Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sorry about the Silence

We apologize for the silence since the middle of last week. We meant to post on Saturday night's visit to the Symphony, on another season of Star Trek, on some books recently read, on my adventures with Facebook aps, and on some more "Album for the Young" piano books... but our head has been splitting with pain since early this morning. And if you think "splitting" is an exaggeration, why are we referring to ourselves in the first-person plural?? We're going to get some rest in a nice dark room, and hopefully our head will be back in one piece by tomorrow....

Enterprise, Season 1

Enterprise--the fifth and to-date last Star Trek series--first aired on the UPN network from 2001 to 2005. Though the series's title changed in later seasons to Star Trek: Enterprise, it was the only Trek series whose regular cast did not change through all of its run. Like The Original Series (TOS), it was canceled before its time, perhaps in part because the Nielsen Ratings system was slow to adapt to the new ways people had begun watching TV, such as DVR and TiVo, and also in part because its concept as a "prequel" to TOS risked violating Trek continuity and upsetting a touchy and fanatically canon-conscious fandom. It also didn't help that it aired on a short-lived network that broadcast in a limited number of markets and that, in its floundering death-throes, probably leaned on the show's producers to compromise the integrity of their creative vision. When it was canceled after only four seasons, actress Jolene Blalock (who played "T'Pol" and, like Voyager's Robert Beltran, was a notoriously outspoken critic of her own series) was quoted as saying the show deserved to be canceled.

From what I hear about the series finale (which burned not just one character but the entire cast to a crisp), that may very well be true. I wouldn't know. To this day I have never seen an episode of this series subsequent to Season 1. It's not that I wasn't interested. I taped every episode of this first season, and greatly enjoyed most of them. (Alas, my parents taped over these cassettes, which I had loaned to them because their local cable didn't carry UPN. So I am only now seeing them again, thanks to a DVD Walmart was selling at fire-sale prices.)

Why did I quit watching the show? It was not Star Trek's fault. During the summer of 2002, after this season first aired, I moved to the Outskirts of Hell--Yuma, Arizona--where my TV's "rabbit ears" could only pick up two channels, both of them very fuzzy and one of them in Spanish. Since I was too stingy to pay for cable, too honest to steal it, and too conscious of the shortness of life to care much for TV anyway (especially because of the commercials), I decided it was the perfect time to kick TV-watching out of my everyday life.

Of course, new ways to blow time are always on offer. Just wait till I post on my adventures in Facebook! But I'm getting way off-topic. The point is, I had been close to quitting TV for some time, even though I liked several shows including Enterprise. I took my move to Yuma as the opportunity to make the break. One of my few regrets was not being able to see this series through. But we'll always have Season 1, won't we?

The series follows the mission of Earth's first "Warp 5" starship, which happens to be called Enterprise, launched in A.D. 2151. It doesn't count as one of the "NCC-1701" series of vessels, familiar from TOS, TNG, and the Trek feature films, because this Enterprise's registration number was NX-01. It has taken 80 years since Zefram Cochrane's discovery of warp drive (dramatized in the feature-film Star Trek: First Contact) for such a ship to be built, thanks in part to the diplomacy of the Vulcans, who are anxious as to whether mankind is ready for the galaxy, or vice versa. It finally takes an interplanetary emergency to make the launch happen... but even then, the Vulcans make sure to have one of their own on board as an observer, and perhaps a counterweight to the impulsiveness of a human captain and crew.

This new captain is the studly Jonathan Archer, played by Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula and accompanied on his travels by a cute beagle named Porthos, after one of the Three Musketeers. (You see, one fruit of not watching TV is that I actually read The Three Musketeers.) Thanks to Porthos, I have decided that my next pet, if I should outlive my cats, will be a beagle. Commanding a crew of 81 humans, 1 Vulcan, and 1 Denobulan, Archer is the perfect type to lead mankind's first exploration of deep space: super-competent, strong-willed, conscientious, thoughtful yet passionate, highly protective of his ship and his crew, with a big sense of fun and an indefinable aura of leadership. His experiences in this season alone lay the groundwork for some of the guiding principles of what, by the end of the series, would be a fledgling Federation of Planets--such as the Prime Directive against interfering in the development of other cultures.

Archer's Vulcan science officer is the aforementioned T'Pol, tricked out in silicone lips and the type of figure-hugging uniform perfected by Voyager's Seven of Nine. Jolene Blalock plays her with a combination of stoic calm and trashy femininity (notably displayed in this season's decontamination-chamber scenes, including a mind-bogglingly gratuitous one in the pilot episode). As a pure-blood Vulcan, she is only rarely, and even then vaguely, affected by human emotions, though at times her unflappable veneer wears thin. We learn in this season that Vulcans detest the smell of human beings, refuse to touch food with their hands, meditate by candlelight before retiring each night, and have a fishy track record of dealings with many of the alien races they have contacted. The sense that the Vulcans have held back mankind, to some degree, puts the lie to a throwaway line in an early TOS episode, possibly the second pilot, where someone teases Spock, "That's probably why we conquered your planet." Never happened!

The only other non-human officer on this Enterprise is Phlox, the ship's physician, played by seasoned character-actor John Billingsley. What little we learn about Phlox's Denobulan species, this season, seems to be revealed mainly for the purpose of emphasizing how whimsically weird and alien he is. I mean, look at this smile! Off the hook, ain't it? Other than that we learn that on Denobula, group marriages are customary, people don't like to be touched, and everyone hibernates for about one week a year, to make up for not getting much sleep the rest of the time. Phlox is blessed with a bright, cheerful outlook, boundless curiosity, an openness to exotic forms of medical treatment, and a commitment to medical and scientific ethics that contributes some of this season's most poignant moments. Plus, he has a menagerie of weird animals, some of them more heard than seen, which he fearlessly incorporates into his medical treatments. I love Phlox. Some of the Phlox-centered outtakes described and/or included in the DVD's Special Features are absolutely priceless. It is in these Special Features, in an interview, that Billingsley reveals one fact about Denobula I did not know: it's a very crowded planet. I wonder how knowing that helped him, as an actor, create the role.

Captain Archer's closest friend is his Chief Engineer, Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III. I remember promotional material for the series, before it went into production, that identified Tucker as "Charlie" rather than "Trip." I like the final nickname better, perhaps because I actually knew someone once whose friends and family called him Trip (also because of the Roman numeral at the end of his name), and at the time I thought it was a real... heh... trip! Trip is a good ole boy from Pensacola, Florida, who likes pan-fried catfish, often says things like "Keep your shirt on," and has a perhaps unjust reputation for getting himself into awkward situations. For example, in one of this season's most delicious episodes, Trip goes down in history as the first human male to get pregnant. He also spends more time than strictly necessary prancing around in his underwear, thanks to the telegenic physique of actor Connor Trinneer.

Serving as the ship's tactical officer is a tough but reserved British Lieutenant named Malcolm Reed, played by Dominic Keating. Intensely private and self-sufficient, Reed is so hard to get to know that even his own family doesn't know much about him. So the bond he develops with his fellow Enterprises is really remarkable, beginning especially with his ordeal with Trip in this season's episode "Shuttlepod One." Malcolm really knows his business--guns, mostly. He always wants to be the first guy through the door with his phase-pistol drawn, and he cares deeply about maximizing the ship's firepower without blowing out plasma relays and what have you. He also, as it happens, is a bit of an inventor, coming up with the first electromagnetic force-field of any practical value for the episode "Vox Sola." Not bad for a chap from Leicester, what?

Rounding out the cast are two very young actors, Linda Park and Anthony Montgomery, playing (respectively) Enterprise's communications officer Ensign Hoshi Sato and its helmsman, Ensign Travis Mayweather. Hoshi brings to the crew a valuable gift (being able to pick up most any language in a matter of minutes) in an era when the "Universal Translator"--that rarely-mentioned piece of Treknobabble that explains how aliens from all parts of the galaxy nearly always speak perfect English--is still in its early stages of development. Travis, meanwhile, is a "boomer"--born and raised on a Warp 1.5 cargo vessel, and therefore more at home in deep space than on Earth. They both have a lot of adjusting to do as they begin their life on board a starship of exploration. Hoshi's character sees the most growth over the course of Season 1, from being so freaked out by life on the Final Frontier that she almost resigns her commission to accepting her role as an indispensible member of the crew. Travis bounces from one adventure to another like a big, cheerful puppy--and, alas, gets badly kicked a few times.

The first Starship Enterprise begins its mission with bridge panels that have actual buttons (rather than a touch-screen interface), clunky computer monitors, a retractable science-station viewer (similar to the one Spock used on TOS), an earpiece for Hoshi (similar to Uhura's), sliding pocket doors that don't automatically open unless you push a button, and a food replicator that squirts coffee, milk, or juice into your cup rather than materializing it, cup and all. The shuttle bay has pressure doors rather than force fields keeping the air in and the vacuum out. The matter-energy transporter has never been used to transport a human before this mission; even now it's a rare and iffy procedure, used only in an emergency. As a result, airlocks and shuttlepods see a lot more use. The sensors haven't yet been calibrated to pick up many of the things Trekkers expect to be able to track, at least to begin with. Force-fields only reach a workable level of advancement late in the season, so the ship's defenses revolve around polarized hull plating and some kind of pointy, silvery torpedoes. Phase cannons (not quite phasers yet?) only get installed around mid-season; photon torpedoes are almost unheard-of, though the Klingons have them.

Besides the developing technology of the ship itself, this first year of Enterprise shows Starfleet experiencing many first-time encounters. Mankind meets the Klingons for the first time in the pilot episode. The flamboyantly re-invented, blue-skinned Andorians, complete with animated antennae, cross paths with Archer & co. a couple times. We get our first glimpse of the Coridans, suggesting why "the Coridan question" is still a hot topic at the time of the TOS episode "Journey to Babel." Though Starfleet isn't supposed to meet the Ferengi until TNG's "The Last Outpost," we hear their name dropped in this season's "Dear Doctor" and, a few episodes later, they actually appear, albeit without identifying themselves. We encounter snaggle-toothed Nausicaan pirates, make a much-anticipated first visit to the pleasure world of Risa, and see a lot more development of the Vulcan race.

Besides making the old new again, Enterprise also encounters its fair share of the completely new: the scaly Xyrillians, who live in a disorientingly weird environment, almost like another dimension; the spackle-faced Suliban, some of whom have been genetically enhanced by an organization known as the Cabal to serve as foot-soldiers in a Temporal Cold War; the paranoid Tandarans, who will stop at nothing to destroy the Cabal; the creepy Malurians, who think nothing of contaminating a pre-warp world, and whose only other notable accomplishment is being annihilated by Nomad in TOS's "The Changeling"; and, besides several other alien races, the unnamed organization Crewman Daniels works for--a 31st-century agency in charge of policing the Temporal Accord. Some of these first encounters presage adventures yet to come in Enterprise's latter three seasons. But since I have only seen Season One, so far, let's take its episodes on their own terms...

Broken Bow is the series's double-sized pilot episode. Flashbacks to the boyhood of Capt. Jonathan Archer set the scene for the show, indicating that his father Henry Archer was a warp engineer who bridged the gap between the era of Zefram Cochrane and the "present" of 2151, when man's first deep-space exploration begins against the advice of the Vulcans. The precipitating event is first contact with the Klingons, in the form of a lone warrior crash-landing in an Oklahoma cornfield and fighting off two genetically-enhanced Suliban who are chasing him. Archer assembles his crew quickly and pushes up the timetable for launching Enterprise so that Klaang can be returned to his people, but there are complications along the way... a firefight on the cosmopolitan world of Rigel X... a kidnapping off the decks of Enterprise by an enemy virtually impossible to detect, let alone resist... a kidnapping-back caper on a Suliban helix deep in the atmosphere of a gas giant... and the first hints of a "Temporal Cold War" in which the Suliban Cabal takes orders from a shadowy guy from the future. Guest stars include Gary Graham of Alien Nation in his first of 12 appearances as Vulcan Ambassador Soval; Thomas Kopache (as another Vulcan) playing one of his 7 guest roles on Star Trek; Vaughn Armstrong in his first of 15 appearances as Admiral Forrest, one of a record 11 characters he played in four Trek series; Melinda Clark of The O.C., Jim Beaver of Deadwood, Mark Moses of Desperate Housewives, Tiny Lister of WWE fame, and John Fleck in his first appearance as the recurring Suliban later identified as Silik, one of a half-dozen Trek characters he played. The Suliban doctor, briefly seen, is played by Joseph Ruskin, whose six Trek guest roles go all the way back to TOS; square-jawed Jim Fitzpatrick plays a background Starfleet official for the first of four times; and if you sense something familiar about the dark figure from the future, he is played by the same James Horan whose five roles on four Trek series include the alien Dr. Crusher blew a hole in in TNG's "Suspicions." Finally, James Cromwell reprises his Star Trek: First Contact role as warp-drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane, shown in archived footage coining the "new life and new civilizations" spiel ...only without the split infinitive!

Fight or Flight is an eerie episode in which the Enterprises board a drifting alien ship and find its entire crew strung up, feet uppermost, with tubes flushing a certain vital substance out of their bodies. Hoshi is so freaked that she almost quits on the spot. We learn a lot of reasons to wonder why the Vulcans bother with space flight, such as the fact that they don't care for exploration and have no particular sense of curiosity. We also learn that human lymph nodes are an equally lucrative resource to the unseen beings who wanted the glandular secretions of the slaughtered alien crew. In the end, the Enterprises' survival depends on Hoshi's translation skills. Jeff Ricketts, appearing as the Axenar captain, played an Andorian later in this same season.

Strange New World is the episode where several Enterprises decide to spend the night on an idyllic, but uninhabited, planet. At midnight the winds come up, bearing a toxin that causes paranoia, hallucinations, and (if untreated) death. Rescue is impossible, because the winds prevent a safe shuttlepod descent and a single attempt to use the transporter has freaky results (pictured here). So it is up to a slightly intoxicated T'Pol to trick Trip into laying down his phase-pistol so that she can give him a dose of the life-saving antidote. Kellie Waymire, whose three appearances as Crewman Cutler all took place during this season, also appeared on DS9 and had a recurring role on Six Feet Under before she suddenly died in 2003, age 36.

Unexpected is the one where Trip gets pregnant. Hilarious! Phlox: "I don't know if congratulations are in order, but..." He goes through it all: mood swings, appetite changes, even morning sickness (OK, that might be one of the deleted scenes). Trip's horror of the news getting out is only a smidge less precious than his discomfort when T'Pol teases him about his inability to keep it zipped. The only thing about it that isn't awesome is the fact that it isn't his baby. Aside from the absurd idea that the Xyrillians take all their genetic material from their mother(?!), this cheapens the episode by ensuring that everything goes back to normal, with no pitter-patter of little consequences running around the ship in subsequent episodes. Compensating for this, however, is the far-out weirdness of the Xyrillian ship, where grass grows on the deck and exhales a fume that aids digestion, and where water exists only in the form of little cubes of plain Jell-O. This episode shows, perhaps, where Starfleet found the concept for its later development of holodecks. And it also involves a bit of shrewd diplomacy with Klingons. The Klingon captain is played by Christopher Darga, who had also guested on DS9 (as another Klingon) and Voyager. The Xyrillian captain is played by Randy Oglesby, whose 5 other Trek roles spanned all 4 spinoffs and included an unrelated recurring role ("Degra") later in this series. Julianne Christie, the mother of Trip's baby, once played a Talaxian (Neelix's race) on Voyager.

Terra Nova resolves the mystery of a long-lost Earth colony from way back in the pre-Warp 5 days when it took years to travel to and from their planet. Since Earth lost contact with the Novans, their fate has been fodder for spooky bedtime stories on galactic freighters, like the one Travis grew up on. To solve the mystery, the Enterprises must delve into the stone-age culture of the surviving Novans, descendants of the colony's children who took refuge underground when a radioactive disaster crisped their parents. The Novans no longer recognize themselves being from Earth, blaming humans for "gutting their go-befores" and driving them below ground. Archer has to use all his diplomatic savvy to persuade these folks to move before the left-over radiation wipes them out. Among the guest cast are Mary Carver, who played the mother of Simon & Simon, and TV and film sci-fi maven Erick Avari, whose previous Trek appearances included a Klingon on TNG and a Bajoran on DS9.

The Andorian Incident breathes new life into one of TOS's hokiest alien races: the white-haired, blue-skinned, antennae-topped Andorians, frequently seen in the background but seldom featured since their 1960s debut. One enhancement is the fact that their antennae move around, expressive of the Andorians' mood. Another bonus is the fact that mankind is here seen meeting the Andorians for the first time. Their aggressive, suspicious nature is vividly seen when an armed squad of blue-skins (Hey! They call us Earth folk "pink-skins," don't they?) storm a Vulcan monastery called P'Jem, just as Archer, Trip, and T'Pol are dropping in to pay their respects. The Andorians' belief that the spiritual retreat center is a front for a surveillance system aimed at their planet turns out to be correct, with the result (among others yet to be seen) that, as he departs, the head hostage-taker tells Archer, "I am in your debt." Steven Dennis, here playing the Andorian Tholos, had played four different guest roles on Voyager (leeringly, to T'Pol: "I'll enjoy having a prisoner"). Bruce French (the Vulcan Elder) played a Betazoid on TNG, an Ocampa in the pilot to Voyager, and an alien villain in the feature film Star Trek: Insurrection. Last but not least, Jeffrey Combs adds the recurring Andorian Shran to his extensive list of Trek appearances, including at least four one-off characters between three series, plus DS9's recurring Ferengi named Brunt and the succession of Vorta clones named Weyoun. I still can't help thinking of him as the cracked FBI agent in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners.

Breaking the Ice is one of those "A-story/B-story" episodes where it's a little hard to tell which storyline is A and which B. If Vulcans could laugh, the shipful of them observing the Enterprise's exploration of a huge, icy comet would be rolling on the decks as Malcolm and Travis prance around in EV-suits, building pointy-eared snowmen and getting their shuttle-pod stuck in a crevice. The worst of it is, their ice-blasting activities have shifted the comet's axis of rotation, so that they will soon be on the day side of the galaxy's largest known ice-cube. No one wants a close-up of a look at what happens when that much solid ice suddenly turns into water vapor. So it falls to T'Pol to manipulate Archer into burying his pride and asking the offensively superior Vulcan captain for help. She (T'Pol), meanwhile, is facing a personal crisis. Of all people to open up to, she chooses Trip--possibly because he inadvertently opened her mail, or perhaps a foreshadowing of their future, intimate relationship. (All right, I haven't seen the later seasons of this series, but I am connected to the internet!)

Civilization is the one where Archer & Co. dress up as aliens (with some surgical touches by Dr. Phlox) so they can explore a world similar to pre-Industrial Revolution Earth. Their fun is interrupted by the discovery of alien energy readings coming from a curio shop, where the basement is protected by an impenetrable energy field. The proprietor turns out to be one of the aliens from V--you know, human skin on the outside, gray lizard on the inside? The Malurians are mining some kind of weapons-grade technobabble on this peaceful, innocent world, and they don't particularly care that a byproduct of their operation is poisoning the local water supply. All this gives Archer a chance to shoot ray-guns at scaly bad-guys and suck face with an attractive alien chick, who must then bravely face the rest of her life knowing things that she can't discuss with anybody else.... Ah, the innocence of those pre-Prime Directive times!

Fortunate Son is the rare Trekisode that begins from a point of view remote from the hero ship and its crew. This one features the Warp-1.5 freighter Fortunate, whose captain and first-officer are playing low-gravity football in the cargo bay when Nausicaan pirates attack their ship. Enterprise answers Fortunate's distress call, but arrives after the battle is over. Though their captain is wounded and their ship is damaged, the Fortunates seem strangely reluctant to accept the help the Enterprises' offer. Eventually it comes out that First Officer Matthew Ryan is holding a Nausicaan hostage, hoping to torture out of him the access codes to penetrate the pirate fleet's defenses. Once discovered, Ryan is willing to risk anything to keep his advantage--even the lives of Archer and his officers--until the Nausicaans have his ship cornered and only a little Archer-style diplomacy can save the day. Ryan is played by the same Lawrence Monoson who, as a Bajoran in DS9's "The Storyteller," once tried to stab Chief O'Brien. Ryan's sidekick Shaw is played by Kieran Mulroney, who previously appeared as a young unwed father in TNG's "The Outrageous Okona." Charles (or Chip) Lucia, here playing Capt. Keene, also had guest roles on TNG and Voyager. Danny Goldring (the Nausicaan captain) played five Trek roles in three series. And the Nauiscaan hostage is played by D. Elliot Woods, whose statuesque figure earned him two previous Trek roles.

Cold Front is the first episode that picks up the thread of the "Temporal Cold War" dropped in the series pilot. In this outing, a non-commissioned Enterprise crewman named Daniels turns out to be an operative for a 31st-century agency policing the Temporal Accords. He is concerned about the Suliban Silik, who has just now infiltrated Enterprise in the guise of an alien religious pilgrim and saved the ship from being blown up. Caught between two opponents who both claim to be preserving the time continuum, Archer is ultimately helpless to prevent Silik from killing Daniels and making his escape. Coolness: The gadget that allows people to walk through solid walls. Even more cool: Making sure this too-good-to-be-true gadget gets lost, so it doesn't mess up Trek continuity. Not cool: Scott Bakula hanging by one hand while the launch bay decompresses. Totally unconvincing! Besides a second appearance by John Fleck as "Silik," this episode boasts Matt Winston's first of eight appearances as Daniels.

Silent Enemy is still another "A/B" episode where the "B" plot seems to carry more water than the "A." Malcolm's birthday is coming up, and it's Hoshi's job to find out what he likes to eat so they can give him a special treat. Problem: Nobody, even his closest relatives and friends, knows that much about Malcolm. In spite of a charming cameo by Dear John's Jane Carr (lately one of Londo's wives on B5) as Lt. Reed's mum, 'Allo 'Allo's Guy Siner as his Dad, and Deadwood's Paula Malcomson as his sister, Hoshi must finally suborn an egregious breach of doctor-patient confidentiality to discover the answer to her conundrum (pineapple!). Meanwhile, the ship is repeatedly attacked by the creepily uncommunicative (but otherwise uninteresting) aliens pictured here. As a result, Trip and Malcolm go to heroic lengths to get the ship's phase cannons online.

Dear Doctor is the episode narrated by Dr. Phlox as he dictates a letter to a human colleague serving, via the Interspecies Medical Exchange, on the Denobulan homeworld. Interlarded with Denobulan-eye-view observations of humanity, his account takes in a medical mission of mercy to a pre-warp world whose dominant culture faces extinction just as it begins to reach out toward the stars. Though it takes a Valakian astronaut years to get within hailing range of Enterprise, the latter takes less than a day to take him back home. This leads to an encounter with not one but two sentient, humanoid races peacefully coexisting on the same world, and a painful test of medical and scientific ethics that strains the relationship between Acher and Phlox. The result, however, is the first germ of what eventually grows up to be Starfleet's Prime Directive. This episode guest stars The Simpsons's Karl Wiedergott in his second of two Trek roles, and Chris Rydell, the son of TOS guest actor Joanne Linville.

Sleeping Dogs guest-stars Vaughn Armstrong and Michelle Bonilla (late of ER and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) as members of an unconscious Klingon crew whose disabled ship is sinking in the atmosphere of a gas giant. This presents a dilemma for the Enterprises on multiple levels. First, Klingons would rather die with honor than be rescued; but humans feel a need to come to their aid. Second, when one of the Klingons comes to and steals the shuttlepod, she (a) radios for reinforcements, blaming Enterprise for attacking her ship, and (b) leaves Malcolm, Hoshi, and T'Pol stranded as the Klingon ship approaches hull-crushing depths. The resulting crisis of diplomacy, engineering, and public health puts even more pressure on the Enterprises, but they stand it well--though T'Pol has to help Hoshi hold it together by touching a pressure point or two and teaching her a simple meditation technique. You would think T'Pol would be the one needing help after visiting a Klingon galley replete with skinned targs, dead gagh, and indescribable things floating in cauldrons of soup.

Shadows of P'Jem follows up on "The Andorian Incident" with a reprise of the blue-skinned characters played by Jeffrey Combs and Steven Dennis. The repercussions of what Archer discovered on P'Jem has led to the entire Vulcan monastery, listening-post and all, being destroyed (without loss of life) by the Andorians. For her part in this, T'Pol is to be recalled to Vulcan in disgrace. While they wait for a Vulcan ship to rendezvous with them, the Enterprises decide to visit the planet Coridan, where the government is tight with the Vulcans. Unfortunately, not everyone on Coridan is tight with the government. When some rebels abduct Archer and T'Pol, Trip, Shran, and a trigger-happy Vulcan captain (played by 24's Gregory Itzin in his fourth of five Trek roles) mount separate and conflicting rescue attempts. Also guest-starring in this episode are Barbara Tarbuck of Falcon Crest fame, and China Beach's Jeff Kober, whose role as an assassin in 24 put Itzin's character in the Oval Office; both Tarbuck and Kober had previously guested on Star Trek.

Shuttlepod One is an intensely character-driven, budget-saving episode that takes the idea of a "bottle show" to the extreme. Except for about three scenes, one of them turning out to be a dream, the entire episode focuses on the ordeal of Trip and Malcolm in an increasingly ice-cold shuttlepod, believing Enterprise has been destroyed and counting the hours until their air supply runs out. Though it got the poorest ratings of the season, for my money this is one of the series's finest pieces of writing, acting, and all-around filmmaking. Like the similarly low-rated TNG episode "Family," this is one of the few Trek episodes in which no scene takes place on the hero ship's bridge.

Fusion puts T'Pol in the uncomfortable position of having to liaise with a civilian vessel crewed by a Vulcan sect that believes in using logic to control, rather than totally suppress, their primal emotions. This seems to be working fairly well for the crew of the Vahklas, but T'Pol is convinced that it's a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless, she briefly experiments with the Vahklases' techniques, going to bed one night without meditating and having, as a result, agitating dreams about her first experience of jazz music at a San Francisco night club. Later she submits to a then all-but-forgotten, ancient Vulcan ritual called the Mind Meld(!), and ends up becoming the victim of a type of psychic rape. I'm still trying to figure out the point of the scene in which Archer provokes the Vulcan rapist to throw him around his ready-room like a rag-doll. Maybe he was trying to convince himself that it was time to bid the Vahklas farewell? As an episode giving insight into the hard and complicated path a Vulcan must walk, this show deserves an A+. It guest-stars Without a Trace's Enrique Murciano as Tolaris, the Vulcan who makes the study of emotion look like a sexual fetish; and CHiPs star Robert Pine as the Vulcan captain, his second Trek role.

Rogue Planet features a world that has no sun, its surface warmed by subterranean technobabble. As a result, it is by far and away this season's darkest episode. Many of its scenes play out in hues only subtly distinct from pitch black, illuminated entirely by the lights and night-vision devices carried by the characters themselves. To say this is a handicap for an episode to overcome is an understatement. It succeeds by focusing on the mysteries that lurk in the planet's deep shadows: shape-changing creatures called Wraiths, valued by visiting Eska hunters as the most dangerous game. Archer gradually realizes that the fairy-tale-beautiful woman who repeatedly appears to him is a member of these telepathic, sentient wraiths; but then he makes it his business to ensure that the hunters lose the scent of their prey. The girl with the apple blossoms in her hair is played by Stephanie Niznik, who also played a Trill crewman in Star Trek: Insurrection. Conor O'Farrell of CSI here plays his second of three Trek roles; Alien Nation's Eric Pierpoint, his fourth of five, including the Klingon version of Charon and, later in this series, a recurring Section 31 operative. The leader of the Eska hunters is played by Keith Szarabajka of Angel and The Equalizer, who also guested on Voyager.

Acquisition risks violating Trek continuity by introducing the Ferengi chronologically long before their historic first-contact with humans in TNG's "The Last Outpost." This episode skirts the issue by letting the greedy little aliens decline to mention the name of their race (though sharp-eared viewers my notice a backward reference to the Menk of "Dear Doctor," where the Ferengi were named as a warp-capable race that visited their planet). But enough of this chit-chat. The episode begins from the point of view of the Ferengi, who have knocked out everybody on Enterprise (except Trip, who turns out to have been in decon at the time). Until they encounter a conscious human character, they deliver their lines in fluent Alien without subtitles, so you have to guess what they're talking about from the context. Trek history has shown that this is a trick very few actors could pull off; fortunately, Enterprise's casting director seems to have specialized in finding such actors, including John Billingsley (as Phlox), Vaughn Armstrong (as the Klingon captain in "Sleeping Dogs"), and the four actors playing Ferengi in this episode. They are a particularly well-qualified foursome, in fact. For one, there's Jeffrey Combs, whose numerous Trek guest spots included eight DS9 appearances as the Ferengi Brunt. For two, there's Ethan Phillips who, prior to playing Neelix for all seven seasons of Voyager, began his Trek career playing a Ferengi on TNG. For three, there's Matt Malloy, whose long career playing nebbishy types includes a tragic co-lead role in In the Company of Men and guest appearances on practically everything, including the most black-comedic perp ever to grace CSI. (I'm thinking of the guy who killed his wife by accident, then tried to dump her body at a construction site, only to get stuck in wet concrete up to his waist.) For four, there's Clint Howard, Ron's less famous brother, in his third of three Trek roles including the child-like alien Balok in TOS's "The Corbomite Maneuver," Star Trek's first non-pilot episode to be filmed. It sure is fun seeing these four hams, screwed into Ferengi headpieces and false teeth, trying to rob Enterprise blind and getting outwitted by Archer, Trip, and T'Pol.

Oasis opens with a teaser featuring game-show host Tom Bergeron as an alien merchant who gives the Enterprises directions to a haunted ship. The ghosts turn out to be the crew of an alien starship that crash-landed years ago on an inhospitable planet, and who have allegedly shielded their life-signs from detection so that their enemies won't attack them. Actually, however, only two of the Kantares survived the crash, the rest turning out to be holograms created by the lone surviving engineer to keep his daughter company and to help him repair the ship. Now, and I would add absurdly, the Kantares would like the Enterprises to leave them alone, since they would rather stay where they are at than catch a ride home. Eventually, they agree to accept help repairing their ship so that they can rejoin reality. Frankly, this episode seems lamer the longer I think about it. Nevertheless it's worth mentioning the guest cast, including Annie Wersching of 24, Rudolph Willrich in his third of three Trek appearances, and René Auberjonois who, besides playing Odo in all seven seasons of DS9, had previously played two human characters on Star Trek.

Detained is the one where Archer and Mayweather get arrested for unknowingly violating Tandaran space. While they await trial, they are held in a detention facility with a large number of innocent Suliban, who are being rounded up due to suspicions regarding the Cabal. Because of his history with the Cabal, Archer comes in for his share of hard-hitting interrogation, too. Eventually he throws caution (and his growing reluctance to interfere in other cultures) to the wind, and engineers a jail-break not only for himself and Travis, but for the Suliban as well. The episode features Scott Bakula's Quantum Leap co-star Dean Stockwell, once an acclaimed child star and Oscar-nominated film actor, and best-known to my generation as Dr. Yueh in David Lynch's Dune. Other guest stars include Dennis Christopher and Christopher Shea, both appearing as Suliban and both of whom had previously played Vorta on DS9. The latter (pictured earlier in this post) also played an Andorian later in this series, as well as a much weirder-looking alien on Voyager.

Vox Sola (Latin for "Lone Voice") is the one where a tentacly creature sneaks aboard Enterprise, ensconces itself in the cargo bay, and pulls anyone who approaches it into its slimy web. Some of the people it catches, including Archer and Trip, remain conscious for a while, but they develop telepathic tendencies which suggests that they are being absorbed into a single, sentient being. This being, as such, can only communicate in a language that is more like high-level calculus equations converted into screechy sound than anything else--forcing Hoshi to work with T'Pol in spite of her belief that the science officer considers her unworthy to explore space. Malcolm, meanwhile, bumps up the timetable for inventing a stable electromagnetic force-field, so they can attempt to communicate with the creature without getting tangled in its boogery tendrils. (Seriously, the stuff dripping off this thing looks like it came out of somebody's nose.) With the aid of some touchy aliens who consider eating to be as private as mating (try having a diplomatic banquet with them!), the Enterprises finally figure out how to take Spidey home to rejoin the oozy, landscape-covering life-form of which it is a part. Eurgh! Playing Crewman Rostov is Joseph Will, who had played two guest roles on Voyager before coming in a close second-place in auditions for the role of Trip Tucker. Another crewman absorbed by the snot monster is played by One Life to Live actress Renee Goldsberry. As for the Kreetassan captain, the actor is...surprise!...Vaughn Armstrong again!

Fallen Hero depicts a Vulcan ambassador being recalled in disgrace from her posting on the Mazarite homeworld, where she is accused of serious misconduct. None of this surprises the Enterprises, who have been ordered to pick up Ambassador V'Lar and deliver her to a Vulcan ship; after all, humans have come to view Vulcans as diplomatic busybodies, interfering in their technological development. But T'Pol, who considers V'Lar one of the inspirations for her career, is shocked. She is even more shocked when V'Lar shows an openness to human customs, even an enjoyment of human company, out of the ordinary for their people. It isn't until Mazarite ships start chasing Enterprise that V'Lar reveals she is actually not in disgrace; rather, she is the star witness in an upcoming RICO trial (or interplanetary equivalent) and the defendants wouldn't hesitate to destroy Enterprise to silence her. One result of this is a suspenseful space chase of the "Warp 4.7... Warp 4.8..." type, all the way up to mankind's first ever "wide-open" test of a Warp-5 engine. Whether this is enough or not, I choose not to spoil for you at this time. However, I would like to mention that Fionnula Flanagan (V'Lar), J. Michael Flynn (Mazarite official), and John Rubinstein (Mazarite captain) each plays one of his or her three Trek roles in this episode. Previously seen on Voyager, Rubinstein would go on to play a Vulcan leader in two later episodes of Enterprise; Flynn, with a previous TNG role under his belt, was later cast as a Romulan scientist appearing three times; and Flannagan, you may recall, had played an old flame of Curzon Dax in DS9 and Data's "mother" on TNG. It's cool how you can use the same actors over and over with different makeup, and nobody notices!

Desert Crossing is so named because Archer and Trip cross a desert in it. Duh! I'm not sure, but I think this episode's sand dunes may have been filmed just across the Colorado River from my former hometown of Yuma, Arizona. Of course, it wasn't my hometown yet when this episode was filmed. Why do they have to cross this desert? Why does Trip have to go through yet another ordeal of survival-by-seat-of-pants, only at the opposite end of climate conditions from "Shuttlepod One"? Because their big, loud, easily-offended guest happens to be a member of a long-oppressed caste that is now fighting back against their world's ruling class. And when the Torothans (i.e. that ruling class) start bombing Zobral's people, they have no choice but to run for it. For 8 kilometers. Under a scorching sun. With not enough water and no shelter whatsoever. Only to get bombed again. What these guys go through in this episode totally sucks, but eventually Zobral mans up and helps T'Pol rescue them. And eventually he accepts the fact that there's nothing Archer can do to help his brothers-in-arms fight for their cause, however just it may be. Oversized character actor Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption, and Starship Troopers) plays Zobral. His Torothan antagonist is played by novelist, playwright, and occasional actor Charles Dennis, who previously menaced John Doe in TNG's "Transfigurations."

Two Days and Two Nights are all the time that a randomly-selected portion of the Enterprise crew gets to spend on the pleasure planet Risa, their arrival having been delayed by several episodes' worth of action and adventure. Archer plans to spend the time walking Porthos on the beach and reading books in his bungalow, but a captivating woman quickly monopolizes his time--a woman, played by TNG and DS9 guest star Dey Young, who turns out to be a Tandaran spy fishing for intel about the Suliban. Trip and Malcolm set out to get laid, but on their first night they get waylaid by a pair of shape-changing robbers and spend the rest of their time trying to escape from a basement. Travis gets injured while rock-climbing, and the treatment he receives at the alien hospital almost kills him. The only hero character who actually "scores" is Hoshi, and she only meant to study alien languages. Trip: "Did you learn anything?" Hoshi: "Yeah, I picked up a few new conjugations..." The best bit, however, takes place on the ship, when T'Pol and Crewman Cutler prematurely wake Dr. Phlox out of hibernation so he can treat Travis. John Billingsley delivers a beautifully bizarre performance, even better after you see the outtakes showing Jolene Blalock's off-camera reaction to the doctor's initial outburst. The nice alien guy who beds Hoshi is played by Rudolf Martin, who played Dracula in two different TV productions (including an episode of Buffy), among other menacing foreign types.

Shockwave, Part I represents the first time a Trek series's first season ended with a cliffhanger. Go back and check, if you like; I've reviewed all the other Season Ones, if nothing else. Focusing again on the Temporal Cold War, this one brings back John Fleck's Silik and Matt Winston's Daniels (back from the dead!). The opening salvo in what now looks like a Temporal Hot War is an apparent shuttlepod accident which wipes out an entire alien mining colony. The evidence, however, confirms the accident was caused not by human negligence but by Suliban sabotage. Part I ends with Enterprise on the verge of being destroyed. Meanwhile, somewhere in the 31st century(!!), Capt. Archer finds himself looking out across the long-abandoned ruins of what, according to Winston, was a vibrant cityscape only moments ago. *Cue scary music*: History has changed!

Want to brush up on your Star Trek? See my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, six, and seven; and of Voyager season one. As a control group, see also my review of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Sensational Symphony

Tonight, I went to Powell Symphony Hall on the first of my set of season tickets for this year. Regrettably, my subscription had not included Joshua Bell playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto the previous weekend. To make up for it, however, I got to experience what may have been the most sensational performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony I have ever heard.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, which lately has it that only a Russian-born conductor can do justice to a Russian masterpiece like this, the conductor that night was Frenchman Louis Langree, making his St. Louis Symphony debut. On my way out of the hall I caught the eye of the Symphony's VP in charge of programming as he leaned smoking against the wall and said, "Sensational." I hope he remembers to book this guy again next season.

The Fifth came across with clear lines, massive power, sweeping passion, and blazing energy. The only blemish on the performance came in the opening of the second movement, when the first note of the lyrical horn solo was flubbed. I have heard so many wonderful horn solos flubbed by so many different, high-level horn players that I can only conclude (having never attempted to play one) that there must be something about the initial attack of an exposed horn solo that makes it a matter of chance, or luck, whether it comes out right or not. To his credit, Maestro Langree went on unfazed and drove the orchestra to a performance of vast dramatic and emotional scope.

Earlier on the program was a Mozart violin concerto (No. 3) with Anne Akiko Myers, a young virtuosa(?) who has been concertizing since age 11. She brought with her two cadenzas composed specifically for her by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis--who, besides playing a mean trumpet, is also a Pulitzer-winning composer. Reasoning that Marsalis would know something about improvisation, I think Myers chose well. The cadenzas stood out, not in the sense of being inappropriate, but as explosions of beautiful and thoughtful virtuosity in the midst of the orchestra's climactic pause.

The evening opened with another piece involving Mozart and a modern composer: Moz-Art à la Haydn by the late, short-lived, 20th century Russian composer of German extraction, Alfred Schnittke (his grave marker pictured below). Schnittke styled his art "polystylism." Hence the fragmentary quotations of as many as 30 pieces by Mozart, as well as one or two themes by Haydn, in a 12-minute chamber piece for two solo violins and a double string ensemble. This use of recognizable themes from tonal, classical works, floating within a matrix of 20th-century musical thought, results in a piece that somewhat reminded me of a dream I might have during a Symphony Chorus performance week. Added to this was the stage business, partly borrowed from Haydn's "Farewell Symphony" and partly Schnittke's own whimsy. The piece began and ended with the stage in near-total darkness. At certain points when the music seemed to lose control, like a clockwork machine coming unsprung, the musicians ran around the stage for a bit before returning to their places. And the sound faded away at the end as most of the musicians walked offstage, leaving only two cellists and a double-bass player behind...

It was an interesting novelty. Even more interesting, I think, would be to hear the sensationally "polystylistic" cadenzas Schnittke wrote for Beethoven's Violin Concerto.... Maybe when they bring back Langree and Myers next year, they can plan for that!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Give Thanks, Ye Bachelors

Somebody brought these delicious treats to church on Sunday. If I wasn't a Lutheran, I might say they were sinfully good. But I know better. Goodness is a gift of God. So be thankful for this recipe, bachelors. And save one for Mom!

  • 1 1/3 chopped apples (recommended: red or yellow delicious)
  • 1/3 cup raisins that have been plumped (for example, in whisky)
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Dash salt
  • 1 large package (17.3 oz.) flaky biscuit dough (10 count)
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter
  • 1 21 oz. can apple pie filling (Tip: Wilderness More Fruit Apple Pie Filling has more fruit & less filling)
Cut apples into bite-size pieces. Combine chopped apples, raisins, 3 tablespoons sugar, 3/4 teaspooons cinnamon, and salt. Microwave 2-3 minutes until apples are tender. Cool mixture, then add the can of pie filling. Stir until well blended. In another bowl combine remaining sugar and cinnamon, set aside.

Separate and flatten the biscuit dough pieces by hand or roller until they measure about 5 inches. Divide apple mixture between the flattened biscuits. Bring sides of biscuit up to envelop the apple mixture. Pinch edges to seal. Place sealed-side-down in an ungreased muffin pan. Spread top of each biscuit with melted butter. Sprinkle sugar/cinnamon mixture over biscuits. With a sharp knife cut a criss-cross pattern in the middle of the biscuits. Bake at 350 F for 18-22 minutes or until golden-brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan to wire racks or plate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Can't Drive 55

I got my second speeding ticket of the year this morning while driving to work on I-64. The cop told me I was doing 79 in a 60 zone. I'm lucky it wasn't over 80. It is soooo easy to speed in this "new" Volkswagen of mine!

As an experiment, I actually stayed under 60 the rest of the way to work, and part of the way home. But it was TORTURE. At 60 mph in a well-tuned German machine, I continually wanted to get out of the car and see why it wasn't moving....

In fairness, I have to admit that I earned my previous speeding citation under the wheel of my old Hyundai, requiescat in pace. It was a week away from going to beater heaven, and I got caught accelerating to highway speed before I was quite outside the city limits of a small town in southern Missouri. (I was going to call it a "three-horse town," but I thought better of it because I know people who live there. On the other hand, all those people knew about my speeding ticket because it made headlines in the local paper. So, if the shoe fits....) Funnily enough, that infraction, for doing something like 50 in a 35 zone, cost me twice as much as this 20-mph-over-the-limit summons in St. Louis County. Go figure....

Monday, September 20, 2010

Racket Tackiness

Last week's (b)lighted-sign message at the neighborhood Lutheran Church of Athletic Tackiness:


Tell that to John Isner and Nicolaus Mahut, dude. Both of these heroic players surpassed the previous record for aces served in a single match, but one of them still lost. Moreover, the winner went on to get his clock cleaned, two days later, in the shortest match of this year's Wimbledon....

Punning plays on words may make for cute little jokes and light-hearted slogans. But on holy ground, they are unforgivably tacky. For in theology, nothing is more harmful to clear thought and communication than an equivocal word--a word that means first one thing, then another within the same thought. For example, the sense of the word "serve" used in tennis has to do with something players do when they are fighting hard to win. But in the sense relevant to Christian living, it means nearly the opposite: placing the next person ahead of oneself...

Finally, let's consider the ramifications of seeing this sign under the name of a Lutheran church. Isn't Lutheranism supposed, at minimum, to stand for justification by faith alone? So what does it mean when a "Lutheran" church proclaims that the key to life is good works?

Duelling Mamas

At last, "Weep, Ye Bachelors" reaches the level of lofty discourse I have been hoping for all along: a kitchen grudge match between two Mamas whose comfort food has done a lot to put the "fat" in your favorite fat stupid jerk! For behold: a recipe from my stepmother. Though she loathes the spotlight and has to be dragged kicking-and-screaming into my "comfort food" sideshow, my second mum is every bit as adept at kitchen magic as the first... or is she more so? You be the judge...
Labor Day Weekend Homemade Salsa
Gather up 8 small tomatoes, 1 onion, 2 very small green peppers, about a tablespoon each of garlic and chili powder, a pinch of cilantro and salt, plus some jalapenos, sugar, and cumin (guess the measurements!), and maybe some vinegar(??). Put it all in the food processor and let it rip!
Whoa! This is getting almost as heady as my fantasy of a sister-in-law smackdown! Keep 'em coming, ladies!

Look Out, Rachel Ray

My Mom, who has always had a flair for the dramatic, is really starting to throw herself into her new role as star of my "Comfort Food" thread. Here is her latest guest post:
Hello bachelors! This is Mama talking. Last night I made Sloppy Joes from scratch, and so can YOU! It's really easy, so here's what to do...

Brown 1 pound of ground beef with a chopped onion. A tip so you won't tear up when you chop that onion is to rinse the unpeeled onion and your paring knife under cold water first. Use your cutting board so you don't cut your counter top. You gotta listen to Mama now!

Keep an eye on the meat and onion as it cooks. Once it's fully cooked, add 1 cup of ketchup, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard, a bit of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Stir and simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes. Serve on fresh buns or bread.

I went apple pickin' today, so dessert was slightly warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm... Don't you wish you were eating with Mom last night?
Yes, it probably beat the cold Subway sandwich I had during pinochle night at my church. Too bad Mom couldn't bring her dish over!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Voyager, Season 1

Thanks to an affordable DVD of Season 1, I can finally start reviewing the fourth of (so far) five Star Trek series. Star Trek: Voyager debuted on January 16, 1995, and continued for seven seasons, ending its initial run in May of 2001. This first season is a short one--15 episodes, counting the feature-length pilot--owing to its mid-season startup, typical of the spinoffs after TNG.

Paramount had been the studio of Star Trek since The Original Series' second season (the first year of the show was produced under Desilu). Paramount had gambled (and won) on the success of a syndicated restart of the series, resulting in seven years of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94). Later, Paramount took another successful roll of the dice by putting out two syndicated Star Trek series at the same time, with Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) running alongside TNG for its first year. By the time TNG went off the air, Star Trek had performed so well that Paramount was poised to start its own television network, the UPN. So they approached the creative team behind post-Roddenberry Trek--Rick Berman and Michael Piller--and invited them to pitch yet another Star Trek series, which would anchor the fledgling network's first season of programming.

Together with veteran TNG writer-producer Jeri Taylor, Berman and Piller brainstormed quickly. What could they do with Star Trek that would result in fresh stories? First, it could be a starship-based series, like TOS and TNG, since the latter was ending and DS9 revolved around the unmoving center-point of a space station. So fans wouldn't have to choose between two starships' weekly missions. Second, to open up new realms of storytelling outside the confines of the already well-canvassed alien races of the known Trekiverse, this new starship had to explore a different region of space. Third, to sweeten the stakes a bit, the show would pull out the safety net of a weekly reset to business as usual; for the new crew's adventures would form parts of a single, ever-developing arc. So, pulled against their will to a remote part of the galaxy, the crew's mission would be, essentially, to get home. Fourth, to inject a little more drama into the character dynamics than was strictly in keeping with Gene Roddenberry's vision of Starfleet as a vision of hope for humanity's future, there would actually be two crews on board the new ship: enemies forced by desperate circumstances to combine their efforts to reach home. And finally, to continue Trek's trajectory of breaking new ground (e.g. with DS9's Ben Sisko, the franchise's first black hero-captain), the spanking-new U.S.S. Voyager was going to have a female captain.

Auditions were held. The producers picked French Canadian actress Genvieve Bujold to play their new captain. Filming began. By the middle of Day 2, it was evident to all that Bujold was not working out. I did not see the scenes shot with Bujold as the captain until last night, on the "special features" DVD that came with the Season 1 box set. Even now I can hardly imagine how different the show would have been with Bujold in the captain's chair--petite, deadpan, with a stiff accent in her rather deep, flat voice. Production was halted, auditions were re-opened, and the original "runner-up" for the role--Katherine Hepburn impersonator Kate Mulgrew--was chosen. And the rest is history. Mulgrew inhabited the role of Capt. Kathryn Janeway so completely that, even after seeing three or four familiar scenes with Bujold in the role, anyone but Mulgrew playing Janeway seems inconceivable. Her combination of toughness and sensitivity, intense emotion and calculating intellect, tortured loneliness and motherly protectiveness toward her crew, are enough by themselves to make Star Trek: Voyager's seven seasons well-nigh unforgettable.

Janeway's ship is state-of-the-art, 24th-century technology, with "bioneural gel-packs" integrated into its circuitry, nacelles that jack themselves up like the wheels of a pneumatic pimp-mobile before the ship goes into warp, and an "Emergency Medical Hologram" who comes in handy when the entire medical staff is wiped out in the first episode. The EMH, familiarly known as "The Doctor," is played by Robert Picardo, a character actor whose face was already familiar from his numerous minor film roles and regular or recurring TV roles, especially in The Wonder Years and China Beach.

Replacing Janeway's original first officer (also killed in the pilot) is Chakotay, the leader of a ring of Maquis guerillas whose fight for freedom, caught in the crack between the Federation and the Cardassians, was set up by DS9 Season 2 and TNG Season 7 in a canny prelude to this series. Potrayed as a member of a Native American tribe that took to the stars in order to recover its cultural and spiritual traditions, Chakotay was played by Robert Beltran, until then known mostly for his roles in cult films such as Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills and made-for-TV movies like Dream Warrior. In spite of his role's popularity, Beltran was a notoriously vocal critic of the series while it was being filmed.

Also transferring from the Maquis ship to the Voyager is its chief engineer, the half-Klingon (on her mother's side) B'Elanna Torres. One of the most memorable threads in the fabric of the show is B'Elanna's struggle to balance the aggressive, Klingon side of her nature with the kinder, gentler human side. Playing her was minor television actress Roxann Dawson, credited as Roxann Biggs-Dawson until Season 3, previously married to Casey Biggs (late "Damar" of DS9) and, since Voyager, more involved in directing and producing than acting.

Star Trek's first regular Vulcan character since TOS's Spock is Lt. Tuvok, Janeway's security chief and longtime confidant. Unlike Spock, Tuvok is 100% pure Vulcan--which spares him the inner conflict that Star Trek visits on its halfbreed characters (in this series, that falls to B'Elanna). In contrast, Tuvok is the epitome of serene logic, frequently at odds with other, more emotional characters because of his unique perspective. In the tradition of "Bitchy-Spock," Tuvok sometimes seems irritated with the inferior beings around him; but it's a delicious kind of irritation, because you see him trying to control it while (for example) Neelix pushes him closer and closer to the edge. Actor Tim Russ totally owns this role, having guested on both TNG and DS9 in 1993 and appeared in many other roles, including the desert-combing soldier in Spaceballs who reports: "We ain't findin' $#%+!!!"

Robert Duncan McNeill plays Lt. Tom Paris, a galaxy-class disappointment to his Admiral father. After his ne'er-do-well ways ruined his Starfleet career, Tom joined the Maquis and swiftly got captured. By the time Janeway finds him in the pilot, he is doing time in a Federation penal colony. He is initially meant to be on the Voyager only as an observer, while Janeway investigates the disappearance of the Maquis ship on which Tuvok is acting as an undercover agent. But one thing leads to another, and he ends up becoming the ship's helm officer, ace shuttle pilot, Doctor's assistant, and (years later) B'Elanna's husband and baby-daddy. McNeill had previously played a roguish Starfleet cadet in TNG's "The First Duty," a performance this show's creators had in mind when they developed the character of Tom Paris. Like many other Trek cast members, McNeill took advantage of the show's on-set film school and has since moved behind the camera.

I have already mentioned Neelix, a slightly seedy representative of the "Delta Quadrant" race known as Talaxians. He comes aboard Voyager in its pilot episode, offering his services as a guide, cook, morale officer, etc. In spite of his exotic appearance and goofy mannerisms, Neelix is pretty much just a regular guy, and thus often serves as a sort of detached observer. This enables the show's viewers to look at humanity's peccadilloes, as it were, from the outside. He is played by character actor Ethan Phillips, a nebbishy type who co-starred with DS9's Rene Auberjonois on the early 1980's series Benson, and who guested as a Ferengi on both TNG and Star Trek: Enterprise.

The most junior of Voyager's "senior officers" is freshly-minted Ensign Harry Kim at the ops station, whose clean-cut, boyish innocence make him a handy foil for Tom Paris. Actor Garrett Wang brought youthful, Asian-American good looks to the role and, sorry, not much else. His Harry is a nice kid, fairly bright, a little green (in the "fresh out of Starfleet Academy" sense), musically talented (though we don't see him play his clarinet until Season 2), faithful to Mom, Dad, and a girl named Libby he hopes will be waiting for him when he gets back to Earth in, oh, 75 years or so.

Finally (as far the first-season cast goes), we have Jennifer Lien: a then-21-year-old actress who had co-starred with DS9's Avery Brooks in American History X and whose role as Kes was written off the show at the beginning of Season 4. Just now, in my research for this post, I learned that Harry Kim was originally meant to be the one written out to make room for Jeri Ryan's role as reformed Borg drone Seven of Nine; but when Garrett Wang made People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful" list, the producers decided to ax Kes instead. In my opinion, this was a big mistake!

To be sure, Kes was an unpopular character with the guys I watched this show with in dorm TV lounges from Minnesota to Indiana. Some of them perceived her as a pointless character; some positively loathed the actress who played her. I, for one, thought Kes was a cool character, a completely guileless being from a race (known as Ocampa) whose members typically live only nine years. Fascinated with everything, game for any new experience, able to see instantly through any subterfuge, and haunted by tantalizing glimpses of her race's long-forgotten mental powers, Kes seemed to be a character full of awesome story possibilities. I was very disappointed when the show tossed all that potential overboard. In Season 1, at least, Kes flies as a passenger on Voyager, due to her romantic invovlement with Neelix. To make herself useful, she dabbles in the hydroponics bay (not actually seen in this season) and studies to become the Doctor's assistant. In fact, so many of her scenes take place in Sickbay that she almost seems to have more of a relationship with the Doctor than with Neelix.

Caretaker ...This feature-length episode launched the series, and the perilous mission of the Voyager and its crew, with a cosmic bang. A couple of them, actually. First, Chakotay's Maquis ship gets pulled into the Delta Quadrant by a mysterious alien power; then the Voyager follows, after a stop at DS9 (featuring a crossover appearance by Armin Shimerman as "Quark") to tie the show in with the Star Trek franchise. The alien power in question turns out to be a blob of transluscent goo who usually appears to humans as an old, banjo-playing man. This "Caretaker" is desperately seeking someone to look after the Ocampa (Kes's people) after he dies, because otherwise their gentle, subterranean culture will be an easy prey to hoodlums like the Kazon (example pictured). Forced to take command not only of her own crew but of the restive Maquis as well, Janeway must now choose between using the late Caretaker's space array to travel instantly home, and destroying it to save the Ocampa. Hmmm. If she had chosen differently, what a different series this would have been! Or maybe there wouldn't have been one...

Parallax is the first "Villain-Free Jeopardy" (VFJ) episode of the season, with Voyager meeting herself coming and going, thanks to an astronomical singularity that totally sneaks up on her and snaps her upside the nacelle with its event horizon. The real purpose of this episode is to wrap up some business left unfinished by the pilot: Capt. Janeway's difficult decision to make B'Elanna Torres her chief engineer. At first it's tough to see why Chakotay thinks she's the woman for the job. Face it, it's tough to see much when you're constantly having to duck out of the way of the huge chip she carries on each shoulder--the one for being half-Klingon on one side, and for being Maquis on the other. But when B'Elanna comes up with the plan to get Voyager out of the singularity, the job is hers. Josh Clark makes one of his seven appearances as Lt. Carey, the engineer Torres beat (in more than one sense) out of the job.

Time and Again is one of Star Trek's great "Time Travel Paradox" episodes. Beaming down to a lifeless planet that, only the day before, was home to a vibrant civilization at about our present-day level of technology, the Voyagers learn that an accident in a *technobabble* power reactor wiped everything out. It also, incidentally, left fractures in space-time, with the result that Janeway and Tom Paris get stuck in the day before. While the crew races to use more technobabble to save them, aided in part by Kes's developing psychic powers, Tom & Kathryn look for a way they can prevent the accident from ever happening. But, of course, it turns out that the Voyagers' rescue attempts caused the whole thing... So if they hadn't tried to save the captain from the results of what they caused, they would never have caused them and nobody would have needed to be saved, and maybe they wouldn't even have visited the planet in the first place... Ow! Gross! There goes my brain, all over the wall! Anyway, don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy it!

Phage is the one where Neelix gets mugged. Only, instead of his money, the thieves make off with his lungs! Thus, Neelix spends most of the episode confined to a device restricting his bodily movement, so that a pair of holographic lungs can do the breathing for him. This gives Ethan Phillips an opportunity to bring the insecure side of the Delta Quadrant's most extroverted alien into high relief. For example, in a fit of jealousy over Kes, Neelix describes Tom Paris as "just one big hormone walking around the ship." His whole "your ceiling is hideous" speech is equally priceless. In the end, the episode is important mainly because it introduces the recurring menace of the Vidiians, people who have fought a flesh-wasting plague called the Phage to a stalemate over two thousand years, through a combination of advanced medical technology and a willingness to sacrifice the lives of innocent, healthy people to replace the failing organs of their own. For my money, the Vidiians were among Trek's most daring and innovative threats.

The Cloud is already the year's second VFJ episode. What at first seems to be a nebula full of promising *technobabble* turns out, instead, to be a humongous, single-celled organism. Voyager passes easily through its membrane going in, but finds it next to impossible to get out without injuring the creature. Out of a sense of responsibility that drives Neelix to the point of despair, Janeway insists on flying back into the "wound" they inflicted and using *more technobabble* to stitch it up. It's one of those episodes where everything is more interesting than the plot, such as the first appearance of Tom Paris's "Chez Sandrine" holoprogram and Harry Kim's revelation that he remembers being in his mother's womb. The captain takes Chakotay's advice and seeks the counsel of her animal spirit guide, and the Doctor lobbies to be allowed to turn himself on and off.

Eye of the Needle tantalizes the Voyagers with a cruel glimpse of a potential way home. The wormhole they discover does indeed lead back to the Alpha Quadrant (i.e. the side of the galaxy where the Federation is located). There are just three things wrong with it. First, it's so small that even their smallest microprobe gets stuck inside it, and it's only going to get smaller until it collapses completely. Second, though the microprobe enables them to bounce a comm signal into the Alpha Quadrant, the only person who can receive it is a Romulan scientist whose culture and political situation compel him to take a suspicious view of a Federation crew. And finally... well, that would be telling, but it's a heart-breaker. The reluctantly sympathetic Telek R'Mor (pictured) was played by frequent Trek guest Vaughn Armstrong.

Ex Post Facto is Voyager's controversial nod toward film noir, complete with a yapping dog, a cigarette-smoking femme fatale, and the first Star Trek footage ever shot on black and white stock. It's absolutely ridiculous in terms of conceptual continuity, and its potboiler depiction of a 1950s suburban housewife having an affair with a 24th-century Starfleet officer is halfway between confusing and offensive. All this on a planet where people grow both feathers and hair on their heads, and where (at last! a sci-fi concept!) convicted murderers are condemned to relive the dying memories of their victims, over and over, for the rest of their lives. This is what happens to Tom, thanks to the untimely death of a scientist (played by the same Ray Reinhardt who also appeared in TNG's "Conspiracy"), until Tuvok puts on his deerstalker cap and runs the game down with his relentless logic. And a yapping dog.

Emanations is the episode where Harry Kim accidentally gets transported to a dimension where people think our world is the "next emanation"--i.e., the afterlife. Instead of being reunited with their loved ones and progressing to a higher level of consciousness, however, their bodies materialize and decay on the moons in a gas giant's ring system. This is hard news for Harry to have to deliver, especially to a culture where many people allow themselves to be euthanased before their time in order to move on to the next emanation. The episode submits the question of "what happens when we die" to a surprisingly thoughtful and balanced discussion, though of course it's totally science fiction! Jerry Hardin (whose multiple TNG appearances included the role of Mark Twain) guest stars as a "thanatologist" in this profoundly dark episode that, somehow, succeeds in spite of the limitations of Garrett Wang as the focal character.

Prime Factors guest-stars Belgian actor Ronald Guttman as the leader of the pleasure-loving Sikarians, who try to tempt the Voyagers to abandon their long journey home and to join their advanced and carefree culture. Naturally, there are problems with this hospitable invitation. Problem #1: The Sikarians have a technology that could send the Voyager more than halfway home, if not all the way--but they refuse to share it, allegedly because of ethical principles. Turns out the Prime Directive isn't so nice when you're on the receiving end of it! Problem #2: Once Janeway sees through their hosts' self-indulgent narcissism, the prospect of staying on Sikaris no longer holds much appeal. I just wish I knew what that stuff on the Sikarians' heads is... I mean, I've seen aliens with antennas before, but never of the UHF variety!

State of Flux is the episode that reveals that Bajoran, former Maquis crewwoman Seska is in fact a genetically-altered Cardassian spy. Played by Martha Hackett in all of 13 episodes between "Parallax" and Season 7, Seska is one of Trek's great bad girls--and a particular thorn in Chakotay's side. Here's a sample of some of this season's best writing, from a scene in which Chakotay reflects that everyone in his Maquis crew seems to have had him fooled.
CHAKOTAY: Can I ask you to be honest with me, Lieutenant?

TUVOK: As a Vulcan, I am at all times honest, Commander.

CHAKOTAY: That's not exactly true. You lied to me when you passed yourself off as a Maquis to get on my crew.

TUVOK: I was honest to my own convictions within the defined parameters of my mission.

CHAKOTAY: You damned Vulcans and your defined parameters! That's easy for you.

TUVOK: On the contrary, the demands on a Vulcan's character are extraordinarily difficult. Do not mistake composure for ease. How may I be honest with you today?
Heroes and Demons is the episode where "Star Trek does Beowulf," complete with Babylon 5 actress Marjorie Monaghan as Freya, British sci-fi & horror maven Christopher Neame as Unferth, and four-time Trek guest Michael Keenan as Hrothgar. Another story that at least partly qualifies as VFJ, it begins when a photon-based life-form gets trapped on board Voyager and interferes with Harry Kim's Beowulf holonovel. Chakotay and Tuvok investigate Kim's disappearance, only to discover that the Ensign has been killed by the photonic being in the guise of Beowulf's demon nemesis Grendel. When they too are swept away by Grendel, it becomes clear that only a photonic hero can fight a photonic demon. So the Doctor gets his first name (Schweitzer, for this episode only) and his first away mission. He has a ball, he saves the day, he renounces his name (which you knew had to be a tease)... altogether a great Doctor-centric adventure!

Cathexis is the one where "Star Trek does Fallen." You know, that Denzel Washington movie about the demon that moves from one person to another, possessing anyone within, like, a seven-mile radius until there's nobody left... That's the idea in this episode, where there turns out to be not one but two disembodied life-forces floating around Voyager's decks, taking control of different people and causing them to do things that, afterward, they have no memory of doing. One of the two beings seems to be trying to steer Voyager toward a certain nebula; the other, like a gremlin in a WWII bomber, sabotages the mission in every way it can. Meanwhile, Chakotay lies brain-dead in sickbay. Shown here, Neelix feels an uncontrollable urge to rearrange the stones on Chakotay's *mystical technobabble*. How impressive is that? Even Indian mysticism gets a tech upgrade in the 24th century!

Faces is a good title for this episode in more ways than one. First, its the episode where B'Elanna faces the Klingon side of her personality. Literally! For this she has a Vidiian physician to thank--one cleverly played by the same actor as a Voyager crewman introduced in the previous episode, all the better to give you a gruesome surprise! If I told you the other level the episode's title works on, I would be spoiling the surprise for you. Or maybe, if you're clever, I've already spoiled it! I'm avoiding saying much specifically about this episode because, to tell the truth, I hate it. The whole concept of it grates against my sense of realism in the same way as Spock talking about the conflict between his human and Vulcan sides. Maybe I'm missing some sci-fi philosophical premise on which a person of mixed planetary heritage is actually two persons in one body... but I simply can't see how intelligent grown-ups can write crap like this. How many real persons can really be sure which parent each of their moods, motivations, and character traits comes from? Maybe with Leonard Nimoy, or even Suzie Plakson (TNG's K'Ehleyr) selling it, I wouldn't be quite so bothered. But unfortunately, Roxann Dawson resorts to the crassest of stereotypes to sell the difference between her human and Klingon halves. The result is not one, but two unwatchably bad performances by a single actress, who, moreover, is usually very watchable. Do over!!

Jetrel guest-stars, in its title role, the same James Sloyan who appeared twice each on TNG and DS9. Even under tons of Haakonian prosthetics, his facial mannerisms are so distinctive that you'll probably be wondering who else in Star Trek he has played. FYI: a Romulan defector, a Bajoran scientist (twice), and a time-traveling Klingon who proves to be Worf's son all growed up. Here he plays a Delta-Quadrant type of Robert Oppenheimer, whose timely invention of the "metreon cascade" put an end to his planet's war against Neelix's Talaxian people. I know, I should have said *insert technobabble*, but "metreon cascade" has such a pretty ring to it. What it does isn't so pretty. In the case of Neelix's native moon of Rinax, it turns hundreds of thousands of people into swirling clouds of dust, instantly. And now, it seems, it has a second, slower form of deadliness: a disease called metremia, that causes *oops! technobabble!* Before he dies of the disease, Jetrel comes aboard Voyager hoping Neelix will help him find a cure. At first he relies on Neelix's sense of self-preservation, claiming that the Talaxian is the one afflicted with metremia. But what the episode is really about, cool special effects aside, is whether or not someone like Jetrel can take responsibility for the part he played in mass murder... and whether or not someone in Neelix's position can forgive him.

Learning Curve Is the episode where B'Elanna delivers the unforgettable line: "Get the cheese to Sickbay. The Doctor should look at it as soon as possible." The cheese, if you'll forgive me for spoiling the paper-thin veneer of sci-fi plot making this episode worthwhile as a Star Trek episode, is the vector of an infection (VFJ again!) that has gotten into the ship's bioneural gel-packs, resulting in one system failure after another. There's a nice bit where everyone on the ship nearly dies of the heat because they have to give Voyager a fever to fight off its flu; but otherwise, most of the episode is about a remedial cadet class Tuvok runs for ex-Maquis crewmen who haven't quite adjusted to Starfleet protocol. Other than the joy a Tuvok fan can derive from seeing the unflappable Vulcan swallow his frustration with a group of people so obnoxious that even Chakotay punches one of them in the mouth--other than that, I say, it's a pretty lame episode, especially for a season finale.

Of course, it wasn't filmed as the season finale. Several additional episodes were filmed during Voyager's first production season, but the UPN decided not to air them until Season 2. And so, alas, that's all there is for Voyager, Season 1, except for a cute little "webisode" filmed for the show's website. I remember well that Voyager was one of the first TV series that had a big internet footprint throughout its initial run. I followed it online as well as on the tube, beginning with the then-brand-new computer lab at my undergrad college. In my nostalgic moments, I tend to connect this season of Trek with the beginnings of my life online. And now, as I wrap up its post-mortem, it seems that I've come full circle...

Want to brush up on your Star Trek? See my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; and of DS9 seasons one, six, and seven. As a control group, see also my review of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

PICTURED (from "The Caretaker" on): A Kazon "maje" on the Ocampa homeworld... Voyager trying to cut its way out of a singularity... Janeway spilling her guts to an eco-terrorist... Nelix submitting to an involuntary organ donation... Voyager suturing a wound in a nebula-sized life form... Vaughn Armstrong as a Romulan two decades out of time... A Banean magistrate in full plumage... What dead people from another "emanation" look like... Ronald Guttman as Gathorel Labin of the planet Sikaris... Seska (Martha Hackett) appealing to Chakotay's protective instincts... "Schweitzer" the hero... Neelix feeling compelled to rearrange the stones on Chakotay's dream wheel... The two sides of B'Elanna... Dr. Jetrel (James Sloyan) appealing to Neelix... Three of Tuvok's cadets... and (at left) a representative of the Phage-ravaged Vidiians.