4.30.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 14: Voyager (30 Memorable Episodes) 1 of 2

The consensus from the comments section last time was that Voyager probably didn't exploit its central concept as much as it should have. I'll agree with that. Nevertheless, when it was good, it was great. This time around, here are my top 30 personal favorites, presented least to most. (With my most favorite saved for next time; oh yeah!)

And if 30-ish episodes are too much Voyager for your cortical nodes, here are just five from Ryan Britt over at Tor.com. Live long and prosper.

Honorable mentions to "Drive," "Virtuoso," "Relativity," and "11:59." So many others. ("Living Witness," "Muse." I'll stop there.) Lots of ground to cover this time around, so I hope you're in a comfy spot and ready to crush some Trek, bro.

30
"Flashback," Season 3, Episode 2
A virus that poses as one of Tuvok's memory engrams threatens to turn his Vulcan brains into  I'danian spice pudding. To save him, he mind-melds with Janeway and takes her into the memories of his time on the Excelsior under Captain Sulu. They re-experience the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country but from the Excelsior's point of view.
By applying the usual mix of medical technobabble and mindmeldsploitation, they rid Tuvok of the virus.

For Trek's 30th anniversary, the suits asked Braga and company to come up with something honoring TOS. Uhura was supposed to appear, but Nichelle Nichols felt the part wasn't big enough and passed. Takei was game, though. And is it just me or does he try and make too much of his "deep Sulu voice" in this episode? It's almost like watching a Sulu impersonator rather than Sulu himself. (Do they have Sulu impersonators? They should.) Still, the faithful recreation of the Excelsior bridge and bridge crew from STVI is fun, as are the other guest stars:
Such as Kang i.e. and Janice Rand:
  i.e.
 Michael Ansara and Grace Lee Whitney, respectively.

29 and 28
"The Killing Game," Season 4, episodes 18 and 19

The Hirogen take over Voyager and force the crew to enact violent scenarios on the holodecks in order to study both the behavior and the technology; crewmembers lose their memories and re-enact scenes from Klingon history and World War II. While Janeway and Seven break out of the World War II scenario and try to stop the Hirogen, Chakotay and Paris lead the Allied forces against the Nazis.
Janeway gets to do her Bogey impersonation, and the visual designers indulge in the usual Nazispolitation.

Sure, the set-up is kind of wonky. But it's fun to see the characters in different roles and scenarios, and I can see this as the sort of story you somewhat have to tell, minus the Nazis. (By that I mean it must be in the Trek contract to fight the Nazis at some point. I think every show except TNG has the crew fighting Nazis; am I wrong? Maybe they didn't do it in DS9. But "Patterns of Force" was probably enough. Anyway.) Neelix as a Klingon is a lot of fun. They should have kept him that way.

27
"Life Line," Season 6, Episode 24
At the behest of Counselor Troi and Lt. Barclay, the Doctor is beamed back to the Alpha Quadrant to aid in the treatment of Lewis Zimmerman, the creator of the Emergency Medical Hologram program. Zimmerman is less than pleased at having to interact with The Doctor, whom he regards as an externalization of his own failures and disappointments.
Robert Picardo on playing both roles: "I was able to achieve a lifelong ambition of working with an actor I admired. Of course the hardest thing about acting with myself was coming up to my own level. I was very demanding, but also very generous, as an actor I gave myself everything I felt I deserved and more." It would be wonderful to get Shatner and Picardo in the same room and have them talk about how awesome Kirk and The Doctor are, respectively. Perhaps this has already happened. Actually, I'm sure it has. I'll rephrase - it would be wonderful for the two of them to do a 47-part series, discussing how awesome Kirk and The Doctor are and what a humbling honor it is to be themselves.

I'm not sure it made a whole lot sense to have the Doctor zipping back to the Alpha Quadrant, but by the later seasons, communication with Starfleet was an established part of the series, so, meh. As with "The Killing Game," you've got to keep the actors happy. And I don't mind when the results are as entertaining as this.

26
"Shattered," Season 7, Episode 11
The ship passes through a temporal rift and is shattered into 37 different timeframes. The Doctor injects Chakotay with a chroniton-infused serum (I love that) so he can move between them all. He injects Captain Janeway with the same, and the two negotiate the various dimensions to restore things to normal.
Among the variant timelines we see: one where the main crew is all dead and an adult Naomi Wildman and Icheb (above) are still trying to get the ship back to the Alpha Quadrant, and several others from previous Voyager plotlines.
They also have to negotiate the machinations of Doctor Chaotica from Tom Paris' favorite holodeck program, Captain Proton. More on that below.

It's your standard trip to the Trek temporal-anomaly well, but it's adapted well for the Voyager cast. There's something about Naomi and Icheb, as well as Captain Proton, that really works for me, so I personally enjoyed those bits quite a bit.

Why Scorsese hasn't made a video mash-up of this episode to the Rolling Stones song of the same name is beyond me.

25
"The Voyager Conspiracy," Season Six, Episode 9
Seven tinkers with her regeneration alcove to improve her processing power. It works - right off the bat she discovers several species of fleas and parasites that were proliferating undetected - but the flood of input soon leads her into the mirror maze of conspiracy theory.
She suspects first Janeway, then Chakotay, then everyone, of involvement in a massive, multi-specied conspiracy to bring the Voyager into the Delta Quadrant.
The story rather presciently addresses an increasingly recognizable problem of the mass media age, i.e. too many points of data converging to create multiple scenarios of counter-plausibility. Our optical processors are overloaded and our functioning mind unequal to the task of sorting the info meaningfully. Seven is plugged into a hyperspace version of InfoWars that info-dumps more information than she can sort.
I'm puzzled by the ending, as I am by the ending of many Treks. Does it suggest that a controlled narrative is preferable to simultaneous appreciation of varied perspectives? What does it say about coincidence? Or is it a keystone episode to the Voyager mythology? I wish I could insert some Easter Eggs throughout the series that suggest one of the theories Seven comes up with is actually what's going on.

24
"Body and Soul," Season 7, Episode 7
Intercepted in the Delta Flyer by holo-phobic * aliens, Harry, Seven and the Doctor are captured for interrogation. The Doctor hides in Seven's cortical implants; unfortunately this forces them to share Seven's body, All of Me-style. Hi-jinks ensue.

* "Holophobic? We're just hunting down 'photonic insurgents...'" I'm not sure they ever explain why telepaths and photonic lifeforms are so threatening in the Delta Quadrant, but the explanation is probably in one of the episodes I haven't seen.
Jeri Ryan's performance as The Doctor is wonderful. (Apparently, Picardo acted out all the scenes the script called for and taped them, and she studied the tape to perfect the impersonation.) Picardo as per usual brings his A-game, as he struggles to maintain the deception as well as deflect the attention he receives from one male member of the alien crew as he cavorts in Seven's body.
Meanwhile, on the Voyager, Tuvok undergoes pon farr. I was happy VOY didn't shy away from this as the crew spent more and more time away from Vulcan. Paris suggests he use the holodeck to recreate his wife, a suggestion in which Tuvok ultimately sees the logic.

The episode ends with Seven bringing some fois gras and wine to Sick Bay. Given the Doctor's intense enjoyment of physical sensation when he possessed Seven and given Seven's general reticence at indulging this aspect of her humanity, they agree to share these experiences together going forward. (Some rather suggestive implications, there...)

23
"Thirty Days," Season 5, Episode 9
This episode has an interesting structure. It opens with Janeway stripping Tom of his rank and confining him to thirty days in the brig. Then, as he receives visitors throughout his confinement, we learn of the events leading up to it via a letter he writes to his estranged father, the Admiral.
First we learn he was farting around on the holodeck with Harry in the hopes of scoring with the monozygotic twin sisters Jenny and Megan Delaney. (This is the sisters' only appearance, though they are referenced throughout the series.)


He's then called to the bridge, as they have come across a planet made entirely of water, its oceans held in place by an unseen containment field generator.

Upon closer examination, Paris discovers the Moneans (the race of aliens who live there) are undermining their own containment field with their oxygen-mining operations. Ordered not to interfere, he disobeys when he is asked to intervene by one of the alien "terrorists." His conscience compels him to act, and the alien (Riga, the whiny dude from Sex and the City)'s request allows him to make the acceptable compromise. Acceptable to him, that is - while understanding his passion and admiring his resolve, Janeway is nevertheless compelled to demote and discipline him. His thirty days served, Tom emerges from the brig a bit shaken but accepting of his situation.
This scene between Paris and B'Elanna is nice. She finds him in the Captain Proton program, but void of characters. He is essentially hiding out in the playground of his mind, sulking. That playground becomes the brig after his insubordination. Something something Ego.

He ends the letter to his father with the hope that by sharing his story, they can better understand one another. This is a story Joseph Campbell would recognize.

One of my favorites. I highly recommend watching it in the middle of the night. Some ruminations resonate best at three in the morning when you can't sleep.


22
"Live Fast and Prosper," Season 6, Episode 21
Levar Burton directed this story of three con artists who impersonate Janeway, Tuvok and Chakotay to scam unsuspecting folks out of resources. After the ship is contacted by one of the victims and after discovery of tainted supplies given to Neelix and Paris by the same trio of scammers, the crew concocts a plan. The whole gang watches while the drama unfolds. To-night!

Not much to say about this one, just a fun little story.


21

"Non Sequitur," Season 2, Episode 5
Harry wakes up in an alternate timeline where he never joined Voyager. Reunited with his girlfriend and his life in San Francisco, he struggles with the mystery. How did he get there? How can he get back home? F**k, what is home? With the help of the alternate-timeline Tom Paris, Harry finds his way back to the Voyager.
Louis Giambalvo plays Cosimo, the alien who oversees Harry's predicament. I was confused by this favorite drink of Harry's, a Vulcan Mocha. Must be just an expression, as Vulcans are unaffected by caffeine, so it seems odd they'd have their name associated with an espresso beverage. Something is off here... is this a clue? Has Harry's mind left a breadcrumb back to his own timeline? Will there always be a ghost in the machine?
This episode came about as a result of Garrett Wang's suggesting Harry-episode-ideas to Brannon Braga, who then surprised him by throwing them all into this one episode. It works pretty well. The "waking up in an alternate timeline" episode is a Trek rite of passage; nice to see Harry in the driver's seat here. And nice to see Tom Paris as the barroom billiards scrapper he would have become in some other timeline who steps up to the plate you stupid Chief when the integrity of the timelines is at stake.

20
"Friendship One," Season 7, Episode 21
Starfleet (by now in regular contact with Voyager) sends the ship to determine whatever happened to an old Earth probe, the Friendship One, which is believed to be in their vicinity.
"We, the people of Earth, greet you in a spirit of peace and humility. As we venture out of our solar system, we hope to earn the trust and friendship of other worlds."
They discover the probe did indeed make contact with an alien planet, but regrettably, with deadly radiation, turning the inhabitants into mutants. After being captured by the mutants, the crew finds a way to reverse the damage and try to honor the namesake of their ancestors' (hey, it's us!) probe.
While it doesn't have to be the Delta Quadrant, here's a story that makes a certain amount of sense for it to take place there. We've seen the recovery of 20th and early 21st century probes before, of course, many times, but having an away mission episode in the tragic aftermath of humanity's first fumbling attempts at interstellar friendship is a nice inversion.

Trek is always touted as a vision of grandiose optimism. We will solve our problems, and we will find sentient beings like ourselves out there in the vastness of space, etc. But underneath it all, we have the Romulans, the Borg, and perhaps more than all: our very first attempts  at contact or interstellar travel (Voyager 6, Nomad, the Botany Bay) came back to try and kill us. All of which is to say what Kurt Vonnegut said of writing: "Write a story to please one single specific person. If you throw the window open and try to make love to the world, you might catch pneumonia." Ditto for grandiose pledges of interstellar friendship.

19
"Distant Origin," Season 3, Episode 23
The official plot summary is "An alien scientist finds evidence linking his species' ancestry to Earth, but government officials refuse to accept his evidence because it conflicts with existing doctrine." And while that's certainly true, TRANSWARP DINOSAURS! is equally acceptable.
Joe Menosky, on the other hand, described it as the re-telling of the Galileo at the Vatican story, in Trek terms. That, too. But when you have Transwarp Dinosaurs, why hide your light under a bush?
 
Special shout-out for Robert Beltran's performance this episode. It might be Chakotay's finest moment. This scene at the end where he gives the Voth scientist a hand-held globe of prehistoric Earth (though is that how North America looked in the time of the dinosaurs? I honestly don't know.) so that he can reflect on the world of his ancestors is a nice touch.
"Eyes open."

17 and 18

"Fair Haven" and "Spirit Folk," Season 6, Episodes 11 and 17

In "Fair Haven," Tom's holodeck creation (the town of the title) proves so popular that the ship's functionality is threatened. In "Spirit Folk," the townspeople mistake the visiting crew members as faerie folk/ spirits; Michael Sullivan (Janeway's holodeck love interest) uses The Doctor's mobile emitter to get a tour of the ship. (Something Moriarty from TNG's "Ship in a Bottle" would have loved.)

These episodes have been criticized for their "Irishsploitation," and perhaps fairly so. All that's missing is the leprechaun. (And maybe a car bomb.)
But as the setting and the townsfolk are rather pointedly supposed to be Holo-caricatures, I find them pretty inoffensive on the scale of things. Less so than Crocodile Dundee or Hee Haw, anyway. The music and Little Europe backlot settings are pleasant ear and eye candy.

Of the two, "Spirit Folk" is probably more interesting, as the holo-creations are confronted with existential ennui not written into their programming.
It's also fun to see the crew in their Fair Haven roles.
But the relationship between Janeway and Michael Sullivan...
is the beating heart of "Fair Haven." The Captain finds herself increasingly attracted to the charmingly literate bartender (especially after she makes him taller) but decides a romantic relationship with him might be unbecoming. She deletes the romance subroutine, and they become good friends instead.
Fintan McKeown, who plays Michael Sullivan, was Amory Lorch from Game of Thrones.
The actors work well together, and the photons-crossed lovers aspect adds depth to the story. In Christine Golden's novel Homecoming (which I haven't read,) Janeway visits Michael one last time just before she leaves Voyager upon her return home. He expresses jubilation when hearing that she finally made it home and wishes her good luck before she deactivates him for the last time.
16
"Night," Season 5, Episode 1
The ship enters a region of space where theta radiation blocks out the stars. Expected to stay for several months, the crew reacts to their predicament in different ways. Janeway broods in her quarters...
 
while Tom, Seven and Harry over-amuse themselves with the Captain Proton program on the holodeck. (Well, Seven is less than amused.)
This is a complex episode that deals with environmental pollution, nihiliphobia, crew loyalty, and adhesion to (or avoidance of) a moral code. (Something the series will return to with the "Equinox" two-parter.) The effect of the starless expanse on the crew's serotonin levels is explored well.

15 and 14
 "Future's End," Season 3, Episodes 8 and 9

Voyager encounters a time-ship from the future which hurtles them back to 20th century Earth, where they must stop one Henry Starling, played by Ed Begley, Jr. (I want to rewrite this as "Voyager must stop Ed Begley, Jr." and leave it at that. Not that I dislike the guy; it'd just be funnier that way.)
Starling is a hippie who recovers a 29th century timeship which crashed to Earth.

He uses the technology therein to launch (sort of a North Central Positronics outfit.) Starling's main contribution to the series, though, is that he gives The Doctor his mobile emitter, thus freeing him to roam about the ship, go on away missions, etc. (i.e. frees the writers to put The Doctor in a wider variety of scenarios.)

The episode has the standard fish-out-of-water fun with the cast in twentieth century clothes and setting:

And is that...?

Yep. Sarah Silverman plays a neo-hippie of the 90s who ends up flirting it up with Tom and helping our heroes in their quest.

One thing jumped out at me on this re-watch. At one point in part two, Chakotay and Torres are captured by anti-government extremists.
Implying all gun-owning libertarians are racist xenophobes was apparently as fine in the 90s as it is nowadays.
"The drive towards collectivism and the drive towards individuality" are held up as two mutually exclusive ideals. I guess from that we can determine how the Trek writers feel about the subject. We're a long way from Kirk's end-of-the-episode speeches. Nevertheless, this is a fun two-parter with high production value, and Ed Begley, Jr. plays one of the more memorable villains of the series.

12 and 13
 "Workforce," pts. 1 and 2, Season 7, Episodes 16 and 17

The plot for this one is fairly straightforward: an endlessly-industrial planet kidnaps most of the Voyager crew, wipes their minds, and puts them to work in its labor force. The Doctor (as the Emergency Command Hologram), Chakotay, Neelix and Harry hatch a plan to save them.
The subtext, tho, of a society needing to kidnap and brainwash its workers in order to fill endless demand quotas for unseen masters, is great stuff. As always, it's fun to see the cast in different roles from time to time, and the actors seem invigorated by such opportunities. (Janeway, in particular, always seems to get a love interest once her "Janeway" facade is removed.)
And the Tom and B'Elanna relationship is rendered particularly tenderly in this episode. (Roxann Dawson directed pt. 2, so perhaps that explains it.)
11
"In the Flesh," Season 5, Episode 4
Species 8472 has built a perfect replica of the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant Starfleet Headquarters, and the crew sends in Chakotay undercover to figure out why.
This episode is one of at least two Voyager episodes that features a Boothby (Ray Walston) / Chakotay storyline. (The other one's "The Fight," which isn't a bad episode but didn't make this countdown. For some reason, that one is particularly reviled in Trek online forums.)
Nice pun: Admiral Bullock, one of the fake-humans.
Chakotay is discovered, and this leads to direct negotiations and hope for detente between Species 8472 and Starfleet. Before they depart, Chakotay gets some inter-species love from Commander Archer (Kate Vernon aka Ellen Tigh from BSG) the "woman" with whom he's struck a friendship.
The most appealing aspect of this episode for me is its beginning. I love being dropped into a story like this. It reminds me a little of TOS "Return of the Archons" in that regard. ("By Any Other Name" came to mind in other aspects.) Not that it's top-heavy; it's developed well throughout.

~

Okay, so as some of you saw, originally this post was all thirty of my memorable episodes. But the formatting got so inexplicably and irreversibly screwed up upon publishing it that I decided to just cut and paste the remaining episodes into another post and try and fix them there. I don't hold out much hope the same formatting problems won't appear there, but at least it makes this one look a little less sprawling. (I have now removed about a thousand "line breaks" and am going to hit "update..." wish me luck.

6 comments:

  1. Ah, yes; NOW I remember why I like Voyager.

    Some great episodes here, no doubt. "Course: Oblivion" might be my favorite, but since I've only ever seen all of these once, it's hard to say.

    My personal favorite episodes are the three in which Brad Dourif plays the serial-killer dude. He's got a pretty great arc during those episodes.

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    1. Haven't seen those. Glad to hear "Course Oblivion" left an impression with you. That one's just great.

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  2. I will never, never, never understand how I can format these things in draft-mode so that the spacing and font is uniform and all the pics line up the way I want them to, then publish it and have it look so utterly different/ effed up.

    It's discouraging as f**k. Spending something like 25 hours putting together this post and then discovering all your work is going to look so hacked-up.

    To make it worse, Blogger has "help forums" that are spectacularly unhelpful in this regard.

    I suppose the right question here is "What do you want for nothing," but good gravy, folks.

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  3. Great blog post as usual (didn't really notice anything funky about the format). All in all, good choices here (with the exception of "Spirit Folk" and "Fair Haven", probably the only wtf moments for me on your list). I definitely would have ranked "Flashback" higher (any episode that includes both Sulu and Kang rates immediate inclusion in the Top 10 for me). I also would have made room on your list for "Timeless", "Twisted", and "The Thaw" (great Michael McKean guest appearance in that one). I also may have given a shout-out to "Scorpion" Pt. 1 & 2 (where Seven of Nine joins the cast)and the series finale "Endgame" (Alice Krige returns as the Borg Queen). I guess the gross overuse of the Borg in Voyager may not make those last two very popular choices. It's funny, I've only seen the vast majority of Voyager epsiodes once (and haven't given the show much thought over the years), but your blog posts have made me feel kind of nostalgic to check them out again.

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    1. Excelsior, sir! Glad the format isn't too wonky on your end. Part of the problem may be I work on these things on two computers with different versions of Firefox (maybe) - part of it seems to be Blogger hi-jinks that are commonly reported on the help forums.

      Not a Fair Haven fan, eh? You're not the only one.

      I like all the episodes you mention, just like these other ones a bit more. I like the idea of the Borg Sphere and some of the other things they developed in Voyager.

      Happy to hear this has piqued your interest for a Voyager rewatch.

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  4. How did I find no room for "Timeless" in these rankings? Terrible on my part - it's a great episode. Harry Kim is the heart and soul of Voyager in many ways.

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