Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Hunters"

***

Air date: 2/11/1998
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Don't pay attention to rumors."
"Don't pay attention to Neelix."

— Neelix and me

Nutshell: Many poignant moments, though the episode's primary drive is saddled with another cartoon subplot.

"Message in a Bottle" three weeks ago perfectly exemplified the uneasy duality of shallow cartoon versus serious drama that Voyager's fourth-season adventure angle has supplied. Now "Hunters" drives that point home even further. I'd heard a couple weeks ago that "Hunters" would supply the dramatic character-oriented follow-up that I was thirsting for in "Message." So I was anticipating what I hoped would be one of the best episodes yet this season.

Well, like much of season four, I've been left with a generally positive impression—but at the same time, I find myself disappointed that the show still didn't nearly live up to its potential. What we could've had was a pivotal moment in the series' run. What we got instead was a good hour with a number of poignant, important moments but also some glaring problems.

At least Voyager is consistent.

"Hunters" is the second episode in what will undoubtedly become known as the "Hirogen arc," but this episode is really about something much more important to Voyager: the issue of how crew members feel when they receive an update from their Alpha Quadrant friends and families—in the form of letters that come trickling through the alien communications array that Starfleet has managed to further utilize.

Some of these moments have been years in the making, and I think the writers should be commended for biding their time in addressing this issue. They toyed with the idea back in first season's "Eye of the Needle," but by waiting three years before finally making it really happen, they've allowed the opportunity for family and friends back home to move on with their lives.

It brings up some interesting questions, and that's where the gold of "Hunters" lies. I very much appreciated that most of the letters from home presented uneasiness rather than quick fixes, because I suspect that's the way it really would be.

Case in point: Chakotay learns that the Maquis have been decimated by the Cardassian/Dominion alliance. This is good stuff. Not to beat a dead horse, but I think it has been far too long since the word "Maquis" has been uttered on Voyager. The fact that all the Maquis back in the Alpha Quadrant are gone now undoubtedly hits the Maquis population on Voyager pretty hard. Chakotay's reaction to this devastating news is an especially poignant moment. Similarly, the sullen scene where Chakotay informs Torres of the Maquis' fate is one of the episode's highlights.

On the other hand, I still don't think this will have all the effects I want it to, especially considering the only Maquis crew members we see in the entire episode are Chakotay and Torres. Sure, there's a vague reference to "all the others," but when it comes down to it, Chakotay and Torres are the only real Trek characters left who could speak for the Maquis, and they only began to discuss what was worth discussing. I find that unfortunate, because I think there was a lot more that could've been said. I can dream of more dialog: Why not some acknowledgement from the non-Maquis part of the crew? Why is there no discussion about it between Chakotay and Janeway? I might as well just keep dreaming, since there's about zero chance of getting more complex questions out of it. As I've said (too) many times before, that aspect of Voyager is dead, cremated, dispersed, long gone, and forgotten.

But never mind. The true overriding theme is in how suddenly being back in contact with your origins after having been out of contact with them for so long is bound to prove anything but easy. Not only difficult for the Voyager crew, but difficult for the families back home. Chakotay puts it nicely when he mentions that such sudden news proving the Voyager crew is alive is likely to be difficult to those who had finally accepted that their loved ones were gone—especially considering that the ship may not reach home for 60 years anyway.

Janeway's situation makes a great example of this dilemma. The letter she receives is from her (former) fiancee Mark. And with this letter she realizes that the inevitable has occurred—that Mark has moved on with his life after having held on to his hopes longer than most. He has since married someone else. It's not something that Janeway finds particularly surprising; it's just that the fact it wasn't surprising doesn't make accepting the inevitable any easier. Her mention to Chakotay that the letter had such a "finality" was well said—perfectly said, in fact.

The strength of "Hunters" lies in its ability to involve the major characters in different ways. Take Tom, for example. He's hoping that he won't get a letter at all, because he would just as soon sever all connections he had with home. The fact that he has more on Voyager than he ever had back in the Alpha Quadrant is an issue that has a great deal of relevance. I also wonder what much of Voyager's Maquis population thinks "home" could offer them now knowing the entire Maquis organization has been wiped out.

I do have some complaints with the way two characters were handled. The first is Ensign Kim, who throughout the episode becomes his own mini-story, in which the suspense is whether or not Harry will get a message from his folks. I see what Jeri Taylor was going for here, but it's trite and obvious. Very. And it hammers home some larger issues about the whole character of Harry Kim, who is virtually the embodiment of innocent, uninteresting sterility. Harry once referred to himself as "Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim." That's a pretty accurate description. He's becoming as transparent as Neelix, although not as annoying. Garret Wang needs much more challenging material than this, because his kid-like innocence is not believable any more—especially given that the starship Voyager is such a precarious, unusual place for the average Starfleet officer.

The second character gripe is Neelix. I have to point an angry finger at Ethan Phillips this week, who performs the silly Talaxian in a way that leaves much to be desired. Sure, letters from home (even if it isn't his home) is exciting and everything, but Neelix's "cute" joyfulness was way, way overdone. The character was absolutely horrendous this week, transforming (temporarily, I hope) back into the "second season Neelix" who was utterly agonizing to watch. The scene where he reads the letter to "Mr. Vulcan" made me want to slap him around—a lot. And when he told Harry, "Don't pay attention to rumors," in a voice that would seem condescending even to an average third-grader, I wanted to put him into a photon torpedo and launch him into the nearest star (or perhaps a small black hole given this week's premise). I'll grant that his part wasn't particularly well written this week, but this sort of vexatious portrayal was something I'd thought Phillips had left behind almost two seasons ago.

And even though it doesn't matter much, I want to voice one other complaint: I find it absurd that the writers seem to think that no one on Voyager has heard of the Dominion. When Voyager premiered in January 1995, the Dominion was already a major part of DS9 lore. "The Jem'Hadar" had aired almost seven months previous.

But before I shift the tone of this review and give the impression that I didn't really like "Hunters," I'd better stress that most of the human moments in the story worked well for me, including some bits like the nice moment where Seven realizes that even she may discover some "emotional resonance" if she ever finds her way to distant family members back on Earth.

So that leaves one other order of business for a review of "Hunters": the subplot involving the Hirogens, a savage race of hunters who, as Tuvok aptly puts it, "lack any moral center." Quite simply, I could've done without this whole thing, which only serves to shift focus away from the emotional core of the story, just as "Message in a Bottle's" comedy plot did. The Hirogens are rather boring cartoon characters who provide conflict in only the most superficial and forced of ways. They're the typical Bad Guys of the Week (or, more correctly, the bad guys of this week and the next three weeks). Their dialog is laughable, their characterizations nonexistent, and their line delivery a series of grunts and growls. If this is the nemesis we have to watch in the next four episodes, I'm hoping those episodes will be carried by their action and plotting—because the Hirogens certainly won't be carrying it.

The "plot" involves the Hirogens kidnapping Tuvok and Seven from a shuttlecraft (which I think, incidentally, was lost, for those out there keeping track). They're held hostage and threatened, leaving the task to Janeway to negotiate their return. Yeah, right. As Seven might say, negotiation is irrelevant. The Hirogens want to keep Seven and Tuvok so they can slice them up and mount them as trophies.

In the meantime, Tuvok's attempts at negotiation are pathetic, as the writers give him unbelievably inappropriate lines like "Release us now and you will be safe, otherwise we will destroy you" and "If you kill us, our captain will hunt you down and show no mercy." These utterances don't sound like anything that stems from a Vulcan or Federation ethos, let alone Tuvok's character. It's just fortunate "Hunters" has so much else going for it, because the story involving the hunters is nearly a total bust.

In more positive news, I liked some of David Livingston's execution techniques. The opening in particular was nice—somewhat reminiscent of Contact—as the camera looks into the depths of space while a static-laden signal is heard on the audio track. Also, the interiors of the Hirogen ship were impressively decorated and photographed. The Hirogen themselves may be laughable, but at least their sets are kind of neat. And the climax, for all its ridiculous technobabble, was charged with a sense of urgent apocalyptic adrenaline, featuring the latest in micro-quantum singularities as super cosmic vacuum cleaners, which threaten to suck starships into oblivion. Or something.

But I think I've said enough. With "Hunters" we once again have an episode that could've been outstanding, and once again I'm only giving it a marginal recommendation. How unfortunate.

Next week: The Hirogen are in for the long haul ... and species 8472 has a supporting role.

Previous episode: Message in a Bottle
Next episode: Prey

Season Index

24 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Sun, Jan 13, 2008 - 10:42am (USA Central)
If it is any relief for you: I do not think the shuttle has been destroyed. Ensign "Read-me-as-a-book" stated something like "...the shuttle is empty!"...
indijo - Tue, Feb 26, 2008 - 6:46am (USA Central)
I think the whole idea of a race of space-traveling humanoids obsessed with hunting other species for sport is absurd. How the hell did they ever manage to develop the technology to travel in outer spce to begin with, if they haven't the brains to do the math?
impronen - Mon, Aug 18, 2008 - 2:15pm (USA Central)
To indijo: What makes you think that lack of moral equates as lack of skill or genius? You don't have to look far back in history to see a state utterly immoral and beastly that achieved amazing technological feats. That is, the Third Reich. They did some pretty amazing things back then, including some groundbreaking work on rocketry, which is quite needed for space travel.
BrianOConnell - Mon, Oct 20, 2008 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
So no sign of a message for Harry but a download of a message for Tom in progress - fast forward to the end and Tom's message was lost but Harry got one at the last minute. How does that work again?
Jasper - Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - 9:21am (USA Central)
Brian, the data was said not to be in the correct order - thus there might have been no indication for any bit to be Harry's, while they found a line "Hi Tom," but not the rest of the message.
They might have uncovered all of Harry's message (or just found out that that message of which they had 90% already was Harry's as they uncovered the last 10%), while not getting any more than that greeting for Tom.
Lenny - Wed, Jan 6, 2010 - 5:10am (USA Central)
I disagree with your interpretation of Tuvok's "attempts at negotiation". Indeed, this is not how a Vulcan or Starfleet officer would talk, but I think it is quite obvious that Tuvok is attempting to appeal to what the aliens might understand, violence and coercion, for it is obvious to him that any kind of standard diplomacy would be useless. Thus, Tuvok attempts to appear powerful and menacing to the aliens.
jeffrey - Mon, May 17, 2010 - 9:53am (USA Central)
I tend to like "Hunters" more than most season 4 episodes, because of the issue of finally making contact with home. It would have been a much more poignant episode, if the script dealt solely with that. It would have been interesting to hear what the letters actually said. Have voice actors read the letters as the characters and then watch the Voyager crewmembers react.

Neelix is definitely at his most annoying. I hate the scene where Neelix bosses Tuvok around in regards to when he should be reading his letter. Neelix's line at the end of the scene ("Now read it right away, no procrastinating, etc.") makes me upset each time I hear it. Who is Neelix to be dictating to people when to read their letters? As morale officer shouldn't he be respecting people's wishes?

I did like the scene where Chakotay informs B"Elanna of the Maquis deaths, but I think Dawson's performance is too cliched. Wanting to take violent revenge, I guess, is expected. But when she follows her outburst with "when we get home." just shows how pointless that feeling is. I think a quieter expression of rage would have made more sense to me. But I guess it can be explained away by her Klingon half.

So, a fairly good episode for this series, but as you said there could have been a lot more.
Michael - Tue, Jun 22, 2010 - 9:35am (USA Central)
Well, I'm exactly halfway (22") thru the episode and of the 22 minutes I found maybe 4-5 really interesting and apposite to a sci-fi show. The rest - Harry "Where's My Letter-Nobody Loves Me" Kim, the annoying Neelix, Acushla Moya and Torres with the Maqui... - I could've done without.

Do I care about how this or that makes the crew members FEEL, about their relationships, about complexes? No. If I did, I'd watch Oprah.

Let's hope the episode picks up the pace though I see Kim just entered Astrometrics to find Torres poking around the place. I bet we're in for five minutes of Kim and his "I miss you ma and pa, do you think they remember me; do you think they sent me a letter; when am I going to get my letter...?" Oy vey...
navamske - Sat, Nov 20, 2010 - 7:54pm (USA Central)
Kate Mulgrew had two scenes that really showed her acting talent. One was the scene in which she sits down to read her letter and the camera slowly moves in toward her face as it reflects the emotions she is experiencing. (This scene is even more powerful for the absence of any dialogue in it; thank God they didn't insert a voiceover of Mark reading his letter.) The other noteworthy moment came at the end of the scene in which Janeway tells Chakotay about the letter -- the way she holds his gaze, with a sad look on her face, is very affecting, all the more so because Janeway really needed to be responding to Kim's summons to the bridge. This acting was on a par with William Windom's in "The doomsday Machine," specifically his quietly anguished reply when Kirk asks him where his crew is: "The third planet."
Captain Jim - Fri, Apr 15, 2011 - 11:45pm (USA Central)
"Brian, the data was said not to be in the correct order - thus there might have been no indication for any bit to be Harry's, while they found a line "Hi Tom," but not the rest of the message.
They might have uncovered all of Harry's message (or just found out that that message of which they had 90% already was Harry's as they uncovered the last 10%), while not getting any more than that greeting for Tom."

That's all very possible. Might it also be possible that B'elanna lied and deleted Tom's message, after reading it and seeing that his dad was being a jerk? I dunno. Maybe.

And I disagree about the inclusion of the Hirogen subplot being a mistake. While we are all obviously going to be drawn to the bits about the letters, if there were no action at all in this episode, many viewers will judge it a failure. Personally, I thought the proportions of story time were nearly perfect.
Destructor - Sun, Jul 31, 2011 - 9:43pm (USA Central)
I immediately thought that Belanna deleted the message from Tom's father, so that she could give him the more hopeful message he needed to hear- was surprised Jammer didn't pick up on that also.
Paul - Wed, Nov 23, 2011 - 12:23pm (USA Central)
I didn't see this discussed elsewhere, but there's a big plot hole when it comes to Chakotay's letter.

Voyager left DS9 around stardate 48315.6. 'The Search' -- DS9's season 3 premiere that occurred months after the events in 'The Jem Hadar' -- occurred on stardate 48213.1. So how in the hell would the Maquis not have known about the Dominion?

The only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that Starfleet kept the Dominion information under wraps, and that it didn't get to the Maquis. But this seems pretty doubtful, given the destruction of the Odyssey and the fact that the Maquis had Starfleet sympathizers and good intelligence gathering (remember the guy in the shadows in the infirmary in DS9's 'Tribunal'?). And, anyway, the Maquis were based pretty close to the wormhole, and had Bajoran members.

Also, the events of 'Defiant' show that the Maquis had knowledge of DS9's new vessel and put a plan (which was fairly complex and presumably time consuming) into action to capture it. Why did the Maquis think this new warship was docked at DS9?

There are some Jem Hadar tidbits that pop up elsewhere in Voyager. I seem to recall Kes doing flight training against a simulated Jem Hadar attack at one point in season 2, and Jem Hadar show up among the holo-created Alpha Quadrant races (with ties to the Hyrogen) in season 7. So, if Starfleet officers on Voyager knew of the Dominion, are we to believe that this new, huge looming threat never got mentioned to Chakotay or Torres?

I think the Voyager creators just dropped the ball on continuity (again). BTW, the story wouldn't have taken a hit had Chakotay and Torres known about the Dominion because the drama hinges on the alliance and subsequent attack.
Chris - Fri, Apr 6, 2012 - 4:32am (USA Central)
Why did they have to let Neelix deliver the letters to the crew in personal (making some silly comments like with Tuvok), instead of just forwarding them to their own mails?
Justin - Wed, Apr 18, 2012 - 1:02am (USA Central)
This episode really could have been something special if they had kicked the stupid Hirogen B-plot (along with Neelix) out the airlock, turned it into a bottle show, and concentrated entirely on the range of emotions and reactions of the crew upon receiving news from home.

I really can't stand the Hirogen. Almost as much as the Kazon.
duhknees - Tue, Jul 3, 2012 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
I would like to defend Garrett Wang's portrayal of Kim -- he has definitely changed from the bright-eyed, over-eager pup to a child who has been abused. He's seen too much, and though he's had the experiences, he's not yet jaded. Hence, I think it's understandable that he wants his parents. Go back and watch him in the first season and compare him to now. You can see it in his eyes.
milica - Fri, Sep 28, 2012 - 8:32am (USA Central)
I just don't understand why all crew members are eager to continue the pointless journey back home if they know it'll take another 60 years! How come they don't get sick of that small ship? Plus, Neelix is always talking about "home" and is as much eager to go to the Earth as other Earth-born crew members. How come the Maquis want to go back? There's noone there to wait for them now except for jail-time. I just dislike the fact that going back home is never questioned by anyone on board.
Ted - Thu, May 9, 2013 - 11:54am (USA Central)
I was taken aback by the high quality of character writing in this episode. The dialogue was snappy, believable, and deftly balanced wit and sentimentality. It was a rare pleasure to watch the crew confront previously hidden areas of their personal life. It was almost like the show itself realized the cast are characters, not plot traversal machines. All these compartmentalized feelings finally came out. A subtle turning point for the series.
KL - Mon, May 13, 2013 - 12:24pm (USA Central)
To those who question how the Hirogen would've built the communication array, who said they did? They could've claimed it for their own.

And if they did built it, that goes to show that their culture and technology have been in decline.
skadoo - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 10:15pm (USA Central)
@navamske - You didn't mention that at the beginning of the scene before she reads the letter she looks a bit apprehensive as if she's afraid of what she might find. Then her relief as she begins the letter and smiles and then the slow devastation as she finishes the letter. No sniff, no tears, no gasp... just pain on her face as she loses her hope of being able to regain what she's lost.
Adam - Wed, Dec 11, 2013 - 7:59pm (USA Central)
Not only have B'Elanna and Chakotay never heard of the Dominion, but the EMH hasn't either, as seen in the previous episode. If the Voyager computer has Jem'Hadar holograms in their database (as seen by the shuttle training program in Parturition, and the existence of the Jem'Hadar holograms in the Hirogen training simulation in Flesh And Blood, a program which could have only come from Voyager); why does their holographic doctor not know about them? Is he not part of the ship's systems?
Adam - Wed, Dec 11, 2013 - 8:02pm (USA Central)
They should have just had Chakotay say the Maquis have been obliterated by the Jem'Hadar. It wouldn't actually make any difference to the story , if they had known who the attackers were
Grumpy - Wed, Dec 11, 2013 - 9:42pm (USA Central)
Better, Adam, if they had said the Maquis were obliterated by *Starfleet*. Now that would've re-injected some tension! (...for about ten minutes, until it was forgotten.)
Jack - Tue, Jan 7, 2014 - 2:56pm (USA Central)
The Hirogen, as Jammer alluded, did have absurd dialogue exchanges that indeed held the record for most ridiculous in Trek...until the Xindi came along.
Shaen - Sat, Aug 23, 2014 - 12:24pm (USA Central)
Ugh. This one was mostly okay, but besides introducing the ridiculously cliche Hirogen, Neelix is back in full-on Jar Jar Binks mode. I don't know why the writers were so obnoxiously insistent on pushing the theme of him trying to prod Tuvok into displaying more emotion. The single best Neelix scene in Voyager remains the one in "Meld" where Tuvok had the vision of strangling him to death.

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