I’ve been a Star Trek fan ever since I was ten or twelve or thereabouts–whenever it was my dad first showed me “The Empath.” Since then, I watched every episode of Classic Trek, and sizable chunks of…almost everything else, even the animated series. But until recently, there was a gaping hole in my Star Trek experience. I had never watched Voyager. I’d seen maybe a dozen episodes and could identify every major character, but compared to the other series I felt decidedly unacquainted with Voyager. Happily, Netflix streams every series of Star Trek, so a year or so ago I set out to fill in this gap.
Voyager covers the adventures of the crew of the starship Voyager under Captain Janeway, lost in the Delta Quadrant with a 70 year journey ahead of them to get home. I watched the last episode a week ago. Here at the end of the journey, I think it was a decent show, but the weak link of the franchise. Mostly, I struggled with the characters. I know people who say they love this crew, and I liked them well enough by the end–but I had a lot of trouble connecting.
I think the crew here may have suffered from Star Trek’s concept of a more evolved humanity. They’ve evolved into nobility, diplomacy and an appalling degree of blandness as a result. Janeway in particular suffered from a lack of a confidante. No one in the entire crew called her by first name; Kirk had McCoy, Picard had Beverly, Sisko had Dax (and a son and a girlfriend), but Janeway even calls herself “Captain” on a couple occasions when she meets a duplicate (it’s complicated…) And finally, the show suffered from an effort to keep every episode self-contained. I don’t know how many times a character experienced a traumatic or enlightening event…which was utterly forgotten by the next episode.
So! I don’t actually mean to just rag on Voyager here. Overall I enjoyed watching the show, I’m glad I did, and there were some particularly good episodes I’m glad to have seen–so rather than grumbling, I’m going to highlight the particular episodes I did like.
“Learning Curve” – This is one of the few episodes that really tackles the problem of integrating rebel Maquis with the Starfleet crew (something I thought was smoothed out way too fast). Three Maquis are not living up to Starfleet standards, and Tuvok is taxed with getting them up to snuff. In the midst of this very evolved humanity, I liked seeing some struggles.
“Tuvix” – Due to a transporter accident, Tuvok and Neelix are combined into a new person, calling himself Tuvix and taking on qualities of both. A ridiculous concept, yes–but they go somewhere really interesting with it, as the crew mourns their lost friends, tries to adjust to Tuvix…and find themselves liking this new person too. Ultimately, Janeway is confronted with an impossible moral choice, and I respect the show for not giving her an out. A silly-sounding plot ended up with one of the darker scenes and decisions of the show.
“Before and After” – An elderly Kes finds herself traveling backwards in time through her life, with no memory of the past. Since she starts several years in the “future” by the show’s chronology, we get glimpses of an alternate future that, in some ways, I liked better than how the show actually played out. I especially liked the multigenerational aspect; Kes’ species only lives 9 years, so 6 years was enough for a couple generations, and it explores in a compressed timeline what it could have been like if Voyager had really taken decades to get home.
“Year of Hell,” Parts 1 and 2 – Voyager encounters aliens who are manipulating time, constantly changing the past to try to restore their empire. Voyager suffers catastrophic losses, spending months trying to get through their territory. It may be odd that this is a favorite, because I generally hate shows that conveniently “unhappen” everything at the end. But in this case, it was built into the plot all along, not a deus ex machina solution, and the writers used that to explore character growth that would have otherwise been impossible. We get to see how Janeway handles it when things really unravel around her, to an extent that wouldn’t be possible for the continued life of the show.
“Blink of an Eye” – Voyager is trapped in orbit of a planet where time passes thousands of times faster than it does everywhere else in the galaxy. In a few days for the crew, centuries pass on the planet and its inhabitants advance from nomadic tribesmen to, well, Star Trek-level technology. I love the way this show lets us see the entire evolution of civilization in a compressed time period–and explore how the presence of the “skyship” alters that civilization’s growth.
The show had other good episodes too, but these were five of my favorites! And I’m realizing they tend to be ones that somehow managed extended character growth, in a single episode. Hmm…
Now that I’ve finished Voyager, I’ve moved on to Deep Space Nine. I’ve watched a lot of it before, but not for years and not in order. And everyone keeps telling me that character growth is a big strength of this particular Star Trek series… 🙂