Thursday, September 3, 2020

Voyager, Season 7: The Void

 Voyager, Season 7
"The Void"
Airdate: February 14, 2001
158 of 168 produced
158 of 168 aired


Introduction

Voyager becomes trapped in a large space anomaly that contains no resources and no exit. The crew must decide whether to become pirates like many of the anomaly's current occupants, or to stick to their Federation ideals.


Ah, the good old days, when Star Trek characters were not cannibals, disembowelers, or cold-blooded murderers.
Writing

Kevin: I critiqued last week for feeling like a retread of a TNG episode, and this week, I feel like I'm tagging the show for being a retread of one of its own, season five premiere "Night." The parallels are more surmountable here, since the focus is slightly different. In "Night," it's the psychological effects of isolation; here, it's attempting to get people in extreme situations to work together. That said, the void itself is a bit of a McGuffin. It is merely an area of space with no resources and lots of hostile people, so I do still wish they had found a packaging that didn't feel so similar.

Matthew: I agree on the basic feeling of familiarity to the story. It's an iteration, not a revelation. So it lives or dies on how well it fleshes out the characters within, or how well it allows our characters to grow. I think this episode does more of the former than the latter.

Kevin: The story inside the void is pretty standard Star Trek fare. The Captain saves the day by doing the Federation thing, and when the Federation thing appears to be not working, you just do it harder. Not a bad story all things told, though again, not screamingly original. I kind of wish the episode focused more on Fantome. I ended up with a lot of unanswered questions that would have been more fun to explore than Valens 'sudden but inevitable' betrayal. How does a bipedal, sentient species evolve from essentially nowhere? Did they have a planet? Why don't they speak? Why do they have mouths? I liked the idea of them discovering tone could impart distinct meaning and it was neat watching the language grow more complex. If we were going to get a retread of an episode, just go whole hog and take a second whack at Darmok and explore some aspect of communication.

Matthew: The musical language notion was a good one, in that it was a good Seven idea, fit the Doctor's character, and led to some enjoyable sequences. I do think the episode could have supported a "concert" in which the aliens explain their lives in the Void to the crew, in a symphonic form. That could have put a bit more meat on what, you are right, are some pretty bare bones as far as explaining their existence.

Kevin: I've criticized the episode, but it was largely enjoyable. I didn't quite connect to or care about the other aliens, but watching Janeway establish a mini-Federation is certainly a Star Trek story I can get behind.

Matthew: Yeah, here's the thing. After 3 straight seasons of Miserable People Doing Horrible Things (AKA Kurtzman Trek), my level of charity for basic paint-by-numbers Star Trek that gets the ethos of the universe right has skyrocketed. And I don't think this is entirely paint-by-numbers. HAve there been TNG, DS9 or TOS episodes about being trapped in a void with other species? Not to my knowledge. That's a pretty VOY jam. I also think what really marks this story out for special praise is just how much plot there is in a mere 45 minutes, and yet how clear it is. We are introduced to half a dozen aliens, given conflicts, character arcs, resolutions, twists, and so on, and it is all clear and comprehensible. Why can't writers do this any more?

Acting

Kevin: Everyone did their usual good job here. I think Mulgrew in particular managed to land a determination that did not veer into mania for this one and it helped underscore that hers was the right decision. If anything, I thought the crew too resistant to her plan. Would it really make a difference to survive a week versus three days if spending the three days had even a modest chance of getting you out?

Matthew: Agreed on Mulgrew. I thought the guest actors did a really good job of imbuing their characters, many of whom were only on screen briefly, with the feeling of real lives and desires. The ones that stuck out in particular for me were Scott Lawrence as Garon (the reluctant "good" alien) and Robin Sachs as Valen (the bigoted "bad" alien).

Production Values

Kevin: No one element stood out for me, but there was a lot in the episode and all of it worked for me. There were a lot of aliens and ships and set pieces. The anomaly was pretty standard "make it blue" CGI stuff, but not bad certainly. Nothing here was my favorite, but I definitely appreciate the breadth of what they got in the episode.

Matthew: The ship designs were all pretty good. I felt that the effects did not succeed to the same degree as those in "Night." The void seemed too well lit, and things had a bit of a fakey look as a result. I would have liked to see more ships lit only by their own running lights, etc.

Conclusion

Kevin: This is never going to be on my top ten list, but the focus on Janeway saving the day by doing things the Federation way is never a bad story, and everyone turned in solid performances, so this balances to a three.

Matthew: I think this just squeaks into a 4. I agree that conceptually it is no great shakes, it is bog-standard Trek. But the execution of the storytelling is tight and entertaining, and never once confusing, even with so many story elements being juggled. I never fail to be entertained by this episode. That makes our total a 7.

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