Judge Eric Profancik has a few words to share about Seven of Nine...and the final season of the show.
Our reviews of Star Trek: Voyager, Season One (published March 9th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Two (published September 27th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Three (published August 30th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Four (published November 17th, 2004), Star Trek: Voyager, Season Five (published November 24th, 2004), and Star Trek: Voyager, Season Six (published January 12th, 2005) are also available.
"We did it."
As this is probably one of the last Star Trek reviews I'll have the opportunity to write, I want to take a quick moment to explain my love of Trek. Once again, Trek-bashing is back in vogue, most likely due to Voyager's DVD release and Ronald D. Moore's (former writer for The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager) Battlestar Galactica. It seems that wherever I look, someone has something bad to say about the series. People are entitled to like it or hate it, and they're free to express their opinions, but it gets tiresome for us Trekkies to be perpetually frowned upon for our appreciation of the shows.
People call Trek boring, old-fashioned, simplistic, and many other progressively demeaning adjectives. These individuals think that Trek is a franchise that has seen better days so they love to casually dismiss the entirety of the show; they also like to say that anyone who continues to support the franchise cannot appreciate anything more "sophisticated." They are certainly wrong with such bold and sweeping allegations. Trek has had better days, but it deserves to be remembered and congratulated for its incredible accomplishments over the nearly forty years it has been in existence.
Trekkies, we've always gotten a bad rap. Whether we're immature or living in our parents' basements, we've been a great target over the years. We take it, hold our heads up high, and continue to proudly profess our love for the franchise. Don't try to take my love away; it's mine and it will never falter.
And why is that? The answer is incredibly simple, and it's been said many times before: We love the franchise because it is an incredible universe filled with great mythology and many interesting characters. Hundreds of fantastic stories have been told, enriching and expanding this universe, and we enjoy knowing it and seeing what happens in it. It's fun to visit and know its history, how it has evolved, and who has shaped its direction. We cannot forget that with all that history, we have grown to love so many characters over the years and look forward to seeing them. Be it Kirk or Spock or Picard or Data or Sisko or Odo or Janeway or Seven or Archer or T'Pol, there are hundreds of characters with hundreds of personalities, and it's just nice to know them. Certainly, it's all fiction, but we all have an urge to delve into the details of some hobby. Look at sports fans. Look at their dedication to fantasy leagues and the enormous minutiae of the stats they memorize. People don't belittle them, but we Trekkies get harassed for our knowledge of the show. That's okay; we're used to it.
But the most important yet most simple reason of all is the nature of the Star Trek universe. It's an optimistic and hopeful prognostication of the future. It's a place where we've moved past petty differences and learned to peaceably coexist. It's a vision of hope in a cloudy present. It's a beacon in the world of sci-fi. Trek may be a bit far-fetched in its utopia, but what's wrong with hoping for the best? Why is an optimistic future such a rarity? Sci-fi is replete with dark visions of despair and pain, and many people are attracted to that (as with the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica), but I appreciate being able to visit a universe where there is potential for greatness, a place where humanity isn't being eradicated, a place where you wouldn't mind living. There's nothing grandiose about our love of Star Trek, so just remember that the next time you want to condemn us or the franchise.
Now, let's talk about Voyager and its good points and bad points.
If you haven't seen the show, then consider this review to contain innumerable SPOILERS.
Facts of the Case
Presented across this seven-disc set are the final 26 hours of Voyager. We follow the crew as they face their last challenges on their journey back home. The episodes from this season, complete with amusing dialogue blunders, are:
• Unimatrix Zero, Part 2
• Critical Care
• Inside Man
• Body and Soul
• Flesh and Blood
• The Void
• Human Error
• Author, Author
• Friendship One
• Natural Law
• Renaissance Man
There's a lot to talk about to wrap up the Voyager series. Paramount to the discussion is that the show is the bastard child of the franchise. It's never quite been embraced by anyone, even little ole me, the ever-faithful Trek lapdog. The core reason is that the stories shown over the past seven years have been wildly erratic, with most of them falling flat. There are a few keepers, but they have been few and far between. Concurrent with that problem is that most of the stories have been told already, even by Voyager itself. Watch just about any story in season seven and you'll have seen it before; for example, Voyager's "Renaissance Man" equals TNG's "Brothers." The series, as we all know, has become highly redundant. Aren't there any truly new and fresh stories out there?
This seems a bit more compounded in this final season as the show looks to tie up the loose ends it created along the way. Back from the past are Seska, Hirogen, Talaxians, and the Maquis situation. From one side of the aisle, you can understand and appreciate the writers working to bring closure to the many problems that they abandoned over the previous seasons. But from the other side, because Voyager has always felt like it was borrowing from its brothers, these same stories also feel like they are ripping themselves off. It's an odd situation, and it's part of the reason Trek gets so much flak. How many times do we have to revisit the same topic? Are we bringing anything new to the table, or have we just run out of ideas?
Interestingly, I have to admit that this final season works very well for me. Most of the stories are far from the best of Trek, but I found revisiting old stories more refreshing this time. While it tickled at the back of my mind that we'd been here before, the shows were able (for the most part) to finally propel the story forward and resolve old questions. I discovered that, back in 2000/2001, Voyager's final season was a let down, with the high point being "Endgame." In 2004/2005, that season was more rewarding with many stories that expanded the characters and our universe.
Yet some characters get too much "expansion" at the expense of the rest of the crew. On the good ship Voyager, that character would be our fine holographic friend, the Doctor. He is an interesting character who had fantastic room in which to grow. Given a clean slate, this character could have gone anywhere, and he did. But we didn't necessarily have to watch him every step of the way. In Season Six's "Virtuoso," we were forced to endure an endless parade of operatic performances. The Doctor just wouldn't shut up. That was a germ of an interesting idea, but the focus wrongly shifted from the alien culture to the Doctor, and we had to pay the price. And throughout Season Seven, the Doctor just kept popping up in episode after episode, showing us an endless variety of new quirks and foibles along the way. Is he the only character that could be written for? Did we really have to have so many episodes about holograms in general? Like the cliché goes, they beat that dead horse silly.
But the Doctor was not the only character who received a lot of attention; there was also the fixation on Seven of Nine, which resulted in the Beltran Dilemma. Before I begin, let me just get it out of the way: I don't mind the abundance of Seven of Nine…stories. I think the bluntness of her character was a refreshing contrast that had been lacking in Voyager. She challenged Janeway in a way no other character could, and it helped heighten the tension in many episodes. And, honestly, she probably was overused at points, but I just couldn't care because I loved watching her every second she was onscreen. Yes, she is gorgeous, and it's fun to watch all those curves in that body stocking.
Now back to the Beltran Dilemma, which is a clear extension of what I just said. Robert Beltran, who played Commander Chakotay, got really steamed towards the end of Voyager. He rightly believed that his character was horribly underutilized, and that everything his character should have been doing had been transferred over to Seven's character. As first officer, it was his duty to challenge Janeway. It was his job to pose the difficult questions and make sure Voyager wasn't straying from the prime directive. But Chakotay never was that character. Yes, he was a little rough for the first episodes of the series, but once Maquis and Starfleet kissed and made up, the tension disappeared. Hence, how could Chakotay be the hard ass when he's been made into a kind, gentle, spiritual man? His edge was gone. And when Seven came along, all those juicy plot complications that should have been the purview of the first officer were delegated to the saucy siren in the catsuit. If you look at the first officers in Trek—Spock, Riker, Kira, Chakotay, and T'Pol—is there any question who never got to do his or her job? Beltran kept his mouth shut for years, but he finally got tired and spoke out. And, amazingly, it seems to have paid off, for Chakotay came out from the woodwork in this last year. He still may not have challenged the captain as often as he should have, but at least he was given more story time and focus. Perhaps, in the best twist of all, he was made the romantic interest for Seven. I think that's a pretty fine consolation prize, don't you?
In talking about the first officer, I inevitably begin to think about the captain of the ship and what she's gone through over the years, especially this one. What happened this season brought out the softer side of Janeway and reasserted her humanity. In two episodes, we see a part of the captain that hadn't been explored fully before this time. In "Workforce," we see a Kathryn Janeway who is perfectly happy and content not being in command. She's a woman who enjoys her work, doesn't crave the big challenges, and can live a happy life and fall in love. Where would Janeway be if she wasn't in Starfleet? (And going back to an earlier discussion, this episode can be matched up with Picard in "The Inner Light" or Kirk in "The Paradise Syndrome.") One has to ponder the road less traveled. Then, in "Endgame," we see Janeway relive a situation that mirrors their crisis from the first episode, "Caretaker." Where are her priorities and where does the crew of Voyager fall? Will she once again destroy the technology that will take them home? Ah, she does walk down that road less traveled. But let's not forget that not everything has to be painted in broad strokes on Trek. Every now and again, even on Voyager, they remembered that subtlety can work and Janeway's character was delicately enhanced. It didn't take a confrontation with the Borg Queen to make you like Janeway, for there were little moments when you could relate to Janeway. Of all the captains, she was the easiest to understand. Kirk was the superhero; Picard was larger-than-life; Sisko was a god; and Archer is too detached from his crew. But there's Janeway: a captain who cares for her crew, works with them, works for them, and always burns the pot roast.
As gentle and caring as Janeway may be, she's also tough. Though it's hard to imagine, she stands up well against all the male captains we've met in Trek. She would definitely win a few fights against some of those guys. And that's also been a great thing about Voyager: the strong female characters. Beyond Janeway, there was Kes (beneath that kind exterior was a "furious" woman), B'Elanna, Seven, and the Borg Queen. Ah, the Borg Queen and her drones—Voyager's favorite nemesis. Two women played the queen during the series, Susanna Thompson and Alice Krieg—the latter being the actress who created the role in Star Trek: First Contact. I found both to be excellent in the role, and, while I appreciate bringing Krieg in for the big finale, it was unnecessary, for Thompson was as much the queen as Krieg. Thompson brought as much menace, fear, power, and slickness to the part as did Krieg. Beyond an uncanny physical likeness, Thompson captured the essence of the queen and added her own flair. Not that Krieg didn't do a good job in "Endgame," but I think it was a bit insulting to Thompson, who did great work in each of her appearances. I daresay that Krieg may even have been a bit flat compared to Thompson.
Speaking of women, everyone's favorite empath practically became a supporting character on Voyager. Troi, and the ever-neurotic Barclay, made some clever and welcome appearances in the final seasons. Not quite like when Worf was brought over to DS9, these two TNG regulars added a little extra credence to the latest spin-off in the universe, and their episodes were fun to watch—especially Deanna in the swimsuit! She still looks great after all these years!
As I near the end of my dissertation, it's only fitting that we steer the discussion to the end of the series and the "Endgame" episode. Aside from seeing Seven of Nine again, there was only one thing I was really looking forward to in watching the entirety of the series and it was this final episode. Not because I couldn't wait for the seven years to finish, but because I really enjoyed the episode when it first aired. I thought it was a fantastic end to the series; in fact, I thought it was the best ending to any Trek series. It had a great combination of action, suspense, danger, humor, surprise, Borg, and time travel. I know that while this is a great show for me, many fans have taken umbrage with the finale. They were annoyed by the elements I mentioned—here are the Borg again, future Janeway saving the day, and a lame final line from Captain Janeway. And it's easy to understand this distaste (or maybe just dismay) for the episode. From one point of view it's another example of Star Trek utilizing the same ideas over and over again. There's nothing new in the episode, just a retread of safe and familiar themes. After seven years, it was just an easy way to get everyone home (though at least it wasn't just Q snapping his fingers). Where was that new challenge? Where was some fantastic new obstacle and opportunity that was as unique as Voyager's travelings through the Delta Quadrant? Were there no better options? But from my point of view, I liked the blending of these "classic" Star Trek elements in the finale. It's a bit of a homage to the entirety of the franchise to use one of the great villains in a tried and true Trek gambit; it effectively satisfied the goal of the series, to get Voyager home. I love the Borg, and I love time travel. To hell with temporal paradoxes, let's have that ablative armor and transphasic torpedo technology just a few years earlier.
As much as I enjoyed the episode, surprise, it wasn't quite as much fun as I remembered; for there were stray details that distracted me…or not so much details as complete turnabouts in some of our characters, namely Harry, Chakotay, and Seven. Near the end of the episode, everyone comes together in the conference room to discuss their plan of attack. Harry then comes forward and gives a speech. Excuse me, but when has Harry ever talked like that? When has Harry ever felt that comfortable, comfortable enough to give this big speech, let alone comfortable enough to pat Chakotay on the back? (And, by the way, why was everyone holding a cup of coffee?) Harry's speech wasn't bad; it was just too different for him, yet you can see the attempt for some closure on his character, showing us how he's matured and grown. But so much worse is this "surprise" relationship between Chakotay and Seven. What? Where the devil did this come from? Oh, "Human Error"? Hogwash. What a ludicrous idea to suddenly pair these two up. And then give us further insult by saying that the future death of Seven will devastate Chakotay (and Janeway)? Double hogwash! This is just plot complication for the sake of plot complication. We could have easily done without this nonsense and still had a satisfying episode and conclusion for the show.
Nonetheless, we all know that Star Trek has always been far from perfect. So many of its stories have had plot and logic gaps that you could fly Voyager through (e.g., in "Renaissance Man," why didn't the Doctor just anesthetize the entire crew?). We take the good with the bad, and hope the good outweighs the rest. Yet some things just make you stop and say "What?" With Voyager, that something would be Neelix. Someone please explain to me why Neelix is booted off the show just before they get home. This "kitchen rat" has been so loyal, so bouncy, so dedicated to the Federation that it makes no sense not to bring him to the Alpha Quadrant. What was the point of finding a reason for him to stay behind? It is a decision that ranks right up there with the Chakotay/Seven debacle, but at least that coupling has a possibility of ending before it begins (thanks to temporal mechanics). Poor Neelix, all your hard work and dedication was for nothing.
Let's now talk about the DVDs. This will be the 24th variation on a theme by Paramount, and if you've read a review for any of the sets, you know exactly what I'm about to say. The transfers on this season are right in line with your average television-on-DVD release. The full-frame video is nicely rendered with bright, accurate colors, great detail, and almost no errors along the way. There is a quick scene in "Prophecy" in which Klingons are swinging their bat'leths around and as the blades arc through the air, the motion is choppy, like a frame or two is missing. Also on occasion I found some of the blacks a touch muddied (notably in cave scenes). Aside from that, everything else looks good. For the audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is probably the best of all the shows on all the sets. Overall, there's just more punch on each track along with better use of the surrounds and the subwoofer, and, of course, the dialogue is perfect through the center channel.
For this final package, I was extremely disappointed with the usual lot of extras. They didn't add up to an overall examination of the series nor of the season itself. It felt more like a half-hearted effort to just get something onto the discs. The special features are:
• Braving the Unknown—Season 7 (17 minutes): This follows the cookie-cutter formula from the previous six seasons and gives a brief overview of the key episodes and developments during this season. Nothing new here.
• Time Capsule—The Doctor (15 minutes): Just like all previous character overviews, you've already seen everything in the episodes. Nothing new here either.
• Coming Home—The Final Episode (12 minutes): Finally, the possibility to give us some great insight into the conclusion of the series. Oops, opportunity squandered. While you do learn a few small nuggets, it misses the mark.
• Real Science with Andre Bormanis (13.5 minutes): This latest segment with Bormanis is a more general examination of science and inspiration than an actual look at specific items and theories. As a result, this segment is dullsville.
• The Making of Borg Invasion 4-D (9 minutes): First question is why is this included on this DVD? (1) It's Star Trek. (2) Voyager is always fighting the Borg. (3) It stars Kate Mulgrew and Robert Picardo. Second question, what does it really have to do with Voyager? Nothing. Regardless, it's the most interesting segment, but only because it's brand new material.
Rounding out the extras are a photo gallery, some storyboards (which I believe is a first for a Trek DVD release), and the usual collection of Easter eggs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Since I've already discussed some of the weaknesses of the show, allow me to utilize this section for some random thoughts that just don't fit above:
• After watching "21 years" of Star Trek episodes over the past three years, I've noticed that Season Seven of Voyager decreased the episode running time. Previously, all shows ran for 45 minutes. This last season of Voyager clocked in at 43 minutes. Woohoo! More commercials!
• Voyager liked to dabble in "bigger" stories, and there were many two-part episodes over the series: "Caretaker," "Year of Hell," and so forth. But in Year Seven, we had quite a concentration of two-hour episodes: "Unimatrix Zero," "Workforce," "Flesh and Blood," and "Endgame." Is that a good thing or a bad thing or neither?
• Thank you, Q, for removing Seven's clothes in "Q2." You are definitely a man now! I also enjoyed how you finally gave Icheb a personality and your playful nicknames of Itchy and Q-Ball.
• And thank you, Doctor, for inhabiting Seven's Borg technology in "Body and Soul." Your flirting with the female alien doctor while in Seven's body was another fantasy checked off the list.
• Did anyone else think that Captain Janeway was the ugliest Borg ever?
• Why is Voyager always traveling at impulse and not warp speed?
• Why is there always a nebula around to hide in?
Let's start with my recommendation analysis of this set. I think you're smart enough to make that decision on your own, but here's a quick refresher of the facts of the set: the transfers are solid for television but the bonus features are pathetically weak. If you enjoy Star Trek and are a fan of Voyager, most likely you already own the set and have enjoyed seeing the Voyager crew make it back to Earth. If you're a fan and on the fence, go ahead and plunge in and enjoy a strong final season to the series. And, I probably don't need to say it, but if you don't like Trek, then you don't need to buy it; Battlestar Galactica will be on DVD soon enough.
Voyager has never been my favorite incarnation of Star Trek, and watching the episodes again didn't change my opinion too much. It goes back to the story problem; yet, in spite of that, while watching this season for the second time, I realized that the stories were stronger and better than in previous years. They took the time to give the characters some growth (e.g., Tom and B'Elanna as parents), try a few new ideas (e.g., Tuvok as the "bad guy"), tackle some social issues (e.g., health care), and, most importantly, focus on the consequences of Voyager in the delta quadrant (e.g., holo-technology and the Hirogen). And even when the episodes became a bit dull or boring, I could usually find something redeeming about what I just watched. Maybe it was the message of the story, maybe it was the special effects, maybe it was a great part or a great speech for one of the characters, or maybe it was just that I got to visit my friends in the Star Trek universe one more time. Science fiction comes in many shapes and sizes and we all enjoy different things. Many of us still delight in traipsing through Gene Roddenberry's playground, filled with its optimistic interpretation of humanity. Others may prefer a dark and dreary vision, and I don't mind that myself at times. But given a choice, nine times out of ten I'm going to pick Star Trek. There's so much to choose from that you can find an episode to suit just about any mood you may be in.
I recently read a statement that had me completely flabbergasted: "Though it may just be a reaction…to the Star Treking [sic] of science fiction, where the future seemed devoid of anyone of color…" Star Trek is a future devoid of color. Really? Let's see: Uhura, Sulu, Worf, Sisko, Geordi, Tuvok, Kim, Mayweather, Sato, just to name the front row characters. Then I could go on and list quite a few supporting characters and guest stars that are portrayed by people of color. I'm just appalled to think that someone believes Star Trek, the show that broke the race mold, the show with the most optimistic vision of the future where everyone is treated as equal, is devoid of color. Star Trek helped blaze the trail for equality for all races, nationalities, and planets. Perhaps this is why it doesn't get the respect it rightly deserves today, for people have forgotten what the franchise is all about and what it has accomplished.
Star Trek: Voyager is hereby found not guilty of ruining the franchise. Their efforts in this last season have helped restore our faith in the future.
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