Saturday, January 7, 2012

Voyager Season 4

Season Four of Star Trek: Voyager originally aired between 1997 and 1998, roughly my second year of post-B.A. studies. As was the case with Season 3, I only remember seeing a handful of its episodes when they first aired; the rest I am now seeing, for the first time, as Netflix sends me one four-episode DVD at a time. Still, I was aware of the overall arc of this season, which introduced Jeri Ryan's role as the sexy Borgette in recovery, Seven of Nine. As Seven was eased into the show, the first two episodes eased out Jennifer Lien's character of Kes (still a sore point for me). I can only fondly imagine how different this year's storylines would have been with both characters in the cast.

Meanwhile, it was a season that didn't quite justify Season 3's ominous buildup toward a year of conflict with the Borg and Species 8472. Indeed, after the season-opening conclusion to the previous year's cliffhanger, the Voyagers don't encounter the Borg, except in the form of Seven's memories and hallucinations, and indirectly through other aliens who have issues with them. Maybe this was because the development of Seven's character was enough Borg for the writers' taste. As for Species 8472, their one appearance after the first episode of the season is upstaged by the development of a new alien threat, the predatory Hirogen, who figure in no less than five episodes this year.

Other developments, however, remain on pace. Tom and B'Elanna increasingly become the couple Season 3 suggested they would be. A two-part episode fulfills the previous year's foreshadowing of the "Year of Hell" which, after all the cards were laid down, turned out not to have happened anyway. (Maybe if Kes had still been on board, she would have remembered...) Leonardo's studio, introduced at the end of last season, becomes a regular holographic retreat for our characters, and Leonardo himself (played for the second and last time by John Rhys Davies) even gets an away mission of sorts, with help from the Doctor's mobile holo-emitter. The Voyagers finally succeed in communicating with Starfleet, ensuring that somebody back home will be trying to find a way to bring them home. The same episode also provides a point of reference to where Deep Space Nine was at during the same period, dropping a hint about the Federation's war with the Dominion. (Who?) And the show's list of big-name guest stars grows to include Virginia Madsen of Sideways, Kurtwood Smith of That '70s Show, and Andy Dick of TV's News Radio.

Scorpion, Part II kicks off the season with Captain Janeway making an alliance with the Borg. In exchange for the technology to defend themselves against Species 8472, the Borg are to escort Voyager safely through their space. While this is all right in theory, reality tests the alliance to the limit. First Janeway gets hurt and, while temporarily in command, Chakotay pulls back from what he considers a reckless plan. Then the spokesBorg, a ruthless and arrogant number with a trim waist-line, tries to get the ship assimilated. Just when Janeway has no choice but to save the Borg from their even worse enemy, she learns that the Borg provoked the war she is helping to end. All that and a visit to a fantastic realm known as "Fluid Space"... Wow!

The Gift is the transitional episode in which Seven of Nine makes the difficult adjustment to being cut off from the Collective and forced to begin exploring her humanity; and in which Kes makes the transition to being some kind of non-corporeal life-form. The latter seems to be the more traumatic of the two adjustments, if you measure trauma in terms of how close it comes to annihilating the entire ship, but in the end the Voyagers end up ten years closer to home (Kes's parting gift). It's a grueling episode for Janeway in particular, as she has to hand-hold both women through this difficult time in their lives. Especially effective is her tearful "I'm going to miss you" before hugging Kes goodbye. The ethics of her decision to force Seven to live without the Borg Collective are more likely to stimulate discussion.

Day of Honor is partly a story about a rough day for B'Elanna Torres and partly an illustration of the risks of giving to charity. The aliens in this episode come to Voyager with open hands, begging for humanitarian aid. Having gotten as much as the Voyagers can afford to give, they come back with reinforcements and try to take what they want—including Seven, who will be punished because of what the Borg did to their society. Meanwhile, B'Elanna is torn as to whether or not to observe the Klingon Day of Honor. On the one hand, she always resented being forced by her mother to partake of Klingon traditions. On the other hand, a part of her is ashamed of not living up to Klingon standards of honor and courage. It epitomizes the inner conflict that has kept her aloof from others all her life, but during a disastrous shuttle mission that finds her and Tom stranded as pictured here, the vacuum of space boils her dilemma down to the essence: that only under threat of imminent death will she confess that she loves Tom Paris.

Nemesis is the one where Chakotay's shuttle is shot down over a war zone. Welcomed by a unit of young Vori defenders who are holding out against their Kradin "nemesis," Chakotay expects to be escorted to a command center where he can signal his ship. Instead, he finds himself drawn into the conflict between the seemingly good-natured Vori and the Kradin, whose atrocities have earned them the name of "the Beast." Only when Chakotay has so completely identified with the Vori that he is willing to kill or die for their cause, does he realize that the Kradin Beast at the end of his rifle barrel is actually Tuvok, trying to reason him into lowering his weapon. Yes, kids, Chakotay has been brainwashed by a Vori combat-training simulation, like thousands of their own people, to say nothing of waylaid aliens, who have been conscripted in this way. It is, after all, the snaggle-toothed Kradin who help the Voyagers recover Chakotay—though this doesn't help the Commander overcome his revulsion toward them. As he says in the final line of the episode, "I wish it were as easy to stop hating as it was to start." A grim, action-filled, perhaps heavy-handed episode, it sticks in the memory partly because of the Vori culture's strange lingo and partly because of the sympathy elicited, then betrayed, by its illusory people.

Revulsion is the Trek franchise's answer to the movie Dead Calm, featuring four-time Trek guest Leland Orser as Dejaren, a psychotic maintenance hologram who murders the crew of his ship. B'Elanna and the Doctor don't realize this until they're trapped on the ship with him, alternately humoring his flights of fancy (which include one especially nasty tirade against "organics") and trying to shut him down. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tom Paris has been recruited as a medical assistant and, more interestingly, Harry and Seven have been assigned to work together to design a new astrometrics lab. For Harry, who is both intimidated by and attracted to the former Borg, their partnership is excruciatingly awkward. For the rest of us, particularly when Harry tries to explain to Chakotay why he doesn't want to be paired with Seven, the result is comic gold.

The Raven is part of a series of terrifying dreams and hallucinations that begin to plague Seven of Nine as Voyager approaches the territory of the paranoid and highly territorial B'omar (a representative pictured here). While the B'omar offer to let Voyager cross their space only under ridiculously restrictive conditions, Seven goes off the reservation in search of a Borg signal that both fascinates and terrifies her. Whether this is a sign that she is returning to the Collective, or discovering a new facet of her humanity, only becomes clear when she and Tuvok (whom she captures when he tries to bring her back) reach the source of the signal and find that it's a Raven of another kind—the ship of that name on which she and her human parents lived until the Borg assimilated them some 20 years ago. Seven's vulnerability as she gets closer to this discovery is very touching, but the episode is equally fulfilling for fans (like me) who also enjoy the sight of spaceships shooting at each other.

Scientific Method is a little talking piece about the ethics of medical research, as well as a creepy story about unseen invaders who can mess you up on so many levels, including a molecular one, that even if you knew they were there you couldn't do anything to stop them. When members of the crew start developing weird symptoms caused by overstimulation of certain parts of their genetic code, the Doctor and B'Elanna discover that somebody has stuck eensy-weensy transmitters to the victims' genes. It seems the Voyagers are being studied by someone on Voyager. But before they can alert anyone else to their findings, or do anything about it, the baddies incapacitate B'Elanna and drive the Doctor into hiding. Later, with modifications to her bionic eye, Seven becomes able to see the aliens; she finds the ship crawling with them, sticking nasty probes into everybody and monitoring the results. Fighting back is tricky when you have to pretend you don't see the invaders and you can't talk to anyone about them. Eventually, Seven takes the only course left to her: she blows the cover of one of the aliens, shifting the dilemma onto the Captain's shoulders. What Janeway does to get rid of the unwanted visitors is just plain crazy. But the most unnerving part of the episode may be how the captured alien seems so reasonable and, well, clinical, while justifying her people's atrocities and threatening even worse. Besides being a creepy and intense story, the writing of this episode is marked by some hilarious dialogue, including Tuvok asking Janeway whether he should flog people (you'd have to be there), and Neelix and Chakotay trying to outdo each other with medical complaints.

Year of Hell guest-stars John Loprieno (late of One Life to Live), three-time Trek guest Kurtwood Smith, and four-time Trek guest Peter Slutsker in his only non-Ferengi role in the franchise, all as members of the Krenim Imperium, a civilization that has risen, or fallen (depending on what timeline you're in), through the use of weaponized time. The episode begins with a Krenim time-ship commanded by Annorax (pictured here), blasting an entire planet with a weapon that erases its inhabitants from history. Their plan is to do this to as many civilizations as necessary to restore the timeline in which the Krenim had a huge empire. Meanwhile, Voyager finds itself under attack by Krenim ships which either grow or shrink, along with the Imperium itself, according to the results of each "temporal incursion" attempted by Annorax and his crew. Over a period of several months, things go pretty badly for the Voyagers, and they don't even know that their enemies are changing history until Seven of Nine invents a shield that insulates the ship from both chroniton torpedoes and changes in the timeline. In doing that, however, they make a personal enemy of Annorax, who moves in for the kill. The first half of this two-part episode ends with Tuvok blinded by an accident, Tom and Chakotay captured by the enemy, and most of the crew abandoning Voyager in escape-pods... Could it be the last one they ever made?

Year of Hell, Part II concludes the two-parter with Janeway leading a crew of six to try to put out all the fires on Voyager, seek out allies against the Krenim, and risk everything on a reckless gamble that will either destroy the ship completely or reset everything to the status quo ante. Annorax, meanwhile, regales his guests (Tom and Chakotay, remember) with the cuisine of cultures that, outside his weapon-ship's envelope of technobabble, never existed. While Tom cultivates a mutiny against Annorax, Chakotay tries to understand the villain's obsession with tweaking history until he restores the one thing that matters: his wife and the colony she lived on. For Annorax, this goal has eluded him for 200 years, driving him to commit acts of temporal genocide against countless races. Chakotay is convinced that there must be a way that both Annorax and the Voyager can benefit from a temporal incursion that doesn't hurt anybody, but his open-mindedness is matched only by Annorax's impatience. In the end it is Tom's plan that saves the day—or rather, erases it—in one of those frustrating time-travel-story endings in which all the events of the two-episode arc turn out never to have happened, and nobody even remembers them. So it was all, ultimately, pointless!

Random Thoughts guest stars Gwynyth Walsh, who appeared five times between TNG, DS9 and the movies as Klingon villain B'Etor. Here she plays a magistrate on a planet of telepaths where, over the previous three generations, they have virtually eliminated crime by purging violent thoughts from their minds. A marketplace mishap momentarily triggers B'Elanna's combative instincts. Minutes later, a man is beaten senseless, the victim of a telepath who had B'Elanna's violent thought in his mind. Naturally, in Star Trek logic, B'Elanna gets arrested and faces something called an "engrammatic purge" in the machine pictured here. But Tuvok insists on running his own investigation, made even more urgent when the same thought of B'Elanna's causes a murder days later. Obviously one passing thought could not have led directly to the second crime. Tuvok's suspicions lead him to uncover a black market in illicit thoughts, and an especially creepy telepath who hoards images of brutality. Tuvok's mind-meld with this character is one of the most ruthless things we have seen him do—very scary!

Concerning Flight features larger-than-life actor John Rhys Davies, who at that time was probably best known for his work in the Indiana Jones movies, in an encore of his third-season appearance as a hologram of Leonardo da Vinci. While wincing every time a crew member calls him "Mr. Da Vinci" (which is sort of like calling Seven of Nine "Miss Of Nine"), you can thrill to a caper in which the 16th-century master, aided by the Doctor's mobile emitter, finds himself running around an alien planet, and even going airborne in a flying machine of his own design. Leonardo has a gang of space pirates to thank for this opportunity. Using their high-powered transporters to loot Voyager of crucial pieces of technology, including the main computer core, the robbers retire to their network of high-security warehouses on a mercantile planet. Janeway joins her holographic mentor to sniff out the computer core's hiding place, snatch it back, and make a low-tech getaway. Apart from the opportunity to enjoy John Rhys Davies in a long white beard, and the fun of seeing a 16th-century holo-character rationalizing his experiences on a 24th-century alien planet into his worldview, it actually isn't all that hot an episode. There are, in fact, moments when one wants to ask, "What is the point of this?" And, most damagingly, what was meant to be a climactic moment (Leonardo's flying machine taking off) comes over as rather anticlimactic and even, forgive me, ludicrous. Oh well...

Mortal Coil is the one in which Neelix takes one on the chin, waking up in sickbay some 18 hours later to learn that he has been dead. This leads the crew's morale officer into a serious existential crisis. Surprisingly, it isn't due to the fact that he has been brought back to life by Seven's Borg nanoprobes. It is simply that, after experiencing nothingness during his spell as a cadaver, Neelix can no longer believe in the Talaxian traditions about the afterlife. Since all his loved ones perished in a war (see Season 1's "Jetrel"), the belief that his family, and especially his sister Alixia, await him in the Great Forest has been all that kept him going. Now, without that belief, he has nothing to live for. Neelix tries to seek answers through a vision quest guided by Chakotay, but this only drives him deeper into depression. Finally, on the point of suicide, Neelix is brought back by his sense of duty, especially to a little girl who needs him to tuck her in at night. (Don't ask.)

Waking Moments finds the Voyagers being attacked by a race of aliens (representative pictured here) who are always asleep in the waking world, but who have serious kung-fu in the dream state in which they live their whole lives. Plus, they have a gadget that broadcasts technobabble over a wide region of space, causing anyone who passes through to fall asleep and become trapped in a shared dream in which the sleep aliens use said kung-fu to capture them. The only people on Voyager with a chance against them are the holographic Doctor (who doesn't sleep) and Chakotay, whose "ah-koo-chee-moya" shtick includes a lucid-dreaming subroutine. He manages to kick his way to the surface of all the dreams-within-dreams, breaching the waking world just long enough to point the ship's photon torpedoes at the sleep aliens' planet and set a three-minute countdown, before falling back into the dream to explain to the crew's not-really-there captors that they're about to become really not-there. I think it's Chakotay's level of commitment, being willing to die himself to make his point, that finally scares the aliens off in an episode whose concept is so ridiculous that it could only be Star Trek, if not more so.

Message in a Bottle is the episode in which the Voyagers finally get a message back to the folks back home in the Alpha Quadrant. Situated appropriately at about the midpoint of the series, it's sort of the "hump" beyond which the rest of their journey is, more or less, downhill—at least in the sense that, from now on, people at both ends are working on a way to bring them home. But first, the Doctor must survive being transmitted through an ancient network of alien communications relays, then take back an experimental Starfleet vessel whose entire crew has been slaughtered by Romulan agents, assisted only by the Emergency Medical Hologram "Mark 2," played to comic perfection by Andy Dick. Mark 1: "Stop breathing down my neck." Mark 2: "My breathing is only a simulation." Mark 1: "So is my neck. Stop it anyway." Playing one of the Romulans is Judson Scott, who besides a first-season TNG role also had a notable (but uncredited) role in the second Trek feature film. This also happens to be the episode that introduced a new alien threat, the savagely single-minded hunters known as the Hirogen.

Hunters further develops the wolf-like Hirogen culture, whose hunters—alone or in pairs, and occasionally in packs—stalk aliens across fantastic distances. They take satisfaction from a long and difficult chase, but even when their prey is as easy to capture as Tuvok and Seven (whose shuttlecraft only puts up a few moments of resistance), they are also into possessing the "relics of the hunt" (i.e., the clean white bones), being the first to bag a new species, and bagging it on their own. Their quick study of these characteristics proves to be Tuvok and Seven's only defense, but it gives them just enough time to avoid being skinned before Voyager comes to their rescue. Meanwhile, messages from home have started to come through the alien relay network to which the Hirogen lay claim, adding a layer of urgency and expectation to the drama on the Voyager's decks. The "Alpha" Hirogen in this episode is played by the same ironically-named Tiny Ron who played Maihar'du (Grand Nagus Zek's footman) in seven episodes of DS9.

Prey features Tony Todd, who played Worf's brother Kurn on both TNG and DS9 as well as a grown-up version of Jake Sisko in DS9's "The Visitor," as another Alpha-Hirogen who is brought on board Voyager, barely alive, after attempting to bag a Species 8472. Unfortunately his quarry also finds his way onto the ship. This leads to spooky scenes in which the alien is seen crawling on the outside of the ship's hull, and spacesuited crewpersons stalk darkened corridors lit only by the lights on the barrels of their phaser rifles. It also leads to an intense showdown between the Captain, who intends to help the wounded and demoralized Species 8472 back to the dimension it calls home, and Seven, who thinks they should give into the Hirogen hunter's demand for his prey before his buddies arrive and blow the Voyager up. This conflict between the ethics of Borg pragmatism and human compassion forms the heart of an episode which, nevertheless, will be best remembered for making you think, "Could the Hirogen be even badder than Species 8472? Cool!"

Retrospect guest-stars Michael Horton, late of Murder, She Wrote and a role in two TNG feature films, as an ill-fated weapons dealer named Kovin in a story that dramatizes the limitations of recovered memories as evidence of a crime. The Doctor, trying out some new "Ship's Counselor" subroutines he has added to his program, observes Seven of Nine having an anxiety attack while he gives her a routine exam. Using memory regression techniques of his own devising, the Doctor teases out a repressed memory in which Kovin stunned Seven, extracted Borg nanoprobes from her body, then covered up the assault with false memory engrams about an accidental technobabble overload. Seven warps directly from having no memory of the crime to being determined to see Kovin pay for it. Between technobabble and psychobabble, the investigation eventually proves Kovin innocent, but not before the trader, convinced that he is being set up, gets himself killed trying to escape. The whole affair opens new emotional vistas for Seven and leads the remorseful Doctor to ask Janeway to reset his program to its default settings. Which, of course, would be boring; so, request denied!

The Killing Game finds the Voyager in the hands of the Hirogen. Several weeks after being captured, the ship has become a prison for most of the crew, while the senior officers are forced to take part in holodeck simulations of the most violent periods in history. They don't know that it's only a shadow play, thanks to neural implants that keep them in character. So we find Janeway leading the French resistance in a small town overrun by Nazis, while the Americans led by General Chakotay close in. When the flesh-and-blood characters are injured, the Hirogen force the Doctor to patch them up and send them back into the fray. The Doc uses an opportunity to treat an injured Seven of Nine to break the implant's hold on her, so that she becomes the seed of a resistance within the resistance, fighting not only against a holographic German occupation force but against the very real Hirogen one. Either of these enemies may be equally deadly since, with the holodeck safeties turned off, the holographic weapons are as deadly as the real ones. And so this first half of a two-parter ends with an explosion blasting an opening between the holodeck and the corridors of the Voyager, which the Hirogen have just rigged with emitters, enabling World War II to spill out onto the decks of a 24th century starship...

The Killing Game, Part II continues the Voyagers' struggle to retake their ship from the Hirogen, while the chief of the hunters battles his own subordinates in a campaign to use holodeck tech to build a new future for his people. Janeway and Seven have to do some nimble footwork to free their crewmates from Hirogen thought-control while keeping up the charade that the World War II holonovel in which they are all trapped is real. Alpha-Hirogen Karr, meanwhile, fears that the hunt has spread his species too thin, that in a few generations their culture will no longer exist unless they can find a way to come back together. He believes holography is the key, but he is killed by one of his own men just when he and Janeway are about to make a deal. This ensures a final, climatic battle in which holographic Nazis, Americans, French resistance fighters, and Klingons get mixed up with flesh-and-blood Voyagers and Hirogen. This two-parter features guest actors Danny Goldring (who played 5 guest roles in various Star Trek spinoffs), Mark Metcalf (of Animal House fame), Mark Deakins (a Star Trek: Insurrection alum who provided a love interest for Seven of Nine in a later two-parter), J. Paul Boehmer (in his first of five Trek roles, including another Nazi), and Paul Eckstein (whose six Trek roles all involved heavy prosthetics).

Vis à Vis features Dan Butler (late of Frasier) as an alien named Steth who... Nope. Wow, this is going to be hard to describe without getting the facts mixed up! Let's try again. The male alien pictured here, played by Dan Butler, is actually Tom Paris; the woman next to him is really the male alien named Steth who owns the body Tom Paris is... No, that isn't right either. The character played by Dan Butler at the beginning of this episode calls himself Steth, but really isn't Steth, and after he swaps genomes with Tom P. (a little trick the unnamed alien is good at), he sends a stunned Tom flying off in his experimental spaceship, looking like Steth, while he (the alien) tries to pass himself off as Tom back on Voyager. This proves to be harder than the alien expected, which leads one to suspect that the alien isn't very bright except when it comes to genome-swapping, which he also does with Janeway. And so, at one point, Janeway finds herself looking like Tom Paris. All of which is pretty confusing for everybody, but remarkably fun to watch. For a moment (e.g., when the fake Paris is trying to find sickbay), you might actually sympathize with the dastardly alien as he struggles to cover his ignorance of all the things one would have to know to pass as a Voyager crewman; for reasons that soon become obvious, psychotic tricks like his only mix well with a solitary lifestyle. Which is why he/she/it (in the image of Janeway) eventually makes a break for it in a shuttlecraft. They have to catch the alien, at the very least so that Janeway needn't look like Paris for the rest of the series. It's wicked fun and, again, as loopy as Trek can be.

The Omega Directive shows early signs of being about a standing order so secret that only Starfleet captains know of it, so important that it supercedes all other priorities including the Prime Directive, and so implicitly tied to the assumption that it will be carried out within the borders of the Federation that a captain in Janeway's position might encounter unforeseen difficulties in carrying it out. But in fact, what the episode is really about is Seven of Nine's first "spiritual experience," an encounter with an elusive, infinitely complex, perfect, and dangerously powerful particle called the Omega. To Starfleet, the Omega means the ultimate threat to spacefaring civilization; to the Voyagers, it poses a serious danger to their hopes of ever getting home; but to the Borg, Seven included, it is all but a god. The Borg pursue it with religious desire; captains like Janeway are briefed to destroy it at any cost. Janeway worries that Omega could make warp travel impossible throughout half a quadrant; the aliens she finds trying to synthesize it hope Omega will provide their civilization with a much needed power source; but when Seven gazes at Omega for a moment, the crucial moment before it must be destroyed, she feels it gazing back at her. It adds up to yet another unusual episode, riding the far outside edge of the Formula Trek speedway and even, in one quick throwaway line that is nevertheless astonishing given the franchise's history of pro-evolution bias, suggests that the Big Bang theory is a creation myth!

Unforgettable features sci-fi/horror film maven Virginia Madsen as Kellin, a "tracer" serving the fanatically closed Ramuran society. Her people are not allowed to leave their homeworld without being tracked down and brought home, their memories of the outside erased. On the rare occasions they encounter aliens (like our Voyagers), they protect their world from discovery by, first, secreting a pheromone that makes it impossible to remember them and, second, planting a computer virus to erase all records of them. Kellin's problem is that, after working with Chakotay to flush out a Ramuran stowaway on board Voyager, she realizes she has fallen in love with him and decides to defect. It is difficult enough to convince the Voyagers that she has visited them before and to consider her plea for asylum; even trickier is getting Chakotay to fall in love with her a second time. She has only just managed it when another tracer stuns her with the Ramuran technobabble that causes her to forget the whole affair, leaving a heartbroken Chakotay to take the only step possible to prevent this from becoming yet another Episode that Never Happened: writing his log entry by hand, with pen and paper that no computer virus can destroy. Also appearing in this episode is three-time Trek guest Michael Canavan.

Living Witness takes a sneak peek perhaps farther into the future than any other Star Trek episode—and then looks back on the mission of the Starship Voyager as ancient history. 700 years after the Voyager flew through the space disputed between the Vaskans and the Kyrians, the two races live in a common but unequal society, taut with interracial tension. Amidst the Kyrians' frustration at being discriminated against and the Vaskans' dislike of always being blamed for their problems, an archaeological discovery at a museum devoted to "the Voyager encounter" drops like a bombshell. Quarren, the Kyrian who runs the exhibit, implicitly believes the simulation depicting the Voyagers as black-gloved, bloodthirsty warriors who exceeded their Vaskan allies in atrocities against the Kyrian people. So when he unearths a long-buried data module and activates a backup version of the holographic Doctor, he is at first hostile and skeptical toward the Doc's claims that the historical reconstruction is wrong. By calling into question the Kyrians' most cherished beliefs about their own victimhood, the Doctor unwittingly triggers race riots... leading to another historical epoch from which, centuries later, the backup Doctor's arrival on the scene is viewed in its turn as a simulated reenactment. Directed by cast member Tim Russ, it's another wildly atypical episode of Star Trek, affording the main cast a gleeful opportunity to act out of character and leaving a wistful aftertaste, reminiscent of the Season 4 finale of Babylon 5. The cast includes three-time Trek guest Henry Woronicz (seen as recently as Voyager's 3rd Season), Rod Arrants (who had previously played a hologram on TNG), Craig Richard Nelson (who, as in his previous TNG role, plays a magistrate), soap opera star Brian Fitzpatrick, two-time Trek guest Morgan Margolis (whose father Mark also guested on TNG), and The West Wing's Timothy Davis-Reed.

Demon takes its name from the class-designation of a planet, also known as Class Y, to which the deuterium-depleted Voyager limps in hope of collecting some of that crucial substance. It is so named because it is about as inhospitable to humanoid life as a planet can be, with a poisonous atmosphere, surface temperatures that could roast human flesh, and deadly radiation that makes it risky even to fly close. But they are so desperate for deuterium that the ship sends two plucky crewmen, Tom and Harry, to the surface in spacesuits to look for deposits of deuterium. They find it all right, but they also find a "silver blood" substance that, to make a long story short, makes identical copies of Tom and Harry—identical except for their ability to breathe demon-class air. Now that the silver blood has tasted of sentience, it wants more. It doesn't want the Voyager (which has since landed on the planet's surface) to leave; it wants to copy everybody and experience life as a community of intelligent beings. The resulting episode is a little weak, in that it seems undecided whether to be a knockoff of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or a more visually compelling remake of TNG's first-season episode "Home Soil." The ending is so abrupt that one gathers the writers could never make up their mind until, finally, they ran out of time. Nevertheless, the concept seems to have struck a nerve, since (spoiler alert!) this episode has a sequel in Season 5.

One is the one in which the ship has to fly through a huge nebula full of technobabble that makes everybody sick except Seven and the Doctor. Eventually even the Doctor starts having trouble holding his photons together. So, with the whole crew in stasis, Seven has to take care of all the ship's maintenance needs and endure weeks of being all by herself. It would be trying for anyone, even without being an ex-drone used to having millions of minds inside her head at one time. Seven starts to hallucinate, making the Voyager look like a creepy, haunted-house kind of place. It's one of the few episodes of this season that I can remember having seen when it first aired, and frankly it isn't as strong as I remembered; but Seven's distress and the Silent Running vibe do make a deep impression.

Hope and Fear stars previous TNG guest Ray Wise, lately the devil on Reaper and the epitome of "shark" lawyers on a couple episodes of The Closer, among other memorable characters. Here Wise puts on the big, veiny "conehead" look that Trek fans have been conditioned to interpret as either "super-smart alien" or "untrustworthy rogue"—both of which apply, in this case. Arturis offers his services as a linguistic genius to help decode part of the message the Voyagers had received from Starfleet. The message leads them to a super-fast starship, which it seems Starfleet sent to take them home. But actually the ship turns out to be a trap, programmed to deliver the crew to the Borg for expedited assimilation. Arturis has planned all this as revenge for the Voyagers' treaty with the Borg against Species 8472, an alliance that scotched his people's last hope of resisting the Borg. Luckily Seven has enough Borg left in her to be able to slip through Arturis's force fields, and enough humanity not to want to be Borgified again; so, in spite of her uncertainty whether she wants to be part of the human race, she fixes things so that Arturis gets collectivized and the Voyagers get a few light years closer to home.

And so ends another year worth of tantalizing hopes and heartbreaking setbacks, alien hijack attempts and creepy mysteries, peeks into alternate planes of existence and phony realities, glimpses of the Voyager from strange viewpoints and under grave conditions, and personal challenges for each of the central characters. It is the year in which Kes went digital, Seven of Nine went analog, and Neelix came back from the dead; Tom almost lost his body, B'Elanna almost lost her mind, and the two of them found each other; Tuvok found himself naked on the bridge, Chakotay forgot the love of his life, Harry made first contact with the silver blood, and the Captain went hang-gliding with Leonardo da Vinci. It was a year especially packed with stories for Seven of Nine and the Doctor, but with a healthy prevalence of ensemble episodes showing that the writers weren't sick of the show yet; while, at the same time, several episodes—such as "Living Witness"—stretched the Star Trek formula in a creatively captivating way. It was a year that shined a 24th-century spotlight on such topics as life after death, criminal justice, rape, religion, racial conflict, the ethics of medical studies, the tactics of military conditioning, and even whether a culture threatened with extinction can make a radical change. The message is often deeply embedded in the story—but the story always comes first!

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, two, and three; 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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