fandom.

Veteran reviewer Jamahl Epsicokhan described it as “one of the all-time worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed.” He is far from the only voice raised in protest. Winston O’Boogie remarked that, watching the episode, “you can’t help but think that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with the world that allowed this to happen.” Assessing writer Brannon Braga’s contributions to the larger franchise, Jim Wright reflected, “Whatever else he may accomplish, he’s as forever shackled to Threshold as George Lucas to Jar-Jar.”

It's not even the worst episode of the season...

It’s not even the worst episode of the season…

Threshold is terrible. There is no way around that. It is a very stupid episode that is never entirely sure what it is trying to say from one moment to the next. More than that, positioning it as an important Tom Paris arc in the middle of the second season serves to sabotage the already confused character arc running between Alliances and Investigations. There is absolutely no context in which Threshold could be described as a “good” (or even “competent”) hour of television.

At the same time, it is not one of the worst episodes of the franchise ever produced; it is not even one of the worst episodes of the series. Surrounded by episodes like Tattoo or Alliances, the episode cannot even make a particularly confident claim to being the worst instalment of the season. None of this should be confused as an endorsement of Threshold. It is condemnation of everything that exists around Threshold.

The great mutato!

The great mutato!

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Star Trek: Voyager – Parturition (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.

One of the more interesting aspects of the second season of Star Trek: Voyager is its stubborn refusal to give up on elements that simply do not work.

Time and again, and often at the behest of producer Michael Piller, the second season returns to concepts that were problematic and troublesome in the first season. The obvious goal is to fix those problems so that those elements can be successfully reintegrated into the surrounding show. This is why the second season returns to concepts like the Kazon as a threat and Tom Paris as a rebel and Neelix as a character with a useful function on the ship. This is not a bad approach. If the first season of a show is about experimentation, then the second season is about calibration.

Two men and a lizard lady...

Two men and a lizard lady…

It is hard to begrudge Michael Piller this approach. After all, it had worked quite well on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In particular, it took Deep Space Nine about three years before it figured out how to make characters like Bashir, Dax and Quark capable of carrying their own episodes without making the audience want to bash their heads against a large blunt surface. It is not unreasonable to take the same approach to dealing with the elements of Voyager that are not working.

There is a very significant difference, though. The problematic elements of Voyager have little to do with execution; they are fundamental problems with the concepts. The Kazon do not work as a threat because they are one of worst alien species that Star Trek ever produced, rooted in some rather unpleasant racial stereotypes tied to contemporary Los Angeles gang culture. Tom Paris does not work as a rebel and womaniser because Robert Duncan McNeill works better as a charming goof. Neelix’s romance with Kes is toxic because she is a child and he’s possessive.

Cooking up a storm...

Cooking up a storm…

As such, it feels like the second season of Voyager spends a lot of time fixing problems that are fundamentally unfixable. One of the great aspects of the premise of Voyager is the fact that the show is in a constant state of movement. Unlike the cast of Deep Space Nine who are fixed in a single place, the cast of Voyager are constantly moving forward. It is possible for Voyager to jettison the parts that are simply not working. (Cue lazy joke about the size of Kazon space.)

Parturition is an example of this phenomenon, as Voyager tries to “fix” the toxic relationship between Neelix and Kes, while offering Tom Paris some small semblance of character growth. Unfortunately, it seems very attached to the idea of Neelix and Kes as a romantic couple and Tom Paris as a playful romantic rogue, which means that the best that it can hope to do is to not make the underlying problems any more obvious. While Parturition is nowhere near as bad as Elogium or Twisted, it still feels like a series treading water.

It's time for the Delta Quadrant's favourite fifties sitcom, "Last Tango With Paris."

It’s time for the Delta Quadrant’s favourite fifties sitcom, “Last Tango With Paris.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Non Sequitur (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.

Non Sequitur is a Brannon Braga script touching on familiar Brannon Braga concepts – big ideas like time and space and reality and existence. Harry Kim wakes up to find himself in bed with his girlfriend, Libby. The two are living in San Francisco on Earth. Ensign Harry Kim never served on Voyager, instead working in Starfleet Engineering on Earth. Unable to explain what has happened, Kim finds himself struggling to cope with the situation.

Luckily, in true Star Trek: Voyager fashion, everything is conveniently reset at the end of the episode.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

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