Nutshell: Very good. Standout drama with some exceptional performances.
"Resistance" is a prime example of what Star Trek is all about. Star Trek may be science fiction, but it always works better when dealing with human situations and character interaction. This is an episode that, with a few alterations, could have been written for any of the Trek series. It has nothing to do with being 70,000 light years away from home, or being lost where things are new and unfamiliar. It doesn't rely on worthless technical jargon or fancy special effects to get the job done. It just takes a few actors, gives them a decent story, drops them onto a few sets, and suddenly we have very good drama—one of the best episodes of the season.
Opening in mid-crisis with a compelling teaser, "Resistance" creates an immediate sense of urgency, as Janeway's away team beams down to negotiate with a resistance group on a backward planet. This shows Voyager in a crucial moment of need—if the crew cannot get a hold of a vital substance in the next few hours, the warp engines will never be able to be restarted. This is a fresh opening. It's been a long time since a Star Trek crew has been in such a serious situation that under-the-table negotiating becomes the only option.
In the middle of this trade, the hostile planetary ruling force, called the Mokra, busts the away team—Tuvok and Torres are arrested. Neelix manages to escape and return to the ship with the substance. Janeway is injured in the fight but rescued by a crazy old sympathizer named Caylem (Joel Grey), who thinks Janeway is his daughter.
The remainder of the episode deals with Janeway's attempts to rescue her arrested officers from the local Mokra prison, while Chakotay attempts to negotiate a truce with a stubborn Mokra official named Augris (Alan Scarfe). There are also some scenes inside Tuvok and Torres' prison cell as they wait to be interrogated by the Mokra officials.
Janeway's attempts are simultaneously eased and complicated by Caylem, who wants to help his "daughter" in her jailbreak mission. The plot takes a back seat to the very strong characterization between Janeway and Caylem. Joel Grey turns in a riveting performance as the eccentric but optimistic old man—definitely the best guest star the series has featured to date. Kate Mulgrew is also terrific, with perhaps her best performance yet. The two characters seem to be a fountain of effortless charisma.
Caylem also believes his wife has been incarcerated in the prison for years and wants to rescue her now that his "daughter" has come home. But Janeway is reluctant to take him along—he's quite a liability—but she decides it's the least she can do for him, considering how much help he has been to her.
The episode ends with some adventurous elements, as Janeway gets the chance to single-handedly go undercover to rescue her arrested crew members (something Picard could never do, because, if for no other reason, Riker would refuse to let him beam down). This is wonderfully handled by Winrich Kolbe, who plays the scene with precision that doesn't go over-the-top with excessive fisticuffs, but rather an even-handed approach, while demonstrating Janeway's ability to play a smart and determined heroine.
Similarly, the scenes featuring Tuvok and Torres are also quite good because they remain in the realm of plausibility. The idea of Tuvok screaming in pain during his torture is certainly reasonable enough, as is Torres' misconception of the Vulcan's inability to simply "tune out" the experience. The way both Tuvok and Torres remain in character is definitely in the show's favor—Torres is angry and looking for a fight, while Tuvok keeps a cool head while thinking of appropriate forms of retaliation. These scenes could have easily misfired—particularly during the jailbreak—but careful attention is taken to assure credible characterization takes precedence over the more obvious possibility of oversimplified vengeance.
The only excess in "Resistance" is the Voyager-in-jeopardy angle, which is mostly unnecessary. For that matter, Augris' visit to the ship seems a dramatic dead end in retrospect. But, fortunately, most of the Voyager's role in the plot is wisely not stressed.
What this episode is truly about is the small, two-person drama between Janeway and Caylem, which is a hands-down success. The ending, where Janeway allows Caylem to die believing he has accomplished his mission and saved his family, is a poignant moment. It highlights a character whose life has gone from one moment of suffering to the next, and, as a result, has created a fantasy to compensate for the loneliness. The ultimate tragedy is how the Mokra used Caylem's situation as an example for the rest of the people they oppress. Janeway's final words allow him the very least he deserves—to die with a certain amount of happiness and dignity.