Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Voyager, Season 5: Night, Season 5
Airdate: October 14, 1998
94 of 168 produced
94 of 168 aired


Voyager is mired in a vast, empty space devoid of visible stars, and looks to be stuck there for another two years. The psychological effect this has on the crew, especially the Captain, is pronounced. A chance encounter with a new species breaks the tedium and presents new challenges.

Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!


Matthew: I really liked this episode from the outset. I'll get to Captain Proton in a bit - but overall, what really engaged me was the general look at shipboard psychology, and the specific look at Voyager's peculiar problems. This is something I'm sure many (including myself) think should have been done move vigorously in prior seasons ("Year of Hell" notwithstanding). That's neither here nor there - it works in this episode. Janeway's depression had a realistic edge to it, and the ways the other crew found being in the void difficult were illuminating (so to speak). I think they could have gone in even more interesting directions, with potentially relieving her of command, but overall I liked the scenes showing the crew's malaise, and the conversation between Chakotay and Tuvok talking about her mental state.

Kevin: Yeah, my only complaint with this aspect of the story is that they don't do more of it. It's just plain interesting to see the crew pushed to their limits by things out of their control. I agree that they pitched Janeway's depression really credibly. The withdrawing from other people was done really well, and since one of the major ideas of Star Trek we've identified over the years is watching how captains responsibly or irresponsibly wield their power, watching her question her decision with the Caretaker is fun. My only complaint...if there is nothing here, shouldn't it be easier to see stuff in the distance? I also would have liked it if they tried to anchor it in some real cosmology. At some point, presumably, their trip should take them between the spiral arms of the galaxy. They could still, you know, see the galaxy, but it would still be a long way between ports.

Matthew: The other half of this episode is the allegory. So look - is this a transparent takedown of oil and coal companies and their political servants, and their collective unwillingness to adopt obviously better technologies in order to preserve profits? Yes. Yes it is. Do I have a problem with that? No. No I don't (seriously, f--- those guys). Do I think it could have been more nuanced? Sure. We should be able to appreciate that Emck might have motives beyond personal benefit - maybe the economic dislocations that adopting a clean technology would create would be untenable somehow. As scripted,
the Malon seem a little transparently villainous. I think it would be more interesting if they seemed more alluring. Also, do these void aliens live on a planet or planets? How could they evolve a space faring civilization without them?

Kevin: When I first watched this episode back in the 90s,I couldn't help but think of Captain Planet's main villains. They were as naked not just uncaring for the environment, but outwardly hostile. Even the design of the Malon called them to mind for me. The sad thing is this is an issue ripe for some nuanced parallels. Is the Federation really more moral, or is it just lucky to have a power source that doesn't cause these problems? Isn't putting radioactive stuff in space like spitting in the ocean anyway? I wish the Malon had been depicted as an otherwise thriving civilization so it would make the choice a little less stark. Or really ramp up the stakes and put their literal survival on the line. It would have bolstered this part of the episode and kept the Malon interesting for their subsequent appearances.

Matthew: I think the crew's "mutiny" was a tad pat. For one thing, couldn't a remote drone have accomplished her goal of destroying the passage, as opposed to a vain self sacrifice? Also, was Emck boasting when he said he could destroy Voyager within ten seconds? Because the battle seemed a bit easy. Basically, I think they should not have punted on the dilemma (stay two years or get through and not save the creatures) and reduced the stakes. They should have kept both choices hard.

Kevin: Agreed. They had their cake and they ate it too, and that's narratively boring.

Matthew: I loved Captain Proton. Outside of sex simulation, this is exactly what the holodeck should be used for. The take on Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers-style space serials was excellent, and the black and white setting was engaging and different. I do kind of wonder what Harry gets out of playing second fiddle for hours on end. Maybe he bags the blonde? Anyway, it tells us a lot about Tom's character, in addition to just being fun.

Kevin: I liked Captain Proton as well. They committed to the schtick without it going over the top, and I like the gentle, loving mocking the conventions of the genre get. It's also clear everyone is actually having a good time, underscoring that this is something people do for fun. I think the last holo-story we've gotten with this depth and enjoyment is Dixon Hill back in Season 1.


Kate Mulgrew gets a lot to do, and this role really gives us some of her chops. She played harried and depressed like someone with real experience. It was very engaging. Robert Duncan McNeill also played the stalwart hero well. His fight with Roxann Dawson was really well pitched, too. On the main cast, I thought Robert Beltran had a lot of nice stuff to do, and he mostly delivered.

Kevin: Praise for Mulgrew can be taken as read at this point, but I agree. She played into the more subtle and intractable nature of depression rather than any grandstanding and it played really well. I agree on Paris and Torres fighting as well. It was very lived in. They both had technically accurate complaints (her shortness, his glibness) about the order but were too strung out to deal with them meaningfully, and the result was watching them push each other's buttons.

The casting on Dr. Chaotica was inspired. Martin Rayner was just hilarious in the role, while also being completely believable. Ken Magee's Controller Emck was a bit "meh" for me. He was just too obviously bad for me to find him interesting. Part of this is on the page of course, but some blame has to go to the actor on the stage.

Kevin: They really did somehow go back in time and find someone on the set of a Flash Gordon short and pulled him into the future. The combination of general appearance and energy really made the character sing. He was doing a parody but he didn't act like and it really works. He easily beats out the episode's actual villain. I think he performed the part he was asked to play, but the end result is still, as you say, meh.

Production Values

Matthew: The Captain Proton sets, music and wardrobe were an absolute joy to behold. It's obvious why the creative staff wanted to revisit this setting after seeing it in this episode. Speaking of wardrobe, we get some new Seven duds, a sort of shimmery brown thing. It' not the color I'd have imagined, but it works well enough.

Kevin: I believe most Seven wardrobe changes are more for function for the actress than aesthetics, so at least there is no corset in this one. I like the new uniform if only since it less weirdly drawing attention to her body, at least as little as a catsuit will. The Proton sets are joy. The styrofoam caves and the chunky controls, all of it works. They did the best kind of parody, one based on affection and intimate knowledge of the source material.

Matthew: I liked the way the ship-wide blackout was achieved. They did a great job with both internal shots and space "model" shots. The Malon freighter was adequate but nothing more, and the space battle stuff was serviceable. There were some really nice music cues, especially when they emerge from the void. I liked Harry's clarinet solo and the way it played with shots of the ship.

Kevin: I liked a bunch of the long shots were Voyager was highlighted almost by inference. You could make out the shape from the lighted windows, but not the hull itself. They were a fun and different take on the model. The Night creatures looked very Swamp Thing, which given the Proton stuff, makes me wonder if that was intentional.


Matthew: Although this is not a perfect episode, and some choices left drama unused on the table, I found major chunks of it really interesting and engaging. It tells a Voyager-specific story that advances our understanding of the characters, and it gives us a great set-piece on the holodeck. Add some nice performances, and I think this is a 4.

Kevin: I think this falls just shy of the four into a solid but respectable 3 for me. The psychological issues of deep space travel and the delightful Captain Proton are definitely highlights of the episode, but the punt on the central conflict and the weakness of the Malon as a well sketched out villain hold this back a little for me. That makes a total of 7.

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