23 February 2013

Voyager Season 4

Fresh Blood Lifts Voyager Season 4
By Kristin Battestella

“That show with the girl with the thing on her eye” – that’s how my mom still refers to Star Trek: Voyager. Although Seven of Nine would become both a blessing and a curse to this Trek spinoff, the character’s introduction here in Season 4 provides a much needed infusion of fresh ideas and adventures.

Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) reluctantly works with the Borg in order to save the Delta Quadrant from the fluidic space invaders Species 8476. The Captain and Holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) must work with the Borg drone Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) after she is separated from the Collective and help her adjust to life as an individual on the far from home starship Voyager. Meanwhile, Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) embark on a romance, and the crew says goodbye to one of the family.

“Scorpion II” is a bit of a let down from its Part 1 cliffhanger, and some of the weaker early episodes like “The Gift” and “Nemesis” seem like a step back from the conclusion of Season 3. Fortunately, the year does get stronger as it goes on thanks to the introduction of Seven of Nine, and the effects and mythos surrounding Species 8472 are also nicely done – even if the aliens are designed as a bit too insurmountable. Considering all their previous bads, the new Borg alliances are a leap, too. However, these are new, daring plots for Voyager, and it works.  The ship is further along in its journey and the traveling and encounters are much more realistic. It’s not ideal to a have lighthearted Seven and Harry Kim tangent mixed with the heavy in “Revulsion,” but this A and B plotting works better than most thanks to the hologram parallels by The Doctor and horror movie filmmaking, psychology, and peril.  “Year of Hell,” however, feels forced by default.  On one hand, you have an awesome two-part thrill ride that could have gone on for several more episodes as originally planned.  The possibilities are glorious and it all plays out wonderfully.  Unfortunately, all that magic and greatness is retracted by a big old reset button!  “Unforgettable” also starts with a nice premise but ends up dry and sappy. The audience knows this memory reset won’t stick and will never be mentioned again, so why should we even go there? There’s still a lot of potential and vigor here, but it is incredibly frustrating that Voyager is not willing to take the science fiction risks or make the Star Trek statements of which it is more than capable of doing.  Can you imagine how much more awesome the final ten minutes of “Year of Hell, Part II” would have been had it been a season finale?

Thankfully, “Omega Directive” is actually a fine spiritual episode. Even Starfleet realizes there is an atom out there that can create life or destroy civilization, and it’s lovely when the prime directive doesn’t apply for this rare, deadly perfection. Voyager does well with these weighty topics and multiple character pairings per episode and should do more of them. It’s nice to see which issues unite the ship family or create onboard discourse. “Concerning Flight” is also a cute little cross culture Leonardo Da Vinci adventure. It’s fun, yet thoughtful and entertaining.  Ethan Phillips’ Neelix has some fine death examinations in “Mortal Coil,” and Robert Picardo shines again for the serious Alpha Quadrant contact in “Message in a Bottle” and “Living Witness.” There’s great humor, rapport, and wisely used Romulan connections. “Hunters” is also a fine return-to-home pros and cons follow up, as is “Prey.” The second half of the season strikes a good balance in reminding us how Voyager got to the Delta Quadrant and why they want to get home. “Waking Moments” is a creepy bottle show, but a bit ahead of its time in discussing Inception-esque dream within a dream within a dream quiet and thoughtful examinations.  Likewise, “Hope and Fear” is a soft, dynamic finale. Voyager spends all its time getting our ship home, but it is intriguing to see just how much The Federation’s lone presence in the Delta Quadrant affects others – even destabilizes the region. Is that worth the price of getting home?
Of course, “The Gift” marks regular cast member Jennifer Lien’s exit as Kes. It’s somewhat iffy – did they write in those lost Ocampa psychic abilities at the start just to have an exit clause? We know she’s leaving, but the titular measure makes sense for the show.  The departure, however, does make for some strange motivations from Captain Janeway. She wants Kes to stay, but Kes must leave to help the ship and save herself.  By contrast, Seven does not wish to remain on Voyager – it might be best she doesn’t – yet Janeway forces her to stay and receive medical care she does not want. It’s out of character for the Captain, even unlikeable.  I’m also not sure about her new short hair yet, either. At first, it seems so much better than the stiff old bun. After the long ponytail, however, the chop feels older and makes Janeway look more rounded. The long hair was lengthening, commanding, graceful, not soccer mom.  I guess they’ve given up on trying to make Janeway attractive now that Miss Catsuit is on Voyager.  Perhaps the mom vibes and proverbial hair down gone casual family ship is the point, but the dysfunctional aspects of the family don’t stick. The rift between Janeway and Robert Beltran as her increasingly diminished second in command Chakotay in “Year of Hell” is quality, but sadly, their one on one conversations and debates at the time only work from scene to scene. Naturally, the conflict never seems to last, and the heavy for Janeway and Voyager is never as it heavy as it could be.  

Fortunately, that aforementioned introduction of Seven of Nine is a plus for Year 4. The step-by-step Borg design stages are nicely one in “Scorpion” and “The Gift”, however this cat suit thing is the freakiest thing ever! Perhaps as a non-teenage fan boy I never noticed it before, but the initial shiny silver leotard worn by Seven makes her look, well, deformed. She’s packed with pillows and boobs above a seriously skeletal mid section, and I swear they can’t show her straight from behind because there is a stick up her butt.  The look is clearly uncomfortable and cumbersome despite the illusion of being skintight and convenient. I don’t see how this appearance is appealing at all, but “The Raven” does far more in the exploration of Seven’s character and past. Her trauma is relatable and keeps Seven likeable – this is a journey to rediscovering one’s humanity, not a forced order from Janeway.  The brown jumpsuit is much softer and honest, not shiny silver kitten, and the look fits in with the fun Da Vinci holodeck in “Scientific Method.”  It is also very smart to utilize the interactions between both Seven and Tim Russ’ Tuvok in “Year of Hell” and The Doctor in “Retrospect.” Seeing these nonhuman characters facing dilemmas together is fine Trek material. Yes, the early episodes come too easy and Seven fits in a little too soon. “Retrospect” also unnecessarily messes with Seven’s head and has some plot holes. The ending is under written, even undone, but it doesn’t take the easy way out, and this quality SF adventure and character focus remains strong for Seven to finish the season in the “Demon” and “One.”  

Most of the players on Voyager take a backseat to the Seven development, but Chakotay is as limp and dry as ever in “Nemesis.” The language attempts and propaganda influences are a nice try, but it all lacks charisma and comes across more awkward than hard hitting. Thankfully, “Day of Honor” has some fine B’Elanna Torres moments. Maybe the space shuttle or space suit angles don’t hold up, but there are good steps in the relationship with Tom Paris here and in “Scientific Method.”  Some of it might feel forced plot-wise, but we don’t mind because of the genuine players. “Vis a Vis” is also a nice Tom episode, but I’m not sure why we are going backwards for a reckless pilot retread.  “Random Thoughts” is much better all around, with freaky mental crimes for Tuvok and Torres – an intriguing opposite pair that isn’t often explored. “The Killing Game” is also a very fun two-parter. It doesn’t incorporate a reset and leaves plenty of lingering possibilities. This is a very decent way to have period delights and Alpha Quadrant touches, too. It’s serious, but is an escape from the regular adventure. When Voyager takes the time and pace to go there and get the story right like this, it is a dang fine little show. 

Some of what makes Year 4 special does become overkill later on in the series, and the change in pace and format is apparent from the previous seasons, yes. The increasing focus on Seven of Nine and her 18 to 34 demographic bod may also give serious viewers cause to tune out from here on in. However, fans who tuned out of Voyager’s earlier seasons can begin a new here thanks to the character shake-ups and new storytelling elements.  

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