“Star Trek: Voyager” Season 3: The Skip It/Watch It Guide
It seems weird now that it’s pretty much the norm, but serialization is actually something that television — and Star Trek in particular — used to hate. The syndication model meant that shows had to be airable in whatever order the local broadcasters wanted to air them in, which didn’t lend well to embedded cumulative plots. Sure, there were certain shows that demanded strict continuity (see: Twin Peaks), but Star Trek series weren’t supposed to be among them. Deep Space Nine, in fact, got on the wrong side of its production company more than once when it made plotlines that stretched over several episodes. If you go read around on Memory Alpha, you see tons of instances where Voyager‘s cast and crew
alike make mention of this, usually grumbling all the way. Good for business, bad for art.
Season three is where the show’s lack of short-term memory really starts to show. Voyager is by its very nature a cumulative show — it has a finite, non-auto-restocking cast that’s planning to be together for the next half-century at least, so you expect certain changes and events will have lasting effects. Mostly, they don’t. Little bits of earlier events pop up here and there, but more as throw-away lines than as anything of consequence. When things change on the show, they do so despite the show’s best efforts, not because of them.
Some things, however, are better left by the wayside. Like those three episodes in the middle there. Ouch.
1. “Basics, Part II”: Watch it. But be prepared for it to do some stupid stuff. Like kill off several interesting recurring characters and be the last of the Kazon episodes because the creators didn’t think they could do anything else interesting with either. Or change from caring about a baby to not caring about a baby just because of the baby’s revealed parentage.
2. “Flashback”: Watch it. It’s okay to be Takei! More than okay, really — it’s awesome. And Tuvok makes a whole bunch of really good points about how egocentric humans are, which I always like. The McGuffin that makes this all possible is dumb, but it’s hard to get mad at a McGuffin.
3. “The Chute”: Skip it. This episode is one that makes me wish I shipped Harry/Tom, but they’re just too boring for that.
4. “The Swarm”: Watch it. The Doctor has such a lovely singing voice! But this is where the resistance to continuity starts to rear its ugly head. SPOILERS AHEAD, but at the end of this one, the Doctor basically gets his entire personality reset to where he was when they activated him — the last two years of growth, experience, and development, gone. …And then this is barely mentioned again, nor does it impact anything that comes after. (In fact, there are episodes later that make reference to things that happened to the Doctor during those years in which he appears to remember them, so … maybe he had good backups?) END OF SPOILERS.
5. “False Profits”: Skip it. I do not remember seeing this one the first time around, but maybe it’s because I blocked it from my memory. Worst Ferengi episode ever? Could be! …In fact, this hauling out of dumb charicatures is especially offensive in light of all the more nuanced Ferengi stuff that DS9 was doing at the exact same time.
6. “Remember”: Skip it. Oh, right, the weird Holocaust metaphor episode.
7. “Sacred Ground”: Watch it. Okay, maybe I just have a great fondness for daffy, cryptic monastics, but I was entertained. Bonus tip: NEVER TRUST THE MAYOR OF SUNNYDALE.
8-9. “Future’s End” and “Future’s End, Part II”: Skip it. Are you kidding me? Like, seriously? Did someone actually think this was not only an episode worth filming, but something worth stretching double? Hobo time cops? Los Angeles? 1996? Is this an elaborate practical joke? Not even Tuvok in a do-rag and guest star Sarah Silverman can save this hot mess.
…And I don’t know if it’s that the characters or the creators are ignoring the Eugenics Wars, but either way, that’s a hell of an oversight. [In fairness, ignoring the fact that Earth was presumably consumed by the Eugenics Wars during the 1990s is a proud “Trek” tradition. –Liz]
10. “Warlord”: Watch it. The holodeck sidestory is beyond cringe-inducing, like concentrated bursts of a terrible Risa episode, and the way it chickens out on the bisexuality is frankly criminal. But if you can push past that, watching Kes be angry and butch is super-hot.
11. “The Q and the Grey”: Skip it. Sixteen years later, this dumbass episode still bugs the fuck out of me. Skip it across a lake, count how many times it bounces, and watch it sink into the water, never to be heard from again.
12. “Macrocosm”: Skip it. Giant flying bad-CGI viruses? Wounds that things crawl out of? No thanks.
13: “Fair Trade”: Watch it. Pretty standard sitcom setup where someone lies, the lies get worse, and then all the lying has to be ended, only without so much the comedy here. But it’s solid, and it’s actually a Neelix episode that I like, so that’s good.
14. “Alter Ego”: Watch it. An entire episode of this holodeck nonsense? Oh, thank goodness, no. The beginning had me worried, but the rest of the episode came through.
15. “Coda”: Skip it. I, like Chief O’Brien, hate temporal mechanics. And this episode has some good moments — and an exceptional score — but all told, it’s a mess that doesn’t realize until at least halfway through what episode it wants to be. …In fact, on reflection, that’s a problem a lot of Voyager episodes have: They don’t take Kurt Vonnegut’s advice about starting as close to the end of the story as possible, meaning that shit can’t get real until there’s only twenty minutes left to recover.
16. “Blood Fever”: Watch it. Who likes pon farr? Everybody likes pon farr! Wait, no. Several people on the ship are not liking pon farr at the moment. This episode will also make you wonder just why vibrators aren’t standard-issue accoutrements for away teams. And as a fan of “Amok Time,” I love the heck out of the resolution. …Just ignore how Tom/B’Elanna is pretty boring. [Aw, I love Tom/B’Elanna! Well, until like Season 6 or so, when they did actually get pretty boring. But still, my fragile sickened memory recalls this one as a favorite. –Liz]
17. “Unity”: Watch it. DA BORG. But it does set up a lot of themes and ideas that will come back later when Seven shows up, up to and including Chakotay’s ability to wi-fi into the Collective. (Sure are a lot of sinister sexy white women on this show, ever notice?)
18. “Darkling”: Skip it. Oh.
19. “Rise”: Skip it. Hell.
20. “Favorite Son”: Skip it. No.
[If you want to understand Whitney’s above PTSD, here are some episode descriptions. Go with God. –Liz]
21. “Before and After”: Watch it. Well, after the horrorshow that was the last three episodes — aptly called the ‘Trilogy of Terror’ by some fans, not for its genre but for its general badness — I’d hoped this might be something better. Lucky for me, this wasn’t only better, it was actually good. I mean, if you can get over the super-creepiness of Kim’s hooking up with a woman he no doubt babysat. Poo-tee-weet? [Holy shit I did not remember there being this much time travel in “Voyager.” Seriously, why didn’t I like it more? –Liz]
22. “Real Life”: Skip it. Unless you’re deeply invested in seeing the Doctor run through hokey sitcom stereotypes.
23. “Distant Origin”: Watch it. Okay, this is a very qualified recommendation, as the basic conceit behind the story is, to put it mildly, a little dumb, and I don’t think it could have hammered on the Galileo lizard allegory any harder without breaking it. However, it shows some of the most creative thinking I’ve seen on Voyager thus far — in fact, it shows some of the only really creative thinking, at least with regards to alien races, that I’ve seen on Voyager thus far. Just ignore that those alien anthropologists are crap anthropologists.
24. “Displaced”: Skip it. Oh no, ship stuck in weird crew-stealing space thing, what do.
25. “Worst Case Scenario”: Watch it. I feel that Voyager is at its best when it’s being an ensemble show, and this is a pretty delightful example of that. Gets a little goony at the end, sure, but it has some cute moments.
26. “Scorpion, Part 1”: Watch it. DA BORG. Actually, lots of visuals in this episode were pretty delightfully horrifying, so good job, show. …I think the best compliment I can give it is that it goes the full Babylon 5. And it’s a pretty great cliffhanger to end on.
…And once more, we are exactly at 13 watch, 13 skip. At this rate, we’ll be back in the Alpha Quadrant in no time.
Speaking of the Alpha Quadrant, season three is beyond anthropocentric. Crew kidnapped by aliens? Let’s put them somewhere meant to be a replica of Earth! Meeting other species descended from Alpha Quadrant lifeforms? Must’ve come from Earth! Want a survey of famous philosophers throughout history? Three out of four of them come from Earth! Need a name for the Doctor? Probably the name of someone from Earth! Going to get everybody together in the prettiest place you can think of? How about a place on Earth! …See what I mean?
Not that any of these things are bad, necessarily, but they do betray one of the major problems with Voyager, which is its distinct lack of imagination.
As just one example among many: I have no problems accepting that Tom is basically the twenty-fourth-century equivalent of a Renfaire nerd; I just think it’s lazy, especially when what he’s geeking on is immediately recognizable to the audience and therefore requires no extra effort to explain. I understand reluctance to do near-future speculation (especially in light of modern awareness of just how exponentially fast tech changes), but that’s no reason not to go even further back and make him, I don’t know, an actual Renfaire nerd? An afficionado of the Ottoman Empire? Han China? Pre-Colombian Mesoamerican civilizations? Early Mediterranean seafaring peoples?
Anything that shows even a nugget of something more interesting than just tossing up a familiar object and counting on the audience’s ability to identify it.
At the risk of getting far off the rails here, it’s honestly sort of a white American mindset problem, this assuming that even though the Federation is sort of a futuristic space-America, there is still a dominant cultural paradigm that can be applied to everyone inside of it (with a few notable exceptions, like Spock, and that’s when Kirk and McCoy and the rest of the bridge crew all laugh at his Vulcan non-conformity to said paradigm).
The thing is, based solely on what we’re shown, Tom isn’t an expert on the twentieth century, as the show claims — he’s an expert on a very particular white middle-class Western male twentieth-century experience. And that’s fine! It’s okay to specialize! But fixing muscle cars isn’t the entirety of twentieth-century Earth living — unless you’re a certain kind of twentieth-century person for whom, yeah, it sort of is.
All of which leads to a certain sort of smugness in fiction that I hate, and that’s the kind that’s basically the equivalent of the story’s elbowing you and going, ‘Wink wink! Nudge nudge!’ It’s related to the phenomenon where a piece of media inserts something that the audience will recognize but the characters won’t, then makes the characters look like dummies for not getting it? Is there a word for either of these? I don’t know, but Voyager’s got them both in spades, and they both bug me.
Posted on July 8, 2013, in Other People Telling Liz Stuff, Skip It/Watch It Guide, Some Spoilers, TV and tagged skip it/watch it guide, star trek, star trek voyager. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.