Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Alliances"

***

Air date: 1/22/1996
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I don't think we can afford to keep doing business as usual." — Chakotay

Nutshell: A good outing in the Kazon storyline, but the ending is painfully naive.

A series of brutal attacks by the Kazon leaves Voyager shaken and seriously damaged; the crew worried that if things continue in this manner, the ship will be destroyed long before it reaches the Alpha Quadrant. As a result, Chakotay suggests to Janeway that maybe the ship should do some Maquis-style thinking and make a deal with the Kazon. Unfortunately, this goes against everything Janeway believes about Starfleet protocol and the Prime Directive issues.

Finally, after an extremely shaky and inconsistent opening leg, the second season is showing signs of an upturn. Here's a Voyager episode that will actually have consequences. But more than that, it's a winner episode that makes some striking statements about the Delta Quadrant and Voyager's role in it.

Let's start with the Kazon attacks. The show opens with a jarring start, as Voyager is barely able to fend off two Kazon vessels, but not before taking some serious damage—temporary loss of all weapons and engines. One crewman dies in the attack—the third fatality in the recent weeks of Kazon assaults. This is a serious situation. Voyager cannot afford these types of losses when they have so far to go without the crutch of Federation supplies.

This leads one outspoken Maquis crewman to voice his opinion: That Voyager should just give the Kazon the technology they want in exchange for a truce. Janeway flat out tells him that she would sooner destroy the ship than hand pieces of it over to the Kazon, but Chakotay thinks there may be a different way of bending the Prime Directive without breaking it completely.

While Prime Directive issues can be tiring and cliche-ridden, "Alliances" presents a genuinely new question: Should the Prime Directive really apply in such extreme cases of survival? The show's first act does a splendid job of posing this question and giving Janeway a chance to answer it. She agrees to investigate the possibility of negotiating with two Kazon factions: (1) The Nistrim, led by Culluh (Anthony De Longis) and Seska (Martha Hackett) with whom Voyager had confronted in "Maneuvers," and (2) the Pommar, of whose leaders Neelix may be able to arrange a meeting with due to his past dealings with them.

Progress is a problem however, as both negotiations with the Nistrim and the Pommar fall through. Janeway's meeting with Culluh proves futile because of Culluh's refusal to allow a woman to dictate terms to him. (Culluh's sexist and obstinate personality traits, however, tire very quickly, and go a long way into needlessly turning the character into a one-note villain.) Meanwhile, Neelix's shuttle mission to meet his contact on the planet Sobras is cut short when he's captured and thrown into a cell with a group of Trabe refugees, a race despised mutually by all the Kazon factions.

It's here where the story loses some steam, however, as Neelix allies himself with the Trabe to escape the Kazon in a jailbreak scene that is virtually destroyed by completely uninspiring music.

Fortunately, this all has a true purpose. Neelix and the Trabe rendezvous with Voyager. A Trabe governor named Mabus (Charles Lucia) lays everything down, including some interesting backstory explaining why the Kazon hate the Trabe, and why the Kazon have become a race of angry armies. It turns out the Trabe persecuted the Kazon like animals, almost treating them like slaves. Thirty years ago, when the Kazon finally got fed up, they exploded into violence and exiled the Trabe. Mabus admits the Trabe were wrong to treat the Kazon the way they did, and he offers to ally himself with Janeway. Together both Voyager and the Trabe would be less vulnerable.

This will surely make the Kazon furious. However, Mabus also believes that together, Voyager and the Trabe can negotiate with the Kazon and bring peace among everyone. It's a genuine gesture that could benefit everybody, so Janeway accepts it. Mabus arranges a meeting on Sobras and invites all the Kazon sect leaders.

The meeting is bound to be problematic, however. When they hear the news, Culluh and Seska begin plotting almost instantly. Neelix hears a rumor that someone is planning an assassination attempt. And no Kazon trusts the Trabe.

The episode culminates with a chilling revelation and special effects display, in which a Trabe starship tries to kill all the Kazon leaders by descending from space, hovering outside the window of the negotiation building and opening fire. Fortunately, Janeway realizes the Trabe's deception just in time to warn everybody to GET DOWN! Now this is something we haven't seen before.

The idea of the Trabe using Voyager under the pretense of peace just to kill everybody is a rather unsettling display that the Delta Quadrant doesn't seem to operate with many rules or underlying values. Janeway's subsequent confrontation with Mabus over his deceitful actions is very potent, showing an extremely forceful and angry, but very plausible, Captain Janeway. Kate Mulgrew's performance this week is a definite standout.

This is good stuff. "Alliances" goes a long way in defining new possibilities in the Delta Quadrant. The underlying theme conveys a sense that this quadrant really isn't the best place to be stranded; the strongest known force so far is aggressive and unfriendly, and even those who seem initially to be friends turn out to be traitors. The Trabe/Kazon backstory does a decent job of explaining why the Kazon are fierce and untrusting, eliminating the traditional writers' theory of "Well, they're the bad guys, so we don't need to give them motivation."

With the Voyager indirectly responsible for an attempt on all the Kazon leaders' lives, the ending has a sense of "let's get out of here fast and hope we don't have to stop anytime soon," which is a particularly powerful motivation that conveys a true sense of urgency.

This one came very close to a 3 1/2-star rating, but there are a few quibbles I have that keep it just below that range. One involves Neelix's meeting on Sobras in a bar that features a scantily clad dancer. This came across to me as a big cliche. Do all under-the-table dealings have to take place in strip bars? That alone might be okay, but the music in this bar seems dead wrong—scored with the same restrained monotone of most Star Trek music.

Most troublesome, however, is the very ending, when Janeway tells the crew she thinks there's a lesson to be learned from all of this: That in this chaotic quadrant of very few rules, the best ally Voyager has are the principles and rules of the Federation. Sure, this is a nicely done speech, but I'm not really sure it's that easy. Is not making a deal and doing, in Chakotay's words, "business as usual" really going to help the crew in their next dealing with the Kazon? I'm inclined to say no. This speech supplies a genuinely positive, non-cynical Star Trek ending, but it doesn't sit right considering all the deceit in the episode. Under the drastic circumstances, wouldn't the Maquis attitude that you have to do what you can to survive be somewhat more appropriate, or at least worth another look? The ending as it is presents a cut-and-dry solution to a complex problem, where a more ambiguous approach would have been better. I would just as soon prefer no speech at all, leaving it up to the audience to reflect on the events that have unfolded. Janeway's attitude that the crew will get by if they hold to their principles has a strong air of naivete that rubs me the wrong way. The episode also insinuates that Chakotay and the disgruntled Maquis are willing to just roll over and accept it, which I don't buy for a minute.

These problems aside, "Alliances" is a good episode with some involving political elements—much like many of Deep Space Nine's stories. That alone isn't why I think "Alliances" is one of Voyager's more important episodes. The reason I find this to be an important show is because it has realistic consequences that will (hopefully) show up again in the future. The idea that what happens in one show could quite possibly come back to rear its head in a story five or six episodes down the road is what makes a series, well, a series. For the most part, Voyager has been the type of series that presents a problem and solves it in 60 minutes. This method lacks the feeling that solving real problems sometimes takes extended periods of time and effort. Overarching storylines could be what makes Voyager a lot more compelling than it presently is. And for a series that has such a large number of dedicated fans who tune in every week, doing longer, continuing plot threads would not really risk annoying that many viewers. "Alliances" is a good start.

Previous episode: Prototype
Next episode: Threshold

Season Index

20 comments on this review

David Forrest - Sun, Mar 9, 2008 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
Re-watching some of season 2, I realized some of these episodes are much better than I remembered. While I agree with much of your review, I think I would have ended up giving "Alliances" a 3.5 star rating. I liked how it played out as the episode moves swiftly with all the right acting (you are right as Mulgrew is magnificent) matching with all the right characterization make this episode great. I actually enjoyed this ending as Janeway points out in this part of the Delta Quadrant, it doesn't matter if you take the high road or the low road in that they'll all still betray you, so we are going to stick to the high road because that is who they are. This was much better than I remembered.
Dirk Hartmann - Thu, Mar 27, 2008 - 6:21am (USA Central)
I agree with David that this episode deserves 3.5 stars. Even while we may not agree with the content of Janeways' speech at the end, what she says is at least understandable from her subjective point of view: She *tried* to bend the rules a bit and it nearly engendered a complete ethical desaster ...
Peter - Mon, Apr 13, 2009 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode, but I had to laugh at the climax. The idea that the weapons of an armed spaceship would merely break the glass of the conference room like some mafia machine gun is ludicrous. That's the best they could do? Then Voyager pummels it with 2 photon torpedoes right outside the window. We know from dialogue in other ST episodes that these explosions should decimate the unshielded building. This was a very poorly done action scene.
PM - Thu, Jun 18, 2009 - 5:06pm (USA Central)
This episode is fine in isolation, but none of it winds up meaning anything, and so its whole point is lost in context of the rest of the show. It doesn't hold up at all.

And I too was under the impression that a photon torpedo was at least equivalent to a tactical nuke, not a dud hand grenade.
DeanGrr - Wed, Mar 3, 2010 - 8:37pm (USA Central)
Janeway's speech at the end about adhering to principles struck me as understandable, given her past dealings with the Kazon, and now the Trabe. Although, the speech came across as much for her own morale, as for the crews'.

It's a case where she can stand by her principles, but many of her crew will judge her based on the ends and not the means. Her decision could have led to a geniune mutiny (as shown for fun in the 3rd season "Worst Case Scenario").

The ending to this arc, Investigations, was not very sophisticated, but I definitely enjoyed Michael Piller's "Basics", where Seska's machiavellian plans reach fruition.
Jeffrey - Mon, May 10, 2010 - 10:27am (USA Central)
Truly the type of episode VOY should have been about. This is one of my top 10 favorites of the series and my favorite of season 2.

I just watched it again last night. Chakotay was saying everything he should have been saying. The Maquis crew were reasserting themselves. There were multiple characters outside of the main cast and the episode felt very layered with lots of different characters having lots of different agendas.

Yes, Janeway's speech at the end is another example of the reset button though presented in a less obvious way than in other episodes.

My one complaint in general is that even with Janeway's warning, I have a hard time believing that everyone survived the Trabe ship's assault on the conference.
Ken - Tue, Feb 8, 2011 - 8:44am (USA Central)
This is a decent episode for the most part. These are the kind of episodes that make perfect sense considering the show's context - being lost in the delta quadrant, all-alone and trying to get home in one piece.

There are few problems.

1) Which Kazon were attacking Voyager at the beginning of the episode? I was thinking it was the Nistrim... but I guess not. Are we to believe that it was a faction we didn't know much about?

2) Why did they contact Seska for? This doesn't seem at all logical. I was under the impression that it was the Nistrim that were attacking in the first place... so why invite them for an alliance for? Of course, it wasn't... but I'm not sure why other Kazon factions have as much of a beef with Voyager then.

3) The ending of the story is kind of weak. The events that unfolded are not evidence/proof that Starfleet principles are the only way to operate in the Delta Quadrant. The writers tried to make it seem that way, but the lesson isn't quite that accurate.

I just don't see how trying to form an alliance is a violation against Starfleet principles. The Federation has an alliance with many cultures - Klingon, Bajoran... etc. None of these were part of the federation, but nonetheless, they have offered help, food, medical supplies, assistance to these cultures far an beyond what Janeway seems to think is appropriate.

This is where the story breaks down. Yes, we shouldn't forge alliances with people that are going to screw with us... but that hardly means we are avoiding them because of the prime directive. In fact, we are avoiding them simply because it is not in our rational, long-term self-interest. This is the REAL point.

As far as Starfleet principles go... the story is full of hypocrisy. Janeway didn't try anything that Starfleet hasn't already done in the Alpha Quadrant by Sisko or Picard before.
Destructor - Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - 9:15pm (USA Central)
Just watched this one and liked it a lot. Great scripting, interesting ethical quandary (almost the reverse of the quandary Janeway face in 'Scorpion', really), great action and politics. It was an episode Voyager needed to do, and it definitely elevates S2, particularly in light of the 'Kazon arc'.

Was anyone else bothered that the Trabe were so 'white'? The analogy they seemed to be drawing was that of Zimbabwe, where the working class overthrew and ejected the ruling class... yet Janeway says: "My gut tells me we can't trust the Kazon...but the Trabe say they feel bad about what they did, so they seem okay?" I was seriously WTF-ing over that, like, I'm glad it ended with them being assholes, because it showed up Janeway's, well, apparent prejudice in a pretty stark light.
Carbetarian - Fri, Apr 22, 2011 - 12:33am (USA Central)
I felt this one was a little messy. But, I think @Peter, @PM, @Ken and @Destructor already covered most of my complaints. All in all though, this is one of the second season's better shows.

Three stars from me.

Also, did anyone else catch when Seska tells Maj Cullah that she's carrying his child? Isn't it Chakotay's child? Was this a writer's error? Or is she trying to put one over on the Maj? This is my first time watching Voyager since it originally aired. So, I sincerely can't remember which one it is.
Matthias - Thu, Aug 18, 2011 - 7:39am (USA Central)
Seska told both Chakotay and the Maj the child was theirs.

I don't see how Voyager keeps getting into fights with the Kazon considering it's orders of magnitude faster than even the federation's flagship, let alone some backwards yokels with broccoli hair.
I can't see the splintered Kazon sects holding down enough territory that you couldn't simply fly straight past at max warp cruise in about a week but even if their turf is somehow unimaginably huge what exactly is stopping VOY from peacing out at warp 9.7 whenever the Kazon get into sensor range?

Well okay it'd make for lousy television but the way they're handling it now makes it very hard for me to take it seriously. Why did the writers make Voyager so fast in the first place?
Chris Harrison - Sun, Nov 13, 2011 - 12:01am (USA Central)
@Destructor. Yes, it occured to me to. When Janeway was visiting them in sickbay, I just thought "white farmers"!

Anyway, on to the next episode - 'Meld'...
alan - Mon, Jul 30, 2012 - 6:35am (USA Central)
Janeway's pathetic speech at the end was basically her telling the crew:

"Everything was great until I listened to all of you. I hope you all learned a lesson!"

From "Alliances" on, Chakotay & B'Elanna basically lost whatever interesting aspects they had and became Janeway's a$s-lickers. What a deranged bitch Janeway is!
Elliott - Mon, Jul 30, 2012 - 10:33am (USA Central)
@alan. You stole that almost verbatim from sfdebris. Get your own opinion.
inline79 - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 1:58am (USA Central)
It's now 2013 and I want to be the first to say that this episode did the "shoot-up leaders with ship-phasers through a window" thing WAY before JJ Abrams. It was as ridiculous then as it is now - it's the 24th Century, with sensors and other clever gadgets, not The Godfather!
Gooz - Sun, Nov 3, 2013 - 10:04am (USA Central)
I'm re-watching Voyager, and this episode reminded me why I stopped watching it when it first aired. Every episode ends with a missed opportunity, and that gets frustrating in the end. The fact that the majority of the missed opportunities are Janeway's fault isn't the main issue. Having an incompetent leader that is replaced by the crew would have made for interesting TV. The problem is that her mistakes are not only not acknowledged as mistakes, but are lauded as victories.

At the very end of the episode, had she simply chosen to beam all the Kazon out, she would have gone a long way towards gaining their goodwill.

The next episode is Threshold. Not looking forward to that one.
Tricia - Wed, Dec 4, 2013 - 5:04am (USA Central)
@Destructor - I just re-watched the episode and thought the same thing! Anyway, I thought this episode was pretty good until the end. Why didn't they beam everyone out? We don't even know who survived, although obviously Culluh does. I did like the backstory between the Trabe and Kaizon though, it's good to have some context.

I know this is nitpicky, but where does the music and applause come from when the Kaizon leaders walk into the conference room? Is there an audience? It's rather odd.
Paul - Wed, Dec 4, 2013 - 2:25pm (USA Central)
@Tricia: The applause thing is really odd. The implication is that there are other people in the room -- which means the Trabe attack is all the more brazen.
Tim - Sat, Dec 7, 2013 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
Interesting about the music and applause. I was listening to this episode on Netflix the other day (something weird I do, listen to movies on Netflix at work). The applause and music threw me, I never remembered that.

I just put the DVD I have of voyager season two and the applause and music isn't there. Wonder if somebody at netflix with a sense of humor added that
Adam - Sun, Feb 2, 2014 - 2:30am (USA Central)
I've been rewatching Voyager seasons 1 and 2 lately , and many of the episodes are much better than I remember. I'm actually enjoying the Kazon arc, on my re-watch. The ending of this episode is a bit of a cop out, but its an entertaining episode, and exactly the kind of thing Voyager should be doing
Ric - Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - 4:02am (USA Central)
Well, mixed feelings on this one. By one hand, certainly interesting and fresh for Voyager. Good political puzzle, nice and rare development of a more deep arc. Nice moral dillema.

By the other hand... so predictable! I could see that coming a light-year away. Sure, in aesthetic nad movie-viewer point of view, I simpatize with the tribute to The Godfather (it has to be a tribute; nobody could so stupid to the point that thinking that the connection would be obvious). But I have to agree with @inline79: this plot solving does not fit a futuristic scifi wolrd in the wa it was executed. Think of it: nobody would have seen the attacke ship coming? We are talking about a huge VANT spaceship, for god sake! And I mean not only some there in the meeting-room, but no one from the many ship from the many leaders presente in the meeting? Weren't them monitoring and scanning the are from orbit? Please, it is this sort of lazy writing tputs you of from any suspension of disbelief.

But what is really enfuriating is a problem that have been present with unfortunate frequency. I am talking about the captain simply not trying to do basic stuff. Like, for instance, trying to contact the other leaders to say Voyager was not involved, saved their lifes and that she would ARREST the one who trie to kill them instead of let him go. With so stupid wrtiting on the final decisions of most episodes, it is not a surprise why the reputation of Voyager is so bad and distorted in the quadrante. Pathetic.

PS: once again I got distracted by the fact the most humanoid races in this quadrant have, as thei primary phisical difference, some different stuff in their noses and above-noses. I really think there is a Bajorian tradiotional fashion spread througout the galaxy. Or the low budget and low creativity were really bad.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer