Category Archives: Star Trek Voyager

Voyager–Phage/The Cloud

Well I’ll say this for this week’s homework assignment; at least there wasn’t any time travel or time loop hooey to keep things stale. Instead we get a couple of episodes that start off dealing with the issue of limited and quickly depleting resources before spinning off into something else entirely. Through it all we get to know some of our characters a bit better, some gross aliens and meta-commentary about how the Voyager crew just keeps doing it to themselves.

PHAGE

To answer a hanging question I had last week, Neelix does in fact seem to know what he’s talking about…for the most part. This episode finds him directing the Voyager to a lone planetoid rich in dilithium so that they can, in layman’s terms, fill up on gas. Of course nothing is as it seems and when they’re investigating, Neelix’s lungs get stolen. Yup.

The Voyager and Co. are in uncharted waters and as such you would think that they’d be a little more cautious, after all, you never know when something is going to steal your cook’s lungs. Granted if they were able to scope out the organ harvesting uglies there would be no conflict and there in lies an issue that Battlestar Galactica handled so well. Conflict is just as common within as it is from without, if not more so given just how big space is. While Neelix’s missing air-bags did bring us to some conflict on the ship–whether or not saving him only to live forever strapped to a hospital bed, Janeway’s dilemma when it came to capturing the aliens who stole and already used his lungs, etc–it all felt like going through the motions. The stakes weren’t that big. Star Trek, of all things, wouldn’t let a main character die at the hands of two lame aliens four episodes into its run. You never really buy that Neelix might kick the bucket, but we do get some more nice moments between Kes and The Doctor. It’s hard to ignore how much fun the writers had with The Doctor. He and Paris really steal the screen whenever they’re on it.

THE CLOUD

Finally! This is the kind of episode I’ve been waiting for. Opening with a classic “Captains Log” we find Janeway walking the corridors of Voyager while her diary narrates the new issues her predicament raises for a captain. When you and your crew are the only representatives of a few cultures for light years upon light years how does her job description change? How does she balance the role of captain with her new found role of matriarch? The crew doesn’t quite know what to think of her either. As she walks through engineering a frantic B’Elanna apologizes for not knowing about an inspection “Not an inspection, Lieutenant. A Stroll.” Similarly she stops to talk to Paris and Kim about Neelix’s cooking and afterward Kim feels bad about not asking her to sit. “Ensigns don’t ask captains to sit,” Paris tells him. Dopey Kim wants to be a nice guy, but Paris–the very model of a modern Starfleet gentleman?–knows how that shit works. Hence prison.

As Janeway ponders over these questions she runs head first into several characters who are also showing off their “who we are” muscle this week. We get Neelix remodelling Janeway’s private dining room into a galley. Paris and Kim are elbowing up to the felt in a swanky holodeck recreation of a French pool hall. Then there’s Chakotay trying to introduce Janeway to her animal spirit guide, a move that both tries to establish the Captain/Commander relationship that is such a Star Trek staple as well as build on Chakotay’s own character. These are all great character moments that all ultimately get sidelined for most of the episode because that ol’ Star Trek standby–a nebula/gas/sentient cloud–has some omicron do-dads they need for…something… Naturally it all goes wrong and they end up wasting more energy than they collect. In an awesome bit of meta-commentary on how foolish these adventures tend to be, both Neelix and The Doctor, independently of one another, voice their concern over the need to dive head first into so many anomalies. Too bad Kes is the only one who listens to either of them.

The cloud turns out to actually be a living life form–natch–and after they blast their way out of its belly they go to great lengths to fix it. Janeway’s such a bleeding heart. Kirk would have left without even so much as “Oh…sure I’ll call you sometime…”

The episode ends on a scene very reminiscent of the TNG crew’s poker games.

Janeway sets up a hustle (Is this pool or billiards? Hand me that stick) and shows that she not only knows her way around a pool table, but that in the right setting she can take off her captain hat and just be one of the gang.

This episode was a step in the right direction for me. It finally took some time to show how its characters are coping with their new situation. I would have preferred more of that and less space cloud, but I guess I’ll take it.

Closing thoughts:

-Chakotay said they had less than 40 photon torpedoes. I’ll double check the number, but they used one. I WILL keep track of that, because something tells me they’ll use way more than they got.

-B’Elanna tried to kill her spirit animal. Classic B’Elanna!

-I hope we see more of Paris’ holodeck pool hall.

-Oh yeah, the aliens–whose medical tech was WAY more advanced than Voyager’s–that stole Neelix’s lungs were infected with a two millennium old disease that was destroying their people. Feel free to walk around a bit. Nothing bad could possibly happen.

Voyager–Parallax/Time and Again

The difference between episodic and serialized TV isn’t something I’ve ever given much thought to in terms of how each of them work as ways of telling stories. In a telling sign of just how my tastes have changed since it originally aired, I remember a half assed attempt to get into comic books while Voyager was making it’s maiden voyage on UPN. As much as I loved Spider-Man and Batman I was turned off by continuities I knew nothing about despite a pretty good idea as to who the characters and their motivations were. It was alienating and familiar all at once. Voyager–and Star Trek in general–was accessible. I could have skipped a few weeks and not been lost. The question “What did I miss?” has two entirely different meanings when it’s applied to serialized or episodic story-telling.

With serialized TV what you often get is a season that makes up one section of a larger story with each episode serving as a chapter. As one week’s adventure flows directly into the next’s we get pieces that will eventually all come together to make a part of a whole. Missing a week actually means missing something, which is why Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men or Being Human have recaps at the start of a show. And even there, the recaps only give you what you absolutely need to know for that week. Maybe last week’s episode isn’t too important for this one, but it will all come back around. None of it is without purpose, whether that purpose be to move the greater story forward or to give us a better idea about who the characters are.

Voyager doesn’t have a recap and it doesn’t need one. It’s premise is enough to fill us in. Star Trek and ST: The Next Generation had their opening credo: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilization. To boldly go where no man/one has gone before. Beyond that each week’s episode is it’s own stand-alone story. A “Monster of the Week” type situation. What continuity there is benefits the faithful. Knowing about Picard’s deeply personal history with the Borg makes any encounter with them all the more intense and on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, knowing who Worf’s adopted parents are make any future mentions of his upbringing that much more amusing.

Each format has its ups and downs and they are exactly opposite. With serials you get a richer, more complex story that builds on itself over the course of several episodes and seasons but they get to a point they become impossible to jump into with out being completely lost or having any twists ruined for you. Episodic TV is incredibly forgiving to casual viewers but tends to fall victim to the dreaded reset button: at the end of each week, things return back to normal.

PARALLAX

This is the second (technically the third, given that the premiere was a two-parter) episode and it opens with exactly what I felt Caretaker had been missing–conflict between the Maquis and Starfleet crew. Specifically, B’Elanna–Voyager’s fiery Kilingon–has broken a Starfleet engineer’s nose after an argument. While Tuvok wants her thrown in the brig,  the Maquis are secretly ready to stage a mutiny in a showing of moral support. In the middle of all of this is Chakotay, forced to balance his new found responsibilities as the Voyager’s second in command with his loyalty to his people.

The “Monster of the Week” in this episode is a singularity that traps the ship and, because of the way singularities mess around with the fabric of space-time–those scamps!–the Voyager tries to rescue a distressed ship that actually turns out to be a future-reflection of the Voyager itself. Needless to say there’s a lot of stereotypical Treknobabble.

Why I liked this episode is that it got us into the heads of three of the leads who weren’t really given anything super important to do in the premiere. We’ll start with B’Elanna who as I pointed out last week got shafted with space herpes (ha!) and was grumpy a lot. Here we get to know why she’s such a hot head; it’s not just because she’s half-Klingon and thus totally confrontational about EVERYTHING, but also because she’s a genuinely talented engineer whose stubborn pride, in conjunction with that ornery Klingon blood, keeps her from ever getting the chance to put her skills to good use. She has some good moments with Janeway where at first she plays the angsty role everyone expects her to but by the end she is able to move beyond her arrogance and dislike for Starfleet and apply her Scotty-like quick thinking to help the crew. We also get a bit of her back-story; she had been a student at the Academy who quit after clashing with most of her professors and assuming, like everyone else, that she didn’t have what it takes for Starfleet. I expect that to be a recurring issue with B’Elanna.

We learn of Chakotay’s Starfleet history as well. Not only is he an academy grad, but also has “prior command experience.” Whether that refers to his time with Starfleet or with the Maquis will probably be explored later on. More importantly we get an idea as to the kind of man he is. As I said, he is torn between two loyalties. While I would have rather seen the meeting between Chakotay and Janeway regarding the combining of their crews you get the idea that he is a man of strong principles and, at the end of the day, a man who wants what’s best for the people who don’t have much of a say. Hence his role as a Maquis captain–I’m assuming–and why he’s accepted the role of commander to Janeway’s captain. He’s on the Voyager to make sure that his people, who would otherwise probably just fuck everything up, get home safely. While that means treating them differently than Starfleet would normally allow–he basically gave B’Elanna a slap on the wrist for messing that dude up–he also didn’t hesitate to berate his former crew for even thinking about mutiny.

Lastly we finally get some Janeway up in this piece. Janeway is a captain whose much more emotional than your Kirks or Picards, and I don’t mean in a Ya Ya Sisterhood and a good cry with her girlfriends kind of way (’cause you know…she’s a GIRL!). Janeway has a tenancy to get real with her crew no matter the emotional climate. When she’s yelling at one of them, she’s yelling at them both as a captain and a human being and when she’s excited with one of them she’s almost a friend. Watching her and B’Elanna finish each others sentences about tachyon beams or particle who-gives-a-whats really gave me my first real thoughts as to what kind of captain she’ll be. She’s also fairly open to suggestion tfrom all across the board, as shown by her willingness to indulge Neelix and Kes at a senior officer’s meeting. Janeway is at once a stickler for the rules but more prone to genuine, human-human (or -other) communication with her crew, unlike Kirk who chummed it up with the bros or Picard who kept his captain face on with all but a select few in very select situations. I can’t speak much for Sisko or Quantum Leap. Not yet anyway.

TIME AND AGAIN

This episode, for the most part, was boring. Starting two episodes with the ship colliding into something the mucked with space-time was a bit of poor planning and for the most part this didn’t do much to move the characters forward at all. With the exception of Kes we don’t get much here and even Kes’ developments are really more of a sign of things to come. In the first episode there was what seemed like a throw away exchange about her people’s lost tradition of heightened mental potential. Whatever flame had long gone out in their minds seems to have been reignited in Kes, who feels the annihilation of an entire planet. This puts her at center stage when Paris and Janeway are somehow whisked back in time to the day before a catastrophe wipes out the indigenous population. She uses her knew sixths sense to track them down but otherwise the story is very similar to the previous episode’s problem with a cyclical concept of time with a dash of Prime Directive paranoia to spice it all up.

In short, PARALLAX is a great example of episodic TV done right. We get our isolated story but not without expanding on some of our characters. Meanwhile, TIME AND AGAIN is already double dipping into the time travel fondue and really only reminds us that Kes is sort of a psychic and in the end, after averting the catastrophe and thus not giving the ship any reason to stop in the first place it quite literally hit the reset button, bringing everything back to the way the episode started. It’s like the writers decided to give themselves a mulligan and filmed it.

Closing Thoughts:

-I still can’t tell if Neelix actually knows anything or if he’s just bullshitting his way to free room and board. I’m sure I’ll know one way or the other between now and the end of the series.

-The Doctor is great comic relief. A little bit of Bones McCoy and Marvin the Paranoid Android.

-The show’s theme song is quite lovely, invoking appropriate degrees of wonder and hope which makes sense given the context of the series.

-There was at least one hull breech mentioned between these episodes. I think I should keep track through out the series. On that note, there was mention of the ship’s finite fuel supply, busted replicators and Kes was given the green-light to start a farm. I really wanted to talk about characters this time, but I’ll try to bring this stuff up more. The show is about being lost in space after all, so I’m very interested to see how they rough it in Star Trek.