VOY S04E06 The Raven (4 out of 5 stars). It seems we’re stuck with Leonardo’s workshop, which is I suppose more interesting than the awful pool hall or the tiresome luau. Janeway is using it to teach Seven about relaxation, art and modelling in clay. Seven finds the process unproductive. All it’s doing is giving her flashbacks to what looks like a deleted scene from Blade Runner. The Doctor prescribes lunch and so she makes it to Neelix’s mess hall, but his offering only makes her revert to Borg type and go on the rampage. She’s also impervious to phaser stun blasts (at least I assume they were stun blasts).

Six episodes in and Seven solidifies her status as the show’s new MVP. Simultaneously friend and foe, she challenges Janeway’s compassionate decision-making at every turn and like Spock, Data (who also discovered facts about himself through visions) and Odo before her, she presents a unique outsider perspective from which we can see ourselves in sharp relief. While we get to see plenty of Seven’s ass-kicking, including neck-pinching Tuvok which is good for some lols, this is really about her backstory, and it’s a tragic one (if a bit convoluted, as it needs to be to establish how a human was assimilated years before Federation contact with the Borg, and then ended up on the other side of the galaxy). Jeri Ryan continues to do wonderful work and this is a good episode for Tuvok too.

While this strand feels almost like a brand-new show, the B-plot feels like the worst of Season 2, rehashed and reheated. Janeway is negotiating with about the silliest humanoid aliens I’ve ever seen. They want Voyager to go through their space the long way round and at a snail’s pace with frequent checkpoints to make sure they aren’t doing anything nefarious, and they aren’t happy to hear that there’s a Borg onboard, and even less happy when she steals a shuttle and goes AWOL. Luckily they aren’t onscreen too much. That shot of Voyager cruising into position over the puny Zagbar ships is pretty epic.

The sudden introduction of Jeri Ryan into the cast upset some of the other regulars, and this was compounded when she began a relationship with de facto showrunner Brannon Braga. Even taking professional jealousy out of the equation, the only problem with Seven is that she duplicates the traits of so many of the existing line-up and threatens to do it better than they do. She’s a more bodacious babe in charge than Janeway, her quest to recover her humanity is more interesting than the Doctor’s attempts to discover his, her cold logic is fresher than Tuvok’s, her outsider perspective is more keenly felt than Torres’s, she’s a more knowledgeable guide than Neelix, and she’s a more able second in command than Chakotay. Only the bland brothers, Paris and Kim, don’t need to worry, but then she’ll show them up just by, you know, having a personality rather than being just some dudes that things happen to sometimes.

DS9 S06E03 Sons and Daughters (3 out of 5 stars). Our characters have made it to a Starbase with some help from General Martok and are being debriefed by Starfleet top brass. Worf joins Martok’s ship and he discovers that his own son is among the troops. Brian Bonsall having retired from acting, the part is now taken by Marc Worden, the fourth actor after Jon Paul Stuer who played him in his original TNG appearance (Reunion) and James Sloyan who was the adult Alexander in the very odd Firstborn. Heavy makeup does make it easier to hide this kind of recasting (see also Ziyal, Moogie, that Ferengi who fell through a wormhole and so on) but it saps the hoped-for sense of history between these two. Speaking of Ziyal, she’s struggling to find her place too, given that she’s living among Bajorans when her father his waging a war against their most exulted living religious leader. She paints some pictures and then gets to wear the dress that her dad bought for Kira, who’s somewhat gone off the sadistic Cardassian dictator and butcher, much to his surprise.

Viewed as part of a daily binge-watch, it’s nice to catch up with familiar characters and look at how the unfolding war is affecting each of them. But watched week-to-week, I can’t help but think that it might have been a bit frustrating to have so little movement in the main season plot with seven days to wait for this episode and another seven to wait before the next one. Plus much of this is that bafflegab about Klingons, their honour codes, and their houses, which is apparently terribly meaningful and moving to some people, but which leaves me completely cold. Still, Seven of Nine has just joined Voyager, so that show has suddenly become much more watchable.

War is much more fun when you’re winning, according to Martok

DS9 S06E04 Behind the Lines (4 out of 5 stars). Our people are stationed on a Starbase, running sorties with the Defiant, and making some inroads, but always finding the enemy one step ahead. Now Sisko’s team is charged with taking out their intelligence-gathering array. And that’s not the only thing worrying the Dominion. Without a supply of White, they can’t keep the Jem’Hadar in line. And on the station, Kira has made sure that they get wind of the Cardassian play to bump off them before they go berserk and turn on their masters. The fun here is less in Kira’s slightly clunky narration of events in the teaser, it’s in Act One, with Weyoun encouraging Dukat to keep smiling as they figure out what to do next. Dukat isn’t a talented smiler.

Sisko figures out how to nobble the array but Admiral Ross mysteriously kicks him upstairs, as obviously the best use of his most able tactician during a brutal war is behind a desk and not on the bridge. Of more interest is the fencing between the Founders, the Cardassians and Odo – strung between worlds, neither collaborator nor rebel, neither Changeling nor solid, neither leader nor lackey. Salome Jens’s quiet authority continues to play very strongly. In fact, that’s the tone of this whole episode. Talky, low-key and quietly effective – even Dax’s mission against the array takes place off-screen – I can’t imagine this episode being anybody’s favourite, as it’s largely concerned with setting the table for future storylines and tying off a few loose ends, but it’s discreetly compulsive viewing nevertheless because the character work is so good and the acting is so strong (Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois are amazing here).

We get our first Admiral’s uniform with grey quilted shoulders on Barry Jenner. It actually looks as if he’s part of the same fleet as Sisko, which might be a first for this franchise, even if his silly gold belt buckle looks like a leftover from The Motion Picture.

DS9 S06E05 Favor the Bold (4 out of 5 stars). The Defiant is seemingly dead in space, but it’s a ruse to lure Dominion ships to them (and the Rotarran). Dax and Worf’s love language is tactics and battle plans. But it’s clear that the Federation is on the back foot and that morale is slipping. Sisko’s new plan is to retake Deep Space Nine. I can’t decide whether I’m impressed we made it this long before bringing this up or whether four episodes out of a seven-year run is pretty footling. But this is still Deep Space Nine, where it’s always about the journey at least as much as the destination. So, this is an episode about plans being put in place, tensions simmering, and positions being entrenched. The biggest development isn’t the two colossal attack fleets facing each other, it’s the blow-up between Odo and Kira, which once again is an incredible display of writing and acting.

Thankfully, we’re spared The Female Changeling (hereafter TFC) asking Odo “What is this thing that the solids call love?” and join them when he’s got through showing her. Garak prefers asking the questions and asks Bashir if he has a tinfoil hat handy. Weyoun has weak eyes but good ears.

VOY S04E07 Scientific Method (2.5 out of 5 stars). Torres discovers Seven screwing around with the power conduits without permission and the Klingon ends up giving the Borg the same lecture Janeway gave her when she joined the crew. It’s a nifty scene. When Paris (laboriously) sneaks off to meet her for a quick snog, we briefly see them through someone else’s eyes. Together with Janeway’s muscular-skeletal complaints, this all feels very low-key and soapy. I don’t really understand why these two are sneaking around during working hours like horny teens. Why can’t they either see each other after work and/or come clean and tell the senior officers what’s going on with them? These hang-ups don’t feel very 24th century to me. Even the captain sees them as adolescent screw-ups.

If the gag of having aliens sneaking around and doing covert experiments on the crew sounds familiar, it’s because we saw it last season in Distant Origin (and before then in Schisms over on TNG). It was more fun in Distant Origin because that played the early portions entirely from the Silurian’s point of view. Here, we experience the effects of the experiments along with the crew, which makes for better empathy with our regular cast, but the hints about what is really going on are so blatant that there’s essentially no mystery, so we spend the first half of the episode waiting for Starfleet’s finest to catch-up.

If the sight of a prematurely aged Chakotay seems familiar, it’s because this trope goes all the way back to The Original Series and the episode The Deadly Years, and that’s only within Star Trek. And Michael Westmore’s makeup is particularly eccentric today, with Voyager’s ailing first officer made to look like a cross between emaciated Dave Bowman in 2001 and a Jem’Hadar. Robert Beltran doesn’t bother doing any old-age acting, because, well, he generally doesn’t bother doing any acting on this show. He recovers completely off-screen, natch.

Like Data before her, Seven finds that she’s the only lifeform on board not affected by the experiments. It’s odd then that after that cute scene at the beginning, she doesn’t appear until after the Doctor is nobbled. Unlike entirely artificial Data, the difference between human-raised-by-the-Borg-with-a-few-implants-still-left and regular humans, Vulcans, Talaxians and so on seems pretty trivial. And it reduces Voyager’s most interesting crewmember to a single line biography which is disappointing.

This is Voyager at its most Voyager-y. There’s an attempt to tell this story in a more interesting way, a catastrophic plague starts sweeping through the ship, but nobody suffers any long term ill-effects, the character beats are simplistic and teenaged, and the climax comes down to: who can say their technobabble loudest. This is a more confident show than it used to be, and the cast are more at home, but have we come a long way from, say, Phage? Not really. Only Janeway’s barnstorming showdown with Unnamed Creepy Alien #1 elevates this in any way.

This is slackly plotted too. We spend twenty minutes with Seven and the Doctor sneaking around, desperate to avoid revealing that they know the aliens are there. Then Seven miraculously knows just how to reveal them, and no bad things happen when she does. Kind of seems like she should have done that earlier. Plus, you can either have alien devices which are not corporeal and can’t be touched, felt or otherwise interacted with – or you can have alien devices which interact with biological systems and rewrite DNA but I’m struggling to understand how the same device can be both at once.

Tuvok asking cranky Janeway if he should flog the senior staff is a solid laugh. The ridiculous sight of Kate Mulgrew with knitting needles in her head is the sort of thing that non-fans imagine Star Trek is always like. Cranky Janeway is kind of amazing though. With Seven under-utilised, it’s nice to see Mulgrew can still hold the centre of the frame and show us something new.

DS9 S06E06 Sacrifice of Angels (5 out of 5 stars). This isn’t identified on-screen as “Part II” but it does begin with “Last time on Deep Space Nine”. Is it part two? Or part six of the arc which began with A Time to Stand? Or part 130 of the story begun in The Emissary? Bashir and O’Brien trade off gloomy stanzas as they approach the enemy fleet, and then we get all the CGI that Dan Curry can muster as we go into the opening titles.

Let’s talk about Rom and Nog. Armin Shimerman has been doing wonderful work week after week, but since the show started, his brother and nephew have been little more than comedy sidekicks for him or Jake to bounce off. With Rom’s devotion to the Federation/Bajoran cause and Nog’s earnest enthusiasm for Starfleet, each has grown considerably over the course of recent episodes. Wisely, the actors haven’t drastically altered their approach to reflect this very different characterisation on the page – rather, they’ve subtly modulated, giving the careful impression that all of this potential was there all along. It’s a wonderful lesson in how to handle secondary characters in a long-running series (see also Kai Winn, Gul Dukat, Garak and so on, but everyone goes on about them).

Sisko’s strategy seems sound, but on the station it looks like Dukat is one step ahead. And while Kira and friends are laying new plans to prevent the Cardassians from removing the minefield and allowing reinforcements to come pouring through – they are all held for questioning. It’s always exciting when the badguys are smart. It’s too easy to resolve plot problems by just having the badguys do something dumb (just as it’s too easy to create plot problems by just having the goodguys do something dumb). This feels like a real clash of intellectual titans. And the continuing shifting status patterns between Cardassians, Vorta, Founders and Jem’Hadar continue to fascinate.

With a bit of help from Worf, the Defiant punches through the enemy lines and meanwhile it’s Quark and Ziyal of all people who team up to break Kira, Rom, Jake and Leeta out of jail. When the Ferengi bartender has to slay two Jem’Hadar, he stares at the corpses, unable to process what he’s just been forced to do. It’s a tiny moment, which doesn’t slow down the action, but it’s a wonderful detail, giving us a glimpse of a powerful internal conflict brewing in – again – another character conceived simply as comic relief. But amazingly, all of their efforts are in vain as the minefield is successfully detonated, leaving only the Defiant between the Dominion fleet and Deep Space Nine. But the Defiant has Bajoran gods on its side. Gods out of a machine? Not really, this was set up 160 episodes ago.

The final scenes between Dukat, Damar and Ziyal approach grand opera for their tragic power. Not bad for a syndicated adventure series about people with rubber faces and silly clothes.

Dukat can’t understand why there are no statues of him on Bajor, after everything he did for them.

Trekaday 083: The Gift, Day of Honor, Nemesis, A Time to Stand, Revulsion, Rocks and Shoals
Trekaday 085: Year of Hell, You are Cordially Invited, Resurrection, Random Thoughts, Statistical Probabilities