The Great Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: Season 6 (part 1)

Can it be, that I’m only two (longish) seasons away from finally having viewed the only Trek I’ve never watched in its entirety?  Yes, yes I am, 120 episodes down and 35,000ly to go!  I have survived the Vidiian and Kazon years.  I’ve moved beyond Kes’ turgid tales. I’ve had my interest (mildly) piqued by the arrival of the Borg, and then crushed as they get nerfed beyond all recognition.  I’ve enjoyed the courtship of Tom and B’Elanna, been surprised by warming to Harry Kim and frustrated by the uneven handling of Neelix.  Come on!  Is he a genuinely happy go-lucky can-do outer space twonk, or a deeply damaged veteran covering a fragile psyche with a facade of joy?  Pick one, showrunners, don’t flaming alternate between them as suits the plot.

I am, however, still suffering through the Cousin Oliver experience filtered through the Wesley Crusher-like horror that is Naomi ‘I’m the Captain’s Assistant’ Wildman.  I sense there will be much more of her to come in the remaining 52 episodes.  Oh Great Maker, I’ve just noticed Fair Haven’s coming up soon…Voyager’s Up the Long Ladder!

Equinox, Part II

With the Doctor replaced on Voyager with Equinox’s ethically subverted EMH, and 7 also aboard the rogue Federation ship, things don’t look too great for Janeway’s crew.  By and large this episode is rarely, for a Trek two parter, the better half of the story.  We get to witness ‘our’ Doctor turned unethical to extract command codes from 7.  We see Janeway impersonating Captain Ahab, in her pursuit of the great, white Captain Ransom (Moby Dick always being a touchstone for Trek).  As a result we also see Tacotray display a set of balls, when Janeway starts breaching her own ethical code to get information from a captured Equinox crewmember.  We also get some real insight into the sadness and loneliness of command for Ransom, who delves deeper and deeper into his own personal holodeck fantasy.  There’s a moment at the climax of the episode where, knowing his life is done, that Ransome drops into his own personal heaven, just before he’s literally kicked out of existence with a boom.

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Beyond the obvious sexy-times reasons, there’s no explanation for why 7’s in Ransom’s holo-fantasy

It’s clear here we’re finally exploring some deeper and more complex relationships between Starfleet officers, and while the whole floaty dimensional alien threat is pretty poorly CGIed, that doesn’t dismiss that this is a rather more adult an adventure than we normally get with Voyager.  The shades of grey are so thick you can cut them with a knife, which probably explains why the comedy stylings of Neelix or Paris are pretty much totally absent.  A special tip of the hat goes to the Doctor and 7, as once again the most interesting and well-acted pairing on the ship as the mentor turns sadistic inquisitor…and the regrets that come once his ethical subroutines have been restored.  Yes, this is an episode where the black and white Star Trek reductionism is for once shuffled off stage (I know, on DS9 everything was shades of grey) and the show is simply much, much better for it.  More engaging, more exciting, and moreover more authentic feeling.

That said, we do, however, have to suffer through another public domain duet.  Ah well, you can’t have everything.  Now, if the rest of the season can be this multi-layered and compelling, S6 is going to be a belter.  But I suspect, going on past experiences, there’s going to be a fair few narrative barrels left to be scraped yet.

Survival Instinct

I’ve decided this season to track how many times Voyager’s inciting incident is a shuttle crash, because by now it’s become a lazy, repetitive trope.  It also seemingly suggests that 24th century shuttle travel is possibly the most dangerous means of transport available.  Although, this episode opens with a Borg shuttle crash (Crash #1), which I guess is a slight variant.  But lords-a-mercy, from this crash emerges 7 of 9, back in her assimilated days and some of her Borgy chums.  The Borg quintet are suddenly cut off from the Collective, in a manner somewhat at variance with how the Borg’s hive-mind connection has been portrayed previously (cf. TNG: I, Borg), but hey, let’s just roll with it.  Meanwhile in the present day, larks-a-plenty occur when Voyager is docked to essentially the Trek version of Babylon 5 (the Markonian Outpost), meaning aliens of every size, shape and colour (within the episode’s budget) are wandering around the decks.  Before you get too excited about dealing with all these species, turns out this is just a route to getting the three remaining ex-Borg(1*) from the earlier crash aboard Voyager to stalk 7 for initially unknown reasons.

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“Inform Captain Archer I didn’t die at the Vulcan Embassy, after all”

Eventually after a nanoprobe assault on 7, Janeway and crew discover the shared history of these ex-drones (the names are a dead giveaway), although 7 can’t quite place exactly what happened.  Sadly, Tacotray’s medicine bundle is offline, and so the crew have to fallback on plain, old science to probe their memories.  Turns out the ex-drones started re-asserting their individuality after the crash, but square old 7 of 9 reassimilated them to the Borg, against their free will.  Years later they somehow (and this is really glossed over and poorly explained) escaped the Collective once again, ripped their implants out and fled a looooong way from Borg space.  However, the three of them are still linked in a mental triad and their shared thoughts have driven them all half-potty.  The Doctor, ignoring his hippocratic oath (!) offers to sever the connection, albeit at the cost of their lives: live one month as an individual, or a lifetime as part of the triad.  Now, I’m not saying this is a bad episode, there’s some solid performances from the drones and given it paints 7 of 9 not in the greatest of lights, something her character desperately needs, it makes for a nice change of pace.  However, it’s a bit of a downer ending as the three ex-drones slink off to slowly die, including one who stays aboard Voyager, who you know, we’ll never see again or even witness their unpleasant death.  Which all means, the ending falls a bit flat.

Barge of the Dead

You know what everyone was crying out for? Yet another Klingon episode dealing with their mystical side, and featuring 7 and the Doctor’s close harmony on a drinking song.  No, wait, what we needed was B’Elanna having a shuttle crash into the ship (Crash #2), and experiencing part hallucination, part mystical afterlife experience of the titular Klingon Barge of the Dead.  Aboard this grim vessel is her mother, suffering for the sins of the child.  Funny, I thought the Klingons were all about the Sins of the Father…but narrative consistency has rarely been Star Trek’s thing, has it!  A third of the way into the episode B’Elanna wakes up in sickbay, to discover the preceding 15 minutes since the shuttle crash has taken place inside her head.  Or have they?

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“By Grabthar’s Hammer, your mother will be avenged!”

Having previously demonstrated precisely zero interest in Klingon mysticism and spirituality, and being a creature of science, Torres makes a series of wild deductive leaps concluding that (a) mother is dead (b) her experiences on the Barge were ‘real’ and (c) if she doesn’t atone for her sins of not going to Klingon Church on S’Undach, mummy dearest will suffer in Gre’thor for all time.  Okay, that sounds like some sane, sober and entirely rational logic there, Ms Chief-Engineer.  As normal, the second anyone suffers a spiritual crisis, Tactray turns up and promptly tells her it was all psychosomatic.  Wait?  Mr ‘Voices of My Ancestors‘ and ‘Have you seen the Size of my Medicine Bundle‘ has suddenly gone all rational? Native American spirituality’s ‘real’, but Klingon religion’s a load of hooey?  Nice even handed characterisation there scriptwriters, if Tacotray hasn’t got his mystical subplots, he’s got nothing!  Additionally, did nobody think to check in with Mr ‘Death is Nothingness‘ Neelix at any point?  He’s got previous with the old afterlife (as, I recall, has Janeway).

Anyway, B’Elanna petitions the captain to let her undergo a ‘death’ in sickbay, so she can go rescue her mother.  At no point in the dialogue does anyone call out that Torres is clearly suffering a mental breakdown, displaying all the classic post-injury symptomology: sudden mania, irrational decision making etc.  But rather than entertaining the (likely) possibility of this, they agree to bypass the Doctor’s ethical subroutines (2*) and recreate the hypoxia and trauma of the crash.  B’Elanna transfers back to the Barge/suffers a neurological hallucination (take your pick) and after some Klingon mumbojumbo, agrees to be a proper Klingon from now on, and mummy goes off to be happy.  I’d die laughing if, when on returning to the Alpha Quadrant, Torres discovers that her mum is still alive.  Ha! Try explaining to the crew how they compromised their ethics, just to let you take a sanctioned medical voyage to tripout-city! So, have we learned more about Torres?  Possibly.  Will we see her new, zealotic zest for Klingon spirituality in later episodes? Going on past narrative experiences with Voyager, it’s a safe bet it’ll never be mentioned again.  At least until (spoiler alert) she tells Tom she’s going to raise their baby ‘Klingon Orthodox’.

Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy

Having had his subroutines messed around with for three straight episodes, the Doctor unsurprisingly develops a rich, delusional private fantasy life wherein he’s the hero of the ship.  Actually, this isn’t too far from the truth, as the Doctor IS the best character on the show, so I wonder if this is actually some sort of meta-commentary by episode writers Joe Menosky and Bill Valleyly.  After a nauseating/hilarious (opinions will differ) combined operatic performance and medical treatment of Tuvok in his fantasies, in the real world he petitions Janeway to develop the Emergency Command Hologram (ECH).  Burned after agreeing last episode to B’Elanna’s batshit-crazy request, she turns him down.  Meanwhile, chubby aliens of the week (the Hierarchy) are spying on Voyager…via the Doctor, which means the information they’re working from is ever so slightly filtered through his fantasies.

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Ahoy, discount Sontarans!

The Doctor’s daydreams soon run away with him (a bit like that late season episode of TNG where Data discovers he can dream), and he has to be reprogrammed.  But not until we’ve seen his fantasies laid bare on the holodeck.  And I do mean bear, with respect to 7 of 9!  All is well until the one of the Hierarchy contacts the Doctor to warn him of their imminent attack.  Hence, hilarity and drama ensues as the Doctor has to bluff his way through a confrontation with the aliens, which he does with great success.  Leaving 7 to give him a peck on the cheek, and an admonishment that she will NOT be posing for him.  Great exit line, enjoyable if disposable episode.

Alice

I think I prefered this one when it was called Stephen King’s Christine.  At a deep space junkyard (hey, there’s a name for a new show) Tom Paris buys a new shuttlecraft to tinker with.  He calls it Alice, after the girl that got away, but pretty soon it’s clear the neural-interface it comes equipped with means he’s seeing the ship’s personality as a lovely lady.  Naturally she wants him all to herself, and tries to kill Torres in a fit of jealousy.  Tom saves her, but he’s still under Alice’s spell, and flees the Voyager to fuse as man and machine.  How Borg of him.  For once the episode ENDS with a shuttle crash, as Alice crashes into her own particle fountain, but not before Tom can be whisked to safety.  It’s not a terrible episode, but then again aside from a bit of Tom and B’Elanna romance subplot, it’s never going to be referenced again.

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Tom Paris: Low Tech Borg

Riddles

This was possibly the best episode of Voyager I’ve seen in a long time, genuinely emotionally affecting with excellent acting turns from both Ethan Phillips and Tim Russ.   Once again some of the crew are off in a shuttle. “Aha“, I thought, “Tuvok and Neelix are going to crash any minute…”  Nope, turns out an invisible alien blasts Tuvok and puts him into a coma, a coma from which the Doctor cannot awaken him, but Neelix’s incessant, annoying interference can.  But the Tuvok who awakens is brain damaged, and while he regains his sanity, he has lost his logic.  Tuvok morns for his loss, and his old interests no longer engage him – hell, even Harry Kim can beat him at Kal-toh now, so you know things are bad!  It takes a brief conversation for Neelix with 7 to reawaken in the caring Talaxian that the possibilities for Tuvok might not be as grim as they first appeared.

Seven “When I was separated from the Collective, I too was damaged. I was no longer connected to the hive mind; I lost many abilities that I had acquired as a drone. But I adapted.
Neelix “Because Captain Janeway didn’t give up on you. She kept trying to help you.
Seven “But not by restoring me to what I’d been; by helping me discover what I could become.

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Tuvok’s Vulcan-hay fever proved to an unfortunately unknown quantity

A new Tuvok emerges, a man who loves cooking and smiling, and who genuinely and warmly reciprocates on the friendship that Neelix has long offered.  There are certainly resonances with the earlier Tuvix, wherein the Vulcan and Talaxian were fused, albeit without direct reference(3*).  Yet, this is where this deep friendship began.  In a better and more continuity rich show, the linkage and character development between these two would have been more evenly handled.  Yet, even in Voyager, this episode builds on some of the rich background that DOES exist between these characters, but is seldom deployed in its episodic narrative.  Okay, the Doctor does find a magic wand to ‘fix’ Tuvok, but as with Tuvix, there is an unwillingness for the man he has become to ‘die’ to return to the Vulcan he was.  And at the end, a slight acknowledgement that not all is lost in the miasma of logic and discipline once more.  Yes, this is another episode that reminds me that with better writing, Ethan Phillip’s Neelix could have been the most complex and probable breakout character of the show.  Next week he’ll be back to being an annoying tit again, like Tuvok’s new personality, the flowering of this more engaging characterisation is all too brief.

Dragon’s Teeth

Aka ‘Voyager wakes up the space nazis, whoops’.  After a brush with a super-space vortex full of space crap, and some grumpy aliens (the Turei), Voyager cuts out the middleman of shuttle crashes and lands itself on a devastated world.  Here, it turns out a civilisation called the Vaadwaur lie in cryogenic slumber.  Thanks to old 7 of 9, for whom Starfleet protocols are still just suggestion, the civilisation starts waking up and working with the Voyager crew.  Janeway is a bit miffed, but given the Turei keep trying to bomb them from orbit, throws in with the apparently maligned sleepers.  Yeah, you could spot the twist from a mile off in this one, long before the omniscient combination of Borg databases and Talaxian folklore (WTF?) reveals that the Vaadwaur were the bad guys, and this world was their last stand.  Now they’re up and running again, they quite fancy borrowing (indefinitely) the Voyager to return to their space conquering ways.

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Vaadwaur tonsilitus is MURDERously painful

A bit of an old skirmish commences, with Voyager, having landed, struggling to get back into orbit.  Hey, maybe that’s why the shuttles are useful!  Janeway, with the help of the one Vaadwaur good guy, jam the Vaadwaur defences and allow the slowly gathering Turei armada to rain down phaser fire.  Despite this, some 53 Vaadwaur ships get away, and as Janeway sternly says to 7 “We haven’t seen the last of them“.  Except this being Voyager, of course we bloody have.  Not like they’re the Borg!

Janeway’s blastard favouritism of the ex-Borg comes through again, as given her actions reawoke and ancient danger totally against orders – 7 gets a simple slap on the wrist.  If she’d been Tom Paris, she’d be in the brig and demoted to kitchen assistant.  One rule for some, another for 7 of 9.

One Small Step

Way back in the early 21st an astronaut orbiting Mars is gobbled up by a funny glowing space lozenge (I think it’s a giant Locket).  Cut to the 24th Century and Voyager comes across the same anomaly, and sends the reliable Delta Flyer in to investigate.  It gets sorta stuck, and Tacotray get’s mortally wounded, or a slip disc (the show’s not clear) and spends most of the episode on his back looking mournful.  7 (who else) has to raid the 21st Century ship for the parts they need to repair the flyer (because as we know, the 16th Century hay-waggon has parts that can fix my car), and listens to the dying log of the NASA astronaut.  A bit like TNG: The Royale, only nowhere near as much fun, or maybe DS9: The Sound of Her Voice.  Also, a large chunk (at least 10 minutes) is just the guest actor wittering on as Tacotray and 7 listen and look serious.  Epoch making, attention grabbing great TV it is not.

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A game of “What time is it Mr Wolf” gets out of hand on Voyager

To add insult to injury, having recovered the astronaut’s body from the anomaly, Janeway fires it off into space in a funeral. Charming!  Didn’t even replicate a set of bagpipes for the Doctor to play.

The Voyager Conspiracy

Aka “That one that’s a bit like Worst Case Scenario“.  Except this time 7 of 9’s added some new processing power means she starts drawing lots of conclusions from multiple sources.  Gosh, it’s just like my research, except with 7 it’s got more Photonic Fleas.  Naturally, slowly turns into the Daily Mail and starts seeing conspiracies at every turn.  First it’s Captain Janeway who’s behind stranding the Voyager deliberately in the Delta Quadrant.  Then it’s all about Tacotray.  She even manages to make Tacotray and Janeway distrust each other, when realistically the first thing they’d do is tell each other “7’s gone mad again“.  I don’t really buy the sudden mistrust between the Captain and her first officer, after all this time.  Earlier in the show’s arc, yeah, but now.  Nah.  Eventually this turns into yet ANOTHER Janeway as 7’s Mum episode, and love saves the day. Blurgh.  Nice idea, but I could happily have skipped this one.

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Janeway’s face sums up this one for me

Oh Naomi Wildman’s in this a bit, but let’s pretend she isn’t okay.  Also an alien with a Gravity Catapult or something, that hurls them “30 sectors” (what, we’re not using light years now?) nearer home.

Pathfinder

Whisper it: This is a genuinely funny, affecting and enjoyable episode of Voyager!  And all they had to do to achieve this miracle, was bring in two TNG favourites in the shape of Lt Reg Barclay and Councillor Deanna Troi.  The framing story is Barcley, now working at Starfleet Command is falling back into obsession, this time partly with contacting the Voyager but also with interacting with a simulation of their crew.  Honestly, Reg, did TNG:Hollow Pursuits not end with you getting over holo-addiction?  Essentially, this is a TNG episode with the real Voyager crew only appearing briefly towards the end.  Reg’s trials and tribulations to convince Starfleet that his wacked out engineering ideas, despite his odd lifestyle choices, are actually works of genius makes a strong and compelling narrative.  We even finally get to meet the real Admiral Paris face-to-face too, which leads to a wonderful character moment for Tom.

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Maybe they’ll tell Voyager the uniforms got updated too?

Dwight Schultz and Marina Sirtis are just relaxed and confident in their guest performances, as you might expect given how long they’ve both played the roles.  It really shows that with polished actor performances and a solid script Voyager can make for compelling TV.  Honestly, I challenge any Trek fan to come away from this episode without a warm, satisfied glow!  However, it’s fair to say S6 is certainly making gems such as Pathfinder fewer and far between.  And after this highspot (both in terms of Voyager’s quest for home, and the show itself), we’re about to return to the race to the bottom…

Fair Haven

The Voyager crew go through another space storm and have to ride out the boredom in yet another ‘popular’ holodeck simulation: Sandrine’s and Mr Neelix’s holiday zones clearly have lost their lustre, and no-one but Tom, Harry and the Delany-sisters are keen on Captain Proton.  Hence, this time it’s the small Oirish (sic) town of Fair Haven where life and potatoes slow to a crawl, and it’s only enlivened by Janeway reprogramming one of the characters to be her sex-bot.  When she deleted his wife, increased his education and changed his personality I thought “Why doesn’t she just use a sex-toy, like the rest of the crew, eh?“.  Seriously, there’s some seriously poor ethical judgements here from Kathy, that if Harry Kim made them, everyone would be outraged.  That the Captain can reprogramme an artificially intelligent simulation (you know, like the one who works for her in Sick Bay) to match her own romantic expectations, once more we must question just HOW enlightened is Starfleet, really?

However, there are two far more important questions that must be addressed in this truly dreadful episode.  The first question is “Can Fair Haven be even worse than Once Upon a Time?“.  The second question is ‘Does this episode constitute as racist a interpretation of the Irish people as Up the Long Ladder?‘.  Tackling the latter one first, it is actually somehow even worse than Up the Long Ladder.  Sure, no friendly Colleen offers to wash someone’s feet, but every single Irish cliche you can imagine (and a few more besides) are on screen.  Not to mention, the crew all start talking in wildly terrible Oirish brogues too and affect cripplingly embarrassing stereotypical mannerisms.

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‘Top o’the morning to you’ – No NO, just fucking NO!

It is bad.  Really, really bad.  Still not convinced?  Consider this: If Fair Haven was set in sub-saharan Africa, would it have been okay for the crew to black-up and do ‘African’ accents?  No, no it wouldn’t, and hence this episode is riven with poorly and deeply racially offensive Irish stereotypes.  As to the second question: No. This episode is shite, but Once Upon a Time remains an unadulterated considered a crime against humanity.

Blink of an Eye

Voyager gets stuck above a world trapped in some kind of temporal bubble, where an entire civilisation rises in a few days.  Naturally, trying to communicate with the accelerated race is more than a little problematic (not to mention a breach of the Prime Directive), as anyone going down would age years by the time they were beamed up again.  Thankfully though, we have the Doctor and his mobile emitter to voyage and explore this strange race.  Now, by this point, if you know your Trek like I do, you’ll be saying to yourself “Didn’t Kirk do this story already with a Sexy Lady?“.  Yes, yes he did in the bloody-hell-it’s-almost-the-same-name TOS: Wink of an Eye.  The story this time though isn’t about a dying race needed to breed with strong, healthy Earthmen, but rather the effect on a civilisation of having a Spaceship locked in perpetual low orbit above them.

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How the hell does this planet not just tear itself apart?

Eventually, the race reaches for the stars (which oddly, despite the accelerated planet timeline aren’t whirling above them madly) and boards Voyager to make first contact.  Relative years later on the planet surface the aliens decide to start taking pot-shots at the ship, which means the crew must return the now time-lost astronauts and try and score a peace.  It’s not a terrible tale, although just like Blink of an Eye the whole super-advanced time-line aliens falls down when you think about it (by the time a week’s gone by, they should have advanced to the level of the Q I think).  On the other hand, it doesn’t mean a great deal to the overall voyage home.

Bonus marks for having the marvelous B5:CrusadeLost and Hawaii 5-0 future-alumnus Daniel Dae Kim playing the astronaut who finally makes first contact!

Virtuoso

Ah, another chance for the Doctor to sing his way(4*) through songs that exist only in the public domain, to avoid paying any royalty rights.  Snarking aside, this is a belter of a comedy episode as the Voyager crew encounter a stuck up advanced race (the Qomar), who love mathematics but have never heard of music.  Once the Doctor accidentally serenades them, their whole race gradually falls head over heels in love with his performances.  Bob Picardo, as we’ve noted before, has a cracking voice, and coupled with his normal great comedy chops, this makes for an episode that actually had me laughing out loud in places for all the right reasons for once.  There’s a lovely double edged sword to this episode, since as the Doctor deals with his increasingly ardent fans we get some knowing nods towards the more rapid end of the ‘Pasadena Star Trek Convention‘ types from Janeway.

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The updated Starfleet uniform specs got garbled in transmission it appears

Once again though we hit Voyager’s (and Star Trek) problem with rights and self-actualisation for artificial lifeforms(5*), as the Doctor decides to quit Starfleet to concentrate on his new found musical stardom.  Janeway is more than a little pissed off, far more than (as the Doctor points out) if ‘Harry Kim fell in love with an alien woman’.  Chance would be a fine thing eh Harry – a plotline AND a woman, no-way!  Unfortunately, the Doctor finds that hope copying is killing music (!) as the Qomar replicate an improved version of the Doctor and don’t need the original.  That’s right, Voyager is pro-copyright (shocker!).  Poor old Doctor, he’s suddenly the iPhone 6 in an iPhone 7 world.  Better not tell the Captain, or she’ll want to take the upgraded version along instead!  Poor sod, back to the Voyager he goes to eat crow and resume his duties, where the joy of one fan letter is worth far more than the adulations of thousands.


Whoo, half-way through a season with two cracking episodes (Riddles and Pathfinder), a monstrously awful one (Fair Haven) and two comedy-drama Doctor-centric episodes (VirtuosoTinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy).  I guess it could be much, much worse…and those Borg children are just around the corner now.  Onwards we go!

1*: One of whom is played by Vaughn ‘Admiral Forrest from Enterprise’ Armstrong, who I kept waiting to tell Captain Archer to do something or mention the Vulcan High Command.
2*: Again!  They don’t say this, but given his performance in the past couple of episodes it’s the only conclusion I can reach that justifies his decisions.  Maybe they didn’t fix his programme that well when they got him back from the Equinox?
3*: On reflection I’d like to view this episode as a direct, thematic sequel to Tuvix, given it deals with the same two characters.  That gives it more of a DS9 kind of feel, which can only be a good thing.  Not quite Miles and Julian level friendship banter, but close.
4*: I’m not convinced it’s Bob Picardo singing all the time as his voice changes a bit in the live performances he gives on the Qomar homeworld
5*: I know we get back to this issue again in Author, Author in S7, where copyright absolutely does play a major narrative part.  No one tell them about that monkey who took a photo!

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The Great Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: Season 5 (part 2)

I’m finding S5 of Voyager to be a real curate’s egg.  There have been some god-damned fucking awful episodes (largly any featuring Tacotray and/or Naomi Wildman centrally), but also some bloody awesome ones (usually featuring Tom, Harry or the Doctor).  Will this wild sine-wave ride from the sublime to the Once Upon a Time continue? Let’s press onwards!

Bliss

Despite an intriguing opening with an alien (Qatai) heading towards a mysterious cloud (the wonderful Trek alumnus W. Morgan Sheppard in yet another role), the episode proper commences with Naomi ‘Wesley’ Wildman and 7 of 9.  The pairing of these two predominantly in an episode has this season rapidly become the harbinger of incipient shite.  Thankfully half the episode is a normal 7 of 9 Story #3 (see footnote 3*. previous post), as the rest of the crew think they’re getting back to Earth through a wormhole.  Only Naomi (for whom Voyager is home), the Doctor (a programme) and 7 (who is wired differently in the head) are immune to the intense bliss that the giant space cloud we saw at the start sends out to attract its prey.  Part of me thought “Is this a remake of The Immunity Syndrome, from TOS?“, aka Spock vs the Giant Space Prawn.  It’s not, but there’s giant creature similarities – not to mention a bit of V’Ger vibe to the whole ‘swallowing the starship whole’.

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“Say, do you know V’Ger?”

If at this point you are thinking that 7 and Naomi, along with the alien, Wesley it up a storm to save the day.  Well done, you can skip on.  Nothing in this episode will ever matter again, and you’ve just saved yourself the 43 minutes I had to endure.  Although the moment where we Neelix about to be fantasy gangbanged (1*) (or so I assumed) by a gaggle of Starfleet Admirals opens up more questions than it answers.  As per usual with ‘it was all a dream’ Inception style episodes, naturally their first escape from the creature’s maw is a fake-out, and we have to go through it all again before they decide that’s enough and head off.  The episode then ends, somewhat oddly, as it began with Qatai heading back into the creature’s maw…because…I dunno.  It’s not clear.  Maybe he was the creature.  Maybe his bliss is finding the creature.  Maybe everyone on Voyager is dead now and the rest of the series a dream?  I wish.

Dark Frontier

Hmn, Netflix (on which I’m watching Voyager) has this as the merged single part feature length episode, so I can’t easily review parts I and II, so I’ll have to judge it as a whole.  It opens strongly, with an attack of the Voyager entirely from the Borg’s perspective.  Rather a novel idea, and one I’m surprised it took this long to think of.  It is, rather good, especially when Janeway does the hardest assed thing I’ve ever seen her do – namely beam an armed photon-torpedo inside the Borg probeship.  Huzzah, the Borg are back and they’re even less able to cope with Janeway and her space-family!

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‘Do you have any legs in my size?’

The rest of the story is 50% a rehash of Star Trek:First Contact (2*) as 7 of 9 is reclaimed by the Borg and their revitalised ersatz Queen (Alice Krige, was clearly too busy/expensive), and we get a similar tale to Data’s temptation to betray his loyalty to Starfleet.  The other 50% of the story is an expansion on 7 of 9 Story Archetype #1: Janeway as the surrogate mother competing with her adoptive mother, the Queen.  Here, for a change we see the secret origin of Anika Hanson, and her parents, exploring Borg space long before TNG encountered the cybernetic species.  Yeah, I know, this pisses all over the far superior TNG canon just to give 7 of 9 a credible rationale for being in the Delta Quadrant.

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Why didn’t anyone think to brief Picard on this threat?

Several late season Voyager tropes also rear their ugly heads in this tale.  Firstly, the Voyager adapts with no effort a transwarp core for the Delta Flyer.  Clearly, no one remembers earlier in the season when doing that for the Voyager killed everyone (except Harry and Tacotray).  The same technology now, not only allows the rescue of 7 from a Borg Unicomplex (of which, despite the name, there are more than one), but also zips the Voyager fully 20,000ly closer to home.  I make that almost halfway!  Another, trope is the continuing bowdlerisation of the Borg – oooooh what a threat…nah, Janeway can handle them with a souped-up shuttle.  And lastly, Naomi ‘Oh god why is she still alive’ Wildman plays a pivotal role…amplifying the mothers and daughters theme of the episode, as she clearly sees Janeway as granny, and 7 as her surrogate mother.  Despite Ens Samantha Wildman being still alive.  Inter-personal relationships in the 24th Century be all fucked up and shit, as I believe no one says.

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How I wish this wasn’t a dream

Perhaps the biggest let down of what is an okay storyline, is the ending which manages to pretty much telegraph what happens in Endgame. Okay, maybe that’s the lazy writing by the end of the seventh season, but the trope of Borg vessels popping out of transwarp corridors and going kaboom…I suspect this isn’t the last we’ll see of them.

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Borg: Some assembly required

Nor, the new Queen and her Borg…despite their space now being over 30,000ly behind (honestly, give it up and carry on assimilating the Delta Quadrant, why don’t you!).

The Disease

For at least the second time, a story opens with Harry Kim in bed with a sexy, sexy lady.  Man oh man, Libby is going to utterly dump him when the ship gets back to Earth.  Remember Libby?  Cos, by the looks of the beast with two-phaser banks that Harry keeps making with the hot alien chick, he’s utterly forgotten her.  Even better, in his post coital bliss Harry lets slip that a) He’s done things he never thought he’d do in bed (ew, fetch the brain bleach) and b) his alien squeeze’s race and humans look similar…but have genitals constructed on very different frameworks.  Yes folks, they’re dancing around the subject in the episode, but I’m calling it.  Harry shacked up with a Space-Chick with a Space-Dick…and liked it.  At least though, it gives Tom Paris the chance to run through the literary of bad women choices that Harry’s made, and when the resident bad boy of Starfleet is advising you on poor choices, you gotta know you’re doing something really wrong!

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To go where no man, has gone before

Essentially, post-sex Harry and his alien lady-love are now bonded for life…bonded so much that Ens Kim literally glows afterwards.  Now THAT’s what I call sexing Harry, kudos!  Sadly, the Xenophobic alien species she belongs too is less than happy with the coupling, and neither is Janeway.  Since Harry has almost certainly caught astro-herpes or something, and there’s a regulations book ‘3 inches thick’ *ahem* about ‘close encounters of the lewd kind‘, Janeway understandably blows her stack.  Were we to replace Harry with Tom in this escapade, then he’d be back in the bridge and demoted to Mr Neelix’s potwasher.  But because Harry’s Janeway’s substitute son (sigh, there’s that family trope again) she just gives him a ticking off and sends him to bed without any replicator rations.  Come to think of it, are they still worrying about replicator rations, I forget, that ‘desperately short of supplies’ storyline rather faded away post-S2.

It all comes good in the end (snigger) aside from Harry who is separated from his woman and has to get over her without any medication (shades of Elaan of Troyius), the xenophobes – whose ship blows up.  Still, it could have been worse.  He could have caught electric-gonorrhea – the noisy killer!  It’s a daft, fun little episode, albeit one where once again Harry’s staring plotlines are reduced to ‘naive teenager‘.  I mean, he must be almost 30 by now, stop treating like he’s 15!

Course: Oblivion

AKA the most depressing episode of Voyager you’ll ever watch, given pretty much 98% of what transpires on screen will never be known about or remembered by anyone in the Star Trek universe.  It is the literal definition of pointlessness and utterly nihilistic when you start thinking about it.  This episode opens with Tom and B’Elanna marrying, giving almost no hint of the existential horror that is about to unfold(3*).  Thanks to a hitherto unheard of space drive (not that this is a shock on Voyager, continuity never getting in the way of a story idea), the crew are closer than ever to Earth, when oh noes, the ship starts to deform and people start getting sick.  Turns out none of the crew or the ship itself are the Voyager we know, they’re all the entities who were cloned and left behind on the Demon world a season or so ago.  Turns out the new space drive would been okay on the real ship, but their weirdy fluid forms are being destroyed by it.

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Nah, it’s fine.  The Jefferies’ Tube has always looked like that, I’m sure.

The rest of the show turns into an examination of how the crew deal with almost certain death and crippling illness.  Watching Tom at his new bride’s death bed is heartbreaking, and lessened none the less by the reveal shortly afterwards that she wasn’t the ‘real’ Torres.  There’s a good argument in the show, that if it walks, talks and thinks like Tom, or Janeway or Harry…then it’s as indistinguishable from the ‘real’ crew members to actually be them.  Hence, as they one by one drop dead, it’s a shocker, even more so than the deaths in Year of Hell, since at least they get retconned away.  The closing moments of the show see Acting Captain Harry Kim desperately trying to launch a time-capsule detailing the lives and adventures of the USS Ersatz Voyager and reach the real Starfleet ship in time to get help.

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Harry needs a new skin-regime

It all fails, and we have a minute or so of the real Janeway and crew coming across the remains of…something that might have been a ship, none the wiser and just moving on with their lives.  Everyone we’ve watched struggle and suffer for the past 40 minutes is dead, and none of their lives mattered one jot.  Not even fake Naomi Wildman.  *sob*  Yes, a depressing tale, but well acted by the cast.

The Fight

Oh, it’s a Tacotray centric episode, which means as it rapidly devolves into mystic symbolism, family history and metaphor I stifle the first of many yawns.  Voyager strays into ‘chaotic space’ and some of the aliens living/trapped there make contact by ‘rewiring Tacotray’s brain’ so they can communicate with him.  30 minutes later this is still going on as my finger hovers over ‘fast forward’.  I think I enjoyed this sort of distorted reality thanks to super-advanced aliens in Far Beyond the Stars, as it gave the whole cast something fun to act against, not just one cast member.  Although, Bob Picardo turns in his usual stellar performance as a boxing doctor.

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Think he just messed his uniform

Fascinating fact: Starfleet Academy groundskeeper Boothby trained Tacotray to box.  Honestly, in between mentoring Janeway and Picard, and teaching young Tacotray the pugilistic arts – when did that man ever find time to mow the lawns?  Finally, this episode would have had more punch (see what I did there) had we EVER heard about Tacotray’s love of boxing before…rather than as per usual in Voyager’s lazy writing, another hitherto undiscussed personal interest.  Cf. Paris’ love for whichever historical period we’re visiting this week.

Think Tank

Nice cold opening on this one, as we witness a travelling intelligentsia cabal offering to save another species through their advanced knowledge…if only they’re prepared to pay the price.  Afterall, if salvation is a just one trade deal away, wouldn’t you be prepared to pay the price?  Unsurprisingly, this is the cleft stick situation Voyager soon finds itself in as the Hizari, a race of unstoppable bounty hunters, have been contracted by the Malon (hey, remember them!) to hunt the ship down.  Facing her own Kobayashi Maru, Janeway is rather surprised and only slightly suspicious when Kurros of the Think Tank approaches them to proffer a potential solution.  Turns out, they’ve solved a lot of unsolvable problems in the past, including curing the Vidiian phage (hey, remember that!).  The drawback, Kurros’ price includes 7 of 9 joining the Think Tank.

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“Why yes, it does have recreational uses as well”

The second the unwinnable scenario arose and the clever thinkers just happened to be there to offer a solution, I thought ‘set up’.  And I was right.  Turns out it’s not the Malon but the Think Tankers who’ve set all this situation up.  Just like Harry Kim, they’re lusting to get their hands on 7 of 9’s ‘implants’ and advanced Borg knowledge.  Thankfully Janeway outflanks them, and leaves them to get basically murdered as the Voyager warps away.  Bad ass Janeway, way bad ass.

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“So long, enjoy dying painfully…and WARP SPEED AWAY!”

I will say, Jason Alexander playing Kurros is wonderfully creepy and reasonable, all at the same time.  I much prefer the more subtly played villains in Trek, and while Think Tank’s a pretty much run of the mill ‘threat of the week’ episode, his performance helps make the whole thing a lot more memorable that the script deserves.  Well worth your time watching this one.  One final note, for some reason B’Elanna’s barely had a line the past couple of episodes – is Roxann Dawson busy doing something else right now?

Juggernaut

With a title like this, I thought we were going to have Warhead II: The Rewarheadening of something.  Turns out the titular vessel is actually a stricken Malon freighter.  Yes, them again.  They’re slowly becoming the mid-seasons Kazon-alike go-to dull antagonists.  This time the silly polluting sods have a stricken super-tanker that’s going to go kablooey and devastate everything in 3ly.  Hells teeth, that’s a big explosion…also…I assume the detonation will be travelling at warp speed, otherwise it’ll take millennia to fan out that far.  Cue a gritty tale for resident gritty lass B’Elanna who’s not had a line or an episode in a devil’s age, and this one lets us remember how much her and Tom love each other.

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Is it me, or did it just get hot in here?

Curiously it also gives Roxann Dawson a chance to strip down, and later strip off all together for a shower scene.  Not that I am in any way complaining about this.  The bulk of the episode is humanising the Malon. who we find out may be the galaxy’s greatest polluters, but they’re doing it so their home world can be a utopia.  There’s also a mutated monster (one of the crew) doing some lurking on the doomed vessel, just so we can see the extent of their sacrifice.  Something which is rather brutally rammed home at the end of the episode, when B’Elanna’s horrific radiation poisoning is cured with a quick injection, and her new-found Malon buddy is told ‘Sorry pal, you’re screwed’.  So much for Federation medicine then!

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Are those warp nacelles?

The biggest question of the episode is never addressed.  How the hell are the Malon still a problem after we jumped 20,000ly in Dark Frontier (or about 20 years of travel time)? Are they pals with the Borg or something? Screw the environmentally themed buddy drama, grab their super-warp drives and get back to Earth pronto!

Someone to Watch Over Me

The tl;dr version “7 of 9 gets dating advice from the Doctor, with hilarious consequences“.  Which, after the grim Juggernaut is probably just as well, we could do with some light relief.  This might be a light and frothy reworking of Pygmalion, as the Doctor coaches 7 in the ways of romance, but both Ryan and Picardo put in splendid comedic performances.  Although, the bit where they duet together is borderline painfully cringeworthy.  Notably Picardo’s singing live, and Ryan only lipsynching, which is odd as we know from The Killing Game she can sing.  Eventually, and not too shockingly, the Doctor falls for 7’s charms, but she ends up friendzoning him.  Ah well, not all romcoms end up well.  Fun little tale really.

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Make it stop! Sweet Jebus, make it stop!

Meanwhile Captain Janeway and Tuvok go off on an away mission, that’s off screen.  Tim and Kate clearly had a week’s holiday coming.  This leaves Neelix dealing with the one ultra-religious (and rule breaking) ambassador aboard Voyager to deal with.  More hilarious consequences ensue, capping off the lightest and most fun Voyager tale we’ve had in ages, with some genuine moments of character development.  More like this, and I’d start really liking this show!

11:59

AKA the secret origin of the Janeway family.  This episode epitomizes everything that frustrates me about Voyager.  Ostensibly it’s Janeway telling the tale of one of her most important ancestors, around the turn of the millennium (fully 7 months away at time of broadcast), who naturally happens to look like her.  It’s a somewhat The A Team kinda tale, as failed astronaut Shannon O’Donnel partners with local reclusive book shop owner Henry Janeway against the perfidious developers of something called The Millennium Gate.  This is apparently a significant historical construction in the Star Trek universe, as much as the Great Wall of China, despite no one ever mentioning it before or since on any show.  O’Donnel’s tale is rather turned on its head thanks to Neelix’s searching of Space-Ancestry.com and informing Janeway that her ancestor was far less important to space-exploration history and the construction of the Gate than she thought.  Which means, as we see in the past, the ‘evil’ developers are actually good guys trying to build something significant for all humanity.  Shame they’re all going to die in the Eugenics Wars shortly I guess.

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Is someone playing Civ on the Voyager?

The tale, trite as it is, and reminiscent of Ent: Carpenter Street in tone, is rather spoiled by constant flashing back to the present on Voyager as everyone tells their tales of famous family members in a big old cosy gathering.  Guess Starfleet discipline’s finally fallen apart on Voyager…until next week.  What especially irritates is twofold.  Janeway’s tale is vaguely interesting, but it’s not really enough to support a whole episode.  And secondly, some of the tales the other crew tell of their ancestors sound much more engaging.  With the exception of Tacotray, who fails to bore everyone with another tale of his sodding ancestors. I ended up wishing the showrunners had gone for a Short Cuts/22 Short Tales About Springfield style melange episode, showing us vignettes from all of these ancestral stories.  This would have helped flesh out the crew’s humanity, not to mention giving every actor the fun of playing something slightly off-tangent.  Another real missed opportunity to give us more about the whole crew, at the expense of fleshing out more of Janeway’s tediously noble history.

Oh, two other irritations – one nerdy, one just pure Voyager.  Harry Kim talks of ‘sleeper ships’ in the early 2200s…which is totally contradicted by Enterprise’s adventures in the 2150s.  And Tom ‘History Professor’ Paris turns out to know everything about every single period in human history, again.  Remind me again, is he the bad boy pilot with the heart of gold, or the resident Data-substitute?  Sigh.

Relativity

AKA: They Keep Killing 7 of 9, Don’t They?  Voyager once again takes inspiration from Red Dwarf, notably Stasis Leak, as 7 of 9 is recruited by Captain ‘Oh no, not him again’ Braxton from the 29th Century to go back in time to avert the destruction of Voyager from a hidden bomb.  Only, he’s already sent her back a few times, and she’s either died or failed each time.  This time he plucks her from her timeline moments before Voyager’s destruction (for the third time, from Braxton’s perspective), and returns her to just before Voyager is commissioned to find the mysterious device that will destroy the ship in around 5 years time(4*) during a Kazon attack (5*).  This means we get the fantastic shot of the Utopia Planitia space yards above Mars, where the Voyager is undergoing final construction.  For a lover of Star Fleet’s ships, this is a real nerd-porn moment!

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Is that a Steamrunner class I espy down the lower right? SQUEEEE!

The episode cracks along at a good pace as 7 is flipped around the timeline until we find out the bad guy is…Captain Braxton himself, who suffered a mental breakdown in the future-future and caused all the problems his past self is trying to sort out.  Told you this was clearly riffing on Stasis Leak!  “I’m the Captain Braxton from the double-double future, and this is where everything starts to get a bit complicated“.   Seems Braxton remembered, and is still really mad about, everything that happened in Future’s End.  Ouch, and I thought they’d cured all mental illness forever back in the 23rd Century (cf. WTOS:Whom Gods Destroy)???

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Totally cured!

In the end, as 7 has travelled in time too much (until, you know, next time we need a time-travel story) Janeway has to be sent back in time instead.  Yes, yet again it’s the 7 and Janeway save the day show.  Sigh.  Almost like the Picard and Data saviour duo in TNG.  All’s well in the end, and despite the slightly wibbly-wobbly nonsensical nature of most time-travel stories, it makes for a highly enjoyable tale.  Even if technically Harry Kim dies another three times in the episode!

Warhead

All’s quiet on the bridge nightshift, which means it’s time for a Harry Kim centric adventure…or, is it?  No, it’s a story about an artificially intelligent weapon of mass destruction, that forms a close bond with one of the crew…not Harry, but the Doctor.  What an original idea…or rather it might have been if Voyager hadn’t already had Dreadnought back in S2.  This time though, rather than an exploration of B’elanna’s sin’s past, we find ourselves in the Doctor story archetype 101 as we ask ‘What does it mean to be sentient?‘.  Which means once again the ‘oh so enlightened’ Federation officers suddenly get cold feet when a genuine ‘new life’ appears before them.  Quoting from the Starfleet first contact protocols (as amended by Janeway):

First Contact Rule 17F: If the lifeform is not organic, then you are fully at liberty to consider it non-sentient, and therefore not covered under the Starfleet charter to seek out and cherish new life forms.  Feel morally enabled to explode, enslave or dismantle it to further your own goals.

Rule 17G: The same applies to any androgynous species Cmdr Riker might accidentally procreate with.

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“If I said you had a beautiful plasma-conduit, would you hold it against me?”

Considering the next two episodes (no peeking ahead now) are all about the ethics of Starfleet vs enlightened pragmatic self-interest, this episode provides a very sharp, and critical, relief.  Anyway, quickly the story evolves into Doctor Story Archetype 102: Bob Picardo get’s to play eeeevil, as the missile holds Voyager hostage as it tries to carry out its original destructive, purpose.  Thankfully, despite a 7 of 9 saves-the-day effort, the scriptwriter remembers this episode started out focussing on Harry Kim (remember him?) and he talks the missile into true self-awareness, just in time to allow it to sacrifice itself to take down the remainder of its AI missile chums.  Not a bad story, and the Doctor is always enjoyable, but I really get the sense I’ve seen this all before now.

Equinox, Part I

AKA: Sliding Voyagers, as we find out what happens to a Starfleet crew dumped in the Delta Quadrant who don’t have Janeway’s adherence to the mores of the Federation, Harry Kim’s idealism and whatever the hell it is that Tacotray brings to the mix.  Probably something about medicine bundles, I suppose.  Yes, it’s time to meet the few remaining crew members of the USS Equinox, headed up by Captain Rudy Ransom, who unlike our regular heroes have forsaken those Prime Directives in a big way.  Which explains why, despite being limited to Warp 8, they’ve managed to skip across 35,000ly of space (hey, we’re halfway home!) in the same time as the good old Voyager.  Being in the Delta Quadrant, it’s been a while since we enjoyed the ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know‘ Starfleet captain trope – TOS was full of them, and the other serieses haven’t exactly been shy to explore this idea either(6*).  Hence, there’s little surprise when the dodgy dealings of the Equinox crew quickly come to light – crystallizing some extra-dimensional aliens to make super-fuel…and aforementioned aliens are understandably pissed as hell at this.

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Did I mention I love Starfleet ships?

Cue the tiny crew of the Equinox running rings around the supposedly larger and better organised Voyager crew to nick off with their spare shield parts, leaving Janeway and crew the face the misdirected wrath of the aliens.  Remind me again Kathy, about how your well ordered ship and its crew’s adherence to Starfleet regulations makes you better?  Because from the evidence here, you were like a bunch of cadets against Ransom and crew.  And there were are…unlike last year a bit of a cliffhanger to go out of S5…

Oh. I should also mention, for no-sodding-narrative reason at all, Naomi Wildman get’s a scene in this episode.  Why?  Fucked if I know, it does nothing to advance the plot other than to remind us all that the hated brat is still breathing, and hasn’t been tastefully vapourised by a plasma conduit blowout.  Yet, I live in hope, but also fear as I know I’m getting closer to the monstrously awful addition to the crew of the liberated Borg children.  Is that S6 or do I get a period of grace until S7?  I’m not sure, and I won’t be checking ahead to find out!

There you go, that’s the 5th season put to bed.  A season of real highs (Bride of Chaotica, Timeless), utter lows (Thirty Days, Once Upon a Fucking Time) and missed opportunities to do something stunning (11:59).  Yet, I come away feeling it was a stronger season, sure Harry and B’Elanna got reduced to supporting cast, and Tom’s story arc makes no sense, but I felt most importantly, Tacotray got less screen time than ever.  And that can only be a good thing.  Bring on S6, and hopefully Naomi Wildman falling headfirst into the warp reactor!!!

1*: It’s at 23:22 onwards.  Go watch it.  I can wait.  Although you may never sleep again afterwards.
2*: Fun fact – I walked down the aisle with my new bride to the opening music to ST:FC.  Some of the guests knew what it was, including the vicar!  The rest, in blissful ignorance
3*: Unless, like me you spotted that Paris is wearing his Lt (jg) pips rather than his Ensign rank.  That’s a bit of a giveaway that not all is kosher here.
4*: I can only assume that this bomb hasn’t been found for 5 years by any engineers repairing Voyager’s extensive damage, due to a sorta bootstrap paradox – it wasn’t there in the past to find until this episode’s events, and then it was always there.
5*: The Kazon: about whom no one ever said “Hey, I miss the Kazon, I wish they’d come back again“.  Notably, there’s only exterior shots, so no actors get to play these ersatz Klingon-wannabes here.
6*: Off the top of my head at least cf. TNG: The Wounded, TOS: Whom Gods Destroy, TOS: Turnabout Intruder, TOS: The Doomsday Machine

The Great Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: Season 4 (part 1)

Oh my are we here already?  Almost halfway through, and it’s beginning to feel like a bigger mountain to climb than I thought.  So big, that I’ve gone off and watched Enterprise Season One for a change of pace, mostly because I kept getting to Tacotray and Neelix heavy episodes. But time and the Delta Quadrant waits for no sentient, and so on we go once more.

Scorpion Pt II

Aka The One Where Sexy Hips Arrives.  After last time’s slightly odd climax, we open up with the arrival of single most defining element of Star Trek Voyager.  Go on, ask any member of the casual sci-fi watching public to tell you something about Voyager, and odds are they’ll say something like “That’s the one with the sexy robot chick with the big breasts“.  There is no denying though, 7 of 9’s addition to the series does introduce some interesting new narrative possibilities and alters the character dynamics for the better.  Although the less said about Tacotray’s sleazy romancing of her and the arrival of those sodding Borg children*, the better.  Still feeling, as I did last episode, that Species 8472’s arrival Nerfs the Borg too much, as cubes are blowing up at the drop of the hat here.

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Look out Tom, I think she wants to mate!  Torres will NOT be happy

There’s a good bit of tension in the episode as the Voyager’s shaky alliance with the Borg goes back and forth, with a highlight being Tacotray’s stone cold act of spacing all the drones (save for his future squeeze) into deep space.  That’ll be one to tell the grandkids about.  Tacotray also has (rarely) my favourite lines of the episode, as he tells the tale of the titular scorpion.  It’s a perfect analogy for the Borg:Human alliance, so kudos to the writer(s).  Meanwhile though, the trip to Fluidic Space had me turning my brain off (“Wait, if the vacuum is made of fluid, why doesn’t gravity just collapse everything to a singularity?“), and the resolution where the Voyager makes a superweapon that destroys most of Species 8472’s bioships makes about as much sense as the Borg cube exploding FOR NO REASON at the end of Best of Both Worlds II**.  Ah well, we have a shiny new crew member through which we can explore the metaphorical human experience.  Which probably means there’s another character whose POV we could probably dispense with, but how can we ever choose…?

The Gift

Aka The One Where Kes Finally Fucks Off. In some respects it’s a shame that TV budgets wouldn’t stretch to keeping on Voyager’s whole crew once 7 had joined, although if the axe had to fall somewhere, I’m not sorry it fell on Kes.  Although, losing Tacotray would have been perfect.  I do wonder how the internal politics and discussions around the decision actually worked…

“Right, Jeri Ryan is one more mouth to feed, and we’re not made of money”

“Actually, we’re a TV network, technically we are, but that’d besides the point, we need to lose a character to break even this season.  Who do we need to get shot of?”

“Well Harry Kim hardly does anything, but he’s ethnic, so we’d be crucified if we got rid of him. Same for Chakotay and Tuvok.  Paris and Janeway are the star players, and the Doctor’s the breakout character.”

“What about Torres?  I know she’s got that whole romance subplot with Tom going, but if we get rid of her he could be sexing up the Borg chick’s assimilation tubes before we know it!”

“Ew! Thanks for that image.  But, nah, Roxann’s doing that director thing, so we’d best hold on to her.  It has to be Kes then.”

“What about Neelix?  Literally, no one, on the planet, likes Neelix.”

“Nah, he’s our melting-pot character.  Everyone comes to Quarks…I mean 10 Forward…I mean the Mess Hall.  Plus as he’s not Starfleet, there’s countless ‘I done fucked up’ storylines we can get out of him.”

“Right, screw you Kes, you’re outta here!”

Actually, half this episode rather than being about Kes’ oft forgotten about psi-powers and her subsequent exit, is the first of about 200 episodes focussing on 7 of 9’s relationship with Captain Janeway and her return to human society.  Nice! They couldn’t have telegraphed the “Don’t call us, we won’t call you” to Kes any better, if they’d painted it on the door to her room!  Still, at least nasty undead looking 7 is gone, and now hot space-babe 7 is here, as most of her prosthetics are jettisoned, making for an easier make-up job for Jeri, and tighter pants for the fanbois.

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“If they give me hair, please do not let them model it after yours, Captain.”

Meanwhile, Kes turns into Jason Ironheart, and kicks the Voyager 9,500 light year’s nearer home.  The first significant distance they’ve achieved in three years.  And all it took was one hyper-advanced and hyper-annoying OompaLumpa to hyper-evolve!(3*)  There’s some weak plotting too in her departure.  While her psychic mentor Tuvok gets to bid her farewell, and Neelix to a lesser extent, the Doctor, the single character she’s shared the most screentime with over three seasons barely appears, and certainly doesn’t get to say goodbye as he’s hardly in this episode.  A small coda where he wistfully regrets this, or shares a bright memory and hope for Kes’ future would have been appropriate, but no, there’s no time for this.  Why? because we need plenty of time for a long, long introductory shot of 7 in her sexy one-piece.  Yeah, sexy cybernetic space babes over annoying space elves every time, it seems!

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Kes?  Sorry, it’s all about sexy space-lady times now!

Day of Honor

In the pit of my stomach I realised this was gonna be a Torres/klingon heritage story, and in Star Trek’s history they can be of…variable quality.  For every Sins of the Father there’s a Birthright or a Barge of the Dead.  Turns out this is one of the good ones, as while the story focuses around B’Elanna’s special klingon festival (no pain sticks mind), thanks to a monumental fuck up in engineering, the warp core gets jettisoned.  Is this the first time we’ve ever actually seen this happen?  Given Geordi threatened he’d had to to it countless times, I’d be surprised if it is, but I’m damned if I can remember any other occasion.  Anyway, the warp core doesn’t go boom after all, proving that Geordi is the better engineer here.  The Caatati, who the crew had initially helped, knick off with it, and so Tom and B’Elenna try to get it back in a shuttle craft (since Voyager is pretty powerless).

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That’s it Tom grab hold of something…NO NOT THOSE!

The shuttle goes boom (a reoccurring theme) and Tom and B’Elenna end up drifting in space, and we finally realise this episode is not about klingon heritage, or even past crimes of the Borg, but it’s Shuttlepod One…only with romance not bromance.  At its heart this is a sweet story, that deepens the relationship between Paris and Torres in an effective and believable way – as they float in space, slowly running out of air.  It also, for once, demonstrates just how BIG space is when you don’t have ships ready to warp in and collect you.  Nice episode, and my favourite of the season so far by miles.

Nemesis

This episode is awful.  Just fucking awful.  How awful?  Well I stopped watching halfway through and couldn’t bring myself back to watch the rest of the episode for THREE DAMNED WEEKS.  It’s all about Tacotray and some alien kidz doing their best Lord of the Flies impression.  Oh yes, and they speak in this hilarious pigeon-english ripped right out of Mad Max III – I kept waiting for them to ask about ‘Captain Walker and the before times‘.  Trek’s tackled the kidz gone rogue trope before, and much better (Notably in DS9:Valiant), so this episode brings nothing new to the table.  In fact, I’d go as far to say that this is the single worst episode of Voyager I’ve seen yet.  And remember, I’ve sat through Basics, Flashback, Threshold and Sacred Ground; so it’s not an honour I lightly bestow.

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Go on, who wants a big, french kiss?

Oh, and the nemesis…total, and utter make-up rip off of Predator.  If I’d been the network head, and accidentally seen this abomination of an episode, Voyager’d be on its way to cancellation city!  What’s next, Species 8472 turns out to look like the Xenomorphs…?

Anyway, turns out Tacotray has been brain washed and most of what we saw was in his head, and it’ll take years for him to shake off the trauma of being used…or, you know, as normal we never, ever mention these events again.  Yeah. It’s the latter one.

Revulsion

What starts out as looking like a Tuvok episode, turns out to be a B’Elanna and The Doctor one.  After some early recounting of racial hate crimes against Tuvok by Harry and Tom, and his subsequent promotion to Lt Commander(4*), we move onto the main story.  A drifting ship, crewed only by a lone, bargain basement Jeffrey Combsesque-lite “isomorphic projection” – that’s hologram to you and me.  Naturally, I was shocked when the creepy-looking hologram with the serial killer vibe, turned out to be a serial killer.  No, wait I wasn’t.  I kept waiting for a twist that would raise this story above utter mundanity.  There was a nice bit when the psycho hologram stuck its hand in Torres, but soon enough we’re back to “Don’t worry I’ve disabled all the holo-emitters…no wait he’s still out there…oh noes” territory of a sub-bargain basement horror story.

Hands off the lady. No means no, creepazoid!
Hands off the lady. No means no, creepazoid!

Meanwhile, Tom and B’Elenna’s share a romantic moment, and Tom for reasons unknown gets promoted to nurse.  Because when you’ve limited staff aboard a starship, it’s always important to draft the primary helmsman away from his primary duties.  No, made no fucking sense to me, and seems to exist only to give the Doctor someone to talk to in later episodes who’s not sick.

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The tension is palpable

Actually, the B-story of the episode is all about Harry and 7, and is sort of enjoyable.  It’s enjoyable for the moment where 7, recognising Harry’s stumbling romantic attempts, asks him outright if he “Wishes to copulate“. While it might be the line of the season, I’ve no idea why Harry, lover of Libby and random holo-ladies, should suddenly be written all over again as a stumbling, nervy virgin.  Oh noes, big sexy lady is coming on to me, I just can’t deal with it.  Well, I can’t deal with the inconsistent characterisation of Harry.  It’s a bit late in the series to be writing him as this nieve!

The Raven

Ah, this episode was bundled back in the 90s on VHS (whooo, ancient media formats) with Dark Frontier PtI & II, so was the only Voyager episode I actually owned.  Hence, I know what’s coming here as we explore 7’s (aka Annika Hansen, mmn, bop) family history and assimilation by the collective.  It’s the first entirely 7 centric story, so hopes were high for a corker, especially after the middling to fucking awful standard of the season so far.  However, the opening clay modelling scene between 7 and the Captain (get used to this belaboured pseudo-mother/daughter trope) is a heavy handed metaphorical ‘identity creation at the hands of others’ scene.  Gosh, I wonder what the rest of the episode is about…did Annika mould own creation or did the Borg sculpt her fully-formed from the human clay?  I can almost hear the Voyager writing room staff toasting their own super-genius for this idea…sigh.

Fun fact: despite this scene being set in Master Leonardo’s Workshop, Voyager were too cheap to shell out for another guest appearance by John Rees-Davies

The rest of the episode harks back to TNG:Brothers, as 7 of 9 gets reset into Borg mode after suffering repeated dreams about a raven, by a mysterious signal.  Said signal eventually turns out to be transmitted from her badly CGIed orignal Earth ship, the Raven, which she came into the Delta Quadrant in with her anthropologist parents.  Okay, this is a big retcon for humans and Borg.  Thought mankind first met them when Q hurled the Enterprise into the Delta Quadrant in TNG: Q Who?  Nah, happened years before that off screen, by some nosy explorers and their incredibly fast ship (its literally 65,000ly from Earth – but no one ever quibbles this point).  Anyway, 7’s daft parents get assimilated along with her daughter…aaaaaand scene.

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Somebody, somewhere, lost a bet

There’s a subplot about the B’omar, winners of the 1997’s Worst Dressed Alien Race competition hands down, forcing Voyager to take the world’s stupidest route through their space – as everyone forgets space is 3-dimensional and they could just, you know, overfly the whole region.  Naturally the B’omar get their vinyl in a twist about a Borg on board, and even more p-oed when Janeway just ignores their navigation advice and powers through their space to rescue 7.

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The most direct route…still doesn’t look ‘that’ direct

Scientific Method

We open with the Doctor giving Janeway a happy ending on the massage table.  Okay, not quite, but there’s not a whole lot of laughs in this episode!  It’s a nasty creepy tale, although I can’t feel helping we’ve seen this all before in TNG: Schisms.  Unknown aliens, check. Crewmembers undergoing bizarre experimentation, check. Creepy horror vibe, check.  However, while this episode is an early example of 7 of 9 as Wesley ‘Saves the Day/Deus ex Mechania’ Crusher syndrome, I will admit I rather enjoyed it.  It’s perhaps a shame that the aliens turn out just to be another humanoid race with invisibility hats(5*), I rather liked the Lovecraftian horror of the non-humanoid, extra-dimensional aliens on Schisms.  We lose another NPC crewmember (not lost one in a while), although her passing is rather ignored by the crew.  No long emotional wake once we’ve resolved everything, as she clearly wasn’t that important.  Cold, Voyager, stone cold.

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I did NOT need to see that!!!

Anyway, the highlight of this episode is…and I can hardly believe I’m writing this…was between Neelix and Tacotray.  Both affected by bizarre mutations and accelerated aging respectively, they engage in a homage to Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

Tacotray “I can barely move, thanks to my arthritic hips”

Neelix “Lucky bastard.  In a couple of days my bones’ll fused and I won’t be able to move”

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Only two replicator rations a week? Luxury!

Despite 7 saving the day, there are some glorious moments from Janeway too as she goes all Bruce Willis on us again.  That’ll teach those god damned aliens to stick loads of needles in her head!  We also get more of the Tom and B’Elanna’s love story.  Yep, the whole episode is more the kind of series I wish Voyager was, lots going on, plenty for all the regulars to get up to, and a threat that isn’t too easily defeated by augmented Borg-nanoprobes.  Yeah, that one still rankles.

Year of Hell Pt I

*performs the happy dance*  Okay, full disclosure.  Before I started this comprehensive re-watch, Year of Hell was my single favourite episode(s) of Voyager.  And after re-watching this episode, I can confirm that’s still not changed.  There are…issues…big issues, I have with the ending, but I’ll address those in Pt II.  Okay, part of the joy of this episode is finally…finally seeing The Voyager take the kind of punishment that we’ve not seen since the opening episodes, thanks to the Krenim and their chronal torpedos.  There’s a nice nod to Yesterday’s Enterprise the first time the Krenim Timeship performs a temporal incursion, and Voyager shifts to a darker timeline.  But once she’s got her chronal shields, then all hell really starts to break loose, as the battered little Starfleet ship starts to lose crew and her looks in equal measure.  The end of the episode, with Janeway’s speech to the crew when she knows they have to pretty much abandon ship may be my single favourite Janeway moment yet.  Short, sweet, heartfelt and resolute.  Naturally, the hero cast remain behind.

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All this, and the new astrometrics lab comes on line too! Red letter stardate for sure

The episode is also made even better by two things.  Firstly, the foreshadowing of this terrible time from Before and After (shock, Kes was useful for something), but more importantly the appearance of Kurtwood Smith as complicated (albeit amusingly fanboi named) antagonist Annorax.  His abduction of Paris and Tacotray sets up the more philosophical discussions of PtII, but his rationale for his actions in repeatedly altering the timelines are ones that make the situation more shades of gray, than black and white.   Of course, knowing Trek PtIIs rarely live up to the promise of their opening episode, but the two parter is off to a dramatic start – and the shots of the escape pods flying away from Voyager at the end of the episode would have made for an incredible season finalé shot!

Year of Hell Pt II

This is one year I’d like to forget. (beat) Time’s up

Yeah, okay.  Let’s address the Elephant in the holodeck first.  This episode ends with the reset button to end all reset buttons for Voyager.  A year’s worth of character growth and drama erased in a moment.  And shockingly…Tacotray is one of the major victims here, as his and Paris’ time together aboard the Krenim timeship sees both of them mature in their relationship and outlooks.  It annoys me no end as THIS is the Tacotray I could probably stomach more, a morally conflicted character who doesn’t just fit straight into the vanilla Starfleet mould.  Needless to say, it’s Tacotray and Annorax’s interactions on the nature of time, the ethics of reshaping the future and on the subject of loss that for me form the centre of this episode’s strongest narrative.  There’s also some wonderful stuff with the now blinded Tuvok and 7, in a more believable mentor/mentee relationship than Kes ever achieved.  All lost on the winds of time…

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Good, solid, character driven stuff. Great performances too.

Okay, stuff is still going on back on Voyager, as Janeway puts herself in harm’s way to keep her battered ship flying, even as she puts together another coalition to track down and nuke the timeship.  Especial props to the makeup crew for her 3rd degree burns makeup – ouch!

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Now THAT’s what I call battle damage!

The episode’s finalé is another outstanding Janeway moment, as the only person left aboard the Voyager and with the front of the ship torn off – she flys it, straight into the Kremin timeship!  And then everything is reset. NOOOOOOOOO!  One of my biggest problems with Voyager is there liberal use of the reset-switch, rather than risk character growth and more importantly showing the ship slowly looking…less Starfleet and more bespoke.  Why get rid of the Borg modifications?  Keep them, and any other ones you gain along the way.  That way the ship that finally makes it back to the Alpha Quadrant and her crew will really show the pain and struggle they went through to reach home.  But no, we’re back to ocean liner perfection and Mr Neelix still being alive.  Sigh, can’t have everything.  Still, Year of Hell is as damned close to a perfect Voyager episode as we’re going to get I suspect.  Cracking stuff!

Random Thoughts

Since nothing eventful has happened in the last couple of episodes (sob) we get a Tuvok centric episode, as the Voyager visits the planet of the telepaths and…oh dear one of them picks up on B’Elanna’s violent impulses.  In a call back to Justice, it turns out that the Starfleet crew should really have read the local law PADDs before they beamed down, as it turns out there’s no violent crime here on Lotus Eater V (or whatever the hell it’s called).  Having caused the poor fellow to go apeshit, she is sentenseted to an engramatic purge (which sounds like as euphemistic a description for literally brainwashing, as enhanced interrogation is for torture).  Naturally, while Starfleet is all for respecting local laws, Inspector Tuvok smells a space-rat and investigates, and it turns out on a planted where violent thoughts have been outlaws, that there’s a thriving black market trade in violent thoughts.  Gosh, it was all a big metaphor for the war on drugs – criminalise something in society, and you just drive it underground.

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Arnold Rimmer called, he wanted his uniform back, Chief Examiner!

I await Teresa May attempting to bring in the same doubleplus ungood thought laws in the UK in the coming months, eh?  Actually, there’s a missed opportunity here – given that Federation society is always held up as utopian (aka bland), are there similar problems for their own citizens who miss the more…exciting days of the past?  Sadly, any such philosophical questions are ignored, as it’s clearly the Mari who are entirely at fault in the narrative, and the Starfleet crew can assume a position of moral authority in their dealings with them.  Sadly, this all too late for B’Elanna who’s given a swift brain enema (or the best part of one) to purge of her unclean thoughts.  Tuvok saves the day and most of her brain, and on we trek.  A half decent episode at best.

Concerning Flight

I have memories of watching this years ago. Bad memories of an episode to rival Threshold, Coda or Fair Haven(6*).  Now I’ve also seen Nemesis, is this gonna be as bad or worse as S4’s bottom feeder of an episode?  Actually, it’s not quite as bad as I remembered and that’s largely down to the wonderful ACTING talents of John Rhys-Davis who rises (hah) far above the script to deliver a truly memorable performance.  Anyway, after yet another opening in Master Leonardo’s workshop with Janeway, the aliens of the week turn up and steal loads of Voyager’s technology.  Most notably they make off with the ship’s CPU, the Doctor’s mobile emitter and also Leonardo himself.  Hobbled by the theft Voyager limps to a trade world, where *shock* Leonardo think’s he’s travelled to the new world, and is wandering around thanks to 29th Century Federation technology.

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So cringe worthy, you’ll want to watch Season 4 of Sliders instead.

Again, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that I’ve seen this plot before (holodeck characters out and about: Ship in a Bottle anyone?), but for the most part it’s a bit of a romp for Janeway. Considering most of her centric episodes are dreary and depressing thus far I can forgive her, although the bit where she and Leonardo take flight (urgh) on one of his flying machines is beyond cheesey.   Yes, the episode is a waste of a good character actor, but by no means was this one anything like as bad as I remembered it.  Thankfully.

Mortal Coil

 

From comedy, we move to even more comedy(7*) as everyone’s least favourite gerbil crewman, Neelix, dies and finds out there’s no afterlife, or at least no afterlife that will have him. Hilariously, Neelix, Tom and Tacotray are in a shuttle looking for protomatter when the Talaxian is deliberately targeted by the vengeful plasma storm and blasted backwards across the shuttle.  Tacotray’s first reaction is to check the shuttle’s intact, and as an afterthought Neelix.  Good to know Neelix ranks somewhere behind inanimate objects in the hierarchy of importance.  Tragically, not knowing a good thing when they’ve got it, the Doctor uses 7 of 9’s nanoprobes to bring Neelix back from the dead, 18 hours after he shuffled off this mortal coil (hah).  That this is possible, should send shivers down the spine of the viewer, as it suggests that the body, mind and soul remain entwined for a good day after death, meaning a swift cremation opens up all kinds of existential problems.

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“Good news! You were dead and we had a great wake”

Naturally, having been dead, and seen nothing not even his dearly departed sister Alixia, Neelix’s simple faith in his race’s afterlife is irrevocably shattered.  With this revelation, does he start to seize every day as if it were his last?  Nah, he goes into a deep, spiralling existential crisis and emerges as a wet blanket bringing everyone down. Honestly, it’s like the crew have utterly forgotten Janeway’s afterlife experiences in Coda (heaven knows I’m trying to)!  Any-hoo, like the audience, Neelix’s nanoprobes start losing the will to live and he drops back into a near death state, which only ANOTHER sodding vision quest with Tacotray can solve.  Honestly, how is it that every ship in Starfleet doesn’t have a shaman in chief alongside their councillor, eh?  Given the regularity with which this tired old deus ex machina is brought in to solve metaphysical crisis, you’d think they’d be de rigueur.  Sadly, rather than solving Neelix’s crisis of faith, it instead drives him to try and vaporise himself with the transporter(8*).

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Neelix’s nanoprobes attempt to spare him the misery of living through this episode. Heroes, every one.

This episode is also notable for the reappearance of Naomi Wildman, last seen as a babe in arms a year and a bit ago (Basics), and now about 5 years old(9*).  Oh, she’s having trouble sleeping, which thankfully Neelix had been helping her with by telling her stories of the great Talaxian afterlife forest.  Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth when he comes back from the dead with his faith utterly shattered.  This episode is also notable as it took me three viewings to get through, one of which I fell fast asleep during.  I think that was my favourite one.  The solution that he has to keep on living just to help Naomi Wildman sleep is a fucking bleak one…honestly, that’s the sum total of your value to the crew, Neelix.  Screw your need for faith or self-actualisation, suck it down and cheer up a sprog.  Yeah, it’s a terrible, terrible episode that answers nothing nor is the decimation of Neelix’s self-belief ever revisited. Sheesh.

Waking Moments

Everyone’s been having odd dreams, aside from Harry Kim, who’s continuing to enjoy his nightly scheduled wet dreams of 7 of 9.  Can’t blame him(10*).  And in every dream there’s a strange alien watching them like a perv.  Well, aside from B’Elanna who’s on the nightshift and has been trying to have her regular hook-up with Paris.  On the whole, elements of this episode are somewhat TNG: Schisms redux, even down to the crew reconstructing the image of the alien together.  I’ll give the Voyager crew this though, they do at least rapidly  recognise that if they’re all having bad dreams with aliens in them, then something is afoot.  Perhaps there needs to be a standard Starfleet protocol where everyone reports bad dreams and then the ship jumps to Yellow Alert.

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The lucky ones – they don’t have to live through this episode

As might be expected with any story dealing with vivid dreaming, soon we’re questioning who’s awake and who’s dreaming…which means Tacotray get’s to roll out another of his mystical powers to save the day – lucid dreaming.  Yes, two episodes in a row for the Native American’s vision quests to save the day – I can say, without fear of contradiction here – he has utterly become the Wesley Crusher deus ex machina of Voyager.  And I continue to like him as a character, just as much as I like S1TNG Wesley.  Hint: It’s a minus figure.  Eventually, we get to the planet and the dreamers and Tacotray manages to stay awake (more than I managed during this episode) to pretty much threaten them all with orbital bombardment as an inducement to quit-it.  Yep, top marks for a non-Starfleet approved solution there.

A nasty thought just hit me…what if I am still asleep in front of this episode and I never woke up?  The horror…the horror…

*I’ve only seen bits of the Borg Children episodes, and I fear I’ll come to hate the episodes that centre around them with as much passion as I do the S1-3 Kes episodes.
**Which I watched last week, funnily enough.  And yes, despite being a cracking TNG story, the end is a bit…weak.
3*You’ll note here I didn’t even use a picture of Kes to illustrate this story.  That’s honestly how peripheral she actually is in her own, departure centric episode.
4*Take note, 3 seasons in and Tuvok gets a rank promotion. Later Tom gets demoted and then later promoted again, despite being a bit of an arse.  Meanwhile for 7 seasons, Harry Kim remains an ensign. Yeah, that’s utterly credible isn’t it.
5*It might have been hats…it might not.  The whole ‘how they’re invisible’ was never made that clear.
6*I know we’ve not made it as far as Fair Haven yet, but I remember it being utterly fucking awful.  I suspect a second viewing will confirm this.
7*Well I laughed anyway.
8*This episode has the most death’s/near deaths of Neelix yet.  It’s the show that keeps on giving.
9*Something which is handled with a hand-wave of ‘Oh her dad is a race of lumpy face aliens who age up to adulthood fast enough to make their kids interesting on a TV show’.
10*Harry can’t wake up from his dream..and the Captain bursts into his room. Oh dear Harry, hope the sheets aren’t being held aloft by too big a tentpole.