Fifth Season Recap
For episodes airing from 10/14/1998 to 5/26/1999
Series created by Rick Berman & Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor
Executive producers: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Nutshell: In terms of stand-alone episode quality, the show is about as good as season four was. Looking at the bigger scheme of things, however, I'm not nearly as optimistic.
And, once again, here's the annual season-in-review article, which, in keeping with my self-created cliché, is of course dubbed "the most comprehensive Voyager review I'll write this year." Where have we gone? Where are we going? What was that thing known as Voyager year five? Such questions I will attempt to answer in the words below. As always, part one has a brief (although maybe not brief enough) look at each episode; part two has the general commentary.
Part 1: Capsule Reviews
To see the rankings and 10-scale ratings for this season's episodes, click here.
Night — Air date: 10/14/1998. Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by David Livingston.
Welcome to the era of Brannon Braga. Could you tell the difference? Well, "Night" didn't scream anything new for good or ill. It contained a good setup premise and many reasonable character elements; most notably was the acknowledgement of the Voyager of yesteryear via Janeway's distress at subjecting her crew to yet another emotional difficulty. The psychological aspects of being alone in a completely dark, starless area of space were especially creepy (this is one of few examples of Trek truly capturing the feeling of deep, deep space). Alas, what didn't seem all that true to character was Janeway shutting herself into seclusion because of guilt. The episode became too derivative when Voyager was pulled into a conflict between two alien races, including the Malon, who would eventually become the aliens of the season, and a race of people who somehow evolved in an area devoid of light (figure that one out). The end features a big explosion and a Janeway tagline ("Time to take out the garbage")—all-too-easy standbys. Overall, not bad, but certainly not a fresh start to a season.
Drone — Air date: 10/21/1998. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Story by Bryan Fuller and Harry Doc Kloor. Directed by Les Landau.
The reason "Drone" works so well is because it has an intriguing central character—an innocent Borg drone that Seven might be able to teach the lessons of humanity. The show maintains a great sense of mystery and wonder surrounding this bizarre but almost always pleasant Borg individual. Implicitly, the show is a masterstroke of perspectives, as we can see the possibility emerge that a Borg not influenced by the collective can come to a vastly different set of conclusions and values—perhaps simply because he has been "assimilated" by a culture with different goals and ideals. J. Paul Boehmer turns is a remarkable performance as the drone, and Ryan gets some standout moments, particularly in a heartfelt ending involving the drone's noble sacrifice. These are the types of "nature of humanity" shows that Trek has often been known for, and with "Drone" we get a classic Voyager episode, and classic Trek.
Extreme Risk — Air date: 10/28/1998. Written by Kenneth Biller. Directed by Cliff Bole.
On the other hand, "Extreme Risk" exemplifies a lot of Voyager's problems. This is a character show about B'Elanna, which right there should've been an immediate plus in my book. ("B'Elanna show" and "character study" when combined in the same episode seems to me like a formula for success.) Unfortunately, this episode fails because it simply isn't credible. Suddenly we have B'Elanna thrust into a deep depression that is explained by emotional circumstances—namely her learning of the slaughter of the Maquis in the previous season's "Hunters"—which haven't been remotely evident until now. There are some reasonable ideas, like the construction of the Delta Flyer and most notably the powerful standout scene where Chakotay confronts Torres on the holodeck about her problem, but they can't save a show that otherwise comes off as unfairly and insincerely conjured. The over-simplistic notion of Torres' problem being cured thanks to a daring mission of importance and some banana pancakes shows precisely how Voyager's adamant nature for doing single-shot stories—without any believable lead-ins, consequences, or follow-ups—hurts the most.
In the Flesh — Air date: 11/4/1998. Written by Nick Sagan. Directed by David Livingston.
In true TOS fashion, "In the Flesh" offers us a competent lesson in the value of trust. In this case, it's an attempt for humans and 8472s to put aside their mutual fear of each other in the interests of peace. This is an example of Trekkian themes about as unmistakable as they come. It feels like a Cold War allegory more than anything else, but as I said in my original review, the Cold War is over so the themes feel about a decade late in their arrival. But that's okay, because the plot works on the surface and gives Chakotay a rare turn as the lead. There's the argument that this episode completely neutered 8472 as a useful enemy, but let's face it: 8472 really had nowhere to go after "Scorpion, Part II" was over (unless you wanted them to conquer the galaxy or have their attempted takeover once again crushed by the lone starship Voyager). The logical Trekkian solution—end hostilities and turn enemies into friends. Not the newest idea ever conceived, but here it comes across reasonably.
Once Upon a Time — Air date: 11/11/1998. Written by Michael Taylor. Directed by John Kretchmer.
Here's an example of oversimplistic routine storytelling. There are too many clichés here, and there's no interesting spin put on them. We've got our usual Shuttle Crash and Stranded Survivor clichés forming one half of the plot, and we have the Rescue Operation forming part of the other half. Why even bother milking any suspense out of it? If there's a point here, it surrounds Neelix's role as Naomi's godfather. To be fair, this is probably the only substantive story that Neelix the Cipher had all season, and it gave Ethan Phillips some meaty, emotional dialog for a change. But, other than that, I don't know what's particularly worthwhile here. The story played out exactly as expected, leading to a "heartfelt" payoff that wasn't the least bit satisfying. In the end I couldn't help but feel that the show was mostly a waste of time and a recycling of ideas. I also didn't go for the "cute" holo-novel characters, who weren't interesting enough to warrant the screen time devoted to them.
Timeless — Air date: 11/18/1998. Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by LeVar Burton.
Now here's an example of the Voyager concept at its best. We've got here plenty of reliable elements, including timeline paradoxes, the crew vying for a way home, and slick sci-fi solutions to tricky problems with moral questions looming overhead. Simply put, "Timeless" embodies one of the most perfect ways to assemble all those parts into a whole that simultaneously makes an enormous amount of sense and plays up many of Voyager's strengths and unique elements. Would only they all be like this, the series would be in good shape. The writers proved here that Harry Kim can be a very worthwhile and captivating character, and Garrett Wang's uncharacteristically powerful performance proved he can carry a show bearing a great deal of emotional weight (too bad the rest of the season wouldn't affirm my beliefs here concerning Kim). The story is engaging from start to finish, and Burton's direction is right on target with some technique-driven parallelism in the timeline narrative that is reminiscent of TNG's "All Good Things." In the end, the story even allows Voyager some progress toward home, making the effort feel worthwhile. This is a Voyager must-see in my book.
Infinite Regress — Air date: 11/25/1998. Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty. Story by Robert J. Doherty and Jimmy Diggs. Directed by David Livingston.
The poster child for high concept comes knocking with an episode that boils down to "Borg multiple personality disorder." An interesting sales pitch, but does the show work? I think so, albeit it's more about technique than it is about story. Jeri Ryan is up to the challenge, and throws herself into one characterization after another as Seven is hijacked by one phantom personality after another. The plot holes involving the cause of this problem—a Borg "vinculum"—are plentiful, and a not-so-helpful group of aliens provides the usual conflict, but the direction and acting keep the episode's energy level high, and the go-for-broke attitude of the show maintains an edgy appeal to make "Infinite Regress" a solid hour of entertainment.
Nothing Human — Air date: 12/2/1998. Written by Jeri Taylor Directed by David Livingston.
"Nothing Human" contains many elements Voyager should attempt to exploit more often. Unfortunately, it also shows the wrong way of using such elements. I like moral arguments, but "Nothing Human" requires us to accept a great deal that I simply find unacceptable. First and foremost is Crell: The idea of a fully functional, nearly sentient holographic surgeon slapped together with a few computer commands and personality files is downright absurd. But more than that, Crell causes the story to sidestep several real-world conditions about the use of information obtained by questionable means, and instead the hour rides on narrow, manufactured circumstances—muddying the waters so much that the arguments become unworkable. The annoying walk-on of a to-date-unseen-and-never-to-be-seen-again Bajoran Maquis character, used to set the plot in motion, is equally unforgivable. That's too bad, because this episode has many compelling possibilities and strong performances.
Thirty Days — Air date: 12/9/1998. Teleplay by Kenneth Biller. Story by Scott Miller. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
A good Paris show. Granted, his love of the ocean had never been seen before this, but big deal—this is backstory that settles into the story because it has a sense that Tom Paris is a real person and not a jar of disjointed personality pieces (cf. "Vis A Vis"). The underwater world explored here was visually impressive and managed to bring the wonder factor back into the Voyager equation. And the flashback narrative (which according to the writers was written and filmed because the episode ran short) fit well into the story, strengthening it by giving us a chance to get into Tom's head. Paris' demotion to ensign seems a tad bit glib in retrospect (it didn't really mean anything down the road), but I liked the idea of Paris standing up for a cause he believed in and taking the heat for it.
Counterpoint — Air date: 12/16/1998. Written by Michael Taylor. Directed by Les Landau.
You can see the gears turning in "Counterpoint," but that's okay, because the whole show is about two captains silently scheming and hiding things. This is probably one of the best examples of how to use all the standard Voyager elements and apply them with well-above-average skill. Janeway comes across as smart, edgy, sardonic, and resourceful. And the writers supply her with a well-written adversary with much more charisma and intelligence than the average Voyager bad guy. And even though Janeway is able to anticipate the treachery and wins the game, I liked the fact that betrayal still hurts. Unfortunately, Mark Harelik goes a tad overboard with Kashyk's overplayed smugness, and some of his earlier actions don't seem plausible once the game is revealed. Let's put it on the high end of the three-star shows.
Latent Image — Air date: 1/20/1999. Teleplay by Joe Menosky. Story by Eileen Connors and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by Mike Vejar.
Inside the good "Latent Image" is an even better story trying to get out. Don't get me wrong—this episode has a thought process behind it that is truly compelling, as the writers explore the possibilities of Doc's sentience in a way that, conceptually, is highly admirable. Picardo is mesmerizing in a role that constitutes one of the season's heaviest character-reliant episodes, and the final scene is effectively atypical and eerie. BUT—the unevenness and continuity problems are hard to overlook. I for one thought the issue of Doc's sentience had long been established before this, and seeing Janeway's attitude that Doc is a piece of equipment more than he is a person is disturbing—something that should've belonged in the first or second season. Coming in season five it seems like sudden character regression. I also had a tough time swallowing many of the details involving the cover-up of Ensign Jetal's death. That's too bad, because the ideas behind "Latent Image" are very worthwhile, and some revisions could've made this a true standout.
Bride of Chaotica! — Air date: 1/27/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
One of the most inspired holodeck premises in a long time ends up being a surprising disappointment. This should've been non-stop fun, but instead the humor never really takes off. The pacing is off, giving us scenes inside the black-and-white holodeck settings and then switching gears to a standard Voyager technobabble plot that, frankly, I couldn't care less about. Some of the gags in the holodeck are worth a grin or two, but overall there's not enough energy. The replication of the old sci-fi serials is done with great skill and attention to detail, but that's not enough for success. Attitude needs to carry this hour, and attitude is precisely what's lacking. There's also an ironic subtext that proves to be the show's own undoing: Here's an episode that pokes fun at 1940s sci-fi schlock while embracing and exploiting 1990s sci-fi schlock. The fatal mistake is that it takes the 1990s schlock far too seriously. As a result, it's hard to accept this as a full-blown parody; instead it comes across as Voyager business as usual.
Gravity — Air date: 2/3/1999. Teleplay by Nick Sagan & Bryan Fuller. Story by Jimmy Diggs and Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan. Directed by Terry Windell.
It's a very competent Tuvok show, but clunky plotting keeps getting in the way. This almost seems to prove that clichés comprise the method of choice for getting things done. Shuttles crash, subspace sinkholes threaten to collapse and kill the main characters, aliens provide counterfeit conflicts (why have both the collapsing sinkhole and the alien confrontation when only one is necessary to get the job done?), and lives hang in jeopardy ... and yet none of that is really the point. What is the point, and what fares the best, is the analysis of Tuvok's past and Paris' attitude as Noss falls for Tuvok and Tuvok is forced by his Vulcan ways to push her away. Russ and McNeill are right on target (especially in the "just you, me, and the rocks" scene), but Lori Petty's rendition of Noss, alas, seems off-kilter. The final parting scene is nice.
Bliss — Air date: 2/10/1999. Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty. Story by Bill Prady. Directed by Cliff Bole.
As a self-aware embracing of cinema archetypes this episodes knows what to do and how to do it. Monsters in space? Vengeful but likable old space hunters? Seven of Nine and a kid saving the ship? You got it. Deep, meaningful, or relevant in the slightest? Not likely. "Bliss" knows what it is and gets the job done based on competent execution, avoiding the most important pratfalls by not pretending that it's going to get its crew home, and by making Seven the sole reasonable character among a crew of grinning, brainwashed fools. ("Fools" used in the affectionate way, naturally.) The nature of the bliss-causing hallucinations is probably way implausible, but oh well. This is good clean fun, so overanalyze I won't.
Dark Frontier — Air date: 2/17/1999. Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Part I directed by Cliff Bole. Part II directed by Terry Windell.
From a production standpoint, "Dark Frontier" is easily the most ambitious two hours of Voyager ever made, and ranks up with some of the best-produced sci-fi I've seen in episodic television. From a story standpoint, "Dark Frontier" is an entertaining two hours with some good writing and Seven backstory ... but it suffers somewhat from the fact that it doesn't deliver the lasting significance one would've hoped. The production and special effects sequences are first-rate eye candy. And conceptually, some action sequences—like the Borg's assimilation of an entire species—pack some punch. A lot of this is fun and at times exciting, but what's frustrating is the oft-disregarded continuity and especially the lack of motive behind the (surprisingly hollow) use of the Evil Borg Queen (bwahaha) and her unclear need to assimilate humanity—a species so frequently labeled as flawed and imperfect that one wonders why the Borg even want us in the first place. A closing "suspense" scene involving a standoff with lots of Big Guns lacks the edge it seems to want. All in all, it's good stuff but not great stuff.
The Disease — Air date: 2/24/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by Kenneth Biller. Directed by David Livingston.
This "Disease" just made me sick (ba-dum-bum). If you thought that joke was bad, just try watching this travesty of television romance centering on Harry "Chump" Kim and featuring plenty of unconvincing, invented sexual protocol. The central idea could've been workable, but the presentation here was simply awful. The dialog was atrocious, with hopelessly pathetic lines like "Boy meets girl on the wrong side of the galaxy; boy loses girl." (Yes, that line actually took itself seriously.) The plot was positively perfunctory, meaning the hour's success/failure resided on the leads' performances and chemistry. Alas, there isn't a shred of believable chemistry to be found anywhere in this lifeless mass; every performance falls flat on its face. The Harry histrionics in particular are laughably inept. The only worthwhile issue here, involving Janeway letting Harry "grow up," is yet another supposedly "meaningful" character development that refuses to have any lasting impact on anybody. And Harry is still the same Harry as always: a straight-laced goofball with none of the edge this show pretends to give him.
Course: Oblivion — Air date: 3/3/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Anson Williams.
I'll grant that this episode is superior to its brainless predecessor, "Demon," but that's about all I'll grant. "Course: Oblivion" might have an appropriate title considering the story's apparent intentions to crush a tragic alternate crew, but the episode fails to generate any good reason for me to care about these people. The technobabble contrivances border on the unbearable, forming the basis for a manufactured plot that is unworkable unless the viewer is willing to embrace out-and-out credulity. For me, everything about this episode rang false, as the doomed Voyager crew faced one convenient failure after another. When all was said and done, I was left angry and disturbed, but not in any way that could be attributed to the story's effectiveness. The plot's manipulations simply seem cynical to me, not tragic. At the end, my overwhelming feeling was, "Who cares?" If the writers were trying to convey pointlessness, they should've done it in a way that had a point.
The Fight — Air date: 3/24/1999. Teleplay by Joe Menosky. Story by Michael Taylor. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
Alas, in the spirit of season three, season five ends up with its own "trilogy of terror," having aired three consecutive shows that were completely botched. "The Fight" is all style and nearly absolutely zero substance, and the stylistics are unfortunately not worth the time. This is packed full of imagery and ominous notes, but what's lacking is any semblance of a useful purpose behind it all. The plotting is laborious and bland, Boothby's appearance strikes me as gratuitous, Beltran's stilted performance fails to rise to the occasion, and Kolbe's direction seems to have overcompensated to the extreme with atmosphere scenes that simply scream "Look at the weirdness!" instead of having any actual point. The result is a murky, incomprehensible mess that puts the tech stuff way before any of its characters. It's a perfect example of science fiction that severely lacks the sense of wonder and human interest required to make the story worthwhile.
Think Tank — Air date: 3/31/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. Directed by Terrence O'Hara.
Here's a perfect example of what Voyager is. I was reasonably entertained for 60 minutes (though hardly riveted), I didn't really have to think a whole lot because the show did most of the thinking for me and explained its thought processes in clear-cut terms, and there was a character theme (Seven's purpose on Voyager) that was worth the screen time devoted to it. What was lacking, as usual, was any hint of lasting impact, any trace of moral grey areas, and any notion that anything worth seeing in the Delta Quadrant can be construed as something other than a threat. We've got ourselves a game involving the smug "think tank," which of course means Janeway must deal the think tank their just deserts. (Thanks, but "Counterpoint" was a much better example of scheming.) As far as the game goes, it should've been more clever. I get the feeling that if Kurros was really so smart he would've anticipated something as basic as (gasp!) Janeway and Seven lying to him.
Juggernaut — Air date: 4/26/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan and Kenneth Biller. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
Two words: "shallow," "slick." Here's another Torres episode in a season that was decidedly not all that great for the character. This one suddenly resurrects the Wrath Within B'Elanna, as her temper control problems come to the surface in a way unseen for years. Taken to the extreme it is here and used for such an obvious character theme (save the closing minute, which is interestingly opaque), it seems sudden and excessive. Meanwhile, the plot at hand is the ultimate in simplicity, featuring the type of action that mandates passive viewing. The rest is all style and production and smoky sets and blowing stuff up real good. As such, it's fairly entertaining. But like "Extreme Risk" it shows Voyager's unwillingness to look beyond the hour at hand to the bigger picture.
Someone to Watch Over Me — Air date: 4/28/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by Brannon Braga. Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill.
In the season's most pleasant episode, Seven takes dating lessons from Doc, in a situation where one would expect the inevitable "test date" would be a disaster. Well, of course it's a disaster. But it's a rather hilarious disaster that still comes off as sincere, in character, graceful, and good-natured. Ryan carries the show with a performance of wondrous Seven-innocence, and Picardo is graceful in his usual role of Doc's charismatic, well-intended overzealousness. Brian McNamara is likable as the date victim, whom the episode allows to be a nice guy who tries to salvage the awkward evening. The story's uncovering of Doc's emerging feelings for Seven brings with it bittersweet pangs. Just call it an hour of delight.
11:59 — Air date: 5/5/1999. Teleplay by Joe Menosky. Story by Joe Menosky & Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingston.
In one of the quietest, gimmick-free episodes in recent memory, the writers reflect upon histories and identity in an understated way through Janeway's introspective look at the past. Told mostly in flashback, "11:59" tells the simple, pleasant story of Shannon O'Donnel, Janeway's distant ancestor whose desire to look toward the future in the "Millenium Gate" project gained her hero status in Janeway's eyes. By the end of the story, Janeway has learned that her ancestor wasn't quite the "hero" she thought she was; historical records have proven innacurate. I liked the way this episode told its story without the usual clichés and simple payoffs. There were some key scenes that were lackluster, particularly O'Donnel's final realization and the somewhat oversimplified way she persuades Henry Janeway to let go of the past. But the ideas here are what matter, and they're relevant. Coming together are the concepts of the childhood hero in myth more than fact, the value of keeping our historical roots in perspective, and the Voyager-heavy sentiment of the nuclear family (i.e. crew) bonding together. Nice stuff.
Relativity — Air date: 5/12/1999. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan & Michael Taylor. Story by Nick Sagan. Directed by Allan Eastman.
"Relativity" is a confused mass of cavalier time-travel craziness. Is that praise or criticism? Probably both, methinks. Really, there's not much going on behind the zany plotting of this episode; the timelines are used mostly as a playground for the writers to send characters from point A to point B to point Question Mark in a fourth-dimensional implementation of that universal cinematic device known as The Chase. By the end, very little of it makes any sort of practical sense, but the focus on the fun keeps the story confidently on track. Scrutiny is pointless; either you found it enjoyable or you didn't.
Warhead — Air date: 5/19/1999. Teleplay by Michael Taylor & Kenneth Biller. Story by Brannon Braga. Directed by John Kretchmer.
Nothing about "Warhead" was new or original, so its level of success lay solely on the level of tension the story could maintain. About all I can say is that the story didn't maintain the tension, so as a result I really didn't care about much of what was going on. The issue of "outsmarting the smart bomb" just didn't have the cleverness necessary to be a plot that could claim to be about outsmarting anything (and no, Seven's nanoprobes didn't count). The issue of a sentient smart bomb seems a little dubious; I still can't figure out why anyone would give a bomb sentience in the first place (especially if the bomb is at the mercy of contradictory directives). The themes here aren't bad, but they feel too rehashed from TOS, and the Trekkian self-pride sets in a little bit too hard-core by the end.
Equinox, Part I — Air date: 5/26/1999. Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky. Directed by David Livingston.
Really, the jury will be out on this one until September, but for now I'm optimistic about the moral grey areas that "Equinox" has presented. Through the desperate crew of the starship Equinox, this episode brings back many of the qualities I think Voyager should've been using throughout its run. I've asked it before and I'll ask it again: What's more interesting to see? A crew forced to change because of extreme situations, or a crew that does business as usual under a situation that isn't really extreme but pretends to be? Whether next season will choose to make any changes to the Voyager attitude remains to be seen, but for now I'll take "Equinox" as it is—a story that shows a different side of life in the Delta Quadrant. The cynical side of me thinks we'll most likely get burned with "Equinox, Part II," but for now what we have works. Captain Ransom fares well as a shady yet still understandable hypocrite whose actions have crossed the line. Cliffhangers are done-to-death clichés and I could've done without the "cliffhanger action ending" presented here, but so it goes.
Part 2: Season Analysis
This is where things turn a bit harsher, I'm afraid, as I look at Voyager's biggest weakness: The Big Picture.
This season has been a strange mix of enjoyment and extreme frustration, and I've been asking myself a question over the past few months: Is there even much of a point in my doing a general season commentary for Voyager? The capsule reviews might provide a handy recap, but is there a lot to say (or, more specifically, a lot good to say) about Voyager's fifth season as a whole? I'm not quite so sure, because this series lends itself to analysis in episode-by-episode pieces, and not as a whole.
Ideally, an article like this would be most worthwhile if there were sweeping changes to report or new directions to discuss. At the very least, this would be a place to note the year's trends. The thing about Voyager is that, really, there are no cohesive trends to note. Conceptually, this series is all over the place and I can't put my finger on any direction it's headed in. If this sounds like old news, it is, and I apologize. I've been saying basically the same thing again and again for three years now.
At the end of last year's recap, I wrote the following: "Maybe next season will be a SERIES instead of a collection of shows. Maybe not. ... With Brannon Braga ... taking over the creative processes of the series I'm not sure if we'll see any significant changes or not, but I can hope that we'll see some interesting new things come out of season five, and perhaps more emphasis on long-term thinking."
So now to answer the question: What has Braga's role at the helm meant in terms of a change in the big picture at Voyager? Well, to be as blunt and as honest as I can be, my answer is simple: "Nothing." For good nor ill, there has been no change in attitude, no change in direction, no change in format, and no real discernible change in storytelling. Much—far too much, in my opinion—was made of Braga's taking of the helm in light of Jeri Taylor's retirement at the end of season four. Some alarmist fans feared that "Evil Brannon Braga" would drive the series into the ground with his approach to storytelling. Please, people, give me a break. I figured the chances of Braga driving Voyager into the ground were pretty close to zero. And as season five got under way, I also began to sense Braga's impact on the new season would have very little noticeable difference in the way the series operated or the way stories were told. And why should it? Braga has long been a creative force on Voyager. Why should his assumption of command really change much of anything?
The sense I'd gotten (whether I'm right or wrong is another story) was that the producers were happy with the performance of season four and they wanted season five to be like the fourth season, with more "great high-concept storytelling" and "great exploration of the characters," etc. If another season four was what they wanted, then I'm of the opinion that they mostly delivered on that count. I'm inclined to say that overall "Season Five" is essentially "Season Four, Part II."
Moving along, the next question is whether that's a good or bad thing. Did Voyager even need to change? I was of the opinion that Voyager's fourth season was the best Voyager effort up to that point, so I'd certainly rather see more of a fourth-season attitude than, say, a second- or third-season attitude.
And there lies both sides of the argument: Either Voyager was inadequate and in need of changes to become a successful series, or Voyager was adequate and season five continued the trend.
Well, I think most people pretty much know where I stand on the matter, so I'll just come out and reiterate my long-standing attitude on the series. In a sentence: While Voyager has its merits, I doubt I'll ever be satisfied with the bottom line. Why? Because of the following qualities: (1) It doesn't make the long-term investments in its stories or characters to keep us compelled on an ongoing basis, and that attitude sometimes also leads to strained credibility. (2) Because there are no long-term aspirations, we must live in a short-term environment that simply isn't consistently fresh enough to overcome the fact that there's so much Trek material in the history books in danger of duplication; as a result, stories too frequently feel recycled, derivative, or pedestrian. And (3) the series has failed to realize these two other points and continues to do what Voyager does best: business as usual.
Now, to be fair, Voyager as a sci-fi series is not a failure. The production values are generally quite good, the cast is generally solid, and some of the stories really do deliver. In strictly episode-by-episode critical quality terms, I can report at least some positive news in that this season wasn't a downfall in stand-alone episode quality; in fact, the average numbers are virtually identical to fourth season's (by my ratings, anyway)—registering just an ever-so-slightly increased average. Looking at the top five: Episodes like "Drone" and "Timeless" both qualify as Voyager classics for me, the former being a wonderful character study and the latter an ensemble piece where everything clicked into the Voyager-specific mindset perfectly; "Someone to Watch Over Me" displayed a refreshing change of pace with broad human comedy; "Dark Frontier" showed that seamless production and decent writing can take action a long way; and "Counterpoint" showed that a nondescript premise can be turned into a gem with good execution, careful character attention, and clever writing. These are examples of the Voyager "one-shot wonders"—although I should probably point out that with Voyager it's either a one-shot wonder or a one-shot okay/mediocre/failure. Very little of a show's success has much to do with the scope of the series beyond the broadest aspects, like the fact that the same characters populate the stories.
Another problem arose through mischaracterization. In two words: B'Elanna Torres. Here was one of my favorite characters, and the writers had her so all-over-the-map this season that it merely became annoyingly unconvincing. "Extreme Risk" invented her manic-depression and then glibly discarded it. "Nothing Human" gave her a conflict with Janeway that would immediately afterward be forgotten. "Juggernaut" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" suddenly fired up her temper to an overstated excess. And "Equinox" suddenly made her soft and pleasant. Who is this person anymore?
B'Elanna's probably the only bigger trend worthy of mention. Most everyone else remained within the boundaries of what came before—which is fine—but there's no real sense of anybody heading in any direction with a destination to reach. It would be nice to see these people and their personalities put to a bigger test beyond solving each week's plot. That's not to say the characters get completely lost, because they don't. Janeway, Seven, and Doc all have strong cores that shine through even without challenging new material. All had good character shows—Janeway with "Counterpoint" and "11:59"; Seven with "Drone" and "Someone to Watch Over Me"; and Doc with "Latent Image." But it's an episode like "Latent Image" that finds something worthwhile and uncovers a dire need for digging deeper. And, frustratingly, Voyager just cannot bring itself to go the extra mile. (You can't have a story about a character driven to torment about the nature of his existence and then pretend next week like nothing happened to him.)
Other characters seem lost in the shuffle. Paris was reasonable but somewhat underutilized save "Thirty Days" and "Gravity." Tuvok even more so outside "Gravity"—and Chakotay and Neelix were virtually nonexistent for most of the season, aside from walk-on roles with little building value. (Neelix fared okay in "Once Upon a Time," but Chakotay's "Fight" featured characterization that was murky and useless.)
And as for Harry Kim, don't even get me started. "Timeless" was a riveting example of the wealth of potential inside the loss-of-innocence Harry (and shows just what Voyager is capable of), but "Disease" was an utter disaster that erased all good will, and everything post-"Disease" affirmed that, no, Harry will never change; he's simply a laughable Teflon-man of a character. I can't say I've been pleased with Wang's performances, but the writers have totally dropped the ball, giving the poor slob almost nothing worthwhile. Naomi Wildman, Voyager's surprisingly effective rendition of The Kid as portrayed by the capable Scarlett Pomers, actually has been much more tolerable on the screen than Harry because I at least don't get the sudden fear I will be forced to cringe.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Voyager is dependent more on its plots than its character development. On that end, one thing I appreciated about this season was its attempted emphasis on plain-and-simple traveling progress. Among the big problems with the second season was the absurdity of the series seemingly running around in circles, laughably diverting into the heart Kazon space at season's end. With this season we actually had some big progress toward the Alpha Quadrant with the two huge jumps forward. Finally the crew's efforts—experimenting with engine technology ("Timeless") and undertaking a daring mission against the Borg ("Dark Frontier")—actually paid off with some progress that could boost morale and make the series seem (at least temporarily) to break out of the status quo.
But given its resources, Voyager is still a stark underachievement. Everything from the characters to the basic premise lend themselves to much greater things, but the show seems perfectly content to play it safe. Worse yet, it almost displays an unconscious contempt for anyone willing to pay attention from one month to the next. A big example is the way the writers made references to aliens that shouldn't have been anywhere near Voyager's position after the two big jumps. There shouldn't have been mention of the Devore in "Think Tank" and most certainly shouldn't have been a Malon ship casually cruising around in "Juggernaut." Sure, these complaints could be explained away with some imaginative excuses (like perhaps saying the Malon have very fast ships and the dialog simply didn't address it), but that's not the point. The point is, this isn't nitpicking; this is valid concern for a fundamental carelessness within the show: It alleges to make big progress and then disregards all consequences on a whim. The only possible interpretation of this attitude is that the big picture isn't valued by the creators; the immediate goal is. If that's the attitude, I'm thinking the immediate goal had better be well worth the sacrifice to the bigger picture. But way too often that's not the case.
Looking ahead to the near future, what does Voyager need? Well, it needs what it has needed every year. Voyager needs to think for more than one hour at a time. This is not a new idea. Honestly, I don't know why I bother saying it again and again, because by this point I should know it will never happen. From a writing standpoint Voyager simply isn't a series that looks at the long term, because the producers and writers, for better or worse, have consciously come to the conclusion that operating in the short term is what works for them.
Quite frankly, what Voyager needed was Ronald D. Moore. Now, I rarely comment on the behind-the-scenes soap operas in my reviews (criticism should be applied to the work on the screen, not the rumors and news going on behind production), but in this case I'm going to make an exception.
For those of you reading this who are unaware of what has been going on in the Star Trek producers' offices the past few months, I'll give a quick recap: After work wrapped on Deep Space Nine, Ron Moore (whom, incidentally, I consider to be one of Trek's all-time best writers) announced that he was going to move over to Voyager to work on the show. Not long afterward, the rumors began flying that there was a massive falling out between onetime friends Moore and Braga, and that irreconcilable differences in opinion led Moore to reluctantly resign from the Voyager writing staff. A few weeks later, Moore confirmed in an online posting that he had left Voyager, though he gracefully refused (and rightfully so) to air details and dirty laundry in public.
I'm not here to speculate on the nasty rumors that have been going around concerning Braga; I hasten to remind that rumors are not necessarily facts and that every story has two sides. At the same time, however, Moore left the show for a reason, and something is clearly suspect in the state of Bragaville. In any case, I can't see Moore's departure from Voyager as anything but the series' loss. Voyager could've used the fresh blood—some fresh blood that has years of experience writing for Trek with methods that could've been of great value to Voyager. Alas, that will never be.
Looking to other possibilities in Voyager's future, other rumors circulating have promised that Voyager will "absolutely" get home midway through next season, though Braga has been quoted as denying it. Because the Delta Quadrant isn't very interesting, I would probably welcome the change in format (although something cynical inside me fears that our crew might get home to an Alpha Quadrant that has already totally recovered from the Dominion War and Voyager would in no way acknowledge the changes in the Federation put into place by its now-finished sister series). If you want my current speculation for season six, the most likely scenario I envision is "Season Five, Part II" (or "Season Four, Part III," if you must). All the quotes emanating from the Voyager producers are along the lines of happiness with the series from a creative standpoint, so there's no reason to expect change.
It's occurring to me that this wrap-up article is perhaps coming across as unrelentingly negative in tone—more so than I imagined when I set out to write it. I think that can be attributed to the fact that Voyager does in fact work better when shows are analyzed case by case. And on their own, many shows this season worked and worked well. For that I give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, the longevity of Voyager (and any Trek) will not hinge on analysis in individual pieces. The cumulative effect—where the series ventures—is what people will remember. And after five seasons, it's still hard for me to figure out what Voyager is all about and what of significance people will remember about it. Perhaps it will be remembered for its fragments.
It is perhaps the greatest of all ironies that one of DS9's biggest criticisms when it launched in 1993 was that the setting was "too static." Now, more than six years later, DS9 has ended as the Trek series to have supplied the most ongoing changes in story and setting, while Voyager is still essentially doing the same things it always has—wandering a Delta Quadrant that offers little in terms of new settings, cultures, ideas, or story approaches. We just have lots of "space." But what's in this space? As of now, I'm inclined to call it a static, primarily empty area of space—traveled by a starship that covers a lot less ground than a certain space station sitting stationary at the mouth of a certain wormhole.
It's too bad Voyager can't hold up when one steps back and looks at everything, because the paradox is that I find the series still supplies reasonable, enjoyable entertainment in short bursts. The indictment, I think, is that it could and should supply a lot more than that. See you in the fall.
Previous: Season 4
Next: Season 6
33 comments on this post
Mon, Feb 8, 2010, 3:42pm (UTC -5)
I am willing to look past this tiny flaw that all series as a whole have because they allow for the individual episodes to have a larger impact. Most of the episodes mentioned above I consider classics, so I would be very sad if they had not been made for fear of having too great an impact on the character. On the other hand, I'm not sure how entertaining it would have been to have (for example) Picard taking a whole season to get settled back into his life as a Captain. It simply wouldn't have been interesting enough.
Sat, Jun 12, 2010, 8:39am (UTC -5)
This comment is more about tv in general, using Voyager as a starting point: what is the future of tv? In your reviews of Battlestar Galactica, it seems that tv has moved from plot-driven (1st generation) to character-driven (2nd gen) to serialized, character-driven (3rd gen), and whereas soap operas have been 3rd gen from inception, scifi has only recently used this style of story telling.
Your reviews have also stressed the importance of character depth and change, realism and serialization of story, and excitement and freshness of ideas. However, what is "new" in our internet age, seems to become "old" or "derivative" very quickly. I remember when Star Wars Episode I came out and how much excitement surrounded it, after all the original Star Wars movie was famous for about 20 years before that. By the time of Episdoe III, star wars was just conventional scifi, and the excitement dissipated pretty quickly.
I think it's common wisdom that people watch tv or read or watch any kind of art form for many different reasons: primarily entertainment to relieve boredom, but also to belong to a shared experience, to heal or sooth emotions, or a sense of comfort and familiarity. I suspect that the range of tv has limits, from comdey to drama, from pap and lacking substance to deep, edgy and relevant.
I suppose as virtual environments improve we can move away from tv to immerse ourselves in the story, as seen in interactive video games or online enviromnents like Second Life. Professional writers create the story, senvironment and characters and participants will help move the plot along.
To me, part of how we use tv or participate in these entertainments reflects our own needs and how well we balance a virtual world of our imagination with the real one that can range from boring to alienating to exciting to threatening and the list goes on. At the end of the day, how we relate to tv (or virtual reality) says a lot about ourselves and our culture, something that is probably common knowledge, but I think gets lost as we immerse ourselves in alternative realities.
Thu, Nov 15, 2012, 12:30pm (UTC -5)
Is your anger at Voyager because the producers of Star Trek had already embraced a serialized vision and instead of building on it decided to play it safe and backtrack to TNG-style storytelling within a capsule for Voyager? As an aside, in your TNG reviews you rail against the lack of a big picture as well which I hope you realize is very unfair when that aspect of television was still "around the corner" so to speak.
Television always told small stories until around the mid-90s when they decided maybe people are paying attention enough to watch every week. Any television prior to this time period that is judged against this time period will fail. So, I guess what I'm saying is, I can understand why you dislike Voyager because not only did it have potential but it was ACTIVE potential that the writers had already shown that they could do things with. On the other hand, while you don't dislike TNG/TOS some episodes you seem quite unfair to, and the unfairness is from the perspective of wanting more big picture when the big picture was not in the minds of very many people watching or producing television at that time. Don't judge from hindsight - as Churchill said, "When the present sits in judgement on the past, only the future is lost."
Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 2:28pm (UTC -5)
My first experience with Trek was probably the TOS movies in the mid-1980s. When TNG came on, I started watching that when it originally aired. I was about 11 or 12 at the time. At about the same time, I watched TOS in reruns.
So my first experience with Trek was TOS and TNG. I fully appreciate the value of the episodic form, and I'm aware of the shift that happened, especially in the '90s, toward a more serialized form of TV.
But I think your characterization that I "rail against the lack of a big picture" in TNG is overstated. I certainly don't look at TNG as if it should be serialized. Quite the opposite; I look at TNG exactly as standalone episodes and whether each one works or not.
That said, I'd say my dissatisfaction with Voyager stems from the fact that its premise was based on something that seemed to suggest that there should be more serialized consequences than what that series ultimately bore out. Not saying it needed to be as serialized as DS9, but it seemed like it often ignored its premise in order to do riffs on TNG tech mysteries.
Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 3:45pm (UTC -5)
I'm sure Voyager's writers occasionally winking to the fans with a nod to continuity (that was usually forgotten or insta-resolved) didn't help since it reminded you of the potential that they seemed to know was there, ready to be mined and that they were actively willing themselves not to use!
Sadly my first Trek exposure that I can recall was Star Trek V. Even more sadly, as a child I thought it was awesome. Rewatched it last year and... oh man, so bad. "Why does God need a starship?" was still classic though.
I'm surprised how DS9 captivated you actually. I started watching the show/movies around the same time. Bobbling on my dad's knee and hearing him say "Goddamm Wesley, get off the bridge!" all the time. TNG was must-see-TV in my household. Anyway, when DS9 came on my father and I made it to maybe the 3rd season and then just rejected it. I believe you yourself have stated that the first 2 seasons of DS9 were quite shaky. You must have been a born Trekker to make it through to the good stuff. Guess you were since you saw TOS long before I did.
As an adolescent I enjoyed Voyager more because Star Trek was back on a star ship and exploring. That's what Star Trek was to me. I suppose without DS9 as a gauge I couldn't see all the missed potential. As an adult though Voyager is beyond redemption (but for a few) and DS9 is fantastic (but for a few). Strangely despite its campiness, these days I enjoy TOS the most. The interplay between Spock/Kirk/Bones is just great stuff.
Anyway, I ramble. I always ramble. Thanks for replying to my curiosity.
Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
Put it this way; if you live 30 or 40 or 50 years of a life in your mind, which is what "The Inner Light" posits, events prior to that (like Picard's assimilation by the Borg) would be distant memories from a previous life. Picard would be a totally different person, really. One wonders if he could even come back and function as captain of the starship (unless, of course, the unreal experience itself faded from Picard's mind like a dream -- something that (1) wasn't what the episode suggested and (2) would blunt the impact of the episode). Obviously, the series can't support changing Picard into a different person (and I'm not sure any of us would even want to see that), but, strictly speaking, that's what should have happened.
It's just something I had to mention -- despite my great admiration for that episode -- as a footnote. But my point was not really that I thought they should've stretched the idea beyond the episode itself.
Sun, Nov 18, 2012, 8:58am (UTC -5)
Concerning what you said on "The Inner Light," I'd like to think that the memories did not leave him, else the great first half of "Lessons" has no basis for greatness. And I must add, I did think Picard changed. I always found Picard to be quieter and more thoughtful after this particular encounter and while he never said it had anything to do with his experiences, I always attributed it to that. I prefer that type of subtle/quiet (In the background) character growth over the folks on BSG running around with their emotions on their sleeves.
Dangerously close to a ramble so I'll stop there!
Tue, Jan 1, 2013, 11:28pm (UTC -5)
I had always meant to ask this Jammer, but I've noticed that your reviews span series beyond Star Trek. Might I ask why Babylon 5 is missing?
I have to tell you, my first exposure to Star Trek was during reruns in the '70s. Of course I saw every subsequent series first-run.
I remember feeling a mix of bewilderment and even a little indignation years ago, over a decade ago now, at what I thought of as the harshness of the lens that Voyager was subjected to, whereas DS9 was so triumphantly exulted by comparison.
Not to rehash what you and Rosario have already very well discussed, but I must agree. With the exception of DS9 (I have not seen a single season of ENT), Star Trek at the time was never meant to be serialized, and any hint at continuity was almost tongue-in-cheek. Last year's TNG cast reunion spoke to the lack of continuity as well (someone put the question to Wheaton, who answered).
I have to admit, I always thought of being disappointed in any Trek but DS9 for not having long-term consequences, continuity, or reference to what had happened before to be rather similar to being disappointed in water for being wet. Sure, it has the potential to be hard as ice, or misty as steam, but it's not. It's water. It's wet. Potential doesn't enter into it.
But with all that off my chest, I have to say; I especially loved your DS9 reviews. And if I could convince you somehow to get into B5 and review it, I would be very very very pleased.
Don't get me wrong, obviously I read your reviews over a decade later; and it should be clear that I value them. You have a wonderful critique. I have simply felt that the lack of big picture got on your nerves more than it probably deserved to.
Happy New Year!
Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 6:44am (UTC -5)
I really liked a good amount of season 5 episodes, loved quite a few of them and thankfully the low number of misses was perfectly acceptable. I like how there are a handful of times when the writers try to do episodes that are all-out unusual (Course: Oblivion for a more extreme example) which I'm grateful for even when they don't work out.
I'd say season 4 had a stronger core overall so I'd mark that as my favourite, however season 5 is very good with some of the very best Voyager episodes and comes in a very close second.
Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 6:56am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jul 11, 2013, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
Most of TNG is self contained and bottled.... but one interesting point that I'd make about TNG is the characters have pretty hefty 7 year arcs (most of them). If you look at TNG, most seasons do NOT tell a whole story the way many of DS9's seasons do (S4's Klingon War for example)... but if you look a character in S1 and then again in S7... you can see what their story was.
If you look at who Worf was day 1 and who he turned out to be 7 years later you see a story of a man that didn't fit in anywhere but found a home. Who balanced conflicting cultures to discover who he was. Who learned to be a father, make friends, become part of a family. Who learned to embrace his humanity, his Klingoness, and the true meaning of honor to him. That his arc continued on DS9 just makes him all the more interesting.
Data's exploration of humanity is a similarly strong arc... and you feel that while he isn't really that different from 1 season to the next, that episodes like Measure of a Man, Brothers, Descent, etc. really DO make him pretty different from S1 to S7.
Not all characters fared as well, but I do feel like they did quite a lot with Troi in the last few years (in terms of growth) and Wesley grew up a lot off screen between appearances in later seasons.
Geordi and Beverly might have fared least well... but if you look at VOY....
Torres is still ill at ease with her Klingon side after 7 years, ready to mutilate her child for it... even though she's learned this lesson over and over since Faces.
Harry Kim in S5/S6/S7 somehow feels greener than the guy that saved Paris in the Chute... because he wasn't allowed to grow up.
Chakotay had a lot of flavor, but aside from his early arc of integrating the 2 crews into a team (which is a role I liked him in) I really can't tell you what changed for him over the last 5 and a half years.
Janeway is the most bi-polar character ever to grace Star Trek... as though the writers couldn't figure out how to write a female leader (even though they could have just watched the DS9 episodes that Kira starred in).
Neelix and Tuvok are LITERALLY exactly the same in their last appearances with each other as they were in S1.
And the list of atrocities goes on. I actually mostly liked VOY while it was on... but aside from the Doctor (who the staff was too scared to actually let choose a NAME over 7 years), nobody had the kind of personal arcs that could measure up to Data, Worf, Wesley, Troi or Riker. Heck... even Barclay.
My issue with VOY was not the lack of serialization, it was that the characters never grew up. The show had Peter Pan syndrome. Even Seven basically went through the motions of learning the same lessons over and over.
Even Kirk got old and needed glasses. The VOY writing team laminated the original crew bios, pasted it onto a board somewhere and reread them before every episode for 7 years. It was pretty disgraceful.
Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 12:37pm (UTC -5)
Other than the Doctor, the character with the most growth over the course of Voyager's run was (amazingly) Kes -- and she left after three seasons.
The only other character who came close was Paris. But aside from "30 Days" -- an underrated episode, if you ask me -- the development mostly boils down to his relationship with B'Elaana.
One of the best episodes of VOY is "Before and After," which imagines a scenario six years in the future where Janeway and Torres are dead, Neelix is a commissioned officer, Paris, Kim, Tuvok and Chakotay all have been promoted.
Now, the writers didn't have to kill characters off to show development, but other than Seven/Kes, you can't tell season 2 from season 7 in this series. It's really a shame.
Tue, Jul 16, 2013, 3:34pm (UTC -5)
There is a big difference between serialization and a show that has character growth. That's all I ever really needed. When TNG did it's finale and they showed the Enterprise at Farpoint it FELT like a much younger crew. If most of Voyager when back and met their past selves... I don't know that you'd notice a difference!
I liked Tom Paris and 30 days as well. He and Torres had a lot of untapped potential as characters and actors.
Thu, Aug 8, 2013, 5:04pm (UTC -5)
Robert/Paul i like your thoughts. in most of my favorite shows you can think of how a character changed. but Voyager crew is pretty static. so, i guess that is too bad.
Rosario/JAmmer it was interesting listening to your thoughts on "inner light" and "hard times." These are 2 of my favorite episodes of each TNG and DS9. I have a lot of time remembering complete episodes from start to finish. but those 2 are GREAT episodes featuring a single character. (another is when data is trying to save a town from radiation and sacrifices himself)
overall, i like season 4 the best. season 5 right after that.
Mon, Sep 2, 2013, 12:45am (UTC -5)
I'm in the process of discovering one of the great epics of classic television, Gunsmoke. What you said made me realize one thing so remarkable about that show, probably the longest-running adventure/drama in TV history, is the fact that the characters all stay exactly the same. The hero, Marshall Matt Dillon, was basically the same character for 20 years, along with Doc and Miss Kitty. And you know, it's one of the things that makes the show really enjoyable.
When you watch a Gunsmoke, you know you're getting the very opposite of serialized television. You're getting the same setting and the same two or three characters dropped into some new situation... some interesting guest characters, a new villain, and some other elements that appear in one episode and will disappear never to be heard from again. It's like a James Bond movie: you don't watch James Bond to see his character grow or evolve, you see it to see how his character will react to the latest villain's scheme to take over/destroy the world. And that's the beauty of it.
I like Voyager than any other Star Trek above all for the simple reason Jo Jo Meastro mentioned: the crew are enjoyable to watch. When I see Voyager, just like Gunsmoke or James Bond, I want Tuvok to be exactly the same and Neelix to be exactly the same. And I think the premise of the show perfectly suits that type of storytelling: the ship and crew are always the same, but they are always moving into a new point in space, with new aliens and new worlds. Basically the opposite of DS9, which has a stationary setting but the characters are always evolving via the serialized story.
I love DS9, and I also enjoy much more tightly plotted serialized fiction, like Game of Thrones. But if I had to just throw on a random episode of a show to be entertained, I'll pop on a Voyager, knowing that I won't have to worry about what point in the soap-opera plotting I'll find myself in the middle of, and instead I can just watch the always-enjoyable Voyager crew deal with whatever problem or situation they happen to have found themselves in that week.
To sum up, I think they are just two very different types of shows. I prefer Voyager because I like the characters better, but I can understand why someone would prefer DS9 for the more complex story arcs and strong supporting characters. But I wouldn't change either, and I'm very glad we were all treated to those two different kinds of shows in the same setting at the same time. A rare thing for TV science fiction, and something we're not likely to get again.
Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 3:23pm (UTC -5)
"But if I had to just throw on a random episode of a show to be entertained, I'll pop on a Voyager, knowing that I won't have to worry about what point in the soap-opera plotting I'll find myself in the middle of, and instead I can just watch the always-enjoyable Voyager crew deal with whatever problem or situation they happen to have found themselves in that week."
Does that HAVE to be at odds with character growth? Do you not feel that you could do such a thing with TNG?
As I said, it's not about serialization/soap opera plotting for me... it's just about the enjoyability of watching characters change/evolve. I don't necessarily wish S7 Torres was sooo different or in the middle of such an arc that it would affect the enjoyment of stand alone episodes... but let's face it... we could have solved the dilemma in "Lineage" by just letting her watch "Faces", "Day of Honor" and "Barge of the Dead". "Oh ya, I've made peace with the fact that being Klingon doesn't suck, thanks for reminding me! I'm totally cool with my baby now!"
I don't need it to be "arcy" but when character development doesn't stick it makes the characters less interesting. I do agree with you that it is nice to just watch an episode by itself sometimes... but TNG manages to be able to do that and still grow their cast.
Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 4:37pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Nic's comment at the top of the thread that other series/episodes are not crippled for lacking long-term narratives. Nor was VGR, for its fans. But I believe long-term narratives would improve them all. Not necessarily full-on soap opera, but acknowledging change at some scale, at least to distinguish each season. That would've required a different approach to the writing. As Jammer said, too often the writing "finds something worthwhile and uncovers a dire need for digging deeper. And, frustratingly, Voyager just cannot bring itself to go the extra mile."
As an example, SFDebris speculated that Janeway's disgust with Ransom in "Equinox" was really self-loathing after learning in the S4 finale of the consequences of her bending her principles in the S3 finale. That knowledge might've even driven her depression in the S5 opener. Except it didn't; it was never mentioned. Opportunity wasted.
Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 4:56pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 9:04pm (UTC -5)
It's not about serialization either - DS9 only ever became serialized in the last two seasons, and even then not consistently. Continuity isn't about requiring "recapitulation" of previous episodes but just building on plots and character interactions that came before to more richly explore characters and storylines.
In the case of a character like The Doctor, there was a fairly satisfying evolution of his depth from a somewhat irascible program to something resembling a real person. On TNG, we had episodes like "Family" or sequels like "Reunion" that attended to continuity, and I'd further hold up most of the episodes involving Klingon-Romulan intrigue in season 4 as among the best of the series.
As to the example of a novel, presumably each subsequent chapter builds on the previous and moves the story forward somehow. If you read a book about a ship far from home, and find that most chapters read like self-contained episodes in the journey without much attention to prior character or plot developments, you might find it frustrating.
Otherwise, regarding the "soap opera" epithet lodged at those apparently low-brow 'serialized" TV shows, I'd suggest dropping it. Unless you'd have us believe that Breaking Bad is basically just Passions with blue meth.
Anyway, if Voyager was simply going for a "space exploration procedural" format, that certainly never fit with the original premise, and it doesn't excuse the show from offering up episodes like "Darkling", "Favourite Son", "Rise", "The Disease", "Course: Oblivion", "Fair Haven" AND "Spirit Folk", "Fury", "Nightingale", every Q episode after "Death Wish", "Friendship One", "Natural Law", or even the questionable finale in "Endgame".
I don't think it's for nothing that Jammer repeatedly snarks on the shuttle crash cliche or the Hard-headed Aliens of the Week, to say nothing of Holodeck jeopardy episodes that were stale 10 years earlier on TNG, or the frustrating arbitrary plotting of otherwise promising episodes like "Human Error".
On Voyager I wanted to see more about the crew's interactions, more recurring characters among the crew (Naomi Wildman and the absent-for-five-years Joe Carey don't count), perhaps even some reactions or even dissension in light of Janeway's many questionable decisions. It doesn't have to be like BSG (a show that if anything had underwritten characters), but DS9 managed to have Garak, Dukat, the Ferengi apart from Quark, O'Brien's family, Sisko's dad, and at least half a dozen other major recurring characters. About the only ones I can think of on Voyager were Suder and Seska, the former of which was ultimately underused, and both of which were dead by season 3.
Anyway, I should stop complaining. But the idea that complaints about Voyager have anything to do with a desire for strict serialization or even just a "DS9 Superiority Complex" is ridiculous. Either way, I'll still be enjoying repeats of "Distant Origin" or "Living Witness" in the years to come.
Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 9:23pm (UTC -5)
Not that there's anything special about H&F or S5 in particular; this could've been done every season. Every character would have a new status quo, behaving in ways they wouldn't have before, the way they were in "Caretaker."
Assume that the pilot had introduced the most compelling characters ever. Compelling why? Because we want to see how they respond in tough situations. If their response is to be unaffected by every situation, they are not compelling. As Jammer politely said, "It would be nice to see these people and their personalities put to a bigger test beyond solving each week's plot." Unfortunately, the writers weren't interested in testing the characters. So I lost interest too.
Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 10:39am (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 1:18pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 1:20pm (UTC -5)
Now, of your list, the only episode I found to be exceptional was "Course: Oblivion," while the rest were so-so to quite bad ("Favourite Son" being the worst). Is this BECAUSE they attended continuity? Of course not! Serialisation, whether strenuous or light, can be great or terrible, just like episodic TV. Look at much of DS9's 7th season or ENT's 3rd season for relevant examples.
It is conceivable that Voyager could have been like a 90s BSG--less likely still is that it could have really been Star Trek in such a guise, but it IS possible. And I understand that many fans expected this to be the case (not specifically BSG of course in 1995, but a dark, heavily serialised, plot-oriented show). But there is no reason VOY had to be that, even with a "premise" (it's actually just called a bone-structure) as specific as it had. Janeway's speech at the end of "Caretaker" may have been disappointing to many, but if the plan for the show is right there in the pilot (be one crew, a starfleet crew, look for opportunities to get home, explore space and expand knowledge), I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who really expected something different or insisted on sarcastically criticising the rare moments when VOY was more like BSG as "too little, too late."
One of DS9's ironies is that its secondary cast was, for the most part, far better developed and utilised than its main cast. DS9 was the only series (and this includes the mostly laughable ENT crew) which could never have sustained 7 seasons with primarily its main cast alone. How many of DS9's great episodes heavily featured guest characters or secondary cast members? "Duet" centres on Marritza, "Improbable Cause"/"The Die is Cast" centres on Garrak & Tain, "The Visitor", while technically centred on Jake, is on a version of him which we never otherwise see, "IPML" (though not one of my favs) heavily features Garrak. There are of course, great DS9 eps with its main cast prominent ("Hard Time", "FBTS", "Children of TIme"), but where would that series be without its secondary (especially Cardassian) characters?
I genuinely believe that VOY's reputation would be quite different if either it began its run when DS9 did or if DS9 hadn't been produced. Think about it, at about the same time, DS9 started its run and TNG really started to slump. By the time TNG was drawing to a close through its really lame 7th season, DS9 was doing some fairly intricate Bajor-oriented plotting (not that this was a bad thing) in its 2nd season. DS9's style was, at the time, producing something quite good, especially when compared with TNG's more episodic and concurrently terrible final season. Then along comes VOY, which essentially was doing TNG's style, but better than the ladder had been doing, though not initially as well as TNG had ever done (seasons 3 and 4 especially).
Psychologically, this easily reads: TNG's format demonstrated it had become outdated as evinced by its generally terrible output near the end of its run. DS9 was doing better by comparison with its then novel quasi-serialised format. Therefore, episodic = terrible and serialised (ish) = good. If VOY had aired its 1st season during TNG's 6th & 7th or even just after TNG had aired without the DS9 component, I think it would have been a refreshing look at the Trek format for fans, like starting over with TOS in the 90s. Looked at side-by-side one can see the relative strengths and weaknesses of all 3 series and enjoy them (although DS9 was frequently infuriating in its anti-Trekness); what made VOY frustrating for many, I think was simply the timing of how the different series aired.
@Grumpy : I don't see that your (SFDebris') proposal is missing from the actual product. The Janeway from "The Gift", "Concerning Flight" and "The Omega Directive" is certainly not the same Janeway as "Nothing Human," "Counterpoint," "Dark Frontier" or certainly "Equinox." Calling attention to the change insomuch as referencing "Hope and Fear" in any or all of these situations would be as gratuitous and pandering as if in DS9's "In Purgatory's Shadow," someone had to say "just as the Emissary predicted, a swarm of locusts is descending on Bajor" instead of letting the connection with "Rapture" be drawn on more subconscious levels.
To a certain extent, I agree with your assessment of what makes a character "compelling." The problem is this device tends to wear itself out. Let's look at BSG again; by season 4 (four mind you, not the 7 the Trek's made their way through), Adama, Lee and Kara had all become basically uninteresting compared to their Season 1 or 2 selves, because they had been so "tested" as to have become totally used up in the character sense. The only character they really paced was Baltar who remained "compelling" from beginning to end.
With a few exceptions I can place Voyager's characters in the timeline of the series fairly specifically based on their actions, whether by writers' design or actors' choice. The same is true for TNG. I don't know the difference between S1 O'Brien and S7, or S3 Dax and S6, or S5 Jake and S7. Sisko I can place because of the plot--the more credulous and brooding he is, the further along in the series; Kira I can place for gaining competence. Bashir and Odo I can place because they are actual characters.
@Latex Zebra : all I can say is the emotional impact of episodes like "Projections," "The Chute," "Fair Trade," "Real Life," "Day of Honour," "Drone," "Thirty Days," "Latent Image," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Equinox," "Barge of the Dead," "Life Line," "Flesh and Blood," "Human Error," "Author, Author," "Homestead" or, naturally, "Endgame" would be severely diminished/nonexistent if not for their specific placement in the series. These emotional reactions do not stem from plot mechanics (I mean, nearly all of them involve completely perfunctory plots) but from character growth and how that affects the viewer's attachment to them.
Mon, Dec 9, 2013, 10:20am (UTC -5)
I think that's a good thing. Season 4 turned Voyager into "The 7 of 9 Show" with recurring characters The Doctor and Captain Janeway - introducing Naomi Wildman. All the rest of the cast seemed like background noise.
I liked that. Now the show suddenly revolved (more or less) around 7 of 9 and her struggle with, and discovery of, becoming human (especially in terms of being an individual AND an integral part of a "collectiive" such as the crew of Voyager). The writers seemed to pour all the care into the 7 of 9 scripts that they didn't pour into scripts about other charatcers. 7 simply got a very good characterization through and through, which we hadn't seen much of on this show up until that point.
Since most of season 4 and 5 revolved around 7 of 9, we mostly see the other characters in relation to her. Sure, there are lots of episodes not centered around 7 of 9, but almost every single one of them seemed quite clearly inferior to episodes centered on (or at least heavily featuring) 7 of 9. That's my impression, anyway.
It seems that the writers all finally agreed on a favorite character to love when they created 7 of 9, and the show changed, getting a lot better in season 4 and 5 than the previous seasons (while still suffering from huge plotholes and all that jazz).
I'm hoping that season 6 will continue the trend, focusing on 7 of 9's "journey towards rediscovering her humanity" (I'm watching the show from A to Z for the first time these days).
Tue, Jan 7, 2014, 4:43pm (UTC -5)
Torres changes and evolves enormously over the series. The episodes you cite specifically have to do with reconciling her conflicted Klingon-Human background, which was an issue deeply rooted in her childhood and relationship with her parents. I'm no psychologist, but I've known my share of human beings with identity or abandonment issues and mixed cultural background. Those aren't the kinds of issues that just get resolved, they stay with a person forever and continue to create problems and cause stress on relationships, as well as shaping and informing the development of character. Where B'Elanna really changes and evolves is in her attitude towards Starfleet, her transformation from an angry misfit to a responsible leader and member of the crew. One of the best later episodes which shows how much she has changed is "Muse," where she ends up helping a young poet to finish his play. It's a beautiful, understated episode but it shows how much B'Elanna has been influenced by her time on Voyager, how compassionate she has become, and how she has learned to get over her personal war with the universe to help someone in need.
It's easy to see character change in the Doctor and Seven, because both these characters are technological creations like Data who entered the show as basically a blank slate, but I think there is plenty of character development on Voyager to go round. Also, in real life some people don't change all that much, or rather the biggest changes in their lives happen during a certain period, and then they stay the same. Chakotay doesn't change all that much for the same reason O'Brian doesn't change that much on DS9: the great formative period of these character's lives is behind them, they are already fully developed when they first appear on the series. And I don't find anything wrong with it in either case.
@Grumpy: "V's point about Gunsmoke (and, similarly, TOS) overlooks an important aspect, I think. Non-serialized shows are (were) built for that purpose. To keep a show fresh with the same elements takes a well-tuned engine that can generate endless stories. Voyager borrowed TOS's 'Wagon Train' engine but was *not* built as a non-serialized show. The nature of its underlying premise - a voyage home - demanded progress & change."
I disagree. Wagon Train was about a group of people making one journey with a fixed destination: Missouri to California. How does a premise like that not demand as much progress and change as Voyager returning to Earth? The very nature of Voyager meant they were always going to be in a different part of space, with different worlds and aliens to encounter. It would be hard to think of a premise more suited to non-serialized storytelling.
@Josh: "Otherwise, regarding the 'soap opera' epithet lodged at those apparently low-brow 'serialized' TV shows, I'd suggest dropping it. Unless you'd have us believe that Breaking Bad is basically just Passions with blue meth."
I take it back, I didn't mean that to sound so derogatory. I'm a huge fan of serialized television, and I actually prefer to be much more tightly plotted and worked out than DS9. My point was not that one form of storytelling is better than the other, but that I enjoy the episodic emphasis of Voyager just as much as I enjoy the slightly-more-serialized storytelling in DS9, and I feel both storytelling forms suit the premise behind both shows.
@Latex Zebra: "The main problem with Voyager is that nothing had any consequence. Everything wrapped up nicely after one or maybe two episodes."
While this is somewhat true of Voyager, it is no less true of DS9. Where, for instance, in the entire final run of Kira/Damar/Garak episodes is mention ever made of the fact that it was Damar who killed Tora Ziyal -- and Garak was supposedly in love with her, while Kira was her best friend? What about the psychological consequences of O'Brian's 20-year prison term? What about the times when Quark seriously compromised station security and nearly got them all killed, only to be back happily tending bar in the next episode? What about the fact that Changelings had infiltrated Earth? There were plenty of times on that series where I found it frustrating that the characters did not seem to be reacting properly to past events, or did not seem to be changed by them. The writers on DS9 would often sacrifice realistic character development or the consequences of major events for the demands of TV plotting, budget limitations, acting contracts or even the whims of plotting or to highlight some particular issue. I don't think Voyager is particularly guilty of that, any more than any show from the 1990s.
@Elliot: "the irony in your list of 'bad' episodes (not that I disagree that many of them are at best questionable) is that the majority 'attended continuity' in the same way as the TNG episodes you mention"
This is a very good point and not one to be overlooked.
"One of DS9's ironies is that its secondary cast was, for the most part, far better developed and utilised than its main cast. DS9 was the only series (and this includes the mostly laughable ENT crew) which could never have sustained 7 seasons with primarily its main cast alone. How many of DS9's great episodes heavily featured guest characters or secondary cast members?"
Another good point -- and I might add, it doesn't detract from DS9's greatness. I watch DS9 primarily to see Garak, Dukat, Eddington, Winn, Sloan, even Vic Fontaine more than many of the regular cast members. And this goes back to what I was saying about why I enjoy Voyager so much: I really like the crew. I enjoy seeing what new adventure they get into from week to week, because I think they are a great group of heroic characters. I really like Captain Janeway and Benjamin Sisko gets on my nerves. But I really enjoy the political/religious issues explored on DS9, and I love its very entertaining group of guest characters and villains.
Looking back at both shows from 2014, I'd say they have far more in common than setting them apart. Neither one is wholly serialized or episodic, and both suffer from a lot of the same flaws, which have more to do with the era in which they were made and the level of sophistication in TV audiences at that time, than with major shortcomings particular to either show.
And give me the WORST of either Voyager or DS9 over this J.J. Abrams crap any day!!!
Wed, Jan 8, 2014, 9:43am (UTC -5)
1) I can recall only two times "Invasive Procedures" and "The Maquis" where Quark truly endangered the crew or the station. And, in both instances, he helped resolve the situation. Also, I think it's pretty clear that DS9 didn't find it's true footing until midway through the second season, after which Quark's activities didn't have any really damaging consequences.
2) Kira actually does mention (to Sisko) that Damar killed Ziyal before Sisko sends Kira to Cardassia. You can argue that Kira let Damar off the hook too easily for his actions, but you also could argue that Kira agreed with Sisko that she needed to put her personal feelings aside to try to win the war by helping Damar. Beyond that, Garak was the ultimate pragmatist who wanted, more than anything to return to his homeland (after it was freed from the Dominion). So, while there's no dialog from Garak about Damar/Ziyal, Garak's actions are somewhat understandable. This is a character who fought side-by-side with Gul Dukat at one point.
3) The Changelings on Earth bit is your best argument. However, I think the creators sort of covered this by explaining that Section 31 infected the Founders through Odo at the end of season 4. The fact that Changeling spies are less common after "By Inferno's Light" could indicate that the Changelings in the Alpha Quadrant went home to help with the illness or were ill themselves if they left after "Broken Link."
Granted, there's no dialog to support this, but it makes sense -- and it might explain why the Dominion relied more on military actions after "By Inferno's Light" than shapeshifters.
Voyager's lack of continuity was FAR more egregious. On multiple occasions ("Deadlock", the Hirogen 2-parter) the ship was seriously damaged but apparently completely repaired by the following week. Likewise, the ability to easily replace shuttles and torpedoes made no real sense after some token comments about scarcity in the first two seasons.
The real problem here is that Voyager's premise made it the series where continuity was most important. If a crew member died on DS9 or on the Defiant, there would have been replacements and the Federation's resources were there to help repair damage, replace shuttles, etc. Voyager had none of that but almost always (especially late in the series) acted like it did.
And let's not forget the finale, which could have done a lot to repair the lack of consequences. DS9's finale wasn't perfect, but seeing what happened to the crew after the war ended was very important. The fact that Voyager didn't do this in any way that REALLY happened was such a mistake. But it was in keeping with the series as a whole.
Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 2:52am (UTC -5)
I'm not asking that the show be as dark as DS9. I would have loved if it had been. I would have loved to see a revolt by the Maquis crew near the beginning. I would have loved to see Chakotay actually do something. That was such an interesting premise. Two crews with two very different ideals trying to coexist. They did very little with that premise. But ultimately I'm not asking for something like that. I'm asking for the show to actually have done something with its premise. Equinox, as everyone brings up, is probably the closest to that original premise the show got with a different ship entirely. That's the type of thing they really should have been doing from the beginning.
No one would have stayed the same on Voyager over the course of those seven years. They were trapped, possibly thinking that they'd be trapped far from home for the rest of their lives. You don't just show up for your shifts like its business as usual. These people would be incredibly different. Even without the premise, people wouldn't be the same over the course of seven years even without being stranded a long way from home. No one is an interchangeable copy of themselves seven years ago. But the premise should have made them change even more so.
Ultimately the reason why people get mad, or disappointed, at Voyager was because it had a good premise that it didn't live up to. It opted to doing stories that easily could have been done in TOS or TNG, and you wouldn't have known the difference, the shows with the most generic of premises. And that really is a shame. I'm more disappointed in Voyager then Enterprise. Because while Enterprise had more bad shows then Voyager, proportionally given the fewer seasons, Voyager had the interesting premise while Enterprise was intentionally designed as more of the same just in a different century. Enterprise, TOS, and TNG could get away with episodic average tv. VOY had a good premise, but didn't deliver on its promise. It was a slacker. The kid in the back who acted like he was cool but ultimately had little to show for it.
It's interesting how it takes a show about a stationary space station to really show what Trek is capable of. What Trek really can do and can be if it sets its mind to it.
Sun, Mar 6, 2016, 9:51am (UTC -5)
At the conclusion of each season so far I've bemoaned the number of recurring characters who are not really strong enough to support the show. I thus have some sympathy with the comment above that this has become the Seven of Nine show - as by far the most compelling character, it is to the show's credit that it has focused heavily on that character in recognition. And it's noticeable how much Neelix, for instance, has dropped off the radar. Perhaps it's this concentration on what the show does best that's brought up the overall quality. Although it has been noticeable this year that there were some weird character beats for Janeway (particularly early on) and the Doctor seems to be stuck in a bit of a rut too (not one, but two evil Doctor shows back to back at the end?).
So at this point in its life Voyager is clearly not going to change significantly. I'm intrigued if it follows in this slightly revised direction in season 6.
Tue, May 31, 2016, 8:57am (UTC -5)
Night / 3.50
Drone / 4.00
Extreme Risk / 2.50
In the Flesh / 2.50
Once Upon a Time / 2.50
Timeless / 3.00
Infinite Regress / 4.00
Nothing Human / 1.00
Thirty Days / 3.00
Counterpoint / 4.00
Latent Image / 3.00
Bride of Chaotica / 4.00
Gravity / 3.50
Bliss / 3.00
Dark Frontier / 4.00
The Disease / 1.50
Course: Oblivion / 4.00
The Fight / 0.50
Think Tank / 3.00
Juggernaut / 3.00
Someone to Watch Over Me / 4.00
11:59 / 3.50
Relativity / 3.50
Warhead / 3.00
Equinox Part I / 3.50
Wow, my first ST season rated with a average score of over 3! The only other series I have completed is DS9 and it didn't get there.
Voyager really has taken off since 7 joined the crew. The writers have also stepped up their game.
On to season 6!
Wed, Jan 10, 2018, 2:17pm (UTC -5)
Night: 2.5 (=)
Drone: 3.5 (-0.5)
Extreme Risk: 2.5 (+0.5)
In the Flesh: 2 (-1)
Once Upon a Time: 2.5 (+0.5)
Timeless: 3.5 (-0.5)
Infinite Regress: 2.5 (-0.5)
Nothing Human: 2 (=)
Thirty Days: 2.5 (-0.5)
Counterpoint: 3.5 (+0.5)
Latent Image: 3.5 (+0.5)
Bride of Chaotica!: 2.5 (+0.5)
Gravity: 3 (+0.5)
Bliss: 2.5 (-0.5)
Dark Frontier: 3 (=)
The Disease: 1.5 (+0.5)
Course: Oblivion: 3 (+1.5)
The Fight: 1 (-0.5)
Think Tank: 2 (-0.5)
Juggernaut: 2.5 (=)
Someone to Watch Over Me: 3.5 (=)
11:59: 3 (=)
Relativity: 3 (=)
Warhead: 1.5 (-0.5)
Equinox I: 2.5 (-0.5)
So the season averages to about 2.62, which is the highest Voyager score to date, and not bad, really, as a Trek seasonal score. I'd attribute this to a relative dearth of really weak episodes (1.5*-), and a number of strong (3.5*) shows, but I'd also note that the season still doesn't have that high a proportion of shows I'd really recommend (3*+), coming out to 11/26 (counting Dark Frontier as 2 eps). The season mostly is in a comfortably decent-but-not-that-good range, with a number of standouts. Now, the season has champions (Elliott calls it Voyager's best and one of Trek's best seasons), and I can see the appeal, but I still feel a sense that many of the episodes that could have been really good were fumbled in the execution to some extent or another.
Sometimes it's through characterization lapses or plot holes or weakness in execution, but I'm gonig to call out what I think is something that's a bigger problem this year than in previous ones: an inattention to the number of deaths that the plot implies. On that last point alone, Night, Extreme Risk, Bride of Chaotica!, Think Tank and Warhead come to mind immediately as episodes where the explosion quotient ends up having a lot of aliens die in ways that seem to go against the grain of what the episode is trying to say (Night, Warhead -- where lots of the nominal bad guys are killed without much effort to save them as part of a, and undermining, a Importance Of Starfleet Values! morality play), or the good-vibes tone (BoC!, Night, Think Tank -- episodes where a triumphant or comic story gets kind of spoiled by an unacknowledged downside). It's a kind of regular tonal whiplash which feels un-Trek. *Sometimes* this is maybe part of the point, as there seems to be some story where Janeway is becoming more ruthless, but other times it feels arbitrary and not deliberate. I'd tend to place the blame here on Brannon Braga for trying to make the show more action-oriented, mandating more bad guys getting blown up, without making many adjustments to how the crew behaves, with the possible exception of Janeway.
Anyway, the character work this season is distributed among the cast relatively similar to in season four: Seven and the Doctor get a lot of material and mostly all of it is good. Janeway gets a lot of material but it's uneven and inconsistent, with some very good material and some weaker stuff; Counterpoint gets particular props. Tuvok gets a good show but is otherwise in the background. Torres gets some okay material but is relatively neglected. Paris has two episodes if you count Bride of Chaotica!, but really only one -- Thirty Days -- which is a huge improvement on Vis a Vis, certainly, but isn't that great, and he's otherwise mostly reduced to the wise cracker. Chakotay has material as foil for Janeway in the premiere and finale, one okay-ish war episode that didn't really have to be about him (though In the Flesh is worse than Nemesis), and one terrible showcase episode which says nothing of interest about him. Neelix is totally ignored except for a single showcase which reminds us of his past traumas and his role as godfather (though Once Upon a Time is weaker than Mortal Coil) and a few jokes here and there. Kim gets a few episodes thrown to him and his treadmill always-just-starting-to-mature characterization gets repeated, with slight indications of progress but mostly some lousy shows (The Disease, Warhead), with the unexpected triumphal exception of Timeless.
I am not sure how to compare this season to s4; this one is probably a little stronger, which makes it probably Voyager's strongest year so far. I liked a lot about it and I enjoyed many of its episodes. If I complain, it's because I keep wishing the show had been better, because there's a lot to like about it.
Mon, Apr 13, 2020, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
My rankings, out of five:
Someone to Watch Over Me: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆
Nothing Human: ⋆⋆⋆⋆
Think Tank: ⋆⋆⋆⋆
Equinox Part I: ⋆⋆⋆⋆
Course: Oblivion: ⋆⋆
Infinite Regress: ⋆⋆
Bride of Chaotica!: ⋆⋆
Extreme Risk: ⋆⋆
Latent Image: ⋆⋆
The Fight: ⋆⋆
Thirty Days: ⋆⋆
Dark Frontier: Parts 1 and 2: ⋆
Once Upon a Time: ⋆
In the Flesh: ⋆
The Disease: ⋆
Fri, Nov 20, 2020, 7:49pm (UTC -5)
One section of this season review that stood out to me was the remark that Voyager would be remembered for what it did as a series, not just on the strength of its individual episodes. This is to an extent true-- and I think character arcs like the doc and seven and certain recurrent themes across the seasons were worthwhile. But, I actually think it's better assessed as a collection of one offs, an average or sum of its parts. Indeed, in a time when seasons are maybe half the length of a Voyager season... I think this show is a delight if you just completely omit the bottom third-to-half. There are a toooon of good episodes over 7 seasons of usually 26 episodes. I assess the show ultimately on the many episodes I would rewatch, not on every episode it produced.
Of course, even doing that it has fewer great top tier episodes than DS9 or TNG. But, I come to Voyager more for the comfort food.
I've always "liked" Voyager more than Jammer's reviews seem to indicate he did (not that he actively disliked it), but probably would have averaged the same star ratings per season with minor adjustments up or down. It's not that I thought it was a better show than Jammer seemed to, just liked it more. With 2020 eyes, however, I see certain "problems" or shortcomings of the show that I once held (and are noted throughout Jammer's reviews) are not necessarily the defects I thought at the time. What I want from the show has changed somewhat, and assessment of a show is as much about what we bring to the table as what the show does.
Anyway, this seemed like an appropriate place to dump my pseudo-rewatch thoughts.
Sat, Jul 3, 2021, 2:32am (UTC -5)
What I keep coming back to when thinking about why so many were disappointed in VOY is a memory of being on a road trip when I was much younger. I had been driving all day and for some reason we had stopped at a grocery store before going to a hotel. In the dark of the car I bit into a fruit I believed was an apple, and ended up spitting out the piece of fruit I had eaten in horror and disgust because I believed it was rotten and that there was something seriously wrong with it. Of course, I had only accidentally eaten a bite of nectarine, but because I was so sleepy I didn’t immediately recognize the taste. The texture I did notice, and it was so wrong for an apple it absolutely freaked my brain out, it was convinced the apple had gone slimy with rot, at least for a few seconds until I worked out what the taste meant, that I picked up the wrong fruit. Now, I actually like nectarines. Nectarines are just fine, if I had intended to eat one I would have been happy with that bite I took. But I had a strong rejection of it because it didn’t match what I expected.
So what does that have to do with Voyager? Well, I think the issue is that the premise of the show leads the audience to expect it will be a show that has serialization, at least in terms of character development. Why? Because the premise, a bunch of Starfleet people get mixed up with a crew of anti-Starfleet people they’re fighting against are stranded far from home with no repairs, contact with their civilization, etc leads people to expect that change will happen, in a very A leads to B way. If you see a video of someone dropping an apple, your natural expectation is that the apple, if they are on a planet, will hit the ground. For Voyager, everything we know about human nature leads us to believe that the premise of Voyager means that over the lifespan of the show, the characters will change. So, the audience, whether or not they are really thinking deeply about it, reflexively expects this to happen.
Only, most of them don’t. And there is no explanation for why. Naturally, this kind of upsets people. Psychologically, you’ve shown them a video where a person drops an apple and then for no apparent reason it doesn’t land for years and years and there is no explanation of why this is happening. Gravity doesn’t work the same on this apple, but this is never addressed, it’s just what’s happening. It’s just weird, kind of unsettling. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t fit with what people are expecting. If people were expecting a non-serialized show with static characters, they might have been fine, but the premise is constantly telling them to expect something else, so there’s this constant weird feeling that something is wrong, because it’s baked into the show that there are things that make you expect one thing, and then it just doesn’t happen. It actually creates this bizarre tension for the viewer, because the expectation never goes away. It makes the world of the show constantly seem off balance. Everything you know about people and stories tell you it should go one way, and it keeps not doing that, and it never makes sense why not.
I think that’s why the writers latched on to 7 and the doctor, besides the actor’s skill. Because 7 and the doctor are actually characters that are changing, and have story arcs, and on some level the writers must have understood the audience wanted change. But because they have decided to refuse to write the other characters changing in response to the delta quadrant, and everything that happens to them in the delta quadrant, they write 7 and the doctor changing as they ‘explore humanity’. That way it has nothing to do with being in the delta quadrant, it’s just what they are doing all the time. Like they can sneak ‘change’ in there as a constant part of those characters, so it’s like they can still keep things sort of the same, by having those be the change characters. So…okay. It still makes you wonder why they didn’t notice they kept writing for the ‘change’ characters over and over and just….allow the other characters to change and have growth arcs since it was obvious where the interest was.
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