Nutshell: Some nice action scenes and a standout subplot involving Suder, but ultimately a "foregone conclusion" cliffhanger setup with little character spark. And too much stupidity on behalf of the Voyager crew.
And so Voyager's lackluster season comes to an end with "Basics," a decent cliffhanger installment that does its job and little else—much like the series as a whole has been doing for the most part this season. And at the risk of sounding pessimistic about the series' development, let me press on with the review of the episode on hand (for I'll be writing the season's recap soon enough).
"Basics" is, to put it simply, your usual summer cliffhanger. It has no pretensions—it knows what it is. (I mean, the previews even said it was a cliffhanger for crying out loud—they didn't use to be that indiscreet about themselves.) The show is a carefully constructed setup with zero payoff—beyond that, there's little else to look for.
"Basics" is not comparable to the more spectacular nail-biting season-enders like TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds" or even DS9's "The Jem'Hadar." I'd rank it somewhere in the realm of TNG's "Descent"—it's one of those shows that you know is merely setup material and nothing else, and you accept it for what it is. Sure, standing alone, "Basics, Part I" doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot since it is, after all, only one portion of a complete story. But it's an entertaining portion at that, and its ending is sure to get its hooks into you whether you want to resist its manipulations or not.
I recommend, however, that you don't resist—the show is more fun that way. Besides...resistance is futile.
You want plot summary you say? Okay, here goes. Seska urgently contacts Chakotay, saying that her son has been born, and that Culluh has seen it is not his. Culluh is quite angry with Seska's lies to him about a baby she said was his. She tries to escape and he's hot on her trail. If she's caught, she will likely be executed and her son will be ostracized. Should the Voyager intervene? While the contempt for Seska is pretty much a unanimous stance taken by the crew of Voyager, the question becomes whether or not they have a duty to defend the rights of an innocent child. Janeway gives Chakotay full range over the decision of whether to pursue his newborn son. If he decides to rescue the son that Seska conceived without permission, Janeway will support him in an effort to track down the distress call.
One of the interesting points "Basics" brings up is the decision process Chakotay goes through. It's a tough call—how can Chakotay claim responsibility for a child that was conceived with a DNA injection completely without his knowledge? In the episode's one attempt at a character-probing scene, Chakotay has a spiritual vision in which his father offers some insights on Chakotay's personally troubling situation.
If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today's prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska's latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?
But like I said, this show is about setting up a severe situation. On their new course into Kazon space, the crew finds a damaged Kazon shuttle floating in space with a wounded Kazon officer on board named Tierna (John Gegunhuber). Tierna was Seska's aide, and he says that Culluh executed her and exiled the child to a labor colony. Tierna escaped execution however, and now agrees to help Voyager travel through Kazon territory on their way to the labor colony.
Can Tierna be trusted? Well, of course not. This is a cliffhanger; his role in the episode is to lead the Voyager crew into the trap so the Kazon Nistrim can ambush Voyager with overwhelming odds.
Still, the hints foreshadowing the ambush are done quite nicely and discreetly. For some reason, minor attacks by random Kazon factions seem to focus on damaging Voyager's starboard ventral, causing damage to the secondary command processors. Imagine Janeway's surprise when this later causes the self-destruct sequence to be rendered inoperable.
I also appreciated the B-story involving Suder, the guy from "Meld" who Janeway sentenced to life in his quarters for murdering another crew member. (I thought we would never see this guy again, and it's refreshing to see the show proves me wrong here.) He feels worthless without something to do for the ship. His situation is understandable. He's a man with no purpose. I think, however, when Suder begins to get overly anxious about his project and looks unstable in front of the captain, Janeway handles the situation all wrong. Saying "excuse me" and walking away will only make things worse. Janeway should really have been more tolerant and understanding of Suder's feelings.
There's also Tierna's anomalous blood readings, which later explains why he is able to inject himself with a chemical and literally explode in a ball of fire, causing untimely damage to the Voyager. So as the Kazon vessels close in and pound on the Voyager, things look grim. Paris takes a shuttle in an attempt to double back and bring a Talaxian convoy to help them, but the Kazon open fire on him and apparently destroy his shuttle. (The key word is "apparently"—he is obviously not dead.) Voyager is boarded and Culluh takes command of the ship.
This is fun—it's a worst case scenario come true. The pyrotechnics are okay. (I still think DS9's motion photography effects leave Voyager's in the dust, although I don't understand why since visual effects guru Dan Curry works on both series.) The idea of projecting holographic ships to fool the Kazon attackers seems resourceful enough, even if a little tough to swallow. And Seska turns up not dead, and gloats over the success of her trap. (Read: Voyager crew = SUCKERS.)
Culluh lands the ship on a nearby planet where he maroons the entire Federation crew on the surface. Then he takes off, leaving Janeway and her crew on the actively volcanic and seismic planet to watch as Voyager flies away, never to be seen again (until part two). The fate of the ship lies completely in the hands of the Doctor, Suder, Paris, and presumably some helpful Talaxians. Will part two become Die Hard With a Voyager?
While this is okay setup material I still want to know one thing: Shouldn't we be way out of Kazon space by now? This is probably the series' premise's biggest plot hole—that no matter how far the Voyager seems to travel, they're still within a few days travel of the heart of Kazon space. I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. As Voyager presses through the quadrant, we should see new races—new allies and new enemies. Dwelling on the Kazon is going to be ultimately self-defeating.
But never mind that now. The question is: Does "Basics" bait its game—does it make us want to see part two? Well, sure—but only to see how the events unfold. The question of whether or not the crew recaptures their ship is a no-brainer, which, unfortunately, makes this whole idea seem pointless. Whether or not this idea holds any water is a question to be answered in September. As they always say: "TO BE CONTINUED..."
End-of-season article: Second Season Recap