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Star Trek: Voyager – Lineage (Review)

Lineage is an extremely odd piece of television.

On one hand, it continues the engagement with archetypal social-commentary-driven Star Trek that defines so much of the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager. Of course, Voyager has always defined itself as archetypal Star Trek, but it is particularly pronounced during the final season. Producer Kenneth Biller seems eager to offer fans a series that superficially embraces the recognisable elements of Star Trek. There are a number of Prime Directive stories like Natural Law and Friendship One, for example. The idea of the Federation as an ideal comes up in stories like Drive and The Void, for example.

Tom has the talking pillow.

There are also a number of episodes that adopt the classic issue-driven format that fans and even casual audiences have long associated with Star Trek, the sort of “science-fiction as a mirror on society” stories that can trace their roots back to episodes like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield… The seventh season of Voyager wrestles with the healthcare system in Critical Care and the death penalty in Repentance. More than that, it explicitly calls back to one of the highlights of the form when Author, Author stages a late-season remake of The Measure of a Man.

On the surface, Lineage belongs as part of that tradition. It is a story about genetic engineering and designer babies, two hot-button issues at the turn of the millennium, a palpable anxiety rippling through the popular consciousness in projects as diverse as Space: Above and Beyond or Gattaca or The Sixth Day. There was a real and tangible fear about what this sort of genetic tampering would do to society, and the set-up of Lineage promises to explore the implications of an idea with which the franchise had been grappling since Space Seed in the late sixties.

Duvet really know how much you care?

However, as with Critical Care, there is a sense that the production team want the credit (and the attention) for dealing with a hot-button issue without the possible political back draft that would come from actually taking a strong stance on the point. Lineage pays lip-service to a broader cultural debate around things like genetic engineering and designer babies, but it consciously veers away from anything potentially contentious to focus on a really tonally surreal soap opera that involves the casual violation of the EMH’s programming and an absurd stand-off in Sickbay without any emotional reality.

The result is something of a surreal roller coaster that doesn’t work in any meaningful way, veering dramatically in terms of tone and theme while completely abandoning any sense of nuance or complexity in favour of heightened melodrama. The result is deeply unsatisfying, but fascinating as a hodge-podge of different ideas thrown together to structure an episode.

Baby on board.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Barge of the Dead (Review)

There is some small symmetry in Barge of the Dead.

When Bryan Fuller first pitched to Star Trek, he pitched to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The first idea that he sold was The Darkness and the Light, which felt like something approaching a gothic serial killer horror about a deformed killer stalking his victims using the franchise’s hyper-advanced technology. That original idea was heavily re-written by franchise veteran Ronald D. Moore, who also brought a more substantial thematic weight to the story by focusing on themes of violence and retribution.

Barging in.

In contrast, Barge of the Dead is the last television story that Ronald D. Moore would pitch for the franchise, coming at the very end of his time on Star Trek: Voyager. The episode has its roots in an earlier pitch by the writer, the original idea for Soldiers of the Empire. However, Moore would depart the franchise before he could finish work on Barge of the Dead, and so the writing of the script fell to Bryan Fuller. Much like Moore had subtly shifted the emphasis of The Darkness and the Light to his own thematic interests, Fuller embraces his own sensibilities in reworking Barge of the Dead.

Moore had re-written Fuller’s last story, and Fuller would re-write Moore’s last story. There is some sense of poetry in this.

Tom’s idea of a romantic evening certainly needed some work.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Juggernaut (Review)

Juggernaut is not a great episode of television.

The episode has any number of key problems. Most obviously, the episode illustrates how little the character of B’Elanna Torres has actually grown since Parallax, without even pausing to acknowledge everything that has happened in between in episodes like Extreme Risk. More than that, the episode’s core themes are undermined by an incredibly cynical conclusion that might work in the context of a larger character arc, but which doesn’t work when rooted in the series’ episodic approach to storytelling.

Calm under pressure.

However, in spite of all these fundamental flaws that hobble Juggernaut as a piece of television narrative, there is quite a lot to like here. This is very pointed a big “action” story told in blockbuster mode, evoking episodes like Timeless. It is all about broad strokes, ticking clocks and epic stakes. Juggernaut is fundamentally a runaway train story crossed with The Phantom of the Opera, which is almost perfectly within the show’s comfort zone. More than that, Juggernaut actually figures out how to do something vaguely interesting with the Malon before they disappear.

Juggernaut is a highly enjoyable episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Here there be monsters…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Extreme Risk (Review)

Extreme Risk is another example of Star Trek: Voyager squandering an intriguing premise.

Hunters introduced a number of new and intriguing ideas to Voyager. Suddenly, Janeway was no longer in a long-term relationship with Mark, which made it possible for her to consider romantic entanglements in the Delta Quadrant. Suddenly Starfleet was aware that Voyager was still in one piece, rather than missing in action. These creative choices opened up new storytelling possibilities, paving the way for episodes like Counterpoint or Pathfinder.

Diving right in.

However, the most interesting revelation in Hunters was that the Maquis had been destroyed while Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant. This was not a surprise to Star Trek fans who had been watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, given that this development had been covered in Blaze of Glory. However, it should have been a big deal to the characters on Voyager. Chakotay and Torres were members of the Maquis. Tuvok had been a spy working for Starfleet in the Maquis. Even Paris had spent some time in the organisation. This news should have been a big deal.

Extreme Risk feels like an interesting development of this idea, albeit one that has been greatly delayed. How would the Maquis crew members react to the news that most of their friends were dead and that the rest were in Federation custody? Voyager has never been a show particularly engaged with long-term consequences, but there is an interesting story to be told there. Extreme Risk tells one such story, suggesting that the new plunged Torres into a depression that led her to self-harm. It is certainly an intriguing and compelling story hook.

Building a better future.

However, Extreme Risk fumbles the delivery in a number of ways. It makes the standard Voyager mistake of assuming that character-driven plots still have to have a compelling action-adventure element to them, and so provides a very generic subplot about a probe that has been lost in the atmosphere of a gas giant and the resulting “old-fashioned space race” that results, including the construction of a new ship. As a result, the plotting of the episode feels very trite, offering Torres a very convenient clear-cut redemption arc at the climax.

That said, the biggest problem with Extreme Risk is much more basic than the awkward juggling of primary and secondary plots. As with Night before it, Extreme Risk demonstrates that the rigidly episodic structure of Voyager is woefully ill-equipped to tell a profound (and sincere) story about the struggles of living with clinical depression.

She knows kung fu.

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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 – Day of Honour (Review)

Day of Honour is a reminder that, while Brannon Braga is clearly the heir apparent, Jeri Taylor is still the showrunner on Star Trek: Voyager.

Day of Honour is noticeably and recognisably a Jeri Taylor episode, particularly following so sharply from Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II, and The Gift. This is a script that plays very firmly to Jeri Taylor’s idea of Star Trek, including an emphasis on the development of interpersonal relationships and also a very traditional perspective on how the franchise is supposed work. Day of Honour is a very conservative episode following the bombast of the three very ambitious stories bridging the third and fourth seasons.

"Don't worry, Janeway will never miss it."

“Don’t worry, Janeway will never miss it.”

In some ways, this is undoubtedly a good thing. Jeri Taylor is clearly more interested in developing relationships between the characters than Brannon Braga. Taylor was a very old-school television writer and producer, but her best material on Voyager suggested a genuine interest in the cast and the characters. Resolutions is an episode consciously rooted in the romantic tension between Chakotay and Janeway. Coda is a very clear elaboration on Taylor’s interpretation of Janeway.

Taylor even drafted biographies for the crew in the form of Mosaic and Pathways, suggesting a deeper interest in the characters’ inner lives than any other writer on staff. In some ways, Day of Honour is an extension of this approach. It is the culmination of Taylor’s attempts to push Paris and Torres together in third season episodes like The Swarm, Blood Fever and Displaced. That relationship became one of the nicer dynamics on Voyager, and would never have happened under the oversight of either Michael Piller or Brannon Braga.

Adrift.

Adrift.

However, there are also very serious problems with Day of Honour. In keeping with the tone of Voyager during Taylor’s tenure, it is a very conservative piece of television both in terms of style and politics. After The Gift worked so hard to generate tension between Seven of Nine and the Voyager crew, Day of Honour casually brushes that aside. And it deals with an interesting story about the legacy of Seven’s relationship to the Borg in the most trite manner possible, the plot hinging on a techno-babble solution to ensure there is no actual conflict.

More than that, Day of Honour is incredibly reactionary in its portrayal of the Caatati, a refugee race who were rendered homeless by the Borg Collective. These dispossessed aliens are presented as greed and underhanded, ready to exploit the charity of our heroes and to betray them at the first opportunity. It is an extension of the xenophobic panic of Displaced, a tale about how our privileged heroes should react with paranoia and mistrust to those who arrive by accident or in distress. It is a rather uncomfortable Star Trek theme.

Means of transport.

Means of transport.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Remember (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.

Much like The Chute before it, Remember is very much an attempt to do classic archetypal Star Trek.

Remember is an allegorical piece of social commentary that is as firmly rooted in the nineties as the prison politics that underpinned The Chute. As the name implies, Remember is a story fascinated with the idea of memory and legacy. In particular, it reflects the idea of cultural memory as construct that is shared from person to person and passed down from generation to generation. Touching on themes of Holocaust denial, Remember is a very potent piece of science-fiction allegory, one that treats cultural memory as something to be cultivated and maintained.

Whose (geno)cide are you on?

Whose (geno)cide are you on?

Remember is a good illustration of what the production team is trying to do as Star Trek: Voyager enters its third season. After a disastrous (and exhausting) sophomore year, it seems like the writing staff have opted against trying to give the show its own unique voice. Instead, the plan seems to be to craft the most archetypal approach to the franchise imaginable. From this point onwards, it becomes increasingly rare for the show to do episodes unique to its setting and premise, instead telling stories that would work with most iterations of the franchise.

This approach has its limitations, of course. By the time that the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise rolls around, even the most die-hard fans have had their fill of broadly-drawn mass-produced factory-setting Star Trek. While this approach could be argued to be a waste of an interesting premise and the betrayal of the show’s original promise, Remember makes a convincing argument that an archetypal Star Trek allegory can still work on its own terms. Remember is a powerful and effective piece of commentary in the classic Star Trek tradition.

Burning guilt...

Burning guilt…

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