Of the three “Net-Gen” Trek series (TNG, DS9 and Voyager), one had to be my least favorite series. Consistently, that has been Voyager. I have to admit it was also in last place when I was still watching Enterprise as well. Somehow, the “lost in space” premise of this series has never come across as exciting as those of the other shows, and this is including the show about a space gas dock located conveniently near an intergalactic on-ramp.
Season Five of Star Trek: Voyager did come in last place again this time. But, it wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. None of the episodes this season made the All-Time Best Trek list (DS9 had only one, “Trials and Tribble-ations”), and VOY had one episode, 5.5 “Once Upon a Time,” that would have landed on my All-Time Worst Trek list, if I bothered to keep negative lists. DS9 with one 4-star episode and no episodes under 3-stars won the contest, by a nose. Ignoring those extremes, this season of Voyager may have been objectively better. If I averaged all of the ratings, it wouldn’t surprise me if it came out on top. But, I can’t ignore the extremes.
Which is not to say that I didn’t like this season. One of the series had to come in last place, and this just happened to be the one. Unless the next two seasons blow me away, I can’t imagine this series jumping to the front of the overall rankings.
It was, however, the best season of Star Trek: Voyager to date. As I always say, Trek is like pizza to me. Even the worst Trek is still pretty good.
It was also the darkest season of Voyager to date. The fact that I think it was the best probably says something about me as well. I’ve warned readers about my Sith leanings before (if I can mix franchise metaphors here).
The darkness is inherent in the season opener, episode 5.1 “Night,” in which the crew of Voyager is faced with traveling across a vast desolate region of space they call the Void, where they are unlikely to see another star system for the following two years. Captain Janeway experiences her own dark night of the soul as she agonizes over making the decision that trapped her ship in the Delta Quadrant in the first place. This is pretty bleak stuff. Suffice it to say that Janeway’s crew manages to shorten the trip through the Void and return to the stars by the end of the episode.
While Voyager may have left the darkness, the darkness didn’t necessarily leave Voyager.
Seven of Nine and the Doctor produce an offspring of sorts in “Drone.” Along with our development of Seven, we’re continuing to try to humanize the Borg. In an episode reminiscent of TNG’s pet Borg, Hugh, the evolved Borg known as “One” ends up sacrificing himself to save Seven and Voyager. Inspiring, but dark, stuff.
But, it doesn’t stop there. We find out that B’Elanna Torres begins to self-harm in “Extreme Risk,” after finding out about the deaths of her friends in the Maquis. Seven, overwhelmed by the voices of the Borg Collective, develops multiple-personality disorder. Tom Paris is demoted to ensign and incarcerated in the brig for thirty days, for reasons that escape me for the moment. The Doctor goes into a feedback loop over making a life-and-death decision based on friendship. Harry Kim, the now-and-forever ensign, mars his own spotless service record by disobeying orders to pursue an alien sexual relationship.
It is Captain Janeway herself who seems to emerge from The Void the darkest. She gets angry a lot in this season. Usually for good reasons, but not always. When she and Chakotay argue, it’s a little like hearing your parents fight.
Two episodes that best exemplify the bleakness that pervades the season are episode 5.14 “Bliss,” in which an alien lifeform convinces the crew that they’ve finally returned to Earth (this plays like an upsetting dream), and episode 5.18 “Course: Oblivion,” in which everyone on board Voyager dies (not really, but emotionally the payoff is the same).
The two-part “Dark Frontier” plays more like a movie than two individual episodes. I find this satisfying since Voyager never got a feature movie of its own (neither did DS9, now that I think about it). These episodes revisit the Borg, as we’re contractually required to do, and introduce a new Borg Queen who isn’t Alice Krige.
Other developments during the season: Tom Paris builds the hot rod shuttle Delta Flyer, which serves about the same purpose as DS9’s Reliant; A new species of aliens called the Malon are introduced, and they are the polluting industrialists of the Delta Quadrant, requiring several Captain Planet moments from Voyager; and, finally, in the season cliffhanger conclusion, “Equinox,” our heroes make contact with another Federation starship, but, in keeping with the theme of the season, things go pretty dark here as well.
I know I’m hitting the darkness and bleakness notes pretty hard in this review. This shouldn’t discourage you from watching the season, however. It is obstacles such as opposition, strife, despair, and violence that help hone the drama of a series. If Voyager were allowed to move steadily onward like an uneventful pleasure cruise, I’d have no interest in watching it. The series became genuinely interesting this season. It bears repeating that I almost—-not quite, but just almost—-ranked it higher than DS9‘s fifth season.
Oh, I have my gripes, of course. Seven of Nine captured the hearts and minds of the show’s writers the moment she appeared, and this causes our marginal characters to become increasingly marginalized. In the writers’ defense, though, Seven and the Doctor are the two most interesting characters in the series, with Captain Janeway coming in a distant third. It makes sense that the stories would focus on the Big Three.
Tuvok should have been used more often, instead of just being set decoration on the bridge. B’Elanna was also deserving of the spotlight more often. Tom Paris, Harry Kim, Neelix and Chakotay were essentially bit players in this series. Let’s not kid ourselves. We all have our parts to play and we can’t all be stars.
The introduction of Naomi Wildman as an active part of storylines seems like the result of studio executive notes to me. I’ve made my feelings about children in Trek stories pretty clear, I think, and Naomi does nothing to change them. No offense meant to the actress, of course, who did a good job delivering the lines written for her. Honestly, I would rather have had more Chakotay-centric stories, as I know that Robert Beltran would have as well.
It was the Naomi episode “Once Upon a Time” this season that cemented the series’ last-place finish for me. I really don’t need this type of Trek episode. No one does.
Aside from these minor gripes, I enjoyed the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager overall. As with DS9, I’m comfortable with giving the season 3 out of 5 stars, leaning towards 3.5 stars, only a little less aggressively than DS9.
I’m looking forward to the final two seasons, although I’m harboring the suspicion that I may have already seen the best the series has to offer.