Thursday, November 17, 2011

Voyager Season 3

My Netflix queue has finally begun (EDIT: and ended) to cough up Season 3 of Star Trek: Voyager (1996-97), one four-episode DVD at a time. But at least this gives me bite-size chunks I can blog on without the despair and creative paralysis that results from having to write about the whole season in one sitting (as witnessed by the fact that my review of Farscape Season 4 is still, at this writing, in "Post in Progress" mode, and the fact that I have been ready to blog on Babylon 5 Season 5 for ages but haven't even begun).

What's special about Season 3 of the third Star Trek spinoff series? Well, to start with, it's the last season featuring the show's original cast, carrying the initial formula for Voyager adventures to its furthest development in 26 hours of (mostly) top-quality episodes. Specifically, it is the last full season to feature Jennifer Lien as Kes, who was subsequently written out—unfairly, in my opinion—to make room for Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine. I would have liked to see a Star Trek series with four babes on it (counting Janeway and Torres), fulfilling the producers' original plan to cut Harry Kim—aborted when actor Garrett Wang, for all his woodenness, made People magazine's annual list of the most beautiful people. But anyway, for these 26 episodes you can have your Kes and hate Harry too.

Voyager Season 3 also brings back Q for the second of his three crossover visits to this series. As the show leaves the plug-ugly Kazons behind forever, it reintroduces such "Alpha Quadrant" menaces as the Ferengi and the Borg. In a nod to the franchise's 30th anniversary, it revives characters from The Original Series in a surprisingly creative way. It takes vast strides in developing the character of The Doctor, as well as of Kes (who gets a lot of attention this year); and in a surprising number of episodes, it explores a topic of great import for deep-space travelers: potential problems arising in the holodeck. Issues such as the treatment of prisoners and cultural minorities, bio-ethics and the origins debate, are touched upon with varying degrees of sensitivity; and in one episode, the show takes a surprisingly un-Star Trek position on the relationship between science and religion. The characters are menaced by viruses, doppelgangers, telepaths, time travelers, homicidally fertile women, evil spirits, and their own sexual urges, to say nothing of first encounters with such future enemies as the Krenim and Species 8472.

Guest stars this season include Brad Dourif (making a touching exit from his recurring role as disturbed Betazoid Lon Suder); Bruce Davison (of the X-Men film franchise); popular comedians Chip Esten (of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?) and Sarah Silverman (of Saturday Night Live, etc.); Ed Begley, Jr. (of St. Elsewhere fame); Concetta Tomei (of China Beach); John Rhys Davies (of The Lord of the Rings); a very young Lindsey Haun (late of TV's True Blood); Wendy Schaal (of The 'burbs and TV's American Dad!); Robert Pine (of TV's CHiPs); Len Cariou (the original Sweeney Todd, late of TV's Blue Bloods); Harve Presnell (of Fargo); and, of course, George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney from the original Star Trek.

Basics, Part II concludes the cliffhanger ending of Season 2, where the majority of the Voyagers were left stranded on an inhospitable planet while Seska and the Kazon made off with their ship. While the crew tries to find a way to survive in a world short on nutrition and long on dangers (such as man-eating monsters, hostile stone-agers, and erupting volcanoes), the challenge of re-taking the ship falls to the unlikely trio of Tom Paris, the holographic Doctor, and the Betazoid psychopath who has been under house arrest since Season 2's "Meld." Oooh! Could this be the last one they ever made? Not likely! Within the allotted 45 minutes, the tables are turned, Seska (whose lovechild proves not to be Chakotay's) is killed, the tribesmen become friendly, and they all sail off into blessedly Kazon-free space.

Flashback celebrates the 30th anniversary of Trek with a deliciously weird exploration of Tuvok's unconscious mind. For some reason, a blue cloud of space gas triggers a repressed childhood memory of losing his grip and allowing a little girl to fall to her death. This traumatic memory wreaks havoc on the Vulcan's brain, requiring the most trusted person in his life—Captain Janeway—to join him in a mind-meld and help him re-integrate the suppressed memory into his conscious mind. Funnily enough, though, every time they attempt this, they are pulled into a memory from Tuvok's "first" Starfleet career, when he was the Vulcan race's nearest equivalent to a wild and rebellious young man, and when his first assignment was as a science officer on the USS Excelsior commanded by good old Sulu. The setting for this psychological mystery happens to be something that went on behind the scenes of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, but it actually turns out to have nothing to do with Captain Sulu, First Officer Janice Rand, or Klingon Commander Kang (in an encore appearance by Michael Ansara). So seeing them again is pure gravy!

The Chute is the one where Harry and Tom get flushed down the toilet of an alien society, a toilet which (until now) has never backed up. Their alleged crime is an act of terrorism, for which they have been convicted based on flimsy evidence and unscrupulous methods of interrogation. Their prison has only one way in (the titular chute) and no way out, thanks to a deadly forcefield which, even after Harry Kim disables it, turns out to have nothing to do with the reason nobody has ever escaped. Worse, all the prisoners have been implanted with a bioelectric "clamp" which causes them to become increasingly savage, apparently as a way of controlling the prison population by keeping everybody at each other's throats. In spite of the Captain's pleading with the planet's leader (played by a brusque Robert Pine), there seems to be no chance of getting them released—until Janeway hooks up with the actual bombers who have been hatching prison-break scenarios of their own. The episode ends with Harry & Tom's friendship passing a major test. Harry: "Don't you remember when I almost killed you?" Tom: "All I remember is you saying, 'This is my friend. Nobody touches him.'"

The Swarm is the one where the Doctor begins to lose his memories, and the option of rebooting his program (so that he has to start developing his personality all over again from Day One) seems to be the only way to stop his technobabble from degrading completely. Robert Picardo gets to play opposite himself in some scenes, as a diagnostic program designed in the image of their common creator tries to help fix the doc's program. Notable as the first time the acronym EMH (for "Emergency Medical Hologram") is used, this episode also features an "A story" in which the ship has to sneak across the territory of an extremely aggressive alien species who use pain-inflicting weapons and lots of itty-bitty ships to make sure nobody trespasses on their space. But, frankly, that "main plot" seems far less memorable than the Doctor's "subplot," perhaps a sign that this wasn't one of the best-written episodes of the year. And perhaps unfortunately, the writers did not see fit to carry over this episode's development in the Doctor's personality into later episodes.

False Profits reveals the fate of the two Ferengi, Arribor and Kol, last seen disappearing into a one-way wormhole in TNG's "The Price." In the seven years since then, the greedy pair have set themselves up as gods on a world where a prophetic poem conveniently predicts the coming of such "heavenly sages." Nobody familiar with Ferengi mores will be surprised to learn that they have abused their power for their own material gain, pushing their innocent subjects to develop their instincts for greed and high-pressure salesmanship. Only by selling the shoes off their feet can the Voyagers get enough information to combat these untouchable scoundrels. In an episode equally compounded of Prime Directive-based ethical dilemmas and over-the-top humor, the hew-mons (plus one Talaxian disguised as a Ferengi) eventually find a way to turn the song's prophecy against the Ferengi. Nevertheless the latter pair provide a repeat performance of their wormhole-aided disappearing trick, dashing the Voyagers' latest hope of getting home fast.

Remember features an alien race whose telepathic abilities enable B'Elanna to relive, in vivid detail, memories of a young woman's most tragic mistake, and the guilty secret of an entire society. It starts with intensely erotic dreams in which B'Elanna experiences love through the point of view of a young Enaran woman named Korenna, who is torn between her passion for an ill-fated young man and her loyalty to her father (played by Bruce Davison, as pictured here). Meanwhile, Enaran society is similarly torn between the forces of technological progress and a luddite sect known as the Regressives. Korenna's young man tells her that he is being deported on her father's orders, along with a bunch of Regressives; and further, that nobody has heard a peep out of the colony where they are being forcibly resettled. But her father manipulates Korenna into rejecting the rumor that the deportees are actually being exterminated, and she falls so far under his spell as to cheer at the brutal execution of her own lover on a charge of treason. After experiencing all of these memories at considerable risk to her own life and at the cost of the life of the older Enaran woman who has shared them with her, B'Elanna goes on the war path, hoping to expose the crime the Enarans committed against their own people. But due to the lack of physical evidence, she must content herself with sharing the memories that have been given to her with a young Enaran woman who agrees to consider them and investigate things for herself. It's a moving and impassioned episode that viewers will long remember, no pun intended.

Sacred Ground is the one where Capt. Janeway undertakes a spiritual quest to save the soul of Kes. The girl is in a coma, her chances of recovery fading, since being zapped by a natural energy field in a shrine sacred to the Nechani monks. The only person known to have recovered from such an injury was saved when his father appealed to the ancestral spirits and took responsibility for his son's trespass. This Janeway intends to do for Kes, reconciling the religious pilgrimage with her scientific outlook by reasoning that whatever ritual enables her to approach the spirits without harm, will involve some kind of biochemical change which can then be applied to Kes to cure her. But things don't go as planned, especially as the entire ordeal Janeway goes through proves to be completely meaningless. Without spoiling the entire episode, I'll just say that I found it really interesting, given Trek's secularist outlook, that Janeway would end up admitting (to herself, at least) that something cannot be explained by science. The episode guest-stars Harry Groener (TNG's "Tin Man") as the Nechani magistrate, Becky Ann Baker (TV's Freaks and Geeks) as Janeway's spiritual guide, and Estelle Harris (George's mother on Seinfeld) as one of an adorable trio of "ancestral spirits."

Future's End, Part I is the first part of a double episode guest-starring Sarah Silverman (pictured here) and Ed Begley, Jr. (next picture down). The Voyagers' time-travel adventure begins when a Federation ship from the 29th century attacks them, its Captain Braxton claiming that he has evidence showing that Voyager caused an accident in his time that wiped out the entire solar system. Thanks to some technobabble or other, both ships get sucked into a time warp, arriving 30 years apart on 20th-century Earth. When the Voyagers arrive in the mid 1990s, they learn that the technology boom of our era was the result of an unscrupulous businessman reverse-engineering components from the time-ship whose crash he had witnessed in the 1960s. Henry Starling, CEO of Chronowerx Inc., has just the right lack of morals to use 29th century technology to amass power and wealth for himself, and the weapons to prevent the Voyagers from carrying out their duty to prevent further contamination of the timeline. And when they finally track down the wreck that was Captain Braxton, he informs them that what they have already done is to set in motion the train of events that will destroy the world in his century.

Future's End, Part II concludes the Voyager's two-part visit to the mid-1990s by dragging everyone out of their comfort zone. The Doctor acquires his mobile holo-emitter thanks to a piece of purloined 29th-century technology. Harry spends time in the captain's chair. Chakotay and B'Elanna get banged up and held prisoner by libertarian yahoos. Tom Paris' enthusiasm for all things 20th Century falls short of enabling him to sell his cover as a secret agent with the pretty girl. With the integrity of the past at stake and a future holocaust to prevent, the Voyagers pull off some of their most complex, role-stretching derring-do yet. After a satisfying amount of shooting, kissing, and blowing stuff up, the Voyagers finally get to the point where the time-travel storyline comes full circle and the crazy time cop from the future needs only three words to explain why he can't just drop them off at Earth in the 24th century: "Temporal Prime Directive."

Warlord, the first episode this season that I can specifically remember having seen before, is especially memorable as the episode that best brings out the sexy, butch side of Jennifer Lien's acting talent. A brush with a dying alien in sick bay leads to Kes being possessed by the spirit of a 200-year-dead ruler who was overthrown by his own people. Now Tieran wants to stage a political comeback through another remorseless bout of killing and conniving. His plans are complicated by the fact that his wife isn't into chicks, but also doesn't care to see him pledge his hand to the scion of the planet's ruling dynasty. Even more troubling, however, is the fact that Kes's consciousness continues to fight Tieran's possession, wearing away at the strongman until a climactic standoff between their two personalities, just before the Voyagers beam down with a crack squad and a piece of technobabble designed to neuter the dogs of war. Guest stars include four-time Trek alien Brad Greenquist as Tieran's rival for the throne, Galyn Görg (of DS9's "The Visitor") as Tieran's wife, Karl Wiedergott (of Enterprise's "Dear Doctor") as Tieran's would-be husband, and Leigh J. McCloskey (of DS9's "Field of Fire") as Tieran himself.

The Q and the Grey is the second of three "Q" episodes in Voyager's seven seasons. In this clever and hilarious installment, Q importunes Capt. Janeway (a.k.a. "Kathy") with persistent romantic advances. Eventually he reveals that he wants to mate with her in order to enrich the Q gene pool with human DNA. He thinks this is necessary to heal the Q civil war which has erupted since the events of Season 2's "Death Wish," but his main squeeze for the past four billion years doesn't take kindly to the competition. Nevertheless the She-Q must come to the aid of the Voyagers when the war between the Q comes to a potentially galaxy-threatening crisis, while He-Q uses the American Civil War as a metaphor to allow "Kathy" and the crew to experience the Q Continuum. Suzie Plakson (whose other Trek roles included a Vulcan, an Andorian, and most famously the Klingon K'Ehleyr) plays Q's mate, while the late Harve Presnell plays the "Colonel" of the opposing Q faction.

Macrocosm is the one where Janeway and Neelix rendezvous with the ship after trade negotiations with the touchy, gesturally-fastidious Tak Tak... but Voyager doesn't show up. They track her down and find the ship drifting, its crew incapacitated by an airborne virus that has mutated into gigantic, stinging, tentacly monsters (example pictured). After Neelix gets taken, the Captain has to eradicate these beasties with no help except from the Doctor, who for all his holographicness is also at risk because the critters are attracted to the heat given off by his technobabble. Together they plan an ingenious ruse to round up the virus so that it can be "bug bombed" off the ship, just in time to keep their new Tak Tak friend from destroying Voyager in the name of public health. Three-time Trek guest Albie Selznick plays the flamboyant alien.

Fair Trade is the episode where Neelix's role as the ship's guide ends, as the ship reaches the Nekrit Expanse, beyond which he has never traveled. Desperate to find a map to this dangerous region of space, and influenced by a seedy old friend whom he owes big-time, Neelix gets himself into hot water with a murder investigation on one side and a narcotics smuggling ring on the other. His solution to the conundrum is adorably reckless, but the cost is one of Captain Janeway's "I am so disappointed in you" harangues that, frankly, doesn't seem to have its usual effect on the Talaxian. The guest cast includes Carlos Carrasco (pictured), a three-time DS9 guest who twice played a Klingon; Alexander Enberg, who had previously played a different Vulcan crewman on the Enterprise-D, in the first of his eight Voyager appearances as Vulcan Ensign Vorik; and James Horan, who played five characters across four Trek spinoffs, as the plug-ugly bad guy.

Alter Ego begins with Harry Kim making a shocking request of Tuvok: to teach him to suppress his emotions. The reason is that he has fallen in love with a holodeck character. Tuvok's interest in the case grows to the point where he alienates the holochick's affections, hurting Harry's feelings and winning for himself a pscyho girlfriend who—surprise!—turns out to have the power to control the ship. Marayna wants Tuvok so bad that she threatens to destroy Voyager if he doesn't say he'll be hers. Eventually the Voyagers locate the real Marayna (pictured), lurking on a space station that controls the plasma-and-light show of a fancy nebula, but she only relents when Tuvok beams down and reasons with her until she cries Uncle. Tuvok suggests that she try taking a vacation and socializing with her own people once in a while; she says this is OK for her, but will he always be alone? The look on Tuvok's face as this question hits him, at the same time as a transporter beam, lingers even through the final scene in which Tuvok offers Harry Kim lessons in the Vulcan equivalent of chess (which looks rather like that space-needle game in The Man Who Knew Too Little).

Coda features Len Cariou, late of TV's Blue Bloods, as the ghost of Captain Janeway's father. Or, at least, as something nasty that tries to pass himself off as the same. Before we meet him, however, the Captain has a weird series of experiences, like being trapped in a time loop in which each iteration ends with her death. In the most gruesome version of her death, the Doctor cold-bloodedly euthanases her after diagnosing her with the Vidiian phage. (Yes, for one episode, the Vidiians are back—only not in reality). These loops turn out to be a series of hallucinations while Chakotay tries to revive Kathryn after she is killed in a shuttle crash. Like a ghost, Janeway witnesses the crew's attempts to locate whatever phase of reality her consciousness has landed on (because, when you're the main character in a Star Trek series, death is really hard to accept). Only when everyone seems to accept the inevitable does Admiral Janeway appear, beckoning to his daughter to follow him into the light. But she insists on hanging back, claiming that she wants to be there at least in spirit to see what happens to her crew. As the Admiral grows more insistent, the Captain begins to see flashes of another reality in which she is still at the site of the crash, where her crew is still trying to revive her. She realizes that her "father" is actually some kind of alien entity who needs her to agree to go with him so that he can feed off her energy at the point of death. Like I said: nasty.

Blood Fever is the episode that follows the logic of Classic Trek's episode "Amok Time" to its deliriously sexy, violent, obvious conclusion. Ensign Vorik (pictured), in only his third episode, asks B'Elanna to be his mate and then attacks her when she turns him down. He turns out to be in the throes of pon farr, the Vulcan male's every-seventh-year birds-and-bees thing, which is so ludicrously primal that its logic-proud victims can't bear to talk about it. Which is probably why, if they don't cleanse themselves of the resulting "blood fever," and fast, they can actually die from it. Now, it's hard enough on Vorik, whose choices include going home to Vulcan to be with his chosen mate (strike one; not possible), finding another mate closer by (strike two; rejected), and resolving his passion either through meditation or cathartic violence. They might have called it "Green Blood, Blue Balls." But then it starts to look as though the pon farr has telepathically infected B'Elanna somehow. This leads to awkwardness on an away mission involving tremory tunnels, paranoid aliens, and an uncharacteristically gentlemanlike Tom Paris, who refuses to take advantage of B'Elanna no matter how hard she begs. I sense that you're having a hard time believing me, so obviously there's no point in going on to describe the Doctor's foray into holographic pimping, the gleefully low-tech "let Tom and B'Elanna go off into the bushes and make out" solution to her neurochemical crisis, and the way Tuvok shrewdly plays the "tradition" card to get Chakotay to allow Vorik and Torres to fight like animals. Amidst all this fun, it may be hard to catch two bits of foreshadowing at the end of the episode: one signaling a future relationship between Tom and B'Elanna, and the other hinting at a Borg problem to come.

Unity carries the threat of upcoming encounters with the Borg a step nearer, when Chakotay and an ill-fated Ensign follow a distress call to a planet where humans, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and other aliens live together, though not altogether at peace. At first they claim to have been abducted by aliens and dropped off on this ruined world to fend for themselves; then they admit to having been assimilated by the Borg. Their cube—which, meanwhile, the Voyagers have discovered drifting dead in space—was zapped by some kind of cosmic power surge, severing them from the Collective. Those drones who survived took refuge on the nearest inhabitable planet. Even now they can briefly, within a limited radius, join their minds in what they call a Cooperative, for example to boost Chakotay's ability to heal from a life-threatening injury. Through this sharing of the minds, the Cooperative takes control of Chakotay and uses him, against his judgment and Captain's orders, to re-start the Borg cube long enough to help them reinitiate the link with all the factions on their planet. Though the Cooperative turns Chakotay loose afterward, and destroys the cube before it can attack Voyager, the question lingers to the last line of the episode: with the power that the sharing of minds gives them, how long will the Cooperative stick to its peaceful ideals?

Darkling is a foreshadowing of Kes's departure from the show early in the next season. Now three years old and a third of the way through her life, the cute Ocampa has started to question whether she wants to spend the rest of her life on Voyager. Triggers for this questioning include her recent breakup with Neelix and her attraction to this dude (pictured), a member of a race of wandering loners who lead a life of romantically solitary exploration. Kes is tempted to run away with Zahir, but the Doctor gruffly advises her that she is making a mistake. The Doctor's gruffness is only the first symptom of a fast-developing problem with his personality, a result of his research into the personalities of historic figures, which he has started to add to his own program. While B'Elanna runs a program to purge the Doc's program of malicious subroutines, a dark-side personality emerges and tries to take control of the situation. Murder, dismemberment, torture, and hostage-taking ensue before the dramatic climax in which Kes and the Doctor are beamed up safety in the middle of plunging off an enormous cliff. In spite of guest work by actors Stephen Davies (in his third Trek role) and David Lee Smith (late of CSI: Miami), the most memorable guest in this episode is the Doctor's alter ego, played by Robert Picardo with a peculiar quirk of the eyes and lips that marks his Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation.

Rise is the one where Tuvok and Neelix survive the writing staff's favorite device for breaking open the relationship between two characters: a shuttle crash. Luckily, they land within a short walk of an orbital tether, and are able to use components from their shuttle to repair the carriage so they can ascend above the ionosphere and signal Voyager for a beam-out. Riding along with them, however, are four Nezu colonists, one of whom knows the secret behind the asteroids bombarding their planet, while another will kill to protect it. Caught between them are the Odd Couple of the Delta Quadrant. Three years of character tension between desperate-to-impress Neelix and hard-to-impress Tuvok come to a head when Neelix accuses Tuvok of treating him with contempt. Nevertheless they work together to bring the secrets to defending the Nezu planet back to Voyager, just in time to save the ship from the aggressive aliens whose guided asteroids were a tactic for driving off competing colonists. It's a strikingly memorable episode, which perhaps accounts for the fact that it is only about the sixth episode of this season that I could remember having seen before.

Favorite Son gives Harry Kim a bizarre opportunity to question whether he is a human or an alien. It starts with feelings of déjà vu, a sense of recognition about a region of space he could not possibly have visited before, and quickly develops to the point where he instinctively fires phasers on an alien ship, without orders from the Captain. Janeway suspends Harry from duty, but soon afterward admits that the sensor logs showed the alien ship was preparing to fire its weapons at them. Things get even weirder as the ship approaches a planet which Harry identifies, based on his recent dreams, as Taresia, even before the planet's leader (played by previous DS9 guest Deborah May, pictured) recognizes Harry as a fellow Taresian. Already growing spots and showing signs of hidden Taresian genes emerging into his DNA, Harry is told that his father carried embryo-Harry to Earth and implanted him in his human mother's womb, but now his genetic memory has called him home. At first Harry's welcome-home is warm, with a 9-to-1 ratio of women to men meaning that he is instantly surrounded by a touchy-feely bevy of beauties. But then he finds out that their method of mating means sucking out all his cellular material until he looks like like a mummy. To save Harry and make a clean getaway means flying Voyager through a tricky energy barrier and escaping under the fire of two alien fleets. It's sexy fun, and it's so weird that it could only happen on Star Trek!

Before and After is the episode that takes the unique possibilities of Kes, as an alien whose complete life cycle lasts nine years, as far as this show ever did. It begins with Kes opening her eyes in Sickbay at the end of her life, remembering nothing up to that point. A few moments later she has a cold flash, everything goes all white and fuzzy, and when it passes all she can remember is stuff that (from other people's point of view) hasn't happened yet. Each time this happens, she meets people who know her but whom she only remembers from their encounters in the future, which is the only past that she remembers. It takes a while for everyone to figure out that Kes is jumping backwards in time, and even longer to find out why. It has something to do with foreshadowing a two-part episode in Season 4 titled "Year of Hell," involving an alien menace called the Krenim who use time as a weapon. It's an exciting and weird episode, revealing that (at least in one possible future) Kes and Tom make a baby together, who in turn makes a baby with Harry Kim, and that before "Grandma and Grandpa" were a number, Tom almost died of grief when B'Elanna died alongside the Captain. But even though the Doctor's cure for Kes' little problem is absolutely saturated with technobabble, it works (though not quickly enough to prevent us from seeing Kes age backward to the moment of conception), and the episode ends with everything back to normal... for a while.

Real Life is the one where the Doctor decides to experience family life, albeit in a cutesie, unrealistic, holographic form. Halfway through a dinner party to which she was invited, B'Elanna screams, "Computer, freeze program!" Her attempt to inject a little randomized realism into the Doctor's family life proves to be almost more than "Kenneth" (as his wife calls him) can take. His son falls in with a gang of Klingon teens, his daughter (played by a darling little Lindsey Haun, now playing Sookie Stackhouse on True Blood) takes one on the chin in the rough world of athletics, and his wife (played by character actress Wendy Schaal) morphs from a submissive June Cleaver type into an independent, tough cookie whose love, nevertheless, the Doctor needs in their time of grief. Meanwhile, Tom Paris pops some shuttlecraft wheelies in a risky, and almost disastrous, study of a subspace anomaly that, in a strange half-Klingon way, brings B'Elanna one step closer to jumping his bones.

Distant Origin is such an in-your-face parable about the tension between science and religion, that I would really hate it if it weren't so niftily done. It's also unusual as to how much of it is depicted from the point of view of characters other than the Voyagers. It begins with the skull of poor Ensign Hogan, killed by a snake monster in the season premiere, being discovered by a pair of paleontologists from a race of highly advanced reptilian bipeds, known as the Voth. The Voth are so good at hiding from endotherms (i.e. mammalian humanoids) that no one even realizes that they claim hereditary rights to a vast area of the Delta Quadrant, considering themselves to be the "first race" to arise there, zillions of years ago. But Gegen, a scientist willing to challenge the Doctrine of his people, believes in the "Distant Origin Theory," and an analysis of the Voyager crewman's bones proves him right: the Voth evolved on Earth. (That's where the dinosaurs went!) Gegen and his assistant sneak up on Voyager and attempt to study its crew to find out more about where they came from, but things get hairy when (1) Gegen's assistant is captured; (2) Gegen captures Chakotay; and (3) the Voth city-ship captures the whole lot of them and their leader puts the thumbscrews (metaphorically speaking) to Gegen, similar to the way the Pope pressured Galileo to recant his astronomical discoveries. Chakotay's agony is visible as he watches silently, helplessly, while the Voth Minister uses the Voyager as a game-piece to checkmate Voth. Guest stars include three-time Trek guest Henry Woronicz, two-time Voyager guest Christopher Liam Moore, previous Jem'Hadar Marshal Teague, and Concetta Tomei of TV's Providence.

Displaced is the one where a bunch of seemingly confused and innocent aliens wearing funny hats just start appearing on the Voyager, one every 9 minutes and 20 seconds, while at the same time someone from the ship disappears. By the time the crew realizes that the Nyrians aren't so innocent, but are purposely replacing the crew in order to steal the ship, it's too late to stop them. Not for the first time this year, the Voyagers glumly find themselves marooned while aliens take off in their ship, though this time their surroundings are a bit more pleasant. Nevertheless, they find their way behind the scenes of what turns out to be a gigantic ship containing over 90 biospheres in which the Nyrians detain the former owners of all their stolen property. Luckily, the escaped prisoners also find the controls to the gizmo that transports people back and forth before Voyager returns with reinforcements. This enables the Voyagers to turn the tables and (predictably, since this isn't the last episode they ever made) continue their journey. Each making one of his or her two Trek appearances in this episode are Kenneth Tigar, Mark Taylor, James Noah, and Nancy Youngblut; Deborah Levin puts in her second of three appearances as Ensign Lang, here left (briefly) in command of the bridge while the ship is being taken.

Worst Case Scenario is the one where the Voyagers discover an unfinished holo-novel depicting a Maquis mutiny, set in the early stages of the joint crew's journey. Complete with a Bajoran-looking Seska, the interactive game is just starting to get interesting when Tom reaches the end of it—or rather, the point where its author quit writing it. A quick investigation turns up the fact that Tuvok wrote the story as a training module for junior security officers, at a point when a mutiny seemed more likely; then abandoned it when the likelihood grew less. Spurred on by the captain's enthusiasm for any form of creativity among the crew, Tuvok and Paris begin a reluctant collaboration to complete the holo-novel, bickering all the way. Unluckily for them, the act of re-opening Tuvok's encrypted technobabble triggers more technobabble which the late, unlamented Seska had planted in the program, a final act of revenge from beyond the grave. Now the unlikeliest co-authors have to do a lot of writing on their feet just to stay alive.

Scorpion begins with a group of Borg cubes cruising into the frame and beginning their "Resistance is futile" spiel, only to be blown out of space by a power even hairier and scarier than themselves. That power, pictured here, is known to the Borg as Species 8472, and they come from another dimension where they are the only living thing, and they plan to expand into our dimension after making it the same way. Their cosmic extermination program begins with the Borg, which would ordinarily be good news I suppose, but it so happens that the Voyager needs to cross hundreds of light years of Borg-controlled space just at the moment when Species 8472 is rearing its—I mean, really! By the end of this season-ending cliffhanger, Harry is flat on his back in Sickbay with a dollop of alien goo eating him alive, and Voyager has just been outpaced by fifteen (15) Borg cubes running as though the hounds of hell were at their heels, which you may suppose to be the case when you see the weapon the new bad-guy aliens have. Hint: It is pictured at the top of this post. Playing Leonardo da Vinci in Janeway's holo-program is John Rhys Davies of Indiana Jones, Sliders and Lord of the Rings fame.

For more on spaceship-based TV series, see my reviews of Star Trek: TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of Voyager seasons one and two; and of Enterprise season one. See also my review of Farscape seasons one, two, three, and four; of Firefly; and of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

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