Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Voyager, Season 5: Equinox

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 5
"Equinox"
Airdate: May 26, 1999
118 of 168 produced
118 of 168 aired

Introduction

Voyager comes across another starship stranded in the Delta Quadrant - one whose crew made vastly different decisions than their own.



Don't worry, Max. Where we're going you can sleep on a pile of naked macaroni and cheese.





Writing


Matthew: It has been said by more than a few that "this is what Voyager should have been." I imagine that was something the writers consciously aimed to explore, what the story would be like had Voyager not settled into a relatively peaceful episodic formula, with little in the way of lasting consequences from episode to episode.Frankly, I was never all that critical of Voyager's sweet spot, because I always wanted more TNG. And isn't this enough? We get the contrast between the fallen crew who has strayed from Federation ideals, and the crew that has, under the guidance of their moral exemplar and captain, stayed the course. As far as the conflicts between the crews, I think they were dramatized well. The scene between Janeway and Ransom was crackling with energy despite only consisting of dialogue (shocking, I know, in this age of explosions and shaky-cam).

Kevin: I continue to lean more into finding a lot of Voyager a missed opportunity that stories like Year of Hell and Equinox highlight. I get wanting a season 8 of TNG. It's been the goal of my life to live an eighth season of TNG, but Voyager needs a voice that is distinct, and given the premise the show creator's devised, I think it's fair to tag the show for pulling its punches. Beyond being really into stating the number of photon torpedoes they had for the first half of season one, resource issues tended to be a McGuffin when, and only when, the episode demanded it. That all said, this is a fun one, as watching Great Starfleet Captain face off against a fallen Starfleet captain is a well that the franchise as a whole returns to several times to great effect. My only real macro complaints are, first,  that they named him Rudy Ransom. Right up there with Lex Luthor, there could be no more clear indication he was EVIL. Second, given that Voyager has gotten like three 10,000+ light year assists, the chances of the two ships finding each other feels a little forced.

Matthew: I think Marla Gilmore was the character that really gave us the conflict we needed to see. Ransom himself seemed pretty set on the "kill creatures" plan, paying only lip service to how pieces of him died and so on. Max Burke oozed "cocky douchebag" from the outset. Noah Lessing was pretty much a cipher. But Marla was conflicted, suffered from PTSD, and her loyalties wavered. All of this said, the four characters we got from the Equinox were all pretty well drawn, with identifiable personal characteristics and interesting dialogue.

Kevin: I agree. Marla really had a weariness and fear that gave both sides of her actions narrative credibility, if not moral justification. If anything, like Year of Hell, I was left hoping the episode could have been stretched out over a few more episodes to give the conflicts time to simmer before boiling over. That said, save for the Doctor stuff (see below), the episode was pretty economical and watching a so angry she just got quiet Janeway was pretty much worth the price of admission.

Matthew: As a sci-fi angle, using alien creatures as a power source is fine, I guess. The math was a little fuzzy on how many they needed (it seemed more like 8 or 9 would do, as opposed to 63), and it seems that they inhabit yet another realm that intersects our space basically everywhere (see also Species 8472)

Kevin: I'm really (really) not trying to start a discussion of Discovery, but it is plotlines like this that have pretty much vaccinated me against the story issues of the spore drive. It's all narrative magic and rather than worry about the particulars, I just watch to see how they use it. Here, they use it a pretty solid springboard to a moral discussion.

Matthew: Sure, some sci-fi devices are more fanstastical than others. But Voyager actually lingers on the questions it raises for more than 90 seconds. I could forgive a spore drive or a tardigrade if they actually asked and answered interesting questions about it. Whatever Voyager's faults are, in most any episode interesting questions are asked and answered (ditto TOS, TNG, DS9, ENT). Moving on, I was not a big fan of the Doctor switcheroo. I felt that Voyager's Doctor was really careless with his mobile emitter, this after it had already been revealed that the other crew had violated many regulations and mores. Sooner or later, it just raises the question of why they let him roam around with it unattended.


Kevin: They really need to create a PIN or something. Or make his password something other than p4ssw0rd. I mean really, all he needs to do is carry the emitter internally. We've seen him take forms that disguise the emitter. He should just do that. It was unnecessary drama in an episode already brimming with it.

Acting

Matthew: I've sung the praises of the Marla character, which was indeed well written, but was even better acted by Olivia Birkelund. She apparently had a soap opera pedigree, but man did she nail both "inhabiting the universe" as well as the physical acting of stress and anguish that really sold the character. The other guest stars were similarly high performing - John Savage projecting a believable captain aura, Titus Welliver a dangerous edge, and Rick Worthy a wounded stoicism.

Kevin: I say this without a hint of irony: I have nothing but respect for soap opera actors. Like sci-fi, it's a world that operates by its own rules and actors need to be able to find the emotional hooks in some sometimes crazy ideas, and in terms of mechanics, they work like 50 weeks a year, have to remember a movie's worth of dialogue a week, and time constraints pretty much mean they never get a second take. If you want a workhorse actor who can go from 1 to 10 and 3am without a hiccup, get a soap opera actor. And I agree that Birkelund was great. Maybe it's because she has similar big eyes + swept updo like Jeri Ryan, but there is a quality to her where she gets physically smaller when she's scared. John Savage was a great choice for a foil for Janeway. I wondered in the podcast how much the fact that he's the same height as Mulgrew factored into his casting. They give off a similar small bundles of hyper-competence vibe that I think underscores the good vs. evil of the script. It was also fun getting to see Janeway square off without having to crane her neck. That wondering aside, Savage did a good job of portraying a formerly good man driven to the edge by impossible circumstances.

Matthew: Yes, yes, we always praise Kate Mulgrew. Well, it's because she anchors every show with the sort of commitment and gravitas she achieves here. Other standouts among the main cast were Robert McNeill and Roxann Dawson. I also liked Robert Beltran's chemistry with Olivia Birkelund.


Kevin: I loved Dawson's line reading with Max. She really gave the relationship some history. I really bought they had a terrible relationship that lasted three months longer than it should have because the sex was so good. That's a tough brief, and she nailed it.


Production Values

Matthew: The Equinox ship was a fine model (likely CGI). It was perhaps a bit similar looking to Voyager, though this makes a certain amount of sense given their contemporary construction. The interiors benefited greatly from re-using the sets of the USS Prometheus. The bridge especially seemed like a real place. The set bashing was effective, and they didn't overdo the much hated (by me) strobe effect to indicate damage.

Kevin: I agree. The Equinox felt of a piece with late TNG/DS9/VOY design. The damage was convincing without being over the top. I will also always love that they created a bespoke Master Situation Display. Had it been just more regular panels, I would not have been mad, but things like that, and the also bespoke dedication plaque made me smile. Detail work like that just delights me.

Matthew: The creatures were pretty decent CGI creations. They animated well, and they matched up to the physical prop of the dead alien pretty well, too. As far as visuals go, special mention must be made of the truly excellent Okudagrams and animated schematics that were used in this episode. They really added that level of detail that makes the show feel "real."



Conclusion

Matthew: This was an exciting show with a good ethical core. It had a good guest star cast and the story was brisk. I think it's an easy 4. I can't really put my finger on what is missing from a 5, perhaps a bit more depth into the decisions the Equinox crew and the effects they had on their characters.


Kevin: I agree with the four. By and large, my criticism of Voyager boils down to they don't do stories like this enough. So, when they do these stories, I am pretty happy. Minus what felt like some wasted time with the Doctor, I think this story does a good job of creating a classic Star Trek moral problem, and even if the answer (don't commit genocide) is fairly obvious, it doesn't rob the Equinox crew entirely of the capacity to have empathy for them. I agree with the four for a total of 8.

Podcast


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