Star Trek: Voyager Third Season
Original air dates: September 1996 – May 1997
Executive Producers: Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor
Captain’s log. The primary theme of the third season was that there wasn’t really a primary theme. For the first time, there were no recurring villains. Yes, we got one last look at the Kazon, but that was just resolving the cliffhanger in the “Basics” two-parter, and the Vidiians, but they were illusory in “Coda.”
Instead, Voyager pressed onward. They firmly moved away from the space occupied by the Ocampa, the Sikarians, the Vidiians, the Talaxians, the Haakonians, the Trabe, et al, and instead entered unknown territory, encountering tons of new species. They have at this point gone so far that Neelix’s value as a guide is pretty much gone as they traverse the Nekrit Expanse, so that their remaining journey is a mystery even to their self-styled native guide.
And so we have a lot of Trek’s mission statement: seeking out new life and new civilizations. Sometimes Voyager helps them out (“Remember,” “Rise”), sometimes they help Voyager (“Darkling”), sometimes the new life harms them, not always intentionally (“Macrocosm,” “The Swarm,” “Sacred Ground,” “Alter Ego,” “Favorite Son”), sometimes they get their ship stolen (“Displaced”), sometimes they wind up imprisoned (“The Chute”) or embroiled in local politics (“Warlord,” “Fair Trade,” “Distant Origin”).
Plus there are the uniquely Trek elements: the telepathic virus that leads to an extended flashback to the time of The Undiscovered Country and appearances by Sulu, Rand, Lojur, Valtane, and Kang (“Flashback”), wacky time-travel adventures (“Future’s End,” “Before and After”), wacky holodeck adventures (“Real Life,” “Worst Case Scenario”), a Vulcan character undergoing pon farr (“Blood Fever”), and appearances by Trek standbys, Q (“The Q and the Grey”), the Ferengi (“False Profits”), and, most importantly, the Borg.
While, as I said, there was no primary theme, there was a secondary theme, and that was building toward the arrival in Borg-controlled space in at season’s end, which was seeded in “Blood Fever” (finding a Borg corpse) and “Unity” (encountering some ex-Borg). This led to the slam-bang finale of “Scorpion,” where Voyager not only reaches the Borg, but also learns that there’s someone out there nastier in Species 8472…
Highest-rated episode: A three-way tie among three of the final six episodes of the season, “Before and After,” “Distant Origin,” and “Worst Case Scenario,” all of which earned a warp factor of 9, helping close out the season on quite the high note.
Lowest-rated episode: “Sacred Ground,” an offensive, anti-intellectual piece of claptrap unworthy of Star Trek, the season’s only 1. (Though four episodes did earn a 2…)
Most comments (as of this writing): “Basics, Part II” with 143, the only entry this season to break three figures in terms of comments. Also, 14 of the 26 episodes had 50 or more comments, which is kinda nifty.
Fewest comments (as of this writing): “Alter Ego” with 26, the only entry to be under 30 comments. Surprising, given that it was one of the season’s stronger episodes.
Favorite Can’t we just reverse the polarity? From “Rise”: It’s never made clear why Voyager’s only option is to fire phasers on the asteroids when they have a perfectly good tractor beam that can deflect the asteroids onto a different course. Or, for that matter, why they don’t destroy the asteroids when they’re much much farther away from the planet…
Favorite There’s coffee in that nebula!: From “Basics, Part II”: Janeway wastes no time taking charge of the stranded crew, giving people assignments, dealing with each crisis as it comes up (including rescuing all but one of Chakotay’s group from the cave), and making it clear that if they have to eat worms, they’ll damn well eat worms.
Favorite Mr. Vulcan: From “Future’s End, Part II”: Tuvok’s plan to get Starling to come to them didn’t take the possibility of him kidnapping Robinson into his car into account, which shows a spectacular lack of planning on the part of the security chief. Maybe his do-rag was too tight…
Favorite Half and half: From “Displaced”: Torres is annoyed when Paris accuses her of being hostile after she yells at him following their holodeck adventure.
Favorite Forever an ensign: From “Alter Ego”: Kim is despondent that he has fallen in love with a holodeck character. Like many young people, he acts like this is a unique thing that has only happened to him and woe is him, but then Paris points out that everyone has fallen in love with holodeck characters at some point or another. (William Riker, Geordi La Forge, and Reginald Barclay, front and center!)
Favorite Everybody comes to Neelix’s: From “Warlord”: The episode opens with Neelix getting a footrub, an image I will never get out of my mind no matter how much therapy I engage in to try.
Favorite Please state the nature of the medical emergency: From “Darkling”: The EMH is trying to improve his bedside manner by incorporating the personalities of various famous people. I can see Byron and Gandhi, both of whom have a CHA of 20 (Dungeons & Dragons reference, sorry), and probably Socrates, too (most of what we know of him is secondhand from Plato, so it’s hard to judge), but T’Pau? The one whose response to Kirk’s suffering in the thinner atmosphere was, “the air is the air”? This is who you want your doctor to emulate? And Curie and da Vinci are useful for their scientific curiosity, I suppose, which would probably help with research? I guess?
When he’s Evil EMH, his eyes are beadier and his teeth are different.
Favorite What happens on the holodeck, stays on the holodeck: From “The Q and the Grey”: Kim and Paris display their tremendous professionalism by doing crew performance reports at the Paxau Resort on the holodeck while getting massages from holographic women in bathing suits.
Favorite No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: From “Real Life”: Paris flirts with Torres, interrupting her while she reads her Klingon bodice-ripper (armor-ripper?), Women Warriors at the River of Blood.
Favorite Welcome aboard: Several recurring characters make their final appearances: Simon Billig as Hogan, Brad Dourif as Suder, Anthony DeLongis as Culluh (all in “Basics, Part II”), and Susan Patterson as Kaplan (“Future’s End,” “Unity”)
Other recurring regulars show up: Martha Hackett as both Seska (“Basics, Part II”) and a holographic image of her (“Worst Case Scenario”), Nancy Hower as Wildman (“Basics, Part II”), John deLancie as Q (“The Q and the Grey”), Alexander Enberg as Vorik (“Fair Trade,” “Alter Ego,” “Blood Fever”), and the great John Rhys-Davies as Leonardo da Vinci (“Scorpion”).
George Takei (Sulu), Grace Lee Whitney (Rand), Jeremy Roberts (Valtane), and Boris Lee Krutonog (Lojur) all reprise their roles from The Undiscovered Country, as does Michael Ansara (Kang) from “Day of the Dove” and “Blood Oath,” all in “Flashback.” In addition, Dan Shor reprises his role of Dr. Arridor from “The Price” in “False Profits.”
Other cool guests: Robert Pine (“The Chute”), Carole Davis (“The Swarm”), Michael Ensign and Rob LaBelle (“False Profits”), Bruce Davison (“Remember”), Harry Groener and Becky Ann Baker (“Sacred Ground”), Ed Begley Jr. and Sarah Silverman (“Future’s End”), Galyn Görg (“Warlord”), Abbie Selznick (“Macrocosm”), Carlos Carrasco and James Horan (“Fair Trade”), Len Cariou (“Coda”), Lori Hallier (“Unity”), Allan Oppenheimer and Lisa Kaminir (“Rise”), Jessica Collins and Christopher Aguilar (“Before and After”), Wendy Schaal (“Real Life”), Concetta Tomei, Henry Woronicz, and Christopher Liam Moore (all in “Distant Origin”), and Mark L. Taylor (“Displaced”).
In addition to his regular role as the EMH, Robert Picardo gets to play both his own evil twin (“Darkling”) and his lookalike creator (“The Swarm”). And in addition to her regular role as Kes, Jennifer Lien got to play Tieran possessing Kes’s body in “Warlord.”
But the best guest is the superlative Suzie Plakson, in her third role on Trek being magnificently snarky and awesome as Lady Q in “The Q and the Grey.”
Favorite Do it: From “Blood Fever”:
“For such an intellectually enlightened race, Vulcans have a remarkably Victorian attitude about sex.”
“That is a very human judgment, Doctor.”
“Then here’s a Vulcan one: I fail to see the logic in perpetuating ignorance about a basic biological function.”
–The EMH and Tuvok discussing pon farr
Favorite Trivial matter: The one for “Flashback,” even thought I wrote it in 2014 originally, just because Captain Sulu is awesomecakes.
Set a course for home. “Resistance, in this case, is far from futile.” It’s hard to discuss this season as a season with any kind of clarity. Even more so than the first two, it feels almost disconnected. While there are strong individual episodes, and some really nifty science fictional concepts, the overall feeling of watching all the episodes in a row is a big “meh.”
Part of the problem is the lack of consistency. The EMH loses all his memory in “The Swarm,” but then he’s back to normal thenceforth with only one throwaway reference to his having lost his memory. Tuvok and Neelix remain at loggerheads in “Rise” (and elsewhere) despite having shared a mind and body for two weeks last season in “Tuvix.” Janeway is interested in also exploring the Delta Quadrant in addition to getting home and in maintaining her Starfleet principles—except in “The Swarm” and “Scorpion,” when suddenly it’s get home at all costs! “False Profits” is a sequel to “The Price” that gets half the details of the latter TNG episode wrong. “Flashback” doesn’t quite track with the events of The Undiscovered Country (though that can be chalked up to faulty memory on Tuvok’s part). Plus we see the crew making new allies in one episode only to have the people never mentioned again (the Mikhal Travelers, the Vostigye).
Part of it is the lack of conflict or struggle. The crew has settled into a routine and they’re all sufficiently comfortable with each other that the discovery of Tuvok’s incomplete Insurrection Alpha training mission—which the Maquis crew would be wholly justified in finding insulting to say the least—is treated as an amusing curiosity. Whatever lip service had been paid to the ship’s supply issues has been all but abandoned at this point.
Part of it is the insistence on more connections to the Alpha Quadrant being found on this remote path between the Ocampa homeworld and the Federation (“False Profits,” “Distant Origin,” “Unity,” “The Q and the Grey”).
And the biggest part of it is the lack of any kind of forward motion for the characters beyond how they pair up. The only difference between the characters as we saw them in “Basics, Part II” and in “Scorpion” is that Paris and Torres are stumbling toward being a couple and Neelix and Kes have broken up.
One of the biggest problems with Voyager is that its characters have more interesting backstory than front story. This is writ large with Tuvok in this season, as the glimpse of his life as an ensign on the Excelsior looks way more interesting than his life as an only-sometimes-competent security chief on Voyager.
There are glimpses. Chakotay gets several chances to shine this season, and Robert Beltran does really well in “Unity,” “Distant Origin,” and “Scorpion.” Tuvok’s loneliness is brought into sharp relief in “Alter Ego.” And both Torres and Kim get the chance to explore roads not taken in “Remember” and “Favorite Son.” And Robert Picardo’s EMH remains the show’s rock star, finally given the chance to stretch his legs beyond sickbay in “Future’s End, Part II.”
Some great individual episodes in this season, but the whole is way less than the sum of its parts…
Warp factor rating for the season: 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido encourages all and sundry to check out his YouTube channel “KRAD COVID readings,” in which he reads his various works of short fiction, including some of his Star Trek work: the Voyager story “Letting Go” from Distant Shores, the Next Generation story “Four Lights” from The Sky’s the Limit, the Deep Space Nine story “Broken Oaths” from Prophecy and Change, the Lwaxana Troi story “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned” from Tales of the Dominion War, and the Klingon stories “loDnI’pu vavpu’ je” from Tales from the Captain’s Table and “The Unhappy Ones” from Seven Deadly Sins, as well as an excerpt from the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Here There Be Monsters.