Star Trek: Voyager Fifth Season
Original air dates: October 1998 – May 1999
Executive Producers: Rick Berman, Brannon Braga
Captain’s log. Of all the seasons of Voyager to date, the fifth was the one that had the most literal forward motion. Thanks to a wormhole of sorts (“Night”), experiments with the quantum slipstream drive (“Timeless”), and a stolen Borg transwarp conduit (“Dark Frontier”), they made several jumps ahead, cutting their journey home by tens of thousands of light-years.
We got a new recurring antagonist in the environmentally impure Malons (“Night,” “Extreme Risk,” “Juggernaut”), and two old recurring antagonists, as the Borg are still a problem (“Drone,” “Dark Frontier”), as are Species 8472 (“In the Flesh”), though our heroes reach a rapprochement with both 8472 and the Malon.
Some of the ship’s past missions are actually referenced again. The quantum slipstream drive from “Hope and Fear” is tested in “Timeless,” the crew’s ill-advised alliance with the Borg against 8472 comes back to bite them in both “In the Flesh” and “Dark Frontier,” and we look in on the duplicate crew from the “Demon” planet in “Course: Oblivion.” Both Janeway and Torres deal with depression, the former for the crew’s being stranded in general in “Night,” the latter from learning in “Hunters” of the massacre of the Maquis in “Extreme Risk.” And the animus several crewmembers have against the Cardassian Union rears its ugly head in “Nothing Human.”
The Torres-Paris relationship continues apace, surviving not just Torres’s depression, but Paris’s being imprisoned for a month (“Thirty Days“) and being stranded on a planet for a while (“Gravity”). Paris also gives us the best of the recurring holodeck programs in Captain Proton (“Night,” “Thirty Days,” “Bride of Chaotica!”), which will continue to appear until the end of the show.
Naomi Wildman gets over her fear of Seven to become a protégé of the ex-Borg, and she aspires to become the captain’s assistant. Seven’s growth continues, guided mainly by the EMH, who also finds himself falling in love with her (“Someone to Watch Over Me”).
And our crew encounters all manner of Delta Quadrant species, some friendly (“Thirty Days”), some not so much (“Counterpoint”), some that are sort of in the middle (“The Disease”). Plus we get two wacky time-travel adventures (“Timeless,” “Relativity”).
While there are no direct links to the Alpha Quadrant, there are indirect ones, from the alternate timeline of “Timeless” to the re-creation of Starfleet Headquarters in “In the Flesh” to the flashbacks to the year 2000 in “11:59” to the re-creation of a Cardassian scientist in “Nothing Human.”
Lowest-rated episode: “Dark Frontier” with a 2, a disastrous reunion with the Borg that came pretty close to singlehandedly ruining one of Trek’s greatest villains.
Most comments (as of this writing): “Latent Image” with 103, and it’s not even a contest. The only episode this season to break three figures in comments, it’s also only one of three to have more than 60 comments (“Bride of Chaotica!” and “Equinox” both reached 70).
Fewest comments (as of this writing): “Counterpoint” with only 24, and it’s fascinating to me how many times in my various rewatches this “winner” has been a good, solid episode like this one.
Favorite Can’t we just reverse the polarity? From “Relativity”: Ducane quizzes Seven on temporal theory, including the Pogo Paradox and the Dali Paradox. Seven describes the former as, “A causality loop in which interference to prevent an event actually triggers the same event,” which means it’s named for the famous line from the title character in Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The Dali one is based on Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory, the one with all the melting clocks, and is when a temporal fissue slows time down to a crawl.
Favorite There’s coffee in that nebula!: From “Warhead”: After the attempt to sabotage the warhead fails, the AI instructs Janeway to abandon ship. She refuses. The AI points out that it will destroy the ship, and Janeway very calmly tells him to go ahead. When the AI counters that everyone on the ship will die, Janeway, still very calm, says that yes, but nobody else will. It’s quite the captainly moment.
Favorite Mr. Vulcan: From “Once Upon a Time”: Tuvok does a magnificent job of reassuring Wildman that Naomi will be okay even if she doesn’t make it. He says: “My youngest child has been without a father for four years, yet I am certain of her well being, that I conveyed my values to her before leaving. And I have confidence in the integrity of those around her. You have been an exemplary mother to Naomi, and she is in the hands of people you trust. She will survive and prosper, no matter what becomes of us.” Just another reminder that Tuvok is a fantastic parent and is generally totally awesome.
Favorite Half and half: From “Extreme Risk”: Torres’ normal state is to be angry, so when given news that would normally make someone angry, she instead becomes numb. Her constant attempts to harm herself are a desperate attempt to feel something, and she’s healing her physical injuries herself (badly) to avoid it being reported by the EMH in sickbay.
Favorite Forever an ensign: From “Someone to Watch Over Me”: Kim is greatly enthusiastic at the notion of Seven dating until she informs him that he’s not on her list of finalists, at which point you can see his crest fall. However, he gamely kibbitzes on her choices, pointing out that Ensign Bronowski does like music, but he also plays the accordion really badly and also has no sense of humor, leading Seven to cut him from the list.
Favorite Everybody comes to Neelix’s: From “Night”: Neelix’s suggestion for a way to alleviate the boredom is for the crew to cross-train in areas of the ship they’re less familiar with. A ship that’s lost so many of its crew and had to integrate a bunch of terrorists should have cross-discipline training as a matter of course, so it’s weird that that hasn’t happened in four years. Then again, Neelix may have just been suggesting it by way of he himself getting more training, consistent with his endless desire to make himself more useful to the crew.
Favorite Please state the nature of the medical emergency: From “Nothing Human”: The EMH has been showing slideshows to the crew. Chakotay and Kim sat through one showing, and Janeway requested that, when it was time for her, Tuvok, Paris, and Torres to watch it, Chakotay should call for some kind of alert partway through. Chakotay neglects to do so, as he feels his fellow crewmates should enjoy every excruciating nanosecond of the EMH’s stultifying presentation, just as he did.
Favorite Resistance is futile. From “11:59”: Seven mentions an ancestor of her own that she’s found: Sven “Buttercup” Hansen, a prize fighter. She is skeptical as to Neelix’s claims that there is significance to her being a descendant of his. (Neelix’s mentioning of the similarity between the names Sven and Seven is met with a Stare Of Dubiousness.)
Favorite What happens on the holodeck, stays on the holodeck: From “Extreme Risk”: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WHY DOES THE HOLODECK HAVE SAFETIES THAT CAN BE DISENGAGED?????? WHY AREN’T THE SAFETIES FUCKING HARDWIRED?????????????
Favorite No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: From “The Disease”: So you know how some people are described as glowing after they’ve had really good sex? The Varro literally glow after sex. Which, if nothing else, makes it hard to be discreet about the fact that you’re having sex…
Favorite Welcome aboard: One of the most impressive collections of guest stars you’re likely to see in this particular season.
We’ve got Steve Dennis playing four different characters in “Night,” “Think Tank,” “Warhead,” and “Equinox.” We’ve got fine performances by David Clennon (“Nothing Human“), Alissa & Heidi Kramer (“Thirty Days”), Mark Harelik (“Counterpoint”), Nancy Bell (“Latent Image”), and Olivia Birkelund (“Equinox”).
We’ve got two new recurring regulars in Martin Rayner as the holographic Doctor Chaotica and Scarlett Pomers taking over the role of Naomi Wildman, plus back for more are Alexander Enberg as Vorik, Ray Walston as Boothby (kind of), Nancy Hower as Wildman, and Josh Clark as Carey.
We’ve got Trek regulars J. Paul Boehmer (“Drone”), Hamilton Camp (“Extreme Risk”), J. Patrick McCormack, Randy Oglesby (“Counterpoint”), Nicholas Worth (“Bride of Chaotica!”), Joseph Ruskin (“Gravity”), W. Morgan Sheppard (“Bliss”), Susanna Thompson (“Dark Frontier”), Ned Romero (“The Fight”), Christopher Shea, Christopher Darga (“Think Tank”), Ron Canada, Lee Arenberg (“Juggernaut”), McKenzie Westmore (“Warhead”), and Rick Worthy (“Equinox“), not to mention LeVar Burton reprising the role of La Forge (“Timeless”).
We’ve got some great actors showing up on Trek for the first time, including Kate Vernon, Zach Galligan (“In the Flesh”), Wallace Langham (“Once Upon a Time”), Willie Garson (“Thirty Days”), Lori Petty (“Gravity”), Charles Rocket, Musetta Vander (“The Disease”), Ian Abercrombie, David Burke, Scott Thompson (“Someone to Watch Over Me”), John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Tighe (“11:59”), Bruce McGill, Jay Karnes, Dakin Matthews (“Relativity”), John Savage, and Titus Welliver (“Equinox”).
But the big guest of the year is Jason Alexander, at the time very much playing against his George Costanza type as Kurros in “Think Tank.”
Favorite Do it: From “Someone to Watch Over Me”:
“‘Stardate 52647, 1400 hours: Subjects quarrel in corridor outside female’s quarters. Male returns with twelve flowering plant stems, species rosa rubifolia, effecting a cessation of hostilities. Stardate 52648, 0300 hours: Intimate relations resume.’ How the hell do you know when we’re having intimate relations?”
“There is no one on deck nine, section twelve who doesn’t know when you’re having intimate relations.”
–Torres angrily reading Seven’s account of Paris and Torres’s relationship, and Seven saying “Bazinga!”
Favorite Trivial matter: The one from “Night” because I got to mention all the other uses of Captain Proton in the tie-in fiction.
Set a course for home. “Perhaps you weren’t paying attention when the Malon freighter imploded.” I once got a second-hand account from a couple of freelance screenwriters who were pitching to Voyager, who were told by the producer to whom they were pitching: “You keep giving us stories—we’re looking for ideas.” After watching the fifth season, I can see how that rather idiotic philosophy suffused the production of the show, because there are a lot of ideas here, often very much at the expense of story.
It seems like the approach this year was to just come up with high concept after high concept, and then belatedly tried to figure out how it would fit in the show, regardless of whether it actually did or not. Or whether or not the story made anything like sense.
Sometimes this worked. There are some truly excellent episodes this season, from the delightfully self-aware goofiness of “Bride of Chaotica!” to Tuvok and Noss’ doomed love affair in “Gravity” to the tragedy of “Course: Oblivion.” Several episodes do superb work in showing the psychological effects of Voyager’s journey: Janeway’s clinical depression in “Night,” Torres’ grief-induced self-harming in “Extreme Risk,” Seven’s developing humanity in “Drone” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and the EMH’s existential crisis in “Latent Image.” Plus, of course, there’s the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God look at the Equinox crew in their eponymous season finale.
And sometimes it didn’t. “In the Flesh,” “Nothing Human,” “Dark Frontier,” “The Disease,” “Think Tank,” “The Fight,” and “11:59” are all concepts that could have worked, but really really really really didn’t.
It also feels like Janeway is marginalized, which is a bad look for the first season in which a woman isn’t the show-runner. The episodes where Kate Mulgrew does get a lot to do are few and far between, and in many of them she’s not even playing Janeway herself, whether figuratively (“Night” where she’s depressed, “Course: Oblivion” where she’s a duplicate), literally (“11:59,” where she plays her own ancestor), or deliberately (“Bride of Chaotica!” where she cosplays as Arachnia). Having said that, both Torres and especially Seven get a lot to do, as does the EMH, with Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Tuvok, and Neelix all getting a moment or three in the sun, and while they’re not always successful—in particular the attempts at developing Kim are mostly disastrous—at least they’re giving folks a shot.
Having said that, the show was what it was at this point, and it’s to this season’s credit that most of it is at least good, and some of it is great. Comparatively little of it is outright bad, and only “Dark Frontier” is truly wretched. Even if they can’t settle on how many people are on board or remember character development from one episode to the next or give the non-opening-credits regulars anything to do ever unless they’re a cute kid.
Warp factor rating for the season: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s most recent novels are collaborations: To Hell and Regroup with David Sherman and Animal with Dr. Munish K. Batra. His most recent short stories include “In Earth and Sky and Sea Strange Things There Be” in Turning the Tied and “Unguarded” in the forthcoming anthology Devilish and Divine.