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[VOY] Jammer's Review: Seventh Season Recap

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the entire final season of Star Trek: Voyager. In brief: A competent job of doing
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 10 12:22 AM
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      Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the
      entire final season of "Star Trek: Voyager."


      In brief: A competent job of doing primarily Voyager business as usual,
      featuring an ending that goes out more with a routine whimper than a risky
      bang.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- Seventh Season Recap
      Capsule Reviews & Season Analysis

      For episodes airing from
      10/4/2000 to 5/23/2001 (USA)

      Series created by Rick Berman & Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor
      Executive producers: Rick Berman & Kenneth Biller

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      And, one last time, here it is in annual summer-tradition style -- the
      Voyager season roundup, rehash, and all-around recap-and-commentary
      article. It's the most comprehensive overall look at Voyager I'll make
      this year, and the last official Jammer Review for Voyager I'll probably
      ever be posting. How did season seven fare? What was done well? What was
      FUBAR? Read on to find out. As usual, part one has a short review of each
      episode; part two has the general commentary on the Big Picture. Fasten
      your seat belts, because this jet is taking off...

      --
      PART 1: CAPSULE REVIEWS

      "Unimatrix Zero, Part II" -- Airdate: 10/4/2000. Teleplay by Brannon Braga
      & Joe Menosky. Story by Mike Sussman and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky.
      Directed by Mike Vejar.

      Much like the final episode, the season's premiere is a good example of
      the Voyager legacy -- beautifully produced action-adventure TV without the
      logic, freshness, or character insight to make a true lasting impact.
      There are so many plot absurdities here they're hard to count, the most
      egregious being the way the crew go undercover to be willfully
      assimilated/mutilated by the Borg, something that's dismissed outright in
      comic-book terms. Meanwhile, the Borg have basically been reduced to
      routine street thugs, featuring a Queen who serves no purpose beyond that
      of a narrative tool, and a network with worse security than Windows 95.
      The most interesting aspect of the episode -- that of a civil war that
      will "change the Borg forever" -- is rendered obsolete by the lack of any
      consequences as demonstrated in "Endgame," so I'm not so sure what we're
      supposed to take from the BS-laden "Unimatrix Zero" other than another
      hour of impressive production design and admittedly well-staged action.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Imperfection" -- Airdate: 10/11/2000. Teleplay by Carleton Eastlake and
      Robert Doherty. Story by Andre Bormanis. Directed by David Livingston.

      A key component in Seven's brain begins shutting down, and the result is a
      sincere and well-acted terminal illness allegory. Yes, Seven's Quest For
      Humanity is pretty much a Voyager cliche by this point, but there's a good
      reason the writers keep going back to it, which is that these stories are
      relatable to real life. The performances are good -- particularly a
      notably understated turn by Manu Intiraymi as Icheb -- and so is the
      dialog, including a scene where Seven and Icheb discuss dependence vs.
      independence, and another where Seven and Torres discuss the possibility
      of an afterlife. The encounter with Hard-Headed Aliens and the resulting
      chase through the junkyard is yet another gratuitous Voyager Action
      Insert, but so it goes.

      Rating: ***


      "Drive" -- Airdate: 10/18/2000. Written by Michael Taylor. Directed by
      Winrich Kolbe.

      It's the first in what would be a season-long family arc for Torres and
      Paris, one that I personally found quite gratifying. After years of
      virtually ignoring the relationship, the writers decide to finally tackle
      this couple head-on and put them at the most crucial juncture of their
      relationship to date. The result is a marriage that would be aptly
      revisited several times later in the season. Larger consequences aside,
      "Drive" is almost too by-the-numbers, with a thin and predictable subplot
      about the attempted sabotage of a peacekeeping racing event. Harry Kim
      figures into this subplot in a way that only reinforces how much of a
      gullible goof he is, as if the writers are underlining his chumpiness
      intentionally.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Repression" -- Airdate: 10/25/2000. Teleplay by Mark Haskell Smith. Story
      by Kenneth Biller. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      In one of the most woefully contrived and pointless plot exercises in
      recent memory, Tuvok becomes the instrument of a Maquis mutiny
      orchestrated from the *Alpha Quadrant*, for crying out loud. It begins as
      a halfway plausible Tuvokian investigation, but then quickly degenerates
      into a ridiculous mess that wants to pretend the writers actually care
      about the Maquis storyline, long ago abandoned. Teero, the Bajoran guy
      pulling the strings from afar, has absolutely no useful or believable
      motive to instigate a mutiny on Voyager. None. The fact that Tuvok could
      be mind programmed seven years earlier to be Teero's unwitting pawn is way
      beyond implausible. The Vulcan mind meld is used here in spectacularly
      absurd ways, to essentially reprogram former-Maquis crew members to "help
      them remember" where their loyalties lie. Do I even have to mention that
      all of this is resolved in the magically inane final five minutes with
      absolutely zero consequences whatsoever? Ugh.

      Rating: *1/2


      "Critical Care" -- Airdate: 11/1/2000. Teleplay by James Kahn. Story by
      Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty. Directed by Terry Windell.

      In another of the Voyager writers' somewhat rare attempts to tackle a
      social issue, the Doctor is kidnapped to an alien hospital that uses
      twisted ethics and prioritizing for determining the treatment of its
      patients. A good but not great social commentary, "Critical Care" does a
      good job showing the bureaucratic absurdity of HMO-type organizations, and
      has an ice-cold pragmatic system that places value on life in terms of an
      individual's overall perceived worth to society. The episode has a lot of
      good individual moments and points, although the ending seems somewhat
      unsatisfying and uninformative, reducing the whole problem of a society
      down to the hospital administrator, who is put through the somewhat
      obvious irony of becoming a patient in his own hospital. Though an overall
      solid effort, the story doesn't tackle with much insight the issue of
      whether the larger problems presented here are or aren't fixable.

      Rating: ***


      "Inside Man" -- Airdate: 11/8/2000. Written by Robert Doherty. Directed by
      Allan Kroeker.

      After our visits to the Alpha Quadrant twice last season in "Pathfinder"
      and "Life Line," both with excellent results, this third outing with
      Barclay & Co. is a major disappointment of wasted potential and uninspired
      storytelling. The episode boils down to a Ferengi plot to use the
      Pathfinder array to trick Voyager into venturing through a spatial anomaly
      so the Ferengi can get their hands on Seven's nanoprobes and sell them for
      huge profit. Yes. The use of Barclay this time around is, at best, a
      rehash of certain issues in "Pathfinder," and, at worst, the writers
      making fun of him instead of sympathizing with him. Meanwhile, we've got
      the whole issue of the Voyager crew being manipulated into thinking
      they've got a safe shortcut to the Alpha Quadrant, which is a bad story
      device because (1) it's already been used too many times, and (2) it
      succeeds only in making our characters look foolish. (You'd think after
      "Hope and Fear" the crew would know better.) No, thanks.

      Rating: **


      "Body and Soul" -- Airdate: 11/15/2000. Teleplay by Eric Morris and
      Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman. Story by Michael Taylor. Directed by Robert
      Duncan McNeill.

      Silly high-concept done entertainingly, in which Jeri Ryan must play Seven
      under the influence of Doc's program. Light and inconsequential, the
      episode basically boils down to whether we're amused by Ryan's gleefully
      over-the-top performance as Doc in a human body. Well, I was amused. I was
      also impressed by the more subtle nuances within the otherwise unsubtle
      Ryan performance -- which, by the way, is exactly right since the Doctor's
      outgoing expressiveness all but requires that he would be anything but
      subtle about his experiences here. Aside from some "hologram rights"
      thematic backdrop for "Flesh and Blood," the plot is basically
      insignificant filler that lets Ryan take Doc's role and run with it. A
      successful example of a show that puts all its eggs in one high-concept's
      basket.

      Rating: ***


      "Nightingale" -- Airdate: 11/22/2000. Teleplay by Andre Bormanis. Story by
      Robert Lederman & Dave Long. Directed by LeVar Burton.

      Harry Kim as a captain? Say it ain't so. The problem here is that the
      episode tries to pass Harry off as someone we should respect when he does
      nothing to earn our respect. He exudes an annoying air of arrogance that's
      self-defeating, he micromanages needlessly, and it takes Seven kicking him
      in the ass before he shapes up. Sorry, but respect must be earned.
      "Nightingale" is perfect evidence of one of this series' biggest failures:
      the inability for it to develop its supporting characters (especially
      Harry) in gradual, believable ways. By throwing us such ham-fisted Harry
      actions, the story doesn't really give us a sampling of Harry's abilities
      but instead examples of why he shouldn't even be in the captain's chair in
      the first place. I've long been annoyed with the lack of Harry's
      development, and this pedestrian last-ditch attempt to provide him with a
      new challenge only punctuates the lost cause. I'm not sure what's more at
      fault here -- the episode or the series at large.

      Rating: **


      "Flesh and Blood" -- Airdate: 11/29/2000. Part I: Teleplay by Bryan
      Fuller. Story by Jack Monaco and Bryan Fuller & Raf Green. Directed by
      Mike Vejar. Part II: Teleplay by Raf Green & Kenneth Biller. Story by
      Bryan Fuller & Raf Green. Directed by David Livingston.

      Though not as centrally important, one question on the mind of "Flesh and
      Blood" is similar to one at the heart of Steven Spielberg's "A.I."
      released earlier this summer -- what sort of human responsibilities do we
      have toward artificially intelligent beings that we create? That's a tough
      question, because it's hard to define "sentience" in the terms of
      extremely elaborate programming. The cans of worms are abundant, but I'm
      heartened by the fact that this year the writers try to deal with them
      (here and in "Author, Author") rather than sweeping such questions under
      the rug in favor of holodeck tomfoolery (see last year's "Fair
      Haven"/"Spirit Folk" travesty). My solution: Don't create artificial
      sentient-like beings if you're not prepared to deal with the ethical
      consequences (although the Hirogen get around that by maintaining that
      there's simply not an issue here, which is a valid position of its own).
      All that said, "Flesh and Blood" uses some of these issues as a backdrop
      for a Voyager action movie with a lot to recommend. The Doctor's
      willingness to be drawn into this plight is both understandable and
      commendable, and Picardo puts in a typically good performance. Many of the
      guest players are pretty good, too. Probably the most subtly interesting
      aspect of the story is the way Iden, the holographic terrorist leader,
      cannot overcome his programmed predisposition for violence, whereas Kejal,
      the holographic Cardassian engineer, is able to grow beyond those
      programmed instincts. While I'm not so sure I agree with all of the
      messages that "Flesh and Blood" puts forward, its ability to spark some
      entertaining sci-fi debate makes it worthwhile.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Shattered" -- Airdate: 1/17/2001. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by
      Mike Sussman & Michael Taylor. Directed by Terry Windell.

      This year's Anomalous Time Plot, in which Voyager is shattered into
      various timeline pieces and only Chakotay might be able to put the ship
      back the way it should be. The plot, like most time-manipulating episodes,
      makes no sense -- which is to be expected -- but what's peculiar here is
      how mundane, repetitive, and talky the story allows itself to get, using
      so many unnecessary alternate-timeline versions of various characters and
      a slew of references to old episodes for no good reason ... unless we're
      supposed to be playing Name That Episode from our living rooms. Chakotay's
      ongoing interaction with a Janeway from the past is a saving grace of
      sorts, but the episode doesn't take full advantage of the idea and
      needlessly spends time watching Chakotay interact with Seska and engage in
      repetitive scenes where he must explain to other characters what's going
      on ... and then later explain some more. It's not terribly unpleasant, but
      it's certainly not interesting. The Humpty Dumpty of time-travel shows.

      Rating: **


      "Lineage" -- Airdate: 1/24/2001. Written by James Kahn. Directed by Peter
      Lauritson.

      Quiet-ish and with smaller human problems instead of bigger galactic ones,
      "Lineage" is not your typical Voyager action outing. It is, rather, a
      well-executed character drama that focuses on relevant relationship
      issues. I'll grant that not all viewers tune in to Voyager for this, but
      every once in a while you need to explore the characters with genuine
      focus without resorting to needless plotting. That's exactly what
      "Lineage" does, by diving into B'Elanna's troubled past and tying it into
      her and Tom's future. The pregnancy, as I've said before, is an apt symbol
      for these two characters finally becoming something Voyager has been in
      need of for a long time -- the basis for a true, front-and-center nuclear
      family that is founded in and grows in the Delta Quadrant. B'Elanna's
      torn-between-cultures identity has rarely been depicted with more clarity
      and immediacy than here, where she fears the Klingon blood in her and the
      baby will eventually tear her new family apart, much like it did her
      childhood family. The episode benefits from rational dialog, good acting,
      and a straightforwardness that avoids the temptation of obvious plot
      distractions or contrivances. The show succumbs to excessive melodrama at
      the end, but remains a moving character outing nonetheless.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Repentance" -- Airdate: 1/31/2001. Teleplay by Robert Doherty. Story by
      Mike Sussman & Robert Doherty. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      It's the death penalty issue, done with a certain degree of thoughtfulness
      and a significantly lesser degree of subtlety (which is to say not much).
      It's the classic "contemporary issue with a sci-fi twist" treatment, which
      is accomplished here through Seven's nanoprobes (groan), which give the
      contemptible convict Iko a conscience where he never had one before.
      Arguments of responsibility are both explicit and implicit as Iko
      undergoes a stunning transformation. Most clearly shown here is how the
      death penalty is rooted more in emotional responses than logical ones,
      which is perhaps why society at large should not be carrying it out
      (completely aside from all the flaws in a system that claims to be just
      and impartial but cannot presume to make such claims). "Repentance" has
      numerous flaws (certain arguments exist in a fantasy world where the
      usefulness of the message is skewed by sci-fi convenience), but in the
      final analysis the episode is actually *about* something, which is part of
      what makes Trek what it is.

      Rating: ***


      "Prophecy" -- Airdate: 2/7/2001. Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis
      Strong. Story by Larry Nemecek & J. Kelley Burke and Raf Green & Kenneth
      Biller. Directed by Terry Windell.

      Don't forget your Klingon decoder ring. Not that you'd need it, since the
      hollowly concocted prophesying in this episode allows for the widest of
      interpretations in order to hold Torres' baby up as a Klingon messiah.
      (With a little more effort, perhaps Janeway could've been recognized as
      the Kuva'Mach, even without being Klingon or pregnant. Okay, maybe not.)
      This episode is simply a mess, featuring a score of disjointed cliches
      from the Delta and Alpha quadrants alike. There's no discipline here, and
      I'm convinced the episode came together by jamming together at least two
      independent story ideas. Or twelve. The final two acts in particular cause
      viewer whiplash, jumping aimlessly and implausibly from an honorable
      Klingon swordfight to a deadly plague to a Voyager takeover with the usual
      lousy-shot bad guys. In trying to do everything, it ends up doing very
      little. The emotional core is largely absent.

      Rating: **


      "The Void" -- Airdate: 2/14/2001. Teleplay by Raf Green & James Kahn.
      Story by Raf Green & Kenneth Biller. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      In the season's most unintentionally ironic episode, the writers decide to
      create a premise that represents just about everything Voyager as a series
      probably could have (and should have) represented from day one. They do
      this by pulling the ship into a starless void with no resources, where
      trapped ships pummel and steal from each other for survival. Well, this of
      course is what the Delta Quadrant itself could've been about (albeit to a
      lesser extent). To stack an irony atop another irony, history repeats
      itself when Janeway decides that sticking to Starfleet ideals is what will
      help Voyager create alliances making an escape possible. That was a
      troublesome and naive turning point for the series back in second season's
      "Alliances," where the situation was very different (and less tuned for
      such Starfleet-esque thinking), but here it makes sense because being the
      friendly one is a viable way to get attention. Indeed, given the
      situation, it's the *only* viable option for escape. While I find it
      pretty silly that no one aside from our gallant crew had the sense to
      think of any of this before (cooperation -- what a novel concept!), it
      does a good job showing the classic Trek ideal in action.

      Rating: ***


      "Workforce, Part I" -- Airdate: 2/21/2001. Written by Kenneth Biller &
      Bryan Fuller. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      "Workforce" is very simply a good and well-executed sci-fi adventure
      concept. It's fresh and mysterious, dropping our characters into strange
      situations and making us witnesses to a gradually evolving mystery. The
      construction of that mystery is revealed at just the right pace; we know
      something is askew even as the characters themselves -- whose memories
      have been tampered with -- do not. Outstanding production values do a fine
      job of creating the active-but-arid essence of this highly industrialized
      world through the use of well-placed special effects, convincing set
      design, and good editing. Also commendable is the apt use of our
      reprogrammed characters, who retain many of their own personality traits.
      Seven is most appropriate as an "efficiency monitor," and Janeway's
      emerging relationship with a coworker hints at the simple pleasures that
      seem to be lacking in her life as a captain. And there's a subtle,
      effective message behind the plot, where this society is almost insidious
      in its devotion to employment, in a Borg drone sort of way.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "Workforce, Part II" -- Airdate: 2/28/2001. Teleplay by Kenneth Biller &
      Michael Taylor. Story by Kenneth Biller & Bryan Fuller. Directed by Roxann
      Dawson.

      Taking part one to its inevitable conclusion, part two is highly efficient
      plot maneuvering (with a lot of it, expertly paced), its wisest choice
      being that it gives us a guest character who is on "our" side in trying to
      uncover the conspiracy. Even when bureaucracy renders him powerless, he's
      not an idiot. Meanwhile, the best character angle in play is the sweet
      interaction between Paris and Torres, who are unaware that they are, in
      fact, married in their actual lives. Paris feels a need to protect Torres
      even while being completely unaware of their marriage on a conscious
      level, which is reassuring. Other plot aspects, like Chakotay trying to
      get through to Janeway, are effective but less memorable. The ending falls
      short of satisfaction by being too cut-and-dried and by too simply
      brushing aside the issues of the memory alteration. Also lost in the
      shuffle is part one's eerie message of drone-like workforce existence.

      Rating: ***


      "Human Error" -- Airdate: 3/7/2001. Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Andre
      Bormanis. Story by Andre Bormanis & Kenneth Biller. Directed by Allan
      Kroeker.

      It's not the worst episode of the year, but it's certainly the biggest
      disappointment. Parts of this story are so engrossing, so intriguing, so
      well-realized that we want the writers to see the story through to its
      logical conclusion -- one that would make Seven realize she's not quite
      who she thought she was. Nope: She's a Borg drone with a built-in emotion
      inhibitor that doubles as the show's plot-resetting device. "Human Error"
      is the epitome of pointless Voyager status-quo mandates and the type of
      repeating time loops many characters seem trapped inside as a result. Once
      again Seven has a chance to grow and doesn't. Once again the audience is
      cheated with an incredulous plot contrivance pulled from thin air. Even
      though "Endgame" would have Seven change her mind and undergo the
      procedure Doc proposes here, it's too late by then because few results of
      any interest play out on the screen. The ending of this episode, even
      given the "Endgame" development, is still utterly inexplicable and
      gutless -- perhaps even more so. I'm left to wonder whether pairing
      Chakotay and Seven in the finale was done only because Robert Beltran
      challenged Brannon Braga to do it.

      Rating: **


      "Q2" -- Airdate: 4/11/2001. Teleplay by Robert Doherty. Story by Kenneth
      Biller. Directed by LeVar Burton.

      I forgot to mention in my original review of "Q2" that the teenage Q
      premise wasn't even original -- it was done in TNG's sixth-season episode,
      "True Q." And it was done there much better, I assure you. Here, being a Q
      is reduced to the dumbest variety of sophomoric parlor tricks, where Q Jr.
      decides omnipotence is handy for throwing a party in engineering or making
      all of Seven's clothes vanish. Yippee. Little of this story is funny, and
      even less of it is thoughtful; the show's biggest miscalculation is that
      it thinks our characters should be teaching the mighty Q silly human
      lessons like the importance of the nuclear family or owning up to
      responsibility. If I wanted that, I'd watch an after-school special. The Q
      are supposed to be teaching *us*. The ending borders on nonsensical, with
      a trial unconvincingly thrown in as if somewhere along the line a rule was
      written saying the Q Bench must always show up to physically sit in
      judgment of somebody. This, along with "Repression," sinks to the bottom
      of the seventh-season barrel.

      Rating: *1/2


      "Author, Author" -- Airdate: 4/18/2001. Teleplay by Phyllis Strong & Mike
      Sussman. Story by Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.

      The last great episode of Voyager, in which wit and insight play a key
      role in a story about Doc writing a holographic novel that becomes the
      center of controversy over the similarities (and noted differences) the
      fictionalization has when compared to the Voyager crew. It's a brilliant
      premise that plays like the best elements of "Worst Case Scenario,"
      "Living Witness," and the various "hologram rights" shows, and would've
      been the ideal sendoff starring vehicle for Doc (if not for the needless
      "Renaissance Man"). Sharp dialog and attention to the nature of the
      characters makes for an engaging dissection of personalities and
      attitudes. The comic high point comes when Paris decides to give Doc a
      taste of his own medicine by reprogramming the holo-novel; the jokes and
      performances are inspired. The episode turns into a "rights of the
      artificial" courtroom-like premise when Doc learns that he has no rights
      as an author because he's a hologram -- which is savagely ironic given the
      subject of his holo-novel. The subplots involving other characters having
      scheduled chats with family members prove to be surprisingly enlightening
      and perfect to fill the time in between Doc's scenes. The ending strikes
      me as sane: Doc's status as an author cannot be ignored, but nor is
      Starfleet quick to grant all holograms the legal status of people.

      Rating: ****


      "Friendship One" -- Airdate: 4/25/2001. Written by Michael Taylor & Bryan
      Fuller. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      A middling affair which serves as this year's attempt to be "One Small
      Step," except without the genuine sense of reverence for space
      exploration. There's an over-reliance on cliches here, particularly in the
      hostage standoff between Janeway and the "bad guys," who are supposed to
      be sympathetic but whose motivation as written is suspect, to say the
      least. The alien leader is written with little subtlety or willingness to
      hear reason, while other members of the alien race are reasonable. Poor
      Joe Carey meets his long-deferred demise in what proves to be an arbitrary
      hostage killing with zero emotional payoff whatsoever. How cynical. The
      show's overall message is okay: Consequences Can Come Unexpectedly. But
      then unfortunately Janeway's final line about how exploration shouldn't
      cost any lives is among the most ill-thought-out lines of dialog ever
      written on this series.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Natural Law" -- Airdate: 5/2/2001. Teleplay by James Kahn. Story by
      Kenneth Biller & James Kahn. Directed by Terry Windell.

      The year's most uneventful episode, in which Chakotay and Seven engage
      in -- not sexual escapades -- but the most reliable of all Voyager
      cliches: the Shuttle Crash. They then find themselves trapped in an alien
      cultural preserve with a primitive people, and the episode spends a lot of
      time watching Chakotay's attempts to communicate with them. It's not
      annoying, but it's certainly not compelling. Meanwhile, Janeway & Co.
      attempt to negotiate with some aliens, who finally of course open fire on
      Voyager, etc. The B-story about Paris going to traffic school is a waste
      of bandwidth. To say this episode bides its time is putting it mildly. By
      the time we get to the "issue" there's no time to flesh it out. It's
      perhaps worth noting that it's hard to step wrong when you don't attempt
      to do much of anything at all. Wake me up when we get there...

      Rating: **


      "Homestead" -- Airdate: 5/9/2001. Written by Raf Green. Directed by LeVar
      Burton.

      Neelix meets a colony of Talaxians (how did they get out here?) and
      through a series of events finds that he has a chance to offer his talents
      as an all-around good person and build a new life with them. While the
      alien miners here aren't exactly villains from the Cinema School of
      Kitten-Drowning Manipulation, they aren't exactly subtle either, as they
      threaten a young boy and intend to blow up the Talaxians' home in the
      interests of making a few bucks. Neelix & Co. step in to help the
      Talaxians save themselves. "Homestead" is not great or remotely
      groundbreaking, but it sends Neelix off with a palatable dose of dignity.
      Neelix's silent departure and Tuvok's farewell gesture turn out to be
      surprisingly affecting.

      Rating: ***


      "Renaissance Man" -- Airdate: 5/16/2001. Teleplay by Phyllis Strong & Mike
      Sussman. Story by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman. Directed by Mike
      Vejar.

      A mostly needless exercise in Doc redundancy where our multitalented
      Holodoc must pretend to be various members of the crew in order to
      complete a secret mission (stealing the warp core) for aliens who hold the
      captain hostage. Yes, another hostage plot. The kidnapping and
      operation-in-secret premise is a flimsy excuse for the undercover work --
      pretty much the way these things usually go -- but the plot manages to
      move along at a good clip, offering up enough gags to be fun without
      falling into too much tedium. Still, in a season where many of the
      characters are devoid of any sort of reasonable development, do we really
      need another average action/adventure plot? The two kidnappers seem
      frankly incapable of being the threat they claim to be to the captain,
      particularly since one of them eventually helps Doc turn the tables on the
      other. Oh well -- any episode that features Janeway talking to voices in
      her head is at least worth a look.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Endgame" -- Airdate: 5/23/2001. Teleplay by Kenneth Biller & Robert
      Doherty. Story by Rick Berman & Kenneth Biller & Brannon Braga. Directed
      by Allan Kroeker.

      The series finale is the typically watchable Voyager "event," complete
      with Big Budget and Big FX; more Borg; Paradoxical Time Travel; a
      Will-They-Get-Home Premise; and an ending with lots of 'splosions and
      inevitably hollow comeuppance. There are things that are impressive and
      rare, like the awesome sight of a Borg transwarp hub. The future timeline
      is established with a reasonable amount of care and interest. Does it all
      add up to anything? Yes and no. Yes, there are some good ideas in here,
      like Janeway in conflict with a time-displaced version of herself, and her
      struggle over whether to take the way home that sits in front of her or to
      help strangers (a la "Caretaker"). No, in that the whole premise has a
      time-paradox loophole that negates the dramatic power and indeed the very
      need for Janeway's difficult decisions, allowing everybody to have their
      cake and eat it too (most notably the writers). In the meantime, the Borg
      are a joke, their Queen is an even bigger joke, and the (non)aftermath
      once Voyager arrives in the Alpha Quadrant doesn't begin to scratch the
      surface of any of the real issues that were interesting about the crew
      returning home in the first place. Entertaining? Well-made? Yes.
      Satisfying? Well-envisioned? No.

      Rating: **1/2


      --
      PART 2: SEASON ANALYSIS

      Like in previous years, I might as well start this thing out by quoting
      myself.

      One year ago, in my season six recap, I wrote:

      "Since Voyager is in fact heading into its last season and the creators
      know this, they might be motivated to deal intelligently with the issue of
      Voyager returning to the Alpha Quadrant. Touches like Admiral Hayes'
      curiosity about the Maquis in 'Life Line' give me a glimmer of hope for a
      season that, if not for the expectation of Voyager returning home, I would
      write off as doomed by precedent to become 'Season Four, Part IV.' We may
      have given up on the Delta Quadrant, but there's still quite a bit of
      potential here in going back to the Alpha Quadrant. Voyager's track record
      doesn't have me enthused, but hope springs eternal."

      Disappointingly, all I can report is that getting home was scarcely a
      factor beyond the two-hour finale for the series. And in "Endgame,"
      *getting* home was the *only* part of the issue. *Being* home meant
      nothing, because zero screen time was devoted to the idea. In the Alpha
      Quadrant, Voyager emerges from a Borg sphere after being inside it and
      blowing it up (how does that work?); Janeway says, "We did it"; roll
      credits, end of series.

      Gee, thanks for all the wonderful insights on the matter.

      Not that it comes as a huge surprise.

      Call it "Season Four, Part IV," I guess.

      A year ago I would've called this the worst possible scenario for dealing
      with the issue of Voyager returning to the Alpha Quadrant. I probably
      should've just called it the most likely scenario. As season seven roared
      on and the news and spoilers rolled out onto the Web and into magazines,
      it became increasingly obvious that Voyager getting home was going to be
      held for the final episode and, indeed, the final minutes of the final
      episode. At a certain point it probably just becomes too late or
      inconvenient to deal with larger issues. The audience expects the series
      to end on a climactic bang, and if getting home wasn't that bang, what
      could it be?

      It really isn't surprising that the Voyager creators didn't plan out a
      second dramatic bang so that we could get the ship home earlier in the
      season and deal with those questions that were the most tantalizing. I'm
      frankly *not* appalled that the series ended without any insight, because
      I really wasn't expecting any. If nothing else, Voyager is consistent. The
      series is television at its most basic, existing to fill screen time, sell
      advertising, and entertain viewers. All very necessary things, mind you,
      and things Voyager probably did adequately. But what's missing is the
      series' ability to take it one step further -- to challenge the audience
      with new ideas, to challenge the characters with fresh problems and
      perspectives. Now that it's over, I think I finally know what Voyager the
      series is. It's a stage, pure and simple, for telling Trek stories in the
      most traditional and safest of confines. It's not a series about new
      perspectives, original ideas, or challenge. It's not a series that usually
      stops to ask tough questions. It's a series run by those who, for whatever
      reason, believe that growth and challenging expectations are asking too
      much of the audience ... creators who believe an audience will not stand
      for something different in their Trek. Who knows -- maybe they're right.

      Of course, this all goes back to my long-held stance on the series, which
      is that it has forever ignored its own premise and promise. You know the
      drill, because I've said the same thing every year for what seems like,
      well, forever. (Do not fret; this year's rehash will be brief.) From the
      standpoint of a Broader Perspective, Voyager might as well be the Time
      Loop Trek Series. The characters are mostly stuck in time, destined to
      forever repeat their overall experience without growing or changing. Even
      when hypothetically stuck for 30 more years on a starship, it's hard to
      imagine, based on the evidence we've seen, that many of the characters are
      or would be different from who they were when the journey started in
      "Caretaker." Janeway has her Starfleet ideals (which she either observes
      or discards when convenient), and "Endgame" proposes that an additional 16
      years in the Delta Quadrant would turn Janeway into a bitter cynic. But
      why should we believe that? Seven years hasn't changed Janeway much at
      all, and in essence she's already gone through most everything her future
      self probably could; she's already lost at least one or two dozen crew
      members. It's only when she hypothetically loses Seven of Nine that she
      becomes more hardened and less idealistic. Unfortunately, that's not a
      statement about Voyager as a family; that's a statement about Janeway's
      personal relationship with one individual ... not to mention that it's all
      hypothetical anyway. BFD.

      The same problems that have plagued this series in past years were still
      evident in season seven. Look no further than Harry Kim, the series' most
      egregious symbol of the series' biggest problem. Here's a guy who was
      straight out of the academy, who got conned by Quark in the very first
      episode, and who had a lot to learn. Who is he today? Practically the same
      damn guy, making what looks like freshman mistakes, laughable when he
      tries to play captain, intentionally held up as the writers' eternal chump
      of the series in episode after episode, like some sort of cosmic joke. Why
      hasn't this guy grown up over the past seven years? The reason: Because
      Voyager in its broad strokes would rather be about static archetypes than
      evolving characters. Janeway is the Leader, Seven and Doc are Human
      Proteges, Tuvok is the Vulcan, Harry is the Court Jester, Neelix is the
      Kind Soul, etc. Many of these people haven't changed much at all, because
      they're icon types instead of people.

      Granted, some have changed. Doc and Seven have always been on a continuing
      journey of learning about humanity. Seven never quite went as far as I'd
      hoped, thanks to cowardly, non-committal reset-button plots like "Human
      Error" (and she seemed stuck in that time loop, repeating lessons rather
      than learning from them) -- but she at least had the mission. Doc might be
      the best character on the show. He was a clean slate when first activated
      in "Caretaker," and now he's a man with passions and hobbies, opinions and
      personality, and has even taken up a cause for his fellow holograms. His
      cause grew out of a thematic concept this season that I never thought
      could've worked as well as it did. After years of stupid holodeck hijinks,
      the Voyager writers finally managed to take a holodeck idea and make
      something interesting by asking if Doc would take a stand on holograms
      being exploited (see the standouts "Flesh and Blood" and "Author,
      Author"). Yes, it represents a massive can of worms and debatable
      arguments that can be shot down, but it still makes for interesting
      storytelling.

      This year also spent some time finally addressing Paris and Torres'
      relationship, which was quite frankly way overdue. A lot of people scoff
      at Paris/Torres (including former executive producer Brannon "Voyager is
      not a relationship series" Braga), but I think their presence is important
      in demonstrating what may be the only recognizable bigger theme this
      series has left -- that of a developing family aboard a starship whose
      crew is out of touch with their families back in the Alpha Quadrant. When
      you have a crew stuck on a starship for what could be a bulk of their
      lives, you can't just pretend that life consists of reporting for duty
      every morning and talking about shields and transporters. There has to be
      a sensibility away from the Starfleet life that says these people are
      going to be human beings with life goals apart from their jobs. That has
      often been an important ingredient lacking on this series (because no one
      truly believes they're stuck on this ship, or if they do they're fine with
      it). But this season's willingness to explore Torres/Paris is a saving
      grace that should not be underestimated.

      To those who say Trek should just be a stage for a starship and a crew
      that "boldly go," I pose the question: Then why bother having a fresh and
      extreme premise? Why pretend that getting home is important or that
      resources are limited? Why not just send these people off on a deep-space
      mission and be done with it? (In short, Voyager writers: You made your
      bed; now lie in it.) I will admit that I've had my own biases and hopes
      for what Voyager as a series could've been, but if they're giving us a
      mission statement of sorts (two crews, alone in the unknown, overcoming
      differences, reevaluating perspectives, living in a survival situation,
      etc., etc.), they should probably use it to gain some sort of insight into
      the human condition. But Voyager isn't often an exploration of the human
      condition; it's more an exploration into the ways the creators can resolve
      a new (or old) plot, or assemble an action sequence.

      At the outset of this season, the big behind-the-scenes change was that
      Brannon Braga was out (busy working on "Enterprise" development) and
      Kenneth Biller was in. Anti-Bragites were ecstatic. I was unmoved. Voyager
      has long been an unchangeable mass of the Status Quo, a series far more
      focused on the individual episode to have any sort of sweeping change
      brought about by a new head writer. Anyone expecting a new Voyager from
      Biller probably was fooling themselves. We certainly didn't get much that
      was out of line with what came before.

      On the level of the individual story, season seven seemed to be a steady
      diet of competence. There were fewer big losers this season than in many
      if not most seasons ("Repression" and "Q2" go down as the biggest losers,
      yet I didn't feel a need to break out the one-star rating), and at the
      same time only one episode I'd qualify as truly excellent ("Author,
      Author"). And, of course, there were a lot of shows falling into the
      categories of decent, middling, and mediocre, and a few good standouts.
      Sadly, well less than half the shows fell into the category of something
      I'd solidly recommend.

      On the whole, Voyager served the general purpose of TV for viewers, which
      is to entertain for an hour at a time, but without taking us to many
      places of genuine wonder. If I sound a little unenthused by that
      observation, it's because I am. The freshness just isn't there. After
      watching the way Deep Space Nine went through a war and challenged the
      very survival of the Federation -- taking its characters to extremely hard
      places in the process -- watching a crew go head-to-head with the Borg
      again and again (by getting themselves assimilated on purpose, etc., no
      less) feels like an unconvincing comic book. Where's the originality and
      conviction in such recycled plotlines?

      Biller's biggest contribution to the Bigger Picture (aside from any and
      all workplace operating styles, irrelevant to this article) seems to be
      that he was open to the idea of exploring the aforementioned Torres/Paris
      relationship (especially in the sleeper standout "Lineage") that Braga
      apparently did not want to touch. That's a good thing, in my view.

      Other than that, season seven looked a lot like season six to me,
      especially in its clueless regard to using supporting characters. Chakotay
      is still a bland cipher with practically no reason for being, his biggest
      show being the unarresting time story, "Shattered," and his arbitrary
      last-minute relationship with Seven seeming more motivated by
      behind-the-scenes chest-thumping (Robert Beltran basically dared Brannon
      Braga to do it, and Braga obliged) than anything remotely within the
      parameters of either character. Tuvok is perhaps the most appallingly
      overlooked character, an individual who had great potential in the early
      seasons when he was Janeway's close friend and confidant. Now he gets to
      star in absurd vehicles like "Repression," where his Super Vulcan Mind
      Powers are exploited as a way-beyond-ridiculous plot device. Aside from a
      good line or moment here and there, I'm exceptionally disappointed in how
      Tuvok turned out; he's just "the Vulcan" instead of a well-rounded
      character, something he easily could've been. The fact that Tim Russ makes
      Tuvok the best-performed Vulcan since Leonard Nimoy's original Spock only
      highlights the lost potential. Meanwhile, Neelix gets a good sendoff in
      "Homestead" but otherwise has been another character largely without
      direction or meaning. And don't get me started on Harry "one of the
      franchise's all-time worst regular characters" Kim; as far as I'm
      concerned, the less said -- or seen -- about him, the better. None of this
      analysis should come as a shock, since I've made these cases before.

      So was season seven a success or a failure? I guess that depends what your
      definition of this series is. As a whole, I certainly can't call it
      anything close to a success because this season staked out very little new
      territory, answered almost no questions about what being in the Delta
      Quadrant or what getting home meant (which was the beyond-obvious gold to
      be mined this year, but was left untouched), and was content to do what
      this series has always done best and/or worst: business as usual. I only
      recommended 11 out of 24 episodes this year, which is hardly an impressive
      hit-to-miss ratio. Yet I can't call the season (or the series) a complete
      failure because it often did what it set out to do with great skill,
      telling individual sci-fi or character stories that stand on their own as
      reasonable hours of television, and sometimes with enough style or
      substance to be worthwhile. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it that's
      not enough, because I think we ultimately want more than
      middle-of-the-road routine in the broader strokes of our Trek franchise.
      It's especially disappointing because Voyager had what was arguably the
      best premise of any Trek series, but squandered it to rehash a formula
      we've seen played out for years.

      And the disappointing stock-issue adventure ending resolves very little of
      any significance, unless you were just dying to see the Borg get blowed up
      real good again -- which I for one was not. In so many ways, "Endgame" is
      the ultimate statement for Voyager, the perfect microcosm: It's a
      great-looking action/adventure outing that can be fun and offer up some
      interesting sights and even compelling ideas, but it's too often
      contrived, artificial, unbelievable, and a disappointing cheat to those of
      us who think the show could and should offer more than the mastery of the
      superficial. It has skill, but little depth. Such is "Star Trek: Voyager,"
      the perpetual Trekkian underachiever, which now is over.

      But the Trek franchise continues -- and immediately, it would have it. At
      the end of next month, the latest entry to the franchise, the prequel
      series "Enterprise," premieres. I will be watching it. And I will be
      reviewing it, staying on the Trek reviewing beat for a while longer. If
      you too are on board for "Enterprise," I'll see you there ... and soon.

      -----
      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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