Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Healthy Music, Unhealthy Me

+++ Pending the installation of a new computer at home... A story about my latest evening at the symphony, when the onset of a 3-day bug almost caused me to miss a long-anticipated performance of Mozart, Brahms, and Wagenaar +++

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Enterprise Season 2

Thanks to Netflix sending me an extra disk at random, my viewing of Star Trek: Voyager Season 5 got interrupted by a bit of Enterprise Season 2. As a result, I re-ordered my Netflix queue so that I can write my reviews of both seasons in alternatim, four episodes at a time, as the disks arrive in the mail...

Season 2 of Enterprise, still without "Star Trek" in the title, ran from the fall of 2002 to the spring of 2003. Since I quit watching regularly broadcast TV during the summer of 2002, all these episodes are new to me. Until now, the last episode of Enterprise I had seen was the finale of Season 1. So from here on out, these reviews are a personal log of my own voyage of exploration and discovery—into the great unknown. For those of you who tuned in, however, it may be a nostalgic look at a Trek you first took some ten years ago...

Shockwave, Part II is the sequel to Season 1's finale, in which a time-traveler named Daniels whisked Captain Archer to the 31st century, only to find Earth laid waste and history changed as a result of his boo-boo. Now Daniels and Archer have to find a way to get the latter back to the 22nd century without the benefit of 31st century technology, while the Enterprises struggle to take their ship back from the Suliban who have captured them. The guest cast is riddled with frequently recurring characters, so I won't bother, except to mention that Jim Fitzpatrick here makes his second of four appearances as Commander Williams, last seen in the series pilot.

Carbon Creek features Jolene Blalock in a dual role as T'Pol and her great-grandmother T'Mir, who (in an incident heretofore unknown to mankind) was among the first Vulcans to make contact with humanity. As T'Pol tells the tale over dinner with Archer and Trip, the main part of the episode dramatizes the aftermath of a crash landing from which three Vulcan survivors walk away. At first reluctantly, they leave the crash site and take up quarters and jobs in the nearby town of Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania, sometime in the 1950s. Even while forming relationships with the townspeople, they somehow manage to keep their cover. But as their sojourn stretches into months, with rescue delayed beyond all hope, the crew of three is divided over how close they should get to the humans. Which side T'Mir eventually lands on, or whether the story even happened, remains unclear until the very end. Guest stars include Ann Cusack (sister of John and Joan), J. Paul Boehmer (in the most sympathetic of his five Trek roles), a youthful Hank Harris (of TV's Popular), three-time Trek guest Michael Krawic, and four-time Trek guest David Selburg, whom TNG fans may best remember as Mr. Whalen in "The Big Goodbye."

Minefield depicts mankind's first contact with the Romulan Star Empire, if one can call it "contact" when you hear their voices over the comms, shouting at first incomprehensible threats and warnings, before being chased off by their armed and cloaked ships. Whoever these Romulans may be (and we're not supposed to know what they look like until TOS's "Balance of Terror"), they don't like strangers entering their territory. The Enterprises get an early hint of this when a cloaked mine explodes, leaving the saucer section looking like a cookie with a bite out of it. Another mine latches itself to the ship's hull close enough to the technobabble to do real damage if it blows up, and while trying to disarm it, poor Malcolm gets pinned beneath it. Which gives him and Archer a chance to bond while the latter tries to defuse the mine. The Romulans, meanwhile, are pressuring the crew to jettison the affected deck plate, along with Malcolm and the mine, and scram. The climactic moments of this episode are among the most intense in the series so far; plus, it always breaks up the monotony to see characters walking around the ship's hull.

Dead Stop follows up on the damage to the ship, to say nothing of Malcolm's leg, incurred in the previous episode. Limping along at a speed that would take them a decade to get home, the Enterprises jump at an offer to visit an automated repair station which, for a suspiciously reasonable price, agrees to make everything better than new in a fraction of the time it would have taken people to do it. Using transporters, automata, and advanced replication technology, the station goes efficiently to work, and even heals Malcolm's injury, while the crew watches from an observation deck serviced by food replicators way ahead of their own technology. If it all seems too good to be true, that's because it is. Travis finds this out when a fake comm signal lures him to an off-limits area, where his dead body is found a short while later. Actually, it's not his dead body, but an almost perfect duplicate of it; the real Travis has been plugged into the repair station's computer core, along with the bodies of dozens of aliens too brain-damaged to be unplugged. To make their escape, the Enterprises have to go a good way towards destroying the station—which is why the episode's concluding imagery of the wrecked station starting to repair itself is so chilling.

A Night in Sickbay opens with a "teaser" segment that accurately foreshadows just what a boner this episode is. Back from the Kreetassan homeworld after another diplomatic disaster, the Enterprises are cleared through decon... except (zoom in, cue suspenseful music) the captain's beagle Porthos, who seems to have contracted a virus. I am loath to say more about what happens in this disappointing installment. Played for comedy, it shows the captain behaving in a spoiled, juvenile, unprofessional manner, unbecoming a Starfleet officer. Scott Bakula delivers an annoyingly petulant performance while, in perhaps the episode's only redeeming feature, Dr. Phlox exhibits more and more of his bizarre physiology and quirky behavior—from toenails to tongue to goofy grin, and more—but it just isn't enough to save an episode in which the only jeopardy (besides the fate of a cute dog) has to do with whether Archer can swallow his pride (engorged by a dollop of sexual frustration) in time to undergo a ridiculous ritual of repentance. Why? So the ship can have a spare piece of technobabble to keep its engines in order. It is so hard to care that the effort hurts.

Marauders is another adventure in which the Enterprises get entangled by their ship's maintenance needs. This time the maguffin is deuterium, a hot-burning substance farmed by a small group of alien colonists, who pump it out of the ground, refine it, and sell it for a living. Though the ship's scanners say the colonists have plenty of deuterium to sell, the colonists themselves initially claim that they can't spare a drop. The reason: for the past five years, a Klingon protection racket has laid claim to the first umpty-thousand barrels of the stuff, after which the locals can barely produce enough to make a living. And wouldn't you know, the Klingons arrive ahead of schedule, right on top of the unsuspecting Enterprises! Moved in part by their need for deuterium and in part by the goodness of their hearts, Archer & Co. train the colonists to fight back, sending the Klingons away with a bloody nose. Visiting cast members include three-time Trek guests Bari Hochwald, Larry Cedar (pictured), and Robertson Dean.

The Seventh features Bruce Davison of the X-Men films in his second Trek role. Here he plays a deep-cover Vulcan agent who refused to come home after completing his assignment. Suspected of "going native" as an alien bio-weapons smuggler, Menos is the last of seven rogue agents T'Pol was supposed to apprehend during her previous assignment under the Vulcan Security Ministry. When a report of Menos' whereabouts comes to the Security Ministry's attention, T'Pol is recalled into service to catch him and complete her assignment. But the closer she gets to her seventh fugitive, the more T'Pol is unsettled by repressed memories of killing the seemingly innocent sixth, and by doubts as to Menos' guilt. These doubts are fed by the freshly-caught Menos' convincing appeals and the evidence in his ship's hold, which corroborate his claim to be nothing more than a hauler of radioactive junk. Luckily, T'Pol brought Archer and Travis along on the mission, because when she can't trust herself, she can still trust her Captain. It's a cool, cloak-and-dagger episode with some nifty twists and background cast of impressive-looking aliens.

The Communicator finds the Enterprises scrambling to fix a mistake that could contaminate the development of a pre-Warp culture. When Malcolm loses his communicator at a political rally, similar to one of Winston Churchill's speeches on the eve of World War II, getting it back proves to be more difficult than he and Archer imagined. First the local military types capture them and interrogate them as suspected enemy spies; then they find out the prisoners aren't even the same species. Gambling that it would do less damage to "confess" being genetically enhanced super-soldiers than to tell the truth, Archer and Malcolm face an executioner's noose while their shipmates frantically launch a crazy rescue attempt. This rescue happens to involve a cloaked Suliban cell-ship (captured in the pilot episode); which is why, somehow or other, Trip ends up with a wart of invisibility on his hand. Archer and Malcolm are saved, of course, but in a thoughtful epilogue to anotherwise intense adventure, they realize that they've done serious damage to the planet's progress. Among the alien faces in this episode are three-time Trek guest Francis Guinan and four-timers Tim Kelleher and Dennis Cockrum.

Singularity is the episode in which everybody but T'Pol goes slightly crazy, obsessing over something trivial to the exclusion of all other duties or priorities. The Captain can think of nothing but writing the preface to a biography of his father; Hoshi, volunteering for duty in the galley, keeps making the same soup over and over; Trip focuses on improving the Captain's Chair; and Doctor Phlox can't wait to dissect Travis's brain. All this poses a deadly danger to the crew, since the cause of their insanity is radiation from a trinary star they have approached to survey, and if they can't get their heads together enough to change the ship's course, they will all die. Luckily Malcolm's obsession (programming the ship for a "tactical alert") proves effective in a pinch, enabling T'Pol and a barely functioning Archer to navigate the ship through the debris field pictured above.

Vanishing Point shows another hesitant step toward the crew's gradual acceptance of travel by transporter beam. In this installment, Hoshi and Trip are surveying ruins from an extinct alien race when severe weather forces them to beam back to the ship. Trip makes it OK, but Hoshi arrives feeling as if her molecules have gotten discombobulated. Soon afterward she starts suspecting that she is turning invisible, and when she finally does go see-through, nobody can hear her voice either. So while her shipmates grieve for someone who is still alive and well (believing that her molecules collapsed into a puddle of goo), Hoshi is the only one on the ship who can prevent aliens from the supposedly uninhabited planet from planting a bomb on the ship. Only, she really can't. What a relief it is for Hoshi to find that all this happened in her mind while her molecules were (briefly) caught in the technobabble! The episode features two-time Trek guest Morgan Margolis as the unlikely crewman who, in Hoshi's paranoid delusion, replaces her as the ship's linguist.

If Precious Cargo reminds you of the TNG episode "The Perfect Mate," it's no wonder. The 24th-century "peace bride" of TNG and the 22nd-century "first monarch" of this episode both come from the same planet, Krios Prime. In this instance, the beautiful-woman-on-ice is a sovereign ruler who has been kidnapped for ransom while en route to ascend her throne. The Enterprise gets involved when her alien abductors ask for help repairing her cryostatis unit, supposedly so that their "passenger" will arrive in comfort and on schedule without using up the ship's air supply. Naturally, as the go-to guy for fixing things, Trip is the one who spots Kaitaama's exotic beauty and who, when she wakes up, develops warm feelings for her. Of course, in the spirit of TOS's "Elaan of Troyius," the romantic tease is prolonged by the young woman's arrogance and stubbornness, to say nothing of violent instincts; but after a spell together in an escape-pod-built-for-one, followed by a survival ordeal on a mangrove swamp planet where Trip is forced to bare his manly physique, things proceed in a very "Original Series" fashion until the Enterprises catch up. It's a cute episode, featuring Food Network host Padma Lakshmi (who happens to be married to Salman Rushdie), as well as two-time Trek guest Scott Klace (previously a Malon gremlin on Voyager) and three-timer Leland Crooke (previously a Vorta on DS9).

The Catwalk is, in a sense, the ultimate "bottle show," taking the principle of confining the action to the ship to such an extreme that, for much of its length, it's like one of those miniature bottles that come in hotel minibars. Forewarned of the approach of a grandmother plasma storm and its flesh-melting radiation, all the Enterprises (plus three alien guests) cram themselves and a month's worth of supplies into the radiation-shielded catwalk running the length of one of the ship's warp nacelles. Even this is only possible after the warp engines have been shut down, where ordinarily the catwalk would be heated to a flesh-cooking temperature. But with only a week or so left in their confinement, the Enterprises realize that somebody is running around the decks of the ship, turning things on again... things that, eventually, will include those flesh-cooking warp engines. Then the alien guests confess that they are deserters from the Takret militia, which has a piratical practice of capturing neutral ships, killing everyone on board, and (ahem) executing deserters. Fighting back proves to be impractical, when the aliens can walk around the ship freely while the Enterprises must rely on space-suits to protect them from radiation exposure, and for only a few minutes at that. It is finally a game of chicken with a plasma eddy (which looks like a planet-sized tornado of pure energy) that forces the Takret baddies to withdraw, allowing the parboiled Enterprises to shut down the reactors just on time. The guest cast includes two-time Trek guests Scott Burkholder and Aaron Lustig, three-timer Brian Cousins, and Danny Goldring (pictured) in his fifth of five Trek roles.

Dawn features two-time Trek guest Gregg Henry (late of Payback) and four-time ditto Brad Greenquist (of Pet Sematary) as two members of a repto-humanoid race known as the Arkonians, who are vehemently territorial and have a particular distrust for Vulcans. One of them (you can't tell, but it's the one played by Gregg Henry) takes an ill-advised potshot at Trip's shuttlepod, resulting in a shortened version of Enemy Mine: two adversaries marooned together on a moon where daytime temperatures reach a balmy 170 degrees, and forced to become buddies by the slow but inexorable rising of the sun. With echoes of TOS's "Arena" and TNG's "Darmok," the episode teaches us enough about the weird and (non-) woolly Arkonians to make us sorry that they are never seen again.

Stigma seems to be Star Trek's comment on the AIDS crisis, revealing that (at least up to T'Pol's lifetime) those capable of performing a mind-meld are a small and despised minority in Vulcan society, persecuted into secrecy and afflicted by a disease transmitted by its forbidden intimacies. Worst of all, the Vulcan scientific and medical establishment takes no interest in finding a cure. Unluckily, T'Pol (who had a mind-meld forced on her in Season 1, remember?) has the disease, and Dr. Phlox is running out of treatment ideas. At an Interspecies Medical Exchange conference, Phlox tries to reason with some Vulcan physicians, but they clam up. No—actually, they get Phlox kicked out of the conference, and (having put two and two together) they deduce that T'Pol has the syndrome, and take steps to curtail her career. Luckily for her, a "melder" medico sacrifices his career to broach the secret that T'Pol was mentally raped, which she had meant to keep as a stand against the prejudice. This ethically thought-provoking episode features four-time Trek guest Michael Ensign, two-timer Bob Morrisey, and two-timer Jeffrey Hayenga as the Vulcan doctors, and Melinda Page Hamilton (best known for playing an amorous nun on Desperate Housewives) in her television debut as Phlox's sexually liberated wife Feezal (pictured), whose advances make Trip deliciously uncomfortable.

Cease Fire has a guest-cast bristling with frequent Trek guests, including Christopher Shea in his fourth Trek role and Suzie Plakson in her ditto. It brings the icy Vulcans and the suspicious Andorians (oh! those squirrelly Andorians!) to the brink of war. And it forces Archer, Trip, and their shipmates to throw themselves between the two combatants, regardless of daggers drawn, to try and stop the bloodshed. It all has to do with a strategically-positioned planet which the Andorians terraformed and colonized, and which the Vulcans annexed and de-colonized, and which the Andorians have now re-colonized with a vengeance. Good old Shran wants Archer to negotiate a cease-fire, because as pink-skins go he's a straight-up kind of guy, but Vulcan Ambassador Soval foresees disaster. And you have to admit, when the shuttle carrying Soval, Archer, and T'Pol to the negotiating table is shot down, disaster seems very likely.

Future Tense is the one in which the Enterprises discover a space capsule containing the desiccated corpse of a human who at first seems to be the answer to the mystery of Zefram Cochrane's disappearance (see TOS's "Metamorphosis"). Later, however, the mummy's DNA shows that he has Vulcan, Terellian, and other alien species in his family tree. So, obviously, he is not a missing person from the past, but from the future. As soon as the Enterprises figure this out, things start to happen. Trip and Malcolm discover that the space pod as more room inside than on the outside, and hidden inside it is a transmitter which (if only Trip can make it work) could dial up the 31st century. But with the Suliban chasing the ship one way, and the Tholians (in their first appearance since TOS) chasing it the other way, phoning home is the only way all this future tech can stay out of the hands of temporal-cold-war villains. And thanks to loopy time anomalies that make the most essential jobs take, like, forever, this is one trunk call that could cost, like, the world.

Canamar finds Archer and Trip being shipped off to a penal planet after first contact with the Enolians turns into a miscarriage of justice. At first it looks like it may become a replay of Season 1's "Detained," but the Enolian official (played by Holmes R. Osborne of Donnie Darko) proves surprisingly quick to admit a mistake has been made. It looks like the adventure may be ending early as the guards inform Archer that he and Trip are being released... but two of the prisoners, including the villainous Kuroda (pictured), choose that moment to liberate themselves and take over the transport. Archer makes himself and Trip useful to the escapees through piloting and engineering expertise, but it's a close-run thing whether they can prevent a brutal career criminal from sacrificing the lives of the other prisoners to cover his trail. Three-time Trek guest Mark Rolston, best known for playing mostly villains on stage, film, and TV, does much to make this episode interesting to watch.

The Crossing became my favorite episode of the season the instant I saw it. Even before the opening credits, when a gigantic spaceship swoops down on the Enterprise and swallows it down its gaping maw, I was totally down with Malcolm Reed's concise observation: "What the hell is that?!" But then it gets even weirder, in a deliciously creepy way, as the noncorporeal aliens inside the ship start to "cross" (i.e., change places) with members of the crew, taking over their bodies while letting their minds explore the effing ineffable. The aliens' calm, friendly explanation of the service they are providing is so convincing that Captain Archer's objections seem brutish and unenlightened. But as more and more people get taken over, and as their possessed bodies engage in increasingly threatening weirdness, it becomes clear that the Enterprises have to protect themselves. Hiding out in the shielded catwalk isn't going to solve the problem; they have to drive the aliens out before they take over the entire ship and leave the crew marooned as drifting wisps of who-knows-what. What they finally do to the aliens may be a bit shocking, but you have to admit that there doesn't seem to be any other way out of the dilemma! Mostly a bottle show—with a guest cast limited to Joseph Will in his third and last appearance as Crewman Rostov—this episode is remarkably atmospheric and exciting.

Judgment revives the striking imagery of the Klingon justice and penal system created for the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country for scenes in which Captain Archer is tried for crimes against the Empire and, eventually, sentenced to life (of the "nasty, brutish, and short" persuasion) in the dilithium mines of Rura Penthe. You're thinking, "Dude gets transported to an alien penal colony in every second episode!" Then you're thinking, "This Klingon tribunal is just like the Cardassian one in the DS9 episode 'Tribunal!'" And yes, the two episodes have much in common—particularly where the defense lawyer's practice of not defending his client is concerned. What makes this episode different is the way Archer stirs up the conscience of Advocate Kolos, inspiring him to risk a prison sentence of his own in the hope of making a difference in Klingon society. His recollections of a time when every Klingon wasn't a soldier provides a fascinating glimpse into the dynamic history and complex structure of a society that already so richly exists in the cultural consciousness formed by Star Trek. Guest stars donning Klingon prosthetics include John Vickery, who had previously played a Betazoid on TNG and a Cardassian on DS9; soap opera star Granville Van Dusen, who later played an Andorian; four-time Trek guest Daniel Riordan in his first of two appearances as Duras; and J. G. Hertzler, easily recognized as one of Trek's most frequent guests, in one of at least seven roles he played for the franchise, including some two dozen appearances as Klingon General Martok.

Horizon is one of the boringest episodes of the year. It is (to borrow a behind-the-camera nickname for DS9's "Prodigal Daughter," in turn based on the classic Western series "The Big Valley") one of Star Trek's occasional "Audra Goes Home" episodes. It takes the series' least interesting character (Travis) and follows him on a furlough to the cargo ship Horizon, where his mother is both medic and chief engineer, and where his brother Paul (pictured) has succeeded their late father as captain. Paul resents little brother for taking off to explore the galaxy, while Travis chafes against Paul's resistance to all the bright ideas he brings back from Starfleet. Paul makes the valid, though coldblooded, point that improvements should only be made where there are people who know how to maintain them. Naturally, they figure out how to work together in time to fight off a band of pirates. Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise (because even when Travis Goes Home, everyone else doesn't get a vacation), T'Pol's response to a screening of Frankenstein proves an even more interesting topic of study than a planet being torn apart by gravitational stresses. I found myself longing for the scenes of T'Pol, Trip, and Archer bantering about horror movies, which says all that I really need to say about the "A-story" in this disappointing installment. The guest cast includes 1970s TV star Joan Pringle (The White Shadow, General Hospital) as Travis's mom, and Guiding Light actress and previous DS9 guest Nicole Forester as Nora.

The Breach is the one in which Dr. Phlox's Denobulan people ask the Enterprises to rescue three of their scientists from a planet whose government has threatened to kill or imprison any "offworlders" still on their soil in three days. Trip, Malcolm, and Travis spelunk their way to three Denobulan geologists who, when finally found after a day and a half of cliffhanging thrills and chills, prove so indifferent to their rescue that they have to be threatened into joining it. Meanwhile, Archer has to rattle the phase-cannons in order to keep the planet's government from bombarding the site of the rescue. But at the heart of this episode is Dr. Phlox's dilemma when a member of the Antaran race, long the sworn enemy of his people, refuses life-saving treatment rather than be beholden to a Denobulan. This triggers an ethical conflict for Phlox, who has tried not to be ruled by his government's anti-Antaran propaganda, and in a low-key way it proves to be a moving lesson about setting prejudices—even justifiable ones—aside.

Cogenitor guest-stars Andreas Katsulas, who played the Romulan Tomalak in four episodes of TNG as well as G'Kar on Babylon 5. It also features F. J. Rio in his third Trek role, including recurring crewman Muñiz on DS9; Laura Interval, who also played Seven of Nine's human mother on Voyager; and Becky Wahlstrom, of Joan of Arcadia fame, as a member of the Vissian race's third gender. While Archer works overtime to make man's first contact with this remarkably friendly, open race a positive one, Trip pulls a Will Riker à la TNG's "The Outcast," interfering in the values of an alien culture in such a reckless way that at times, I felt I almost couldn't watch any further. It is all but unbelievable that anyone who had earned Trip's position on a ship like Enterprise could be such a stupid bastard. It made me furious. And the worst thing about it, besides how totally nice the Vissians were all the way to the end, was that the person Trip thought he was helping was inevitably, and predictably, destroyed by it. The only thing saving the episode from being totally unbearable was the ice-cold feeling of satisfaction one takes away from the final scene in which Trip, after taking the verbal beating of a lifetime from his best friend, leaves the captain's office looking like a kicked puppy.

Regeneration risks violating franchise continuity by giving the 22nd-century Enterprises a foretaste of a 24th-century nemesis—the Borg. All the assimilatin' badness begins when a science team discovers wreckage of the Borg sphere that crashed in the 21st century Arctic during the events of Star Trek: First Contact. In fact, the ill-fated scientists get so much screen-time that the Enterprises don't come in until the second act, giving the episode an unusual structure. Pictured here is Dr. Phlox, administering to himself a radical cure for Borg nanoprobes which, for some reason, no one else ever used. Archer wrestles with his conscience while deciding to kill the Borg without mercy, while Trip tries to figure out how the cyborgs assed up the ship and how to unass it, and Malcolm works out ways to penetrate their enemy's adaptive shielding. Playing one of the doomed scientists, and later a drone, is Bonita Friedericy, who happens to be John Billingsley's wife.

First Flight joins "Carbon Creek" as the season's second "as told by" episode, dramatizing Capt. Archer's reminiscences of his main competitor and colleague in the warp-drive test program that led to the Enterprise. Shortly before he and T'Pol survey what may (or may not) be the first observed dark-matter nebula, Archer gets word that A. G. Robinson (played by special guest Keith Carradine) has been killed in a mountain-climbing accident. Archer tells T'Pol how Robinson flew the first Warp 3 test flight and was lucky to survive; how the two driven pilots formed a close friendship through fighting a TOS-style bar brawl; and how, with the help of a fresh-faced engineer named Trip, they stole the other test ship and showed Starfleet and the Vulcans that their warp program was worth continuing. Though it nicely fills in some of the show's backstory, it's a somewhat melancholy episode, even for the string of relatively downkey stories of which it is a part. It also stars three-time Trek guest Michael Canavan as the Vulcan adviser to the NX test program, four-timer Victor Bevine as a flight controller, and Brigid Brannagh (late of Army Wives) as the bartender Ruby.

Bounty updates the look of another Original-Series alien race—the Tellarites—depicting their first contact with humanity as a somewhat sketchy incident. Skalaar, pictured here, cons his way on board the Enterprise and swiftly captures Captain Archer, eluding the starship's defenses and setting course for a rendezvous with the Klingons. Skalaar reveals himself to be a freighter captain by calling, a bounty hunter by necessity, while trying to raise enough "darseks" to buy his beloved ship out of hawk. Of course, Archer is wanted by the Klingons because of his unprecedented escape from Rura Penthe a few episodes previously; the fact that his recapture will most likely lead to his execution does not seem to rattle Skalaar very much. This doesn't seem like a very promising beginning for relations with one of the founding races of the Federation. But when he realizes that the Klingons are cheating him, and that his ship has been stripped to its bones, Skalaar gives Archer the technobabble to escape from the Klingons, but makes no promises that the Captain is safe from being hunted. In a kinky subplot, an alien microbe causes T'Pol to go into heat; Dr. Phlox, trapped in sickbay with her, has to run fast to elude her sexual advances. The only mystery is why the writers insisted on having Phlox, very emphatically, cross his legs. Except, I suppose, that a sex scene starring John Billingsley would be a little icky, and perhaps unintentionally funny. The episode features Jordan Lund in his third Trek role, and Robert O'Reilly (better known for his recurring role as Gowron in TNG and DS9) as a competing bounty hunter.

The Expanse closes the season with a cliff-hanging teaser for Season 3's serialized story about the Xindi threat. Exactly who the Xindi are, we don't know yet. But the weapon they use to gouge a crease in the Earth's surface from Florida to Venezuela, killing seven million people including Trip's sister, is only a test for a bigger weapon with which the Xindi mean to wipe out the human race. It's a case of "get them before they get us," courtesy of the Temporal Cold War, and in this instance the shadowy Future Guy and his Suliban minions are on Earth's side. They warn Archer that the Xindi are gunning for Earth because another faction in the TCW warned the Xindi that they were going to be wiped out by mankind 400 years further on. Will anyone on Earth buy this story? Will T'Pol choose her career with the Vulcan High Command or her place on the Enterprise? Will the ship be able to handle the dangers of the Delphic Expanse (home of the Xindi), in which the laws of physics are all catawampus, and from which few ships have returned without getting seriously messed up? And will Archer's Klingon pursuers head them off at the pass? All these questions and more liven up what, at times, nevertheless seems like a rather slow-paced and talky episode. The final act, at least, is full of tension, thrills, and explosive action, leaving us in suspense as the Enterprise, fitted with its first photon torpedoes and a few other nifty gimmicks, enters the Expanse in which so much will happen in Season 3. None of which I know about, because (at this writing) I haven't seen it yet. Allan Kroeker, director of the series finale of three (3) Trek spinoffs, gives this episode a feature-quality look, noticeable particularly in the lighting.

I don't know what happens next. As a lifelong Trekkie, I find that a weird feeling, especially considering that this show aired roughly a decade ago. I almost dread finding out, knowing that the show lasted only two more years after this, and the seeds of its eventual demise may have already been sown. I see the Trek mythology veering into darker territory in this season, though it's also been clear from the beginning that part of the concept of this "prequel" series is to show the rough and stumbling beginnings of the more idealized society in which Captain Kirk took part. Current events may have had something to do with this. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster took place shortly before the episode "First Flight" was aired. The War on Terror, triggered by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, was just getting off the ground; a real-life situation that resonates in the season finale and the story arc that grows out of it. In addition, the show deals with issues such as hate, injustice, gender roles, military brinkmanship, and the stigma of AIDS (albeit about 15 years late). It had a lot on its plate. But I think Season 2 of Enterprise comes off, for the most part, looking pretty good.

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, three, four, and five; 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, four, and five.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bad Taste, Good Taste

Please forgive the omnibus post. Since my computer went the way of all silicon, I've been storing up ideas to blog about, and while I have a few minutes of screen-time on the computer in my pastor's office, I've just got to clear the buffer. First, here's a message lately seen on the neighboorhood ELCA Lutheran Billboard of Tackiness:
Eurgh. Suddenly my breakfast isn't sitting so securely in my stomach.

Meanwhile, on the same page of the notebook I keep in the center island of my car in case I need to scribble something to blog about later, here's a quote from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, which I recently finished "reading" in audio-book format:
"If one's lot is cast among fools, it is necessary to study folly."
And finally, here is a list of pizza joints in St. Louis that I mean to try, as time and funds permit. I was dining at Talayna's one night in Chesterfield last week, enjoying my first-ever bowl of paella and thinking about using my $25-off-of-a-$50-minimum-purchase gift certificate to buy their 30-inch pizza for my 40th birthday party (coming this September), when I struck up a conversation with the couple in the next booth. Big pizza aficionados, they agreed with me that Talayna's serves some of the best pizza in the St. Louis area. But they ranked the following restaurants right up there with it.
  • Three Monkeys (on S. Morganford in the city)
  • Ferraro's (out by Ronnie's Plaza in Sappington)
  • Pizza-A-Go-Go (at Ivanhoe & Scanlan), and
  • Black Thorn Pub (at Wyoming and Spring), which serves exactly the same pizza as Lemmon's (at Gravois and Dresden), since they have the same owner
All five of these places are surprisingly convenient to the area in which I live, move, and have my being. All of them are reputed to specialize in serious pizza—the kind that has a thick, full-bodied crust and lots of stringy, stretchy mozzarella cheese. I am encouraged to think there may be so many top-shelf alternatives to the toasted-crackers-and-cheese-substitute that passes for "Saint Louis-style pizza." Feel free to comment if you have experience with these places; perhaps you'll influence the order in which I try them.

PHOTOS: Examples (found online) of the pizzas served at Black Thorn Pub (top) and Pizza-A-Go-Go. Nummmm!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Eruption

While lying awake in the wee hours of this morning, trying to chase away anxious thoughts about my next day's work, I started writing this poem in my head. After I had repeated six or seven lines of it to myself, I resigned myself to the necessity of getting up and writing it out, lest I should forget what I had begun. What started out as a metaphor for something or other soon captivated me with the imagery of its literal meaning and the music in its lines of varying length.

I was ready to go to sleep after completing the first draft, complete with insertions, deletions, restorations, and an arrow indicating that one line was to be moved to a different spot. But then I resigned myself, again, to the necessity of making a fair copy so that I wouldn't forget how the two pages of scribble were supposed to look in their final form. After making this copy, with a few minor changes, I read it to myself aloud, and then read it again. Somehow, inexplicably, it had crossed the boundary between work-in-progress and finished work. For what it's worth:

The Eruption

First the quaking
Then the swelling of the earth
The opening of cracks and sinks
Then the smothering clouds of fume
And the killing caustic froths

Then the roaring and the shaking
Then the rising smokes
And the ashy snow
And the sanguinary glow at dawn and dusk

Then the blazing light
Then the deep-felt boom
Then the eardrum-splitting roar
Then the searing supersonic rush
Then the incandescent viscous gush

The lamb-like skipping mountains
The kid-like leaping plains
The tumbling stone
The flowing soil
The airless clouds of steam

The dying tremors
And the calm

Then the land found changed
The trees bare poles laid in rows
The valleys silted plains
The peaks bowed down
The shoreline stretched

The dust-dimmed sun and bloodied moon
The drifts of dust and ash
The slow return of green and game
The once more quiet earth

The deepening slumber
The last odd twitch
And the dream

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Voyager Season 5

First aired from October 1998 to May 1999—the "vicarage" year of my seminary career—the fifth season of Star Trek Voyager passed some important frontiers. For one, it became the third (and so far last) Trek series to complete at least a "five-year mission." With the epic "Timeless," it marked its 100th episode. With "Dark Frontier," it aired the franchise's first feature-length episode other than a series pilot, season premiere, or finale; the only other such episode would be Season 7's "Flesh and Blood." It develops Harry Kim into a tougher, more independent, less spotless character. It shows Seven of Nine assimilating more and more humanity, and having that humanity challenged by a return of the Borg Queen (based on the character created for the feature film Star Trek: First Contact). It establishes "first contact" with some fascinating new sci-fi concepts, and détente with an enemy so threatening to, and threatened by, the Voyager that no outcome short of total war seemed possible. And, of course, it introduces the Delta Flyer, a hot-rod shuttlecraft which would hereafter serve as Voyager's tender.

Year 5 of Voyager is another season that steers head-on, as only science fiction can really do, at big issues and topic areas such as environmentalism, mental illness, childhood development, and ethics in medical and scientific research. It has a Pygmalion romance, a Schindler's List-esque refugee rescue, a Flash Gordon spoof, an ice world, a water world, a ship-eating space monster, a time travel escapade, several weird encounters with non-humanoid aliens, and a record number of different characters played by one guest actor in one season. Speaking of guest actors, the list of distinguished visiting artists this season includes Ray Walston (in two of his three franchise appearances as "Boothby"), David Clennon, Mark Harelik, Lori Petty, Charles Rocket, Jason Alexander, Kevin Tighe, Bruce McGill, Titus Welliver, and John Savage. This season also includes the last three of 42 Star Trek episodes directed by Cliff Bole, the last of six ditto directed by former Happy Days co-star Anson Williams, and no less than seven episodes helmed by the franchise's most prolific director, David Livingston.

Night opens the season with the loneliest starship in the galaxy entering an expanse containing no visible stars, the whole area made pitch-black by a surrounding mantle of technobabble which blocks light from outside the Void (as the Voyagers call it). It's supposed to take them two years to cross the Void, but after only a few weeks everyone is becoming unnerved by the lack of spacial reference points. Most affected of all is the Captain, who finds herself at leisure to dwell on the blame she bears for getting everybody into this. So it comes as a relief when beings adapted to living in a dark void invade the ship. Hard on their heels is a heavily-armed toxic-waste transport belonging to the Malon, a race whose solution to their pollution problem is to haul contaminated technobabble out into somebody else's backyard and dump it. This Malon captain is so attached to his dumping ground that he refuses to stop using it, even though it is poisoning the Void aliens. Janeway shows him a way to recycle the technobabble, but the Malon reject it because it would ruin their business. So, switching to Plan B, the Voyagers race the Malon for the secret wormhole they use to travel between their world and the Void. Winning the race means shaving two years off their voyage and collapsing the gateway so the Malon can't go on poisoning the Void aliens. Janeway: "It's time to take out the garbage." An important episode for several reasons—including our first visit to Tom Paris' retro-sci-fi "Captain Proton" holo-novel, the first of four appearances by the Malon, the the first of Martin Rayner's three appearances as monochromatic holo-villain Doctor Chaotica, and the speaking Void alien being the first of four different characters played by Steven Dennis in just this season of Voyager (which seems to be a record)—it is nevertheless best remembered for the scene in which the senior officers stage a minor mutiny to keep their captain from going on a suicide mission.

Drone is the one in which a transporter glitch causes nanoprobes from Seven of Nine to assimilate the Doctor's mobile emitter—which, remember, is a piece of purloined 29th-century technology—and the result is a bouncing baby Borg, 500 years ahead of his time. The drone, who calls himself One, has an insatiable curiosity about all things, especially things Borg, but when a Borg sphere (the first seen outside of Star Trek: First Contact) homes in on his signal, he could also be the ultimate threat to humanity. If his 29th century hardware falls into Borg hands, resistance could really be futile! So, spurred by the values Seven of Nine has taught him, One takes out the sphere single-handedly. Then, refusing to allow the Doctor to treat his injuries, he dies following this piece of unforgettable dialogue—SEVEN: You're hurting me. ONE: You will adapt.—I'm not kidding you. I cried the first time I saw this scene in the fall of 1998, and I cried again when I saw it just the other night. Well written as it is, the scene owes much of its effectiveness to the acting powers of Jeri Ryan and frequent Trek guest J. Paul Boehmer, playing One. Also appearing in this installment is Todd Babcock (of MTV's "Undressed") as the good-looking Ensign whose involuntary donation of DNA makes him One's third parent, after Seven and the Doctor.

Extreme Risk is only the second episode since the season premiere to deal with the issue of depression. In this case, B'Elanna is the one showing symptoms, such as losing interest in everything and engaging in high-risk holodeck stunts with the safeties turned off. While Chakotay probes for the roots of B'Elanna's depression (which turn out to have something to do with not being able to feel anything since she learned that all their Maquis buddies were wiped out by the Cardassians), everybody else is engaged in a "good old-fashioned space race" against the odoriferous Malon. Whoever proves the faster at design-building a shuttlecraft that can withstand the pressure 10,000 kilometers deep in a gas giant will win a USS Voyager probe with experimental technobabble that could seriously unbalance the, oh, whatever. All you really want to know is that Tom Paris leads the winning team and, in the process, introduces the "hot-rod" shuttlecraft known as the Delta Flyer. Guest starring as the Malon captain is the late folk-singer and actor Hamilton Camp, best known for lending his voice talent to animated TV series and low-budget films.

In the Flesh revives the intergalactic threat of Species 8472, now using some kind of DNA technobabble to assume human form and practice impersonating Starfleet officers in at least one ginormous simulation of Starfleet Command, San Francisco, Earth. This seems to be part of a plan to invade Earth and neutralize the threat of a human invasion of their native fluidic space. But it turns out to be an opportunity to establish diplomatic relations with one of the alienest and villainousest of all alien villains yet encountered. Reprising his TNG role as Starfleet Headquarters' groundskeeper-cum-Jedi master Boothby is My Favorite Martian star Ray Walston. Other guests include: Tucker Smallwood (a jazz singer and actor, frequently cast as military types, who later played a recurring alien on Enterprise); Zach Galligan (the star of the cult film Gremlins); and Kate Vernon (of the late Battlestar Galactica). The lattermost provides a romantic interest for Chakotay worthy of The Original Series. Watching the man first reluctantly, then enthusiastically, help an 8472 practice her kissing technique is a real highlight.

Once Upon a Time features Wallace Langham (of CSI) and Justin Louis (of Durham County and Stargate Universe) as a pair of whimsical characters in an educational holodeck program for children. "Flotter" and "Trevis," respectively, have been the Bert and Ernie of holodeck brats since Katie Janeway was six; now it's Naomi Wildman's turn. The first child born on the Voyager is now a precocious girl whose homeschooling includes lessons in cellular physiology with the Doctor, a comprehensive knowledge of Starfleet protocols (her ambition is to become the Captain's Assistant), and—at least while her geologist mother is with Tom and Tuvok on a Delta Flyer-powered away mission—lots of facetime with her godfather Neelix. But Neelix, who remembers the torment of not knowing what happened to his family when the metreon cascade (cf. Season 1's "Jetrel") destroyed their homeworld, is the last person on the ship who is going to tell Naomi that her mother may or may not have survived a crash landing. Time is running out as search-and-rescue teams comb the planet in search of the Delta Flyer, but rather than spoil the ending for you I'll simply add that this is the first of 16 episodes in which Scarlett Pomers played young Naomi (who had been played by other young actors in a handful of earlier episodes). Meanwhile, Nancy Hower makes the seventh of her only eight appearances as Naomi's mother Samantha.

Timeless is the episode in which two parka-swathed figures, who turn out to be Chakotay and Harry Kim from 15 years further in the future, beam down to an ice planet and find the Voyager buried under a glacier. They had made it all the way home via the slipstream drive which tantalized their shipmates in the Season 4 finale, but they were the only ones who did; everyone else perished when the Voyager, careering off course, augered into the ice at full impulse speed. Separated from their shipmates by the good luck of being on the Delta Flyer, flying ahead of the ship with the intent of guiding it through the slipstream, the two men have spent 15 years looking for the wreck in the hope of using technobabble from Seven of Nine's freeze-dried corpse, the long-dormant Doctor's medical expertise, and a piece of stolen Borg technology to send a message back in time to prevent the accident before Captain Geordi LaForge (!!!) blows them to kingdom come. Obviously, it's not the last episode they ever made, but there's no point spoiling another suspenseful climax and poignant epilogue, so I'll just mention that Christine Harnos, who played the wife of Anthony Edwards' character on ER, plays Chakotay's main squeeze who, in a mindblowing display of altruism, willingly gives her all to help the man she loves change history so that, most likely, they will never meet. Time paradoxes are a bitch!

Infinite Regress begins with Seven of Nine staggering out of her lair in the middle of an incomplete regeneration cycle (that's Borg talk for "sleepwalking") and savaging a drumstick in Neelix's fridge with the ferocity of an unreconstructed Klingon. As the episode unfolds, Seven's case of multiple personality disorder worsens as an alien weapon, meant to destroy the Borg, brings to life within her the minds of all the individuals the Borg have assimilated. Tuvok attempts a mind meld, which looks really psychedelic but doesn't seem to accomplish much, while the aliens who planted the sabotage device bombard the Voyager in order to get their weapon back. The final solution involves more technobabble than you can shake a Klingon pain-stick at. Again, the episode depends heavily on Jeri Ryan's acting talents.

Nothing Human features David Clennon (late of Thirtysomething) as a holographic simulation of a Cardassian exobiologist whom the Doctor calls to consult when a really weird life-form gloms onto B'Elanna, as pictured here. Crell Moset, like all the best Cardassian renaissance men, turns out to be not only the genius doctor who cured a Bajoran plague, but also a war criminal whose medical discoveries were based on cruel experiments and a disregard for the lives of his patients. One young Bajoran crewman is so disgusted with the decision to consult with holo-Moset that he resigns his commission. The moral dilemma falls squarely on the Doctor's shoulders, though the Captain backs him up by deciding that it is more important to save B'Elanna than to respect her wishes not to be treated by Moset. It turns out to be another thought-provoking episode about medical ethics (cf. Season 4's "Scientific Method"), though it leaves me unsatisfied for two reasons: first, because the Doctor finds it convenient enough to judge Moset's program worthy of deletion after using it to save B'Elanna's life; and second, because the status of the Bajoran crewman is never resolved. Which is as much as to say, the after-effects of the Doctor's having gone ahead and used Moset's research to treat his patients are never explored.

Thirty Days begins with Lt. Paris being busted down to Ensign for as-yet-unknown disciplinary reasons. Then, as Tom whiles away his 30-day sentence in the ship's brig by writing a letter to his Admiral father, the story skips backward to show what he did to mess up (again) his promising career. While helping a scientist from an all-water planet investigate what keeps his world from boiling off into space, and why whatever-it-is is starting to fail, Tom and his Delta Flyer crew discover a 100,000-year-old gizmo at a depth of 600 kilometers, which is failing due to the Monean's underwater industries. While the Monean government seems uninterested in any of Voyager's proposals for fixing the problem, a lone scientist (played by Blue Collar's Willie Garson) teams up with Tom in an act of eco-terrorism narrowly averted by the Voyager. Ethically, the episode is an intriguing study in the prime directive as it comes up against political activism. On a more intimate level, it recharges the troubled character of Tom Paris just in time to keep him from becoming tediously domesticated.

Counterpoint is the episode music nerds (like me) remember for the extended sequences in which movements from Mahler's First and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphonies provide the musical accompaniment. The episode guest-stars Mark Harelik (of Jurassic Park III and TV's Hearts Afire) as Inspector Kashyk, an official from the Devore Imperium, through whose space the Voyager must fly. Unfortunately, the highest law of the Devore is to persecute telepaths, which means the Voyagers must hide its Vulcan and Betazoid crew members, as well as a group of telepathic refugees who need a lift to the nearest wormhole out of Devore space. During Kashyk's frequent inspections, the telepaths must be held in the transporter buffer, a gimmick they can't afford to do many more times since it causes cellular degradation. It's starting to look desperate when Kashyk turns up, without his usual cohort of thugs, claiming that he wants to defect. Though he strikes up a romance with Janeway, she continues to take precautions in case it's a trick; which is lucky, because it is. And so, when Kashyk betrays the Voyager, its captain proves to have a few tricks of her own in store. Further cast members include three-time Trek guest J. Patrick McCormack as Kashyk's sidekick, and Randy Oglesby—whose seven Trek characters included a pair of twins—as the leader of the refugees.

Latent Image promises to be deliciously creepy, as it begins with the doctor discovering evidence that he performed surgery on Harry Kim that neither of them remembers; and it continues promising for a while, with hints of a conspiracy, the recovered memory of a crewwoman whose very existence has been erased, and a philosophical debate about whether the Doctor is a person or a toaster. But, in spite of some moving character touches, it proves in the last analysis to be a slow-paced, talky episode in which not much happens but scenery-chewing on the part of Robert Picardo (as the holographic Doctor whose ethical subroutines get tied in knots by a frankly implausible dilemma) and, to a lesser extent, Kate Mulgrew (as the flesh-and-blood captain who second-guesses her first impulse to reprogram the Doctor when his coping skills prove obviously, ludicrously inadequate).

Bride of Chaotica!—by way of a welcome contrast—furnishes both Picardo and Mulgrew with a chance to appear out of character in a segment of over-the-top humor, satirizing the science-fiction serials of the 1930s. As the Voyager spins its figurative wheels in a morass of subspace technobabble, all on-board systems are failing—including, to horror of Morale Officer Neelix, the bathrooms. But the holodeck is where the real carnage is taking place, as aliens from a dimension of pure energy combat the holographic character of Doctor Chaotica and his evil minions. To get the ship free, and to save beings who are unable to perceive the reality of "biochemical life-forms" such as the Voyagers, the latter must infiltrate the out-of-control holonovel and, in the guise of characters within it, disable Chaotica's Lightning Shield, destroy his Death Ray, and convince the photonic aliens to go back to their own realm. Picardo looks great in Harry S Truman glasses, suit, and fedora, while Mulgrew vamps it up as Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. Meanwhile, the late Nicholas Worth makes his first of two appearances as Chaotica's sidekick Lonzak, one of his three Trek roles.

Gravity begins with a shuttle, piloted by Tom Paris and Tuvok, getting sucked into a "subspace sinkhole" and crash-landing on a desert planet where there is nothing to do but hunt giant spiders (the only locally available food) and fend off raids by the crews of alien ships. Together with the Doctor and a woman named Noss who has survived 14 years on this dusthole, Tom and Tuvok set up a defense perimeter in Noss's wrecked ship and divide their energies between survival and trying to get a signal out to the Voyager. Noss, who claims that she has seen many ships go down on the planet but none go up again, tragically develops romantic feelings for Tuvok, while he relives adolescent memories of studying the Vulcan technique of suppressing emotions after nearly losing his head over a girl. Meanwhile, back on Voyager, the non-marooned portion of the crew wastes no time discussing the fact that Tuvok should not be allowed near a shuttle (this is at least his third crash so far), and instead races to set up a rescue before the local alien authorities collapse the sinkhole for public safety reasons. It's a poignant episode with some real sci-fi chops, featuring Lori Petty (Tank Girl, A League of Their Own) in a very effective performance as Noss. Other guests include two-time Trek guest Leroy D. Brazile as young Tuvok; Paul S. Eckstein in one of his six Trek roles, all of which required heavy prosthetics; and Joseph Ruskin, whose six Trek roles spanned all five incarnations of Trek.

Bliss is the one in which the Voyager flies down the throat of a 200,000-year-old monster that has somehow evolved to subsist on a diet of starships. If you don't pause to ponder that ludicrous concept, you can enjoy this episode for its touch of gleeful paranoia. Seven of Nine returns from a survey mission to find everyone on the ship swept up in the euphoria of discovering a wormhole that leads straight back to Earth. No one else seems interested in discussing the evidence that it's a deception, except the Doctor and young Naomi Wildman, who are also immune to the mind-controlling powers of whatever they are headed toward. And when their immunity is noticed, they become a target. Essentially alone, Seven must race to elude capture and simultaneously take control of the ship so that, with the aid of a crusty old starship-eating-monster hunter named Qatai, they can force the monster to puke them out of its digestive chamber. Complete with a false ending, references to Moby Dick, and a concluding scene of Qatai grimly returning to stalk his nemesis, the episode succeeds in part through the appearance of W. Morgan Sheppard, whose other Trek appearances included a human on TNG, a Klingon in the last TOS feature film, and (uncredited) a Vulcan in the J. J. Abrams-directed restart.

Dark Frontier is a feature-length episode, actually scripted and filmed as two separate episodes but originally aired in one double-sized piece. Taking its cue from the TNG feature-film First Contact, it showcases a Borg Queen who welcomes Seven of Nine back into the fold—surprisingly, without requiring her to become a drone again. The Queen claims that she allowed Seven of Nine to become a Voyager in order to gain an insight into what makes the human race—by all accounts nothing very special—so resistant to assimilation. Hoping to study the nature of human individuality and turn it to good account in the next invasion of Earth, the Queen tests Seven by making her watch the assimilation of an alien colony. Meanwhile, the Voyagers are intent on getting their ex-drone back, even if it means walking into a trap. Through flashbacks to the career of Seven's human parents Magnus and Erin Hansen, who studied the Borg much as Diane Fossey studied gorillas, this episode fleshes out a good deal of Seven's pre-assimilation backstory as little Annika Hansen. It also benefits from guest appearances by two-time Trek guest Laura Interval (as Erin Hansen), and Susanna Thompson as the Borg Queen in her first of two two-part episodes in that role, one of her four roles in three Trek series.

The Disease is the one in which Harry Kim, heretofore the "perfect Starfleet officer," violates the handbook on fraternizing with aliens and develops a (ahem) biochemical bond with a female of another species. The end result is a heartache for which the Doctor, naturally, has a cure, but Harry chooses rather to suffer. In between there's a lot of bother with a generational ship whose denizens aren't all happy to be stuck with each other; some of them, in fact, are prepared to risk a close encounter with the vacuum of space, assisted by bio-engineered critters that eat the joins between their ship's modules, in the hope of going their own way. But it is Seven of Nine who puts her distinctive stamp on this episode, analyzing romantic love as a disease. Her parting words to Harry: "Get well soon." Guest stars include a surprisingly wooden Charles Rocket, who was famously fired from Saturday Night Live for dropping an F-bomb on air; and Christopher Liam Moore (late of Season 3's "Distant Origin") as the alien stowaway.

Course: Oblivion opens with the wedding of Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres—a development one has expected since at least the beginning of Season 4. Your first clue that it isn't really happening is when Capt. Janeway, pronouncing the couple man and wife, addresses Tom as "Lieutenant"—whereas the real Tom Paris was busted down to Ensign a few episodes back. Then weird stuff starts happening to the ship, people's faces start to melt off, and Tom loses his bride in a touching sickbay scene. What gives? Tuvok and Chakotay comb backwards through the ship's adventures in search of a likely cause—Clue Number Two being that you've never heard of any of the adventures they describe—until they come to the "Demon" planet where the sentient, biomimetic "silver blood" copied the crew of the real Voyager. The penny drops: This ship, and everybody on it, is a dead ringer for the real Voyager and its crew. Copied down to the molecular level, including memories of their previous lives, they have forgotten that they are copies and now have to come to terms with that fact, while trying to figure out what their true mission is. Eventually survival becomes a matter of getting back to that Demon-class planet or, failing that, contacting the real Voyager. Which, in one of Trek's most tragic endings, proves to be almost but not quite possible. Some might call this a pointless episode, but you have to admit there's a certain poignancy to the faux-Voyagers' plight and the "near miss" revealed in the final moments of the episode.

The Fight features Ray Walston in his third and last appearance as Boothby, the Starfleet Academy groundskeeper, athletic trainer, and all-around mentor to select undergrads first featured in TNG's episode "The First Duty." If you can't remember his second appearance, you must have a very short attention span. While the Boothby in "In the Flesh" is really a Species 8472 impostor, the one in this episode is at times a hologram, at times a hallucination, as Chakotay slowly loosens his grip on what we conventionally regard as sanity. Don't worry; it's all for a good cause. With the ship lost in a region of "chaotic space," Chakotay's dormant "crazy old man" gene is the crew's only hope of communicating with the life-forms who live there, and who evidently vibrate on a wavelength undetectable by any sane person. These beings, represented in Chakotay's mind by a boxing champion called Kid Chaos (pictured), know the only way out for a ship that will soon perish if it stays in chaotic space. But Chakotay doesn't unclench easily, making for a lot of drama and one of the show's most compellingly weird sci-fi stories. Ned Romero, who had previously guested on both TOS and TNG, here plays the grandfather Chakotay has always feared that he would become.

Think Tank features Jason Alexander, who even now is difficult to see without thinking of George from Seinfeld, as a member of a group of aliens who (with the aid of a device that links them telepathically) put their heads together to solve problems... but always for a price. They offer their services to Voyager when a network of Hazari bounty hunters has them surrounded with no apparent escape route. The price they ask includes Seven of Nine, who is tempted to offer herself up to save her shipmates but who, given the choice for its own sake, would rather decline. Then it turns out that the Hazari were hired by the Think Tank, precisely to force Seven of Nine into joining them. With a little thinking of their own and the dubious aid of the Hazari (whose loyalties are always deliciously ambiguous), Janeway and Co. come up with an alternate solution that leaves the Think Tank with problems of its own. It's one of those episodes that leaves one with a cold sense of satisfaction. It also features Christopher Darga in Hazari makeup, the only one of his three Trek roles that isn't a Klingon; Christopher Shea (as the blue-skinned alien) in one of his four Trek roles, which also included a Vorta, a Suliban, and an Andorian; and an uncredited Steven Dennis, also a sometime Andorian, playing the incomprehensible Think Tank alien Fennim in his second of four guest roles in this season of Voyager.

Juggernaut represents the final appearance of the environmentally unfriendly Malon. A series of improbable accidents cripples a Malon waste transport, killing most of the crew and forcing the survivors to flee. By the time the Voyagers pick them up, only two of the Malon crew survive, and are so scared of the toxic environment on their ship, or perhaps of the radioactive gremlins reputed to be on board, that they almost have to be forced at gunpoint to help Chakotay, B'Elanna, and Nelix purge the transport of technobabble, deck by deck, until they can access the control deck again. Before they manage this, Chakotay is injured, one of the Malon survivors is killed, and Janeway is forced to move to "Plan B"—tractoring the Malon ship onto a collision course with a star—even while her people remain on board. Not much can be done for them unless they can save themselves from the actual, flesh-and-blood gremlin who threatens them. The episode's guest stars include Ron Canada in his third of three Trek appearances, Scott Klace in his first of two, and Lee Arenberg in his fourth of six, his first three guest roles having been Ferengi.

Someone to Watch Over Me is a romantic, funny, touching episode in which the Doctor plays Pygmalion to Seven of Nine's Galatea. Spurred partly by a bet with Tom Paris and partly by his own growing infatuation with his student, the Doctor tries to teach Seven how to make out, as it were, in the world of dating. Lessons with holodeck characters are one thing; dinner at Sandrine's with a nervous crewman proves to be something tendon-tearingly different. Meanwhile, a diplomatic guest from a colony that practices puritanical self-denial enjoys a lost weekend amid the foods, drinks, holo-babes, and other pleasures of the Voyager, driving Ambassador Neelix to frustration. Played with a light touch and a minimum of sci-fi action or melodrama, it is nevertheless a successful episode, aided by such guest stars as Scott Thompson (of The Kids in the Hall), the late Ian Abercrombie (of Army of Darkness and a two-time Voyager guest), David Burke (of Joan of Arcadia and The Tick), and Brian McNamara (of Army Wives).

11:59 features Kate Mulgrew in a dual role, both as Capt. Janeway and as her distant ancestor Shannon O'Donnell. In the final days and hours of the year 2000 (which, you'll recall, was only a bit over 18 months in the future when this episode first aired), a small town in Indiana became the site of an experimental biosphere that proved to be a step toward colonizing Mars. The family tradition that O'Donnell, one of the first female astronauts, played a role in building the Millennium Gate went on, fifteen generations later, to inspire a young Kathryn Janeway to become a spacefaring scientist. Only, as she finds out when Neelix and Seven of Nine try their hand at genealogical research, it didn't really happen that way. The truth, as this episode vividly dramatizes, is that Shannon O'Donnell washed out of the astronaut program and only played a minor role as an engineering consultant on the biosphere project. More significant was her romance with Henry Janeway: single father, bookstore owner, and lone holdout against the future (i.e. the Gate) obliterating the past (i.e., the Indiana town where he has deep roots). While we see the fate of the Millennium Gate pivoting on the romance between two strong-willed people, the Voyagers cheer up their disillusioned captain by inaugurating a new holiday, Ancestors' Eve. Guest stars include Kevin Tighe (of TV's Emergency! and numerous big-screen roles), young Bradley Pierce (of Jumanji), and John Carroll Lynch (late of Body of Proof).

Relativity begins with the brand-new Voyager in drydock, orbiting Mars, when Captain Janeway first came on board. The ship's ill-fated mission to track down the missing Maquis ship with Tuvok and Chakotay on board is only starting to be planned. Everything is as it was five years ago (from the point of view of series continuity)... except... one of the Starfleet Ensigns putting a shipyard shine on everything happens to be Seven of Nine. And she, in case you haven't been paying attention, doesn't belong there. Or rather, then. Seven, we soon learn, has been recruited by Captain Braxton of the 29th-century time-ship we previously encountered in Season 3's two-parter "Future's End." Her mission is to recover a sabotage device that gives new meaning to the phrase "time bomb," which in our immediate present is destined to destroy the ship. The only way to stop it going off it to prevent the saboteur from putting it in; but since he's a time traveler, his opportunities for doing so undetected are limited only by the occasions when Voyager's shields were down while under attack by an enemy ship. This furnishes us with a look not only at the "prologue to the pilot" timeframe, but also to a firefight with the Kazon back in Year 2. Seven-time Voyager guest Josh Clark reprises his recurring role as Lt. Carey, who for some reason hasn't been seen since Year 1. As in the Season 6 episode "Fury," his appearance in this episode seems to highlight the Year-1-ness of an alternate timeline, even though Lt. Carey remains alive and on the ship until his demise in Season 7. Well-known character actor Bruce McGill, meanwhile, takes over the role of Capt. Braxton previously played by another actor; Dakin Matthews, lately known for his recurring role as a minister on Desperate Housewives, plays the admiral; and Jay Karnes of The Shield plays Braxton's second-in-command.

Warhead is the one where a distress call brings Harry and the Doctor to the rescue of a sentient machine which, after crashing on a desert planet, doesn't remember that it's an artificial intelligence or what its purpose is. It's difficult to understand how anyone even glancing at it can fail to tell that it's a WMD, but somehow the Voyagers manage to beam it on board before they cotton to it. By the time they realize what they're dealing with, the warhead has taken over the Doctor's program and is holding Harry and B'Elanna hostage in sickbay, demanding that the ship take it to its programmed target. While Harry tries to convince the weapon that its mission has been called off, 32 more of the blighters show up and demand that their buddy join them in what would probably become a planetary holocaust. The only hope lies in the ability of an artificial life-form to exceed its programming, and the willingness of the good to sacrifice themselves to prevent a greater evil. Pictured here is the alien who makes an offer he thinks Janeway can't refuse: another of Steve Dennis's four guest roles in Voyager Season 5.

Equinox, Part I is the cliffhanger season-finale, featuring John Savage (late of The Deer Hunter) as Captain Rudy Ransom of the Federation science vessel Equinox, which was pulled into the Delta quadrant like the Voyager was, and has been trying to get home for at least as long. The difference, besides the smaller ship and crew, is that Equinox has had a harder time of it, and (as the episode gradually reveals) that its crew has made more compromises with their conscience along the way. Voyager finds them on the verge of being wiped out by aliens from another dimension and extends its shields around Equinox, buying both ships a little breathing space before, inevitably, the shields fail and the creatures attack. What Ransom isn't telling is that the Equinoxes have brought these attacks on themselves, by fiendishly sacrificing alien life-forms to fuel their voyage home. Janeway wants to try to communicate with the aliens and end the conflict, but Ransom rallies his crewmen for a last push home, leaving the Voyagers in the lurch without shields and with angry aliens swooping down on their heads. The guest cast includes Olivia Birkelund (a five-year veteran of All My Children), Rick Worthy (whose six Trek roles included a recurring character on Enterprise), Steve Dennis (in his fourth guest role this season), and a surprisingly wooden Titus Welliver (late of Deadwood) as the ex-boyfriend who calls B'Elanna "BLT."

For want of a TV in my vicar's quarters in Terre Haute, Indiana, I missed pretty much all of these episodes when they first ran. I remember only seeing a handful of them on television before this current survey, in four-episode installments, via Netflix DVD. But the overall excellence of Season 5 is one of the reasons fans like me were still with the show for another two years. And many of its episodes have a shot at becoming timeless classics of the Star Trek art form.

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, three, and four; and of Enterprise seasons one and two; of Farscape seasons one, two, three, and four; of Firefly; and of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, four, and five.