Thursday, April 19, 2012

Voyager Season 6

Season 6 of Star Trek: Voyager saw me through my last year of school, 1999–2000. To make a long story short, it was a very good year. OK, we could have seen less of the Doctor's aspiring music career (he's not that good a singer), and some people might quibble at not one but two episodes focusing on an Irish village that existed only in the holodeck (though I think both stories handled interesting ideas in a clever way). Casting Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in one of his first "acting" roles might display more showmanship than taste, though I think that goes straight to the theme of the episode he appeared in. And, sure, what the episode "Fury" did to the character of Kes was mean-spirited and uncalled-for. But besides these debatable weaknesses, the season doesn't have many.

Voyager's 6th Season deepened and enriched the character background of so many of its characters. Seven gets a kind of Borg family ("Survival Instinct") and a romance ("Unimatrix Zero"). B'Elanna works out some issues with her mother and her Klingon heritage ("Barge of the Dead"), and the Doctor works out issues with his father ("Lifeline"). The show dramatizes the excitement of cultures pushing the boundaries of space exploration ("One Small Step" and "Blink of an Eye"). It deals with issues such as addiction ("Alice"), disability ("Riddles"), war crimes ("Memorial"), exploitative forms of entertainment ("Tsunkatse"), identity theft ("Live Fast and Prosper"), cyber-crimes ("Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"), and the arming of child soldiers ("Child's Play"). It seriously begins reeling in the overall storyline of bringing the Voyager home ("Pathfinder"), pays homage to the ancient origins of drama ("Muse"), and simply delivers some pure-dead-awesome sci-fi action ("Dragon's Teeth," for example).

Equinox, Part II is the conclusion to Season 5's "cliffhanger," in which the captain and surviving officers of the Starfleet science vessel Equinox take off with the Voyager's shield generator, leaving the Voyagers at the mercy of alien beings (representative pictured here with Harry Kim) who are royally pissed about their people being used as fuel in an experimental, supercharged warp engine. This is all very understandable. What makes this episode unusual is the irony that, as soon as Captain Ransom comes to his senses and decides to surrender to Janeway, his first officer stages a mutiny and takes over command; while, back on Voyager, Chakotay tells his captain that she is going insane (and she is, she really is), but peacefully submits to being relieved of his duties. "It's not about rules and regulations," Chakotay tells her. "It's about right and wrong." Such as the difference in priorities between pursuing the Equinox and talking the aliens into stopping their attacks. In the end, after the dust settles, we find Chakotay suddenly reinstated and we wonder how things are ever going to be the same between him and the captain. But we're forgetting: this is Star Trek. By next week, it will be back to business as usual!

Survival Instinct features 4-time Trek guests Bertila Damas and Tim Kelleher, plus umpty-ump-timer Vaughn Armstrong, as three ex-Borg drones who track down former collective-mate Seven of Nine at a big, bustling space station. But they aren't there just to catch up on the good old days. They believe Seven holds the key to the telepathic link that has made the three of them a mini-collective, within or without the Borg, and (most importantly) the key to breaking it so they can live as individuals again. At first, none of them can quite remember what happened to make these three people share a group consciousness; only that it happened sometime after the four of them (including Seven) survived a crash landing eight years earlier and were temporarily severed from the collective. It turns out that while the three crewmates, who were assimilated as adults, began to recover their adult personalities, Seven responded like the frightened child she was when the Borg assimilated her; and, in a panic, she forced the mind-sharing deal on them in order to keep the world as she knew it from falling apart. Sadly, the only way to help these people, short of returning them to the Borg, will leave them with only a month or so to live. So the question of the day is: What is more important? Survival or living?

Barge of the Dead is the one where B'Elanna comes back from a near-death experience, having seen the Klingon afterlife—specifically, the boat that ferries the dishonored dead to Gre'thor, the Klingon version of hell. It's upsetting enough to discover that there may actually be something to the mythology her mother tried to teach her. What's worse is meeting her mother on the barge, apparently having just died, and realizing that Miral (B'Elanna's mummy) is damned because of her daughter's sins. B'Elanna insists on being put back into a near-death state so that she can trade her soul for her mother's. How she gets this by her friends on Voyager (who never have any intention of letting her die), to say nothing of the bargeman (who sees it coming from a parsec away), is really not clear at the end of the episode. Nor is it clear that her mother is really dead, or whether any of this happened outside of B'Elanna's oxygen-starved brain. But no season of Voyager would be complete without the obligatory episode showing B'Elanna having trouble coping with her Klingonness, so... The guest cast includes Karen Austin (previously seen on DS9) and Alien Nation alum Eric Pierpoint in one of 5 characters he played in 8 episodes between all 4 Trek spinoffs.

Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy showcases the Doctor's singing talent (which seems to get more airplay this season than it really deserves) in an opening gag involving Tuvok being suddenly seized by Pon Farr madness. The scene is so ridiculous that the big reveal (that the Doc is daydreaming) doesn't come as much of a surprise, except, well, the fact that the Doctor is daydreaming. The poor hologram has been trying to stretch himself, with the usual unfortunate side-effects, and his attempt to add a daydreaming subroutine triggers disaster on so many levels that it probably sets a record for multi-level disaster-causing. For one thing, the Doc's fantasy life begins to interfere with his perceptions of reality, to say nothing of his duties, and in fixing the problem, his crewmates get an eyeful of his embarrassing inner life. But his pet dream—being programmed as an "Emergency Command Hologram" who can take over in case the captain is incapacitated—brings about even bigger problems when it muddles up the surveillance of a crew of chubby aliens who are trying to decide whether or not to mug the Voyager. The misunderstanding forces Janeway to let the Doctor sit in her chair and play captain for a supremely silly climactic confrontation. Picture Robert Picardo shaking his finger and saying, "I don't want to fire the weapons, but..." Fans of Enterprise may be interested to note that the alien surveillance dude is named Phlox.

Alice is the name Tom Paris gives to a sexy spaceship he discovers, all scratched and grimy and broken down, in a space junkyard run by a dude named Abaddon (which should have been warning enough), played by frequent Trek guest John Fleck. At first Alice is just a DIY project for the hot-rod enthusiast, but it moves on to obsession and beyond(!) when the little ship's neuro-technobabble starts messing with Tom's mind. The ship has a mind of its own, personified by a curvy female of its current pilot's species, visible only to said pilot. And Alice has an agenda which puts Tom's career, his relationship with B'Elanna, and even his life in danger. I never thought I would write these words: This episode succeeds largely on the basis of Robbie McNeill's acting ability. He plays the mentally enslaved Paris as a quivering mess of vulnerable, confused, and painful feelings: worlds away from the usual cocky, arrogant Tom.

Riddles, on the other hand, focuses on Tim Russ's acting chops as Tuvok gets his harddrive wiped and is forced to start over, like a child in a middle-aged body. Luckily he has Neelix to lean on. Their friendship grows as Neelix tries first to rehabilitate "Mr. Vulcan," then helps him to accept the new (and much more fun-loving) person he has become, albeit without the skills that had made Tuvok such a valued officer. All this is the doing of a race of invisible, tentacly aliens who go to great lengths to keep their existence hidden. Tuvok's only hope of becoming his old self again is to find these elusive critters and persuade them to share details of what they zapped him with. But to do that, an alien who has staked his career on proving the B'Nath really exist must surrender the evidence he has found, and (more touchingly) Tuvok and Neelix must lose the close bond they have formed. Playing Naroq is Mark Moses, who also played Capt. Archer's father in the pilot for Enterprise.

Dragon's Teeth, named after the thingummies that, mythologically speaking, cause warriors to sprout of the ground, is the episode in which the Voyagers are caught between the Turei and the Vaadwaur. The former claim ownership of the "underspace," a system of subspace tunnels connecting a network of worlds throughout the Delta Quadrant. The latter, awakened from a 900-year slumber by an impulsive Seven of Nine, are the last few hundred survivors of the underspace's previous management, who only meant to sleep for five years while their enemies bombarded their planet. At first Janeway tries to befriend the Vaadwaur, offering to help them reestablish themselves in exchange for help getting past the well-armed and aggressive Turei. But when the Vaadwaur try to take the Voyager for themselves, the tables are turned. The spectacular space battles in this episode probably wiped out several episodes' effects budget, but equally enjoyable is the atmosphere of mystery and menace surrounding this race whose memory has grown dim, yet remains disturbing. Guest stars include Robert Knepper, who previously played Deanna Troi's intended in TNG's "Haven," and Jeff Allin, who also played father to the little girl whose alien buddy made "Imaginary Friend" arguably the Worst Episode of TNG.

One Small Step is the one in which Chakotay, Tom, and Seven fly the Delta Flyer into the eye of a "graviton ellipse" (Gesundheit), becoming the first known explorers to survey the vacuum-cleaner-bag of what may be the galaxy's oldest known spacial anomaly. Well, the first to survive the trip, anyway. A 21st-century space capsule, manned by one Lt. John Kelly, was actually the one who went where no man had gone before, but he didn't make it out again. His ship disappeared from Mars orbit in 2032, so we've got 20 years to get on this, people! It was assumed that he died instantly, but when Seven goes aboard the capsule to cannibalize some very, very spare parts needed to get the Delta Flyer out of the ellipse, she discovers log entries proving that Kelly survived for several days, finally sacrificing the last of his life-support to capture a few more hours of telemetry for future generations to study. The experience teaches Seven something about the value of exploration for its own sake, while Chakotay learns (one would hope) the limits of said value when his passion for paleontology nearly gets the Delta Flyers killed. Guest actor Phil Morris, here playing the unlucky Lt. Kelly, completed his fifth of five Trek roles, including one of the children in the early TOS episode "Miri."

The Voyager Conspiracy exposes the risks of taking shortcuts in your studies. It begins when Seven of Nine invents a gizmo allowing her to download vast amounts of data while she regenerates, and starts to assimilate the ship's logs in her sleep. Unfortunately, the information overload causes her to develop a different paranoid theory every time she wakes up. With each conspiracy she recruits different crewmates, including the Captain and Chakotay, using seemingly airtight logical argument to convince them that the others are up to no good. Soon everybody is jumping at the slightest noise, suspecting each other of conspiring with the Cardassians, the Caretaker, the Borg, and any number of other alien races, for one nefarious purpose or another. On the brighter side, the alien pictured here (played by three-time Trek guest and sometime choreographer Albie Selznick) successfully tests a gravimetric slingshot that successfully shaves a few years off the Voyagers' trip home. But not before Janeway must talk Seven down off the deep-space equivalent of a seventh-floor window ledge.

Pathfinder features TNG crossover guests Marina Sirtis (as Counselor Troi) and Dwight Schultz (as Reginald Barclay) in a story focusing on the Earth-based efforts to bring Voyager home. The galaxy's most brilliant neurotic risks his career, not to mention a relapse into holo-addiction, brainstorming a way to get a message to Voyager. As he confesses to Deanna, he has become so obsessed with Voyager that he lives almost around the clock in a holo-simulation of the ship, where animated caricatures of the crew have become his closest friends. While Barclay struggles to overcome his insecurities, his commanding officers—including Tom Paris's admiral father—wonder what to do with him. Luckily, just when Barclay has crossed the final line and risks imprisonment to bounce a technobabble off another technobabble, his message gets through to Voyager and all is forgiven. And so, touchingly, Admiral Paris is able to send smoochies to his son, and let Janeway and her crew know their homeworld is pulling for them at the other end. Guest stars include Richard Herd (late of V and SeaQuest DSV) in his second Trek role, two-time Trek guest Richard McGonagle, and four-time ditto Victor Bevine.

Fair Haven is the first of two episodes this season focusing on Tom Paris's latest holodeck masterpiece, an early 20th-century Irish village by the same name, which he opens up to the crew for offshore shore leave while the ship rides out an ion storm. Neelix practices old-world cookery at the Ox and Lamb, the Doctor dons a cassock and escapes into the priesthood, Harry pursues a local maid, and Tom gets his giggles drinking ale and playing rings at Sullivan's pub. It is Sullivan himself who charms the Captain when she comes to call, but she decides that if he's going to be her holographic boy toy, a few things about him are going to change. The result is a low-key but intriguing exploration of the question: If you could change everything about a person to make him or her exactly the way you like them, would they be worth loving? Or maybe the question is: How long do you keep the lights on in a simulated village when you need all the ship's power to survive a grandmother ion storm? The guest cast includes Richard Riehle, whose three roles in five Trek episodes include the touching character of Batai in TNG's Hugo-winning episode "The Inner Light."

Blink of an Eye features Daniel Dae Kim, who later played a space marine in three episodes of Enterprise and is currently a regular on the reborn Hawaii Five-O. Here Kim plays an astronaut from a world where time passes much faster than the rest of the galaxy, toward the end of an ordeal in which the Voyager is trapped in orbit and, in return, causes devastating earthquakes on the planet below. And so the crew helplessly observes a whole civilization developing in response to the light in the sky that shakes the ground; sometimes worshiping them, sometimes inspired by them technologically and culturally, and eventually brandishing hostile weapons at them, before finally helping them escape orbit. It's a thoughtful and sensitive essay on what happens when you are helpless to control how your influence affects someone else's development. The guest cast also includes two-time Trek guest Obi Ndefo, who had a recurring role on Stargate SG-1; fellow two-timer Daniel Zacapa, best known for his role in Se7en; and 1970s Doctor Who alum Olaf Pooley, whose wife Gabrielle Beaumont directed this episode.

Virtuoso is the one in which the Doctor says, "Screw this," and decides to leave Voyager for a planet where he can expect to be worshiped for his singing ability. As you would expect, no one on said planet has ever heard music before. The at first rude and smugly self-satisfied Qomar, a vertically inferior but technologically superior race that understands no art form other than higher mathematics, suddenly change their tune (so to speak) when they overhear the Doctor humming "I've been working on the railroad." Soon the doctor has become a worldwide sensation, though nobody seems at all interested in other musical phenomena (such as Harry Kim's jazz band). Believing that a local beauty loves him for his mind, the Doc browbeats the Captain into letting him go his own way, makes a complete ass of himself in front of all his friends, and has all but packed his bags to leave the ship forever when he learns that his supposed girlfriend has programmed an upgrade of his program, adding the ability to perform heretofore unsingable musical fractals while subtracting pesky subroutines such as conscious thought and personality. The disillusioned Doctor/virtuoso returns to the ship with his tails tucked between his legs. Ironically, the actor playing the Prelate of the Qomar, these people who have never even conceived of the existence of music, is singer-songwriter Paul Williams.

Memorial raises the question whether it is right for a memorial to  victims of a war crime to make visitors feel guilty about atrocities they had nothing to do with. In this case, we're talking about more than a vaguely unsettled feeling. Chakotay, Neelix, Tom, and Harry come back from a survey mission experiencing hallunications, anxiety attacks, and eventually full-blown memories of having taken part in the slaughter of 82 unarmed colonists and the subsequent cover-up. Similar memories start to emerge among other crewmen who weren't even on the away mission and couldn't possibly have done the things they remember doing. It looks like the ship may fall victim to an epidemic of paralyzing, if not suicidal, remorse. But it all turns out to be the effect of a beacon on a planet the survey mission scanned, a beacon that broadcasts telepathic technobabble into the surrounding star system and turns all chance visitors into surprising recipients of a virtual-reality, high-definition, all-expense-paid guilt trip. The beacon's power source has begun to fail after umpty-seven years, and so a debate arises as to whether the Voyagers should destroy it or destroy the hell out of it. Janeway, however, thinks they should recharge it so that it can give passersby the heebie-jeebies for umpty-seven more years. The only way to prevent things like this from happening in the future, Janeway reasons, is never to forget what happened in the past.

Tsunkatse features two guest actors whose Trek appearances were so numerous that I am sick of repeating them: Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun, Brunt, Shran, etc.) and J. G. Hertzler (Martok, etc., etc.) as, respectively, the impresario and one of the champions in a space-age death sport exhibited in holographic arenas throughout the Norcadian sector. Nevertheless, fans who watched the show when it was first broadcast will probably remember it as the one featuring then-pro wrestling sensation The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, complete with his trademark eyebrow lift, in one of his early acting roles (though, obviously, one not far from his WWE roots). Here we see him laying a smackdown on Seven of Nine, who has been shanghaied by the villainous Penk (Combs) to fight in his high-tech gladiatorial contests. Seven consents to fight in order to save the life of badly injured fellow abductee Tuvok, and after being initially beaten in a nonlethal "blue match" against the Rock, undergoes a rigorous training under a veteran Hirogen champion (Hertzler) to prepare for a to-the-death "red match." Naturally, Seven's opponent in the red match proves to be her Hirogen trainer, who after years of captivity has begun to long for an adversary worthy to kill him. Does Seven have it in her to close for the kill on someone she regards as a fatherly friend? Thanks to a last-moment intervention by the Voyager, she never has to find out. Hot tip: When attacking a Tsunkatse arena, aim for the broadcast antennas. Nothing does more damage to Norcadian gamesters than taking out their audience!

Collective is the episode that introduces Star Trek's most successful attempt to depict a loving family. And to think that it starts on a Borg cube! The Delta Flyer and its crew are taken aboard the cube, but for some reason remain unassimilated by the time Seven beams aboard to negotiate(!!!) with their captors. Evidently five youngsters, prematurely released from their maturation chambers, are all that survive of a... um... "crew" isn't the right word... collective? That's it!... all that survive of a collective that has been wiped out by a mysterious pathogen. Well, they and a Borg baby. These poor waifs don't even know how to assimilate somebody without killing them. But they're willing to try it on their hostages unless Janeway coughs up the Voyager's deflector dish, so they can phone home. What Seven needs to break to them, but gently, is that the Borg have already heard their distress call and have written off the five bitty Borg as an acceptable loss. Unfortunately the most charismatic of the five, known as "First," is the least willing to accept his collective's inevitable embracing of their own individuality, so he takes a lethal charge of technobabble for the team and leaves Icheb (Manu Intiraymi), Mezoti (Marley McClean), Azan and Rebi (Kurt and Cody Wetherill) to become the latest additions to the show's recurring cast.

Spirit Folk is the sequel to "Fair Haven," in which the denizens of the open-door holodeck Irish village begin to suspect that the Voyagers are demons, or faerie folk, capable of supernatural doings. The Doctor is spotted disappearing; the Captain saves a child from drowning in a well and denies that it happened; Tom is observed magicking a damaged tire onto his jalopy and, later, turning a local beauty into a prize cow. The Voyagers realize that leaving the program running day and night, allowing numerous crewmen to come and go as they please, and capriciously changing the program as they do so, have led to the holodeck's perceptual technobabble being thrown out of whack. While trying to throw it back into whack, Tom and Harry (later joined by the Doctor) are captured by the townsfolk and put on trial for witchcraft, or worse. With the holodeck safeties off (don't ask), anything could happen; for example, the Doctor could let himself be hypnotized, and Michael Sullivan (the captain's holo-boytoy) figures out how to use his mobile emitter to explore the ship. Luckily, the Voyagers are able to talk the villagers down from a tense standoff before something really sensible happens, like turning the damn thing off. Besides cast members reprising their roles from "Fair Haven," this episode features the second Trek appearance by Seinfeld alum Ian Abercrombie, and a local doctor played by horror film maven Ian Patrick Williams.

Ashes to Ashes proposes the existence of an alien race, the Kobali, who reproduce by reanimating the corpses of other alien races and using gene-replacement therapy to convert their physiology into that of the Kobali. The implications, for example, for family dynamics in a society where re-engineered people are placed in families who, nevertheless, love each other as parents, children, and siblings, would be fascinating to explore. But what this episode explores is the rare exception in which a fresh-off-the-slab Kobali suffers from lingering memories of the previous owner of their body. This happens in the case of Jhet'leya, who thinks she is Ensign Lyndsay Ballard, a Voyager crewwoman and close friend of Harry Kim who was killed by the Hirogen a year or two back, and who now catches up with her former crewmen, desperate to belong in spite of her alien appearance. Unfortunately, she really has become a different person, and cosmetic alterations making her look human again cannot disguise that fact. Plus, the Kobali—who find human burial customs as strange and creepy as we find their reproductive values—have come back to reclaim their runaway, well armed and not taking "No" for an answer. It is finally Lyndsay/Jhet'leya who must decide where she really belongs. It's an episode that does what the best Star Trek episodes do: it touches us personally while blowing our minds.

Child's Play shows how far Seven of Nine's maternal instincts have developed since she took charge of four Borg foundlings only a few episodes back. Even more recently, she had begged Chakotay to relieve her of this duty because of how difficult it is to maintain order where children are concerned. This time, however, Seven is having trouble letting go when Icheb, the oldest and most brilliantly promising of her charges, is reunited with his Brunali parents. She is suspicious of Leucon and Yifay from the first, and not only because the former is played by Mark A. Sheppard (son of W. Morgan ditto), who has a Backpfeifengesicht if anyone ever did. But Seven soon uncovers even more disturbing reasons to distrust the couple, beginning with the fact that they lied about how Icheb was assimilated by the Borg. It turns out that the lad has been genetically engineered as a walking bioweapon against any Borg sphere or cube that happens to emerge from the transwarp conduit near their planet. In fact, Icheb was the case-zero carrier of the plague that wiped out the cube on which Seven found him. And now they're sending him back again... But not if Momma Seven has anything to say about it! This episode makes an important step toward making Icheb and the other young drones a beloved part of the Voyager family. I especially like the line in which an exasperated Icheb, concealing a smile, threatens to cram his younger cargobaymates into a cargo container and transport them back to the Borg. Or maybe it's his response to the Doctor's diagnosis of butterflies in the stomach: "I never assimilated butterflies!"

Good Shepherd gets its title from a Biblical analogy to the shepherd who goes out to search for his lost sheep. In this case, the shepherd is Captain Janeway, and the three misfit crewmen she selects for a Delta Flyer survey of a stellar nursery are the stray sheep she wants to gather into her flock. Unfortunately, she wasn't planning on being attacked by a wolf, in the guise of a swarm of alien lifeforms composed of dark matter. Luckily, if she's going to have three incompetent bozos with her in such a serious situation, she happens to have chosen the right bozos: an intellectually limited Bajoran sensor analyst who nevertheless has a wide streak of gutsy loyalty; a hypochondriac who overcomes having an actual alien inside his body with surprising courage; and a theoretical cosmologist who hates getting his hands dirty in the practical field, but who finally puts himself in harm's way to give his shipmates a chance. In a sense the whole mission is a failure, but the guest cast makes it fun to watch, and we can only suppose that the adventure forms a bond between them. Playing Harren (the cosmologist) is Jay Underwood, best known for his youthful performance as an autistic child in The Boy Who Could Fly. Michael Reisz, playing Telfer (the hypochondriac), has worked mostly as a voice actor and as a Peabody-winning writer for such shows as Boston Legal. And Zoe McClellan, here playing the Bajoran crewman, once played a character named Bajoran on The Mentalist, and was a regular cast member on JAG.

Live Fast and Prosper features two-time Trek guest Kaitlin Hopkins as an alien con artist who impersonates Captain Janeway, promising shipments of dilithium or alliances with the Federation in return for all the loot she makes off with. Predictably, Janeway tracks down Dala and her crew of Starfleet impersonators as soon as angry marks track down the real Voyager and demand restitution for the swindle. The Voyagers do catch Dala, but her accomplices get away when another dissatisfied customer shows up and opens fire on the ship. Later, Dala uses Neelix's willingness to believe that she can change her ways as an opportunity to escape. But then, just when Dala seems to be helping the Voyagers capture her partners (including a Tuvok double who hilariously throws himself into the role), that proves to be a turnabout swindle by Janeway and friends. Other guest stars include Francis Guinan and Dennis Cockrum, each in one of his three Trek roles.

Muse (not to be confused with DS9's "The Muse") guest-stars two actors who each played a crewman on Enterprise in three episodes, including one episode in common: Joseph Will (aka "Crewman Rostov") and the late Kellie Waymire (aka "Crewman Cutler"). Here Rostov plays the playwright of an outdoor amphitheater, formerly the site of religious sacrifices, in a city-state similar to those of ancient Greece. Waymire plays the bard's girlfriend, who gets jealous when B'Elanna Torres falls from the sky and inspires a series of plays about the "Voyager Eternals." Gathering much of his knowledge of the Voyagers from the logs of a crashed shuttle, Kelis tries to keep B'Elanna a secret. It isn't easy, as she exercises the divine prerogative to command Kelis to ransack the local warlord's hunting grounds and go into hawk to bring her materials she can use to repair her craft. Kelis risks debt and death to obey, but his biggest problem is that the warlord has commanded a new "Voyager Eternals" play in one week, and B'Elanna is a most reluctant muse. Meanwhile her friends on Voyager work themselves to exhaustion trying to find their lost crewmen (I forgot to mention that Harry Kim was involved in the same accident). Even so, her rescue will have to wait while B'Elanna uses the power of drama to influence the course of a city state's politics. Prime Directive, people? Also appearing are Tony Amendola (SG1's "Master Bra'tac"), two-time Trek guest Kathleen Garrett, and B5 alum John Schuck, whose other five Trek appearances, ranging from the Original-Series feature films through Enterprise, include two appearances each as two different Klingons, plus a Cardassian.

Fury is an episode that ticked me off the first time I saw it, and that ticked me off again when it came up on my Netflix queue. To start with, it brings back the tragically undeveloped, prematurely scotched character of Kes, only to burn her character the way TNG burned Wesley and Ro in their final appearances. And although there is ultimately a happy ending (Janeway manages to talk a time-traveling, super-powered Kes out of avenging herself on the ship that enabled her to grow into such a monster, and sees her off on a shuttle bound for the Ocampan homeworld), it nevertheless comes at the end of an episode showing that whatever great adventure Kes went off to have at the beginning of Season 4 didn't turn out so great for her after all. It's totally unnecessary, given that the show had already blown her character off in mean-spirited disregard of its great potential. Plus, Jennifer Lien's performance in this episode makes me want to take back all the nice things I ever said about her under-appreciated talent. With one notable exception, every one of her line-readings seems phoned in, and the scene in which she throws furniture around her quarters is painfully unconvincing. Maybe this is Lien sucking on purpose to get back at the show for burning her, extra crispy. Whatever!

Life Line brings back TNG crossover-guests Dwight Schultz (Barclay) and Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi) in this year's second episode focusing on the home front. Thanks to an intermittent communication signal between Earth and the Voyager, the Doctor is able to beam himself to Jupiter Station and treat his dying creator, the rascally holographer Lewis Zimmerman (also played by Robert Picardo). The trouble is that, although Voyager's "EMH Mark-1" has developed as a person, exceeded his programming, and picked up some Delta Quadrant medical tricks along the way, Zimmerman refuses to be treated by the last remaining model in a series that has been reassigned to scrubbing plasma thingummies. In a new twist on the old, old story about sons seeking their fathers' approval, our EMH struggles to prove himself to a creator who regards him as an obsolete embarrassment. But when their abrasive personalities (like father, like son) come to a stalemate, it is up to the wiles of Deanna, Reg, and a cute hologram named Haley (played by Tamara Craig Thomas of Odyssey 5). Six-time Trek guest Jack Shearer also makes one of his three appearances as Admiral Hayes.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve makes further good use of the show's recurring cast of Borg kids as, in a pitch-dark cargo bay, Neelix gathers them around a lantern and tells them a spooky story about a technobabble-based life-form that stowed away on board the Voyager during an innocent cruise through a nebula. According to Neelix's tale—whose fact/fiction ratio is never clearly revealed—the entity increasingly disrupted the ship's systems, at first in an attempt to steer its way home and then, after finding that its nebula had dissipated, simply to take revenge on the Voyagers and drive them off the ship. By the end of the ordeal, Janeway is the only flesh-and-blood person left on board, but she finally manages to talk the genie back into its bottle (or rather, an area of the ship set aside for the entity) until they can find a similar nebula in which to drop it off—which, saith Nelix, is exactly what they are doing while all the lights are off. You know, because of technobabble. Atypical of Star Trek as the episode is, one fringe benefit is that the show continues to succeed where it has always failed before: in its writing for child characters.
NEELIX: This is not a tale for the faint of heart.
MEZOTI: We are not faint of heart.
ICHEB: Our cardiopulmonary systems are reinforced.
Unimatrix Zero ends the season with the first installment of a two-parter, guest-starring Mark Deakins in his third Trek role (and the second spanning a two-part episode) as a Borg drone who leads a double life. Known as Five of Twelve by day, he spends his regeneration cycles as a studly alien named Axum in a virtual reality shared by a minority of drones whose cortical link, combined with a random glitch in their technobabble, enables them to share a dream of life without assimilation. Only now, the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson reprising her fourth Trek role) plans to hunt down and destroy all of these freaks, whose streak of individuality—even though it is forgotten during their waking hours—threatens the perfection of her Collective. And so the Unimatrix Zero folks bring in Seven of Nine, who used to be one of them when she was a drone. She in turn recruits her shipmates in a plan to enable the denizens of Unimatrix Zero to remember who they are when their regeneration cycles are complete, thus planting the seeds of rebellion within the Borg Collective. But before they get very far with this plan, the Queen catches on. And so the episode ends with B'Elanna, Tuvok, and Captain Janeway lumbering around a Borg cube, assimilated as hell.

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 seasons one and two. 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.

Friday, April 13, 2012


The baseball, like a missile,
Blazes its deadly course—
Its stitches softly whistle—
No bat can bend its force.

Batsman, your foot fast planted—
In Atlas-like sinew
The globe's staid heft so slanted—
Connect and follow through.

What though the ball fly truly,
The bat against it pressed—
The shoulder turning duly—
The foot remains at rest.

And thus the very planet
Swings suddenly around—
Till like a plunging gannet
The baseball meets the ground.

Friday, April 6, 2012

On Bach's Passions

Of the Passion settings by J. S. Bach, the Matthew & John Passions are magnificent. What particularly moves me in them is the opening & closing choruses, the recitatives, and the "turbae" (numbers in which the chorus sings dialog from the passion text). The chorales & arias are lovely decorations, but if you take away Bach's dramatization of the Gospel text, all the life goes out of the work as a whole & it becomes nothing but so many pretty songs. The "passion" is gone. This is evident when you listen to the St Mark & St Luke passions of Bach, reconstructed (the same way Bach originally constructed them) from arias & chorales in his earlier cantatas. The words fit the music & all that, but the libretti (which survive although Bach's scores do not) are only the commentary; the thing itself is the passion text from the Gospels, and no one can reconstruct what Bach did with those texts in his recitatives & turbae. I have heard attempts to replace them with equivalent settings by other composers, but the results are uniformly boring. The loss of Bach's narrative music for the Mark & Luke passions is a tragedy over which I sincerely and deeply grieve.