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[VOY] Jammer's Review: Fifth Season Recap

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager. Nutshell: In terms of stand-alone episode
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 1999
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      Warning: This lengthy recap article contains plentiful spoilers for the
      fifth season of "Star Trek: Voyager."


      Nutshell: In terms of stand-alone episode quality, the show is about as
      good as season four was. Looking at the bigger scheme of things, however,
      I'm not nearly as optimistic.

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

      For episodes airing from
      10/14/1998 to 5/26/1999 (USA)

      Series created by Rick Berman & Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor
      Executive producers: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      And, once again, here's the annual season-in-review article, which, in
      keeping with my self-created cliche, is of course dubbed "the most
      comprehensive Voyager review I'll write this year." Where have we gone?
      Where are we going? What was that thing known as Voyager year five? Such
      answers I will attempt to answer in the words below. As always, part one
      has a brief (although maybe not brief enough) look at each episode; part
      two has the general commentary.

      --
      PART 1: CAPSULE REVIEWS

      "Night" -- Airdate: 10/14/1998. Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky.
      Directed by David Livingston.

      Welcome to the era of Brannon Braga. Could you tell the difference? Well,
      "Night" didn't scream anything new for good or ill. It contained a good
      setup premise and many reasonable character elements; most notably was the
      acknowledgement of the Voyager of yesteryear via Janeway's distress at
      subjecting her crew to yet another emotional difficulty. The psychological
      aspects of being alone in a completely dark, starless area of space were
      especially creepy (this is one of few examples of Trek truly capturing the
      feeling of deep, deep space). Alas, what didn't seem all that true to
      character was Janeway shutting herself into seclusion because of guilt. The
      episode became too derivative when Voyager was pulled into a conflict
      between two alien races, including the Malon, who would eventually become
      the aliens of the season, and a race of people who somehow evolved in an
      area devoid of light (figure that one out). The end features a big
      explosion and a Janeway tagline ("Time to take out the
      garbage")--all-too-easy standbys. Overall, not bad, but certainly not a
      fresh start to a season.

      Rating out of 4: **1/2


      "Drone" -- Airdate: 10/21/1998. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Brannon Braga
      & Joe Menosky. Story by Bryan Fuller and Harry Doc Kloor. Directed by Les
      Landau.

      The reason "Drone" works so well is because it has an intriguing central
      character--an innocent Borg drone that Seven might be able to teach the
      lessons of humanity. The show maintains a great sense of mystery and wonder
      surrounding this bizarre but almost always pleasant Borg individual.
      Implicitly, the show is a masterstroke of perspectives, as we can see the
      possibility emerge that a Borg not influenced by the collective can come to
      a vastly different set of conclusions and values--perhaps simply because he
      has been "assimilated" by a culture with different goals and ideals. J.
      Paul Boehmer turns is a remarkable performance as the drone, and Ryan gets
      some standout moments, particularly in a heartfelt ending involving the
      drone's noble sacrifice. These are the types of "nature of humanity" shows
      that Trek has often been known for, and with "Drone" we get a classic
      Voyager episode, and classic Trek.

      Rating: ****


      "Extreme Risk" -- Airdate: 10/28/1998. Written by Kenneth Biller. Directed
      by Cliff Bole.

      On the other hand, "Extreme Risk" exemplifies a lot of Voyager's problems.
      This is a character show about B'Elanna, which right there should've been
      an immediate plus in my book. ("B'Elanna show" and "character study" when
      combined in the same episode seems to me like a formula for success.)
      Unfortunately, this episode fails because it simply isn't credible.
      Suddenly we have B'Elanna thrust into a deep depression that is explained
      by emotional circumstances--namely her learning of the slaughter of the
      Maquis in the previous season's "Hunters"--which haven't been remotely
      evident until now. There are some reasonable ideas, like the construction
      of the Delta Flyer and most notably the powerful standout scene where
      Chakotay confronts Torres on the holodeck about her problem, but they can't
      save a show that otherwise comes off as unfairly and insincerely conjured.
      The over-simplistic notion of Torres' problem being cured thanks to a
      daring mission of importance and some banana pancakes shows precisely how
      Voyager's adamant nature for doing single-shot stories--without any
      believable lead-ins, consequences, or follow-ups--hurts the most.

      Rating: **


      "In the Flesh" -- Airdate: 11/4/1998. Written by Nick Sagan. Directed by
      David Livingston.

      In true TOS fashion, "In the Flesh" offers us a competent lesson in the
      value of trust. In this case, it's an attempt for humans and 8472s to put
      aside their mutual fear of each other in the interests of peace. This is an
      example of Trekkian themes about as unmistakable as they come. It feels
      like a Cold War allegory more than anything else, but as I said in my
      original review, the Cold War is over so the themes feel about a decade
      late in their arrival. But that's okay, because the plot works on the
      surface and gives Chakotay a rare turn as the lead. There's the argument
      that this episode completely neutered 8472 as a useful enemy, but let's
      face it: 8472 really had nowhere to go after "Scorpion, Part II" was over
      (unless you wanted them to conquer the galaxy or have their attempted
      takeover once again crushed by the lone starship Voyager). The logical
      Trekkian solution--end hostilities and turn enemies into friends. Not the
      newest idea ever conceived, but here it comes across reasonably.

      Rating: ***


      "Once Upon a Time" -- Airdate: 11/11/1998. Written by Michael Taylor.
      Directed by John Kretchmer.

      Here's an example of oversimplistic routine storytelling. There are too
      many cliches here, and there's no interesting spin put on them. We've got
      our usual Shuttle Crash and Stranded Survivor cliches forming one half of
      the plot, and we have the Rescue Operation forming part of the other half.
      Why even bother milking any suspense out of it? If there's a point here, it
      surrounds Neelix's role as Naomi's godfather. To be fair, this is probably
      the only substantive story that Neelix the Cipher had all season, and it
      gave Ethan Phillips some meaty, emotional dialog for a change. But, other
      than that, I don't know what's particularly worthwhile here. The story
      played out exactly as expected, leading to a "heartfelt" payoff that wasn't
      the least bit satisfying. In the end I couldn't help but feel that the show
      was mostly a waste of time and a recycling of ideas. I also didn't go for
      the "cute" holo-novel characters, who weren't interesting enough to warrant
      the screen time devoted to them.

      Rating: **


      "Timeless" -- Airdate: 11/18/1998. Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky.
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by LeVar Burton.

      Now here's an example of the Voyager concept at its best. We've got here
      plenty of reliable elements, including timeline paradoxes, the crew vying
      for a way home, and slick sci-fi solutions to tricky problems with moral
      questions looming overhead. Simply put, "Timeless" embodies one of the most
      perfect ways to assemble all those parts into a whole that simultaneously
      makes an enormous amount of sense and plays up many of Voyager's strengths
      and unique elements. Would only they all be like this, the series would be
      in good shape. The writers proved here that Harry Kim *can* be a very
      worthwhile and captivating character, and Garrett Wang's
      uncharacteristically powerful performance proved he can carry a show
      bearing a great deal of emotional weight (too bad the rest of the season
      wouldn't affirm my beliefs here concerning Kim). The story is engaging from
      start to finish, and Burton's direction is right on target with some
      technique-driven parallelism in the timeline narrative that is reminiscent
      of TNG's "All Good Things." In the end, the story even allows Voyager some
      progress toward home, making the effort feel worthwhile. This is a Voyager
      must-see in my book.

      Rating: ****


      "Infinite Regress" -- Airdate: 11/25/1998. Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty.
      Story by Robert J. Doherty and Jimmy Diggs. Directed by David Livingston.

      The poster child for high concept comes knocking with an episode that boils
      down to "Borg multiple personality disorder." An interesting sales pitch,
      but does the show work? I think so, albeit it's more about technique than
      it is about story. Jeri Ryan is up to the challenge, and throws herself
      into one characterization after another as Seven is hijacked by one phantom
      personality after another. The plot holes involving the cause of this
      problem--a Borg "vinculum"--are plentiful, and a not-so-helpful group of
      aliens provides the usual conflict, but the direction and acting keep the
      episode's energy level high, and the go-for-broke attitude of the show
      maintains an edgy appeal to make "Infinite Regress" a solid hour of
      entertainment.

      Rating: ***


      "Nothing Human" -- Airdate: 12/2/1998. Written by Jeri Taylor Directed by
      David Livingston.

      "Nothing Human" contains many elements Voyager should attempt to exploit
      more often. Unfortunately, it also shows the wrong way of using such
      elements. I like moral arguments, but "Nothing Human" requires us to accept
      a great deal that I simply find unacceptable. First and foremost is Crell:
      The idea of a fully functional, nearly sentient holographic surgeon slapped
      together with a few computer commands and personality files is downright
      absurd. But more than that, Crell causes the story to sidestep several
      real-world conditions about the use of information obtained by questionable
      means, and instead the hour rides on narrow, manufactured
      circumstances--muddying the waters so much that the arguments become
      unworkable. The annoying walk-on of a
      to-date-unseen-and-never-to-be-seen-again Bajoran Maquis character, used to
      set the plot in motion, is equally unforgivable. That's too bad, because
      this episode has many compelling possibilities and strong performances.

      Rating: **


      "Thirty Days" -- Airdate: 12/9/1998. Teleplay by Kenneth Biller. Story by
      Scott Miller. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      A good Paris show. Granted, his love of the ocean had never been seen
      before this, but big deal--this is backstory that settles into the story
      because it has a sense that Tom Paris is a real person and not a jar of
      disjointed personality pieces (cf. "Vis A Vis"). The underwater world
      explored here was visually impressive and managed to bring the wonder
      factor back into the Voyager equation. And the flashback narrative (which
      according to the writers was written and filmed because the episode ran
      short) fit well into the story, strengthening it by giving us a chance to
      get into Tom's head. Paris' demotion to ensign seems a tad bit glib in
      retrospect (it didn't really mean anything down the road), but I liked the
      idea of Paris standing up for a cause he believed in and taking the heat
      for it.

      Rating: ***


      "Counterpoint" -- Airdate: 12/16/1998. Written by Michael Taylor. Directed
      by Les Landau.

      You can see the gears turning in "Counterpoint," but that's okay, because
      the whole show is about two captains silently scheming and hiding things.
      This is probably one of the best examples of how to use all the standard
      Voyager elements and apply them with well-above-average skill. Janeway
      comes across as smart, edgy, sardonic, and resourceful. And the writers
      supply her with a well-written adversary with much more charisma and
      intelligence than the average Voyager bad guy. And even though Janeway is
      able to anticipate the treachery and wins the game, I liked the fact that
      betrayal still hurts. Unfortunately, Mark Harelik goes a tad overboard with
      Kashyk's overplayed smugness, and some of his earlier actions don't seem
      plausible once the game is revealed. Let's put it on the high end of the
      three-star shows.

      Rating: ***


      "Latent Image" -- Airdate: 1/20/1999. Teleplay by Joe Menosky. Story by
      Eileen Connors and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by Mike Vejar.

      Inside the good "Latent Image" is an even better story trying to get out.
      Don't get me wrong--this episode has a thought process behind it that is
      truly compelling, as the writers explore the possibilities of Doc's
      sentience in a way that, conceptually, is highly admirable. Picardo is
      mesmerizing in a role that constitutes one of the season's heaviest
      character-reliant episodes, and the final scene is effectively atypical and
      eerie. BUT--the unevenness and continuity problems are hard to overlook. I
      for one thought the issue of Doc's sentience had long been established
      before this, and seeing Janeway's attitude that Doc is a piece of equipment
      more than he is a person is disturbing--something that should've belonged
      in the first or second season. Coming in season five it seems like sudden
      character regression. I also had a tough time swallowing many of the
      details involving the cover-up of Ensign Jetal's death. That's too bad,
      because the ideas behind "Latent Image" are very worthwhile, and some
      revisions could've made this a true standout.

      Rating: ***


      "Bride of Chaotica!" -- Airdate: 1/27/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller &
      Michael Taylor. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      One of the most inspired holodeck premises in a long time ends up being a
      surprising disappointment. This should've been non-stop fun, but instead
      the humor never really takes off. The pacing is off, giving us scenes
      inside the black-and-white holodeck settings and then switching gears to a
      standard Voyager technobabble plot that, frankly, I couldn't care less
      about. Some of the gags in the holodeck are worth a grin or two, but
      overall there's not enough energy. The replication of the old sci-fi
      serials is done with great skill and attention to detail, but that's not
      enough for success. Attitude needs to carry this hour, and attitude is
      precisely what's lacking. There's also an ironic subtext that proves to be
      the show's own undoing: Here's an episode that pokes fun at 1940s sci-fi
      schlock while embracing and exploiting 1990s sci-fi schlock. The fatal
      mistake is that it takes the 1990s schlock far too seriously. As a result,
      it's hard to accept this as a full-blown parody; instead it comes across as
      Voyager business as usual.

      Rating: **


      "Gravity" -- Airdate: 2/3/1999. Teleplay by Nick Sagan & Bryan Fuller.
      Story by Jimmy Diggs and Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan. Directed by Terry Windell.

      It's a very competent Tuvok show, but clunky plotting keeps getting in the
      way. This almost seems to prove that cliches comprise the method of choice
      for getting things done. Shuttles crash, subspace sinkholes threaten to
      collapse and kill the main characters, aliens provide counterfeit conflicts
      (why have both the collapsing sinkhole and the alien confrontation when
      only one is necessary to get the job done?), and lives hang in jeopardy ...
      and yet none of that is really the point. What is the point, and what fares
      the best, is the analysis of Tuvok's past and Paris' attitude as Noss falls
      for Tuvok and Tuvok is forced by his Vulcan ways to push her away. Russ and
      McNeill are right on target (especially in the "just you, me, and the
      rocks" scene), but Lori Petty's rendition of Noss, alas, seems off-kilter.
      The final parting scene is nice.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Bliss" -- Airdate: 2/10/1999. Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty. Story by Bill
      Prady. Directed by Cliff Bole.

      As a self-aware embracing of cinema archetypes this episodes knows what to
      do and how to do it. Monsters in space? Vengeful but likable old space
      hunters? Seven of Nine and a kid saving the ship? You got it. Deep,
      meaningful, or relevant in the slightest? Not likely. "Bliss" knows what it
      is and gets the job done based on competent execution, avoiding the most
      important pratfalls by not pretending that it's going to get its crew home,
      and by making Seven the sole reasonable character among a crew of grinning,
      brainwashed fools. ("Fools" used in the affectionate way, naturally.) The
      nature of the bliss-causing hallucinations is probably way implausible, but
      oh well. This is good clean fun, so overanalyze I won't.

      Rating: ***


      "Dark Frontier" -- Airdate: 2/17/1999. Written by Brannon Braga & Joe
      Menosky. Part I directed by Cliff Bole. Part II directed by Terry Windell.

      From a production standpoint, "Dark Frontier" is easily the most ambitious
      two hours of Voyager ever made, and ranks up with some of the best-produced
      sci-fi I've seen in episodic television. From a story standpoint, "Dark
      Frontier" is an entertaining two hours with some good writing and Seven
      backstory ... but it suffers somewhat from the fact that it doesn't deliver
      the lasting significance one would've hoped. The production and special
      effects sequences are first-rate eye candy. And conceptually, some action
      sequences--like the Borg's assimilation of an entire species--pack some
      punch. A lot of this is fun and at times exciting, but what's frustrating
      is the oft-disregarded continuity and especially the lack of motive behind
      the (surprisingly hollow) use of the Evil Borg Queen (bwahaha) and her
      unclear need to assimilate humanity--a species so frequently labeled as
      flawed and imperfect that one wonders why the Borg even want us in the
      first place. A closing "suspense" scene involving a standoff with lots of
      Big Guns lacks the edge it seems to want. All in all, it's good stuff but
      not great stuff.

      Rating: ***


      "The Disease" -- Airdate: 2/24/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by
      Kenneth Biller. Directed by David Livingston.

      This "Disease" just made me sick (ba-dum-bum). If you thought that joke was
      bad, just try watching this travesty of television romance centering on
      Harry "Chump" Kim and featuring plenty of unconvincing, invented sexual
      protocol. The central idea could've been workable, but the presentation
      here was simply awful. The dialog was atrocious, with hopelessly pathetic
      lines like "Boy meets girl on the wrong side of the galaxy; boy loses
      girl." (Yes, that line actually took itself seriously.) The plot was
      positively perfunctory, meaning the hour's success/failure resided on the
      leads' performances and chemistry. Alas, there isn't a shred of believable
      chemistry to be found anywhere in this lifeless mass; every performance
      falls flat on its face. The Harry histrionics in particular are laughably
      inept. The only worthwhile issue here, involving Janeway letting Harry
      "grow up," is yet another supposedly "meaningful" character development
      that refuses to have any lasting impact on anybody. And Harry is still the
      same Harry as always: a straight-laced goofball with none of the edge this
      show pretends to give him.

      Rating: *


      "Course: Oblivion" -- Airdate: 3/3/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick
      Sagan. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Anson Williams.

      I'll grant that this episode is superior to its brainless predecessor,
      "Demon," but that's about all I'll grant. "Course: Oblivion" might have an
      appropriate title considering the story's apparent intentions to crush a
      tragic alternate crew, but the episode fails to generate any good reason
      for me to care about these people. The technobabble contrivances border on
      the unbearable, forming the basis for a manufactured plot that is
      unworkable unless the viewer is willing to embrace out-and-out credulity.
      For me, everything about this episode rang false, as the doomed Voyager
      crew faced one convenient failure after another. When all was said and
      done, I was left angry and disturbed, but not in any way that could be
      attributed to the story's effectiveness. The plot's manipulations simply
      seem cynical to me, not tragic. At the end, my overwhelming feeling was,
      "Who cares?" If the writers were trying to convey pointlessness, they
      should've done it in a way that had a point.

      Rating: *1/2


      "The Fight" -- Airdate: 3/24/1999. Teleplay by Joe Menosky. Story by
      Michael Taylor. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

      Alas, in the spirit of season three, season five ends up with its own
      "trilogy of terror," having aired three consecutive shows that were
      completely botched. "The Fight" is all style and nearly absolutely zero
      substance, and the stylistics are unfortunately not worth the time. This is
      packed full of imagery and ominous notes, but what's lacking is any
      semblance of a useful purpose behind it all. The plotting is laborious and
      bland, Boothby's appearance strikes me as gratuitous, Beltran's stilted
      performance fails to rise to the occasion, and Kolbe's direction seems to
      have overcompensated to the extreme with atmosphere scenes that simply
      scream "Look at the weirdness!" instead of having any actual point. The
      result is a murky, incomprehensible mess that puts the tech stuff way
      before any of its characters. It's a perfect example of science fiction
      that severely lacks the sense of wonder and human interest required to make
      the story worthwhile.

      Rating: *1/2


      "Think Tank" -- Airdate: 3/31/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by
      Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Terrence O'Hara.

      Here's a perfect example of what Voyager is. I was reasonably entertained
      for 60 minutes (though hardly riveted), I didn't really have to think a
      whole lot because the show did most of the thinking for me and explained
      its thought processes in clear-cut terms, and there was a character theme
      (Seven's purpose on Voyager) that was worth the screen time devoted to it.
      What was lacking, as usual, was any hint of lasting impact, any trace of
      moral grey areas, and any notion that anything worth seeing in the Delta
      Quadrant can be construed as something other than a threat. We've got
      ourselves a game involving the smug "think tank," which of course means
      Janeway must deal the think tank their just deserts. (Thanks, but
      "Counterpoint" was a much better example of scheming.) As far as the game
      goes, it should've been more clever. I get the feeling that if Kurros was
      really so smart he would've anticipated something as basic as (gasp!)
      Janeway and Seven lying to him.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Juggernaut" -- Airdate: 4/26/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan
      and Kenneth Biller. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

      Two words: "shallow," "slick." Here's another Torres episode in a season
      that was decidedly not all that great for the character. This one suddenly
      resurrects the Wrath Within B'Elanna, as her temper control problems come
      to the surface in a way unseen for years. Taken to the extreme it is here
      and used for such an obvious character theme (save the closing minute,
      which is interestingly opaque), it seems sudden and excessive. Meanwhile,
      the plot at hand is the ultimate in simplicity, featuring the type of
      action that mandates passive viewing. The rest is all style and production
      and smoky sets and blowing stuff up real good. As such, it's fairly
      entertaining. But like "Extreme Risk" it shows Voyager's unwillingness to
      look beyond the hour at hand to the bigger picture.

      Rating: **1/2


      "Someone to Watch Over Me" -- Airdate: 4/28/1999. Teleplay by Michael
      Taylor. Story by Brannon Braga. Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill.

      In the season's most pleasant episode, Seven takes dating lessons from Doc,
      in a situation where one would expect the inevitable "test date" would be a
      disaster. Well, of course it's a disaster. But it's a rather hilarious
      disaster that still comes off as sincere, in character, graceful, and
      good-natured. Ryan carries the show with a performance of wondrous
      Seven-innocence, and Picardo is graceful in his usual role of Doc's
      charismatic, well-intended overzealousness. Brian McNamara is likable as
      the date victim, whom the episode allows to be a nice guy who tries to
      salvage the awkward evening. The story's uncovering of Doc's emerging
      feelings for Seven brings with it bittersweet pangs. Just call it an hour
      of delight.

      Rating: ***1/2


      "11:59" -- Airdate: 5/5/1999. Teleplay by Joe Menosky. Story by Joe Menosky
      & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.

      In one of the quietest, gimmick-free episodes in recent memory, the writers
      reflect upon histories and identity in an understated way through Janeway's
      introspective look at the past. Told mostly in flashback, "11:59" tells the
      simple, pleasant story of Shannon O'Donnel, Janeway's distant ancestor
      whose desire to look toward the future in the "Millenium Gate" project
      gained her hero status in Janeway's eyes. By the end of the story, Janeway
      has learned that her ancestor wasn't quite the "hero" she thought she was;
      historical records have proven innacurate. I liked the way this episode
      told its story without the usual cliches and simple payoffs. There were
      some key scenes that were lackluster, particularly O'Donnel's final
      realization and the somewhat oversimplified way she persuades Henry Janeway
      to let go of the past. But the ideas here are what matter, and they're
      relevant. Coming together are the concepts of the childhood hero in myth
      more than fact, the value of keeping our historical roots in perspective,
      and the Voyager-heavy sentiment of the nuclear family (i.e. crew) bonding
      together. Nice stuff.

      Rating: ***


      "Relativity" -- Airdate: 5/12/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan &
      Michael Taylor. Story by Nick Sagan. Directed by Allan Eastman.

      "Relativity" is a confused mass of cavalier time-travel craziness. Is that
      praise or criticism? Probably both, methinks. Really, there's not much
      going on behind the zany plotting of this episode; the timelines are used
      mostly as a playground for the writers to send characters from point A to
      point B to point Question Mark in a fourth-dimensional implementation of
      that universal cinematic device known as The Chase. By the end, very little
      of it makes any sort of practical sense, but the focus on the fun keeps the
      story confidently on track. Scrutiny is pointless; either you found it
      enjoyable or you didn't.

      Rating: ***


      "Warhead" -- Airdate: 5/19/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor & Kenneth
      Biller. Story by Brannon Braga. Directed by John Kretchmer.

      Nothing about "Warhead" was new or original, so its level of success lay
      solely on the level of tension the story could maintain. About all I can
      say is that the story didn't maintain the tension, so as a result I really
      didn't care about much of what was going on. The issue of "outsmarting the
      smart bomb" just didn't have the cleverness necessary to be a plot that
      could claim to be about outsmarting anything (and no, Seven's nanoprobes
      didn't count). The issue of a sentient smart bomb seems a little dubious; I
      still can't figure out why anyone would give a bomb sentience in the first
      place (especially if the bomb is at the mercy of contradictory directives).
      The themes here aren't bad, but they feel too rehashed from TOS, and the
      Trekkian self-pride sets in a little bit too hard-core by the end.

      Rating: **


      "Equinox, Part I" -- Airdate: 5/26/1999. Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe
      Menosky. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by
      David Livingston.

      Really, the jury will be out on this one until September, but for now I'm
      optimistic about the moral grey areas that "Equinox" has presented. Through
      the desperate crew of the starship Equinox, this episode brings back many
      of the qualities I think Voyager should've been using throughout its run.
      I've asked it before and I'll ask it again: What's more interesting to see?
      A crew forced to change because of extreme situations, or a crew that does
      business as usual under a situation that isn't really extreme but pretends
      to be? Whether next season will choose to make any changes to the Voyager
      attitude remains to be seen, but for now I'll take "Equinox" as it is--a
      story that shows a different side of life in the Delta Quadrant. The
      cynical side of me thinks we'll most likely get burned with "Equinox, Part
      II," but for now what we have works. Captain Ransom fares well as a shady
      yet still understandable hypocrite whose actions have crossed the line.
      Cliffhangers are done-to-death cliches and I could've done without the
      "cliffhanger action ending" presented here, but so it goes.

      Rating: ***


      --
      PART 2: SEASON ANALYSIS

      This is where things turn a bit harsher, I'm afraid, as I look at Voyager's
      biggest weakness: The Big Picture.

      This season has been a strange mix of enjoyment and extreme frustration,
      and I've been asking myself a question over the past few months: Is there
      even much of a point in my doing a general season commentary for Voyager?
      The capsule reviews might provide a handy recap, but is there a lot to say
      (or, more specifically, a lot *good* to say) about Voyager's fifth season
      as a whole? I'm not quite so sure, because this series lends itself to
      analysis in episode-by-episode pieces, and *not* as a whole.

      Ideally, an article like this would be most worthwhile if there were
      sweeping changes to report or new directions to discuss. At the very least,
      this would be a place to note the year's trends. The thing about Voyager is
      that, really, there are no cohesive trends to note. Conceptually, this
      series is all over the place and I can't put my finger on any direction
      it's headed in. If this sounds like old news, it is, and I apologize. I've
      been saying basically the same thing again and again for three years now.

      At the end of last year's recap, I wrote the following: "Maybe next season
      will be a SERIES instead of a collection of shows. Maybe not. ... With
      Brannon Braga ... taking over the creative processes of the series I'm not
      sure if we'll see any significant changes or not, but I can hope that we'll
      see some interesting new things come out of season five, and perhaps more
      emphasis on long-term thinking."

      So now to answer the question: What has Braga's role at the helm meant in
      terms of a change in the big picture at Voyager? Well, to be as blunt and
      as honest as I can be, my answer is simple: "Nothing." For good nor ill,
      there has been no change in attitude, no change in direction, no change in
      format, and no real discernible change in storytelling. Much--far too much,
      in my opinion--was made of Braga's taking of the helm in light of Jeri
      Taylor's retirement at the end of season four. Some alarmist fans feared
      that "Evil Brannon Braga" would drive the series into the ground with his
      approach to storytelling. Please, people, give me a break. I figured the
      chances of Braga driving Voyager into the ground were pretty close to zero.
      And as season five got under way, I also began to sense Braga's impact on
      the new season would have very little noticeable difference in the way the
      series operated or the way stories were told. And why should it? Braga has
      long been a creative force on Voyager. Why should his assumption of command
      really change much of anything?

      The sense I'd gotten (whether I'm right or wrong is another story) was that
      the producers were happy with the performance of season four and they
      wanted season five to be like the fourth season, with more "great
      high-concept storytelling" and "great exploration of the characters," etc.
      If another season four was what they wanted, then I'm of the opinion that
      they mostly delivered on that count. I'm inclined to say that overall
      "Season Five" is essentially "Season Four, Part II."

      Moving along, the next question is whether that's a good or bad thing. Did
      Voyager even need to change? I was of the opinion that Voyager's fourth
      season was the best Voyager effort up to that point, so I'd certainly
      rather see more of a fourth-season attitude than, say, a second- or
      third-season attitude.

      And there lies both sides of the argument: Either Voyager was inadequate
      and in need of changes to become a successful series, or Voyager was
      adequate and season five continued the trend.

      Well, I think most people pretty much know where I stand on the matter, so
      I'll just come out and reiterate my long-standing attitude on the series.
      In a sentence: While Voyager has its merits, I doubt I'll ever be satisfied
      with the bottom line. Why? Because of the following qualities: (1) It
      doesn't make the long-term investments in its stories or characters to keep
      us compelled on an ongoing basis, and that attitude sometimes also leads to
      strained credibility. (2) Because there are no long-term aspirations, we
      must live in a short-term environment that simply isn't consistently fresh
      enough to overcome the fact that there's *so much* Trek material in the
      history books in danger of duplication; as a result, stories too frequently
      feel recycled, derivative, or pedestrian. And (3) the series has failed to
      realize these two other points and continues to do what Voyager does best:
      business as usual.

      Now, to be fair, Voyager as a sci-fi series is not a failure. The
      production values are generally quite good, the cast is generally solid,
      and some of the stories really do deliver. In strictly episode-by-episode
      critical quality terms, I can report at least some positive news in that
      this season wasn't a downfall in stand-alone episode quality; in fact, the
      average numbers are virtually identical to fourth season's (by my ratings,
      anyway)--registering just an ever-so-slightly increased average. Looking at
      the top five: Episodes like "Drone" and "Timeless" both qualify as Voyager
      classics for me, the former being a wonderful character study and the
      latter an ensemble piece where everything clicked into the Voyager-specific
      mindset perfectly; "Someone to Watch Over Me" displayed a refreshing change
      of pace with broad human comedy; "Dark Frontier" showed that seamless
      production and decent writing can take action a long way; and
      "Counterpoint" showed that a nondescript premise can be turned into a gem
      with good execution, careful character attention, and clever writing. These
      are examples of the Voyager "one-shot wonders"--although I should probably
      point out that with Voyager it's either a one-shot wonder or a one-shot
      okay/mediocre/failure. Very little of a show's success has much to do with
      the scope of the series beyond the broadest aspects, like the fact that the
      same characters populate the stories.

      And speaking of characters, that's where the Big Picture begins to suffer a
      bit. This season, I must say, was probably not as good as season four in
      terms of creating consistently useful characters. For example, as a theme
      last year we had the ongoing development of Janeway and Seven's
      relationship. Perhaps it was overused, but at least it was something we
      could step back and see as a source of progress once the season was over.
      But this year, there seemed to be much less in terms of useful character
      goals. In theory, the idea of a more ensemble-focused series is a good one
      (it's what often made TNG work best), but the hang-up with season five was
      that the nature of the stories--and I hate to say this yet again--had a
      tendency to treat the characters as cogs in the plot rather than people
      making decisions. Stories like "Once Upon a Time," "The Fight," "Think
      Tank," "Warhead," "Relativity," etc. are so caught up in plotting that deep
      characterization nearly becomes irrelevant.

      Another problem arose through mischaracterization. In two words: B'Elanna
      Torres. Here was one of my favorite characters, and the writers had her so
      all-over-the-map this season that it merely became annoyingly unconvincing.
      "Extreme Risk" invented her manic-depression and then glibly discarded it.
      "Nothing Human" gave her a conflict with Janeway that would immediately
      afterward be forgotten. "Juggernaut" and "Someone to Watch Over Me"
      suddenly fired up her temper to an overstated excess. And "Equinox"
      suddenly made her soft and pleasant. Who *is* this person anymore?

      B'Elanna's probably the only bigger trend worthy of mention. Most everyone
      else remained within the boundaries of what came before--which is fine--but
      there's no real sense of anybody heading in any direction with a
      destination to reach. It would be nice to see these people and their
      personalities put to a bigger test beyond solving each week's plot. That's
      not to say the characters get completely lost, because they don't. Janeway,
      Seven, and Doc all have strong cores that shine through even without
      challenging new material. All had good character shows--Janeway with
      "Counterpoint" and "11:59"; Seven with "Drone" and "Someone to Watch Over
      Me"; and Doc with "Latent Image." But it's an episode like "Latent Image"
      that finds something worthwhile and uncovers a dire need for digging
      deeper. And, frustratingly, Voyager just cannot bring itself to go the
      extra mile. (You can't have a story about a character driven to torment
      about the nature of his existence and then pretend next week like nothing
      happened to him.)

      Other characters seem lost in the shuffle. Paris was reasonable but
      somewhat underutilized save "Thirty Days" and "Gravity." Tuvok even more so
      outside "Gravity"--and Chakotay and Neelix were virtually nonexistent for
      most of the season, aside from walk-on roles with little building value.
      (Neelix fared okay in "Once Upon a Time," but Chakotay's "Fight" featured
      characterization that was murky and useless.)

      And as for Harry Kim, don't even get me started. "Timeless" was a riveting
      example of the wealth of potential inside the loss-of-innocence Harry (and
      shows just what Voyager is capable of), but "Disease" was an utter disaster
      that erased all good will, and everything post-"Disease" affirmed that, no,
      Harry will never change; he's simply a laughable Teflon-man of a character.
      I can't say I've been pleased with Wang's performances, but the writers
      have totally dropped the ball, giving the poor slob almost nothing
      worthwhile. Naomi Wildman, Voyager's surprisingly effective rendition of
      The Kid as portrayed by the capable Scarlett Pomers, actually has been much
      more tolerable on the screen than Harry because I at least don't get the
      sudden fear I will be forced to cringe.

      It should come as little surprise, then, that Voyager is dependent more on
      its plots than its character development. On that end, one thing I
      appreciated about this season was its attempted emphasis on
      plain-and-simple traveling progress. Among the big problems with the second
      season was the absurdity of the series seemingly running around in circles,
      laughably diverting into the heart Kazon space at season's end. With this
      season we actually had some big progress toward the Alpha Quadrant with the
      two huge jumps forward. Finally the crew's efforts--experimenting with
      engine technology ("Timeless") and undertaking a daring mission against the
      Borg ("Dark Frontier")--actually paid off with some progress that could
      boost morale and make the series seem (at least temporarily) to break out
      of the status quo.

      But given its resources, Voyager is still a stark underachievement.
      Everything from the characters to the basic premise lend themselves to much
      greater things, but the show seems perfectly content to play it safe. Worse
      yet, it almost displays an unconscious contempt for anyone willing to pay
      attention from one month to the next. A big example is the way the writers
      made references to aliens that shouldn't have been anywhere near Voyager's
      position after the two big jumps. There shouldn't have been mention of the
      Devore in "Think Tank" and most certainly shouldn't have been a Malon ship
      casually cruising around in "Juggernaut." Sure, these complaints could be
      explained away with some imaginative excuses (like perhaps saying the Malon
      have very fast ships and the dialog simply didn't address it), but that's
      not the point. The point is, this isn't nitpicking; this is valid concern
      for a fundamental carelessness within the show: It alleges to make big
      progress and then disregards all consequences on a whim. The only possible
      interpretation of this attitude is that the big picture isn't valued by the
      creators; the immediate goal is. If that's the attitude, I'm thinking the
      immediate goal had better be well worth the sacrifice to the bigger
      picture. But way too often that's not the case.

      Looking ahead to the near future, what does Voyager need? Well, it needs
      what it has needed every year. Voyager needs to think for more than one
      hour at a time. This is not a new idea. Honestly, I don't know why I bother
      saying it again and again, because by this point I should know it will
      never happen. From a writing standpoint Voyager simply isn't a series that
      looks at the long term, because the producers and writers, for better or
      worse, have consciously come to the conclusion that operating in the short
      term is what works for them.

      Quite frankly, what Voyager needed was Ronald D. Moore. Now, I rarely
      comment on the behind-the-scenes soap operas in my reviews (criticism
      should be applied to the work on the screen, not the rumors and news going
      on behind production), but in this case I'm going to make an exception.

      For those of you reading this who are unaware of what has been going on in
      the Star Trek producers' offices the past few months, I'll give a quick
      recap: After work wrapped on Deep Space Nine, Ron Moore (whom,
      incidentally, I consider to be one of Trek's all-time best writers)
      announced that he was going to move over to Voyager to work on the show.
      Not long afterward, the rumors began flying that there was a massive
      falling out between onetime friends Moore and Braga, and that
      irreconcilable differences in opinion led Moore to reluctantly resign from
      the Voyager writing staff. A few weeks later, Moore confirmed in an online
      posting that he had left Voyager, though he gracefully refused (and
      rightfully so) to air details and dirty laundry in public.

      I'm not here to speculate on the nasty rumors that have been going around
      concerning Braga; I hasten to remind that rumors are not necessarily facts
      and that every story has two sides. At the same time, however, Moore left
      the show for a reason, and something is clearly suspect in the state of
      Bragaville. In any case, I can't see Moore's departure from Voyager as
      anything but the series' loss. Voyager could've used the fresh blood--some
      fresh blood that has years of experience writing for Trek with methods that
      could've been of great value to Voyager. Alas, that will never be.

      Looking to other possibilities in Voyager's future, other rumors
      circulating have promised that Voyager will "absolutely" get home midway
      through next season, though Braga has been quoted as denying it. Because
      the Delta Quadrant isn't very interesting, I would probably welcome the
      change in format (although something cynical inside me fears that our crew
      might get home to an Alpha Quadrant that has already totally recovered from
      the Dominion War and Voyager would in no way acknowledge the changes in the
      Federation put into place by its now-finished sister series). If you want
      my current speculation for season six, the most likely scenario I envision
      is "Season Five, Part II" (or "Season Four, Part III," if you must). All
      the quotes emanating from the Voyager producers are along the lines of
      happiness with the series from a creative standpoint, so there's no reason
      to expect change.

      It's occurring to me that this wrap-up article is perhaps coming across as
      unrelentingly negative in tone--more so than I imagined when I set out to
      write it. I think that can be attributed to the fact that Voyager does in
      fact work better when shows are analyzed case by case. And on their own,
      many shows this season worked and worked well. For that I give credit where
      credit is due. Unfortunately, the longevity of Voyager (and any Trek) will
      not hinge on analysis in individual pieces. The cumulative effect--where
      the *series* ventures--is what people will remember. And after five
      seasons, it's still hard for me to figure out what Voyager is all about and
      what of significance people will remember about it. Perhaps it will be
      remembered for its fragments.

      It is perhaps the greatest of all ironies that one of DS9's biggest
      criticisms when it launched in 1993 was that the setting was "too static."
      Now, more than six years later, DS9 has ended as the Trek series to have
      supplied the most ongoing changes in story and setting, while Voyager is
      still essentially doing the same things it always has--wandering a Delta
      Quadrant that offers little in terms of new settings, cultures, ideas, or
      story approaches. We just have lots of "space." But what's in this space?
      As of now, I'm inclined to call it a static, primarily empty area of
      space--traveled by a starship that covers a lot less ground than a certain
      space station sitting stationery at the mouth of a certain wormhole.

      It's too bad Voyager can't hold up when one steps back and looks at
      everything, because the paradox is that I find the series still supplies
      reasonable, enjoyable entertainment in short bursts. The indictment, I
      think, is that it could and should supply a lot more than that. See you in
      the fall.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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