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

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