Star Trek: Voyager Revisited – A Look Back At Season Four
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 four.
- 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
Season four of Star Trek: Voyager is by far its greatest season. With season three offering a more confident, if still sometimes bland run of episodes, the fourth took the show up a notch with even bigger thrills and action and the introduction of Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine. Some of the series' greatest hits are all found this year, from Year of Hell Parts 1 and 2 to Message in a Bottle. From the Borg to the Hirogen, this was the season when it really felt as if the gloves were off.
There's no denying the impact Seven of Nine had on the show. The Borg drone ripped from the collective and forced to regain her humanity was the focus of several key episodes this season (and indeed the three beyond that), often taking the focus away from the other main cast members. It's easy to see why; Ryan is superb in the role, offering genuine conflict and a rich back story in her assimilation as a child. She outshines most of the other cast members, only Robert Picardo's performance really matching her stride. Her slow steps to regaining humanity make for a fascinating narrative. It's just a shame she's also pimped up as a sexy barbie doll. The costumes Ryan is forced to wear, particularly the original silver number, are gratuitous and caused the actress great difficultly breathing (though you only have to look to Deanna Troi and T'Pol to see Star Trek's disturbing fascination with trying to up the sex appeal of male viewers).
Seven of Nine doesn't need sex appeal. While Ryan is undeniably beautiful, the character is little more than a child, trying to adjust to humanity by picking up where she left off at aged six. The way characters like Harry Kim lech over her is disturbing. Fortunately, Seven is served many interesting stories, from the trauma of her assimilation in The Raven to becoming the sole crew member in One. Season four is the one season that feels like it has a story to tell. Scorpion Part 2 sees her liberated from the Borg. The aforementioned The Raven explores her past. Contact is finally made with Starfleet in Message in a Bottle, Seven confronts her greatest enemy, Species 8472 in Prey and seeks revenge. Finally the actions of Janeway and Seven come back to haunt them in the finale Hope and Fear, which deals with the fallout of the Captain's alliance with the Borg.
Coming off the epic season finale Scorpion, the concluding part and the subsequent The Gift act as a huge game changer for the series. Seven is quickly introduced, while the stakes continue to remain high as Voyager navigates an alliance with the Borg, Janeway and Chakotay come to blows over her actions and Species 8472 are defeated. But it also serves of something of a shake-up, with the arrival of Ryan forcing the departure of Jennifer Lien. It's a big mistake. Kes is finally maturing and developing her abilities. What's more, her relationship with the Doctor was one of the most endearing on the show. Most fans know the story - it was between Kes and Harry Kim and Garret Wang's agent got him a spot on 'the most sexiest' list. Sex appeal wins over again and Kim stays, while Kes evolves into a higher being and departs. At least The Gift is a fitting end for her journey, even if it feels somewhat abrupt (it's also best to ignore everything about her brief return in season six's Fury).
While things settle back down after that, there is a sense that even the blandest episodes of Star Trek: Voyager season four have a little more magic to them - though that may be in part due to the attempt to capitalise on Seven of Nine and show-horn moments of her development into every episode. There is a sense of momentum however, building on the success of Scorpion. Day of Honour brings Torres and Paris together after attempts to build a connection between them in season three, while Chakotay gets a decent solo episode in Nemesis, which sees him drafted into and facing the trauma of an alien war. Revulsion is a fun serial-killer episode with Leland Orser delivering a memorable performance as a psychopathic hologram, The Raven finds the crashed ship Seven grew up on and Scientific Method offers a disturbing look at the crew being subject to medical testing by a superior force.
And then comes Year of Hell. While is sadly wasn't realised as a season-long arc - as was Brannon Braga's intention - it serves as a fascinating 'what if?' for Star Trek: Voyager. This is another bombastic blockbuster two-parter, with a third to follow in The Killing Game. Against the nefarious plans by Annorax (a commanding guest performance by Kurtwood Smith), the Voyager is crippled piece by piece as they face deadly attacks navigating their way through Krenim space. Moments like the destruction of deck five are jaw-dropping and the catastrophic erosion of the ship more harrowing as the story progresses into part two. The time travel element offers some fun character deaths and while the shiny reset at the end is a little too jarring, it is a wonderful example of what the show could do when it was firing on all cylinders.
Star Trek: Voyager rarely indulges in story arcs, the terrible Kazon story line of season two aside, but it's most successful is the series of episodes centred on the Hirogen. While the Borg were inherited from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: First Contact, the alien hunters are the best alien menace in the show since the Vidiians. They are essentially big game hunters in the chaos of the Delta quadrant, first teased in the brilliant Message in a Bottle, which also sets up the first communication with Starfleet courtesy of an alien array. The Doctor's trip to the Alpha Quadrant is a huge amount of fun, most notably in the team up with the newer EMH model played by Andy Dick, and tying into the events of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the one and only mention of the Dominion War and the slaughter of the Marquis.
The design and ferocity of the Hirogen make them one of the most striking aliens in Star Trek lore, serving as a recurring antagonist though a chunk of season four. From Seven and Tuvok's capture in Hunters to the moral angst of Prey as they are discovered to be hunting a lone member of Species 8472 for sport; Seven handing her enemy over to the Hirogen makes for a startling turn of events, that puts her at odds with the captain, while the two-parter The Killing Game takes things to another level with the ship captured and the crew subjected to war games on the holodeck in one of the most imaginative uses of the Star Trek technology.
The increased focus on Seven throughout the season makes for some far more engaging storytelling; Retrospect has Seven the subject of abuse and mind-wipe, while One has her literally supplant the crew and they are put into suspended animation to navigate through hostile space. She even elevates the episodes focused on other characters. Seven saving Neelix's life with nanites in Mortal Coil sees him face a crisis of faith as he learns the afterlife he always believed in isn't real, while it is Seven who first identifies the alien threat to the crew in Scientific Method. Even the smaller scenes of Seven discovering food for the first time or facing Kim's advances head on are far more interesting than what is happening with most of the crew.
It doesn't help that while almost every scene with Seven enhances her development, other characters are saddled with stories that could fit any crew member. Torres being subject to punishment because of angry thoughts in Random Thoughts is hardly the most insightful exploration of her personality, while Chakotay's love affair with an alien refugee in Unforgettable is as memorable as the episode title suggests. Demon is a fairly generic Star Trek story with Kim and Paris cloned, though it would lead to the fairly decent Course: Oblivion next season.
But there are some episodes that seems tailored to specific characters, ranging from good to terrible. Concerning Flight is a delightful holodeck adventure for Janeway and John Rhys Davies' Leonardo da Vinci that offers some lovely insights into her character. The Omega Directive meanwhile, sees the captain out on her own on a secret mission, even if her story is somewhat supplanted by Seven's insights into what is happening. Living Witness is a superb episode of Robert Picardo's Doctor, which sees him rebuilt on an alien planet in the distant future to help tell the story of the legend of Voyager. And then there is Vis À Vis, another painful 'Paris becomes a rebel' episode that does nothing for his character. Finally, Hope and Fear brings everything full circle as Janeways actions in Scorpion come back to haunt her as the promise of answers from Earth lead the ship into a deadly trap with the Borg. Anchored by a powerful guest performance from Ray Wise, it bookends the season opener - and Seven's journey as she contemplates returning to Earth - nicely.
Season four of Star Trek: Voyager delivers far more than it fails, with some big, ballsy action, great villains in the Krenim, the Borg and the Hirogen and the hint of narrative running throughout the twenty-six episode run. Jeri Ryan brings an energy to the show with an absorbing character journey, even if everyone else comes second place - the exception perhaps of EMH and Janeway. It still has a few bland, forgettable episodes, but only one real stinker in Vis À Vis. Considering the mixed bag of the first three seasons, that's quite a testament. The fourth year hinted that the show could deliver exciting, thrilling television on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, this was the best it could offer, even if season five still had plenty of great stuff to come.
Season Four's Best Episode: Year of Hell Part 1
Possibly the greatest episode in Star Trek: Voyager's run, Year of Hell is an ambitious time travel tale that sees the ship broken bit by bit as it navigates its way through Krenim territory. From Tuvok's blindness to the destruction of deck five, to the decision to abandon most of the crew in the cliff-hanger, this is a dark and gritty version of what the show could have been from the start...
Season Four's Worst Episode: Vis À Vis
Tom Paris was never a rebel. And yet, Star Trek: Voyager kept trying to turn him into one. Vis À Vis is one of those examples, that suggest he might abandon the ship and his relationship with Torres, all mixed up in a bizarre shape-shifting mystery that never quite manages to deliver.
Season Four's Best Moment: Seven sacrifices Species 8472 to the Hirogen
There are a few big moments in Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season - the destruction of deck five in Year of Hell Part 1 , the EMH meeting his replacement in Message in a Bottle or Arturis's trap in Hope and Fear. But the best moment is Seven's decision to betray Species 8472 to the Hirogen in Prey. In a completely un-Starfleet move, Seven sends her enemy to the slaughter, destroying her relationship with Janeway in the process. The best part about it? She doesn't regret a thing...
What are your thoughts on Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season? Let us know in the comments below...