Baz Greenland heads to the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager in his latest 25th anniversary revisit of the show…
As Star Trek: Voyager celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2020, The Digital Fix looks back at each season of the fourth live-action Star Trek series, continuing with season five.
- Check out our look back at season one here
- Check out our look back at season two here
- Check out our look back at season three here
- Check out our look back at season four here
While season five of Star Trek: Voyager sees a third regime change, with Brannon Braga taking over showrunner duties from Jeri Taylor, the impact is far less noticeable than Michael Piller’s departure after season two. After all, Braga – along with Joe Menosky – had already written some of the show’s biggest blockbuster two-parters; Future’s End, Scorpion, Year of Hell and The Killing Game, which had quickly become fan favourites. With the success of Jeri Ryan’s debut as Seven of Nine and the show’s best season yet, season five keeps the energy of year four for the most part, even if it wouldn’t quite have the same impact.
The fifth season is the last decent season of Star Trek: Voyager. It still has all the usual flaws; Janeway is an erratically different character from one episode to the next while Kim, Paris, Chakotay and Torres are wildly underdeveloped. Beyond that, it finds ways to reduce the impact of the Borg from the terrifying villains of Scorpion to just another obstacle in Voyager’s path and new recurring aliens The Malon are less than inspiring. The season also struggles to have a sense of where it is going – or how far. It takes two huge light-year leaps in Timeless and Dark Frontier and yet still runs into the Malon, even though the ship encountered them before those episodes. It’s almost like Star Trek: Voyager has run into the same traps as the first two seasons, where the ship seemed to run into Seska and the same Kazon on what felt like a weekly basis.
Still, there is plenty of good stuff in season five, a lot of it – inevitably – around Seven of Nine. Jeri Ryan is the strongest performer of the show and after a decent character arc in season four, gets plenty more to get her teeth into with season five. Drone sees her raise her own Borg ‘child’ and come face to face with the threat of her old race for the first time since she was ripped away from the Collective. Infinite Regress is a superb tour-de-force from Ryan as Seven is inflicted with the Borg equivalent of Dissociative Identity Disorder as she starts to live out the personalities of all the different personalities she assimilated. Two-parter Dark Frontier is far less successful, but manages to pit Seven against the Borg Queen, while Janeway fights for her in a maternal battle of wills, Think Tank sees Seven become the subject of a genius organisation for her skills and abilities, the charming Someone to Watch Over Me has Seven explore the possibilities of love, while Relativity sees her recruited into a time travel mission to Voyager’s maiden voyage.
After the high-octane two-parters that dominated the fourth season, Dark Frontier is the only multi-part story before the season finale Equinox. Continuing to capitalise on the success of Star Trek: First Contact, it brings back the Borg Queen (this time played by Susanna Thompson). This should have been the highlight of season five; instead it reduces the impact of the Borg significantly. The story opens with Voyager easily destroying a small Borg vessel, adds a heist on [the first of many] damaged Borg sphere and then has Janeway risk the crew on a mission into the heart of the Borg to rescue Seven from the clutches of the Borg Queen. The idea that Seven is so important to the Queen – that everything from Scorpion onward has been one carefully orchestrated plan – is frankly ridiculous. There are some fun moments, but not enough to stop the emasculation of the Borg, one of the biggest issues of Star Trek: Voyager‘s later years.
Fortunately, there are some great episodes to make up for it, though – like the season as a whole – probably not as memorable as the season four entries. The aforementioned Infinite Regress is a brilliant exploration of Seven’s Borg trauma, Ryan living up to the challenging to playing the various personalities taking over her mind. Janeway also gets her best episode in the entire show with Counterpoint, going head to head with the ruthless Devore Imperium as the ship is forced to navigate through hostile space where all telepathic lifeforms are subject to torture and death. It’s a twisted love story, as Janway falls for defector Inspector Kashyk (Mark Harelik), only to discover she is part of an elaborate trap. Janway turning the tables of Kashyk in the end is a superb Janeway moment in an episode packed with tension and intrigue.
There are some clever episodes; Latent Image finds the Doctor struggling with betrayal from within the crew as he learns parts of his memory of an earlier trauma have been removed. Course Oblivion takes a forgettable season four episode Demon and creates an intriguing, sometimes moving episode centred on a doppelgänger crew, with a dark and twisted ending to boot. And then there are the fun episodes too. Bride of Chaotica! delivers on a delightful Flash Gordon-eqsue serials running through the season, with Kate Mulgrew hamming it up as the titular bride in one of Star Trek‘s best holodeck episodes.
Timeless celebrates the show’s 100th episode with a dramatic alternate history episode that sees Voyager destroyed and a future Chakotay and Kim trying to change history to save the crew. From the image of Voyager crashing into the ice planet to an appearance by a future Captain Geordi La Forge, it’s an episode packed with memorable moments. Tuvok even gets something of step forward in his development, with an exploration of his past on Vulcan in Gravity, which attempts a love story of sorts with an endearing guest performance by Lori Petty.
Sadly, season five also has more bad episodes too; Once Upon A Time is a tiresome episode that sees Neelix try to comfort Naomi Wildman after her mother (who is NEVER seen) almost dies, while Thirty Days is yet another Tom Paris becomes a rebel story – though at least the water planet is interesting. The Disease is another terrible Harry Kim falls in love episode, while The Fight is one of the worst episodes the show ever made, with Chakotay suddenly into boxing and dealing with mental trauma as a result of some kind of hallucination as a result of alien interference, that ties back to a grandfather who will never be mentioned again.
There is even a worrying, almost blasé approach to how season five deals with the mental health of its characters. Aside from Chakotay’s mental health issues in The Fight, the Doctor’s loss of memory in Latent Image and Seven’s mutliple personalities in Infinite Regress, season opener Night sees Janeway struggle with depression over her decisions in the pilot episode Caretaker and then spiral into a self-destructive, almost suicidal mission before never speaking of it again. Extreme Risk tackles the subject of self harm as the never before mentioned depression Torres is suffering from spirals as a result of learning about the death of the Marquis in season four. Apparently it can all be resolved with a helping of banana pancakes and never be spoken of again after the credits have rolled.
There are also a number of episodes that – like the first three seasons – are just a little forgettable. Nothing Human attempts to say something interesting, with the Doctor working with a holographic version of a Cardassian that experimented on Bajorans, but whose main plot is a stock Star Trek storyline, as Torres is put into a coma by a parasitic alien. Juggernaut is the third of three tiresome encounters with the Malon, while the entire of a sentient bomb in Warhead is both ridiculous and dull.
Sadly, several episodes that could have been great, don’t quite stick the landing. In The Flesh sees the crew encounter a reconstruction of Starfleet Academy in the Delta Quadrant, part of a secret invasion plan by Species 8472; like the Borg, their impact is certainly lessened here. 11:59 tries to explore Janeway’s ancestor in 2001, but ends up a somewhat dull Hallmark movie. Even the finale Equinox, which sees the crew encounter another stranded Starfleet vessel, isn’t quite as impactful as it should be. The idea of the Equinox being a dark mirror to Voyager is a fascinating concept, but while some of the performances and the Year of Hell-esque set pieces are intriguing, it doesn’t end the season with the bang that it should have had. Captain Ransom should be the dark reflection of Janeway, but she herself has shown herself to make some fairly ruthless, questionable decisions, making her self righteousness here just a little less palatable.
Season five of Star Trek: Voyager is a decent run for the show. It has some great episodes, some memorable moments, but also a great deal of filler. It doesn’t have the momentum of season four or even the upward trajectory season three had after a disastrous season two. It coasts along, content to shine the spotlight on Seven of Nine once again and offer its successful brand of blockbuster action every once in a while. There are some interesting ideas at experimentation and storytelling at times; the starless expanse of Night, or the water world of Thirty Days, the cloned Voyager of Course: Oblivion and the historical setting of 11:59, even if the episodes don’t always work. But it also has some worrying trends, most notably the start of the emasculation of the Borg.
Whereas Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would up their game in season five and launching incredibly successful sixth seasons, Star Trek Voyager never hits that momentum. There is no real development, outside Seven of Nine or the Doctor. Just looking back to Seven’s journey back into the past in Relativity, you can see how characters like Chakotay, Paris, Kim and Torres are the same as they were when the show began. And the sixth and seventh seasons would be no better.
Season Five’s Best Episode: Counterpoint
A tense battle of the wills between Janeway and Inspector Kashyk (Mark Harelik) as Voyager navigates hostile Devore Imperium space. Jumping straight into the action, as Voyager is boarded for inspection, to the tease of a romance for the captain and the final moments as they outwit each other, this is the sort of episode Star Trek: Voyager should have been telling from the start.
Season Five’s Worst Episode: The Fight
Chakotay suddenly becomes a boxer – mixing vision quests with alien-induced hallucinations; the idea of chaotic space should be brilliant, but unfortunately Robert Beltran cannot carry the story, which devolves into a dull boxing match for the first officer’s life. Skip at all costs.
Season Five’s Best Moment: Voyager plunges into the ice in Timeless
Of all the Star Trek shows to reach the 100 episode milestone, Star Trek: Voyager did it best, with a blockbuster time travel episode that sees Chakotay and Kim trying to save the ship. The sight of the crash that kills all the crew, Voyager plunging into the ice and full speed, is one of the most memorable moments from the show’s history.
What are your thoughts on the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager? Does the good make up for the bad? Let us know in the comments below…
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