“I think it’s safe to say no one on this crew has been more obsessed with getting home than I have. But when I think about everything we’ve been through together, maybe it’s not the destination that matters. Maybe it’s the journey, and if that journey takes a little longer, so we can do something we all believe in, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be, or any people I’d rather be with.”
-Harry Kim (“Endgame”)
Running alongside DS9 for most of its run, Voyager was a good contrast to the darker character work of that show. It’s format re-invigorated the space exploration themes of TOS and TNG with a bigger focus on the friendships and relationships of the diverse crew. It took a few seasons to find its own aesthetic, but its optimism, its cinematic two-parters (especially those that dealt with the Borg), and the strong crew relationships make Voyager a fan favorite to many.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
The Ship: U.S.S Voyager, Intrepid class. It’s a good ship, sleek, minimalist, and crazy tough. We’ve seen other ships get destroyed before, but with Voyager we repeatedly see just how much punishment it can withstand without blowing up. In season five, Tom Paris helps to design the Delta Flyer, a souped-up shuttlecraft that combines classic designs with Borg technology.
The Captain: Captain Kathryn Janeway. Unlike Kirk, Picard, or Sisko, Janeway is a scientist, preferring to be part of the team working to solve a problem rather than directing the team from the captain’s chair (though she can discipline the unruly just as well as any other captain). Also, she pulls off the role of Queen Arachnia delightfully, but MOSTLY SHE’S JUST A REALLY GOOD CAPTAIN, YOU GUYS.
What makes Janeway so wonderful is how versatile she is, and how the writers really tapped into Kate Mulgrew’s many strengths. She’s a great combination of everything that made previous captains so great. She’s got Kirk’s recklessness, Picard’s charm, and Sisko’s toughness. I think it’s safe to say that few Starfleet captains carry a rifle while exploring a creepy abandoned ship better than Captain Janeway.
The Premise: While pursuing a Maquis ship in the badlands, Voyager (is it “the” Voyager? It’s OK to say “the Enterprise,” but everyone just says “Voyager.” Anyway…) and the Maquis ship are hurled halfway across the galaxy by a space array run by a powerful being called The Caretaker, who is desperate for a way to ensure the survival of the Ocampa (a short-lived race of people who live in subterranean cities) long past his imminent death. After Janeway decides to destroy the Caretaker’s array to prevent its power from falling into the hands of the combative Kazon, the Maquis and Federation crews must join together to find their way home.
Though the crew is comprised of rebels, criminals, and anti-Federation dissidents, they find a way to coexist (perhaps a little too quickly). Along the way, they pick up peppy salvager Neelix (Ethan Phillips), stoic Borg Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), and, near the end of the series, a bevy of Borg children whom they help liberate from the collective
As the series progresses, they are able to make contact with Earth where our dear friend Reg Barclay helps to spearhead the Pathfinder mission to help bring them home. He also becomes a sort of honorary crewmember, as well. Barclay is the best and I’m SO glad Dwight Schultz was able to make as many appearances as he did.
The premise was great in that it allowed for quite a bit of leeway, giving the writers freedom to create a whole host of new villains (from the blustery Kazon and the nightmarish Vidiians to the brutal Hirogen and the toxic Malon) while exploring the Borg in much greater detail, especially Seven of Nine in particular, who has a sort of Snow-White-and-the-Evil-Queen relationship with the Borg Queen (played in two episodes by the fantastic Susanna Thompson and the finale by Alice Krige, who originated the role in First Contact). While Voyager rendered a few elements of the TNG era Borg mythology contradictory, its Borg-centric stories are some of the best in the series.
The Best Episodes
“Year of Hell” – This is a fantastic two-parter that really helps to establish the crew’s loyalty to one another. A Captain Nemo-esque scientist, Annorax (Trek veteran Kurtwood Smith), is attempting to restore not only his homeworld’s vast empire, but the lives of his family who were killed in a conflict with a rival race, by systematically erasing various civilizations and ships from history. One such change restores the Krenim Imperium to power in the quadrant, trapping Voyager well within their borders, which leads to a year of nonstop fighting which reduces Voyager to all but a burned out hulk. While Janeway fights to keep her crew alive, Tom Paris and Chakotay end up being captured by Annorax and, in true 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea form, Chakotay tries to befriend Annorax and reason with him while Tom fights to escape. It’s a sweeping cinematic story with great action and great character moments. One especially heartbreaking moment has The Doctor closing a door on two wounded crewmembers who are struggling to make it toward him, seconds before the entire deck explodes. It’s my all-time favorite episode of the series.
“Scorpion” is another two-parter that introduces not only Species 8472, the organic nemesis of the Borg, but also introduces Seven of Nine after Janeway makes a deal with the Borg to help them develop a weapon against Species 8472 in exchange for allowing Voyager to pass safely through the heart of Borg Space. It’s not a perfect episode, BUT it has lasting repercussions on the series as a whole and it’s got some great action sequences and is one of the essential stories of the whole series.
“The Killing Game” is another wonderful two-parter that has the Hirogen taking over Voyager and forcing the crew to participate in brutal holographic recreations of various conflicts, most notably, World War II. It’s got a huge scope, great action and character work, wonderful costumes and sets, and features my favorite Harry Kim performance. Up until this point, he was so upstanding and naively optimistic that it was hard to relate to him, but here, he’s the one crewman whose memory isn’t modified and he’s forced to work for the Hirogen, maintaining the holodecks. You really see him pushed to his limits and get a sense of his inner strength. Plus, the cliffhanger in which an entire building blows up and shatters the holodeck is such a cool image.
There are lots of other great two-parters like “Dark Frontier,” “Unimatrix Zero,” and the finale, “Endgame” (all big Borg episodes).There are others like “Basics” which rounds out the Kazon arc, “Future’s End” in which The Doctor gets his mobile emitter, and “Equinox,” where Voyager encounters another Starfleet ship in the Delta Quadrant, but they’re not doing quite so well. The only two-parter I don’t really care much for is “Workforce,” which doesn’t really do much to break new ground.
In terms of standalone episodes, I love “Meld,” in which a mentally unstable Betazoid crewmember, Lon Suder, kills another crewman for no reason and Tuvok attempts to understand why. It’s a dark, fascinating drama that not only persuades the audience to rethink their initial revulsion of Suder, but gives Tuvok a puzzle he cannot easily solve. It’s also a great commentary on the way we treat others with mental illness, especially if they can be dangerous to others or themselves. Lon Suder shows up in a few other episodes and is one of my favorite side-characters.
Another great one is “Timeless” in which a cynical, aged Harry Kim attempts to correct a mistake in the past that led to Voyager’s destruction. There’s also “The Omega Directive” in which a secret Federation directive goes into effect and only Janeway and Seven of Nine know what it is.
I also love “Barge of the Dead” in which B’Elanna visits the Klingon afterlife to save her mother while wrestling with her own beliefs. Not only is Klingon mythology absolutely fascinating, it’s a unique counterpart to an earlier fantastic episode, “Mortal Coil,” in which Neelix dies in a shuttle accident and is revived by Seven of Nine, only to suffer a profound crisis of faith when he doesn’t experience the Talaxian afterlife like he thought he would. Whether or not B’Elanna’s experiences were in the literal Klingon afterlife or if they were an allegorical exploration of her own psyche is never explicitly stated, but it raises some beautiful points about belief.
“Distant Origin” is a good commentary episode. Based on the trial of Galileo, it features a race of beings descended from Earth hadrosaurs who refuse to believe that they are descended from a world other than the one in the Delta Quadrant they call their home now. Chakotay tries to help the scientist who has discovered the link between Humans and the reptilian Voth, but his ideas are deemed heretical and no one will listen. Brilliant writing.
And, before I go, I have to mention “Bride of Chaotica!” a bonkers story that plays homage to old sci-fi serials of the 40’s. Tom Paris and Harry Kim are saving the universe in their favorite Captain Proton holodeck story when the ship encounters a rift in space inhabited by photonic beings who think that the holodeck world is real. In order to stop the fighting between these beings and the dastardly villain Chaotica, and to open up a peaceful dialogue with them so that Voyager can be on its way, Janeway, Kim, Paris, and The Doctor must enter the program in character and finish the story. The real standout here is Janeway who goes Full-1040’s-Camp in her portrayal of Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People (pictured at the beginning of this post). It’s hilarious and a lot of fun.
Why It’s Awesome
Voyager takes a while to really find its footing, mostly because it has so much Star Trek before it and the formula is in danger of growing stale, but once it introduces Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) in season 4, and embraces the aesthetic of the TNG feature films more, it is able to carve out its own niche. Seven’s character arc infuses the ship with a level of interpersonal drama that was missing from early episodes as she slowly integrates into the community of the ship and finds her own sense of individuality while wrestling with her deep-seated Borg tendencies.
Unlike DS9, this isn’t really an arc-heavy show, but there are a few characters that really grow and develop throughout the series. Seven of Nine we’ve talked about, but I also want to give a shout out to Naomi Wildman, the sassiest little crewmember on the ship. She’s born in the heartbreaking “Deadlock” in which she dies in childbirth in one reality and then is saved in another by Harry Kim, and then grows rapidly enough (because she’s half-Katarian) that we get to actually meet her and spend time with her. Her friendship with Seven of Nine is adorable, and she also has a great uncle/niece relationship with Neelix. In one cute episode, Naomi’s mother is presumed lost in a shuttle accident, so Neelix spends time with Naomi in a storybook holodeck fantasy to distract her while he is wrestling with his own memories of losing his family at a young age. It’s nice to see Naomi grow up and become a part of the crew family.
That’s probably the show’s biggest asset actually. The crew has a very familial bond, and they are all much closer than previous crews (you could argue that DS9’s crew gets very close but it’s because they’re going through a war together and they need each other to keep from going completely crazy). We see them spending time in the holodeck together, having parties, celebrating each other’s accomplishments, and it creates a wonderful atmosphere that you really wish you could be a part of. It also leads to some bittersweet moments when everyone thinks about what will happen when they do reach Earth.
The series as a whole can be a bit hit-or-miss at times, but I think that may come from a desire to return to the optimism of TNG and TOS while still trying to keep an audience in a time when television was growing darker and grittier (consider that this show ended in 2001 and the Battlestar Galactica reboot started in 2004). The gleaming optimism of the 90’s was waning and 9/11 was poised to shatter that optimism completely. Also, by that point, Star Trek was in danger of becoming old hat after 30 years, so it had to really fight to stay relevant and new while keeping to the spirit of the franchise. Sometimes it succeeded and other times it didn’t. Fans are somewhat divided on this one with some adoring it wholeheartedly while others denying it ever exists.
But what we DO know is that Janeway is a fantastic captain and the series endured for an impressive seven years. Its production values were high and it featured some of the best visual effects of the franchise. It’s tragic that Voyager marked the beginning of the end for Star Trek. There were successes to be had after this, but the franchise as a whole was on its way out. Nemesis ends the TNG era on a tragic note, and Enterprise, though fantastic, failed to impress studio execs and wasn’t given a chance to develop the way DS9 and Voyager had.
That’s super depressing…
But fret not! There’s still good stuff ahead. Next week, we’ll be looking at Nemesis which features the Romulans! We love the Romulans. Special appearance by Bane and Not-Lore! See you then!