Tag Archives: Star Trek

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.

 

 

Star Trek Voyager–Because Netflix is Magic

Months ago I heard that Netflix would be streaming every episode of every Star Trek series ever and my first thought was “Cool, I’ll get to finally give Deep Space Nine a proper go!” Now that this wonderful little prophecy has come to fruition, I’m left waiting until October to watch DS9 and have to settle for dumb old Voyager…

Okay, so my opinions about Voyager are under cooked at best. I watched the first couple of seasons religiously when they originally aired because, just like when The Phantom Menace was released I had no choice. While my true gospel was written by Luke, Han and Leia, I was also raised by two faithful Trekkers. The Next Generation was on constantly between new episodes and syndicated re-runs and when DS9 and Voyager each started we naturally worked them into our Sunday night routines. But with both cases we all sort of got bored after a while. A Star Trek without The Enterprise is a different animal (as is a Star Trek with an Enterprise no one ever asked for, but I’ll talk about that when I get around to watching it). DS9 was weird because of it’s non-Starfleet setting and characters, but I’ve been told–and to some extent can see it in what little I remember–was very ambitious and excellent for various reasons that are wholly different from what worked with TNG. With Voyager I think I was just suffering from:

A) Star Trek Fatigue (STF)

B) Feeling the need to choose between the Stars, Wars and Trek (Guess which one I went with…)

The premise is both exciting and frustrating: Take a clean-cut Federation crew and their brand new ship and throw them 75 years away from the closest thing resembling home, plus stick them with a bunch of people who don’t really like them all that much. The danger and narrative potential of that sort of isolation from all that is Star Trek was awesome. No Klingons, Romulans or Vulcans–besides the ones on the Voyager crew–to rehash old stories and no starbases to patch up and refuel a ship with limited resources.  Of course that’s a big promise to make, and indeed probably the reason why I eventually cut Voyager out of my TV diet. The status quo never changed. The crew, and the ship, seemed to be doing fine each week. Where was the hardship of wandering an unknown part of the galaxy?

As time went on things may have gotten tough for the Voyager crew, but in the first two season I watched it never seemed to be an issue. My knowledge of Voyager is as the weirder of the two non-Enterprise series. I don’t think I even stuck around long enough to see a 7 of 9 episode. I only knew her as the hot new character that wound up on lots of magazine covers.

The Borg and Sex? Why not.

So while I wait eagerly for DS9 I think I’ll chip away at Voyager, even if it doesn’t deliver on its premise–and if you ask former Star Trek writer/producer and Battlestar Galactica show-runner Ronald Moore it doesn’t.And so, season 1, episode 1: Caretaker.

The episode starts with a Star Wars-esque text scroll that quickly gets you the information you need. The Maquis are a group of separatists formed by colonists and Starfleet defectors after a treaty is signed between the Federation and the Cardassians. Me meet a small Maquis crew as they evade a Cardassian warship into a Plasma storm, only to be swept up by an energy wave.

Cut to Star Trek’s first female captain–as a series lead, there had been other high ranking ladies–Katheryn Janeway as she recruits former Starfleet officer/captured Maquis prisoner Tom Paris. As a crack pilot with first-hand knowledge of the Maquis, Paris is a prime candidate for a rescue mission to retrieve the lost Maquis ship and Starfleet’s undercover agent/Voyager’s security officer, a Vulcan named Tuvok. Paris agrees in exchange for his release and essentially takes on the emotional core of the episode. Paris is a fuck up. His father, a Starfleet admiral, is disappointed that he was kicked out of the fleet. The Maquis see him as a mercenary with no loyalties to anyone or anything besides a paycheck. He doesn’t even seem to like himself very much, but when he strikes up a friend ship rookie Harry Kim he begins to show he’s not as heartless as everyone figures him to be.

Paris, a cocky space jockey in the Han Solo mold is what’s wrong with this episode. As a character he works well and stands out among the Star Trek mainstays–Tuvok standing in for Spock/Data as the token voice of logic and eye brow raising, B’Elanna in for Worf as the rage-prone loner, etc.. The problem is making the episode so much about him trying to prove that he’s not a dick. We’re meeting a new crew (two, sort of) for the first time and no one really gets of a chance to introduce themselves. Janeway has a couple of nice moments–a video call with her fiance about watching her dog, a moment of guilt over not having enough time for Kim’s mother to send some of his personal effects–but for the most parts gets stuck doing generic captain stuff and dealing with the titular Caretaker, an aging entity who brought both the Maquis and the Voyager to teh Delta Quadrant to find an heir. The episode plays like a getting the band together story but doesn’t focus of the two people it should, namely Janeway and the Mauquis captain-turned-Voyager first officer Chakotay.

The first episode of TNG, for example, quickly hit on all of the principle characters and their quirks and the new ship but the meat of it was all about Picard stating clearly who he was and beginning to set the tone, by was of his trial on humanity’s behalf to Q, for what kind of show would revolve around him and his crew. The biggest challenge TNG had when it started was to prove it could live beyond the shadow of Kirk, Spock and Bones. DS9 had to prove it could be different enough from TOS and TNG to warrant existing on its own. When Voyager started there was a lot to be said for having a woman as captain, and in a boys club like science fiction, the series would have benefited from an episode built more around Janeway showing her crew and their uneasy Maquis allies just what she was made of.

The stakes were also somewhat lacking. While Kim and B’Elanna wrestled with the chance of dying from a cosmic STD (more or less) the Voyager crew pent little time worrying about how they were going to get home. True there was the initial thought that once they recovered their kidnapped crew members they could just get the Caretaker to send them home. In one of her few defining moments Janeway allows the Caretaker to die before sending them home, arguing that she wasn’t about to sacrifice the race of people he had been protecting in order to accommodate her and her crew’s convenience. This action comes a little too late in the two-part premiere to contradict what I said earlier, I still think Janeway wasn’t given as much as she should have been and the episode ends with a “buckle down and work hard and we’ll figure this out” speech. Compare that with, say, Adama’s grim yet barely-motivating speeches before taking the Galactica crew to hell and back and it feels more than a little bubble gum.

The other element that felt a bit rushed was the seemingly instant, conflict free assimilation–a scary word in the Trek universe–of the Marquis into the Voyager crew. One minute B’Elanna is calling Kim “Starfleet” like it’s a racial slur and them, in teh episode’s last scene, the Maquis are all wearing Starfleet uniforms. True they don’t have their own ship and Chakotay, as a means to appease the rebels, was made Janeway’s second in command, but it just seemed hard to accept that they’d be so willing to fall in line with something they were willing to fight against back home. Plus, you know, the fact that they are so far away from home make it seem all the more foolish. Why bother? When Starfleet stationed people at Deep Space Nine they didn’t draft everyone who was already there or change the dress code. As an asthetic and just a simple means of telling which faceless crew people wandering the Voyager halls belonged to which faction, why not keep the Starfleeters Starfleet and the Maquis looking like the rough and tumble bunch they were before hand?

So this all makes it sound like I hated the first episode of Voyager and will force myself to grind through the remaining 170+ episodes. Not true. I see the potential in Voyager and if anything knowing that it doesn’t necessarily live up to ALL of that potential–one episode in and the ship is trashed but then looks brand new by the end–should allow me to appreciate it for what it is: a noble attempt to take a starfleet crew, and its audience, out of familiar, comfortable waters and boldly go where no Star Trek series has gone before.

Closing Thoughts:

-I remember thinking Neelix was awesome and I’m glad that I still enjoyed his shenanigans. He’s the goofy alien sidekick Jar Jar Binks only wishes he could have been.

-The emergency holographic Doctor is also a really neat character who works almost as the anti-Data–an artificial life form who seems more irritated by organic sentient life than intrigued by it.

-Expect lots of Battlestar Galactica comparisons, especially when/if I make it to 7 of 9.