Star Trek: Voyager Revisited - A Look Back At Season Three
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 two.
I have an admission to make. I thought I had seen a lot more of Star Trek: Voyager. I've watched the original series at least twice, Star Trek: The Next Generation three or four times and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the movies several times over. But heading into the third season of Star Trek: Voyager, I realised I had only watched a handful of episodes from the beginning and end of the season. The same goes with seasons four and five. I had seen nothing of six and only the finale Endgame from season seven. So entering the third was a strange experience for me. For the first time, I was watching 'new' episodes of classic 90s / 00s Star Trek and that was quite an exciting thing: as such my look back at each season from three onwards is very much a mix of revisits and first time viewings.
Entering season three, the first of two seasons with Jeri Taylor as showrunner, it's clear that Star Trek: Voyager is trying to learn from its mistakes. It still has a number of issues from the first two seasons; the majority of the cast and woefully underdeveloped and it keeps trying to hold on to the Star Trek: The Next Generation era with episodes like False Profits and Q and the Grey (with the Borg not far behind). But it is also starting to find its feet. It leaves Kazon (and Vidiian) space as soon as the season two cliff-hanger is resolved and doesn't look back. It has it's first big action two-parter in Future's End, something which become a staple of the show moving forward and it ends spectacularly in season finale Scorpion.
There's an argument that season three is where Star Trek: Voyager starts to find its feet. It's a little more fun, a little more experimental and for the first time, it feels as if the ship is actually moving forward - or should that be backward - to the Alpha Quadrant. By the time the ship reaches the The Nekrit Expanse in mid-season episode Fair Trade, the ship's guide Neelix has no knowledge of what lies beyond. By the end of the season, Voyager finds themselves adrift in Borg space. The series no longer runs into the same aliens weeks after week. In many ways, it feels like a very soft reboot for the show, starting with the cleaning house approach to season opener Basics Part II.
Season two saw the crew of Voyager stranded on a dangerous planet, with Seksa and Maj Cullah in control of the ship. The plan to take Voyager back rests with Paris, who heads out to recruit new allies and the psychopathic Suder (Brad Dourif), who remains on the ship with the Doctor. While Dourif and Robert Picardo work well together, it's sadly a short-lived affair, with Suder killed in a blaze of glory before the credits roll. Seska also dies unnecessarily as the Kazon slink off into the distance. Along with Suder, she is probably the most interesting recurring character on the show (not that Star Trek: Voyager really does supporting characters well), and it's a shame both of them are dispatched. Particularly Suder, who is given some form of redemptive arc.
This is followed by the 30th anniversary celebratory episode Flashback, with George Takei reprising his role as Sulu, in a story exploring Tuvok's time on the Excelsior in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Despite the appeal of Sulu, it is largely lifeless in its storytelling and far less successful than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Trials and Tribble-Ations. More successful perhaps is the next two-parter; Future's End, that feels like a loving homage to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The crew have fun in a fish out of water story that sees Voyager end up in the 1990s. Everyone is clearly having a blast, Sarah Silverman makes for a great guest star and there is plenty of action and a nefarious villain to keep the momentum going. It certainly isn't the greatest two-part story in Star Trek: Voyager's run, but it certainly shows that the show can be fun.
While not as pronounced as it would be next season, Star Trek: Voyager certainly goes for the thrills in season three. Whether it is Janeway going all Ellen Ripley and fighting off giant aliens in Macrocosm or the racing the clock tension of Rise, it is clear the show wants to embrace the blockbuster mentality more than its predecessors. The fallout of that, is that so many other episodes fall into the bland, generic Star Trek camp. The alien prison of The Chute, the hive of ships in The Swarm, Kes getting possessed by an alien dictator in Warlord and the crew getting replaced by alien refugees in Displaced all feel like episodes that could exist in any Star Trek series with any crew.
But there are episodes that feel very Star Trek: Voyager too. Fair Trade sees Neelix hit by a crisis of purpose when he finds he can no longer guide Voyager through the Delta Quadrant. The shady criminal dealings on the space station feel very out of place with the safer, controlled nature of the Alpha Quadrant. Real Life is a fascinating exploration of the Doctor's attempts to forge a holographic family; arguably it could be a story roughly translated to Data - see The Offspring - but it serves as a fascinating exploration of the holographic Doctor's attempts to become more human. Worst Case Scenario is a fun 'what if' as we follow a Marquis mutiny in the early days of season one. It is a great encore for Seska, back in her Bajoran guise and it is lots of fun to see the crew split down the side, even if it feels as if it's at least a season too late to tell.
There is an attempt to give a number of characters some development this season. Fair Trade and Alter Ego explore the development and purpose of Neelix and the EMH, but Coda is a strong story of Janeway too; starting as a bizarre Groundhog Day-style adventure, we soon learn that the captain has died and must choose between her life on the ship and leaving with the ghost of her father. Her journey to save Kes in Sacred Ground offers some redemption too after her poor choices in season two. Chakotay's spiritual nature is largely abandoned this season. There are moments that tap into his sense of humour in Future's End and Coda, but these are far and few between. He get's a meatier story in Unity; sadly it's a poor introduction to the Borg, no matter how interesting the story tries to be. Torres gets an interesting story in Remember, a holocaust allegory, but it doesn't really develop her character and could arguably had been allocated to any crew member.
Kes also starts to develop into an interesting character; while Warlord is largely hammy from beginning to end, having the Ocampa possessed by an evil dictator allows her to finally put an end to her toxic relationship with Neelix. One of the highlights of the season is Before and After, which crams all seven years-worth of development into one episode, travelling back through various stages of her life. It's a shame that Kes left, because this episode showed just how interesting her story could have become. It also sees her transition into her middle years, no longer an elfin child but a woman with purpose, her telepathic abilities enhancing, as seen in her connection to Species 8472 in Scorpion.
Some characters however, suffer with poor episodes, Harry Kim goes through the ringer in The Chute, but never develops as a result of the hard choices he needed to make. Alter Ego marks another of Harry's inappropriate love stories as he falls in life with a hologram. It's such a bad move, that the episode dumps the focus on Kim half way through to turn the story's focus to Tuvok. And the less said about Favourite Son, the better. Harry finding himself on a planet of Siren-like women is more cringe-worthy that Kirk's many sexual shenanigans in the 60s's era Star Trek.
The fascination with Star Trek: The Next Generation resurfaces in False Profits, a sequel to TNG episode The Price. While it's fun to see Neelix as a Ferengi, the race is best left to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as this episode isn't as funny as it think it is. The Q and the Grey is the second of three Q episodes and while it is great to see John De Lancie again, turning his infatuation to Janeway, just because she is a female captain, is obvious and contrived. The whole civil war thing is huge but feels woefully undeveloped. There are a number of disturbing sexual stories in the season, all of which feel largely sterile. Q's 'seduction of Janeway' lack chemistry. Creating recurring Vulcan crew member Vorik largely serves to tread the old Pon Farr storyline in Blood Fever, without having Tuvok cheat on his wife, instead having Torres the subject of sexual assault that is brushed under the carpet. Darkling turns the Doctor into a sexual predator, though Picardo at least shines in a twisted performance. And once again, Favourite Son is embarrassing on almost every level. Sadly, Harry Kim has no sexual chemistry with anyone.
Still, while many episodes are bland or generic, there are some stronger episodes in season three than the years preceding it. Futures End, Before and After and After Life all offer some fund character driven moments with plenty of action (Before and After sets up season four's Year of Hell nicely). Distant Origin is another strong entry this season, with Voyager the subject of a debate into creationism and evolution itself as a dinosaur-like race argues that Earth might be their planet of origin.
And then there is the end highlight of Scorpion. The build up to the Borg in season three could have been better. The Borg corpse discovered at the end of Blood Fever adds plenty of ominous tension, but the following Unity lacks pay off. Starting off with a disabled Borg cube and a community trying to survive post assimilation is a nice idea, but sets up the Borg as a vulnerable race, a trend that would grow and grow as the show progressed. Arguably Scorpion does that same with the creation of Species 8472. However, the idea of Voyager making a deal with the devil to stop an even greater enemy and find a passage home, makes for compelling television.
It's a bombastic finale - Star Trek: Voyager's The Best of Both Worlds - and while it doesn't quite height the heights of that season three finale, there is no doubting the epic nature of this episode. The encounter with fifteen Bog cubes really sets the high stakes at play, while the sight of the Borg graveyard - a twist on the aftermath of Wold 359, really gives the scale of the threat Species 8472 pose. The GCI-aliens are something new to the Star Trek mythos and the effects still just about hold up today. It is an episode with plenty of scale and high drama; seeing Janeway and Chakotay at odds makes for some riveting television. A bombastic finale would set up the high epic feel of season four.
Season three of Star Trek: Voyager is a mix of generic, bland stories and fun, action-packed narratives. In the same way that season three of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine felt like a dry run for season four and five, so does Star Trek: Voyager's third season for the two years that followed. Big, bold two-parter? Check? Borg? Check. Janeway transforming into a badass? Check. It certainly isn't the most interesting season of Star Trek, but it is a lot better than the two years that preceeded it. And with the biggest finale in the show's history, Star Trek: Voyager shows that it hasn't quite given up yet.
Season Three's Best Episode: Scorpion
A finale that simultaneously makes the Borg an insurmountable force and creates an enemy even worse. The decision to ally with the Borg is unthinkable, setting the stage for much needed conflict on the ship. From the sight of fifteen Borg cubes, the Borg corpse totem pole, Harry's grim fate, Kes's abilities in full bloom and a planet-destroying cliff-hanger, Scorpion takes Star Trek: Voyager blockbuster episodes to the next level
Season Three's Worst Episode: Favourite Son
Harry Kim discovers comes from a planet in the Delta Quadrant and becomes a sex slave for sirens preying on men from distant races. It's as ridiculous as it sounds.
Season Three's Best Moment: "Fifteen Borg vessels. Distance, 2.1 light years and closing"
If there was any doubt that Voyager was heading into Borg space, the sight of the ship flung out of control as fifteen Borg cubes swarm past it show just how dangerous their path has become...
What are your thoughts on Star Trek: Voyager's third season? Let us know in the comments below...