5.01.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 15: Voyager (30 Memorable Episodes ) 2 of 2

10 and 9
"Pathfinder," Season 6, Episode 10 and "Inside Man," Season 7, Episode 6

If you're not a fan of Dwight Schultz's Lieutenant Barclay, you might not get as much of a kick out of these episodes as I do. I'm a fan of the way the Voyager writers worked him into the series, though, as well as Counselor Troi.
In "Pathfinder," we see Barclay hard at work on the Pathfinder project, trying to locate Voyager. He's become somewhat obsessed with it, going so far as to recreate the Voyager crew in the holodeck and spending excessive amounts of time there. It all pays off, though, once his efforts lead to direct communication between Starfleet and the crew (and by extension, between Admiral Paris and his son.) In "Inside Man," a malevolent version of Barclay aka "Reg" is broadcast into the ship itself.
His zany personality and impersonations prove a big hit with the crew. Unaware that the real Barclay is a socially awkward mess, they haven't the slightest indication anything's off, although The Doctor becomes wise to the situation when Reg appropriates and refuses to return his mobile emitter.
Unbeknownst to all, though, Reg is working for the Ferengi in a plot to steal Seven's nanoprobes, while the real Barclay is back on Earth, interrupting Troi's beach vacation with his endless bullshit need for her counsel.
Barclay, Troi, and Admiral Paris are able to thwart the Ferengi's plan, and the Voyager continues her journey home.
8
"Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy," Season 6, Episode 4

This is one of my favorite Voyager openings: The Doctor sings the aria from "La Donna รจ Mobile" to a suspiciously appreciative audience of the senior staff when Tuvok breaks into pon farr. He alters the words to call for a hypospray and once administered receives wild adulation.
 
It is of course only part of his "daydream" program. A running joke on the series is The Doctor's megalomania. Meanwhile, the Hierarchy (a rather blob-looking species of The Delta Quadrant)
tap into this daydream program and mistake The Doctor's imaginings for reality. As much of the episode revolves around The Doctor's proposal for an extension of his program (eventually granted) to include an Emergency Command function, they assume he's not only in command of the ship but that his grandiose fantasies of both his and the ship's might are factual. The Doctor discovers the surveillance, and when the aliens appear, he is able to successfully bluff them by acting out his fantasy projection. The ship saved, he receives at least a portion of the adulation he so craves.
Although a common complaint among Voyager fans is that there are too many Doctor episodes, it's understandable why they'd want to use him so much. His character-concept lends itself to a variety of scenarios, and Robert Picardo is a talent you don't squander.

And speaking of The Doctor's megalomania:
7
"Author, Author," Season 7, Episode 20

As the crew gets closer and closer to the Alpha Quadrant, contact with Starfleet becomes more and more frequent, allowing crew members to reconnect with their loves ones after many years (and in Seven's case, an aunt she never knew).
But The Doctor uses the proximity to communicate with his publisher about his forthcoming holo-novel Photons Be Free.
Unfortunately, The Doctor has taken some liberties with his crewmates:
He changes their names somewhat ("Marseilles" for "Paris," etc.) but the crew is nonetheless nonplussed when the discover they are represented rather unflatteringly, to put it mildly. The Doctor defends the choice as an attempt to convey the abuse suffered by photonics in a world controlled by organics. He only gains empathy for their position once Tom counters with his own holonovel that depicts The Doctor as a cruel cad who refuses to treat patients he can't seduce.

It's a very amusing episode and concept, and again, the actors again make the most of their opportunity to play against type.
6
"Counterpoint," Season 5, Episode 10

Voyager travels through Devore space, where telepaths are illegal. So, those members of the crew hide in the transporter's pattern buffer while the ship is periodically stopped, boarded and searched. Janeway forms a relationship of sorts with one of the Devore inspectors, Kashyk, whom she turns on to Gustav Mahler. (This made me happy. Anytime people find an excuse to put Mahler's music in something, I'm for it.)
Kashyk, by the way, looked familiar to me.
Aha! That's why. (Incidentally, this is the episode "One for the Road," which is also the one Rick Berman appears in somewhere. I haven't found him yet, though.)
Janeway and Kashyk play off one another exceptionally well, and Kate Mulgrew delivers arguably her best performance of the entire series. (She describes the experience of filming this one as one of her favorite Voyager moments, and it shows.)
5
"One," Season 4, Episode 25

Here's the quintessential Seven-centric episode. It brings to mind both "Remember Me" from TNG and "Doctor's Orders" from Enterprise. (Also, "Out of Gas," from Firefly, if we want to cross the streams.) The episode begins with an amusing scene in the holodeck where with the Doctor's help, she tries unsuccessfully to master human social interaction.
The crew is placed in suspended animation while the ship passes through a dangerously radioactive Mutara-class nebula. Seven, with only The Doctor's intermittent company, is tasked with shepherding them safely through it. The nebula continually threatens to destroy the ship, and, as she is haunted by both spectres of her Borg past (You will die as one, isolated, detached) and hallucinations of an alien intruder as well as Janeway et al. deriding her at every turn. It seems that no matter what she does, some aspect of her mission will fail.
After restoring power to the engines by rerouting power from some of the sleeping crew, she orders the computer to cut life support on all decks and restore power to the affected units, thus ensuring her own death. She sinks down in a corner and defiantly repeats that she is Seven of Nine, she is alone, she is Seven of Nine, she is alone, she is Seven of Nine, she is alone...
The visual design emphasizes both Seven's inner and outer turmoil very well throughout.

Her actions buy the time needed for everyone's successful restoration. Enter the subtext: Chakotay tells her that, ironically, she's the only one they nearly lost. The episode is really about ego and identity, fear and insecurity, community and the individual.

At episode's end, Seven joins Paris, Kim, and Torres in the mess hall, as she feels the need for companionship. (Not something Seven says very often.) When it's revealed that Paris kept escaping from his animation-bed, he says he just hates closed spaces. The camera closes on Seven:
"Perhaps you just dislike being alone."
It's an unexpectedly gut-punching moment. Maybe it's a little overdone for some, but as with "Workforce," the plot is just a peg upon which to hang an overall assessment with which I happen to agree: emotional isolation amidst fellowship is a slow-working poison.
4
"Course: Oblivion," Season 5, Episode 18

When I first sat down to rank these, this was my initial favorite. It was only re-watches of the three that follow that this reluctantly slid to number 4. It's still a complete grand slam of an episode. Very unsettling. And aptly named. No One Here Gets Out Alive. This is less of a story and more of an S.O.S. about the human condition itself. Tragedy and philosophy go hand in hand.
We open with Tom and B'Elanna getting married at last. Mazel tov!
Sadly, the honeymoon quickly goes awry.

They discover that it's not just B'Elanna who is degrading but the entire crew. Backtracking to the events of a previous episode, they deduce that they are actually biomimetic copies whose memories have been copied from the originals – part of why the crew doesn't remember being copies – and the warp drive radiation, though harmless to humanoids, is killing them. Janeway wants to continue trying to reach Earth, while others (most vocally, Paris) disagree: if everyone's just going to degrade and die, what the hell is the point of anything? After Chakotay dies, Janeway decides to turn the ship around in a last-ditch gamble to get to the demon planet where, perhaps, they can halt the degradation. She also orders the creation of a time capsule to preserve their experiences.
They almost make it. Harry and Seven, the last to survive, make it to within sight of the actual Voyager. But by the time the "real" crew picks up their distress signal, all that is left is debris. "Cause unknown. No survivors."
Hardly a pick-me-up, is it? Here's more from Ken Biller: "There was some discussion about whether it was too bleak at the end. I had written a version where (the copies) actually get that time capsule out. The real Voyager does come along, and the [duplicate] ship is gone, but they find the time capsule."  I was adamant about the importance of the near miss, that they don't actually meet, sort of 'There but for the grace of God go I.'" 

Says Nick Sagan: "I think it's an episode people either love or hate. The 'hate' category seems to say, 'Why do we follow a crew that isn't even our regular crew?' and they feel cheated. But it really is the story about the poignancy of Voyager's journey. There's something about trying really hard and not being quite able to achieve it, which is a reality to a lot of people [....] [The episode's] about a need to be remembered, a need to be recorded, and that's the special tragedy about making a log, a kind of capsule – we know that the 'Demon' crew dies. It's about loss and remembering, death and grief."

I'm with Nick on this one. I feel it's very important philosophical ground on which to stand. Death does not negate the quality of life; non-recognition is what lends recognition its salience.

3
"Bride of Chaotica," Season 5, Episode 12

This episode is just loads of fun. Again, if you hate the whole Captain Proton thing, it might not resonate with you, but if you're anything like me, this takes the idea to its limits and very entertainingly. 
Tom and Harry's latest holodeck adventure is going routinely enough until the ship gets trapped in one of those pockets of subspace so convenient for Trek writers. Lifeforms from a wholly-photonic dimension have mistaken the goings-on in Captain Proton-land as reality and go to war with Doctor Chaotica
They are explorers themselves and think they're making contact with humans. When Tuvok and Paris try to explain the situation, they dismiss it; their sensors can't pick up biochemical lifeforms, which they think are artificial. RIP, Constance Goodheart.
 
After Paris briefs the senior staff, it's decided to play along with the Proton program. Janeway poses as Queen Arachnia who under ruse of agreeing to marry Doctor Chaotica gets him to lower his lightning shield. (Or at least that's the plan.) The Doctor, meanwhile, poses as The President of Earth and deals with the photonic explorers.

There's a great deal of comedy, both sci-fi and otherwise, in this episode. Remarkable fun for make-believe wrapped in make-believe inside a holodeck. 





2 and 1
"Year of Hell," pts. 1 + 2, Episodes 8 and 9, Season 4

I'm not sure if I can do this story justice. So much happens, and it's the incremental chain of events that lends the episode - and particularly the ending - its power. Here are the Memory-Alpha plot summaries. Pt 1: Obsessed with restoring the Krenim Imperium, no matter the cost, a Krenim military temporal scientist creates changes in history that all but destroy Voyager. Pt 2: With Voyager almost destroyed, Captain Janeway risks everything to rescue Paris and Chakotay and stop Annorax from continuing to tamper with the timeline. 
Certainly not a plot unfamiliar to Trek or to Voyager in particular, but the way this one plays out is worthier of a series finale than a mid-season two-parter. Each character gets a defining moment he or she doesn't get elsewhere.
Everything that happens is Big with a capital B. The temporal weapon is a great idea if you don't think too, too closely about it (a metaphor for Trek in general, I think,) and the narrative brings the viewer through a year of events with an economy that sci-fi (and SyFy) features often neglect.
 
 
 
Kurtwood Smith plays Annorax, Khan to Mulgrew's Kirk. ("Space Seed" Khan, not Wrath of Khan Khan.) Kate Mulgrew is always good, but when I think of Captain Janeway, it's this (and to a certain degree, "Fair Haven") episode I recall. "Year of Hell, pt. 2" won an Emmy for outstanding special fx (very much deserved), but our Captain should have won Queen of the World.



Each aspect of "Year of Hell"'s production (its fx, the performances, writing, editing, etc.) is about as good as it gets.
~
NEXT:
One last one.

10 comments:

  1. Looks a little better in this post, but the double spacing that appears randomly remains unexplained.

    I also wonder if it might look different in different browsers. If you're seeing double spacing that suddenly appears in "Course Oblivion" and "Bride of Chaotica," can you let me know? (And what browser you're using?) Thanks.

    Also, if you see huge spaces between pics, please know that in edit-mode, these don't exist. There's no rhyme or reason to it. This'll be the last I complain about it, but it really bothers me these things don't look the way I design them to look once I hit "publish." The workarounds suggested on the Blogger help forums are spectacularly obtuse.

    Bah!

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  2. It's interesting that the top 4 episodes on this list are nonesuch, or off-the-beaten-path, episodes. That is, they aren't typical Voyager episodes. I've actually seen quite a few of the higher-ranking episodes here, and they are among the best material I've seen done for Trek. The trouble for me, though, is that the "typical" episodes for Voyager, or for Next Generation or DS9, seem exactly that - typical. Unremarkable, workmanlike episodes that make up the bulk of Voyager, or most Trek series (I don't mean to beat up on Voyager, though it's my least favorite Trek series; the problems I see with it are problems most American TV shows have).

    Imagine distilling these shows down into just the atypical episodes, rendering them into something like the British TV convention of "series," which are something like American miniseries. I think scifi shows like Voyager suffer from being expected to shoulder the task of coming up with 22 episodes for an open-ended number of seasons. Such a set-up can easily exhaust the abilities of even the best writers to come up with new ideas.

    Thus we end up with shows that hoard their FX budgets and save up ideas to splurge on special arcs or episodes. I'd rather these shows - Voyager and Enterprise most easily leap to mind, but that's because they tried some damned interesting stuff - shot their wad on a dozen kick-ass episodes right out the gate, and then call it a day, rather than pace themselves and pad out things with episodes that are office dramas in space.

    Barclay is definitely an acquired taste. It struck me that my antipathy for that character is akin to your antipathy for Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. Not in particulars, just in the way those characters hit us like rending metal fingernails on a caterwauling chalkboard. I have seen his Voyager episodes. Regardless of my feelings about the character, it was an interesting crossover.

    Tangentially, Next Gen and subsequent series explored some of the implications of holodeck tech, though they only dipped a little bit into the dark side of it. I think my favorites have been the ones where the characters used it to replicate real people, whether it's the ones you mention above, or NextGen's Geordi creating the warp scientist(?) to "collaborate" with. I still recall finding it fascinating when the real woman discovered Geordi's holodeck version of her, and went off. The implications she made are exactly what you know is gonna happen when virtual reality comes into its own.

    Course: Oblivion was a really good episode, one that hit me hard, too. It's a concept dealt with in scifi before, usually in the literature, but it's also similar to the concept behind Solaris, both the Russian original and the actually-pretty-good Clooney remake. Regardless, it's heady stuff for Trek, and being reminded of how affecting it was goads me into resolving to sit down watch Voyager all the way through at some point.

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    1. I can understand that about your reaction to Barclay, and your comparison, there.

      I'm surprised to hear you enjoy Course Oblivion! But happy to hear it, of course.

      Dawn has made a similar observation, that my favorite episodes of Trek are ones that seem to be where the crew isn't acting like themselves or have been memory-wiped or stuff like that. I guess it's true.

      And yeah from the get-go, the holodeck's virtual-porn aspects are well-marked; hell, when the Romulans probed Riker's mind for "Future Imperfect" (or, rather, when the alien kid did) the love of his life was a holo-fantasy chick. The implications of that for Riker are not very flattering. If aliens kidnapped me and recreated my life from my mind and made my wife Lisa Ann or some other porn star, I'd be embarrassed as hell. (Riker doesn't seem given to embarrassment; he probably went and, ahem, played his trombone for awhile.)

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  3. When I wrote "[t]he implications she made" above, I meant "the accusations she made," though she implied that Geordi might have been using her holo-version for less academic purposes.

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  4. Well, here’s a good illustration of what happens when you arrive late for the party. I never even knew this new blog series was u and might not have found out at all if I hadn’t just bothered to look in on things.

    To be fair, I don’t know how much I can bring to this conversation. I was a Trek fan for a time, but then slowly I just began to drift away; part of the reason had to do with what I can only describe as a kind of hypocrisy in a lot of the writing of the show.

    Now don’t get me wrong I still like the shows and still watch some on occasion (I’m even more lenient on Enterprise than most believe it or not) yet a lot the cracks in the franchise armor began to show for me in certain shows, a lot of it to do with what I can only describe as an in-house hypocrisy on display in some of the shows, and that I expand to include the series’ writer’s room. The best way I could describe it would be any scenario in any series where characters or just a character will commit some kind of act against the will of, say, another species or in some cases a whole entire planet, thereby making them guilty of not violating the Starfleet values they claim to live by.

    If there’s any perspective I have to add, it might to simply expand and enlarge on this topic where appropriate.

    As for Jeri Ryan’s character…I’ve long since been bemused (sometimes bored, tired and fed up) whenever the topic is brought up.

    I’d read that interview with her long before I wrote this believe it or not. There’s a lyric from a Bo Diddley song of all things that Steve King mentions in Danse Macabre. It can be found on page 67 of the 2010 trade paperback reissue, or on 66 if you only have the 80s Berkeley mass market paperback edition.

    I flashed on that line as I read Ryan’s comments. I struck me then, and still does now, that no matter what us guys think, I’m willing to make a bet that women have a certain, knowledge is I think the word I’m looking for (?), that probably makes us look immature in ways we maybe never stopped to think about.

    ......I'm sorry, my mind wandered, what were we talking about again?

    Anyway, as a final closer let me point out an online series of vlogs by someone I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the Nostalgia Critic. It turns out he has a review of all the Trek films up until Insurrection, all part of 8 part review series called “To Boldly Flee”. A full list can be found here, you just have to scroll down to find each entry:

    http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic

    Another good vlog site to check up on Trek ever so often is SF Debris, giving numerous reviews and details on any given Trek series episode:

    http://sfdebris.com/

    ChrisC

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    1. Chris, I wondered where you went, man! Good to hear from you. Hope you enjoy.

      I'll have to dig out my copy of Danse and check out the quote to which you refer.

      And oh yeah, Starfleet values are constantly in flux. (i.e. contradicted constantly) I'm going for a more "spirit of Trek" and "personal reflection," here, rather than a catalog of all the times the future seems at odd with its principles. But by all means keep an eye on that stuff and I look fwd to hearing your thoughts. It's certainly a worthwhile topic.

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    2. There is one final thing to say about the Ryan interview.

      All i know is this, lately Ive noticed there are two types of liberated women. The first might be described (and I hope like hell I'm not putting my foot in my mouth) as a sort of more conservative type, while the second, more liberal I guess, are women like Ryan.

      Both types equally demand respect, and both seem to disagree on what they should be. I think.

      Bear in mind, all this is being through a guy prism so I can only report what struck about what i noticed from my own (extremely) limited perspective.

      It seems to all come down to a question of what behavior is and isn't demeaning, and I couldn't help but think a liberal like Ryan is acting what I can only call a kind of sly knowing, yet also keeping an eye on her self-respect. In fact, the interesting thing about the interview is that she came off ,to me at least, like a modern housewife, yet one who apparently held some sort of power.

      I'm sorry, I'm rambling, forget I said anything.

      ChrisC

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  5. I believe I neglected to include "Projections" (s2, e3) on this list of top 30 eps. It's a good one - Berman-era Trek-by-numbers, perhaps, but fun numbers.

    In general, I should probably revisit this list and spruce it up.

    Big Voyager re-watch? OMG best idea ever.

    I've been re-arranging the house today and yesterday, and Voyager has been my background for it.

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