Star Trek Voyager Season 5
In the Flesh(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 198)
written by new story editor Nick Sagan
The fifth season opens fairly quietly, without any big cliffhanger situations to resolve, yet each early story gradually becomes intriguing and proves its worth, introducing a new environmentally-polluting enemy called the Maylons, re-iterating the continuing Borg threat, developing the Captain-Proton-inspired Delta Flyer, using it to give us the first docking of a pseudo-shuttle inside Voyager we can remember for a LONG time, and now putting Paris's new mini-ship to good use again here.
Though beginning as an intriguing "what's going on here" mystery, this one quickly escalates into a very important and intriguing confrontation with Species 8472, where a lot of the questions from "Scorpion" find answers. Apparently, Kes was not wrong about 8472's intentions during the war, but what we learn here is that those emotionally charged thoughts were more of a gut-level reaction in the heat of the moment rather than any long-term pre-meditated plan.
And whatever transgressions Janeway made against the Prime Directive back in "Scorpion", she finds opportunity to try to put right again here. There may have been shades of grey in the debates with Seven over these issues, but here Janeway gets back on the principles she always would have preferred to stick with, and she is seen to prevail. Nice!
Has Species 8472 been unnecessarily robbed of its status as a worthy new threat with this episode? Perhaps, but does Voyager really need to encounter nothing but a series of ever-increasing threats on its journey? It's far more realistic for them to find a wide variety of types of conflict and relationships, and frankly the high level of evolution and technology that 8472 wants to display is far more believable for a more fully rounded species, which they finally prove themselves to be here in this episode. I really like this one. I think writer Nick Sagan has suddenly brought some important points back into the Star Trek world, things that seemed to be lacking under Lisa Klink's reign. Bring it on!
Timeless(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 201)
story by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky & Rick Berman
teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
So by now Star Trek just does time travel on auto-pilot, punching out another piece with little impressive thought behind it.
Technically, there isn't too much wrong with this one in terms of the events being easy to re-interpret under a more elegant model of time. But I think a few too many scenes depend on the characters' belief in the silly single-line-rewrite model of time to fuel the drama. Replace the model and, yes the events still work, but many of the scenes lack the power that the writers think they have.
"We're still here! Why are we still here?!"Of course, it doesn't really matter how many new histories are spawned by Harry and Chakotay's influence over the past, because each history will have its own alternate universe in which to co-exist with the one that these two have already experienced. There is no magic wave on its way to sprinkle fairy dust on them and erase the previous 15 years of their lives. Whether their message succeeds or fails, they won't be able to tell by using this lack of magic as a criterion. Also rendered pointless is Chakotay's scene pondering how success will negate the love affair he is having with Tessa, and rendered pointless are the struggles to convince the Doctor and Captain Geordi not to side with the "Temporal Prime Directive".
The episode conveniently cops out of showing anything happening to the alternate future after that Harry and Chakotay succeed, since they manage to destroy their Delta Flyer at just that instance. Perhaps that's a good thing. Harry and Chakotay and Tessa would have continued there just as you please. Captain Geordi DOES continue on his fine-looking Galaxy class starship, which is probably considered a bit of an old clunker at that point. And this alternate universe still has its Voyager buried in a glacier on an ice planet.
Also as a bit of a cop-out is Janeway's final line asking her Harry (and thus the audience) not to think about time travel too hard. It seems like we're going against Q's insistence in "All Good Things..." that that is where the REAL exploration lies, and opting for a stance much closer to Austin Powers going cross-eyed and offering temporal advice to the audience with a double-take in his third movie "Goldmember".
Thankfully, we also get half an episode filled with good stuff that actually happens to the characters we will continue to follow in seasons 5, 6, & 7. One of the good things going on here is that we don't just toss off the slipstream drive concept from last year's finale as another Gilligan's Island syndrome stunt... instead we bring it back, and show how the crew actually thoroughly investigated and pursued this technology. And hey, they even manage to knock another 10 years off of their journey, in addition to what they got in "The Gift". Impressive. They proceed out of this adventure with a message that acknowledges the existence of an alternate future Harry & Chakotay, and their efforts to save this ship. Excellent.
And let's not forget all the amazing visual effects work surrounding Voyager and the ice planet, all of which gives the story good levels of excitement and intrigue. Garrett Wang also does good work portraying his older self differently and believably.
In the end, we have an episode with split fortunes in terms of sections that work and sections that don't. All of the dialogue arising out of the outdated model of time can go, which will tweak the directions in which the drama will unfold. Whether that new story would be excellent or mediocre is really up to the writers' imaginations. The episode we did get remains just slightly on the better side of mediocre.
Infinite Regress(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 203)
story by Robert J. Doherty & Jimmy Diggs
teleplay by Robert J. Doherty
Naomi Wildman has memorized all 47 sub-orders of the Prime Directive. Have you? (Hint: the Star Trek writers have never sat down to figure out the details on that level, but want to suggest here that such a level of detail exists.)
It's a lot of fun seeing Jeri Ryan finally get to play some characters with charisma and life, which she does well, and the idea triggering this is cool... but, okay, where can this go as a story? The end conflict feels quite contrived and blah, involving same-old optical ship-to-ship shootouts that we're not invested in. The story is not bad, but not great either.
Nothing Human(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 200)
written by Jeri Taylor
This episode is the focus for intense debates over medical ethics, and ethics on the use of scientific knowledge. Sadly the debate is derailed by several notions, and the lack of clarity results in a lot of unpleasant hot air instead of enlightened discussion of the issue.
Early parts of the episode draw up some clear lines for conflict. Our new medical expert is Cardassian, while our patient and one of her helpers are former Maquis. This projects an episode where B'Elanna will have to overcome her prejudices to accept help from a former "enemy", which is a common Trek theme and would have produced a good episode, or at least a good thread in a more complex episode. Instead, the prejudice festers until it is allowed to dominate the episode. Ick.
We should also note that the episode takes place in a society that uses no money, AND where our characters are separated from the bulk of society by great distance with no communication. It's not as if using this knowledge in today's crisis can in any way help to FUND more experiments on the actual Cardassian's behalf back in the Alpha Quadrant. Thus, one of the concerns that would be very valid on our Earth of today has been thoroughly removed by the combined established nature of Star Trek in general and Voyager's situation in particular.
And if the characters want to get really picky, as the Cardassian points out, you'd have to throw out so much Earth-based medical knowledge that the Doctor may be rendered into an incompetent walking piece of Swiss cheese.
What is really going on here is that we end up witnessing what has been termed a "justice mechanism" exhibiting itself in characters' knee-jerk reactions as they jump to a no-deal solution. They look at a fancy holodeck tool, pretend it's actually some guy from history, and vent their lower emotions. Not impressive. Adding onto this mess is Tuvok's unconvincing logic. Logic is simply a way of following through on an idea step-by-step. It does not ever prove that the idea is good, or noble, or philosophically correct. Janeway's observation from "Prime Factors" is particularly apt today.
It is still a good idea to keep a check on how this Cardassian expert is performing today... his dissection of a holo-creature provides reason for us not to trust his judgment during surgery. Instead of focusing our scrutiny there, the episode wastes much energy on the false idea of throwing away knowledge. The truth is free for all who understand it, the Cardassian doesn't own it, and there is no question of paying for it here either.
Also glossed over a little too much are the first contact protocols, and the attempts to save both B'Elanna AND the creature don't quite receive the due that they should. Though there is merit to the ideas in the episode, it did derail itself by getting lost within some aspects that the writer was stuck on, and being unable to stay focused on the aspects that did deserve due time and scrutiny and praise.
Thirty Days(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 202)
story by Scott Miller
teleplay by Kenneth Biller
This is one of the most interesting and polished episodes of Voyager's nicely successful fifth season. The Thirty Days themselves work excellently as a framing device, helping us feel that time is passing Tom by, while the main adventure is told in flashback. The letter to Admiral Dad is nicely believable. If there is an improvement to be had, perhaps it is odd that B'Elanna doesn't get a speaking scene until quite late in the story.... adding an early visiting scene to Tom's incarceration might have helped a bit.
The main adventure is quite good, finally showing the viewers the Delaney sisters that have been mentioned since early season one, giving us another round of Captain Proton to show motivation for Tom that a lot of hard-core audience members will share, and going on to feature a kind of planet that Star Trek hasn't really done before. Between the concepts, the lifeforms, the atmosphere, and the visual effects, this is a really enjoyable episode of exploration. Two thumbs up.
Of course, the final conflict brings up the Prime Directive, but there's really nothing here to challenge its wisdom today. Tom passionately decides to go against it, and though we sympathize with him, he is clearly in the wrong today. The emergency is enough of a long-term consideration that official channels deserve to be given a chance. Tom's option boils down to impatience resulting in eco-terrorism, which isn't much improvement. The concluding action is a bit... convenient for the script and the series' continuation. But even with Tom in the wrong, the story still works as a clash of characters with consequences.
In the end, this is quite a good episode. Nice!
Counterpoint(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 204)
written by Michael Taylor
Immediately after chewing Tom out for his Prime Directive violations in the last episode (and quite rightly too), Janeway goes straight into a boneheaded Prime Directive blunder of her own. Normally, a Federation starship would avoid Devor territory at all costs and have nothing to do with such paranoid secret-keeping pigs. But our good ship Voyager has to get to the other side, and is in too much of a hurry to go around, as they really should do. Is this a good enough excuse to violate the Prime Directive? "Scorpion" kind of set a precedent, followed up by Voyager's dealings with the Krenim in "Year of Hell", and it seems par for the course now.
Taking on some passengers to smuggle them through as well may be questionable, but seeing as how having any telepathic species on board like Vulcans and Betazoids would be a violation, they're already a bit past that rule. Only the detours required to assist these extra passengers do kind of help Voyager to stick out like a sore thumb. From my new age perspective, humans are also telepaths should we exercise our abilities to develop and practice that skill, and there probably isn't any species out there that has no abilities in this area that can't be developed, so it does feel a trifle odd that such segregation is so important.
Anyway, today's Prime Directive violation has the Voyager crew working very hard to maintain secrecy and deception, which gets them on the wrong side of the honesty principle, so I'm not much invested in this situation here.
The biggest problem in this episode is the miscalculation about which deceptions are expected to fool the audience. Did the writer intend that we should fall for the chief inspector's defection? The motivation for this to be a ruse is a little too clear, and there is nothing about the situation that puts our minds to rest on this issue. In terms of writing the character, maybe he could have worked as is, but the acting performance really never evokes sympathy or trust. This is a real sorepoint, making us wonder why no one on Voyager seems to notice how obnoxious and untrustworthy this guy is.
Thankfully the episode somewhat redeems itself at the end by revealing that Janeway has taken some sensible precautions, but prior to that reveal, the audience is forced to endure a lot of frustration watching her apparently fall for his ruse and allow him way too much free reign. I'd have thrown him in the brig right away, confirmed none of his suspicions, revealed nothing new to him, listened to any tips he might have spouted with a grain of salt, and maintained one-way communication. A better way to salvage audience investment in Janeway's actions for this plot as is might have been to add a couple of Janeway-Tuvok scenes where they discuss their mistrust of this guy further, and Janeway outlines her real plans to use counter-subterfuge, and we get on side with her strategy and her view of what the stakes are on that level. Then when romantic escalations begin to poke through, we'll be wondering if going that far is what it's going to take. As it stands, the romantic escalation just feels off. I will give this series a point though that such escalation stands out far better than anything Kirk might have done in her place, since Janeway has never gone for the smooch yet in 4.5 years of doing this show.
Well, this isn't a terrible episode, but it does finish up on the bottom end of mediocre.
Dark Frontier(Star Trek - Voyager episode production codes 211 & 212)
written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
This double-length story is an interesting enough blockbuster with a lot to recommend it. Sadly, continuity is out the window, as though its makers don't remember the history of their own show. Seven and the Hansens really should have been normal-looking Delta Quadrant aliens instead of humans, so that this good backstory can be what it is, while TNG's initial Borg discoveries and explorations remain uncontradicted. The Borg Queen is revealed in her natural habitat instead of the questionable Earth attack, and her motivation is puzzling, but I guess "alien" - she is definitely more automaton and less sensual than in "First Contact". Borg architecture nicely combines the usual cubes and spheres with the bizarre shapes seen only in "Descent" previously... and this is the first time that it all works together coherently. I'll buy it. These opticals are very memorable.
So, Voyager cuts another 15 years off of its journey in this episode. Let's see.... It was to be a 70-year journey when it started. "The Gift" cut 10 years off. "Timeless" cut another 10 years off. Now "Dark Frontier" cuts off 15 years. Plus, they've been cruising along for 4.5 years. That means they've covered 39.5 years so far... more than half-way there! Additionally, they may have gotten a good boost of up to 2.5 years in the season five opener "Night", but though this may be implied by adding up the information from several points in the story, "Night" fails to give us a scene acknowledging Voyager's progress. The Maylon's wormhole shortcut could have taken them 2500 light years straight sideways for all we know.
So, sure there's still another 28-31 years ahead of Voyager at this point.... but wouldn't that put them in the center of the galaxy by now? Earth's solar system is about 60% of the way to the rim on the other side of the galaxy, so... this should be the time when they cross a border into either the Gamma or Beta quadrant, and not long before getting into the Alpha Quadrant near galactic center. Will the writers touch on any of this? Or will it all be forgotten?
Dark Frontier seems to be shaping up into the "main event" of season five, even if it's a bit too bizarre to be the best episode.
The Disease(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 210)
story by Kenneth Biller
teleplay by Michael Taylor
I keep thinking of Ron Moore rolling his eyes when citing that TOS and TNG up to season 4 often fell back on "the disease of the week" to be the plot of an episode.... here they actually use that title! It's only meant as a metaphor here, for which Seven apologizes and discounts in a final scene, just before engaging in the metaphor all over again. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
Janeway's position on Starfleet romantic protocols during alien contact procedures seems to make a lot of valid scientific sense, but is sadly contradicted by a LARGE chunk of Trek history that follows in the free-love concepts that Roddenberry believed in and built the franchise on, which makes her chewing out of Harry Kim a bit over the top and melodramatic, not to mention hypocritical on Starfleet's part. What would she have done with Riker as first officer?
Relativity(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 218)
story by Nick Sagan
teleplay by Nick Sagan & Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Good Lord, what an uninspiring mess!
Well, out of all the possible futures out there to choose our way into, whatever one Captain Braxton and crew come from, they are INSANE to have so much ability to do time travel and so little clue how the multiplex of universes accommodates an infinity of choice.
At least when we saw Braxton back in "Future's End" he was a minor part of a bigger story that had more worthy archetypal dramatic threads and developments going on, which played out with a greater variety and scale of production value. And he got good framing as the nutcase of the adventure.
Here, he turns out to be a nutcase again, but not before handing viewer loyalty over to his second-in-command, who quite frankly spouts more of the same insanity as though it's been culturally institutionalized. Sad.
At the heart of the insanity is Braxton's idea that his present will change by magic, as if the creation of a new past will lead to "his" present instead of that of one of his doubles in an alternate universe. The fact that he and his crew constantly mess with time and have no awareness of multiple versions of history co-existing, even when two versions of the same person with non-complementing history interact in the same room, just destroys all my faith that any of them have the slightest idea what they are doing.
I'm not going to try to follow all the ins and outs of all the various paradoxes and jumping through time that takes place in this one, to figure out how Braxton and crew and the writers think things are being affected, because that would be like trying to figure out all the scientific details behind water falling off of the edge of a flat Earth taking a sailing ship with it. The underlying belief has been rendered obsolete. On a round Earth, we let such a dissertation sink. It's not as if Star Trek fans regard this episode highly as they did with "The City on the Edge of Forever". I'll bet very few of them remember this one.
It was interesting seeing Janeway first take command of Voyager in Mars orbit. And it was great to see Ltn. Carey again, one of the few recognizable faces that would be on the ship at that time. Carey should appear in season five's present time. It's strange how most of the minor characters Voyager could develop disappear after just a few episodes.
Ultimately, I find myself trying to isolate the bits taking place in Voyager's season five present-day, the bits that they will remember and take with them as canon events in their journey, and I tend to want to ignore most of everything else due to the suspicion that it probably won't matter in the long run.
The story contains a big reveal which, considering my views, seemed rather obvious, but was still nice to get on screen. Then comes a dramatically decent conclusion with the expected amount of energy. Okay.
By that point, the episode had not been a great one, but had reached the point where it was naturally finished, and the story was over. Time to wrap up and go to credits.
But no, the writers tack on yet another anti-climactic action sequence, thinking they still need to do more to "clean up the timeline". Morons! There's no such thing as clean or dirty timelines. Going back in time again can only spawn yet another history, and make whatever you might call a mess to get even bigger. You don't need to merge multiple versions of people either. Let them all co-exist separately. And dramatically speaking, this coda sequence adds nothing of value to the story. Besides, if you buy the logic necessitating this bit, wouldn't you need about a half-dozen more like it to clean up everything? That would make excruciatingly boring viewing. If you leave out the other half-dozen, you may as well leave out this one as well.
Really, this story doesn't have any real point to it. It just seems to be here to fill a slot in the schedule. There is no profound thought about time in it, just a lot of sloppy miscalculation. Actor Bruce McGill had done some nice work on Quantum Leap, and makes Braxton into a watchable character here, and though I feel I'd enjoy seeing McGill on screen again, I really don't want to see any more of Braxton.
Sadly, I think this is the worst story Voyager has put out this year.
Equinox - Parts 1 & 2(Star Trek - Voyager episode production codes 220 & 221)
story by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky & Rick Berman
teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
The initial kernel for this story is an interesting one, one that hadn't really been done before on Voyager, and couldn't really be done on any previous Trek series with the same impact. But it seems to burn through all its best bits in the first half. As season five ends with the mid-point cliffhanger, yes there is a climax of jeopardy, but where else of interest can the story go? Using all the same characters, part two has to seek out a whole new core of conflict to sustain another 45 minutes of drama, and is not entirely successful.
Captain Ransom casually asks Janeway how many times she's had to violate the Prime Directive to further her crew's journey home. Of course, he's just trying to find out how open he can be with her regarding his own transgressions, and of course, our staff writers themselves probably can't be bothered to maintain continuity by actually examining Janeway's performance on this idea in previous episodes, which has taken a number of different turns. They know the contrast they want to draw between the two captains for this specific story, and so Janeway is somewhat reset to her stance in "Alliances", sticking to principles even when it means she and her crew may have to suffer. One wonders how much she might be euphemizing her own violations as just "bending" the rule a bit now and then. I don't think she's quite as principled anymore as she might like to pretend.
Part One continues to work as the meeting of the two ships generates excitement in how both journeys may change, with additional intrigue filtering through, peppered by the threat of continual attacks from mysterious forces. But once we get to the cliffhanger, there is little mystery left, nor much hope for change aboard Voyager... just more run-of-the-mill action. Not great, but not altogether bad either.
We have to include Voyager's own EMH Doctor in the inexplicable character change mess. Sure, it's understandable that the Equinox's EMH might have grown into a sadistic butcher with his ethical subroutines deleted, but note how his memory and his loyalty to his captain and crew remain intact and strong. Performing a similar modification to Voyager's Doctor might make him more ruthless, but surely he'll still be loyal to Janeway and Seven and crew. There's no explanation there for having him switch sides. And once again, the audience is distanced from one of their favourite characters, struggling to understand why the story is bothering to go where it's going.
Part Two does temporarily appear to gain a significant point back, but not before hitting a number of reset-buttons. Our Doctor, presto!, is back to normal. Seven is told to regenerate for a while to restore herself to normal (...wait didn't she just do that at the end of the last story as well, "Warhead"?) But to the story's credit, five crewmembers survive from the Equinox, and now join the Voyager crew, despite the fact that there is bad blood between our gang and the new recruits. Ahh, something develops out of this story! Excellent. Now if only these characters get to appear in later stories, and have some impact, "Equinox" just might have been worth it after all. Unfortunately, this is false hope, and the Equinox crewmembers bury themselves in Voyager's lower decks, never to be heard from or mentioned again. What a waste....
Voyager Season Five Rankings:
These Star Trek Voyager Season Five stories are available on DVD.*
( * only part one of Equinox is on the season five DVD set. For part two, see the season six set.)
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Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page: