Uneven Cast and Concepts Hamper Voyager Season 5
By Kristin Battestella
After a stand up third season and fresh blood in Year 4, Star Trek: Voyager seems unsure of what to do with the rest of its cast after the infusion of Seven of Nine and Borg interests. The result is an uneven domination of a few and leftovers for everyone else. What ever happened to “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one”?
Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and the lost in the Delta Quadrant starship Voyager must face unknown territory and familiar villains like the Borg as former Borg crewmember Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) adapts to her own humanity and life on Voyager with the help of the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo). Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) also have trouble in the holodeck thanks to a new program while B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) explores her violent Klingon tendencies.
It’s great to see the crew in the dark for the unusual season opener “Night.” They are literally and figuratively facing the unknown difficulties of their journey, finally! Janeway has doubts; scary, dark fears manifest on the ship inside and out – there are social statements and even some humor thanks to the Captain Proton holonovel. This is fine stuff, and “In the Flesh” works well in revisiting Earth without actually going to Earth. Species 8472 earns some depth beyond the badness even if the expected dry from the perennially underdone second in command Chakotay (Robert Beltran) hampers the fun. Likewise, “Timeless” has an alternative future back to earth premise that grows dull thanks to Chakotay and still Ensign Harry Kim. An episode like this is touching when the audience knows the cast and already likes Voyager, but this is a tough episode to appreciate casually. Besides, this series already relies far too much on time travel contrivances. “Warhead,” however, is the best Kim adventure in a long while, accented by Robert Picardo as the Doctor in a classic SF TOS vein. The contemporary cold war speeches are a little obvious, but this type of Kim in charge conflict should have happened much sooner. “Relativity” is also a serious and unusual time travel adventure, but it’s placement before the heavies of the “Equinox Part 1” cliffhanger finale goes well.
Of course, “Relativity” is also the perfect example of how Voyager has quickly become The Janeway and 7 Show. Seriously, no one else is capable of being used in a straight up sci-fi episode such as this? The other players merely man their stations with no say in anything – ironically, it’s a little like the original Star Trek. I feel this Seven over-focus seems to happen when Voyager co-creator and executive producer Jeri Taylor retires. Is this the moment the series finds its rhythm or is this the downhill beginning of Trek on TV? Despite the solid cinematics and well-played dynamics between Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, and guest star Susanna Thompson (Kings) as the Borg Queen, I’m somewhat conflicted over the supersized “Dark Frontier” episodes. There isn’t anything wrong with it in and of itself, but the darker filming, edgy Janeway, and feminine undercurrents created a fundamental change on Voyager. Why is the Captain risking everything to go back to a Borg unimatrix? Some of the plot and tone feels too come hither obvious for ratings. Seasons 3, 4, and now 5 have been quite quality, and I don’t think Voyager needed to try as hard as it does for the latter half of this season. Though again apparent in its betrayal, “Counterpoint” is fortunately a nice xenophobia dilemma for Janeway, and “Nothing Human” has the complete ensemble debating all too modern ethics with 24th century veils. When cute personal bottle shows are done right like “11:59,” one wonders why Voyager puts itself off the deep end with sexed up and rehashed gimmicks.
Thankfully, “Drone” is a wonderful show with the Doctor and Seven having a special Borg SF message. Though “Once Upon a Time” is a little juvenile and it’s worrisome when kids become the center of a show, serious plots balance the well-done lightheartedness. “Infinite Regress” also gives Seven multiple angles and heavy issues along with some childlike bonding time. She is in a human child development stage in many ways, and it’s nice to see Seven explore her growth and responsibly in “Bliss” rather than just being a skintight sex symbol. I’m sure some enjoyed her being tied down, but I sincerely hope that sex sells is not the entire reason for a character with this kind of potential. There are good stories to be told with Seven, yes. I like the Doctor and Seven paired together as human outsiders asking heavy questions and having some bemusing relationship aspects along with quality material in “Latent Image” and “Someone to Watch over Me.” Focused principals, actions, and consequences for Voyager in the Delta Quadrant- this ship and crew are rightly or wrongly not above authority no matter how far from home they may be. However, the first half of the season really feels like Borg overkill at the expensive of the family ensemble and development of the rest of the show. Is this trade off worth it for Voyager?
Granted, the concept in “The Disease” is ruined by another Harry Kim error, and likewise “The Flight” is nothing more than dry Chakotay confusion. “Course: Oblivion” is a nice oddball, one-off episode, and the novelty of “Think Tank” is guest star Jason Alexander. It would seem Voyager has nothing going for it beyond the Seven love fest thanks to these filler shows, but that is absolutely not the case. “Extreme Risk” may be a bit of a letdown after “Drone,” but it’s good to see some B’Elanna Torres time and Delta Flyer action. Tom Paris also has serious moments in “Thirty Days,” and there’s good Captain Proton fun for the entire crew in “Bride of Chaotica!” Tim Russ’ Tuvok finally gets some high concept attention in “Gravity,” but Torres and Ethan Phillips as Neelix get less focus in “Juggernaught” than the aliens of the week. Whenever an episode starts with the guests or phenomena of the hour, we know they will be the vehicle of the week. The viewer knows this time won’t focus on Voyager, and it further distances the audience from the increasingly generic cast – which is actually up to snuff for much more. The regulars do indeed deliver fine work when it is given to them, but the order of episodes being front loaded with Seven angst makes the latter half of Year 5 look like weak, forced filler before the finale. Some of these thin scripts feel like the throwing of a bone to the overlooked regulars thanks to all the quality hours going to Seven, Janeway, and The Doctor.
Chakotay and Kim should have been beefed up or dropped a long time ago, I think everyone knows that. Unfortunately, by the end of season 5, it feels like the once promising Torres and Tuvok have been unnecessarily pushed to being barely there background players. After finally catching its stride and finding its course, Voyager feels uneven again thanks to this cast division. You tune in for a solid Seven episode and all is well, but if you catch a crappy Chakotay number, it is channel surfing time. This split personality works for Voyager and Trek if you like Seven, of course the babe added to the ratings. However, it also turned what could have been a fine, multi layered and statement making show into a one trick pony. Fans of the Borg and Seven of Nine will delight in Season 5, but casual audiences and regular science fiction fans may find it tough to enjoy the increasingly one note style on Voyager. The dark and heavy make for some quality, but it would be better if Voyager used all its players to their full variety and potential.