Monday, October 22, 2012

“Night” Returns Star Trek: Voyager To The Same Disappointing Cop-Outs It Ended The Prior Season With!

The Good: Character moments
The Bad: No superlative performances, Ridiculous plot resolution
The Basics: In another case of “complex problem, simple resolution,” Star Trek: Voyager fails to commit to its own premises yet again with “Night.”

At the end of the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager, Voyager once again had a chance to radically change its direction. With “Hope And Fear” (reviewed here!), the U.S.S. Voyager gained access to a technology that could have taken them home within three months. In a complete abrogation of the laws of reason, Voyager is able to adapt that technology for the plot convenient times that it took to retrace their entire season of progress and back again before the quantum slipstream drive failed. With the declaration that the crew could never use that technology again, Star Trek Voyager’s fans were left with the insulting idea that magical technology was going to appear long enough to tease the audience, but never fundamentally alter the series. That, alas, remained true through the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Alas, at the outset of the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager, the executive producers of the show seemed to want to do everything they could to reinforce the idea that the show was committed to “business as usual.” With “Night,” Star Trek: Voyager lost me as a regular viewer. It almost shames me to admit that as an Alpha Geek and a devout Trekker, but as I go back through the series to rewatch episodes for review, I am discovering there are episodes I have not seen and I recall exactly why with “Night.” At the time they originally aired, it was a real hassle for me to get UPN and I had to make deals with friends to get videos of the episodes. With “Night,” I gave up hope that the series was going in a direction that made the time investment worthwhile. Any shame I felt for giving up on the show was muted by the disappointment I had in the showrunners for not presenting anything that was truly new, different, and/or audacious.

Two months after Voyager enters a Void in space so filled with Theta-radiation that is obscures starlight from the other side, Captain Janeway is absent from day to day ship’s operation and has not been seen on the bridge in some time. After Paris and Kim’s time in the holodeck fantasy of Captain Proton is interrupted by the Doctor, the senior staff is forced to admit that morale has reached an all-time low. Facing two and a half more years of the void only sinks their spirits more. One night, however, while Harry Kim is minding the bridge and playing his clarinet there, he is visited by Tuvok with enough time to play him his new concerto and for the two to secure the ship when a dampening field suddenly knocks main power offline.

The dampening field comes from three alien ships and the subsequent invasion leaves Tom Paris wounded and the ship in dire straits as the power reserves fail a second time under a renewed attack by the aliens. But Voyager is rescued by a representative of the Malons and it quickly becomes clear that Voyager is stuck in a similar circumstance to its original dilemma in the Delta Quadrant. Janeway, coming out of hiding to deal with the new threat, must choose to aid the aliens in the void and stop the Malon from polluting their space or use the quick way out of the void.

Janeway’s fundamental dilemma is guilt over her resolution to “Caretaker” (reviewed here!) that resulted in Voyager being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. The episode is largely about Janeway coming to the conclusion that her decision was a good one, but compelling her to remake that decision. Unfortunately, the producers of Star Trek: Voyager seem particularly gutless about sticking to their own plot principles. Voyager is looking at two years in the void, but lo and behold! by the end of the episode there is a miracle cure to the plot problem of the two and a half year journey through the void.

“Night” introduces the Malon, the polluting, dimwitted, capitalistic aliens who plague Voyager from this point forward. The Malon are like the Pakleds of the Delta Quadrant, much like the Kazon were the Klingons of the Delta Quadrant. More greedy and cruel than the Pakleds (who were simply idiotic), the Malon are another uncompelling villain for the series.

What “Night” has going for it is a pretty decent level of character. Janeway is presented with a level of complexity that is compelling in this episode. She feels serious guilt over her actions four years ago and the circumstances in “Night” have her seriously considering turning command over to Chakotay. This is an intriguing character development and it works for her. The episode balances Chakotay’s character with hers and that makes the episode feel much more important than it ultimately is.

Of course, near the end of the episode, in order to keep Janeway around, the senior staff essentially mutinies and that Janeway allows them to keep their jobs seems ridiculous. The flip side is that while the episode might have a decent depth of character to it, there are no superlative or even interesting performances in the episode. “Night” has the characters presenting different (or previously unseen) aspects of their personalities, but none of the actors make their new aspects seem interesting or compelling.

Ultimately, “Night” confirms the worst for fans of the Star Trek franchise: in the wrong hands, with producers and writers unwilling to take risks or make a real statement, the franchise can die. “Night” is a blight on the entire franchise and were it not for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s robust final season that was beginning at the same time as this, one might have easily traced the diminishing of the entire franchise back to this period and this episode in particular.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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