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Star Trek: Voyager – Fury (Review)

Normally, the return of an old cast member to an established show is a cause for celebration, akin to a belated family reunion.

The obvious examples involve the appearances of cast members from other shows on later spin-offs. Think of the reverence and sincerity with which Star Trek: The Next Generation treated Spock and Scotty in episodes like Unification, Part I, Unification, Part II and Relics. Think about the delight with which Star Trek: Voyager greeted Geordi LaForge in Timeless or Deanna Troi in Pathfinder. Even when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine subverted expectations with Jonathan Frakes’ appearance in Defiant, it was still joyful. If anything, Star Trek: Enterprise went too far in accommodating Troi and Riker in These Are the Voyages…

Self-control.

Even within individual shows, the return of long-absent cast members is often treated as an opportunity to celebrate that character, and perhaps even to acknowledge past missteps involving them. Yesterday’s Enterprise brought back the character of Tasha Yar, and used the opportunity to rewrite her mean-spirited and pointless death in Skin of Evil. When mirror!Bareil visited in Resurrection, the episode became a meditation upon how the character’s intrinsic decency was strong enough to transcend dimensions and to define even the worst version of himself.

This approach to the return of established characters makes a great deal of sense for a wide variety of reasons. Most obviously, the production team have gone out of their way to recruit these actors for this specific purpose; it makes sense that these episodes should serve as a celebration of their contributions to the franchise. Even beyond that, it is safe to say that almost any lead character on a Star Trek series has something resembling a fan base; think about the ominously-named “Friends of Vedek Bareil.” Why bring back a character, and attract in those fans, just to do something horrific?

That healthy blue glow.

All of this serves to make Fury all the more perplexing. Fury is an episode of Voyager that effectively resurrects the character of Kes, a regular on the first three seasons of Voyager who departed the series in The Gift at the start of the fourth season. The return of Kes is a strange choice, in large part because the production team often struggled with what to do with the character while she was part of the core cast. Still, there are any number of interesting possibilities. And there is the possibility that, like Yesterday’s Enterprise or Resurrection, the production team might use the occasion to say something interesting about Kes.

Unfortunately, Fury is a spectacular mess of an episode with half-developed character motivations and a highly surreal premise that undercuts a lot of the appeal of bringing Kes back in the first place.

Having its cake and eating it too.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Deadlock (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 for the latest review.

In some ways, Deadlock is Star Trek: Voyager‘s original sin.

Of course, Deadlock is good. It is really good. It is a well-constructed piece of television that moves with an incredible momentum; it gathers speed and builds towards a suitably epic finalé. In many ways, Deadlock is one of the strongest episodes from the first two seasons of Voyager. There is a credible argument to be made that Deadlock belongs on any list of “best Voyager episodes ever”, thanks to the potent combination of Brannon Braga’s high-concept script and David Livingston’s dynamic direction.

Janeway²...

Janeway²…

At the same time, it is hard not to look at Deadlock in retrospect and see the shape of things to come. It is, perhaps, the ultimate “reset” button episode; it provides a clear template for later “blow up Voyager and kill Janeway” episodes like Year of Hell or Timeless. The trick works very well once; it loses any real impact when it is repeated several times over the course of the show’s run. More than that, the episode feels somewhat generic. Due to the nature of the high-concept premise, there is little room for detail specific to Voyager.

It seems that the end of the second season set the course for the next five years of Voyager. The production team had tried to tell an experimental story specific to Voyager with Investigations, only to fail spectacularly; it would be the last time that the show attempted anything so bold. In contrast, the production team managed to construct a fantastic episode around a generic premise in Deadlock, perhaps indicating that the future of the show lay in that direction. It is easy to see why that production team opted for safe and generic ahead of ambitious and experimental.

Ghost stories...

Ghost stories…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Lifesigns (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.

Lifesigns is a fascinating piece of television.

In hindsight, it seems a shame that the production team decided to focus on the Kazon during the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. The Kazon are perhaps the most unfortunate and misguided recurring alien species to appear across the entire Star Trek franchise, never quite afforded the redemption that turned the Klingons and Ferengi from two-dimensional caricatures into fully-formed and well-realised species. The Kazon were a misguided creation in Caretaker; they remained so in Basics, Part II. Shattered offers no redemption.

The face of the frenemy...

The face of the frenemy…

In contrast, the Vidiians are much more interesting. To be fair, it is possible that the Vidiians are so interesting precisely because they are underused; their appearances tend to be motivated by the demands of individual episodes rather than by some grand desire to create an iconic Star Trek species. At the same time, it is perhaps too much to suggest that the Vidiians are fully-formed or multi-faceted; the show never offers them the same opportunity for development afforded to species like the Kazon or the Borg or the Hirogen.

Despite all this, Lifesigns demonstrates the Vidiians can be used in an interesting and creative way. Even as the episode dedicates considerable space to demonstrating that Kazon are a much less interesting new species.

Starin' at the stars...

Starin’ at the stars…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Faces (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.

One of the more interesting aspects of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager is just how much of a throwback the show seems to be. In many ways, the show seems anchored in a very fifties mindset. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has embraced multiculturalism and the wake of the Cold War, the first season of Star Trek: Voyager seems to be dealing with anxieties carried over from the end of the Second World War.

Caretaker reconnected with the “Wild West in outer space” mentality of the classic Star Trek. Episodes like Time and Again and Jetrel are concerned with the splitting of the atom. Cathexis played out a decidedly Cold War paranoia thriller. Good old-fashioned technological espionage – like the leaking of nuclear secrets – was at the heart of State of Flux. There’s a sense that Voyager may have been a piece of fifties Americana that had the misfortune to arrive forty years too late.

Faces is perhaps the most obvious example of this. Splitting a bi-racial character into two halves as part of a science experiment, evoking classic monster movies, and even the decision to define the Vidiians as stand-ins for the Nazis, all give the episode a delightfully pulpy feel. This is Voyager doing a cheesy fifties b-movie. And doing it quite well at that.

He has you now, his pretty!

He has you now, his pretty!

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Star Trek: Voyager – Phage (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.

Phage is far from perfect. It is very far from perfect. However, there’s something rather endearing about this cheesy B-movie throwback written by Brannon Braga from a pitch by Timothy DeHass and first draft by Skye Dent. The Vidiians are probably the most memorably and effective aliens from the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, feeling like they could have wandered into the show from some trashy late-night horror movie on another channel.

There’s a pulpy quality to the episode that makes it more enjoyable than many of the surrounding Voyager episodes, albeit one undermined by some of the more awkward resonances in the script.

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth...

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth…

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