VOY S06E21 Live Fast and Prosper (3.5 out of 5 stars). Not for the first time (Living Witness) we open with an ersatz version of Voyager and its crew. Delta Quadrant long con merchants passing themselves off as Starfleet’s finest is a delicious idea, and to add to the fun, the ship is falling apart (something I consistently wish there was more of). The bridge officers are more concerned with persecuting Tuvok, which is a curious response to the imminent failure of their irreplaceable life-pod. Alas Kaitlin Hopkins and Gregg Daniel, while passably amusing while impersonating Janeway and Tuvok, don’t have the kind of megawatt charisma that the parts really demand, and the shipwide failures are only a plot device to allow Voyager to track down the identity thieves, and the original scam is very thin which makes Paris and Neelix look even more useless than usual (as does their feeble attempt to scam the Doctor). The resolution, in which Voyager successfully turns the tables, is rather more enjoyable.

VOY S06E22 Muse (2 out of 5 stars). After attempts to sully Voyager’s reputation by con artists last week, in the very next episode we have the series turned into mythic theatre on an alien planet. I’ve said before that I’m impressed by Voyager’s commitment to crazy high concepts, but (rather like the message of The Incredibles) if every episode is out of the ordinary, then that becomes ordinary. The origins of this passion play turn out to be a crash-landed B’Elanna Torres who has better things to do than be muse to an itinerant playwright. Despite all the mordant misery onboard the ship, as they continue the search, there’s precious little tension since we know she’s alive and well. The script is more interested in the trivial details of the fictitious version of the story, but I couldn’t really see the point in any of this. Harry Kim is missing too, but screw that guy.

VOY S06E23 Fury (2.5 out of 5 stars). Tuvok is back to being Janeway’s bestie, and she can’t wait to play a birthday prank on him. I continue to appreciate Tim Russ’s performance and continue to despair that he’s never given anything interesting to do. But the big news is that Kes is back – emaciated and on a collision course with Voyager. The shot of her balefully stalking the corridors as the bulkheads rupture behind her is quite striking (if clearly pushing the limits of what’s possible with a TV budget in the year 2000). Having killed Torres, she (sigh) translates herself back in time to Season 1, before the Chief Engineer got her perm and while the Doctor was still trying to give himself a name – but why is Tuvok referring to the Delta Flyer? (Don’t worry, we never get a real answer to that question.)

Jennifer Lien has great fun playing vengeful monster Kes, and subtly differentiating Kes from the future and original Season 1 Kes. But running in to her again makes the Gamma Quadrant seem very small and requires us (not for the first time) to just ignore all those big jumps we took over the preceding episodes. The bigger problem is that the script never finds anything interesting to do with either evil Kes’s trip to the past or past Tuvok’s visions of the future.

VOY S06E24 Life Line (4.5 out of 5 stars). Another Barclay/Alpha Quadrant story, this time pairing him with the real-life fully human Dr Zimmerman, who is suffering from a terminal illness which even he can’t cure. Thanks to Barclay’s efforts, Voyager is now getting monthly messages from home – which don’t appear to include lists of all the people who died in the Dominion War. The Doctor’s plan is to have his program sent to the Alpha Quadrant in lieu of the replies Janeway is collecting from the crew. Once again, his code mysteriously can’t be backed up or copied (except his singing algorithms). Not for the first time then, we have a double dose of Picardo, with usually strong effects work (but in a couple of shots, the eye-lines seem off). We also get Deanna Troi back for a return visit (with a few of those Greek East End vowels creeping in due to lack of practice). A riff on ‘The Three Doctors’ or ‘Me2’ from Red Dwarf, this mirror version of opposites attract (identities repel?) is masses of fun, and even manages to find some depth of feeling in the character of Haley and Zimmerman’s assessment of the EMH’s personality flaws (and by proxy his own). Sure, this is a familiar theme – where do we find personhood? – but it’s freshened up enough to make a compelling hour of TV. Robert Picardo himself had a hand in the script.

VOY S06E25 The Haunting of Deck Twelve (3.5 out of 5 stars). The history of Star Trek is not exactly awash with strong examples of ghost stories. Catspaw, Sub Rosa and Darkling are not among my favourites, so when Paris and Kim start seeing gothic shapes in a nebula, my heart sinks a little. Powering down the ship is a stronger sequence, bringing back fonder memories of shows like One, but it’s not quite clear why they’re doing this (or why nobody thought to brief the Borgettes about it first). The rest of the episode is the explanation from Neelix to the kids, in the form of a long story about an earlier crisis – so this is essentially: what would Voyager be like if Neelix was writing it? But the framing sequence, while allowing the director to cut away from anything too expensive, lowers the stakes on the story without adding much – although it’s always a pleasure to see don’t-mess-with-me-Janeway in action. One of those screw-up ensigns from a few weeks ago is back, and it’s nice that the ship is starting to feel a little more like it has 120-odd people onboard and less like seven or eight who do all the work.

VOY S06E26 Unimatrix Zero, Part I (3.5 out of 5 stars). Borgarama! Susannah Thompson is back as the Borg Queen with another, even more elaborate, version of her iconic First Contact entrance. She is trying to eradicate a mutation within the Borg ranks and meanwhile, Seven has had her first dream while regenerating in her alcove – she didn’t like it. But her dream turns out to be somewhere called Unimatrix Zero, which unites all the mutants – and Seven is their means of connection to the real world, and the eradication of the Borg. The other inhabitants are a blandly agreeable male with a very generic bumpy forehead (who turns out to be Seven’s boyfriend), a belligerent but oddly risk-averse Klingon, and others that Seven used to know when she was a part of the Collective.

There’s a good scene here for Tuvok who’s responsible for setting up what the Doctor acidly calls a conference call, in other words a two-way mind-meld which will give Janeway access to the Unimatrix dreamscape which Seven – sorry Annika – visits when she regenerates. Cutting back to the Borg Queen helps to keep the stakes high, even more so when drones loyal to the Queen break into Borg paradise. But again Susannah Thompson doesn’t have the extra fizz and crackle which both her predecessor and successor brought to the role. Hilariously, when one of the drone invaders get the better of the hulking Klingon, Janeway herself seizes the bat’leth and sends him packing.

Janeway’s insistence on going alone to sabotage the Collective is the source of some friction, which is a welcome touch of character dynamics in a show that’s lately been doing its best episode despite those rather than because of them. Because this is late-period Voyager at its most pure – Janeway and Seven vs the Borg to the exclusion of almost all else. Ultimately, B’Elanna and Tuvok go with her, and with the Queen singling out Harry for special attention, everyone gets something, but it’s never in doubt where the spotlight is, something which is made even more clear by the final startling shot of a Borgified Janeway. This doesn’t have anything like the shock value of the end of The Best of Both Worlds, but it’s a very striking image, if undermined a little by the sense that this might have been all part of the plan, rather than a terrible failure.

Janeway’s signature move is being a complete dick to someone before giving them a gift. She did it to Tuvok in Fury, and now she’s got a surprise Lieutenant’s pip for Paris (not you, Harry Kim).

VOY S07E01 Unimatrix Zero, Part II (4 out of 5 stars).  Although it is not immediately explained how, Borg Torres and Borg Tuvok both seem to have retained their individuality and are continuing to execute the plan. Part of the problem with continuing to revisit the Borg and have characters take greater and greater risks is that the stakes inevitably collapse a little. What was once seen as irreversible life altering invasive surgery, is now shrugged off like a bad cold, and characters return from being Borgified without even needing an episode in rural France to get over it. Having Seven blunder into her bland friends’ trap weakens her character to no particular purpose, although Jeri Ryan plays the moment beautifully. The plan also requires the Borg Queen to really take her eye off the ball. Far from being present to gloat as the Voyager intruders are assimilated, she doesn’t even notice they are not in the collective until Tuvok is briefly heard and then vanishes.

Making Tuvok the weak link is unexpected but succeeds well to throwing a useful spanner in the works. A brief scene between acting Captain Chakotay and acting first office Tom Paris is nice but recalls a similar scene between Data and Worf in Gambit Part II, which hit so much harder because those characters were so much deeper. Here if you reverse their concerns, the scene works just as well which reveals how little we know about these two even after six years and nearly 150 episodes.

The big showdown between Captain and Queen is the heart of this episode and both actors are equal to the challenge. The same can’t be said for Seven’s love story. So often these plotlines are the weakest elements of Star Trek episodes and so it is here. Mark Deakins brings nothing as Axum and as good as she is, Jeri Ryan can’t create chemistry on her own.

Last week, a big deal was made of the fact that while visiting Una matrix seven never entered rem sleep. This time when she enters zero, we get a big close-up of her eye rapidly moving under her close eyelid.

Season 6 wrap-up

  • Season 6 sees the show settle into an easy groove. It knows what works – Seven, Janeway, the Doctor. It knows the kinds of stories it wants to tell – high concept cover-of-a-comic-book teasers which become procedural problem-solving adventures and end with everyone laughing and smiling. Listen, what’s wrong with that – it kind of defined The Original Series.
  • But we’re three spin-offs and thirty years out from Kirk and Spock, and that show was able to give us real pain as well as innovating fantastic concepts which would influence writers for years to come. What’s Voyager’s biggest conceptual legacy? Sexy Borg babes I suppose.
  • So it’s not that these episodes are dull, or incompetent or misconceived (I mean some are all of those things, but no more than in any other season of this franchise) it’s that the spirit of adventure has gone. There are no strange new worlds to explore.
  • Highlights include the amazing showcase for Roxann Dawson Barge of the Dead, the fun of The Voyager Conspiracy, and return visits for Zimmerman, Barclay and Troi. But we also had to suffer two separate visits to Fair Haven as well as tedious instalments like Alice, Dragon’s Teeth or Muse. Average score for Season 6 is 3.12, continuing the slow decline since the height of Season 4.
Trekaday #102: Memorial, Tsunkatse, Collective, Spirit Folk, Ashes to Ashes, Child's Play, Good Shepherd
Trekaday #104: Imperfection, Drive, Repression, Critical Care, Inside Man, Body and Soul