Voyager has shown a steady improvement since Season 2, but it hasn't found its "break out" moment, yet. Season 3 opens with a run of 12 episodes that tick in at a 6 or above on our scale. The back half of the season suffers a bit of a back slide, though, with a rough stretch in episodes 13 through 20. Then it finishes rather strongly with 4 out of 6 above average shows. So what are the trends? What's changed, if anything?
Which of these characters is standing on the "Eject Warp Core" hatch?
First of all, the first episode finally, blissfully, dispenses with the Kazon. It was an experiment that had gone on for too long. TNG dropped the Ferengi as serious antagonists after about two shows. Why did the Voyager staff take so long to recognize the same failure with the Kazon? Not to mention, overlooking a much better antagonist in the Vidiians? Sigh. Anyway, it's done, and hallelujah for that.
The mid-season two-parter "Future's End" signals a welcome trend - first of all that "bigger" stories are going to be a part of Voyager just as much as they are/will be in DS9. Future's End has big ideas, and the wider canvas allows for more character development and colorful detail. This episode gave us some really nice extended comic riffs with Paris/Tuvok/Rain and Chakotay/B'Elanna. But second of all, it's nice to see that Voyager may try to break out of the "alien of the week" syndrome that has plagued it just a bit. Future two-parters will explore some darker territory, and try (at least) to develop some larger consequences to the ship's plight. "Scorpion," though it is a season-ender, is another instance of this positive change. There is also a pretty good sense of continuity building, with episodes mentioning each other at a nice, regular clip.
Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres have been slowly but surely been pushed together, in what I would argue is the most organic, well-developed romance in the Trek franchise. Is it your basic rom-com trope, the antagonistic co-workers who discover their feelings for one another? Of course. But it's well done, and it respects both characters' established histories and personalities along the way. Tom starts out as kind of a lech, but develops real feelings and ends up being quite responsible (e.g. "Blood Fever"). B'Elanna on the other hand is working through her own racial self-hatred and her desire to shun intimacy (e.g. "Displaced"). Having both characters grow and heal throughout the life of the relationship is a really nice thing to watch, and it's a credit to the creators that they saw it through.
Neelix and Kes have been broken up, to both characters' benefits. Neelix is no longer the creepy asshole of seasons yore, and Kes is no longer a bland little victim. Unfortunately for her character, the writers didn't do enough to really advance the storyline. "Before and After" gave us a preview of the types of rapid aging stories that could have been done. I guess a preview was enough resolution for the creative staff.
Kate Mulgrew's portrayal of Captain Janeway was never a problem with the show, indeed, it's been one of the enduring strengths in the early seasons. But it's gotten even better in season 3 than it had been in the prior seasons. I'd say the episodes that really let her shine in the role are "Sacred Ground," "Future's End," "Macrocosm," and "Scorpion." They tend to show Janeway standing toe-to-toe with the big baddies, which I like. But they also show Janeway as reflective, pensive, sensitive - everything we'd like a good captain to be.
The last 6 episodes seem to take greater risks than the previous episodes of this season. We're teased with real development of Kes' character in "Before and After," we're giving a high concept show with loads of human-free talking dinosaur scenes in "Distant Origin," we're given a straight and pretty dastardly melodrama with "Real Life," and so on. Had the rest of the season showed that sort of storytelling verve, our numbers (see below) might have taken on a different skew.
Anyhow, even if Voyager had not taken the turn it would next season with the introduction of Seven of Nine, I personally would have stayed on board for the duration. They were telling good, solid stories, with nicely developed characters. If there was a minor sense of aimlessness, it could perhaps be chalked up to creating a premise focused on peril, but then trying to shackle it to the structure of a syndicated show that was intended to be watched in reruns out of order.
I agree that finally dispensing with the Kazon is a definite highlight of the season. The only shame is that it took them so long. Even there, though, I think they whiffed the landing. They should have killed Cullah and kept Seska in an adjoining room to a not-dead Suder. Maybe break them out once a season. That would have been awesome.
I think there are two related problems that pervade this season for me. One is the sense of getting a rehash of a lot of TNG stories, and the other is the sense of a weak story being carried on the strength of the acting. I think "Remember" is a good example of both. By the writers' admission, the story began life as a Troi vehicle, and they cast the same old woman they cast in "Violations" to be a member of a telepathic race with a SECRET. Dawson does a great job, but in the end, it's not enough to make a really good episode, which it certainly could have been. I can't count the number of 6s we gave out this season because the story wasn't great, but Mulgrew/Picardo/Dawson was awesome. We certainly gave the same benefit of the doubt to TNG episodes that relied on Stewart or Spiner, but those tended to be sandwiched between much better episodes.
I know it's not fair per se to judge this season based on what was happening over on DS9, but this aired parallel to that shows's season 5, a season that really kicked a lot of things into gear and really did things with its stories. Sure, sometimes they were huge failures, but there was a sense of energy and direction from that season of DS9 that I think this one of Voyager lacks. In the end, I understand that the show had to meet certain syndication criteria, but the result makes the show a bit static overall.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that for better for worse, Voyager is something of a season 8 of TNG. It's a lot of the same people telling a lot of the same stories, which don't get me wrong, I do enjoy, but it also means, and I think I've found the most concise way to sum up my problems here, is that whatever issues we identified in TNG Season 7, they are more present in a lot of Voyager stuff.
I don't want to just rag on Voyager, but I think Matt has certainly outlined the definite pros, like "Future's End," and the back six episodes that really are quite good. And I would put "Distant Origin" against "Darmok," flaws and all, no small compliment. Still, and I think the numbers back me up, that there just isn't a lot overall that makes this season exciting. It is fine, even better than fine, in many places, and if they managed 26 average episodes, that would have been a bit of an accomplishment, but the mushy middle really takes the whole season down since there is nothing to balance it.
Matthew: "Future's End" was the most fun I'd had watching Star Trek in quite some time when it aired. It was a real breath of fresh air, which is surprising, given that it's a time travel yarn. I think it had more to do with the crispness of the character and comedy writing than with the plot proper. Every scene really had me caring about the characters.
There was an interesting thread of Janeway dealing with her secular humanism when faced with situations that might put others in a more religious mindset. Although "Sacred Ground" was fine enough for what it was, "Coda" did a much better job of marrying it to solid drama and some nice, creepy feel.
Speaking of religious themes, "Distant Origin" did a nice play on the dogmatic response to revisionist science. I didn't find it heavy handed at all, despite being an obvious Galileo reference, with nice echoes of the Scopes trial, too.
"Unity" was a fresh Borg story, giving us a much more realistic portrayal of what disconnected Borg might be like, as opposed to TNG's "Descent." The fact that it gave Chakotay something to do was icing on the cake.
I'll certainly agree with this list, and I'll throw some love to "Worst Case Scenario" that despite whatever other problems it has, is just an insane amount of fun. I'd also thrown in Before and After, which did all the work we wish they had done on Kes in the preceding three years.
And I think "Scorpion" definitely did a great job of capping the season and giving us a great look at Chakotay and Janeway's relationship.
Matthew: Any discussion of this season's failings has to center on the "trilogy of terror," the three episode stretch including "Darkling," "Rise," and "Favorite Son." Boring, repetitive, trite... these three episodes present a real case study in all the things people rag on Voyager for. Each centers on an alien of the week, with none of them being well developed, and one of them being facially dumb. "Darkling" and "Favorite Son" stretch credulity to nearly the breaking point with their odd premises.
"Alter Ego" is another show that irritates more than entertains. It features a character who is supposed to be terribly alluring to the crew... and then creates a love triangle with her between... Kim and Tuvok? Did no one suggest that Kim and Paris might be the more obvious pairing? I have a feeling that this episode was pitched before Paris and B'Elanna were decreed to be a thing by editorial, and they switched to Tuvok in an inelegant attempt to salvage it.
"Blood Fever" gives us the cliche Pon Farr episode, but cloaks it in some ridiculous horniness-transference mumbo jumbo. Ugh.
I want to specifically heap additional loathing on "Favorite Son" which is just awful and stupid and pretty misogynistic when you get right down to it. And the whole think is set in the world's most hideous dentist's office. That episode should die in a fire.
I don't have much else to call out for more mocking, except maybe the snoozefest that "Displaced" was, but I don't have anything to add we haven't already said.
What I almost want to point is all those sixes in the first half of the season. Those are fine scores, but many could have been eights with only modest tweaks in their stories. I guess I'm calling them out for missed potential.
Matthew: There is a conspicuous lack of 5 ratings, which probably ended up being this season's statistical undoing - a long stretch of solid but mediocre (in the technical sense of the term) shows does nothing to balance out the stinkers that are present in any season of television.
Kevin: Looking over our other reviews, this comes in under TNG Season 2 and only beats out TAS, TNG Season 1, and DS9 Seasons 1 and 3, and that kind of says it all. And your comment about the 5s is spot on. If even one of the episodes we gave an 8 got a 10, this season jumps to a 6 overall.
Matthew: There were some dead stretches in this season, but I for one never lost my affection for the characters. I think the last stretch was bolder and took more risks, and was more rewarding for it. Either way, I think there are a good ten or so episodes that should not be skipped by anyone doing a watch-through, and it certainly ended with a bang, setting up major developments for Season 4.
Kevin: I remember at this point just being way more invested in DS9 since there was so much more going on. I certainly never considered not watching Voyager anymore, but I have to say, there's not much here that has me rushing back to re-watch it. It certainly does end on a strong note though, and I do look forward to Scorpion, Part II.