As Star Trek: Voyager celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, Baz Greenland continue his look back at each season of the Star Trek series, continuing with season two.
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.
Check out our look back at season one here
The second season of Star Trek: Voyager is something of a mixed bag. It certainly has some signs of promise, but it also features some of the worst storytelling across the seven season run. Some of that is notably due to the behind the scenes turmoil between executive producers Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor (the former would step away from the franchise completely after the second season, with Taylor leading the show into an arguably more successful third and fourth season). It’s very much a season that feels as if Voyager (the ship and the show) are already stuck in a rut, never really going anywhere.
The USS Voyager should be encountering new lifeforms, new civilisations on a weekly basis. Some of those would absolutely be hostile, resulting in the ship taking increasing amounts of damage, a hit on morale and a struggle to keep Starfleet’s mandate in place. Looking at season two, you wouldn’t think that was the case. The increased presence of both the Kazon and the Vidiians make it feel as if the ship is barely a few light years beyond where they began in the pilot episode Caretaker. Indeed, Kazon space certainly feels as big as the Federation, with Janeway encountering First Maje Culluh at his sect three times during the second season, having already faced off against him in mid-season one episode State of Flux. And that’s before you consider the Cardassian missile Torres reprogrammed in the Alpha Quadrant in Dreadnought or Harry waking up back on Earth in early season two episode Non Sequitur.
The added presence of Seksa, now a fully fledged Cardassian villain, who has allied herself with Cullah, complicates things further. Martha Hackett’s Bajoran Marquis officer Seska was certainly the highlight of season one, regularly breaking the rules and causing conflict on the ship. In many ways, she’s just as great in season two, proving to be a thorn in Voyager’s side right up to its eventual capture by the Kazon in the season two finale. The trouble is, from the moment she turns up in mid-season two episode Manouvres, her motivation changes to jilted lover as she steals Chakotay’s DNA to impregnate herself and then plots with members of the crew to take the ship for herself.
It’s a frustrating, ham-fisted narrative, compounded by a number of frustrating sub plots. The season turns Paris back into the bad boy rebel – despite the fact that Robert Duncan McNeill is completely unconvincing in that role – and his fake decision to quit Voyager in Investigations, is totally unconvincing. The real ‘traitor’, Raphael Sbarge’s Hogan is seriously undeveloped, like all of Star Trek: Voyager‘s attempts at recurring crew members (though arguably it’s an issue facing the main cast too). Worst of all is Alliances, the absolute nadir of the season. It is an episode that sees Janeway ally with the people that once enslaved the Kazon and then when everything falls apart, turns her into a smug, arrogant know it all, re-writing history to her own ends. There are a couple of distinctly unlikeable traits about Janeway this season, the other, her decision to brutally murder Tuvix (more on that later).
The constant run-ins with the Kazon and the weak attempt at a season arc, really drag season two down. When the ship is eventually captured by Cullah and Seska in the finale Basics: Part 1 it is less shocking and more a crushing inevitability (thankfully the Kazon would be swiftly written out at the start of season three). The frustrating thing is, Star Trek: Voyager already had a great recurring threat; the Vidiians. If season two really was going to have Voyager encounter a formidable foe on a recurring basis, they were it. After the moral duplicity of their two season one appearances, they do become more of a threat. Both Deadlock and Resolutions see Voyager under threat from fleets of Vidiian ships seeking to harvest the crew’s organs.
The three Vidiian stories are some of the strongest in season two. Lifesigns is a solid episode for Robert Picardo’s EMH (who gets another decent instalment early in in Projections, exploring the duality of his role as the Doctor and his creator Zimmerman), falling in love with Phage-ridden Vidiian Doctor Danara Pel (Susan Diol), the first episode to really develop his character beyond his programming. But it is the following two instalments that demonstrate just how dangerous her people are. Deadlock is perhaps Star Trek: Voyager‘s first great episode, which sees the ship split in two by an anomaly, hiding from Vidiian ships. There are some truly dark moments – did you remember that the real Harry Kim is blown out on an airlock and Naomi Wildman dies shortly after her birth? In a tense climax, the two Janeways are forced to work together, the alternate Kim and Naomi joining the real Voyager as the other is boarded by the Vidiians. Seeing the crew hunted down and slaughtered is a thrilling, dark turn of events. When the EMH turns again to Pel in Resolutions to find a cure to a disease infecting Janeway and Chakotay, her race quickly turns against the ship, leading to another deadly chase, with the grim fate of the crew at stake. If you imagine what a focus on the Vidiians, rather than the Kazon, might have been life, season two might have been a lot stronger.
Season two has ambition. The failed Kazon arc is an attempt to capitalise on series arc storytelling, which was becoming increasingly more confident in its parent show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are some big concept episodes too; the aforementioned Deadlock is the first truly blockbuster episode of Star Trek: Voyager that it would be come famous for in its later years. Resistance is a powerful episode about Janeway taking on the role of daughter to Joel Grey’s Caylem on a hostile world. The Thaw is a wonderfully psychedelic episode that sees Kim and Torres transported in the nightmarish dream-world of Michael McKean’s The Clown; it certainly captures the feel of 60’s Star Trek‘s more outlandish episodes.
Meld is one of season two’s biggest surprises, dealing with the murder of a crewmember by psychopathic Betazoid Lon Suder (played to perfection by Brad Dourif). Tuvok entering his mind to control his tendencies, makes for some fascinating storytelling, even if the episode isn’t quite brave enough to fully engage with the madness affecting Tuvok as a result of the meld. Threshold, as derived as it is (and it’s not as bad as other episodes this season) attempts to do something interesting with the idea of breaking the Warp 10 barrier. Season opener The 37s (originally held over from season one) offers some interesting concepts – the abduction of Emilia Earhart and the first time Voyager lands on a planet, an action repeated under more disturbing circumstances in the season finale. Projections delivers a tour-de-force from Robert Picardo as the EMH flits between reality and his core programming.
Season two recognises that Robert Picardo’s EMH is the standout character of the first season, and in addition to his two key episodes, there is a sense – for a while, that Star Trek: Voyager might offer its other characters some much needed progression. Robert Beltran probably gets the most to do this season as Chakotay, from his encounter with the Kazon during a spiritual quest in Initiations to an encounter with an alien race that links back to his people’s beliefs in Tattoo – not to mention his abduction and betrayal by Seska. The trouble is, these are all largely terrible episodes, the attempt to bring native American culture to the show woefully misguided. Chakotay’s only decent episode is Resolutions, which sees Chakotay trapped on a planet with Janeway; his best relationship on the show is with the captain, and this episode attempts to capitalise on that with the tease of romance. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Voyager is too afraid to embark down that storyline.
Jennifer Lien’s Kes is one of the most underrated characters in Star Trek: Voyager and there is a real sense that the show is attempting to tap into the potential of her character, both as a latent telepath and as a race with a nine-year lifecycle. Elogium sees her face the possibility of embracing parenthood; unfortunately she continues to burdened by a toxic, abusive relationship with Neelix, who’s jealously really comes to a head in Partition. Cold Fire is more successful, partly in her pairing with Tuvok as a mentor, who along with the Doctor, becomes her strongest connection on the show. Her growth this season will continue further into the next.
As with season one, there is a sense that Star Trek: Voyager really just wants to be Star Trek: The Next Generation Mark II. The special anomaly of Twisted, the holodeck / alien hallucinations of Persistence of Vision and the alien children Tuvok befriends in Innocence all feel like stock Star Trek stories. As with The Thaw, there are episodes that feel like a throwback to the 60s, with warring artificial intelligence of Prototype and the transporter accident of Tuvix, which sees Tuvok and Neelix merged into one. The latter is made more fascinating because the new Tuvix is arguably more interesting than the separate characters, with Tom Wright bringing a lot of conviction to the role. While it is inevitable that he is a one-shot character, it would have been braver if he had stayed on the ship. It also makes Janeway into a monster. Coming off her hypocritical actions in Alliances, her ruthless actions in sentencing Tuvix to death without hesitation makes her much more of a monster – a far cry from the maternal scientist presented in other episodes.
The most overt example of Star Trek: Voyager‘s desire to be another Star Trek: The Next Generation is its decision to brining in one of the show’s most iconic characters; John De Lancie’s omnipotent Q. It makes the universe feel so much smaller and seems to work hard to side step the elephant in the room of why he doesn’t send Voyager home. That being said, Death Wish remains one of the season’s highlights alongside Meld and Deadlock, with De Lancie having great rapport with Kate Mulgrew’s Janeaway and a compelling narrative of a Q wishing to die.
Season two of Star Trek: Voyager is a mixed bag that doesn’t really go anywhere. It isn’t as bland as season one, but the inconsistency is an issue; the Kazon drag the season down and there are some questionable character decisions. Neelix’s relationship with Kes is abusive, Janeway becomes a ruthless hypocrite, Seska goes from nuanced villain to a vengeful ex-girlfriend and Chakotay’s spiritualism borders on cliché. Kim, Paris and Torres never get a chance to develop at all, Paris’s fake rebel arc aside, with only the EMH, and possibly Kes, offering anything resembling a real character journey. There are highlights; the Vidiians emerge as terrifying villains, Q, the Clown and Lon Suder provide the show with some fascinating antagonists for the crew to bounce off. It’s just a shame that the big focus of the season was the Kazon. Fortunately there would be room for improvement in season three when Star Trek: Voyager finally leaves them behind…
Season Two’s Best Episode: Deadlock
An episode packed with tension and plenty of great twists. The shocking death of Harry Kim, the ship split in two by an anomaly, two Janeways working together and the brutal slaughter by the crew as the Vidiians begin harvesting the crew’s organs. Even with the giant reset button at the end, it remains the big blockbuster event of season two.
Season Two’s Worst Episode: Alliances
An episode the utterly destroys Janeway’s character as she allies with the race responsible for enslaving the Kazon and then acts smugly superior when it all falls apart. The ability of the Kazon sects to meet up in the space of hours shows just how Voyager is truly going nowhere. A mess from beginning to end.
Season Two’s Best Moment: Tuvok confronts Suder (Meld)
Brad Dourif gives a chilling performance as Tuvok confronts Suder over the murder of another crewmember. Suder doesn’t hide the fact. He did it because he didn’t like the way the man looked at him. A dark, disturbing moment, leading to Tuvok’s attempt to meld with a psychopath….
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