After an abbreviated first season, season two of Voyager kicked off with some hold overs from the first year of production (The 37's, Projections, Elogium, Twisted). Then, season two proper Got into full swing with some strong episodes. But could the entire season deliver?
This faux-geometric backdrop does wonders for my hairdo!
I get the feeling that the creative staff was starting to look at the internet, and was getting a feeling for what the fans were thinking about the first season. And it seems like the message was: Neelix is annoying, we like B'Elanna, Chakotay is boring. Unfortunately, some of the other messages apparently not received were: the Kazon suck, why are we still dealing with them? Aren't there two antagonistic crews here? And seriously, no one has hooked up yet?
Anyway, this season seems to be about recalibrating to some degree. The question I suppose is how successful that recalibration is. My answer is... sort of.
Neelix was pretty successfully rehabbed, if you ask me. After being really weird and stalker-ish with regard to Kes in the first season, it seemed like the writing staff wanted to give the character opportunities to be nice, for us to identify with him, and to just be in non-Kes situations. "Parturition" was the beginning of the change, creating some resolution for the toxic Neelix-Tom Paris relationship. Was it a great episode? No, but it was necessary to get the character out of the corner the writers had put him in. I liked "Investigations" a bit more. Say what you want about him, but I would watch "A Briefing With Neelix," and scenes of Neelix expressing friendship are just kind of sweet and touching.
B'Elanna got some focus, though unfortunately her episodes have been very technobabble heavy. At the very least, they showed the writing staff that Dawson could handle it, and they will give her some really juicy stuff soon. Chakotay was fleshed out a bit in "Tattoo," "Maneuvers," "Resolutions," and "Basics Part 1." Although his Native American culture receives a very strange and superficial gloss, his dynamic with his father was really interesting, and it's too bad the character was essentially abandoned going forward.
The best episodes in this season were the ones that really took advantage of the show's premise. "Meld" could have been a predictable "Vulcan goes nuts" show, but it was in service of a larger really interesting idea. What happens on a stranded vessel when one or more crew members commit crimes, perhaps even capital ones? Meld had the virtue also of remembering that there are two disparate crews on the ship, with drastically different attitudes. Seska shows played up this tension well - it's too bad she was shackled to the Kazon.
Ahh, the Kazon. If anything, here's where the season falters as a whole. Is Kazon territory one long cylinder that points directly to the Alpha Quadrant? And are particular Kazon directly following Voyager? Alliances gives us a reasonably interesting origin tale for the Kazon, but by that point it's too little, too late. Warrior cultures with rites of passage have been done, and from the outset they were portrayed as technologically inadequate. Not much of a threat.
The other side of the coin is the almost complete waste of the Vidiians. Here is a race whose premise is so interesting that there need not be recurring villain characters that strain credulity. My kingdom for a 3 or 4 part serial story on Voyager trying to make it through their organ harvesting territory. Or heck, even a story that pits Vidiian against Kazon, with Voyager in the middle.
Basically, what it comes down it is an unwillingness to really embrace the show's core concept. They're decades away from home, with a patchwork crew, trying to make it through hostile alien territory as fast as they can. Why then do we have problems that are always fixed by the end of a show? Why do we have recurring villainous characters at all when out crew is on a bee-line away from them? It just feels like parts of the Voyager staff were fighting to do interesting things, but were overruled by people who wanted more TNG-style cookie-cutter shows, easy to syndicate and designed to offend no one. "Resolutions" is probably the biggest culprit. Here is a show that really embraces the uniderectional nature of the Voyager journey, and the need for people on such a long trip to pair up romantically. It's so interesting for 40 minutes. And then it is completely undone and reset by the conclusion. This "Galactic Reset Button" phenomenon is one that will get a lot of criticism in upcoming Voyager shows.
I will say that more than any of the other shows so far, save maybe TOS, the show definitely had its characterizations locked in before season 2. Neelix has the largest transition, but that's more an issue with what the writers were giving him to do rather than a fundamental shift the attitude of the character or the what the actor is portraying him.
The stories however are a little more scattered.I agree that what seriously contend for bottom 10 of the franchise as a whole do artificially lower the numbers and the impression of the season. I think overall though, even absent those, this isn't a "great season" but for those episodes. I think episodes like "Prototype" and "Dreadnought" really epitomize the season in this regard. They are solidly acted and well characterized, but the idea fizzles in the execution. In this way, I think it is similar to the other modern show's second seasons. Some things they got consistently good at while still missing one or two elements that would really solidify into a stellar season.
I also want to lay the groundwork for a criticism I am really going to lay into later in the series, and we get hints of it in season 2. The difference in the crews and meaningful sense of being alone in middle of the nowhere are largely absent this season. I hate to continue to bring up Season 1 of BSG as a comparison, but I think it's apt. From the first frame of that show, the powerful sense of being emotionally and logistically alone comes through and the horrifying decisions the characters are forced to make become incredibly interesting. We will get the odd hint of that coming down the road, like "Year of Hell," but overall Voyager will never really dig in to a few of most interesting possibilities of the set up.
But like I said in the podcast for "Basics, Part I," if you like Voyager, there is enough here to sustain, but if you don't. there's not enough here to change that.
Matthew: "Meld," mentioned above, really mined the premise of the show effectively. You're cooped up with 150 people, half of whom are criminals. What sorts of things happen? Not enough episodes like these, basically.
"Death Wish" didn't really have to be a Voyager episode. But that doesn't mean it's not very well written, well acted, and illuminating of interesting aspects of a fan-favorite antagonist.
"Tuvix" also could have been an episode of another Trek series, but it effectively used the characters of this show to heighten the drama of a transporter hybrid of two beings. Kes was put in a really tough emotional spot, and the episode didn't pull the ethical punch of the hybrid's being "killed."
"Non Sequitur" was a fun "alternate universe" scenario that casts Harry as the fish out of water, as if he had never boarded Voyager. The logic of the time-shifting aliens was a bit wonky, but I loved the bromance between Harry and alt-Tom.
Kevin: "Lifesigns" is definitely a highlight. We get an interesting look at the psychology of the Phage and we get some good character growth for the Doctor. Normally, I find doctor/patient romances to be deeply annoying, but this one was handled with a sufficiently deft hand that it appeared genuine and sweet.
Matthew: Well, the list has to start and end with "Threshold" and "The Thaw," doesn't it? Both are blessed with potentially interesting sci-fi stories. Threshold even has an excellent character story for Tom. But both episodes go off the rails with completely inexplicable plot developments. "Threshold" has the awful "evolution" story, while "The Thaw" has a computer program killing the only people he could possibly want to survive. "Threshold" threatened to break the show with its solution. "The Thaw" had crusty jugglers. It's a real tossup for worst of the season (if not series).
"Twisted" was pointless and stupid. It marries your basic "the only way out is through" plot (See "Time Squared") with annoying gibberish talk (see "Babel.") Not a recipe for a good show. The fact that nothing actually happens by the end? The icing on the dum-dum cake.
Kevin: Yeah, I can't really think of anything more to add about those episodes that we didn't say in our reviews. As for my lowlights, I found "Initiations" to be boring and an undercooked attempt at giving the Kazon some depth. "Innocence" was another one that was trying for some bigger story, and even had a solid core with Russ' acting ability on display, but still lands on such an absurd twist as to make the episode really boring overall.
Kevin: So, this season beats Seasons 1 and 3 of DS9 of our reviews so far, but that's it. This was less good than TAS, numerically speaking. If the season were two episodes shorter and the two episodes cast into the fire were Thaw and Threshold, the average jumps to a 6.04. That would put it ahead of TAS and Season 1 of TNG, but still a .1 behind TNG Season 2. So without the stinkers, this still becomes a merely average season. Mind you, here at Treknobabble, "average" is not a codeword for "bad." I think the quality of the season overall can best be summed up by the right side of that last chart. With almost twice as many swings at the bat, they still produced the same number of episodes with an 8 or higher.
Matthew: I'd just like to point out that, yet again, Kevin's average rating for a season of Voyager is equal to or greater than mine.
Matthew: Season 2 has what will likely be the worst two episodes of the series when all things are said and done. That's not going to do much good for a season's overall numbers (for the record, the overall season average would be 6.04 without them). But beyond those two stinkers, this season feels a bit bipolar, if you will. Season 1 did a better job of really exploring the premise, probably in great part because it had to establish various character relationships (e.g. B'Elanna as chief engineer). Some of the best Season 2 shows really embrace the concept of the show, while others feel like pointless retreads of ground already covered by Trek. By the time things on Voyager really take shape, I do think we're going to see the former trend triumph over the latter, in addition to the creation of a new character that deflects attention from various unexplored story avenues. But that doesn't mean it's going to be fun to watch the growing pains.
Kevin: This season is not "bad" overall. There are enough good and very good episodes to maintain one's interest, if not necessarily set you on fire. I was certainly not going to stop watching Voyager. I mean, I came back after weak seasons of DS9, and as the numbers show, this is not as bad. In the balance, even in weak episode like Prototype or Dreadnought, the characterization and acting by Roxann Dawson makes them at least an enjoyable watch for me, and I will definitely be back for season 3.