Friday, August 3, 2012

A Season Of Lost Wandering Through Murky Territory: Star Trek: Voyager Season Three!

The Good: Decent acting, Good character when it remembers to focus on it, Some good stories.
The Bad: The voyage goes nowhere, slowly.
The Basics: As the U.S.S. Voyager lopes around the galaxy, the viewer is impressed by the acting, even as Janeway fades as a character in Star Trek: Voyager Season Three.

Star Trek: Voyager was a tough nut to crack after the pilot episode. The show set up two conflicting groups of characters and set them together on a journey that would last decades, then promptly eliminated the conflict between the StarFleet and Maquis crews and minimized the consequences of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant searching for a way home. That's poor planning or poor writing, or poor conception and poor execution. Star Trek: Voyager‘s last shaky steps as a series that still had hope was embodied in its third season, now on DVD.

Picking up from season two's cliffhanger, the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager remains stranded on a distant, fiery planet by the Kazon. While Janeway and her crew work to survive, The Doctor and Tom Paris work to liberate Voyager and rescue the crew. Of course, they do in short order (this is not a heavily serialized show) and Voyager is soon flying again with its crew intact and none the worse for wear. The U.S.S. Voyager then continues to lope home, encountering Q, a temporal rift that allows Voyager to arrive at Earth during the mid-1990s and the Doctor to gain mobility, and climaxing in an encounter with the Borg that sets the show off in a new direction.

The problem with season three of Star Trek: Voyager is that this is where everything begins to go seriously wrong. The return of the Borg, for example, guts the original, frightening concept of the cybernetic enemy. The Borg's interconnectedness acts as a weakness here and their mindless resolve is replaced with a willingness to bargain in one of the most demeaning twists on a cool villain ever.

On the character front, this is a season utterly lacking in consequences that matter, save for The Doctor. The Doctor receives a mobile emitter, which allows the holographic doctor to leave Sickbay and the holodeck. This is a huge step for him. But, it follows on the heels of an episode where his memory is almost completely wiped ("The Swarm") and we never see the consequences of that. Everyone attacks Voyager this season and there are few consequences to that.

Voyager has passed out of range of the enemies we have seen before, the Kazon and the much cooler Vidiians. To replace them, early in the season, the crew learns they are entering Borg territory, which seems a pointless concept (wait until next season!) and the races on the fringe there are powerful, terrifying and some are actually cool. One wonders what's keeping the Borg from assimilating some of them.

Despite the episodic nature of Star Trek: Voyager, there are some character arcs in the third season that are noteworthy. Here is how the third season finds the principle characters:

Captain Kathryn Janeway - Struggling to keep her crew alive keeps Janeway active. She explores being a camp counselor (keeping her crew alive in the season premiere), time travel with Tuvok to the U.S.S. Excelsior, motherhood of a sort (in rescuing Kes from certain death), and the joys of being an action hero ("Macrocosm" is Star Trek: Voyager‘s version of Aliens),

First Officer Chakotay - Given some pretty decent supporting tasks, the first officer works to communicate with the indigenous aliens on the crew's new home planet, joins an offshoot of rogue Borg and debates evolutionary theory with reptiles who might be related to humans,

The Doctor - Has an amazing growth experience from motivating a sociopath to liberate Voyager to becoming mobile, this is the season that The Doctor begins to dominate. He has his memory wiped and attempts to alter his personality and to start his own family,

Tuvok - Falls victim to an ancient organism within his brain that begs the question "Doesn't StarFleet do physicals anymore?" and almost falls in love with an alien,

Tom Paris - Does the lion's share of rescuing Voyager, then runs around 1990s Earth, then sits quietly for the latter half of the season,

B'Elanna Torres - Is influenced by aliens to have lustful thoughts for Chakotay (c'mon, how else would she?!), then is influenced by a lustful Vulcan to feel something for Tom Paris, then she advises the Doctor on having a family which is funny considering she has one of the less successful familial backstories in the franchise,

Ensign Kim - Forges a friendship with Tom Paris that is deeper than before (yea prison!), then he falls in love with a hologram, then is mutated to believe he is an alien and he ends the season the victim of an alien plague,

Neelix - Comes to realize early in the season that he is now useless ("Fair Trade") after dealing with the Ferengi and losing Kes, resulting in a slow latter season for the ship's chef,

and Kes - As her powers continue to grow, Kes wisens up and leaves Neelix. She is influenced by aliens to become a military dictator, aids the Doctor, dies, is tormented by a villainous misprogramming of the Doctor and foresees the future in two very different ways.

Season three of Star Trek: Voyager is a foreshadow of things to come in that Brannon Braga began to have more influence in the series. Thus, we get more stories that hinge on reversals and, unfortunately, in this season they are all the same. Both "Flashback" and "Coda" involve brain parasites using memories to torment their hosts (Tuvok and Janeway, respectively). A colony of Borg make the Collective seem like a benign therapy and a legitimate solution to violence and warfare. Even the Q are weakened some by Q wanting to mate with Janeway. None of the establishments of Trek survive this season with dignity.

And only on Star Trek: Voyager could you have an episode that defines a character as essentially worthless to the crew (Neelix in "Fair Trade") and then keep that character around. How Neelix survives and this becomes Kes's last full season is baffling.

Despite the wandering nature of this season, what ultimately makes it watchable is the acting. Kate Mulgrew continues to be wonderful as Janeway, when they give her the opportunity. Unfortunately, this season marks the point that the show is no longer Janeway's show. This is not the story of Kathryn Janeway leading the U.S.S. Voyager safely home. This season, it becomes about The Doctor. Out of the twenty-six episodes in season three, only four are distinctly Janeway stories. On a side note, "Coda" is best appreciated by reading Jeri Taylor's Star Trek: Voyager novel Mosaic which explores the backstory of Janeway's relationship with her father and does not rely on silly parasites to do it.

This is the season of The Doctor, with the Emergency Medical Hologram distinctly capturing four episodes of his own and having compelling b-story domination over an additional four episodes and strong supporting roles in even more. Robert Picardo easily rises to the task, portraying the newly liberated Doctor as enthusiastic, agoraphobic and interesting. He keeps the character humorous while working hard to slowly soften the character's acerbic demeanor. He does it well.

For her final full season of Star Trek: Voyager, Jennifer Lein as Kes deserves a lot of credit. Lein rises to the occasion of exploring her rapidly aging character with grace. In fact, she looks amazing this season and Kes is given more to do in terms of interacting and going on missions. Lein is forced to play angry and brutal and scared and victimized between the episodes and she seems up for any challenge.

Ultimately, I opted to recommend season three of Star Trek: Voyager, but it's a shaky recommendation just for fans of Star Trek. This is the last season Star Trek: Voyager achieved anything remotely dignified and Trek-like and that deserves the viewer's support. If only it had been more serialized, it would be a much more enthusiastic recommendation.

For a much better idea what this boxed set includes, check out my reviews of individual episodes at:
Basics, Part II
The Chute
The Swarm
False Profits
Sacred Ground
Future's End, Part I
Future's End, Part II
The Q And The Grey
Fair Trade
Alter Ego
Blood Fever
Favorite Son
Before & After
Real Life
Distant Origin
Worst-Case Scenario


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2007, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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