Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1

I was too young to appreciate Next Generation when it was on air. Voyager was my Star Trek, watched weekly with my family until its finale.

The Voyager crew is cast adrift, alone, stranded in a strange portion of the universe. It will take 70 years to return home, and that's without investigating every anomaly, culture, and distress signal along the way. With one ship and no Federation backup, they have to rely on their wits and each other to survive. It's a fabulous premise.

However, there a flaws - plenty of them. There is WAY too much technobabble, a lot of sermonizing (but less, I think, than we got from Picard), and a plenitude of holodeck malfunctions, time travel, and too-human aliens. Every other week, they seem to run into Alpha Quadrant cross-pollination that strains credulity.

Still, for all of its short-comings, I will always love Voyager and the inimitable, indomitable Captain Kathryn Janeway. Here's a few reasons why.

Season 1 highlights:

"Caretaker 1" and "Caretaker 2" - The 2-part premiere that sets up the Voyager's plight and introduces the main crew. A very promising beginning for a new kind of Star Trek story. The "lost in space" premise wasn't always used to its best effect, but when it was, the show sang.

"Phage" - First contact with the Vidiians goes VERY badly for Neelix. The super-advanced but plague-ridden Vidiians are a great addition to the Star Trek species canon. I also like it when Star Trek characters face suffering without a trace of heroic stoicism. (It's a more interesting story than the priggish and hyper-enlightened officers we normally see.)

"Emanations" - Not for the first time, Voyager stumbles across another species in a damaging and bewildering first contact, even as they try to do no harm. I appreciated the respect given to religion and afterlife myths, particularly Chakotay's story about the sacred stone he once pilfered.

"Prime Factors" - Do you continue to respect the traditions of a hospitable culture when they stand in the way of you getting what you desperately want? For Janeway, yes. Other members of her crew have a different answer.

"Faces" - B'Elanna's interspecies (read: interracial) ancestry is explored in an intriguing way, and the Vidiians reach maximum creepiness here when a scientist experimenting on the fully Klingon B'Elanna borrows parts of another Voyager crewmember that are...recognizable. Shudder. The flaw in the story is its treatment of the Klingon half as Other instead of as an option equal to following her bland human side.

"Jetrel" - An episode that smartly highlights the difficult situation that Voyager is in. When they meet the homeless Haakonians, a race at war with the aggressive coral-headed Kazon, there may be a chance to forge an alliance to save the ship and restore the fate of a species. But Federation's high ideals forbid such an alliance. Can the unbending Janeway leave behind the Prime Directive to achieve her prime goal? (The final moments unfortunately undo all of the moral complexity and Janeway comes off as smug and preachy, but it's still a pretty good episode.)

Season 1 losers:

"Parallax" - Your first episode experiencing the Delta Quadrant with a newly integrated crew, and the story is that Voyager is literally going nowhere? Not a strong start.

"The Cloud" - A boring episode, and silly. Makes the Voyager crew seem both absurd and interfering as they try to repair damage they've unwittingly done to an unusual life form.

"Ex Post Facto" - Didn't Riker go through this story in Next Generation? Repeating a weak idea doesn't make it better. At least "A Matter of Perspective" had some Rashomon references to improve it. And Tom Paris is no William Riker!

"Heroes and Demons" - Ugh, the first dumb holodeck malfunction episode. Tell me again why I care about fake characters? Though I do like the forefronting of the Doctor! His journey over the course of the seasons is one of my favorites.

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