15 February 2013

Voyager Season 3

Voyager  Season 3 Getting Good
By Kristin Battestella

After two lackluster seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Year 3 adds some quality guests, Original Series feelings, and fine two-parters for a not too bad little season. Eureka!

Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and the crew of the stranded in the Delta Quadrant USS Voyager leave their Kazon enemies behind while Vulcan Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ), pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Talaxian chef Neelix (Ethan Phillips) encounter previous friends and foes. Time travel, Ferengi, and the Borg don’t make Voyager’s long journey home any easier, either. However, Voyager’s holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) soon has life altering experiences of his own, as does half-Klingon Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) and the growing psychic Kes (Jennifer Lien).

“Basics Part II” is a nice little season opener, with ship intrigue, love to hate comeuppance for Martha Hackett as turncoat Seska, and primitive planet fun.I’m so glad to be done with Kazon, too.  After all, lingering on these factions just keeps a ship that is supposed to be moving at warp speed too stagnant, but thankfully, those impracticalities are replaced by solid SF adventure. The fine action and quality moments for Robert Picardo’s Doctor and returning guest star Brad Dourif might be resolved a bit too easily, but everything serves its purpose here.  Of course, too many frickin’ humanoid looking aliens with assorted forehead motifs and the Harry and Tom prison buddy episode “The Chute” hamper a bit of Season 3’s steam.  We haven’t seen that before, nope.  Again, these rehashings can just be too jarring and remove the hard built fantasy. Fortunately, touches of return to form Trek in “Flashback” are wonderful thanks to Tuvok and our Excelsior favorites. Okay, so it’s an obvious concept, but this re-watch, I’m enjoying Tuvok’s long-lived Vulcan dilemmas and adventure the most.  “Alter Ego” and “Blood Fever” also wonderfully explore the ship and family camaraderie versus holodeck solitude – especially when that inevitable Pon Farr comes around.  “Displaced” gives all the players their moments, complete with invasion, sabotage, and new action in the Delta Quadrant. It’s fast paced, has lots of quality effects and landscapes, and should be the ideal Voyager adventure.

It’s so nice to see all these fine character storylines mixed with good science fiction concepts, interesting themes, and heavy statements! Robert Picardo is again lovely in “The Swarm,” and the lightheartedness of “False Profits” matches with the heavy for Roxann Dawson’s B’Elanna Torres in “Remember.”  “Future’s End I and II” have fun time travel, top-notch action, a sweet Sarah Silverman (Wreck It Ralph), and a sleazy Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere). What’s not to love? One might joke that the entire reason for this double plot was to get The Doctor unrestricted from sickbay, but Voyager could have had more episodes dealing with the technological woes and abduction paranoia here. Imagine if Voyager and her crew were stuck in the right place but the wrong time for four or six episodes! Naturally, it wouldn’t be Voyager without a few loose bottle shows like “Macrocosm.”  Your ship is adrift with no sign of crew, an alien is afoot, and the holographic doctor is the last person you seek? This type of plot hole and iffy M.O. are those little holes that more often than not sink Voyager’s ship. Thankfully, Mulgrew is again delightful as Captain Janeway. Though I did like the bun, the Captain has literally let her hair down this season, and this ponytail in some small way signifies her distance from Starfleet and warms up Voyager. “Sacred Ground” does reach a little in its religious ideas with double talk and that anti-religion Star Trek feeling, but it is a solid Janeway exploration, and “Coda” is also a lovely Janeway retrospective. Bemusing spectacles with guests John de Lancie and Suzy Plakson also accent the historical action serious for Janeway in “The Q and the Grey.”    

Despite the significant improvements early on in Season 3, some characters are still showing their weaknesses, Robert Beltran’s Commander Chakotay and Jennifer Lien as Kes among them.  Ironically, “Sacred Ground” also has a strange misuse of Chakotay. After having Native American beliefs as his only attempts at character development, it’s odd that he is disbelieving his captain’s leap of faith instead of being spiritually interested. “Unity” begins as another pull the wool over on Chakotay show; however, it is a smart introduction to the Borg on Voyager. Is this separated collective doing its forced will for good any better than the assimilation and destruction of the standard Borg variety?  The debate here is just right, unlike some of the overused Borg complaints that plaque Voyager later in the series. “Distant Origins” and “Displaced” are also a fine pair discussing Delta Quadrant evolution from multiple angles. Who’s in the right place or the wrong way? We would think it would be Janeway tackling these strong SF spins and big character conversations, but it’s some of Chakotay’s best here. He’s not duped, speaks honestly, has all the facts, and tries to help someone. It seems corny, even insulting, that his finest is opposite talking reptiles. However, the advanced dinosaur concepts aren’t hokey at all – the science and effects look good. “Warlord” is a familiar tale with lots to chew, but it is a good break from the Kes routine before the weird long hairstyle and pseudo rebellious teen years hamper “Darkling,” which is otherwise owned by the Doctor gone crazy.  Somehow, the Ocampa go from nice little imps or elves to long blonde poofy and tight clothes hoochie. What happened?  

Thankfully, “False Profits” is good fun for Ethan Phillps’ Neelix. Even if you don’t love Ferengi humor and the reliance on Alpha Quadrant stories, the set ups are solid, the tie-ins are necessary to attract Trek fans back to Voyager, and Ethan Phillips always makes it worthwhile. By contrast, “Fair Trade” is a surprisingly dark Neelix foray – though I don’t want him to get too dark. His humor and softness is needed if everyone else is going to get heavy. I’m surprised there is never a mention of Tuvix, but Neelix and Tuvok are wonderful together in “Rise,” too. This episode reminded me a lot of Blake’s 7, and I kind of like the idea of Voyager as being confined, suspicious, full of dilemmas, pointing fingers, and arguing. The show pacings and occasional script confusions can make the series uneven, but the cast of Voyager is capable of this kind of meaty material. “Real Life” is another standout delight for the Doctor, but his plot is hurt by a meaningless phenomena B story.  

Some of the B’Elanna Torres meets Pon Farr twists feel a bit forced in “Blood Fever” as well, even if the Paris/Torres suggestions are intriguing. Their potential implications are done much better in the pleasantly backward “Before and After.”  This might be the first serious science fiction on Voyager. I kept asking myself, ‘How far is this going to go?’ Unfortunately, Garrett Wang’s Ensign Harry Kim gets the short end of the stick again in “Favorite Son.”  Harry being connived by women and wanted for sex is just a bit pretentious, and the copulation is all just a little too weird. At best, Harry solo episodes just aren’t that interesting. I’d much rather see an alien character slowly being diseased toward losing his alien makeup to become the human actor beneath the mask. Why fall back on evil sexy aliens? “Worst Case Scenario” provides these nice what could have been explorations thanks to a mutinous holodeck simulation gone awry. However, by the end of Season 3, it feels like we simply don’t see as much Tuvok or Paris.  Fortunately, everyone is on the same page and working together in the solid “Scorpion” finale. 

Voyager Season 3 is better than I originally remember. It’s faster and stepped up compared to the meandering first two seasons. In seeing this season now, one almost wonders why they changed things further for Year 4. Perhaps that forward movement was the natural progression of the quality created here, and the cliffhanger finale necessitates the continuation to Season 4.  One of this season’s few faults is the fact that it is not a self-contained year.  Were this pre and post not the case, new audiences could begin Voyager here. If the show had started with this new, exciting, fresh presentation and forward motivation, there would have been no need to change the series’ tone halfway thru.  Long time SF fans can delight in Voyager’s kicked up style, and new viewers or returning Star Trek fans can enjoy this largely unfettered Season 3.

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