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Season Four:
-168/169: "Scorpion"
-170: "The Gift"
-171: "Nemesis"
-176/177: "Year of Hell"
-178: "Random Thoughts"
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Star Trek Voyager Season 4

Star Trek: Voyager
Season Four (1997-1998):

26 episodes @ 43 minutes.
Get your copy of this 7-disc DVD set from the links below:
Region 1, NTSC, U.S.
Region 1, NTSC, Canada
Region 2, PAL, U.K. (Slimline Edition)
Region 2, PAL, U.K. (regular)


(Star Trek - Voyager episode production codes 168 & 169)
written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
directed by David Livingston (part 1) & Winrich Kolbe (part 2)
music by Jay Chattaway

In a reversal of her attitude towards the Kazon evident in "Caretaker" and "Alliances", Janeway decides to doggedly pursue a win-win scenario and play "let's make a deal" with the Borg. Chakotay has also reversed his position from those stories - now he is the one who is quick to jump to the no-deal option, perhaps with good reason. And the two of them appear deadlocked on the issue. Interesting.

This is one of Voyager's outstanding stories, with both Janeway and Chakotay emerging with nice strengthening of character. Kes gets lots of focus and some good things to do, the Doctor is very busy, effective, and entertaining, and we introduce a tenth regular to the show. We get lots of action, and events that develop the series, with more to look forward to in the episodes immediately following. All very, very good.

And I have to say, I think the conclusion to this story is better plotted and thought out than any of TNG's Borg stories so far, including the feature film "First Contact". Philosophically, maybe it's not quite as strong, but the action and drama use good devices and structure. Another plus.

I really do think Janeway shows here that she's taken the debates of "Alliances" to heart, particularly with respect to crew morale, and that she's growing because of it. But is she moving more towards balance or further away from it? There are a number of angles from which to look at this question, each of which gives a very different answer.

Of course, this story is at its strongest philosophically when examining whether Janeway and Chakotay's individual opinions should oppose each other or co-operate, leading to the brilliance of the ending.

But Janeway's bargaining stance seems to go against the grain of the Prime Directive at the high level of the internal affairs of major space-faring empires. She is also dabbling with the long-term danger of further arming the Federation's most deadly enemies. Is it really worth it in the end?

I would have to say yes in the sense that we are here exploring a Federation-Borg relationship that goes beyond one-dimensional antagonism, which is in line with the principles upon which Roddenberry built the Star Trek franchise, and frankly leads to more interesting, dramatic stories as well.

The caveat is that this co-operation is based on a weapon, and one which is directed against a new empire, known only as Species 8472. The caveat's strength grows significantly when we learn that it was the Borg who first invaded this species' home territory in "fluidic space". Species 8472 is well within its own rights to resist such an invasion anyway it can, and terminate all Borg forces who persist on entering their territory. Janeway appears to have crossed a bad line when she deploys her weapon of mass destruction in fluidic space as a Borg ally, whereas I would not be as hard on her had she deployed it in Delta Quadrant Borg territory, where it would be an acceptable defence maneuver. I think Voyager is earning its reputation as a "Ship of Death" here.

But this story really does go well out of its way to paint Species 8472 as a race with no conscience or compassion, one that would continue after wiping out the Borg to destroy our entire galaxy. This is an important factor keeping the audience on side with Janeway as the story progresses. But is it just propaganda by Braga and Menosky? What evidence do we get here?

Well, there is the whole horrible thing happening to Harry, for one. It's serious for sure, but could understandably just be a defence mechanism on the part of our new creatures. Secondly, there is what the Borg can tell us about this species, which is very little, since being unable to assimilate any of its members, they don't learn much about them. We should also note that this species itself maintains much of its terror-factor because it doesn't speak, and as a computer-generated creation, doesn't have actors' eyes emoting any intentions either. This does help in keeping us uneasy about them, able to see what they do, but not what they intend.

Our biggest source of information about the scope of these creatures' intentions actually all comes from Kes. I very much like that she has all of these new abilities, and apparently a new role seated at the Captain's ear on the bridge somewhat akin to Councillor Troi, yet being different enough from Troi in terms of what she can do and what information she has to offer. Kes is so often ignored in action stories that it is very good to see her get so much good material so close to the end of her tenure.

But can we trust the accuracy of this new information, coming from psychic impressions and little else? The stakes seem a bit too large to use that to justify an all out war. Will Kes's impressions turn out to be accurate as the series continues and we presumably learn more about these new creatures?

I'm a bit upset about the opening credits giving the character game away too soon, and not sure if actors' contracts or union policies had any say in it. Personally I think it would have worked better to let Jennifer Lien take her normal title sequence credit for two more episodes, and let Jeri Ryan get credited as a guest star - the way "Sliders" always managed opening credits each time new characters were added to the show. The way they did it here on Voyager lets the audience guess what's coming far too easily.

Jeri Ryan successfully plays a deadly automaton in this adventure, and is suitably adversarial when required. It remains unclear from this adventure alone, however, what kind of role she will play as a regular from now on, or what her character will be like.

I do like the inclusion of John Rhys-Davies in the first episode, making his Voyager debut as Leonardo Da Vinci, having recently been let go from his landmark role on Sliders. He is excellent as always, although the opening scenes with him leave this story feeling as unfocused in the beginning as "Unity" was earlier in season three... and in the end I think I might just prefer "Unity" as my season three favourite, as it beats "Scorpion" by a hair, albeit a philosophically significant one.

Well, even with a few minor nits, "Scorpion" definitely comes away as a big winner for both seasons three and four, which it nicely bridges. It's a good story in itself, but one that also gives us significant events and developments on both societal and personal scales, and makes us hungry for continuing chapters. Two thumbs way up!

The Gift

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 170)
written by Joe Menosky
directed by Anson Williams
music by Dennis McCarthy

In many ways this is the best story Kes ever had on this show. Too bad she couldn't have enjoyed all the development she gets in this one, and then stayed with the show for the rest of its years.

And development is one of the key factors making this story a huge success. It has two main threads, one for Kes, and one for newly acquired Seven-of-Nine, and we know there will be no reset-button pushed for either of these characters, which keeps us invested in each turn of events and on the edge of our seats. This is how things should be done.

Kes's thread is the one that interested me most. Specifically, we dive into an exploration of mental abilities which once again mesh with my New Age beliefs, and for me this is the most fascinating frontier that Voyager could explore. We got a taste of this in the season two episode "Cold Fire", but the presentation of it here is a little better, no longer tainted with suspect motivation. The fact that Kes is perfectly primed to explore this arena makes me want her to stay on the show even more. It's a true shame that the writers didn't see the potential there, but at least Joe Menosky does a good job in this episode of showing what Kes best brings to the world of television sci-fi.

Of course, Seven-of-Nine absolutely demands more development in this episode, because there's no way she can function in the crew without it. Most of what we get in her material is also highly interesting and important stuff, perhaps most closely paralleling the TNG episode "I, Borg". Some really interesting debates spring out of these sections, and are nicely handled by the cast, although in the end "I, Borg" is a much more powerful example of squeezing drama out of these specific ideas. I think "The Gift" had one too many arguments between Janeway and Seven, going over the same material without advancing it, and perhaps this was screentime that might better have been spent on Kes's thread.

But perhaps we really should question why Seven was given an attitude to maintain all through this episode that was arguing for something so obviously opposite to what the producers were going to do to her character. Hugh in "I, Borg" was open to exploring many possibilities, and it made for a more sympathetic drama. Here, Seven is very firm about having a closed mind on the subject, and frankly, I think she is more skilled and eloquent at debating the issue with Janeway, effectively winning the argument.

Janeway's clumsy response effectively boils down to: "I'm yo' mama now, young lady, and I'll make your decisions until you're old enough to know better!" Yeah, not so great, or convincing. Too bad these two don't more readily acknowledge the somewhat inexplicable wild card here.... Seven's immune system is effectively the factor that is really making the decision for her, and it is most bizarre to be doing so in such sharp contradiction to her conscious mind. Perhaps Seven's subconscious link between the two is merely emotionally charged upon the concept of "rebellion", while conscious mind and immune system both find completely opposite things to rebel against. Still, if Janeway wants to make a good argument, better to focus on how Seven herself is divided, rather than going the "parental" control-freak route.

Thankfully, there's a very pronounced contrast with how she deals with Kes's requests to leave the ship. She hates to see this departure as well, but puts up no force, only love. Kate Mulgrew and Jennifer Lien probably didn't have to act in their very moving good-bye scene, just let their genuine sorrow out, and it creates one of the most emotionally gripping moments on Voyager ever.

Neelix also gets a final scene with Kes in this story, which was a well-deserved cap off to the long relationship they had enjoyed earlier in the show. Good.

What was missing, and perhaps upstaged by the bizarre urgency of Kes's launch, was a chance for the rest of the crew to say their goodbyes. Both the Doctor and Tom Paris deserved some final words for her, perhaps in a group scene as all the main cast watched the shuttle launch (a good replacement for Seven's duplicated arguments).

The final surprise is "The Gift" itself, a nice jump forward of about 9500 light years. I had forgotten about that. Are they really out of Borg space here? Perhaps only temporarily.

Before I sign off on this one, perhaps just a few words on the producers' decisions that prompted the cast changes over the last two stories. Firstly, I have no problem with the concept of adding a new Borg character to the roster of regulars on this show. I think the number of story possibilities that this brought to the show, adding to the fact that the writers actually capitalized on these possibilities better than they had with so many of their previous ideas, made the concept a very worthwhile winner. It's a bit convenient that they happened to have a Human-Borg on the very cube that Voyager happened to approach for negotiation, but whatever.

But I do take issue with their decision to lose one of the current regulars. Ideally, I would have loved to see all of the regulars remain on board. If that really wasn't possible for budgetary reasons, and one of them had to go, it would never have been Kes on my watch. All the problems and dead-end corners they perceived they had written themselves into would be child's play to get out of for a skilled sci-fi writer. Tackle the 9-year "limit" to Ocampan life-span first, which "Cold Fire" had actually already made progress on, and most of the rest will easily fall into place. Personally, I would sooner lose Neelix, or the considerably duller characters of Harry, or Tuvok, or Chakotay, if it had to come down to losing anyone at all. (Although Chakotay had nicely redeemed his usefulness and interest in the last story "Scorpion".)

Part of what the producers thought they were accomplishing was making the show "sexier" by adding Ms. Borg babe. Meh. From my perspective Jennifer Lien was the sexiest of all ten regular castmembers the show ever had, and I've seen studies that would indicate that a large demographic of men have similar tastes. For us, Voyager got considerably less sexy with this move.

Though there are definitely many good Voyager stories coming up, particularly in this season, perhaps this is an appropriate time for us all to take a moment to mourn for how much better this show could have been, and enjoy the excellence of one of Voyager's great highpoints here.


(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 171)
written by Kenneth Biller

I can't remember when last I've had such a visceral dislike for an episode. I could barely sit still to tolerate this fiasco. At least the infamous "Threshold" had an interesting hook to it, and was good for a few laughs. "Nemesis" on the other hand could not begin to engage my interest, and it was a great struggle for me to not fast-forward to the next episode.

This piece of crap really should not be anywhere near where it is in the running order. All the other episodes around this time develop interesting on-going events surrounding the characters' lives and goals and attitudes, from "Scorpion 1 & 2", to "The Gift", to "Day of Honor", to "Revulsion", to "The Raven", episodes which together represent one of Voyager's really good streaks. "Nemesis" sticks out like a sore thumb amongst these, regardless of whether you believe it should go before or after "Day of Honor". The episode ignores Seven, who does not appear, ignores the Paris-Torres development, which appears to magically not exist in their scene(s) together, and treats Neelix as though the episode belongs to a time before the mid-season 3 story "Fair Trade", as though this is still a part of space he was familiar with, such that he would be up to date on the last 10 years of history on today's planet. What the hell?

We also MUST note the sheer stupidity at work initiating Chakotay's situation. The Prime Directive should keep Voyager far from any contact with this planet, particularly if they're in a hurry to speed home. So why is he in a shuttle conducting a survey mission? What the hell do they need a survey for? If they detect omicron radiation, whatever that is, it's probably just the locals nuking each other. Stay out. I'll buy that they gave Kes a shuttle two episodes ago.... technically they're not losing it if their now unseen regular crewmember is still flying around in it. I'll allow that Paris and Torres lost one in the last episode as it really added impact to the believable steady worsening of Torres' day and the situation for the crew. But to waste yet another shuttle on THIS crap? It just overdoes one of Voyager's worst clichés.

I will say that I think this episode has a worthy Trekkian/Roddenberry point to it, but that point doesn't really begin to reveal itself until half-way through the final act, when we've only got about 2 or 3 minutes left in the show. More importantly, if this point is going to have impact, the audience really needs to get invested in Chakotay's situation as he does... and this is the massive failure of the episode. Chakotay's presence here in the first place rests on idiot clichés, ignores Voyager's go-home premise, grates against Roddenberry ideals, and puts all the other story arcs we WERE invested in on hold. The characters surrounding Chakotay are strangely-talking cut-and-paste soldier stereotypes and village stereotypes that bore me to death. When the exploration of the human-condition regresses to victims and war-time soldiers examining their navels and justifying their passive-aggressive syndrome, humanity is slipping backwards and stalling instead of bettering itself. Characters fall too far behind the audience. I could spot the propaganda-like nature of this one a mile away. The only surprise was that it wasn't just Biller who was fabricating it - his characters were actively doing so as well. Big deal.

So by the time the worthwhile bits come at the end, it's too little too late, and I still can't care. The Doc's got some nice comments about the hypothalamus though. The music was much better than average on this episode. The alien design had some merit, from make-up (although a bit too similar to the Nausicans in long-shot) to vocal reverb. But a lot of the logic still doesn't seem to add up. Are there any aliens on this planet who actually look human, or was that all an illusion? Why would the simulation need to make Tuvok look like an ugly alien if the pseudo-Nausican was what these people actually look like? Does it really make sense that Tuvok and the aliens have reverb on their voices when they do, and that they lose the reverb when they do? This episode just doesn't add up to its own internal logic, never mind how it needlessly interrupted the logic of the surrounding episodes.

In the end, I'd have to give this episode a grade of F minus. It needs a total reworking of structure, focusing less on stunt-revelations and more on logical character motivation. As the episode stands, I'd rather watch "Threshold" any day. At least "Threshold" didn't drive me up the wall with boredom and frustration.

Year of Hell

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production codes 176 & 177)
written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
directed by Allan Kroeker (part 1) & Mike Vejar (part 2)
music by Dennis McCarthy

Special Effects are truly a double-edged sword in this tale. Although they look spectacular and add much excitement to the drama, this story is perhaps the worst offender in the entire Star Trek canon for using magical effects to reinforce its daft view of temporal mechanics. Though this story does reap many problems that its limited view of time did sow, the drama itself is not without some healthy redeeming qualities, making the story more difficult to judge than it at first appears.

First of all, three cheers for the casting of Kurtwood Smith as our chief antagonist Annorax in this tale. He pulls off a nice range of ruthlessness, brilliance, and pathos, all bundled up under tightly mannered control. Perfect.... but perhaps dangerous when he is so convincingly explaining what he thinks is an understanding of time greater than what most other people can imagine. This appears to be a moment when Annorax is actually just channeling writer Brannon Braga, and through the character, Braga is putting his own views onto the screen. It's actually not a bad discussion of how elements of cause in the past create events and situations in the future... but it really is all about cause and effect, which gets mislabeled here as "time". Personally, I'm inclined to believe that Braga, and with him most Star Trek stories up until
2009's film, were quite far behind the leading edge in their understanding of time. Thankfully, Annorax's wisdom is openly questioned by Paris and most of his own crew, balancing his dominant viewpoint somewhat, but not quite as far or as charismatically as I would have hoped.

Of course, on-screen events (and associated special effects) always have the ultimate convincing power over the views of any of the characters, should they clearly be at odds. As presented, the events and explanations from the characters seem to want to team up and say that we're operating under ye olde single-line-of-time model, and rewriting history by changing things. Trekkers must be so accustomed to it by now that they don't even stop to think about it. Of course, one of the primary purposes of these articles is to stop and think about it.

The more elegant model of time that we prefer is one that Brannon Braga almost got right back in TNG's seventh season story "Parallels", where each conceivable permutation of cause and effect had its own alternate universe in which to co-exist with every other conceivable permutation. Additionally, thinking of these as "parallel universes" isn't quite the best phrase for it, since we want to acknowledge these universes are all branching off of each other at each decision point. Theoretically, any instance of a timeline "changing" in Star Trek (as the old model would have us see it) might be better described as a shift or slide from one branching universe to another.

What we get here in "Year of Hell" is a bit more of a temporal magic wand than usual. We don't actually get any time travel in this story, until the writers slip up during the coda. As near as we can figure, Annorax has created a ship that can fire a beam that makes things vanish retroactively.... from the dialogue perhaps as far back as the big bang, or whenever such things first became what they are in present time. No, it doesn't quite make sense, which is partly my point. Annorax and his ship and crew never actually visit any previous time-periods, and never directly influence anyone in the past to make any conscious decision differently, so our usual criteria for looking at this might not quite be enough. On one hand, you have to wonder if Annorax is essentially playing a game of Jenga with history, where he can take elements out and remove them from the playing field, but never put anything back in.... in which case the inevitable outcome will be that one of these alterations collapses the entire cosmological structure of whatever universe he is in. Alternatively, is this weapon somehow transporting these elements to some other place, such that they can all snap back at the end?

Of course, the most elegant way of realizing the story's main idea and thematic point dramatically is for Annorax and crew to think that they're wiping some element of history off the map and changing time, while in actual fact their ship is simply sliding over to an alternate universe where that element never existed - not randomly as we have seen on "Sliders" and so many individual episodes of other shows, but with a degree of precision that the weapon's beam can somehow target. And if Voyager and other ships can match the correct temporal shield frequency, they get to go along for the slide. If only the script and the special effects had proceeded along those lines, the entire story could have achieved its aims with much more grace and style.

And I am very sympathetic with one of the story's biggest aims, which remains successful nonetheless. Annorax's plans and theories are based around manipulating everything in the cosmos other than himself. He is so eloquent at advocating for this externalized theory of how things work that he does manage to convince Chakotay into a similar view.... which doesn't make Chakotay look all that wise or principled by the way. The whole "Captain Bligh" angle nicely emphasizes the degree to which this is all going wrong for him. But the greatest key to Annorax getting what he wants most is proven to be a complete letting go of this obsessive device of manipulation, and to allow himself to change instead. Brilliant and super! I think it could have been done better under my favourite temporal model rather than the usual Braga/Trek model, but it comes through nonetheless.

Sadly the visual effects really emphasize the old model. Perhaps the worst offender is the expanding temporal wave effect that gradually replaces one idea of history with another, confusing the theory that the change took place in the past along with altered past events, which never have a chance to happen when the "change" occurs "now". As a concept, "sliding" between two co-existing versions of time works much better while emphasizing the concept that it's the experiencer who has changed, not the entire universe around him, which is the thematic dramatic point of this whole exercise, is it not?

The unfortunate downside of this story occurs during the bulk of screentime given to Voyager and her crew ...not that it isn't interesting to see how they deal with most of their ship's systems falling apart around them for extended periods of time, but with all the dialogue about temporal mechanics, added to most fans' remembrances of how past stories about time have gone, and the unrecoverable nature of Voyager's state of repair, how can we not expect a magic reset button to be pushed, courtesy of temporal magic? I don't know about you, but looming reset-buttons usually encourage me to become detached from investing in the details of the characters' situations. Do I care if Deck 5 is destroyed, if I can fully expect magic to restore everything at the end of the tale? Do I care if Tuvok is blinded, or if Janeway is horribly scarred? Not so much.

Mind you, Voyager's side of the tale starts off great, unveiling both the brand new astrometrics lab and Janeway's much more practical hairstyle, although I found the Doctor's initial antics much less entertaining than usual. Best of all, we get our first real look at Voyager's projected journey on a map of the entire galaxy, where it is making a fairly large detour around the dense star material in the galactic center. Hmmm. Now if only they would plot both ends of DS9's wormhole there, such that this journey still holds up as the shortest route, all would be peachy. At any rate, this opening sequence remains the one I'd most want to take with me as "having actually happened". It's too bad that the rest of this adventure isn't added to the experiences of Voyager and her crew as they continue afterwards.

The moment of disengagement happens as Voyager is "hit" by the first "temporal shockwave". Annorax's ship slides to another co-existing universe, taking the episode's cameras with it while they show us contrasting versions of Voyager's bridge. So the crewmembers whose adventures I was invested in are no longer being shown, and suddenly I'm looking at their doubles. We do settle down with these doubles and stick with them throughout the rest of the story, as they devise shields that allow them to slide along with Annorax up until the climax of the tale, which is something. But I think I would have been more invested if they hadn't suffered that first switch.

The crew's scenes are not always that great either. Sometimes there's some poignant material about surviving against the odds, sometimes it's just technical padding, sometimes bad drama. I was particularly disengaged when the Doctor tried to relieve Janeway from her command of, what, seven officers? Despite the good reasons she uses as a rebuttal, I've got an even better one. Does the Doc really believe that Harry and Neelix and B'Elanna are going to stop turning to Janeway looking for help and advice and, frankly, leadership? Tuvok is the only real command-calibre character left, and he is a bit too incapacitated.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Janeway and most of the crew have very limited interaction with Annorax, which is where the real core of this particular story is. Only Paris and Chakotay get to exchange real ideas and dialogue with him, and only in the second half. Though Voyager's survival repairs have some worth, it's the kind of thing that could (and does) take place in any story, and is deserving of a longer arc. Their sole occupation with this thread through most of their screentime becomes a bit tiresome before it is all over.

Interesting is the fact that we now have Seven of Nine discovering the Krenim missile embedded in the Jefferies tube instead of Kes, in a scene partially repeated from "Before and After". You'd think an event as unique as a missile embedding itself in an enemy ship without going off would be too unique to be repeated verbatim in an alternate history. At least the tearing on the end looks different this time. But it still works at the same frequency. So what did happen to that report on the Krenim that Kes wrote out for Voyager's crew? Did it help prevent our Voyager from being affected by the little Krenim ship's missiles? Did this alternate crew not get a report from their Kes? Adding "Year of Hell" together with "Before and After" sure creates a confusing tangle of alternate histories, one that is more difficult to keep track of than is worthwhile.

Another bizarre bit in this story is the whittling down of Voyager's crew. First, the bulk of them during the cliffhanger. If they had a safe planet to land on, that would be fine. But it seems ridiculous for Janeway to set them off in deep space, and expect them to be cruising around in those pods at speed and with purpose, off having adventures. Practically, they'd be lucky to not run out of oxygen and every other essential and die without ever encountering another soul, including each other. But we don't really need to worry about recovering from that blunder, since we have a temporal reset button to push.

And Chakotay's earlier argument for this option makes him look silly. Sure, an executive officer should point out various options to his captain. But he can still play Devil's Advocate in a detached manner if he doesn't believe in a particular option that he highlights. Chakotay doesn't believe in abandoning ship, but argues for it passionately just the same. Add this to his siding with a villain's take on temporal mechanics, and he really isn't looking good today.... or perhaps I should say in this adventure's "year".

Even more strikingly odd is Janeway's choice to send her last bridge officers to other ships just before going into battle. Surely B'Elanna and Harry need to do their thing installing shields on the other ships BEFORE battle, after which they can come back? And surely a battle requires at least one person piloting Voyager while another fires the weapons? A three person bridge crew seems like the minimum on Voyager for putting up a decent fight. Unless Janeway plans to sacrifice herself from the outset, in which case she should either tell the truth (which would probably still inspire volunteers to fight alongside her) or come up with some lies that are more convincing. For the audience, this part feels weird.

Well, the end of the story is an energetic climax, with spectacular optical effects. Dramatically, it works.

I take issue with the coda scenes though. All's well that ends well on board Voyager, with everything back to normal, just as you'd expect from the reset button. But.... why have we now gone back in time for the first time in the story? Why not just slide over to yet another alternate present? I'm going to cite this as an example of the writers acting on bad habit instead of thinking things through either properly or creatively. The dialogue is nearly a repeat of the opening sequence, only without the cool new Astrometrics room. Janeway decides to avoid Krenim space this time... but what really changed her mind? Why do we need her progress to take place retroactively, where it turns the bulk of this story into an "Adventure That Never Happened"? For that matter, why is Star Trek committed to advancing its numerous TV series only 1 year in storytime for every 1 year of broadcast time? Why not advance 1 year in two episodes and stay there? (That said, this story probably didn't need to continue for a year in storytime to deliver the scenes of devastation that we got. Three or four months could be equally real and drawn out, while fitting into the usual story/broadcast harmony easily.) What the story really needed more was to make me feel like this adventure actually mattered to Voyager's crew and their entire journey.... which it ultimately did not. This is where it will lose major marks.

The coda also gives us a nice scene with Annorax and his wife. This scene is single-handedly responsible for proving the point that his letting go and allowing himself to be changed is what gave him what he wanted most and couldn't find any other way, so it has to be here. But perhaps it requires improvement also. Did time reverse here as well? Is this one year in the past, as with Voyager's coda scene? Or is it 200 years ago or so, before Annorax finished building his machine? It's impossible to tell from just the look of these aliens, since they don't appear to show any signs of age. But I think it is a real shame if it is 200 years prior to the rest of the adventure, as it doesn't really allow Annorax to learn and grow from his experiences. He looks as though he's still ignorant of the poignant message that he's managed to impart to the audience, and that he will come back tomorrow, work on the weapon again, and start the whole thing over again. This would be so much more successful in the present time, with him sliding in, memories intact, experiences actually having happened. Braga buggered up "Parallels" with exactly the same needless complication. I scratch my head, unable to remember if he ever learned during his time on Trek.

Well, this story was almost a total temporal write-off, but not quite. A lot of scenes still work wonderfully, the cause and effect tapestry is a worthy concept to explore (which this story does), and the lasting message is worthy and comes through to the audience with some power. Not bad. It's just too bad it was so clumsy in many of its choices, most memorable of which are all the glorious effects that further stamped a very limited model of temporal mechanics into Trek lore, and may make it harder for the die-hard fan to look beyond to more elegant solutions.

Random Thoughts

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 178)
written by Kenneth Biller

"Stray Thoughts" might actually be a more appropriate title for what this episode brings up.

In this episode, a Voyager crewmember faces extradition and legal punishment on a non-aligned planet in pretty much the exact same fashion as was seen in the awful first season TNG episode "Justice". This episode is better in so many ways, not least of which is that all the moral and legal arguments make their own case clearly, instead of hiding behind misuse of the "Prime Directive" label. In fact, the Prime Directive is not mentioned today, and if the Federation condones this kind of extradition procedure without better protection for its citizens, it probably does so with a completely different law.

"Random Thoughts" is on much more interesting and sensible ground with the local legal focus on today's planet than it was back in "Justice", such that you CAN actually believe that it might be worthy of respect by Federation explorers. There are a few caveats here today though, not least of all that the planet has many of the cliché "wet" attributes of planetary societies in Star Trek - it is represented by one semi-urban village, with only one chief police investigator acting as the de facto spokesperson of authority for the entire society. It would actually work through the various permutations we see in the various scenes if only the episode hadn't begun with her making grand dystopian claims about what the entire planet has collectively achieved... which brings into question their capacity to receive visitors from other civilizations. I'm glad that we get apologetic bits from her as well, painting this society's struggles as a "work in progress", with some worthy comparisons to Vulcan society.

In amongst the worthy explorations of the precursors of actions in thoughts, the story seems to miss something which I believe is quite important, particularly as it focuses on criminal investigators like Tuvok and his alien counterpart played by ex-Klingon Duras sister Gwynyth Walsh. In fact, we're back to the old Heisenberg principle of the observer tainting the results by influencing what she is observing. Suppose B'Elanna was completely innocent when she went in to have her mind scanned in the first place. Walsh's character then presses her with questions filled with very specific imagery of violence, and these come with a certain intense amount of emotional charge as well. How could B'Elanna not start having such thoughts now, even if she hadn't had them back in the marketplace? It's like asking her to not think of the pink elephant. Particularly when the laws and the investigation are all about following the chain of thought, this seems to be a rather serious thing that these telepaths are not aware of. Basically, the investigator herself broke her own law in that scene, and it was very hard to take this society seriously afterwards. Thankfully, the story isn't a complete loss as it proceeds, thanks to the Voyager crew finding several ways of poking other holes in their logic, coupled with Walsh's many admissions of imperfection in their system. Her society just doesn't suffer the same ridiculously rigid inability to grow and adapt as we saw with the Edo in "Justice".

Exploration vs. Running Home

Something else that deserves mention would be Seven's two scenes, which feel tacked on in a way because they're really all about their own separate subject matter. In many ways, Seven is voicing the frustration of many fans of the show in that Voyager doesn't seem too serious about running home safely, and is courting danger and conflict with the various explorations it engages in. Frankly, her argument about how Voyager's attempts at contact usually "end in conflict" seems a bit hypocritical, since the Borg's attempts at contact usually begin with conflict. Neelix's rebuttal about exploration is exuberantly inspiring, so much so that it actually became one of the Canadian "Space" channel's favourite clips to use to promote Star Trek and introduce interviews of the actors on the subject.

Specifically though, whenever it comes down to a choice between Trekkian exploration or the Voyager run-home arc, I have to say that exploration MUST ultimately rule, as I would hold it up as the basic premise of the entire science fiction genre, and an obvious easy source of the interesting drama that writers need to create episodes that hold an audience. By comparison, the idea of running straight home is limited in what it can produce. Running home can work as a story-arc, but should be only part of the larger whole, not the premise of the series. What Seven highlights here is the fact that one story arc of limited interest is dragging on to consume the whole of the Voyager TV series, masquerading as the show's "premise". Perhaps the writers never truly figured out how messed up that was. People who would have been invested in that arc were tuning out of the show, believing that, in true "Gilligan's Island" fashion, it was becoming a goal that would never be realized. Indeed, Voyager became much more interesting to me in re-runs, after the completion of that goal had been solidly plotted, and I knew that the journey did turn out to be worthwhile after all.

The Hirogen Arc

Message in a Bottle

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 181)
story by Rick Williams
teleplay by Lisa Klink

This represents one of the more interesting stretches of Voyager's fourth season, basing a series of episodes around a fascinating new communication technology and a new species who claim it. The first episode in this arc "Message in a Bottle" is ultimately the most satisfying and rewarding, with a good plot that puts the Doctor front and center and delivers a lot of humour.


(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 183)
written by Jeri Taylor

The second episode, "Hunters", looks poised to top the first as it digs into deeper ramifications and has a lot of really good long-term developmental moments and strengths, but the ending gets a bit too techy, falling just behind the first episode in strength. Tiny Ron gets a more important role in these two shows than in his regular DS9 role as the Nagus's silent bodyguard - bizarrely his billing is saved for the end instead of the opening credits where it deserved to be.


(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 184)
written by Brannon Braga

The fortunes of the Hirogen arc take their real nose dive about 2/3 of the way through the third episode "Prey". As with "Hunters", the opening sections make it look as though it's going to be the best episode yet of this arc. Tony Todd gives an excellent performance as today's main alien guest star, and the plot escalates very nicely, roping in several long-term threads and developments. Indeed, my lasting memory of Species 8472 seems to have come more from "Prey" than from the much higher-profile story "Scorpion".

Where "Prey" falls down is in the interaction between Janeway and Seven, which gradually takes over this episode and proves to be a great disappointment. In many ways, I have to feel sorry for Janeway. Circumstance and time pressure come at her from many angles, forcing her to make less than ideal choices in order to ensure the survival of her ship and crew. Those choices have led to poor relationships with the Hirogen, with Species 8472, and with Seven and/or the Borg, depending on where Seven sees herself coming from at any particular moment. In particular here, Janeway comes to an agreement with Todd's Hirogen character to let him help her hunt down the 8472 character, and then when the chance presents itself to follow a more ideal avenue for contact and relations with 8472, she reneges on the Hirogen deal.

Now these remain good issues for any Captain to work through in a Star Trek episode. One of the great keys to realizing Roddenberry's vision for the future is not, as he often put it himself, to pretend that these issues will not exist in the future. The real key is for the idealistic future human characters to OWN their own issues, instead of blaming them on others. When we see Kirk or Picard or Sisko struggling with a decision, weighing it openly in front of his most trusted right-hand officers, asking for their input and considering their perspectives, this future vision is alive, we get good drama, and the thematic point of an episode is often best expressed and driven home in such a scene. It does require the luxury of a certain amount of time, but is time very well spent. Janeway is equally as capable of this when the writers remember to do it.

"Prey" sadly reduces this dynamic to something much more banal. Janeway never really owns up to her own issue of reneging on an agreement, particularly one where the survival of her ship was at stake, or whether she indeed should have made that bargain in the first place or held out for the more idealistic approach she later tries to switch to. Instead, we get scenes of her throwing a lot of blame on the sole voice of dissent amongst her crew. Blah. Her exchanges with Seven have all the mannerisms of a controlling parent arguing with a rebellious teenager, and in the midst of this, the complex difficulties of Janeway's decisions are completely lost and buried under far less interesting, less enlightened dynamics. Are Seven's tactics more sound? It's hard to feel like it when she delivers the argument, post-action, hurled at Janeway's back like a teen trying to get the last word in. Instead we're distracted by discussions of individuality vs. the collective good. The chain of command comes up as another alternate issue, one which has really been a convenient anachronistic crutch for Star Trek, allowing writers to bypass a real exploration of how people would be motivated day-to-day in bettering themselves and co-operating with their fellow citizens and shipmates. I was very disappointed with the snippy dramatic hole that this previously fascinating episode had dug itself into by the end.


(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 185)
story by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman
teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Lisa Klink

The fourth episode, "Retrospect", is easily the worst of the six in this arc, as it basically ignores the Hirogen altogether, focuses on the dysfunction between Janeway and Seven, and fuels it with all kinds of victimhood, accusation, and passive-aggressive tactics. Plus it ropes the Doctor into all of this in ways that make me suddenly not like my favourite Voyager character anymore. Ick.

The biggest miscalculation here may have been that the enlightened Trek audience would get invested in seeking justice for what happened to Seven. As I watched, the untrustworthy nature of her story came immediately to mind. The fleeting internal images that bother her so much are never consistent - always happening in a different room with different technology operated by different people, making Seven's account quite suspect itself.

And the episode seems to want to flaunt what I assume to be one of writer Lisa Klink's hang-ups - that reliving and going over "victimhood" experiences, processing it, getting angry, etc. is all on the path to good things. In actual fact, this is the path to getting stuck and recreating the crap all over again. Thankfully, the episode is full and rounded enough to prove this point in the end, but meanwhile, I was not invested in the journey in the slightest, and quite put off and emotionally detached from the regular protagonists. It's not exactly a convincing trick question that the audience is asked to buy into here. The regular characters' being in the wrong was way too obvious for me to tolerate.

The Killing Game

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production codes 186 & 187)
written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky

The fifth and sixth episodes in this Hirogen arc form a two-parter called "The Killing Game". This has a lot of production value, and stunts like putting Janeway in full Klingon make-up for an opening physical battle scene, but ultimately this one is hard to invest in as well. We see the regular actors, but most of the time not the characters we enjoy. Plus, everything we look at is a simulation instead of reality, lessening our investment. It's hard to follow this one to figure out what really is at stake here. Our good guys operate a secret French underground in WWII, but since the enemy Hirogen officers set this whole simulation up, surely they know all about the secret underground already, and nothing that those characters do can possibly matter, can it? If they "die", no problem, they'll just go to sickbay and have a medical reset-button pushed, won't they? World War II shows have also been overdone in movies and TV, and on a show like Star Trek that is usually so adept at couching today's issues in the politics of unknown alien species, where the audience can get a more detached cool-headed perspective on them, it seems to be taking a step backwards by going for the common Hollywood take on Nazis. Things do seem to escalate well for the second half, but the actual resolution doesn't feel very definitive, or true to the characters and situation, nor is it a believable tying off of the Hirogen arc, which seemed to wander further and further off the point as it continued.

Well, there's certainly enough action and excitement to keep this story interesting, but it remains so unpolished that it isn't all that great.

Ultimately, the first two episodes of this six-episode arc are the best of the bunch, while the third episode "Prey" still has a lot to recommend it in its earlier sections.

The Omega Directive

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 189)
story by Jimmy Diggs & Steve J. Kay
teleplay by Lisa Klink

This episode harkens back to a type of story that was previously easy to do on The Original Series or on The Next Generation, but which the all-consuming lost-far-away-and-running-home arc of the Voyager series had made virtually impossible. The central idea is a good science fiction concept, which gets explored from a number of angles. Initially, it is all enveloped in a bit of cloak-and-dagger secrecy - this helps intrigue the audience, while due time is given to question this approach, and Janeway eventually chooses a more honest one, even if it is only an improvement by a slight degree.

I think we should also note here how the episode showcases the relationship between Janeway and Seven, and has it looking far more interesting and worthwhile than was managed in many previous episodes, particularly those in the Hirogen arc. In part, it almost seems like it isn't paying attention to previous episodes, with Seven telling Chakotay she's never asked for anything before. (No, she usually just took whatever she wanted without asking, unless some specific lesson in manners was on display.) But perhaps ignoring her previous teen-rebellion tantrums isn't such a bad thing after all; they usually weren't very good. What we get here in this episode is several magnitudes more interesting and definitive about Seven's background beliefs. Excellent.

As the plot thickens, today's adventure eventually involves a pre-warp civilization, although it seems barely pre-warp, and probably with warp-developments artificially hampered by the alternate direction their science has decided to experiment in. Tuvok becomes quite worried at one point that Voyager may be in violation of the Prime Directive. Interesting is how Janeway quickly squashes the discussion by saying that the Omega Directive trumps it. Symbolically, the "last" is more important than the "first", and a secret directive is allowed to override one that is very public and often debated heatedly. Curious. Personally, I don't think the Prime Directive is going to hold up as a reason for having no contact with this planet, since the criterion of having Warp Drive is only meant to indicate whether or not the population is coming out to meet and interact with the rest of galactic society. The alternate dangerous technology they have developed is another way of interacting with a good portion of galactic society, and external lifeforms like those on Voyager are within their rights to have their say. We could also debate whether or not such contact should be an open discussion with government officials or the kind of covert tactical operation Voyager engages in, but I think both time pressure and the seriousness of the danger are also on Voyager's side. The only hole here might be in the accuracy of what Voyager believes is at stake, but since we see the whole thing from their point of view, and Starfleet knowledge is corroborated by Borg experiments, I think we can trust what we learn about Omega here, and thoroughly go with this interesting twist on the Prime Directive and interplanetary relations.

There do seem to be a few sore spots surrounding the action resolving today's challenges. Given all the hype about how dangerously unstable this substance is, how is it that "beaming it up" doesn't set it off? How is it that hitting it with a special missile won't set it off? If this society really has figured out a way to keep it stable for more than a fraction of a second, should either Starfleet or the Borg consider themselves qualified to jump in and start messing around, considering their own past failures? Anything less than a co-operative and CAREFUL effort on the part of all parties seems like it should be doomed to failure, IF we believe everything we learn about this substance. Resorting to the formulaic spaceship vs. spaceship shoot-'em-ups to give the ending a bit of excitement feels like a bit of a cheat.

In the end, there's a very good Trek episode here, but it feels like it could have used a bit more polish in bringing science and action into a believable harmony. Thankfully, it's already so good with drama, character, intrigue, philosophy, and has science and action working well separately, that it remains a minor point that doesn't detract too seriously.

Living Witness

(Star Trek - Voyager episode production code 191)
story by Brannon Braga
teleplay by Brannon Braga, Bryan Fuller, & Joe Menosky

Well, we get two versions of events in this story, but even after the correct one comes across, it's still not truly clear how Voyager bypassed Prime Directive concerns long enough to get involved and continuously enough to stay involved with these people. The episode is on shaky ground there, though this will ultimately be a story that is largely unmemorable for its prime directive concerns and doesn't advance the philosophy one way or the other. It all feels quite predictable.

There is one attempt at ethical debate in the aftermath of the museum vandalism, where both the Doctor and the historian have a valid cause. The historian champions truth, while the Doctor champions doing what's right for the moment instead of worrying about the past. Both are noble Fourth Density principles. Trouble is, the obvious answer is to embrace both, and there is nothing that would actually set the two ideas against each other. The best course in the moment is the truth... as there is no guarantee that lies and manipulations will quell anger. More likely incite more of it if you're found out.

What may be of greater concern is how this episode is supposed to fit within Voyager's chronology. We've seen much evidence in previous episodes that the Doctor's program isn't one that can be copied easily.... Has this episode now proceeded with a copied Doctor, as the existence of this "back-up" datacore now implies? If not, it doesn't explain how the rest of the show could continue in normal present time with him still on board.

What's more, the correct version sees Janeway successfully negotiate for more fuel supplies ....while the next episode begins with Voyager running out of gas. In the end, I think we spend this episode in a parallel universe - two of them if you count the false history as well. It's an interesting concept, following in the footsteps of last year's "Distant Origin", or even TNG's "First Contact" (the episode, not the film), in having the whole thing framed from the point of view of outside guest stars, but this example in "Living Witness" is not nearly as successful, and does not command much investment in yet another set of fake Voyager characters.

Time is a problem here primarily because regular viewers instinctively know that the next episode will begin with "current" events 700 years prior to the beginning of this one, making it harder to care what happens here. With the Doctor not coming back and adding this adventure to his experiences, do any of these events matter?

Voyager Season Four Rankings:

  1. The Gift
  2. Scorpion
  3. Day of Honor (nice logical motivational set-up & follow through, except perhaps that 7's previous antagonism doesn't mesh with the functional character she first defines herself as here.)
  4. Hirogen 1/6: Message in a Bottle (nice long-term developments, good plot, welcome humour, and a good focus for the Doctor. A winner all around.)
  5. Concerning Flight (a nicely plotted bit of fun, with great production value. John Rhys-Davies rules! Curiously absent is the oft-begged-for scene where Janeway confides the whole futuristic space-faring truth to DaVinci, which would have been the icing on the cake.)
  6. Hirogen 2/6: Hunters (good personal developments, interesting exploration of new race and ancient technology, though these hunters are kind of gross, and not all that sustainably interesting. End is a bit too techy, but cool opticals based on a decent concept. More enemies? Ho hum.)
  7. The Omega Directive

  8. Mortal Coil (a decent Neelix story exploring a valid idea, and [re-]introducing Naomi. Good.)
  9. Hirogen 3/6: Prey (The drive into this episode is so strong and well executed, it looked like the best of the Hirogen arc so far. Then Janeway contradicted her own approach, and chewed Seven out at length on the subject.... not impressive. The entire mess devolved too far from ideals to maintain my investment.)
  10. Demon (nice sci-fi ideas, and lively dialogue. We're finally exploring space again. Characters are interesting. I like it.)
  11. The Raven (a good cap-off to Seven's join-Voyager arc, choosing humanity over the Borg, although, HELLO! did we abandon ANOTHER shuttle?)
  12. One (a story of decent development for Seven, nicely logical in plotting, but a bit hit and miss in engaging my interest scene for scene. Hallucinations a bit too easy to spot/predict, though this doesn't detract from a powerful ending.)
  13. Revulsion (mystery had only one suspect, so wasn't all that brilliant, but good developments with Tom-B'Elanna and Harry-7, and all logical, so... good!)
  14. Unforgettable (A thought-provoking idea with a lot of potential, heavily dependent on acting. Beltran and Madsen probably didn't have enough time to find the core of this one though. I never got over my distrust of Madsen's character, and her approach was way too creepy to inspire romance. If an underlying chemistry and/or soul connection was strong enough to win him over, I totally didn't get that from their performances. Seven's observations and dialogue are probably our best indications of what the screenwriters' intentions were.)

  15. Vis à Vis (a fun exploration of Tom's life, using a basic decent sci-fi thriller plot. Not outstanding, but quite entertaining. But why did Voyager not pursue some variant of Coaxial Drive to get itself home after the adventure?)
  16. Year of Hell
  17. Waking Moments (interesting subject, but story structure needs work, as the audience is often way ahead of the characters and patiently waiting for them to catch up and "get it".)
  18. Random Thoughts
  19. Scientific Method (plot works well, concept is a bit blah, there is little trustworthy development with the crewmembers all feeling a bit "off" today.)
  20. Hirogen 5 & 6 / 6: The Killing Game (we're watching our actors, but not our characters, plus it's all a simulation for unknown purpose... hard to get very invested in this, and WWII is pretty boring and cliché anyway.)
  21. Hope and Fear (An entertaining hour with captivating hooks and developments, but the concept turns out to be implausible in the end, and yet another pointless Gilligan's Island style reset button. Not a great place to leave us at the end of a season. Consolation is a worthwhile highlight on Seven's choices, though the outcome remains obvious and... didn't we already finish with this after "The Raven", and again in "One"?)
  22. Living Witness
  23. Hirogen? 4/6: Retrospect (It's a frustrating wait to see if and when Voyager's crew [and writer Lisa Klink] will realize that they're being overzealous about victimhood, accusation, and passive aggressive syndrome. There are some nice, respectful admissions of false accusation, but the 24th Century characters remain fairly far behind their 20th Century audience, and not enticing much emotional investment in their story. Plus this appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the Hirogen arc. "Prey" went off the rails with Janeway vs. Seven conflict; please tell me they didn't just do that as set-up for this blah episode.)

  24. Nemesis (Excruciatingly boring! Character motivation is jarringly illogical and bland for the first 90% of this story, and continuity is out the window, folks. Skip this ep, and you won't miss a thing.)

These Star Trek Voyager Season Four stories are available on DVD.*
*"Scorpion Part 1" can be found on the season 3 box set.

Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek: Voyager
Season Four (1997-1998):

26 episodes @ 43 minutes.

Get your copy of this 7-disc DVD set
from the links below:

DVD Extras include:

  • Time Capsule featurette: Seven of Nine
  • Time Capsule featurette: Harry Kim
  • Braving the Unknown: Season Four
  • The Birth of Species 8472
  • The Art of Alien Worlds
  • Photo Gallery


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Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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