Star Trek Voyager (VOY) Season 3

Season 1Season 2Season 3Season 4Season 5Season 6Season 7

FlashbackThe ChuteThe SwarmFalse ProfitsRememberSacred Ground
Future's End I/IIWarlordThe Q and the GreyMacrocosmFair TradeAlter Ego
CodaBlood FeverUnityDarklingRiseFavorite SonBefore and After
Real LifeDistant OriginDisplacedWorst Case ScenarioScorpion I/II

 

Basics II

See VOY season 2

 

Flashback

Synopsis

Stardate 50126.4: Voyager is about to enter a nebula when Tuvok suddenly experiences dizziness and then a flashback of a girl falling from a precipice. The Doctor does not know how to treat the apparent repressed memory in a Vulcan brain. So Tuvok performs a mind-meld with Janeway, with the goal that she, as an observer of his memories, can help him repair the damage. After establishing the link, Tuvok and Janeway are surprised that they don't find themselves on the precipice but on the bridge of the USS Excelsior during the Praxis Crisis on Stardate 9521, 80 years ago. In the course of Captain Sulu's attempt to save Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy, the Excelsior traverses a nebula that looks much like the one in the Delta Quadrant, so the latter may have been the trigger for the memory to resurface. Still, the origin of the memory remains unknown. In a second mind-meld, Tuvok relives the death of his bunkmate Dmitri Valtane, who is killed in a Klingon attack after leaving that nebula. The Doctor and Kes are alarmed as brain damage to Tuvok and Janeway is imminent and they find no way to terminate the mind-meld. In the mind-meld, Tuvok's memory of the past gets distorted, and Janeway becomes an active participant. The two go back to a time before Valtane's death to get another chance to investigate what happened at that moment. It turns out that a viral parasite that inhabited Valtane transferred itself to Tuvok when Valtane died. It camouflaged itself as a traumatic memory in order not to be attacked by the body's immune system. The Doctor too notices what is going on and kills the virus with thoron radiation.

Commentary

The Voyager producers were requested to create a tribute to Star Trek's 30th birthday in 1996. They came up with a story built upon the events in "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" that celebrates Captain Sulu and the Excelsior. The appearance of Captain Sulu alone makes this episode a pleasure to watch. And the fact that we learn that Sulu attempted to rescue his friends against his orders gives the story a relevance that goes beyond the isolated storyline of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. It strengthens the idea of Star Trek as a coherent science fiction universe.

Unlike in DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations" the Voyager producers created a 30th anniversary story that doesn't involve time travel, which is good for a change. And they accomplished to tell the story without the customary implausible twist that people or objects from the Alpha Quadrant suddenly show up in the depths of the Delta Quadrant. The way the homage was tied into the series is laudable. But the story about the repressed memory and the virus responsible for it leaves me unimpressed. It comes with just too much technobabble. It is implausible how Janeway and Tuvok are running around on a perfectly reconstructed Excelsior in Tuvok's mind. And the story is overall too small for the historical background of the events in "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country". Overall, Tuvok's virus infection is not more than a plot device in the story.

We also learn a great deal about Tuvok's past in this episode. He used to be an even stricter proponent of logic in his younger years, and he had a clear lack of social skills. This led to Tuvok leaving Starfleet and undergoing the kolinahr on Vulcan. As late as his children were growing up, he felt that he should continue his career in Starfleet. Tuvok's personal history makes a lot of sense to me, not only for a Vulcan. I think we can find similar biographies among humans too, who are driven by doing "all the usual things" (job, marriage, children) in the first half of their life, only to discover that they neglected their former passions (hobby, art, science).

Overall, "Flashback" is an episode that is heavy on continuity, heavy on trivia but also heavy on technobabble. It is very enjoyable to watch but chiefly because Tuvok is back on the Excelsior and meets Captain Sulu, not because of the rather lame story about the repressed memory. The latter appears even a bit disruptive at times when we would like to know more about what really happened on the Excelsior.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

The Chute

Synopsis

Stardate 50156.2: Harry and Tom find themselves in an Akritirian detention facility, surrounded by relentless prisoners. Janeway learns that they were sentenced to prison because of a bombing on Akritiri with trilithium, a material that is not available in the sector but that may be converted from Voyager's dilithium. As the Akritirian authorities threaten to seize the ship because of the alleged support for the terrorist group Open Sky, Janeway decides to retreat. In the prison, Paris is stabbed but he and Harry receive help from a man named Zio. An implant called the "clamp" in the head of every prisoner is designed to incite violence as it seems, but Zio says that he has learned to control it. Kim lets him in on a plan to escape through the "chute", the only apparent access to the prison that is secured by a forcefield. In order to find the people actually responsible for the bombing, Voyager investigates vessels using paralithium in their propulsion systems, a substance that too can be converted to trilithium. They capture an Akritirian freighter, manned by just a young man and his sister, and find evidence of trilithium. The man, Vel, is a member of Open Sky and offers to reveal the location of the detention facility, but Janeway decides to turn the alleged terrorists over to the Akritirian government in exchange for Paris and Kim. In the prison, Paris's condition deteriorates. Kim finally succeeds in disabling the forcefield and climbs up the chute together with Zio. But they end up at a hatch to open space. Kim continues to work on a way escape anyway, but gets infuriated when no one listens to him. When Paris rips apart the device Kim constructed to disable the forcefield, Kim almost kills him. Janeway's negotiation with the Akritirian government fails, and she decides to accept Vel's proposal. Using Neelix's ship, an away team breaks into the prison and frees Paris and Kim. The Doctor removes their implants, which indeed stimulated aggressive tendencies by the production of acetylcholine in the hypothalamus.

Commentary

I can imagine how the idea of the episode came into being: "So we have those two handsome young men that everyone likes and that are best friends. What can we do with them?" - "I always wanted to do a prison episode. So what about this: We put them in a wretched alien prison like Rura Penthe, let them freak out and almost kill one another." - "But they have to be friends again in the end." - "Oh well, perhaps they are just mind-controlled. Everything will be fine once they are free again." - "Great. Let's go with that idea."

I genuinely don't like prison dramas. I don't like any movies with focus on people losing their morality and ultimately their humanity as they struggle to survive against others. For me, it is sufficient to be aware that even the most noble person may be driven by instincts and may become violent if it is necessary to survive. It is good enough if it is hinted at; I don't want to have to witness everything in detail. The dark and gritty style of "The Chute" is neither the one I am used to from nor the one I want to see in Star Trek anyway. These may be the principal reasons why "The Chute" rather puts me off. But there are still other explanations why this episode doesn't work for me.

"The Chute" may have been meant as a character study of Harry Kim (rather than of Tom Paris who is disabled most of the time). The story was intended to show that Starfleet's neat young ensign may become an animal just like all the other inmates. That he was even on the verge of killing his friend Tom. However, the aggression that Kim exhibits remains meaningless, considering that it is stimulated by the "clamp" in his head and is gone in an instant after its removal. We may argue that the "clamp" only intensifies an emotional response that is actually in Harry's mind, as opposed to mind control where it would be induced from the outside, and that he really has a latent desire to hurt or even kill Tom. But I think the ability to cope with one's instincts and emotions, and especially with aggression, is an essential part of human evolution and of a personality. Without this ability Harry is off-character, much like a Vulcan without mental discipline or the EMH without ethical subroutines. So I don't think it is the real Harry Kim who wants to kill Paris.

I think the story was also meant as a commentary on societies that lock up criminals in prisons where they are left on their own, without a chance of rehabilitation. The Akritirian authorities even intensify the immanent aggressive tendencies of their prisoners in a way that they would rather kill each other than cooperate in any fashion. It sounds paradoxical, but the chaos created by the permanent fights inside the prison serves as some kind of self-regulation that doesn't require an authority in the form of guards. Also, the Akritirian jurisdiction can relinquish the death penalty, as the prisoners conveniently kill each other. However, I don't think that the unique situation in the Akritirian space prison works as an analogy to present-day detention conditions. The actual social commentary that I see in the episode (albeit not quite the intended one) is that the prison destroys those who committed only minor offenses or who may even be innocent, if they are put together with those who have no future anyway.

The direction and the acting in "The Chute" is appropriately drastic for the dark story. Actually, I would have wished the same for some of the Kazon conflict episodes of the second season and especially for "Basics" whose story was much bigger but which could have been somewhat more dramatic at times. Still, "The Chute" became boring for me because after a while I grew tired of looking into Ensign Kim's sweaty and bloody face. After a while the whole "This isn't the friendly Ensign Kim any longer" theme was exhausted for me. And although the directing was overall good, it relied too much on louder music to indicate whenever something dramatic was about to happen.

On a positive note, I like the character of Zio, who appears as a lunatic to Harry, but mostly because Harry's own judgment is impaired. I think Zio really has found a way for himself to neutralize the "clamp". He stands for composure and for reason among the otherwise savage inmates, although his "manifesto" seems like a crazy idea and his attitude that Paris should be killed doesn't exactly make him sympathetic. Unfortunately, just as his character is contradictory, Zio also doesn't have a clear role in the story.

Another letdown of the episode is the extremely rushed resolution. The story repeatedly switches from the prison to Voyager and Janeway's attempts to find the true bombers and to negotiate the release of Harry and Tom. But the interesting part (or the one that would have been the interesting part in other episodes) is cut short. We don't see anything of the preparations for Harry and Tom's rescue. We don't see how Neelix's shuttle breaks through the security perimeter of the prison. Janeway and the away team just appear in the prison to release them. And Neelix's shuttle escapes the two well-armed patrol ships with ease, and against all reason. The way that Tom and Harry's rescue is shown is anticlimactic and also disproportionate in the story context. We may argue that it was never a Janeway story but rather one about Tom and Harry in the prison, but then it shouldn't have given Janeway and her boring talks so much screen time in the first place.

Speaking of a rushed ending, it is obvious that at the end of the episode Harry and Tom would recover and that they would stay friends in spite of everything. But all this happens much too fast and too easily. Some residual aggression and mutual mistrust in Harry and Tom in the end would have been more realistic and more appropriate for the story.

Annotations

Rating: 2

 

The Swarm

Synopsis

Stardate 50252.3: During a shuttle mission Torres and Paris are attacked by an alien species that possesses transporter technology and neuro-electric weapons. Neelix warns that Voyager is approaching the territory apparently claimed by that species, a region in which ships have disappeared without a trace. Janeway decides to cross the border in spite of everything, because the shortcut would save 15 months of the journey home. Meanwhile in sickbay, the Doctor's program has started to degrade. Kes wants to avoid a total reset of the program, which would cause the Doctor to lose all his memories of the past two years since he was activated. So B'Elanna launches the diagnostic program, which turns out to be a holographic recreation of Doctor Zimmerman, who created the EMH at Jupiter Station. The diagnostic program tells her that the cause for the degradation is the accumulation of "nonsense" like friendships with the crew or singing arias in the Doctor's database. Voyager manages the evade the tachyon grid at the border of the alien species. Their ships form a large "Swarm" that so far doesn't react on Voyager's intrusion. Soon Voyager runs into a freighter that has been attacked by the Swarm, leaving only one heavily injured survivor. The amnesic Doctor is no help in treating the alien, who dies of his severe injuries. It turns out that one of the small Swarm ships has stayed behind. It attacks and causes a shift of Voyager's shield frequency that makes the ship visible to the Swarm. Kes tries her best to keep the EMH program running to slow down the degradation, but as the battle ensues no one is there to help her. She decides to expand the EMH using the matrix of the diagnostic program. Meanwhile, the Swarm has caught up with Voyager. Firing phasers on the Swarm is no use because the beam gets reflected. As Swarm ships attach themselves to the hull and drain energy from the ship, Janeway orders to destroy just one of the attackers while tuning the shields to the inverse harmonic. The other ships on the hull explode in a cascade reaction, and the Swarm retreats. After the repair it first seems that the EMH program has been reset, but then the Doctor begins to sing again.

The title of this episode is somewhat misleading because after a while it becomes clear that the degradation of the Doctor's program is the A-plot, rather than the fight against the Swarm. I looked it up, and found that the working title was "The Patient", which would have described it better. Anyway, when I first watched "The Swarm", I had not seen any trailers that would have given away anything about the Doctor's trouble, and so I rather liked the surprising shift of focus.

Only in hindsight it is my impression that the idea of the truly alien Swarm species could have been put to better use. Voyager runs into a formidable species whose technology is far superior to that of the Kazon, whose tactics are unique and whose language is incomprehensible as the universal translator doesn't work. It is a pity that in the story that unfolds the whole conflict boils down to a few of the usual Treknology tricks such as deflecting sensor rays, rotating the shield frequency or causing a chain reaction in the enemy's control system. In other words, it consists of concepts of the kind that would have been just side notes in a TNG story. Moreover, Janeway makes the highly questionable decision to enter their territory, against Starfleet protocols and against everything her advisors are saying. This should have led to character conflicts, but after expressing his concerns Tuvok gives up his resistance and merely comments on Janeway's orders with a skeptical facial expression. There could have been so much more about the "Swarm" sub-plot. It is clear that the Swarm was never meant to be more than a species-of-the-week, still it should have been given more weight because the idea of the Swarm has a lot of potential. Vice versa, the story about the Doctor may have been even better without the frequent distraction from the rudimentary Swarm plot. Summarizing, it looks to me like one really great and one at least promising story that could both have needed more time were mingled together in one episode.

The story about the Doctor's degrading program walks a fine line, considering that his almost fatal program failure has some bizarre aspects. The scene when the alien freighter crew member has just died, the Doctor doesn't recognize that, Kes hands him a device so he has something to do, and the Doctor uses it on the "sick man", could have turned out unintentionally funny. But it didn't miss the mark and almost made me sob. After a long time Kes is the key character in a story again, and Jennifer Lien delivers one of her best performances in her role. Kes is the one who intercedes for her friend when Janeway and B'Elanna want to reset the Doctor to his initial state. She keeps him busy in order to prevent further degradation of the program. She finally decides to repair him on her own when Janeway, during her unwisely provoked battle against the Swarm, can't spare anyone with technical expertise. Janeway should be very grateful that her crew and especially Kes make up for her errors.

In terms of continuity, "The Swarm" ties in with last season's "Projections", where the Doctor was led to believe he was Doctor Zimmerman. It is a wonderful idea to show Zimmerman in person, and if only as a hologram. Speaking of a holographic diagnosis, this is something already familiar from TNG: "Booby Trap". I see the re-use of the concept in "The Swarm" rather as a homage than as a rip-off.

Regarding the development of the Doctor's character, the "raw" state of the Lewis Zimmerman hologram makes it clear that the Doctor has come a long way since he was first activated, after initially behaving much like Zimmerman. Thanks to Kes this gets acknowledged, and the Doctor makes another important step towards emancipation. Maybe the decision that it wouldn't be right to simply reset him is even the key event that draws the line between a simple tool or software on one hand, and a sentient being on the other hand.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

False Profits

Synopsis

Stardate 50074.3: Sensors indicate that an unstable wormhole has recently opened in a nearby star system. It is deemed possible that this wormhole leads to the Alpha Quadrant. One of the planets in the system is the home to a pre-industrial civilization, but Tuvok registers traces of replicator use. When Chakotay and Paris beam down to the planet named Takar, they find the two Ferengi Arridor and Kol, who got stranded at the far end of the Barzan Wormhole seven years ago. They now pose as Takar's "Holy Sages" as they are described in old tales, and are worshipped by the population. Janeway has the two beamed up, but Arridor explains that the planet would fall into chaos without the Sages. So Janeway beams them down again but sends Neelix, disguised as a messenger of the Grand Nagus, the Grand Proxy. Neelix orders Arridor and Kol to return with him, and he begins to give back some of their accumulated wealth to the Takarians. However, he has to reveal his true identity when the two attempt to kill him. Chakotay, who has learned how the tale from the Sages ends, sends Neelix back to pose as the "Holy Pilgrim" who has come to bring the Sages home "on the wings of fire". The Takarians take this all to literally - they prepare to burn Neelix, Arridor and Kol on the stake. Chakotay and Paris have to disable the Ferengi generator that blocks the transporter, so the three can be beamed up as late as the stake is already on fire, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. Aboard Voyager, everything is ready to enter the wormhole that has been temporarily stabilized. The Ferengi, however, escape from the ship. They emit a graviton burst from their shuttle that destabilizes the wormhole again. The Ferengi shuttle slips through the wormhole before it closes, leaving Voyager behind in the Delta Quadrant.

Commentary

"False Profits" is the third in so far four episodes of the third season with wonderful continuity to previous Star Trek episodes. It ties in with the events from "The Price" that left the two Ferengi Arridor and Kol stranded in the Delta Quadrant after they unwisely waited too long on the far end of the unstable Barzan Wormhole. Of course, it is unlikely that the Voyager crew discovers the Delta Quadrant exit of the wormhole so close to the ship's flight path. But the fact that the Barzan Wormhole and the two Ferengi are already introduced makes the coincidence much easier to accept than the appearances of all kinds of people and things from the Alpha Quadrant that were and will be randomly made up for other Voyager episodes.

A Ferengi episode always has the problem that it can turn out either amusing or ludicrous. This one starts off as amusing. The basic plot is great. "False Prophets" are making "False Profits". The Ferengi pose as the gods of the primitive civilization on Takar, invoking an ancient legend. The legend of the "Sages", in addition to their advanced technology, gives them the opportunity to exploit the Takarians. It is both funny and frightening to see how condescending the Ferengi are to the planet's population. The "ear cult" is priceless. The Takarians appear to worship their "Sages" in spite of everything - but with a certain air of rebellion that we can perceive in the bard, the sandal maker and the servant Kafar. It is clear that it would take only a spark for them to overthrow their oppressors.

So far it is a really good story. But then the first of three major annoyances happens. Janeway has beamed up the two Ferengi to end their reign on Takar and to take them back to the Alpha Quadrant. Arridor laments that the departure of their Sages would bring "despair, fear, confusion" to the Takarians. And how does Janeway react on these so obviously self-serving speculations? She tells Tuvok to beam them back to the planet! Janeway shows an alarming lack of leadership here. She has discussed the issue with her crew. She has made her decision. And now she swiftly changes her mind because of the moaning of a Ferengi? Arridor may have mentioned a new aspect to be considered, but Janeway should at least have waited until a Plan B was available. Allowing the two Ferengi to return to Takar is the worst thing she could possibly do, because now the two are alerted. And so Arridor and Kol set up their generator to block Voyager's transporter.

However, the story gets still worse when Janeway tries to "out-Ferengi the Ferengi". Yes, she really says that, and it gets just as silly as it sounds. She sends down Neelix in the disguise of the Grand Proxy, a seemingly important person in the Ferengi society that was never mentioned in any of countless Ferengi-centered DS9 episodes though. Anyway, even if the Grand Proxy has the authority to order Arridor and Kol to return to Ferenginar, what is the chance that the two rogue Ferengi would comply? Not to mention that Neelix as someone from the Delta Quadrant is not likely to know anything about the Ferengi culture. The whole maneuver is doomed to fail from the outset. It may have been a good idea to beam only Neelix down instead of Arridor and Kol, to explain to the Takarians that the two have left, which would have been just as good as the two doing it themselves. But don't expect any such reasonable decisions from Janeway in this episode. Moreover, it is simply irresponsible that Janeway sends Neelix to apprehend two Ferengi criminals without the possibility to beam him out. They almost kill him. Two criminals that she released against all reason!

The pinnacle of absurdity is reached when the two Ferengi overwhelm two armed Starfleet guards, destroy the shuttlebay door, destabilize the wormhole and, unlike Voyager, escape to the Alpha Quadrant. This is so incredibly stupid that it hurts.

Overall, "False Profits" is an initially good story that gradually destroys its own credibility and ends with a big WTF moment. Four points for the great continuity and the entertaining first third of the episode.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

Remember

Synopsis

Stardate 50203.1: Voyager transports a number of Enarans from a remote colony to their homeworld. While the guests are aboard, B'Elanna experiences intense dreams that almost feel real. In her dreams, she is a young Enaran woman named Korenna, whose boy-friend Dathan belongs to the so-called Regressives, a group that disagrees with the modern way of life on Enara. It appears that one of the Enarans, who are telepathic, taps into B'Elanna's unconscious while she is sleeping. The Doctor gives her an inhibitor to suppress the alien memories but B'Elanna decides not to use it, in order to learn more about what happened on Enara. After dreaming of Korenna once again, B'Elanna becomes aware that an older Enaran woman named Jora Mirell must be Korenna. She finds the dying Jora Mirell in her quarters. Instead of receiving medical aid the old woman insists to share the rest of the story with B'Elanna. Dathan and his people were allegedly relocated to a colony, but in reality they were executed by the government, and Korenna/Jora helped to cover up the genocide. After Korenna's death B'Elanna bursts in on the farewell party with the Enaran guests and accuses them of murdering the Regressives and Korenna. The Doctor, however, finds no evidence that Korenna could have been murdered. Janeway tells B'Elanna that it is a solely Enaran affair, so B'Elanna takes the last chance to pass on the memories to Jessen, one of the younger Enaran women.

Commentary

It is quite obvious that this story is meant as a parable to genocides in Earth's history and specifically to the Holocaust. Keeping the memory alive is deemed important even and especially after so many years have passed, considering that eyewitnesses gradually die off and that Holocaust deniers spread their propaganda. The story of "Remember" is strong in its symbolism in this regard, with Korenna presumably being one of the last eyewitnesses of the genocide on Enara and present-day Enara being a planet full of deniers. However, I think that aside from this rather formulaic correspondence with the real world the story doesn't work so well. Perhaps the focus on the (telepathic) testimony of the eyewitness Korenna and the absence of any hard evidence lowers its impact, although the intention was just the opposite.

The outcome of the episode leaves me with a big deal of doubt. We don't see anyone doing any research on Enaran history. We can base our judgment solely on the memories of one Enaran woman, or more precisely, on the visualization of its telepathic representation in B'Elanna's mind, with all its possible errors and inaccuracies. I certainly can't tell whether a memory that is passed on telepathically is any more or less reliable than the written or spoken testimony of a witness. But we all know from psychological experiments or ultimately from wrongful convictions how unreliable the memory of an eyewitness may be. We also know how often aliens have manipulated the minds of the crew in Star Trek before. In the real world as well as in any other Star Trek story, it would be a perfectly reasonable assumption that the dreams that B'Elanna experiences are wrong or messed up in some fashion. Only the writer's intent that this is a Holocaust parable just doesn't allow anything that B'Elanna learns about the genocide on Enara to be untrue. We are expected to subscribe to Korenna's version of the genocide without any solid evidence. This mandatory outcome leaves me dissatisfied, especially in light of the otherwise open ending of the story.

One key statement of the episode is that if everyone ignores or even denies the existence of a genocide in Enara's history, it may happen again. While this is ethically correct and I totally agree with it regarding the Holocaust and other massacres in human history, it is too geocentric. All we know about the present-day Enaran society is that it values peace, friendship, progress and artistry. There are many commonalities with the Federation. Enara may have to endure the truth some day and may be ready for it now. But we can't really tell. The Enarans have built a better society in spite of and maybe partially even because of the wrongdoings in the past, and coming clean on them might lead them all the way back to those bad days. This dilemma (that Janeway at least briefly hints at) demonstrates that the Prime Directive exists for a good reason.

It is surprising to see B'Elanna Torres in the role of the recipient of the telepathic message. Actually, the story was originally written for a TNG episode with Deanna Troi as the key character. For the Voyager adaptation, Kes would have seemed to be the obvious choice, but it is possible that Roxann Dawson was preferred over Jennifer Lien because she is the more important character and generally delivers the stronger performances, especially in season 2. Also, the impact is naturally stronger if a usually technical person suddenly begins to argue on a very emotional level. However, this goes a bit too far in my opinion because B'Elanna effectively pushes aside all skepticism that would normally determine her judgment and her actions. The reason that B'Elanna doesn't feel quite right in this episode is the fault of the writing, rather than of Roxann Dawson who shows one of her best performances in the series so far. We can see her in a kind of second role as Korenna in B'Elanna's dreams, where she acts differently than as the real B'Elanna, with her voice and her gestures being more like those of the young girl that Korenna must have been at the time. Kudos to Roxann Dawson for her great versatility in this episode!

Regarding Korenna, as noble as her goals may be, I don't like at all what she is doing. She readily supported the execution of the Regressives and even of her friend Dathan. (If her cheering after the execution were a false memory out of remorse, it would only support my apprehension that many of her memories may be falsified.) In any case, one of Korenna's main motives seems to be to ease her own guilt in last-minute panic as the end of her life is near. She could and should have acted much sooner. She could have telepathically contacted other Enarans or she could have simply talked to someone of her people. It isn't credible that B'Elanna is the only person she could possibly trust. And it ultimately doesn't make sense that an alien woman who is supposed to leave Enara the very next day would convince the Enarans to rethink their history. Not to mention the emotional stress that Korenna causes in a non-telepathic person who may not be able to cope with the partially traumatic memories.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

Sacred Ground

Synopsis

Stardate 50063.2: A Voyager away team visits a monastery of the Nechisti Order on the Nechani homeworld. Kes is fascinated by a shrine, but when she steps in she is hit by a surge of biogenic energy and falls into a coma. The monks do not allow a further investigation of the energy field that could help the Doctor devise a treatment for Kes. Neelix finds an ancient Nechani legend about a king whose son was struck by energy much like Kes and who successfully requested from the Ancestral Spirits inside the shrine to return him to life. Janeway learns that the monks who enter the shrine undergo some sort of ritual to prepare themselves, and she suspects that their biochemistry may be altered in a way to withstand the biogenic energy. She asks to undergo this ritual, in order to find a cure for Kes. Janeway is assigned a guide, who tells her to wait in a room with three old people. But Janeway is eager to move on. Although the guide warns her that all she is going to do will be meaningless, Janeway undergoes a series of straining rituals. The Doctor, who monitors Janeway's lifesigns, finds a clue that may help Kes. But when he tries to revive her, Kes's condition deteriorates. Janeway asks the guide to undergo the ritual the way it was meant to be. This time she takes the time and talks with the old people, who in her opinion might be the Ancestral Spirits. They tell her to take Kes to the shrine again. Although it is against all reason, Janeway carries Kes through the gate, and Kes wakes up. It turns out that the ritual actually prepared Janeway, and that the Doctor's treatment protected Kes the second time she passed the energy field. Janeway, however, has doubts that everything that happened can be explained with science.

Commentary

I watched "Sacred Ground" for the first time in more than a decade. While I still think that the story overall doesn't work, I discovered many new aspects in it.

I already wrote in my old review of the episode that this is one of the rare occasions in Star Trek that ends with a tie between science and faith. More precisely, there is an ongoing struggle between science and faith in the story in which the two alternatingly gain the upper hand. It is a crazy aspect about the story anyway that everything that seems to be reasonable at one time is invalidated later on but then makes sense again in a different fashion. In the end, there is a scientific explanation for nearly everything that has happened, but it is extremely complicated and it is made possible only by a series of unlikely coincidences. The outcome defies Occam's razor and leaves enough room for the myth to be true (if it were not for the questionable role of the Nechisti Order that I will comment on further down).

The outcome of Janeway's personal struggle between science and faith is a different one, however. Janeway starts off as the scientist who agrees to undergo the rituals only because she hopes to find scientific evidence that may help Kes. She goes through a series of ordeals that include holding a stone, finger painting, rock climbing, being bitten by a nesset (apparently some kind of snake) and being put into some kind of coffin. She expects a ritual with a good deal of mumbo-jumbo but also with some sort of training that may help her body withstand the biogenic field, and that is exactly the kind of ritual she gets. But as her guide already told her, it is all meaningless, and this seems to prove true when the Doctor's treatment of Kes based on the data gathered during the ritual fails. So Janeway decides to go for a second round. Now she listens to her guide and she talks to the old people instead of ignoring them. She begins to trust them and, seemingly in a leap of faith, follows their advice. So Janeway takes Kes back to the energy field, although she has no explanation how this could possibly help her. On the other hand, she has simply run out of options regarding a treatment for Kes, and trusting in someone's advice does not mean that she would adopt their religion too. Anyway, when the Doctor gives the recovered Kes and Janeway a scientific explanation, Janeway does not seem to be content with it. As already mentioned, from the viewpoint of the story it is a tie between science and faith, but personally for Janeway it seems to be a defeat as a scientist and perhaps the realization that the unknowable may exist.

When I first watched the episode many years ago I was bored by the flow of the story and by the dialogues, some of which seem to have been ripped off from an absurd stage play by Beckett or Ionesco. I find the episode somewhat more entertaining today and I appreciate the work that was put into the dialogues that are appropriately absurd when it comes to the explicitly "meaningless" ritual. But while the details are nicely worked out, the story overall doesn't make sense.

The biggest problem of the story lies in the lack of logic regarding the agenda of the Nechisti Order. The Nechisti Order may or may not understand how the shrine actually works and what the rituals are about, scientifically speaking. They may or may not have taken sufficient precautions that no one accidentally steps into the shrine. They may or may not have had cases like Kes's before. They may or may not care for people who are harmed by their technology. We don't know what they are up to.

In case the Nechisti Order really has no idea how to help Kes it is totally incredible that they could set up such a complicated ritual whose positive outcome is a result of many coincidences. Even if the ritual is described in detail in old writings, it is very unlikely that it could possibly work and save Kes. We have to keep in mind that Janeway is only protected against the effect of the field because of the ritual that she insisted on herself against her guide's advice, and that Kes only remains unharmed because of a treatment by the Doctor based on data gathered from Janeway, a treatment that almost killed her. Not to mention that Janeway and Kes are aliens, whose biochemistries likely work very differently than the one of the Nechani. On the other hand, if the Nechisti Order is aware how to help Kes, it is extremely cynical of them to offer their help so reluctantly, to leave Janeway in the dark, to have the old people sneer at her and to pass their science as a question of faith. There are clues in the story that the Nechisti are well aware what Janeway is trying to accomplish (they discover the subdermal transponder, for instance). I'm inclined to say they know what they are doing and unnecessarily prolong the suffering for Kes and the uncertainty for Neelix, Janeway and her crew. Maybe they even set up the shrine as some kind of trap, with the full awareness that only someone with friends as dedicated as Janeway can possibly be saved, as some sort of cruel game with the lives of their visitors?

Annotations

Rating: 2

 

Future's End I/II

Synopsis

Stardate 50312.5: A small ship emerges from a temporal rift in Voyager's flight path. The pilot identifies himself as Capt. Braxton of the timeship Aeon from the 29th century. He is going to destroy Voyager because he blames the ship for a catastrophe in the 29th century that will destroy Earth's solar system. When Janeway activates countermeasures, the two ships get caught in the temporal rift. The Aeon crashes in the High Sierras on Earth in 1967. Voyager ends up in Earth's orbit in 1996. Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok and Paris beam down to investigate. While Tuvok and Paris follow a SETI welcome transmission that was directed at Voyager and sent from the office of the astronomer Rain Robinson in Los Angeles, Janeway and Chakotay track a subspace emission to a homeless man that turns out to be Braxton. In 1967, a hippie named Henry Starling took possession of the timeship, leaving Braxton stranded on Earth. With the future technology he found in the ship, Starling founded the company Chronowerx and initiated the computer revolution of the late 20th century. Braxton suspects that Starling will attempt to launch the timeship and thereby cause the disaster in the 29th century. Rain Robinson is working for Starling, unbeknownst of his true intentions. After she has reported the occurrence of a warp signature that reveals Voyager's presence in orbit and thereby warns Starling, Starling sends his henchman Dunbar to kill her, but she escapes with Tuvok and Paris. Janeway and Chakotay break into Starling's office and find the timeship, but Braxton has already been waiting for them. Kim manages to beam out the two officers, but Starling downloads parts of Voyager's database, including the EMH. -- Starling equips the Doctor with a mobile emitter that allows his program to work in environments without holographic systems. In an attempt to apprehend Starling, Rain Robinson calls him and tells him to meet her at Metro Plaza. Here, Tuvok and Paris are already waiting for him, as well as Chakotay and Torres in a shuttle. When he notices that they are going to beam him away, Starling activates a transport inhibitor. He can be beamed up to Voyager and the Doctor escapes. The shuttle with Chakotay and Torres, however, gets damaged and crashes in Arizona where they are captured by right-wing extremists fighting the US government. Janeway sends Tuvok and the Doctor to free them. In Los Angeles, Dunbar activates a satellite and beams back Starling from Voyager. A truck with tachyon emissions leaves the Chronowerx building, and Paris suspects that they are moving the timeship. When Chakotay and Torres blow up the truck, there is no sign of the timeship though. Starling launches the timeship from his building, and history is about to repeat. With Voyager's weapons systems being offline, Janeway prepares a torpedo for manual launch and destroys Starling's ship before it can enter the temporal rift. Another rift opens, and Captain Braxton appears, who in his timeline has no knowledge of the chain of events. He says he has scanned a time anomaly that he is going to fix by taking Voyager back to the 24th century, and to the Delta Quadrant.

Commentary

This double feature comes with a lot of suspense, with a lot of fun and with an excellent balance between the two. On the fun side, we have got the Doctor on his first away mission, Tom applying his knowledge of 20th century Earth and Kes and Neelix being emotionally touched by a soap opera. The clash of the world of Starfleet with the crazy 20th century is reminiscent of "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" in many ways. Most notably the odd trio of Tuvok, Paris and Rain Robinson is much the same as Spock, Kirk and Gillian Taylor in the movie. I don't think the similarity is to the story's disadvantage, especially since I only noticed it in hindsight. Also, the fun part of the Voyager episode is a bit more decent than in the movie.

Voyager finds a formidable opponent in Starling, who is much more a ruthless 20th century entrepreneur than an awkward ex-hippie. Janeway underestimates him for a long time, thinking that at some point he would run out of options. But he always has something up his sleeve. Only with a bit of luck Voyager can defeat the man from the 20th century. Yet, Starling's goal to launch that timeship at all cost, without knowing enough about its technology, and against serious objections, doesn't really fit the picture. Starling must be a very calculating person in order to build and run his business and in order to prepare his various lines of defense against Voyager. And even if he doesn't care at all for the billions of people he might kill, why the impulse to do something that could easily cost his own life?

Most notably, however, Capt. Braxton would have deserved a more credible profile. The young Braxton is just a stubborn bureaucrat, the old one is a moron. At least he has one good scene when he runs around, hectically explaining the temporal paradox. A clear homage to Doc Brown of "Back to the Future" fame, maybe already a bit too obvious, but I like it.

Regarding the time travel aspects of the episode, the impression is created that without Chronowerx there would have been no microelectronic revolution since the late 1960s, which is contradicted by the real-world development. The destruction of the timeship with Starling aboard breaks the predestined timeline, and Starling never found the timeship. Yet, a browser called "Browser Hound" by the company Chronowerx shows up in VOY: "11:59". Also, it is mentioned in VOY: "Relativity" that Braxton (or one version of him) actually spent all the time in the 20th century, as if the timeline had not been repaired.

Another problem is that Starling could hardly have developed microelectronics on the basis of the hardware found in the timeship. Reverse engineering is not easy, and is impossible without having almost equally advanced analysis methods. There must have been detailed plans in the ship how to fabricate "ancient" microchips, rather than exotic 29th century hardware, for which neither the basic manufacturing processes nor the raw materials would be available in the 20th century. How could a hippie have built up a whole industry including all basic research from scratch? In this regard his plan to go to the 29th century to get more technology is idiotic, since there would be nothing to learn which could help him advance the technology of his own time and earn more money with it (not to mention that he may raise the suspicion of the time cops). Berlinghoff Rasmussen made the same mistake in TNG: "A Matter of Time".

The fact that militant rednecks hold Chakotay and B'Elanna hostages may have been supposed to be a significant contribution to the plot and some sort of political statement. I see them as an overall unnecessary and rather distracting side aspect of the story. Ultimately they only serve to corroborate that people of the late 20th century are either freaky or criminal (or both).

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

Warlord

Synopsis

Stardate 50348.1: Voyager beams over three Ilari with radiation burns from their damaged vessel just before it explodes. The Doctor and Kes can save two of them. When an Ilari representative is beamed aboard to welcome the two survivors, Kes takes a phaser and kills the representative and the transporter operator. She escapes in a shuttle, together with the two other Ilari. Demmas, the son of the Autarch, the ruler of Ilari, comes aboard. He tells Janeway that Tieran, a former ruthless dictator, has taken possession of Kes's body. Soon Tieran-Kes and his followers storm the Imperial Hall and kill the Autarch. Tieran-Kes spares the life of the Autarch's younger son Ameron, in the hope that he may join the rebellion. Demmas begs Janeway to help him destroy Tieran and retake his throne by force, but Janeway's primary goal is to save Kes. So she sends down Tuvok with a device that would drive Tieran's consciousness off her body. But Tuvok is apprehended before the device takes effect. Yet, inside Tieran-Kes the two personalities are struggling for control. Tieran-Kes announces his wedding with Ameron, much to the displeasure of his wife Nori. However, with Voyager's help, Demmas's troops occupy the Imperial Hall. Tieran still attempts to transfer himself into Ameron's body, but thanks to the Doctor's device he can be erased once and for all.

Commentary

Kes has always been the Voyager writers' problem child. The so far only successful attempt to further develop her character was last season's "Cold Fire". The story established her psychokinetic powers, but for some reason they remained dormant although she could have used them in "Basics", for instance. The idea of Kes being possessed by an ancient dictator is anything but new, as we had similar stories in TNG: "Power Play" and DS9: "The Passenger". Yet, it must be seen as both an opportunity to revisit Kes's special abilities, as well as to let Jennifer Lien play someone very different than the ever kind and compassionate nurse.

Jennifer Lien's performance didn't really convince me when I first watched the episode many years ago. I would have expected Tieran-Kes to be more imposing and perhaps more violent, to speak and move more like the man inside. I thought Kieran-Kes was still too kind, too much like Kes. But I have to revise that expectation. I now think it is good that Tieran-Kes is not a man in a woman's body who does everything to appear as manly, because this could have come across as unintentionally funny crossdressing. Tieran-Kes is a person who has all the ambition and ruthlessness of Tieran, but in the body of a woman that Tieran learns to use for his goals. This is very obvious in the scene when he (or rather she) twists around Ameron like a snake in an attempt to bribe (and seduce) him. In this regard Jennifer Lien does better in her unusual role than I remembered. At times she reminds me of the Intendant of DS9's Mirror Universe.

Although it probably wasn't the intention, "Warlord" addresses transgender issues, rather than TOS: "Turnabout Intruder" or TNG: "Power Play", let alone the crossdressing farce DS9: "Profit and Lace". Although he says he likes it and learns to use it for his goals, Tieran struggles with his female host body. Kes's body is not meant for him. Moreover, there is the unanswered question whether Tieran-Kes should be classified as a man (married to Nori) or as a woman (engaged to Ameron). One might argue that the Ilari would accept transgender people as well as same-sex marriage, but my impression is that they only do it because it's their leader's wish. On a final note about gender issues, it is notable that Tieran-Kes does not kiss his/her wife Nori in this episode, but she/he kisses Tuvok as well as Ameron. The real-world morality of the time didn't allow two women kissing. My impression is that after the small "scandal" that the same-sex kiss in DS9: "Rejoined" caused the producers of Voyager abstained from doing the same, which is a pity.

Overall, "Warlord" isn't boring, but could have needed a better plot advancement. It has too many guest characters and too much verbosity. And after so much time is lost on the exposition and tactical discussions, the resolution is too quick and effortless.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

The Q and the Grey

Synopsis

Stardate 50384.2: The crew witness the formation of a supernova. When Janeway has returned to her quarters, Q appears and expects her to mate with him. She naturally refuses. Yet, Q continues his attempts to seduce Janeway, without success. A female member of the Q Continuum appears and claims she has been bonded to Q for billions of years. More supernovas form in the ship's vicinity, sending out shockwaves. Q takes Janeway to the Q Continuum, which appears as an American Civil War scenario, with Q being a "Union" officer. He explains that the death of Quinn caused a kind of civil war in the Continuum, and that he hopes that fresh human DNA may bring the war to an end. Janeway tries to negotiate with the "Confederate" faction but is captured just like Q. They are both up for execution. In the meantime, the female Q, who has lost her powers, has revealed a way for Voyager to enter the Continuum. The crew, equipped with "Q weapons" can save Janeway and Q and overwhelm the "Confederate" troops. Q and Q decide to mate, which they do in a rather unspectacular way. Some time later Q shows Janeway his son and asks her to be his "godmother".

Commentary

"The Q and the Grey" is the sequel to "Death Wish". Like most Q episodes, it is governed by fun. And like in several previous Q stories, the initial silliness that comes with Q's appearance gradually makes way for a more serious theme. The seriousness of the situation, however, was worked out better in previous episodes, such as in TNG: "Déjà Q" (where the powerless Q learned a lesson about being human) and also in the direct precursor VOY: "Death Wish" (where fundamental questions of individual rights were in the focus). In this regard, "The Q and the Grey" only has a serious undertone. The American Civil War scenario remains overall rather playful and cliché-ridden, just like it were only a re-enactment. No one of the Q Continuum is killed when the Voyager crew attacks with "Q weapons" as it seems, and no inhabited planets are destroyed by the various supernovas (at least no one bothers to mention it).

This episode profits a lot from the great chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and John de Lancie. I also like Suzie Plakson as the female Q with her refreshing impertinence. Even after losing her powers, she remains condescending. It may have been an opportunity to show how she changes her mind, a bit like Q in "Déjà Q". But it is definitely more fun that she remains "Q-like", and the crew reacts to her with unusually strong sarcasm.

Notwithstanding my above reservations, I appreciate the effort that went into the American Civil War scenery. In my view it really pays to have scenes on location and in more elaborate sets than usual, even though in this case nothing is real.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Macrocosm

Synopsis

Stardate 50425.1: Returning from a trade mission with the Tak Tak, Janeway and Neelix attempt in vain to contact Voyager. When they find the ship and land the shuttle, there is no sign of the crew, main power is offline and a bioelectrical field blocks the sensors. Alien lifeforms have taken control of the ship, and Neelix is incapacitated and dragged away by one of them. Janeway finds some of the crew unconscious in the mess hall. In sickbay, the Doctor tells her that the alien intruder is the macroscopic form of a virus that he unknowingly brought aboard after he tried to cure a virus outbreak on a Garan mining colony. The Doctor has synthesized an antigen, and in order to distribute it Janeway proceeds to the environmental control station. But an attack by the Tak Tak, who want to "purify" the ship, disables the environmental control system. Janeway decides to lure the viruses into the holodeck by creating holographic characters with infrared emissions as possible victims, and she releases an "antigen bomb" that eventually destroys the viruses.

Commentary

The beginning of the episode is perhaps the still most original part. Janeway attempts to be kind as always to the ambassador of the Tak Tak. But the alien dignitary feels insulted. He obviously expected her to use highly formalized combination of phrases and gestures when talking to him. It is up to Neelix, who knows the rituals of the Tak Tak, to save the day. He makes Janeway look like a cadet who fails the diplomacy exam or, in a figurative sense, a student who fails the acting class.

The rest of "Macrocosm" is rather predictable. The plot is much like a crossover of TNG: "Starship Mine" (Picard's version of "Die Hard") and TNG: "Genesis" (the Barclay-to-spider de-evolution). The theme that two crew members return from an away mission and find the ship adrift in space is even exactly the same as in the latter episode, as is the revelation of how the disaster came about in the form of an anticlimactic flashback.

It is also obvious that the idea of Janeway running around with a phaser rifle, single-handedly fighting alien intruders on her ship, is inspired by Ridley Scott's "Alien". Well, "Macrocosm" has its moments. I like the eerie score and the CGI creatures that look truly disgusting. But after a while it isn't so thrilling any longer how Janeway runs through the corridors and crawls through Jefferies tubes. It is clear that the Voyager episode can't compete with the classic sci-fi movie. Perhaps it shouldn't have been attempted in the first place. But then again, the 1990s were the decade of action movies, and also on TV there was a trend towards more action-driven plots. In hindsight, it was not a bad choice to do a story like this, and it fits well into the series context and into Janeway's character profile.

All trends and all similarities to other sci-fi and action films or previous Star Trek episodes aside, this episode is let down most of all by a lack of intelligence in writing. In the category of scientific nonsense "Macrocosm" may be the runner-up, only surpassed by "Threshold". But there are many big plot holes and dangling threads as well. It doesn't look like Brannon Braga reflected a lot about what he was writing.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

Fair Trade

Synopsis

Stardate not given: As Voyager approaches a vast region of space known as the Nekrit Expanse, Neelix keeps pestering Tuvok and B'Elanna about a position in security and engineering, respectively. The reason is that Neelix has no knowledge of the region ahead, and wants to remain useful. On a space station at the edge of the Nekrit Expanse Neelix runs into his old buddy Wixiban. Neelix asks Wixiban to help him find a map of the region. Wixiban lets Neelix in on a deal that he is going to make with a colony that needs medical supplies, in the course of which he may as well acquire the desired map. As Wixiban doesn't want to pay the 20 percent commission to Bahrat, the administrator of the station, they use a shuttle to beam down to the meeting place in a cargo bay. The medical supplies, however, turn out to be illegal drugs, and in self-defense Wixiban shoots one of the drug dealers with a Starfleet phaser. Bahrat investigates the case together with the Voyager crew. When he spots Tom and Chakotay talking to the drug dealer on a video recording, he arrests the two. Neelix makes up his mind and urges Wixiban to speak to Bahrat. The two persuade Bahrat to apprehend the Kolaati drug dealers and arrange another deal with them, this time delivering warp plasma, allegedly from Voyager. Neelix removes the safety node of the plasma container and demands that the Koolati surrender, as a weapon blast would ignite the plasma and kill everyone. When Bahrat's people arrive to apprehend them, one of the Koolati shoots nonetheless but kills only himself. Neelix wakes up in sickbay and learns that Wixiban has already left. He is ready to leave the ship but Janeway asks him to stay and wants him to clean exhaust manifolds as a sentence.

Commentary

Neelix has come a long way from the resident clown to a respected member of the crew. I really liked him in more recent episodes except perhaps "False Profits". But in "Fair Trade" he gets annoying again, like the first-season Neelix. He keeps bugging crew members such as Tuvok, B'Elanna, Vorik and Paris with his strange requests, instead of telling them what he really wants from them. In a manner of speaking, Neelix is dishonest the whole time because he conceals his true motives. And Janeway and everyone else are unobservant because they should have noticed that in some fashion. I think this time Janeway is right to take the wrongdoings of a crew member personally in the end, because it is the result of someone of her crew not talking about his problems and of her not noticing the signs.

Some major plot points in this regard don't come across as plausible though. First of all, I would have expected much more self-confidence from Neelix than he shows in this episode. He should know that he is a part of the family after more than two years on the ship. Frankly, his cooking has become rather in demand than his abilities as a guide anyway. So why his sudden panic that he might not be useful any longer? Also, can't Janeway anticipate that Neelix doesn't know what is inside and beyond the Nekrit Expanse? Vice versa, can't Neelix anticipate that Janeway is well aware that his knowledge isn't endless? That she wouldn't simply drop him off the ship? And doesn't anyone notice Neelix's strange behavior before and during their stay at the Nekrit station? Doesn't anyone talk with anyone else? And what about Kes, who is discreetly absent from most of the episode for some unknown reason? Doesn't he even talk to her, or doesn't she notice anything? Perhaps they have already broken up at this time of the series. Still, Kes is another member of the crew who never attended Starfleet Academy and who is valuable just like Neelix. They are clearly in the same boat, but Neelix doesn't care. This all doesn't make much sense.

Neelix's motivation to engage in the alleged medicine deal is odd too. On one hand, Neelix owes Wixiban more that just a favor, since Wix was once arrested for him. On the other hand, even in this situation the map of the Nekrit Expanse to improve his situation is still Neelix's main concern. Some less selfishness would have suited Neelix well. Actually, this lets Wixiban almost appear like the better character. Although he is close to ruining his and Neelix's lives with the drug deal, he pays very much attention to Neelix's problems. Wix is definitely very glad so see his old pal Neelix again, although he had a lot of trouble because of him. When he persuades Neelix to participate in his business, he doesn't make it look like an opportunity for redemption, but rather like a deal among friends. He does everything to deliver the required supplies, he even praises Neelix's talents in the presence of Chakotay. When Neelix finally decides to report to the station administrator, Wix has no objections. Wix is still a small-time criminal, he may not have changed in all those years. But Neelix has obviously undergone a change for the better and another one for the worse again.

Overall, this story is average, mildly interesting and mildly enthralling. But it is impaired by the fact that Neelix's motivation and his actions are so stupid and everyone else on the ship is too stupid to notice it.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Alter Ego

Synopsis

Stardate 50460.3: Voyager investigates the phenomenon of a stable inversion nebula. The plasma fires would normally cause a chain reaction, but somehow a dampening effect prevents that this particular nebula burns out. On the holodeck, Harry has recently fallen in love with a new character, Marayna. He asks Tuvok to show him Vulcan techniques to suppress his emotions that he thinks are wrong. When Tuvok joins Harry and Marayna on the holodeck, Marayna switches her attention to Tuvok, which makes Harry jealous. Tuvok deletes her character. After collecting data about the nebula, Janeway orders to leave, but the ship's engines don't react. While B'Elanna is working on the problem, Tuvok is surprised to find Marayna in his quarters, wearing the Doctor's mobile emitter. Marayna has control over the ship's systems. She asks him to stay with her but he refuses, upon which she threatens to destroy Voyager. On the holodeck, B'Elanna finds out that someone controls Marayna through a subspace signal from somewhere inside the nebula. Tuvok is transported to the origin of the signal where he finds the actual Marayna. She is an alien woman whose task is to control the plasma reactions in order to preserve the beauty of the nebula for her people. She is all alone on her station, and is pleased to have found a like-minded person in Tuvok. Tuvok, however, explains to Marayna that he wouldn't be able to return her feelings and that he has a mission and people who rely on him, whereupon she releases Voyager.

Commentary

What I like very much about this episode is that it doesn't spice up a character story with a lame subplot about a space anomaly like it was done so many times before. "Alter Ego" looks like it would follow the beaten path, but then it becomes apparent that there is a common cause for the appearance of Marayna and for the stability of the nebula, which I find very satisfying.

Stories that involve the possible emotions of Vulcans always walk a fine line. It is obvious that Tuvok appreciates Marayna a bit more than it is becoming for a Vulcan. Yet, it also becomes clear that her attractiveness is rather intellectual than emotional, and least of all physical. Tuvok was never even close to being unfaithful to his wife. However, ultimately even a Vulcan is not immune to the "Minuet effect" as previously seen in TNG: "11001001" where first Riker and then Picard were smitten with a holographic character that was programmed by aliens to be more than just interactive but almost empathic. And speaking of an empathic person, Marayna also has traits of Kamala of TNG: "The Perfect Mate", considering that there is a real person behind the hologram.

Rather than with Tuvok, I have a problem with Harry's behavior in this story. Harry is still young, but a Starfleet officer is just not supposed to behave like a teenager in love: foolish, inattentive, easily embarrassed and jealous. When Geordi, who is just as inept regarding relationships with women, fell in love with the holographic Leah Brahms in TNG: "Booby Trap", he didn't make a complete idiot of himself. Harry, on the other hand, doesn't even manage to maintain his composure during a crisis, when the ship's engines fail and it would be up to him to support B'Elanna with his whole expertise and his full attention. All in all, Harry's character suffers an unnecessary setback here. This is a pity, looking back at his consequential development in the past two years. Regarding Garrett Wang's performance, I think that he appears too sulky for someone who is in love. This may have to do with the fact that Wang suffered from a flu when the episode was shot. I think no one looks good with a nose that feels like it's going to burst.

The bittersweet ending of the episode is somewhat reminscent of TOS: "All Our Yesterdays" in which another famous Vulcan had to leave behind a woman to whom he felt attracted. There are also some commonalities with VOY: "Lifesigns" in which the Doctor reconstructed the healthy body of Danara Pel but had no problem to accept her the way she really looks, just like Tuvok when he meets the true Marayna. Overall, I like "Alter Ego" despite Harry's inappropriate conduct and perhaps just because of the similarities to previous episodes. It is pleasant to watch, with a strong guest character, intelligent dialogues and a conciliatory outcome.

A particular detail that I appreciate from an engineering viewpoint is when Kim states it would take a few weeks to run simulations and modify the deflector accordingly to reproduce the dampening field in the nebula. Usually such things can be accomplished in a few minutes if we believe the Voyager writers.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

Coda

Synopsis

Stardate 50518.6: As Janeway and Chakotay are approaching a planet, their shuttle crashes and they are killed by Vidiians. Suddenly they find themselves back in the shuttle on the way to the planet, and experience a déjà vu. This time they change course, but they run into a Vidiian vessel and are killed again. In the next cycle, two Vidiian ships prepare to attack and vanish when Janeway activates a tachyon burst. Back on Voyager, however, Chakotay doesn't remember any Vidiians. Moreover, Janeway has contracted the Vidiian phage, for which the Doctor fails to find a cure and sees no other solution but euthanasia. Janeway finds herself on the shuttle yet again, and this time a temporal anomaly destroys the shuttle. Next, Janeway reappears at the crash site of the first cycle, watching as Chakotay tries to revive her. After her "death" back on the ship, she can't interact with her environment but can give Kes an idea of her presence. The "ghost" of Janeway's father appears, telling her that she is dead and that she has to let go. But Janeway doesn't want to leave yet and reacts on his attempts to make her join him with growing distrust. Her "father" is actually the manifestation of an alien being in her brain, while Janeway is still on the planet after the shuttle crash. She recovers after her successful fight against the alien intruder.

Commentary

There is probably no Star Trek episode about which I revised my opinion so often. This may have to do with the complex writing of "Coda" that makes more or less sense and is more or less entertaining depending on the viewer's expectations and advance knowledge - both of which is subject to change over the years. I can't tell what exactly made me change my mind each time, though. In any case, when I first saw "Coda", I was still young and more into legerdemain. I probably liked it because there were so many unexpected turning points and I thought that was quite entertaining. The second time, I found it unintentionally ludicrous because nothing really made sense. The third time I enjoyed it again, since I watched it with the knowledge in mind that everything crazy that happens actually reflects Janeway's thoughts, wishes and reason, and also a manifestation of her struggle with the alien organism. Therefore I deemed it quite revealing how Chakotay cares about her and cries when she dies, suggesting she is much more than the captain to him, and that she would love him to cry for her. The same goes for her idea of how Tuvok would mourn her the Vulcan way.

While I still agree with all of the above, after the fourth time several more aspects of the episode put me off. Not only do I feel that it all doesn't make much sense, I also think it's lackluster writing.

"Coda" plays around with different strange phenomena and other themes that were established in previous episodes and that are now amalgamated to one story. This doesn't have to be a bad idea. On the contrary, I always appreciate continuity, and especially in the case of strange phenomena it would be desirable if not each of them were encountered for the very first time. The idea of a temporal anomaly that resets time is the same as in TNG: "Cause and Effect". When Janeway and Chakotay experience a déjà vu almost exactly as in the TNG episode, it seems clear they would have to focus their efforts on breaking the time loop. But in reality it is one of several red herrings in the story. There is no temporal anomaly. There is no effect that would have shifted Janeway out of phase either, although B'Elanna explicitly refers to a phenomenon just like in TNG: "The Next Phase". These red herrings create continuity with established concepts at least in the form of verbal references but they sidetrack the story to an extent that is annoying. Janeway's mind effectively chases phantoms for some 70% or more of this episode's run time.

Well, unlike many other fans I am generally open for stories in which everything that happens turns out a dream or a hallucination. But the revelation that an alien parasite in Janeway's mind is responsible for the hallucination is the least original one the writer could possibly come up with. Moreover, a story with almost exactly the same outcome had aired just a couple of weeks ago. In "Flashback", the otherwise wonderfully nostalgic story of Tuvok being back on the Excelsior under Captain Sulu, the presence of the alien parasite in his mind was a big bummer. "Coda" doesn't try anything else and simply repeats this mistake. To make things worse, the only two aspects of the episode that are real are the alien parasite and the shuttle crash, two of the most overused clichés of Star Trek.

Coming back to the few things I still like about "Coda", I appreciate how it tells an increasingly absurd story without becoming silly. It plays out nicely how everyone, including Chakotay, looks at Janeway like she's a lunatic when she talks about Vidiians and time anomalies. Likewise, the euthanasia scene in which the Doctor kills the allegedly terminally ill Janeway with gas is appropriately frightening rather than cringeworthy. I also dig how the story shows Janeway as a person who would never give up. These are some nice details in an episode that (currently?) doesn't work for me.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

Blood Fever

Synopsis

Stardate 50537.2: An away team prepares to beam down into the caves of an apparently abandoned mining colony with gallicite deposits that may be used to replenish the ship's warp coils. B'Elanna Torres is working with Ensign Vorik, who suddenly proposes marriage to her. He grabs her head, upon which she knocks him down. In sickbay, the Doctor concludes that Vorik has entered the pon farr. In the caves on the planet, the away team climbs down a steep cliff. Neelix falls down, breaking his leg. B'Elanna apparently loses her nerve and runs away. Tuvok surmises that she too suffers from pon farr after a mind meld with Vorik. A search team catches up with B'Elanna, but suddenly they are surrounded by aliens that don't register on the tricorder. B'Elanna manages to overwhelm one of them when an earthquake strikes the cave. She and Tom are separated from the rest of the away team. B'Elanna wants to mate with Tom, but he initially refuses her advances, knowing that she would not normally behave this way. Tuvok and Chakotay learn from the aliens, the Sakari, that invaders overran their colony a long time ago, and that the survivors chose to hide in the caves ever since. On the ship, Vorik tries in vain to cope with his pon farr using a holographic mate. He beams down to the planet and challenges Tom to the koon-ut-kal-if-fee. B'Elanna accepts the challenge herself and fights with Vorik, until both of them have overcome the pon farr. Remains of the aggressors are found on the Sakari planet: the Borg.

Commentary

A mentally or emotionally unstable character does not yet make for a good story. In "Blood Fever" it all boils down to Vorik and B'Elanna as two crew members in pon farr, who can't cope with the condition, who run around and cause all kinds of trouble, and who eventually fight it out. There is a good rationale for everything, if we accept that pon farr is somehow contagious and may be transferred to other species through a mind meld. The resolution is in line with the koon-ut-kal-if-fee as it was established in TOS: "Amok Time", and also by human medical and psychological standards physical exhaustion eliminates aggression. So the story makes sense, it just isn't interesting after a while to watch how B'Elanna and Vorik are out of their minds.

Rather than the actual story, I like several side aspects of the episode. Firstly, there is the already mentioned good continuity with the events shown in TOS: "Amok Time". It is surprising that it has taken Star Trek 30 years to revisit the topic of pon farr. Secondly, it is a nice idea to give one of the minor recurring characters, namely Vorik, a considerable part in the story, after some of them had been killed off in "Basics", or were good enough to survive as long as to the next Vidiian or Kazon attack. Thirdly, the mini-cliffhanger with the dead Borg instead of a customary closing scene like "Voyager warps into space" is a great surprise. So although "Blood Fever" is rather unremarkable in terms of the story, it will be remembered as the beginning of the big Borg arc on Voyager.

B'Elanna remains remarkably calm and polite when Vorik asks her to mate with him. I would have expected her to break his nose upon his request. Likewise, Tom is very kind to B'Elanna throughout the whole episode. We can notice that he cares a lot for her, too much to be violent or to have sex with her while she is not in control of her emotions, although it may have been the best choice. Actually, in a previous script version Tuvok was supposed to help B'Elanna through her pon farr. His role was given to Paris in a last-minute rewrite. It seems that the foundation for B'Elanna and Tom's relationship is laid here, although it will still take quite some time to emerge. At least, it is the first hint in the series that they could be more than just colleagues.

Overall, it is interesting how openly the crew discuss matters of sexuality in "Blood Fever". I miss the same open-mindedness on other occasions in Star Trek.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Unity

Synopsis

Stardate 50622.4: In response to a distress call with a Federation signature, Commander Chakotay and Ensign Kaplan land their shuttle on a planet. Upon their arrival they are immediately attacked and Kaplan is killed. The injured Chakotay is rescued by an obviously human woman named Riley Frazier. Meanwhile, Voyager discovers an abandoned Borg cube, and Janeway decides to send an away team to investigate. The rivaling factions on the planet are actually all former Borg drones whose link to the Collective was severed in an electrokinetic storm five years ago. Riley Frazier belongs to a group, the Cooperative, who strive to work together instead of fighting each other, and who are linked through their neural implants to that end. Chakotay agrees to join their link temporarily, in order to repair his neural damage. When Voyager arrives, Frazier asks Janeway to reactivate the neuroelectric field generator on the Borg cube, to link all inhabitants of the planet together. Janeway refuses. Chakotay and B'Elanna leave the planet on a shuttle, and Chakotay suddenly receives commands from the Cooperative. He draws a phaser and heads for the Borg cube. An away team led by Tuvok attempts to stop him in vain before he reactivates the transmitter. Chakotay and the away team can be beamed out before the Borg cube explodes, which was set to self destruct by the Cooperative.

Commentary

The Borg are back - almost. It wouldn't have been wise to let Voyager run into a fully operational Borg vessel because it would have been hard to justify that the ship could survive the encounter. So the abandoned cube was a fitting idea. Overall, "Unity" has nearly everything that a good story is made of, especially the frequent new revelations and turning points.

The arguably most interesting aspect about "Unity" is the motivation to link people together, to share their thoughts and ultimately to form a common mind. Here, the procedure is meant to establish peace, mutual understanding and cooperation among former Borg drones who fight each other. In this extreme situation it is absolutely understandable that the Cooperative employs an extreme measure. When Riley Frazier explains this to Chakotay it almost sounds like she is about the create a spin-off of the Federation in the Delta Quadrant. Her goals are the ones of the Federation, whereas the methods are those of the Borg. We get the impression that the contrast isn't as stark as it always seemed. If we put it positively, the Borg spirit of being one mind does not permit anything like distrust or contempt for other members of the Collective. This aspect was already worked out in the Borg episodes of TNG. What is new in "Unity" is that, if we put it negatively, the urge to get away with racism and other forms of hatred may be the first step to creating a Borg-like society that ultimately eliminates individuality. And so Chakotay closes the episode with his perhaps best line: "I wonder how long their ideals will last in the face of that kind of power."

Based on my observations in the episode, I can well imagine that the Borg originate in a society that was war-ridden or otherwise deeply divided, and that tried to overcome this condition using neural implants. At least, this theory is somewhat more plausible than the common notion that the original driving force of the Borg was to achieve perfection in a biological or technological sense.

I like the character of Riley Frazier, and I think I can understand why Chakotay is smitten with her, especially after sharing the neural link with her. For Chakotay, this is an all-new experience, whereas she is used to sharing her thoughts with others all the time. She may have been manipulating him to some extent, but I think much of the affection was genuine and mutual. Although it becomes obvious pretty soon that she would never leave the planet, it is a bit sad that Riley Frazier doesn't join the crew. On the other hand, her character sort of foreshadows the arrival of Seven of Nine on the ship.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

Darkling

Synopsis

Stardate 50693.2: After her break-up with Neelix, Kes falls in love with the Mikhal Traveler Zahir at a trading outpost. She thinks about leaving Voyager to stay with Zahir. The Doctor begins to improve his program, adding behavioral subroutines based on historical figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Byron, T'Pau of Vulcan and Socrates. One night near the outpost, Zahir is assaulted by an unidentified person. Unbeknown to anyone, the "dark sides" of the personalities the Doctor incorporated temporarily take control of his program. When B'Elanna discovers that the Doctor's program is destabilizing due to the recent additions, the Doctor's evil side takes over. He disables B'Elanna, simulating an anaphylactic shock. He then kidnaps Kes and beams down to the planet with her. In the meantime, Tuvok has found evidence that Zahir's attacker was a hologram. Chakotay, Tuvok and Zahir confront the Doctor and Kes on a mountain trail. Kes tries to convince the Doctor that both the good and the evil side can be saved. When they plunge down, they are saved with the transporter, and the Doctor's evil part of the program is eliminated.

Commentary

The only thing I find really interesting about this episode is that for quite some time it remains uncertain which direction it would take. Initially the focus is on Kes and her romantic involvement with Zahir. She spends much time with the charming alien, she becomes inattentive and eventually asks Janeway to leave the ship for some time and perhaps forever. The Doctor's improvements to his program, on the other hand, appear to be just a funny side note. The first time I watched it I was rather surprised that the Doctor was the one to cause trouble, rather than Kes.

The story about the Doctor's evil side disappoints me for several reasons, however. The first one is that I generally don't like the Jekyll/Hyde theme. It has been done to death in movies and on TV. The idea that it may happen to a holographic character just as well as to a human being doesn't make it any better. On the contrary, I just don't believe that the addition of specific routines to the Doctor's program would cause an analogy of multiple personality disorder in him or would even split his program into two distinct versions, one "good" and one "evil". It would have been more credible if the Doctor had still remained one personality. But then there would have been the question of his responsibility for his actions, which is eluded with the convenient explanation that the Doctor has a dark side that is separate and that can be eliminated without harming the rest of his program. Overall, this story deals with a tough topic, and ultimately with the question whether holographic systems, irrespective of the question whether they are alive or not, may be left to themselves and may be allowed to improve themselves. But the story takes an easy road and avoids to even ask that question.

I bet Robert Picardo had a lot of fun in his role as the Evil Doctor. But I don't find him totally convincing. I dig his performance in the interaction with B'Elanna, when the clues that he is the evil version of the program are still subtle and we wonder why the Doctor would possibly want to disable her. After all, bad people are bad because of their actions, not because of their intonation or their facial expression. This should hold true also and especially for hologram. Alas, when the Evil Doctor kidnaps Kes, Robert Picardo's character becomes more like the stereotypical movie villain with a mad grin. I think it would have been more fun and would have eased my already mentioned problem with the completely separate personalities, had Robert Picardo portrayed the evil version in much the same fashion as the normal Doctor.

Kes's departure at the beginning of the next season is apparently prepared in this episode. She doesn't seem to have much business on the ship any longer, and the attractive alien traveler is as much a possible opportunity to leave as he is a love affair. It is a letdown that Kes's recent break-up with Neelix is only casually mentioned instead of elucidated. At least it could have been hinted at that it may have something to do with the events in "Warlord". Neelix should have commented on that, or on Kes's affair with Zahir. A single line would have sufficed. The way it happens in the story, Kes just falls in love with the next best alien she meets, and this again is nothing more than the basis for the "Evil Doctor" plot. I usually don't like if a story focuses on the crew's personal affairs while more serious problems need to be dealt with. This time, however, I would have wished to see a Kes-Neelix story or at least a Kes story.

On a final positive note, Kes mentions that she is already three years old, which is a third of her lifespan. For the first time since "Elogium" it becomes clear that she has to live her life fast. She can't lean back and wait months or years for something to happen or for someone to come to change her life. She has to act whenever there is a chance. In this light it is perfectly plausible that Kes would want to leave with Zahir. I wish it had been worked out so well in other episodes too.

Annotations

Rating: 2

 

Rise

Synopsis

Stardate not given: As Voyager strives to help a colony of the Nezu that is frequently struck by asteroids, a shuttle with Neelix, Tuvok and the Nezu scientist Sklar crashes on the planet. On the surface they are welcomed by Vatm, another Nezu scientist, and the miner Hanjuan. As they are unable to contact the ship, Neelix repairs an orbital tether with the help of foundry worker Lilias, in order to climb up to a point from where a communication link can be established. Vatm launches the cabin prematurely. Some time later, he dies because his water supply was poisoned. With his last words Vatm mentions something on the roof of the cabin. Tuvok gives his words no credence, but Neelix insists that someone has to check the roof. Tuvok eventually gives in and finds a data storage device with tactical information on an enemy ship. But he is pushed off the roof by Sklar. With the impression that the Vulcan has fallen down, Sklar returns and attacks Neelix. The injured Talaxian barely remains conscious, but when he spots Tuvok through the cabin window, he opens the door. Tuvok manages to overwhelm Sklar and pushes him off the cabin. Sklar was working for the Etanian Order, an organization that attacks planets with what seems to be natural disasters (remote-controlled asteroids in this case), in order to claim them after the evacuation. Vatm got his hands on the tactical data and decided to hide the storage device because he knew there was a traitor and couldn't trust anyone. With Vatm's data Voyager can disable a vessel of the Etanian Order that was sent to take over the Nezu colony.

Commentary

The essence of the plot didn't really touch me at first. Actually, I didn't like the episode at all when I first saw it, but subsequently I discovered the great moments of both Neelix and Tuvok. As a matter of fact, it's the first time that Neelix and Tuvok are confronted with one another in a non-humorous situation. After he was on the wrong path in "Fair Trade", Neelix proves himself a valuable crew member in many regards. He is resourceful in doing repairs on the orbital lift (although I don't like the technobabble about using Federation technology) and he is the one who feels that the remark of the dying scientist Vatm that there is something on the roof (the plans of the Etanian ship) should be taken seriously. Moreover, his social skills turn out more appropriate than Tuvok's "I have the superior logic" attitude towards the other passengers. For once, Neelix feels like telling the Vulcan what he has always wanted to, that Tuvok likes to hide behind his logic, relying only on his physical and mental strength and not caring about people's feelings. On the other hand, it wouldn't have been possible to regain control without Tuvok's Vulcan superiority. In some way, the two complement each other much like Bones and Spock did. The closing scene in which they tease each other and each of them tries to have the final say seems like a homage to the famous arguments in TOS.

It is remarkable that no less than five Nezu with individual characteristics appear in the episode. It is only a pity that their diversity boils down to them being different stock characters. Especially the depiction of Vatm as the reckless scientist and Sklar as his treacherous colleague doesn't sit well with me.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Favorite Son

Synopsis

Stardate 50732.4: Ensign Harry Kim feels a strange familiarity with the region of space Voyager has entered. When Voyager encounters a ship of the Nasari, Kim suddenly fires at them without being authorized, saying the Nasari were about to activate their weapons. B'Elanna Torres is severely hurt during the battle but will recover. Janeway puts Kim under arrest but then finds out that the Nasari were indeed powering up their weapons. How could Harry anticipate that? Moreover, the ensign seems to suffer from an illness that rewrites his DNA. When three Nasari ships approach, Voyager escapes to a planet that Kim recognizes as Taresia. On Taresia, he is welcomed by a number of beautiful women who tell him that he is actually Taresian. According to them, male Taresians grow up on other planets, but with an urge to return home some day. Harry becomes friends with Taymon, another male Taresian who returned. He decides to stay for a while and to attend Taymon's wedding ceremony with no less than three women, while Janeway decides to contact the Nasari again. She learns that purportedly terrible things happen to returning Taresian males. Moreover, the Doctor, who has investigated old scans of Harry's DNA, tells her that Harry is not a Taresian. When Voyager arrives at Taresia again, a forcefield has been erected around the planet. Harry enjoys his stay on Taresia but nonetheless decides to return to Voyager. Then he finds the dead body of Taymon, who was killed in his wedding night because Taresian women need a large number of cells for conception. Harry tries to escape but is soon surrounded by the Taresian women. In the meantime Voyager has broken through the forcefield and beams out Harry.

Commentary

What I like about this episode is that it adds to Harry Kim's character. His parents gave him the feeling of being something special. He inherited a talent for music and a desire to explore space that otherwise seems to be uncommon in his family. Far away from home he has found a new family on Voyager, with Janeway more or less being his new mum. (In a dream sequence, his actual mum takes Janeway's place and relieves him of duty.) Harry is young and is still waiting for most of his dreams to come true, and on Taresia he seems to be as close to his goals as never before - and in the company of many beautiful women no less. Taresia is a big temptation but also a challenge. Just as in the episodes "Emanations" and "Non Sequitur" Harry finds himself in a weird situation and has to come to a decision whether he should accept his destiny or rather try to return to Voyager. Garrett Wang is once again very good in the role of the young ensign who is torn between pleasure and duty, and between safety and danger. Everything about Harry is worked out well.

The rest of the story doesn't sit well with me. The underlying science is too shaky, the true motivations of the Taresians and their enemies never become clear, and the rushed revelation of what really happens to Taresian males leaves huge plot holes. The Doctor's technobabble serves to patch at least a few of the science problems. But the answer to the arguably more important question why the alien characters act the way they do remains sketchy. Janeway's talk with the Nasari captain is symptomatic in this regard. She wants to know why he attacks the returning Taresian males. He only says that there are rumors about them. Janeway, however, doesn't want to hear any rumors and leaves. She has learned nothing except that Harry may be in danger.

In the original script Harry would have really been an alien and would quite possibly have kept the spots on his face for the rest of the series. Reading about it at Memory Alpha, it seems that some of the cast and crew, such as Jeri Taylor and Garrett Wang, would have preferred the original idea. But I am skeptical about that. The episode would have been just as implausible, plus Harry's being alien would have reminded us of that for the next seasons. On the other hand, it is possible that in the original script (that I don't know) the Taresian women would have been more reasonable, and would not have mutated to horny space vampires as in the produced version.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Before and After

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Some six years into the future, Kes has reached the morilogium, the final phase of her natural lifespan of nine years. The Doctor attempts to prolong her life using a biotemporal chamber. A few moments later Kes finds herself at an earlier time of her life. She has a husband, Tom, a daughter, Linnis, a son-in-law, Harry, and a grandson, Andrew. Kes experiences several more temporal leaps, which take her further to the past each time. She finds out that the phenomenon is caused by residual chronitons in her body after a Krenim attack in the so-called "Year of Hell". The particles were reactivated by the biotemporal field. When she arrives at the time of the particular Krenim attack, Kes finds out the temporal variance of the chroniton torpedo. This information is required to bring her in temporal sync again. In the present the Doctor begins the treatment. Kes travels even further back in time, eventually to her conception, but she can be stabilized in the present.

Commentary

I have a soft spot for episodes with weird science and especially with time travel. And I love stories that take us on a emotional rollercoaster ride. "Before and After" has it all. Just reading the synopsis might give us the impression that "Before and After" is not much more than the TNG series finale "All Good Things" rehashed for Voyager. But while the scientific phenomenon of something or someone traveling back in time is similar in both episodes, the Voyager version comes with even more emotional impact and also makes a bit more sense. It benefits the story that the fact that Kes leaps back in time becomes clear after just a few minutes and that the puzzle about its cause is solved relatively soon too. This reduces the amount of suspension of disbelief needed to follow Kes's life.

Few Star Trek episodes are so dramatic. "Before and After" shows us nothing less than the course of a whole life: birth, coming of age, marriage, children, the struggle for survival, the loss of friends and relatives, and ultimately the person's own death. All condensed to a screen time of 45 minutes and a period of nine years, the normal lifespan of an Ocampa. The Ocampa have to live their lives fast. Kes's life on Voyager seems like time lapse even without time travel. She ages while everyone else around her stays young. And so she can't afford to lose much time. She needs to cut long stories short. And when she has to tell the story of her traveling to the past again and again (a bit like in TNG: "Cause and Effect" and TNG: "Parallels"), she has even much less time for that. The whole story is governed by the motto that "there's no time like the present" (the closing remark of the episode). It is an exaggerated depiction of someone living her short life, but also somehow a commentary with real-world relevance not to lose time if something is really important. And regarding the idea that there is no time because there is something wrong with time, it has been used in Star Trek before but comes across as almost self-ironical here.

Quite understandably Kes grows desperate as she experiences her life in reverse direction, especially since she has to tell the same story all over again after each leap. Fortunately and surprisingly, there is enough time left in the episode to show emotions. It is a family story after all, one that comprises four generations. And Jenifer Lien as Kes quite possibly delivers her best performance in the series so far. In any case she shows more facets of the character than in any previous episode, including those few that already focused on Kes.

Parallel realities are always an opportunity to show crew members in unusual variations of their roles, and this episode brims over with such trivia. We see the Doctor with full hair, and he has chosen the name "van Gogh" for himself. (When I first watched, I wondered what "Vango" could possibly mean until Tom called him by his first name "Vincent". Americans are really extremely lazy when it comes to the pronunciation of foreign names.) His previous choice was "Moe Zart". Chakotay becomes the ship's captain after Janeway's death in a Krenim attack. Neelix wears a yellow standard uniform. After B'Elanna's death, Tom marries Kes and they have a daughter named Linnis. Then Linnis marries Harry, making him Tom's son-in-law, and they have a son called Andrew. Not to forget the long-missing Carey, who is at least mentioned as being dead in this reality. Moreover, we get to witness not only one Ocampa birth, but even two of them.

The story with its balance between suspense and emotion is wonderful, the directing and acting is brilliant. "Before and After" is the so far best episode of the series (tied with "Dreadnought").

Annotations

Rating: 9

 

Real Life

Synopsis

Stardate 50836.2: While the crew is investigating the destruction of a Vostigye space station, the Doctor has created a holographic family to improve his social skills. Kes and B'Elanna join his family for dinner. B'Elanna finds that they are ridiculously perfect and stops the program. With the Doctor's consent, she reprograms the family with random behavioral algorithms, so they would act more like real human beings. Henceforth, the Doctor's wife Charlene has a life of her own, his son Jeffrey is under the bad influence of Klingon friends, and his daughter Belle is mad about the dangerous sport parrises squares. The Doctor tries to come to terms with his new family. But then Belle suffers brain damage in an accident during a parrises squares match. The Doctor is unable to cope with this situation and interrupts the program. The reason for the destruction of the station was a subspace eddy. Tom approaches a newly formed eddy in a shuttle, in order to collect plasma. But his shuttle vanishes together with the eddy, leaving him trapped in a layer between space and subspace. The only chance to escape is to follow one of the eddies back into normal space. Back on Voyager in sickbay, he can convince the Doctor to resume his holodeck program and say farewell to his deadly injured daughter.

Commentary

There is no other 45-minute installment of Star Trek that has so much fun and, concurrently, so much grief in it. Considering that holodeck programs represent the ideas of their creators, the "ridiculously perfect" TV family of the 1960s is credible as the Doctor's vision, and so is the dysfunctional family that likely reflects B'Elanna's bad childhood experiences. While the Doctor's version is at least a nice place for recreation like a 24th century Disneyland, B'Elanna is not fair when she exaggerates the problems of a real family and burdens (or projects?) just too many problems at a time on the poor Doctor. Well, B'Elanna tells the Doctor that she included a "randomized behavioral algorithm". However, a son who is into Klingon culture and a daughter who dies after a sports accident do not appear "random" to me, considering that she wants to teach him a lesson - a very personal lesson as it seems.

In consideration of the decisive role that B'Elanna obviously plays in the creation of the "authentic" family, it is a big letdown of the story that her involvement with them and with the Doctor ends abruptly. We don't see how the Doctor complains about her ruining his family (which he definitely would do). She is not there to wrap up the whole story together with him either. That role surprisingly falls to Tom Paris, and it comes rather out of the blue.

When the Doctor's holographic daughter Belle is about to die and he admits he has shut down the program, Tom of all people understands what the Doctor needs. He tells the Doctor that he can only further develop his program if he does not cheat, and if he permits to experience the pain of losing someone. Other than that, Tom's part is not remarkable at all. At one point he flirts with B'Elanna in the mess hall, in something that is quite obviously a filler scene. But until he talks to the Doctor, he is only involved in the extremely lame B-plot about the subspace eddy. The attempts to harvest energy from a dangerous anomaly are very reminiscent of "The Cloud", where Neelix fittingly commented on it with the words: "Well, let's see if we can't find some space anomaly today that might rip the ship apart!". Anyway, for some reason, in the logic of the story, Tom's being stuck in the realm between space and subspace, is supposed to mirror the Doctor's unfinished business on the holodeck. At least, that is my impression of the writer's intention. Other than that, the anomaly of the week has neither a significance for the episode nor for the series as a whole.

The ups and downs of the family life and accordingly of the Doctor's emotional state is the clearly most interesting aspect about the episode. It would have been better if more members of the crew (his actual family in a manner of speaking) had been involved besides Kes and Tom. Anyway, it is quite understandable that the Doctor would want to end the program once it becomes unbearable. It must be taken into account that, since the Doctor himself is a hologram too, Belle may be as real to him as an actual biological daughter. Her death scene is the most touching ending of the franchise since TNG: "Inner Light" and DS9: "The Visitor". The opening credits should recommend to keep a box of Kleenex ready.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

Distant Origin

Synopsis

Stardate not given: On Hanon IV, the scientist Forra Gegen and his assistant Tova Veer excavate the remains of Voyager Crewman Hogan. They find a genetic pattern related to their own race, the saurian-like Voth. This is the keystone to the theory that the Voth actually evolved on a planet far away from the Delta Quadrant - on Earth. Gegen tries to get the support of the Voth Ministry of Elders to find Voyager, but his request is declined because his Distant Origin Theory does not comply with the doctrine that the Voth are indigenous to their region of space. Gegen and Veer manage to locate Voyager on their own and beam aboard under cloak. When Harry detects their cloaking devices, Gegen manages to beam away with Chakotay, while Veer is apprehended by Voyager's security. Chakotay affirms Gegen his support to prove his theory right. In the meantime, Janeway and Tuvok reconstruct the common family tree of humans and Voth on Earth, confirming the Distant Origin Theory. But Voyager gets impounded aboard the huge Voth City Ship, where a trial against Gegen is to take place. When Minister Odala threatens to imprison Gegen and the crew of Voyager, Gegen has no other choice but to rectract his claims.

Commentary

"Distant Origin" is an outstanding story about Gegen's daring yet unsuccessful struggle for his theory in particular and for the freedom of science in general. It is quite obvious that Gegen is an alien equivalent of Galileo Galilei, whose teachings were banned by the Inquisition. (I don't know if this was intentional, but "Gegen" is the German word for "against", as a further symbol for his struggle.)

Hardly any Star Trek story is so intellectual. It addresses various questions of science and politics and doesn't leave us with a ready-made answer for everything. If a proof is necessary that the show managed to evolve beyond simple plots where the roles of good and evil are clear and the good always wins, I will most likely refer to "Distant Origin". Few other episodes are so full of vivid and meaningful dialogues. This applies in particular to the dispute of the minister on one side and Chakotay and Gegen on the other side. Gegen doesn't succeed, and to save Chakotay and Voyager he even has to completely retract his claims and give up his research. It is a change of mind for the records only. Justice doesn't prevail, the truth doesn't prevail, even though the minister neither manages to disprove Gegen nor seems to be very convinced herself of the doctrine she loves to lecture. All she wants is that Gegen acknowledges the doctrine, and thereby her own power. It is anything but a happy ending. Still, there is the spark of hope that some day some other Voth and perhaps some more Voth will insist on the truth and will succeed.

Something remarkable about this episode is that for the complete first half we see everything from the perspective of the Voth. We follow their journeys and listen to Gegen's log entries. Voyager doesn't even appear until about 15 minutes into the episode. The roles are switched in almost every regard, which is just as funny as it is thought-provoking. Mammals are said to be inferior to reptilians. Dinosaurs excavate the bones of a human being. They reconstruct the species of the homo sapiens with green skin. They analyze human courting behavior on the example of B'Elanna and Tom. Veer shoots a tranquillizer dart at Chakotay as if the commander were a wild animal. The first thing that Gegen says to Chakotay is "Your instinct is to flee". And Chakotay retorts the lack of respect with the remarks "Do you always harpoon the local wildlife" and "I won't bite." It is obvious that such an "alien" kind of story wouldn't have been possible in the first season of the series. I bet the writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky had a lot of fun when they came up with all the ideas that illustrate the change of perspective.

The Voth are arguably the most remarkable aliens-of-the-week ever featured. I would have loved to see them again in some fashion, perhaps in a story in which they reclaim their planet of origin.

Overall, "Distant Origin" is the so far best Voyager episode both in the idea and the execution, and one of the finest of the franchise ever made.

Annotations

Rating: 10

 

Displaced

Synopsis

Stardate 50912.4: An alien materializes in a corridor on Voyager. The man is named Dammar, he says he comes from a Nyrian colony and feels comfortable only if the temperature is as high as 45°C. When the Doctor wants to examine him, it turns out that Kes is missing. Gradually more Nyrians appear on the ship, replacing Voyager crew members. After Janeway has vanished too, Chakotay recognizes that the Nyrians are taking over the ship. He disables the warp drive and saves the Doctor's program until he is transferred too. The Voyager crew are prisoners in a habitat that was specially designed for them. A portal opens, and an alien named Jarlath steps out, who is a prisoner in the neighboring habitat. He is not interested in escape, but based on his hints B'Elanna modifies the Doctor's sensors to scan for other portals. Janeway, Tuvok, Torres and Paris step through the portal and discover a corridor system. There are as many as 94 different environments on a huge ship. Janeway and Tuvok take control of the Nyrian translocator. She transports the Nyrian leader Dammar from Voyager to an arctic habitat and thereby forces him to release Voyager and all alien prisoners.

Commentary

The Nyrians are unusual villains of the week. They appear to be awkward and harmless at first. They apply only mild violence. Yet, they eventually manage to capture the ship and maroon the crew much like the Kazon did in "Basics". Also, the Nyrians are entirely convinced of and consequential in what they are doing, while they remain open to reason. This is a nice contrast to typical TV villains who become frantic when their plan is thwarted and who prefer to die, rather than surrender. When Janeway confronts Dammar in the arctic environment, he seems helpless like a kid who has just been caught shoplifting.

The first act of the episode is an interesting variation of the "alien takeover" plot, also and especially because the Nyrian invasion is confusing, rather than threatening. The initial thrill, however, dwindles in the following, because our crew remains all too calm and relaxed. They regain the upper hand with too much ease and with predictable tricks like building makeshift weapons and using the Doctor. Thousands of other aliens spent many years in the prison, apparently only waiting for the resourceful Voyager crew to come along, find a way to defeat the Nyrians and escape the very same day they arrive.

The resolution is very rushed anyway. We don't see how the actual surrender takes place. We don't see any aliens who are happy to return home. We particularly don't see how Jarlath reacts, who has come to accept his life in the habitat. It could have been a bigger and much more emotional story.

Overall, "Displaced" is an average episode that doesn't use the full potential that lies in the plot. But it does have its moments and was a lot of fun to watch again after so many years.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Worst Case Scenario

Synopsis

Stardate 50953.4: B'Elanna discovers a holonovel of unknown origin, in which an ensign of Starfleet security has to decide whether to support a Maquis mutiny led by Chakotay and Seska, or to remain loyal to Captain Janeway. Tom takes over the role of the security officer and tries to finish the program, but he arrives at a point where the story ends abruptly. Since the holonovel has become popular among the crew, Janeway addresses the issue in the bridge crew meeting, where Tuvok surprisingly admits that he came up with the scenario as a training program for his staff, at a time when a mutiny incited by the Maquis seemed possible. Upon popular request, he and Paris go to the holodeck to write an ending for the program. When Tuvok reopens the narrative files, a holographic Seska appears and tells them that she has already finished the story, in a way that Tuvok would die. With the safety protocols and the transporters disabled, Tuvok and Tom would stand no chance against Seska. But Janeway and B'Elanna find a way to modify details of the program to help the two officers. Seska eventually orders their execution, to which the reprogrammed holographic Chakotay objects. But Seska shoots him. After another diversion induced by Janeway, Tuvok has managed to tamper with Seska's phaser rifle. When she tries to shoot Tuvok, her rifle overloads, killing her character.

Commentary

It seems that renegade Starfleet officers such as Eddington in DS9: "For the Uniform" or Seska in this case have nothing better to do than tamper with computer programs, in the hope that perhaps some day it might happen that there could be a chance for a late revenge. The story of "Worst Case Scenario" is enjoyable, but only if we neglect that Seska neither had the time nor a good motivation to tend to the modifications to a program that Tuvok had already discarded and that may never have seen the light of day again. Another point of criticism is that in many regards the story of the Voyager episode is too similar to DS9: "Civil Defense", where Dukat prepared a computer program for a possible rebellion but eventually got trapped in his own scenario, much like Tuvok here. The irony of the situation was worked out better in the DS9 episode.

Voyager is a small ship where nothing remains a secret for very long. Still, the way the new holonovel becomes the topic of the day and an obsessive pastime among the crew strikes me as silly. A bit less comedy would have suited the story. In a better story, B'Elanna and Tom (or whoever stumbled across the program) would have kept it a secret, after all it was probably encrypted for a good reason, even if the author can't be identified. In a better story, there would have been no childish competition to continue the holonovel (although this may be a real-world commentary on frequent script rewrites in TV productions). In a better story, the vengeful Seska would have appeared in the course of the original program once it was activated, and not as late as someone tries to modify or extend it, which would have considerably increased her chance to ever take revenge.

I also wonder why it is deemed acceptable to create holograms of existing crew members on Voyager, whereas such a big deal was still made of Barclay's holographic replicas in TNG: "Hollow Pursuits". Although she explicitly calls the nature of the story "controversial", Janeway seems to have no problem with her crew creating and playing something like "Kill your boss", a reaction that I would not have expected from her. I think that no one of the senior officers would have had the slightest problem with her ordering to delete the program (that was never meant to resurface anyway). But for some reason Janeway encourages and even more or less orders her crew to write the ending for the program.

Notwithstanding my above reservations, the story is enthralling. It is also interesting in that Seska doesn't appear until after 20 or more minutes of banter, finally giving rise to the serious part of the story. This leaves less time than usual to solve the problem and gives the story a fast pace. We can also notice that the actors, including Martha Hackett as a guest, had a lot of fun in their roles in this what-if scenario.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

Scorpion I/II

Synopsis

Stardate 50984.3: When Voyager approaches Borg territory, the options are to turn around and stay in the Delta Quadrant, or to use the so-called "Northwest Passage", a region which appears to be devoid of Borg activity. Janeway decides in favor of the latter. Soon the crew witnesses how a whole fleet of Borg cubes is destroyed by a so far unknown enemy, who possesses biotechnology impervious to Borg or Federation weapons. Kes receives a telepathic message from them, saying that "the weak will perish." On an away mission to a destroyed Borg cube, Kim is infected with their cells, which begin to eat up his body from within. The Doctor saves his life with the help of modified Borg nanoprobes. The new enemy, known to the Borg as Species 8472, emerges from interspatial rifts in the "Northwest Passage", explaining the lack of Borg activity in the region. As this passage is no longer an option, Janeway develops the daring plan to provide the Borg with knowledge about how to modify their nanoprobes to a weapon against Species 8472, in exchange for Voyager's free passage through Borg territory. Despite Chakotay's objections she orders a course to a Borg-occupied planet. Just as she has been beamed aboard a Borg cube to make her point, a fleet of Species 8472 bioships appears and destroys the whole planet. The Borg cube, along with Voyager caught in its tractor beam, narrowly escapes the inferno. Janeway successfully concludes the talks and stays aboard the cube as a part of the deal. But when the Borg want her to communicate with neural transmitters, she refuses and demands a single drone as a Borg representative to talk to. The Borg agree and send Seven of Nine, a formerly human female. Another Species 8472 ship appears, and the Borg cube protects Voyager and the modified nanoprobes in self-sacrifice after beaming over Janeway, Chakotay and a number of drones to the Federation ship. As Janeway has suffered neural damage, Chakotay takes over command. Seven of Nine demands to reverse course to join with another Borg cube. But Chakotay refuses and ultimately announces the end of the alliance he never wanted. The drones tamper with Voyager's deflector and open a spatial rift to the realm of Species 8472, to trigger a direct confrontation and test the new weapon. Chakotay orders to decompress the deck with the drones, but Seven of Nine survives. When Chakotay asks how she could known how to enter the realm of Species 8472, she admits that the Borg started the war against them. In the meantime Janeway has recovered. She tells Seven of Nine that Chakotay has been confined to the brig, and that she will install the weapon and fight Species 8472. The test is successful. All attacking Species 8472 ships are destroyed. When more bioships follow Voyager into normal space, Janeway orders to release a weapon of mass destruction that obliterates the whole fleet. The Borg report that Species 8472 retreats from Borg space. When Seven of Nine attempts to take over Voyager, Chakotay creates a neural link with her and thereby disrupts her connection with the Collective. Janeway decides to keep her aboard Voyager.

Commentary

"Scorpion" is a very exciting two-part episode in the tradition of TNG: "Best of Both Worlds". I admit that when I first saw it, my positive impression was mostly because of rather superficial "Wow!" effects such as the fleet of fifteen Borg cubes passing Voyager, the Borg ship graveyard (similar to Wolf 359, only with changed roles) or Species 8472 blowing up a whole planet. The amount of computer-generated action in "Scorpion" was unprecedented in Star Trek at the time and is impressive still today.

I also like the horror elements in the form of Kes's premonitions. They greatly add to the atmosphere of the episode and prevent it from becoming all about military and personal conflicts. On the other hand, the impact of Kes's visions on the story could have been greater. I would have expected her role to grow in the course of the double episode, rather than to shrink, so her involvement is rather anticlimactic in hindsight. And it is contrived, regarding the odd pile of Borg bodies that appears on the destroyed cube exactly as predicted in Kes's vision but that has no further significance and no good explanation.

It is worked out very well in the story how the conflict between Janeway and Chakotay arises. At first, the two still agree about going forward while trying to avoid the Borg. Chakotay is fine with taking a limited risk, while Janeway doesn't mind going on a small detour from the so far straight course to the Alpha Quadrant. When the two review Jean-Luc Picard's and other captains' log entries about previous Borg encounters, there is perfect harmony between them. It is like they think that they don't need to worry about a few Borg ships if only they stand together. But then it turns out that the Borg are not their worst problem and that the way to the Alpha Quadrant is barred by an even more powerful enemy. Now the two fall back to their usual roles as they were already apparent in "Resolutions": Chakotay pleads to accept their situation and stay in the Delta Quadrant, while Janeway wants to continue her course home at any rate.

In my view, Chakotay is right about a lot of things. It is just too obvious that the Borg will take any chance to assimilate the Starfleet crew, as he wonderfully illustrates with the parable about the fox and the scorpion. Borg space is vast, and a lot may happen until Voyager is safe. He doesn't even bother to mention the Prime Directive or other laws of the Federation, which would most likely forbid a Starfleet captain to trade technology and form an alliance that could, and in this case is even meant to, shift the balance of power. Finally, his instinct turns out right when Seven of Nine reveals that it was the Borg who started the war against Species 8472. On the other hand, we have a species that is bent on destroying everything, much like the Borg but using racist terminology: "The weak will perish", "your presence is a threat to our genetic integrity" and "your galaxy will be purged". While this certainly doesn't exonerate the Borg, it makes sense to fight the bigger threat, as Janeway correctly recognizes.

Annotations

Rating: 9

 


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