27 January 2013

Voyager Season 2

Strides Made in Voyager Season 2
By Kristin Battestella

Star Trek: Voyager’s full-length sophomore year falls prey to many of the same old reliances and hindrances of its debut season. Thankfully, quality guest stars and a fine cast make for some quality and improvements with a strong second half spearheading some credibility thru to Year 3.  

70,000 light years from earth and lost deep in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her Maquis Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) must battle Kazan enemies and forge new alien alliances while subduing Voyager’s old ship bound tensions between Starfleet and the former Maquis. Spies and Cardassian subterfuge put pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan MacNeill) and Vulcan lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) in further danger as espionage grows and babies are born during the long journey home.

“The 37’s” opens Season 2 in the already standard Voyager fashion. It’s a nice, lovely little episode and makes for a fun novelty opening. However, it still feels slightly incomplete and would have better served as Season 1’s finale. Many of Voyager’s shows have this same problem – the writing just seems so stale, episodes seem unfinished, technological pieces or effects are missing, and character details and personal touches go to the wayside.  Not only are none of the stories fresh or super new TV, but every plot seems problematic, rewritten, or churned out with gritted teeth – and it shows onscreen. Voyager doesn’t have a lot of return value as a result. If they put in so little effort, why should the audience do more? Were this Trek installment still showing in syndication, it would be very easy to miss an episode one week, happen to not catch another, and then simply tune out altogether. Even the Star Trek guest star card is used too early with a fun but obvious Nog alum Aron Eisenberg in “Initiations” and Dwight Schultz as Barklay in episode 3 “Projections.”  There are fine debates about sex on the ship and the generational aspects to come with Jennifer Lien’s Kes in “Eloguim,” but again, such thoughts are played a little too safe and easy. I’m glad Voyager doesn’t go for all the sexy stunts here, but how can a science fiction series seem so afraid of making the big SF concepts? 

Granted, this off-kilter and incomplete feeling is probably because of Voyager’s act pacing and shorter running time. Alone in syndication, The Next Generation had time for a coda or more reflection. Unfortunately, Voyager could have really used a scene of further debate or space faring costs in most of these network-carrying shows. “Twisted” is a nice ship in a crisis plot. It’s not bad in of itself, but the same old weaknesses and structural problems crack Voyager’s surface.  When Voyager does have fine science fiction materials, too many of the same elements are bunched up together. Reality alterations for Garret Wang’s Harry Kim in “Non Sequitur,” space dwelling life forms meeting paranormal clouds, yadda yadda – where’s the variety and depth? Panache from the cast keeps episodes like “Parturition” together, and yet I can’t help but hate on Voyager for being too easy, generic, and casual. There’s nothing wrong when this show has its quiet character adventures and soft SF set ups. Yes, there isn’t as much time as previous Trek dramas, thus it seems as though not a lot is actually happening on Voyager, and the result is less long lasting or simply unsatisfying.  Producer Brannon Braga was consistently unhappy and disappointed with Voyager, and the show’s faulty system is setting itself up for failure.  All these bottle episodes – ships gone awry, nebula, nebula, phenomenon, rinse, repeat – one after another stifle the stellar character moments in between. Forgive my preposition, but what the heck are they saving the budget for? As with Deep Space Nine, it just seems like Star Trek quality, time, and money can’t be sustained over 26 episode seasons.  Well then why not have 26 episodes?

Thankfully, most of the cast keeps Voyager afloat with fine performances and character explorations.  Although frame within a frame holograms with mental deceptions are nothing new, Robert Picardo holds “Projections” together and “Lifesigns” gives the Doctor a fine romance.  I like Roxann still Biggs-Dawson as B’Elanna Torres in “Prototype” and I’m not sure why there was unhappiness behind the scenes. Today when one does find something he likes on Voyager, it’s depressing to read the production notes available online. Everyone just seems so bitter and displeased already in Season 2. So what if the robots here aren’t super stylized. Was the half-black, half-white painting in The Original Series’ “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” hokey? Of course.  Is there solid science fiction marvels and moral character dilemmas nonetheless? Absolutely, and Voyager should take this cue all the time. Likewise, “Innocence” and “The Thaw” have nice character moments, but that gosh darn iffy production and confusing plot points make no room for follow up.  Both seem to end too soon, with no time for the fine guest stars and hefty examinations left hanging. Amateur dialogue or technical errors create plot holes that ruin the viewer’s suspension of belief for the whole world. “Resistance” is an otherwise touching Janeway episode with guest star Joel Grey (Buffy) that ends up too vague. Ironically, since not a lot of people watched Voyager, many of the same fuzzy storylines are also borrowed for the subsequent Enterprise. I feel like I’m viewing the same weak swept under the carpet over and over, and the halfhearted coasting doesn’t bode well for the first two years of either series.  Am I asking too much of Voyager?

Voyager does have a solid stretch over the second half of the season, fortunately. Tim Russ as Tuvok and guest Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings) are wonderful in “Meld,” and Torres has more technological finery in “Dreadnought.”  “Death Wish” relies on more big name guests with Jonathan Frakes returning as William Riker and John de Lancie offering some heavy suicide and Q rights debates. Ethan Phillips perfectly blends Neelix’s humor and seriousness with Robert Duncan MacNeill’s Tom Paris in “Investigations,” too. There are a lot of good Trek shows this season on Voyager, yes – morals, guests, an often united but sometimes divided people who happen to be in space experiencing weird things. It’s frustrating when you have to cut through the flak, but when the good episodes are good, it’s what Voyager should be. Why then do we have lizard baby things concluding “Threshold”? I honestly don’t think that this is that bad of an episode until that reptile mating crap got pulled out from where the sun doesn’t shine. Sadly, this treatment is 110% indicative of the great personal and character stories and potential unique SF concepts of Voyager’s lost in space elements being ruined by one personal’s complaints and behind the scenes unwillingness to push the envelope. 

Likewise, he’s a good guy and sticks by his principles, but man, Chakotay is once again the brunt of the joke. Robert Beltran’s second in command is made almost with too much heart on his sleeve, and by necessity, this creates some sort of forced point and purpose when Chakotay does get something to do in “Tattoo.” “Maneuvers” is also so dry and dismissible despite what should be heavy Kazan arc staples. Those Kazan factions and the back and forth with Martha Hackett as Seska goes on much longer than it should have and gets run into the ground with repeat subterfuge that isn’t needed. Shouldn’t Voyager just be driving by these people already? Frankly, I probably would have killed off Chakotay by now, just to get the danger of the Delta Quadrant across. Janeway doesn’t need his soft-spoken, well, burden. “Resolutions” is the one and only finest Janeway and Chatokay bam hot damn, and nothing ever frickin comes of it!  Fortunately, Kate Mulgrew has a chance to show all sides of Janeway to close out Season 2. “Deadlock” may be a little gimmicky thanks to the double Janeway ploy. However, there are wonderful dilemmas and action here and with “Tuvix.” These are spot on quality conflicts and Trek with a spin wonders upon which Voyager can build. “Basics, Part 1” makes for a solid season ending cliffhanger as well – the kind of enticement that has an audience return for Year 3.

I feel like I’m repeating myself and beating a dead horse on saying all that is wrong with Voyager. There are numerous behind the scenes flaws hurting Season 2 onscreen, and this un-remediated rocky foundation makes it very difficult to enjoy when the cast, crew, and fantastical do arrive.  21st century viewers accustomed to shorter, swift, no nonsense television won’t be able to wait around for Voyager’s goods. However, fans of the Trek universe and science fiction audiences can have a part and parcel Voyager viewing thanks to streaming and rental options and marked down video sets. If you accept it’s built in substandard designs, the positive strides made this season keep Star Trek: Voyager watchable.

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