Star Trek: Voyager Fourth Season
Original air dates: September 1997 – May 1998
Executive Producers: Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor
Captain’s log. Much like Deep Space Nine, its sister show, Voyager had its first major cast change in its fourth season, in this case with Jennifer Lien as Kes departing and Jeri Ryan joining the cast as the ex-Borg Seven of Nine.
If there was any kind of theme to the season, it was moving forward, most obviously shown when Voyager itself was thrown forward 10,000 light-years by Kes on her way out the door at the top of the season, and then the ship gaining another 300 light-years thanks to a juryrigged quantum slipstream drive at the end of the season. Just in general, Voyager emphasized making progress, not pausing long in any one place, and while there were recurring antagonists like the Hirogen, most of the nations encountered by the ship were left behind in short order. And even the Hirogen encounters were all bunched up.
Another way Voyager moved forward was finally making contact with the Alpha Quadrant thanks to a Hirogen communications network that extended to the outer reaches of Federation space. While contact was not maintained, at least the folks back home know they’re out there. And the crew even got letters from home.
On a more personal level, Tuvok got to move forward by being promoted to lieutenant commander in “Revulsion,” Paris and Torres moved forward in their relationship, finally becoming a romantic couple, Neelix moved forward past his relationship with Kes to actually ask someone out on a date in “Random Thoughts,” and the EMH used his own progress moving forward on being a more well-rounded individual in prior seasons to help Seven on her similar journey throughout the season.
The biggest move forward was, naturally, Seven. She started the season as a Borg drone acting as the spokesperson for the ad hoc alliance between Voyager and the Borg, and wound up severed from the Collective and joining the crew against her will (not that she had much by way of will in the first place). By the end of the season, Seven is neither human nor Borg, and still trying to find her way among the crew and to figure out who and what she is.
Notably, Voyager also encounters much more sophisticated aliens this season. Early on, Voyager was often the most advanced ship in the region, but that’s less true when dealing with the Borg, Species 8472, the Hirogen, the Krenim, the B’omar, the Srivani, the Ramurans, and Arturis’s people.
In the end, though, they triumphed over the Borg, Species 8472, and the Hirogen, and have made significant progress home.
Highest-rated episode: “Living Witness,” one of Star Trek’s best episodes as a franchise, with a 10. Honorable mention to the half-dozen 9’s this season, “Nemesis,” “Random Thoughts,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Hunters,” “Prey,” and “One.” It’s particularly notable that the first three Hirogen episodes, which aired back-to-back-to-back, all got 9’s.
Most comments (as of this writing): “Scorpion, Part II” with 86, as the addition of Seven of Nine and the ship’s deal with the Borg was the fodder for much discussion.
Fewest comments (as of this writing): “Hope and Fear” with 26, though that may be recency bias, given that the post has only been up for a few days. The next fewest is “Concerning Flight” with 32—guess y’all don’t care much about Leonardo da Vinci, huh?
Favorite Can’t we just reverse the polarity? From “Demon”: Despite running on the annihilation of matter and antimatter, Voyager apparently also needs deuterium to function properly. While deuterium has been part of the engine systems going back to second-season TNG, this is the first time it’s been established as being so critical that a lack of it forces them to go into “gray mode,” which is powering down to bare minimum of power. Gray mode also means no warp drive.
Also Class-Y planets are so uninhabitable and dangerous that it’s risky for ships to enter orbit. Despite this, a low-powered Voyager is able to land, and people wander around in EVA suits without a problem. Oh, and this highly corrosive atmosphere can also be re-created in sickbay without ill effects on the equipment therein.
And we get the latest made-up radiation, thermionic radiation, which I assume was pioneered by the guys from Galaxy Quest…
Favorite There’s coffee in that nebula!: From “Scientific Method”: The Srivani’s biggest mistake is stressing Janeway out, as it makes her particularly reckless. Do not stress Janeway out. She will own your ass.
Favorite Mr. Vulcan: From “The Gift”: Tuvok tries to help Kes with her burgeoning powers, as he has been all along, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s beyond his ability to aid her. He also makes sure there are at least two security guards on Seven at all times.
At the very end, he puts his Vulcan meditation candle—which Janeway says she was present for Tuvok’s purchasing of—in the window of his cabin for Kes, a sweet and uncharacteristically sentimental gesture on his part.
Favorite Half and half: From “Retrospect”: When reporting to Janeway on what went down in engineering when Seven decked Kovin, Torres is very obviously enjoying the fact that Kovin got socked in the face, and is almost admiring of how Seven hauled off and decked him. Given that it’s a method of disagreeing with a colleague that Torres herself used on Joe Carey way back when, this isn’t surprising…
Favorite Forever an ensign: From “The Omega Directive”: When Seven mentions the sensor diagnostic she and Kim are supposed to perform, she states that she is designated three hours and twenty minutes for the actual diagnostic, plus “an additional seventeen minutes for Ensign Kim’s usual conversational digressions.” Kim later proves her right by indulging in multiple conversational digressions with Tuvok while modifying a torpedo.
Favorite Everybody comes to Neelix’s: From “Mortal Coil”: We learn all about the Talaxian afterlife, with Neelix also finding out that it’s bullshit. Neelix apparently also worked with protomatter when he was a space junkyard salvager.
Favorite Please state the nature of the medical emergency: From “Scientific Method”: The EMH hides in da Vinci’s workshop by posing as an art instructor. He looks very fetching in his poofy shirt, tights, and cunning hat.
Favorite Resistance is futile. From “Prey”: Seven objects to sending an away team to the Hirogen ship given the risks, though she does later admit that the intel they gained was worth that risk. However, she absolutely refuses to do anything to help 8472, and not only refuses to obey Janeway’s order to help send it home, but takes over the transporter and sends 8472 to the Hirogen ship. (While Janeway says Seven has condemned 8472 to death, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the Hirogen who will come out on top of that fight…)
Favorite What happens on the holodeck, stays on the holodeck: From “The Killing Game”: The Hirogen pretty much turn half the ship into a couple of big-ass holodecks. And once again the safeties are disengaged, and once again I must ask WHY THE FUCK AREN’T THOSE HARDWIRED especially since it means that holographic explosives can blow a hole in the bulkheads…
Favorite No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: From “Day of Honor”: Torres finally admits that she loves Paris. Even though Paris has obviously been willing to admit that he loves her a lot longer, he doesn’t say it back, the shit.
Favorite Welcome aboard: Notable guests include Trek veterans Leland Orser (“Revulsion”), Gwynyth Walsh (“Random Thoughts”), Michael Horton (“Retrospect”), and Henry Woronicz (“Living Witness”), as well as Robin Stapler (“Mortal Coil”), Dan Butler and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (“Vis à Vis”), and Wade Williams (“One”).
We’ve got recurring folk Alexander Enberg as Vorik, Nikki Tyler and David Anthony Marshall as Seven’s parents, John Rhys-Davies as Leonardo da Vinci, and Nancy Hower as Samantha Wildman,
Favorite Do it: From “Revulsion”:
“During my three years on Voyager, I have grown to respect a great many of you. Others I have learned to tolerate.”
–Tuvok bringing the brutal honesty and the sass to his promotion ceremony.
Favorite Trivial matter: Probably the one for “Message in a Bottle,” just because it marked the first contact with the Alpha Quadrant.
Set a course for home. “Resistance is futile.” In general, this season is the strongest of Voyager so far. While Kes is greatly missed, Seven is an excellent addition to the cast, despite the drag effect that her male-gaze-drenched costuming has on her character development. But both the writing and Jeri Ryan superbly nuanced performance elevates the character, and her progress throughout the season is fascinating to watch.
While Seven gets a lot of focus as the newbie, everyone else in the cast gets at least some good material. The Paris-Torres relationship proves to be an excellent development for both of them, mostly for Paris, truly, as he’s settled into happiness on Voyager for the first time in his life. It even freaks him out enough to self-sabotage in “Vis à Vis.” Torres, though, has her own issues, seen mostly in “Day of Honor.” Neelix’s faith gets challenged in “Mortal Coil,” the EMH gets to meet a couple of other holograms in “Revulsion” and “Message in a Bottle,” and be the focus of the show’s best episode to date, “Living Witness.” Janeway gets to bond with one of her heroes in “Concerning Flight,” Tuvok kicks ass as an investigator in “Random Thoughts,” and Kim finally starts to assert himself in “Demon.”
Some of Chakotay’s best material is in this season as well, starting with the continuing of his conflict with Janeway with regard to the Borg in “Scorpion, Part II.” He gets brainwashed in “Nemesis,” attempts to stop Annorax’s rampage with compassion and science in “Year of Hell, Part II” (it doesn’t work, but the effort is important, here), he saves the day in “Waking Moments,” he gets a romance in “Unforgettable,” and he holds his own with a nasty-ass Hirogen in “Prey.” (He also helps Neelix in “Mortal Coil,” and it’s notable that that’s the only episode that has the fake-Indian nonsense that has dragged the character down. For the most part, Chakotay gets to be a character instead of an Indigenous stereotype this season, and it’s welcome.)
Voyager’s penchant for big, ridiculous two-parters kicks into high gear this season, with both “Year of Hell” and “The Killing Game” favoring bold action over anything like sense, but they’re both thrill-rides, at least. And in “Message in a Bottle,” “Hunters,” and “Prey” we have Voyager’s strongest trifecta yet, introducing the Hirogen (quite possibly the most interesting alien species the show has provided to date) and having the crew make contact with home for the first time.
Of course, one of the ways that big, bold action stories work is to provide good antagonists, and one of the hallmarks of this season is some really strong bad guys: the Vori propagandists in “Nemesis,” Leland Orser’s crazy hologram in “Revulsion,” the Srivani in “Scientific Method,” Tiny Ron and Danny Goldring’s nasty Hirogen in “Hunters” and “The Killing Game,” Ray Wise’s tragic Arturis in “Hope and Fear,” and most especially Kurtwood Smith’s damaged Annorax in “Year of Hell” and Tony Todd’s scarily talented hunter Hirogen in “Prey.”
And while the show still doesn’t do great with consequences, there were some good sops to it, most notably in “Living Witness” (showing how Voyager’s arrival at a planet warped its history for centuries to come) and “Hope and Fear” (the unintended consequence of their alliance with the Borg at the top of the season).
Having said all that, there was a lot of good-but-not-great this season. So many episodes held back from what they could have been due to clumsy writing (“Revulsion“), bad procedure mixed with moral repugnance (“Retrospect“), or writing themselves into a corner (“Year of Hell“). And far too often, they crowbarred a story into a concept whether it makes any kind of sense or not: “The Raven,” “Concerning Flight,” “Mortal Coil,” “The Killing Game,” “The Omega Directive,” and “Demon” all suffered from conceptual issues that the episodes themselves couldn’t write past.
Still, this season was a lot stronger—good-but-not-great is still good, and there are some truly excellent episodes herein, plus all that moving forward I was talking about was all for the best.
Warp factor rating for the season: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido has restarted his YouTube channel “KRAD COVID readings” in the new year, and is now focusing on reading his Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers novellas in installments, releasing new episodes on Tuesdays, with a new story every month. January’s is Fatal Error, in which the U.S.S. da Vinci must fix a world-running computer that has failed before the planet it’s responsible for falls into chaos.