Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: Voyager. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season four…
* Nemesis. Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is stranded on a warring planet and is forced to join up with one side’s guerrilla soldiers. The culture is pleasingly odd, in the way that sci-fi can do so well when it puts some thought into it. The guest characters, for example, have an ornate vocabulary (‘glimpses’ rather than ‘sees’, ‘fathom’ rather than ‘understand’), which is not only interesting in itself but also plays a storytelling role: the more Chakotay empathises with them, the more he starts to talk like his new colleagues. Then comes an effective twist, which pulls the camping mat from under what we’d previous thought. It’s an examination of war, propaganda and the psychology of hate, enriched by visual references to movies Predator, Platoon and the Manchurian Candidate.
* Scorpion Part II. A decent opener to the season, picking up from the Borg-centric cliffhanger at the end of season three. Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) has daringly proposed an alliance with the Borg, which means her working with their appointed representative: a female drone called Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). The latter is being introduced as a new regular character and right from the off she’s an intriguing addition – an outsider, a true rebel (rather than the neutered Maquis characters), and someone who will shake up Voyager’s too-cosy world. In fact, just generally, season four feels like there’s been a big injection of drama. In this episode, for instance, there’s an all-too-rare falling-out between Janeway and her second in command, Chakotay.
* The Gift. Seven of Nine is the focus as she’s largely de-Borged and Janeway tries to undo her brainwashing. Meanwhile, the character who Seven is replacing in the title sequence – the underused alien Kes (Jennifer Lien) – is written out in a rather wishy-washy, sci-fi way. In the final scene, we then see Seven of Nine in her new non-Borg costume: a slinky, undeniably sexy catsuit that is patently a shameless attempt to pander to fanboys.
* Day of Honor. It initially feints at being a boring story about the Klingon heritage of chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), but we then get an engaging plot about Seven continuing integration into the crew.
* The Raven. Another episode about Seven’s deeply hidden humanity reasserting itself in interesting ways.
* Scientific Method. Another entertaining episode. Invisible, undetectable aliens invade the ship and perform imperceptible experiments on the crew. It’s artfully directed stuff, with good roles in the story for Seven (the one person who rumbles the invaders), Janeway (who is pushed to the limit emotionally by the ordeal), and helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Torres (Roxanne Dawson), who have by now started a relationship.
* Year of Hell Parts I & II. The plot is timey-wimey nonsense – an alien who has a weapon that can alter history targets the Voyager – and, maddeningly, the reset button is wheeled out at the end of the 90 minutes. But for most of its run time this is a terrific, action-packed two-parter. Taking place over several months, the story sees the ship badly damaged, friends killed, colleagues put at odds… This kind of stuff is what the whole show should have been, frankly – a desperate, dramatic journey through space with genuine costs and consequences. Year of Hell makes most of Voyager seem so tepid.
* Message in a Bottle. Not the best, but at least the Doctor (Robert Picardo) gets a fun solo mission as he’s transported a vast distance across space and ends up trapped on an Romulan-occupied ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The episode is part of a loose story arc that runs through season four about the crew finally making contact with Starfleet. The final scene is a touchingly understated moment as Janeway learns that the Doctor was able to get a message back home.
* The Killing Game Part I & II. Due to a tedious plot contrivance, most of the regular characters end up in a holodeck simulation of Second World War France…. and they believe themselves to be resistance fighters repelling the Nazis. All very Secret Army. Heavy-handed but the cast are having fun with their ersatz roles. There’s also an in-joke going on. Roxann Dawson (Torres) was pregnant in real life. While they have to keep hiding the fact in B’Elanna scenes, her holodeck character is visibly with child.
* Unforgettable. An alien shows up and claims she once spent several days with the crew – and fell in love with Chakotay – but because of a quirk of her race, they’ve all now forgotten her. Film star Virginia Madsen (Dune, Candyman) guest stars.
* One. The whole crew aside from Seven of Nine and the Doctor must go into suspended animation for a few weeks while the ship passes through a dangerous nebulae. How Seven deals with the situation – and especially how the isolation affects her psychologically – works well.
* Hope and Fear. The possibility of a quick way home is dangled in front of the crew, but not all is as it seems. A fun culmination of this season’s themes, as not only is there progress in the journey to reach the Alpha Quadrant, but Seven of Nine again has a central role to play in the drama. She’s very quickly become the de facto second lead after Janeway – and the show’s most interesting character.
* Waking Moments. Dream-based episodes can be tricky beasts; it’s difficult to feel the tension when you know events aren’t ‘real’. Do it well – A Nightmare on Elm Street, certain episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and you’re winning. This, however, falls into a cliched round of ‘I’m still asleep!’ plot twists as various crew members suffer from the same vivid nightmares. There’s also another iteration of Chakotay’s boring dream-quest motif and everything is played and staged so earnestly.
Next time: Season five